Every child goes through a period of imaginary horror. The thing that lurks in the darkness at the top of the stairs, just out of sight around the corner. Or the gruesome terror that resides in the shadow encrusted space under the bed. Some children can describe the things that they see, and some can draw them. But the most terrifying thing I have yet seen, are the marks of such a beast. And the consequences that have led me to my current, dire, position.
I am a child psychologist, who had just been released upon the unsuspecting world of psychiatry in a small New England country hospital. Originally I am from England, in the British Isles. The locals think it quite quaint, in my references to they're side walks as pavements. Although I have been given the warmest of welcomes, they still seem to avoid me. The hospital is small, and surprisingly well equipped. A local philanthropist had bequeathed a small fortune to the tiny cluster of buildings when he passed on. And the governors of the unit had spent their new-found wealth wisely. I had been the last 'purchase' of the hospital. Fortunately I started with a success story. A small boy was being monitored by the local consultant, as he had been struck dumb at an early age. He discussed the child with me, and I found myself agreeing with his thoughts on a psychological disorder. Instead of a physical malady that had stricken the boy. After many long hours of what they call therapy, I finally managed to get some words from the child. Needless to say, the parents were overcome with joy at their verbal son. And I was pronounced the local heroine. The local news paper even found a picture of me from somewhere, and placed it in the front page. I had more than my fair share of fifteen minutes of being famous! Now, however, I wish that I had never set foot in this town. And however selfish it may be, I wish I had never set eyes on little Kerry Wroughton.
It had been a wonderful day, with hardly anyone to see. I had finished writing a small report for a magazine, on the subject of the 'dumb' boy and had taken leave of work early in order to enjoy the brilliant sunshine. I ate well during my mid-evening meal, and had just settled down with a good book when my telephone rang. Kerry Wroughton had just been brought in suffering from severe lacerations, and deep shock. She had been found screaming in her bedroom, after her mother had tucked her into bed and turned out the light. "What has this got to do with me?" I asked, turning on the main light to my bedroom and replacing my books marker. Apparently Kerry had a little brother, Martin, who had gone missing. And I had been kindly invited by the local police, to try and find out what had happened from Kerry.
Hastily dressing, I scuttled down the stairs and grabbed the box of sandwiches I had made for the following days lunch, from my oversized refrigerator. Twenty minutes later I arrived at the hospital, to be welcomed by an armed escort. Kerry was quiet as I looked in through the window of her small room.
"She screams if we leave her alone, even for a second." Said the McInley that evening's shift doctor. He stood there looking at the girl in the bed, a worried frown on his face.
"Has she said anything?" I asked.
"Only when we leave her alone." He said, pulling a battered note book from a pocket. He fumbled through the pages and found the one he was looking for. "She's been screaming: Don't leave me, the monster will get me! That's all we've been able to get out of her. Martha's under sedation, and James is currently cooling off in a room down the hall after laying out Mike." He sighed. "I've been up to the house. It's quite a mess." He shook his head. "Blood all over the place! It's no wonder she's in shock. Martha was absolutely hysterical when I arrived!"
"Were there any broken windows?"
"Yeah, the kids bedroom opens out onto a big veranda. It's usually kept locked, but it was smashed to hell. Glass everywhere!"
"Could have been an animal. A Coyote maybe?" He laughed at my lack of knowledge of the local fauna.
"Cap'n Wilson thinks it was an animal, and don't see much hope'a finding young Martin. But I don't think it was a Coyote! They'll take advantage, but I ain't heard of one gate crashin' before!" I frowned angrily, and turned away. I went into Kerry's room, and sat down next to her bed. Gently placing my sandwiches on the small cupboard.
"Hello Kerry. My name is Angela." She turned her tear streaked face to mine, and looked at me. I ... I have never ever, ever! Seen anybody as terrified as that small child in front of me. A shiver ran down my spine, and I felt the temperature of the room drop perceptibly. We were alone together as the nurse who had been with Kerry, left as I entered. To say that my instincts cried 'run' is an understatement. I was temporarily frozen to my seat by Kerry's stare of unspeakable fear. I almost screamed with fright myself, for the summer storm that had been brewing in the mountains above my new home chose that moment to break. The crash of thunder, and the flicker of lights, sent Kerry into a fit of screaming like no other I have heard. I hastily picked her up into my arms, and cradled her as the doctor administered a sedative. Her words as she drifted into sleep were almost as bad as her unbridled stare of stark terror.
"Don't let the monster get me!" She had whispered to me.
"Did the monster come through the glass?" I whispered. Silence seemed to reign, even over the crashing of the storm outside.
