The Night He Visited a Cabin in Dartmoor (Part 1 of 2)Submitted by Tom Sorrell at 2014-01-23 23:11:22 EST
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The sky was illuminated by a streak of lightning flashing from left to right over a small cabin in the woods outside Dartmoor, followed immediately by a crash of thunder that rattled the little building’s foundation. Leaning in the doorway, Martin felt the hair on his neck stand up and he braced for another bolt of electricity. It didn’t take long, and when it hit a tree 500 yards away the sky lit up like high noon in the old west.
Martin felt the cabin shake again and imagined, for a moment, an image of Zeus tossing glowing shards over the English countryside the way Martin himself threw darts in the local pub: completely at random. No skill whatsoever. He chuckled and ducked inside, closing the door behind him, and went back to his kitchen table where he’d left a bucket of ice, a glass, and a bottle of Jameson Whiskey. The electrical storm had been going on for over an hour now, but the first drop of rain had yet to fall. He’d been drinking the entire time.
Before he sat, Martin pulled a candle closer and checked his watch in the shadowy, flickering light. It was 11:11. He’d been seeing that number for weeks. He sighed and shook his head as the cabin exploded with light and sound, the fury of the storm knocking him off his feet and onto the hardwood floor.
“You don’t play around, do you?” he yelled into the air as he pulled himself to his feet and plopped down into a wooden chair next to his wooden table.
“So what’s it gonna be then?” he yelled. “Are you going to set the cabin on fire to teach me a lesson? Or should I say another lesson? One of many, eh? Certainly I need them. Without them we’d have a ghastly mess. Chaos! Disorder! We can’t have that, can we? Noooo. Of course not.”
For a moment the cabin was still. Neither a cricket chirp nor a mouse sneeze disturbed the calmness of the moment. That’s when Martin heard a dog barking outside. A low, grumbling noise that sounded the way a Hellhound might. He snorted at the idea and chalked it up to the famed "Beast of Dartmoor" he'd heard about from the locals.
"Damnable hocus pocus and folklore ... what nonsense," he muttered as he dropped an ice cube into a glass, poured a double shot of Jameson, pausing to appreciate the sound of cracking ice as the whiskey swirled around it, then finished the drink in one gulp and poured another. He swirled the brown liquid and stared at the candle through the cup as the cabin shook with another round of thunder and lightning. It was then Martin saw a shadow pass across the wall in front of him from right to left.
“What the!?” he exclaimed, leaping up from the table. “Who’s there? Who’s that in the shadows?”
The cabin was still. Martin could hear his heart beating. It was so loud he was concerned the intruder would hear it and be able to pinpoint his location in the darkness. He struggled to calm down, trying to figure out what he’d seen. It seemed to have pointed ears like a gremlin, or maybe horns like…
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Martin said aloud, shaking his head. “There’s no way it’s anything other than a person. Someone broke in and they’re wearing a mask or something. There’s literally no other explanation here.”
Martin seemed to forget his closest neighbor lived 20 miles away and, aside from his trips to town, the only other person he’d seen in the last six months was his postal carrier. His problem was he, like many others in his generation, believed in nothing. It’s not that Martin was a nihilist. He just didn’t care anymore. All he wanted was to be left alone, which explained why Martin had moved from an American city to an ancient English forest outside a town older than the country he left.
The problem some people have with Americans is they think they know everything, especially when they’re successful, and Martin was quite successful. He’d recently sold his second Hollywood screenplay for 1.38 million dollars, and had bought the cabin on a lark. He told the locals in the pub he was looking forward to getting some quality writing done on his old IBM Selectric.
“I’m destined to write The Great American Novel,” he’d announced while standing on the bar, holding a pint of warm beer with tree bark floating on top. “I’m not trying to be arrogant or anything, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been chosen to be a Messenger of the Lord.”
The entire pub had stared at Martin in shocked silence before he slapped his thigh and burst into laughter.
“God damn it,” he’d said between laughs. “You people are retarded. I’m only kidding. That’s all just a bunch of horseshit and hogwash.”
“Which part?” asked an old man with yellow teeth.
“All of it,” Martin had slurred. “It’s all bullshit. All of it. None of this matters and you people are the dumbest sacks of sludge I’ve ever seen.”
A grumble had gone up from the bar. Martin had laughed and thrust a finger into the air.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” he said with a grin. “I’m going to write the shittiest, most formulaic nonsense book you’ve ever read in your life. I’m going to make Twilight and Hunger Games look like Tolkein or Dostoyevsky. I’m going to make Jay Z and Lil Wayne look like Lords Byron and Tennyson. I am going to make J.K. Rowling look like … Plath … or something. Fuck it. I don’t know. Kiss my American ass, you cocksmoking limey fucks.”
