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WHEN TWILIGHT LINGERS

 

 This is a short story--in its entirety--that I originally wrote some years back.  It's from a collection of stories about a world called "Twilight", --a parasite world that exists at the edges of the world we know.  It's a world with its own System of Reality, its own rules for what is and what isn't, and what works and what doesn't.  Most of the nightmares and frightening legends that we have in our world come from the world of Twilight.

People tell me I should change the title, because of the popularity of the "Twilight" series, of which there is no connection.  I started writing stories about the world of Twilight in the mid-1980's--long before the Tween Series emerged.  Anyway, the title fits this story.  Enjoy!

 

 Full Moon

  

WHEN TWILIGHT LINGERS

By

Bruce Bradley 

(Copyright © 2012 by Bruce Bradley)

 

 

IT WAS late February in the year of 1926—I remember I had just finished for the day, working at pruning the vineyard, and it was during one of those spells they call a “false Spring” because the weather was so agreeable.  I came in late in the day and washed up, while Susan, my wife, worked at preparing dinner.   The boys, Ted and Noah, had finished with their chores and were working at their homework.  Being February, it was nearly sundown, although in actuality it was not yet six o’clock.  I washed my hands and face and was drying off, when I looked out the window and stopped suddenly.

 “Oh my God….” I said softly.  “Susan—look at the moon!”  She turned sharply and looked.  For a moment I thought she would scream.

Out beyond the vineyard, hanging low above the surrounding hills, the full moon shone twice larger than any moon I had ever seen.  It was beautiful, but at the same time frighteningly unreal, revealing features of the moon’s surface that I could never before make out.  It seemed so unbelievably close that I had the feeling that at any moment it could fall in upon the earth and crush us.  Then I realized something even more frightening—the terrain, the very world itself, had changed.  From the edges of my farm outward, everything was different than it had been only moments earlier.  I could see my vineyard, twilit under that vast and enormous moon, stretching away from us and then disappearing down into a vast ocean—where before had been rolling hills covered with oak and madrone.  Far beyond this, tall cliffs rose straight up from the water’s edge for what looked to be thousands of feet, now nearly touching that awful and majestic moon.

“That isn’t natural, Will,” Susan said in a hushed voice.  “It isn’t right…What’s happening, Will!” 

“Just stay calm,” I told her, feeling anything but calm myself.  “There’s an explanation for this.  There has to be….”

Yet, there was no denying it was all there, the enormous moon sitting low above those massive cliffs, casting shadows in the vineyard with its yellowish-orange light and revealing the deep, deep blue of the sea beyond, a sea that should not have been there at all.  I gave thanks that the sea was at least calm.  Had it been otherwise I would have taken my family and run in the opposite direction for all we were worth.  Perhaps we should have done that, anyhow…

  We stood in the doorway, watching it all, Susan holding onto me and the boys holding on to her.  For what seemed like several minutes we stood like that, just watching and waiting.  And wondering.

Then, slowly, the ground began to shake beneath our feet.  I clutched at the doorframe and held firm, while my family huddled around me in fear.  Only twenty years earlier the San Francisco earthquake had caused widespread devastation.  We were less than one-hundred miles from San Francisco—or had been before all this strangeness occurred.  For Susan and I, the memory of that earthquake was still clear.

The quake seemed to go on and on and on.  Then, finally, it subsided.  When it did, the moon was where it should have been and was once more the proper size.  The ocean and cliffs were gone and my farm was once more bordered by low, tree-covered hills.

That should have been the end of it.  It was really just the beginning.

When I was young we used to visit my mother’s people, who lived along the border towns—towns that thrive somewhere between the worlds of light and dark.  They told stories in those towns, very frightening stories, of another world that seemed to come and go, appear and then disappear.  They spoke of this world only in very hushed tones, and they called it “Twilight”.  In Twilight, it was said, it was never light, but it was never completely dark, either.  This was because of an enormous full moon that hung just above the eastern horizon, and because of a thin band of orange light in the west.  Most of the nightmares that exist within our world came here from this Twilight world, while some others, it was said, came from the worlds of Darkness.

