TO KEEP SOMETHING IN
Dylan sat quietly in the rear seat of his father's Oldsmobile. The car hummed a monotonous drone as an endless sea of corn stalks, trees and unevenly dispersed foliage flew past the windows. It was another trip to Grandpa's cottage. To Dylan's parents, it meant visiting, escape from work and relaxation. But to Dylan it meant boredom and being forcibly subjected to his father's oldies radio station.
"How much further?" Dylan asked, fully aware that they'd been on the road only an hour or so.
"Oh, about forty-five more minutes kiddo," his Dad replied as his head bobbed from side to side with a song directly from Franklin Roosevelt's term.
Dylan nodded in silence, his enthusiasm consistently waning as the miles passed. Eventually, he decided to study the passing landscape. Old barns housing relics of ancient farm equipment, decimated automobiles strewn around cluttered houses, ragged looking cows grazing mindlessly in arid fields.
"Honey, did you remember your fishing equipment? You know Grandpa will want to take you fishing." Dylan mumbled something of a yes as he continued his survey of the landscape. He noticed small ponds, some bordering on being lakes, sitting silently amid the fields. He noticed how the sun reflected off the metal decking on top of several rusted barns. And then his attention turned toward the fences. Dozens of them. Ancient forgotten things held together mostly by rust. His eyes roamed over the neglected structures.
Who put them up, he wondered. Some senile old farmers or maybe long dead city workmen. There would be no way to find out for sure however so Dylan resigned himself
to the fact and became content to merely gaze at the old boundaries as they went past his window.
* * * *
"Hey there, kiddo," Grandpa wheezed. "How's my boy's boy?" Dylan hated being called that. Made him sound even smaller than he already was. "Hi Grandpa."
"Ready for some fishin?"
Dylan's Dad shot his Grandpa a sharp look which he promptly ignored. "Dad, let us unpack first."
"Nonsense. You're only here for the weekend. Hafta squeeze in as much fun as possible." Yeah, that was Grandpa, full of energy, even at seventy.
The boat rocked when Dylan stepped on board. Being somewhat wary of boats since he nearly fell off one two summers ago, he moved carefully.
"Come on Dylan, my boy. It's okay, your doin' fine." Grandpa's withered and slightly yellowed hand reached out. It was going to be the two of them. Dad couldn't come because Mom had him repairing the front deck, which had developed a slant and was in need of additional supports.
"Grandpa," Dylan said when they had settled in at one of Grandpa's favorite spots. "What's the name of this lake?"
Grandpa laughed. Ain't no lake, my boy, it's a pond. Name's Sufferet. Sufferet Pond. Named after Capt. Ian Sufferet."
Dylan felt compelled to pursue the subject. "Who was he?"
Taking off his glasses, he responded. "He was commanding officer of the fourth
infantry division during the Civil War."
Not noticing the fish nibbling at his line, Dylan exclaimed, "Wow! The Civil War! What were army men doing up here?"
"Won't find it in any history books, or on that there History Channel, but…. I'll tell ya something if ya promise not to tell your parents I told ya." Dylan nodded vigorously.
"Sometime towards the end of the Civil War, this area was infiltrated by a small band of Confederate soldiers. There were around ten of them. They somehow managed to slip past the lines before anyone knew the wiser." Noticing he had his grandson hanging on his every word, he heightened the suspense.
"You ask me," he whispered, leaning in even closer to Dylan, "they came to this area for a special purpose…witchcraft." Dylan's eyes expanded. "Yep, witchcraft. Or magic, or voodoo, or whatever you want to call it. They knew they were losing the war. Regular fighting wouldn't do the trick anymore." He leaned in even closer. "They had to resort to different methods…magic methods."
Dylan set down his pole. Suddenly he wasn't interested in fishing. "You mean they were going to use magic to win the war?"
"But how? Did they have a spell book or crystal ball or something?"
"Don't really know for sure. All we really know is that they managed to do some of their handiwork before they were discovered." He let a wry smile escape. "It was Sufferet's men who found them. Captured all ten of them."
Dylan found himself sweating despite the brisk wind. "What happened to them?"
"They were arrested and hung for treason." Laying down his pole, he continued.
"Not a one of them said a word, though. Not a peep." Then he reposed himself and waited for his grandson's response.
"Where did this happen?"Dylan asked.
