October Nigh – James Bowler
The call of the crow signals their time; it signifies the moment that you should be locked away inside. Doors closed, windows latched, fires burning bright and everlasting. Their month begins, and our time of hiding starts.
September 29th, only a day stands between their time and us. My newlywed wife and I rush around the store, amidst hundreds of other hurried customers, in an attempt to finish everything before the stores close tomorrow for the month. I try not to remember last October, our neighbours had left one of their windows open. I can still hear the crashing, and the screaming. I can still hear them calling for someone to help. No one dared though, no one was brave enough to face them; there was no might in the world that could face them. We just huddled and listened; there was nothing we could do but listen, as they slowly died.
My mind reacts quickly to an oncoming shopping cart. I try to manoeuvre out of the way but it’s too late, and we crash carts, sending both of them tilting either way. Neither my wife nor I exchange words with the other couple. We simply put our things back in our cart and leave them to clear up their own matters. That is life before October, you think and react for yourself; you help no one but yourself. It’s the only way to stay alive, to survive.
We finish grabbing everything we will need to last the month; mostly non-perishable items and frozen stock. Nothing fresh; nothing that will go bad. We need it to last us an entire month. As we rush to the checkout, my wife’s grip tight and fast on my arm, I watch as a stock boy simply pours dozens of boxes of crackers into the isle; no longer bothering to carefully shelf each item. In moments, the crackers dwindle to less then a dozen boxes. The people are like crows to a dead carcass; they dive in and leave little behind.
As we leave the store, we watch as the parking lot is boxed in by dozens of cars trying to leave, the roads are not much better. I shoot a look at my wife, the look telling her it’s going to be a few hours before we make it home. It’s a good thing we brought the coolers.
September 30th, the day of reckoning, the day of all preparation My wife is up before I am; she is cleaning everything. All the windows are open, letting in the last of the fresh air we’ll breathe in a month. I wake up to the sound of her banging the rugs against the wall outside.
I grab some slacks and prepare to get to work. I have no thoughts of showering or the time to do it anyways. It is time to work, to prepare, to be ready. As I’m heading outside to begin checking the roof, my boss calls. He gives me his and his wife’s best wishes and says he hopes to see me in a month. I tell him the same, keeping our conversation short and curt. We both realize that there is not much to be done and little time for chitchat.
My work on the roof is quick; it’s a new house and there are no holes or damaged roofing tiles to be found. Good news for me, and I throw a sorry sidelong glance at the new neighbours as they hurry to fix their patchwork of a roof. They really should have done it months ago, I think.
As I come down the ladder, I see my wife clearing weeds and dead brush from the garden I ask her why she is wasting her time with it, and she curtly tells me that even though there will be no one around to see it, that doesn’t mean it needs to look like this. I tell her there is no time for such nonsense, but having none of it, she waves me away and quickly goes back to work. I shake my head, but know better then to argue with her. She needs a project to keep her mind off of what is coming anyways; as do I.
Soon, everything is done, and we have closed and latched all the windows. A healthy stock of woodpile is in the attached garage, more than enough to keep us going for a year. We don’t lock the door yet, savouring the last moments of freedom that we have.
My wife flicks on the television while she makes dinner. The news announcer tells us that a small skeleton staff will be locked up tight in only this station’s building for the duration of the month to bring us some form of entertainment; only repeats, but still, it will be something. I try not to think what might happen if the building isn’t secured properly, the risk those people would be taking. I can’t fathom being away from my wife for this month, this harsh time.
We eat dinner outside, enjoying the last time, we’ll be able to do it for a while, and my wife turns on some music as we wordlessly shovel food into our mouths. Overhead, clouds begin to roll in; they will cover the skies for the month to come, as though brought there by them. A crow call makes me drop the glass I’m drinking from and it shatters on the deck. My wife gives me an annoyed look, and I, in turn, give her an apologetic one. We both know that the real calls begin later on, that this is just a fluke, and we should not take it as anything more. Still, we eat a little more hurriedly and then rush inside, not bothering to sweep up the broken glass; I’ll get to it in November, I think.
