01 Feb Devil In The Dark
Icy rain pattered on the damp leaves outside my window as I relaxed in bed. The bitterly frigid drops tapped against the panes of glass, as if they were knocking gently to request entrance. The warm glow of my lamp beside me bathed the room in soothing, orange light, effectually scattering the dark shadows of night away. I could hear my little brother all the way downstairs as he protested against my mother’s executive decision to put a stop to his six-hour streak of digital entertainment. I was pretending to read a book to avoid a similar lecture, but I had really been browsing the web on my phone; every time she walked by my open doorway, I would use the pages of the book to hide it.
A flurry of light footsteps emanated from down the hall, and I quickly set my phone onto the open book, and then lifted the front cover to block it from view. I need not have worried about my mother’s prying eyes, however, as it was only my little brother running by as he headed towards the bathroom. I relaxed, and continued browsing social media on my touchscreen. Moments later, the sound of the shower activating could be heard from the end of the hallway, but I paid it little attention, and resumed my activities.
The shower turned off ten minutes later, but it was another twenty before my mother briskly walked by my ajar door. I scrambled to hide my phone, but it was again an unnecessary action as she clearly did not notice. I heard her knock on the bathroom door, and her irritation was clear through each sharp knock’s resonance against the thin wood grain.
“You’ve been in there for half an hour,” I heard her say brusquely. “It’s passed your bedtime, Hollis. You need to come out now.”
I looked up from my phone, blinking. Had he really been in there for that long? Judging from the sounds I had picked up on, he had gotten out of the shower over twenty minutes ago.
“What on earth were you doing in there?” my mother asked him as they both entered his room, which was just next door to mine. Her question echoed the exact curiosity in my own head, and I perked my ears up to hear the answer.
“I was talking to my new friend,” my brother replied. “His name is Hirfain,” he replied. The word sounded so alien coming out of the mouth of a seven-year-old child. His response took me off guard, and I blinked in confusion. My mother, however, seemed relatively unbothered. In fact, she sounded like she was trying not to laugh when she next spoke.
“Oh, I see,” she said, her tone that odd mix of condescension and amusement that adults use when talking to an imaginative child. “Well, Hirfain needs to know when it’s time for bed, okay? We can’t have him keeping you up all night. Now, put your bell on.”
Hollis acquiesced to her behest, and I heard the soft jingle of a tiny bell. Both of my parents had decided to put a rule in place that Hollis was not allowed to go to bed without wearing a bell on his wrist ever since he had started sleepwalking at odd times throughout the night. He had been doing it for almost three years, and the one time he had wandered out of the house had been enough to inspire the tradition of the bell. The sound of Hollis and my mother wishing each other goodnight was enough to snap me out of my reverie, and I threw my phone onto the bed, and covered it with my blankets. It was only a moment later when she was nudging my door open a little more, smiling at me warmly.
“Hey, Jack,” she said. “Lights out.”
I agreed, and she also wished me goodnight before closing my door. I listened to her saunter back down the corridor into the living room, and strike up a chat with my dad, though their voices being muffled through the walls made it sound like a string of disconnected syllables rather than a real conversation. I flipped my lamp off, and the sudden lack of light in the room triggered my automatic night-light, filling my room with a soft, red luminescence. I turned over onto my side with a yawn, my head burying deep into my pillow.
. . . . . . . .
It was long before I awoke, my eyes snapping open for a reason I could not discern. Then I realized what had broken my slumber. The soft jingle of a bell out in the hall. I rolled my eyes as I tore myself away from my warm bed, grumbling to myself; whoever was awoken from the bell adopted the responsibility of leading Hollis back to bed, and this time it was evidently my turn. I felt my heel collide with something warm as I swung my legs over the bed, which was a far cry from the cold hardwood I had expected. Through the dim, red light that pervaded the entire room, I peered down at the floor. Goosebumps crawled up my arms as a pair of eyes met mine, but the feeling of sudden alarm was countered immediately by relief as I realized it was my dog Parker, who apparently had decided to sleep next to my bed.
