Dark Times Ahead: A Short Story by Lincoln Cole

Dark Times Ahead: A Short Story by Lincoln Cole

Dark Times Ahead is a short story set in the world of Raven's Peak by Lincoln Cole. It serves as a tie in between two different series and fills in some background about the relationship between Arthur and Abigail.

If you want to check out Raven's Peak and find out what happens later, click here!


About Dark Times Ahead

Arthur finally believes that the life he has carved out for himself and Abigail is coming together. Things are settling down and starting to make sense, and it is time to put his past to rest.

But, it isn't his past he needs to worry about. There is a darkness in Abigail that is beginning to manifest in strange and terrifying ways. He doesn't know how to protect her from her past, but he knows he will need to do something soon if he is going to protect her.


A Message from Lincoln Cole

This short story takes place several years before Raven's Peak and sets up the world prior to what happens in Raven's Peak. It introduces Arthur and Abigail and helps to explain why Arthur did what he did to protect the little girl he thought of as his daughter.

It can hopefully help to symbolize the choices Arthur made in protecting Abigail and the cost it had on his future.


Dark Times Ahead

“How has she been doing?” Frieda asked.

“She’s progressing very well in her studies,” Arthur replied.

As he spoke, he glanced out the front window of his rental car and toward the hotel room on the third floor where he and Abigail were staying. He was sitting alone in his car and talking to Frieda over the phone, but he half expected to see Abigail’s face in the window, watching him leave.

She wasn’t there, though. No doubt she was watching cartoons right now, or whatever it is the eleven-year-old girl did while he was gone. He didn’t really like leaving her alone, but sometimes when things turned dangerous he didn’t have much of a choice.

Frieda was in South Africa right now, working with a group of Hunters to establish a new base of operations. She was working to expand their network and continue hunting down the remaining cells of the Ninth Circle. It had been years before the cult had tried any aggressive actions against the Council, and right now it felt like they had them on the ropes. Frieda was just trying to press her advantage and finish them off.

Arthur knew, though, that the cult was dangerous. They might be down, but they certainly weren’t out. It felt almost as though they were biding their time and waiting for something to happen.

He was in Ohio with Abigail, just outside of Millersburg. It was the middle of summer, but not that hot outside. It was, in fact, turning out to be an all-around pleasant afternoon.

He wasn’t currently on any assignments that had brought him out here, but as far as Abigail knew he was here hunting down information about a local demon. He hated lying to her, but he didn’t want her to know his true reason for coming out here into the middle of nowhere in Ohio.

Over these last several years he had begun focusing heavily on Abigail’s training and education. He wanted to acclimate her to the life of a Hunter, and he wanted to be very careful that he didn’t overwhelm her.

“That’s not what I meant,” Frieda replied.

“I know.”

“I mean…has she…?”

She didn’t finish the question. She didn’t have to, Arthur knew exactly what Frieda was talking about, even though he didn’t want to voice his concerns aloud. It was a problem he hadn’t even wanted to face until very recently, but he knew if he tried to avoid the issue she would continue pressing.

“Not since the last time,” he admitted. “I think it might have been a fluke.”

“Not likely. Things like that aren’t usually one-offs.”

“Nothing has happened since. Her temperament is completely back to normal. It might have just been something repressed coming out.”

“Things like that don’t just happen, Arthur. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire.”

“Usually, but not always.”

“Arthur…”

“In any case, I’m telling you that it is over.”

“She doesn’t remember?”

“No. Nothing. She has no idea anything ever happened, and it’s been over a year. If she was going to remember, I’m sure she would have by now.”

He heard Frieda sigh. “Good. Maybe you’re right and that was a one-time thing. You’ll let me know if she something else happens, though, right?”

“Yes. I’ll tell you if anything happens. But, Frieda, I think we’re in the clear now. Whatever happened was just stress induced. I was probably just pushing her too hard. She’s not a violent kid, and she doesn’t like hurting things.”

“I know, Arthur,” Frieda said, but he could tell in her voice that she didn’t completely believe him. “I haven’t told anyone on the Council about the incident, if you were worried about that.”

“I wasn’t. I trust you.”

“This isn’t exactly the sort of thing we should be keeping to ourselves, though. If the Council find out that we kept something like this from them, it’ll be worse than if we just admitted it and said we were watching her.”

“We will report this to them when there’s something to report, but until then they don’t need to know. Besides, you are on the Council and the leader of the Hunters, and I told you.”

“You know what I mean.”

“If they knew what happened…you know what they would do.”

“Which is why I haven’t told anyone,” she said. “But, Arthur, you said yourself: what Abigail did to that animal…it wasn’t something that people do on impulse. She spent hours torturing it.”

