Crescent Cross

Crescent Cross
by Robert Luke Wilkins

Walter awoke to the sound of his wife Jessica throwing up in the adjacent bathroom. It happened every morning, a gift of her relentless morning sickness.

He stood, walked to the balcony door, and looked out. The view was spectacular. Their home was nestled against the side of a mountain, and the balcony faced southwest, perfect for sunsets, and the sun wouldn’t blind you awake in the morning. You could leave the curtains and doors open on hot summer nights, and Crescent Cross had plenty of those.

Walter loathed the view.

He heard something smash downstairs, followed by the keening wail of a child. That was Michael. Walter had heard about The Terrible Twos, of course, but had never considered just how terrible they’d be once Michael escaped his crib.

“I’ll deal with him,” he called to his wife. He heard her retch and throw up again. He sighed.

If only they’d known.

Michael had smashed a vase and cut his arm in the process. It wasn’t the first time, but Walter had thought this vase was out of the horror’s reach. He should have known better. Michael’s scope for havoc grew with every passing day.

“You’re a devil,” he said as he applied ointment to the cut. Michael only cried harder. He didn’t really need to bother; he’d done this half a dozen times now, and every cut healed beautifully, without even a hint of a scar. But his habits wouldn’t die.

Besides, with any luck, it wouldn’t be for much longer. A man was coming to town today, and Walter was hoping to persuade him to buy their house.

The trouble was, he wasn’t the only one selling.

“It’s a beautiful place,” said the visitor, who had introduced himself as Jeremy Scott. “Are you the McAllisters?”

“That’s us,” said Walter with a smile, tapping the wooden nameplate on the fence. “A man in town makes the signs, and he gives discounts to new residents.”

Jeremy nodded. “It’s hard to find towns like this now,” he said. “One that really has that small town feel. Honestly, I can’t imagine why you’d want to move away.”

“Work,” Walter lied. “It’s too far to commute, and I just can’t afford to be picky.”

“Oh, shame,” said Jeremy. “My wife and I only just escaped the grind ourselves. But now we’re looking to find a place where we can be a family. I’ve always dreamed of moving to a town like this.”

“Do you have kids, then?”

“Just the one so far. A daughter, Melinda. Nine months.”

Walter nodded. “That’s a beautiful age. Any more on the way?”

“Not yet, but I’m working on it!”

“Well, best of luck to you on that. Anyway, I think you’ll love it here. Come inside, I’ll show you the view from the bedroom. It’s the best in town!”

As he showed Jeremy around, Walter eulogized the town. It had a multi-faith community with a strong church, a great school with a wonderful headmistress, and there were many other young families. Small farms on the outskirts provided almost all of the town’s food—all fresh and locally grown.

He didn’t mention the rest. It was impossible to get a Pepsi, for a start, or even a lousy fast-food hamburger. And that nine-month-old was going to stay nine months old for an awfully long time.

He wondered about that. Would they have been happier here if they’d moved here when Michael was a little older? Or when Jessica hadn’t been suffering from morning sickness?

You couldn’t leave—God knows they’d tried. You’d drive out of town along the same tree-lined road that you’d driven in on, but somewhere along the way you’d find yourself going back up the mountain instead of down it. You didn’t turn around; you didn’t have to. And somehow, you never saw it happen. They’d tried walking once, but it made no difference.

No mail got in from the outside, no television signals, no Wi-Fi. Every house had a phone, but you couldn’t call out, and hardly any calls ever made it in. Nothing got out of Crescent Cross, and nothing from the outside was permitted in, save for those hoping to move in. And time seemed to be on the blacklist along with everything else.

Crescent Cross had time, but not like the rest of the world. You could move, throw balls, talk to the neighbors and chat about last week’s drama, but nothing aged. There was precious little change at all. Even the weather was unchangeable, a relentless, balmy summer. It didn’t stop people from celebrating Christmas, but it was strange decorating the tree in 90-degree weather.

The town itself changed very little too, and rarely. Nobody understood why or how. You’d wake up one day and there’d be anywhere from one to half a dozen new homes—bad news for anyone hoping to leave. The only way out was to sell your home.

Few wanted to. For most, Crescent Cross was Heaven on Earth. But they didn’t have a two-year-old monster and a wife who had been sick all day, every single day, for the last 11 years.

Three times before, he’d tried to sell. Someone else had beaten him to it twice, and the third time the town had expanded and the buyers had moved into a brand-new home instead.

But this time, he was playing an entirely new game. He’d practiced by showing Jessica around the home, trying to sell it to her half a dozen times, tweaking the words, changing the focus. He left nothing to chance.

“And we’re letting it go cheap,” he said. “But only to someone we like, someone who really fits the town.”

“Well, I sure hope you think I fit,” said Jeremy.

“You sure do,” said Walter. He smiled and clapped Jeremy on the back. “And if you decide to buy, then I’ve got a fine bottle of whiskey to share with you, 20 years old. Just say the word!”

