Billy

Billy

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 façade 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.



He yanked his hand back from the poster, his finger coming free with an audible pop, and he turned and fled from the room. The image of those shadowy shapes leaping and jumping around one another in a primitive dance to some ancient god burned into his memory.



He raced down the hall, stopping when he spotted his dad standing in front of the mirror in his bedroom, his gaze fixed on some distant point that existed beyond the reflective surface.

“Dad,” Billy said as he pushed into the room.

His father remained motionless, frozen in place, and when Billy slipped his little hand into his father’s larger one he felt how cold his father’s flesh had become. At one time his hands had provided a comforting warmth that offered a sense of well being and security. But that feeling had fled after his sisters death..

“Dad?” Billy said as he gazed up at his father’s immobile features. His dad gazed into the mirror with an unblinking stare.

“Dad?” Billy said again, more forcefully this time, yanking on his father’s hand, pulling him off balance. His father straightened up, his stare never leaving the mirror, and Billy released his hold.

Downstairs, in the kitchen, he found his mom standing at the sink, the water running into the bowl, slowly reaching the lip over which it would flow into the bowl next to it. Her hands were in the soapy water, her gaze fixed on the small window over the sink.’

“Mom,” he said with quiet fear that blossomed into unrelenting terror when she remained where she was, never acknowledging his presence, blinking, or looking away from the window where sunlight filled the day with warmth.

It was then he realized that not a single sound was coming from the neighborhood beyond the walls of the house. Racing to the front door, his heart clambering into his throat, he yanked the door open on a silent world that appeared to have stopped in mid-stride.

Mr. Winslow sat on his silent mower across the street, the spray of grass issuing from the chute on the side of the deck hung in mid-air. The Baker kids had ceased their rowdy yells, becoming frozen in place, the football they had been tossing back and forth suspended in mid-air between them.

Struggling to catch his breath he took a hesitant step back, then another, before he slammed the door on the silence that awaited him outside. When he did he became aware of a steady pounding that was coming from somewhere in the house. He went from room to room, searching for the source of the pounding that kept its distance. Once he’d finished with the first floor he stood at the bottom of the steps gazing into the shadowy hallway above as the pounding intensified.

He knew where it was coming from.

His sister’s bedroom, the poster over her bed, and with a slow gait he mounted the steps to the second floor. 

Reaching the hallway much sooner than he wanted, her door stood at the shadowy end. A bleak emptiness illuminated its perimeter as shadowy traces of night flowed through the gap like smoke that hung in the air, twisting and turning over and around one another. The door glowed with a soft white light as it began to swell in the middle, the sound of splintering wood coming to him as he stood rooted in place. It was like it could tell he was standing therem and against his will he was drawn to its bulging surface.

It lay just beyond the door. Drawing him with a sinister voice that spoke to him on a deep primitive level. He knew what waited for him beyond the door, as well as he knew the night, and the terrors it inspired. Shrouded in shadows it moved among the living like an errant thought that brought a brief chill on a warm sunny day. It was the essence of the night, of time immortal, and of a despair that knew no end.

It had claimed Sarah as its own. Driving her to the point of no return, filling her with a deepening sense of hopelessness that offered no light at the end of the tunnel. Driving her to the only option that remained.

Death.

It was as old as time itself, this thing that had laid claim to his sister’s soul, gathering her to it like a farmer reaping its fields. Walking among the living, spreading a boundless despair as it gathered the souls of those too weak to combat its touch.

Ebony traces of emptiness slithered through the shadows toward him, keeping to the dark corners as they sought out the essence of his life.

“Do you believe?” his sister whispered in his thoughts.

Believe in what? He wondered as he moved the length of the hallway, getting closer to her swelling door with every hesitant step. Here those shadowy tendrils of night caressed his legs with black tips that left a chilled touch in their wake. Every touch awakened an old memory that rose from the nighted abyss of his sub conscious, trailing oily bubbles of fear as it breached the light of his awareness, filling him with that overwhelming emptiness of despair.

He loved her, he knew it as well as he knew his own name. Though at times she had been brutally indifferent to his feelings, he still loved her as only a younger brother could love his older sister.

Each memory that rose to the surface of his consciousness contained a snapshot of her disdain for his existence. He saw her as she flipped her head impatiently as she walked away from him. She had no time for her younger brother, she had a life to live, people to meet, pleasures to yet enjoy.

Yet for each slight that rose to his consciousness, there lay another memory that stood in sharp contrast.

Her frantic terror the day he had become lost at the mall and she along with their parents had spent a hectic half hour searching for him.

Therein lay the key. His secret, his belief.

“Do you believe?” She asked with an urgent voice.

