Into the Hollow
“What’s that say?” I whispered, not finding my full voice in the cold.
He started at the sound of my voice and slowly pivoted at the waist, shooting me a sly look from over his shoulder.
“I thought you were sleeping.”
“It’s too cold for sleep.”
He grinned and turned totally around. “That’s what I’m here for.”
He shoved his arms in the shirt and was about to raise it above his head when I stuck a hand out and pointed at him.
“Seriously, Dex, what does it say?”
He dipped his chin to chest and gave me a long look, his eyes wheeling and dealing. After a thick pause, he said, “All right. But I’m putting my shirt back on after cuz it is cold as balls in here.”
I nodded, feeling a smile spreading inside my stomach and raised myself up on my elbows.
He came over and took back the covers and climbed on in. Then he turned so I could see his shoulder, bringing the covers up to his waist.
Written in the same italic font as the “And with madness comes the light” tattoo on his chest read the new tattoo.
It said: “Within your light, I lose the madness.”
I didn’t know what to think or say so I just took my hand and gently pressed my fingers against the words, tracing along it. He shivered from my touch but his skin was as cold as stone.
“You seen it?” he asked and gave me a backwards glance.
“Yeah,” I whispered, my breath clouding in the air.
“Good,” he said and twisted around, putting his shirt on. He shifted his body under the covers and rolled over to his side, as if he was going to sleep.
I wanted to talk about it. What did it mean? Did it mean what I thought it meant? Was I his light? Did Dex get a tattoo about me? Or was I so far out of touch that it wasn’t about me at all? Maybe it wasn’t about a person. Maybe it was a thing.
“Dex,” I said gently.
He grunted in return.
“Dex, what does it mean?”
“The tattoo,” I proceeded. “Within your light I lose the madness. What or who is the light?”
“It’s anything you want it to be,” he mumbled, his voice heavy and obscured by the covers.
“But what is it to you?”
I watched him carefully in the lamplight. His body deflated with one long exhale and I knew he was having a debate in his head over what to tell me, if anything. He always gave you something, just not everything. At least, the old Dex was like that.
He said something so low and so muffled that I strained to hear him.
“What was that?” I asked, leaning forward until my chest was pressed up against his back.
I heard him pull the covers away from his face and the sharp exhale through his nose.
“You,” he said, voice low enough to vibrate.
I felt frozen on the outside but inside my heart had vaulted.
It was about me.
“Me?” I repeated quietly, my throat thick.
He turned onto his back, and rolled his head to the side to look at me. I was blocking most of the light, so his eyes looked dark and fathomless. Unreadable.
“You,” he said slowly. “You’re the light. You’re my light.”
My chest pinched at his words and wave of warmth flooded me from head to toe. I was no longer cold. I was glowing from the inside out.
I breathed heavily, studying the darkness that was his face. I felt the unmistakable urge to crawl into the space between his chest and arm, to hold him. My eyes dropped to his chest, to the fine patches of hair there and I fought the need to trail my fingers through it.
“I know it doesn’t matter to you anymore,” he went on gently. “But you’ve always been my light. When I’m with you, I lose this darkness, this madness around me. The madness inside me. But I had to go mad to realize that. I had to lose you to know it.”
Within your light, I lose the madness. Dex had gotten a tattoo about me. I was his light. I couldn’t comprehend any of it. It just didn’t make sense.
I looked away from his eyes and at the window that was laced with ice crystals and snow, a light sheen of condensation on the interior. I didn’t know what I was feeling but it was something that made me feel extremely unbalanced, like I was navigating new territory.
He rolled back onto his side, facing away from me and tucking the blankets up around him. “You asked, I told.”
He did. I wasn’t expecting his honesty, for him to be so blunt. I thought he’d skirt the issue or make something up but there he was telling me he got something about me inked on his body. Something about me that would be there for life, regardless if I came back into it or not.
“It’s a beautiful tattoo,” I finally told him, my voice breaking slightly. I cleared my throat then settled back to my side of the bed. I waited, watching him for a few beats. He didn’t say anything else, though I knew he was still awake.
I woke up to the eerie feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
My eyes sprung open and focused on a greying point on the slanted ceiling. The room was a bit lighter now that it was dark and I guessed that the amount of snow from outside was throwing in light from the window.
The air wasn’t as cold above the blankets as earlier and inside I was nice and toasty. Beside me I could hear Dex’s breath going in and out in the easy depths of sleep. But that wasn’t the only sound in the room.
A low, rough scratch came from the wall behind me, just right of the window and above Dex’s head. I moved slightly to get a better look, my neck craning and ears straining.
There it was again. It wasn’t coming from inside the room, but outside. It sounded an awful lot like nails being run down a chalkboard, only replace the chalk board with a wooden cabin. The sound didn’t even flow smoothly; it stopped and started like a nail was getting caught on bits of wood. It was loud and deliberate and reverberated in my head.
