Denny turned the key to his front door and stepped inside.
It was eight o’clock and the house was dark, too dark for a summers evening.
He called out, “Dad, Mum?! Anyone home?”
Silence greeted him, initially.
Eventually his mother called back, “In here Denny, sit down please. We want a word.”
Denny flinched a little, her voice sounded far away, cold, he realized he might be in trouble.
He had disappeared from the congregation and the impromptu round of preaching they’d zealously pursued. He’d hoped his father had been able to explain, talk to her, but perhaps that hadn’t happened just yet or worse, she’d talked him around.
“What is it Mum?” he replied softly, “Am I in some sort of trouble?”
He heard movement in the living room, which seemed to be absent of natural light he noted with a growing unease. “Just come in and sit down, we need to talk, properly. Now Denny.”
Denny gathered himself and walked into the living room, expecting to see his parents sat together on the couch, ready to impart the virtues of the Prophet’s and lecture him about his lack of enthusiasm.
Instead, he found only his mother, sat alone in the corner of the room. His eyes took a moment to adjust. It seemed so gloomy in here, the air was pressing in around him.
“Sit down please Denny, this has gone far enough.”
Denny did as he was told, “What’s wrong?”
He was about to ask who the other was in the ‘we need to talk,’ but thought better of it.
She sighed making a dry clicking sound in her throat.
“What is wrong? Why you’re continued absences from a tumultuous time. We are standing at the edge son. Don’t you see? God is putting his final pieces in place. All that we’ve lived for, prayed for, our lives have been dedicated to this moment. He has chosen our little congregation to lead the way. A new world, a new order. Life without end at last. Yet you see fit to turn away now, of all times, to veer from the path of righteousness.”
Denny made to reply but she snapped at him, “Bah! Don’t speak, I’m not finished.”
He recoiled at her bark. He noticed through the gloom how much bigger she looked. Her outline almost hulked the chair she was sitting in. His mother seemed to slouch under her own bulk. Her arms were covering the arm rests, dwarfing them at her sides. He pictured her getting up with the chair still attached to her back, like a shell, lurching towards him, reaching out with those big arms to embrace him. He pictured her body leathery and cockroach like, her tiny face poking through the seething dark with insect flesh, eyes black as night.
Denny could feel the sweat escaping him. Perhaps it was the weed tripping him out, messing with his head, he hoped that it was before confirming that it was, just for his own mind’s sake.
“I love you Denny and I’d never let anyone harm you, but you are doing it to yourself don’t you see? I’m your mother, I know you. It’s what you DON’T say that I notice. Oh yes. The clues are in the holes, in the spaces, the gaps which should be filled. Those holes are getting bigger my boy and I need you to fill them before it’s too late. Before the final judgement comes and you are left behind. I will not leave you for dead…my son.”
Denny thought of the demons Deadland.
“Mum, I don’t know what you mean, I am ok, I…I just didn’t want to go with everyone after the meeting the other day because I….”
“Shut up!” rasped his mother. “Stupid boy. This is life and death son, your life, your death. How dare you shy away from God himself! Are you mad Denny. Are you, are you mad!?”
Denny could feel her hysteria blossoming in the room as the gloom expanded and inhaled.
“Apathy at the end times. Insanity. You are thinking of those stupid little friends of yours? Of worldly matters that don’t concern you, that distract you, that lead to temptation? They are nothing but obstacles. Do you know how embarrassing it was for me to have to lie to Sister Rose Bernard about you? I had to pretend you were elsewhere doing God’s work then send your father out looking for you. He never made it back, in fact he’s been out the last two nights, and I was left alone. Can you picture what that was like for me? I’m there with all our brothers and sisters yet alone, a glimmer into the future, Rose Bernard right there, the mother of God’s chosen Prophet. But you or your father weren’t present. It has broken your father I should think, he’s a strong man and now he’s out there fretting, praying, hoping to find a way to save you because we know you Denny and you are lost son. I hate to say it, but you are lost.”
Silence returned. Denny hung his head. He’d never heard his mum talk like this, quite so seriously, or so distressed. He peered up at her through the gloom. Her shadow stretched, enveloping her hulking frame. “Mum, everything feels wrong?” he almost whispered before adding “Are you feeling ok mum? Mum?”
There she and her silhouette sat, inhaling, exhaling, swelling and expanding before settling again.
“Why don’t you come and see,” she replied. Her voice sounded childish, playful, spiteful even.
Denny hesitated, he didn’t want to go near her. He thought about bolting out the room, but the exit seemed so far away. The whole room was breathing in rhythm with her. Changing shape, in, out, in, out.
“Come and see me Denny, come sit on my knee. Remember when you were a child. When you did as you were told? Hmmm? Answer me!”
Denny nodded through the gloom and started to cry silently.
“If you don’t come over here then you must go to the coal shed, you hear me boy?”
Denny nodded, frozen, choked, no idea what to do, sick and scared beyond reason. It had taken his mother, he was sure of it. Taken the house. It will take everything.
The air shifted with sudden menace as his mother rose from the chair and stepped towards him through the gloom. He let out a little cry, half expecting her to be wearing the chair as a shell as she scuttled towards him. He closed his eyes tight as her hand clutched his wrist and yanked him out of the chair with disturbing strength. Denny yelped.
“Look at me Denny, look at your mother!” she shouted as she raised him effortlessly to her face. Denny pinned his eyes shut tight. He could feel her sour breath on his face, he could smell age and rust. Coal. He felt warm urine running down his trouser leg.
She cackled, “Fine, the coal shed it is. You will shovel coal ready for a fire and when you’ve made room and left another of your little holes, you can climb inside that damned shed and not come out until you have prayed for forgiveness. Go!”
With that she flung Denny towards the doorway and before he could get to his feet she was on him, grabbing him by the ear and dragging him towards the coal shed.
He opened his eyes momentarily to see the backdoor almost bursting off its hinges as she shoved him through to face the coal shed.
“Now, open the door.”
“I won’t, please no, please.” replied Denny.
“Denny, I won’t ask you again. Open the door and make a space in the coal shed,” she sneered as she came up behind his statuesque body. He could feel her on him, her bulk weighing down over him as the shed door loomed for him, waiting. He could sense it in there waiting. The presence was strong. He could feel so much more now, such terror lay beyond. More than the creature, the demon, so much more. The Deadland and something else more infinite again.
She gently lifted him with effortless ease and placed him right in front of the shed door, it almost reached for him as wood splintered and cracked. He could hear the coal inside rolling over itself, or was it hands and arms and bodies doing that? Rolling over each other, emerging and submerging in a black sea, reaching out for him.
She stretched over his shoulder and grabbed the door handle, turning it with reverence.
She pulled the door towards her, whispering in his ear, “Its ok my boy, it’s alright. We’ll do it together. On the count of three. One..”
Denny started to struggle, tried to kick, fight, wriggle from her embrace but it only tightened.
Denny mewled like a kitten and knew in that moment he was done for.
But just then, Damon Brew swung the back door open and entered the porch, blocking the door to the shed in the process and bumping into both his wife and child.
The light instantly changed, the world changed, there was colour cutting through the gloaming.
Denny pulled himself out of his mother’s sickly embrace which loosened instantly and threw himself at his father.
Damon looked to his wife then to Denny and hugged his frantic son.
Doreen stood empty, dazed and confused as she tried to compute where they were.
“What on earth is going on Doreen?!”
She looked back absently at him but could not reply. She didn’t know.