Skeleton branches rattled and scratched at the shaky window pane. The breeze outside was cold, Jake knew, but carried with it no terror; no beasts lurking in the shadows, no red-eyed monsters hungrily slavering for his flesh. It was just a cold winter wind that shook the branches of the naked trees. His Daddy had told him that so many times that he had finally come to understand and believe. Letting go of the fear of the outside world had been hard, but he now could chuckle (most nights) about how silly he’d been. Afraid of the stupid wind! Ha!
Beary was snuggled up next to him. Some of his friends thought Beary odd: purple, fuzzy, silent. But Beary had been his companion for as long as Jake could remember, and the familiar feel of scratchy purple fur, the gaze of lifeless glass eyes, and the scents of himself and his bed and Mommy and Daddy were a balm on his soul; a cool washcloth over his forehead.
The squeaky branches and the cold wind did not frighten him. His fear this night came from inside the house he had known all his short years. The normally silent walls chanted tonight. The chants had started some time ago. They were not in time with the squeal and scratch on the windowpane (which would have seemed somehow natural), but at a twisted disharmony with the outside noise, as if they defied everything that the breeze stood for, that it carried with it.
Shortly after the chanting voices began emanating from the wall to the left of his bed, the wall to his brother Matt’s room, Jake caught the smell of burning wax and something else he could not define. It smelled wrong though, like blackness or anger. He wished silently into Beary’s furry, one-eared head that the smell would go away, and the rhythmic, disharmonic voices with it.
But the chants grew louder, the smell stronger, the fear more persistent in his gut. He worried for half a heartbeat that he would suffocate poor Beary; squeeze him to death in his anxious terror. Then he remembered: its just a teddy bear, and he can’t breathe or smell wax or blackness or feel fear. I’m the one who can do all those things, Jake thought, and I don’t want to any more. I want them to go away so I can listen to the wind some more and fall asleep like I always do.
His desire went unanswered. The voices grew louder still, threatening to break through the wall with the puppy-dog wallpaper, into his room, onto his bed where they would gobble him up like a hungry beast.
With a suddenness that frightened Jake more than the noises and the smell had, the chants ceased; cut off in midstream as with a knife. The smell remained, intensified and altered into something even blacker, angrier. A loud thump rattled the floor and the legos that slept thereon, followed by a roar of some ravenous beast.
This is it, Jake thought, whatever’s in there is gonna come in here and eat me up. He squeezed Beary as hard as his little arms would allow.
Then came the scream. Jake hadn’t thought anything in the whole wide world could be more frightening than the roar from Matty’s room, but the scream proved him mistaken. It curdled his blood, rattling in his head like a bell made of fear.
Daddy heard! Jake thought. He could hear the unmistakable sounds of his father’s heavy footfalls rushing up the wooden stairs. Mommy too! The second pair of pounding feet, slightly lighter and slightly faster, came up the stairs at the end of the hall, past his room.
His Daddy’s voice as the door to Matt’s room crashed open: “Matt what the hell is–“ The question was never fully voiced. Instead, there was a gurgled cry that grated on Jake’s ears, though he now had his hands pressed tightly over them to ward off the sounds from the wall.
More crashing and banging and screaming. Jake did not sift through the sounds and the tremors. He simply whimpered into the top of Beary’s head, covering his ears so hard they hurt.
After an eternity like this, it was over: no more noises or rattling legos; the house was silent. Even the skeletal branches outside ceased their scratching. The smell, too, had faded.
With a will that Jake hadn’t known he possessed, he whipped the covers off his body and slipped his bare feet to the hardwood, grasping Beary tigthly by the arm with one hand. He padded softly and nimbly over legos and around toy cars and scattered crayons. The door nearly thwarted him, for as he neared it he became aware of the sound of ragged breathing coming from the other side.
Just Daddy calming down, he told himself. Daddy always has to calm down for a little while after he and Matty get mad at each other. Mommy talks to Matt, and Daddy calms down. Though the coarse breathing sounded strange to his red and hurting ears, Jake forced himself to grip the brass handle of his door and pull it toward him.
Beary left the room first, held before Jake in both hands like a talisman. When Beary was neither eaten or burned alive, Jake followed, taking comfort in the bear’s strength and courage. The hallway was as it always was after dark: quiet, dimly lit from the living room light filtering up through the white banisters of the stairway, gurgled sounds of television shows mumbling through the floorboards.
