Harold wasn’t afraid of the dark, he was terrified of it. He didn’t wonder if the shadows in the corner meant him harm or if a monster would snatch him up if he allowed any part of himself to dangle over the edge of the mattress. Harold had no need to use his imagination regarding the transformation that occurred within the confines of his bedroom after a certain hour. It wasn’t childish insecurity that plagued Harold, it was the smell of his blood. Unusually sweet, they had told him…a pungent aroma perfumed the air around him, wafting from his youthful body, tempting them from their hiding places. Humans served as sustenance in times of extreme need but Harold…he was special…a sought after delicacy to be savored. No one else seemed to notice anything different about Harold, but they did. Tales of the boy spread far and wide through the depths of the darkest places, bringing creatures beyond imagination into the realm of the living.
Harold’s parents had proven no help in protecting him. Each night when they tucked him in, they dutifully checked his closet and peered under his bed, and declared his room monster-free. It did no good to explain about the witching hour, about the rules that bound the creatures that existed in the space between the living and the dead, about the hunger or the fear. Harold was a resourceful young man, adept at research and at home in the library. These were all things Harold had learned to protect his young life but they fell on deaf ears and only served to strengthen his parents’ steely reserve. They chose not to encourage Harold’s peculiar imagination, as they referred to it, and refused to indulge in any discussion of the matter.
From the periphery of his room, Harold sensed a familiar movement. Dread flooded him as the darkness gathered thick in the corner beside his bed. Harold closed his eyes tightly.
Two plus two is four. Four plus four is eight. Eight plus eight is sixteen….
It wasn’t working. The math flowed too easily from memory now to be distracting.
Five hundred and forty nine plus six hundred and fifty two is… nine and two is eleven, carry the one…
“I’ll wait, young one. Time is of no matter to me.” The words dripped heavily from its mouth, oozing from between its razor-like teeth in slow succession, intent on creating fear and swelling the dread that Harold was fighting so hard to withhold.
It gathered itself, cold and dense, its form slowly taking shape just beyond the edge of the bed.
Four plus one is five plus five is ten, carry the one…
It was working now. Harold barely noticed the long slender fingers reaching toward him and he was too preoccupied to detect the arrival of a second presence in the room.
Five plus one is six, six plus six is twelve… five hundred and forty nine plus six hundred and fifty two is… one thousand two hundred and one! For a brief moment, Harold was actually pleased with himself.
He opened his eyes. Two creatures stood beside him now, their attention turned toward each other and Harold found himself more curious than afraid, although the fear still hovered just at the edge of his awareness, threatening to return at any moment.
“Leave this place. Tonight I claim this child as mine.” The figure, tall and pallid, glowed ever so slightly in the moonlight, towering above the gathered darkness.
“You have no such claim, Cyrus. I have begun the task and I shall finish it.” The darkness turned its attention then toward Harold and spoke slowly and confidently, its eyes glowing red and pulsing with each word.
“It will not work, child. The fear will not leave you and you are not strong enough to hold it at bay for much longer.” Dark sludge gathered at the corners of its lips and hung thickly, bits of it flicking off and spraying Harold’s face like spittle as it spoke. Harold closed his eyes again.
It was right. The fear was closing in and the creatures inhaled the scent of it, sickening grins of pure pleasure spreading wide across their putrid faces. They leaned in as if to absorb his very being and Harold’s body quivered almost imperceptibly as terror spread slowly through him like syrup, intensifying the sweetness within. He could no longer hold back and tears trickled from the corners of his eyes, leaking onto the pillow beneath his head. A searing pain shot through his leg as something pierced his heel and he felt the slow and familiar trickle of blood begin. He could hear the lapping sound of the creature feasting delicately and he struggled to resist the overwhelming urge to kick and fight rising quickly within him. The creatures could barely contain their hunger for him as it was and he feared further testing the limits of their restraint. His body shook gently with quiet sobs while the darkness feasted. A stabbing pain took him by surprise. With shock and horror he opened his eyes to find the pallid creature bent over him, its mouth now a boney tubular protrusion that punctured Harold’s arm and jabbed clumsily into his vein. The pallid one sucked and slurped with urgent greed and repulsive delight and Harold began to feel faint. They were usually so careful, disturbingly so. They took their time and prepared him. But this…this was new. The feeling of being devoured was shocking and beyond the terror to which Harold had become accustomed.
There was a low growl and a high screech like fingernails on a chalkboard and Harold felt the thing retract from his arm, its jagged edges snagging at his flesh on its way out. Harold was aware of a struggle, but it was not his own and suddenly he was alone. For how long he didn’t know, and he forced himself to think happy thoughts and prayed for sleep to carry him quickly into tomorrow.
