Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
It was just supposed to be a scary story, and it wasn’t even a very good one. It was the kind of thing a parent tells their kid to make sure they’re home before dark, or something an older brother would use to scare his little sister.
I should know, because I was that little sister. I was that kid being scared by a silly monster story, once upon a time. But as I learned, the old saying was not far off the mark: truth could be stranger than fiction.
And far more devastating.
It happened the first time when I was nine.
My older brother Ryan and I were walking down the street after a day at the local swimming pool. We lived in a run-of-the-mill suburbia in a time when things felt generally safe, like leave-doors-unlocked safe. Still, my parents weren’t entirely lax about supervision. For instance, I wasn’t allowed to walk to the pool alone yet, but going with Ryan was okay because he was fourteen. I guess they thought that was old enough to be considered “safe” in our neighborhood.
Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure if anywhere is ever safe. For anyone.
We were walking down a fairly deserted street a few blocks away from our house. I knew that a lot of older people lived in that area, so I guess it wasn’t that weird that there weren’t any cars driving on the street or any kids hanging out. It was just about dark and the adults were probably all in for the night, eating tv dinners and watching M*A*S*H reruns. Or at least, that’s what I assumed old people did. For whatever reason, the neighborhood felt empty and the streetlights had already come on around us.
Ryan was whistling an off-key tune and I was feeling pretty good. I loved to swim and it had been a fun day. Everything seemed totally normal, until we stepped beneath one of the streetlights and it turned off in the exact same instant.
Ryan and I both looked up, surprised by the coincidental timing.
Then Ryan stopped walking and turned to me with a sharp smirk on his face. I hated that smirk, because I knew my brother. I knew it meant Ryan was going to try and mess with me somehow.
“Have I ever told you the story of the Light Taker?” he asked.
“No,” I said shortly. “Come on, let’s go home.”
“They say,” continued Ryan, still grinning evilly. “They say that the Light Taker is a big monster with wings, like a giant bat. They say he can see in the dark, and that he can suck the lights out from all around you. When he sees his prey, he lets out a shrieking whistle. Then, while you’re lost in the dark, it swoops down and GRABS YOU!”
Ryan yelled the last part while leaping at me with his hands out like claws.
Despite knowing it was coming, I still jumped slightly when he yelled.
Then of course I got mad.
“Knock it off, Ryan. I said, let’s go home!”
He rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright,” he relented.
We continued walking. And, yet again, as soon as we fell into the light of the streetlamp, the bulb flickered and went out.
Honestly, it was dumb, but I was starting to get paranoid. I mean, that story was clearly one that Ryan had just made up off the top of his head, but it was just such a weird coincidence.
Then I heard the whistle.
It sounded like it was coming from farther away, but it was Ryan, obviously. It had to be. I wondered how he was able to make the whistling sound like it was coming from somewhere above us.
“Stop it, Ryan,” I said. “You can’t scare me again.”
Ryan turned back to me, and I could see the worry on his face. “That…that wasn’t me.”
I don’t know, part of me still assumed Ryan was messing with me, but his expression just seemed off somehow. Legitimately nervous and pale.
“Let’s go,” he said suddenly, and he grabbed my hand and started pulling me forward. I let him lead me and we hurried down the street together.
But every single streetlight fizzled out at our approach, leaving the neighborhood much darker and more sinister looking than it had been.
Another whistle sounded, louder now, and what was worse is that I could see Ryan’s face this time. He hadn’t done it.
He really hadn’t whistled.
Now, I’m not sure if I believed there was some flying monster after us, but someone else was out there in the darkness. Maybe a kidnapper, a serial killer, who could say?
“Run!” said Ryan, and so we did.
We went into full-on sprints together, me barely keeping up with my shorter legs. More and more lights went out over us, and on the other side of the street, too. The houses offered no relief; they all looked strangely desolate and empty. How could that be possible?
Though I was sweating, I felt cold and clammy.
Ryan and I finally turned the corner and made it onto our own street.
As we reached the next light post, this time the bulb exploded overhead. I let out a startled scream as the shards of glass fell upon us, and still we kept running. We threw our arms over our heads in the barest form of protection.
My breathing was getting heavier and I had a stitch in my side, but absolute terror kept me moving. Go, go, go, I thought.
