He wasn’t asleep, but he wasn’t awake either. It was that in-between state, and for the third night in a row, Charlie Wakefield was being robbed of slumber.
Mumbling something unintelligible aloud in the dark, he relieved himself from the struggle to drift into the life-giving heaven that he longed more than anything else. Sleep was the only thing on his mind.
His wife, Julia, conscious of his departure from the bed, groaned to him, “Honey, what are you doing? It’s still quite early.”
“Pointless, Julia,” he sighed, wiping the mocking rheum from the corners of his eyes, “I haven’t slept since Wednesday. I’m not even thinking about what happened. It doesn’t bother me. I just can’t fall asleep no matter what I do.”
As he gazed despondently out of the bedroom window, only tiny slivers of sunlight penetrated the horizon line. Dawn was a few hours off. It was still too dark to see the placid woods that lie only thirty yards away.
He was referring to a rather strange affair, which had occurred only a few nights before. Charlie Wakefield had been working late, and upon his return home there were household responsibilities that needed his attention. Julia’s car was in desperate need of a mechanic as it billowed black smoke upon ignition, but he felt capable of mending its wounds.
The old ’57 Chevy Del Ray had seen its better days since it rolled off of the assembly line twenty-something years ago. He was a whiz with things like cars, a little tinkering here and a firm whack to the carburetor did wonders for the beast.
In his concentration, he hadn’t noticed his wife’s entry into the garage as she spoke, “Charlie, darling, after you finish with the car would you please gather some wood for the fireplace? It’s supposed to cool off tonight, and the snow will be around the corner.”
“Yeah, I’ve got to get this grass cut tonight too, last of the season I bet, thank God. That boy of ours was supposed to do it this afternoon, wasn’t he?”
Their sixteen-year-old son Matthew lacked the work ethic that Charlie tried to demonstrate.
“He was, I scolded him already. I reckon he’ll be cutting it tomorrow if he knows what’s good for him.”
“Well with the frost coming I’ve got to cut it tonight, go on inside and tell him the wood needs gathering. I’m almost done with this piece of junk, I’ll cut the grass.”
Charlie liked keeping busy at home. Their Victorian-style residence he had built with his bare hands, and the maintenance of a humble home helped relieve the stress he experienced at work; his “vocation” as a psychologist had once been his passion, but with time this zeal faded. They were financially sound, but despite Julia’s suggestions to retire, he was not prepared to put his family’s fiscal security at risk.
Reluctantly, he cut the grass as daylight waned and eventually winked goodnight. Raising a boy who didn’t understand hard work troubled him greatly, but for the most part Matthew did what was asked of him. He pushed the real mower–which was his preference to the newfangled motorized mowers–over the last lane of the lawn and saw Matthew slip out the back door and head towards the chopping block on the edge of the thicket that grew on three sides of their quaint home. Night had set in. Oh how the daylight escapes us as fall comes to a close and winter’s icy lips breathe softly down our necks.
Charlie shivered, as he pushed the mower around the corner and into the shed he heard a distant bellow for his presence that he recognized to be Matthew’s tone of danger. He grabbed the Browning A5 Magnum shotgun from its resting place mounted on the back wall; apart from their family’s enthusiasm for game hunting, bears were not uncommon in their neck of the woods in Farwell, a small Beltrami County town in northern Minnesota.
With the athleticism and grace that God had blessed him, he swiftly crossed the yard and was soon by Matthew’s side. Matthew did not look at his father; instead he gazed expressionlessly into the woods, and said nothing.
“What’s going on?” He inquired only slightly out of breath.
His son’s lack of words and stony gaze out into the darkness was unsettling, and after a short time he was overcome with confusion, “Matt, what’s the deal? I came as fast as I could. Those bears back again?”
Julia had heard Matt’s cry as well, and was standing behind the screen door just inside the house.
