Photo by wolfgangfoto
Windows chattered violently behind burgundy curtains; vibration from the outside eruption moved the plush floor in waves, and I became nauseous, my legs losing stability. I fell to my knees, looked to the front room; despaired as I witnessed the tiny light of that room, woefully inadequate as it was – that precious lamp, vestige of hope – it began to fade. Likely the intense vibrations had broken the bulb’s filament, but I wondered if the little light was not overwhelmed in the path of the thing I now knew or was reminded I should myself be hiding from.
My legs felt fluid as I worked to regain footing, the carpet absorbing me, exasperating my lack of strength. I could not stay in that spot; it was too open. Something was coming – an invader to the front door; my eyes were now fixed to that space as I fought gravity, fought my own body, trying to rise, trying to lift, trying to escape; I’d have given anything to be down the eerie hallway where the creepy little girl had run and where the scurrying things danced to their mind-drilling, sing-song symphony.
The room’s walls and floor and furnishings dissolved into black, no light to pull them back to the seeing world, no hope for me to find my way without risk of walking into the mouth of terror, and my legs didn’t work well. I crawled, methodically at first, becoming more frantic each moment. Several paces forward, I felt I may have been in the front room again, the one adjoining the sing-song hall, when I heard a thud and my progress halted as I smacked the top of my head on something hard. I shrieked, pawing at my injured cranium, thinking some horrible Thing had already slipped into the house, and here it was, towering over me, helpless to see the seething monster with teeth like angry spearheads – jagged and laced with parts of humanity. Specks of light stabbed what was left of my vision – not true light, of course, but the sort produced by trauma. I slumped in pain and resignation, pictured the couple in the SUV who’d left this place. I muttered a desperate prayer; tears drifted to my whispering lips. I lie in an isolated void, wondering how I’d arrived. wondering how I’d arrived. wondering how I’d arrived in such a state.
I gripped my pulsing head, goose egg forming from the impact of the obstruction I’d smacked, and I rocked side to side.
Wake up, boy.
A sticky, foreign presence slinked atop my right arm at the wrist. Hardly perceptible at first, so I thought I’d imagined it, but I could not deny that something was touching me, maybe clutching me. I snatched my hand to my body, felt the thing’s grip had been loose, heard a gasp in the dark, not my own.
Squinting, I threw my eyes every direction, desperately seeking the source of the warm grip, and my eyes caught it – a faint glow was coming from a wavy halo of sorts, but really it was reflecting pale light from further away – the hall; there was light from the hall, and now I knew that the object I’d struck my head against was the adjacent wall.
“Hey, you should come with me, you know?” came a small voice from somewhere near the halo. I thought it may have been the teasing imp again, but the voice sounded much younger. The warm hand touched me again, this time on my shoulder, and I recoiled reflexively. I was gripped fast by my shirt, not angrily, merely coaxing, pulled into the hall, where the halo already appeared to be moving. I gathered myself to my knees, even as another eruption sounded; this time it seemed to come from the side of the house. My movements sped, and I followed the child, gaining my feet now, but my blood turned cold with a thought. The Door! I stopped abruptly, and the small hand – then holding my shirt near the waist, yanked free.
“C’mon!!” said the small voice, cracking with urgency.
“I didn’t lock the door!” I whispered harshly.
“Well…” the voice paused, as if considering my statement. “It don’t matter, let’s go!” was the response from somewhere near my right pocket. Hot breath blew across the hairs of my arm; tiny fingers gripped my own; I felt a rapid pulse inside my hand.
“Where we going?”
“Well, I…Well, I – I can’t tell you.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Well, it’s because…it’s because I don’t know where we can go!”
A crash from the backside of the house; now we were running – down the shrouded hallway, where the hectic tune I’d heard earlier had mutated to a repeating audio hiccup.
“What happened to the music?” I asked as we approached a dull light coming from an open doorway.
