Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
On the southern edge of the small town of Rhanville there is a wide unlit road that separates the town from a wild and thick forest. Three houses adorn the northern edge of the road – they are the homes of the Peters’ family, old Mrs Abernathy, and Joshua Daniels, respectively – and they look out across the road upon the forest that the sun can scarcely pierce. Many travellers who have taken the road late in the evening have confessed to feeling a peculiar sense of uneasiness as they passed the trees in the darkness. There are stories shared in hushed whispers amongst the children of the town that speak of an evil presence lurking within the woods. Apart from the occasional incident of missing cattle, no apparition of maliciousness has ever befell Rhanville, and so the town slumbers peacefully beside the gargantuan labyrinth of ancient oaks.
It was in the early days of autumn that the men came and installed lights up and down the road that cast their luminous light into the trees. It was a welcome change to the residents of the road, who hoped that this would ease any feelings of insecurity in the darkness. Any wrongdoers who had previously made mischievous plans for the road would surely be exposed and foiled, and so the residents hoped for a good night’s rest. While the additional light took a little getting used to they all slept easy that night, except for Adam Peters – the son of the Peters family – who had horribly unpleasant dreams, but that is often the case for children when confronted with any sort of change. The next morning the residents all agreed that the lights were a blessing sent from above.
On the third night after the arrival of the lights Mrs Abernathy sat in her chair by the window, reading from her book. She was always of restless spirit, so it was not an uncommon occurrence for her to stay up until the first rays of sun peeked up from the horizon. On this particular evening the clock had just passed one and her mind had begun to drift from her literature. She looked out of her window upon the illuminated street, everything seemed much clearer to her and she took some small pleasure in watching the trees creak ever so slightly in the wind. The leaves engaged in subtle, ritualistic dances and the branches swayed unsteadily. Then something caught her eye, some bushes that didn’t match the natural rhythm the others seemed to share. It could have easily been some nocturnal animal of the wild attending to its business and yet Mrs Abernathy felt uneasy. Perhaps it was the result of her imagination captivated by late night reading but she could swear she felt that the more she watched the disturbance, the more she felt that she was being watched herself. Slightly disturbed by the ordeal she drew the blinds and returned to her book in an effort to take her mind elsewhere. By the time morning came, she had forgotten all about her late night observations.
As the sun was beginning to set the following evening, Adam Peters was playing alone on the road. The lights had not yet came on and so he found himself in the ill-illuminated haze of dusk. The wind was of mild temperament, but still possessed a bitter and icy bite. It was not the ideal situation as he would have much preferred to find entertainment indoors, but his mother’s insistence had driven him out in to the cold autumn air. He was eagerly anticipating the moment that the lights would spring to life and his mother would fetch him to return indoors. The hours of play had been almost entirely devoid of fun and were replaced by a mysterious sense of uncertainty. He was without an inkling of doubt that something was not as it should be and yet he could not fathom what it could be. His dreams of late had been terrible in nature and he suspected that this was influencing his mood. As he sat in reflection he began to feel the hairs on his neck stand up. Adam felt the all too familiar sensation of someone standing directly behind him. He immediately turned himself around to discover there was nobody there. This was perplexing to Adam as he was certain he could sense the presence of another person. He scanned the neighbouring houses and there was no visible signs of any other residents going about their business outdoors. Just as he was beginning to doubt himself he heard the voice of his mother, calling for him. He was relieved that he would be able to return to the comfort of his home and stood up at once. He ran up the front steps, crossed the porch and entered the house. As he was closing the door he made one more attempt to identify the mystery presence and was once again unsuccessful, the road was completely deserted.
Later that night Joshua Daniels awoke from a peaceful slumber by the unpleasant sensation of dryness of the throat. His thirstiness evicted him from his bed and carried him downstairs to the kitchen where he fetched a glass tumbler and filled it with water directly from the tap. The clock in his kitchen told him that it was nearing three, which irritated him immensely as he knew his remaining hours of precious sleep would be insufficient for the day ahead. Just as he was switching off the kitchen light he heard a faint yet distinguishable tapping noise coming from the road outside. He was intrigued and unsettled by the noise coming at such a late hour. In his freshly awakened state it took him a little time before he came to a realisation about the nature of the noise. He was hearing the sound of footsteps crossing the road as they got increasingly closer to the side of his home. A looming sense of dread grasped him and held in place as it was an almost unheard of occurrence for someone to be taking the road at this hour. The footsteps stopped and Joshua remained petrified in his kitchen for several minutes until he was able to muster the courage to approach the window. It took a great deal of bravery to pull back the blind and peer out into the newly lightened road, however, his bravery offered him little in the way of answers. There was not a single person that Joshua could see anywhere in the gardens or the road or the forest. He hastily made his way to his door to ensure that it was locked. He then made his way upstairs to spend the hours until the sun rose with the light on, convincing himself that he had been imagining the whole event.
It was the unfamiliar coldness of her house that awoke Anna Peters the next morning. Immediately she sprung from her bed to investigate why her house felt so alien to her. She walked down the stairs and was at once struck by the alarming sight of the front door wide open to the elements. The feeling of her security being so harshly violated was enough to bring her to tears. Making her way over to the door she began to notice strange marks on the floor. They were violent indents in to the wood, as if someone had attempted to maintain a grip to the floor while resisting some pulling force. In an instant of pure fear Anna knew exactly what had happened, and she let out a deafening scream that woke most of the town. Her husband appeared to her aid within moments and through uncontrollable bursts of tears she pleaded him to check on Adam’s room. When he entered his son’s room he confirmed the darkest fears of his wife, their son was nowhere to be seen. He sprinted out into the middle of the road, desperately calling his son’s name, but to no avail. Perhaps if he had not been so distressed he would not have overlooked a torn piece of his son’s shirt that hung nonchalantly on the edge of a bush at the mouth of the forest.
The rest of that day was a tempest of confusion, anger and fear for the residents of the road. Many of the men of the town were called upon to search for the young boy, but hours upon hours of searching offered no clues to his fate or whereabouts. Joshua didn’t speak of the events that had befallen him the night before – due to some combination of fear, denial and guilt – but it did motivate him to take some sort of action. He emerged from his home with his toolset and set about deactivating each and every light that had made them feel so safe. Joshua knew now, as did the other residents, that sometimes it is best for the darker places of the world to remain unilluminated.
Credit: Steven Trotter