A DARKNESS DESCENDING

I AM GOING TO POST THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK FOR YOU TO ENJOY. IT’S THE FIRST OF THE DARKNESS AND LIGHT SERIES IN ORDER OF TIME, THE PREQUEL TO DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL.

Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE

“Dad, it’s getting dark, don’t you think we should go in?”  Marcus called to his father.

“You only want to get inside because you can smell dinner.”  There was a chuckle in the man’s voice.  Dark grey eyes were hard to read as he squinted, trying to see his son. “Jeez Marcus, you’re almost as tall as I am.” 

Marcus straightened his shoulders, pushing long dusty hair out of his eyes.  His full lips split into a lopsided grin, softening the straight line of an aristocratic nose. “If I stood right next to you, I bet I’d be taller.”

“Maybe, but you don’t have my muscles yet.  I’m still stronger.”  He made a fist, pumping up large biceps.

“Getting there.”  Marcus’ voice, so much like his fathers, returned the chuckle.  “Come on Dad, I really am hungry.  How do you expect me to get as strong as you if you don’t let me eat?”

“Ah, but you get strong by working, not eating.  Besides, there are only a couple more rows.”  He turned away from his son, frowning.  “Did you hear that?  Sounds like there’s a man walking in the woods.”

 “I am a man walking in the woods.”  Though softly spoken, there was menace in the voice and Marcus felt the hairs on his arms rise.

  Turning a white face that seemed to hover over a body that could not be seen, the stranger smiled. 

Marcus grabbed his spade. He knew he must get to his fathers side.  He began to run.   It was too late.

He heard his father scream, a sound he had never heard before.  He could not tell what it was he saw, but he knew there was blood, his father’s blood. 

“Dad,” his voice disappeared into the night.  He choked back a sob, swinging the spade with all the strength of a man used to hard labor. The sudden stop, like hitting a cement wall made his jaw snap shut.  There seemed to be an explosion.  Bright lights, a darkness descending. He thought he heard his mother, sister, calling, their voices frightened wails.

It was quiet, dark and so very cold.  He reached out to feel the back of his head, where the throbbing pain was coming from.  It was then he realized why he was so cold.  He was naked.  He tried to stand, but the chains were too heavy.  

 “It’s a cellar, a root cellar, maybe.”  Marcus broke the all too loud quiet.

There were sounds, someone, something was pacing on the floor above.  He shivered.  Not from the cold.  Reaching around, he realized he was not lying in mud.  It was blood.  “Dad,” he fought back the scream, reaching to where he thought his father would be.  Surely, with this much blood, he must be dead.  There was no one near him.  He felt again the wrenching pain.  It was everywhere and he knew the blood was his own.

“I thought I heard you.”  It was the man from the woods.  The bloodless face was thin, with deeply sunken cheeks. A few dark hairs crossed his large skeletal head.  Dark bushy eyebrows sat above impossibly black eyes, eyes that were cold.  

“It will be more fun now that you are awake.”

The chains rattled.

“You were so brave, running to save him when you must have seen what I was doing.  Your father did not satisfy.  Sweaty, dirty, he did not taste good.”  It grinned and the chains once again rattled.  “You, strong as you think you are, cannot break those chains.  They have held stronger men.”

White teeth showed between thin blood drained lips.  “You will see that you are not strong.  Soon you will be crying, begging me to let you die.  I will, of course.  It will be less painful if you cry sooner.”  

Gregor looked to the ceiling and Marcus could see that this time he was not talking to him. 

 “I will show you that he, that no one, is stronger than I was.  I cried, yes, they all do.”  He turned to Marcus.  “You are wondering who I am talking to.  I shall tell you.”

Marcus turned away. Feeling a slap sting his cheek, his chin cruelly grabbed, he was once again looking at his tormentor.  Something rose inside him. Grey eyes darkened to that of an ocean just below the foam.  Sitting as straight as the chains allowed, he looked directly into those soulless eyes.   “I don’t care to know.  Feel free to talk to yourself.”  He swung his head, pushing the hair out of his face as he turned away. “I will not cry for you.  Whatever you do, will not make me beg.  You cried. I won’t.  You will see who’s stronger.”

