Mid-Night Gloom by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

Gleanings

By Nanette L. Avery

Like the end of an autumn harvest when the ripened crops have been gathered and the gleanings are scattered along the corners of the fields for the poor, the shrouded dead lay cold before the creeping shade of the old cemetery gate. Its crumbling stone walls await the new arrivals as the tolling of the bells and the low agonizing wails of hungry dogs forewarn the survivors.

“Do ya think it’s gone?” cried the old man to his wife. She was a tired woman and sat hunched before the open hearth warming her hands.

“Do I think what’s gone?” she snapped.

But he didn’t answer and only poked the flickering embers with a stick and then tossed a dried corncob into the kindling. “Looky here,” he laughed turning to the old woman. Barely raising her head, she nodded approvingly as the cob caught fire. The old fool sat beside his wife and nervously tapped his knees.

“There ain’t many left alive.” His voice trembled as he spoke for he was weighted down with fear. The bent woman stared ahead. “It was that death wagon with nobody drivin’ but a run-away horse; eyes wild like he’d crossed with the devil! I warned them to let it be!” There was a raise in his voice, but the old woman threw him a rather formidable sneer.

“Stop that chatter, old man! I don’t want no trouble. No trouble here!” she repeated. But the ancient couple knew her demands could not stop the dreaded night from materializing, and so as the pitiful light from the fire dwindled, the immortal blackness blanketed the miserable hovel and ushered in an unwelcomed sleep.

Perhaps had the elders remembered to bar the shutters and bolt the door then just maybe there would not have been enough of an opening to entice the moonlight. However, this was not the case and like a snake slithering between the crevices of a rock quarry, the silvery beam steered a pathway clear. Immediately, a foreboding silhouette approached with a frenzied beating of wings that raised the ire of the dogs scavenging the village. They cowered as these slick winged creatures with wolfish fangs sought the light and slid noiselessly through the openings. Attracted to flesh, some encircled the sleepers, some roosted in the rotted beams, and others clung to the walls like knots in the wood; yet none disturbed their hosts, but rather watched and waited; their yellow eyes glinting with demonic fury.

The clock upon the mantel shivered when it struck midnight striking so forcibly that it woke the woman with a start to witness the hideous creatures came alive as if they were one. Her cries for mercy were blotted only by the screams of the old man’s agony and in a feverish moment the black swarm grew louder and with diabolical wickedness devoured greedily.

It was dawn when the last creatures flew away and like the final autumn harvest, they left behind gleanings for the hungry dogs.