 They also said that in this world, this Twilight, science as we know it doesn’t work, but magic does.  And they said that the reason that the moon is so large is that, at the time when this world was formed, the moon was only half the distance from the earth that it is now.  I always thought those stories were just that—stories, meant to scare children.  No one around these parts had ever heard of a world called “Twilight”.  But then, few people I have met in this world have heard of the worlds of Darkness, much less believe in their existence.  I know for a fact that those worlds exist.  I am descended from them.

In any event, by the following morning the world we knew was right again.  The boys made their way down to school, Susan went about her chores and I went about the business of being a farmer.  The events of the evening before became some strange and wonderfully frightening shared dream.  The boys made the mistake of mentioning them in school and were scoffed at.  After school an older boy used it to start a fight with Noah and Ted had to throw the boy off him, with a stern warning to leave his brother be.  The boy, although the same age as Ted, had the good sense to heed that warning.  For myself, I resolved to say nothing of it to my neighbors and Susan followed my example.  I grew up with strangeness and the awareness of strange beings.  Over the years, I learned to keep the knowledge of them to myself.  It was a lesson my boys would learn in time as well, I was sure. 

That year I was looking forward to the arrival of Spring.  In Spring the volunteers arrive—young grapevine buds that appear without having been planted.  I like the volunteer vines because of the fact that I did not plant them—they come here on their own.  I also think they are hardier because they want to be there, and they are the offspring of the plants that are already there.  Normally, I would gather up these volunteers and move them to another part of the vineyard.  Over the past year several of the older vines had died.  I wanted to replace them with some of the volunteers that Spring would bring to me.

People who don’t know about grapes sometimes ask, “How long does a grapevine live?”  I tell them that grapes are like people—some only live a few years and some live to be over one-hundred.  As grapevines age, you tend to get less of a yield, but what you get is usually far better than the fruit you get from younger vines.  I think it might be like that with people, too.

The good weather lasted nearly a week longer, allowing me to get quite a bit of work done in the vineyard—mostly pruning and weeding.  It was work that needed to be done and I was glad to get it behind me.  I have twenty acres of good Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and it takes a lot of work, for one person.  Most of my neighbors had pulled up their wine grapes when Prohibition hit, replanting with prunes, walnuts or table grapes.  Wine grapes tend to be thin-skinned and don’t travel well.  With wine—alcohol—being illegal, well I suppose it made sense to replant, but I couldn’t get myself to do it.  My grandfather planted those vines, some fifty years ago.  Their taproots go deep into the earth and each and every vine is like an old friend to me, so I stubbornly refused to pull them up.  In the end it worked out.  One of the local churches agreed to buy my grapes to make sacramental wine, which is legal.  I keep just enough out to make my own two-hundred gallons, which is also legal.  The revenuers do come around every now and then, to check me out, but they don’t give me any grief and I don’t give them reason to.

Three days after that strange event with the moon, I was working down on the far end of the vineyard, away from the house, when I paused to look at one of the vines.  It had changed, somehow.  It was still a grapevine, of that I was sure, for a grapevine had lived in that spot since before I was born, but it had changed.  The arms of the vine were thicker and longer than they should have been, but that wasn’t what drew my attention—what did that was the fact that they were suddenly covered with dozens of strange nodules, which resembled the suction cups you’d find on a squid or an octopus.  In fact, if not for the trunk of it that grew up out of the ground, I might have thought that it was some sort of giant, earth-bound octopus. 

I studied the vine for several minutes, not at all sure what to make of it.  I knew of several types of pests that attack grapevines, but nothing that would account for such an abrupt and unique change as this.  I decided to watch it for a couple of weeks and see if it started affecting the vines around it.  If it did I would immediately pull it out of the ground and burn it.  I should have pulled it up straight away, but I was curious about it and wondered more than a little bit as to what sort of grapes might come from the darn thing.

My grandfather first came to the Napa Valley in the mid-1860’s.  It was a famous sea captain that persuaded him to grow grapes, specifically Cabernet Sauvignon.  I grew up with stories of the “Captain”, as grandpa used to call him.  Captain Gustav Neibaum had first gone to sea at the age of 13, as a cabin boy on a voyage that took him around the world.  He obtained his Captain’s License while still in his teens and, by the age of nineteen, owned his own ships.  When he was twenty-three he went before the Czar of Russia and obtained the shipping rights for all goods taken out of Alaska, which made him a very wealthy man.  He spoke seven languages and could read and write in four of them.  When he decided to retire to the Napa Valley and build a winery, he amassed the world’s foremost library on wine production.  His winery, Inglenook, was completed in 1881.  By then, he was already producing wines that came from our vineyards.