11:59 PM, one minute before October the 1st. My wife is cuddled close to me but we are both awake. We are not able to sleep through this moment; I doubt that anyone would be. As the clock slips over to 12:00 AM, silence suddenly dawns the outside world. The crickets and other night animals fall deathly silent. It is then that the first caw begins. Seconds later, more crow caws join the first, then more. Before long, there are hundreds, possibly thousands of crows cawing at the same time; calling out, calling to their masters to start their time. Within five minutes, the cawing stops abruptly. Not a second past five minutes after twelve do they cry.
Then the banging starts, every door in every home, in every city. They all are hammered on, as if thousands upon millions of visitors seek refuge. We all know better though, we’ve become wise to it. It is their calling card. They beckon for an unlucky person to let them in They cannot open a door or a window; they cannot enter a home unless there is an entrance already opened for them
My wife suddenly grabs me by the scruff of my shirt and pulls on me. She asks if I remembered to lock the door; my mind searches but I can’t remember the moment I did. I calmly hold her back and tell her that I’m sure I did, but to wait while I check. She cowers under the sheets as I move out of bed and into the hallway. The banging continues, it will go on like this for some time.
I flick the downstairs hall light on, and, as if propelled by this, the banging on our door grows louder and more insistent. It’s as if the being behind the door believes I will be foolish enough to open it. My stomach tightens as I realize, I have not bolted the door, only locked the handle.
In an effort to keep a calm mind, I slowly make my way down the stairs and to the door. There is a bold glass window facing the outside world, my wife’s choice; when she saw it she had to have it. Now I regret her decision, as I will have to look outside when I get closer to the door. Worse still, whatever is outside will get to have a look at me.
As I reach the door, the banging mysteriously stops. A chill runs down my spine and brings the hairs to full erect attention on the back of my neck. I have never experienced this before. The being can obviously see me now and is watching my every move. Slowly but surely, I reach for the bolt and grip it tightly. Suddenly, there is a slam against the door, louder than the others, and I jump back.
It slams again, as if trying to break the door down. I don’t hesitate, but dive forward and click the bolt in the lock. There is a shrill cry from outside and a hiss, and then silence. I lean my sweat-covered forehead against the cool pane of the glass and sigh in relief. Outside, I hear the banging begin to die off on other doors as well until finally, it stops altogether.
They have given up, for now.
October 5th, and we still haven’t been able to get used to the silence, the lack of cars, people, anything. They kept it all away; they destroyed any life other then those crows, which occasionally caw and cackle from time to time. My wife and I played Parcheesi today but I wasn’t particularly good at it so I eventually stopped playing and went to the television. Indeed, so far the station in question has kept their promise of keeping the shows running, even if they are just reruns.
We’re running electricity from a gas generator in the garage; I had managed to shimmy up a type of chimney for the fumes to expel from, rather than leaking back into our home and poisoning us. I assured my wife at the time that it would be safe and they wouldn’t get in that way; I’m not sure if I believed it then or now. They are meticulous and will find any way to get into a home, any way at all.
Still, I don’t think about it as I try to laugh at the sitcom playing on the TV. My wife also shares my attempts at joviality but it’s hard considering what’s just outside, what can come crawling up in seconds if we even open the door. We’ve tried to have sex the last few nights, we managed to do it a couple times a day when we were first married; but, she and I both know we’re only doing it now to keep our minds off of what is happening around us; it takes away from the romance.
There’s been little commotion outside, and we haven’t seen our neighbours at their windows when we take an hour a day just to look outside at the world; it keeps us sane.
October 13th, and it’s a Friday, figure that out. We’re standing at the window looking outside the way we promised ourselves we would for an hour each day. It’s cloudy, like it is everyday. Sometimes it even rains, but never worse than that. However, the wind has been pretty violent lately, hitting the house with gale force at times. We’re holding each other, watching the street, when suddenly a small boy appears in a yellow raincoat. He’s walking slowly, playing in the puddles that have accumulated.
My wife gasps but I keep her held close to me; we’ve both seen this trick before. It’s a lure, trying to get us outside, to help the innocent little boy. We watch and hope that none of our neighbours have fallen for the trick, especially the new ones next door; we’d hate to lose those neighbours again.