He’d hiccupped and almost fallen over at that point before pulling out a wad of cash and announcing everyone in the bar was drinking for free that night. It was the only reason he’d left the pub alive. Still, that was two years ago. Martin had assimilated himself to the culture and become much less of an asshole after his “formulaic bullshit” was rejected by everyone who read it.
“It has no heart,” he was told. “It’s soulless. It’s lazy. A pathetic attempt by a pathetic person to create something important. An epic failure. The worst thing ever written by man.”
So he'd quit writing for a while and had lost part of himself in the process. He'd also developed a bit of a problem with booze, and in the cabin, now, Martin heard these words being whispered from his left.
“Soulless,” whispered the voice. “Pathetic.”
Martin drunkenly opened a drawer and pulled out a knife just as the cabin was rocked by rolling thunder, causing him to fumble the blade tip-first into the floor. As he reached to pull the steel from the wood, he heard the voice again, this time inches away from his ear…
“Leave the knife alone,” it said. “Stand up and turn around.”
Martin was frozen in horror. The lightning flashed in the darkness and cast a shadow on the wall in front of him. He clearly saw two long, sharp horns rising above a pair of broad shoulders.
“Who are you?” Martin asked.
“I am...” came the reply, “...whatever you see when you turn around.”
Martin took a deep breath and turned, slowly. In that moment he was face to face with a large, horned shadow with two red eyes, glowing like burning coals in the darkness.
“Oh … what the hell?” Martin asked, the color draining from his face as he struggled to stand.
“You know who I am,” the figure said, calmly. "Don't be frightened."
The figure’s eyes stared. Martin stared back for a moment and felt his nerve rising. He thought of the things he’d endured in his life, squinted his eyes and replied with no fear.
“Yep,” he said. “I remember now. I met you when I was what, 13? 14?”
The figure nodded. So did Martin as he sneered, took a step forward and poked the thing in the chest.
“Yeah. Awesome. How the hell are you?" he said. "You’ve been with me ever since then, haven't you? Destroying my life and ruining everything and everyone I ever cared about. Pushing me to my breaking point for your own purposes. That’s you, right? Well fuck you.”
The thing growled and blinked, once. Martin gulped, took a step back and bowed his head in respect.
“What do you want with me? Why won’t you leave me alone?”
There was a moment of silence, then the thing began to speak in a low, even voice.
“A man dreams of dancing with stars...” it said. “...to carve his name in the edifice of time. But a man is not necessarily worthy of such considerations. A man is fallible and subject to time and space, like sand in a sieve. A man can be corrupt and evil. Wicked. Prideful. Wrathful. Lustful. Gluttonous. So full of sin it took an entire flood to rid the world of…”
“Ok,” Martin said. “Enough already. I've read The Bible. I get the gist. What the hell do you want? Why did you show yourself to me so long ago? Why are you here now?”
“You’re a man of high position,” the thing said. “Respected among your peers. Valued for your talents…”
“Pfft,” Martin replied. “I’m a fraud and a phony. I don’t feel respected by my peers. I feel contempt from them. They’re jealous when I do something better than them and they rejoice when I fail. They’re out to get me, all of them. And damn it, you never let me have Suzie. You know how much I loved her and you kept her from me.”
The thing nodded, slowly. Somberly.
“You had to realize just how much you cared about her on your own,” it said. “You had to see how special she was for who she was ... not what she looked like. You simply were not ready to love her or be loved by her because you were an egocentric, immature, childish jackass. You've been an asshole almost your entire life.”
“And now it’s too late, right?” Martin said, nervously. “Because you’re here to collect, aren’t you?”
The creature shook its head.
“You never signed my contract,” it said with a shrug.
Martin blinked in shock.
“Wait … I sold the screenplays on my own?”
“Yes,” it replied. “You certainly did. And you failed on your own. I helped you get to certain points in your life to make certain key decisions, but in the end you've made every choice on your own. After you tasted success I tempted you and tried to make you believe I was responsible so you’d sell me what I wanted after the fact like a typical chump. I don’t deny any of this. I'm responsible for everything, my son."
Martin cocked his head to the side and frowned.
“Excuse me?” he said. “My son? Yeah, right. Who do you think you are? Darth Vader?”
The thing chuckled.
"Something like that," it said as it touched Martin on the head. Martin felt warm from head to toe. His heart leapt in his chest and tears formed in his eyes. He tried to speak, but no words would come out.
“Have a good rest,” it said as it closed Martin's eyes and laid him gently on the floor. "And by the way, you should start writing again. We could really use your help in this place."
"Ok," Martin replied, talking in his sleep.
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