"About a half-mile from here." His face took on a sullen look. "But that's not the end of the story. A few days later, sentry men started hearing strange noises in the fields. Really strange noises. Noises that sounded like teeth chattering."
"Yep, that's right. Sufferet's men reported the noises and he, too, heard them. Sent shivers down his spine it did. He sent four men in to investigate that very night."
"What did they find?"Dylan asked in a tense voice.
"Never came back." His blank expression spoke volumes. "And queer thing, though, is that a storm came up out of nowhere and forced the men to wait till morning to do a search."
"Did they find them?"
"Nope. Not a one. Searched everywhere, too." He quietly picked up his pole and resumed his fishing.
"What did they do?"
Pretending to fumble with his bait box, he looked out at the serene view.
"Well, Sufferet ordered his men to build fences. Why he did this, we don't know. Some say he went back into those very fields the next night. Came back white as a sheet. It was after that that he put up the fences."
Dylan nodded. "Are those the fences that I seen coming up here?"
"The very same. Can see 'em all along the road. Old looking things, only held together by rust and wire. They keep whatever's out there in check."
With his heart in his throat, Dylan forced himself to ask, "Keep what in check?"
"Whatever those men conjured up with their magic."
"But how could old fences keep monsters and demons away?"
"Don't have to look nice to work."
A fish interrupted the conversation. But just as abruptly, it broke free of the line. Dylan's Grandfather knew he had told the boy too much, but he couldn't stop now, not when he was so close to the end.
"Went out in those fields myself a couple of times. Course it was daylight out. Didn't see a thing." Then the old man looked his grandson straight in the eye. "Don't know if those fences are to keep people out…or to keep something in."
Dylan was doing his best to remain strong. He never was one to suffer from nightmares, but he was sure that this story would really test him.
"Your folks know about it. Why do you think you never come or leave from here at night?"
Dylan's fear must have shown through because his Grandfather then added, "but don't you worry none, boy. I've been living here for the better part of fifty years. Never had a problem. When you're faced with something that scares you, best thing to do is learn all about it. Then you can take steps to remedy the situation."
The remainder of the fishing trip was done in relative silence. Occasional attempts at conversation fell through. The family tree, the latest baseball scores, the weather, all wound up empty. Dylan felt somewhat uncomfortable. Fear was gnawing at his gut. It took every ounce of strength he had to keep the story out of his mind. He succeeded somewhat…or at least until that night.
If his parents had known the story, why hadn't they told him? How could they keep coming up here if any of it were true? And how could he sleep at night now knowing that whatever's out there is…is…awake. However, it could have been just a story.
Legends generally strayed from reality. But most had at least a basis of truth to them. He finally decided to confront his parents.
"Mom, Dad, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure, what's up, kiddo?" Mom peered out from her magazine.
"Grandpa told me about the fences. Is it true? " He figured it would be best to go straight to the point. His parents exchanged nervous glances. It was obvious they knew something.
"Dylan," his Dad said in a calm but troubled tone. "We know the story. Grandpa told it to me when I was a little boy. We don't really believe any of it however."
"Then why do we never come or go when it's dark outside? Why at night are we always inside?"
Both his Mom and Dad set down their reading material. This time his Mom spoke.
"Well…we just think it's better to be safe, that's all. Now, want to play cards?" Dylan mumbled no as he sauntered off towards his room. Suddenly he wasn't in the mood to do much of anything.
"Tom, we never actually did see anything."
"I know, I know. But sometimes I wonder myself."
In his room, Dylan stared out the window. The moonlight illuminated every surface it could reach with a cool white light. Shadows hung silently within this scene, creating contrast with the moonlight.
All was still.
How could they not have told him? Of course, his other side reasoned, there still was the possibility that none of it was true. Then they would only have been sparing…there! Something moved! He had seen it. Something out in the fields. A shadow? Trees bending to the wind? A small animal searching for food? Maybe. But nothing moved now. Regardless, he found himself scanning the fields with newfound alertness.
Sleep eventually overtook him. He awoke the following morning with a stiff neck and a mission that had festered in his mind until it won action. He would venture into the surrounding fields after breakfast. After all, it would be daylight.
"Can I go exploring after breakfast?" He caught a raised eyebrow from his Grandfather.
"Why would you want to do that?" his Dad asked between mouthfuls of pancakes.
"Uh…just wanna see some nature." He winced at his pathetic answer. How he got that one past them he couldn't figure out, but there were other things on his mind now. Such as finding out if there was any truth to the story.