In those days, wineries offered a red wine and a white wine.  Captain Neibaum was also the first winemaker, in this country at least, to label his wine for the grapes that it came from.  In the 1880’s Inglenook’s Cabernet Sauvignon made history.

All of that meant little, now.  Nowadays, with the advent of Prohibition, the only regular wineries still in operation were those who made wine for religious purposes.  The greatness of Inglenook was gone.

I was sound asleep and someone was shaking me—Susan.

“Will,” she whispered, “wake up!  Something’s not right!”

I was quick to react, but slow to clear away the cobwebs of sleep.

“What?” I asked.  “What’s wrong?”

“There’s something outside,” she told me, “something strange!”

I reached for my shotgun, still not fully awake but fully alarmed.

“What is it?” I asked her.

Listen!

Then I heard it—a soft sort of hissing sound, and something else as well.  It sounded as if something very heavy was being dragged across the ground.  I peered out the window, but could see nothing.

The first thing I did was make my way around the house, making sure all the doors and windows were locked and looking out through the windows to try to see what was making that awful sound.  Then, finally, I ventured out onto the front porch.  Nothing moved outside.  Everything seemed as it should have been.

“It’s gone,” Susan said from behind me.

“What was it?”

“I don’t know.  I woke up to that hissing sound.  It sounded so close!  Almost like it was in the room with us, or right outside the window!  I was so scared!  Will, it was all I could do to wake you—I was paralyzed!  That hissing!  It was like there were a hundred snakes in here!”

“It wasn’t in here,” I told her.  “The house was locked up tight.”

“But it sounded like it was!”

“I know.  Whatever it was, it’s gone now.  Let’s go back to bed.”

At sunup I took my shotgun and went out to look around.  There were no tracks, to speak of.  If anything, it looked like someone had taken a big push broom and moved all the loose dirt around, like they were making a poor attempt to cover tracks up.  Every four or five feet, though, right in the middle of the sweep, it looked like somebody had taken a six by six log and slammed it down on its end, hard.

The only other thing that was amiss was the fact that, at some time during the night, a fox had gotten into the henhouse and had taken one of our hens.

But that didn’t account for that strange hissing sound we heard.

Three nights later I was awakened again, this time by a commotion out at the henhouse.  Thinking it was the fox, I grabbed up my shotgun and ran out that way.  I reached the henhouse in time to see something large and dark moving away into the trees.  I raised my shotgun to fire, but it was gone, lost to the shadows.  In the morning I looked around the henhouse.  Once more it looked like someone had taken a big broom and just moved all the loose dirt around.

It was late that afternoon that I received my real shock.  I was walking through the vineyard, thinking about something else and not really paying much attention to anything, when I became aware of those strange, sweeping tracks again.  More than that, I realized that they seemed to go to and from that strange grapevine, the one that looked like it had tentacles.  It was when I looked closely at the vine, however that I received my real surprise.  Wrapped up in those tentacle-like vines were bits of fur, with paws and teeth scattered over the whole of the thing.  It took me only a moment to identify what it was—it was the very dead body of a fox.

I looked at it for a long time, not quite understanding what I was seeing, not sure why it was what it was.  Finally, I headed back to the house.  I wasn’t about to tell Susan what I had witnessed, she would have made into something biblical.  I didn’t know what it was, so I just stood back and watched, but after that, I gave that vine a wide birth….

One week later I was out, working on the hill just across from the vineyard.  I’d spent the last three days clearing the hillside, pulling dead tree trunks out where I could and blowing up the ones I couldn’t with quarter-pound blocks of TNT.  My neighbors had convinced me that prunes were the coming thing in Napa Valley and I decided to join the party by planting a small orchard.  It was tiresome work.  I’d used the boys for part of it, but had let them off this afternoon and was working alone.  A sudden noise distracted me and I turned to look.

