by Shawn Odette
A boy confronts his fear of the dark.
Kevin sat up with a start, clutching at his throat with his small, child's hands, searching the room for his father. Beer cans littered the floor around his dad's worn leather recliner, an ashtray, set upon an end-table next to a red-shaded lamp, nearly overflowed with butts. The stale smell of cigarette smoke permeated the house. On the television, closing credits scrolled up the screen to indicate the horror movie they were watching was at an end. There was no sign of his old man.
He released his grip on his neck and breathed a sigh of relief. It was only a dream. In it, his father's strong mechanic's fingers pressed into the flesh of his throat, closing his windpipe; punishment for spilling soda on the already stained couch. Kevin pawed at the iron-clad grip on his throat as his father glared down at him with rage-filled, bloodshot eyes. His vision began to fade to black when, suddenly, he woke up.
'He must be in bed,' Kevin thought.
He knew when his father got what the kids at school referred to as "shit-faced", anything could set him off and he might choke the life out of him for real if he woke him up now. With nothing to do but to go to bed, Kevin clicked off the television and then went to the lamp. He did not want to admit he was afraid of the dark, but after the movie he just watched, he decided it was best to leave it on.
His bedroom was in the back of the house, through the long hallway and past the dining room. It was in the hallway, staring into the inky blackness ahead, that Kevin stood frozen with fear. Scenes from the movie played terrible scenarios in his mind about what was probably waiting in the darkness ahead.
In the film, a creature lurked in an old, rundown house. A fierce thunderstorm knocked out the power, cloaking the occupants in darkness. The creature hid in closets and behind doors, much like the one he had to walk past on his way to his room, and would jump out and grab the unsuspecting individual, ripping out their throats before they could scream and then drag their lifeless bodies away to be devoured at the creature's leisure.
'It was only a movie,' he chanted in his mind, over and over, trying to build the courage he needed to get to his room.
He tried to take a step, but his brain refused the request. Fear froze him in place. A tingling sensation started to build in his belly, turning his bowels to liquid and making his bladder feel ready to burst. His racing heart, pounding in his chest like a rock and roll drummer, muffled the sounds around him. He strained to hear above the rush of blood coursing through his ears for the telltale sounds of a monster; the creaking of floorboards, the scuffling of feet or tentacles dragging across the ground, anything that would alert him to the presence of some creature lurking in the blackness ahead.
He heard nothing.
The pressure in his bladder added urgency. It would be a very bad day indeed if he pissed on the floor and his dad found out. He would beat him severely for that sort of transgression. Ultimately, the fear of his father outweighed the fear of the unknown thing that may or may not be lurking ahead and he took a probing step and then another and another down the corridor until he reached the place where his mother's sewing room door was located, about halfway down the hall.
He stood in complete darkness, not knowing why he stopped.
He reached to his right, his shaky hand making contact with the roughly papered wall. Ever so slowly, he inched forward, his breath held, sliding his hand along the surface, feeling for the casing that surrounded the closed door. One shuffled step, then another, and then his fingers felt the chipped wooden edge of the door frame. He took a deep breath and felt across the wooden casing, feeling the changes in the design of the woodwork, until his hand went into open space where the closed door should have been.
Panic welled up; it felt like battery acid coursing through his veins. His heart pounded in his chest like a trapped person beating on a locked door of a room on fire. He wondered if it was possible for a ten-year-old to have a heart attack. The sewing room door was always closed. That was his mother's favorite place to be. But now, nobody ever went in there. Ever.
'Why is the door open,' he asked himself.
Slowly, he drew his hand back, the cold hardwood floorboards creaking under his bare feet as he retreated a couple of steps away from the open room, and that was when he heard it; the muffled, almost inaudible sound of footsteps plodding across the floor. It lasted only a fraction of a second but Kevin was sure he heard it.
His throat tightened as if he were once again being choked. Slowly, ever so slowly, he lifted his left foot and probed it to the side, readying himself for a mad dash down the hallway, away from whatever was in his mother's room, all the while straining, hoping not to hear a repeat of the sound.
As though the thought was a signal, he heard it again, and then again, and now the footfalls came louder and heavier as whatever was in the old sewing room approached.
A piercing shriek escaped his mouth. The sound seemed to echo throughout the hallway as though the walls were made of stone instead of wallpaper covered plaster and lattice board. He sprinted blindly down the corridor toward his bedroom and the safety that could only be found under his blankets. The echoes of his footsteps changed pitch and he knew he had entered the dining room.
Keeping quiet, so as to not wake his father was no longer a concern. In fact, he would readily accept his father's punishment in exchange for his old man's protection against whatever it was that came out of his mother's room and was now chasing him through the darkness.
The texture of the surface changed beneath his bare feet. Cold hardwood gave way to even colder linoleum tile.
'Stupid!' he chastised to himself.
He misjudged his location and instead of the safety of his blankets he was in the kitchen. A faint light tricked in from up ahead, illuminating the surface of the stove and refrigerator. The kitchen had a window that faced the backyard, allowing moonlight to spill in.
He tried the back door, deciding to take his chances in the snowy, freezing February temperatures, but the door was locked, the bolt too high for him to reach. He was trapped.
Kevin darted to the drawer next to the stove and pulled out a knife. The approaching footfalls stopped at the doorway into the kitchen. He could barely make out the outline of a figure standing at the threshold. The figure lingered in the doorway, seeming to study him, likely planning on the most horrific and painful way to bring upon his demise, but did so for only a moment before it began to glide across the peeling linoleum floor toward him. Kevin held the blade out in front of him as if warding off a vampire with a crucifix.
He began to make out features as the thing drew closer. A billowing garment flowed behind it. Its features were delicate and feminine.
'Oh God is that a cloak! It IS a vampire!' he thought, knowing from the movies that the knife would do him no good.
The figure came to a halt a few feet in front of him. Kevin's heart raced. A slender, pale hand reached out, panic overwhelmed him. Tears streamed down his cheeks, his breath came in ragged hitches. He prepared for the end.
Moonlight caressed the outstretched hand, pale and smooth. It reached, not in his direction but, instead, toward the wall, where it patted the surface, searching for something, then (CLICK), light filled the room, stinging his eyes. He swung the blade, blindly, trying to force his eyes to adjust to the sudden light. He would not go without a fight!
"Put down the knife," said a familiar voice.
Kevin stopped in mid-slice, clutching the knife in a tight-knuckled grip.
"Mom?" he asked, his eyes adjusting to the light enough to see the figure was that of a woman.
"Yes honey, it's me."
"No, you're dead. You died," he said.
He looked her over warily, his eyes still adjusting to the light. Her long, blonde hair spilled down her shoulders, coming to a stop in the middle of her back. She wore a flowing, white nightgown, her feet bare. The thing in front of him looked like his mother. Her smile, warm and inviting, her glistening eyes as though holding back tears, were those of his mother.
"No! My mother is dead!" he shouted.
"My dear boy, I am very much your mother," she said tenderly.
"Liar! If you're my mom, then how come I can see you and talk to you?"
"Because, sweetheart," she said, a tear coursing down her face, "you are dead too."