Finally, finally, we were pushing through our front gate into our yard. We bolted into the house, throwing the door open-wide.
Once we were indoors, Ryan slammed it behind us and for once, he made sure to lock it. He used both the main lock and the deadbolt. He too was sweaty and winded, and looked more scared than I had ever seen him.
“I made it up,” he said desperately. He looked me in the eyes. “Katie, I swear, I thought I made it up!”
I didn’t know what to think. Of course my brother had been messing with me, but now he was just as afraid as I was. Ryan couldn’t have whistled while I was looking right at him, and he couldn’t make the streetlights go out, and he certainly couldn’t make one of the bulbs explode.
Our mother came down the stairs. She scolded me and Ryan for slamming the door, reminding us that our baby sister Emma was asleep. Then Mom seemed to notice the looks on our faces.
“Are you kids okay?” she asked.
Ryan and I looked at each other. What could we possibly say to her? That my brother’s imaginary monster had just been hunting us? That we were going crazy?
In the end, Ryan shrugged and tried to look unconcerned. “We’re fine, Mom,” he said, then he went up the stairs past her.
Later that night, after dinner, I went to find Ryan in his room. He was on his bed, staring blankly up at the ceiling when I let myself in. He didn’t even look in my direction.
“What do you think it was?” I asked him.
I really wanted to talk about it. I wanted my brother to come up with some explanation, or just acknowledge the horror of it all with me.
But Ryan gave me a hard look. “It was nothing.”
“What? Something was—” I tried to argue, but he cut me off.
“It was nothing, Katie, and we’re never talking about it again, okay? Go to bed.”
I left his room, totally hurt, confused, and still scared. It had been years since I was really afraid of the dark, but that night, I slept – or tried to – with all the lights on in my bedroom.
Sometime in my groggy state, I thought I heard the whistle again, from somewhere outside my window.
The next morning, when daylight had come, I had started to feel a bit better. Ryan seemed moody, but we didn’t talk about what happened.
The rest of that month past in a blur. Though I sometimes had nightmares, I truly started to feel like we had overreacted. Maybe there had been some kind of electrical malfunction that affected the lights. Maybe the whistle was just someone walking their dog.
Ryan tried his best to act like it never happened, but I noticed some things that gave him away. Anytime we were out together, he was way more punctual and responsible about getting us home before dark. He had also started asking for rides even to go places that weren’t very far.
For the sake of our sanity, we both pushed away thoughts of That Night, down into memories that faded over the years.
Just like Ryan had wanted, he and I never talked about it again.
Five years later, Ryan had gone away to college and I was, in essence, the older sibling. Our parents worked weird hours, and so most Saturdays, it was just my little sister Emma and me.
Emma and I got along pretty well, even though she was only six years old. I spent a lot of time taking care of her – making her food, helping her with homework, and still doing my own school stuff.
Sometimes it felt like too much. I had just started high school, and there were so many times I couldn’t hang out with my friends because I was babysitting Emma. It didn’t feel fair.
I couldn’t really bring myself to complain to my parents though. I knew we were having issues with money, helping to pay for Ryan’s tuition, and they were always so tired after long hours of work. I sucked it up because I loved my parents, and I loved Emma. I also sort of felt like I was paying it forward for all the times Ryan had watched out for me.
But on that particular Saturday, I was having a bad day. My friend Shayla had gotten together a group of girls to go out to a nearby lake. Shayla’s mom was going to drive them, and they were going to spend the day swimming. Even though Shayla said I could come and bring Emma, I knew it wouldn’t be much fun if I did. Emma hadn’t learned to swim yet, and I would probably spend the whole time in shallow water and making sure she didn’t drown. She would inevitably get bored and whiny, and then I’d have to ask Shayla’s mom to drive us all the way back to town. Then my friends would be annoyed that their fun day of swimming had been cut short by us.
I told Shayla I couldn’t go, but I spent most of the morning feeling sulky and annoyed about it.
Emma didn’t help matters. She cried because we were out of her favorite cereal, and she had to eat oatmeal for breakfast instead. Then she made a fuss when one of her toys broke and didn’t give me any peace and quiet about it.
