I heard the cries from upstairs. The sound of sheer terror came crashing into my ears. I could barely recognize the voice of my seven-year-old son. I threw down the remote and sprang from my recliner, knocking my glass of tea off the end table. It could stain, but my son needed me. I felt that it was back. And now, it wanted my son. I only hoped that I wasn’t too late already.
As I reached the top of the stairs (in record time), Alec’s screams turned into whimpers. Over them, I could hear heavy labored breathing. The closer I got to his closed door, the fainter his voice became and the louder the heavy breathing grew. My hair stood on end and I felt each follicle tremble. Fear gripped me with icy cold fingers. I had only been this scared once, about thirty years ago.
The fear awakened long-repressed memories. It was the night of my seventh birthday. My belly was full and I was happy. At the party, I received everything that I wanted. The Tonka dump truck. Mr. Stretch Armstrong. And the first issue of Swamp Thing, signed by Alan Moore. That birthday was one of my favorite childhood memories. Now, I find it ironic that such a fond memory could be just a few hours away from one so horrible and terrifying that my mind had no choice but to forget it.
That night of my seventh birthday, I went to bed about the usual time. Carson had just gone off, and I’d finished my second bowl of Fruit Loops. Mom would always let me stay up if I was eating something. I could nurse a couple bowls of cereal and get at least an hour and a half of extra TV time.
I turned on the radio on the nightstand and adjusted the volume. I needed music to go to sleep. My hearing was exceptional and I could hear the tiny insects crawling around on the floor near my bed. It seemed that crickets and spiders were the Houdini’s of the insect world. They could always get in the house, no matter how good the house was sealed.
I got in bed and pulled up the sheets making sure that the only target the spiders had was my head. I listened to the radio – the song, I don’t remember – and tried to let go of the day’s excitement. Just as calmness washed over me, signifying sleep was just around the corner, the radio stopped. Surprised, I looked at the nightstand. In the faint glow of the nightlight, I saw that the power cord was unplugged. The batteries must have been old and the few minutes of music that I heard must have sucked them dry. I frequently unplugged the power cord during the day to play with my Tyco racetrack.
Just as the image of the plastics cars and the smell of electric burn began to fade, I heard an exhale. My heart fluttered. A sweat burst to the surface of my skin. I looked at the door leading to the hall. It was still shut and I couldn’t see anyone in the slice of light that crawled under the door. Then I heard it again. This time, whoever it was drew in a breath. The inhale crackled and my muscles tightened. I couldn’t feel them, but they were so tense that it was all I could do to turn my head toward the sound. Toward the closet.
The door was slightly ajar but I wasn’t able to pierce the darkness. The breathing grew louder and the door eased open. I shut my eyes and tried to scream out. I wanted to get up and run. I wanted to yell for my parents. But I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t scream. I was at the mercy of whatever beast was in the darkness. It breathed again, but this time on exhale it began laughing. A slow, evil laugh. I felt a presence come near the bed. Despite the sheets and quilt pulled high, it grew cold. And then, a harsh voice shook my eyes open.
“You are scared,” the voice said.
I was starring toward the closet, but I couldn’t see the body belonging to the voice.
“You are scared and I will feed on you.”
My tense muscles relaxed enough for the trembling to start. Tears escaped my eyes. And I still couldn’t see the body. I focused harder and was able to make out a blackness of shadow two feet from my bed. It suffocated the light coming from under the hall door. The nightlight gave my sight only clues to the creature’s shape. The blackness was short – two, maybe three feet tall – and just as wide. It had stocky arms and legs. I saw no head, at least where it should be. In the middle of the mass, I saw two round marbles, black and shiny. They reflected what little light the nightlight cast on them.
“You can speak now.” The voice grated my nerves.
My lungs burned for air and I breathed in deeply. The chill in the air reached inside flooding my body with a coldness that I would never feel again for thirty years. My mouth moved and my throat felt like I could speak.
“What are you?” I asked, tears steadily streaming down my face.
“I am your demon. Without me, you will die. With me, you will die.”
“Please. Whatever you are, don’t kill me.” The sheets near my head were becoming soaked with tears. I could taste their saltiness as they stream passed my lips.
The blackness moved closer raising an arm. Then, I felt my chest being pressed. It burned. And it was like ice. It stole the breath from me.
“Now sleep. You and I will be one.”
The next thing I remember, it was morning. I had wet my bed and my room smelled of urine. The closet door was shut and the power cord was plugged into the outlet. Already the nightmare had begun fading. When I took a shower, I noticed something rather odd on my chest. It looked like a small handprint, but it couldn’t have been. It had two thumbs and five fingers. I vaguely remembered being hit in the chest yesterday during my party. It took several days for the bruise to go away, but much less time for the nightmarish memory to slither into the recesses of my mind.
In the beat of a heart outside the door to Alec’s room, I remembered that nightmare. The next beat pumped adrenaline through my body. With my blood seething with energy, I threw open the door ready for anything. Ready for anything except what I saw. That blackness in my nightmare was moving toward Alec. It stopped and turned to me when I entered the room.
“With me, he will die. Without me, he will die,” said the rasping voice.
I looked toward Alec and saw that he was paralyzed, just as I had been. His eyes were closed and he was crying.
Just then, my life from the nightmare until now flashed before my eyes – high school, college, my jobs, my marriage, and even the birth of my son. I realized what the creature had done for me. He instilled fear in me. Before he visited me, I only cared about the present. I was selfish. I was lazy. But after that night, I took greater risks. I have greater courage. I have lived a great and full life because I am less afraid of earthly things. The cold darkness gave me solitude and resolve. The demon was not a bane. It was a blessing. I now know my son will survive it’s touch, just as I had. And I know that Alec will be stronger in the years to come.
“Thank you,” I said as I gave a gentle nod.
The demon turned back toward Alec and I closed the door as I left his room. A moment later, Alec’s whimpers stopped and then the closet door shut.
The next morning, Alec came downstairs and said he was hungry for pancakes.