Hesitantly, taking courage from Beary’s steadfast fortitude, Jake turned his head, toward Matt’s room. There, the normality ended. The door to the bedroom had been shattered off its top hinges and hung by only its bottom, leaning twisted into the room. Daddy must have been really angry to break the door down, Jake thought, hoping against hope that he was right, trying to convince himself. The smell of darkness and rage was thick in the hallway, coming from the bedroom with the broken door. Dim organge light flicked agianst the far wall, and Jake knew something was burning.
He could no longer stand the fear that pulsed through his viens like liquid heat, nor could he stifle the outrageous curiosity that tugged him and Beary closer to the room. With a great, invigorating breath, Jake rushed to broken door, his soles making hardly a sound against the softness of the hallway rug.
He attempted to stop in the doorway, but his feet encountered something slippery, and he slid several feet into the room, barely managing to not fall on his bottom. Brown eyes wide and confused, Jake took in his brother’s room:
The black curtain covering the shattered window fluttered into the room, billowing and snapping. There was a small fire licking up the walls next to it, ever growing and determined, staining the shadowed ceiling with smoke. The flame melted the flesh of a hand that had fallen into it, its owner unmoving. Jake didn’t recognize the blood-smeared face of the owner of the burning hand. The boy’s eyes slid across the wall of the room. It too was smeared and splattered with dark, sticky blood, so thick that it rolled and dripped and trickled down the wall in the growing light of the yellow flame. In the center of the floor: more blood. This was arranged in a wide circle; it had been drawn on the floor, probably from the overturned metal pail that lay some distance away, the remainder of its contents congealing and flickering on the hardwood.
On the circumference of the circle of blood were candles. Black and long, only one remained standing, miraculously still burning amidst the carnage. The others were tipped and flung about, sending tendrils of smoke up to help with the effort of staining the ceiling with blackness. In the center of the circle, Jake saw Matty. He looked asleep. There was no blood on his face, nor was he engulfed in flames or torn apart, as Jake had feared. But he was still, oh, so still! There was no light in his eyes, and his chest did not heave.
Jake’s gaze followed the spatters and smears of blood out of the circle. He followed the trail to his feet, now knowing what he had slipped in upon first entering Matt’s room. His Daddy’s face looked up at him. His eyes were all white, having rolled up into his head, and his dark hair looked as if half of it had been ripped out; the remainder was greasy with blood and chunks of gore. His body lay several feet away, ripped and shredded, twisted into a parody of what it once was.
The black sheets on Matty’s bed were stained and splattered. At the foot of it, a shadow lurked. Even as Jake was wondering what it was, who could be sitting amongst all this chaos, the shadow rose, stretching higher and higher, until its top grazed ceiling.
The shadow turned with painful slowness to face Jake. Eyes of flame stared out from an ashen face above fangs dripping blood, and a fleshless, skeletal nose. Gore and blood and yellow mucus ran down its bare body to its massive, quivering organ, dripping finally onto the floor and seeping through its boards. In one taloned hand a mass of bloody curls was clutched. Jake could tell that the curls used to be blond. That the missing skin used to be pale as snow and warm as comfort. The vacant eye sockets had once held orbs of purest, kindest blue.
The grey beast dropped the head of Jake’s mother with a thud and a splash. It started forward, and even before Jake’s fear and understanding could cause his limbs to move, could make his body flee from this slaughterhouse, the talons had him and he was hoisted up toward that slavering mouth. His last thought was that poor Beary would have to be washed, as his purple friend splashed into the blood.
Beary watched on from the floor with lifeless glass eyes surrounded by purple, matted fur. The boy who had held and squeezed and smelled him for all those years didn’t scream. He sighed once as Beary hit the floor, more in resigned disappointment than in fear. Beary watched as the massive creature casually tore limbs from the boy’s body, stuffing them into its gaping maw and slurping them down, hardly seeming to chew. The blood soaked slowly into his fur and cotton as he watched blindly the being tear Jake’s head from his body with one noisy snap of its jaws. Lastly, the beast ripped open the boy’s chest and held the body above itself, letting the still heart slink and slither into its mouth and down its throat.
Beary watched, his purple fur now red and brown and ruined, as the beast surveyed the room one last time before striding purposefully to the shattered window. As flames licked and hissed at the blood that covered Beary, the creature opened its massive wings and flew into the cold, windy night.