Empty Sky Chapter 1 – The Cabin

Sometimes we find our friends in the dark

(final edit before the proofreaders (he said). Changes are probably subtle. Or should be. Something only a writer would recognize. Let me know what you think. Thanks)


Jamie, delicate and ginger haired, woke to Shem’s tail thumping the bedcovers. The big golden sat on their bed staring out the cabin window, his coat glistening in the moonlight. Outside, peepers and crickets chirped softly. Raccoons chittered, opossum and skunk hissed, warning each other away. Owls hooted. Loons called. Far off a wolf howled. Another answered, distant.

Jamie whispered, “What is it, boy?” He looked past Shem to the oak, elm, and pine of the northern Michigan forest. The Moon, full and bright, illuminated the trees and the small, one-room cabin at their center.

Shem scratched at the door to go out.

“Do you have to pee?”

Shem whined softly.

“Shh.” Jamie glanced at his parents, Ellie and Tom, asleep on the other side of the cabin. “You want to wake mom and dad?” He crawled out from under the covers and tip-toed to the door. Standing on a chair, he drew back the bolt and lifted the latch.

Cool winds turned rustling treetops into brooms sweeping low-hung clouds from late September skies. Dust devils spun up mists where night air met day-warmed rocks. Trees bowed to the rising Moon.

Shem walked into the night. Jamie followed.

The Moon continued her ascent. The woods fell silent.

Silent.

Ellie sat up in bed, her hands clenching the blanket, holding it tight against her. A cold, dank wind swirled through the cabin, lifting things slightly, inspecting them, putting them down, drawing a musk of old earths in its wake.

Moonlight entered the cabin’s single room.

Her eyes fixed on Jamie’s empty bed.

“Jamie! Shem!”

Tom rose and put his boots on in one motion. “Where are they?”

Ellie pointed at the open door.

Tom threw her her coat. “They must be together. Shem won’t let Jamie out of his sight.”

“Something’s got them. Some wild animal.”

“There’s no blood anywhere, Ellie. Shem’d raise hell if something got in the cabin or near Jamie.” He grabbed an iron poker from the woodstove.

Ellie stopped at the door, a silhouette against the night. “Shh.”

Tom came up beside her. “What the…?”

“Shh!”

He whispered, “What are they doing?”

“It looks like they’re playing.”

“With whom?”

Jamie and Shem romped in a grassy clearing twenty feet from the cabin. Moonlight cast long shadows everywhere as they danced about, the sole performers under a celestial spotlight.

Tom looked to the rutted dirt road that served as the camp’s driveway. No cars but theirs. He scanned the shadows.

Ellie whispered, “Can you hear that?”

He said the words but they made no sense. “He’s laughing?”

Jamie danced in circles, laughing as if being tickled, his arms up as if waiting to be lifted, little hands grasping, little fingers curling.

“Shem’s bowing.”

“Isn’t that dog for ‘Let’s play’, bowing? He’s not facing Jamie. Who’s he playing with?”

Beside Jamie, Shem, bigger than Jamie and the boy’s perfect playmate, jumped up and bowed and ran around as if someone was throwing his Frisbee to him.

The Moon cleared the trees, lighting the clearing from above. Jamie’s and Shem’s shadows crept underneath them. The wind stilled.

Ellie grabbed Tom’s arm. “Do you see that?”

Other shadows entered the clearing, some Jamie’s size, some slightly larger. Shadows with nothing to cast them. Shadows where there shouldn’t be shadows. Shadows standing upright, not cast on the ground.

Jamie danced with them and they danced around Jamie. Shem ran among them, played tag with them. Jamie laughed. Shem barked.

Not a warning, not an alarm.

Recognition.

Something twinkled in the shadows, prisms breaking the intense moonlight into bright rainbows.

On the edge of the clearing, in the dark where the trees stood in ancient vigil, eyes gathered in the moonlight.

Ellie woke, the covers clenched in her hands.

She looked across the cabin. Jamie and Shem, sleeping together as always, in their bed.

She let out a breath. She shook her head. It was a dream. The full moon’s light came in through a cabin window. It must have disturbed her, wakened her, worried her in her sleep.

She rolled over, away from Tom to give him a little more room.

Dew-laden, toddler-sized footprints and paw prints made a path across the floor.

She sat up as the cabin door closed.


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