It was then he realized she was waiting for him on the other side of the door, trapped in the ebony grasp  of a ferocious beast that could turn any happiness into an endless despair. A creature that existed only in shadows, avoiding the light of day, of reason, and most importantly, the blinding light of love.

He loved her as she loved him, a love only siblings could truly understand. As he moved down the hall, deeper into the shadows, the gloominess was pushed back by a faint white light that came from everywhere, and nowhere. He was like a shining beacon pushing back the night, exposing those shadowy corners where nightmares held sway over the light of reason.

Those shadowy tendrils of night retreated in the face of his approach, drawing back to the door to vanish into the darkness that outlined its soft white façade. As he was reaching for the knob he realized the light was coming from within him. Filling him with calm as that crashing sound came from the other side of  his sister’s door.

It was waiting for him.

Taking a deep breath he turned the knob and pushed into the room.

She was sitting on the bed, her knees drawn up under her chin, watching him with wide, terror filled eyes.

“They’re out there,” she whispered as he crossed to her.

From the poster on the wall behind her came the sound of some massive beast as it crashed through the forest. Along the edges of the poster faint tendrils of night slithered over and around one another in a primitive dance to a forgotten god.

Billy took her hand and tried to lead her to her door.

“No,” she said as he yanked her hand from his grasp. “Not that way.”

“How?” he asked and she turned her head to look at the poster on the wall behind her. “It’s the only way.”

He recalled how it had felt, his finger vanishing beneath the surface of the poster, the cold chill that had crept the length of his arm, the soft whispers that invaded his thoughts. How could he touch it again?

“I can’t,” he said as he backed away.

“But we have to, we can’t stay here.”

“Why not, it’s where we belong.”

“You don’t understand do you?”

“Understand what?”

“We’re not where you think we are.”





“We’re home.”


“No we’re not,” she said as she shook her head. “have you looked around, do you know why nothing’s working like it’s supposed to?

Billy shrugged as his gaze was drawn once again to the poster over her bed. The shadows beneath the tree were moving in a slow, sinuous dance, slithering over and around one another with the patience of  one who was certain they would win. They had all the time in the world, and Billy was sure theirs was running out.

“I don’t have much longer,” she said as she lifted her hand, the flesh had grown translucent and he saw the faint outline of the bones of her hand, the dark lines that were the tendons, muscles and veins. In fact everything about her was taking on an ethereal air and the darkness from the poster behind her head was showing through her face. “I’ve been here too long.”

“Where are we?”

“We’re trapped between the ticks of a clock, within a slice of time that will slowly fade to nothingness, the echo of a moment that happened in the past. We have to go back, we can’t hide here much longer.”

The darkness of the poster had grown more pronounced through the reflection of her face and he realized they were both about to become lost forever. Lifting his own hand he saw the poster through his semi-transparent flesh.

“I’m afraid.”

“Don’t be.” She smiled, “I’ll be with you no matter what happens.”

“You promise.”

“Have I ever lied to you, no, don’t answer that,” she said as she held up her hand.

“What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why did you kill yourself?”

“I,” she began then stopped, searching it seemed for the right way to phrase it, how did one explain the reasoning behind such an act?

“It all started in my dreams,” she said, choosing her words carefully as she recounted her story, “right after Dad got me the poster. They were calling to me, those things that lived in the shadows beneath the tree, and I went to them, freely at first. Later I had no choice, I had to go to them. They owned me then. I knew there was no escape, well there was one way, but it was permanent. When they started threatening to take mom, and dad, and you, I knew I had no options left. I’d entertained them as long as possible but they quickly grew bored with me.”

“What are they?”

Here she shrugged, “I don’t know, really, they always came to me as shadowy shapes that never stayed in one form for very long. I know they’re older than the cosmos. They’ve been around longer than the stars in the sky.”

“Does the light hurt them?”

She shook her head, her shoulders slumped, as her face grew even more transparent, and the shadows of the poster behind her grew even darker.

“We better get going, we don’t have much time left,” she said as she lifted her hand in front of her face and smiled at him through it.

Pushing himself down from her bed he crossed to the poster and stood staring at it for a moment. He saw those dark shapes dancing beneath the tree as a chill danced along his spine. He didn’t want to go in there, not with them, but what choice did he have. If they didn’t do anything soon they would both fade away to nothing.

Taking a deep breath he lifted his hand and pointed at the poster with his index finger. As before he touched the surface of the poster that resisted him for a moment before it slipped past the surface, into that nether region where the shadows of the night waited.

Instantly they were transported to the black depths of that gloomy forest, Sarah was clinging to his hand as he ran through twisted branches that reached out to snatch at his clothing. Ahead of them, in the distance,  he saw a square of soft yellow light that offered safety from the creatures of the night that crashed through the forest all around them.

His path was lit by a soft glow that seemed to be coming from him and he held up his free hand to look at the splayed fingers, each glowing with a soft luminescence that emanated from his flesh.

