I’d been married to my wife for ten years. We were young when we tied the knot and couldn’t afford to go anywhere for our honeymoon and it had bugged me for years. When I told her we should finally do it, I said we could go anywhere, Vegas, the Maldives, anywhere. But she had her heart set on the quaint little seaside town where we met.
Back then, I had a summer job, as a waiter at a Hotel in Cornwall. I was wet behind the ears and to be honest, not very good at my job. When she came into the restaurant with her family, my knees turned to jelly. I got their order totally wrong. Her father was given the sea bass instead of the crawfish, her mother didn’t even get her food. But for my soon to be girlfriend, I got it right, and she said after, she loved the fact I messed up her parent’s orders.
Fast forward to today and a large curtain of fog had veiled the roads in front of us. I peered at the Sat Nav that kept dropping its signal as we took the once familiar roads down to the seaside.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Karen asked.
“Yes, of course I do,” I said lying, praying the Sat Nav would lock onto a signal again soon.
“You have no idea, do you? Admit it!” she snapped.
It’s amazing how quickly those sweet nothings turn into outright attacks on your masculinity.
“No, you’re right, I have no idea, but if we head for the ocean we can take the coastal road and we’ll find the place in no time.”
“We haven’t seen the ocean for the last ten miles,” she said, folding her arms.
“Signal’s back!” I said delighted, “Fuck, I think I missed a turning.”
I viewed the red line that indicated our route, it folded back on itself to where we came from.
“I’m sure if we follow this road we’ll get there.”
“It’s telling you to turn back.”
I ignored her and waited for the device to correct itself.
I drove slowly on the wet roads, unable to see more than a couple of feet in front of us.
“I told you,” I said, as the red line snapped to the road we were following, “it says we’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“I hate these roads,” she said.
The hedgerows loomed down on us like castle walls keeping us to a lane that was barely wider than the car.
I took my eyes off the Sat Nav to see the bright lights of a vehicle bear down on us with immense speed, too much for these small roads.
Instinctively, I pulled the car to the left, watching the white van pass us. The paint squealed as it dragged along the branches. We came to an abrupt stop, my wife’s face almost coming in contact with the dashboard.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, sitting back upright and holding her neck.
“I’m so sorry, I was looking at that damned thing, I didn’t see him coming.”
I knew better than to say anything else.
The car had stalled. I turned the key, the engine revved but didn’t catch.
“Shit,” I said, slamming my hand on the steering wheel.
I tried again, and then again. Each time the car struggled more and more.
Karen had her phone out.
“No signal, figures,” she said, “how are we supposed to call the AA if we can’t get a signal?”
“I’m really sorry,” I said, turning to face her.
I put my hand to her back and began rubbing, she ignored me and stared into the gloomy night.
“You’re mad, I know it, and I don’t blame you. Karen? Say something, shout at me, anything!”
Her lower lip began to quiver, and her eyes welled up.
“Karen?” I said.
I stopped rubbing and my gaze followed her hand as she brought it up in front of her and pointed through the windscreen.
My head snapped back and I saw what scared her. A large dark figure stood in the road. The fog swirled around, giving it substance.
“What the fuck is that?!” I blurted out.
I couldn’t tell if it was man or animal. We’d heard about the beast of Bodmin moor, though we were far from those parts. Its large upper body heaved up and down as it breathed. A cool vapour left its mouth with each exhale.
“Start the car!” Karen shouted.
I fumbled with the keys, until I was able to grip them tightly. The car revved, but with every try the engine sounded more laboured, like a death rattle.
“Please, please, please,” I begged.
The rhythm of the ignition slowed and quietened and the thing ambled forward.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life! We’re going to die, aren’t we?” Karen’s voice broke.
I turned the key back and the engine went silent.
“It’s… it’s probably just some big cat that’s escaped a zoo.”
A low bassy growl reverberated around the car.
“That’s no cat,” Karen stated.
