Short, yeah. Inspiration from a nightmare my older brother had when he was very young. He told me about it last night, and I wrote this last night. There aren't many actual similarities between my brother as a kid and the boy in the story, except the action figure fixation. This would take place in New York, around 1991 probably, but these are

"Where are they?!"

The frustrated question wasn't heard by anyone else in the house, as it was spoken in only a whisper. Toys strewn about the hardwood floor in the bedroom of six-year-old Jamie Farren, he had no worries of anyone else hearing him. He had moved to the bedroom across the house when he turned five, because he had gotten in the habit of going to bed when he was supposed to and staying in his room, being a good boy, not getting up and wandering around the house and wreaking havoc and destruction in his wake. He was a good boy now, a big boy, and he got a bigger bedroom with more room for his action figures and posters.

But now, to his absolute horror, they were missing. There were plenty of action figures spread out over his polished bedroom floor, but not the ones he was looking for, not his brand new Hook figures that he had just gotten today at the toy store; a big bag full of them, because he had made A's in all his subjects on his first report card of the year at school, because he was a good boy and paid attention in his classes.

Tonight was a Friday night, a rather chilly night, and even though he was a genuinely good kid, he was up a little later than he was allowed to be. Jamie had only intended to stay awake for a few minutes, because he remembered he had yet to open his new action figures and he absolutely had to see them before he went to sleep tonight. However, he hadn't been able to find them, even after searching so long and so hard, tearing apart every corner of his room that he might have put them in, every toy bin and box and barrel that Mom might have dropped them in.

Standing in the middle of his mess and pouting, he couldn't believe they were already lost, before he had even had a chance to tear into their plastic and cardboard packages, before Captain Hook had even had a chance to fight the Hulk or Stretch Armstrong, or team up with Skeletor to plan the downfall of He-Man. It was unjust, it was unfair, and he was quite certain there had to be some sort of devious plot afoot. Keeping him from his new figures—keeping him from sleeping like the good boy he really, honestly was!

Jamie gave a small sigh before stepping over the mess of toys on his floor to look out the window beside his bed. Staring back at him in a dark part of the window was a wide-eyed boy with messy brown hair that grown-ups always said was "mousy"—he thought they had to be mistaken, since mice had hair all over their bodies and he only had hair on his head. Past his reflection, he could clearly see the front yard and the driveway, which he had run across earlier to come inside and eat lunch after getting home from the toy store. They had picked up a pizza on the way home and he had been half starved. The black, wood panel station wagon still sat in the front drive, where it had parked when they got home. It wasn't a nice car like any of Jamie's matchbox cars, so there wasn't much worry of anyone taking it if it was left out in the open.

Did I leave them in there…?

The thought, once it was in his head, didn't leave. Looking outside, across the front porch outside his window and at the Buick, he couldn't think of anywhere more likely for his action figures to be. He had been so hungry when he got home, maybe he had forgotten to bring them inside, left them on the floor of the car. It seemed very unlike anything he would do, but at the same time, had he carried the bag into the house with him? He couldn't remember it, and Mom had her hands full with the pizza boxes and groceries she had picked up, so she probably hadn't thought about bringing in the toy store bag.

Jamie frowned as he looked out. He had never really been scared of the dark, didn't even sleep with a nightlight. The light that came into his room through the window at night was plenty for him, mostly moonlight and a little from the streetlight at the very end of the driveway. The moon always seemed to do such a good job of cutting through the darkness that he could hardly understand why the roads had to have streetlights. Even their front yard glowed more with the silvery light of the moon than the yellow-orange of the streetlamp.

It was well illuminated, nevertheless.

And just in case, there was always the porch light.

Taking one deep breath, as though preparing to plunge into a deep, dark pool of water, Jamie nodded to himself. Yes, he would have to go outside and check the station wagon, or he would never be able to sleep tonight, and he had to sleep. He had to sleep because that's what good boys did at night, and he was a good boy. He made good grades in school and always ate every bite of his supper, and he always slept in his bed at night. So it was absolutely necessary that he go and get those figures. If he didn't get them, someone else might, and that would be a very bad thing. Then he might never sleep again.

