This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 by Milo Abrams
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
For more information on Milo and his other books, visit www.miloabrams.com
It started with a flash. The sky was a deep cerulean, nurturing a fire destined for the trees. A flicker, then a glow as the oxygen spilled in, leaving a cursive stream as it fell through the evening so intensely it would outshine every star on that side of the sky. Its origins were as shapeless as the silver whispers of smoke it left behind. Disappearing into the trees at the edge of Will McAllister’s property, he sat with his wife on their creaky front porch and watched the whole thing.
Will was a forty-two-year-old man with the steadiness of a mountain. His skin had hardened into a callus shell from a successful life of failures. Rooted like the trees behind his property, he would need to be shaken to his core enough to alter his personal center of gravity to be knocked off balance.
Ruby, on the other hand, wasn’t so steady. She quickly threw her hands up over her eyes when the fireball reached peak brightness before disappearing into the trees. As the sky settled back into color, she looked at her husband with worrisome eyes.
“What was that?” she asked, as if Will had any way of knowing.
He simply shrugged. Glancing at her for only a moment, his eyes returned to the line of trees that stretched out endlessly behind the cornfield that filled the property behind their house.
“Maybe we should call the police?” Ruby asked as she squirmed next to him on the swinging bench they were sitting on.
“Maybe,” he said. “I’m sure other people saw it, even way out here.” He scratched the stubble on his chin and put his arm around her. He loved her more than anything.
She cuddled into him, her anxiety already swallowing her up with the endless possibilities over what they saw. Was it a meteorite? Did something hit the moon and blow pieces off, causing a cascade of rocks to come showering down as if the sky were falling? Her eyes darted toward the darkening atmosphere as she waited in her husband’s nook for more fireballs to come raining down.
Will noticed this and hugged her tightly. The desire within him to explore what the fireball might have been couldn’t have been further from the anxiety that was eating Ruby up. To him, the possibility of seeing a meteorite, a burned-up weather balloon, or fallen satellite was exciting. Not only did it bring the possibility of a fresh and exciting break from their routine, but it could potentially be an opportunity to make some money. Will needed money if he was going to be able to keep their dreams of living on the farm alive, and avoid taking another manufacturing job back in Bugby.
He looked at his wife and smiled. “Maybe we should go take a look?”
Ruby’s eyes scanned the sky in search for more fiery rain, but saw none. The fireball was alone.
“We could just call the police instead,” she insisted.
Will puffed up his chest. “Nah. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones to see that. They’ll be out here soon enough. We should see if we can get a look before they take whatever it was away.”
The nervousness in Ruby’s chest was buzzing like an agitated hive. She took her husband’s hand in earnest trust as he helped her off the swing. It was something she felt was better done by the police, but she trusted Will more than anyone. She nodded and then softly whispered, “I guess it couldn’t hurt.”
Will smiled as he pulled her down the porch like a kid who had just found a dead animal. She couldn’t hold back a playful smile as he pulled on her arm and they picked up speed away from the house.
Across from the house stood the old barn, a dilapidated relic of good old country charm. It was as old as the house, with poorly aged red paint that peeled off the wood in ghastly grayish strands, and a decaying metal roof. Just beyond that was the cornfield. Will had assimilated nearly every part of usable land behind the house for the cornfield. It stretched for acres to either side, acting as the second stage in the journey from the house to the woods.
Rushing into the ocean of eight-foot corn stalks, Will’s heart raced. The already darkening sky created a poorly lit labyrinth which the couple plowed through with reckless abandon. Hand in hand, they ran like small children. They were racing not only the impending presence of the police, but also the setting sun. By the time they reached the end of the corn, the world had dimmed into a serene twilight.
Ruby stopped short of the tree line into the woods, yanking Will backward.
“What’s the matter?” he asked as he caught his breath.
“It’s awful dark,” she hesitated.
Will looked into the trees and nodded. She had always been the cautious one.
“Okay,” he said, “we won’t go far. If we don’t see anything within a couple minutes we’ll just turn and head back, okay?”
Ruby could feel the uneasiness swelling in her chest. “Okay,” she said, “but only a couple of minutes. You know I don’t like the dark.”
Will squeezed her hand harder. She always entertained his wild heart and crazy dreams, and he adored her for that.
The stark contrast of deep greens and browns were refreshing compared to the washed-out gold of the field. Will had spent the last twenty years not only learning how to farm, but learning the woods. He knew of the steep drop off just a few hundred feet from the tree line that stretched for miles to the right, with a shallow and easy path up just to the left. He knew the way the creek twisted and turned throughout the trees, branching into hundreds of small streams that ran into the hills. He knew the paths the deer would take to avoid pitfalls, broken ankles, and being seen. He had lived nearly all his adult life wandering those woods with Ruby. They were a part of him.
Veering off to the left, they followed a well-worn footpath created by the deer that led down a gentle slope deeper into the woods. To their right, the hill rose sharply like the face of a mountain buried beneath the dirt and brambles. They walked as slowly as Will’s excitement would allow them, keeping their eyes open for any sign of the glowing ball of fire deep within the trees. As they walked, a low rumble of thunder growled in the distance, sending a shiver up Ruby’s arm.
“I don’t want to be out here in the dark and the rain, Will,” she pleaded.
“Just a little further,” he pressed.
For a while she quietly followed him. Around monstrous trees that twisted from the soil, bending in artistic curves in a desperate attempt to catch what little rays of sun they could from the sky. Her feet hurt as they climbed up and down hills. She hadn’t worn her sneakers, or anything even remotely suitable for hiking. Still in the slippers that she wore on the porch during the sunsets, she struggled not to fumble her steps as she kept up with her husband.
“Will,” she pleaded as they crossed a series of mounds in the ground that looked like giant anthills, “we need to go back now. It’s getting too dark and my feet hurt. I’m going to completely ruin my slippers.”
He stopped and scanned the darkening brush for any sign of foreign light. The raindrops pelted the leaves and his forehead as the weather began to turn with the end of day. All he saw were trees. Nothing but trees. He turned to see his lovely wife shivering between anger and anxiety and gave in.
“You’re right,” he said grabbing both of her hands gently, “I’m sorry. We’re not going to see anything tonight. We’ll hurry back now, and we’ll be back on the porch by dark.”
The fireball hadn’t left his mind, and it hadn’t left Ruby’s either.
“Well, we can look tomorrow,” she compromised, “I’m sure that if someone else saw it we’ll hear something about it. Maybe it’ll be on the news.”
In all his excitement, he had underestimated the distance they had traveled. He might’ve been able to navigate the woods in the dark, but Ruby couldn’t. The gravity of the mistake he had made dragging them so far into the woods so close to sunset began to weigh on him as he watched the shadows from the trees disappear, and the sky above them begin to blend in with the branches. Ruby’s hand was sweating in his. He knew exactly where they were, and just about how long it would take them to get back to the house. The sun was setting faster than Will could comfortably lead Ruby along in her slippers, and he knew for sure that they wouldn’t make it back before dark. But he couldn’t tell her that.
As they walked faster and faster, her grip on his hand increased. Had he been able to see his hands more clearly, he would’ve seen how white her fingertips had become from the pressure, leaving blushed red marks and deep indentations into his hand. She watched the night come, but she was too afraid to call Will out on his lie. She just held on tightly to his hand and let him pull her along through the darkness and the trees.
It got so dark that she would jump every time one of them snapped a twig. She was aware of the different animals that prowled through the woods at night, and it was just another thing eating at the anxious ball in her stomach. Will could feel her hand shaking as they started to walk upwards with the slope of the ground.
“It’s okay,” Will reassured her, “almost there. Just a little bit to go, don’t worry.”
Ruby was beyond worried. Her incredible fear of the dark lived inside of her like an irrational demon. She shuddered and stopped.
“I…I can’t do it,” she stammered, “I can’t keep going.”
“It’s okay,” Will tried to tell her, “just a little further, through the field and we’re home free.”
Another twig snapped somewhere in the dark. This time she knew it wasn’t from their walking.
“What was that?” Her heart pounded against the underside of her shirt. “Did you hear that?”
“It’s nothing, probably a deer.”
As the last word left his lips a loud whistle echoed through the trees behind them. Will stared off into the dark, but Ruby refused to move.
Will didn’t have an answer. “Come on,” he said grabbing her hand, “we’ve been out here long enough.”
They ran the rest of the way up the slope that led them back to the tree line with the hairs on their necks reaching for the sky. Will wasn’t sure if it was just Ruby’s uneasiness that was finally getting to him or not, but something felt off. He held his forearm out to deflect the cornstalks as he pulled her through them and they crossed the entire length of the cornfield in just a few minutes. As they broke free and back into the glow of the porch light that Ruby always left on, their chests swelled in large heaves as they both tried to catch their breath.
He saw the way that she was looking at him, her eyes wide like a terrified animal. It was a mistake to go off wandering into the woods that late in search of whatever had fallen from the sky. He should’ve known better. As Ruby caught her breath, she ran up the stairs and into the house. The screen door slapped the frame with a loud clap as it closed.
When he reached the kitchen, she was standing at the sink chugging a glass of water. He slowly approached her and gently ran his fingers across the tips of her shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize how deep we were in, I honestly thought we would make it back before dark.” She didn’t reply, she just refilled her glass and then drank some more. After she finished, she set the glass in the sink and replaced a pill bottle on the window sill in front of her.
“What was that sound?” she asked.
He honestly didn’t know.
“Probably just a bird,” he answered her, “I’ve heard it lots of times out there. There’s lots of birds out there.”
Ruby took comfort in her husband’s reassurance, even if it lasted only a moment. They tried to put the darkness behind them as she closed the front door and locked it.
“I guess we missed the rest of the sunset,” she frowned.
Their routine was always the same. After dinner, they would sit out on the porch and watch the sunset, unless it was too cold. Ohio winters were harsh, and the porch had a good roof that covered the entire twenty-five-foot length of it, but its shape caused the wind to blow the snow and cold inward and all over the bench. During those times, they’d sit in the living room quietly and read.
“Yes, but that’s okay. We’ll catch the next one tomorrow.”
“Promise?” she asked. She hated when their routine was interrupted. It agitated her anxiety.
She smiled and then went ahead of her husband up the stairs toward the bathroom to brush her teeth. He stayed behind and closed the windows and turned everything off except a small light above the stove to light up the kitchen. As soon as he flipped the switch, a series of light-sensing night lights came alive, glowing in patches around the darkened house. It was convenient for them. Their days started early as they got up with the sun and tended to their goats and the crops, but it wasn’t the reason they were there. Ruby was terrified of the dark, and Will wanted to do everything he could to make their home feel as safe as possible for her.
Once upstairs, he passed several unused bedrooms on his way to the bathroom. Ruby was already inside, swishing some mouthwash around vigorously when he entered. For twenty years they maintained the same routine.
They made their way to bed and kissed each other goodnight. Will was tired and was out in less than two minutes. The next day he needed to get a start on harvesting that year’s corn—an exhausting job for just one person.
Ruby would help, of course, but a good part of her morning would be devoted to the small herd of goats that she called her kids. A fitting name, but they were as much her children as anything else. Unable to have any of her own, it was all she could do to help fill the holes left by never being able to fill the empty rooms in their farm house.
She looked over at him, his chest rising and falling in rumbling snores, and smiled. Leaning over to give him one last kiss before pulling the blankets over herself, all she could think about was her fears. The anxiety was eating away at her mind, and the long trip through the dark, coupled with the mysterious fireball that fell into the woods did nothing but make everything worse for her. She found comfort and stability in the sameness of her life, and reveled in the routine. All she wanted to do was to get a good night’s rest—it wasn’t too much to ask. But she knew the horrors that loomed on the horizon. Like the powdery snow on the side of a mountain, her fears had been agitated more than enough to allow the avalanche to come rolling down and bury everything. She was alone, Will was fast asleep, and she could feel it once again creeping upon her.
Everything is okay, Ruby told herself over and over. Look, you’re safe. Will is here next to you sleeping. You’re in your room, it’s just dark. You’ll fall asleep soon.
The room was dark, but not completely black. The walls held a dark gray hue that clung to the edge of Ruby’s vision like a fog. A night light hung upside down in the outlet next to the bed casting its light down across the carpet. It was a compromise that they had come to. He wanted the room to be as dark as she would allow so that they could get better sleep, but still have enough light so she wouldn’t be afraid. She turned away from Will and toward the light as it bounced off the floor.
Just close your eyes and you’ll fall asleep soon. You won’t have any dreams. You won’t have any dreams.
