He heard it crashing through the dark woods around him, the sound filled with deadly intent as he turned to flee into the gloomy depths. He didn’t know which way to run as the sound of the beast hunting him came from every direction. He was trapped between the emptiness of nowhere and gloomy depths of a featureless void. He could smell its rancid breath as the slender trucks of the trees on his right slowly parted, razor sharp claws glowing in the faint light of a sliver of moon that was playing hide and seek behind the low clouds skirting the treetops above him.

He opened his eyes, relief and disappointment battling for dominance as the featureless void of his bedroom ceiling came into views. The moonlight painted the shadows of the branches of the tree beyond his bedroom window on the wall above his bed. His gaze tracked across his room as he struggled to shake off the paralysis that held him in its grip.

It would ease up shortly and he’d be able to get up, until then he was trapped, only able to move his eyes. Like the dream the paralysis had been happening every night since his big sister, Sarah, was laid to rest several weeks earlier. He hadn’t told anyone yet what was happening to him. Not that they would listen. His parents were still wrapped up in the sorrow of his sister’s passing, going through the motions of their daily lives on auto pilot. Getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed.

They rarely spoke anymore and several times he’d found his mother standing at Sarah’s door just staring at the unmade bed, and the piles of clothes still littered across the floor. Everything had been left just like it was the day she had been rushed to the hospital. As if art any moment she would crash through the front door, slamming it behind her, before charging up the steps, taking them two at a time.

His father used to yell at her all the time about slamming the door, threatening to take it off its hinges, not that that ever made any sense. Why would you leave your front door open like that.

But what did he know, he was only six, and as the paralysis eased he threw back his covers and crossed to the door of his room where he opened it and peered across the hall to his sister’s closed door.

Was she waiting for him in there?

The night continued around him, so full of possibilities, and he was tempted to sneak across to hall a take a quick peek. But he didn’t, just as he hadn’t the night before, or the night before that, or even  before that. Every night he looked across the hall at his sister’s door, wanting to step across and find out, but fear kept him rooted in place.

Just as every night it had been the same dream, repeated over and over again. Always beginning in that small house sitting next to a babbling brook whose soft voice whispered about secret places and unknown things. The forest around the house was filled with shadowy things that slithered over and around on another in an endless dance to gods whose names had been forgotten long before man set foot upon the world. Held at bay by forces they had little understanding of.

Inside a roaring fire filled the small house with the scent of fresh pine and an embracing warmth that wrapped you in a loving manner that made any worries seem insignificant by comparison. They sat together on a handmade rug before the leaping flames of the fire, side by side as they gazed into the dancing flames.

Every time she turned to regard him for a moment with weary eyes, to ask him a simple question for which there was no simple answer.

“Do you believe?”

Did he? He wondered as he watched her door anxiously. At any moment he expected the door to swing open and for Sarah to appear, wearing an oversized tee shirt, her hair a wild tangle as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“Go back to bed squirt,” she would mumble as she passed his room on the way to the bathroom.

Tonight, as it had since the day of  her death, her door remained closed, locking away a secret that might explain what had motivated her.

Did he believe?

He didn’t believe in much of anything anymore, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were nothing more than fairy tales designed to keep little children in line. If you didn’t listen to your parents you wouldn’t get that special gift you wanted. You would get something else, something functional you could use throughout the year. Socks, underwear, new pants or shoes. The lumps of coal that had once been doled out to those who refused to listen had been replaced by the necessities.

With these thoughts in his mind he slowly closed his door on that shadowy hallway filled with secrets and crossed back to his bed where he slipped under the covers and fell asleep. A part of him wanted to recapture the wonder he had felt in that small cabin, yet another part was afraid he might fall into that dreamlike place and never escape.

As it was the remainder of the night passed uneventfully and his dreamless sleep was only disturbed in the early hours of the morning by the soft sound of crying coming from beyond his bedroom door. Carefully he crossed to his door and gently eased it open enough for him to peer through the slender crack.

Across the hall his mother stood with her back to him, the door to Sara’s room wide open as she filled the doorway. Her shoulders shook as she wiped at her eyes as that sound of her crying softly came to his ears. His heart broke for her.

He wanted to tell her everything was going to be all right, that Sarah was not really gone, in fact he had tried just that shortly after her death, and his dreams of that secret forest began. His revelation had earned him a trip to Doctor Morgan’s office, where the older women who once cared for Sarah tried to trick him into telling her how he knew everything was okay, and Sarah was safe.