“Dad, look!” The quiver in his son’s voice chilled Charlie, and just as he spoke, Matthew pointed out into the darkness, just beyond the freshly cut woodpile and into the mystery that the woods hold when the sun has set and the moon has chosen to remain asleep below the horizon. He saw total darkness. But after some time, he beheld what had alerted his stiffened son.
It was not a bear, nor was it anything that Charles Wakefield had ever seen before. A pair of eyes had opened within spitting distance from the two, as they stood, motionless but protected by the loaded gun that was held across Charlie’s chest. Charlie wondered briefly if he should shoot the thing, whatever it was, but although he could see nothing of the dim phantasm apart from its eyes, he did not sense any danger, but rather perplexity.
Charlie took a step forward, and in an instant they vanished, only to rekindle again slightly displaced from where they were previously. The eyes were unlike anything he had ever seen; it was like two smoldering flames, blinking at them with equal curiosity. They held no finite boundaries, and seemed to flicker with the slight breeze that shook the weakened leaves from the trees, the red and orange leaves oscillating slowly and steadily in the shadows as they watched in amazement.
They stood for more than a minute, and finally Charlie instructed Matthew to run and grab a flashlight, but before Matthew could sprint to the shed and back, Charlie slowly started to move toward the eyes, with the safety off and gun aimed precisely at them; Charlie was known to be an expert marksman.
With each step winter faded, and the ambiance of the woods became extremely uneasy for Charlie. He told himself that the heat he felt on his front was out of adrenaline, but his back remained cold. The smell of burnt skin invaded his astute nostrils, but he knew it was not his own, yet an inexplicably trance-like interest drove him slowly on.
A soft voice whispered in his ear, “Go back inside.” The speaker seemed to communicate to him from within Charlie’s body.
“Are you crazy?” he asked nobody in the hushed woods. “I can’t go back now.” All of creation was watching Charlie.
“He can’t protect you from this. Go inside, now."
But just as his eyes had adjusted to the total darkness and his location became close enough to distinguish some sort of shape, the eyes closed... or were blown out, rather. Only the sounds of the crickets inhabited the woods.
Could it be the leaves? A lonely owl’s eyes reflecting the light from the floodlight in the backyard? Whatever it was, it’s gone now. His rationality battled his emotion and keen perception.
His son had joined his side in a manner that was deftly silent, and handed him the flashlight. Immediately pushing the small black button that held the power of nearly-dead batteries, he shined the light at the spot that the alleged eyes had been, now only ten paces to his front.
He squinted hard towards the weak beam projected by the flashlight. There was something there, but it was not what the two had expected. A slain deer lie alone, neck broken and head contorted to a backwards position, each slender leg at angles not created by nature, but this was not what disturbed Charlie the most.
“Go inside. Now. I’ll be there in a moment,” he ordered his son, fearing that this was not something that any man, young or old, should have to witness.
The victim of this mangling had been burned badly, but from the inside, and through the large crater left by the unknown creature, the heart was exposed. An upside down cross was distinctly displayed, burned into the heart which once kept the animal alive.
Since that gruesome night Charlie could not sleep. Counting sheep, sleeping salve, warm baths; nothing could give him what he wanted. The bags under his eyes said it all. He wondered if he would ever sleep again.
He prayed hard every night since it happened; he wore a Catholic mask, but hadn’t chosen to go to church in some time. His lack of sleep, in his frustration, had him questioning even the existence of a God.
“Go back to sleep, I told you, it’s still too early to be up and about.” Julia too wanted him to be able to sleep; he hadn’t been himself lately. Pessimistically, he slipped back into bed, and waited for nothing. He waited for disappointment, and before he knew it, he was back to his sleepless dream state that haunted him so intimately.
“I told you that you needed to turn back. You did not listen to me.” The gentle voice from the woods breathed in a mild, indifferent tone. “Do not hold anyone responsible but yourself for what the future holds.”
“You were talking to nobody last night after you tried to sleep again. I’m worried about you.” And she was; before that abominable night he had slept like a duffel bag full of rocks every night.