Her stomach flittered a bit at her thoughts. While she never really believed in the power of affirmations, she figured it couldn’t hurt to try. She took a deep breath and tried to relax. The gray of the room faded behind the orange on the back of her eyelids from the night light, then was slowly swallowed by the darkness. Her breath slowed and she drifted sweetly off to sleep.
A sudden knock made her jump. Her eyes flashed open but her vision was gone. Immediately her heart rate picked up and the first thought that slammed into her brain was a nightmare in and of itself.
The night light is out.
Her chest tightened as she tried to move her right arm and reach for Will. Her fingers wiggled frantically but her arm wouldn’t move. A feeling of overwhelmingness overtook her as her first instinct to try and get up kicked in. She was paralyzed. Her face felt hot like she was lying in a fire, with the urge to vomit increasing.
I can’t move, I can’t move!
No matter how hard she tried to see, there was nothing but darkness. Her eyes were open but it was as if there was no light coming in for her to see, or the part of her brain responsible for seeing had completely failed her. It was then that she could feel sensations on her legs, abdomen, and shoulders. The prickling of a thousand tiny needles poked her skin, traveling the lengths of her arms and legs and into her feet. Even in the pitch black she could sense movement above her, as the rippling of physical sensations streamed across her body, electrifying her central nervous system. Her muscles spontaneously twitched in reaction to the pokes, her bones started to ache, and her flesh raised into goose bumps. Then a sharp sting struck her arm, right in the sensitive skin inside her elbow, followed by a feeling of ice water pouring through her veins. The cold slowly warmed into a tingle that began to numb everything as it traveled through her. Then what felt like a cold hand gently pressed against her forehead. That’s when she tried to scream.
It was the screaming that woke Will up. The sudden shrill noise shot him out of bed and onto the floor. His eyes were still closed as his knees hit the carpet, burning from the friction. He pulled his eyes open in his disoriented state and looked around.
I must’ve fallen out of bed, he thought. He sat back and took a second to wake up before even trying to stand. Ruby’s terrified scream ripped through the room a second time right behind him in the bed, sending his heart right into the roof of his mouth. He quickly pulled himself up the side of the bed and saw her lying perfectly flat under the comforter screaming. Running around to her side of the bed, he pulled back the blanket and saw her desperately digging her fingers into the mattress at her sides. He tried to hold her hand but it was no use. Her hands had transformed into the stone claws of a gargoyle.
“Ruby, honey,” he said trying to talk to her. He pushed away a few rogue strands of brown hair that hung down wildly above her eyes. The tears were streaming down her cheeks as he looked her over to make sure she wasn’t bleeding. The way she was grabbing the bed threw him into a panic. But the tears weren’t pouring out of her from pain—they were from fear.
She let out another horrendous scream, causing Will to take one of his hands and set it upon one of her wrists, and then used the other to softly rub the top of her head.
“Shh,” it’s okay,” he said softly. “Ruby, I’m here. It’s okay.”
Is she in pain? The panic on his face was haunting in the glow of the night light. He felt completely helpless as he watched her on the bed.
“No!” she suddenly screamed. Will stepped back and watched as her entire body stiffened a little, her back arching slightly, and then she stopped.
Her hands slowly began to soften. As her fingers released the sheet, it remained bunched up and mangled. She instantly began to sweat all over, her arms glistening in the glow of the night light. Will just stood back and watched, not wanting to move or speak. He just watched as she softened into a relaxed position on her back and grew quiet. Her breathing slowed, and just as quickly as she had been thrown into the storm, she was as calm as Sleeping Beauty. Her eyelids began to flutter, and he watched as they rolled around behind their lids. Now that she was calm, he recognized that she was not just having a nightmare, but the nightmare.
“Ruby,” he said standing by the bed.
She didn’t move.
He turned on the bedroom light and her eyes squeezed shut.
“It’s okay,” he said crouching down at her side. “I’m here. I’m here now.”
She slowly opened her eyes and allowed the world to come back into focus. She lifted her arms then opened and closed her hands. She looked at them and then sat up and looked at Will.
“My hands hurt,” she croaked out.
He put his arm around her and sat down on the bed. “You were grabbing the sheet pretty hard.”
As soon as she saw him, she threw her arms around him and began sobbing into his chest. “Oh Will,” she cried, “I’ve never been so glad to see you.”
He held her there and let her cry, knowing she wouldn’t be able to think clearly until the emotion had emptied itself out. As soon as it did she pulled back, and he sighed.
“Was it the dream again?” he asked.
He didn’t know what to say. For twenty years she had been having the same recurring nightmare. No matter what they did it never seemed to go away, and at times, it happened more frequently than others. He ran his fingers through her hair and forced a smile.
“It’s okay,” he said, “we’ve been here before. We just need to figure out what triggered it this time.”
He knew. Of course, he knew. Ruby’s anxiety was an unwelcome guest that had been living off their emotional dinner scraps for years. He knew that anytime anything new happened she would be sent into an anxiety-ridden tailspin, as if the sky were falling. Yet on that day, it seemed it had.
“I need to see Dr. Benson,” she said.
“Listen, about what we saw tonight, I’m sure it was nothing.”
Ruby stood up from the bed, ignoring him. “I need to call her right now, Will. I need to talk to her as soon as possible.”
Will stood with her, unsure of what to do. “Okay, let’s just calm down for a second. You’re always a little worked up after the dream.”
Lightning flashed through the bedroom window, causing Ruby to nearly jump out of her skin. Will could see the wild panic rolling about in her eyes.
“Where’s the phone? I need to call her,” her voice ran at a million miles an hour. “Before something happens. Maybe she’ll see me right now.”
“Ruby,” Will said, softly placing his hands on her shoulders, “it’s three o’clock in the morning. We can call Dr. Benson in the morning if you want.”
She stared at him, her eyes sad and desperate.
He sighed. “Let me get you a drink. I’ll be right back, okay? Just sit down, I won’t be long.”
Ruby did as instructed, and watched Will like a terrified animal as he opened the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway. He closed the door slowly and then ran for the stairs. Despite the floors all being carpeted, the old house creaked no matter where he stepped. Down the stairs and around into the kitchen, he ripped the refrigerator door open and poured her a glass of milk in record time. Just as he was about to go back upstairs, something caught his eye. There was a small card stuck to the door under a large colorful magnet with the slogan “Be Safe, Not Sorry” printed across it. He chuckled at it. It was nothing he would have ever kept, even if it did have good advice on it. Ruby would always keep the bits of junk mail she thought were useful or pretty. Underneath, the little card was a generic printed reminder of Ruby’s next appointment to see her psychiatrist. Next to the date was a phone number.
Will cared deeply for his wife, so much so, that he would bother to call her psychiatrist in the middle of the night. His foot tapped the floor nervously as he waited for someone to pick up.
“H…hello?” a voice stammered on the other end.
“Dr. Benson,” Will said, “I’m sorry to wake you.”
There was a pause as the doctor was checking the time. “Who is this?”
“This is Will McAllister. My wife Ruby is one of your patients.”
“Oh yes, Ruby. What’s wrong? Did something happen to her?”
He hesitated for a moment. “Well, she’s a mess right now. I promise that I wouldn’t be calling you like this if I really wasn’t concerned. You’ve been seeing her for such a long time and she really trusts you. It’s just, she really wants to talk to you. I tried to talk her out of it but she’s frayed at the edges right now.”
There was a pause on the other end, and Will was convinced that he had upset the doctor. Expecting her to reassure him that she would be okay and that she would just see her at her next appointment, leaving Will to pick up the pieces, she suddenly spoke.
“Tomorrow,” she said, “bring her in at noon. I’ll squeeze her in during my lunch.”
Will smiled, “Thank you doctor. It really means a lot to both of us. I really appreciate it.”
“Get some sleep Mr. McAllister,” she said and then hung up.
He set the phone down, hoping he hadn’t messed up somehow. Then he heard Ruby scream again upstairs.
“Ruby?” he yelled as he ran for the stairs, spilling milk all over as he went.
By the time he made it up to the bedroom door everything was silent. He slowly opened the door and didn’t see Ruby anywhere. His eyes darted to the window, but it was still shut and locked. The blankets on the bed moved slightly, showing signs of life. He set the milk down and returned to her side, peeling back the blanket to find her disoriented underneath.
“Are you okay?” he said caressing her face, “I heard you scream.”
She looked down, her face still red from sleeping. “I’m sorry. I dozed again while you were downstairs.”
He handed her the milk and smiled. “I have a surprise for you.”
She gulped the drink, looking at him with one raised eyebrow. “Oh?”
“I called Dr. Benson for you. You have an appointment with her tomorrow at noon.” He could feel the pride beaming from his smile as he told her. He loved to do things to make his wife happy, and surely this would be one of them. But instead of a parade of thanks or a warm embrace, she just looked at him confused. Her eyes then darted to the clock on the end table next to the bed.
“Why did you do that?” she asked. “It’s after three in the morning.”
Will froze. He didn’t understand. “B…but, you told me you needed to talk to her. You frantically paced around the room, looking like you were going to run out any second into the street.”
The way her eyes focused on his said volumes. “I don’t remember saying that,” she said.
He examined her expression closely. Was she lying to him? She wouldn’t do that.
“Don’t you remember the nightmare? Don’t you remember me waking you up, and then going downstairs to get you a drink? You were petrified.”
She pursed her lips and then looked at the floor. “Actually, no. I was confused as to why you had gotten me the milk, but I never really thought about why.”
Will was shocked. She had never had problems remembering things, especially after having the nightmare. If anything, it would stick with her for days, leaving her in an impenetrable mist of depression.
“Well,” he cleared his throat, “Dr. Benson is expecting you at noon tomorrow. She said she would see you on her lunch break. If I had known that you didn’t want to…”
“No, no. It’s okay.” She rubbed her eyes and then opened and closed her hands. “I’m always glad to talk to her.” She looked up at her husband and asked one more thing. “Why do my hands hurt?”
Dr. Benson’s office was located on the second floor of an old medical building in the middle of a shopping center. The door to get in was hidden on the corner near an intersection in the middle of Bugby, the bustling city north of the McAllister’s home of Monroe, right along the shores of Lake Erie. The interior of the building hadn’t been painted since the late seventies, and every time they walked inside it gave Will the creeps.
“I’m sure I won’t be long,” Ruby said smiling.
Will just watched her as she walked to the window to let them know she was there. Sitting down to wait, an overweight woman across from him with fried bleach-blonde hair glared at him while her son, who looked fresh out of prison, ignored them both and picked at his fingernails. Before Ruby could even sit down, Dr. Benson opened the door and called her in.
As she always did, Ruby waited for Dr. Benson to invite her to sit before actually sitting down. Like an institutionalized inmate who won’t pee without permission, Ruby found it somehow rude to sit down before being asked to do so, even though she had been coming to see Dr. Benson for the better part of twenty years. Dr. Benson knew this, and always made it a point to ask her to sit immediately.
“Please,” she said with her hand angled toward a florally decorated sofa. “I hope you don’t mind me sitting at the desk while we talk, it’s my only real chance for lunch.”
The pit in Ruby’s stomach ached at the words. Her soft face turned into a mushy frown. “I’m sorry, we can do this another time. I don’t want to bother you.”
Dr. Benson simply smiled, “No, really, it’s okay! Sit and get comfortable.”
Ruby wasn’t sure where to begin. They sat there in silence for a few minutes while Dr. Benson pulled a turkey sandwich out of a small lunch bag hidden from somewhere behind the desk. It wasn’t that Ruby didn’t have anything to say, it’s just that she knew the emergency session was prompted by her husband’s phone call from the night before. And the only thing she remembered about that night was whatever Will had told her.
“So, you had a rough night last night?” Dr. Benson asked. Her tone with Ruby was as conversational as possible. They had built a bond and mutual respect over the years, and she knew that seeming too stiff would only cause Ruby to close up. She needed comfort, not isolation.
“Yes, I suppose I did,” Ruby replied softly.
“Is everything alright at home? Are you having any adverse reactions to the medication I prescribed you?”
Ruby looked at the floor instead of looking her in the eyes. Whenever they talked, Dr. Benson would always sit in the chair directly across from her. It was their routine. Now she was halfway across the room hidden behind a large oak slab and it felt cold. Their routine had been broken and it was unconsciously causing unrest inside Ruby.
“Everything’s fine,” she said, “the pills are fine, Will and I are fine.”
“Fine?” Dr. Benson asked between chewing. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, everything is just fine.” She stared at the empty seat across from her and shivered.