 “It wasn’t her, and like I told you: it was a one-time thing. Whatever happened, it isn’t going to happen again.”

He wished he’d never told Frieda about it at all. When he found Abigail about eleven months ago with the squirrel he had been terrified. He’d known from the day he first saved her from the cult that there might be residual problems from her time with the Ninth Circle, but nothing had happened until that day in the woods.

He’d panicked and told Frieda, needing someone to talk to, but the event had never repeated itself. He thought now that it was just something Abigail needed to get out of her system, some manifestation of her trauma.

Of course, he knew that was the fatherly version he told himself, believing that nothing was wrong. Deep down, he knew that Frieda was right: where there was smoke, he would find fire.

Frieda hesitated on the other end of the phone. “I pray you are right.”

“Me too.”

“Are you going to tell her what she did?”

“Why? She doesn’t remember it even happening. She doesn’t even remember that day. Bringing it up would only upset her and make things worse.”

“Yeah, but she deserves to know—”

“She deserves to be happy,” Arthur interrupted. “After everything she’s been through, she doesn’t deserve for us to lose our trust in her over something so trivial.”

“OK,” Frieda replied. “I need to go. Let me know if anything changes.”

“I will,” Arthur said, then he closed the connection. He appreciated that Frieda was worried about Abigail, but he also worried that eventually her concern might turn into actual fear.

If she broke her word and told the Council what Abigail had done, they might re-instate their order to have her executed, and there would be nothing he could do to stop them. That would be the worst possible scenario, because he knew if he had to pick a side, he would pick Abigail’s.

He flipped the ignition over on his little rented Honda Accord and glanced once more at the window where Abigail was resting. They had gone for a run in the morning, followed by a few hours of exercise and sparring. She was upstairs watching television or napping, he knew, and wouldn’t expect to see him back for several hours.

He had told her before coming to Millersburg that he was on assignment and not to expect him back for several hours. She didn’t even think to question his motives: why would she? He’d promised her when he first rescued her from the Ninth Circle that he would tell her everything.

But, that had been six years ago and a lot of things had changed since then. Everything, in fact, had changed. He thought of her as his daughter, and this was his second chance to have a family.

How could he move on with his new family, though, if he hadn’t made peace with the one he lost? The problem was, there were certain parts of his life that he couldn’t really talk about with anyone, let alone with the innocent young girl he was trying to protect.

He slipped the car into gear and pulled out of the motel parking lot. After a few minutes he was on the freeway, listening to Bon Jovi and trying to keep his emotions in check. He’d only gone back one time since his family was murdered with Father Niccolo Paladina, and that hadn’t ended well. This time would be different. This time he was ready.

Six years later, and he was finally going home.

***

The family house, a place where he grew up and had planned to raise his family, was exactly how he remembered it after all of these years. The paint had faded and the grass outside was wild and uncared for, but just seeing the place brought back a sharp pang of memory and grief that made him feel sick.

There was a long driveway, nearly a kilometer, and it led up to the front door. He saw the old red barn sitting off to the right side of the property, next to the four and five acre fields where his family used to raise horses.

His daughter had loved horses. She loved to ride them and had sworn she would do it professionally when she was older. He insisted that if she wanted to learn how to ride horses, she would first need to learn how to care for them by feeding them and grooming them. He thought that would be enough to turn her away—after all, children weren’t known for their willingness to handle responsibility—but it had the opposite effect. She had spent every day caring for the animals and had become very proficient in riding them.

He would lean against the fence and watch his daughter ride around the field on the trotter she named Carmen, and she would smile over at him and he would smile back.

But, now she was murdered.

Now it was just an empty field, full of brown grass and memories. The fences were starting to fall apart with age and he doubted it would hold any animals without a lot of repair.

He doubted it would ever pen animals again.

He’d thought the memories wouldn’t be as bad coming here after so many years. Six years was a long time to be away, but now that he was back it felt like the murders had only just happened. His wife and daughter were stolen away from him, and it was his fault.

He brushed angrily at his cheeks and walked up toward the front door, listening to the stairs creak underfoot as he went. The door was locked, but he still had the key on his keyring. He clicked it open and went inside.

It was dusty and empty. It was also clean, he noticed, with no blood stains on the hardwood floor or signs that anyone had been murdered here. All of the furniture was covered in plastic, which surprised him. He hadn’t come back since the deaths, which meant someone else had been here since then.

Probably Mitchell. His brother was the only person he could think of who would have stopped by uninvited. He had fallen out of touch with his brother, and part of him was angry with Mitchell for what had happened to his family.