The growl filled the room. Too quickly he was at Marcus’ side.  There was pain, a searing pain.  Nails, sharp as any butcher knife, sliced the already torn skin of his back, but the chains did not rattle.

“Look at me.”

“I am.”

Stormy grey eyes met black.  A soft, unexpected caress, as the bloodied hand stroked Marcus’ thigh.  “Will it be lovemaking that makes you beg?  Beg for me to stop, or perhaps you will beg for more.”

It took every ounce of the strength gained from years of harvesting potatoes, backbreaking work he’d done since the day he first began to walk.  He sat still, willing his muscles to steady and sent his mind to a different place.  The chains didn’t rattle.

SECTION 2

Cathy had been crying.  Marcus remembered walking over to her.  They had been so different.  No one believed they were related.  Her soft blond curls bobbed with each sob. His sandy hair hung straight over dark grey eyes.  His eyes searching her face, had tried to read the soft blue of hers.  Cathy’s face freckled and tan from working in the garden she so carefully tended, had been staring at the floor.

“What is wrong?”

“He won’t take me.”

“Who?”

She sat down hard, still staring at the floor.  Refusing to look into her brother’s eyes as she fought back tears. “Dad.”

“To the father, daughter dance?”

“He said there was too much to harvest.  It’s only you and him and he couldn’t take the time.”  Her voice caught, and she had to suck at the air to continue.  “Mom worked so hard.”  She looked down at the pretty pink dress, one of only three she owned.  Secretly their mother had saved every grocery penny she could, sometimes skipping meals.    She’d spent what little free time she had making the dress.

 “I’ll take you, that is if you don’t mind dancing with your brother.”

“You will?” Blue eyes swam with tears, tearing at his heart.  

“Of course.  I’ll have to steal, I mean borrow dad’s suit coat.  I’m bigger now.  It should fit well enough.”  Marcus reached out, helping her stand.  The skirt swung out around her, and she quickly twirled, delight lit her face.

“Go back to your room.  Give me ten minutes, then sneak out the back door.”

“He will be mad.”

“Not as angry as I would be, not taking you to the dance.”  He smiled, “Not getting to show off your new dress.”

Cathy giggled, then her face grew serious.  “But how will we get there, it’s at the school, takes the bus a good half hour to get there.”

“Weeeellll,” an evil grin lit up his eyes.  Narrow, slightly sunken cheeks dimpled.  “It wouldn’t take that long without all the stops and we won’t be stopping.”

“You can’t take the car.”

“We can’t walk all the way, you in that beautiful dress, me in half a suit.  I think I can drive it.  I’ve been watching.  In a few weeks I’ll be fifteen and I’ll be learning how to drive. He shouldn’t miss the car as long as it’s back by morning.  Hurry up, we don’t want to miss the first dance.”

Marcus could see his father, back bent, picking the potatoes they grew.  Dust swirled around him.  He was busy.  Only a heavy load of studying had kept Marcus out of the field.  There were not many clothes in his father’s closet and only one suit. Marcus quickly took the jacket.

They were both smiling as they drove away. Cathy, looking back, was relieved to see their father was not following.

The gym looked like something out of a fairy tale.  Lights hung from the ceiling, streamers circled the beams.  

A three-man band stood to the side, music already filling the room.  A table decorated with corsages for the girls, boutonnieres for the fathers stood by the side of the door.   Marcus carefully attached his to the jacket.  

“Got to return this in the same condition I got it.”  He whispered.  Cathy giggled.  

“You look so handsome.  I love you brother.”

“Welcome students and guests.”  A voice rang out.  The band began to play Benny Goodman’s Symphony.

 “Will the fathers escort their daughters to the floor.”

“Ready.”  He grinned.  “I don’t know much about dancing.  I’ll do my best.”

They were twirling around the floor, Marcus careful not to flatten his sister’s toes when a knock on his shoulder surprised him.  His father’s face surprised him more.

“I think I need my jacket.”

“Yes, sir.”  He stepped to the side, biting his lip.  

“I will dance with my daughter.”

 Cathy smiled then hung her head, knowing what this would mean to her brother.

“It is okay,” Marcus whispered, hoping his father would not hear.  “You baby girl, are worth it.”

Turning around, the older man looked into the grey eyes of his son, seeing that he was not sorry he’d taken Cathy to the dance.  “It’s a bit of a walk, but I expect you to be home when we get back.”  He turned to Cathy, tilting her head towards his.  “We are staying for the dance.”