“Ruby, we’ve been talking a long time, and I think it’s safe to say that I know you a little bit.”
“Fine is not a word that you use casually. It’s more the sort of thing you say when you’re upset but don’t want to admit that you’re upset. There’s something bothering you, and that’s okay. That’s why you’re here. So let’s talk. We’ve done that lots of times, right?”
Ruby nodded again. Yes, but never with you behind the desk.
Dr. Benson smiled and then finished her sandwich. Ruby wasn’t sure why the tiniest break in their routine was bothering her so much, but it was. Her feet shifted nervously beneath her, squeaking periodically on the wood floor.
“So, what happened last night? Why did you husband feel the need to call me?”
Ruby picked up something in her tone that may have been unintentional. A sort of sourness and anger. Feel the need to call me, she repeated in her mind. It sounded so rude, so offensive, so unlike the usual tone of conversation that they always had.
“He said I had the nightmare again.”
Dr. Benson’s eyebrow raised as she sipped her tea. “He said?”
Ruby shook her head. “I had the nightmare. He said that I had the nightmare because I had it, not because I didn’t.”
“It’s okay,” Dr. Benson said, “relax. So, you had the nightmare again. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
Ruby looked at the floor. “I don’t know, I was asleep. All I remember was a sort of wavy disorientation as Will came back and handed me a glass of milk. He said that he called you. He was really happy about that. He told me that I told him to, or that I wanted him to, I can’t really remember.”
“So, Will said that you told him to call me?”
Ruby pushed some hair behind her ear and sighed. “I don’t know. No, not exactly.” She looked out the window as a small blue jay landed on a branch. “He didn’t say that I wanted him to call you. He said that I wanted to talk to you, that I was very upset. Calling you was just something he did to make me feel better.”
“I see,” Dr. Benson said. Ruby watched her as she quickly glanced down at her watch. “And the nightmare, it was the same as it’s always been?”
“I guess so, I mean, I don’t remember. I don’t even remember having the nightmare. I just remember Will coming back and my hands hurting.”
This piqued the doctor’s interest. “Your hands hurt. What do you mean by that?”
Ruby opened and closed her hands slowly, the same as she had done the night before. “When I did this, I could feel a soreness in them all the way to my fingertips. Will said I had been gripping the bed tightly. I bunched up the sheet so bad that I had to iron it this morning to get the creases out.”
“But you don’t remember squeezing the sheet?”
“No. Why, is that important?”
Dr. Benson shook her head. “I’m just asking questions is all. Why don’t you tell me about the nightmare?”
Ruby’s eyes squinted in confusion. “I told you that I didn’t remember having it.”
“I know, but you’ve been having it for such a long time, and it’s been a while since you had it last, right? So why don’t you tell me about the last time you remembered having it. Tell me what happened in the nightmare.”
Ruby didn’t understand the point. “Renee, with all due respect, I don’t see what this has to do with anything. The nightmare has always been the same, for twenty years the nightmare has been the same.”
“I know,” Dr. Benson said, “but just go ahead and tell me anyway. I want to see if there are any subtle differences, to see if the dream as transformed over time.”
Dream, Ruby thought. She hated it when people called her nightmare a dream. It wasn’t a dream. Dreams were hallucinations of pleasant things, the sorts of things she wanted to have happen, or good memories from her past. There was nothing dream-like about her nightmare at all. If nothing else, it felt more like a horrific memory than a dream.
“Well,” she said sitting up and adjusting the wrinkles in her coat, “it’s always been the same. I go to sleep at night without any sort of thoughts at all, and then I’m transported to a different place. No matter how I fall asleep, I find myself lying on my back. I know I’m facing up because there are lights. They start from somewhere off to my side where I can’t see. All I can see is their glow. Wherever I am is dark, very dark, and the light just seems to melt into the darkness. And I can’t move, no matter how hard I try. I just can’t move. It’s like my arms and legs are tied down to something or being restrained. I don’t know where I am, I just know that I’m not in my bedroom anymore and I’m not alone. There are whispers off to the side but I can’t turn my head. I can’t see much of anything. I try to see, I try so hard, but I can’t. It’s just dark and there’s this light off to the side and a sort of whispering sound I don’t recognize.
“It feels like forever. Whatever I’m lying on must be the same temperature as me because I can’t feel its texture like I can feel the lumps in my bed. It’s almost as if I’m just floating there, but that’s crazy.”
Dr. Benson looked back at her with an expression of boredom. This only upset Ruby more.
“And so, I’m there and nothing is happening and I don’t know where I am and after a while I get frustrated. I want out. I try to move my arms and legs again but I can’t. I try to move my head side to side but I can’t and so there’s nothing I can do. I just scream. I scream hoping someone will hear me and help me. I scream because I’m being swallowed in a sea of helplessness. I scream because it’s the only thing I can do. And the screaming works. Whatever noises that were off to my side stops and the light begins to move. I see it move because I’m screaming, so I scream more—I scream louder. The light moves towards me until it’s over top of me and pointing into my eyes. I can’t see because it’s so bright. It’s so bright that my eyes won’t adjust so I squeeze them shut, but I can feel the warmth of the light on my face. I scream and I scream and then I feel something touching me. Something is poking me and I open my eyes and the light has shifted upwards and there are strange people standing all around me. I can’t see them because the light is behind them and it’s too bright. They’re nothing but silhouettes. And so, I scream again and they don’t move, but I can feel something cold go inside me. A cold liquid runs into me and moves so quickly all over and it makes me numb and then I start to feel very tired again. By the time I wake up, I feel like I’m being suffocated.”
“I see,” Dr. Benson said.
“But it’s the same as it’s always been. See? Nothing has changed. And we’ve been over it a million times. I’ve told you about my childhood and my fears. We’ve dissected my marriage and my insecurities over Will. We’ve picked apart every piece of every feeling I have about everything and nothing ever changes. I just want things to change, Renee.”
Dr. Benson nodded. “These things just take time. There’s no blueprint for diagnosing mental disorders or trauma.”
Ruby sighed heavily. “Time. I’ve given it time. It’s been twenty years of my life. At this point it’s been all I’ve ever known.” She watched as Dr. Benson looked down at her watch again, and it just made her even more angry. “And I wanted you to help me.”
“I am helping you, Ruby. We are figuring this out, and we will make this stop.”
It was a bold claim. A claim so bold that Ruby no longer believed it. She was tired and ready for it all to be over.
“I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep trying to pick apart everything in this maddening search for the cause. Maybe it’s just something I have to live with.”
Dr. Benson shook her head. “I don’t think so. Did something happen last night? Did you and Will get into a big argument or anything?”
“No,” Ruby answered, “why?”
“Well, every single time you’ve come in here and told me about the nightmare, it’s followed after something that’s caused you a great deal of stress. When you first moved to the farm and weren’t sure if you would be able to make enough money to live, the time Will got hurt on the tractor, or when your dad died. It seems that every time you are extremely stressed about something, the nightmare rears its ugly head. And because of this, I honestly believe that it’s nothing that you just have to just live with. It’s a symptom of something, and we can fix it. So, what happened last night?”
Ruby sighed. “Just the fireball.”
“We were sitting on the porch like we always do to watch the sunset. Now that summer is over, we’re trying to spend more time out there before it gets too cold. But last night as we sat there, a fireball shot across the sky with a huge flash and then disappeared over the woods.”
Dr. Benson looked at her slightly bewildered.
“You didn’t hear anything about it?” Ruby asked.
“No, there hasn’t been anything on the news. Maybe it was just a meteor shower or something? Those are common around this time of year, aren’t they?”
Ruby shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“And this made you anxious?”
Ruby looked at her like she was the dumbest person she’d ever met. “Everything makes me anxious now. I can’t watch the news without getting freaked out over nuclear war with Russia or terrorist attacks. Will and I don’t go to the movies anymore because I’m too afraid of being shot. If we had kids…”
Dr. Benson leaned over and looked at Ruby as her gaze fell to the floor. “What? What is it? If you had kids?”
Ruby sighed. “I was just going to say that if we had kids I wouldn’t even let them go to school. I’m too afraid they would be bullied or shot. It’s a scary world out there.”
Suddenly there was a knocking on the door. Dr. Benson stood up from her desk and stuck her head outside. After a second she turned back to Ruby and closed the door.
“I think that’s enough for now,” she said. “I think this was good, Ruby.” She went back to her desk and scribbled on a little card. “I want to talk again, in two weeks. I’ll be out of town next week, but I definitely think we are getting somewhere. A breakthrough even.”
Ruby didn’t believe a word she said. It was what she always said every time that she didn’t want to listen to her anymore. She would leave her with a sense of false hope to hang on until she got back the next time. But this time Ruby wasn’t going for it. The therapy wasn’t working for her anymore. Instead of saying anything, she painted a smile across her face and took the card.
“Thanks. I think we’ve had a breakthrough, too.”
Ruby was quiet the entire forty-five-minute drive home. She sat next to Will and just looked out the window as the plethora of cement and power lines transformed into long expenses of open land and fields of corn. She wanted a distraction from talking about her problems. Talking with Dr. Benson didn’t help and she really didn’t feel like rehashing the entire thing with Will. It felt good to escape for a while in the passing scenery. At one point, she even laughed at how the power lines seemed to stretch further and further apart as they got away from the city. It was as if the growing amount of space out in the country gave them more room to stretch and breathe. When Will saw her chuckling against the window he tried to start a conversation, but she was too embarrassed at her childish daydreaming to tell him what she was actually laughing about.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said searching for a lie, “I was just thinking about something Tucker did the other day.”
“Oh?” he said raising an eyebrow. “What did he do?”
She paused for a moment, refusing to make eye contact until she had an answer. She stared out the window desperately trying to think of something but nothing was coming.
“He farted!” she yelled turning her head quickly in a panic.
They both looked at each other for a solid five seconds before Will burst into laughter and nearly drove the truck off the road. He squeezed the steering wheel as his entire torso wiggled like Jell-O in an earthquake. Periodically, his arms would come up to his eyes to stop any tears from coming out as he caught his breath.
“Well now I can see what you were laughing about, but what made you think of that?”
In the few minutes that Will spent laughing, Ruby had concocted a story. She had no real reason to lie, she just didn’t feel like sharing her feelings with Will concerning her visit with Dr. Benson. She knew him well. She knew that if she let him in, even the slightest bit, he would pry and push and nag until she spilled her guts. He was always so hell-bent on knowing absolutely everything that went on in her head sometimes, and it drove her crazy.
“The other morning when I went out to feed them,” she said forcing a smile, “Tucker was sitting in the back of the pen away from everyone else. Now you know that isn’t normal for him, he’s always up in my business and always at the pen door.”
“Yeah, he’s too much of a hard ass to not be pushy anytime I go in there.”
Ruby shot him a look. “He’s not a hard ass, he’s macho.”
“Bull,” Will laughed.
“Anyway…I went into the pen and it was such a quiet and beautiful morning. I could hear the birds singing softly outside the barn, but there wasn’t a breeze or anything. It was so peaceful and serene. But as soon as my back was turned, what sounded like a jazz trumpet blasted behind me from the corner. I turned around and Tucker was still in the corner and all the other goats had backed away from him. Oh my God, the smell was so bad.”
This ignited another series of chuckles between them. It was good for them to laugh together. There was so much tension and anxiety permeating every square inch of their lives that they had almost forgotten how to laugh.
“When was this? Why didn’t you tell me? That’s hilarious.”
Ruby blushed, trying to bring the lie to completion. “Oh, I just forgot. You were busy.” She turned back toward the window and once again fell silent.
Will watched the sudden transformation and it made his eyes droop. While he believed the lie, he could sense that something was off. There was a deep sadness emanating from his lovely bride and it was starting to sink into his skin. Even his bones were beginning to feel it. As they left the city limits of Bugby behind and entered the small village of Bushnell, filling a small strip of unincorporated land between the city and the countryside, he had an idea. Up ahead, the silhouette of the most famous place in the countryside was starting to come into view. It was also a place that Will frequented.
“Hey, I’m going to make a quick pit stop, okay?” he asked her, hoping to draw her eyes back to him.
She just kept looking out the window. “Sure.”
He sighed at her lack of response. Something had a hold on her and it was eating him up inside. He just wanted to see her happy again, and the only thing he knew that made her happy unconditionally was in the barn back home.
“I figured we could stop at Cray’s real quick and grab something for the goats.”
