Fireflies in the Dark

Prologue

Photo by Neil Rosenstech on Unsplash

Twelve Years ago...

A young couple moves into a large manor on the edge of town, Rowan Manor, named for its unlikely grove of rowan trees. Unusual, as they are the only such trees to grow in the small southern town of Sentry, Missouri. Some say a European immigrant brought them over and tended them so carefully they now grew strong. At first, they seem friendly, always polite even if they had a grim demeanor. The man was almost never seen, and the woman and boy very rarely, a few rushed trips to the grocery store, or to pay the water and power bill. They always seemed in a hurry to get home.

The town thought nothing of it at first. The man must work from home, the boy must be homeschooled, they must be shy. Then the first child disappeared. Parents feared the young child had wandered into the woods and been killed by an animal or drowned in the nearby creek. Then the second child disappeared, then a third and a fourth. Someone was obviously to blame. Parents locked their children indoors, only to find them missing from their beds in the morning without a trace. Soon ten children were missing and parents were desperate. There were no clues, no evidence—it was as if they had disappeared into thin air. A parent could be walking down the street holding their child’s hand, only to have them ripped away and never see a thing. The entire town was terrified. They knew it couldn’t be one of them, but the woman would not allow the police inside the house for questioning, and they never left the house anymore. The boy that once played outside the house but inside the stone walls of the property was never seen outside the house. Some even speculated the boy had gone missing, though others claimed to see him in the window occasionally. Rumors flew, people swearing they heard faint screams coming from the place that could only be heard if the night was silent as death.

The eleventh child went missing, then the twelfth and the last straw was dropped. The parents gathered. Even the town’s small police force was involved. They agreed that they would all gather outside the large house and demand to be let in to search. They were sure they were right. Things escalated quickly. Soon the crowd of angry parents burst through the gates and started throwing stones at the house. They hurled insults and curses, demanding to be let in the door. Windows were broken and the house itself almost seemed to shake in response to the fury outside its walls.

No one knows how the fire started. They were sure no one had thrown anything flammable, but it didn’t take long for the garden to be engulfed in flames, and a side of the house on fire. The man ran out first, the unconscious boy in his arms. The woman ran out soon after, sobbing uncontrollably. They ran to their vehicle and as they were getting in, the man turned to the townspeople and made a chilling vow.

“ONE DAY I WILL BE BACK! NONE OF YOUR PRECIOUS RATS WILL BE SAFE! THIS TOWN WILL BURN TO ASHES IN THE WIND! THIS IS NOT OVER!”

Then he got into the car with his family and sped away. The mob of parents was quickly quieted. Some looked ashamed, some looked triumphant, some looked horrified. The crowd dispersed, a silent agreement made that this event would not be spoken of, though it didn’t take long to turn into the town legend regardless. The disappearances stopped, but the people could not shake the fear. Children do not walk home alone from school and doors and windows are always locked, even in such a small town. Rowan Manor sustained little damage, but sits empty as a tomb…

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