"No." She said, her eyes slowly closing as she struggled to stay alert to her fear.
"Where did it come from?" I asked.
"Under the bed . . . It came from under Marty's bed and got him. It nearly got me . . ." Those were her last words that evening. And suddenly the room became even chiller than before, and I couldn't help but back away from the bed. Suddenly the large space beneath it was something to fear. Instinct said to run, to run away as far as possible from this room. My own childhood fears of the thing beneath my bed, coupled with my experience of adulthood became an encroaching reality from which I had to run. Out of one corner of my eye I spotted a movement under the bed which Kerry was now sleeping on. Although I retreated with a look of fear on my face, at the time I managed to persuade myself that it was the doctors foot. Now, now I am not so sure. I left a nurse gently tucking her back into bed, and an armed officer sitting in one corner reading a magazine she had found somewhere.
I don't know how I got there, but I suddenly found myself gasping for breath in the main doors of the hospital. The lightning flashes painting everything in blue, and the rain lashing the glass front of the foyer. I'd opened the doors, and found myself breathing in the heady aroma's of wet woodlands and the fresh, cool wind of the storm. Rain drops slid down my face, rousing me up from my waking sleep. Intuition cried out in fear, and outrage. For my training said that this was just a simple case of deep shock, brought about by an animal attack. Admittedly the attack had been absolutely horrific, but I shouldn't be reacting this way. I suddenly realised that I was attempting to analyse that which had so visibly shaken me. That in itself was horrifying. To think, that I could automatically break down the internal barriers of my own thought processes in order to examine them. Part of me had become an automated monster, created by the halls of academia and released upon the world. Maybe this is what had un-nerved me about Kerry. She was a relatively simple organism of instinct at the moment, compared to myself. Who was the better off? The automata of adult life, or the instinctive world of the child. Enough! I had to stop.
"Are you alright Angela?"
"Eh? Oh, yes I'm fine. Just a little shaken. I...I've never seen anything like this before. Her... Terror..."
"Surely you've been trained to deal with situations like this?"
I shook my head resignedly, and smiled thinly at doctor McInley. "There's a first time for everything!" I said, wiping the fresh rain from my face. "Yes, yes of course. I've almost forgotten the first time I saw a compound fracture. Happened to be worst I've ever seen! Poor, guy. Broke both his Tibia and his Fibula! Quite horrific, sticking right out, blood everywhere!" I did my best to ignore him, as he carried on his graphic description. Regaling me with all of the gory details of his younger days as a doctor.
After around ten minutes of incessant chatter from the doctor I noticed that he was acting nervously himself. His particular brand of verbal diarrhoea seemed to be trying to cover up his reaction to the distressing situation. "I'd like to speak to Kerry's mother. Martha, wasn't it?" Although this stopped the conversation cold, he immediately developed a nervous twitch under his lip. I nearly laughed at the sight. He was trying to be so serious, and yet he did not realise the muscle under his bottom lip was no longer under his control! He made a lame excuse about her being heavily sedated, and requiring a substantial amount of peace and quiet. I nearly demanded there and then, to know what the hell was going on. Instead I settled for informing the kind doctor that I was more than qualified to administer treatment for shock! I stormed out of the hospital at that. Ashamedly, I have to admit that I drove rather recklessly on the way home. It was around three in the morning, I hadn't had any sleep and McInley had got up my nose with his last few choice remarks. I was furious, and that told in my driving. Until I nearly hit the small body lying in the middle of the road. Looking back on it, it's become quite dramatic. I hadn't really been giving my full attention to the road, when suddenly I saw something in my headlights. Filled with an adrenalin fever, I pulled frantically on the wheel to avoid the object. Only to find the drainage ditch that ran along-side the road, looming in my windscreen.