The man was wavering. With the right word, Walter could sway him before he even went to look at the other homes. But the moment was lost.

“If I don’t look at the others first, my wife will hang my guts out over the washing line,” said Jeremy. “She’s always telling me I jump into things without thinking it through.”

“A smart lady,” said Walter, as he swore inwardly. “But I’m telling you, you won’t find a better deal. So I’ll set the bottle aside, and I’ll get some ice ready. You’ll be back before the day’s done, I guarantee it.”

As soon as Jeremy left, Walter hurried upstairs. His wife, who had put on a brave face while showing off the master bedroom, returned to the bathroom. How there was still anything left inside her to throw up was a mystery.

“Honey, he’s off to see the Williams’ cabin,” said Walter. “Then he’ll be heading on to the Metcalfe Lodge.”

“Told you,” she said. Her voice was weak, but determined. “Are you ready?”

“Sure am,” he said. “It’s time for part two.”

Jeremy liked the Williams’ cabin, but it was too small. It might be a cozy spot for a retired couple, but it had too little room for a budding family. The McAllister house was nicer, and had a magnificent view, but the guy selling it had seemed a little weird. Something was off, and as much as he liked the home, he’d grown nervous about the idea of buying it.

Still, it was a nice place, and the guy wouldn’t be there when they moved in, of course. But he still had high hopes for the Metcalfe Lodge.

Even from a distance, it was spectacular. A three-floor log cabin with a wall of windows, it had broad, low-fenced grounds with a great oak tree in the front and a marble-edged stone path leading to the front door.

“Hey, welcome,” said a middle-aged man. He waved from his rocking chair and stood, his arms wide and a broad grin on his face. “I’m Lee Metcalfe. You’re Jeremy?”

“Sure am.”

“Then let me show you around! I promise you, this is the place you’ll buy. It’s the best home in the whole of Crescent Cross. It’s got six bedrooms and four bathrooms, and a pool and a hot tub in the back.” Lee led him along a path toward the back of the home. “Most of the houses here are a little old-fashioned. It makes for a lovely town, no doubt, but personally I like my creature comforts.”

From behind the house, they heard a splash, and Lee frowned as he hurried around to the back. Jeremy followed him.

At first glance, the pool was a fine specimen of its kind—kidney-shaped, 100 feet long and 30 wide, with steps leading down into it. The stone that ringed the pool was white, but the scattered animal droppings on it detracted from the overall impression.

The raccoon swimming around the deep end didn’t help it much, either.

“Well that’s a first,” said Lee. “They usually stay out near the farms.”

“Don’t they carry rabies?”

“What? Oh, not here, no! No, I don’t think we’ve had a single case.”

Jeremy frowned. The man was hardly going to jump up and say, “Yes, it’s a rabies hotspot,” now was he? But still, animals lived in the forest, and that meant droppings. Admittedly, a raccoon doing the breaststroke in the backyard was new, but that could be fixed. He could reinforce the fence easily enough. And it was a nice pool.

The raccoon hopped out and wandered off, leaving sodden footprints in its wake.

But that was only the beginning. When they got to the kitchen, a dark shape scurried out of sight, and a monstrous cockroach scuttled across the kitchen table. While the owner explained that “this isn’t normal,” a loud crunching noise came from the front of the house. The corner of the porch roof had collapsed, its wooden tiles were scattered all over the front lawn, and a fallen beam had crushed one of the rocking chairs.

“I’m not doing a good job of this,” said Lee at last.

“That you aren’t,” said Jeremy. What if his wife had been sitting there when that had happened, or Melinda?

In the shadow of the oak tree, Walter saw Jeremy’s expression and smiled. His work was done.

But a week later, they still hadn’t heard anything.

“You must’ve done it wrong,” said Jessica miserably. “We’re going to be stuck here! There’s no way I’ll survive another year of this!”

Not that she’d have a choice. Hank Sherman had escaped years earlier, but not before a string of suicide attempts. All he ever achieved was a lot of pain.

It was galling that they’d not heard back from the buyer, though. It had taken almost a fortnight to catch the raccoon, and finding a cockroach was tough; they were rare in Crescent Cross. The porch roof had been easier, and the buyer’s face had convinced him that his work was done.

What had he missed? What else could he have done?

Two days later, they had a visitor.

“Hey, Walt,” said George, the Mayor of Crescent Cross. He looked around 50, though something about him simply reeked of age. “Well, it looks like you’ll be leaving us.”

“Oh, so he bought our place, did he? I knew he would! The view—”

“No, he bought the Metcalfe place in the end.”

Walter frowned.

“So what’s this about us leaving, then?”

“We got the papers this morning: an eviction notice and a demolition order.”


“Yeah, it’s a first for me, too,” said George, scratching his head. “McCullough said it’s happened before, but I’ve never seen it. The best I can figure it, you did something that made the town upset. I guess you aren’t welcome anymore.”