Someone does come outside, but it’s not the next-door neighbours. It’s the old Italian lady from across the road. We can even see her old husband yelling at her to get back inside, but she doesn’t listen. My wife buries her face into my chest, not wanting to see anymore, knowing what comes next. But, I can’t seem to look away.
I watch as she reaches the boy, and as I expected, he disappears into dust. The attack comes quickly, black forms whiz past my peripheral vision, and not wanting to see anymore as well, I look away. We can both hear her terrorized screams, until she’s ripped to shreds.
We don’t expect the next screams we hear, but they appear to be those of her husband, who tried to go out to save his wife. I wonder if I would have done the same thing, as he is quickly torn apart as well.
We both look back at the road, which is now bathed in a thick layer of blood, but nothing more is left. Crows; just like crows.
October 25th, my wife and I have given up on having sex a week ago. It just seems too foul now to pleasure ourselves amidst such horror.
She did, however, start her baking phase; just something she gets into near the end, she’s been talking to herself about the ingredients she’s been putting in the muffins and such. I’m wondering if maybe there’s something wrong with that, because she’s never done it before.
I’m out in the garage today stock-piling some wood into the wood cubby that we keep near the fire so we won’t have to continually keep running out into the freezing space to grab more. I fill it and then go to check the generator, just to make sure there’s nothing wrong with the gauges or the gas flow I’ve hooked up a large 20-gallon tank to it, which I fill with gas, so I can keep it running continually without having to fill it up constantly.
I notice that there is a small smell of fumes in the area and I look around my makeshift chimney, made up of an old piping unit that I used for the air conditioner. There doesn’t appear to be any problems near the unit, but when I get to the wall where it expels the fumes, I smell it a little stronger. I notice a small hole, possibly a tear in the seal between the wall and the pipe. It’s probably from the acridic smoke, so I simply stick some duct tape on the hole. We’re only a week away from the end of the month anyways, so I don’t think too much of it.
October 29th, with only two days to go. Although, we’re both on edge now. Yesterday, my wife and I got into a ridiculous fight and I nearly went outside, without thinking, to cool my head. My wife cried for hours after that, knowing she’d feel completely responsible if I had been taken. We’ve both seen a lot of things, things that would pull a weak-minded person out into the open. As well as many horrific things, it’s starting to make us come apart at the seams
There’s so much blood on the road, the rain is having a terrible time washing it away. There’s also a head now too, the older gentleman from next door; they left it there to stare at us, to make us crazy.
I’m really starting to get sick of eating rice.
Halloween, the last night, thank God, though I don’t understand how He can allow such creatures on us in the first place. It seems the new neighbours were smarter than the last. We haven’t heard a peep from next door. I’m quite sure now everyone has seen the head in the road. I’ll have to go pick it up tomorrow, as well as that broken glass on the deck.
My wife is no longer talking to me; I told her that the food was becoming unbearable; she threw the plate at my head and just missed. She then ran off crying, and hasn’t talked to me since.
I’m in the garage now, gathering the last of what we’ll need for wood, and I notice something. The gas smell is back, but this time it’s much stronger. I move over to the wall where I’ve put the pipe through the hole, but to my utter horror, I find that the pipe has come completely loose of the wall and there is now a gaping hole to the outside world.
Without a second thought I grab the wood and move into the house, securely shutting the door and locking the handle. I wish we had put a bolt on this door, but I know that they will never be able to get in, even without a lock.
I begin to grow suspicious of how the pipe came loose; they couldn’t have done it, they don’t have the power to move objects and make entryways. I wonder if my seething wife, in the rage of last night, went in and saw that I had duct taped it. Maybe she thought she could give me a good scare. Wouldn’t she be regretful if they had gotten in while I was there and killed me; wouldn’t she be upset then…
I feel the rage start to build inside of me. Maybe I should give her a scare, a real good one at that. I hear things start to move around in the garage.
Midnight. In folk lore, ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ didn’t end until day break; maybe that’s why they don’t leave until the sun begins to rise. Whatever the case, it is now November, but we must wait for the sun for our salvation to come once again.