Marcus watched her, seeing her glance his way wearing a smile that was both happy and sad and then they were dancing.  Her skirt swirled around her.  She was beautiful.

The night was cold, but Marcus, with thoughts of future punishment did not notice.  He did not go into the house.  He didn’t want to hear his mother.  She would be sympathetic, but mostly she would be angry.  Enough anger was coming his way.

Leaning against the barn, he stuffed his hands into his pockets.  Hearing them tear, he pulled his hands out.  “She will be mad enough without having to fix them.”  He looked to the house.  The windows, glowing, told him his mother was waiting.

Marcus did not know how long he stood staring down the driveway, but it seemed like a year passed before he saw the car approaching.  Cathy was walked into the house.  

He saw his father come out, looking around. Standing straighter, he waited. 

“I am disappointed.”  The man, looking very much like his son, cocked his head appraisingly.  Two pairs of nearly identical grey eyes locked.  Only shallow lines blooming from the corners of his eyes, and the deep parenthesis circling his mouth told that this was a father and son, not brothers.  His full lips drawn taunt began to curl at the corners.

Hanging his head, Marcus remained silent, eyes staring at the ground not knowing what to say.

“Disappointed with myself.”

He looked up, a question in his eyes.  “I don’t understand, Sir.” 

“You were right to take Cathy to the dance.  There will be many harvests but very few father-daughter dances.  You looked good dancing with your sister, not many brothers would have done that.  I am proud of you.”

“Proud, I thought..?”

“I know you did, but yes,” he grinned. “I am proud you showed so much strength, such good judgment.  You are a man now. You showed me that tonight.  And you did not crash the car.  I guess that means we will have to get one for you.”

Finally Marcus smiled.

“That does not mean there will be no punishment.”

“Yes sir.”  Marcus could not stop smiling.  Being called a man by his father was worth any punishment.

“Tomorrow, I expect you to wash the car and do a good job of it.”  The grin had been followed by a slap on the back.  “Let’s go inside.  It’s cold.”

Section 3

It was cold, but it was the waking that made him shiver.  He was alone.  He could hear it pacing above him, angrier than it had been before.  

“I did not cry.”  Marcus whispered to the rat that came to see if he was food.  Marcus swatted it away.  “I am not food yet.”

         The door closed above and Marcus wondered what the monster would do when it returned.  He’d never felt so dirty.  He hurt.  At least he had a blanket.  The last thing he remembered hearing was it telling Chernobog, the God it always spoke to, that it didn’t want his newest toy to die too soon.

“I won’t die too soon.”  Marcus looked at the rat sitting back on his haunches; whiskers twitching as his beady eyes looked over what he hoped would be a meal, one that would last for some time.

“I think we could both use some food.  I also think I have a better chance of eating you.”

The rat ran off, disappearing into some dark hole Marcus could not see.  Soon the darkness was complete.  Shifting uncomfortably on the hard ground he pulled himself up as far as the chains allowed.  He felt around, finally finding his clothes.  They were stiff with dried blood. Quietly he gathered what he guessed were loose floorboards and other pieces of rotting wood.  

“For a fire, maybe.”  Leaning against the wall, he used his clothes as a pillow and pulled the blanket close around him.  When he opened his eyes, it was there.

 “You slept.”  It seemed surprised.

Marcus remained silent.  Gregor stared into his eyes. “I have never had one like you.  You did not beg me to stop.  Would you have been so strong if had I taken you?”

Marcus let a small smile curl his lips.  The effect was what he had hoped it would be. 

Gregor turned away a growl escaping.  “That day will come, but I do not sleep with the dead.  I am your father now, but once I was Gregor Fideyvich. A very long time ago, I sat in my blood while my mother laughed. My father,” his voice fell, “he had my mother for some of his needs.  For others he had me.  He liked to cut.”   He looked at his blade like fingernails.  “He had enjoyed himself greatly.  I could not sleep.”  Behind the hatred, Marcus saw just a hint of what once must have been a boy betrayed by those who should have cared for him.  The look did not linger, and Marcus was not certain it had ever been there. “I brought you food.”

Against his will, Marcus reached out to take the offered sandwich, eating greedily.

