Chapter 4: First Night

John was freezing when he woke up. At first he didn’t know why. It looked like someone was holding a black cloth in front of his face, and it took him several moments to realize his eyes were open. It was just that dark. Feeling around, he quickly established that he wasn’t in a bed, but on a hard wooden floor made bearable by a layer of clothes.

John’s hand encountered another form next to him, and he remembered he was on his honeymoon. It all came rushing back then. Getting lost on that nonsensical road through the woods, finding the half-abandoned village, running out of gas outside a rotting mansion.

He took a deep breath and nearly choked on the dust. Desperate for some fresh air, he scrambled to his feet and stumbled to what he thought was a window: a patch of gray floating in the solid black. For a panicked second he was entangled in moldering drapery, then he felt a cool breeze on his cheek.

The glass had abandoned its casing long ago, so John was able to thrust his head into the night. He had a clear view of the village at the base of the hill. Most of it was dark shapes, vague hints of crumbling geometry. Streets were barely discernible by the traces of mist gathering in them. Near the edge of the buildings, John spied a lit window. From its quivering intensity, he could tell it was candlelight. In a village with no gas station or telephone, why should he expect there to be electricity?

John silently fumed. This was his honeymoon. He was supposed to have electricity, phones, enough gas to get anywhere he wanted. Instead he was freezing in a ruin that might crash down on his head at any moment.

The distant candle flickered, then died. Hallowdale drew in on itself in the dark, becoming a formless knot of shadows. A heavy quiet hung in the air. In spite of the nearby woods, there were no night birds, no insects, barely even a rustle in the trees. John’s chest began to burn, and he realized he was holding his breath.

He returned to his makeshift bed and settled back down. As he did, Anna stirred: “I’m cold.” John wriggled close to her. She curled tightly against him, so small, so vulnerable. Her voice was high and young and unfamiliar. And she felt so tiny.

Revulsion rippled through John’s body, prickling his hair and sending his flesh dancing, and he recoiled from his wife—or rather where he thought she was. In his retreat, he rolled into something solid; Anna groaned in her sleep. John spent the rest of the night awake, staring into the darkness.

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