I know it’s been almost three years since we last spoke and I know you blame me for what happened to your parents and your husband. Before you screw up this letter I beg you read it at least once. If you then choose to do nothing I will understand. I live with the pain and guilt of that night every day and I know you do too. I doubt if it will make you feel better if I say that your parents died saving my life, but that is the truth.
There wasn’t enough time for me to explain everything before you left so I want to set the record straight, clear the air between us and let you know I never wanted any of this to happen. The lights are back again and I know I don’t have much time left. We were the best of friends, once, and even though we’ll never be close again I hope there is still a sliver of warmth between us, enough to make you want to read this letter.
Remember when we were kids and our parents would bring us out to Grabhorn Valley? To that awful shack in the middle of nowhere? No TV or electricity. It was the pits. But we soon found our adventures were way more interesting than anything we could have imagined. Remember the first time we found the cave with the voices and the lights that hovered around us like fireflies? We even tried to catch them. I had never been so scared in my life as the that night we made the discovery.
Our parents made us promise never to go back there. Your mother actually fetched out a Bible and put our hands on it so we could swear to God we would never set foot in the cave as long as we lived. We were good at promises, weren’t we? How long did we keep it up? Was it just over a day? Something like that. Don’t parents ever learn that if you tell your kids not to do something it only makes them want to do it?
We should have listened to them. It’s not really our fault. We were curious. They could have told us what was in there and how dangerous it was. If they’d said a family of bears live there we’d have stayed well away, but no, they just yelled at us. You know what I find strange? Why would they bring us all the way into the middle of nowhere, to a place they knew was bad, and expect us not to find out about it?
Looking back I think they wanted us to know about it, they needed us to uncover the secret so we could guard it after they were gone. I know what you must think about that, total nonsense, right? Would it surprise you to know I haven’t left Grabhorn since that night three years ago? I get as far as the general store in Pine Ridge, load up with supplies then turn back. I sit in my truck and stare at the blacktop but I can’t bring myself to go any further. There’s this force, like a whisper I can’t hear, telling me I can’t leave, not yet.
Don’t you dare deny you’ve never felt the same thing. I’m not crazy. Your parents weren’t crazy either. They did what had to be done to protect me because you weren’t there. You should have been there. I get it. You had a husband and kids of your own to care for. Who would want to expose them to such a thing like ours did? But you could have come alone. Without your energy we had little chance of survival.
Year after year our parents took us out into the wilderness, every summer we’d make the journey with enough supplies to last us months. I never really took much notice, did you? Looking back it was as if they were preparing for something because we never got through all the food in one vacation. They knew we disobeyed them, it was easy to see how they reacted to our lies about going fishing or swimming in the lake. It was so obvious where we were. The cave was like a drug. We couldn’t resist going there to see them, to see the lights. I guess our addiction made us outcasts at school, neither of us mixed well with the other kids. Even when we went to college we still managed to meet up at Grabhorn for the summer. Well, until you met John anyway. That was when things started to go wrong.
It’s funny how you don’t notice your own parents ageing isn’t it? I remember us crossing that terrible bridge about five years ago and your mother almost slipped over the edge. If I hadn’t caught her she’d have hit the rocks below and, well, you remember what happened to Skipper? I hated that first summer you weren’t there. The place felt hollow and faded like a newspaper left out in the sun. Your parents tried to make light of it, you had a boyfriend, you needed time to enjoy life, to have your own adventures. But I saw the looks of concern, the shared glances of worry and all those tiny gestures they thought I wasn’t aware of.
They were right to be afraid. But they had no right to keep that barrier up. We knew and they knew. But neither of us knew the other knew. For years we danced around the secret. No one spoke about it. No one mentioned the cave or the lights, not even when they swarmed down through the valley and circled around the shack. You remember that night don’t you? That was the first time you brought John out to Grabhorn. Everyone was so happy to see you in love, to see you happy and so full of life. That summer energised your parents, it gave them hope that things would be okay, especially after the accident.
Things were never really okay between us after that. We should have paid attention to the bridge, put in some repair work on it. But it never crossed our minds that was so unsafe. It had been there since we were kids and it never showed any sign of deterioration. When we first saw it we both cried that it would collapse but we crossed it just fine. Our parents told us the bridge might look beaten up and worn out but it was the safest bridge in the world. And it was for twenty-seven years without a single repair. We both know why it collapsed.