When I awoke I was cold, wet and dazed from my sudden visit to the world of dreams. I don't know what happened exactly, but I found myself upside down and hanging from my seat belt. Water was pouring in through the smashed drivers window, and leaving via the spider-webbed windscreen. I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn't swung off the bridge and pitched in the river, which was another half a kilometre down the road. Extricating myself from the seat-belt, which had probably saved my life, took a few minutes. I was soon rewarded with a dunking in the pond that was beginning to fill my wrecked car. The ice cold water cleared any muzziness that clung to my head. Clambering out into the storm I scrambled up the side of the ditch, and looked back at the thing in the road. It hadn't moved, and from this view-point it looked like a dumped sack. Or maybe something that had fallen from the back of a truck. The thunder, lightning and driving rain didn't help the proceedings. I found myself having to fight in order to stop myself from slipping down into the ditch again. Soon I was scrambling over the crest of the ditch, and standing in the pouring rain looking at the sack. As I drew closer the definition of sack underwent a severe change for the worse. It looked like a small boy had been hit and left for dead. I ran to the body, and turned it over. A single eye looked up at me. Brought into sharp relief by the lightning, the eye flashed with a life of it's own. The other half of the face was destroyed by whatever had hit the young boy. The forest around me seemed to spring into a surreal life, noises around me. Growling, screams, I can't remember much more after that, as I blacked out once more. I was told that it was probably from exposure, personally I think it was a form of delayed shock. Apparently I was found ten minutes later by a police officer driving home from the hospital. His statement was quite a revelation to me, as I remember absolutely none of it. He said that I was sitting back from the body, staring unblinkingly at it. When he touched my shoulder I started to scream. This carried on for an entire minute, before I fainted dead away. The body was that of Kerry's smaller brother, Martin. He seemed to have been the victim of a hit and run accident. Nobody seemed to ask how he came to be running in a road at that time of night. Especially that road, which happened to be nearly ten miles from his home. To question this I considered, until I realised that my current mental and physical state would be against me. They had all the bases covered, and I was sitting in the wings licking my wounds. Kerry was all I had left, and she knew more than anybody.
No matter what I tried, she still clung desperately to her story of the monster. I was becoming increasingly discouraged by her obsessive behaviour. She simply would not sleep at night, and started to scream whenever she was left alone. I also found myself becoming more afraid of the dark. It was gradually becoming harder and harder to turn off the bed-side lamp at night. The normal creaks and groans of my house became more and more terrifying. Kerry seemed to have awakened my own childish fear of the dark, the fear I had originally conquered. It was back with a vengeance, and the lack of sleep was beginning to take it's toll.
After many months of intensive therapy, I had finally managed to persuade her that there was nothing to be afraid of in the dark. This was to my own benefit as well. The sense of achievement was absolutely fantastic. I could finally sleep well again. And Kerry also reaped the benefits of a good nights rest. Things were finally turning to the better, and relief was greatly forthcoming from myself and Kerry's parents. The night she disappeared was almost exactly like the day I first met Kerry. The day was hot and sultry, quite unseasonably so. I had become quite attached to Kerry and that day I had spent with her, and her parents. She was so happy. One of the methods I had used to bring her out of her shell was the purchasing of a pet. Her parents could not afford a puppy and neither could I, for that matter. I could afford a small dog though, and I had taken Kerry to the local dog pound. We spent hours there, looking for a dog. It's quite funny to think about now. Kerry had rushed around the kennels like a puppy herself. All the dogs seemed to like her, maybe they all had something in common. The dogs had lost their masters and mistresses, and Kerry had lost her little brother and, maybe, part of her heart. Kerry had 'rummaged' through all the kennels, and we were about to leave when she spotted a large, sad, red setter being led away by a warden. "I want that one!" She had cried, running over to it and throwing her arms around its neck. The warden gave a pained look to myself and Kerry's parents. He came over to us, leaving the setter with Kerry who was giggling like crazy. He nodded.
"Ma'am, sir. Your little girl seems to like Rufus over there. Are you here to pick up a lost dog?"
"No, we're looking for a dog to take home for Kerry." I said, watching Rufus licking Kerry's face. The warden stood there for a short time watching the dog and the little girl playing. "Seems like Rufus has taken a shine to your little girl too." His eye's seemed to plead. "Will you take him? I don't want to influence your decision, but I was just taking him to the vet. Dog's around here have about three weeks, and then we have to 'pull the plug' on 'em. And I'm afraid Rufus' three are up! No owner we could find, and nobody seemed to want him. He's a big dog and'll take a lot'a feeding. Most folks want a small dog that don't cost much. Please ...?" I looked at Kerry's parents watching their only daughter with Rufus. I nodded, and smiled. The warden looked so relieved it was quite unbelievable. He walked back to Rufus, knelt down, and ruffled his ears. "You are one hell of a lucky dog!" Kerry frowned. "Why?" She said, innocently. The warden swallowed, probably wondering how to say, "We were going to put him down."
"Uh, well. Y'see, we were going to send him a long way away. And he wasn't going to come back and stay with us again. But now he has you, we don't have to send him!" The warden smiled. I think it took a moment for Kerry to figure it out, but it soon happened. She turned around to us, with her mouth hanging open. "Is he?" She cried. Martha, Kerry's mother, nodded, smiling. Suddenly Kerry was hanging around her mothers neck, crying "He's mine! He's mine!"