This got her attention. She turned and looked at him, her eyes scrunched in confusion. “But they have feed. Probably another day or two’s worth. It’s okay, you don’t need to stop. I just want to go home.”
“No,” he insisted, “they have feed, yes, but they deserve something special.” He quickly grasped for a reason to stop. He didn’t like lying to his wife, even if it was about something as insignificant as goat feed. “Winter’s going to be here soon, and I’m concerned about their nutrition.”
She shot him another look.
“I’m not saying you don’t take care of them! You’re a perfect caretaker, like a mother, even! I just think that maybe they aren’t getting the best nutrition from their feed. They could use some real good stuff before the winter. You know, to help keep them healthy.”
Ruby wasn’t sure what to think. She loved to splurge on her goats and spoil them, but times were tough and money was as tight as it had been in years.
“I don’t know, Will. The good stuff is expensive. They’ll be okay, really. I just want to go home.”
Will wouldn’t take no for an answer. He pulled into the parking lot of Cray’s Hardware and parked the truck next to another larger and newer looking pickup.
“It’ll be okay. I’ll only be a minute.” He flew out the door and up toward the front of the store.
Cray’s was the mecca for all things country out in Monroe. Every farmer and country bumpkin within an hour of the hardware store was a regular customer. Sam Cray had lived in Monroe his whole life, and knowing what the people needed, he opened a store that had everything from typical hardware store stock to animal feed and lumber. The outside of the building looked as old and cracked as the old man behind the register. For Will, Cray’s was his farm’s lifeline. As always, Sam was standing behind the counter when he walked inside.
“Hey Sam,” he said waving.
Sam looked up from the register, the grumpy resting frown that he had acquired over the last seventy years forcefully pushed up his saggy skin into a smile. “Hey Mr. McAllister. Haven’t seen you in while.”
“I was just in here a couple days ago, Sam.”
Sam laughed and walked around the counter to shake Will’s hand. He did it with everyone, making them feel like an old friend he hadn’t seen in ages. “I was just teasing. So, what can I do you for?”
A man in a large straw hat and faded overalls carried a bag past them and out the door to the parking lot. Ruby watched him from the front seat as he set the bag in the back of the shiny truck next to her.
“Actually, I’m looking for that goat feed you have, the expensive stuff.”
Sam’s smile quickly softened to his natural frown. “Ah I’m sorry Will, I’m fresh out. Probably get some in a couple days. I never thought that stuff would sell but this rich fella came in yesterday and cleaned me out. Said something about these new goat milk products they were making for something, I don’t know.” He smiled again and looked up at Will. “Honestly, I wasn’t listening.”
Will sucked in his lips in disappointment. He didn’t want to go back to the truck empty-handed. It was then that he got an idea. Sam walked back around the counter to the register and the man with the straw hat came back inside and stepped in front of Will just as he was about to speak.
“Thanks Sam,” the man said. “I’ll probably be back tomorrow for some other stuff. Lumber and such.”
“Not a problem, Dell. Clean me out, I can always get more,” he said smiling.
Dell pulled a small stack of bills from his wallet and put them on the counter then headed for the door.
“Say Sam, did you see that fireball last night?” Will finally managed to ask.
Sam seemed surprised at what Will had asked him. “Fireball? What do you mean?”
Will noticed Dell stopping at the door.
“I was sitting on the porch with Ruby watching the sunset, and this huge fireball came ripping across the sky above the woods behind my property. Lit everything up. You didn’t see it?”
Sam shrugged. “Nope. Last night I was here doing inventory with my grandson, Charlie. He’s been begging for a summer job and we were quite busy.”
“Oh,” Will sank in disappointment. His hopes of getting some sort of answer to what he believed triggered Ruby’s anxiety were fading fast. “You haven’t heard anything on the news then either, huh?”
Sam shook his head. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“That’s actually interesting,” Dell said walking up to the counter silently. Will looked at him strangely but Sam wasn’t fazed. “My animals have been acting weird ever since last night. That’s what the cement and stuff is for. I have to restructure a whole section of my barn because three of my horses had such a fit that they smashed their gates. I found them wandering around in the field in the middle of the night.”
This intrigued Will. “I have some goats, but that’s it. They seem to be okay. Did you see anything?”
Dell shook his head. “Was inside all night taking care of my wife, she’s…sick.”
Will’s shoulders sank. His search for answers wasn’t going very well. No one but Ruby and him seemed to have seen it.
“You don’t know anyone else that saw it?”
Dell shook his head. “Makes me wonder though if that’s what got my animals all in an uproar. I haven’t even seen any cops or anything out here either. You said it fell into the woods?”
“That’s what it looked like. I went back there a bit and looked around but didn’t see anything. I was concerned it was going to start a fire.”
“That’s a legitimate concern!” Sam chimed in.
“Where do you live, is it close to here?”
Will pointed out the window toward his house. “See those trees across the street? I think they are the same woods that connect behind my house. I’m at the end of Eagle over there.”
Dell sniffed as he thought. “Yeah, I think those woods run around across the street from my farm. I didn’t see any smoke or anything. You said it was on fire?”
Will nodded. “Bright, burning fireball. Just like a meteor or something.”
Dell removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Hmm. I’m going to have to ask around about that one.”
“Well if you hear anything, please let me know.” Will sounded desperate, and he was. He hated to come off sounding that way but watching the fireball come down seemed to flip a switch in Ruby in a way that he hadn’t seen since they first got together.
“I will,” Dell nodded, then turned and left.
Will waved at Sam awkwardly as he walked for the door. “Thanks again, Sam. I’ll check back on that goat feed.”
Ruby watched him walk back to the truck empty-handed. He felt bad for coming back with nothing but there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t force Sam to just shit out the stuff. All he wanted to do was make Ruby happy.
“They didn’t have any?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. But I’ll get some.”
“It’s okay,” she said, “you don’t have to. They’ll be fine.”
“Interesting thing though,” he said starting the truck and backing up. “That guy in the truck next to us, I guess his name is Dell. I asked Sam if he had seen or heard anything about that fireball that we saw and he hadn’t. But Dell said that ever since last night his animals have been acting weird.”
This didn’t exactly make Ruby feel any better. “Did he say what it was?”
“Not a clue. I just thought it was weird.” He frowned as he pulled onto their road and the truck bounced up in down with every pot hole he hit.
“Maybe the animals saw it,” she suggested. “They are very sensitive you know. More so than people.”
“Yeah.” Will pulled into the driveway and shut off the truck. In front of him their large barn sat across from the house with Ruby’s little “people” inside. “It’s just weird. If it was like a meteorite or something, wouldn’t there be like cops or FBI or something? Surely we would hear something out here?”
“Maybe,” Ruby said biting her nails. “Unless they don’t want anyone to know.”
Will’s expression changed to concern. “What do you mean?”
“Think about it. If something fell from space, there has to be someone that knows about it, right? I mean, aren’t there people who watch the sky for a living? And they would tell the authorities, so of course they would investigate it. The police wouldn’t come blazing out here with their sirens and lights on unless it was something that they wanted to alert everyone about, right? Like a fire. When there’s a fire we always hear the firetrucks screaming. But did you hear anything?”
Will shook his head. “Not a thing.”
“Me either,” Ruby finished chewing the nails from one hand and moved to the other. “So, to me that says that maybe there was someone out here, but they don’t want anyone else to know about it.”
The thought of it made Will shudder. He knew that it scared Ruby and she was upset enough as it was. He quickly changed the subject to avoid her anxiety snowballing from this new revelation.
“I’m sure everything is fine,” he said. That was his default answer for when he didn’t know what to say. “I’m going to keep checking back at Cray’s though and get you that fancy feed for your goats.”
Ruby smiled. “Thank you. Maybe it’ll help with Tucker’s gas.”
The lightheartedness of her joke made everything feel alright for a moment. But as soon as they stepped out of the truck to go into the house, everything that had been alright between them and everything that they had reestablished since the long ride home from the psychiatrist seemed to blow away in the wind. The smile on Ruby’s face instantly disintegrated as soon as she heard the sound. Will didn’t immediately pick up on it, but it was the sort of thing that he didn’t exactly care enough to listen for. It was the sound of distress.
Ruby froze in place which threw Will into a complete panic.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
Ruby’s lips barely moved, as if she were the one in danger. “You don’t hear that?”
Will put his ear to the wind, but heard nothing but the sound of moving air. “No? What is it?”
As soon as he had finished the question, a distressed bleating echoed from within the barn in a long whine like the increasing tone of a fire engine. The panic cry was the sound of terror.
“My goats!” Ruby screamed as she charged forward around the front of the truck. But Will was faster, and grabbed her before she could reach the barn and held her back.
“Wait!” he screamed as she struggled against his grip.
“Let go of me Will, I have to help them!”
He pulled harder, dragging her away from the barn and back toward the front of the truck.
“You don’t know what’s in there,” he said. Immediately his mind began to run with possibilities as Dell’s words re-entered his brain. My animals have been acting weird. The long list of predatory animals that wandered the Ohio countryside ranged from everything from coyote to black bear. “You can’t just go charging in there, what if there’s a bear in there?”
Ruby fought a battle on two fronts. She struggled physically with her husband’s grip as he held her in place, protecting her from potential harm, but also found herself in a mental fight between her logic and heart. She knew that Will was right, but the sound of the goat crying out split her wide open.
“I will go,” Will told her. She wrestled him for just a second until the words sunk in. His grip released and she stood before him, wide-eyed and afraid.
She didn’t know what to say, she just licked her lips as her heart beat around her chest like a shoe in a washing machine. They stood together in silence and just looked toward the barn. There were no more cries from the goats. As far as Ruby knew, they were all slaughtered inside, or gone altogether.
“I want you to get into the house,” he said kissing her on the forehead, “just in case. If there’s a bear or something in there I need you to be ready at the door when I come running.”
Ruby sucked in her lips as the anxiety began to swirl. Her feet were cinder blocks and all the blood had drained from her hands, leaving them cold. Will nudged her gently and finally she ran for the porch.
He examined the ground as he slowly walked toward the barn for a large stick or anything he could use as a weapon. Unfortunately for him, he had cleared the entire yard just days earlier. He would have to approach whatever was in the barn bare-handed. He felt helpless.
“Will,” Ruby yelled from the screen door on the porch. He turned to see her visibly shaken. “Please be careful.”
He nodded and then continued forward. As he reached the front of the barn he could hear something scuffling around inside. The sounds of feet moving and scratching the dirt within the goat pen made his skin ripple as the adrenaline surged through him. One step at a time, he slowly crept around the front opening of the barn and looked inside. It was still dark, with the goat pen encompassing the entire back half. He would need to walk half the length of the barn before he would reach them. In the middle of the barn, a wall divided the front half from the back on just left side. Will had intentionally built it that way to keep the goats from immediately being seen by anything through the gaping front where the barn lacked doors. It gave them a sense of privacy and allowed Ruby to be in the front of the barn without hearing them constantly calling out for her.
He tiptoed through the front half, past all his tools, the tractor, and bales of hay, until he reached the dividing wall. Licking his lips, he could taste the dirt that had been kicked up by a scuffle in the pen. Along the wall, he saw a large metal pipe and quickly grabbed it in case he needed to defend himself. The last thing he wanted to do was fight for his life over the stupid goats, but he knew that they meant so much to Ruby. He pushed forward.
As he walked through to the back of the barn, the goat pen looked empty as every one of the goats huddled together in the corner furthest from the pen door. As soon as they saw Will they began bleating uncontrollably. He scanned the remainder of the back and as he passed the pen door he noticed the latch had been lifted. The only thing keeping the pen door from being wide open was a gentle nudge from the inside. Relatching the door, he walked through the back of the barn and out the back side. Nothing. He looked around but saw nothing. There wasn’t a single track or paw mark anywhere around the barn or inside. He ran around the barn and back toward the porch, not giving Ruby any sort of clue what was going on by the lack of expression on his face.
She immediately flung the door open when he hit the porch and jumped back into the kitchen. He calmly walked inside and closed the door.
“Is everything okay? Did you see anything?”
He shook his head and then shrugged. “I didn’t see anything, thankfully.”
“Are the goats okay? Are they all there?”
Will nodded but he had forgotten to count them. He was too busy at the time searching for whatever had upset them, but he knew that if he told Ruby that he had forgotten, she would have been thrown into a panic.
“What happened?” she asked as she looked out the window through the blinds toward the barn.
“I don’t know. I went in there and they were all huddled in the back corner away from the gate. Something definitely spooked them, but there aren’t any tracks or anything. I looked. There’s no paw marks or hair or anything. Everything looks completely undisturbed, except for the goats.”
