Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
His shadow stretched in a column of light from the doorway into darkness. Choked moonlight streaming through the blinds, turning familiar fixtures into undefined masses of bulging darkness. He couldn’t help but feel as though someone was there. Perhaps it was a mad slasher from the movies he shouldn’t have watched alone. Maybe it was a tentacled horror from stories read too late at night. It could even be what we all know deep down really lies in wait at night.
A flick of the lights quickly dissipated these intrusive thoughts as the furniture was stripped of shadow and his familiar bedroom became tangible. Like any other night, he first took his wallet and keys out of his pocket and set them on the nightstand. Next, he sat down on the bed and peeled off his socks. Laying down on top of the messy bedspread, he stared into his phone screen, dull eyed. Perhaps scrolling through his feed to talk with friends or looking at a funny video to rid himself of that uneasy feeling of being watched.
Whatever he was doing, it wasn’t working. He kept looking away towards the open door. Something was wrong. His heart was beating in his chest, gradually faster. There couldn’t be anyone else in the house, but what was that noise? His grip on the phone tightened, his jaw cinched shut. Didn’t he lock the front door? Breathing became shallow as every muscle constricted, waiting for something to grab him. He knew that someone was after him. He quickly reached over for an orange bottle and twisted off its white cap. Taking a little white pill from it and washing it down, he completed the next step of the routine. It made him feel better for a moment. As always, no one was inside with him, it was just a trick his mind played regularly at night.
With his fill of phone, he got up and, after scanning the ground, picked up a pair of boxers and a night shirt. He opened the nightstand and retrieved a portable speaker for the next part of his routine. He was off for a hot shower. Aside from cleaning the daily grime, it helps to calm his frayed nerves he’s been having the past few days. Before leaving, he took a precursory peek under the bed and a quick look in the closet. No one there. Shutting the blinds and flicking the light, he closed the door behind, leaving the bedroom empty.
Now was my cue.
I slithered out from my hiding place among the trees behind the apartment building. The two-story brown brick structure had at least 30 windows on its back side. They were all identical in the dark with their blinds drawn, but I knew which one belonged to my mark.
Locked as expected, but never a problem. I ran a talon around the window, searching for any gaps. Somewhere that the frame may be warped.
After finding a small cranny, I checked for wandering eyes. This part takes time. Once I get going in, it’s hard to come out. An outsider’s attention would have made things messier than I desire. Thankfully, at least inside the apartment, the occupant would be occupied for the next 20 minutes. Outside, everything looked clear.
With a quick thrust, I crammed my finger into the paper-thin gap.
Leaning in with all my weight, the hand slowly followed, oozing into the room on the other side. Bones were rubber and muscles gelatinous as I worked up to the first elbow. The limb hung on the other side like an old stocking. I kept pushing in, not stopping until I was up to the second elbow. Finally, enough was squished through to start my work.
Flexing fingers to get the ichor flowing, feeling returned to my arm. First, get back visuals by opening the blinds. Feeling around, it was lucky the string was easily within reach. With a quick pull, the blind were drawn up and the room reappeared to the outside world. Next, the window latch. Reaching around to the top of the frame, I flipped the little lever, and my entrance was unlocked. With all the preliminary work done, I pulled away from the window, slowly squeezing the arm back through.
Once completely out, the window glided open with the lightest touch. I slipped off my disguise before entering. It was just an old gray hoodie from a past acquaintance. Tossing it back into the brush, I’d come back for it when work was done. I climbed through the window and made sure to lock it behind me.
The sound of hip-hop and running water echoed from the bathroom. The room itself was furnished minimally. A scratched up three-drawer dresser stood opposite a mismatched nightstand and a mattress with a deep impression worn in the center. Several sheets laid in a messy heap on the floor not far from piles of half-folded laundry. An open backpack spilling its contents of books and electronics sat near the nightstand. The closet doors yawned open, revealing a row of hanging shirts and a hamper full of dirty clothes.
Given the limited options, the best bet for hiding was under the bed; a classic. Lucky for me, he had splurged on a bed frame, and I wouldn’t have to do the squeezing routine to fit all the way underneath. Before crawling under, curiosity got the best of me, and I searched the nightstand, where I found the leather wallet. Benjamin Fleisch. Shame, he was only 21. So young.
Ben took some time in the shower, but when he came back, he was entirely relaxed. I could feel a steady heartbeat. He had today’s dirty clothes, which he tossed towards the clothes hamper, missing the shot. Disregarding it, he yawned and walked over to the bed. His ankles were inches from my snout. It would have been easy for me to just grab him right there, drag him under the bed, entangle him in my limbs, smothering his face with an open palm. But, in my pursuit, a predator must be patient, waiting for just the right moment to strike. It’s much easier when they are asleep.
There was a sudden catch in his breath. Ben stalled there at the side of the bed for a second too long. Something was bothering him. He walked around the bed over to the window. The blinds fluttered as he pulled them down. How careless of me to leave them open.
Ben was unsettled. He checked the closet again. Despite how small a detail it was, he spent several minutes inspecting the corners of the room to try and convince himself no one was there. It was not enough to satisfy him, though. He left the bedroom to check around the apartment for intruders. Even from my hiding spot, I could have assured him that the two of us were the only ones in the house that night. It’s my sixth sense. That same sense can tell me which neighbors were out or sleeping, the person three doors down was also having a restless night, and someone across the street was up doing work. Ben walked back in, not finding anything else to ruffle his feathers. For good measure, he locked the bedroom door before hopping in bed. How lucky he skipped checking under the bed.