I gave Parker’s head a gentle pat before stepping around him, and shuffled sleepily toward my bedroom door. I noted that it was open, despite my mom closing it before she had turned in for the night; I assumed that she had not closed it all the way, and Parker had simply nudged it open when he wanted to come in. My eyes adjusted to the darkness of the hallway, and I spotted Hollis standing near the entrance to the bathroom. I was about to take another step towards him when I heard him talking, almost like he was having a conversation. I assumed for the moment that he was speaking with his newly acquired imaginary friend, but what he was saying made my skin crawl.
“Why do you look like that?” his hushed voice could easily be heard through the silence of the night. I heard no answer, not that I expected to.
“Were your mommy and daddy blind too?” came another question in that same tone. A creeping feeling began to inch its way up my spine, and I shivered. Whether it was from the cold air around me, the uncomfortable feeling in my gut, or a combination of the two, I did not know. Still, I was too curious to stop listening.
“Oh, you mean Jack?” Hollis spoke again. “Yeah. Why don’t you like him?”
That final sentence was too much for me to handle. The sight of my little brother standing alone in the darkness, facing an empty wall, and talking about me to no one sent a chill through my whole body that spurred me into action. I immediately flipped the hall light on, and walked towards him as I tried to shake off the sense of dread that hung in the air. I winced against the glare of the sudden bright light, but I refused to turn it back off as I led him back towards his room. He did not react to my presence, or to the light in the slightest, and that confirmed my hypothesis that he was indeed asleep.
Returning him to his bed proved as easy as it always was; as I made my way back into my room, his one-sided conversation replayed in my mind, chilling me down to the marrow in my bones. He had never talked in his sleep before that I knew of, let alone mentioned me. It was unsettling. Despite convincing myself that he had only been reacting to whatever dream filled his mind, I slept with the light on that night.
. . . . . . . .
I awoke to sunlight streaming through my window. A dreamless sleep was normal for me, and I had all but put last night behind me. In the light of day, I chalked it up to Hollis having a dream while he was sleepwalking, and me being overly paranoid. The memory faded as I went about my activities for the day, and Hollis seemed to have no memory of the incident, seeing as he neglected to mention it. Once I had completed my list of chores, I plopped down at my desk with the full intention of wasting my weekend away with a new video game I had purchased with my allowance the week prior. Parker curled up under my chair, and seemed determined to waste his entire weekend sleeping, which I could hardly blame him for. I had seen it fruitless to report Hollis’ sleepwalking to my parents as they would not have found anything unusual about it whatsoever. As long as he made it back to bed safely, they were more or less uncaring about his nighttime wandering.
An hour into my playthrough, I began to detect the temperature in the room increasing as sunrays shone brilliantly through my window, and I lazily hauled myself out of my chair. Dragging myself over to the window, and sliding it open, I let out a relieved sigh as a wall of cool air invited itself into the room. I tilted my head as I unexpectedly spotted Hollis sitting alone on the swing set my father had constructed in our large backyard. Hollis rarely sat out there, especially by his lonesome. His head was turned to face the swing next to him as he absentmindedly allowed his suspended seat to sway forward and back very slightly. He seemed to be talking to himself, but what he was saying sounded like it was directed at someone else.
“It’s called whistling,” he said. “It’s easy, I can teach you how.” He pursed his lips, and began to whistle in a very breathy manner. I would have found it endearing that he was attempting to teach someone to do something when he himself was not capable of doing it correctly, but there was no one there. With a shrug, I assumed it was that odd imaginary friend his mind had concocted, but it still bemused me. He had real friends, and plenty of them. Why did he feel the need to create a fictional one?