When she finally asked if we could go to the park that afternoon, I figured we might as well. I didn’t want to be cooped up in the house anymore. We were driving each other crazy.
Rivermoore Park was one of Emma’s absolute favorites. It had a jungle gym with monkey bars and a super long twisty slide. I sat on one of the park benches and read a book while Emma played. She seemed to make friends with a couple kids who were also running around the playground, a brother and sister by the look of it. The three of them played tag and games of their own invention for a good while.
The sunset kind of snuck up on me. We had arrived at the park in the mid-afternoon, but I didn’t take into account the fact that we had just set the clocks back for Daylight Saving time. It always, always threw me for a loop whenever it would start getting dark and cold as early as five-thirty.
I glanced up from my book to see the two other kids being beckoned away by their mother. Emma waved to them, but she didn’t seem too bothered that they were leaving. She had now set her sights on tackling the monkey bars, her greatest challenge.
Emma had never really been able to do all the monkey bars before. To be fair, this particular set was pretty long, and she would usually fall with only two or three rungs left.
I watched her try it a couple times before I went over to get her.
“Alright, Em, time to go,” I told her.
“Not yet, I’m going to do it this time!” Emma said determinedly.
The park lights came on, as if to remind me just how late it was getting.
“Okay, one more time,” I said, “Then we really have to go home. It’s getting late and we need to eat dinner.”
“Okay,” agreed Emma, and then she ran up to the jungle gym so she could do the monkey bars again.
This time, she lost her grip with only two more bars to go. She groaned in frustration as she dropped lightly to the ground. Before I could stop her, she was running off to have another try. “Emma,” I shouted at her. “I said that was it!”
I was suddenly so mad. I had been nice enough to bring her to the park, even after the tantrums earlier, even while I was missing time with my friends. Why couldn’t she just come when I asked her to?
Emma had made it back up to the monkey bars. She grabbed onto the first rung, then the next, and the next. I think her arms must have been getting tired, because this time she only made it halfway before falling to the soft ground. Emma tried to run back to the jungle gym stairs, but this time I grabbed her by the arm before she could get away.
“Katie, let me go!” she yelled.
I gripped her tighter, suddenly fed up. I was really glad that the park was now deserted so that at least there wasn’t anyone to make a scene in front of.
I thought about Ryan suddenly, and all the fights we had growing up, not unlike this. And for some reason, that silly scary story popped into my head. It no longer frightened me like it used to, and in the years since, I had convinced myself that the things that happened that night were in our imagination.
My sister was crying now, big crocodile tears, and my patience had run out.
“Emma, aren’t you afraid the Light Taker might get you?”
Emma sniffled, her curiosity overpowering her need to be dramatic.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“The Light Taker is a monster,” I told her. “It has large wings like a bat, but it’s even bigger than me. Its eyes glow, and when it sees something it wants to eat, it whistles like this.”
I demonstrated a shrill whistle.
“It steals all the light from the street, and when you’re lost, it will swoop down and carry you away with its talons!”
Emma’s face scrunched in anger. “That’s not real! You shouldn’t tell lies, Katie!”
“It might be real,” I said. “How would you know?”
Emma looked down at her feet. “Cuz it’s not.”
She didn’t look entirely convinced though, and I started to feel bad.
“Come on, Em, can we please go home? It’s late and I’m getting cold,” I said. It was true; while
Emma had on a light jacket, I was in short sleeves and it was getting chilly without the sun overheard.
“Okay,” said Emma.
She reached out to hold my hand, and I smiled somewhat apologetically at her.
Our house was just a couple blocks away from the park. We crossed the street together, and as soon as we stepped onto the sidewalk, that’s when I heard it.
A whistle in the wind.
Emma heard it too. We both looked around.
“What was that?” asked Emma nervously.
There was no one else outside that we could see. I repressed a shiver. For reasons I couldn’t explain, I felt as if I’d made a terrible mistake.
“Let’s go,” I told Emma, trying not to let on that I was suddenly afraid.
We hurried down the sidewalk, and then, when we reached the streetlight, almost as if I knew what was coming…
It flickered out above us.
All of a sudden, the memories of that night were vivid again. Running with Ryan, the darkness pressing in on us, something stalking us. How had I forgotten what that was like?
Well, I remembered it in that moment.
