Wake up. Wake UP! Open your eyes to see where you have ended up. Sit up and take in the cinderblock walls, the concrete floor, the wooden staircase curiously devoid of the cobwebs you'd expect to see there. There is light, but from where? Stand up and take assessment. Your legs feel weak, your vision is foggy- but your thought process is clear. Feel the sharp pains that seem to stretch through your limbs and shoot out your fingers and toes.
What is happening?
Remember. Where are you?
Remember the man, Lucifer. Remember the dog, Lucifer. Take a step. Take another. Shake your head to clear your thoughts. Feel the cool temperature of the stones as you press your palms against them. Make your way toward those deceptively clean stairs. Escape- at all costs, escape.
Be very quiet. Listen to the sounds from above. Notice the soft footfall coming towards the door.
Back. Step back!
Fall back into the soft darkness and the cushioned platform from which you had woken. Feign sleep as the door opens and down comes the dusty, gray man again. He had seemed to be calm and pleasant. Try to reason with him? Fight? Run? Make a plan!
No. Keep your eyes closed until the situation is clear. He's setting down a plate on a table that you hadn't noticed before. A possible weapon. He leaves. Your vision is clearing.
Make a plan!
The dark staircase twisted upward to the second story of the dilapidated mansion. The dark wood bannister was barely visible from the balcony above since the light was so dim. A broken window at the front of the house let in a tight ray of light which illuminated only minimally the very top step. I peered into the darkness above, cursing Lucifer, the shih tzu, who had recently disappeared up those very steps.
The house had been on the corner of the street for over 300 years, and I had passed it every single day on my way to work for the past 5 years. No one seemed to live there, and no one would generally go on the property. Lucifer himself had decided he wanted to chase a scent in there. His snub nose had obviously detected something interesting, and now we were both exploring the old house.
There was a creak from upstairs.
Each step made a slightly different high pitched squeal or low groan as the wood of the stairs had to adjust to the weight of a person. A shadow crossed the beam of light.
squeak. squeak. squeak.
The white tail swished in my peripheral vision to the right, and a tall, human form stood tall to the left. It was just standing there, unmoving, watching.
"Hello? I'm looking for my dog?"
"Your dog? " He said, in a voice which creaked with dust and age. "I'm afraid I have not seen him"
As the light shifted, the man came into full view, and dusty was not really too far off. He was beautiful, pale, but wore an outfit which screamed outdated, and his hair was blonde with a literal layer of dust on it. He was almost like one of the pieces of furniture that had been left uncovered in the first floor foyer, or the bench that sat in the open space of the second floor balcony.
"Do you live here?"
His lips parted in a smirk, "Live? I suppose you could say I lived here... if living is what one would call this."
"Meaning...?" my voice cracked as I tried to maneuver around to the door where Lucifer's tail had last swished.
"I don't leave, dine, entertain guests... this is no life." His voice seemed to have a soft accent to it, hardly discernible because of the dry crack.
"Why do you stay then?" I peered through the dark doorway. "Lucy?" The ball of fluff came bounding out and he settled in at the top step, watching the two people talking before him.
"To leave would be impossible for me. Won't you stay for dinner?"
"I'm not supposed to talk to strangers?" At 23, it was a bit ridiculous to use this old standby method of protection, but no others ideas had come. This guy was different, odd, and he could not be of this world. "Lucifer, let's go" We started heading down the stairs, my back burning from the steady gaze of the specter as we picked up speed.
When we got to the door way and my hand settled on the handle, another shadow grew on the door ahead as my adorable little twelve year old shih tzu morphed into a humanoid being. He was tall with dark, tanned skin, and ebony hair. His eyes were golden and burned into me as the two twisted horns grew from the crest of his forehead.
He only nodded.
In the days leading up to Halloween, the weather became colder, and the happenings, as my wife and I called them, became more and more pronounced. It started with the building of ‘Eve’. My wife had decided that we would host a Halloween party at our home, and that she (and I by default) would make all of the decorations. This included her coup de grace, a life size bride ghost, made with a Styrofoam head, a black stringy wig, chicken wire form with a 1x1 wooden pole as her spine, and a wedding dress procured from a thrift store for eight dollars. Eve was built in a day. Not long after her ‘birth’, my wife also made a small graveyard out of Styrofoam sheets to surround her. I must admit, the sight was quite eerie.
