This is the last of the 3-part Terribleminds challenge. I’m finishing a story that two other people worked on. Below are all three parts, but here’s some links to the original part 1 and part 2 of the story. It’s funny, I almost did this story as my part 2. It would have had a pet demon that the girl summoned through reading the ghost stories. Very different.
The noise came again, and this time there could be no mistake: somebody was in the house. Worse, somebody was in my bedroom. I strained to hear, holding my breath, hoping that what I heard was just something from outside on the street, a drunk perhaps, a stray dog going through the garbage bins, but no. It was faint but unmistakably closer. I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again, trying to see in the dark without moving. It was there, a scratching sound on the wooden floor, like something scrambling frantically in the same spot. Perhaps a rat, I thought as I lay, face up, cursing silently the fact that I stayed up late, trying to finish that damn book – the one with rats on the cover. No wonder I was imagining things.
The noise had stopped and nothing else could be heard, except for the occasional car going down the street but even that faded away and the fear began to loosen its grip on me. My eyes grew heavy, my body relaxed. Then it came again, closer, the scratching, and in my mind I saw a huge rat, as big as a cat, its teeth sharp and hungry for meat, the beady eyes glistening in the dark. I considered my options. Option one, pretend nothing happened, it was a nightmare (a persistent one at that) and try to go back to sleep. Option two, stretch out my hand over to the nightstand and turn on the light. Perhaps it was a small mouse and the light will frighten it. Or perhaps the light would scare it right into my bed.
I began to shiver under the blanket. I tried to move my hand as quietly as possible but the thing must have heard me and it stopped. I breathed slowly, trying to give myself courage. Now this is truly stupid, there is no rat, it was all in my head. I shifted slightly to the left, reaching out with my hand.
The noise began again, and this time it was so close it made my skin crawl and my heart beat like a war drum. It must be under the bed now, whatever it was. Perhaps I could use my pillow, swat it away. Or my tube of hair spray, or the chunky volume of ghost stories. All on my nightstand, if I could just reach over and turn on that light.
I inched closer, my fingers stretched to find the switch of the reading lamp. I knocked over an empty glass, and it tumbled to the floor, rolling, before coming to an abrupt stop. I cursed silently, and in the next instant I heard the scratching on the floor, followed by a soft thud. It was on the bed now, whatever it was. I bit my lip and swallowed the scream that threatened to spill out; I felt the blanket slipping from my body, slowly, cold air on my skin, my blood turning to ice…
* * *
Suddenly a giggle and a look of confusion washed over my face. It giggled again as it crawled closer to my face. Fumbling for the light and twisting the switch, I turned back into the face of a child.
The little boy smiled, “found you!” he squealed.
My heart was still racing but the fear had all but disappeared. It wasn’t a woman-eating-rat, but a child, who wasn’t hers, right in front of her as if it was no big deal.
“Hi there little guy. How’d you get in here?” I asked in as soothing high pitch voice as she could muster.
“Mommy said I should go play hide and seek. So that’s what I did. I found you. You weren’t really hiding very well.”
I tried to recall who in the building had a child but nobody came to mind. Recovering and throwing a big smile, I asked where mommy was.
“She’s at home.” he replied as he sat on the bed, crossing his legs as if he’s ready for a story.
“Hmm, I don’t know. At school we are learning where we live to help us.”
Great she thought. This kids probably 5 or so, doesn’t know where he lives and somehow got into my locked apartment.
“Well, why don’t we go into the kitchen and get something to eat. We can figure out where you live and take you home. Does that sound good?”
“Yeah, I guess. But mommy said to stay out until the sun comes up. And the sun isn’t up yet.”
I started moving off the bed, reaching for my robe and the boy followed. Walking down the hallway I finally asked the odd question.
“That’s a long time from now. Why did she want you to stay out so long?”
“She always says I should go explore at night. Because I feel better when I do. She’s right. I don’t feel good when the sun is up. Mommy says it’s a condition I have. I don’t remember what it is but she told me. I know she did.”
“How does some cereal sound?”
“Does it have marshmallows?” his face brightening.
“Sorry, no marshmallows.”
“Aww, man.” he said with defeat.
“But it’s got sugar” trying to cheer him back up.
“I guess. It’s not as good without the marshmallows.”
“Yeah, I agree”
We sat at my small table, the boy scarfing down the cereal and sipped some tea herself. He was pumping his legs back and forth while humming and chewing.
I started asking a series of questions that he might be able to answer, helping her narrow down where he lived.
“Do you live in this building?”
“Where do you live?”
“In the woods”
The woods, I thought? I live in the heart of a small town, the woods are a few miles away. Something wasn’t right and I went to grab the phone, something I should have done minutes ago.
* * *
The little boy pointed at my smartphone.
I held it out for him while I looked up the police non-emergency line.
“It’s a phone. I can use it to call a friendly police officer who can help.”
His face turned bright red.
“No! Not them!”
I held up my hands in surrender.
“It’s okay! I won’t call the police.”
“They hurt daddy! The mean police made him go away.”
I felt a lump in my throat. I rushed to his side with open arms. He wrapped his tiny arms around my neck, and sobbed into my shoulder. I kept my voice hushed.
“We can do this, alright? No mean people, just us.”
He nodded weakly.
“So, you live in the woods. Can you describe your house? Is it made of wood?”
“It’s made of rocks and dirt.”
“Is it close to a road?”
The tears slowed, and the boy pushed away so that he could eat again.
“Mommy says roads only help the bad people come. But, there’s a lake with lots of fish. I catch them sometimes. They’re wiggly.”
My fingers tapped against the phone. Maybe I was going at this the wrong way.
“How are you so good at hide and seek?”
The boy shoved a big spoonful of cereal in his mouth. His mischievous grin lost some of its effect between full cheeks.
“I want to learn how to be sneaky, too. Can you show me how you came inside?”
“I think really hard. Pretend it’s daytime. Then, my claws come back and I can climb the bricks!”
The boy scrunched his face up. He took a deep breath in, then exhaled slowly. He placed his hands on the table. The seconds drifted by. I couldn’t help but sit and watch. The kid was confused. He couldn’t possibly mean…
Tufts of gray fur suddenly sprouted on the sides of his face. His forearms and hands went fuzzy as well. Sharp puppy claws scratched the cheap wood of the table.
I scrambled to my feet.
“You’re a werewolf?!”
The boy stared up at me with his mouth pushed to one side. The fur and claws retreated into his skin.
“I don’t think so. Oh! I remembered! Mommy said I have rebers-lie-canter-dopey.”
I repeated the words in my head until they made sense. Reverse lycanthropy. He wasn’t a werewolf, but a were-boy! Once my body stopped its frightened shaking, I walked over to the boy’s side of the table.
He nodded, so I reached out my hand.
“Let’s go for a walk. Do you think you could find your way home if I take you to the edge of the forest?”
He wrapped his hand in mine as he scooted off the chair. His grin extended to his ears.
We went out into the pre-dawn darkness. As we walked, I breathed a silent hope that the boy’s mother wouldn’t maul me for going near her puppy.