Mitchell was the one who brought him into this world. He traded in illicit goods and services and had introduced Arthur to Frieda. If it wasn’t for Mitchell, he never would have become a Hunter.

His family never would have been murdered.

But, he also wouldn’t have had a family if it wasn’t for Mitchell. His brother was the one that introduced him to his wife, Patricia. He had been the best man at his wedding and the godfather to his daughter. Without Mitchell, he would have had nothing to lose.

It wasn’t fair to blame Mitchell, he knew. It was his own arrogance and belief in his own power that had gotten his family murdered. He should have been there to protect them.

Still, even knowing Mitchell wasn’t responsible didn’t make it any easier to think about him. He’d written his brother out of his life after the murders simply because he was a reminder of the past.

***

“Are you ready to go?”

“Yep,” Abigail said, bounding off of the bed and grabbing her coat off of the chair. Arthur had returned from his visit to his old home feeling nostalgic but also quite a bit better. It was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as he had imagined. “Where are we going?”

“The gym,” Arthur said.

“Another trial membership?”

“Mmhmm,” he said.

“Who are we going to be this time?”

“Wayne Rogers and my adopted daughter Tiffany.”

“Tiffany?” Abigail asked, scrunching up her nose. “Why Tiffany?”

“Those are the ids we were given by Frieda,” Arthur replied with a shrug.

“Do I look like a Tiffany?”

“Do I look like a Wayne?”

She scrutinized him for a second. “You would make a passable Wayne.”

He laughed. “Come on. I want to get there before it is too late so we can sign up and get a workout in. This one is only free for a week.”

“Why do we keep signing up for free memberships? The Council would pay for a gym membership, wouldn’t they?”

“I wouldn’t pay money for a gym,” he said. “They are just trying to rob us. Plus, it’s free for a week.”

He didn’t add that the real reason they changed identities so often was to stay off of everyone’s radar. Once payments were being made and transactions existed they would be easier to track. He had no idea who might be looking for them, but he’d learned long ago that assuming no one was hunting for him was a bad idea.

Plus, he knew Abigail thought it was fun constantly pretending to be someone else. She wasn’t what he would have considered a normal kid: she loved to travel and experience new places. Most children would have hated the idea that they never spent enough time in one place to make any friends, but she didn’t seem to mind at all.

She was a loner, much like himself, and preferred being on her own anyway. He wondered, though, how much of her personality was a reflection of his. What would she have been like, he often wondered, if The Ninth Circle had never taken her?

Even if he was causing her to turn out differently than she might have, he was still going to see to her education. She was enrolled in an online charter school under yet another false name, and his only requirement was that she attend every class and complete every assignment. He wasn’t thrilled keeping her out of real schools, but with how much they were forced to travel it was necessary.

“Got your gym clothes?”

“Yep,” she said, grabbing a bag off the floor and stuffing some clothes into it. “Does this place have a pool?”

“Nope,” he said, “but they do have a sauna.”

“Ah, so I can’t go swimming, but I can torture myself?”

He chuckled and grabbed his own bag.

They headed out to the car and drove into town. Abigail turned on the radio and flipped between a few stations. She didn’t seem to find someone she liked, however, and eventually just turned it off.

By the time they got to the gym it was starting to get dark. The parking lot was mostly empty and they didn’t see a lot of people working out when they went inside.

It was a sectional gym, with a weight-training and machine section on the right side of the building, and then a boxing gym on the other side. A few people were walking on treadmills, and a kid a few years older than Abigail was working the heavy bags by the ring. An older guy, mid-fifties, was watching the kid: probably his coach.

Arthur led Abigail up the counter where a bored looking twenty-something girl was sitting. She perked up when they entered. She had blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and was wearing bright workout clothes. She looked very much like an extra in a workout tape.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” Arthur said. “We are new in town and were hoping to sign up for memberships.”

“Great. Got your ID?”

“Yep,” he said, fishing the fake driver’s license out of his pocket. He had a dozen just like it back in the hotel room, hidden in a secret pocket in his luggage.

He passed it to the girl and she began the laborious task of entering information into the system. Abigail stood next to Arthur, looking around and fidgeting while she tried to be patient.

“Is she with you?” the girl asked, nodding toward Abigail.

“Yes. This is my daughter, Tiffany.”

“So, you’re doing a family membership?”

“Mmhmm.”

“If she wants, she can go on in and get started. I’ll get you both badges for the next time you stop by, but for now she won’t need it.”

“Great,” Abigail said, slipping away from the counter and heading into the gym.

“There’s a changing area with showers and restrooms in the back,” the girl said, but Abigail was already gone. She glanced back at Arthur. “In a hurry, huh?”