But we got over it. When you came out with John he organised us into a well oiled repair team and we fixed it up just like it had never been broken. I even took a photo of it, remember? We stuck it on the larder door. No one could remember what it looked like before but we all knew it was exactly the same, repaired but the same. It was as if the bridge wanted to go back to its old self, not new but timeless.
The end of that week we celebrated with a cookout. Remember how we sat out on the veranda watching the stars? Even though my parents weren’t there it was a good time. Well, it was until the storm came out of nowhere. The river washed halfway up the bank and we were so sure it was going to wash away the bridge. And then the lights came. We thought it was lightning at first but when your parents told us all to get inside you and I both knew what they were.
Finally we all knew that we all knew. It all came out as the storm lashed the valley. Your dad was furious with us for not telling, for going to the cave summer after summer. But your mum, the shaman we called her, doused the argument in her gentle way. Remember how she said they had always known? There was a reason why the brought us out there and finally the truth was out. That did little to soften our fears as we stared out at the rain and the lights that danced around the shack like guards on sentry duty.
Your mum told me that was only the second time she had seen the lights come to protect us. The first was on our very first visit. You and I were tucked up asleep and blissfully unaware of the dangers trying to force their way across the bridge. She said our unexpected presence had awoken something. Or pissed it off. Or both. And because John was there it wanted to test us, to find if our combined energies were still strong after the loss of my parents.
That storm seemed to last forever and even when daylight came it just didn’t give up. All through the night we kept watch on the bridge, expecting to see something, but no one dared say what. The lights were the key. When they bunched together it felt like they were pushing something back or holding it off. Then they’d spread out and dash around the shack, searching for something. It was like watching a horror movie only the lights didn’t vanish when daylight arrived.
We never really spoke about it did we? We just knew. All our lives we had been preparing for something and that night was a test. The next day your mum explained how we are all protectors, every human life is there to protect something, but most of us never understand or realise what it is we’re supposed to protect. Our parents knew, just as their parents before them and so on for countless generations. The unspoken secret was handed down so there would always be someone there to protect Grabhorn.
Don’t ask me why we needed to protect Grabhorn. It’s a long story and I don’t have time to tell you here. I don’t have much time left at all. The lights are here again but they’re very faint. Like a light bulb under the control of a dimmer switch. Something has drained their energy and they move so slowly now.
I must tell you about your parents whilst there’s still time. After you brought John to Grabhorn things changed. You wanted to share your past with your future husband and we all knew you were saying goodbye. Your time in the valley was coming to an end and you needed to create a link to your past. Your parents knew it too but they never said anything.
The next year you were travelling in Europe and it was just me and your folks at Grabhorn. We spent time together in the caves listening to the silent voices and watching the lights dance. Every time I went there I came back feeling energised, filled with hope and optimism. It’s hard to describe how wonderful a feeling it was. We tried not to focus on the fact that is was just three of us there. But when your mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s it became clear our trips to Grabhorn would soon have to come to an end. I had never settled with a guy long enough to even attempt marriage or kids so I had no one to leave the legacy to.
On her good days your mum would ask me if there was ever a chance you and your family would come back to the valley and let the secret be passed once again to the next generation. She panicked at times when she thought you were coming, only to realise you weren’t. Your dad spent a lot of time chopping wood or fixing things so I spent days nursing your mum. The nights were the worst for me. I would hear her crying and the bridge would creak in the wind as if sending out words of sympathy.
Three years ago I tried to persuade them not to go. Your mum’s health had dropped so quickly but she insisted. She believed you would answer her letters and make the trip. I don’t blame you for staying with your family. Despite all the good times we shared as kids and as we grew up, Grabhorn was a dark place. You had every right not to impose such a terrible thing on your own children but I hated you for not replying to your dying mother.
Your dad told me that summer would be the last one they spent at Grabhorn. They didn’t have the energy to protect it any more. That responsibility would be handed to me. We enjoyed the precious moments together, your mum had fewer moments of clarity and it tore me in two to see her fading away before my eyes. I’ll never understand what made John come to Grabhorn. He never said why you wouldn’t, just that he needed to make peace with your parents and offer any support he could.
I don’t know if it was his arrival in the valley that awoke the darkness or your mum’s energy failing. On that night when John came we gathered around your mum’s bed. We knew it wouldn’t be much longer. A doctor had made a trip out from the city to make her as comfortable as possible. He wanted to take her back to the hospital but she refused. She was where she needed to be and that was that.