And so I sat there on the porch, watching Kerry playing with Rufus. The dog had settled in amazingly fast at the Wroughton's home. He'd sleep in her room, sit outside the bathroom when she was having a bath or shower. Rufus followed her absolutely everywhere! Although he was a bit upset about having to leave her alone at school. I remember him waiting on the porch, or in the hallway for Kerry's return. The affection that Rufus lavishly laid on Kerry was returned doubly so. Kerry absolutely adored the large dog. And it didn't matter what condition he was in, she'd regularly hug him.
That night another thunderstorm broke upon the brow of the mountains, and swept down the valley trailing destruction. Kerry had been staying with me that night, as her parents had gone to Vancouver to see a sick relative. As usual, I tucked her into her bed with Rufus laying at one end. I watched him eyeing the flashes of lightning from the curtained windows. I motioned to turn off the light. "Don't! Please don't. I'm scared." Said Kerry sitting up in bed. I walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Now you know there's nothing to be scared of." I said. "And anyway, Rufus is here. He'll keep you safe." The Setter got up at the sound of his name, placed his head in my lap and looked up at me. "And don't you look at me like that either!" He kept doing it. "OK! ! I give in. I'm still turning out the light though, but I'll plug your night-light in OK?" Kerry didn't seem too happy, but conceded to the compromise, as did Rufus. As I left I switched off the light, but left the door open onto the lit landing.
There was no sound. It struck me as odd, that Kerry didn't scream out when the flash of lightning struck the valley. At first I assumed that the presence of Rufus had remedied her deep fear of electric storms, and so carried on looking for the night light in the drawer I had open. Then I wondered why Rufus hadn't started to bark. I haven't yet met a healthy dog who did not bark at a clap of thunder. It hadn't started to rain yet, but the wind howled eerily around the house. I don't know why maybe some sixth sense knew, but I broke into a chill sweat. I remember thinking how humid the air was, but how cold it had suddenly become. Against my better judgment I ignored the feelings I had, and carried on looking for the night-light. It's hard to describe a feeling, but it felt like an 'I am an adult, and I should not be afraid' kind of thing. I regret now that I shut out my instincts for that brief moment of time, as maybe I could have saved her life. Slowly and deliberately I ascended the stairs and entered Kerry's room. I can't remember any first thoughts. I simply stood there in horrified disbelief. The curtains were flapping in the wind that howled through the open windows. I jumped, as another flash of lightning crashed it's way down the valley, and saw something move under the bed. I dropped to my knee's and looked under the piece of furniture. It's very, very hard to say what I saw, but I know now that I must say it. Another searing flash of blue light highlighted the glint of two, evil, slitted red eye's. I remember how our gazes met, and locked for the merest split second. Then the eye's closed, and they disappeared into the impenetrable blackness of the space beneath the bed. I was on my feet in seconds and lunging at the light switch. Pulling at it frantically, it switched on, much to my relief! I then grabbed hold of the side of Kerry's bed and pulled it onto it's side. Part of me prayed that she was hiding under there, her arms hugging Rufus as she hid from the storm. And yet part of me knew that this was not true. I looked at the space that I had revealed. And space it stayed. There was no Kerry holding onto her precious pet. There was no Rufus, obediently staying quiet and looking up at me hoping that I was not going to shout at him. There was just a bare section of carpet, and Kerry's dirty trainers...
I cried for a long time that night. I ran into the dark, screaming her name above the cacophony of the storm. My face would have been streaked with tears, but the rain washed them away and stung my eyes as they did so. I don't know how far I ran that night, or for how long. In my memory time seems to have been frozen and all I remember is a brilliant, electric blue sky, and tree's standing out in stark relief. A thousand still pictures, and no movement, no Rufus, no Kerry.
I woke up in a hospital bed, with Alison, the night nurse, standing over me, delicately grasping a thermometer. Apparently I had been found wandering the high street of the town, soaked to the skin and in a state of shock. One of the local patrol men had picked me up and brought me to the hospital where I promptly collapsed. I remember none of this, so I only have the hospital staff and the patrolman to rely upon. Kerry was gone, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I watched the storm peter out from my bed, and prayed that Kerry would be found alive. Although I knew that there was no chance of that now. I had seen something that night. Quite possibly something that should never be seen by anybody! And now I feared for myself, as it occurred to me that none had seen and lived for long afterward. I was a new target, and somehow I felt that I was more dangerous than any other who had seen. And that made my death imperative.