“Always.”

She asked Arthur several questions about his and Abigail’s false identities, marking things down in the computer. It took about ten minutes to get them fully enrolled, at which time she printed out their one week trial membership cards.

“After the week you will automatically be billed,” she said. “Just call us if you need to cancel for any reason.”

“Thanks,” he said, accepting the offered cards. He might call to cancel, but he wasn’t worried about it. The credit card he’d given her was also false and wouldn’t link to any bank and the number was a random one. By the time the gym tried to get in touch with him to correct the problem they would be long gone.

He slipped the cards in his pocket and glanced around, trying to spot Abigail. She wasn’t with the weightlifters or on any of the machines. When he finally spotted her, he saw her over by the boxing ring, wailing on a heavy bag.

He also saw that the coach was watching her, though she didn’t seem to notice. The man was looking at her with an expression of awe on his face.

Arthur had trained Abigail how to box, but only as a part of strength and fitness training. The entire sport was fairly useless when it came to being a Hunter. Surviving meant learning how to fight with every part of your body, not only your fists.

He made his way over to her, eyeing the trainer cautiously. “Keep your feet moving,” he said. “Circle the bag and never be caught flat-footed.”

“She has good form,” the coach said. “And technique.”

“Mmhmm,” Arthur replied, not looking at the man.

“You trained her?”

“Yeah. I trained her.”

“Put her into any tournaments?”

“No.”

The man fell silent, watching Abigail work the bags. She barely seemed to notice either of them, focusing entirely on the bag. She was sweating now, practicing her breathing.

Too focused, Arthur knew. She was a hard-worker and very diligent in training, but she rarely focused this heavily on anything in particular. He was always chiding her to push herself to her limits.

He had a bad feeling that something was wrong, but he couldn’t place his finger on exactly what it was.

The other boxer, the young man, had also stopped hitting his own bag and was watching Abigail. She’d managed to draw a lot of attention to her, which was something Arthur was striving to avoid.

“Come on, Tiffany,” he said. “Let’s head over to the weights.”

She didn’t respond, and Arthur winced. This was a fairly common problem for them: occasionally she would forget the false name she had been given, and he didn’t want to say her real name out loud. He took a step forward and gently touched her on the shoulder.

She spun around to face him, raising her hands up like she was about to attack. She took a swing at him, but he easily side-stepped it. Arthur opened his mouth to speak, to admonish her, but froze.

Her eyes were glowing red.

It was faint, but definitely there. Just as fast, though it was gone. Abigail stood there, gloves still up, but a confused expression on her face. Slowly, she lowered the gloves and gave him a questioning look.

Luckily, it seemed the other two hadn’t noticed her eyes glowing.

The coach whistled. “Got some spunk in her, huh?”

Arthur decided that he hated the guy. He was one of those typical macho men always ready to be a bully. He’d known the type his entire life, and he avoided them as much as possible.

“You OK?” he asked, ignoring the man and focusing on Abigail.

“Yeah,” she said, glancing around. “I think so.”

“Want to get in the ring?” the guy asked Abigail. “Maybe you could go a few rounds with David here. Blow off some steam on something that hits back?”

“No,” Arthur said. “She’s fine.”

“Oh, come on. David will go easy on her.”

Abigail glanced over at the man, frowning, and Arthur knew exactly what she was thinking.

“Not now,” Arthur said, speaking to the coach but staring at her. “Not today.”

“Suit yourself,” the guy said, shrugging and turning back to David.

Arthur grabbed Abigail’s shoulder and led her away from the heavy bags. He sat down on a bench near the back wall and started removing her gloves. His hands were shaking, but he forced himself to at least look like he was calm, despite how he was feeling inside.

“Why wouldn’t you let me spar?” she asked while he unclipped the first glove. “I could have handled him.”

“I know,” Arthur said. “But, we’re new to town. We need to blend in.”

She shrugged. “I wouldn’t have hurt the kid or anything.”

Arthur didn’t reply. He finished taking her gloves off, staring at the ground, and then sighed.

“Just weight training tonight.”

She looked like she was going to object, and then just said: “Fine. Are you going to spot me?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Go get set up. I’ll be right over.”

She headed off toward the weight lifting equipment. Arthur sat there on the bench, trying to get control of his emotions. He couldn’t get the image out of his mind of her eyes glowing red.

After she’d butchered the squirrel a year ago he had chocked it up to a fluke, but now he couldn’t hide from it anymore. Something was wrong, and Abigail wasn’t fully in control of herself.

There was something inside of her, and if he wasn’t careful he would lose her forever.


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