Bedtime IV: Something Wicked this Way Comes :
Last night was the most heart-wrenching and frightening of my life, so much so that I can barely bring myself to contemplate it. By now I will have submitted what occurred during my visit to that cursed place I once called home; a visit which heralded the return of my childhood fears. No matter what foul thing befell me then, nothing could have prepared me for last night.
After waking up to the chilling sight of that toy soldier, bitten in half, I found that the window to my bedroom was slightly ajar. On closer inspection it looked entirely as if the window had been prised open from outside. The latches were bent back, out of position as if subjected to an unrestricted, unbound brute force.
From the outside looking in, I could see three indentations where the unwelcome housebreaker had used some kind of tool to leverage the window unnaturally away from its latch. What was peculiar about those markings was that they seemed to cut across the outside of the window frame like an old uneven razor, unlike a crowbar or other implement which would have merely left a dent where it had been used as a wedge, to force the window open.
Nothing had been stolen and I attempted to rationalise the markings on the window as human-made, and not ‘claw-like’ as they appeared to be. The toy soldier, returned to me so violently, I could not explain. My heart sank at the very thought of it.
I knew it was a message, but it seemed to me to be more of a twisted joke, announcing the arrival of my childhood predator, rather than something to be puzzled over or interpreted.
I spent the morning checking each room of my house and its contents; nothing was missing. I could only hope that whatever that fiend had been in the back seat of my car the previous night, that it had only wished to frighten me one last time, and then be on its way.
Perhaps its reach would be weakened so far from my childhood bedroom.
It is all too easy for any sane person to persuade themselves that a traumatic event is something more benign, but in this instance I could not; that broken toy was not a mere joke, but a promise. A promise that it would return, for what I did not wish to know.
My thoughts naturally tumbled inwards and back to those terrifying nights I had as a child. I was now re-introduced to the apprehension of bedtime, the longing for the day, and the anxiety of night. Like an old and relentless enemy, my fear grew throughout the day, festering inside of me leading to strange and ominous thoughts about the consequences of unwittingly bringing that thing home.
Do not misunderstand me, my fear was not simply for my own safety. As a child I believed that my nightly visitor was transfixed and consumed by wanting me, but I did not feel that my loved ones were in any danger. This, however, had changed. I did worry. This time I did feel nothing but fear for my loved ones, because you see, I do not live alone.
My girlfriend and I moved in together over two years ago. I have caused enough damage now, that I do not wish to speak her name and will simply refer to her as ‘Mary’. Mary and I had had a happy existence and in fact, we were very much in love. This coming Christmas morning I was going to propose to her, but that beautiful moment has now been bitterly taken away from me by that rancid abomination.
I knew that Mary would be home that evening. She works in events and promotion and as a result is often away from home for days at a time, travelling around the country coordinating various conferences and exhibitions. I do not complain about this, as she and I both know that I am a solitary character, and that the odd few days of solitude normally do me good, allowing me to dive headlong into my writing, absorbing each and every word, undisturbed.
Despite this, I always miss her, and with the events of the past week, reliving those torturous nights and then allowing them to return, I had missed her far more acutely than I had ever previously done so.
She arrived at around 6pm and I greeted her with a smile, a warm embrace, and a passionate kiss. I tried to hide my perturbed state of mind from her, but Mary knows me better than anyone I have ever met and immediately enquired:
I tripped and fumbled through my words as I explained to her that I had written a story about my childhood and that exploring those dark and twisted memories had left me distraught. Mary has an incredibly caring nature and she immediately lay her suitcase and bags on the floor, sat me down on our couch, and with her soft and gentle way, asked me to talk about the whole ordeal.
But I couldn’t!
I couldn’t mention this thing, this wretch which had now found its way to our home; an invisible and twisted invader which had been led there by my idiotic curiosity! At the time I felt that she would think me mad, but now how I wish I had told her the truth!
If there is one thing more damaging to a relationship than a lie, it is a half-truth. Not because it is deceitful, but because it is a corruption of the truth; perverted and abused to suit the teller’s needs.
I told her my half-truth.
