Authors: T. R. Briar
by T. R. Briar
Copyright © 2013 by T. R. Briar
All Rights Reserved
A heavy chill froze the air on a lonely winter night. An oppressive curtain of gloom covered the skies like a leaden mask, dark, turbulent clouds hiding away the moon and the stars. They offered light that never reached the world below. The wind swirled its way through the air, dragging snowy clumps between the houses that peppered the landscape, a quiet village only disturbed by the usual evening ambiance. Not a soul walked the dark streets, save for one, a shadowy figure briefly illuminated beneath the flickering street lamps.
One house was not as well kept as its neighbors. It stood marked apart from its brothers, a tall, old house many years past its prime. The aged sidings peeled from a decaying rot that stripped away both paint and wood, and even insects no longer made their homes here. Only snow-covered earth touched the barren front lawn. The ruins of children’s playthings stood off in a corner, long forgotten and rusted from disuse, an innocence lost long ago. The roof offered little in the way of shelter, full of deep, dark holes that allowed the cruel snow and winds to invade.
A sudden screaming racket, and the chorus of flowing water, shook the ruined domicile. It was here that the dark man approached, idling outside the front doorstep, staring at the running rivers flowing from beneath the front door. The screams grew louder and more frantic, as did the rushing water, but the man only stood there, watching. Amidst the cries came a lone dog’s howl, preceding a heavy banging against the front door. The rotted wood pushed outwards again and again, each time with a resounding thud as something heavy smashed up against it, giving way a little more as water droplets burst through the growing cracks along the damaged frame. With a heaving groan, it flew forward, shattered into a dozen pieces that scattered themselves in the wind, and a torrent of water rushed out like a mighty tidal wave. It surrounded and enveloped the man as he stood in its wake, yet never touched him. Rather it split, diverting its path around him, lapping at his feet as the initial rush subsided, and the streets around the house became a soaked mess.
Through the darkened and now door-less entryway a panicked dog bounded out, followed by a young boy. The large, black canine was practically formless, simply a mass of soaked fur that left no recognizable features besides two dark, vacant eyes. Behind him came a very young child with tousled hair and empty golden eyes. His mournful gaze did not cross over the man standing before him. Rather, he turned to the dog, speaking in a voice like creaking tree branches.
“They’re all dead,” he said. “Every last one of them. You took them away from me.”
He continued to look at the dog. “Why?” he whispered, continuing that word over and over, repeating it in that same voice. “Why?”
The dog didn’t answer; it couldn’t. The boy continued to murmur, but his voice grew quieter as he turned transparent, and faded away, leaving the man and the dog standing ankle deep in the water, growing icy from the cold air. Silence haunted the world; not even the night noises could break through the wall of stillness that surrounded the house. The man watched for a moment, and a chilled smile danced across his face. He bent down and beckoned to the black beast standing in the doorway. The animal hesitated for a moment, then trotted towards him. Step by step, it walked forward until it met with the man’s hand and bent its head down in submission. The man patted the creature on the head, then turned and walked down the street. With that same hand he motioned for the dog to follow him, which it did with complete obedience.
As they walked, the wind started to whisper, and the man looked up. The breeze became a voice that cut through the silence like a knife, less like howling and more like shrill words.
“Dad? Dad?” The wind cried out, to the man’s confusion. The dog beside him vanished into the ether, leaving not even footprints behind.
* * *
“Come on, Daddy, wake up! I'll be late for school!”
Rayne’s eyes fluttered open and his young son’s face came into focus. He had a very anxious frown as he fidgeted back and forth on his feet. Behind the boy, bright sunlight streamed into the bedroom, illuminating the sparsely decorated space and reflecting off the white walls, burning Rayne’s eyes and prompting him to close them again in reflex. He immediately felt his son shaking him.
“Don’t go back to sleep! Who’ll take me to school?! I’ll get in trouble!”
Rayne groaned and forced himself out from under his comfortable bed covers. He placed his bare feet on the carpet and ran a groggy hand through his messy blonde hair. With half-open eyes he looked at the child and had to stop himself from scowling, forcing a cheerful smile across his thin face instead.
“No, I’ll be the one in trouble. Run along downstairs, Daddy has to get dressed.”
A serious expression crossed the boy’s face, as stern as a six year old could look.
“You better not be late!” he shouted before turning on his heels and scampering out the door. Loud footsteps stomped down the short hall that separated their bedrooms from the living area in the small flat they shared together.
Rayne attempted to rub the sleep out of his eyes and looked over at his alarm clock, realizing he’d forgotten to set it the night before. He then glanced out the window. It was snowing again, and he could see the falling flakes twinkling against the silent white skies, plummeting down into the streets of Langfirth and covering the houses in blankets of powder. A heavy snowfall was rather unusual for this city. He could see people milling about in those streets, trudging though the dirty slush and snowdrifts stirred up by passing cars, all bundled up in their winter clothing. He dreaded leaving his warm flat to join them out in the miserable waking world.
, Dad!” his impatient son yelled from outside. Rayne grunted, grabbing the suit he’d laid out the night before. He always felt he was far too young to be a father, but circumstance had other plans for him. And further circumstance had left him a single father, with no mother to speak of whom he could count on to help take care of his sole offspring.