The scent of cinnamon wafted up the stairs and into Harold’s room, slowly rousing him from slumber. It was spicy and sweet and hinted at the delectable goodness that awaited him downstairs. It was Saturday. As Harold dressed and brushed his teeth, he remembered last night and looked forward to his scouting trip this weekend. Away from his bedroom and surrounded by the other boys he’d be safe, if only for one night. Harold looked at his arm and touched the ragged edges of the puncture mark, the place where it had torn at his flesh. It was tender but only barely noticeable if you looked for it and he suspected no one would. After brushing his teeth, Harold hurried down the stairs, hungry and eager to regain his strength. He still felt a little off…no longer faint but weak none-the-less. Nothing that a belly full of warm pastries couldn’t fix and he helped himself to a second, and then a third, giving not a thought to the look of concern passed between his parents.
That night, Harold sat around the campfire, happy to be away from his bedroom…to be untouchable…surrounded by the group and never alone. Some of the boys seemed apprehensive in the woods as night fell and others seized upon the opportunity presented by this exposed weakness. Mostly, though, it was all good-natured fun as they fed the fire and roasted marshmallows and traded ghost stories. Compared to Harold’s reality, neither the woods nor the darkness of this particular night held cause for alarm and the stories seemed tame. Harold stabbed a marshmallow with his stick and held it at a safe distance over the fire, letting the heat rise up and slowly melt its insides into a sweet and sticky goo. He was careful not to let the flames lick it, only holding it close enough to turn its puffy whiteness golden brown. As he held his marshmallow over the fire, feeling safe and out of reach, his mind drifted toward thoughts of the creatures that inhabited the darkness of his bedroom. They came predictably, during the witching hour, their arrival slow and insidious, creeping around the edges of his awareness, circling closer and intensifying the fear as they drew near. Never once did they take him by surprise, until last night, and Harold wondered about this. After all…the flash of fear that accompanied surprise was powerful and swept through the unsuspecting with lighting speed. He wondered why they took their time when surprise was a faster route to fear, and just then his marshmallow caught flame. Before he could save it, the charred sweetness dropped into the fire, ruined.
He tried not to expect them. Switching on the fan in his bedroom, Harold hoped to mask the creak of the floorboards and the slight movement of air brushing across his face that typically signaled their arrival. He aimed to dull his senses…closing his eyes and shoving crumpled tissues in his nostrils to block the acrid smell that filled him with dread and let him know they were there before he could see them. If his theory proved right, the element of surprise worked in his favor, adding a scorched bitterness that overpowered the tantalizing sweetness of his fear-tinged blood. What Harold hadn’t counted on were the new players in the game — the tall, pallid creatures, ruled by greed that cared not for preservation of Harold as a delicacy but only for their desire to be immediately satisfied. They showed no restraint, no regard for the rules that governed their kind, and their tastes were far less sophisticated.
Harold lay stiffly beneath the blankets, vulnerable and scared despite his best efforts. He needed something more powerful than triple-digit math, more distracting, and he turned his attention to Level 10 of Zombies from Mars, the secret to its completion having thus far frustrated and eluded him. He ran through the game’s maze flawlessly in his mind, turning at all the right spots, ducking unnoticed into doorways as the zombie hoards trudged past. It was the final puzzle that had him stumped, unable to find the hidden key that would unlock the last chest and free the missing cipher tool. Tonight, though, there would be no signs to ignore, no gradual arrival to block from his awareness, the distraction of the game unnecessary and futile as an attempt at protection.
They arrived, not slowly, not one by one, but en masse. So many of them…pushing and climbing over one another, hissing in protest and struggling urgently to be among the first to reach him. They pulled at his sheets then stripped him bare, exposing his pink flesh. Harold watched in horror as the now-familiar protuberances emerged from the place where their faces should be, no time to prepare himself before they descended upon him, gouging their bony protrusions into his veins and feasting with wild abandon. They were neither delicate nor skilled and relied only on brute force, practically ignoring Harold himself. Harold was beyond surprised and yet his shock did nothing to dissuade the hunger of these pallid creatures. His fear grew and with it his blood sweetened to new heights and they fed even more feverishly than before.
Harold cried out for his mother, like any terrified child would do — pure emotion – primal fear, not thought, guiding his actions. His mind consumed by only the instinct to survive, there was no room inside his head for memories at the moment. For if there were, he might have remembered that such cries had always gone ignored in the past. He might have remembered the many nights he’d been escorted back to his own bed rather than welcomed into the safety he was so sure existed nestled in between his parents. He might have wondered why they never questioned the sounds that emanated from the other side of his bedroom door, sinister and unnatural sounds that would prickle and raise the hair at the nape of your neck. They never questioned. They never questioned. And as that thought sunk slowly into the remains of Harold’s desperately hopeful heart, he heard a familiar “click” that he now knew to be the lock upon his bedroom door, the only answer there would be to his screams. Betrayal, more devastating than fear, has a taste all its own and the creatures finished off their feast with rapturous delight.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015.
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