I looked up, seeing the creature’s eyes light up, big and piercing and red. Dropping its head, spiky fur stood in hackles on the back of its neck. Without warning, it sprinted.
I forced the ignition on again. Ecstasy! The car started. I didn’t stop to think, I put it in first and slammed on the accelerator. The car fishtailed, struggling for grip. The creature reeled in surprise then charged and I drove straight at it.
The sound of the windscreen cracking under stress, as the body rolled over the roof, caused my wife to screech. The car’s high pitched whine from the low gear pleaded with me to shift. The tyres lost grip and the car aquaplaned into the nearside hedgerow. Karen’s head whipped forward, her seat belt bracing her.
The car died again. No matter how many times I turned the key, there was nothing, the car was dead.
“Karen, can you get out?”
She was dazed.
I exited the vehicle and rushed around to her side. The door opened with some difficulty, her body flopped out and I caught her.
I turned to see the beast writhe in the road, obviously injured. It howled into the night, filling my head, sending fear scattering around my body.
“We’ve got to go,” I said, reaching over to unbuckle the belt.
I slid her out of the car and linked arms.
“Karen, are you hurt?”
“I… I think I’m fine,” she said delicately.
We moved down the road slowly. Karen hobbled as her legs tried their best to gain traction.
“I don’t think I can do this,” she whimpered.
“Yes, you can,” I replied, taking more of her weight on my hip.
From behind, a savage roar tinged with pain echoed in the night sky.
We approached a small humpback bridge, to the left a small white sign with broken black lettering said *River Lethe*. I heaved her up to the top and heard the rushing water below. The river was cold and dangerous. We moved quickly down the other side. To my relief, the fog was clearing, I could hear the ocean. In the moonlight, I could see the waves breach the sand.
“We’re almost there,” I said.
Karen didn’t respond.
In the distance, a lighthouse sent out a powerful beam that swept back and forth along the coastline illuminating the way for nonexistent boats. The stones and mud underfoot made me slip and almost lose my footing. Karen was losing consciousness. I hauled her up in my arms and ran. Holding her small frame allowed me to pick up speed.
The distant agonising shrieks of the red-eyed beast continued to bellow out, worming their way into my ears and sending shivers down my spine.
I sweated and panted. The dirt path improved until I was walking on stone. Up ahead I saw a small building, lit by a few dim lanterns. I had no idea where we were, it wasn’t where we were heading; it wasn’t familiar at all.
I placed Karen on the grass and caught my breath. A distant rumble filled the air and I checked behind me. The black beast was there, limping, dragging a leg as it approached the brow of the bridge. In morbid fascination I stared. It fell to the floor, collapsing under its weight. For a brief moment I felt sorry for it. It howled again in distress. Then, it was eerily silent. No birds sung, no crickets chirped. Even the ocean was silent. The choppy waters were now calm, flat as glass.
It was like the eye of a storm, the air was charged. The hairs on the back of my arms stood upright and alert. The beast pushed itself up on his arms and instantly appeared more comfortable, like a dire-wolf of legend.
It shrieked again, full of soul and anger, a war cry. A thousand roars answered. It appeared as a wave of black tar, rolling along the coastline, shrouding the beast before hiding it entirely. A battalion of reinforcements, miniature clones of that black *thing* now raced towards me, for their master, their duplicate red eyes like an evil starscape dancing forth.
I picked Karen up and with renewed vigour ran towards the only thing I could.
The building jumped up and down in my vision as I tried to focus on it, gradually growing larger. My chest hurt as my body used more energy than it had to give. The lighthouse beam turned further than it had before and blinded me, forcing me to close my eyes. I stumbled. When I opened them, the light was fixated on the stone building. I could see a man now, standing out front.
“Come quickly,” he shouted.
I didn’t look back. I didn’t want to know how close that sea of heinous creatures were.
I stopped. My arms buckled and I let my wife go. With incredible reactions, he caught her.