I returned to my game, unnoticed by Hollis as he continued tutoring his nonexistent companion to whistle. I put my headphones back on, and turned up the volume to drown him out, not wanting to think about it anymore. Afternoon turned to evening, and evening turned to night. Rarely did I find myself tired of video games, but I had played my fill. I closed the game, and occupied myself with drawing for a little while until I became bored with that, too. I meandered into the bathroom, and took a long shower to occupy myself for a time until my mother knocked on the door to inform me that dinner was ready. I finished rinsing my hair, and shut off the water. I opened the door to let out the shower steam as I finished getting dressed. Hollis’ breathy whistling could clearly be heard from his room as I stepped out into the hall, leaving wet footprints on the hardwood. I passed by Hollis’ room, letting out a sigh as the whistling began to grate on my nerves.
If your imaginary friend is too stupid to learn to whistle after this long, I thought to myself. Maybe you should get yourself a new one.
This quip, thought not supremely witty, was still enough to make me smirk as I continued down the hall into the dining room. My dad gave me a good-natured wave as I entered the room, and I returned the favor with a grin; however, the smile dropped off my face in an instant as my eyes fell upon Hollis sitting with his back to me at the table. I felt my stomach lurch slightly as a familiar chill crept up my back. If Hollis was here…
Pretending that I forgot to wash my hands, which was a flimsy excuse for someone who had just gotten out of the shower, I turned on my heel, and raced back to my little brother’s room. The light was on, but the room was devoid of life entirely. There was no sign of the whistling I had heard before. I shook my head, belittling myself for being so ridiculous as I turned back to walk back to the dining room. I stopped dead in my tracks as I heard a perfect wolf-whistle behind me, it was so pitch-perfect that it was almost cartoonish. My parents could not whistle that expertly, let alone Hollis. I whipped around, my breath catching in my throat, my pulse quickening to an alarming pace. My eyes scanned the room before me, but there was still no one in sight. I took a step into the room, my eyes darting to every corner multiple times. Seeing nothing, my fear warped into anger; in a frenzy of adrenaline, I checked behind the door, under the bed, and in the closet to no avail. There was no one. I began to laugh at myself as I left the room, trying to calm down and think rationally about the situation.
God, I must be imagining things, I thought. Just the stress of all the weird shit that’s been going on, that’s all.
With that thought forcibly pressed to the front of my mind, I strolled back to the dining room for an uneventful dinner. Though I still felt tense, I would not have admitted it, not even to myself in my current stubborn denial. I pulled up a chair as my family conversed amongst themselves.
“I’ve been teaching him to whistle,” Hollis was saying. This phrase made my heart rate climb ever so slightly. The unease that settled over me whenever he talked about his new friend was uncanny. Despite Hollis having provided everyone with a sizable lack of details about this newfound companion of his, it felt eerily unnatural whenever he articulated anything about it; it awoke some nameless anxiety in me that I could not explain.
“Isn’t he a little too old for an imaginary friend?” I muttered to my dad, but he shrugged nonchalantly.
“That kind of thing usually diminishes off around nine, I heard,” he replied dismissively. “I wouldn’t worry about it, he’s never had one before. Just a late bloomer in that aspect, I guess.”
The conversation continued through dinner as Hollis told us more about his activities with his friend until I became uncomfortable enough to excuse myself under the pretext of catching up on homework for Monday, which was blatantly untrue. I tried to occupy myself with my usual routine, having already finished my homework the day earlier, but I was too distracted. It was easy to rationalize things away when there were others around, but now that I was sitting alone, and watching the moon rise above the treetops outside my window, a cold uneasiness was curling its fingers around my heart.
I soon turned in for the night, leaving my bedside lamp on again in a sad attempt to preserve my peace of mind. I tossed and turned for many minutes before I finally fell into a restless slumber.
. . . . . . . .
The familiar, distant tinkle of a small bell very slowly pulled me back to my conscious mind. Annoyance flared inside me as I threw the covers off of my legs before it was subdued by an abrupt anxiety; Hollis’ eerie behavior the night before came flooding back, and suddenly the darkness around me seemed very daunting.
