Faith. The one thing I had always lacked. In people, in a God, in myself. I needed now to have faith in that which I had dismissed as my imagination, and ultimately all but forgotten. Faith in the very thing that haunted the first ten years of my life and left me unable to fully enter into society. The thing that until just hours before I would never have believed to be possible.
That evening I stayed at the rectory until gone nine o’clock, learning what little there was to know about the Whispers. Father Michael had limited information, with any research he had done on them having to be kept a secret. It seemed that whatever they truly were, the Church did not want them becoming public knowledge. In fact, of the six instances he had found of the Whispers making contact, three ‘Listeners’ had been found guilty of witchcraft and burnt at the stake, one had died whilst imprisoned in an asylum, one had seemingly taken their own life and the final one had simply vanished.
“I won’t lie, Father,” I said, taking a sip of whiskey. I’d needed something stronger than tea after learning what had become of those before me. “I’m not optimistic here.”
“Nor would I be in your position, Jack.” Wow, I thought, that’s very comforting…
The storm had passed by the time I left the cottage, but the sun had almost set the night was drawing in. My clothes had dried, nearly, after a few hours in front of the fire. The ground was wet and covered with puddles and the path back down the hill was slippy. From the bottom of the hill the fastest way home was along the river but I doubted my suit trousers and smart shoes would fare well on the muddy footpath. I opted for the longer but cleaner route through the houses.
East Scarwell was a warren, near impossible to navigate without years of experience. A mix of areas from all ages – narrow medieval streets, Victorian back-to-backs, 50’s new town cul-de-sacs, 70’s brutalist architecture and everything inbetween – all mishmashed together with no discernible pattern. I turned off one road, an uneven cobbled street flanked with tall wattle and daub buildings, onto another, this one paved and well kept with affordable family homes on either side and ample parking. From that road I turned down an alley between some back-to-backs, broken fences separating untended yards, heaps of rubbish bags and children’s bicycles resting against them.
It became quickly apparent that I was being followed. Soft footsteps behind me, quiet but heavy breathing. I quickened my step. So did whatever it was following me. I wanted to turn around, but also didn’t; simultaneously hoping and afraid it was all my head. I took another alley to the left, coming out at the end of a cul-de-sac. To my right was a playing field my parents used to take me to when I was younger. I paused for a moment, listening, but unable to hear my unseen stalker. I breathed a sigh of relief. Following the road away from the park for a hundred yards, I turned down yet another alley on the opposite side. This new route would take me even longer to get home, but at least I wasn’t being followed anymore.
Or so I thought. The padded steps and quiet panting was audible once more. I turned to face my would-be assailant. No-one there, silence. “Fucks sake,” I swore under my breath. As I was about to get back on my way, I heard a bark. Looking down I saw a small dog. White scraggly fur, dirty with leaves and moss hanging off it. I figured it was a stray. “Oh, hello,” I said. Why, I don’t know.
It sat back on its hind legs, lifting its front paws up, panting at me. I assumed it was begging, for a treat perhaps. “Got nothing, sorry,” was all I could say. Shrugging apologetically I turned and carried on walking. The dog continued to follow. I kept going. At one point I stopped to pick up a split tennis ball, tossing it back the other way, trying to get the dog to chase after it so I could get away. It just stopped and watched me, not interested in the ball.
Eventually I got home. It had taken a good forty minutes and I was ready to collapse on my bed. As I approached the front door the dog, which had followed me the whole way, let out a whine. “You can’t come in, okay. My mom would go mental.” It lay down, head resting on its front paws. It looked sad. I caved in. “Alright, but only in the kitchen.”
I unlocked the front door – my parents always locked it by half nine, even if they knew I would be out late – and beckoned the dog. It didn’t move. “Really?” I asked it. I still didn’t know why I was bothering to talk to it. I moved back towards it. It raised its head. Another few steps closer. It started to stand. I crouched down before it. It whimpered, recoiling now. I put out a hand to pet it. “Hey, don’t be scared.”
Then came the Whisper. “Time is running out, Jack.”
The dog lunged at me, fangs showing, a growl escaping its mouth. A paw swatted at my face, claws scratching my cheek. “Fuck!” I fell backwards. It attacked again. Instinctively I shut my eyes as its claws raked over my brow and nose. “What the hell?” I scrambled to my feet and ran into the house, slamming the door behind. Through the glass I could see the dog, growling.
“The storm is here,” the Whispers echoed in my head. “You must stop it, before it’s too late.”
Despite my initial enthusiasm and excitement, I’ve not been able to add to this for a while. I’ve got an outline for where the story goes ready, I just can’t find the inspiration or even desire to write it. I’ll likely be adding this to my pile of things I’m either too lazy or uninspired to finish.