Thunder shook the house, buzzing the windows and shaking the pictures in their frames. The wind picked up, howling through the chimney. Thick black clouds hung on the horizon above empty, dusty fields. The first big storm of the year, ready to turn the thick dust back into fertile soil. Rain was scarce the last few years and the storm was a good sign.
Evelyn closed up the shutters and sat down in the old wooden rocking chair with a worn copy of The Great Gatsby. The pages were faded and the binding was beginning to fray, but it had gotten her through plenty of hard times and more than a few heavy storms.
She tucked her feet and dress under her legs and lit the lamp just as the rain started clanging against the roof. She smiled. Lifted a fresh cup of tea to her lips and cracked the spine.
And was interrupted by a polite but insistent knock on her front door.
Evelyn sat her cup and book on the table beside the chair. She made her way to the door, put a smile on her face to mask her annoyance, and opened the door.
A tall, pale man with dark hair and darker eyes stood there. His black suit was soaked through and clung to his bony frame. He pushed his hair back across his head and smiled an awkward smile. His teeth stuck out, too big for his mouth.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, voice thick and slurred. “My car broke down out on the road. Would it be possible to come inside and wait out the storm?”
Evelyn eyed her cup and book, then looked back at the wet clothes sticking to the man. “Come in. Come in. I’ll get you a towel.”
Lightning flashed behind him as he stepped across the threshold. “Thank you, again,” he said. “You’re kindness is quite stimulating.”
The look in his eyes made Evelyn blush. “Don’t just stand there dripping, get that jacket off.” She left him standing by the door and fetched a fresh towel from the linen closet. When she returned, he was in his shirt sleeves, kneeling beside her empty hearth and loading in split logs.
“That’s a good idea,” Evelyn said. She offered him the towel. “You dry up. I’ll make you a cup of tea. My name is Evelyn.”
He smiled at her then turned back to the fireplace. “I’ll have this fire going soon.”
Evelyn went to the kitchen and put the kettle on one of the burners. She waited there while it slowly built to a boil, unsure of what to do with the strange man in her house. When the kettle began to steam, she pulled it from the stove and poured the cup.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. “I have a ham.”
“No, thank you.” He appeared in the kitchen door, sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to expose whitewashed arms. “I don’t generally get hungry and until later in the evening. Eating dinner too early is bad for the constitution.”
“I see,” Evelyn said. She handed him the cup of coffee and returned to the living room.
The fire was burning, warm and cheery despite the constant patter of the rain outside. Evelyn sank down into the rocking chair and returned to her book and tea. The stranger joined her, idly sipping his tea you from beside the hearth.
They sat in silence, Evelyn working her way through page after page, the stranger sipping his tea in watching the fire. Time passed by slowly, hours dripping through molasses.
A yawn escaped Evelyn’s lips and she found herself reading the same paragraph again and again. She closed her book and set it on the table, placed her cup in the sink, and moved to turn in for the night. When she went to extinguish the lamp, the stranger stirred from beside the hearth, startling her. She had forgotten all about him as she read.
“Oh, my,” Evelyn said. “I suppose I’ll need to find you a place to sleep for the night.”
“No need to trouble yourself over me,” the stranger said. “I’ll be fine here by the fire.”
“At least let me get you a quilt.”
Evelyn made a quick trip to the living closet and returned with a heavy quilt and a soft pillow. “I’m sorry that I don’t have a bed for you to sleep in. I don’t get many visitors out here.”
“You’ve already been to kind,” he said. He laid the pillow on the floor than curled up beneath the blanket beside the fire. “Good night, Evelyn.”
“Good night, Mister?” She left at the question hang in the air, but he merely closed his eyes and began to breathe rhythmically.
She sighed, leaving him on the floor and retiring to her room. Safe behind a heavy lock, she changed into her sleeping gown and crawled beneath her own heavy quilt.
Outside the wind and rain continued to assault the house, bringing strange and loud noises all throughout the night.
Evelyn’s sleep was frightful. She tossed and turned with the storm. Her mind’s most terrible fancies playing out in her sleep. Dark floating eyes haunted her every dream.
A crash of thunder and shattered glass jerked her awake. Rain blew in and soaked through her bedding and a broken branch from the old tree jabbed through the broken window.
A hand wrapped around her mouth. In the dark, she could barely see the stranger raise a finger to his lips. She sat in her bed, frozen in fear as he moved his hand from her face and pointed into the corner.
Lightning flashed again and she saw it. A bent, furry creature with no eyes and slimy fangs.
“Don’t move,” the stranger whispered. “It can feel you move.”
The creature turned toward his voice and gnashed its teeth. It scurried from the corner on six long, multi-jointed legs edged with long, wicked claws that dug into the floorboards.
The stranger slowly moved away from Evelyn’s bed, edging until his back was against the wall, arms stretched out toward the creature.
“Come here,” he said with a loud, hard voice. “Come for me!”
The creature did as it was instructed. It gouged long scars in the floor as it charged, mouth open and dripping. It bent down on its front legs and used all four of the hind legs to pounce, claws flashing in the air.
The stranger muttered words in a language Evelyn had never heard and a bright light flashed from his hands.
The creature hit the light and was thrown backward across the room. It crashed into the wall hard enough to knock away the plaster and collapsed onto the bedroom floor.
The stranger leapt forward, a long, twisted knife appearing in his hands. He drove the blade into the creature’s side, each thrust releasing a thick cloud of billowing black smoke. After four jabs with the knife, the creature deflated and melted into a pool of black slime.
“Who are you?” Evelyn asked, still rooted in her bed. “What was that?”
The stranger tucked the knife into the back of his pants and turned to her. “Shhh,” he said, one hand waving toward her. “Go back to sleep, Evelyn. This was all just a terrible dream.”
Evelyn yawned, suddenly feeling the weight of the restless night. “But the window is broken,” she mumbled as she lay back down against the wet pillow.
“No, Evelyn, it is all part of the dream.” The stranger waved his hand over her again and Evelyn felt her worry fade away. “It will all be fine in the morning. You’ll see.”
“But I don’t even know your name,” Evelyn muttered. Her eyes were too heavy to keep open, so she let them slide shut. “At least tell me your name.”
“My name isn’t important, because I am just a dream,” he said. “Sleep. It will all be fine in the morning.”
“Shh… Just sleep.”
Evelyn awoke to sun shining in through her window. The brilliant warmth slowly working its way into tired arms and legs. She had vague memories of broken windows and dark strangers, but her window was whole. Her bed was dry. And the morning was beautiful.
She wrapped herself in her robe and walked out into the living room. The house was as empty as it always and the house suddenly seemed bigger than it had the day before. She filled the kettle and placed it on the stove, the strange dream already fading from her mind.
This story actually went on for two or three more paragraphs until I finally realized it was over. Sometimes, a story is like that. You just keep writing, but you should have ended a long time ago. That might be a lesson for my subconscious in there somewhere.