Ruby frowned. “I’m glad they are okay, but I don’t like this. I don’t like the idea of something running around out there stalking my goats, Will.”
“I know,” he said. He hadn’t even told her about the gate being open. Maybe she had forgotten to close it before they left that morning, or maybe whatever scared the goats had opened the gate. He wasn’t going to make any assumptions. Will was a man of reason and evidence.
“What do you think it could be?” she asked. “I want to go out and see them. Is it safe to?”
Will shrugged. “I guess so. I’ll go with you.”
They walked out to the barn and as soon as the goats saw Ruby they went nuts. She threw open the gate and ran inside, hugging them as they ran around inside the pen butting each other and bleating. Will looked around, searching for clues, but came up empty-handed. He walked to the outside of the barn and looked out toward the cornfield. Something finally stood out. He walked to the edge of the cornfield and noticed a single cornstalk was broken. It was bent over and lying on the ground as if something had stepped on it. Ruby noticed him crouching down and looking at it.
“Whatever it was, it took off into the cornfield, didn’t it?”
He turned and looked at her. “I guess so, it’s the only thing that looks out of place.”
She took a deep inhale hoping the fresh air would help settle the buzzing in her chest and walked toward the house. Will left the broken cornstalk and chased after her.
As the sun began to set that night, he called to her from the kitchen. “Come on, let’s watch the sunset together. It’s already halfway down the sky. You’re going to miss all of the colors.”
“I don’t want to,” she yelled from the living room. “After today, I just want to stay inside. But you go.”
Will’s heart sank. He opened the screen door and walked out to the porch. The swing was empty, waiting for them to sit together and enjoy each other’s company like it always had. It looked so big and empty there all alone. He sat down and leaned back as the swing awkwardly began swinging in an uneven pattern because he was sitting on the end. Sitting in the middle just didn’t feel right. They each had their side, and it was never a thing that he did alone. As he stared out into the sky over the cornfield, watching the orange and reds overtake the blues, he felt cold. His lower lip jutted out unconsciously. He couldn’t sit there more than a minute. It just didn’t feel right. He wasn’t an individual like he may have been more than twenty years ago. Ever since he had found his one true love, their individual lives had not only grown together into a new life, but their separate identities did as well. They may have been two people in two separate bodies, but Will knew without a doubt that only half of him was out there on that porch with the sunset. The other half of him was inside, and unless he was in there too, he couldn’t feel whole. So, he went back inside.
Inside, Ruby was sitting in the chair and staring blankly at the TV. The news played in the background but she was hardly paying attention.
“Police responded to an emergency call last night at a manufacturing plant in Bugby,” the newscaster read from the prompter. “A witness claimed to have seen a young boy with a fox wandering in a wooded area behind the plant.”
Ruby looked up at Will as he entered the room. “Could it be a fox?”
He nodded. “Maybe. Or maybe a coyote. There’s all sorts of things out here. But I don’t know if even a coyote would bother with so many goats in there. Five against one just seems awful intimidating.”
Ruby thought about that for a minute. “But what if there was more than one? A whole pack of them would try, right?”
Will thought back to the gate being opened. He didn’t believe that there was any way that wild coyotes were smart enough to open the pen door, no matter how hungry they were. “Maybe, but I doubt it. I’m no hunter or anything, but I didn’t see any tracks or anything. Don’t you think that if there were a pack of coyotes running around inside the barn that they would have left some sort tracks behind?”
Ruby frowned and looked down. “I guess you’re right. I just wanted to know what it was.”
Will did too. There seemed to be an awful lot of unexplained happenings in his life lately. First there was the fireball, which he attributed to just a random astronomical anomaly until Ruby mentioned the lack of news and police sirens. Then there was her sudden recoil into extreme anxiety which was causing their relationship to begin to fray at the ends, and now something seemed to be stalking the animals at both Dell’s farm and theirs.
“I wonder if whatever was here was the same thing that was at Dell’s farm,” he said.
She looked up at him. “Did he say that something was stalking his animals?”
“No, he just said they were acting weird. But he said that his horses had broken their gates and were wandering in the field in the middle of the night. He was buying a bunch of things to reinforce parts of his barn.”
“Sounds to me like something was spooking them. So much so that they felt the need to break free of what was supposed to be protecting them,” she said.
That made Will think. A potential predator that was stirred up by the fireball from the night before could explain what was happening. But he needed more evidence to be sure. In the meantime, he needed to heal the rift that was growing wider and deeper between them. Without her, he felt empty and purposeless in life. He had to try and make her feel better while he figured out what was going on around the farm.
“I’ve got an idea,” he said suddenly, turning off the TV. “I’ll go to Cray’s tomorrow and get some stuff and fix up the goat pen. I’ll turn that thing into a regular Fort Knox so nothing can get in there. That way you’ll feel better knowing that they are safe and secure.”
Ruby smiled at his thoughtfulness. “Do we really have the money for that, though? I’m already concerned about being able to sell the corn this year and the budget’s already been stretched thin. Between that and the roof leaking really bad, I’m afraid that we’re going to run out of money.”
He watched her frown and it made his heart ache. “I won’t let that happen. Even if I have to go back into the city and get a factory job again to supplement the income, I won’t let that happen. It’ll be okay. I know how important those goats are to you. I won’t let anything happen to them either.” He leaned down and kissed her softly on the forehead. “Tomorrow I’ll get the stuff, and we’ll fix it up real nice. I’m sorry it’s been a tough year.”
“Feels like it’s been a tough decade,” she said looking up at him.
“I know, I’m sorry. It’s my responsibility so it’s my fault. I’m going to make things right. I just want to see you smile again.”
That made her smile.
Cray’s Hardware was the sort of place that opened earlier than the rest. Sam spent his life in the store, and so he was there from sunrise to sunset. It was the way that the rest of the farmers worked and lived out in the countryside, and since his business primarily catered to them, he followed the same schedule.
Will had a hard time sleeping that night. The plethora of problems that seemed to be bombarding his world like a meteor shower burst a hole through his normally quiet and calm mind. Thoughts raced and stirred, and he started to develop his own anxieties about what was going on. But he was someone who wasn’t used to living with those types of fears, so he down-played them severely.
Ruby hadn’t slept any better. Her constant tossing and turning was a factor in Will’s lack of sleep, and they were both awake before the alarm even went off. The sun hadn’t even had a chance to creep up into the windows before Ruby was in the bathroom brushing her teeth. The routine had once again been interrupted. While Will was used to being up around sunrise, and he never ventured out before handling chores around the house and the farm. Store trips were always an afternoon thing. That day was different. As soon as he was awake enough to be able to tie his boots he grabbed his keys to get going.
“Where are you going?” Ruby asked.
“Up to Cray’s. I’m going to get an early start on reinforcing the goat pen. Do you want to come?”
She didn’t even hesitate. “No, I’m going to just have some breakfast and watch the news. I’ll save you some on the stove for when you get back.”
He frowned. “Okay, thanks.”
“Will,” she called to him as he turned to walk out the door. “Would you please check on the goats and feed them before you go?”
Normally, Ruby would always be the one to tend to the goats in the morning. They were her goats after all, but Will understood. Her anxiety was at an all-time high, and the possibility of a predator wandering around outside the house scared her too much to even go out and check on her beloved kids.
The morning air was cold and the windshield of Will’s pickup truck was completely obscured by moisture. Sitting inside, he turned on the heat and the windshield wipers, and then waited. It was the coldest morning they had had yet, and it was the first time in a long time that he had to use the heat in the truck. He shivered, considering going back inside to get a coat, but that required getting back out, and the truck was already starting to warm up. Without another thought, he threw the truck into reverse and headed down the road to Cray’s.
It wasn’t until he could see the small speck that was Cray’s Hardware in the distance that he realized he had forgotten to check on the goats before he left.
Oh well, he thought, they’ll be okay. I’ll just feed them when I get back and start working on the pen.
As he pulled up to Cray’s, he noticed he wasn’t the only one getting an early start. The shiny new pickup truck belonging to Dell was sitting in front of the door, it’s nose to the road, and Dell was already inside. Will pulled up next to him, then watched as Dell and Sam’s grandson Charlie carried out handfuls of lumber and chicken wire.
Yeah, that’s what I need, chicken wire.
Will nodded at Dell and Charlie as he walked in but neither of them noticed. He couldn’t help but feel embarrassed.
The small bell on the door rang as he pushed the door open.
“Ah, Mr. McAllister!” Sam said crawling out from behind the register.
“Good morning, Sam. Listen, you can call me Will.”
Sam smiled and then stuck his hand out for his traditional handshake. “Alright, I will.”
Will smiled politely, but didn’t catch on to Sam’s joke.
“So, what can I do you for today? Still don’t have that goat feed, I’m sorry to say.”
“No, no. I’m looking to get some chicken wire. You’ve surely got that, right?”
Sam pursed his lips and then looked out the window toward Dell. “Actually, Dell just cleaned me out.”
Will’s face began to blush. It seemed like he just couldn’t get a break. First someone had bought all the goat feed, and then Dell had taken all the chicken wire just when he needed it.
“Is there anything else I can help you find though? I’ve got loads of other stuff.”
Will’s mind was buzzing too erratically to think straight. His face began to feel hot as he tended to his misplaced anger toward Dell.
“No, that’s okay Sam. Maybe another time.”
Will hadn’t planned exactly what he was going to do to the goat pen. The entire thing had been an on-the-fly decision. He tried to think about it the night before in bed, but his mind just couldn’t stay focused. All he could think about was the fireball. Watching it come down replayed in his mind behind his closed eyes over and over, and Ruby’s haunting revelation kept him from thinking about anything else. Dell might not have seen it, but he was experiencing the possible side effects of it. He marched over to him just as Charlie loaded the last bundle of boards into the back of his truck.
“Good morning,” Will said rather rudely. The tone was forced yet unintentional.
Dell turned, removing his hat and wiping his forehead. “Oh, hi. Funny seeing you here, Will.”
Will eyed the rolls of chicken wire in the bed of his truck and considered asking to buy some from him. But Dell was staring at him, the aged creases from a lifetime of farming crowded around gray eyes, and it made Will uncomfortable.
“So, you haven’t heard anything else about that fireball yet, have you?” he asked.
Dell looked at him, his eyebrow raised, then chuckled lightly. “Well, no. I just saw you yesterday, and I’ve been busy with a lot of other things. Haven’t even had time to watch the news.”
“Oh,” Will said embarrassed. Dell saw him look at the chicken wire again.
“As you can see, I’ve got quite a lot of work ahead of me,” Dell said patting the side of the truck. “The horses breaking out was just the beginning. It’s been an absolute nightmare on my farm. Five of my chickens are missing, and the animals have been hollering and screaming all night.”
“Oh,” Will said, noting the similarities to his own problems, “did you figure out what was going on?”
Dell shook his head. “It’s the craziest thing. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into giving the chickens a really nice coup. We’re talking top-of-the-line. I’ve got over twenty chickens in there and there’s no way that anything is getting in or out of it. At first I thought that maybe something was coming around and scaring the animals, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Well, the chicken coup has a double door entrance to it. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s so none of them try to run out while I’m coming in or out. They stay in when I want them in, and they come out when I want them to. But the thing is, both doors were closed, just not latched. It was almost as if a person had come and gone through there.”
Dell could see Will’s expression change with what he had heard. But he misunderstood it.
“I’m very careful,” Dell said, “I never ever forget to close the doors on any of my pens. I’ve got way too much money and time invested in these animals to be so foolish.”
“You know, it’s funny you say that,” Will said, “because I’m having a similar problem.”
Dell looked at him curiously.
“I got back home last night and noticed something strange, too. I’ve got five goats set up in a latched pen in my barn, and when I got back they were all freaking out. I went in and the latch was undone, but they were all still in the pen. I looked all over for tracks or hair, but I couldn’t find anything. I saw a news story last night that made me wonder about coyotes. Coyotes couldn’t have done that, could they?”
Dell scratched his chin. “Well, Maybe. What kind of latch is it?”
“It’s just a real simple one, all you do is lift it straight up.”
“Possibly,” Dell said. “If the pen walls are only a couple feet high, then it would be easy for the coyotes to get right over them, and with a latch like that, they could jump up and hit it. But I don’t know if we are sharing the same predator. You see, the doors on my chicken coup are actual doors with knobs, not long handles or easy to undo latches.”