“I do not want you to starve.  We may have months together.  I do not like sickly, skinny toys.”  He reached out, patting the strong biceps, the rings of muscles in his thighs.  Marcus forced himself to sit motionless.  

 “You are stronger than I expected.”  A canteen, filled with sweet, cold water was put in his hands.

“Won’t you speak to me, you must have questions?”

The silence stretched between them.  “I will wait.  I am patient.” 

Marcus finished; carefully placing the other half of the sandwich high in the wall, hoping it would be there when he needed it.

Fingers ran up his spine.  Once again the chains lay still.  There were many places to go. 

Ξ

Sarah had looked across the classroom, head tilting.  She’d worn a teasing look.  Marcus remembered her ruby red lips smiling crookedly, dimpling in her full cheeks.  Her eyes had called to him, telling him to meet her outside.

She looked at the muscles straining against the shirt and he found himself making a fist.  Eyes dancing, he told her he would be there.

 “Class dismissed.”  The voice was almost as heavy as the woman herself.  

Sarah walked slowly and Marcus, moving quickly, was soon by her side. 

“I cannot take you home.  Your father does not like farmers.  I cannot afford the pretty things you wear.”  He boldly ran his hand across the ruffles decorating the bosom of her dress.  She giggled behind the hand she pressed against her lips.

“There is much you can give me, I think.”  Her hand crept up his arm as she turned to face to him. “Why don’t we walk to your house?”  

“There are blankets in the barn.  The hay is soft.  Will you come with me?”

“I’d go anywhere with you.”

Marcus did not know then that they were watched.  

The hay was soft.  Sarah lay, pulling him down with her.  The kiss was tender.  She pulled his shirt free, running her hands across the muscled lines of his chest, caressing his nipples.  His hands made their way under her skirt. Her fingers fumbled with the buckle of his belt. 

“Sarah.”  It was a command.

“Father.”

“Get up, fix your dress and go home.  Your mother’s waiting.

Marcus stood buttoning his shirt, unwilling to meet the older mans eyes.

“Do you think a dirt poor farm boy is good enough for my daughter?”

Marcus lifted his head, more angry than ashamed.  “I, my family are good enough for anyone.”

He spit on the ground, sneering.  “Think pretty highly of yourself.  We’re going to your father.  When I get back to the bank tomorrow, I’m going to make sure his loans are up to date.”

Marcus’ jaw clenched.  “I do not believe you own the bank, Sir.  I’m not afraid.”

The slap did not land.

Marcus’ father was waiting by the door, which opened before he had a chance to knock.

 “Is there a problem?” The door closed slowly.  “Has my son done something wrong?”

“I…”  Three sets of stormy eyes told him to remain quiet.

“Your son was… well he was attacking my daughter.”

“I am sure,” the words were clipped, deliberately spoken, “he was not attacking her, that she was willing.”

“Father,” angry eyes turned to his son, who quickly looked away.  “He said he will be checking your loans at the bank tomorrow.”

“Did you really.”  Eyes narrowed and the square jaw set more squarely.  He turned to the man, whose face began to redden.

Sarah’s father, chin sinking into his chest, puffed up much like an overstuffed balloon. The smile died when he saw the look in the other man’s eyes.  “I did and they had better be in order.” 

A hand quickly shot out, grabbing the banker’s elbow.  Quietly, the door opened behind him. Marcus had not seen his mother, hands stiffly holding onto her apron, standing by the door. 

“Get out of my house.”  Unlike her husband’s stormy eyes, hers shot fire, her voice a quiet bellow. “If your daughter is anything like her father, I would say it is she who attacked my son.”

The door closed so loudly that Cathy came out of the kitchen where she had been helping with dinner.

 “Mom.”

“Cathy, there is more to do in the kitchen.  Come with me.”

Alone, Father looked to son.  “Did you attack her?”

 “No Sir, she was willing.  It was her idea.”  He couldn’t fight the grin.  “I was willing.”

“Don’t be too proud of yourself.  He could make trouble, but don’t worry too much.  Our finances are in order.  And,” he’d looked towards the kitchen, making sure his wife would not hear, “next time pick a more secluded spot.”