At first the change was slight. The way Eve was built, she should have been pretty stable. Especially her head, as it was actually impaled on the wooden spine. There should have been no possibility of her rotating, yet spin she did. One morning when I got in my car to leave for work, I noticed that her back was turned to me. I thought it was odd, but didn’t investigate our little pile of wire and tulle. I thought nothing more of it until a few days later when my wife asked if I had noticed Eve turning. I said I had, but I assumed it was just a strong wind. My reassurance was enough for her. I admit, as I locked up the house then turned to face my car, I was a bit surprised when I saw that Eve appeared to be staring directly at the door, her synthetic hair and cheesecloth swaying in the autumn breeze, her chicken wire arm seemed to be outstretched toward me as though she were reaching for help.
When I got in the car that morning and turned the key, classical music was playing. I don’t listen to classical. Ever. My range of preferred music is wide, but not quite that wide. I quickly flipped the station to one of my presets, then looked up warily to see that our lovely bride had turned ever so slightly and was now facing my car. I could see from this angle that her face, too, had turned. Her painted red lips and gray eyes were clearly visible in my headlights. That is when I became more concerned since, as I had mentioned before, her head was tightly impaled on the wooden stake and should only turn if the stake itself turned. The stake, being buried at least a foot in solid ground, should have no room to move. I shook off the anxious feeling that had washed over me and headed to work and concentrated on focusing my mind in that direction.
It was 5 days until Halloween- and our party.
My wife was, understandably, becoming a bit overwhelmed by the work involved in finishing the party decorations, menu, and costuming for her and the kids. She had started tossing and turning in the night. One night she told me she had dreamt up a lady in white who proceeded to exit our bedroom closet, walk around the bed, and stare down at my sleeping self before fading away. That morning when I turned on my car the classical music blared, louder than I would ever set my own radio. I turned it down and listened for a moment as I watched the breeze rustle Eve’s wedding gown and hair, both damp from several days of rain. Her gray eyes were accusing as they stared vacantly through my windshield. I quickly turned the station to my preset number one and backed down the drive, away from her gaze.
Finally, the night of the party had arrived. I hung the finishing touches, ghosts in the trees, glow in the dark balloons, a banner indicating welcome to our humble abode, and the like while my wife finished the food preparation. About thirty minutes before the party was to begin, I put on my vampire costume. My wife and I were going to be a matched set, me a vampire and she a vampire bat. I searched for her so she could help me put on my pale vampire make up, but she was nowhere to be found. I assumed that she was busy finishing up final details. Her costume required very little effort to put on. I am certain she had already finished her make up. In any case, the first guests were arriving and I had a bonfire to start. It wasn’t until much later that I saw her walking towards me as I entertained our guests at the fire.
By her, I mean Eve. I lost my will to speak for a moment as I saw the bright white of her wedding dress and the long, black hair veiled in cheese cloth headed towards me. It only took a few minutes for my head to clear, and I realized that ‘Eve’ was simply my wife in Eve’s dress. I let out a nervous laugh and asked her about the bat costume. She just smiled and said she preferred this look. As I put my arm around her, I realized that the dress and wig were still damp and smelled a bit of something off-putting, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I whispered that she might have dried the costume before wearing it. She looked up at me with pale gray eyes and shrugged, her painted on red lips curved into a smile. It was a last minute decision, she said.
After the party was over and the last guest had left, we sank into bed, exhausted. I kissed my wife goodnight and rolled over, only to immediately spring up at the realization that my wife’s eyes were deep brown. Not gray at all.
The Theidle Boy
Drink This. Eat That. These short children do it all the time and none of them thinks twice but to read the instructions on the bottle. The little Alice was certainly not the first one to stumble across the looking glass. She was the first to get back out though.
I remember one boy stumbling through growing larger and smaller with each instruction blindly followed. His name was Thomas Theidle. I liked him immediately because he seemed quite a bit smarter than the others. I followed him more than the others as well. I specifically remember his conversation with Absolem. He turned away from the billowing smoke at first, all three inches of him trying to get a breath of fresh air.
