It had been the winds of winter that fractured my life. To my shock, the same winds would return a year later to reassemble it.
The fracture came during a bitterly cold blizzard in 1987, my husband, without warning or cause, was dragged from me and taken into the great beyond. I cradled Marcus’ body until an ambulance was able to plow its way through the drifts of snow left by the storm. They found me in a trance, combing his hair with my fingers; tears streamed down my cheeks while I reminisced of the gangly teenager I fell in love with all those years ago.
Through my struggles with grief and deteriorating mental health, I mistook the early signs of my pregnancy as nothing more than illness connected to my bereavement. Waves of morning sickness came and went, fatigue was a constant weight on my shoulders and my breasts became swollen and tender. It had been the spotting that suggested something was happening beyond my grief, and when I missed my next period, I knew for certain that I was pregnant.
It was a flash of hope we needed to combat the tragedy in our lives. Both of our families were over the moon with the idea of their new grandchild, but my father remained solemn during these joyous times.
“Let’s go for a drive, Claire,” my father said one cool spring evening. “I have something I need to show you.” He walked towards his car without giving me a chance to answer.
We ended up trudging across a muck filled park with only the full moon’s light to guide us. The Spring’s constant rain always made me miserable, but being a few months pregnant added an entirely new level of discomfort.
“Dad, where are we going,” I groaned through gritted teeth. I lost a boot trying to free my foot from the clinging mud.
“We’re here,” he said, wrapping his arm around my waist, an offer of support.
I looked past my father and my gaze locked onto the Unpleasantville Obelisk. It towered over us radiating blackness. It pulsed with a strange warmth that coaxed us towards it. The hairs on my arms stood on end and my heart throbbed with longing. I had seen the monument countless times throughout my life, but this was the first time I saw it as more than just a slab of obsidian. It felt like my dead husband was reaching out for me through what I can only describe as glowing darkness.
“You feel it don’t you?” my father asked. His bulging eyes never left the surface of the obelisk. “You feel him?”
My only answer was the tears rolling down my cheek.
The salesman was an easy mark. An out-of-towner, traveling alone, no connection to Unpleasantville. Like all of his kind, he wore a mask of pleasantness to fool the gullible, but I saw the way his eyes scanned my pregnant body. He was all too eager to climb into a waiting taxi with me. Maybe it had been just the life insurance he had been pushing, or maybe he hoped for some romance before skipping town.
My father gave me an address that led to an abandoned house near the outskirts of town. I thought for sure the salesman would see through our ploy the moment he laid eyes upon the squatter house. No normal person would call such a place home, plus it was dangerously close to the edge of the forest riddled with this year’s wildfires.
With each step we made towards the front door of the house, my heart bashed harder and faster into my ribcage. I stopped suddenly and spun around to face the man. I wanted to yell and scream at him to run, to be free from this town’s grasp. A warning at least would suffice, but I couldn't do it. I looked into the man’s eyes and saw my own husband staring back at me with eyes of the same glowing blackness that I saw at the monolith.
The deceptions I had woven crumbled when the salesman saw the interior of the home, abandoned for so long that mold climbed up the walls and pillars of dust formed on the composting furniture. A hot breeze brought an uncanny aroma of cinnamon and lilacs mixed with rot.
He began to turn to me in disgust, but it was too late, I planted my hands into his lower back and pushed him across the threshold. There was a rush of wind and a grotesque suction noise that made my stomach churn. I slammed my eyes shut and moved away from the door.
I sat in the back of the taxi cradling my pregnant stomach. I smiled with the realization that my unborn child would be safe. Safe because an innocent man had been sacrificed. Given up to the Obelisk, which is the heart of this town. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, the population of this town must always be 666,000. Now, no one from my family will have to trade their life so that my son can be born.
The taxi driver watched me through his rear-view mirror, scanning me with eyes made from the obelisk’s black void. He winked and I returned the gesture with a crooked smile. I stretched myself out across the backseat, closed my eyes and allowed the cab to take me away from the cursed cul-de-sac.
The bitterly cold winds of winter returned and with them came the first contractions of childbirth. Noah was born later that evening without any complications, surrounded by loved ones. When I first looked into his eyes, I felt the outpouring of my husband’s love transmitted from beyond the veil by the Obelisk’s radiating energy. In time, I would tell him the dark secrets of our home town with the hope to protect him for as long as possible. Until then, I rejoice in being whole for the first time in my life.
Travis was born and raised on the Canadian Prairies where he works as a professional brewer in the craft beer industry. He graduated from the BA English program at the University of Regina where he focused on creative writing. He occasionally finds himself writing short fiction exploring the nightmares and horrors hiding just out of sight. You can find his other works in Schlock! Webzine, and horror anthologies from Gravestone Press and Hellbound Books. Of course, all of this is possible because of the support of his wonderful wife, Janelle, and beautiful daughter, Emma.