“Where’s Red?” Little pig number two looked nervous. The sitting room, like most of the manor’s rooms, was vast despite its clutter. The doors were far-too-far from where he had to stand to be heard. He and his brothers had spent most of the past month wary of their proximity to Big Bad. “B.B.?” “How should I know?” The wolf didn’t get up. He stayed where he lounged, staring out the window at the perpetually night sky. “I’m not her keeper.” The pig took a tentative step closer. “Well, it’s just…” The wolf turned. He fixed his large, yellow eyes directly on those of the skittish creature. The pig was small, certainly the smallest of his family, and dressed only in tiny, blue coveralls along with a “Giants” baseball cap. “Yes?” Big Bad prompted. He drew it out for emphasis and licked his black muzzle. The pig’s shivering increased. “She was supposed to meet me in the greenhouse an hour ago,” he stammered. “But … but she never came.” He took a few steps back. “She’s probably in her room.” “No,” the pig said. “I checked and she wasn’t there. I looked everywhere: the kitchen, the basement, the study…” “Did you check the attic?” the wolf snarled with transparent menace. The pig blanched. “The attic?” The pig’s response was a barely audible squeak. No one checked the attic; no one even knocked on its door. Only once since Day One, had any of them taken the long, creaking flight of stairs to its entrance. That one time had been when they’d found the remnants of the Egg: shell fragments scattered on the landing before the door. Ever since, no one had dared return to their point of entry into this cold, nighttime world. “If you didn’t check the attic, you didn’t check ‘everywhere’.” Little pig number two backed away a few more steps. His eyes stayed fixed on the large, lycanthrope-like creature. “I … I…” The wolf stayed half-lounging on the sofa. The pig was so predictable; his buttons were too easy to push. It was tiresome. “Nevermind.” The wolf shook his head and turned back to the empty sky. At times he thought he could make out clouds: lighter patches of dark in the absolute blackness. His night vision was the best in the house but even he was susceptible to a weary imagination. How many days had it been? Twenty? Thirty? None of them knew for sure. It was as if the stars had fallen from heaven and extinguished themselves in some vast, invisible sea. He didn’t think stars were supposed to behave that way but neither did he think the inky black was due to clouds. It was just … absence. “But I daren’t go to the attic,” the pig continued. From the volume of his voice, the wolf could tell he’d retreated as far as the door leading to the front hall. “First Humpty, then Bo Peep, and now Little Red…” The pig wasn’t letting the issue drop. Big Bad was half tempted to chase him until he forgot his questions in a wave of self-preservation. But the wolf wasn’t feeling that kind. “I saw lights,” he rumbled. Silence hung in the wake of his pronouncement. Between the chandelier, the Tiffany lamps, the extinguished fireplace, the built-in bookshelves, and the old globe nestled between the divan and the overstuffed recliners, it was a crowded room. Even the chess table, its white king on one side in the middle of the board, was a scattered mess of broken pawns. They’d found the board that way on Day One. Since emerging from the attic door and coming downstairs to find the place empty, they’d changed as little about the house as possible. To do so would have felt like disturbing a tomb. The manor was as devoid of life as the barren fields that surrounded it. “Lights?” the pig asked. His voice was even further away. “Lights,” the wolf confirmed. “About an hour ago. Off in the distance. Red and yellow and green. Small and darting around like fireflies.” The pig paused as if thinking. “Were they … fireflies?” The wolf rolled his eyes. “They flew around for about five minutes and then went streaking off in different directions. I’ve been watching for them ever since.” “But … but there are no lights; there’s nothing out there.” Big Bag whipped his head around and snarled, “Are you sure? Want to go out and look?” The pig shrieked in terror and fled on his cloven hooves. He scampered down the hall, through the dining room, and towards the kitchens and east library. It didn’t make Big Bad feel good to watch him go; to let him escape. Part of him wanted to give chase; to track him … to stalk him … to make him squeal. He wished, in that moment, that he could chase him down along with his two brothers. But he didn’t. It wasn’t worth it. The little pigs wouldn’t stave off starvation for very long and their fear had grown expected … mundane. There was canned food in the pantry and even jars of preserves in the cellar, but they wouldn’t last forever. There was the well in the basement and, just beyond the manor’s back door: an old hand-pump to draw water. But