Authors: M. Lauryl Lewis
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror
M. Lauryl Lewis
Published 11-17-2012 by M. Lauryl Lewis
rights reserved by M. Lauryl Lewis. This work may not be reproduced without
direct author/publisher permission.
license from Shutterstock.com
This work is dedicated to my husband Peter and our three
sons, Henrik, Oskar, and Larson. You showed great patience (most of the
time!) when I spent hours writing, editing, and dreaming about this
novel. You seldom complained about dirty dishes or laundry piling
up. Grace Lost is for you.
My humble thanks to my test readers, Amanda and Timothy.
You cheered me on and lifted me up too many times to
count! Many thanks to my wonderful cousin Donna for hours of editing
The fine blue mist was impossible to see falling from the
night sky. It coated everything in its path: houses, cars, toys left
in yards by children, the ground. By sunrise, it would be impossible to
detect. The veil of toxic substance was thin, but it was enough to do the
harm for which it was intended. Anyone unlucky enough to be outside at
the time of contamination would die. The airplanes that flew that night
would be some of the last to ever fly.
The darkness of night would give way to morning light, as
it always had. People would awake in search of a lazy weekend
breakfast. Mothers would begin preparing children for a day of
play. Dogs would whine to go outside. The dead would rise.
God’s Grace would be lost.
The sun was rising over the
Cascades, painting the horizon in hues of pink and orange. As a child, my
father had always told me that a morning this color hints of a storm to
come. With the heat of late summer leftover from the day before, and the
sound of birds welcoming the new one, I refused to believe the perfection of
such a day might be ruined. My lifelong friend, Adam Boggs, was home from
college for the summer and we had agreed to spend time with each
other. We had grown up together, our parents being close friends
and neighbors. Boggs was three years my senior and used to watch over me
like a big brother. When he left our home town of Silvana to go to school
across the state I had felt utterly lost and alone. We wrote to each
other for months until his letters slowed and eventually stopped. He had
been painfully absent during the worst event of my life, the unexpected deaths
of my sister and our parents, as well as my last two years of high school.
He had written to me earlier in
the month letting me know he would be in town and wanted to see me. I had
mixed emotions, but agreed to spend a weekend with him. My life was
fairly boring so I didn’t have an excuse to stay away. I had graduated
from high school just two years before and was still living off what my parents
had left me in their will. I didn’t have a job, but spent much of my time
volunteering with kids on the local Indian Reservation. My father was
from a nearby American Indian tribe and had given much of his heart to the
children there. Continuing his cause helped me to cope with the emptiness
in my life.
Boggs and I now sat on the porch
of an old cabin in the woods, long ago abandoned. It was a place we had
spent many hours talking and playing cards. The small one-room cottage
had been void of furniture and full of dust when we first happened upon it as
children. At some point in our teenage years, we had added an old
two-seat wicker sofa and a folding table and chairs. We had spent hours
here sharing our hopes and dreams and making up stories about who had once
lived there. Every summer we’d spend at least one night a week at the
cabin, building a fire in the old stone fireplace and roasting marshmallows or
hotdogs. Sleeping on the cold wooden floor was miserable, and we always
managed to wake in time to watch the sun rise. It had been a
sanctuary when life had been harsh. It seemed fitting now that it be a
place of healing for our friendship.
The wood bench we sat upon was
familiar, smoothed with age and bleached by the sun. We hadn’t engaged in more
than small talk the night before. Instead we had sat around the old
fireplace drinking beer, our grown-up version of s’mores.
“It’s good to be back here,
Zoe. I’ve missed this more than I can say.”
I smiled softly at him.
“Me too, Boggs.
I’m not sure it will ever feel the
same as it used to, though. Remember when we were kids?”
My once best friend looked at me
with his pale blue eyes. His shaggy hair was dark brown, almost black,
and always had two or three loose curls out of place. I used to brush
them aside without giving it a second thought, but now that felt wrong. I
must have pouted a bit, because he sighed and stood up.
“Zoe, we’re not kids anymore.
Life’s complicated.” He took a deep breath and shoved his hands
into the large pocket on the front of his black hoodie. I drew my knees
up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. At five-foot-two I’m not
big, but I was feeling even smaller at the moment. “There’s stuff that’s
happened. Things are just…
…now,” he continued.
“Stuff you can’t tell me
about? We used to be best friends, Boggs. What did I do to make you
so distant?” I was still hugging my legs, and had the start of tears
welling in my eyes. Boggs came back to the bench, hands still in his
hoodie, and sat down beside me. He took a deep breath, took a hand out of
his pocket and placed it around my own. His hand was rough and warm, and
much larger than mine. His touch reminded me of the closeness we used to
share and sadness filled my heart.
“You didn’t do anything, Zoe.”
I used my sleeve to dab at my eyes.
Boggs looked down at his lap, and
seemed thoughtful for several moments. “Last year at college I met
someone. Her name was Susan.
She’s the friend of a friend and I was drinking one night.” He stopped
talking, let go of my hand, and stood again. Facing away from me, he
continued. “She got pregnant, Zo.” He took a deep breath and
hung his head.
I sat quietly waiting for him to
continue. I wasn’t sure what to say.