If he was going to sleep, he had to have those toys. If he was going to get those toys, he had to sneak outside and go check the car, where he was, at this point, positive they had to be. If they weren't there, they were nowhere. They were in the land where all of his missing socks and pencils and spare change went to, that strange dimension linked to clothes dryers and pockets with holes in them. But no, they couldn't be there, because new things weren't allowed there, only old things. This meant that it was an absolute fact that those figures were in that car.

Jamie was already out of his bedroom now, staring down the long hallway. He could hear Dad snoring, which meant Mom was probably asleep too, which meant it was really late, it's-way-past-your-bedtime-mister late. This also, however, meant that he could sneak all around the house if he wanted to, as long as he didn't make any loud noises, without Mom or Dad ever waking up. But of course, he wasn't going to do that. He was going to go outside, get his new Hook action figures out of the car, come inside, and go back to his room, because he was a good boy.

His room was at the very end of the hallway— all he had to do was turn the corner next to the door to his bedroom, and there was the front door. He turned the deadbolt and opened it slowly, very carefully so it wouldn't creak, and stepped out onto the front porch. A shiver ran across him as the chilly autumn wind nipped at his ears and neck. Normally he would have to come out in a jacket at this time of year, but all he had on now were his red and blue Spiderman pajamas, which were short sleeve. Mom probably would have been very upset with him if she knew he was outside with no jacket in this weather, but he had to come out here so he could get his new Hook figures, and had to be as quick about it as possible so he could come back inside and go to sleep like the good boy he was.

Jamie nearly shut the door behind him, but instead decided to leave it open a crack so the deadbolt wouldn't turn back again as soon as he needed to get back inside, like it always did in bad dreams and scary movies he wasn't supposed to watch. If he left it cracked open, then it would be okay, and he could come back in as quickly as possible, as soon as he was done in the car.

Happy with his ingenuity, Jamie strolled across the wooden porch. He glanced in his bedroom window as he passed it, saw the mess on the floor he would have to clean up before he went to sleep, and frowned a little as his feet came to the top of the stairs. Those very feet were clad only in white socks, but he supposed that was okay, since he did play outside barefoot quite a bit. Shrugging to himself, he took the railing at the side of the stairs in one hand and descended them slowly, one step at a time so he wouldn't fall and hurt himself.

Standing on the last step, Jamie looked at the Buick. It was very close, only a few seconds away at a quick run. The driveway was plenty bright, between the streetlight at the end of it and the light from the full moon. It struck him quite suddenly that he had forgotten all about the porch light, but it didn't seem necessary now that he was outside and could see just how bright everything was. It wasn't as bright as it was during the day, but it was definitely very light in its own way, because of how big and bright the moon was in the sky.

Jamie's eyes wandered off to the side—the forest was dark. They lived outside of the town—rural was what grown-ups called it. There weren't many people very close by, no neighbors like the houses in town had. People lived up or down the road a little ways out here, and the closest "neighbors" here were a short walk up the road, his friend Helen and her family. It was a short walk, though a long enough one that he couldn't actually see their house from the top of his driveway, and had to go with Mom or Dad when they did visit Helen. This meant that his actual closest neighbors were the animals and shadows in the forest around their house, the dark forest he was eyeing now. That darkness seemed a little too close to the bottom step, like maybe it was planning on encompassing everything the second he stepped down onto the ground.

With an audible gulp, Jamie lifted a foot. He was a big boy—he didn't have to be afraid of the dark. It wasn't like he was going in the forest anyway. Staring defiantly at the trees, he put one foot down on the ground, then the other, and waited.

A few crickets chirped at him, but the dark forest took no preemptive action against him.

Remembering why he was out here so late, Jamie's eyes swiveled over to the station wagon, and he took off for it at a sprint. It was just as close as he imagined—he was at the door in a few quick seconds and pulling on the handle at the passenger door to open it. Though he hadn't thought until now whether or not Mom had locked the doors, she luckily hadn't; the door opened easily, and Jamie climbed into the vehicle, and—


Stretched out over the seat, Jamie triumphantly grabbed up the toy store bag from between the two front seats and held it open—his action figures were there, just like he had known they would be! Grinning ear to ear, he slid back out of the car and waited until he felt all of his toes touch the ground to stand up straight. He shut the sedan's door quietly and looked into the bag again as he began walking back towards the front porch.