The following day, the local police force appeared and asked me some questions. Where I had been, what had I been doing when I was found etc... A lot of questions for which I myself required answers just as much as they did. I found out later that day where Kerry had disappeared to. I cried when they told me, they couldn't understand why! Kerry had been found at one of her friends houses. She had turned up around midnight, soaked to the skin holding onto Rufus. Jaqueline, Harry's mother, had took them inside from the storm and settled them down in front of a fire with hot chocolate and biscuits. Kerry, was suffering from mild hypothermia and shock. I was so glad to hear that she was alive. Rufus was a little worse off, however, and was spending the day in the care of the vet. I was released later that day with a bottle of anti-biotics, and a stern telling off from Dr Richards. My first port of call was the vet, to see how Rufus was.
Rufus was sitting upright in his pen, smashing his tail against the ground and letting his tongue loll out of the side of his mouth. Across his hind-quarters was a large bandage, which was yellow white and spattered with dried blood. Another bandage was wrapped around his right fore-leg, and yet another enveloped his left ear. He looked as if he'd just left the trenches!
"Jesus. What happened to you?" I said ruffling the fur on his head. He yelped as I accidently touched his bandaged ear.
"Tha's wh't I'd like ta know. N'ver seen anyth'ng like it! Wh't the hell did you do to 'im?"
I turned around to see the vet behind me. He was a short, robust man. Round in face, with a rapidly receding hairline. The bottom of his white coat, I noticed, had been raised to stop it from dragging on the floor. "I'm sorry, the nurse said I could come in a see him." I waved the receipt that Jaqueline had given me. "And in answer to you're question I did nothing. I spent most of the night in hospital." He frowned for a moment, he seemed to be trying to place my obviously English accent.
"Hey you're th' gal who got li'le Bobby Cranth'rne talkin'" I nodded, concentrating on what he was saying. His accent was quite extraordinarily thick, and it was difficult to understand what he was saying. "Rough night huh? H'rd a li'le girl wen' missin' last night. Bad b'sness that."
"Yes, she's safe now. Rufus here saved her life I think. What happened to him?"
The vet shook his head.
"Damn'est thin' ah ev'r saw! In fact, ah took a few photo's jus' to be sure." He strode away, and I followed him down a short corridor and into his office. "Here'yr. Take a look at these!" He handed me about a dozen photographs of Rufus' wounds. They were long welts, almost as if he'd been struck by a whip or a leather belt. The vet moved his desk mounted magnifying glass over to me. Under the magnification I could make out rows of small puncture wounds along the welts. "Studs?" I asked. He shook his head.
"Tha's wh't ah thought. But those punct'res are reel deep, almost ten millim'tres. M' first thought's were, he was hit by a studded belt. But they look m're like teeth m'rks! Damn strange, damn strange..."
"You say you've never seen anything like this before?" I said, looking at the puncture wounds, and thinking of whatever I saw under Kerry's bed.
"Nope. An' ah been a vet'rinari'n f'r th'rty years."
"Tried looking it up?"
"See these bags?" He said, pulling the bags under his eyes down. "They's fr'm las' night. Ah wen' throu' pract'cally ev'ry book ah have. Ev'n mail'd a few ph'to's to a few collegues. Don' think ah'll get 'nyth'ng back either."
Rufus was under an enforced rest & recuperation, and as I couldn't yet go and see Kerry, I decided to go into town and pick up a few groceries.
The town itself is tiny. It's main purpose, to supply the surrounding farms with anything they need. The 'Hardware' store is a fantastic place. Anything from a small wood nail to mini-tractors, could be found there. And the proprietor is one of those old men, in a faded blue overall with a checked shirt and heavy duty boots. And in order to complete this, almost traditional, setting, his name is Jake Cranthorne. The grandfather of young Bobby. All the shops have a veranda, some with large old rocking chairs, habitually used by the elderly owners of some of the shops. I had just left the grocery shop when old Mrs Cranthorne and I started to talk. She was sitting in her padded garden chair on the porch of her, and Mr Cranthorne's, shop as I dragged my shopping past on the way back to the car. "Dear, dear." She had said. "Those bags look heavy, sit down and have a chat." I looked down at my bags, and the way the plastic handles were busily trying to saw their way through my fingers. I sat down on the bench next to her, and wiped the sweat from my brow. Although I'd been living in the U.S. for a number of months now, I still hadn't quite gotten used to the heat of the summer, and that day had been particularly humid after the previous nights storm. Mrs Cranthorne had shouted at her husband, and momentarily I was presented with a large glass filled with homemade lemonade and ice. We sat and chatted for about fifteen minutes. I was beginning to worry about how soggy my lettuce would be, when Mrs Cranthorne (Agatha) broached the subject of Kerry.
"How is the little darlin'?" She said, taking a sip of her glass.