no one wanted to venture very far from the house. Jack and Jill had done that: gone down the front path, just past the gnarled, leafless tree at the edge of front porch’s light, and they never came back. The world beyond the property’s edge was the same as the attic: a black hole that devoured anyone foolish enough to stray from the light. The bulb above the front porch door cast its island of safe illumination into the parched and barren yard about forty or fifty yards. It stayed on constantly but they all feared the inevitable future in which it would go out. Most of the rooms had been lit when they’d arrived. However, when the switches were thrown and the rooms plunged into darkness, the lights stayed off. Darkness slowly consumed them all. He stared into the night and wondered what it would be like to cease to exist; to be … forgotten. By his best reckoning, thirty days had gone by; thirty days since he and twenty-one others had come downstairs. Not one of them remembered what the attic had been like nor why they’d left it. Now, none of them dared to take a look. All he remembered, something he’d feel odd telling any of the others, was the ghostly voice in the recesses of his mind that whispered “gone … all, gone...” Big Bad shivered at the memory and tried to ignore his hunger. Long minutes, perhaps an hour, passed. Eventually, the brisk click-clack of shoes echoed from the back hall. She smelled of warmth and feathers and age and motherhood. He knew why she was here. “You scared little pig.” Her voice was cool and accusing. “You’re always doing this. I swear: you delight in spreading fear.” He slowly turned to face the tall, plump goose standing behind him. “It’s in my nature,” he said to the matronly bird. Her nineteenth-century blouse and skirts were faded blue with polka-dots. Veritable bolts of cloth rustled around her high-heeled, buckle shoes when she moved. “If you don’t like it—” “As a matter of fact, I don’t,” she snapped. If there was a de-facto leader in the house, it was Goose. She strode up to him and grabbed the tip of Big Bad’s ear. She pulled, hard. “And neither does anyone else. Nature or not, we’re stuck here with each other. We may not know why or what’s going on, but we’re in this together, and I’ll be damned if I let you tear us apart!” The wolf suppressed a snarl. “Are you quite done?” he snapped, jerking his ear from her hand. He fantasized, not for the first time, about snapping her long, slender neck; about feeling those bones crunch between his powerful jaws and tasting her blood splash down his throat. His stomach rumbled. The others wouldn’t let him get away with it. The Lion, peaceful as he was, hadn’t been the same since his ever-present mouse companion had turned off the lights in an upstairs bedroom and vanished into the dark. He’d lost his best friend and all that remained were Goose and a few others who helped him shoulder the burden of his grief. Big Bad turned back to the skies. For a second, he thought he saw a flash of illumination, just past the skeletal branches of the tree. But when he blinked, it was gone. Goose didn’t leave. She waited, as if in thought, before continuing. “Little pig told me that you saw lights. Why didn’t you come to me right away?” The wolf didn’t answer. “Anything new—any sign of change—is important to us all.” “So you can cower from it?” he asked. “If you’re so keen on wanting to know everything, why don’t you watch the skies?” The goose crossed her arms. She said nothing, though, and that was worth something. It meant he’d struck a nerve. “What did they look like?” she asked at last. Goose came and knelt next to Big Bad, peering into the night sky. He exhaled, slowly. “Small orbs,” he said. “They were high … or near, I suppose; depending on how big they were. But they stood out like … like eyes, reflecting in the darkness.” “Eyes?” “Not like they had irises or anything. They were solid. But it was almost like they were … looking.” “At what?” He shrugged. Goose grew silent and Big Bad didn’t go on. The truth was he didn’t feel like telling her or the others anything. They already feared him … hated him. He didn’t need to give them the idea that he had started seeing things that weren’t there. “How long ago?” she asked. The wolf shrugged. He’d said “an hour” to the little pig but, honestly, time had little meaning. The grandfather clock, quietly ticking in the corner by the fireplace, may or may not have been accurate. With no sunrise or sunset, they could only guess at how long they’d been here. “Sometime today; after I woke up and came down for breakfast.” The goose nodded and, after staying in silence a few more minutes, stood. The click-clack of her heels echoed on the hardwood floor as she walked away. “That would have been about the time that Little Red was finishing the morning baking.” The wolf, again, shrugged. That had been Red’s task. She