Walter stood silently. They’d paid good money for the house, and selling it would have allowed them to buy a new one, a little place out in the Midwest maybe.

Still, out was out. And money or no, if he’d known he could escape just by pissing the town off, he’d have done it years ago.

“Well, easy come, easy go,” he said with a grin.

It didn’t take them long to gather their things; most of their belongings were already boxed up in case the house had sold. The news that it hadn’t sold didn’t concern Jessica one bit. The only thing she cared about was getting out.

Within the hour, they had everything loaded into the car, and the two-year-old terror was strapped, screaming, into his car seat.

“Time to go,” said Walter.

“And good riddance,” said Jessica. She gave the house the finger.

They drove out to the tree-lined road and began descending. Soon they’d reach the point they’d never passed, and Walter felt his stomach knotting. What if they still turned around? Or what if the town just redirected them out over the edge of the mountain?

Well, what the Hell. Anything beat staying. He pushed down the gas pedal hard, and as they accelerated, a manic grin crept onto his face. They’d know soon, one way or the other.

“See you later, alligator,” he sang.

They crossed the ridge at the edge of town, and the road began to whistle past them, fast—too fast, really, but he was beyond caring. He still expected to see Crescent Cross hover back into view, or the ground to vanish. But they kept going, and then he saw an unfamiliar sign approaching.

You are leaving Crescent Cross, it said. Please come again!

“We’re out, baby!” he said. His wife was already laughing. “We’re out!”

In the back, Michael began laughing too, and Walter clapped the steering wheel.

“So, where shall we go?”

“Wherever’s close,” said his wife. “Oh, oh! Let’s go to McDonald’s! There’s bound to be one close by! I haven’t had a Big Mac in years!”

Walter grinned. Below the mountain was a regular town of 10,000 or so regular people, with regular food, regular weather, and if he remembered correctly, a regular McDonald’s.

The trees remained thick, and there were only brief glimpses of the mountain’s edge as they drove. Then ahead, he saw a sign approaching. It was dirty and rusted at the edges, but the text was clear.

Crescent Cross, population 141. Sister City of Belleville.

His wife fell silent. In the back, Michael was still laughing.

“Maybe we can’t leave yet,” he said. “Maybe we need to wait for the house to be demolished?”

But something was wrong. Crescent Cross was small, but not that small. The population had been nearly 2,000, and the sky above them was storm-gray, not summer blue. The air was cold, and snow kissed the roadside.

But it never snowed in Crescent Cross. Not even when you wanted it to.

As they crossed the ridge near the entrance to the town, he saw the town proper. A sprawling mass of old-mountain cabins, cottages, and small mansions stretched out almost as far as the eye could see; the lush forests of Crescent Cross had been cut back to make room. Almost all of them were in ruin. Some had already collapsed; the others were crumbling.

But at the side of the town, near the edge of the mountain, one home was brand-new.

Their home, still nestled in its prized spot, looking out toward that awful sunset view.

He parked up in the driveway and got out. The house was unchanged, save for the frost on the roof’s tiles. Behind him, Jessica collected Michael from the car and went inside without a word.

He trudged around to help her move things inside, but as he lifted a box from the trunk, he saw an old man walking up the drive toward him, carrying a long, wrapped object. Walter set the box down, waved, and walked over with a smile.

“Hey, neighbor,” he called. “The name’s—”

The wrapping fell away, and the old man thrust a makeshift spear up toward his neck. It was just a knife tied to a stick, but it would be more than enough to kill him.

“Food,” he said. His voice was low, cracked with age, and one of the eyes that stared out of his head was cloudy with cataracts. “And any guns you have.”

Walter raised his hands. “Look, man, I’ve got a wife. And a kid.”

“So think fast. Quickly, now, or I swear I’ll—”

There was a sudden howl from the sky. Walter looked up. The clouds began painting across the sky in broad streaks, and the sun and moon flew past like glowing rockets. Shadows grew long and short in seconds, and in front of him, the old man groaned and dropped the spear.

Wispy, white hair grew long from the old man’s head and chin as his good eye clouded over, and with a choking gasp, he fell to the ground.

The sky quieted. Walter bent down, grabbed the spear, and checked the old man. There was no pulse, and …

He reached up to his own face. A beard was there now, at least two inches, maybe longer. A long wisp of bangs brushed over his eyes.

Inside, he could hear Michael screaming.

“Walter!” His wife’s voice was half cry, half howl.

“Walter, it’s coming now!”

He ran inside, still clutching the spear tight. Michael was crying in the corner, his tormented shrieks filling the room, and Jessica was on the floor in a puddle of liquid.

The baby!

Were there Doctors? Hospitals? No, he’d seen the whole town, and their chances were slim to none. How would he trust a doctor even if he found one? They were on their own. And as he looked at his wife, his mind ran back to the hurried sky.

They were on their own, but for how long?

Please come again!

For the first time in years, he wished he could.

Copyright © 2015 Robert Luke Wilkins