At first I saw nothing.  Then I heard frantic yelling.  Then I saw my youngest boy, Noah, come out of the woods, screaming and running for all he was worth.  Behind him—and not by far—was a three-hundred pound Russian boar. 

Noah was a good runner, but there was little doubt in my mind that the boar would catch him.  I ran three steps and snapped up my rifle.  I took aim with the sickening feeling that I was hopelessly out of range.

I don’t know if you know about Russian boars—they’re big and mean, and they’ll eat anything they can knock down, including humans.  They have four tusks, two on their upper jaw and two on their lower.  The two lower tusks are about three inches long and are used for slashing.  The two upper tusks, called “honers” are directly opposed to the bottom ones.  When the boar closes his mouth, the upper tusks cut across the lower ones, keeping the lower tusks razor sharp.

In what seemed like slow-motion I took aim, breathed, and squeezed the trigger. The shot missed! Then I ejected the shell and tried again.  This time my shot took the boar in the hind quarters, knocking it sideways but not knocking it down.  It gained Noah a few precious seconds, but that was all.  Then Noah was in the vineyard and heading for the house, with the boar hard on his heels.  It was hard for me to get a clear shot now, for they were running through grapevines that were taller than the boar and nearly as tall as Noah.

I tried a third shot and missed completely.  A sinking, sick feeling crawled into my stomach.  I was about to watch my boy die a horrible death and I was too far away to do anything at all to prevent it…

And then something unbelievable happened.  Noah ran past the mutated grapevine, still heading for the house.  Two seconds later, the boar followed him in full charge.  Suddenly three thick tentacles shot out, first knocking the boar off its feet, then quickly gathering it up and dragging it back into the grapevine.  The boar began squealing, first in anger, then in terror and pain.  This went on and on and then stopped abruptly with a thick, wet “SNAP!” that reverberated all the way to where I stood.  I began running then.  I didn’t stop until I was standing in my doorway, holding my wife and my two sons safe in my arms.

Normally, the boys would have objected to my hugging them like that, both being half-grown young men.  This time, they just hugged back.

Our moment of family togetherness was short-lived, however.  After a moment Susan pulled back from us.

“Oh my God, Will—what is that?  It isn’t a grapevine.  What is it?”

            “I don’t know what it is,” I told her.  “It used to be a grapevine.  I’m sure of that.  A few weeks ago it just suddenly seemed to change.  I’ve been watching it, observing…”

            “A few weeks ago? And you said nothing?  Don’t you lie to me, Will Nolan!”

            “There really wasn’t that much to tell,” I said.  “It was just an odd-looking vine, that’s all.  I never saw it move before today.”

            Susan was thinking.

            “A few weeks ago,” she repeated.  “Was it before or after the full moon?”

            “Umm…I’m not sure—I think after.”

            “It was after,” she said with conviction.  “The night that the full moon was so huge, the world itself changed.  There were high cliffs, with an ocean—we all saw it!  That part of the vineyard was under water.  Then everything changed back when the earthquake hit.  Will, I’ve heard you talk of the worlds of Darkness and about a world called Twilight.  Well, we got a glimpse of that world and were lucky enough to come back from it, but we weren’t alone.  That thing came back with us!  That’s what’s been crawling around here every night, hissing and scaring me half to death!  It’s unholy!

            “It saved Noah.  It hasn’t hurt us.”

            “That might just be a lucky accident.  Noah went running by so fast, maybe it wasn’t aware of him until after he’d passed by!  It could be him out there, wrapped up in it now, instead of the pig!”

            “I don’t know, Susan.  I-I think it may be protecting us, like we’re its family or something.  I know it sounds strange…it’s just a feeling I have.  It killed the fox, the one that was taking the chickens.  At least I think it did.”

            She gave me a look that made my heart shrivel.

            “So,” she said, “you did know it could move.  And you said nothing.”

            She turned then, and went back to the kitchen.  I went outside to wash up.

            That night, Susan put dinner on the table and then went straight to our room.  I ended up spending the night on the sofa.

            The following morning I was met with an ultimatum.

            “I want that thing destroyed today, Will,” Susan told me.  “Destroy it, or the boys and I will be spending the night in town.  I—we, will not spend one more night on this farm while that—abomination lives!  This isn’t a request.  If you want to lose your family, here’s your opportunity.”

