My eyes open instantly to pitch darkness. My heart races, pumped with an instinctual fear. I clutch the sheets of the bed, my breath caught tight in my throat.
I wait. Listening. There was something. A sound. A noise.
It takes me a moment to even realize where I am. Then it comes back slowly in bits. I was in my late cousin Richard’s farm house. He left it to me and several days before, I had moved in, with hopes of renovating the small ranch house.
Two days in to the renovations.
The lights were off, the windows shuttered. The dead farmland blanketed with its night shawl. The only light source came from a light pole next to the battered barn in back of the house. A ring of ash trees encirled most of the property.
Air stale and still filled the room. Soft light rays filtered down from one partially open window in the living room and dust floated aimlessly in its illumination.
“Hello?” I whisper, my lips dry, my cotton tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth.
“Hello?” I venture once more, praying I don’t get a response.
Seconds bleed into minutes, minutes grow into moments. Nothing responds. Time lapses.
One bizarre note catches my attention. I don’t hear anything. No crickets, no late night song birds, no distant cars on the I-77 highway. Even the wind is holding its breath. What the hell?
However, I do ease my grip on the sheets and sigh in relief. Maybe it was a nightmare with the last fragments waking me. I can’t quite yet laugh at myself and the fear that seized me.
New place, new sounds. Just a case of heebie-jeebies.
I raise onto my elbows.
The sound pierces me. It came straight out of the corner, draped in deep shadows. A low rumbling growl follows the hiss. A distinct scrape of claws on the wood floor boards makes the hair on the back of my neck raise.
I freeze up all over again, my breath locked in my chest.
My eyes strain to make out a form in the dark. Nothing. It’s like a gaping hole torn into the bedroom space, swallowing up the entire corner.
It’s close. I should be able to see whatever the thing is! Dammit, why can’t I see it? I can’t run. The corner is near the doorway.
What is it? A mountain lion? A rabid wolf? A feral stray dog? What is in my house?
No more noises, no more clues to what it is.
I don’t try to speak again to it. It’s obvious it isn’t human so there’s no real point. My mind floods with bad ideas, desperate ploys, nothing that will get me away.
Moments again drag out. I pull my legs slowly up, curling my form into a better shielded form. Another growl, deep in its chest protests my movement.
Eyes, silvery and large open up. The space between the eyes at least five inches apart. Then heat and a bitter stench of foul breath wafts over me. Whatever is staring at me, just opened its jaws. I think I can hear the bare sounds of panting.
I brace my hands at my sides against the bed and raise with my back pressed to the wall. Standing seems like my only viable option. It gives me a half a chance if this thing rushes me.
Again from inside the shadows, the unseen beast doesn’t like my movement and it hisses violently, pawing aggressively at the floor. I hear its claws, I see it’s eyes, smell it’s breath, but yet there’s no form, nothing in the corner!
At the end of the bed, I left another window open for the summer breezes. A thin metal screen is the only thing on the window. Do I dare plunge through it before this thing is upon me?
It somehow senses my thoughts and it shifts subtly, the shadows moving with it. Now a couple feet closer to the end of the bed, it sits midway between the door, the end of the bed and the window.
This tells me one thing. It’s intelligent, but it is also waiting on me to make my move. Yet I feel I have already lost this game of strategy before I even woke up.
I try to summon my dwindling courage. Sweat streams down my neck and chest. I bend slightly, coiling my leg muscles.
The beast stands! I still can’t make out any form, but the shadow grows taller and towers over me, the “head” touching the dusty ceiling. Oh god!
It makes no other move. The ball has come back into my court. My plan for the open window has been shattered.
“Wh- What are you? What do you want?” My voice shakes as violent as my body.
s h e l t e r
The voice carries across to me but speeds through me like a gun shot. It gores my senses and I reel in sudden dizziness and nausea. My legs give out and I collaplse in a heap by the pillows.
Shelter? What does that mean?
“I don’t understand.” I moan. “You want to stay in the house?”
It’s useless to try and escape. My fate is in this things claws. There’s no choice but to listen to it’s demands.
I watch in pure terror as it slowly strides across the room, the floorboards creaking under its weight. Shadows stretching and wrapping around my neck and over my screaming mouth.
Lifted in the air as a smothering sensation wracks me, a burning agony doubles me over in its grasp, a lightning icy claw rakes across my back.
Tumbling from its hold, I hit the bed, then tumble to the floor with the words,
w e s h e l t e r h e r e
searing into my brain.
Hours later, as sunlight drifts in and warms my exposed legs and feet. My eyes open and stare up at the room’s dust-covered ceiling fan. A hunger, a need, a blood-thirsty craving growls inside me. My head raises and stares at the far wall.
s e r v e
Etched into the faded green wallpaper are symbols, plans and demands. None that I understand or want to comprehend.
Inside, it reads the words. It knows its purpose.
s h e l t e r a n d s e r v e
It growls again from the dark corners of my tattered soul.