Ξ

 “I am not willing.”  The words seemed to ring in the empty room.  Tucking his knees against his chest, Marcus pulled the blanket over his nakedness.  “My father did not raise a coward.”  He whispered to the monster that once again paced above him.  “I will always be dead to you.  You will not hear my words again.”  For nine years he remained silent.

Chapter 2

Next Section

he chains rattled on the floor, stretching as far as they could.  This room was far different from many of the others he’d slept in.  The debris strew interior gave him certain opportunities and the rock was heavy.  It was the execution that worried him.  

“I think,” he told the rat roasting on the fire, “I should do the right hand first.  It may still be strong enough to do the left.”  Smashing the rock down on his thumb was painful, but over the years he’d learned how not to feel.  The thumb broke.  Folding it into his palm, he was able to pull his hand out of the bracelet.

“Ah,” finally a little less jewelry.”  It was harder to grip the stone, but he was able to pick it up high enough to break the thumb of his left hand.  He was free.  Marcus rose stiffly.  They had been here a couple of weeks, so he knew they must be near a city.  Cities were good feeding grounds and Gregor had been leaving him alone more often.  He turned away, shame reddening his checks.  That he had prayed for Gregor’s success, prayed that he would be left alone, shamed him.  Grabbing the rat, he quickly ate the little meat to be found on its bones. He ran to where the bulkhead must once have been.  It did not take long to get past the old wooden door.  The air was fresher than he remembered. 

It had been a long time since he’d been outside in daylight.  He had to squint, to see the break in the tree line.

Barefoot, he ran across the woods ignoring the stones and brambles he stepped on.   There was a road, the pavement winding much like a snake.  In the distance he could see the beginnings of a cityscape and he began to run. 

 “You okay?”  The car pulled over to the side, a man leaning across the passenger seat.  

“I need to get to the city.”  The voice sounded strange to his ears.  He had not heard it in a long time.  It did not sound like the one he heard in his mind.  That voice was strong. He watched the man looking at his tattered clothes.  He’d grown out of them some time ago.  Gregor had not felt the need to replace them.  

“You really look like you could use a ride, a bath too.  Doors unlocked, hop in.”

It was a momentary hesitation, but the night was coming and the air was growing cold.  The car was warm.

“Where you taking me?”

“First to my house.  It’s right outside the city.  You can borrow my son’s clothes,” he chuckled,  “that is after you shower.  Then I’ll take you to the hospital.  Does that sound good?”

“Sounds very good.”

 “Something wrong with your voice?  Have a cold or something?”

“No, just thirsty.”

“Water bottles in the console.  Help yourself.”  

“Console?”

Once again the man smiled. “There.”

Marcus took the water bottle, forcing himself to drink slowly.  He watched the man watching him, trying to look into his eyes.  They caught for a moment and Marcus did not like what he saw, but the miles were passing.

It was a small bungalow, well maintained.  It looked more welcoming than the man opening the door.  “By the way, I’m Howard Graves

“Marcus.”  He frowned; trying to remember his surname but that was all that came to mind.

“Follow me.”  He threw some clothes on the bed, and pointed to the bath.  “Soap, shampoo, towels, everything you need is in there.”

Marcus examined the shower.  Finally Howard pushed him aside, turning on the water.  He tried to hide his impatience, walking briskly away.

The water was warm, so were the arms encircling his waist.   “A little skinny, but still a good looking boy.”

Marcus turned and all color drained from the man’s face. “I am not a boy.”

It was then Howard noticed the scars from years of wearing chains, the broken thumbs and he smiled.  “I’m pretty sure I can take you.”

 “You can’t.”  The kick was not strong, too many missed meals, too little exercise, but surprise gave him an advantage.  Marcus pushed him out of the shower.  Drying himself as quickly as his mangled hands could, he dressed in the clothes left on the bed.  The kitchen was well stocked, he ate what he could and took what he could carry.

Gregor was waiting just outside the door.  “Did you think I would not find you?”

Food fell from Marcus’ hands.

“I must say you look better.  I should have let you wash a while ago.  The clothes, you don’t need them.  I think,” he grinned and Marcus shivered.  “You will be less willing to run without them.  I see you have found out that I am not the only monster.  And what have you done to the owner of the house?”

Howard Graves stumbled out the door, a trickle of blood smeared across his forehead.  “I’ll

Looking up, he saw Gregor and whatever he was going to say curdled in his mouth.