It was a strange thing, but Will had no ideas to offer up to him. In twenty years of living in Monroe and trying to maintain a small farm, Will had never encountered problems like this. He was probably lucky to have had never to deal with predatory animals, but he never had any other animals. His farm was all about the fruits and vegetables that they grew and nothing else. The goats had come only a couple years ago.
“Now that I think about it,” Dell said, “I don’t remember seeing anything either. There were no footprints or tire tracks anywhere. You know how quiet it is out here, so the only way people would be breaking into my property would be on foot. I would hear ATV’s or trucks from a mile away.”
Dell was right. You could hear traffic from great distances thanks to the open space. This reminded him again of what Ruby had mentioned to him. Sirens carried even more than truck exhausts, and there hadn’t been anything in the couple days since the fireball came down. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t stop thinking about it, but it just wouldn’t leave him. In his unconscious thinking, his eyes dropped again to the back of Dell’s truck and Dell noticed.
“So, what’re you going to do about your problem?” Dell asked.
“What? Oh. I guess all I can do is try and seal up the goat pen some more.” Will wanted the chicken wire in the back of his truck badly, but he was too prideful to ask for it.
“You consider setting up some sort of security camera or something?” Dell asked with his arms folded. It was apparent that he wasn’t picking up on Will’s desire for the chicken wire, and wasn’t going to offer him any.
“I don’t know,” Will replied, “It sounds expensive.”
“More expensive than replacing all the animals you lose to a predator?” Dell had a point. If he set up some sort of camera, he would be able to keep an eye on the goats and figure out exactly what was scaring them, and then take a more calculated approach to protecting them.
“You should do the same,” Will said. “I’ll consider it for sure, but I don’t have as many animals as you do.”
Dell nodded. “I think I will. If I catch anything, I’ll be sure to let you know. I’m sure we’ll run into each other again. It seems like we both come here quite a lot.”
Will smiled. He felt weird smiling, but in a strange way, he felt like he was making a friend. He wasn’t sure if the friendship was mutual, but it didn’t matter, it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing that Will would pursue. He wasn’t going to ask Dell over for dinner or anything, that was for sure.
“Thanks. And if I happen to figure out what’s stalking my goats, I will let you know.”
Dell waved at Sam and then got in his truck and pulled out. The only thing for Will to do now was to find another way to get what he needed. He got back into his own truck and started to head home.
A plan began to form in his mind as he drove. He might not have had a lot of money to spend, but one surveillance camera wouldn’t exactly break the bank. He wasn’t sure if Ruby would like the idea of spending the extra money to set it up, but in his mind, it would be cheaper in the long run than building up the goat pen’s defenses. The goats were everything to Ruby and if anything happened to them, he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to pull her out of the hole of depression she would fall into. It was worth the extra cost. She would see that. She would have to. All he had to do was head home and pick her up and then head into the city. Everything was more expensive in the city, but it also offered a lot of the things they just couldn’t get out in Monroe. Of all the treasures that Crays’s had, he didn’t carry surveillance cameras.
It’ll give her peace of mind, he thought, even if whatever it is never comes back. She’ll be able to see her goats any time she wants and that will make her happy. His obsessive need to make her happy was formed from good intentions. On the way back home, he saw a patch of wild flowers growing just off the road. He knew that it was private property, and while he normally respected people and their property, he couldn’t resist the urge to bring Ruby some of the flowers growing there. He would only stop for a second, but he couldn’t risk anyone seeing him.
He ran from the truck, his heart pounding in his ears and feeling like he was a kid again. Scooping up a couple handfuls of beautiful pink and orange flowers, whose names and species he had no idea, he clumsily ran for his truck and dove inside. He giggled as he pulled away and headed back home. Ruby would love the flowers—she always loved flowers. He didn’t give them to her as much as he should. Even though he considered himself to be a good husband, he knew there was always room for improvement. He would try to be better, no matter how hard it might’ve sometimes been.
As soon as Will started pulling into the driveway, Ruby burst through the screen door and came running toward him. He quickly killed the engine and threw the door open. Tears were streaming down the delicate curves of her cheekbones causing her mascara to run in hideous black streaks.
“Will!” She screamed as she closed the gap between them. She crashed into his arms and buried her face into his chest.
“What’s wrong?” he said into the top of her head, “what happened?”
The tears, which she had managed to temporarily hold back, came out again harder and faster now that Will was back. He just let her cry for a minute before she pulled her face back and left his shirt wet and stained.
“Tucker is gone,” she sobbed.
Will couldn’t stand to see her melt like that in front of him. The thoughts of what she could possibly mean flooded in and spilled out over his teeth. “What do you mean? Gone? He’s dead?”
Ruby looked up at him, wincing at the words. “He’s gone. He’s not in the pen anywhere. The others are still there but he’s gone. I don’t understand where he went. Was he there when you fed them this morning?”
Will’s stupidity hit him like a brick. He was in such a hurry to get to Cray’s that he had somehow overlooked the goats. His palms instantly started sweating and his voice became hurried with his embarrassed panic.
“We need to check for signs, did you look in the cornfield? Maybe he broke loose and is out there.” He started to walk toward the barn but Ruby hung back. She was anchored to the ground by his lack of an answer.
“You didn’t answer me,” she said folding her arms. The intensity with which she held her arms across her chest had not so much to do with anger but with hurt.
“We need to look as soon as possible, the longer we wait the more time he has to wander further away.”
Ruby stood back firmly. She knew that Tucker hadn’t wandered into the cornfield. Never in the all the time since they had the goats had they ever gone into the cornfield. Not when it was grown anyway.
“Why do you keep avoiding my question? Did you take him?” Her eyes were sharp as knives.
Will immediately went on the defensive. “What? Of course not. Okay, listen. I forgot to feed them before I left, that’s all.”
Ruby just stared at him.
“But that doesn’t matter now. The longer we wait around the more time he has to get further from here.”
Ruby softened. Slowly she began to follow Will toward the barn. Inside, he immediately examined the latch to the pen. It was still closed securely.
She shook her head. “After breakfast I was bored. There was nothing on the news but stupid sports, and I thought that you had already fed them, but I decided to come out and see them anyway. As soon as I stepped out onto the porch I could hear them crying.”
Will watched the sadness spread and move across her face like the colors on a watercolor painting.
“At first I hesitated. I didn’t want to go wandering out here if you weren’t home. What if there really was a bear or a pack of coyotes or something? I had no idea how long you were going to be so I waited. I turned the TV off so I didn’t have to hear the damn sports and I could hear them through the windows, Will.”
“I’m sorry,” he said lowering his head. “I should’ve checked on them this morning. I shouldn’t have left you in that situation.”
“No,” she said sternly trying to reassure herself, “it isn’t your fault. I mean, it is your fault that you forgot to check on them but you’re only human.” Her eyes looked even sadder than Will ever imagined they could look.
“I’ll find Tucker,” he said taking her hands in his. “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.”
She wanted to believe him, she really did. But every time he said those words to her they became less and less believable. Their power was weakened with every repetition in much the same way that a word loses its meaning after being repeated over and over. Maybe it was her skin thickening with all the hardships they had been through, or maybe the anxiety did it. Either way, the reassurance only lasted an instant.
She followed Will as he walked around the back of the barn and searched the grass for clues. Just like the day before, there wasn’t a single sign that anything had been disturbed. There weren’t even any signs of Tucker himself.
“Is it possible that he jumped out of the pen?” Will asked her.
“No. I’ve never seen him jump that high. Besides, why would the pen walls be that height if he could?”
Will frowned. “I don’t know. I was just thinking out loud I guess.” He walked along the edge of the cornfield, periodically pulling stalks apart like blinds and peeking inside. “I just don’t see any other tracks except the ones from them coming outside. There’s nothing that seems to lead away from the barn.”
Ruby sighed heavily and leaned against a large blue plastic drum that they stored feed in. “He’s gone, Will.”
He turned and looked at his wife, her eyes breaking his heart. How could he let her become so unhappy? How could he not figure things out and keep everyone safe?
“We can’t just give up,” he said. “I’m going to go looking around. You can come if you want.”
Ruby shook her head. “I’m too tired,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep at all last night. Every time I tried I had the nightmare over and over.”
Will frowned. “I didn’t know. You should’ve woke me.”
“Why?” she asked, “it wouldn’t have made a difference. There was nothing you could do and you needed your sleep anyway.”
This made Will feel terrible. Ruby now felt that what little he could do for her just by being there and offering any sort of support or comfort wasn’t even worth her time. He used to be her rock and she would come to him whenever there was a problem. Whenever she was upset about even the littlest things should would run to him. But then the anxiety reared its ugly head. It was more like a living entity than an incorrect way of thinking. It was dark and malicious, always hiding in the shadows and waiting for any opportunity to spring out and ruin a moment. Sometimes, to ruin every moment. The larger Ruby’s anxiety grew, the wider the hole between them grew as well, and before he even realized it, she was no longer coming to him with her problems. Before she would have run to him for everything, and now she was running away.
“I’m sorry,” he said. It was all he could think to say.
“I’m going to go back inside. I know you won’t find my goat.” And with that she turned and slowly walked back to the house.
Will wasn’t about to give up so easily. He went back into the barn and examined the gate to the goat pen. Latching and unlatching it over and over, he looked for any sign of weakness. As far as he could tell there weren’t any. Going inside, he ran around behind the goats and tried to get to them to jump.
“Come on you bastards,” he said. All he wanted to do was see if it was possible for one of them to leap the height of the gate. But no matter what he tried they just wouldn’t. No amount of yelling and waving his arms scared them enough to run for their lives.
Maybe they’re just used to me, he thought. A valid idea, so he decided not to waste any more time trying to scare them.
He walked around the outside of the barn looking for any sign that Tucker had wandered off. Hundreds of hooves cast impressions in the dirt around the yard, but they always kept to the same area. When the goats weren’t in the pen they didn’t wander far. Tucker hadn’t run out of the pen.
If the goats weren’t willing to jump, and there aren’t any tracks, I have to assume he was carried. But by what?
The latch on the goat pen was secure. It was a simple device, one that any average person could easily figure out how to use. It wasn’t unreasonable to assume then that Tucker had been carried out of the pen by a someone rather than a something. He went to the road to search for tire tracks, abnormal wear in the dirt, or any piece of gravel that seemed oddly out of place in his driveway. He came up empty-handed.
Ruby would have noticed if someone pulled up. He scratched his head, completely stumped. Searching around the barn and road gave him no answers, so he headed for the cornfield. He picked a spot that seemed closest to the back door opening of the barn and stepped inside. The corn was tall and heavy. He had a good harvest going that year, one that surely would help them get through the winter despite a series of bad years. He pushed on through the corn without seeing a single depression or break anywhere. Before he knew it, he came out on the other side. In front of him the woods stretched in both directions to infinity. Either he had missed the path the culprit had taken, or they didn’t travel through the cornfield. He was stumped, without any answers, and had wasted a couple hours in the process.
When he returned to the house, Ruby was sitting quietly in the living room with the TV off, her books still piled on the floor next to her chair. She looked like depression, if it had a body and a face, and could sit in an arm chair.
He cleared his throat before speaking. “I, uh, didn’t find anything. I’m sorry.”
She didn’t even bother looking up.
He took a deep breath. Losing one of her goats, especially Tucker, was like losing a child for her. She was very sensitive about the subject. Ruby had wanted children her entire life, a dream that imprinted itself on her mind decades before she met Will, but for a reason unknown to the both of them, it couldn’t happen. After they were married they tried and tried. Months passed without a single pregnancy and soon they were at the doctor. He had been tested, but everything had come back normal. When Ruby was examined, she was deemed infertile. The doctors couldn’t give her an exact reason. A hormonal imbalance, they called it. For some reason known only to God, her ovaries just wouldn’t release the eggs. She was devastated. To help compensate, Will bought her the goats. It was the closest thing to children that he could offer her.
“I know how important they are to you,” he said. “I don’t know what happened to Tucker, but I won’t let anything happen to the others.”
She didn’t say anything.
“I’m going to go into the city and get some things to fortify the goat pen. When I went to Cray’s this morning, he didn’t have the things I needed.” He thought about telling her about Dell. He wasn’t sure if it would offer her any solace, to know that her loss wasn’t the only loss. But after watching her sit there motionless in her chair, he decided not to. “You should come.”
She turned and looked at him. “I don’t want to leave.”
“I think it would be good for you to get out of the house, and get away from all of this if even for a couple hours. We could stop and have lunch and really make a day out of it.”