“Oh, well – I, um – I bumped the music maker, so they, so they, – they made me leave the room. C’mon, you can make ’em let me back in!” The voice was quivering. I could barely make out a small round face beneath the halo.
“Who made you leave?”
“The other kids!”
“How many others are there? And why should I not lock the door?” Through the gloom, the halo shifted, small eyes narrowed beneath, like those of a confused angel.
“Well, it doesn’t…it doesn’t come through the front, jus’ the basement.” the child said.
“What comes through the basement?” I was startled by the stress I heard in my own voice.
“Listen to me! I’m gonna tell you somethin’! It comes from the front, but it don’t come in through the front. See…see…see,” A small finger pointed from the shadows, toward the front door. “they, they leave! So, well – we puts a sign on the door, but the sign don’t stop it. It comes around the back, comes in the basement.”
Oh, God; wake me up!
With little resistance from me, the small hand tugged me further down the hallway to a door cracked open, an amber glow emitting from that room, and the skipping music player seemed to be inside.
“Hey, hey guys!” the child shouted into the room.
SSSSSHHHH!!! A nearly unison shushing sound came from five directions.
“Hey, guys!” the child forced a whisper as loudly as he could, glanced up at me. “I brought – hey, listen! I’m gonna tell you somethin’!”
“Stop saying SSSSSHHHHH!” he said, failing to make it a whisper. I said I’m gonna tell you somethin’!”
“What?!” came a harsh whisper from a back corner.
“I brought – see! I brought this guy!” He pointed at me emphatically. “And hhhheeeeee says you gotta let us in, so we can hide!” I heard shuffling, nothing else. “He’s, well look – see? He’s a big guy!” His words embarrassed me, as I recalled my own image moments earlier, helplessly sprawled across the carpet, feeling more small than big.
“Ok, let’s go.” Evidently satisfied that he’d been granted a pass by the others in the room, he pulled me inside with him, allowing me full view, and I was amazed by the contrast of this space from the other parts of the house, nearly every inch occupied by some piece of furniture or box or nick-knack – indeed, even the door before us came within a breath of butting against a tall, dark-stained cabinet when opened. It appeared to be a small room, but it was impossible to know for sure with the density of clutter.
Still led by the halo child’s hand, I walked through the doorway, immediately side-stepping the big cabinet, and once beyond its blocking view, I knew I’d need to side-step anywhere I walked in that room, for the spaces between objects were remarkably narrow – thin veins splintering out within a body densified with junk. Once inside, my vision improved enough for me to see my small companion in better detail. He was a boy – I had gathered that already; by his size and the way he spoke, I figured him to be five years old or so. His hair was starkly blonde, reflectively so – thus the illusion of the halo, and his shape was slightly unusual – most of his body appeared on the tail end of a growth spurt, while his arms and hands had apparently missed the glandular message, for they seemed just slightly under-length in comparison to the rest of him. Welling up in my gut was a reactive aversion to the boy; I compulsively sought to free my hand from his stubby fingers’ sweaty grasp, but he held tight his grip. I envisioned somehow detaching my hand from my body so I wouldn’t have to feel his touch. He guided me down a narrow corridor, constructed entirely of aged, yellow cardboard boxes, burdened and squashed beneath the weight of old documents; the tightness of the space inspired a sensation of sudden claustrophobia, and my urge to gain release from his grasp intensified.
We must have looked silly, he – short and awkward, upper frame encased in a striped shirt that reminded me of Ernie from Sesame Street, I – tall and awkward, stumbling sideways through a hoarder’s maze behind the leadership of a halo-headed boy an eighth my size. I managed to retrieve most of my hand from the boy’s, save only my right ring finger; I was nearly able to retract my hand when the house shook, an implosive boom.
“It’s at the back of the house now?”
“No” The boy’s voice dropped, breathless with terror. He didn’t look back to me. “It’s in the house.”
He absently renewed hold of my hand.
I allowed him.