IDLEWOOD // A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES

THE BARREN FIELDS, PART ONE

Nobody knew why they ran at night through The Barren Fields.

But most folks could reckon why Highwaymen cut them off that night, snuffing out their light. It was too far beyond the road, most folks said. Too far beyond what we know.  

Out there, past the edge of the dirt road that hemmed Idlewood, beyond the Crippled Oak and the Black Dunes, past Hoggy Fen and The Merry Bog, that was their little secret. That was where the Night Crawlers met before they'd light up. That is where their story begins. 

Town folk could see them from their creaking porches. When the evening settled beyond the beryl and raven light, they'd walk across The Barren Fields, thin-skinned and reckless. Idlers would come up with diversions as Highwaymen made their nightly rounds throughout the town. Banging pots and pans. Squealing and bellowing from their shabby homesteads. Highwaymen would pass them by, making threats, giving them their last warnings before they take them to The Doctor. They'd hush. Or shiver. They knew that no one came back from The Doctor the same. 

Their distractions worked, for a while at least. And even though no one knew what they were doing out there, past the road, away from Idlewood and the desolate night, toward the dark places fathers tell their young never to go. They kept what little hope they had for their lives to go back to what they once were. Before The Doctor, before Highwaymen. A time they had almost forgotten.  

One evening not long ago, when the tide filled the prairie potholes near Indy Marsh, Idlers could see the torches moved slowly toward the ocean's edge. In town, Idlers lit their candles and their oil lanterns. Some even made bonfires outside their cabins. They wanted Highwaymen to come like buck moths back to the town's edge. More so, they wanted their Night Crawlers to make it. To know about the darkness that crept beyond the The Barren Fields. 

But it wasn't enough.

The moved too fast for their torches to seem like lightening bugs. All at once, the Highwaymen flicked their reigns toward the prairie potholes, their horses knee-deep in muck where the wading birds scattered and the frogs fell silent. 

A sullenness fell over Idlewood. 

As for folks on their porches, rocking their children to sleep, wondering about the lights that made it further each night, there would be no more distractions. No more running. No more droplets of light for reasons they did not understand. 

Except for one. 

Some said it was an actual lightening bug. Others said it was the moon reflecting off the ocean. Yet, the dimming light they saw went at a pace that was unfamiliar. It was drifting -- past the darkness and the edge of what they knew. 

Drifting, they whispered to themselves. The light was drifting. 

David Cumming