She turned and looked at the TV again, it’s screen still black and infinitely empty. “I’m not hungry. If you want to go, then just go. I just want to stay here and rest.”
Will was stubborn. He knelt in front of her and softly grabbed her hands from her lap. “Come on honey, I want you to go. I need you to go. It’s a long drive into the city and I need you there, at the very least to talk to. It would be good for you. Please?”
She looked at him, her eyes flashing in a cold annoyance. But the way her tone carried through her throat and onto her lips, she didn’t sound annoyed at all. Just sad. “I don’t want to leave.”
Will couldn’t take a hint, but he was capable of understanding. She was like a flower waiting to bloom. He couldn’t force her to move or open any more than he could a flower. The best thing he could do was to try and encourage her to. With a soft and sweet tone, he tried to say all the nice things he could to get her out of the house and away from the day’s tragedy. It might’ve been selfish, but he thought that if he could get her away from all the darkness, she would come alive a little more. They could talk, they could laugh, and they could forget about all the bad things that happened. If only for a little while.
But she didn’t budge. He sighed and stood up. Grabbing his truck keys, he went for the door, turning before he walked outside.
“You know I love you, right?” he said.
She stared at the floor. “I know. I love you too.”
He knew she meant what she said. Somewhere, deep underneath the heavy darkness that had buried the bright and wonderful woman that he had married twenty years ago, she was still there. It was just going to take time for her to come back out. The world was spinning at a million miles per hour out of control, and he was afraid that he would lose her in the turning.
He got into his truck, thinking about how he could use whatever he could to make the goat pen stronger. It would need to be impenetrable. No animal would get in, and no person would be able to get inside without knowing how. If he had to go to drastic measures to protect the goats for Ruby, then he would. It was that or he had to bring them into the house to live, and that just wasn’t going to happen.
Will’s mind was a muddled mess. His body was on autopilot, guiding him into the front of his truck, turning the key and backing out of the driveway all without him really knowing. He had a similar experience when he was nineteen, driving home from his factory job more than an hour away.
Those were the glory days. He was young, stupid, and fresh into a relationship with who he would later deem his high school sweetheart. Back then they lived together in the city, and Will thought it was best to take a job an hour away to make enough money for their hopefully budding family. On his way home from working the night shift, he passed through three exits and crossed the county line all without realizing it. Then, he was exhausted physically, but now it was a mental exhaustion.
He was nearly at the end of his road by the time he snapped out of his haze and noticed the wildflowers he picked for Ruby still sitting on the seat.
Damn. I wonder if those would’ve helped?
He didn’t even bother to turn on the radio. If they had children, maybe he would’ve been used to the garbage that spewed from the speakers. He imagined having to deal with whatever music his child was into that year, never understanding how he could seem so old. Instead, he let the quiet whirring of the road under his tires help cultivate ideas on how to fix up the goat pen so nothing could get in.
Will McAllister was no carpenter. Pulling up to the home improvement store, he was instantly intimidated at the selection. Inside, he was constantly bothered by older men in dirt covered smocks who happily directed him to where he wanted to go. The sheer amount of stuff inside made Cray’s look like a garage sale. He selected a few rolls of super fine chicken wire and then, with the assistant of one of the kind older gentlemen, got a cart and collected a stack of lumber. He wheeled the entire thing up front, looking for someone to help him check out, but the teenage kids hired to run the registers collected around each other like pieces of garbage in a sewer drain. Will was annoyed, and impatient. The entire trip took about an hour, most of which was spent waiting at the register while a boy with forty piercings tried to figure out to ring up wood.
Between the lack of sleep, the stress of Ruby, and Tucker missing, Will was exhausted. The day hadn’t even reached afternoon and he was already aching for bed.
He drove back through city, wondering where he could find a place to get a security camera but quickly became annoyed. Living in the country for so many years, he had forgotten how noisy and crowded the city could get. He had grown accustomed to the wide-open spaces and seeing only his wife every day. It was exactly what he wanted.
His stomach growled as he waited at a stoplight. Automatically, he picked up the receipt from the home improvement store and looked it over. He was shocked to see how much he had spent. At the time he didn’t care, he just wanted to get out and get away from all of the noise. He needed space to breathe, and wasn’t listening when the cashier rang him up. He just swiped his bank card through the machine and then got the hell out of there. Before realizing how much he spent, he considered bringing back lunch for Ruby and himself. He had also planned to stop and buy a security camera for the barn, but he knew how paranoid she got about the money. It was all they had to live off until he sold that year’s harvest, and each year it seemed to get harder and harder to get by.
Changing his mind, he turned down a residential street to try and find his way back around to head home. As he looked down at the bag to put the receipt inside, something flew by the front of the truck out of the corner of his eye. He instinctively slammed the brakes and immediately came to a jolting halt. In front of him, three young boys chased a dog that had run out into the road. Lost in the adrenaline, Will punched the horn of his truck at them, the misplaced anger beaming from his face. One of the boys, who was wearing a bright pink hat, turned at him and flipped him off. Will took a deep breath and moved on as soon as they had cleared the road.
They’re just kids.
By the time he pulled back into his driveway, it was too late for lunch. He backed the truck up to the barn and then grabbed the flowers from the seat.
She loves flowers, he thought.
But when he opened the door, he could hear the shower running upstairs. He pulled a vase from the top shelf in the closet and put the flowers inside with a little water. He then set it in the middle of the table. There was nothing for him to do except work on the goat pen.
Hopefully, she’ll be happy that I’m home.
Will quickly got lost in his work. He was a mild perfectionist, and quickly came up with a plan to not only completely seal off the goat pen within the barn, but to also build a second gate at the back opening of the barn to keep the goats from immediately running out if they got loose. He spent hours draping chicken wire from the gate to the ceiling and inspecting every single gap and space along not only the pen, but around the outside of the barn itself. He wasn’t going to be taking any more chances. If an animal tried to get in, it would fail miserably.
He stood back and admired all the work he had done. Traps might’ve been less work, but he hated the idea of killing anything. He wiped the sweat from his brow and realized that it had been hours, and Ruby had never come out to see him. It had been hours since their fight, and while he knew she didn’t cool down quickly, he did. He was no longer actively mad by the time he had pulled out of the driveway.
Surely, she wasn’t still mad?
He had underestimated her anxiety. He walked into the house, expecting her to be working on that night’s dinner, but instead found her back in the arm chair just sitting there. He walked over slowly as not to spook her. Her eyes seemed glossy and her breathing slow as if she were in a trance.
“I’m home,” he said softly.
“I know. You were gone awhile,” she said.
“Well, I’ve been home a while. Been working on the goat pen. It looks pretty good. Do you want to come see it?”
She turned toward him, her eyes like ice cubes sitting in their sockets. “You did it, didn’t you?”
The question caught him off guard. His body responded accordingly by squishing his eyes into a squint and slowly leaning his torso away “Did what?”
She slowly stood up and walked toward him, her hands balled into tight fists at her sides. “You took Tucker, didn’t you? It makes perfect sense.”
“What?” Will said in shock. “Take him where? What’re you talking about?”
“You never liked him,” she seethed. “You never liked any of them, but he was the one you hated the most. That’s why you always called him Tucker the Fucker.”
Will had seen this before. Sometimes, when Ruby’s anxieties mixed with her insecurities, a devilish personality emerged. It was almost as if she was hiding somewhere inside and a completely different person had taken over. Someone who was like the shadow of the woman he loved. Her words were sharp knife blades covered in salt, and there was no limit to the lengths she would go to hurt him. What ability she had to hold her tongue or not say what she really meant completely evaporated when the shadow took over. He did his best to resist agitating it further, but she was relentless.
“Of course I didn’t take him,” he said. “Why would I? I know that he was your favorite. I would never do anything like that to you.”
“You probably took him this morning. That’s why you were in such a hurry to get out of here. Where did you take him?”
“I didn’t take him,” he said.
“Oh?” she started laughing. “So, you’re just going to lie to my face?” She shoved her finger deep into her chest. “I don’t need you or anything else to be happy. You hear me?”
That hit him deep. He did his best to resist recoiling in anger. He took a deep breath and allowed a pause before speaking. “Sweetheart, I would never do anything like that. You know that.”
“Do I? You’re just so sick of my anxiety that you wanted to shut me up. Silent sadness is better than whining fear, isn’t it? You tell me all the time how you hate my anxiety. I’m such an inconvenience to you, and all you do is make me feel like I’m crazy.”
Will stood there silently. He didn’t mean to but he knew he wasn’t exactly the best listener.
“I’m just not going to tell you how I feel anymore. Then you won’t have to hear it.”
“This is ridiculous,” he said boiling over, “I spend my entire life trying to make you better.”
As soon as the words came out he couldn’t take them back. She just stared at him as the hurt began to show in her eyes.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Bullshit!” she screamed. “It’s exactly as I said! You think I’m something that’s broken and that needs to be fixed instead of considering that my feelings are valid.”
“Your feelings would be valid if they were based on reality, but they aren’t!” he yelled back. “All I do is try to make you happy. All I ever want to do is make you happy. Yet despite my efforts, I fail. You are never happy. Not before the goats, not after the damn goats, not in the majority of the last twenty years!”
She stared at him blankly. “Do you really think that this helps? Do you think that you pointing out how you are always right helps me at all? It doesn’t!” She turned away and walked back into the living room toward the TV. Will followed her.
“I’m not going to sit here and agree with you just to make your ego feel better! Facts are facts. You’re always afraid that the worst things are going to happen, and okay, it could. But they are nothing more than possibilities!”
“Blah blah blah,” she said in a monotone voice.
“This is ridiculous!” Will screamed. “Why won’t you just listen to me ever? No matter how many times I’m right, you never believe me about anything!”
She turned toward him, her face red and her eyes dark. “Then what about Tucker?” Her voiced roared out in a way that scared the both of them. “You always tell me that nothing bad will happen, that everything is going to be okay, so then where is he?”
Will didn’t have an answer to that.
“Ruby, listen. It can’t be good all the time.”
“Exactly! I never got to have children no matter how badly I wanted to. Those goats were all I had, and now one of them is missing and you don’t give a shit!”
Will began to soften. “I do too care.”
“Are you kidding? Why do you think I bought all those materials? Why do you think I spent all that time searching for him? What do you think is the point of me trying to reassure you and calm you down all the time? It’s because I love you! I love you and care about you!”
Ruby fell silent.
In the twenty years that they had been married, they had shared quite a few fights. Some were bigger than others. But when Ruby’s shadow came out it always ended the same. They would yell and scream, say some things they didn’t mean or maybe get dangerously close to doing something that they would later regret. But after the dark entity that seemed to take her over spread to Will and they fought it out, it subsided. It went somewhere deep and dark to hide until the next time it needed all their negative energy to feed off of. As much as it was something that they needed to work on, it was a completely common part of human nature.
“You know I love you too,” she said softly.
“I know you do,” he said, lightly touching her elbow. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. You wouldn’t have put up with my crazy idea to start a farm on our own, or deal with my nonsense this long.”
She smiled. It was the first time that she had smiled in what seemed like forever. It finally felt that they were getting somewhere. In the last few days of turmoil and uproar, Will felt that they finally had a breakthrough of their own. He hoped that finally the anxiety was starting to die down, and he would have his Ruby once again.
“I don’t want to see Dr. Benson anymore,” she said suddenly.
“What? But you’ve been seeing her for so many years.”
She pushed the hair from her eyes. “And don’t you think that if she was helping then things would be different? I’m having the nightmare every night still. So, I give up. I don’t want to see her anymore. We will work these things out on our own.”
Will smiled painfully. He wasn’t exactly sure that Dr. Benson had helped Ruby much, but he knew that she didn’t hurt any. She was way more qualified than he was to deal with that sort of thing. But no one knew her like he did, and so based on that reason alone, he would try.
“Do you want to see what I did to the goat pen?” he finally asked.
She smiled and nodded. “Okay. Then I’ll make us some dinner.”
They walked outside together holding hands. The sun was starting to set, bleeding across the sky in a deep vermilion. When they reached the barn, the goats still seemed confused at the addition to their surroundings.
“Wow,” she said. “You really added a lot to this.”
Will nodded. “I plan to do more. No animals are getting in here. I’m going to keep your goats safe and everything will be okay.”
Ruby smiled, not knowing that he was only half right.
Sleep. All she wanted to do was sleep. Night after night the nightmare returned and kept her from getting any substantial rest. All the while Will slept next to her, oblivious to everything that happened during the night. Sometimes she would be up for hours, before and after the nightmare, fearing its arrival or lying anxiously frozen in its aftermath. For someone who was already afraid of the dark, it was hell.
