Unrelenting

by L.A. Parish

 

On Tuesday evening, Dwight dug up Sophie and brought her into the kitchen. He laid her out on a broad sheet of clear plastic and sat beside her for a good three hours. During this time Dwight drank bottles of Amstel Light and scratched out images on loose sheets of paper. The images were crude, depicting nebulous unworldly creatures with large jagged teeth and long twisting tails. Just before the sun made an appearance above Tom Hull’s dilapidated barn, Dwight had Sophie back in the ground.

Dwight had Sophie out again early Thursday evening. This time he set her on the living room couch. He covered her body with a pale green blanket and used a corner of the old material to flick away particles of dirt and sagebrush from her young face. He sat with her head in his lap and watched as dark birds settled awkwardly on telephone lines outside. He gently stroked Sophie’s head and soon fell asleep. Dwight dreamed of a world overrun with large carnivorous frogs.

Dwight awoke in the early hours of Friday. He thought it too late to return Sophie. He stood and stretched his back and then knelt beside her and lightly kissed her dry nose. Dwight then stood at the window. The sky was a sickly rich blend of orange and red. There were six dead flies on the windowsill. Dwight gathered the little husks into his palm and examined them closely. He rolled them back and forth with little puffs of breath. Two of the husks still had wings attached. Dwight plucked at one and it fell apart at his touch. He shook his head and gently placed the husks back on the sill.

He made himself scrambled eggs for breakfast. He would have made toast as well, but he had not been to the store in over a week and there was no bread. Dwight had also not been to work in almost two weeks. On the first day of his absence, Dwight received two messages from Suzette in human resources. Her voice was slow and friendly, asking him to please call in. He replayed the message eight times. On the second day he received three calls but only one message. It was Suzette again. This time she did not sound as friendly. Dwight only replayed that message twice. On the third day there was one call and one message. Suzette. She said she was now becoming quite concerned about Dwight; in fact, they all were, and would he please return the call to let everyone know that everything was alright. Dwight played this message eleven times before erasing it. He then sat at the kitchen table and sketched an image of a naked woman with large teeth and a bright red telephone in her hand. The image aroused Dwight and so he quickly tore it up and slid the tip of a steak knife up under the nail of his left forefinger and pushed until blood spurted from beneath the opaque nail and the pain reset his mind.

Early Friday evening Dwight stood at the window and watched as the sky darkened and slowly filled with stars. He returned Sophie a little after ten, placing a handkerchief across her face so as to protect her eyes from dirt. He tamped the fragrant soil about her small body and sat beside her when he was done. The air was cool and things small and unknown to Dwight scurried about in nearby ditches. Something large drifted silently across the moon’s slender face.

Dwight slept poorly that night. His dreams were filled with erratic images of children engulfed in flames and of ships sinking into a dark sea. Just before sunrise Dwight awoke and sat at the foot of his bed. He looked out at the barren land beyond the window and wept.

Dwight dressed himself and nibbled at a breakfast of dry cereal. He drank a glass of orange juice. He checked to see if anyone had called. The message light pulsed with a single red zero. Dwight picked up the phone and set it to his ear. There was nothing but a faint static rustling. He set his glass in the sink and put on his heavy leather coat and went outside.

A side door to Tom Hull’s barn was swinging back and forth on loose hinges. Dwight walked over and latched it shut. He then walked up the broken steps to Tom’s kitchen door and knocked. There was no response. Dwight smiled and shielded his eyes and peered through a window. There were dirty plates and cups stacked in the sink and an opened package of sandwich meat on the table. Flies buzzed through the air between the sink and table. The edging of the meat had turned an iridescent green. Something with a reddish tail scurried out from beneath the table and darted into the hallway. Was there something inside that Dwight had missed? He didn’t think so. But to be sure, he would return later and check.

Dwight walked back to his property and sat on the back steps. There was an odd purple tinge to the sky and a slight tang of something bitter on the air. Dwight walked over to Sophie’s mound and knelt beside it. There were four other mounds nearby but Dwight would no longer dig up their holes. It had been too long now and things had changed drastically and the smell had become terrible. It was best to let them lie. But Sophie still looked like Sophie. She had died only days earlier. In time the others would die too. It never really seemed to take too long. Now and then Dwight could hear them calling. Their small voices muffled behind the thick cellar door.

Dwight knew that someone would in time come for Tom. It seemed that everyone had someone to miss them eventually. Dwight thought about Suzette and of her slow soft voice. He wondered if Suzette would in time come for him. And if so, what would he do when she did?

Dwight stood and stretched his back. He thought tonight would be the last night for Sophie. He would bring her into the living room once more, but this time he would set her in the chair by the window. If there was any shine left to her eyes he would try to position her head so that the lamplight caught it. He would sit beside her and wait. He may even draw something new. He would block out the other voices as he waited. In the morning he would dig new holes.