“Keep going,” she said from behind him as his feet faltered and he slowed in awe at the light that was coming from his own body.

The sounds of trees being torn asunder came from the forest around them, the frustrated thrashing of those shadowy beasts that could do nothing more than keep time with his flight.

“Hurry,” she said and he looked back to see she had nearly vanished into the shadows. Fear blossomed in his heart and the effervescent glow of his body flickered. As it did the night intruded upon the small circle that around them, ebony claws piercing the illumination, adding to the terror thundering through him.

His steps faltered as the glow diminished and the night, filled to overflowing with those ancient things, pressed in close around them. So close they brushed against the bare skin of his arm and he was overwhelmed by a calming sensation that sought to lull him into a more relaxed frame of mind.

That was how they go into you. Not through terror, or fear, or even the promise of respite from all the bad that was going on in your life. No, they slipped in when you least expected them to, when you were drifting in the featureless void between the light of vigilance and the shadowy realm of your dreams. When you were off guard was the most dangerous time of any night.

But once they got their hooks into you it was all over, unless.

As the night pressed in all around them he looked into his sister’s fading eyes, fear battling the sorrow that was once more welling up from that bottomless void. He felt their touch on that deep primitive level.  They were coming for them and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. More claws cleaved the fading light as his terror swelled to overwhelm him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching out for her with one hand. A shadowy appendage caressed his fingers, leaving a chill in it’s wake as she slowly faded into the shadows that now surrounded them. The light of safety was too far away, on the other side of a vast gulf of nothingness that seethed with the creatures of the night.

“It’s okay,” she whispered in his mind, “I will always love you,” the words were so alien coming from her. Words she had never once in his memory spoken, and the realization struck him with the force of a physical blow. He loved her too, as only a younger brother could love an older sister.

The light that had been waning suddenly flared as his love for her infused him with renewed strength and a desire to save her. Those shadowy things were overwhelmed by the pulse of light, several becoming trapped in its glow, their misshapen figures devoured by the light that turned them to ash upon its touch.

She came back to him, gaining more substance, fed by his love for her. Her grip tightened on his hand as he turned and ran through the shadowy depths with her in tow, straight for the small opening that offered them an escape from this place of shadows. Around them the forest crackled as those shadowy things fled in the wake of the light that burned from him.

Reaching the opening he dove through, into he light and the safety if offered. At the last moment her hand slipped from his. He bounced onto her bed once before rolling off the side onto the floor.

“Sara?” he called out as he scrambled to his feet and looked around her empty room, his gaze coming to rest on that poster.

“No,” he screamed as he attacked the poster on the wall. Jamming his hand into the shadows, coming up hard against the unyielding surface of the wall behind it. He had failed and the shadows had gotten what they wanted. Sara was still trapped on the other side, and he couldn’t get to her.

“Sara,” he screamed as his rage was deflated by the helplessness of a six year old. He had been crazy to think he could do anything to change what had happened. Sorrow overwhelmed him as he dropped to her bed and cried into her pillows that still carried her scent.

From outside came the sound of a car door closing and he pushed himself up from the bed, climbing down he crossed to the window and saw his father walking up the short walk to the front door. Turning from the window he crossed her room to the hallway, and took the stairs down to the first floor. His footsteps heavy with sorrow and bitter disappointment.

“Hey sport, let’s go, Sara’s awake, she wants to see you,” his father said and he stopped to state as him, his mouth hanging open.

“Don’t just stand there catching flies with your mouth hanging open, let’s go, Sara’s waiting. I wanted to call but she insisted I bring you to the hospital.”

“Sara’s okay?” Billy said as he slowly approached his father who stood by the front door. From outside came the sound of Mr. Winslow cutting his grass, and the Baker kids still playing.

She was okay? They had made it? But what happened at the end, when he lost her hand?

“She’s not one hundred percent yet, and she’ll have to stay in the hospital, but she woke up this morning.”

Then he remembered the poster still hanging over her bed.

“Hang on a second,” he said before he turned and raced back up the steps. In Sara’s room he crossed to the poster and pulled it from the wall, rolling it up as the sound of thrashing came from the shadows around the base of the tree. Once he was done he raced down the hallway to the attic doorway. In the attic he searched through the old Christmas stuff piled in the corner until he found what he was looking for. A cardboard tube from a roll of wrapping paper. Sliding the poster into the tube he crossed to the darkest part of the attic and hid the tube behind a pile of old boxes.

As he walked down the steps from the attic he heard a faint clicking coming from where he’d hidden the cardboard tube. It would be safe for her to come home now, and he promised himself that once he got home he would sneak that tube out of the house and bury it somewhere deep in the forest behind their house.

The End
 
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