He stuffed his hands back into his
sweatshirt pocket. I could tell he was crying. I stood and walked to
him, and laced my hands around his arm. He looked at me briefly,
sniffling. “She told me about it a week after she had an abortion.
I didn’t love her. I didn’t even really know her.” He looked at me,
this time meeting my brown eyes with his blue. My hair and skin were pale
like my mom’s, but I had my dad’s dark eyes. “It messed me up pretty bad,
Zoe. There’s no going back to being kids.
I haven’t told anyone about this. It’s too hard to
talk about. And I never wanted you to be disappointed in me.”
I wrapped my arms around him and
whispered near his ear “I’m sorry, Boggs.” I could feel his tears on my
neck. He smelled like the woods and the fire we had built last
night. He had always talked about wanting kids one day. Boggs was a
sensitive guy despite his rugged looks. We stood there for several
moments in an embrace between friends. A breeze picked up and we both
smelled it at the same time.
The offensive and
unmistakable stench of death.
We looked at each other curiously,
and the moment was interrupted by the sound of a twig snapping. Our heads
both turned in unison toward old Mr. Anderson, the owner of Silvana Farm and
Feed. Mr. Anderson had been in a fatal car accident four days prior and
was due to be buried over the coming weekend. It was the biggest news in our
small hometown, the accident being caused by drunken teenagers who fled the
scene and were caught the next day. He was the shade of gray only death
can clasp in its icy grip, his brown twill funeral suit falling forward from
its false backside. He seemed to be looking in our general direction with
clouded, unblinking eyes as his body swayed unnaturally. His left arm
hung limply at his side. He had congealed blood dripping from his slack jaw
and with each shambling step an inhuman moan escaped from his chest. In
his right hand he held what looked like medium length blonde hair laden with
bits of earth, leaves and blood. He was at the tree line that surrounded
the cabin and moving toward the porch upon which we stood.
I felt goose bumps spread along my
arms and up my neck while Boggs instinctively tightened an arm around my
waist. “Mr. Anderson?” I called in a disbelieving and hushed tone, not
yet fully realizing that the impossible was before us. Boggs took his arm
from my waist and gripped my hand, starting to pull me inside the dilapidated
cabin. “Mr. Ander…” My voice broke off.
“Shhhh, Zoe,” whispered Boggs.
“Don’t make a sound!”
The dead man reacted to Boggs’
voice with a terrifying scream. I was pulled the rest of the way into the
little cabin. Once we were both inside, Boggs closed the door and leaned
against it, looking tousled and panicked. We looked at each other,
wide-eyed. We could hear Mr. Anderson’s clumsy footfalls approaching the cabin
as he walked through the tall dried grasses and weeds that were long ago a
manicured lawn. His awkward screams had turned to moans of desperation.
I whispered. “That was Mr. Anderson, right?” I asked,
still not fully understanding the gravity of the situation. I could hear
Boggs taking shallow breaths, as well as the sounds of the dead man
approaching. “Is this some kind of joke? He’s dead,” I
Boggs leaned close to me, holding
my shoulders in his strong but trembling hands. “I know Zoe. I’m
not sure what’s going on but we need to get the fuck out of here,” he said very
quietly. He looked at me for some sign of understanding and I nodded
quickly. The insulting smell of death invaded the room in which we stood,
stinging our noses. “Grab your backpack and let’s go out the back,” he
urged. Again I nodded.
Mr. Anderson was on the porch
now. We could hear the sound of his feet dragging across the creaky old
boards as he got closer to the entry. Knowing there was no lock on the
Boggs dragged the wicker sofa over
and blocked the entryway. The noise seemed to agitate the old man, who
began scratching and thumping against the door. The light-weight sofa was
no match, and the door began to open inward. “Now, Zoe! Out the back
window,” shouted Boggs as he began to drag me by my shirt sleeve. One of
the only windows in the cabin faced west. Glass panes were long since
broken and curtains hung in tatters. Boggs took my pack and tossed it
outside, sneaking his head out to glance around. “Go,
, and run
for the woods. I’ll be right behind you!” As I sat on the sill and
swung my legs out in one fluid motion, I felt Boggs push hard on my back in
encouragement as I dropped the few feet to the ground and rolled to the
side. My hip ached from the impact, but I ignored the pain and forced
myself to stand. I grabbed my pack as Boggs landed beside me, and began
to run. I could hear Mr. Anderson’s moans begin to fade and focused on
the rhythmic sound of our feet running through the forest.
Out of breath and my side aching,
I slowed once we were deep into the woods. I knew Boggs was running
slower than he could the whole time, making sure to stay at my side.
Coming to a stop to catch my breath, I reached down to touch my shoes and
stretch. After a pause, I looked up at my friend and swallowed
hard. “Sorry.” I tried to slow my breathing so I could speak.
“I had to stop.”
He nodded his head, not fighting
for air as hard as I was, and answered “
have to keep moving, though.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Home’s only about a mile or so
south of here. I think we should try for it. I’m not sure if he’s
following us, but we better get moving. My place will be closer than
yours. I left my cell phone at home since there’s no reception out here
anyway. Let’s just get there and call for help.”