I told her about my story, that of the thing in the narrow room and the watcher at the end of my bed, but that is where the truth ended and a lie began. I deliberately and deceitfully mentioned that it was of course just my imagination as a child, and neglected to talk of my experiences of returning to the scene of those depraved crimes. Knowing that she would see the damaged window latch and claw marks, I spun my web as I told a grand tale about waking up to a burglar attempting to break into our house, and having to chase them away.
I was quite the hero. I lied to her, and she showed me great sympathy and kindness for my deception.
I was embarrassed by the truth then, and I am ashamed of my lie now. If I had been truthful, then perhaps we could have faced this menace together, but instead that thing took advantage of my dishonesty and put a wedge between us.
The events of last night desecrated the most important thing in the world to me.
Night time arrived in all of its bleakness, and was unwelcome. I lay in the darkness, waiting. Mary was sound asleep next to me, each breath a soothing reminder of companionship, but despite my growing aversion to loneliness, I would have no sleep that night. I knew from experience that when my uninvited guest would show itself, it would do so with subtlety, increasing its grip on me with each visitation as if requiring time to build up its strength; a leech feeding on my fear for succour.
My nerves kept me on edge, which fought back the oncoming onslaught of sleep admirably. In the end though, biology won and as my bedside clock lumbered towards 4am, sleep took me; the relaxing blanket of nightly oblivion, anxiety washed away, my worries a distant memory, sinking deeper into the soft mattress below and finally into a long sought for rest.
Sleep, no matter how deep, is rarely all encompassing. For as I hovered over the cusp of a dream, something began to bother me. Something invasive, yet distant. I slowly opened my eyes and allowed them to adjust to the darkness. Mary lay soundly asleep and I calmed myself by listening to her breathing in the night. Inhale was followed by exhale, again, and again, rhythmically, hypnotically, I began to drift towards sleep once more.
But, no. There it was, something else, distinct yet undefinable.
It was distant, out of the way, almost obscured or smothered as if coming from…behind something. I strained my ears in an attempt to define it, but it was all too quiet. I remained in the bed for several more minutes, but with each passing second that almost inaudible sound grated on me, like broken glass on a raw nerve.
Sleep was now abandoned, and with much frustration I decided to reluctantly investigate the source of the noise. I sat up in the bed and listened intently. It was unlike any other sound I had ever heard. Quiet, low, but as my mind adjusted to the noise I slowly began to piece its nature together. It was most certainly obscured by something, but the closest thing I could relate it to…was a repetitive murmur.
I heard something similar previously when I was a child visiting my Grandmother in a nursing home. A place which had left an impression on me, seeing the wandering residents confused and of a fractured mind, meandering around the grounds like lost inmates murmuring repetitively to themselves of days gone past, repeating nonsensical phrases and words.
This is what it reminded me of; a continuous stream of indecipherable words, uttered by someone in the throws of confusion.
I turned to check on Mary, watching her chest rise and fall with each breath. Assured that she was undisturbed, I left the bed. As I stood up I recognised immediately that the murmuring was louder. While dark, I had left a light on in the hall as I always do which crept under the door and allowed me to view the room in a dim, but visible way.
I looked around to see if anything was out of place, but the room appeared as expected. My mind ambled back to that night as a child in the second room, when noises could be heard from some unseen, yet ever-present menace.
I took a step forward and as I did so the noise once again grew in volume. While I was still at a loss in deciphering the words, I could now hear the character of the voice. It was old, scratched by age with a harsh, guttural undertone to it. The words were being repeated at a frantic pace and seemed anxious, yet muffled by some unknown barrier.
I was frightened, but I drew strength from Mary being in the room, and with a deep breath filled with trepidation, I took another slow, and silent step forward, my bare feet cushioned by the cold floor below.
Again, the voice became louder. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it, but I could have sworn that it had become more agitated as I drew closer. The next step I took, shook me to my very core, for as that murmuring, garbled voice grew louder still; amongst the rambling, gravelled sound of it, I heard a word. A word which shot an icy shudder through my bones. A word to be feared.
It spoke my name.
Dear God it knew my name! To me it was as if knowing who I was somehow endowed that thing with an unlimited reach. That I may never be rid of it. That it could kill me at any moment.
