Shadowy intruders play havoc with an isolated country family
The man in the midnight cloak had no thumbs.
The hood of his cowl drooped low to cover his overly large eyes against the deluge of gray rain. He looked ever-so-thin, his arms extending past his knees with eight-inch fingers that tapped diligently at the palms of his hands as though he were sending his body a complicated Morse code.
In response, two similarly clad figures stepped out from behind the old barn. The leader sniffed, scanned the farmhouse, his face emotionless except for the small ball of spit that bubbled in and out of his slit-like mouth. He was ravenous, and the smell of innocent souls, sleeping and quiescent, drew him forward.
Like black-velvet shadows, the trio approached the house eager with need.
The locked door posed as no obstacle, the creatures merged with it, vanished, and then reappeared on the other side. Then the leader sniffed again, and the intruders quickly drifted toward the first bedroom.
Little Shelby Taylor stirred within her cocoon of warm blankets, her eyes fluttering momentarily like two startled butterflies. The three hooded figures entered, and then stood at the foot of her bed.
She had been dreaming about being on a boat in the open sea, but as the dream dissipated she sat up, her eyes at half mast.
When she saw the intruders she was ready to scream for her father, more than ready, and she did scream, but the words reverberated only in her mind: Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! No sound issued from her mouth. She had been stricken dumb.
She made some noise this time, though not much; the word came out as a hoarse whisper. As she stared at the dark creatures in robes, she swallowed, trying to regain control of her paralyzed throat.
The leader threw back his hood then and reached into her mind. Everything is alright, he told her without speaking. Relax, there is nothing to fear.
Shelby stared into his enormous black eyes and began to calm down. She thought a family of owls had entered her room, perhaps through an open window, and now they sat perched upon the foot of her bed.
Lie back he said. Rest.
She wanted to rest, but her mind kept telling her there was something terribly wrong here, this wasn't a dream. Still, as hard as she fought it, she was trapped within the stare and couldn't tear her eyes from them, even when they appeared to be moving toward the head of her bed.
Laying alone in his shadowy bedroom, with not even a crack of light coming from beneath the door, Jack Taylor tossed and turned in his bed.
Ordinarily, no matter how late Shelby was allowed to stay up, Jack was permitted one more hour than she was. Being the last to bed was his just due, by virtue of his four-year age advantage over her. Now when he was supposed to be sound asleep, he couldn't, and he thought he heard whispering coming from somewhere in the house. Jack sat up in bed.
There was a humming, sucking sound that disturbed the stillness. The peculiar noise was coming from the other side of the wall where Shelby slept. He listened carefully, holding his breath.
There it was again: a vague rustling, sighing.
Then he heard the creaking of his bedroom door; the hinges needed oiling. Something had entered the room and was coming toward his bed.
Jack's heart began to hammer.
He tried to make out what it was. His eyes watered with the effort he was making to peer through the darkness. Then he heard a faint sniffing sound.
The stealthy noise now issued from the blackness beside his bed. The thing had reached him.
Shelby watched as the owl-like man reached into his cloak and pulled out a metal rod. It glowed red at the tip as it was brought toward her face, and then was pressed against her temple.
She immediately went numb.
Now there were three figures that moved to either side of her bed, pulled back her covers and bent over her. Long rubbery fingers gently touched her eyes, her nose, her lips. The prodding digits were then thrust inside her mouth, forcing her jaws open wider than she had ever imagined possible. She heard a sudden pop and crack of sinew and bone but felt nothing. A rounded beaker of some transparent metal was placed over her mouth, and then the tall one turned it on.
The machine rattled and hummed as a long tube was forcibly inserted down her throat. She felt an intense suction that seemed to reach deep within her as though the very root of her life were being tugged and ripped free. She then watched in horror as a brilliant blue liquid began to fill the jar. As the last of it was extracted, little Shelby, her mouth gaping open, let out a long, soft sigh, and then lay still.
The machine was removed, and then the two smaller creatures fought greedily over their prize until they both had drank their fill.
The tall one, the leader, ignored them and quickly moved back out into the hallway toward the next room.
Jack saw the glow of a red wand. Instinctively, he rolled to the opposite side of the bed, and then dropped to the floor. Whatever was in his room had nearly gotten him, and was now sniffing like a dog to discover where he had gone.
Jack crawled on all fours until he was out of the room, and then stood in the hallway peering into the darkness. He got a whiff of a foul odor. Sulfur? Not quite, but something like it.
On a deep, instinctual level, he knew what was coming after him. His conscious mind could not--or would not--put a name to it, but his subconscious knew what it was, and that was why he fled from the house in a blind panic.
He hurried through the shadows toward the front door, but in the cloying darkness, he collided hard with the half-closed door of Shelby's room. It crashed all the way open. Slightly stunned by the impact, he stumbled into the living room and groped for the front door, unlocked it.
In that last moment of vulnerability, as the door swung open, he saw the nightmarish outline of three hooded figures closing in on him.
In the sudden darkness of the gray rain, Jack sloshed barefoot through the mud toward the barn. He didn't know why he headed in that direction, but it just seemed like it was the right thing to do. Perhaps he could find something there to defend himself, a pitchfork or hay hook.
Even as he ran, he could sense his pursuers behind him. He didn't stop to look, but instead hit the barn door and threw it open.
The smell of dry hay and manure gave Jack an idea. There were several cows penned in the back of the barn where his father had brought them in from out of the on-coming storm, maybe he could hide amongst them and skip being detected long enough until he could figure out what to do.
The cows were huddled close together for warmth, and Jack was small enough to slip in-between the fence boards and maneuver around behind them. They didn't move much, the pen was small and there was really no place to go.
Breathing hard, his heart pounding louder than rain on the roof, Jack felt the urge to squat down and peek between the legs of the animals to see where his attackers were--and immediately wished he hadn't.
They already stood at the edge of the pen. Jack was amazed at how quiet they were, almost as if they had floated there rather than walked. He heard a sniffing sound, they were trying to smell him out.
In his head, Jack felt an itching sensation, as if a spider crawled across his brain, and then he heard the voice.
We know you are there, it said, please come out. There is nothing to fear.
The fact that someone was inside his head at all was enough to scare the hell out of Jack, but then he heard the gate to the holding pen swing open and a panic like he never knew ensued.
In desperation, Jack jumped up and started hollering at the cows, chasing them out of the corral and into the intruders. The large animals were spooked already, and moved forward. Jack moved with them.
The barn door stood open, and the small herd quickly headed that way, pushing their big bodies through the gate. Jack saw the orange-red glow of that rod again as it stabbed down at him, but the cows rammed into the man and knocked him back out of the way. Jack heard the cow bellow, and then drop to its knees with a thud.
Outside, the rain had stopped, the clouds were breaking up, and the morning sun was beginning to rise.
Infuriated that their prey had eluded them again, the cloaked creatures floated out into the sunrise. Jack had no where to go but back into the house, which he did, screaming for his parents and a sister he'd never play with again.
The leader realized too late his fatal error. They were creatures of the night, soul drinkers, to see the sun was a death warrant. They tried to rush back to the cloaked darkness of their craft, but already their bodies began to harden and their robes to solidify. Before they could get around the barn, they stopped moving and froze there in place, for all time.
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