I cautiously approached my bedroom door, and eased it open. The hallway was black as pitch, a gaping chasm of perfect shadow beyond my wooden floor. The gentle jingle of my brother’s warning bell spurred me on. I stepped out into the hall, and flipped on the light immediately, unwilling to let my fear of the darkness get its hooks into me. This helped to quell my dread only a little as I looked around for Hollis, but did not see him anywhere. A few steps later, I was standing outside his room, and staring warily at his sleeping form resting upon his race car bed. My attempts to justify this turn of events to myself was unceremoniously crushed when I heard it. The soft pinging of the bell to my left was undeniable, and I turned my head to locate the cause.
I still saw nothing, but the sound of the bell persisted. The bathroom door was wide open now, and the tenebrosity of night prevented me from seeing clearly inside, but the trace amounts of moonlight filtering in through the single window provided enough clarity to confirm there was nothing visible to my eyes. But I knew in my heart that the noise of the chime was coming from the restroom. Despite my better judgement, I took a step towards it. Someone, or something I could not explain was taking an interest in my family, and the more information I had, the more effective I could be in combating it.
My progress was agonizingly slow, but I continued through the gnawing dread that filled me. I cursed internally as I realized the lightswitch in the restroom was too far away to reach from the doorway. And still the bell tinkled softly as I entered, seemingly coming from my right now.
Whatever this thing was, it was behind the shower curtain.
A new sound reached my ears, and the goosebumps I already had crawling all over me only doubled. Whistling. That damn whistling. It was soft and breathy, but in the silence that surrounded me, it might as well have been a train whistle. Terror gripped me as I felt eyes on me, and I could no longer stand it; my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest as I clenched the red shower curtain in my sweaty fist, and yanked it aside in one swift motion. My wide eyes met with only my brother’s bell plummeting down through the air, and clattering to the porcelain floor of the bathtub.
There was nothing else there. Nothing at all.
The bell had fallen almost as if someone had been holding it, and then dropped it the moment I moved the curtain; I stood in stunned silence for an unknown amount of time, trying to make sense of it. My stare slowly moved from the bell to the shadowy corners of the room, expecting something hideous to be gazing back at me. I jolted in fright when my eyes fell upon the mirror above the sink, and I saw myself, pale and slack-jawed. The sight of my face appearing so ghostly was jarring. My body went numb, and I realized I was unable to breathe, unable to move. Just behind the reflection of myself, I could see through the entryway to the hall. Five long, brown legs—or arms, I could not be sure—slowly dragged themselves through my brother’s open bedroom door, soon disappearing behind the frame. They were gone almost before I could register what I had seen. They looked like the legs of a giant arachnid, though the joints were in all the wrong places.
I wanted to turn around, to run into my brother’s room, but I could not. I was petrified, rooted to the spot. It felt like a dream where you knew something was coming for you, but you were unable to move. My mind was going berserk, but my body refused to respond. I gritted my teeth together, and began to make myself turn around; the process was excruciatingly slow, but I managed to haul myself out into the corridor, and began bellowing for my parents.
To their credit, both of them were in the hall with me in a matter of seconds, and I breathlessly tried to explain to them what had happened. Hollis raced out of his room, bewilderment and alarm clear on his face as he asked what was going on, and my parents continued to talk me down until I could reasonably communicate again. Though they were concerned and kind about it, they dismissed it as a particularly disturbing night terror. I refused to go back to sleep that night, and my mother, being the wonderful parent that she is, brewed two mugs of hot cocoa, and stayed up with me to watch some TV in the living room.
I eventually did fall asleep in my dad’s recliner around six o’clock in the morning, to the best of my recollection. I awoke less than an hour later to Hollis getting ready for school, and my dad getting ready for work. My mom was snoozing peacefully on the couch, and Parker had made his bed on my lap. Hollis seemed to be giving my dad the cold shoulder as they interacted briefly, which I found odd. Exhaustion overtook me again, and I again fell into the embrace of sleep.
. . . . . . . .