But when it came time to cross the boundary fence into the fields, he found himself hesitating to the point of backing out. Don't be stupid, he told himself. There's nothing there. And anyways, even if there was something, it's daytime.
He walked slowly at first, being hindered by the knee-high grass. But he soon progressed to a steady stride. Where he was going and what he was looking for, he did not know, but he was certain he would know when he found anything.
Minutes passed into hours with Dylan hardly realizing it. The trees gently swayed, directed by the wind and the Sun, which earlier had seemed so friendly, and which now appeared to have a sinister look to it. Imagination again? Perhaps, but worry still wormed its way into his mind. His stomach grumbling interrupted his thoughts. He was growing weary of this venture, and not knowing exactly where he was didn't help either. He decided to turn back, but the grass slowed his every step. Feeling anxiety creeping in, he scanned the horizon for a familiar sight, but nothing appeared familiar. Just retrace his steps, that's all. That's all he needed to do.
Easier said than done though for there were no earlier steps to be seen. Only high grass which slung itself mindlessly against his legs. And worse still was that the daylight was fading fast. He estimated that he had only about an hour of it left. This despite the fact that he had breakfast only a few short hours ago. If he were out here after dark….he shuddered at the mere thought of it.
He felt the night air seeping in around him and with it a cold chill. He also felt something else, something…evil. It was strengthening its hold on the night around him. He made his legs move as fast as they could despite the ache. But soon his body demanded a rest. Dylan panted heavily as he fought the urge to sit down. He could see Grandpa's house in the distance now, which made it even harder to take a break. He started running towards the house. It steadily grew larger as he drew nearer to it. Relief washed over him. But it was short- lived for behind him he heard the noises. Strange noises. Noises similar to teeth chattering. The realization that his Grandfather's story was true struck him like a bolt of lightning. He ran. And this time fatigue would be battled by his desire to live. A desire to get away from whatever was behind him.
"Dylan? Dylan, is that you?" It was his Mom. She was waiting for him by the house. "He's here," she shouted to his Dad, who was coming out the front door.
"Dylan? Is that you, son? Come on, you can make it!"
Dylan's legs were burning now. And worse still, the noises were gaining on him. He could hear them closing in behind. Fifty more feet and they…it…would overtake him. But he was nearing the property fence to the house. His Dad was jumping over the fence to
get to him. Dylan dared not look behind him. But he felt the unmistakable feeling that whatever was there, was on the verge of catching him.
"Oh, my dear God!" he heard his Mom scream. "Run, Dylan, run!"
He reached his Dad and together they leaped over the fence. The noises abruptly stopped and all was silent. Being smothered by his parents never felt so good. Dylan's Grandpa stood by quietly. His eyes reflected the same disbelief as his son and daughter-in-law's. "Well, I'll be damned," he mumbled. "I'll be damned."
Dylan hardly said a word in the car. He stared out the window with a blank expression while his parents talked under the constant music from the radio. He feared for his grandfather's safety and he feared even more the fact that he had never seen what was in those fields that night. How could he ever face and deal with it if he never actually saw it?
"Why can't Grandpa come live with us?"
Your grandfather has lived up there for over fifty years. Nothing's going to make him move, especially at his age."
"But it's not safe!" Dylan interjected.
"Don't worry," his Dad said in a reassuring tone. "Grandpa said he was going to make some repairs first thing. Said he knew exactly what to do to make it safe."
The words did little to ease Dylan's mind, but what could he do? He settled for making his parents promise to call Grandpa every day. He had to be sure that nothing was going to happen.
They never heard from Grandpa again after that day. Not a trace of him was found. No blood. No signs of forced entry or struggle. No body. Nothing…except for a few tools out by one of the fences in the backyard. The repairs had apparently been completed. Several posts had been replaced and new wire had been fastened securely throughout the fences.
Had he done the repairs at night? Dylan doubted it. He wouldn't have been that foolish. But how then could something have happened to him? If it had been during the daylight, he should have been safe. Unless, and the thought made Dylan shudder, that whatever was in those fields didn't need the cloak of night any longer. Or perhaps the fences could no longer contain it.
But he had to get some sleep now. He had to get up extra early tomorrow to help with the fences. His Dad wanted to get an early start because he wasn't sure how much they would have to put up. Apparently, he knew what to do to make the fences strong. Dylan could only pray that they would work.