The door banged against the wall as I bounded in. Valerie stood frozen with her aluminum bat clenched tightly. My arms wrapped around her as I looked to the shadowy lump on the floor.
Some neighbor’s kid? I flicked on the light, keeping one arm around my little girl’s shoulders. The thing rejected the light, remaining the same pitch-black color even as pale fluorescence flickered around it. A low groan sounded from the thing as it slowly shifted. A humanoid shadow shaped itself from that darkness, opening two pale white orbs where eyes should have been.
We clenched each other more tightly. The voice came again, low, and guttural, but there was no movement as it spoke.
“You don’t remember. Let me help.”
A memory came unbidden, forcing its way into my racing mind. A room like this one, when I had been Valerie’s age. A thing watching me from my closet. My parents, always refusing its reality. Its shadows dancing across my walls in the moonlight on sleepless nights. Nights when it simply waited till I slept, pouncing upon me in the shadows of twisted dreams.
“Don’t worry — I can barely move.”
I was back, a father once again, clinging dearly to his little girl.
“Make it go away!” The bat dropped, rolling into the corner as Valerie shrank back between the foot of the bed and the wall. She hugged herself as she shook, her breath shallow, forced. I ran to her, clasping her shoulders as I glared back at the offending shadow.
“Never hurt you too badly. You recovered, right?”
“I recovered,” I agreed. My words came out slowly from behind memories still swirling about my mind. “She has panic attacks; you should never have come here. Leave, now.”
“I’d love to. Can’t walk, can’t heal with all this light. Need food.”
Food. I shuddered at the word. Its sustenance was fear. This thing drew fear from young minds as it cast shadows in closets and beneath beds. It entered subconscious minds, planting and cultivating nightmares, harvesting raw emotion.
“We’re both afraid of you. You can feed on that, can’t you?”
“Not with the lights.”
I was about to curse. Let it squirm there and die — it had hurt my Valerie. I held back, though, as I pictured it dying, leaving its dark corpse in our room. I didn’t want that thing, or the attention it would bring. If we could heal it, and it would go away forever — perhaps that would leave the least permanent scar on Valerie’s already damaged psyche.
“Valerie,” I said, meeting her eyes carefully, “I have to turn off the light.”
“No,” she whispered, her head shaking in rapid spasms, “Make it go away now.”
I looked around, mind racing. My eyes found the discarded bat, and a hope grew within me. Picking it up, I clasped Valerie’s hands around its handle.
“You were scared when you held this, but you swung anyway. Hold it while I get the light.”
She stopped shaking and met me with resolute eyes. She closed those eyes, forcing her breath out evenly. Her knuckles whitened about the handle, and she gave me a single, curt nod.
I stepped around the shadow-thing, never taking my eyes off Valerie. She held fast, keeping her own eyes firmly on the beast. I felt the door frame, sliding my fingers along the wall next to it until they found the switch. Darkness filled the room, and the shadow on the floor twitched and groaned.
Two long strides brought me back to Valerie. I clung to her, holding her as she held the bat. Shadows played over the wall as the beast melted into them. Only its eyes remained, glowing brightly in the gloom. After many long moments, we heard that raspy voice one last time, “No others will come.”
Moonlight poured in, having broken through a passing cloud to fill the room. An oppressiveness we hadn’t even known was suddenly lifted, and breath we hadn’t even known we were holding was released.
I smiled at her, my brave Valerie, nodding as I gently took the bat from her loosening grip.
TCC Edwards says: “Embarking on a journey of fiction, I’m a dreamer who hopes that others will enjoy my visions. I teach enthusiastic minds in Korea, and meet many talented and wonderful expats in the city of Busan. I live with a warm wife, two boisterous boys, and the ceaseless urgings of my writing Muse.”