“Get inside now!” he demanded, carrying Karen behind me.
I barely made it into the building, hearing the heavy door bang shut, before collapsing on the floor. I rolled onto my back to see the man look down at me.
Scratches rained down on the wooden door, several dozen vicious monsters anxious to get in.
“You’re safe now. Welcome to the halfway house,” he said.
And I blacked out.
When I came to, I was sitting in a lounge chair. I heard a movie playing in the background. It was one I recognised, some sort of Western.
“He wakes,” the man said, handing me a glass of water, “drink, looks like you need it.”
I sipped at first, its taste delightful, then downed the remainder. My head pounded, I couldn’t remember the last time I exerted myself so much.
“Where’s my wife?” I asked, sitting up.
“She’s resting. I’ve had one of the doctor’s staying here have a look at her. She’s got a mild concussion and a sprained ankle. You just relax for a bit.”
“The things out there,” I said, panicked.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked rhetorically.
“What were they?”
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with anymore.”
“Nothing to concern myself with? Have you seen them? I’ve never seen animals that big! Are we even safe in here? They looked like they could eat through concrete.”
“I assure you, we’re safe.”
I got up and strode to the front door.
“How thick is this?”
“Thick enough,” the man said.
Curtains hid windows on each side. I pulled back one, the velvet material stiff in my hand.
“What the fuck?” I said, revealing a bricked up window frame.
“Sir, there are children here. Please mind your language.”
I checked the other window, again, bricks and mortar.
“Is that to stop the creatures getting in?” I asked.
“Please, sit down. You’re not yourself. I need you to relax.”
Confused, I relented.
“I’m Haden,” he offered his hand.
“Pleased to meet you, Ben. You can stay here as long as you need.”
“Shit, I don’t have my wallet on me, it’s in the car. I can’t pay you.”
“Your money is no good here, relax.”
“From where I come from, they don’t even let you in the door without handing over a credit card,” I said trying to laugh, but coughing instead.
“Can I check on my wife, Karen?”
“In time, she’s sleeping now.”
“Thank you so much.”
“My car… We crashed. It’s on the road, by the bridge.”
“Stop worrying. That will be sorted eventually. Now is the time for rest.”
I sunk back into the chair.
“But the things outside, you know what I’m talking about?”
“The beasts?” Haden asked.
“We have a lot of wild animals around here. They’re as scared of you as you are of them,” he chuckled.
“Is that why you don’t have windows?”
“We hit one,” I began before trailing off.
Suddenly I didn’t care anymore. I was exhausted, I wanted to rest.
A boy, no more than seven, sat in the chair opposite me, frantically scribbling with crayons. He seemed so content.
“What are you drawing?” I asked.
He looked up, then continued his masterpiece.
“Not a talker, that’s okay.”
I peered around the lounge. A woman in a wheelchair anxiously rolled back and forth, watching the television. An old man sat next to her. He kept stealing glances at the woman, clearly irritated with her obsessive movement.
I stood up and walked over to him.
“Enjoying the film?” I asked.
He grunted in reply.
On the TV, Clint Eastwood pointed his gun. He was dressed as a cowboy. The gun fired.
“I know this one, it’s good,” I said to the man, “the ending is great.”
“Shhhhh,” he said, holding a finger up in front of his mouth, “I’ve not seen it all yet.”
Almost as if it was something I said, the channel changed to an innocuous game show.
“Bloody hell!” the man said, “not again! This is your fault.”
He wagged his finger in my direction. The woman in the wheel chair stopped rocking, her face lit up.
“I’m drawing the creature that ate my mum and dad,” the little boy finally replied.
I crouched down next to him. A coldness poured over me.
“What did you say?” I asked, taking in the colourful picture.
It was of this massive black thing with red eyes. It had in one hand what appeared to be a man, and in the other, what appeared to be a woman. This was only obvious by the triangle that represented the dress; her head was missing, red lines jarred out from her neck.