“Who are you?” Absolem asked to which Thomas Theidle replied, “I’m whoever I want to be, here.”
It was a very good answer indeed. “And… Whom do you wish to be” Absolem asked, another puff of smoke rising.
Thomas Theidle thought for a moment before he answered. “I don’t want to be Sir Thomas Theidle.” He snaked those words out as if they were made of slime and all bad tasting things.
“No..?” Absolem’s husky voice questioned.
“Of course not! Who in their right mind wants to grow up to be all stuffy and old and sit at a desk signing papers while other old stuffy people yell at you no matter what choice you make? Not me, no way.”
That, of course, was my cue. Absolem backed away off of his mushroom perch, and my grin filled the purple sky above the young Sir Thomas.
“Never grow up, Never go back? Is that your wish?” My feline voice startled the boy, but defiance set in his lips as he shook his head no. “What if I said that you could stay here with us, and remain blissfully unhindered by these grown up things?” I allowed the rest of my head to appear, so as to not concern the boy too much. They always relax when they see that I am a cat, of course. A wish granting cat.
“Thomas Theidle, I hereby grant that you are a genuine citizen of Wonderland and may stay out all of your days here, free from responsibility, and the obligation of … growing up.” With that, I began to fade and the boy, smart as he was, looked left and right and realized he was all alone.
“Am I to be… I mean, I suppose there are other children here. I shouldn’t like to be alone all the time.”
“Ah…” My whole body reappeared without my urging and my now solid tail flicked with satisfaction. “ Then I guarantee that you will never be all alone for as long as you shall live.”
Thomas was too smart to smile. He waited.
With concentration then, I split the boy in half, brains and all and called them the Tweedles. They were happy evermore.
Beep, beep,beep, beep. The persistent alarm woke me from a dreamless sleep. I forgot where I was for a moment. As I shook away the sand of sleep, I slowly came to realize that it was indeed Monday, and I did have to get up and get Rosa ready for her first day at the new sitter's. I tromped down to her room, rather ungracefully, even for pre-coffee me, and turned on the light. Or rather, tried to turn on the light. It didn't actually turn on. I knew that switch had been acting weird lately. Cursing under my breath, I turned around and went back to my room to get my cell phone.
Turning on the flashlight with one final curse word, I marched back into the room and shined my light on Rosa's twin bed. My four year old wasn't there. Not one speck of her dark, wispy hair could be seen on her princess and the frog pillow case. I shone the light across to the bean bag chair, where she had been known to fall asleep in the past. Not there either. I started to panic for a moment,the beam of light shook as I ran it across the room one more time. "Rosa?" I called out, a bit afraid of my own voice. Finally, I saw her. She was in a deep stage of sleep, her head and arms were lying on top of her blanket on the floor, and the lower half of her torso and legs were hidden under the bed.
"Oh, baby," I smiled as I knelt down next to her and nudged her gently. He eyes opened and she stretched a bit, a cute baby stretch accompanied by a yawn. Together we got up and got dressed for another day.
"Why were you sleeping under the bed?" I ask her once we were loaded in the car. She responded with a grin and said she didn't know.
"You better be careful, there might be monsters under there," I said, then I immediately kicked myself for possibly screwing up the fragile psyche of a four year old. I mean that I kicked myself mentally of course. I don't think I could have gotten very much force behind a real kick. Plus Rosa probably would have thought I was even more deranged that I actually am. I mean, who does that?
"I like monsters," her little voice piped up. "Daddy's a monster."
"Rosa that's not very nice to say." I- mentally- kicked myself again. She must have overheard me talking about her dad again. Yeah, he was a monster. The kind that bails when you get pregnant then doesn't call for months at a time. At least he would bring money when he did come by, which was more than could be said for some baby daddies. Anyway, never mind that, Rosa and I were doing just fine on our own. I pushed that thought to the back of my head and went on with my day, forgetting the conversation completely until the next morning when Rosa was not in her bed again. I knew I had tucked her in and checked in on her an hour later- she had been out like a light.