Gregor smiled and the man ran back inside.  He looked at Marcus.  “You were marinating him for me.  Get in the car.  Don’t run.  It is too late for that.  You know this.”

The doors were jammed into their frames.  They would not open.  Marcus heard the man’s screams, ashamed of himself when he realized he was not unhappy.

Ξ

The secretary had called his dad, face beaming.  Marcus had listened to the one sided conversation, he’d heard the pride in her voice, pride he did not deserve.

He’d shifted, uncomfortable in the seat, waiting, knowing he would not lie to his father.  

He did not have long to wait.  

“Congratulations, Mr. Rollins. Good boy you raised there.”  They shook hands. Marcus hung his head.  “I think he would have had a long hospital stay if your son hadn’t stopped those boys.”

“He’s a good boy.”  He looked at his son, suddenly frowning.  “Ready to go home?”

“Yes sir.”

They sat in the car a few minutes before he turned to his son.  “So why don’t you tell me what really happened.  Principal Tanner told me you saw those boys picking on Bobby, tried to stop them, punched the bigger one.  I can see he hit back.  Gonna have a nice big shiner by tomorrow.  You got Bobby to the nurse, half carrying him.

“I believe that, but I can tell you have something else to say.  Let’s hear it before we get home.”

 “I’m sorry dad.  I really am.  I didn’t mean for him to get hurt like that.”  He looked into his father’s questioning eyes.  “Bobby, I told you about him once.  He’s the kid who says stupid farm boys don’t belong in school.  I came out of class and those kids were having at him.  I just sorta shrugged.  I heard him call out, asked me to help and I started to walk away.  I’m not sure why I turned around but by then he was a mess.  That’s when I stopped it. I thought he deserved a beating, but not like that. I’m not proud of what I did.”

“Shouldn’t be.  Cowardly thing to do, to just walk away, but I’m glad you went back.”  Marcus had opened his mouth to speak but a wave of his father’s hand told him to keep quiet.  “I don’t care what that boy called you.  That sin is on his heart. It’s what you do that matters.  It won’t be the first time you’ll be hurt.  There are lots of mean people, but what you don’t know is where they come from.   Bobby’s father is a drunk, works sometimes, not much. Kids just trying to prove he’s better than someone.  I’m not saying you should just sit there and take a beating, by words or fists, just don’t be the one watching the execution, cheering the executioner on. Sometimes a little kindness works better that a fist.  If that doesn’t work, then take care of yourself.  However, there’s no sin in not knowing what to do.  We spend our whole lives learning that.  You told me the truth.  We’ll tell your ma and that will be that.” 

Ξ

Marcus, waiting in the car, forced a blank look on his face.  The night grew quiet.  

With little effort it tore the door off, dropping it onto the driveway. 

“Come out.” Climbing out of the car, Marcus turned to face Gregor. He found himself looking into eyes that had never looked so angry. It had been a small victory and he couldn’t stop from wondering what price he would pay.  Still, it was a victory and Marcus held onto that thought.

 “You wasted my night.  I’ve had no time to hunt.”  It grinned.  “I have been hunting you.  You did not get far.  You will pay.”

The blow, not unexpected, snapped his jaw shut.  He felt the journey, held tightly in unyielding arms.  The miles passed too quickly.

Once again looking into those angry eyes, Marcus thought it might be for the last last time.  

It was the third kick that brought him to his knees.  The world began to grow quiet, darkness slowly blocking out the morning light.  Cutting through the fog that was consuming him, Marcus heard it howl.   

He woke to bright sunlight and a man’s kindly face looking down at him.  

“I’m Dr. Leonard Abram.  I’m going to fix you up.”

“Can’t.”

“I’ll do what I can.  First I’m setting that broken leg of yours.”  He frowned, looking down at the misshapen thumbs.  “I’ll wrap them too.  It’ll hurt, getting them straight, I mean. First I have to re-break them.  I’ll strap up the ribs, I think you have at least two broken ones.

 “How did you…” speaking hurt, so he turned away.

“Your father came to me this morning.  Said his son got beat up by some gang and he was afraid to move you.  Said he’d pay me whatever it cost to fix you up enough to get you to the hospital.”