“Are you alone?” I asked in a soothing tone.
“How long have you been here?”
He shrugged his shoulders and continued to draw.
Concerned, I approached the front door and jiggled the handle, but it wouldn’t budge. I wondered if the solid door was there to keep those creatures out, or to keep us in.
“Death comes after everyone, Mr Summerfield,” Haden said from behind the bar.
“You were lucky today.”
“What about the little boy?”
“He was lucky too, his parents not so much.”
“What’s he doing here? Why’s he not with the police or something?”
“He’s waiting for a ride to pick him up.”
“Oh good, his parents?”
Haden shook his head.
“My God. It was those things wasn’t it?”
Haden didn’t reply.
“To be so young and to have lost your parents, that’s so sad.”
Haden slid a glass over to me.
“Here, drink up.”
I picked up the water and necked it. I shivered, feeling the cool liquid travel downward. It was so refreshing, even more than the last.
“That water is so good.”
“From the local river, purest water you’ll ever have.”
“Don’t you have anything stronger?”
“We do. I’d advise against it, though.”
“I really want to see my wife.”
“It’ll be some time before she’s back on her feet. But she will, I promise you that. In the meantime, I need you to relax.”
“Hang on, you called me Mr Summerfield. I didn’t tell you my last name.”
“I know everybody’s name.”
With that, the phone rang.
Haden picked it up and nodded.
“Ben, your taxi has arrived.”
“You’re ready to leave now.”
“But my wife…”
“It doesn’t work that way, I’m afraid.”
“I’m not leaving without her!” I demanded.
“Ben, this is your ride. It’s not hers.”
“Where is she?!”
I turned and saw the corridor that ended in stairs.
“Is she up there?”
“Mr Summerfield, please, it’s your time to go.”
“Not without Karen.”
I ran down the corridor and up the stairs, then stood shocked as I came face to face with another brick wall.
I raced back to the bar.
“Where the fuck is she?!”
Haden took a step backwards. The woman in the wheelchair turned, “Shhhh, I’m trying to watch my show.”
“Mr Summerfield, she’s sleeping,” he whispered.
My shoulders deflated. My mind swam, unable to comprehend what was going on.
“It’s time,” Haden said, gesturing to the door. “You won’t get another, I can promise you that.”
It was now open, and on either side stood men in pristine armour. Long broadswords were held in front of them majestically. Reluctantly, I approached, peering out into darkness. A single car sat idling, next to the curb, lit by a magnificent light from nowhere.
The two knights turned on their heels, marching out, I followed. The back door of the taxi opened on its own.
“Get in please, sir,” one of the knights demanded.
Every fibre of my being wanted to say no and go back inside and find my wife. His sword glinted in the light, as if telling me the way back was off limits.
I stepped in.
“Where are we going?” I asked the driver.
I jumped, as the door slammed shut beside me.
He said nothing.
We drove into the dark. All around us, I could see thousands of red eyes, glowing, waiting. Before I knew it, the blackness lifted and was replaced with a beautiful light. I closed my eyes, it was so bright.
It was still blinding when I opened my eyes. In my shock, I saw a fluorescent light beam down at me.
“Doctor, he’s awake,” I heard someone say.
An older man rushed over and pointed a torch back and forth in front of my eyes. I turned away from its harshness.
“Ben, can you hear me?”
I nodded faintly.
“I’m Dr Ellis, you’re in hospital.”
“Where’s my wife, Karen?”
“She’s here too.”
I sighed with relief.
Over the next few hours more doctors ran tests and I was given some food to eat. I asked to see Karen. They told me I could once they had finished.
“We’re going to have to keep you under observation for a couple more days before we can let you go, Mr Summerfield,” the original doctor said.
“You were in a car crash.”
My mind flashed back to the speeding van, like a slide show. The first picture, I was turning the car away to avoid the collision, the next, hitting the hedgerow, and nothing else.
