Read an Excerpt
Silver Falls, Georgia
February 19, 1839
Sue Ann Eston clutched her doll tightly. The six-year-old sat alone beneath her house. No one else knew where her secret hiding place was, not even her friend, which was the only reason It had not found her yet. She was wrapped in a dirty blue blanket and sitting fearfully still, trying hard not to even tremble from the blistering cold. She wanted so badly to scream, but if she made any sound at all It would hear her, and kill her like It was killing everyone else. Her town was dying; the number of gunshots and screams waned with each passing minute. Through a knothole in the base of her house she glimpsed the massacre taking place, a spectacle that inspired as much awe as fear. She saw people she had known all her life running up, down, and across the street, only to be hunted down and slaughtered. It moved incredibly fast, seeming to be everywhere at once. No one escaped; everyone was doomed to die. All she could do was remain hidden and hope she would not be found. The child slipped into a daze, recalling the strange events of the past hour.
Sue Ann's fortune could be attributed to the dream she had the previous night. She had dreamt that yesterday's events had not taken place, that her friend was still alive, that everything in that quiet little town was just as normal as it had always been. But then her dream changed, and she recollected the Edmund brothers, Roy and Danny, killing her friend. She viewed it as though she were floating in the sky, watching the world from above. She saw the Edmunds' horse Thunderpulling the cart down the street, the wide dirt path that was the center of town, with the two boys on it and her friend's battered body dragging behind. She remembered how the letters appeared in the dirt, scribed by the blood of her friend as he passed over it. That word! What was that word, and what did it mean? She remembered the crimson bursting into bright orange flames, and the sinister laugh that bellowed from all above, beneath, and around her, which caused her to wake up screaming. That nightmare had prompted the child to go to her hiding place.
When she stepped outside to hide, she saw that the horses were all dead. Not just her family's horse, but everybody's. The day was breaking, and the sun's first light presented a horrifying scene. They had all been cut badly along their necks and bellies. The animals were still tied to their posts, but lay lifeless on the ground, their reins keeping their heads suspended and pointing upwards. She had not understood then why the horses were dead, but now it made sense: no one was getting away. She was so terrified that she was about to run back into the house and wake her parents, but something caught her eye that stopped her cold. She saw that word. It was etched into the street in huge letters, not with blood as in her dream, but by someone's hand. An overwhelming feeling of dread engulfed her, and a voice in her head screamed, 'Hide, now!' And no sooner than she had forced herself into the little hole at the far end of the house, she heard the roar. It was the same thunderous voice she had heard in her dream. It was a signal, a call to draw out the townsfolk and begin the panic. Surely enough, the first screams occurred only seconds later. Then the gunshots. Then more screams. And more gunshots. And more screams.
Mama, Sue Ann thought painfully. Pa. She was so cold, and so alone. Her parents were dead; she had heard them die. It had stormed into the house through the front door. It killed her mother first, in the master bedroom, directly above where the child was hiding. She heard Mama beg for her life, then scream a scream that barely seemed human. Then she heard Pa run into the room screaming profanities as he fired off two rounds from his hunting rifle. She heard It's thunderous footsteps rush toward Pa, another shot, and then a loud thump on the floor. Then It dashed outside to kill some more. It would have killed her as well, had she still been in the house. It was not partial to anyone, not man, woman, or child.
Only yesterday the thing that was destroying Silver Falls was Sue Ann's best friend, her favorite person in the world. Yesterday It did not have the frightening shape, size, or form that It did now. It was a person, just like she was, just like everybody else was, even if some did not feel that way. For years, It had worked in the fields beside Pa, had helped Mama cook and clean, had run errands for most everyone in town. It used to read Sue Ann fairy tales of beautiful princesses and brave knights and fearsome dragons, which caused her to lull off to sleep and dream so many fantastic things. But no more. The Edmund brothers, in their hatred and ignorance, took an innocent life. No one had tried to save Sue Ann's friend, and now, in a bloody twist of fate, it was the one who would not spare the many.
At least Roy and Danny are dead, too, thought Sue Ann. They deserve it.
That spiteful thought brought Sue Ann out of her daze. Her reflecting had been so deep that she had actually grown deaf to the carnage taking place outside her haven. But now she was cognizant again, and what she heard was the most frightful thing of all: nothing. Dead silence.
The massacre was over. There was no one left to scream, no one left to die. No one but Sue Ann. She trembled violently, because she understood what the silence meant. The screams, the shots. . .those were sounds of struggle, but where there was struggle, there was life, and if anyone was still alive, then the child was not completely alone. But now she was the only one alive. . .she and It. Would It look for her? What if It had known all along where she was, and was saving her for last? What would she do? What could she do, but die like all the others? From amid the feelings of futility arose an impulse. That word. She needed to write it down. Even if she did not live to tell what had transpired on this day, that word would be her message to whatever poor soul found this massacre. It would be the story of this town's end. That word.
She lay down her doll and grabbed a short board that lay on the ground beside her. Then she picked up a red crayon. She would write that word in red, just as it had been written in blood in her dream. Her hands were stiff with cold and shaking with fear, but her resolve overcame even that. Squeezing the crayon with all her might, she etched out the first letter.
Q. . .
The child heard a noise above her. A loud thumping. Footsteps. It was in the house again.
U. . .
The girl's blood ran icy cold, colder than the air under the house, at the sound of Itcalling her name. This was not the bellowing voice she had heard in the dream, but a calm hiss. Calm, but very loud. It was looking for her. That new burst of terror strengthened her resolve, however. She clutched the crayon more tightly.
A. . .
"Sue Ann, where are you?"
It was moving about the house, turning over tables and chairs and anything else It thought It might find her under.
L. . .
"Sue Ann. . ."
X. . .
Copyright © 2003 by Kevin Callis