In the middle of the night, long after the witching hour, the traffic thinned and the highway quieted. Then and only then could he hear the sounds that came from the other end of the house. Some nights he glowered into the shadows and decided it was racoons nosing through the plaster, peering up from under the broken floor boards. Other nights he rolled as quietly as he could over the floor, until he flattened along the wall, hoping to disappear into the shadows. Those were the nights he thought it was madmen searching the empty rooms for him. He was afraid even to breath, but his mouth moved in prayers he thought he’d forgotten.
He caught a glimpse of himself one full moon night, weeks ago, reflected in a shard of broken glass. The eyes were shadowed like a skull and the hair and beard made him think of murderers people talked about when he was a boy. Murderers in the news. Murderers with a glint about them, who talked about themselves like they were making a mad poetry. The face that passed the shattered window and then peered back once more was his own, he knew, but it was a face he’d hate to find hovering above him in the dark of the night. His mother used to stroke the side of his face and call him her handsome boy. He remembered it, though it was hard to believe.
One night when he was sure there were other men in the house – dark, brutal souls with evil in mind – he got himself in such a state that he started to cry. His whimpers were terrifying sounds in the empty room. When dawn finally broke, he was so relieved to see it, he bolted straight up and leaned out the window, drinking in the light on the distant mountains.
“Morning has broken!” he said, startling the birds out of the brush. There was thunder in his voice that made him think of preachers he’d known. The words were from a song they learned in church. He wept as he remembered the little white church in the valley, the murmur of women talking in the yard after service, the aftershave of the men, their deep voices and shiny shoes. That had been a million years and sins ago.
He went to a corner mounded high with spray paint cans and beer cans and bottles, recalling nights he’d hidden under the house while the kids drank and flirted and fucked in these dark, forgotten rooms. All his life he’d been a silent witness to ugly things, hiding in the shadows, watching and listening.
“Never again,” he boomed. He loved the sound of his voice today, the way it had gone so deep and forceful. It was the voice of prophets in his ear. He found one can, tossed aside when headlights broached the drive one night and the kids ran out into the woods. A cop had walked the front of the house, shining his light in the busted windows. No one ever checked under the house.
He went to the wall across from the door, the door closest to the drive, the door that was no more – only a casing with marks where hinges had hung. His hands shook as he wrote the words on the wall, but as each letter formed, he felt more sure of his purpose. The paint was silver and shone in the light in a way that seemed holy to him.
“Blessed art those who keep my commandments.”