"The Summons," by Meredy Amyx





The Summons

     Somewhere within his being, Miles De Venter heard the summons. The voice awakened an instinct as profound as the call that launches the seasonal odyssey of the geese.

     As the days lengthened into summer, he gathered his strength. Gradually he absorbed vitality from the scent of flowers, the buzzing of bees, the roving of foxes, the burrowing of worms.
     His feet drew mass from the earth. The shadows fell away, and his mind began to clear. He found himself beside a stream. At first he saw only a ribbon of light, but over the days it resolved into a rivulet sparkling in the sunlight whose warmth he could not yet feel.

     A little girl with sunny hair and a radiant smile ran toward him, arms outstretched. Delight welled in him with the bursting sweetness of almond blossoms in spring. His dry lips whispered "Maybelle," his voice rustling like the yellow grass.

     Some distance below, smoke rose from the chimney of a cabin sheltered by old oaks. A white-clad figure appeared in the open door, smiling, arm raised. He swung the little girl onto his shoulders and lifted his hand to wave back. The woman stood awkwardly, balancing the bulk of her distended belly.
     "Come see how the corn is growing," Miles murmured to the girl, turning toward the field. The small fingers in his hair were no more than a wandering breeze as awareness dissolved.
     The year's longest day passed, and the first full moon of summer, and then the second. It was almost time.
     He had grown stronger over the days. Now he sang out "Maybelle" with the voice of robust young manhood. His daughter's heft was solid, her tug on his hair sharp. "Come see how the corn is growing." Discovering each day's changes excited him. Passing among the long, straight rows, he felt an intimate bond with every blade and stalk. He marked the swelling of each maturing ear, watching for the tassels that signaled readiness for harvest. Nature had wrought life through rain and sun, but his was the hand that had thrust the seed into the soil.
     But now the joy that bloomed in his spirit as he strode toward the cornfield was smothered by a mounting dread: something terrible was coming, something he was powerless to avert. He gripped the girl's ankles to his chest and felt the rhythm of life within them. Why could he not stay here? Here, in this ripe moment, when all was still golden and fair?
     Once the cycle had begun, it could not be stopped.
     Miles came into himself beside the stream. The time was upon him, the call was clear. His senses were overfull to the point of pain. The sky burnt his vision. The stream crashed. The cry of the child pierced his brain, and his responding shout thundered in his skull. His daughter's weight as he heaved her to his shoulders staggered him. Her grip on his hair rent his scalp. At the sight of the woman in the cabin doorway, his eyes bled. His raised hand was leaden, his smile like shattered glass. "Come see how the corn is growing" rumbled like an echo in the dangerous caverns of the earth.
     He lurched toward the field, laboring under the burden of the child as though he were a mule bearing a mountain on its back. A sickening fear filled him, the eviscerating horror of every parent who has ever waited long past the expected hour of return, every mother who has ever hovered with hammering heart beside a fevered sickbed, every father who has ever bent in soul-shattering agony over a crumpled form from whom breath has flown forever.
     The long, sun-drenched rows, the blond silks lifting in the breeze like a child's hair. The little girl set down to run among the cornstalks, laughing, calling. The full green ear broken off, the husk pulled back. Juicy yellow kernels, ready, sweet. A deep inhalation of satisfaction. The last moment of peace. The last second.
     A growl. A shriek. A roar. The dozing mountain lion, surprised, leaps and pounces. Miles races toward the sound, tearing his way among the stalks, trampling his crop, heedless, screaming. The bloody rag that is his daughter. All instinct now, he bounds toward the beast, grappling to wrench the jaws apart, braving the fierce paws, still shrieking Maybelle's name, until he drowns in blood.
     Miles De Venter follows the stream, impelled like a moth toward the distant circle of light. The woods are dark and dense. All around him he feels life throbbing. It sustains him, but it is not enough for the little one he carries. The burden upon his back is still.
     He treads silently among the pines, the soft carpet muffling his steps. A pungent aroma arises from the needles crushed beneath his feet.
     He hears a voice, and it is the voice of his summons. A young woman stands in the circle of light, beside a crackling campfire. The voice pulls him closer. Always at summer's end she is here, she or one like her; and around her, the girls, their faces glowing in the firelight. It has been so for a hundred years.
     "Miles De Venter was the great-grandfather of our Mr. De Venter," says the woman. "Our camp is on his land. A little way downstream from here is the place where Miles's little daughter was killed by the mountain lion, and he died trying to rescue her. Every summer their ghosts come back here just to absorb enough energy to linger for another year."
     Twenty small bodies cluster by the fire. Twenty small red hearts are pounding. Twenty pairs of bright eyes widen as Miles steps from the shadows on cue, and he hears their startled voices cry out. The pulse of their bright lives reverberates like a brass gong through his hollow veins.
     The bundle on his shoulder stirs.
     Gently he lays the small body on the ground. Through her torn face the child smiles up at him. "Daddy!" she cries, and reaches out her arms.
     He gathers her in his embrace. "Maybelle!" he sobs. Even as he clings to her, she begins to fade. As the children watch, amazed, he too disappears into a ripple of smoke and imagination.

Copyright © 2007 Meredy Amyx.
"The Summons" was completed on July 28, 2007. This 1048-word story was written as an entry to the summer 2007 WritersWeekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest, in which entrants are given 24 hours to respond to a prompt within a set word limit (in this case, 1050). It appears here exactly as submitted. This story received one of 20 honorable mentions; three top prizes were also awarded. "The Summons" appeared in the October 2007 issue of WritersTalk, the newsletter of the South Bay Writers Club.