I pulled Emma along by the hand.
“Run!” I told her.
She did it without question, terror on her small face to match my own.
We ran, and just as I knew they would, the lights started going out as we passed beneath them. First it was merely the streetlamps, but then the house lights all went out as well. A little way in the distance, even the traffic light blinked completely off.
I heard the whistle again, and then something else I had never heard before.
It sounded like the flapping of giant wings.
I turned to look over my shoulder, even as I kept moving. What I saw made my blood turn cold.
Something was hovering in the air. It was too dark to make out any details, and I couldn’t look for long, but I know I saw it, I know I did!
Two giant orange eyes, like an owl’s, but much bigger than any owl I could imagine. The outline seemed vaguely human shaped, but contorted, monstrous and unreal.
I was too scared to scream. Instead I used all my will to grab Emma and pull her into my arms. I carried her as I ran, even as she screamed directly into my ear.
I knew by the fear in her voice that she had seen it too. In fact, she was looking that direction, and it was very possible she was staring it right in the face even as I tried to get us away.
I considered bolting towards one of the houses, but they all looked sinister without light. And I was too afraid that stopping for even a moment would allow that thing to catch up to us.
Instead I made a direct beeline for our own home – it had worked last time, after all. I no longer cared about sticking to the sidewalk. I began to cut across the road, near an intersection. Emma was not a big kid, but I still struggled to keep up a good pace with her added weight.
The whistle came again, from directly above us. The sound of flapping wings was also louder than ever, like thunder in my ears. Gusts of air slammed into me. I felt something sharp graze my back. I leaped forward in an effort to get away.
The car came from nowhere: two bright headlights speeding right at Emma and I.
I was never sure if the ungodly screeching sound came from the car’s brakes or something else.
I turned my body awkwardly as the car made impact. I screamed, Emma screamed, and it all mingled together in a crazy racket.
Pain shot through me and I was knocked to the ground. Dimly I was aware that Emma had been thrown out of my grasp.
No, Emma, please be okay, I thought, just before my head hit the pavement and I lost consciousness. When I woke up sometime later, my first thought was: Oh, the lights are back. Good. Although I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why.
The lights were indeed back, though. Flashing red and blue lights.
A man’s shaky voice: “There was something else in the street, Officer, I’m telling you. It was behind the two girls. The crash knocked me out right after, but I swear, I saw orange eyes – eyes of a devil!”
A second voice, harsh: “How much have you had to drink tonight, Mr. Jensen?” “I haven’t had anything to drink!”
I was being lifted up on a stretcher, two paramedics hovering over me. “Hey, hey she’s awake!” called out one of them. “Thank god.”
“Emma,” I mumbled. “Where’s my sister?”
The paramedic looked down at me with worry. “Your sister? You’ve been hit by a car, honey, you might be confused. Your sister isn’t here.”
I tried to sit up but I was strapped down by some kind of brace. “But she was here! We both got hit! Where is Emma?” I yelled.
The panic in my voice seemed to get through to the paramedic. She waved over a police officer to explain the situation.
“Officer, she says she was with her sister and they both got hit by the car.”
“We did!” I said firmly. “Where is she? She’s only six years old!”
The officer’s face hovered over me. He looked worried. “What’s your name, Kid? And what’s your sister’s name?”
“My name is Katie, Katie Miller. My sister’s name is Emma.”
The officer looked at the paramedic. “The driver also said he saw two girls before the crash. But we didn’t find…”
He paused and looked me in the eyes for a long moment, then immediately got on his radio. I heard everything he said, calling for a search around the area, saying that everyone needed to look for a little girl with possible injuries, who went by the name of Emma.
I felt the weight of those words in my stomach. The pain in my body was nothing, nothing compared to the nausea and fear, and the words Where is Emma played over and over again in my head.
I closed my eyes, trying to remember everything I could about the crash. Emma in my arms. The car coming from out of nowhere, the two headlights –
It was then that another memory washed over me: the image of the headlights became the orange eyes glowing from out of the darkness.
The sickening realization hit me as I was being loaded into the ambulance.
How much time had elapsed between the car crash and help arriving?
How long did Emma and I lay unsheltered in the open street, injured and unprotected? In that moment, I knew what we were, what Emma had been: