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Gathering For Death
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Gathering for Death

by Henry P. Gravelle

"Where are we?" Annie Pike asked herself several times. She sat quietly and patiently beside her husband as he piloted their SUV along an unpaved road through the darkest forest she could imagine. Again, she asked, this time out loud.

"Where are we?"

Joe's mind was nearing a hypnotic trance watching their neighbor's taillights bouncing along the rut-filled roadway ahead of them. The increasing density and changing forestation caught within the vehicles headlights defined and edged every object. The headlights created a surreal third dimensional scene, taken from one of those viewfinders of yesteryear. It held his attention, until Annie's question.

"No need to worry," he smiled. "Its not far, maybe a mile or so."

"I still don't understand why we couldn't have done this at the Casey's house like we planned two weeks ago?" She responded with another question.

He sighed and changed hands on the steering wheel. His free hand went to her knee, lightly squeezing, and then caressing the joint through her jeans.

"I told you why. Moe and I wanted to put Carol's friend to the test. Come on, you know these people are charlatans. Everything is rigged, the spooky sights and sounds, all from wires and tape recorders."

"How was she going to rig the house for the sťance? Carol would have been there."

Annie glanced at her husband, unable to believe he actually thought their neighbor's friend, Lenore, was anything but a true Spiritualist. She bet it was Carol's husband, Moe, who brought this on and convinced Joe that Lenore was a hoax. Moe believed Lenore befriended his wife only to sell her a bunch of hocus-pocus, and then steal what she could. Moe called her a gypsy, tramp, and thief.

"So all of a sudden, Carol has this new friend," Joe continued, explaining his reasoning through hearsay evidence. "This woman Lenore," he pronounced the name eloquently with a wave of the hand, as if announcing the arrival of royalty, "meets Carol in the market parking lot. No one knows where she is from, where she works or lives, she conveniently appears like magic. Did you know she convinced Carol that her life is in danger, her future was bleak and the only way to resolve the matter is through a sťance? It's the only way to contact the spirits who wish to harm her." Annie grasped the door strap while the vehicle rock and rolled through the grooved earthen way.

"No, I didn't know."

"Can you believe that?" Joe interrupted. "Preying on Carol's emotions while sizing up the house and planting sound devices, gadgets and gizmos. So okay, we'll have this sťance, but at a place she has never seen and has had no chance to rig. We'll see how good she is at telling the future."

He laughed.

Joe's attempt to discredit Lenore and her abilities was ignored. Annie asked again. "Where are we?"

Ahead, the bright illumination of the full moon outlined a cabin nestled amongst a backdrop of dark pines, standing like silent sentinels over a sacred sanctuary.

"We're here."

"Finally," Annie muttered.

They parked next to Moes pick up. Joe rushed inside and flicked on the outside light, allowing the women to view the hunting cabin for the first time. It was a joint investment between the two men. A home away from home where they could fish and hunt all weekend, their castle in the forest, private abode, sanctuary, and lair. For the first time the wives got to see it.

The outside bulb had already attracted a handful of night insects, fluttering about in its warmth, although it was still humid after a scorching hot summers day. It illuminated the warped flooring of a porch that stretched the length of the cabin's front. A screened door centered the front of the structure with one window on each side. The stone chimney peered over the roofs crest like a cold and empty well, wondering of these strangers.

"Lovely ride in the country," Carol exclaimed as she left the truck with Lenore at her side. They joined Annie on the porch. Carol's facial expression showed astonishment and disgust of the cabin, and the roadway.

"That was a cow path," Annie commented. "I thought we'd never get here."

Lenore silently whisked past them and went to a table placed in the middle of the cabin floor. Moe and Joe had cleared away the old sofa and recliner, magazine rack, coffee table and end table with the lamp of Marilyn Monroe holding the bulb. Carol told him to toss it years ago, know she knew where it landed. Lenore sat at the head chair with hands on the tables surface. She closed her strangely dull black eyes and said - no demanded.

"Join me."

Perhaps it was the dimly lit room, or her dark clothing with bandana wrapped around her raven hair, but Joe and Moe felt the same seeing Lenore at the table. Joe whispered, "Like the gypsy woman in the werewolf movie."

Moe giggled until Carol shot an angry glance his way. The women sat at the table with Lenore, each holding one of her hands with the other opened for their husbands to join them. Joe and Moe looked to each other with amusement then sat, completing a circle, joining their bodies through touch.

Lenore lowered her head softly murmuring. Annie looked to Carol and shrugged.

"Putting herself into a trance." Carol explained in a whisper. The two husbands smiled at each other.

* * *

Below the cabin, at the foot of a shrubbery coated incline, a lake stretched across the scenery illuminated by the full moon. The forest greeted the shoreline with tall pine and maple, birch and fir connected by a maze of vegetation, thick and thorny. A rowboat drifted aimlessly on the still water. Its oars locked in the up position.

A young man sat on the floor of the boat, resting his back against the rear seat. His arms draped over the shoulders of his high school sweetheart nestled in front of him. He thought of taking her to the deserted hunting cabin atop the hill and making love to her, like they had on several occasions in the privacy of the forest. For now he was content to dreamingly gaze at the clear night sky and the many pinpoints of lights, so far away.

"It's so peaceful with all the stars, just right for dreaming." She said taking hold of his hand.

"And what would those dreams be?" he asked, although he heard the answer before. Save enough money to get married within a few years. He hoped she would say something else, anything.

"I could work for a while at the Bird Cage, make a lot of money and -"

"Are you kidding?" He shook his head vehemently disagreeing with her idea. "No girlfriend of mine is going to work at a strip club. I don't care if you get a million dollars a night!"

"Calm down," she giggled. "I'm only kidding. I knew you wanted to hear something besides save and start a family."

"How'd you know that?"

"I met someone yesterday, a woman. Kind of a strange woman, but after we spoke for a few minutes I felt she really had her finger on the pulse of my future."

"Pulse of your future?" he asked. "What made you discuss the future with a stranger?"

The girl looked perplexed. "I don't know. We talked about a lot of things. It just came out, something about her made me want to talk. I thought she was a kook at first, but she told me things only I knew, and then she said you didn't want to get married. I guess she was right."

He leaned back and looked to the stars, hoping that maybe the conversation would change. A lucky guess, he thought about the strange woman's analysis.

"So?" she asked.

"So what?"

"Your dream."

"I don't want to talk about that stuff."

"Maybe I should wish upon a star?" she suggested.

They both quietly gazed into the heavens, when suddenly a flash of light crossed the darkness overhead. It disappeared as fast as it materialized.

"There goes one, did you make your wish?" he asked.

"To fast."

"You have to begin wishing as soon as you see it, even though it goes away, it's okay, as long as you begin when it's visible."

"Who told you that?" she questioned.

"My grandpa, when I was a kid."

"Did you get your wish?"

"Naw, he died anyway. He had heart trouble and I wanted him to get better. Aw, what does a kid know about those things anyway?" His voice slightly quivered remembering his wish for his grandfather's life to be spared.

She was about to reply to his heartfelt emotion when she spotted a light in the sky.

"There!" She called out, her voice echoing across the lakes surface.

He looked up expecting to see the tail end of a burning meteor but instead witnessed a pinpoint of light growing in brilliance and size. It wobbled and flickered, as though dangling on a string in space.

"I thought they went away?" she asked.

"I thought so."

The light was becoming brighter and amassing in size. From a pinhead to golf ball size and still growing and nearing the lake.

* * *

Lenore's head rose followed by her eyelids showing big, black pupils, like marbles, set against a bone white background. Her thick lips shimmered. Unconsciously, all at the table tightened their grasp of the others hands and at the same moment thought of how beautifully wretched this mysterious Lenore was. She spoke.

"Carol Carol Manning "

Moe grinned, thinking she could have learned Carols maiden name during their discussions. Joe thought the same, and rolled his eyes.

"Yes?" Carol answered.

Lenore's voice became a deep hollow tone, like a bullfrog in a cave. Everyone sat upright, alert scared.