 “Can’t.  He’s not my father.”

“I know.”  He pointedly looked to the chains barely hidden on the floor.  “Backs cut up.  Looks like it’s been hurt a lot.”

“Years.”

“Do you know how many?”

Marcus struggled with the sleeve of his shirt, pulling it up over the bruises covering his right arm. The lines were jagged but straighter than the other wounds.  “One each year.”

“Jesus, there’s got to be at least five of them?  How old were you when he took you?”  There were tears in his eyes as he bound the wounds, set the leg.  

“One week before my fifteenth birthday.  Getting a dog, I think.”  He quickly swallowed his tears.  “Don’t cry, not ever.”

“Let me help you turn over, I’ll take a look at that back.”

 “No.  Sun’s going down.  You gotta go.  He gets up at night.  He will kill you.”

“I’ll help you, we can walk to town together.  I know a shortcut.  I used to hunt here with my dad.”

“I’ll go too slow.”  With every ounce of strength he could gather, Marcus grabbed the doctor’s arm.  “You must go.  He will kill you.  It won’t get any better for me.  You got anything for pain, leave it and run.”

The look on his face told the doctor he had to run.  A bottle of painkillers was put in Marcus’ hand and the doctor hurried out the door.  

Marcus could only hope the man made it into the light.  He had kind eyes, eyes that made him feel it was worth living; there were people he could save.  He hid the pills under the bandages hoping Gregor, who hardly ever looked at him, wouldn’t notice.  His last escape had brought about the beating.  He could still hear Gregor’s rage when he realized he’d almost killed him.  Marcus wouldn’t have minded, until he heard his words.

“I didn’t break you.  Can’t let you die.  But…” the growl filled the room, “then I would then be free to replace you.  Perhaps a younger, no I need another strong like you.  The Gods will accept no other.”

His teeth ground together and wordlessly Marcus determined that there would be no others.

He would live.  He would be strong enough to hold back his cries.  He had not seen a future beyond watching Gregor die and now, after seeing the kindness in the Doctor’s eyes, he knew there were others, other reasons to live. 

It seemed to be only minutes after the doctor left, when Gregor joined him.  

“We’re going.  I know you can’t walk.”  His grin was mirthless.  “I will carry you.”

Marcus lay still in his arms, pain pills held tightly against his chest. Gregor’s feet pounded out a rhythm and Marcus found himself back in school.

Ξ

 “Today I’m going to teach you how to dance.”  The gym teacher had called to them over the music.

He remembered the girls lining up against the wall, beginning to giggle.  The boys, facing them, were grimacing.  Marcus had smiled, once again looking at the banker’s daughter.  She had switched places so that she stood opposite him; a blush crept up her cheeks.

“She still digs you?” Hatchet tugged at Marcus’ arm.  “You get anywhere with her?”

“Yes she still digs me.” Marcus tried not to laugh, “but her father seems to be everywhere and that shit head, Roland, reports everything to him, even my helping her when she dropped her books.”

His grin grew, “though she did drop them on purpose.  It’s not gonna work though.  He was right.  I really don’t have anything to give her.”

 “I think she wouldn’t mind at least one night in your bed.”

“I think she deserves more.  I know her father’s an ass, always acting like he owns the world.  He does own quite a bit of the town but she’s a good person, not like him.  Must be like her mother.  Sarah collects money for the shelter, spends afternoons cooking for those living there.  She’s kind to them and she means it too.  I like her.  All I could give her is that one night.  So I guess I’m just gonna have to keep dreaming.”

“I do more than dream.”

“Please tell me no more.  That’s a picture I don’t want to see.  Look likes your gonna dance with Laura.”

“She’d be okay if she just shut her mouth once in a while.  Big white teeth always sticking out.”

 “Least she has teeth.  Look at Roberta, just got five left.”

“That’s her old man’s fault.  You see Bobby, got the shit kicked out of him when he stopped his old man.  I heard the old man was after Roberta, you know what I mean.  Bobby’s a weird kid, but he takes care of her and his ma.”

Marcus turned away, his voice a guilty whisper.  “Last year, I let the Hanratty boys beat the shit out of him.  Felt bad about it ever since.”

“At least you stopped them before they killed him.”

“Should have….”

“Everyone move forward.  Put your hand on your partner’s waist like this.”