“What was I saying?” he asked; he didn’t feel as though he actually slept, nor did he remember speaking aloud.
“I couldn’t tell really. You were angry though, I figured it had something to do with your new sleep patterns,” she said, chuckling. “I don’t think you’ve ever had such a hard time with anything before this.”
He was angry. Not only was he trapped inside a world of suffering, but his wife was making light of it, and in his anger he did something that he had never done before. He looked at himself in the curved surface of the coffee pot that he held in his hand, his features distorted as he looked at a man that he hardly recognized. His frustration and anger boiled inside of him like the scalding coffee that colored his reflection. He set the pot of coffee down, turned to his wife that he loved, and he hit her across the face, knocking her to the ground. A drop of blood escaped her upper lip.
“What the hell has gotten into you?” she screamed.
For some reason unbeknownst to him he simply didn’t care. Indifferently gathering his briefcase and travel mug he walked out the front door, and his anger subsided as he drove away.
When he arrived home that night, Julia was nowhere to be found, but this came to Charlie’s relief. The morning’s roughhousing was not what he wanted to deal with at that time, and for the first time in days Charles Wakefield was going to fall asleep.
Am I asleep? This scene that unfolded itself comfortably in his dreams was that of the devil’s workings. In his dream, he walked briskly to the shed outside. The door, which always remained ajar, was shut tight. Light crept through the space between the heavy door and the floor beneath it. He pushed it open; Julia and Matthew were cutting up a deer in the shed so Julia could prepare venison steaks for dinner.
The blackened scent of butchery tickled his nostrils as he drew a deep breath into the depths of his empty lungs. He approached them, and as he did, Matthew shot a disgusted stare towards his father. He handed the carving knife over; Charlie was far more experienced than he. He stared long and hard, and his father seemed more foreign to him than he had ever known. Without a word, Matthew made his departure into the house.
So he knows about this morning too. Great, he thought facetiously.
Blood dripped down the blade, and glistened into the soul of Charlie. A single drop hit his hand, between his thumb and his pointer finger, and he watched it descend downward, drawing a crimson tattoo on his forearm. Julia looked at him, afraid. She must not have forgotten what had happened that morning, and her cut upper lip trembled slightly.
I wish that we could just forget that it ever happened. But I suppose we can’t do that, can we? It was as though he wasn’t alone in his head. His thoughts were constructed from the hate that his mild-tempered nature ordinarily kept in check.
The anger overcame him once again, and instead of turning the knife to the deer, which lie in front of him, he let it play maniacally in his hands, facing Julia. She watched him with a calm nervousness, afraid to speak and afraid to move. His demonically crazed eyes examined her as though he were sizing up his prey.
But she spoke anyway, “What are you doing? Don’t do that Charlie, please.” Her words reverberated in the shed, which now held only the two.
He had barely heard her, the resentment screamed in his ears, blocking any spoken language of mortal earthly beings. But he did hear something that he could distinguish from the deafening roar that pounded at him from all directions.
“You know what you have to do.” The voice was not that of a man. It ran deeper, so deep into his bones that the marrow came to a boil. The heat within him was scalding his insides, he could feel it, but he experienced no pain. Anger consumed his consciousness, and although he felt that he could wake himself from this dream state, he chose not to.
“Punish her,” was all it said with the rumbling of a devastating earthquake and a Hellish depth that would instill dumbstruck horror in any normal person, and he stood for a moment unsure of what his next action would be. He looked down at the blade, and saw his own wicked eyes through the streams of gleaming blood, and with no further thought he pinned her to the ground. Blood mixed with blood. He cut her until there was no space left on the body that he used as his demented canvas.
He woke up the next morning, but with no relief of a night’s rest, to an inquiry from his son. “Where is Mom?” He questioned flatly.
“I’m not sure, I think I’ve finally been asleep, but I can’t quite tell fully.”