Something suddenly caught my eye, a movement accompanied by a ruffle of cloth. I knew now where that rhythmic, agitated voice originated. I knew now why it was muffled and difficult to decipher. I could now see it, only a few feet in front of me.
Standing behind the closed curtains.
The moon was in its ascendancy outside, and while its glimmer could not entirely penetrate the thick cloth, it could barely, and faintly, outline the thing watching between my window and the curtains. I cannot now convey the strangeness which then overcame me. My anxiety and terror had heightened, but an unusual compulsion, an untimely sense of purpose took me over.
I had to see what it was.
I took another tentative step towards the curtains. They swayed slightly as if caught by a breeze, but I could not tell whether the movement had been caused by myself, or the hand of that thing hiding behind a shroud of cloth. I was now close enough to hear its laboured breathing, the displacement of fluid at the back of its throat palpable with each inhalation.
This was it.
I was going to confront this monstrosity from my past, this tormentor of children, this coward. Raising my right hand slowly, I accidentally touched the fabric of the curtain, causing a subtle ripple which parted the them momentarily. I gasped, for through that temporary slit, only for a moment, I saw it.
My God, how can I describe what was standing there? Even now, I close my eyes and wish that I could erase it from my memory. It shivered and shook as it continued to murmur, repeating some indecipherable phrase, sounding like a bizarre mixture of numerous languages. Its emaciated skin stretched over an unnatural frame of brittle and prominent bones; vertebrae, ribs, and other inner workings almost protruding through its paper thin, pale, languidly pink, and almost bruised looking husk. As malnourished as it appeared, the stomach was distended in places and its bony appearance did nothing to diminish the feeling that it was capable of exerting itself with brute, perverted force on any of its victims.
Sickness swelled in my stomach, a tainted, offensive smell filled the air, and as it murmured and whispered in the darkness through what sounded like broken, fractured teeth, I could not help but feel pity for this wretch, quivering in the night as if victim of a long starvation.
I quickly came to my senses and realised that this thing was not to be pitied, but feared. Not to be understood, but exposed. It was not shivering because it was cold, it was shaking with excitement, like a drug addict anticipating their next dose.
Standing there contemplating what I had just seen between the curtains, I once again prepared myself to remove its shrouded, clothed protection and to reveal it for what it was; a cold hearted vandal, a prowler of the worst kind, a deviant festering in its own delectation.
As I once again raised my hand to draw the curtain, something caught my attention. Its incessantly confused, gravelly, and inarticulate whispers squeezed through that broken mouth and uttered the three most terrifying words I have ever heard.
“Look behind you”.
A cold breath slid down the back of my neck.
Momentarily I froze, but love is a powerful motivator. Had I been on my own, fear would have taken me, shaking any possibility of resistance from my mind, but with Mary sleeping soundly in the same room as that thing; shielding someone I loved from that wretch was my only thought.
I turned around slowly and as I did so, I could hear it wheezing, gasping, groaning for air. At a quarter turn, I could smell its breath, the stench of death hung in the air, plague-like and foul. Then, I heard another voice. It was not that horror in the darkness, but Mary. She let out a scream which startled and distressed me to my very core. A scream which will haunt me for the rest of my days.
I turned quickly and laid eyes on it, but it wasn’t behind me, it was on the bed! It writhed and rasped, wheezing in delight, its bony spine curved with the anguish of countless years protruding through a ragged, torn piece of cloth which hung loosely over its torso, in a vain attempt to appear almost human.
But was it human? Had it once been human? Or was it something so vile, so despicable, so utterly and sorrowfully contemptible that no man or woman could ever attempt to quantify or understand it?
I sprung forward towards it, grabbing, hitting, pulling at that thing with every ounce of my strength, its loose skin slipping through my hands. It squeezed and forced Mary’s face into her pillow with glee, as its other limbs arched and contorted, tearing at her nightdress, running its long, starved fingers over her naked body with its sordid caress.
Mary’s screams were muffled by the pillow as I began to fear that she was being suffocated.
I shouted, I yelled, I pleaded with that thing to leave her alone, to take me, to do anything it wanted, but that only served to animate the fiend to even greater depths of depravity. It was hurting her, cutting her… my beautiful Mary.
