by Shawn Odette
A boy confronts his fear of the dark.
Kevin's father glared down from above him. His bloodshot eyes showing murderous intent. Hands strong from years of turning wrenches clasped Kevin's throat, squeezing his windpipe shut. His lungs burned, hungry for air. Vision blurred then faded to blackness when suddenly it stopped.
He sat up with a start. His head turned as if on a swivel, searching the room. His father's brown recliner, littered with beer cans, was empty. An ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts balanced precariously on one arm. The closing credits of the horror movie they were watching crawled up the screen. There was no sign of his father.
Maybe he went to bed, he thought, glancing at the clock on the wall showing it was quarter past one in the morning.
He started to call out for him but thought it better of it. Best not to wake him if he's asleep. The old man was a son of a bitch when he was drunk.
Absently clutching at his throat, Kevin got up from the couch. He turned the television off and went to the red-shaded lamp that sat on an end table next to the TV. His fingers rested on the switch but could not bring himself to turn it off. I'm not a baby! He berated himself as he walked toward the long hallway that led to the back of the house, leaving the light on.
Alas, the living room lamp made no difference as the rest of the house was dark. At the entrance to the hallway, straining to see into the inky blackness ahead he stood, bravely attempting to squelch his fear. In the movie, a creature lurked in an old, rundown house. It hid in closets and behind doors, much like the one he had to walk past on his way to his room, and would pop out and grab the unsuspecting individuals, one by one, ripping out their throats before they could scream and then drag their lifeless bodies away to be devoured at the creature's leisure. His mind conjured horrific creations of what could be waiting in the darkness ahead.
It was only a movie, he silently chanted, over and over, trying to build his courage.
He stood at the limit of where the lamplight would reach, trying to take the first step into the darkness. His brain refused the request. He leaned forward, listening for the telltale sounds of a monster; the creaking of floorboards, the scuffling of feet, tentacles sloshing against the walls, anything that would alert him to the presence of some creature lurking in the blackness, but he heard nothing. He released the breath he didn't realize he was holding and took a step. Shuffling in the darkness, Kevin proceeded down the hall, his hand brushing the wall to help guide his progress. He made it halfway, to the place where his mother's sewing room was when his hand fell into empty space. He jerked it back as if from a stinging hornet.
Why is the door open?
He reached out once more, blindly probing for the door, hoping he was mistaken. Hoping his mind was playing a trick on him. Yet again his hand found only open space. The sewing room door was always closed. That was his mother's favorite place in the entire house when she was alive. But now, nobody ever went in there. Ever.
"Dad," he whispered?
He was answered with silence.
He stepped away from the open doorway, and that was when he heard it- the shuffling of footsteps coming from inside the room. It lasted only a second and then silence once again. His throat tightened, feeling once again like he was being choked. He readied himself for a mad dash down the hallway, away from whatever was in the sewing room, all the while straining to hear, hoping the noise would not repeat itself. As though the thought was a signal, he heard it again, and then again, and now the footfalls came louder as whatever was in there approached.
A piercing shriek escaped his mouth, echoing off the walls. He plodded down the corridor toward the back of the house. He needed to reach his bedroom and the safety that a child could only find under his blankets. Sprinting blindly, guided by memory, he traversed the hallway until he felt the walls widen, I'm in the dining room.
He veered to his left, and the cold hardwood gave way to the soft mat of carpeting in his room. Footsteps echoed behind him. He clicked the light switch as he sprinted past, and was nearly in his bed before the bulb burst into radiant life. He grabbed the blankets and pulled them over his head.
He could hear the footsteps, louder and louder the closer they came.
He fought back the urge to peak out from his bed covers, not wanting to see what horror awaited him.
The footsteps quieted. It's in my room!
He laid in bed, breath ragged, heart pounding, again he strained to listen.
A few seconds that felt more like an eternity passed.
It's gone, he thought, trying to convince himself he made the whole thing up.
He grasped the blanket and began to pull it down when he saw an elongated shadow of an arm stretch across his bed and reaching for his head.
Its hand grasped the top of the blanket, a knuckle grazed his cheek as it did, and with a yank, pulled it away. The scream died in his throat when he saw what was in the room with him.
A pale-skinned woman, her long flowing blonde hair spilled across her shoulders, stood over him.
The woman smiled, her eyes glistened.
"Yes, honey, it's me."
He looked her over, cautiously, waiting for her to reveal herself as some hideous, razor-toothed beast, ready to rip the flesh from his bones. The smile persisted.
"But you're dead."
"I know, dear," she replied.
"Then why can I see you?"
"Because," she said, tears spilling down her cheeks, "he killed you too."