“I saw what you did to her.” Charlie paused at Matthew’s accusation, confused.
“She told me that she bumped her lip on the mantle, but I know what you did. I saw you do it.” His tone was not of fear, but of confrontation and retribution.
“Matthew, we’ll talk about this later. Right now we need to be more concerned with finding her. This is unlike her.”
“Yeah well I’d put my money on her being gone because of you. I’m taking the Chevy into town and asking around.” He stepped out the front door, and Charlie was alone.
The house had become cold, and the wood-burning stove longed for practice. Charles Wakefield threw on his coat, and walked out to get his axe from the shed. He knew what he would see before he opened the door. The walk seemed all too familiar, and as he pushed open the door that rested tightly shut against the frame, he saw the blood.
Am I dreaming still? His body shook. There was no deer carcass left here, only blood and a carving knife, which was thrust into the counter lining the walls of the shed. The blood was everywhere; it even spattered the walls, the tools, and the lawnmower. It was hot, unbearably hot even, but Charles Wakefield didn’t perspire. Instead he became drowsy, and propped himself against the counter, sitting down on the floor in the still pool of ichor.
The tiredness forced indifference into him, and he felt comfort lying in the thick, hot blood. It saturated him, inside and out. Whoever’s blood it was, it gave him what he needed. He shut his eyes and breathed deeply. With his eyes closed, blood dripped into the pool from the heavens, blanketing him with satisfaction that he had never known before. Charles Wakefield fell asleep.
“I am the familiar of Farewell, and together we will set the entire world ablaze.” He dreamed that he was in the shed, and looked upwards.
It was the obscure creature that drove the origin of his sleeplessness; only he could see it much clearer now. The shed was dark, night had set in, and he could only see the creature’s eyes, but he could see through them to the essence of their creation. They knew him inside and out as well.
They knew his deeds, and had his heart in a fiery vice. They were the same. “You have more purpose than you know, and you no longer have any choice but allegiance.” The voice was the same from before, and Charles Wakefield finally realized what had grown to live inside of him.
A softer, unbearably beautiful voice breathed in his ear, “I told you turn back, that He couldn’t protect you. Someday, he will have to put an end to this tragedy that has unfolded.”
He opened his eyes. He was in the shed, just as he had remembered. The blood that had lulled him into pure euphoria seemed as though it had at recently come to a violent boil. He looked up, Matthew had been standing in the door of the shed, mouth agape in pure terror, staring upwards towards the wooden ceiling of the shed. He looked at his father. Blood rained into the pool before them, and Charles Wakefield came to a revelation. He had never been asleep, nor had he slept for days. His wife hung demonically from an upside down cross, which was somehow suspended from above, staring down at them from a face rotated completely backwards; her body naked and skin a gallery of indescribable symbols.
The sultry den of pure evil was host to only one soul, Matthew’s, for Charles Wakefield no longer possessed one, or any human qualities for that matter. His eyes were on fire, and the once cool, green hue had transformed into an amorphous red-orange. He looked his son directly in the eyes, smiled, and said two words:
Matthew ran, he turned and never looked back, but as soon as he had made his departure, he father rose from his sanctuary of death and pulled the carving knife that dozed in the wooden counter next to him. He composedly approached the open doorway of the shed as it erupted into flames, surrounding him in a hospitable veneer of inferno. He turned just quick enough to see Matthew slam the sliding door shut.
He saw his reflection in the sliding glass door, he was a black silhouette surrounded by conflagration, and the only feature he could make out of himself were his eyes, embellished by their newest quality.
“When the devil looks himself in the eyes, he remembers who he is, and all that he knows is the blaze and terror,” said the voice, in such a soothing growl that it brought Charles Wakefield total serenity.
With the carving knife held tightly in his hand, he advanced with the grace and speed that either God or Satan had fostered within him, towards his son Matthew who stood frozen, mortified on the other side of the sliding glass door. For the first time in nearly a week, Charles Wakefield found peace.