Around noon the same day, my mom shook me awake to tell me she was about to leave for work. She assured me that she had placed a phone call to my school’s principal, who had been a friend of hers since elementary school, and informed her that I had come down with something, and would not be attending classes today. I greatly appreciated my mother’s thoughtfulness, but not until she was pulling out of the driveway did I realize I would be spending the day alone in my house. Well, not quite alone.
Not too keen on bunking with some insectoid abomination, I rode my bicycle around our small town for a few hours, my mind racing with ideas and schemes to put a stop to whatever entity had moved into my home. It could clearly move without being seen, if it wished, and that did not exactly serve to bolster my confidence. By the time three o’clock in the afternoon rolled around, and I was cruising home, I still had no solid plan; my only thought was that I had to talk to Hollis about it before something worse could happen.
I was storing my bike in the garage when he arrived, sauntering almost sullenly across the front lawn towards the door. When he saw me, he made no greeting, but simply averted his eyes, and proceeded inside the house. I closed the garage door, and entered through the side door to head him off. We crossed paths in the hallway outside our respective rooms.
“Hollis?” I said, stepping in front of him. “I really need to talk to you.”
“Why?” he asked snippily. I instantly disliked his tone.
“It’s about your… your friend,” I explained after a moment of hesitation. “I think he might be dangerous.”
“Why?” Hollis asked again, this time with a surprising amount of hostility for a seven year-old. “Because he told me the truth?”
I blinked in shock, taken aback at this bizarre, accusatory statement, and asked him what in the hell he was talking about. He crossed his arms, and attempted to walk around me, but I stepped in his path again, repeating my question with renewed intensity.
“Hirfain told me about you,” Hollis snapped, pushing me out of his way. “He told me about all of you! Leave me alone!” His door slammed resoundingly, leaving me standing in the hall, aghast at what had just happened. I sent both of my parents a text, but only my mom responded, promising to work it out when she got home.
My parents both arrived at around the same time, as they usually did, and I explained to them exactly what had transpired between Hollis and I. Both of them attempted to talk to him, but all he would say to any of us was that he was not feeling well, and they suggested we leave him be for a while. My dad theorized it was very early preteen angst rearing its ugly head, but my mom supposed he was probably coming down with something; I inquired as to why he would say such strange and brash things, but they brushed it off under the rationale that he was seven, and something was bothering him that he was having a hard time expressing.
It turned out they were right, just not in the way that they thought.
Hollis skipped dinner that night, and stayed in his bedroom with the door shut. He declined every offer anyone made to talk to him, and my mom finally decided that he would talk to us when he was ready, but that did not stop us all from fretting about him. We all retired to our rooms, and went to sleep a little earlier than usual that night.
. . . . . . . .
I sat bolt upright in bed, eyes wide open. My ears caught hushed voices in the hall, and I slid out of bed as silently as I was able. The voices continued, strengthening my certainty that I had not been detected. Pressing my ear to the door, my sense of hearing seemed to transfer itself through the wood grain, allowing me to catch snippets of the conversation. One of the voices belonged to Hollis, and I started to feel reassured that maybe he was finally confiding in one of my parents about whatever had been troubling him.
But the voice that was answering him did not belong to my dad, and it definitely did not belong to my mom either.
It had a bizarre rhythm and timbre that was unlike anyone I had ever heard. It hissed out its sentences as if the words it was saying were distasteful, or that it had not practiced them enough to articulate them very well, and its tone was full of feigned empathy. It was unnatural. I psyched myself up for several more seconds before flinging open the door, terrified, but ready to face whatever was on the other side. My breath caught in my throat as I spotted Hollis in the dimly lit corridor, his eyelids notably not shut as they would have been if he had been only sleepwalking. His gaze locked on mine, and the coldness behind his eyes was breathtakingly sinister. I did not hold his gaze for long; my eyes were drawn to the spindly creature dangling above him like an enormous black widow.
“He’s watching us, Hirfain,” Hollis said, his eyes never leaving me. The spidery abomination suspended from the ceiling by its many limbs slowly turned to face me, and my body went entirely numb.