When the sun set the lights came out. All across the bridge they shimmered and danced. They rushed around the shack and up and down the river almost as if they knew your mum’s time was at an end. It felt as if they were rejoicing not mourning, and I could sense their excitement. Your mum would be free of the prison that had trapped her soul for so long and they wanted to be part of that.
Just after midnight we heard the bridge creaking like never before. John and I watched it bow and buckle as something made its way across. The lights pushed against it and sometimes I could almost make out the outline of a vast shapeless mass as the lights swarmed all over it. One by one they went out until only two remained and they fought the darkness but it was like trying to move the Moon with a firework. The darkness reached the other side of the valley and with a roar like a thousand thunderclaps it surrounded the shack.
John tried to shoot it with your dad’s rifle but bullets just whizzed through the air. There was nothing to hit, that thing had no mass, it was just a thick dark fog. I don’t know how it managed to kill John. One second he was in the door way with the rifle, the next he was pinned to the ground as if wrestling an invisible bear. He screamed at me, not in anger but to warn me. I had to protect your parents. Your dad tried to pull John free but the darkness howled at him until he dropped onto the floor as if the life had been sucked out of him.
I couldn’t move.
The darkness had squeezed itself into the shack and I could feel its touch all over my body. I was lifted into the air and pounded against the wooden floor by the fireplace. The lights were gone and our own circle of energy was so weak there was nothing left to protect Grabhorn. I was on the verge of losing consciousness when a vast light erupted on the stairs. The darkness dropped me and I lay paralysed as I watched your mum’s light battle the darkness on her own. The shack seemed to bulge and shake and for a moment I thought an earthquake had struck right beneath us.
The darkness screamed with rage but your mum’s light forced it back. I remember thinking it was like watching rays of sun beaming down through dark clouds. The darkness wasn’t going without a fight and it gripped my body so tight I felt my ribs crack. From the moment we first stepped inside that cave I never thought I would see such violence and hatred in the world.
For a moment it seemed like your mum was winning but the darkness was too powerful for her alone. It enveloped her light, trying to snuff it out. As she reached the precipice the darkness seemed to falter and thin out. Through the black haze I saw a second light as it punched a hole toward your mum. Your dad was fighting for her, fighting for both of us.
They were using up all their energy to keep the darkness at bay.
With a final roar the darkness pulled itself out of the shack and back across the bridge. They had defeated it. It was over and Grabhorn had been protected.
I passed out from the pain but when I awoke daylight was coming through the windows. I looked over at John’s body and wept. I could barely move. My ribs were broken and I was bruised everywhere. I knew that the darkness had killed me, I just hadn’t died yet. Your parents had one last trick to perform. Through the window I saw beams of sunlight cover my body, the pain was washed away and my bones healed. I listened to your parents as they spoke without words. I thanked them over and over until the sunlight drifted across the room and I was left alone in front of the fire-place.
Later that day a troop of emergency rescue guys showed up and put a temporary bridge in place to cross the river. When the police and ambulance arrived they told me most of the state had been badly damaged by a series of tornado’s. Your parents were laying peacefully beside each other on their bed. One of the emergency rescue guys told me John was found outside, he had been struck by a flying log caught in the wind. I was lucky to be alive, but luck had nothing to do with it.
The rest you know. It’s been peaceful here since then, until a few weeks ago. I wonder up to the cave every few days but it’s just a cave now, not the magical place it once was. At one point I figured the darkness was gone for good and I stayed out of guilt, nothing more. But when the lights returned I realised it would never be finished. The struggle is eternal, light against the darkness, hope against rage, love battling hate.
It is coming for me. I can sense it on the other side of the bridge. I don’t know if you will get this letter in time. The postal service at Pine Ridge is slow, but not too slow I hope. Last week I found John’s favourite football jersey, the one he wore when we made all those repairs to the bridge. I don’t know why I send it to you now, maybe it’s a link from the past to the future, a gift to say I’m sorry that I couldn’t save your parents. Maybe it’s just a football jersey.
I have to go. There are things I must to before the next battle.
I miss you. I miss your laughter and your energy.
With love, as always,
Your Best Friend.
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write a 1,500 word piece of fiction using one of 3 photos as a prompt. This one had a twist in that the use of the 3rd picture could be used to add an extra element to the story along with one of the other two. Great twist too!
This piece is around 3,000 words or so. I wanted to do another, shorter piece using the above image as a reference point for the best friend to come to the aid of her lonesome pal out at Grabhorn Valley. But I like it the way it is. I could go on to describe how they get together and battle against the darkness but I’d rather let the reader decide if that happens or not.
Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.