Created by Danny Ingrassia
I knew Ben wasn’t going to sleep just yet. He continued his nightly ritual by reaching into his backpack, taking out a set of headphones and a laptop. He typed away, busy with homework or games. It’s rather annoying when they make me wait like this, and they certainly don’t do a service to themselves. I know you were uneasy, Ben, but sleep eases so many problems. If you’d just let your mind and heart rest, you’d find your troubles just melt away.
With this little distraction, I couldn’t resist taking a peak. Squeezing around, I oriented myself towards the foot of the bed, slowly stretching my neck out and up to see over the edge. Ben was laying down, resting his head against a stack of pillows. Harsh blue light shone onto a deadpan face, sweat speckling his brow. He was relaxed, all vitals at a steady pace. His eyelids were heavy, head sunk low.
It was now time for bed. Ben shut his laptop and I quickly slid back under the bed. The laptop was deposited on the floor, the headphones put into the nightstand. He rolled and turned, springs squeaking with each shift as he tried to find a comfortable position. The tossing and turning became more sporadic with time, and soon, he had drifted off.
Quietly crawling on all seven out from my hiding space, I rose to full height, standing over the sleeping morsel, head bent under the low ceiling. His breathing was deep and gentle as he slumbered. I readied my hands above the dreamer; a toothless smile spread across each palm.
One hand smothered his face, another bound both legs, and his waist was restrained by two more. Snapped out of his dreams, Ben desperately thrashed around, panicking, frantically fighting to break free. It was no use after I had them in my grasp.
A gag, a belch, and then an acrid orange sludge spewed out of each palm. His attempts to scream were choked by bile. What oozed out between my fingers turned from orange to a shade of red as it worked its magic. Each spot that I grasped began to feel soft like wet paper mâché.
His struggling became labored. His heart slowed. What few movements he made were out of his control. It would be over soon. There was no need to hold on so tight anymore, and I peeled away from the waist. He attempted to raise an arm. Fingers twitched before falling off like little icicles melting off a roof. The elbow bent back the wrong way before flopping down lifeless.
The fight was over. I removed my grip on his legs. Muscle still clung to my hand as I pulled away, though it was closer to resembling strands of mucus now. I squeezed the head. It crushed easily like a spoiled gourd.
A few minutes more and he finished melting into a paste as thick as oatmeal. The clothes were easily removed from the mess. Extra care was taken to pluck out all the tooth fillings.
Taking a handful of slop, I began to shovel it in.
The deed was done, and the only remnant of the night’s events was a pasty smear left on the mattress, the burnt orange of a sunset. I had no interest in swiping any of Ben’s personal belongings. Material objects mean little to us, especially possessions as meager as his.
With the window unlatched and thrown back open, I flopped out, full from tonight’s meal, my first in months. Slamming it back in place, I didn’t bother to lock it again. True, more care could have been taken on the exit, but much like humans, lethargy often sets in after a good meal. Besides, any leftover evidence would mean nothing to the curious. What would you make out of the three-digit handprints, not unlike a large maple leaf? Or that any genetic material found from the intruder is closer to a fungus than a person?
The hoodie was right where I left it. Straightening up as much as I could, it slipped on neatly. Extra limbs were concealed by wrapping them about the waist, giving the appearance of a little paunch. Arms were pushed through the sleeves
and misshapen hands hidden in the front pocket. Pants were not a problem, my skin naturally had the appearance of old denim in the night light.
With my head tucked down as far as possible, I reached up through the collar and pulled over the hood. No one should be awake at this hour, but if they saw me, they might just think it’s a strangely tall man out late at night. Someone they won’t want to bother, for lack of interest or out of intimidation.
I walked out from behind the apartment block and onto the street. Yellow lights shined weakly on the weedy sidewalks and hole pocked road. Not a star tainted the pure black of the sky. It was my favorite time of night for a stroll. I always enjoy a nice walk after a meal.
This was certainly a charming neighborhood. Down the street from the apartment block was residential housing. The type with the picketed backyard, a well-kept front lawn, and white siding. A picturesque scene of Americana with 9-5 fathers, a busy mother, two children, and a family pet. Each building was nearly identical from the outside.
Of course, it was the insides that caught my interest, and despite the outward appearance, each and every one was special. I reached out to the minds in each house I passed. Amongst them I found my preferred targets, restless sleepers, but there was a stronger pull still. I felt it at a house on the corner: two stories, shingled roof, the loveliest gable window cracked open to let in the summer air. A house full of sleepers, but, on the second floor, someone was wide awake. They weren’t in bed, no, I knew they were up and about. Their heart was thumping, breath short. I could feel the butterflies in their tummy. What could you be doing, stranger? Have you checked under your bed? Did you hear something in the kitchen? Sleep well tonight, there are no monsters. Not tonight.
This was a nice block, but not one I wished to stay on for much longer. There are still plenty of houses to visit and many people to meet. People who not only want to meet me, but who actively search me out. People who are a lot like Ben. Those who are apprehensive about what they can’t see. Those compelled to check in their closets and under their bed for something they don’t know. Those who feel that the shadows are reaching out to them. That soon, out of the darkness, something will seize them, dragging them to their sticky end.
For those who look for a bogeyman, I am more than happy to meet them halfway.