knew how to cook. The pantry had plenty of flour and sugar and other plant-based things that didn’t interest him. But it was her task, whether he appreciated it or not. They all had tasks; all but him. None of them trusted the big, bad wolf. Even the Lion was trusted. His task was “protector”. No one wanted the wolf on their side. Even the cliquish family of bears were more trusted than he. “So you came downstairs for breakfast just as Red was supposed to be finishing up in the kitchen.” The wolf shrugged once again. “I suppose.” “I’m sorry to hear that,” Goose replied. Her words held an eerie finality. Suspicion prompted him to rise and face her. As he did, he heard the others approach. His nostrils twitched as the manor’s residents entered the sitting room from both doors. About half of them were there. Little pig number two had gathered his brothers, one and three. Each brandished a makeshift weapon: a broom, a skillet, a fireplace poker. The Boy-Who-Cried stood before them, looking determined. At his side stood the bears: Pappa, Momma, and Baby. Next to Goose were Reynard and the Spider and Muffet. Looming behind them all was the Lion and a few others. Big Bad narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t eat her…” He caught himself and trailed off. He saw the looks in their eyes and knew this had been planned for a while. The Goose shook her head, slowly. “Don’t even try,” she advised. She sounded sad but resolute. The wolf just nodded. In a flash, he turned and dove at his reflection in the old, front window. He cleared the sofa in a single lunge. Wooden frame and heavy glass shattered in his wake. Splinters pierced his fur and shards scored his flesh. He propelled himself forward, stumbling onto the dimly-lit porch. Behind him, he heard the crash of a lamp as one of the sitting room’s lights went out. The cries that followed were strained and frantic. He heard the fear in those voices. It was a familiar song. Whether blamed for the evils of the forest or his own animal hunger, he’d heard that fear all his life. The porch’s lone bulb crackled with a jaundiced hue. It set the deep wood grain of the manor’s front into stark relief with its shadows. It flickered as he passed beneath it, as if threatening to go out. He cast a wary glance at the sanctuary of light while shaking glass from his black coat. He ran. Pandemonium echoed from inside as no one, not even the Lion, felt brave enough to charge into the half-light of the wasteland surrounding the house after Big Bad. He put as much distance between himself and the shattered window as he could. Reaching the edge of the porch, he vaulted the railing into yet darker surroundings. Turning north, he dashed along the side of the manor. Around him, the shadows crept and reached with ephemeral fingers. He paused for a moment. The shadows continued to undulate just a few yards away. Idly, he wondered if the lights hadn’t been watching him ... that perhaps it was the darkness, itself. Stumbling, he resumed his flight, pressed to the manor’s exterior. He moved from one dim splash of light to another; from beneath one window to the next. Behind him, the front door slammed open; he heard Goose calling. He didn’t stop. What was there to say? He’d told the truth: he hadn’t eaten Red. But the truth didn’t matter. He rounded the far corner past a cellar window’s narrow slash of light. The water pump and back porch were in sight. He could go, as he’d originally planned, through the back door and find a place to barricade himself. Or perhaps he could slip through the window, hide in the basement, and gain even more time. But what then? They’d made up their minds. His only sanctuary was the empty shadows: the blank spaces of void from which nothing emerged. There, he’d be as good as dead. Worse: he’d be vanished … the ultimate “out-of-sight, out-of-mind”. Once, he would have run through the woods to escape pursuit; he would have run and kept on running. Before Day One, that was how he’d lived. He’d run farther than anyone could follow. These days, the world was a much smaller place. He felt the fingers of night tickle his fur. Recoiling, he pressed himself against the manor house. Onto the back porch, the screen door opened as the Cat and Fiddle emerged. The feline held a sputtering lantern in her tawny paw. Behind her and her instrument-companion came the Puppet, ears still donkey-like with an ass’ tail swishing nervously in his wake. The three hadn’t been in the sitting room with the others but, clearly, were the rear guard in case he’d tried to flee. “He’s here!” the Puppet cried. He brandished a hockey stick in one hand and a candelabra in the other. “I didn’t eat her!” the wolf howled. He didn’t expect them to listen, though, and backed away as they advanced. The darkness seemed to caress his back; stroke his fur and draw him in. The Cat paused, her lantern hissing