Shades of Gray: The Deserter

The following is an excerpt of a short story from my book Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.

A tranquil pond rested near to a cluster of four thick willow trees behind the white, three-story Victorian house. The house was accentuated by dark green trim that lined the edges of every window, door, and trellis. Its black shingles were deceptively well arranged in neat rows on the roof, and the paint peeled on the wood siding. Most of the green, clapboard shutters were drawn, allowing the afternoon light to penetrate the narrow windows. A few yards away, beyond the small grove of willows and the pond, lay a thick wood that had been on the property for several centuries.

The pond’s only confidant, a young woman dressed in a plain blue dress, sat beside its stone edge. The tender breeze blew softly against her long black hair while she reclined in the bushy lawn. Her fate was to be the only child in a family that seemed to have everything. Her family had moved to the outskirts of the prosperous city of Lynchburg after her father had inherited her grandfather’s mining company. Her only friends growing up had been her tutor and the playmates she imagined into existence.

But that was many years ago.

The young woman sighed and stared at her reflection in the cool water. Her face looked tired, and the black rings under her eyes contrasted with her porcelain skin. Her eyes stared back at her from just below the surface of the pond―green, jade green that seemed to cut into the otherwise clear water. She watched a school of goldfish dart playfully and wished she was among them, but then one appeared to stare back at her. She smiled at it before tapping the water with her finger. Ripples distorted her reflection, and the fish vanished behind the rocks and shadows.

“Abigail!” a distant call sounded.

The young woman’s eyes fell downward and her shoulders sunk lower.

“Abby!” the cheery voice sang again.

“Coming, Mother!” Abigail shouted with notable agitation. She rose slowly and headed toward the house. The shadows from the willow trees covered her as she glided past. A rusted swing set creaked in the wind, and the willow’s long, rope-like branches swayed towards her as she went by, gently brushing up against the fabric of her dress.

The white, wooden porch loomed. Its pillars rose high in the air, touching the slate overhang far above. Directly above that was the rounded window, shutters drawn, which looked out upon the yard from her bedroom.

Abigail placed her hand on the wooden railing, which was festooned with ivy, and her shoes clicked with each step on the stone as she pulled herself towards the door. The curtains danced from the inside of the open windows, waving at her as she reached for the iron door handles. She swung one of the two doors wide open, revealing the lavish parlor.

Her father sat in a red chair reading a book and smoking his favorite pipe just outside of the foyer. He was handsome and well tanned, but streaks of gray were starting to show in the hair around his ears.

“Where’s Mother?” Abigail asked, tonelessly.

Her father pointed with his pipe in the direction of the kitchen.

Abby followed the imaginary line through the door to her mother who stood next to their wrought iron stove. She was bent over, feeding wood into its fiery mouth. The trail of her apron and dress collected on the floor.

“You called?”

Her mother stood up and put both hands on her hips. “Land’s sake, I can’t remember why on earth I did,” she said with a laugh and in a tart tone, before she looked at her daughter and turned sour. “For heaven’s sake stop looking so dreary,” she lectured.

Abigail rolled her eyes and marched out of the room.

Her mother turned towards the sitting parlor. “When are we getting a maid?” she yelled. “This housework is killing me.” A dismissive grunt came in response, and she replied to that with a disgusted sound before turning back to the stove.

Abigail swiftly climbed the stairs to the second floor. During the day, windows in the individual rooms kept the rooms well lit, but even on the brightest afternoon the hallway was dark, apart from the narrow beams of light that spilled out from the doorways. Though it was only about fifteen yards long, the hallway seemed to go on forever until it stopped abruptly at the entrance to her bedroom. There was an eerie silence as Abigail slowly walked towards it. She knew that once she was inside, nothing could follow.

Her bedroom was her sanctuary, and it was sparsely littered with furniture from every stage of her life. Her bed was small and neatly made, with an ornate brass frame and a silk canopy suspended from the tips of the end pieces, high above her head. There was an old rocking chair facing the round window where she spent hours looking out onto the yard. The only other furniture was an oak desk, on which sat the various literature assignments that she slaved over during the long evenings. The walls of the room were white, but stained with a light layer of dust, as were the lacy curtains.

She tried studying, but boredom followed by exhaustion soon overcame her as the words on her paper began to jumble together. The air was so stale, so still, that her mind went numb and she collapsed onto her bed, where she was quickly ushered to sleep.

* * *

It was dark when Abby awoke. Not knowing what time it was, she stared at the ceiling, her mind like Locke’s empty cabinet. All the while, she had the vague recollection that it had been the barking of dogs that woke her. In her groggy state, it took a few moments to remember that her family did not own any dogs.

She swung out of bed and rush over to the window. What she saw in the moonlight excited her curiosity. A young man, perhaps nineteen or twenty, ran frantically through her yard, fleeing from what looked like a pack of dogs. She almost heard him gasping for breath. Several times he fell, and it seemed as though the beasts would overtake him, but then he would always get away. He ran through the grove of oak trees and under the giant willow, its hanging branches whipping him as he went. He ran around the porch, and finally hid in the garden shed. The dogs bayed furiously, a devilish look in their eyes, while saliva sprayed from their mouths. They cocked their ears and whined. It seemed strange that all the while this was going on her house was completely silent. Her parents hadn’t heard a thing.

Read the exciting conclusion to this story and more in Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today.


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