The first thing I did was check under the bed, which was surprisingly clean for a little girl's room. There was no doll nor toy nor lego nor baby under the bed. No monster either, in case you were wondering. I looked all over that room for Rosa, and I swear she was not there. I started freaking out a little. I ran back to my room and grabbed my cell phone and when I reached Rosa's doorway I heard her little voice saying something I could not understand. It was like she was speaking a foreign language or something.
"Rosa! Where were you?" I controlled my voice, but I am certain I looked rather crazed with worry. Rosa set down her teddy bear, not one I had seen before, and reached her arms out to me for a hug. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed her in the most comforting hug I could.
"I was right here, mommy." She said. I started to argue with her, but I knew it would be useless. I started to carry her out of the room, but she pushed away from me and slid down to her bed. She grabbed the bear, which was quite possibly the ugliest thing I had ever seen. She squeezed it to her chest and said his name was Arrow. I muttered that maybe it got that name when it lost its eye in the war. Rosa giggled and skipped happily through her morning routine.
When we got home that night, I was determined to find out how she disappeared, so after she was sleeping peacefully in her bed I snuck back in with my own blanket and settled into her beanbag chair. I tried my hardest to stay awake, but the long day got the best of me. It was through the haze just between sleep and awake that Rosa's voice permeated. She was talking to Arrow, or seemed to be, but there was someone else in the room responding to her. I knew I must be dreaming though, because it seemed like the voice was familiar. Recognition pulled at the edge of my consciousness. I was able to open my eyes to see two shadows, one about three feet tall, the other at least double that. I knew I was dreaming at that point because the two shadows literally slid under the bed and were gone. I could see from my viewpoint on the floor that there was nothing under the bed.
That's when I woke up. Rosa was not in her bed or in the room. Maternal strength overtook me and I moved the heavy, oak bed aside to see that the floor was solid underneath it. I stomped the floor in circles, trying to find a weak spot. Before too much of this passed, I found it. I jumped and hard as I could on the floor near the center of where the bed used to sit, and I landed. But I kept sliding. I don't know how long I slid but I do know that at the bottom of the slide Arrow stood, watching me, black eye patch covering his missing button eye.
As I landed in an unflattering seated position, I tried to pretend that the teddy bear standing and moving on his own was not shocking at all. I think I failed at this because the bear chuckled, a low, growling sound. I appeared to be in a cellar of sorts. The floor and wall were made of dirt caked wood that appeared to be untreated. I impulsively ducked lower, thinking of the potential spider webs hanging above my head. For good measure, I also glanced upward. I was surprised at how clean the ceiling actually was, I mean, for being made of dirt. There were no cobwebs.
While the room was a tiny 4 by 6 area, the ceiling was also higher than I imagined it would be. It vaulted up like an elevator shaft and an indeterminate light came from somewhere above, though I could not make sense of where it came from. It actually just seemed that the dirt itself held an incandescent glow. It was by this glow that I could make out the silhouettes of the four matching, dirt-covered doors. Two were on the wall to my left, and one each on the wall to my right and directly in front of me. Arrow was standing in front of this last door, his hand perched on the wrought iron handle.
“I can see that you will not be easy to deter.” He stated. His rough voice held an ironically smooth timbre, and his accent was slight, but reminded me of some fairy tale land where wizards existed and unicorns gave little girls like Rosa a ride through the clouds while pooping rainbows.
“No. Where’s Rosa?” I said, setting my most Mommy Tone possible. I hoped that the displayed confidence would appear real enough that he would just take me to my little girl without delay.
“This way then. Mind your head.” Arrow turned the ornate, black handle with his furry little paw and pushed the wooden door open with considerable effort. I took one final glance back at the slide behind me and hoped I would be able to climb back up it with a four year old in tow once I found her, then I descended into the dark opening before me.
I say descended because the door opened into a small landing which quickly converted into a steep spiral staircase that seemed to lower forever. Rather than the dusty brown of the room prior, this… area… because it certainly couldn’t be defined as a room, was black and gold. The staircase was an elegant affair of cascading black swirls for handrails. Every three feet or so, a new curling tendril of iron arched backwards to meet Arrow’s paw and my own hand. Each tendril was surprisingly warm to the touch, though the air around us was slightly chilled. There was no visible wall space here, just dark shadow with the occasional glittering gold light in the distance that did no good to us on the stairs. The steps themselves appears to be black and gold as well, with the same incandescent glow that I had just seen in the ceiling.