I didn’t dare breath, didn’t dare make a sound, didn’t even swallow. I just listened as the sound slowly repeated itself, starting up high and then making its way down. All my instincts told me that it was probably a tree – when I thought about the view out of the window, I couldn’t remember what exactly was out there. If it wasn’t a tree though, I didn’t know what the hell it could be. And I didn’t want to find out either.
In fact, all I wanted to do was bury my head back under the covers and pray for morning. I didn’t believe in Sasquatch, Bigfoot or some Beast. But I’d seen enough shit to know that there was still plenty for me to be afraid of out there. What if it was a ghost or demon? I knew we were out in the middle of nowhere, but what if Dex’s mom had followed him here and was standing outside the cabin, trailing her fingers down the side of the cabin? Though her fingers would have to be thick long claws to duplicate the sound I was hearing.
So I did the only thing that’s ever worked in these situations.
“Dex?” I whispered harshly. “Are you awake?”
No answer. I poked him in the side. No movement. I contemplated tickling him awake but decided his laughter might scare off the thing making the noise. Not that I wanted it to stick around but I at least wanted him to hear what I had been hearing.
I poked him again. “Dex,” I hissed.
Finally he stirred.
I placed my hand on his arm and whispered, “Be quiet.”
“Be quiet?” he answered back and I had to shush him right away. “I’m half-asleep and you’re telling me to be quiet.”
“There’s a noise outside, listen.”
He held in his breath and we both listened.
“What was it?” he asked.
I shushed him again and closed my eyes, thinking it would help.
Nothing. The scratching had stopped.
“Fuck,” I muttered.
“What was it?” he asked again, his voice drowsy.
“Scratching,” I told him. “Like nails on the side of the cabin.”
He let out a low, short laugh. “Maybe it’s deer. Remember on D’Arcy Island?”
“It wasn’t deer. This was something worse than that.”
“You’re just spooked,” he said with a yawn. “Go to sleep. Or at least let me go to sleep.”
“I heard something,” I said determinedly.
“Then go look out the window and check.”
I really didn’t want to do that. I was afraid that if I looked out the window, the face of a big ugly monster with red eyes would pop up and scare the shit out of me. Yeah, I know that sounds like something that only happens in the movies, but they were a common occurrence with me. And that didn’t make them any less scary.
“Fine,” I mumbled and slowly eased myself out of the covers. I placed my hands on the corners of the window sill and pulled myself up. I kept my eyes closed until the right moment and, after taking a breath of courage, opened them.
It was white outside. The snow had stopped falling with only a casual flake drifting slowly and the sky was lit up glowing grey. I could make out the white-dusted trees nearby and the edge of the outhouse farther off. To my disappointment, there were no trees next to the cabin, nothing that could have made the noise I had heard.
If I had even heard a noise at all.
I lowered myself down to the bed and snuggled under the covers until I was warm again, hugging my knees in the fetal position. Eventually Dex said, “See anything freaky?”
I bumped my butt against his back in response and soon I was asleep.
Dex’s voice rang out from behind the cabin just as I was heading outside to use the outhouse. Mitch was at the llama corral, feeding them their daily dose of hay and grains.
I quickly shut the door and stomped my way through the snow. It was about ten in the morning and the sun was high in the sky, making the snow that had fallen during the night sparkle like diamonds, and feel just as hard beneath my boots.
I rounded the corner, pulling my knit cap down over my forehead and stopped when I saw Dex standing beneath our bedroom window looking at the ground, then up at the window and back down again.
“What is it?” I asked, my pulse quickening.
“Tell me about the sound you heard last night,” he said, his voice trailing off.
I bit my lip anxiously and came over to join him.
Dex was standing right in front of a set of footprints that lay right beneath the window. Footprints that looked eerily like the one Rigby had shown us. And on closer inspection, I realized that it wasn’t just one set of prints but many. They were messy and blurry with snow having blown down their ridges, looking like they were left in a hurry.
Dex pointed off to the otherside of the cabin.
“They disappear into the forest over there,” he said. He finally brought his eyes over to look at me and they looked startlingly brown and clear in the harsh, snow-blind white of morning.
I held his gaze for a minute, surprised at the sudden way my heart was tingling at the sight of him. Memories of what he said last night, his tattoo, that I was his light, surfaced in my head. Then I broke away. I crouched down to the snow and lightly touched the print. It wasn’t quite as clear as the cast but it was definitely the same shape. About a foot and a half long with a deep, narrow indent at the heel. Whoever – or whatever – left these seemed to have stood in the one place for a long time, then perhaps circled the area before taking off for the woods. Considering the place was right below the window, it probably meant it was the source of the sound.