by Shawn Odette
A boy confronts his fear of the dark.
Kevin's father's strong, mechanic's, fingers pressed into the flesh of his throat, closing his windpipe; punishment for spilling soda on the couch. Kevin pawed at the iron-clad grip on his neck as his father glared at him with murderous, bloodshot eyes. His vision faded to black when, suddenly, he woke up.
He sat up on the couch with a start scanning the living room for his father. Beer cans littered the floor around his dad's worn leather recliner as they always did and an ashtray overflowing with butts sat on an end-table next to a red-shaded lamp but there was no sign of his father. Must be in bed, Kevin thought while he breathed a sigh of relief to discover it was just a dream.
The closing credits of the monster movie he was watching scrolled up the screen as he turned off the television and then went to the lamp. He reassured himself he wasn't 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 and beside the kitchen. It was in the hallway, staring into the inky blackness ahead, that the boy stood frozen with fear. In the film he was watching, a creature lurked in an old, rundown house. A fierce thunderstorm knocked the power out, 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 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 began to conjure horrific images of what could be waiting ahead of him in the darkness.
'It was only a movie', he silently chanted, 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 heart pounded in his chest like a rock and roll drummer. He strained to hear the telltale sounds of a monster; the creaking of floorboards, the scuffling of feet or tentacles sloshing about, anything that would alert him to the presence of some creature lurking in the blackness, but he heard nothing.
The pressure in his bladder added urgency. It would be a bad day indeed if he pissed on the floor and his dad found out. That would certainly earn him a beating. 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 then another until he stopped where his mother's sewing room door was located, about halfway down the hall.
'Why are you stopping?' , he thought to himself.
He reached out with a shaky hand to his right, blindly probing for the door. His fingers brushed against the chipped edge of the frame. He took a deep breath and felt across the wooden casing, feeling the bumps and ridges of the woodwork, until his hand went into open space where the closed door should have been.
A fresh wave of fear engulfed him. His heart pounded so wildly in his chest 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 in the entire house when she was alive. But now, nobody ever went in there. Ever.
He jerked his hand back then retreated a couple of steps away from the open room making the floorboards creak under his shifting weight, and that was when he heard it- the muffled sound of a footstep. It lasted only a fraction of a second but Kevin was sure he heard it.
His throat tightened, feeling as though he were once again being choked. He readied himself for a mad dash down the hallway, away from whatever was in his mother's room, all the while straining to listen, 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 and echoed off the walls. Keeping quiet, so as to not wake his father was no longer a concern. He would readily accept his father's punishment in exchange for his protection against whatever now pursued him. He sprinted through the darkness, 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.
Kevin relied on his memory of the layout of the house to take him in the right direction when the texture of the surface changed beneath his bare feet. Cold hardwood gave way to even colder linoleum tile. In his panic, he lost his direction and found himself in the kitchen.
'Stupid!' he chastised himself.
A faint hint of moonlight trickled in through a window, illuminating the metallic surface of the stove, and outlining the frame around the door that led to the backyard.
He grasped the doorknob and twisted, deciding to take his chances in the snowy, freezing February temperatures, but the door would only open a couple of inches. The chain! He jumped up, trying to reach the slide chain, but it was too high.
To his right he darted, coming to a stop at the utensil drawer next to the stove. He patted around until his hands fell upon a knife. The approaching footfalls stopped a couple of paces into the kitchen, blocking his only other exit. He could barely make out the outline of a figure standing at the threshold. It 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 plodded across the peeling linoleum floor toward him. Kevin held the knife 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 the knife would not do him any good.
The figure came to a halt in front of him. Kevin's heart raced. A slender, pale hand reached out. Panic overwhelmed him and his bladder released, sending a wave of warmth down his legs. Tears streamed down his cheeks, his breath came in ragged hitches. He prepared for the end.
Moonlight caressed the outstretched hand. It reached, not in his direction but, instead, toward the wall, where it patted the surface, briefly searching for something. First a click, then light illuminated the room, stinging his eyes. He swung the blade in wild arcs, eyes squeezed tight against the fresh burst of light. He would not go without a fight!
"You don't need the knife," said a familiar voice.
Kevin stopped in mid-slice, clutching the knife in a white-knuckled grip.
"Mom?" he asked, his eyes beginning to adjust 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 muttered.
He looked her over warily. The thing in front of him looked like his mother. Her smile was warm and inviting and those glistening eyes as though holding back tears were those of his mother. Kevin shook his head in disbelief.
"No! My mother is dead!" he shouted.
"Kevin, it's me."
"Liar! If you're my mom, then how come I can see you? How come I can talk to you?"
"Because, sweetheart," she said tenderly, a tear coursing down her pale cheek, "your father killed you too."