“We could go across town, to the old mill.”  Sarah whispered as soon as she was in his arms.

“I think you deserve better than me.”

“No one’s better than you.  I want you.”

Marcus fought not to blush.  Her words affected him more than she realized.  “Let’s wait a bit.  Finish High School. Then I’ll walk right up to your old man and tell him you’re mine.”

“That’s an awfully long time to wait.  And what if I go to college, what about you?”

“I don’t want to be a farmer.  I’m gonna improve my grades.  Maybe I’ll get a scholarship.  I’m good with numbers, like science.  But even if I don’t, I can support us, owning the farm.”

 “I don’t want to wait.”

“You’re worth the wait.  It’s worth the wait and if we still feel the same, I’ll find you.”

Teary eyed, she agreed, but he’d seen that she was already searching the faces of the other boys, looking for the ones who wanted to be with the banker’s daughter, and his shoulders had slumped.

Ξ

It was Gregor’s shoulders he lay against and the bile rose in his throat.  It burned, but Marcus was good at ignoring discomfort.  He knew he weighed far less than a man his age.  He was careful not to eat all the meager supply of food Gregor brought him.  After a while he didn’t notice the gnawing hunger.

Gregor, sensing he was awake, stepped away from him, carefully chaining him to the wall.  “I’ll be back.  I may be gone awhile.  There is food and water.”

With those few words he was gone.  The chains slipped from his slight form.  Marcus knew where Gregor would go.  The path was obvious, even in the dark.  

The camper was the only light in an otherwise empty night.  The family was noisy, having fun. There was a child’s laughter and a baby’s cry.  The father, playing the guitar began to sing and the baby stopped crying.  Marcus could see the little girl beginning to dance and a pain blossomed in his chest.  It was familiar, the scene, but he did not know why.  He saw Gregor silently stalking, circling behind the camper where it was dark.  Soon mother and child would be within reach.

It was the girl’s eye Marcus caught.  His grey eyes glowed in the moonlight.  

Looking over her shoulder, she could see her family, no one looking her way. Slowly she began to back away.

 “Please, I won’t hurt you.”  Marcus held his hands before him.  

“Don’t come any closer.” Her voice shook. 

She was close enough to hear him. 

 “You must get into the camper, get your family safe.  He is coming. Light all the lights.  Hide in the brightness.”

Shivering, she ran to her father, and began to scream.

“There’s a man in the woods.  He said to light all the lights.”  She pulled the spotlight from where it hung on the awning, swinging it towards her mother.

Marcus roared, running towards Gregor as he reached out to the baby.  The tackle pushed Gregor away. The light came towards them and it screamed.  Its attention was drawn from the family who ran into the camper, staying within the glow of the light the little girl held firmly in her hands.

“Dad…”

“Get inside.  Stay with your mother.  I’ll be there in a minute.”  He grabbed the baseball bat that had been leaning against the camper, turning back to where the two men struggled.  “I’ll help.”

“You can’t.  Go to your family.  You must get them to safety.  I can only hold him so long.  Keep to the light.”

For a moment there was silence.  Then the camper, still brightly lit, roared.  It sprang forward leaving a trail of family treasures behind and Marcus was once again alone with the monster.  Clamping his jaw shut; he turned away, heading back to where he had come.  

Gregor followed.

 “I do not want you with me.  I am tired of your silence. You grow ugly.  Do not think I don’t know that you haven’t been eating.”

Marcus felt the hand caress his face, ignoring this as he ignored everything else.

 “I have a place for you.  You will like it.  There is a farm.  There are plenty of boys for you to play with.”  The grin was unanswered and it quickly faded.  “Their Master owes me.  You will work in the field and have plenty of food.  He will not touch you.  When you are healthy again, I will come for you.  Do not think to run; you know you can’t run fast enough.  Shall I carry you?”

Marcus stood.  Putting the choker chain around his neck, he waited for Gregor to grab the leash.  

Gregor looked down at the chain, frowning. Once again he looked at the face staring back at him with the usual blank expression.  “I would think you have given up, that I have finally broken you but I can see that you still have spirit, that you have your victories and I have won nothing.  I must consider what I should do.  I’ll have time while you are away.”

Marcus turned, hiding his smile.  “This will be a mistake.”