but casting its light no further. Big Bad realized the illumination was coming no closer and stopped lest he fade completely from sight. It was like standing with his back to a vast chasm. “I don’t know if you ate her or not,” Goose said, coming from the front of the house, “but you’re not welcome here anymore.” He turned on her, snarling. “And where do you expect me to go?” Crouching, more than half-concealed by darkness, he looked every bit the feral beast others saw in him. His wide eyes, normally able to pierce any darkness, brought him no avenue of escape. The others closed in. Goose crossed her arms, composed herself, and stopped. The rest of the menagerie gathered around her. “Where will you go?” she asked. “Into the darkness, of course.”. Big Bad looked each one in the eyes and felt a chill at the finality in their expressions. He looked over his shoulder at the emptiness and thought about what he’d seen in the sky, above. Was it really empty? Was there a source of light out there, beyond the veil of black? He realized, despite all his bravado, he didn’t want to find out. “Please: let me back in.” His voice sounded pathetic to his ears. “I’ll do whatever you want.” “Your choice,” the goose said, “the yard or the attic.” “Your choice,” echoed each of the little pigs, one after the other. “But all we have is each other!” the wolf insisted. “For how long?” Momma Bear asked, pulling her son in close. “I’ve seen how you look at Baby … at the pigs…” “...At me,” added the Boy. “But I didn’t do anything!” They stood around the back of the house as long minutes ticked past. Desperately, the wolf scanned the skies for light; for any sign of anything. The void stared back, eternally empty. Even the topmost reaches of the house stood in stark oblivion. He could only barely see the outline of the small, round attic window high above. That’s where he’d come from; that’s where they’d all come from. And it seemed to call to him. Just barely, through the gloom, he thought he saw movement there. Just for a second, buried in the deepest recesses of his mind, he fancied he could hear the words, “forgotten … gone…” What had happened to the people? What had happened to the world, to the sky, to the stars, to the day? Why had darkness eaten everything? Was it biding its time, waiting to devour the last remnants of the world of which he and the others were the only remnants? Would anyone remember him once he was gone? “No!” The wolf cried out and tried to run through them. Hands grasped him; claws raked his body. The crush of the manor’s residents came close and dragged him down. He bit and slashed and savaged those who were not quick enough. At least one little pig squealed in agony and blood. But it was not enough as fists and feet and paws and claws rained down on him. “Please!” “We’re sorry,” Goose said, “But we’ll sleep better once you’re gone.” Ropes were brought to bind his arms and legs. Slowly, they dragged him inside. The warmth of the house never seemed warmer nor the dimly-lit rooms more like home. But they slipped by, no longer a refuge, as the others marched to the stairs. The Lion carried him while Papa Bear guarded against him breaking free. They climbed to the second story and then around to the rear hall. There, the stairway door that led up to the attic stood open like a toothless, hungry maw. There, the procession stopped. At the top of the stairs burned the single, flickering bulb outside the attic door. Unceremoniously, they tossed him onto the stairs. The Lion, perhaps possessing a bit of pity, untied the wolf’s legs and arms. Big Bad stumbled to his feet. He looked at the crowd before him. Their fearful eyes filled with judgment. For a fleeting moment he wondered if one of them was responsible. He wondered if one or more of the others could have gotten rid of their missing members and somehow blamed the dark? What if he’d been afraid of the wrong thing? Goose approached and reached into the stairwell. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Don’t… Please, don’t: the darkness…” “Is where monsters belong.” With that, she turned off the light and closed the door on the Big Bad Wolf. For a moment, in the dark, he felt nothing. Then, there was movement; like a faint wisp of air rustling his fur. Above him, he heard the door open. A cold whisper licked his cheek and a single word drifted through the cold, black air. “Forget.”
This story is an original work created for the 2013 Hallowe’en season. The setting, situations, and characters (in this context) are owned by the author. This work (“Nightlights”) has been distributed and is available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. Please visit the Web site http://www.CreativeCommons.org/ for more details. If you would like to donate to the author, any money will be gratefully accepted and may be sent to drustOnlinePayments@gmail.com via PayPal.