Black Eyed Child
short story by Alisha Bartrum
Suddenly, the air changed. It was that feeling one gets before something strange happens. That slight altering in our perceptions that we as human beings feel as a chill in our spines or the hairs on the back of our necks rising. At that moment, everything around her narrowed to the small light on her front porch and the young child standing there.
The knock had come late at night, almost eleven fifteen. It was a school night, and for the last two hours or so Jacelin's two boys had been sound asleep in their beds. That is why it was such a surprise to hear the barking of her dog so late. In the small culdesac she lived in everyone was in bed by at least ten and those who stayed up late never came near her house. Even then, Riley had been trained not to bark unless it was necessary. The poodle-terrier did not go into fits of noise when one of the local squirrels sat on their windowsill, nor did he bark when the mailman delivered the morning mail.
At this moment though, Riley was barking up a storm as he attempted to hide behind anything available. There was something wrong with his bark, it was not the deep bark he used against her ex-husband, nor was it the happy bark he gave when the school bus arrived out front to drop off the boys. This bark was high pitched and sounded like some sort of scream. Ignoring her better judgment, she had put down her book and gotten off the couch to answer the door.
Looking out the peephole located in the center of her door, she tried to see exactly who was at her door. For a moment she saw only the distorted view of the street beyond her door. It was not until she looked down that she saw her nightly visitor. She could not see his face, but a mop of curly black hair blocked her view. He was wearing what seemed to be an old sweatshirt and a pair of shorts with Nike tennis shoes untied on his feet.
Concerned, Jacelin unlatched the lock and swung open the door. The poor boy was only ten after all, dressed so lightly and worn down, he did not seem to have a good home. It was October for christ's sake, and here the child was in shorts and sneakers! She stepped forward into the doorway and that was when the air changed. Her vision narrowed to the boy just in front of her. Just like the rabbit who senses the fox nearby, her heart rate soared to where she could hear it thumping in her ears. She fought it, telling herself it was only a boy. It was only a boy.
Voice shaking, she called out to him as warmly as her mind would let her. "Hello, does your mother know you are out this late?"
Lifting his head, the boy smiled. For some reason the sight chilled her to the bone, his teeth were very very white and the smile seemed detached and cunning. She could feel her fight-or-flight responses kicking in. Something, she knew almost instinctively, was not right with this child, but she didn't know what it on earth it could have been. Then he spoke, his words icing her blood in an instant.
"Hey ma'am. I have a problem," he said. His voice was young enough, and he spoke like much like her kids. It was his diction, quiet calm and ... something else. There was something else there she still couldn't pin point. It was completely irrational but it made her desire to flee even greater. With every word she wanted more and more to flee into the house and lock every door and window tight. "You see, I got lost a few hours ago and need to get home before my mom gets worried." he continued. "I need a ride to my house. Want to help me out?"
As a teacher, Jacelin had spent most of her adult life with children. Now when a normal child speaks to an adult they are almost apologetic. Sometimes they have an attitude, or a rude demeanor, but most are almost shy. It was almost as if they were taught that all adults are busy and that talking to them is disturbing them. She herself had taught her kids to wait till the adults are done talking before you speak. Yet this kid was not behaving in anyway she had ever seen a ten year old act. His speech was impeccable and he showed no signs of fear. It was as if he spoke like her help was already given without hesitation. When he grinned he seemed to be hiding knowledge of something that was going to happen soon. Something she was not going to like.
"Uh, well...she started, trying not to seem as scared as she felt. "It is late, and both of my boys are already in bed. I can not really be giving anyone a ride at this time."
It was barely after she finished speaking that the boy looked at the her with a mixture of confusion and guilt on his face. He seemed almost shocked, almost completely unsure why she had not just given him a ride. Eying her nervously, he spoke again. "C'mon, please ma'am" again he smiled , smooth as silk. "I just want to go to my house. My mother gets awfully worried and I am just a little boy. You can not leave me out here all alone at night."
It was the way he said the last bit that really scared her. Something was really wrong here, but she could not force herself away from the door. She stood there, back framed against the light of the house, the barking done by Riley was now nothing more than a low whine.
"Please?" he asked again, this time his voice was a slight hiss. "Let me in for a moment so I can get a ride. Please? I can't come in until you let me."
Jacelin stared straight at the boy, who stood on her front porch with his hands in his pockets. There should be nothing wrong with letting him in right? He was just a little boy. Little boys would never harm anyone, right? If that was true, why was her heart pounding in her ears and the fine hairs on her arms and neck standing straight up?
Since she did not answer him, the boy spoke more forcefully. "Can I just come in and make a phone call then? My mother gets awfully worried about me. Just let me in, and I will be gone before you know it. I just have to get back to my mother's house."
At that moment, he looked directly into her face and they locked eyes. "C'mon ma'am. You HAVE to let me in."
Against her better judgment, she stepped away from the door and back into the entrance way. Never tearing his eyes from hers, he stayed on the porch. After a moment, his eyes grew angry, narrowing into slits. "I CAN NOT COME IN UNLESS YOU INVITE ME!" he hissed, eyes flashing.
It was at that moment she noticed his eyes. Both of them were black, dark as oil and not a hint of white reflected in them. No light seemed to reach those pools of black, instead they shone with a light of their own from some ungodly place. Yet she could not look away. No matter how she tried, how she struggled, she could not move her eyes from his.
"INVITE ME IN!" he growled lowly.
Her mouth moved, a small and frightened voice sounding out. "Please come in."
With that he broke eye contact and stepped into the doorway. Smiling, he asked her for the phone. "So I can call my mother." After she pointed him to the other room, she waited for him to get out of sight. Once he was gone, she sprinted across the room, not even bothering to close the door behind her. Breathing heavily, Jacelin searched for her cellphone. Riley was whining lowly in some corner of the room, providing some noise as she fumbled about the couch looking for her phone.
As she searched, Riley's whine changed. It went from the low whine of a scared dog to the cry of a scared puppy in an instant. Jacelin whipped her head towards the other room, and nearly screamed.
There in the doorway stood two more children, one a male and the other a girl. From behind them came the first boy, a smile still on his face. "Thanks for the phone ma'am. Mom isn't worried anymore."
She caught the glimpse of six black eyes as they flew at her from the doorway. Everything slowed down and quickly faded to black. Her heart slowed and stopped. They fed. Once they had finished, they quickly moved from the house. Leaving the dog, the boys and the house alone, they disappeared from the doorstep and into the night. Just then the air shifted once more.