"I think she's O.K. I haven't seen her yet. I'm going to drop these off at the house, and then drive back to the hospital to see whether they'll release her."
"Yes, yes. Jaqueline told me what happened." She eyed me, waiting for me to tell her my end of the story.
"I don't know what really happened. I was looking for a nightlight. I found it, went back, and Kerry and Rufus had gone! The windows were open, and the wind was howling a gale. I assumed Kerry had run out, and Rufus had gone with her. I followed into the storm and woke in the hospital."
She frowned. "Mighty strange thing for an eight year old girl to do! Usually they just hunker up under the bed clothes." I nodded. And then I noticed the look on her face. Was she telepathic? "So," She said stirring her lemonade with her gnarled index finger. "What else did'ja see?" She squinted at me through the bright sunshine. I suddenly found myself examining my shoes in great detail, like an ashamed school girl up in front of the head mistress. "Well?" She said. I looked up, into her eyes. "Eyes." I whispered. "Under the bed. Red... Red eyes." She nodded as if she knew exactly what I was talking about, her mouth was a thin, stern, line. "I... I think it tried to get Kerry. But Rufus stopped it." I rummaged around in one of my pockets, pulled out one of the photographs the vet had taken, and handed it to her. She glanced at me, staring over the top of her half-moon glasses. And then back to the photocopy. "I've only seen hurts like this, once before. That was on a dog too. Poor mongrel. Died a few day's later, mind you he hadn't been the healthiest of mutts anyway. You're Rufus should be fine, you'd needn't worry about him. Strong dog that one, take my word for it. It'll try again you know."
"What will? What is it?"
"I don't know. Every child is afraid of the thing under the bed, at some time or another. Looks like it's come a'visitin!" I shuddered, thinking of those cross slitted eyes.
"You ought'a take a lot of care of yourself. You've seen it, an'I don't think it likes t'be seen." I noticed that her accent had suddenly thickened quite considerably, a sure fire sign of great stress.
"It'll try f'r you next. You're more dang'rous than li'le miss Wroughton. Once you're out'a the way Kerry'll prob'ly dissapear like her l'ile br'ther."
"What can I do?" The old woman shook her head.
"I don't know Angela. I don't know."
I left soon after that. We said our goodbye's, and I clambered into my new replacement vehicle and headed for home. I sat in the truck at the bottom of the drive for what felt like hours. Looking up at my house. Thinking of what might be in there. Even now. That thing, moving silently through the rooms. Passing from shadow to shadow. Waiting for me to return. Suddenly I felt really cold, even in the heat of the day. The thought of that thing lurking under my bed, waiting...
I finally plucked up the courage to proceed up the driveway, and deposit my sad, and wilted collection of vegetables in the fridge. After that I showered, replaced my sweat damp clothes with clean ones, and returned to the hospital. The thought of that thing under the bed, still preying on my mind.
It was late evening when I arrived at the hospital. The skies had darkened, and a light drizzle was being blown around by a light breeze from the direction of the river, which was a few miles south of the hospital. I was dreading the coming darkness, not really knowing what to expect from it. Quiet sleep, or something more sinister. I sat outside Kerry's room for at least an hour, beseeching myself not to ruin the months of hard work I had given Kerry. What would happen to her delicate mind if I acknowledged this...this thing, that would now be stalking us. What would happen to mine? I could feel a part of me screaming "This thing exists! You can't ignore it, it's real! And it's going to try and kill you!", and the rest of me shaking my head in disbelief. Shouting, "Things like that simply do not exist! It was just a figment of your imagination, brought on by the shock of Kerry's disappearance." I was in turmoil. It was going to kill me, but how can it? It can't possibly exist! How can something that doesn't exist kill you. Psychologically speaking, the sub-conscious mind can play an infinite number of evil scenario's to the conscious mind. All of them as real as if they truly existed in reality. And, dependant upon the condition of the conscious mind and the body housing it, they are sometime's quite lethal. I knew that my state of mind had been affected by Kerry's 'illness', and suddenly I had the explanation for what I had seen. I sat in the corridor, and watched the people go past to visit loved ones. I felt like crying, it was a release of sorts. I had successfully analysed my reaction to Kerry's disappearance and felt an understanding of what had happened. I started to relax, and then become mildly angry at Kerry for running away like that. Finally, I managed to stand up and pay Kerry the visit I had come to make.
Kerry lay in her bed, staring vacantly out of the window at the darkening sky. At first I thought that she was watching the stars emerge from their veil of shallow cloud, but then I saw into her eyes. She was staring, un-blinkingly at the woods outside the hospital, slowly I followed her fixed gaze. Straight into the singular eye's of that...thing. The light from the hospital car park made them glisten in the shadows, as Kerry's and it's stares locked. Then it looked at me.
