By Pam Farley
Pamela Farley is an Australian author of dark fiction. She is a member of the Australian Horror Writer’s Association and has had more than a dozen of her short stories published in magazines in Australia and the UK. Pam lives in rural South Australia with family and assorted animals. She works in a country veterinary practice.
Today’s weird tale takes us to a remote farmhouse… at night. The power goes out… Where are the matches? Where’s the cat? What’s that glow through the trees?
Samantha had been away for the weekend with her girlfriends. The break had been fun and all the girls were still laughing raucously when they dropped her at the gate. Her small farm house was ten kilometers from town, and in the still rural-twilight the din the girls made seemed to linger in the air.
As she got out of the car Samantha could hear the telltale clinking of empty Cruiser bottles rolling around on the car’s floor. The girls were singing, loud and off key while she got her bag from the boot. When the tooting vehicle departed there were limbs flailing from all four windows. The car turned at the end of the road and disappeared. Darkness came on suddenly, accompanied by a cool wind. Samantha swayed and clutched the gate post. The three drinks she had gulped down in the last hour had gone to her head. She gave a giggle.
The sensor light failed to come on when Samantha walked to the porch. The area was in shadow and she couldn’t see a thing. She tripped on the metal boot scraper by the door and swore. It was sheer luck when the key in her hand found its way into the lock, and the back door sprung open.
It was darker in the house than it had been outside and Samantha’s hands fumbled along the walls from memory, but there was no response from any of the light switches. More obscenities sprang from her mouth as she realized that the problem was within the fuse box outside. By bumping and feeling her way to the laundry she located the torch on a shelf next to the clothes dryer.
‘At least this still works,’ she muttered to the night.
But the globe glowed dim and she knew it would not last for long. She rushed outside to check the fuses. Panic had rendered her sober and dexterous. A systematic check of the old porcelain plugs soon helped her to identify the blown one. She re-threaded it with the fine steel wire kept inside the power box. But when she replaced the plug and threw the switch there was a loud bang as it blew again.
‘You piece of shit!’ she exclaimed.
Her nearest neighbor lived over a kilometer away and she did not feel like making the trek over rocky paddocks in this blackness. She wasn’t sure what help he could offer anyway, he was no electrician. She looked across the distance toward his house.
A tiny glint of light cut through the night. Samantha glanced up to see if the moon was reflecting off something, but the sky was a blanket of black. The light must be coming from my neighbor’s house, she thought.
She shrugged and went back inside. With the dimming flashlight in her hand she went in search of candles and a lighter. Silently she cursed herself for giving up smoking. At least in those days she could put a hand on a half a dozen lighters in a heartbeat. A small oil-burning lamp sat at the bottom of her kitchen cupboard and she lit it with the last match in the box. It gave off an eerie glow but it would be more reliable than the failing torch.
It struck her as odd that her cat, Fanny, had not yet come to greet her, and she walked through the house calling her pet. From the dining room window she spotted the glow from across the paddock.
Did it seem brighter, or perhaps closer? She wondered.
Fanny’s white coat looked luminous in the lantern’s yellow flame and Samantha bent to touch her. The cat was cold and solid. Samantha’s hand flinched away as a shudder of fear passed through her. She cried out with a wet sob.
Fanny was quite dead.
Samantha tried to think what might have happened to her pet. The window was propped open to give the cat access outside, so perhaps a car had hit her. Hard to believe when only a handful of people ever used the thoroughfare. In summertime she would have considered a snake bite, but it was far too cold this time of the year for such nasties to be out and about. The animal had been in rude good health when she had left on Friday night, so whatever had befallen her, it must have been sudden.
Hot salty tears spilled down her cheeks as she carried the stiffened body of her beloved cat. But even in her misery Samantha’s blurring eyes were drawn once more to the ever-brightening glow in the paddock. It was starting to take form and it was definitely closer.
She wondered if it was her neighbor working late, perhaps tending to a sick cow. But surely it was the wrong direction. His livestock were kept much further south. With this thought in mind she felt hot prickly worry. It made her squirm. Her own pony and goat were out there somewhere, and she hoped that her brother had remembered to come and feed them.
Perhaps that was Phil out there with a torch, she wondered. Perhaps one of my animals has taken ill. She looked down at the stiff body in her arms. Surely I couldn’t be that unlucky.
Her tears had begun again and she berated herself for not being tougher.
Phil’s car had not been parked outside, she told the dead cat, and so he couldn’t be here. Samantha sniffed and jutted out her chin. She had been alone in this isolated cottage for three years since her mother had died. She was used to the remoteness but her pets were important to ward off any feelings of loneliness.
From the kitchen she got a garbage bag and wrapped Fanny in it. She put the body in the wash-trough and went outside to check on her other pets. The lantern flickered in the mild breeze but did not extinguish. Samantha used the fence as a guide, fumbling and tripping over shrubs and rocks. She pulled her cardigan tight around her. The temperature seemed to have dropped now that she stood on open ground. The cold gusts soon had her teeth chattering. She shielded the lamp with her body, knowing how vulnerable the tiny flame was.
The glow was much nearer now and she presumed that whoever was out there would call to her soon. She strained her eyes to try to pick out either the goat’s shaggy white coat, or Pip’s darker chestnut form. Her call carried across the yard but was not returned with either a bleat or a neigh.
The catch on the old rusty gate was stuck and she had to heave against it to get it to unlatch. But it still didn’t move even once it was undone, and all the pushing and cursing she expended on it could not make it budge.
‘Crap, crap and double crap,’ she cursed.
She swung her head around toward the glow in the paddock, feeling momentarily guilty about swearing. The light drew ever closer but she still could not make out who it was. An involuntary quiver caused her arm to shake and the lantern to tip. Samantha fought to steady it before it fell onto the ground. The flame ebbed and spluttered but remained lit. It was then that she saw the body of her pony on the other side of the gate.
No,’ she whispered. ‘Pip, Pip get up, please.’
But when she reached out to touch the pony’s neck she knew that it wasn’t possible. Nor was it possible for the goat nearby, whose body was stiffened and beginning to bloat, to ever stand again.
They were both dead.
‘No! No! Why?’ she howled.
Tears flooded as the pain of loss hit her like a punch to the stomach. Her head reeled with the tragedy of the situation. It took a few seconds before she comprehended that these creatures had not died by accident. An icy tingle went up her spine and her mouth became quite dry. Samantha swallowed hard. The light had disappeared behind the garden shed. When it re-emerged she wanted to greet whomever with dignity, not blubbering like some kindergarten child.
The brightness was not emitted from a torch or lamp; it came from the creature itself. It was tall and slim and most certainly not human. A malicious smile appeared to cross its face as the thing moved ever closer. It exposed clusters of needle-like teeth that dripped with a greenish-yellow liquid.
This time when Samantha trembled the lantern did hit the ground, and the darkness embraced her.
The light of dawn fell upon the small farmyard. The wheat in the paddock seemed to sing in the gusty wind. It was the only sign of life for a very long way.
“Reaping” Copyright © 2010 by Pam Farley, All Rights Reserved