She crawled in next to Will, the fear of having the nightmare sitting in the deep recess at the back of her mind. He smiled at her and then leaned in and gave her a kiss. The fight they had earlier was needed. They both had some steam to let go, and now that they were both a little more emotionally freed up, they felt closer. It had been a terrible day, but despite the loss of her beloved goat, Ruby felt happier than she had in a while. The cold distance that was growing between her and her husband stopped expanding. It was good. To her, he was home and all she had ever had.
Will rolled over with a smile on his face, and fell right to sleep. It was what usually happened every night, and Ruby slipped into the comfort of the routine. She hoped that her newest routine of plunging head-first into her recurring nightmare was a thing of the past.
She cuddled her pillow and stared at the night light as it glowed, listening to the steady deepening breaths of her husband behind her.
Everything will be okay. I don’t need Dr. Benson or anyone else, except Will.
She traced the glow as it curved along the walls of her room, clearly marking the space between the light and dark. At her feet, the bedroom door was securely closed, as it was every night. Everything was calm and serene. There was no better time for her to surrender to the sleep she so desperately needed. As she closed her eyes, she thought she saw a shadow move in the corner. It was too late. Her body had already received the signal from her brain and the process of falling to sleep had begun. She rode the steady decline of awareness into the dark, dismissing the moving shadow.
Just my eyes playing tricks.
Time disappeared. Space evaporated. Ruby’s mind opened like the wide mouth of a whale, bringing her awareness unknowingly into a dream.
In front of her the scene played out like a movie. She found herself walking down a long hallway with doors on both sides. The walls were gray and the doors were all windowless slabs that passed her endlessly while she walked. She felt the urge to stop and try to open one but it was locked. Then she tried another. And another. Every one she tried was locked and they stretched forever in both directions. She panicked.
“Hello?” she called out down the empty hallway. “Can anyone hear me?”
She tried pounding on one of the doors but it was solid and offered no reverberation from her strikes. She moved down to another door and tried pulling on the handle but it was also locked. Suddenly a loud clicking noise came from further down the hall, causing her to turn and try and discern its direction. She moved slowly toward where the noise came from, eyeing each door with her head tilted forward like a bloodhound. Closely examining each identical door, she finally came to a door to her left that was cracked open. Around the edges, the opening was filled with bright white light. She placed her hand on the door and pushed it open, allowing the intense light to flow out and engulf her. Without thinking, she stepped inside.
The room was nothing but white light. In the center, some distance away, were five black figures standing together. Words escaped her as curiosity took over her movements, making her arms and legs lift and propel her forward. The five figures were blacker than anything she had ever seen, but there was no exact place where they ended and the light began. The edges of their bodies seemed blurry, like they were shadows in a brightly lit room. As she got closer she could see that they were much smaller than she was, and when she finally reached them, they turned and looked at her. Their faces were nonexistent. Slowly they walked around her, surrounding her on all sides, before starting to move closer.
“No,” she uttered, unable to think of anything else to say.
We won’t hurt you, one said in a soft voiceless voice. There were no mouths to move, it was as if the voice went straight into her mind.
“Get away from me!” she screamed.
They moved closer and closer to her until the air filled with another loud clicking noise. The white light of the room intensified and swallowed everything.
Ruby sat up quickly in bed. Her heart was beating against her rib cage and her breathing labored. She looked up and saw a figure standing in the door way, a pure shadow in the light from the hall.
“Are you okay?” Will asked her.
She looked to her right and saw that his spot in the bed was empty. He slowly moved away from the door and joined her in the bed.
“I’m sorry if I woke you,” he said gently rubbing her cheek, “I just had to pee.”
She rubbed her eyes and forced a smile. “It’s okay, I was just dreaming.”
“Was it the nightmare again?”
She shook her head. “Thank God.”
Will was relieved. He kissed her on the cheek and slid back down under the covers. “Get some sleep,” he said.
“You too,” she replied and then laid back down.
She was relieved that it wasn’t the nightmare. Slowly, her heart rate came down and she softened into the pillow once more. The dream she was just inhabiting slipped away into the night. As her eyes slowly closed, her consciousness drifted again straight into another dream.
She was in a room with her mother. The room was small, only the size of a small bedroom, but it looked like it was being used as a living room. In the corner the TV was playing. Doctor’s in an ER were rushing a patient into the operating room surrounded by bright lights and unfamiliar faces.
Something suddenly made Ruby turn around. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and she looked so young. Her hair was still naturally brown and the creases in her aging skin had yet to set in. She looked like she was twenty years younger.
The door suddenly opened. In the hallway she could see a shadowy figure standing there. It was tall, nearly reaching the height of the doorway. A complete silhouette. It stood there watching her without moving, causing her skin to shiver and sweat. She could feel the eyeless shadow staring right into her.
“Close the door,” her mother spoke without taking her eyes off the TV.
Ruby turned toward her mother. “Close the door?”
“Close the door,” she repeated.
Ruby turned back toward the door with the shadowy figure still standing outside.
“Close the door,” she said terrified, “close the door!”
Suddenly the door slammed shut and Ruby sprung awake.
She jumped enough to make Will jump, but he didn’t wake up. He just rolled over away from her and continued snoring. Several beads of sweat dripped from her hairline as her chest heaved. Her heart was beating so hard.
It was just a dream, she thought, trying to calm herself down. Just lie down and go back to sleep. Just sleep. No more dreams.
Laying her head back down, she closed her eyes again but felt uneasy. The tingling sensation of the nerve endings in her hair follicles coming alive and the uncomfortable feeling of being watched crawled under her skin. She tried to shake it off and took a deep breath. Behind her eyelids, her eyes stared straight in front of her as her terrified mind manufactured thoughts of someone in the dark staring at her.
Just go to sleep, she told herself. Go to sleep.
The minutes felt like hours, but she couldn’t sleep.
How long have I been lying here? Surely, it’s been awhile.
Her mind drifted in and out of the uncomfortable feeling that was picking at her flesh.
I’ve probably fallen asleep and woken up several times. It’s probably been hours.
Convincing herself that it was okay, she allowed herself to slowly open her eyes. The moon cast a silvery glow in her room that paled the night light. She looked around carefully, examining the dark for anything unusual. The dressers stood against the wall as they always had, the pictures she had artfully hung on the wall were still in their places, and Will was still next to her in bed. She reached behind her to touch him and make sure. She exhaled in relief as soon as she felt his hot sleeping body.
She exhaled deeply again. What’re you getting so worked up over?
That’s when she finally noticed something out of place. The light from a night light in the hallway could not only be seen from under the door to her bedroom, but also around the edges as it barely came through. The door was open.
Her heart rate instantly increased. Will always closed the door. Always. He knew how she feared the dark, and even with the night lights, he closed the door to help her feel secure. She always felt uncomfortable, as if there might be something in the dark looking back at her.
She sat completely up, the words from her dream ringing through her head.
Close the door.
As soon as she had the thought, something moved out of the corner of her eye. She turned and saw something dark, a shadow, move quickly in front of her. She froze, her body paralyzed in fear but her hands continued to shake violently.
The thoughts streamed through her head at a million miles per hour.
Is this a dream? Am I dreaming?
She watched as a shadowy figure moved around slowly in front of her across the room toward the door.
It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream. I have to wake up. Will!
Her arm reached back behind her again and felt her husband. Everything felt so real.
“Will,” she said softly at first as she tried to shake him. The shadowy figure stopped, disappearing in the dark. She squinted hard, trying to see if it was still there. “Will?”
Then it moved again in front of the door, a tall and lanky shadow blocking the light.
“WILL!” she screamed.
This time it woke Will up. As she screamed his name, the shadowy figure flung the door open and then disappeared into the hallway making the door bounce off the wall and back into place, closing completely with a slam.
“WILL!” she screamed again.
He jumped up in a panic, grabbing the blankets and his wife at the same time.
“Huh, what? What’s wrong?!?”
“Someone was in here!” she screamed hysterically. “Someone was in here!”
Still barely awake, Will scrambled to the side of the bed and fell to the floor. He picked himself up and started to head for the door.
“No, don’t! It went out there, Will DON’T!”
He turned around and looked at her in the dark, utterly confused. He reached along the wall next to the door, finally finding the light switch and flipped it up. The room lit up like a flash bomb. They both covered their stinging eyes and took a moment to allow them to adjust. After they did, Will slowly walked to the bed and sat down next to his wife.
“Was it the nightmare again?” he asked.
“What? No. I wasn’t dreaming. Someone was in our room.”
He saw the pure terror in her eyes and felt so bad for her. “Are you sure?” he asked. “I know that dreams can seem very real, even nightmares.”
“Will!” she yelled out. “I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t having the nightmare. I was awake and someone was in our room. I saw it go for the door and as soon as I tried to wake you up it ran out!”
He looked into his wife’s eyes, unable to find any lack of honesty. If she believed it then it was either real, or she was delusional. Will decided to give his wife the benefit of the doubt.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll take a look around real quick, okay?”
She nodded. Unlike her, Will wasn’t afraid of the dark. However, the idea of him walking out into it alone, with an unknown intruder in the house, left her too afraid to stay in the room alone.
“I’m coming with you,” she said. She jumped out of bed and wrapped a robe around herself.
Will slowly got up and slipped his feet into a pair of slippers, then waved for his wife to follow him to the door. She hesitated but then followed him. They opened the door and Will stepped into the hallway. It was still dark, with only a little bit of light coming from a night light halfway down, directly across from the stairs. He stared down it for a second before flipping on the light, dispersing all the shadows and returning the hallway to how it had always been. Ruby looked out and saw that the coast was clear.
“I’ll check the rooms and then we’ll head downstairs.”
She nodded and watched as he walked away toward the first of the empty bedrooms and then disappeared inside. Standing there helpless, she clutched the wooden door frame with such intensity that her fingernails left small groves in the wood. After a few seconds, Will reappeared in the hallway and gave her a thumbs up. He then moved to the next room. After checking out every bedroom and the bathroom, he waved for her to come over to him by the stairs.
“It’s all clear,” he said, “let’s look downstairs real quick.”
She shivered as she followed him down the stairs and watched him check the living room, the kitchen, and the rest of the lower level. Everything seemed normal. He grabbed a flashlight from the top of the fridge and went to the front door and grabbed the handle.
“Hmm, that’s odd,” he said.
“What? What’s wrong?” her anxiety shot up to a thousand.
“The door isn’t locked. I must’ve forgotten to lock it.”
Ruby panicked. “See, I told you someone was in here.”
Will look around and then said, “If someone was in here, then how come nothing is missing? I probably just forgot to lock it.”
He turned the flashlight on and opened the door. Stepping out onto the porch, the night air was filled with the buzzing of insects and the soft whooshing of the wind blowing through the trees. He shone the flashlight around the porch and onto the walkway looking for footprints. Ruby stood in the door and watched as he pointed it around everywhere and saw nothing. He returned to her and yawned.
“Looks like the coast is clear,” he said. “Can we go back to bed now?”
It felt too real. Against her intuition, she nodded and walked back inside. Will followed her but as soon as he got inside she turned quickly and scolded him.
“Close the door,” she said sternly, “and lock it.”
To continue the story, get Part Two, or read the complete story in the Origins Omnibus.
For more information on these and future works visit
or follow Milo on Twitter: @MiloAbrams
-Part One of Three in the second installment in The Woods Series- Sometimes monsters are born, and sometimes they fall from the sky. As Summer fades into Autumn over a small Ohio Farm, Will McAllister settles down on his porch with his wife to watch the sunset like they always have. But twenty years of familiarity is shattered as the sky suddenly lights up and a fireball tears across it, disappearing behind the trees at the back of their property. With an already fragile psyche, Ruby McAllister's anxiety is thrown into overdrive, plunging her into nightmares and a deep depression as Will struggles to pick up the pieces. He wants to believe it's all in her head but everyday day he's pulled deeper into a mystery. No one else seems to have seen the fireball, a neighboring farmer's animals are being stalked, and Ruby's precious goats aren't acting like themselves. Thinking things couldn't get worse, Will's life crumbles around him as Ruby suddenly makes a startling declaration: she knows what's at the center of it all, and she's agreed to meet with it out by the barn at sunset... In ORIGINS, Milo Abrams brings the monster from his 2016 hit THE WOODS into the light, weaving a story of unnerving vulnerability and heart-pounding suspense that will leave readers questioning the possibilities of real life beyond the pages of the story.