I tried to scream, to run away. And yet some insane part of my mind had control of my body, and wanted to know what this thing was. Now I can give you a better description of what I saw underneath Kerry's bed. The eye's were a glistening, bloody, red. It is the pupil of the creature that is the most striking, however. Instead of a round, straight or elliptical iris, it was crossed. As if someone had taken the iris' of two sheep, and stitched one on top of the other, but at ninety degrees to each other. And they were neither in the woods, or up against the window of the room. I felt a strange sense of immense distance, and yet I could see them as if it's face were but a foot from mine. They seemed to hang in the shadows of the wood, as well as the reflections of the glass window. And the power behind them... Something screeched it's way across the clear glass of the window. And then the eyes were gone. Vanishing as quickly as warm breath on a cold day. I stood there, trembling, my newfound stability shattered into a billion tiny shards of sanity. Kerry appeared to sleep now, and truthfully I do not think that she was truly conscious when the encounter occurred. But that it was a natural defensive action of her unconscious mind! I shivered, it was looking for me. I had now seen it twice, and I felt that the third time would be my last...
I stayed by Kerry's side that night. Mainly because I did not want to be alone in the place I had called home where I could be, simply, disposed of. My natural reaction to the situation was to seek the company of others. A simple 'group' protection, even if the group did not realise that it was under attack! I think that I did sleep that night, even though I surmise this from a memory of stiff limbs and neck. Kerry hadn't awoken when I left, so I gently placed a kiss upon her forehead, and quietly left. The morning was filled with brilliant sunshine, but it didn't make me feel any better for the previous night. I felt lethargic. For some strange reason I couldn't bring myself to deal with my imminent death. I found myself shopping, cleaning the house, etc... All the boring, humdrum, everyday things that required no thought. Just an automated response that had been constructed over the years. Then I sat alone in the evening, watching the stars emerge from their cloak of daylight. I felt a cool insanity smoothly grip my tired mind, and bare my soul to my approaching death. I fell asleep under a jewelled sky, caressed by a quiet breeze from the woods backing my house, and the quiet hissing of my imagination.
I awoke to sunlight brushing it's early morning tendrils across my face. Shivering, I arose from my chair and hurried inside, reaching for the pot of stale coffee and dropping it onto the hob in order to warm it. I returned to the porch with a steaming mug of terrifyingly sweet coffee which hid it's, rank, bitterness. I watched the sun rise into the sky. The coffee warming my core, whilst the fragile sun warmed my face and arms. Later that day I drove into town, thinking to see Kerry, and Agatha.
The padding of Agatha's pine garden chair, flapped gently in the cool morning breeze, empty. The shop hadn't been opened that morning. I found myself thinking that this was strange, as Mr Cranthorne always opened at nine'o'clock sharp every morning. As I left, I caught a brief snippet of conversational gossip from two women nearby. I soon found that someone had died, quite horrifically.
"You've seen it, an'I don't think it likes t'be seen."(Agatha Cranthorne)
There was a police car sitting quietly outside the Cranthorne's small, yellow brick, and white panelled, house. The day had warmed considerably by that time, but I felt the now familiar chill of fear as I approached the front door. An officer opened it, startling me. I can laugh now, as I had nearly screamed the place down at the sudden movement. The female officer must have seen the look on my face, as she immediately started profuse apologies for her alarming me. I was soon being asked questions as to my presence at the Cranthorne's residence. Afterwards I was told that Mr Cranthorne was now a widower. Agatha had been brutally murdered the night before. I wasn't told any details. And as I listened I felt the temperature of the mid-morning heat drop. All the shadows around me suddenly become darker, deeper. I was abruptly standing in a world filled with holes that stared into the void. And I felt It's eye's upon me. Watching me... Waiting for me...
It took all the strength I had to walk away from that house without screaming. I had nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. For even the most brightly lit of rooms, conceals the darkness of it's shadows. There is darkness everywhere, and the thing that had killed Agatha lived in that darkness. And yet I felt a morbid fascination of this creature that hunted me. I needed to know how Agatha had died. And I knew the perfect man to speak to...
Gary Tendreman was the local pathologist that tended the needs of this, and surrounding, counties. He was also the only person that I really had as a friend. Simply because he'd studied in England, and had an exceptional memory for the town he had lived in. Which, coincidentally, was very close to the same town that I had been born in. I found him sitting at his desk, his small lamp illuminating a portfolio of photographs and notes. I remember his face as he looked up at me. Darkness flooded the spaces under his sad, red, eyes. His hair was unkempt, and his usually clean shaven facade was roughened by dark nine-o-clock shadow. He closed the portfolio as I entered his room, and looked down at his cold mug of coffee.