"Carmen Seek me Lust "

Carol's face turned ashen, her eyes wide in shock. She recognized the meaning. "Oh my God, Oh Christ no, I don't believe it "

"Desire Lust "

"What the hell is that?" Moe asked. Carol sobbed. Annie's mouth was wide open. Joe laughed.

"I'm no expert ole buddy, but I think a ghost named Carmen is hot for your wife."

"Is that so?" Moe turned to his wife.

"I thought this was all baloney." Annie shouted to the husbands, quickly coming to her friends aid. She was in awe of Lenores powers. Carol confided only in her as to her affair six years ago with the man named Carmen. He died shortly afterwards in an automobile accident.

Lenore continued, before the group began to loose focus and start arguing.

"Roscoe "

Annie inhaled sharply hearing her long deceased dog's name. She had removed the memory of the puppy's sudden and tragic death from her thoughts, until now.

"Killed Beau."

Annie's stare burned into Joe's astonished face.

"You gonna believe her?" he asked.

"I had a dog when I first met Joe. It died from a supposed fall down a flight of stairs." Annie explained to her friends. Wetness welled in her eyes when she gazed again to Joe, "and I used to call Joe, my Beau."

"I never touched that dog "

"You son-of-a-bitch, you never liked him because I loved him You were jealous of a damn puppy?"

Joe released his grip and threw his hands into the air. "How did this bitch think up stuff like that?" he asked, pointing to Lenore. "Why are we going through this?"

The deep voice boomed before anyone could respond or think. "Gathering "

"Yeah, so were gathered. All we hear is crap You just had to have this damn sťance!" Moe yelled to Carol, now in tears.

" For death."

Everyone at the table stopped arguing, yelling, sniffling, and sobbing. They looked to each other for an explanation of what they just heard.

"What ... What do you mean?" Carol looked to Lenore.

"What gives?" asked Moe, releasing hold of his wife's hand. Annie and Carol remained connected to Lenore.

Suddenly one of the cabin lights flickered, then the second, startling everyone except Lenore. She lowered her face to her chest then raised it again. The trance was over. Her eyes were bright, lucid, and responding to the dim light. She smiled and stood.

"Perhaps you will now believe of those able to speak with the other side."

Moe nodded in agreement, having witnessed Lenore's amazing abilities, but Joe still held a negative reaction. He tried to side step his involvement in killing Annie's dog.

"That was all lies from the past I thought you could tell the future."

Lenore walked slowly toward the fireplace hearth and stood near the cold ashes of last winter's fires.

"I am a teller of future events, Mr. Pike. "She stated waving her hand to the remaining lamp. It instantly went out. The room remained lit from a strange glow coming through the windows, flickering and growing brighter.

"I told you this was a gathering of death and it shall be."

The approaching roar sounded like a hundred freight trains. The cabin began to shake violently. Carol and Annie screamed watching Lenore's form dissolve like a block of sugar and drift up the flue, in a wisp of black smoke.

* * *

"My God, it's headed right for us!" The boy shouted. He tried to think of what to do, protect his girlfriend; row the boat, swim for shore, but it was too late. She opened her mouth but the scream was unheard from the thunderous roar approaching. He toppled on top of her, covering against the searing hot ball of fire that catapulted directly over their heads.

A boom followed by a hissing explosion. Earth and tumbling trees cascaded into the lake by the massive impact. The rowboat rocked side to side almost tossing the young couple into the upset water. It finally stopped, allowing them to raise their heads and peer behind them at the hill.

They both gasped at the large, burning furrow gouged into the hillside and the crater of smoldering earth visible atop the reshaped hill.

"That woman I met, told me not to go to the cabin with you tonight. It was a place for unbelievers, a place where death would be." The girl whispered in awe at the destruction. A swirl of black smoke circled the boat then drifted back toward town.

Copyright Henry P. Gravelle 2004

Henry P. Gravelle is a member of the Horror Writers Association and his short stories have appeared in Science Fiction magazines Hadrosaur Tales, Distant Worlds, Wild Child Publishing and Bewildering Stories. Born and raised in Boston, Henry attended Northeastern University and currently resides in Brockton, Massachusetts. Please visit his homepage:

http://members.aol.com/hpg53/myhomepage/business.html

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