A small snapping sound nearly made him trip before it clicked what it was—just a twig snapping under his foot.

But had he stepped on a twig? He certainly hadn't thought so. Jamie lifted one foot, and then the other, and then looked around him—there wasn't a twig to be seen. Just dirt, a few rocks, and some grass. He blinked in confusion before he resumed his trek towards the porch, but both his heart and his feet were going a little faster this time.

A slight rustling noise stopped him next, and he had heard clearly where it had come from this time—it was the dark place. Jamie wasn't afraid of the dark because he was a big boy. Not in the least little bit, not at all. He looked over at the dark trees, at the thickest, darkest patch of them, precisely where the noise had come from, his lips pursed and his brow furrowed. Nothing about the dark scared him—it just meant that the moon's and the streetlight's arms weren't quite long enough to reach that particular place.

Or maybe they don't want to reach there. Maybe they're afraid of it, too.

Jamie gulped a little, but kept his eyes on that patch of trees for a moment longer, glared at it, walking slowly towards the porch steps.

When the tall person stepped out onto the grass, Jamie's feet froze to the worn, dusty driveway.

The person stood where it was just light enough to see that there was something there other than trees, but only light enough to be able to see a silhouette, an outline of whom or whatever it was. It was just a shadow now, dark as the darkness behind it, and very tall, definitely taller than Mom or Dad, or even Uncle Danny, and Uncle Danny was taller than anyone else Jamie had ever seen in person. It might have even been taller than Michael Jordon. If it was just a shadow, then that would explain why it was so tall—Jamie had seen his own shadow get at least twice as tall as him before.

But it's not a shadow, you know that it isn't.

It wore a big hat and was shaped like a man, and he could barely make out some of its features, which meant that this was almost definitely a real figure.

It took another couple steps, ambling slowly forward, until it was bathed in the silver-orange mix of light from the moon and the streetlamp. Up close, it definitely looked more like a man than a woman, but a very slim man, in long blue jeans, black boots, and a flannel shirt like Dad wore all the time. The tall man's head was declined, so his face was still covered in shadow from the wide brim of his big, black hat. It struck Jamie that this might be one of those badmen that his Mom and Dad had told him about before— men that snatched up little kids from their yards when grown-ups weren't looking or took them away at grocery stores when they were separated from their parents, took them far away from their Moms and Dads. This tall person might be one of the badmen.

The person took one more step forward, and he was still a decent length away from Jamie, so Jamie stood a chance of getting away from him and getting inside if he needed to. Right now, that wasn't an option. The darkness had reached out and snagged his feet, tied its invisible tendrils around his ankles so he stood no chance at all of moving. Now all he could do was wait for the person to make his move.

"Nice night for a walk."

The voice rang out so suddenly that Jamie wondered for a moment who had spoken. The tall man hadn't moved again before speaking, hadn't given any indication that he was going to speak before the voice came to Jamie's ears. Now, however, the tall man lifted his head, so the orange-silver light pooling across the yard could reach his face. Jamie's eyes widened.

No amount of widening could do anything to match this man's eyes, however. His eyes were big, dark taking up nearly half of his oblong face, silver rays of moonlight glinting off of the huge black orbs. He blinked once, twice, and the lids of his eyes close side to side rather than from top to bottom. The skin visible on the man's face wasn't the color of any flesh Jamie had ever seen, but was a pale, smooth sort of gray, smooth and shiny like the skin on frogs and salamanders. The man's lips were thin and colorless, a near nonexistent line across the bottom half of the man's face. He looked like an alien in one of those scary movies Jamie wasn't supposed to watch, but occasionally caught a few seconds of when Mom or Dad would watch one and he would wander out into the living room at night. A big, sleek, gray alien.

