SHORT STORIES

The Girl in White

“I just can’t believe it!” Alice exclaimed.

Herbert flipped the left side of the Hortonville Gazette down to get a better look at his wife scrubbing the green bean casserole off the dinner plates over by the sink.

“What’s that, dear?”

“Well, you know I went down to Cashman’s this afternoon for a few groceries—that little boy of ours is going to eat us out of house and home—anyway, I ran into Mrs. Henderson. You remember, dear, we went to her dinner party about a year or so back.”

“I remember,” Herbert replied. He had grown accustomed to listening to her while being engrossed in something else. This time it was the Bullfrogs upsetting the Ponies in high school baseball.

She continued, “Well, Jeannie said that last night their daughter, Trixie, you remember her too, don’t you?”

“That blonde gal that works at the diner?”

“No, she’s a redhead—curly top, remember?”

“Ah, yes.”

“Well, Jeannie says she had a fight with her daughter about a boy or something like that and Trixie ended up running off in a fit. The thing of it is she hasn’t come home yet. Jeannie is absolutely beside herself.”

“Is that so?”

“I knew that Henderson girl was a troublemaker the moment I laid eyes on her. You remember me saying so, don’t you, Herb?” Alice clinked the utensils together as she gathered them up in the drying rack.

“Yes, dear.”

“She’s probably out with her friends getting into all kinds of trouble. At any rate, I can’t help but feel sorry for Jeannie. I can’t imagine staying up all night thinking the absolute worst has happened to your own child.”

Herbert was a patient man but often grew annoyed by her opinionated ramblings. He looked at the clock that hung above the old white refrigerator. It read a quarter to nine. He gently folded his newspaper and stood.

“You know, if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll go for a walk.”

Alice turned in surprise. “Where are you going so late? The sun’s going to set soon!”

“Just for a walk. I reckon the fresh air’ll do me some good.”

Outside, Herbert sucked the warm summer air deep into his lungs. He checked his watch—8:50 p.m. He still had ten minutes before he was expected. Padding his jacket pocket, he felt the familiar shape of the key still resting there, same as it was an hour ago. All right, he thought, let’s get this over with.

The sun set his wheat field ablaze with orange and crimson as it sank below the horizon. He made his way north to the path where the woods loomed, dark and foreboding. His farm had been in the family for generations. Nothing had ever become of the woods, nor had anyone ever thought about it much. He’d heard once that his grandmother had wanted it torn down, but his grandfather had forbidden it. Alice’s father had insisted on planting corn there, but Herbert had never much cared for him or his opinions.

Herbert stopped at the edge of the wood. He knew the closest houses were a good half mile away, but that fact had done nothing to deter him from looking over his shoulder several times. He glanced around once more before he stepped into the shadow of the woods. There was no trail to be found, but every now and again on his walks he would make sure to clean up some of the overgrowth. Nothing too unnatural-looking of course, just enough for him to gain access to the site.

Deep inside, he stopped at a large leaf pile that looked as if it had collected for years. It had been there for years; however, this pile was man-made. Carefully lifting the tarp hidden under the leaves, Herbert grabbed a wooden chest and drew it close to him. He withdrew the old rusted skeleton key from his pocket. Inside, the materials he needed for the coming ritual awaited him. Just like the key, the ritual had passed down from father to son for as long as he could remember.

Herbert changed out of his flannel and dirty overalls and donned a heavy woolen cloak. So dark was the fabric that no wrinkle or fold could be seen. He was a blackened, shapeless figure, face shrouded by the deep cowl of the ebony cloak. He lit the torch that had been stashed in the trunk and checked his watch one more time before closing everything up and sliding it underneath the tarp.

The circle was waiting.

Five, dressed as he was, stood silently in a broken ring deep in the woods. Darkness from the setting sun crept in as the flicking of the torch flames threw their hideous shadows upon the trees behind. Herbert wound his way through the brush to his position and waited. They were now six, a number meaningful to their kind. Six there were, and six shall there be during the summoning. As it was written.

In the middle, clad in white and tied to a wooden post, hung the limp figure of a young woman, her face covered in an alabaster hood. Her breathing was ragged, a reaction no doubt to fighting her bonds. It was pointless.

One of the cloaked figures to Herbert’s walked up to the girl and pulled the shroud from her head. Golden-red ringlets tumbled free and stuck to her sweat-slicked face. This woke her from her exhaustion. Her mouth was gagged, yet her eyes screamed in unbridled terror.

“Relax, child of this world. Your fear is unnecessary. You have been chosen. You will be the vessel for a power beyond all human understanding.”

The figure stepped back into the ring. Now came the call:

Ahk… Shar’ak… Athal… A’rak,

Ahk… Shar’ak… Athal… A’rak,

Ahk… Shar’ak… Athal… A’rak.

The ancient words, created before creation. Before the universe was larger than a grain of sand. Spoken for millennia. All for one purpose.

The Summoning.

The girl began to writhe. Spasms at first that grew from subtle shivers to full, violent convulsions.

The voices rose in unison.

Ahk Shar’ak Athal A’rak!

The gag fell from her lips and she cried into the cacophony, “Oh God! Please s-s-someone, HELP ME! Momma, I’m sorry! Momma!” Tears drenched her cheeks as she let out one final plea, “I WANT MY MOMMA!”

Ahk Shar’ak Athal A’rak!

The dark figures raised their torches to the sky. A spark, and the amber flames burst into brilliant emerald. Mist crawled out from the leaves littering the ground below and slowly constricted around her.

AHK SHAR’AK ATHAL A’RAK!

She took a breath to scream again, and the mist flooded into her open mouth like a spiraling vortex. She fought it. The mist flowed quicker.

AHK SHAR’AK ATHAL A’RAK!

Her eyes flashed a vibrant, iridescent green, and her skin glowed in a pallid jade. Possessed, she joined the figures in their chorus. The chanting reached a fever pitch:

AHK SHAR’AK ATHAL A’RAK!

AHK SHAR’AK ATHAL A’RAK!

AHK SHAR’AK ATHAL A’RAK!

Her head drooped; the torches returned to their red-orange hue; and the night returned to its silence. Slowly she lifted her head; her bonds lay broken at her feet.

“Thank you, my brothers,” she said as her complexion returned. “I have come.”

***

 

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph where have you been, Herbert?”

Herbert walked back into the kitchen. His wife, arms folded, bore holes into him with her eyes.

“Oh, sorry about that, Alice. You know how it is. I got carried away clearing brush in the back woods.” He sat back down and resumed reading the paper.

“I just wish you’d rip it all out. You could start planting corn back there. You know my daddy kept saying how good the soil is. You remember my daddy telling you that, don’t you?”

“I do, dear.”

“Oh, and I nearly forgot, Jeannie called me.”

“Who?” Herbert asked.

“Jeannie! You know, Mrs. Henderson? She called to let me know that her Trixie did finally end up coming home. Turns out she was out with her friend Sally Murphy and that boy—what’d she say his name was? Kevin? Calvin? Ah, doesn’t matter. I told you, Herbert, that girl is nothing but trouble!”

Herbert replied, “You might very well be right, dear.”