Sarah had warned him they would try to do that and that he had to be real careful about what he revealed. If he told them about the cabin in the forest it would be all over, they would win, and Sarah would have to go away forever. He had done pretty good until he let it slip about the small stream running through the forest and how if one listened real close they could learn all the secrets of life  and death.

That little mistake had caused his dreams about his sister to devolve into the nightmare of fleeing through the forest depths as the others, those shadowy shapes that flowed over and around one another with sinister intent, pursued him. The cabin was still there, but they hadn’t found it yet, and every time he dreamed of them, he made sure to run away from the cabin, to lead them away from his sister.

“Are you all right, Mom?” Billy said as he stepped out of his room and pulled the door shut behind him. His mother spun around, startled by his sudden appearance, and knelt down to wrap him in a desperate embrace.

“Don’t you leave me,” she whispered fiercely in his ear, her breath hot as it tickled his earlobe. With his head resting on her shoulder he had an unrestricted view of Sarah’s bedroom, his gaze drawn to the poster tacked to the wall above the head of her messy bed.

“I promise, I won’t,” he replied dutifully as his gaze took in the sinister intent of the poster. It was of a massive tree at night, awash in the light of a full moon, its spindly branches reaching for the dark sky like devoted worshipers reaching for the heavens above. Around its massive trunk the shadows were dense, filled with slender appendages that whispered over and around one another as glowing red eyes gazed unblinking from the other side.

“Do you believe?” his sister’s urgent whisper filtered through his thoughts and he nodded his head.

He did believe.

But what did it mean?

After a breakfast of waffles with strawberries Billy was returning to his room when he stopped at the door to his sister’s bedroom. The mystery of what was waiting behind that closed fa├žade had been dispelled when he’d come upon his mother standing in the doorway that morning. Beyond the door lay his sister’s bedroom as it was the day she passed away.

There was no secret forest, no babbling brook, no dark and slithering shapes that moved along the periphery. It was just a bedroom. Though the poster over her bed had disturbed him on a deep and primitive level, it was after all, just a poster.

Emboldened by what he had seen earlier he opened her door and slipped into the silent room. He stood just inside the door, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom, slats of morning sunlight lying across her unmade bed, segmented by the drawn blinds covering her window.

From beyond the window came the sound of everyday life, a lawnmower roaring as Mr. Winslow cut his grass. The Baker kids across the street yelling at one another as they played in their back yard. The occasional car gliding down the street as sunlight twinkled from the glass.

In her room it was as silent as a tomb.

To his right the door to her bathroom stood open, a white towel draped over the top, a pile of dirty clothes. The bathroom was where they found her, and he flashed briefly on the memory of that night. The air alive with the crackle of radios as uniformed me moved down the hallway to her room. He had watched from his own room, the door slightly ajar, his parents standing to the side as the police and paramedics did their job. His father had wrapped his arm around his mother’s shoulder as she wept into her hands.

They brought her out on a stretcher, two paramedics maneuvering the wheeled gurney between them. He thought he would see her face and was disappointed when he realized they had wrapped her in a thick black plastic. After they were gone his mother and father  remained where they had stood the entire time the paramedics and police were here. The hallway beyond his room filled with their sorrow.

The memory receded like the waters of the ocean rushing out to greet the next incoming wave as he moved across the room towards the open bathroom door. He didn’t know what he would find, but when he stepped around the door to find a sparkling clean room he was relived.

Word was she had slit her wrists, lying in a tub of warm water as her life giving blood fled from her body. This he did not hear from his parents or anyone in a position of authority. It had come as most information did, via rumors and whispered gossip. So he was surprised, and not a little relieved to find the bathroom clean.

He didn’t know what to expect.

Turning from the bathroom his gaze tracked across the room until it came to rest on the poster over her bed. In the shadowy gloom of the room it glowed with a malicious intent. From the base of the tree came a hint of a breeze that carried with it the muted odors of decay.

He wanted to flee, to run from the presence of that poster, yet his feet had become rooted in place as the shadows around the tree slithered over and around one another with a sinister intent. It was calling to him on a dark, instinctive, level, drawing him to that emptiness like a moth to a flame.

He took a step towards the poster, his feet moving in accord to a sinister presence that offered little hope, and an eternity of despair. And though a part of his consciousness rebelled against everything this essence had to offer, he could not stop himself from taking another step closer.

He lifted his hand, reaching for the emptiness gathered around the base of the tree, his finger getting closer and closer. As his fingertip came into contact with the surface of the poster he felt a momentary resistance that was quickly overwhelmed as his finger vanished into the emptiness and a cold chill washed the length of his outstretched arm, burying itself in his shoulder as the first knuckle of his finger vanished into the wall.

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