As Jamie observed this, those thin lips began to spread into a smile. At first, the smile was quite friendly, so much so that Jamie was nearly tempted to smile back himself. The spreading, however, didn't cease. Slowly, so slowly it was painful to watch, that amiable smile widened into a derisive grin, and Jamie could see light glinting off of several razor-sharp, metallic somethings in man's mouth—teeth? The grin widened further, into a strange, hungry sort of grimace, and those metallic things weren't just teeth, oh no, they were fangs, a mouthful of huge razor-fangs set in a mouth large enough to swallow him whole.

The invisible tendrils of darkness broke away from Jamie's ankles suddenly, and he ran, ran from the monster, from the badman, up the front steps of his house, for the door that he had left open by a crack a few inches wide—


The door was closed. His hand came to the doorknob and turned it, though he knew what was happening, though he knew that the door was dead-bolted shut, and pulled helplessly at the handle, fully aware that he was screaming now, tears streaming down his face, his bag of brand new action figures fallen beside his feet—he didn't care now, he didn't care about the action figures or about Mom and Dad finding out he had been out past his bed time, he just wanted to get inside and be safe, not be swallowed whole by the badman's gaping, razortooth mouth. He would have given all of his action figures just to be inside and safe, on the other side of the dead-bolted door with his parents, regardless of how angry they were with him.

His hysterics calmed only very slightly as he turned the doorknob over and over and pulled on the door, when he realized he could try to break his bedroom window with his bag of action figures and climb in through there, block off the window from the badman with something big and heavy. Tears still streaming down from his horrified eyes, his screams resolved into helpless sobs, he bent to pick up the bag and turned quickly—and found himself stumbling backwards into the front door of the house, screaming again, because the badman had followed him, was standing over him, his manic grin, his hungry grimace still in place as he opened his mouth, spread those monstrous fangs apart and moved slowly forward, closing in on Jamie as he huddled in the corner, unable to even close his eyes so he didn't have to see the horrible metallic teeth or forked tongue before he was swallowed.

Jamie let out a final yell of terror and sat straight up on his bedroom floor.

Had he… fallen asleep? Jamie looked around at the toys strewn about his bedroom floor, wondering when and how he had gone to sleep here. He couldn't remember lying down, or even sitting down on the floor, but he supposed he must have if he was asleep here. The last thing he remembered

(giant metallic fangs glinting hungry black eyes)

was tearing apart his room to find that bag of Hook figures. Were they really still out in the car? Jamie frowned as he stood up in the middle of his floor and looked around his room. His eyes landed on his bed, and his heart skipped—there, sitting in the middle of the neatly-made twin bed, right there on top of his red and blue Spiderman bed sheets, was the bag from the toy store. But was it really the same bag? Could it have possible been? No, he couldn't have possibly torn apart his entire room looking for that very bag when it was sitting on his bed the entire time…

It wasn't there the whole time.

The back of Jamie's neck quite suddenly felt rather prickly as the small hairs there stood on end, and a chill ran through him as goose bumps rose all over his arms. This made no sense. Had he really fallen asleep looking for the bag, or had he gone out to the car to get it? Jamie hurried to the window, as though there might be some sign of his having been out there, and looked around. It was still dark out, and the moon had travelled further down the night sky. The station wagon sat in its proper place, the front drive and lawn still well-enough lit to see everything, the forest still as dark as it ever was at night—

Jamie's wide eyes landed on something at their edge, something very tall, too tall to be a man though not quite tall enough to be a tree. It was close enough to the forest that it was totally black like a shadow, but seemed to have some substance to it… and it was shaped like a man, wearing a wide-brim hat. He gulped as he stared at it, unable to move from the window, hands glued to the sill. It felt like hours before the shadowy figure moved an inch—to stride ever so slowly into the forest.

Nice night for a walk.

Jamie quickly pulled the blinds down over his windows and closed the curtains over them, and ran across the room for his bed. Come morning, he would have to explain the mess in his room to Mom and Dad, but he didn't care. The safety of his warm bed was much too inviting to resist at this point. Not even bothering to toss the toy store bag off of the bed, he drew the covers over his head and shut his eyes tightly.

The dark… he wasn't afraid of the dark, no, because he was a big boy… but he would be sleeping with his curtains closed and his blinds drawn from now on, and might even consider asking Mom about getting a nightlight. He was a big boy, and he wasn't afraid of the dark. It was what lurked inside the dark that scared him.