“Where are we going?” I asked, hoping that it was somewhere I could come back from.
“To the king of the monsters, of course, just as you requested.”
“ I did not request to meet any monster king!” My voice was high and gave way to fear more than I had hoped to show.
“You wanted to go to Rosa, therefore you want to go to the monster king.” Arrow was very matter of fact about this and he kept trudging down the steps. I wondered briefly how I managed to get myself into these situations, but I too kept walking downwards- down the seemingly endless staircase. I promised myself something delicious and fattening after this work out when or if I ever got back home.
It’s the house that drew her in. From the very first moment that she stepped inside, she felt it pulling at her. She thought it was because she loved it so much. It was beautiful, open, light, old. The place had more character in the staircase railing than her previous house had all together. It was also twice as big. It was a two story farmhouse. It fit her family like a glove.
Then they moved in, and it started the first night. At midnight, the dog started barking. Stephanie woke up, thinking he needed to go out. There was a feeling of heaviness, of pressure surrounding her. The dog was not barking at the front door, or even at the steps. He was barking at her daughters’ room. It was his deep bark that he used only when a person came to the door. His, “I am a big dog, fear me,” bark. He stared into space as though there were a person standing there. Stephanie shushed him, but the dog would not be deterred. So, ignoring the feeling that she was being pushed away by a field of unseen energy, she forced her way into her girls’ room, only to see them sleeping peacefully, as though not a sound had been made. She couldn’t escape the feeling of being watched. She called her dog to go outside, in the hopes that fresh air would calm both of them.
Another thing she loved about the house was the clear sky at night. The stars gleamed in the black velvet sky. Only a soft brush of cloud swept over the stars, not able to cover their sparkle. As she walked further into the yard, the breeze blew her hair and she felt a sort of freedom, like the house had been oppressing her in some way. She could breath- for a moment.
It hit her all at once, the darkness, the silence, the cold air. Her ears deceived her at first, but the silence was too dense. The stars were too immovable. The trucks passing, mostly semis taking advantage of the low traffic hours, made no sound, though normally their breaks should hiss and their tires should vibrate the road. The crickets she could hear, their song enveloping her almost completely. With a sharp intake of breath, she realized she also couldn’t hear or see her dog anymore. She swept her flashlight back and forth, more and more frantic. She was afraid to speak, but managed to force out a small, “Luke,” before her breath was choked off. Suddenly, the fresh air was repressive. The looming trees and the darkened sky were pulsating with life, pushing her backward, back into the house. When the small, black furball finally came rushing back to her, she gasped, then turned to walk quickly back into the house, trying to ignore the feeling of being watched from all sides.
The door had not been locked behind her for a second when she was overtaken by the house; its white walls grabbed her, pulling at her fingers, turning into her fingers. The light fixture above her gently tugged at her hair- became her hair. She pushed through the house, her one thought to maintain her hold on herself. She knew, because the house knew, that it only wanted her. Her girls and her husband were safe. Just as it had called to her from the beginning, it was calling to her now begging her to stay.
As the distressed wooden floor reached up to pull her down by her ankles and wrists, the shadows in the corners descended. The cherry color of the wood took over her body, and she was stuck, without having made a single sound.
When morning came, bringing the girls downstairs in search of their mom, they found her at the stove, smile pasted to her face as she finished preparing their breakfast. They were momentarily frightened by the look of satisfied evil on her face, but the eggs were good, so they ate happily, and then ran, their bare feet pattering over the stained, cherry colored floor. The youngest stopped for a moment to notice that the floors pattern looked just like a face in one spot, but her toys were waiting. She skipped on.
DIngaling, DIngaling. They started to get worried.
DIngaling, Dingaling. They ran for cover, knowing that one of them would soon meet a fate worse than death.
DIngaling, DIngaling. They saw the shapes above. huge shadows with ragged edges swept across their land.