"Coffee?" He said standing up, and swaying alarmingly. "Please, let me." I took the mug off him, and started a fresh pot of coffee in his small machine. "This a social visit Angela?" I shook my head. "I'm afraid not Gary. I...I'd like to know how Agatha died." He froze for a single, split, second. For that solitary moment of time I saw fear on another humans face. Then it melted into a cool and professional mask. "You know I can't tell you that." I sighed, and listened to the coffee machine making splotch, splotch noises in the corner of the room. It was getting dark outside. "What if I told you I'd seen what did it?" The comment jolted him awake, as if he'd been given an electric shock. "Please. Tell me that you didn't see it!"
"It...Whoever, whatever did this horrific mutilation."
"May I see?"
He was shivering visibly, and I could see the shimmer of a cold sweat on his brow as he pushed the portfolio to me. He stood up and opened the top hung window, allowing a cool breeze to enter the close room. I took a deep breath, and opened the portfolio. I think, not seeing the photo's straight away somehow made things worse. Gary's report stared back up at me. Suddenly that sixth sense that alerts you that something is behind you started to scream, and scream. I whipped my head around, but saw nothing. Molten ice ran down my spine, as I forced myself to turn back. "Is there something wrong?" Asked Gary, his voice quiet, whispering. I shook my head, as I turned the page. Breathing deeply, I lifted the report up, my eyes closed. I placed it on the desk, listening to the hushed rustle of the pages. Slowly I opened my eyes and looked down; to see it's eye's staring back at me from the blood. From under the bed. For a moment that seemed like eternity I stared at the photograph, until I found myself being shaken by Gary. "Angela! Angela are you alright?" Blinking, I looked up at him. "Oh my God Gary. You've got a photograph of it!" The quiet patter of rain broke the silence. Somewhere in the distance, sound rolled across the valley.
Something, wet, touched my ankle.
Screaming, I pushed back with my feet, with such force that I broke the back legs of the chair. I looked under the desk to see, nothing but shadows in the dark. Panting, I looked up at Gary. He wore a stunned look on his face. He looked down at me and opened his mouth to say something. A thin line of crimson, crawled its way out of the corner of his mouth, and down his chin. I watched a single drop coalesce and slowly drift to the thick pile of the carpet. His tongue lolled out of his open mouth, and his arms hung by his sides, listless. He looked like a marionette, except his strings were invisible. Something that looked like a wet ribbon, wrapped itself around his forehead and blood began to flow down his face. Another ribbon appeared, and slowly wrapped itself around his neck constricting it slowly. I watched, as the ribbon around his neck kept tightening, until it was crushing his vertebrae. Blood gushed to the floor around me as his heart carried on the reflex action of pumping, under the command of his spinal column. And then his cervical vertebra was crushed, and his body dropped to the floor splashing blood. Gary's head swayed gently backwards and forwards upon its wavering ribbons of wet flesh. Two more ribbons reached up and hooked themselves into his cheeks. They contracted, pulling his smothered lips into a parody of a smile. An inhuman grin, a blood soaked leer. I tried to scream, but no sound came out. The head of Gary's corpse wavered as it was inclined towards me. My back was against the wall, I had nowhere to run.
"Hello? Doctor Tendreman?" The ribbons froze. Fate had given me a chance to run. Leaping to my feet I launched myself at the open window, using my body weight to open it further. Something wet slapped at the sill as I got up from the flower-bed. And then I heard a scream, and a gunshot. There was a hot flash along the side of my head, and a bright light seared my eyes. The last things I remember, are the tinkle of broken glass falling to the ground, and cool rain running down my face and stinging my eyes.
And now I am here. A hospital bed, armed guards. I have been told that they think I killed Gary, although they haven't yet figured out a motive for me. I don't know why I am guarded. The shot from the hospital guard's gun has paralysed me from the neck down. The doctor says its only temporary paraplegia, but temporary is too long.
I have heard scattered conversation, from my guards. I think they know about It. And, oh God, I think that I'm somehow being offered to it. A modern day sacrifice to something from beyond the edge of time. Something that has dwelt here for untold millenia, and preyed upon the living, conscious souls that live in this tiny valley.
It is taking it's time now. Sometimes I hear it at night, moving under my bed, in the dark. I cannot feel my body, but sometimes I am sure that I see the covers move. I think that it will come for me soon. I've cheated it too many times, and as people say: "Third time lucky"...