Suddenly it stopped attacking her, but it still kept one of its brittle, gangly, and gaunt yet weighted hands on the back of Mary’s head, pushing her face further into her pillow. I had my hands around its putrid neck, trying as best I could to strangle the beast, but my efforts were in vain. Its scrawny frame belied its overpowering strength. I watched in sickly disbelief as it began to run its cadaverous fingers through Mary’s hair, slowly, and almost with affection.
I could now here the twisting and cracking of bone, the popping of cartilage, the snapping of tendons.
Thank God it was not coming from Mary! I was now on its back with my arm wrapped around its throat, and my chin rubbing against the abrasive skin of its shoulder. As its spine dug sharply into my stomach, it twisted its head in an entirely inhuman way. Its neck clicked and groaned under the strain with every arthritic movement, as if hindered by a thousand years of rigamortis.
It was now looking at me.
I have heard it often said of some people that they cannot see the forest for the trees, but now I truly appreciate that sentiment, so close was I to its black, icy stare that I could not take in its surrounding features.
I increased my grip, I swore, I screamed, I would have torn its throat out if I could have, but it was all in vain as it continued to run its scrawny fingers through Mary’s hair nonchalantly while looking at me.
I don’t think I will ever truly recover from the sound which seeped out through what I assumed to be its approximation of a grin; a wheezing sigh; a grunt; something which sounded very close to a sinister, otherworldly laugh.
As its face touched mine, its eyes stared deep into me. Not even my reflection was returned; two looking glasses into a sanctuary for the dark, devoid of light, happiness, and love. It was staring as if it wished to say something, as if it was trying to communicate a simple idea to me.
With a wrenching, stuttered and violent movement, it tore an entire fistful of hair from Mary’s head leaving behind it an open wound. Then it was gone. Mary did not scream, she merely whimpered. I turned the bedside lamp on, but no words of care or sympathy could console her.
She wept uncontrollably.
The bed was soaked in blood which had seeped out from the numerous scratches on her back and the large cut where an entire section of her hair had once been. I hugged her, told her that everything would be all right; then she looked at me.
Looking at her tear filled eyes I knew what she thought immediately. She thought I had attacked her, that I had done those terrible things to her. Of all the experiences I have had, the look of betrayal, disgust, and contempt on Mary’s face will remain the most painful.
She is gone.
After composing herself, she gathered up some things and left. I tried to explain, I tried to tell her everything that had been happening, but she would not listen. Who would believe such a preposterous story? She simply said that she would not call the police, but that if I ever attempted to contact her, she would do just that. To her, I was the aggressor, not that thing. As she left, she turned to look at me one last time and then burst in to tears.
I know now that I have lost her forever. The woman I love more than anything on this earth thinks I am a violently hideous human being. If only she could understand that whatever did this, that it was not human, and if it ever was, it had long since abandoned that nature.
It was 5am when Mary left me; it’s 9am now. I am sitting here in the cold light of day at my kitchen table, writing this so that there is some record of what has transpired, so that people know, so that Mary knows, that whatever happens, that whatever occurs from here on in, that it was that despicable creature from my childhood, from that cursed narrow room all those years ago which rained this misery down upon me; upon us.
I must now dispense with the sentiment. I could easily sit here mourning the loss of my relationship with Mary, or I could allow myself to be overcome with fear; to do nothing. But that simply will not do.
I can hear the laughter of my neighbour’s children outside. At different stages in my life, I remember that same feeling of joy and happiness from something as simple as playing with friends, or climbing a tree, or kissing the woman you love, or even drifting off to sleep at bedtime to dream of what could be, in the safety of a happy family home. Memories, only memories…I fear I will never experience that happiness again. This thing has broken me. But I am resolute. Whatever that hideous wretch has in store, whatever it desires to do with me, I will not allow that thing to harm another person, or to invade another child’s life as it did mine all those years ago.
I must leave you all now as there is much to be done before it gets dark, before it returns. My plans are made and with any luck they will succeed. I wish I could say we will speak again, but I think that is unlikely. I hope you understand what must be done.
Because tonight, I’m going to kill it.