Monday, October 2
North Hawk, Nebraska
Autumn dusk feels different than it does the rest of the year.
Days in October can still be warm in Nebraska, especially when there’s work to do. So when Andrew Lambert noticed the light on the red dirt turn soft and warm as he worked on his parent’s small farm, he smiled.
A cooling wind was in the air, and with it a chill that brought goosebumps to his arms. He blinked and shook off a kind of fog that sometimes comes with the rhythm of physical labor.
In other words: the cool meant it was time to finish up and get inside. He looked down and judged the job done anyway: the hole seemed more than deep enough, although to be honest he had forgotten why he was digging in the first place. He shrugged and dropped the shovel to the side on top of the dirt pile and thought about the night ahead of him.
A few hours in front of the television watching Monday Night Football would be just about the perfect way to finish the night, even if a Giants-Seahawks matchup was one he didn’t care about.
He straightened up and twisted his stiff back, groaning a bit as his spine made audible snaps in protest. His body was not used to this kind of physical labor. Next, he removed his gloves and shook them out, letting the dirt scatter around him.
Andrew was 42 years old but felt much older. When his father died eight years ago, Andrew decided to return home and do his duty to help his mother maintain the small family home and farm. At least that’s what he told everyone.
In reality, Andrew had lost his job at a high-profile accounting firm in New York City just before his father had the heart attack. Having no job in New York City was a bad deal, and Andrew had borrowed some money from people of questionable character to pay for rent. And for drugs. And a few nights with a certain high-dollar escort.
So Dad dying? It was a gift from God. If there’s a place even the bastards in New York couldn’t find him, it was here on this tiny farm in an insignificant town called North Hawk. His father’s death had perfect timing.
Andrew curled his fists into balls.
Mother on the other hand? Mother just… refused to follow her husband into the mud.
It was infuriating wasting some of his best years living in this shitty little town, pretending to smile when one of his mother’s elderly friends limped by to say hello. But that’s the price he had to pay. With her gone, he’d inherit the farm, and while selling it wouldn’t make him rich, he’d have enough to pay off his debts and give things another shot in New York.
“Andrew?” a voice called from within in the old house. “I’ve got dinner ready! Are you coming in?”
Andrew sighed and let the tension release from his fists. At least Mother had one redeeming quality: she could still cook. “Yep. I’ll be there in a moment,” he called out.
And that’s when he noticed, in some of the last slivers of light left before the night would come, a man looking at him from the edge of the trees near the house.
The man was in deep shadow, so Andrew couldn’t determine who it might be. The features seemed a little waxy, a little… “off,” but he was maybe 20 yards away. Andrew’s sight had been doing poorly recently, so he wasn’t surprised he couldn’t make out who it might be.
“Hello?” Andrew called out. The man didn’t respond, and the two just stared at each other.
Although Andrew couldn’t make out most of the features, the eyes locked hold of his for a moment. The man’s features were a mystery, but he heard a surprisingly soft voice call out: “Do it.” The voice was nearly the same volume as the wind, so Andrew wasn’t sure he heard it right.
“What?” Andrew called out. The man stood there, but the shadows were deepening, enveloping the figure.
“Look, I don’t want to be a jerk, but you are trespassing!” Andrew broke his gaze with the man and bent over to pick up the shovel, the only weapon he could think of.
When he stood back up, the man was gone.
“Hello?” he called out again. The near-night was quiet. Had he imagined the man? He peered closely and chuckled a bit. There was a figure there, alright, but it was the vague outline of a thick, old, dying tree. In just the right light, he could see how it might look like a man standing in darkness.
Just in case, though, Andrew walked the 20 yards holding the shovel like a baseball bat. He felt a little foolish when he arrived to where he had seen the figure. That tree was exactly the same height as the man had been and it was getting very dark. Andrew didn’t want to admit it, but he was probably just spooked and his mind was filling in details that weren’t there.
Earlier in the day he had gone to North Hawk to buy the same shovel he was holding now. He had talked with Pat from the dilapidated hardware store for a while, where he learned about the meteor shower from the night before.
“And that’s not all,” Pat had said. “People are talking about… seeing some things.”
Pat was probably 19 years old, fresh out of high school, and dumb as hell. Andrew didn’t put much weight behind the words. This was North Hawk, after all. People saw weird stuff all the time. Or they said they did. Andrew had never seen a thing.
And he still hadn’t, he decided, looking closely all around him. Pat’s story had just made him paranoid. He was also tired, hungry, and probably dehydrated from all the digging. So if he was seeing things that meant it was time to go inside.
He opened the door and stepped in, kicking his boots off to the corner and placing his gloves on the shelf next to the back door. The smell of a roast filled his senses and his stomach made a low growling noise.
The house wasn’t particularly large. Built in 1922, it was sturdy but the rooms always felt cramped to Andrew, even when he was young. He had lived in a spacious studio in New York, so coming back to these cramped spaces was particularly torturous.
He stepped into the dining room. The ceiling lamp was on, casting harsh shadows throughout. His mother was sitting at the far side of the small four-person dining table, a full plate of food in front of her. Another plate, mine, was at the table opposite hers.
His mother looked up at him with a curious look.
“Andrew, my love,” she said. Her features were delicate, her pale skin translucent in the light.
“Why are you still holding that shovel?”
“I’m not holding a shovel,” he said. It was strange though. He looked down and realized he was, indeed, holding the shovel.
Andrew stared at the garden tool in his hands.
“Honey,” his mother said, always so kindly. “You’re going to get blood everywhere.”
“Wha-what?” he asked her.
“You’re going to get dirt everywhere,” she said, looking confused.
“I thought you said…” Andrew began before falling silent. His heart was beating quickly. It felt like a gun going off in his chest repeatedly. Andrew thought back to the man near the house.
He thought about what the man had said, this time his memory heard the words more clearly.
The words were clear. The meaning came into focus.
And Andrew remembered another thing. The hole he had just dug… it was the perfect size for his mother’s diminutive frame.
Andrew glanced at the shovel. He saw his hand was straining, red with effort. His arm was shaking as his muscles bulged gripping the wooden shaft with a rising rage that was only now moving to the rest of his body.
Andrew looked at his mother. She was sliding her chair slowly away from her son, confusion turning to an awakening of fear.
He heard the man’s voice again.
“Kill her,” he heard the man say, this time with urgency. “Do it.”
Except now the man’s voice came from inside Andrew’s head.
He smiled and moved toward his mother.
— — —
Check back tomorrow for more as October 2023 becomes a strange month for the citizens in and around North Hawk, Nebraska.