“I want to see Karen.”
“I have some bad news,” he said.
My heart thumped in my chest, a cold sweat enveloped me.
“She’s in a coma,” he continued, “the signs aren’t good. She’s suffered major trauma on her brain.”
“She was wearing a seatbelt,” I lamented.
He put his hand on my shoulder, his warm fingers made my flesh tingle.
“I want to see her.”
“It would be best if you give it another day.”
“No, I want to see her now,” I said, getting out of bed.
A pain stabbed my ribs as I tried to stand.
“Please, get back in bed.”
I ignored him and got to my feet, using the table next to me to steady myself.
“Please, doctor, I need to see her.”
“John, get a wheelchair,” the doctor said through the screen.
A man entered.
“Get in please, sir,” he said, and I did.
He opened the curtain and led me down the ward. We stopped outside of another bed and pushed me through the screen.
I gasped, seeing my wife’s bruised face. A mask was strapped over her mouth, and a machine beeped in rhythm next to her.
“Oh God,” I said, falling back in my chair.
“Come this way,” the orderly said, leading me out, “why don’t you stay over there for a few minutes.”
Stunned, I let him roll me to an area where other patients watched TV. I heard quiet sounds of gunfire. The orderly left and I looked up.
“Hmph,” I said to myself in surprise, as an old western played out.
A nurse opened the curtains around the bed nearest the TV and wheeled away a blood pressure machine. I recognised the man in the bed, though I didn’t know where from. Curious I got up and approached. I was stunned. It was the man from the Halfway House. He was so peaceful as he slept.
“Nurse?” I asked.
She turned around.
“What’s wrong with this man?”
“He’s in a coma.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
She went back to pushing her trolley.
I sat down again, and watched the TV. Clint Eastwood pointed his gun. He was dressed as a cowboy. The gun fired.
“I know this one,” I said to myself, “it’s good.”
I heard a squeak. Turning, I saw the nurse push a woman in a wheelchair. She parked her next to me. The woman’s head lolled to one side, drool leaking from her mouth. The nurse reached up and brought down the remote from on top of the television.
“Wait, what are you doing?” I asked.
“Putting on this lady’s show.”
“What about the film?”
“We play it every day, it’s one of only a few we have.”
“Can you leave it on?”
“The man over there,” I said gesturing with my head, “he’s not seen the end.”
She cocked her head.
“The man in a coma?”
“Yes, him. Please leave it on, just for today. He really wants to see the end.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just for you?” she smiled.
“No, for him. Please?”
She replaced the remote and left.
I felt happy. It was an odd feeling. Then I thought of Karen again, and it soon left. I watched the rest of the film, paying little attention, but mainly to make sure no one turned the channel over. When it did finish, I got up. My knees ached from sitting in such a small chair.
Another curtain swung back and a little boy in a wheel chair emerged.
“Hey!” I said without thinking.
“Hi Ben,” he replied, waving.
“Do you know him as well?” the nurse asked curiously.
I shrugged my shoulders.
“All better?” I asked him.
“Your aunt and uncle are waiting to see you, are you looking forward to that?” the nurse asked.
He nodded again.
I watched him as he left the ward, and I felt happy.
The doctor came back, his face somber.
“I’d prefer if you went back to bed,” he said.
“I’m fine right now. I’m enjoying the TV.”
“Your wife though, with the trauma she has suffered, you have to brace yourself that she may never regain consciousness.”
He cocked his head.
“She will, I know she will.”
He nodded nervously, “It’s good to be optimistic, but you have to be realistic as well, and prepare for the worst.”
My smile didn’t dissolve, if anything it got bigger.
“She will be okay, it may take some time, but she will. Haden told me.”
“I’m Haden,” the doctor said puzzled, “Dr Haden Ellis.”
“Hmph,” I said intrigued.
I offered my hand, he accepted.