            Well, I really didn’t want to lose my family, but I was born with a hatred for ultimatums, and a stubborn streak.  Even more than that, I felt a strange affinity for that creature—or plant, whatever it was.  Contrary to all logic, I didn’t feel threatened by it at all.  It had, after all, saved the life of my youngest son.  I felt that I owed it, somehow.  Also, my upbringing had showed me that humans aren’t better or really more superior than other life forms.  We learned how to build things better than most other creatures.  That’s made us arrogant, but not really better in the long run.  In any event, I wasn’t about to back down from a threat, not even from my wife.

That night, and for the next three nights, I made my own dinner and slept alone in a cold, lonely house, devoid of human companionship.  Each of those nights, I woke to the sound of movement outside, and hissing.  It’s patrolling, I thought, keeping us safe.

            Except there was no “us” anymore.  There was only me.  And the chickens.

            On the fifth morning, I awoke with the realization that I really had no choice.  I wanted my family back.  There was only one way that was going to happen….

I put it off as long as I could.  By 3 PM I knew I’d waited as long as I could.  I had a job to do.  With a strangely heavy heart, I started up my tractor and drove down the row, stopping ten feet past the vine.  I really didn’t feel threatened by it, but I didn’t want to take any chances, either.  Taking a good, thick rope, I lassoed the vine and then tied it off to the tractor.  Then I got on the tractor and began pulling the vine out of the vineyard.  Surprisingly, it didn’t take much, but then I knew the vine wasn’t rooted as deeply as the others were.  I saw no sign of the boar.  I could only assume the vine had somehow consumed it.

            I towed the vine-thing a hundred yards out of the vineyard.  Then I stopped and got off the tractor.  The grapevine-octopus sloughed off the rope and immediately began crawling back to where it had been.  I watched it.  Sure enough, it crawled back to the exact spot that I had pulled it from, its place in the vineyard.  There it stopped and re-seated itself just as it had been before I pulled it out.  I leaned against the tractor wheel and tried to think of what to do.  Finally, I got back onto the tractor and drove it to my barn, where I procured a quarter-pound block of TNT.  Then I lit a small cigar and smoked it while I walked back to the vine.

            I stopped ten feet back from it.  I stood for several minutes, looking at it and smoking the cigar. Then I walked forward, set the dynamite at its base and lit it.  I moved quickly away, but I didn’t get very far.  A tentacle, thicker than my arm, reached out and wrapped itself around my right leg, stopping me.  It didn’t pull me into it as it had the boar.  It just held me there.

            I turned back, looking at the vine and watching the fuse burn down, knowing that if the dynamite went off with me this close I would be seriously injured or killed.  I also knew that the vine had me.  Its tentacle was wrapped twice around my leg.  It could easily pull me in as it had the boar and I would have no chance against it.

            It was a ninety-second fuse, and for a good thirty seconds of it, the vine held me, helpless.  I could feel my heart, beating in my chest.  Panic was building inside me, but there was nothing I could do.  The vine held me where I was.  I couldn’t even move back to the vine to try to grab the dynamite and throw it away.                                                        Then the vine did a strange thing.  It unwrapped its tentacle from my leg and released me.  It held the tentacle suspended in the air for a moment, then curled it back into itself and actually moved itself forward, right on top of the dynamite.

            I ran for my life.

            The explosion seemed louder than it should have.  It blew that grapevine-thing into a thousand pieces.  That was the end of it.

            Or so I thought at the time.

            Almost three months have passed since that day.  My family is back and everything has returned to normal—except that we now have a dog, a black mongrel the boys call “Raven”.  I came out this morning to do some weeding in the vineyard.  There are always weeds to tear out and, as I said earlier, small grapevine “volunteers”.  These I wanted to dig up and re-plant in spots where other vines had died.  This morning, when I came out, I was met with hundreds of little volunteer grapevines, perhaps thousands.

            And every one of them has tentacles.

 

 

Turn ‘Round, Old Friend

When Twilight Starts to Linger

Fly to Your Back Trail

 For all you are Worth

Lest all Hope die and Life to Fade

In a World of Every Nightmare’s Birth

                         --“Twilight”--Songs of The Borderlands

 

-The End-