Hollow Darkness

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by SallyMason1

Nights are the worst. The darkness multiplies the silence; the few shadows tossed by the flickering candles suffocate me with every breath. The constant fear that the danger will leap out without warning restricts my throat. Make no sound, make no sound. The thought is on constant auto-replay in my mind—my only thought left in the world.

Tonight, there aren't even shadows. My mother had opened the windows just before sundown and a sudden gust blew them out. The blackness of the night is all consuming. Somewhere in this vacuum of darkness, my mother is crouched with her hand over her bleeding mouth. That's what she got for being careless. Her tears are silent. She used to cry out when my father hit her. Now any sound will alert the danger. Hush, hush. It's all we know.

My father scurries around in the cabin on silent feet, hunting for the matches. Even if he finds them, will he risk it? The strike of the match will be like a crack of thunder in the stillness, and if danger is close, it come for us. We will die.

He strokes my arm. It's his acknowledgement that he found the matches and he will strike one. We've been here before. I hold my breath. The zuff hangs in the air before the blue spurt lights the darkness. The flame just hovers in the air as we wait. Nothing but silence. The fear beats hard in my chest.

I exhale after my father lights the candles. His hand reaches for my mom. Caressing her face, his eyes say he's sorry. He used to sing to her those goofy made up songs to make her laugh after one of his violent episodes. Now, only his eyes can plead for forgiveness. A quiet kiss. A wipe of his thumb to dry her tears.

He signals me to get the strawberries off the kitchen counter. Since the danger entered our lives, we have learned to speak with a few hand signs. It's not enough and most gets lost in translation. We barely manage to get by. But what choice do we have? There are no more words. It's something we can't afford.

I suckle on a fat, red strawberry. It's sweet and the juice drips off my fingers and onto the floor. Smiling, I bite off the tip. The fruity tanginess is amazing. My mother's smile it just as bright, though the pain brims in her eyes whenever the strawberry touches her split lip. My father shouldn't hit her – not with the danger in our necks. But I can't tell him – the hand signals are not enough. Nothing can stop the monster inside him.

A sudden breeze floats through the cabin when the door flies open with a thud. The candles die. My scream is silent. A loud roar lets the planks underneath my butt vibrate, but I can't hear it over the river of swooshing blood in my ears. The danger has found us.

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