They do their worst at a night like this; young children walk the streets in spooky and cute costumes, knocking at our doors, calling out ‘trick-or-treat’. We know better, we all know better; and luckily for everyone, not a neighbour has strayed tonight; no screams visit us in the darkness.
It’s now close to morning and we’ve been awake the entire time, my wife constantly baking everything she can find the ingredients for. I call for her; I’m going to get her back for her little prank. As she enters the back room, I tell her that I’m going to go get some wood to keep the fire burning until morning. I know she’ll try to stop me when she realizes that, because of her sabotage, they are probably inside the garage now.
But, as she walks in and I start to open the door, she just stares at me expectantly; this makes me angry. Is she actually going to let me go through with this and play dumb? Does she think that this is going to be funny after they tear me to shreds? In a rage, I fling the door open and turn the light on.
Shadows scatter everywhere at once; they don’t like the harsh light, hence why they call upon the rain during their month. They hide and screech at me, my wife’s face turns from expectant to horrified. Now I see, now she is regretting her little prank, now she will fully regret it.
Suddenly the screeching grows louder and louder until I have to cover my ears. The sound breaks the glass bulb, showering the garage into darkness.
I am suddenly in utter shock and can’t move. My wife begins to scream for me to close the door. I can hear them moving around, knocking over anything in their way. I feel a grip on my arm and, before I know it, I’m pulled into the darkness. I scream; all I can hear are the screeches of the creatures and my wife’s distant screams.
I feel a sharp pain on my arm, and realize they have cut me deep Suddenly, a bright light dances across the room and right into my eyes. They fly away again, frightened of the burning light. I look towards the source. My wife has brought our flashlight with her; she carries the damn thing everywhere.
She calls for me to come out, and I get up without hesitation, running forward. Although, before I can make it to the door, it’s slammed shut in and I’m knocked down again.
It’s now completely pitch black; I can hear the scuffling and breathing of them. One of them, however, makes a wrong movement and I hear a crack as the wall holding up my well placed wall of logs breaks and the pile comes cascading down. I can’t see any of the logs but do my best to avoid them. One or two manage to hit me on my arm and leg, and I feel the sharp pain fly through those areas.
I struggle forward still, blindly, reaching for the handle. I feel the cold metal suddenly, and I yank the door open. My wife stands there with the flashlight held back in swinging position, ready to strike. She drops the flashlight and grabs me when she sees me. I, in turn, grab the handle, and yank the door behind me, but before I can fully close it, it jams.
I turn around and my eyes fall on the source of the jam; a small log has wedged itself between the floor and the door. I kick it out and try to close the door but there is something pulling now. They’re behind the door, pulling, trying to get in; I feel their presence getting closer. They’re going to get in and tear us to shreds, we can’t stop them.
It’s then that we hear the distant sound of bells; long, drawn out monotonous drones of bells. It’s morning; morning has come. With one final desperate attempt, I pull the door and it slips from them and slams shut.
The bells continue to play their haunting tune; I fall backwards and stare at the ceiling, finally realizing the throbbing in my leg and arm, from where the logs have hit me. My wife is dabbing at the cut on my arm as well. It’s not deep; it could have been a lot worse.
The bells continue and the scuffling and screeching in the garage begins to die down and then altogether dies out until there is no sound left behind at all. I look at my wife, we smile at each other and then she reaches down and kisses me deeply, all the while cradling my head in her lap.
November 1st, the new day of the new month; our lives can begin again. Life goes back to normal today, and as I clean up the broken glass from the deck outside, I look at the morning sun beginning to rise in the sky. The rain clouds are almost a distant memory as they slide away into the horizon.
As I finish sweeping and dump the glass in the trashcan, I’m suddenly disturbed by a loud noise behind me. It’s a large black crow that has landed on the fence. It stares at me with its deep black eyes that never blink, never looks away I know what that stare means and I take it to heart; you may not be so lucky next year.
I shoo the crow with the broom and, as it caws angrily at me and flaps away, I move back inside. I may have the freedom to be outside once more, but nothing beats the comfort and safety of being indoors.