These were the flyers. They had beautiful, serene faces, long, flowing hair, and shimmering, transparent wings that carried them along on their venture. They may look innocent, but they were on a mission. A hunting mission.
Elevedora, a villager, threw her blankets woven from grass and dandelion petals over her children, Licuna, Tray, and Kelina. She quickly ran to the other side of Kelina to ensure that her wings were covered, hidden from the hunters. Then they ran for shelter, the sound of wind pulsing under beating wings grew stronger as the hunters grew nearer. Elevedora's only option was to get to the nearest pile of rocks.
When they got there, there were already two families in the crevice. The large male waved them off. "No room here, you must go before they see us!" Elevedora bit her lower lip and tried to shove her way in to no avail.
"Can you not fit one of my children?" She whimpered, when she realized force would not help her.
"Yes, The small one. Hurry now!" The man waved towards Tray. He was not the youngest, but was still the smallest. He had yet to hit a growth spurt. Tray looked to his mother with a quivering pout and a tear in his eye. His chubby hands reached for her, but the male patriarch grabbed him from within the crevice, covering him in shadow with the rest of his children.
"I'll be back for you Tray, promise," Elevedora whispered, then she ushered her two girls away, keeping close to the rock for shadow. She spotted a low hanging dandelion next, and thought that surely she could hide her children there. They were almost to the shade of the flower, when a great woosh was heard just overhead. The hunters had spotted some easy prey, for one had swooped down. With a loud scream and the sound of tearing flesh, Elevedora couldn't help but watch, hoping it wasn't her Tray who was being hoisted into the air to have his wings stolen.
It was not Tray, but an older female. One of her glistening purple wings was torn half off by the hunter, whose sharpened teeth made short work of the job. WIth one more sickening tear, the female was dropped to the ground, and the hunter flew off with her wings secured at her belt.
Elevedora had sheltered her daughters from the sight, but the screams of the female still echoed. The girls were quaking with fear. She could tell that the dandelion was, too, inhabited. Knowing there would be no room for all of them, she again asked if one of her daughters could hide there, to which the hidden family agreed. Licuna, the youngest, was then shuffled under a leaf, to hide with the rest of the family.
Kelina was left. As the oldest, she was still very young, and Elevedora hoped that she could find shelter for her firstborn before the hunters came back. The beating wings could still be heard above them, but they were far enough away at the moment that Elevedora braved a run with Kelina across a small ribbon of water and to the mushroom cap across the stream. When she got there, She saw that the mother was a fairy she knew, Rosamond.
"Please, is there room for us," Elevedora whispered, hoping not to attract attention.
"No room here, get away!" Rosamond snarled glancing upward to the sky.
"Rosamond, please. I know you only have one child, please, there must be room for just Kelina."
" I said NO. Now go before you get me caught." Rosamond spat.
Kelina whimpered from beneath the green and yellow blanket her mother had made. The wind was coming closer, and with it, the hunters.
"Rosamond," Elevedora whispered once more, "sister, please."
Rosamond shook her head, lips pursed, and took a step back as the hunter appeared with it's yellow hair and sky blue eyes, sniffing for them in search of more wings to take home as a trophy. Elevedora covered Kelina with the blanket, pushing her to lie down on the ground. She then watched as the hunter moved closer. Surely, it had seen her there. Surely it would come for her. WIth sudden purpose, then, the hunter moved closer, ready to strike, and as it did, the mushroom cap was torn off, and Rosamond, her husband, and her child were exposed. Rosamond herself hid close to the stem of the mushroom, having pushed the other two in front of her in a vain attempt to spare her own wings.
The hunter snarled as it lashed out, grabbing Rosamond and lifting her towards the sky. The sound of tearing wings filled the air under the bass tempo of the hunter's own flight. Rosamond was dropped to the ground then, wingless and worthless, as the hunter took off into the distance.
Dingaling, Dingaling.... the chiming bells halted in the sky, and the terror was over. With a glance at her now wingless sister, Elevedora frowned, wondering why it had not been her own fate to be taken. She had no time to worry over that, though. With a twitch of her own crystal wings, she and Kelina were off into the sky to collect her other children.
Every time a bell rings, an angel gets her wings.