(-Early Concept Art-)
It was alien and wrong, wholly unnatural to this world. And yet, there it was. It stood nearly nine feet in height, its numerous appendages each ending in a cruel hook, which latched onto every surface they could. There were so many limbs, was impossible to tell which ones were supposed to be arms, and which ones were supposed to be legs. The creature used not only the floor to propel itself, but the walls and ceiling as it suddenly skittered towards me with maddening speed like a mutated spider. Its pale face was devoid of any features aside from a gaping maw of teeth that enveloped nearly its whole head, many of the jagged teeth pointing at odd angles as there were too many to comfortably fit inside its mouth. Four insectoid-like mandibles around its massive jaws chittered hungrily. Its eyeless face turned in my direction, and I knew it was somehow looking right at me. I slammed the door with all the force I could muster, and backed into the corner of the room, expecting the grotesque creature to tear the door off its hinges, and writhe its way into the room. But it never came.
My heart pounded violently against my chest, every hair stood on end as I stood in the midst of a deafening silence. The quiet was only broken by a soft scuttling in the hall, the movement of something with many, many legs. I jolted where I stood as my door banged open to reveal both of my parents, their expressions masks of panic and disorientation.
“What happened?” my dad demanded, his voice high-pitched with alarm. “What’s going on? What was that… that thing?”
“We have to go!” my mother cut in, her voice rising with hysteria. “We have to get out of here! Where’s Hollis? We didn’t–”
“Oh, my god!” my dad’s volume overtook my mom’s as he ran to my bedroom window, throwing it open with ease. “Hollis!”
My mother and I rushed to the window to catch sight of what my dad had spotted. Hollis walked hand-in-hook with his new best friend across our backyard, swiftly departing towards the woods behind our house. My mother screamed his name hysterically as my dad and I raced out the door, down the stairs, and to the backdoor. My father flung the sliding glass door open, and sprinted with all his might after his youngest son. Adrenaline coursed through me as I followed. We had no strategy, no plan of attack, the only thing we knew is we had to stop this monstrosity from stealing Hollis away from us. Parker stood stock-still in the entrance as we hurtled by him; all he did was stare ahead, his fur bristling on his neck, but he made no sound. He did not bark even a single time.
My father summoned up all his courage as he attempted to grab Hollis by the hand, but with only a single strike of one of its numerous limbs, Hirfain batted him away like a fly, sending him soaring fifteen feet into the air. I pumped my legs as fast as they would go towards Hollis, hearing nothing but the wind whistling around my ears.
I never saw the creature’s arm coming as it swatted me away, as if I were nothing more than an annoying flea. My vision spiraled out of control, and finally fixated on the night sky when my back collided with the ground. I lifted my head dizzily, my eyes desperately attempting to refocus, and all I could detect was an overpowering ringing in my ears. My dad lay unconscious twenty feet to my left, and was just beginning to stir as Hirfain lifted my brother up on its back as it scuttled effortlessly over our back fence, and into the forest beyond.
The media frenzy, the endless search parties, the thoughts and prayers, all of it has been futile. We never found a trace of my brother. He was stolen, and we have never fully moved on; despite that fact, my mother never resented my father, or myself for failing to rescue Hollis. She told me once that she was so proud of how we fearlessly gave chase to that beast, but she was more relieved than anything that she did not lose us too. I understand exactly what she meant. Just losing Hollis was enough sorrow for a lifetime.
Hirfain—that otherworldly horror—lives on in my nightmares, but that is not the worst part. I could deal with the trauma, I could bear the night terrors, I could stomach the constant paranoia if I just had my brother back. That demon poisoned his mind, turned him against his family until he left us willingly. If it was capable of that, what else is it capable of? Where did it take him, and for what purpose? And where is it now? If only I knew for sure that Hirfain could never hurt me, or anyone else again, maybe I could put this all behind me. But that thing is still out there. That twisted monster. That devil in the dark.