It took only a minute or so to reach the graveyard which was on the border of Shelton Forest.
The graveyard kinda freaked me out a bit. There seemed to be way to many new graves for comfort. I asked the man trudging beside me about it. He gave me an odd answer.
"You can't always lock em in the fruit cellar..." he told me solemnly. I had no idea what this could possibly mean in conjunction with the dead all around me, but the way he said it told me that it wasn't something he liked to think about. I was starting to think that maybe he had been just as afraid of the graveyard as he was of the forest, and not because something could try to kill him there.
He'd done a lot of ugly, soul-searing work in his position, and even if he didn't show it, it had obviously taken its toll. I thought about what Jenny had told me that morning: "even though he won't admit it sometimes, he lost more than his hand in that damned cabin."
I knew what he'd lost, and I understood just what kind of life-shattering change that loss could bring about.
He'd lost his innocence. He'd lost his perfect little normal world where there is no more in the darkness then there is in the light...where a person stays in the ground when they're dead...where evil is a concept and not something hunting you down like an animal, howling in the night.
I couldn't even remember when I'd lost my own innocence, really lost that little bit of myself which told me that everything would turn out all right, that all would go back to the way it should be…but the important part was that I'd been ready. However, this poor guy…
To be thrust into a world of darkness where no place is safe.
To cut off one's own hand just to keep the thing from killing you.
To be thrown around in time and space.
To save the day only to return home and find that same darkness in the familiar surroundings where they had no right to be.
I'd talked to Ash while we were suiting up, and he'd pretty much told me the whole story. Pretty much. I could tell he'd cut out certain events from his account at the cabin which had started all this mess. And I didn't know if he cut them out because he didn't want me to know about them, or because he just couldn't deal with them himself.
Then I'd talked to some of the employees at the store and found out more.
From Tony, I found out that he hadn't gone to the cabin alone, but with his girlfriend. From Sarah, I found out that he'd been planning on getting engaged to the lady, but that he'd returned home from the ordeal very alone. From Alice, I found out that he'd been doing this for more then ten years, though only recently had the store and many of it's employees been let in on the truth of what the scarred clerk did. From Susan, I'd learned that until about three years or so ago, Ash had been alone, 'too frightened and hurt' she'd said, to try a relationship, be it friend or more.
I wondered where he found the strength until, just as we were about to enter the forest, Ash pulled out a small magnifying glass pendant with a chain from out of his pocket and put it around his neck. Immediately, he seemed to stand straighter.
"What's that?" I asked, my eyes sliding around the area for danger in the light of the slowly setting sun, "Some magic amulet? Some spell? Or are you looking for really really tiny deadites?"
There was a silence between the two of us, as uncomfortable as a silence can get, and then he looked up to me. I prayed to whoever felt like listening at that point that I was never looked at like that again. My employer had nothing on this stare.
"Shut up, Stone..." was all he said, the control in his voice audible and the control in his stance visible. I had a feeling that had we not been embarking on the war that we were, he'd have clobbered me right there.
I'm not sure, but I think that I might've felt it. If anyone could've been considered Damned by the powers of Fate, it was Ashley J. Williams.
But before I could ask him what I'd done wrong, we both stepped into the forest.
The sun set, perhaps just for us, in less then a minute, nearly plummeting from the sky.
Darkness surrounded us, and it was almost alive in it's hostility towards us.
In short, we were swallowed into what I would later dub (rightfully so) 'the endless night'...