He stepped into the bathroom and stared down at the sink, his pale steel eyes burdened as he thought about the dregs of another work day. He fixed up his messy hair and ran a hand over the unshaven parts of his light, bony face, turning on the faucet to splash a little water over his eyes. The cold gave him a somewhat pleasant but still unwelcome shock, and he felt just a little bit more alert, at least enough to shave.
About twenty minutes later, as prepared as he could be in the morning, Rayne pulled open the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway, nearly crashing into an old mirror half-leaning against the wall. One of these days he had to move that thing.
“Levi!” he called, glancing around as he fixed his tie. “Have you eaten breakfast yet?”
He walked into the small kitchen, making his way around the counter and grabbing a piece of fruit out of a bowl. He noted by the empty cereal bowl on the table that his son had already fed himself.
“Oi, Levi, where are you?” he called again, biting into an apple. He heard footsteps, and his son ran through the doorway, smartly dressed in his school uniform underneath a down jacket, with his sand colored hair sticking up in places. Icy blue eyes looked up at his father, and he shuffled the book bag he carried in his left hand.
“I’ve told you a thousand times, comb your hair when you get dressed,” Rayne sighed. He walked to young Levi and tried to straighten his hair just a little, then gave up and plunked a woolen hat over his son’s head instead. He pulled him by the hand to the door, grabbing his briefcase and coat along the way. “Come on, let’s get a move on.”
“David gets me to school on time. Why can’t he walk me?” Levi muttered as they walked down the stairs to the front door of the apartment building. David was Rayne’s flatmate, a close friend who helped pay the rent so father and son could have a place to live.
“Because David’s on holiday ‘til the 20
. Besides, I’m your father; I should be the one taking you to school every day.”
“You sleep too much.”
Rayne rolled his eyes. “Not all the time. I just had a very late night going over the Wickens case. You know, boring grown up stuff. When you get to be my age, you’ll find yourself staying up late, too. And sometimes, you forget to set the alarm.”
“I don’t wanna work. I hope I never grow up. I’ll just stay like this forever.”
“Oh, really now? You want to be six years old your whole life? Think of all the things you’ll never get to do. Drive a car, have a drink, stay out all night with your friends without your daddy hanging around supervising. You really want that?”
“No.” Levi thought a moment as he followed his father down the street, clutching his hand. “I’d rather have a million billion pounds, so that when I got old enough I’d never have to do all that boring stuff you do.”
“Yeah? Well, good luck with that.”
“Or, even better! When I grow up, I’ll get my own kingdom! And I’ll be the king! Everyone will bow down to me and I’ll stay up as late as I want! No wearing stupid suits or having to work with sodding ‘case files!’”
“Watch your language.” Rayne couldn’t help chuckling at his son’s childish optimism. He knew one day the boy would reach that age where fantasies no longer felt as tangible, as the responsibilities of life pushed aside his innocent outlook, but it wasn’t today.
As he didn’t own his own car, Rayne accompanied his son to the bus stop, where they stood waiting in the cold for the early morning bus to arrive. Other people waited as well, bundled up in tight scarves and heavy coats, shivering in the light winds. There wasn’t much conversation between Rayne and Levi now, as his son had gone quiet and shy in the presence of so many strangers.
The boarded the bus as soon as it arrived. Rayne paid the fare and they sat together near the back. He gazed out the window at the passing scenery. In his idle mind he tried to fantasize, just for a bit, remembering the odd dream he’d had that morning. Unfortunately, daily worries crowded his thoughts, and he wondered if the files he’d been pouring over the entire night were scrutinized, and started worrying about the important meeting he had in a few days’ time, not to mention the rent, the bills, buying groceries, getting that leaky shower pipe fixed, and a million other nagging concerns. He glanced at his son and wondered if he’d ever been that naïve and innocent, with a life carefree of such concerns. But fog clouded his mind that morning, and try as he might, his muddled memories just refused to come into focus.
The bus pulled up at a stop, and without a word Rayne took Levi’s hand and led him down the street. It wasn’t far to Levi’s school, a squat, brown brick building surrounded by a wrought iron fence. Children ran giggling and shrieking around the gate, accompanied by tired, grim-faced parents.
“Well, we’re here,” Rayne said. “Don’t forget, you’re to go with Tommy to his place after school. I’ll come get you at five.”
Levi mumbled something inaudible while his fingers dug into his father’s hand, hesitant to let go. Rayne nudged him with a bit more force, shaking the child free of his grip, and the boy lost his reluctance and hurried off ahead. Rayne watched him go for just a moment, before he turned around and walked back to the bus stop.
Soon the bus had dropped him off a few short blocks from the legal offices of Bastley and Stockwell, where he worked, and he walked the rest of the way. He took pause for a moment outside the front door, getting himself into a proper mentality for work, his mind laying out everything he needed to get done today with care. His heart wasn’t quite there, but he didn’t need emotional attachment to do his job. Only focus mattered.
“Well, if it ain’t Mr. Mercer,” the front door receptionist’s shrill voice greeted him. Rayne smiled and waved at her as he headed right for the elevator to avoid a mindless conversation. He traveled up to the fifth floor and walked to his office, a dingy, windowless room with a small desk that was scuffed on one edge from the door constantly bumping up against it. He tossed his briefcase down, opened it up and pulled out a stack of legal briefs for each case he’d been assigned to handle.