new assignment – prompt “A night fear”
The candles sputtered as he walked by. It had been a normal day. He spent nine hours in the office, listening to the others create more work for him. Henry said nothing. Just smiled as they talked themselves into believing they were actually solving problems, rather than creating new ones. It didn’t matter to him. He was getting paid by the hour. The more problems there were, the better it was for him – even if they were the stupidest problems possible. Henry hated smart people but they were the reason he still had a job so he learned early on to keep his mouth shut.
The storm came up suddenly after he had finished his supper. Henry sat at the small melamine table with aluminum strips edging the table top, fork halfway up to his mouth and the lights went out.
“Shit.” He said to the darkness. Henry thought about where he had put the emergency candles. The junk drawer in the kitchen. He stood and pushed the chair back with his calves. There was a sudden flash of lightning that lit up the room. Henry saw he had a clear path to the kitchen. He fumbled with the drawers, cutting his hand in the first one he opened. He had forgotten about the knives in the first one. Henry sucked at the blood oozing from his index finger. He opened another, towels. Another, things he couldn’t identify. String, papers, elastics. He decided it had to be the junk drawer. He dug his other hand in deeper until the tips of his fingers touched cool wax.
Bingo, he thought. He grabbed a handful and went back to the dining room. A few minutes later, the candlelight leaped across the empty walls. His microwave dinner was cold. Henry shoved it aside. He would wait until the power came back on to heat it up again, even though it tasted like cardboard. The doorbell rang suddenly. The shrill buzzer cut through the night like a sharp blade. Henry jumped and felt his skin prickle. He was not expecting anyone. Henry went to the door and leaned in to look through the peep hole.
“Hello?” he asked. He couldn’t see anyone in front of the door. Henry could see that the storm was getting worse. The rain fell in distorted sheets as he peered through the warped glass. He didn’t want to open the door. Who ever it was must have left. He went into the living room and slumped into his easy chair. He fingered the remote control. The tv was dead. It sat gaping at him black mouthed and empty. Henry rubbed his face with one hand. He could have sworn that it was smirking at him. He leaned back and sighed. Henry was too tired. The doorbell rang again. Henry didn’t jump this time. He didn’t move. The doorbell rang again. Henry still did not move. The bell fell silent. Henry closed his eyes.
The storm moved outside. He vaguely heard the trees groaning in protest, but they were drowned out by the roar of the wind. In spite of the racket Henry fell asleep. As the minutes ticked methodically by, his head lolled back against the top of the easy chair. The odd angle of his neck caused Henry to start snoring. He sounded like he was drowning in his own salvia.
Wax from the candles started to drip over the edge of the side table and spilled onto the linoleum below. It bubbled outward with each drop. There was a loud knock on the back door. Henry did not stir. He did not hear the rapping on the glass either. Nor did he see the ghostly white face of the young boy eyes wide and terrified looking in. Henry kept on sleeping.
Thunder boomed and lightning flashed repeatedly outside the window. When the tree crashed through the roof of the house, crushing Henry’s front porch, Henry woke up. Branches and debris narrowly missed him. Henry leapt to his feet, swearing a blue streak. He tried the phone but the line was dead. He stumbled through the kitchen and out the backdoor. Cold rain assaulted him. Henry hurried into the bleak darkness towards the alley that ran behind his house. He did not see the red lights flashing until he made it passed the high wooden fence.
“Hey Buddy? You ok?” someone asked Henry. The white light from their flashlight blinded him. He lifted his arm to shield himself from the intense light. The unknown man pulled his arm and Henry had no choice but to follow. He didn’t know what else to do. The rain stung his eyes, making it impossible to see. Henry could only hear his voice cutting in and out with the wind.
“Ralph, check this guy out.” The voice said. Another voice shouted in between claps of thunder. Unseen hands gently pushed Henry into sitting again.
“You hurt?” the new voice asked. Henry shook his head. He realized that whatever happened, he was ok. He struggled to find his voice.
“Nah, I’m fine.” He croaked. Henry thought his voice sounded like someone else’s.
“You’re lucky man, that big old tree crushed most of your house! Lucky to be alive.” He said. Henry nodded, not knowing what else to say.
It wasn’t until morning, when the sun rose, red and ominous over the wreckage that the rescuers found the boy’s mangled body under the bench on what used to be his front porch. That was the beginning of Henry’s night fear.