His eyes snapped open as he sat up, breath held as he waited. His first instinct was to stare at his closet, but it was still, silent.
Again a smash reverberated through the house, up the stairs, to his trained ears. His fingers clenched tightly around his blanket. He began to breathe again in shallow huffs. His eyes flickered around the room until they landed on the bat leaning against his desk.
He hesitated as he neared the edge of the bed, then gently lowered his feet, carefully avoiding the creak in the floor. He eased his weight forward, and took delicate steps across the room.
His fingers curled around the handle with a familiar ease and he lifted it with a grim face. It heavy, solid, the wood lightly scratched. He traced it gently, then lowered it to his side and stepped towards his door.
It opened silently, and he toed his way down the hall, towards the stairs. He could hear someone rummaging through the drawers, glass tinkling to an end as they hit the floor.
His knuckles whitened around the bat and he used his other hand to smother the sound of his harried breaths. There were no lights on, but he knew the house too well for it to be a hindrance.
He heard low mutterings, a grungy drawl pronounced. But only one voice, only one set of feet. Slowly he edged closer to the door frame, and finally glanced around the corner into the kitchen, bat held up, ready.
Nothing. Empty. If not for the mess sprawled on the floor, he would have thought himself insane. Instead he felt a chill settle delicately along the length of his spine. Then where was the thief?
Click. He swallowed heavily and turned his head slowly. The man was approaching slowly, face masked, gun pointed straight at him.
“Put ‘er down, nice an’ slow,” the thief spoke calmly, but underneath the words there was something dark.
Eyeing the gun, he did as asked, raising his hands above his head as he straightened.
“Now, seein’ as yer here, might as well get yer to guide me.” The thief sounded like he was smiling.
He watched the masked face with narrowed eyes, but kept his mouth shut. His legs remained immobile.
The thief tsked. “That won’t do. I’m bein’ reasonable here, see? Givin’ yeh a chance to live. If yeh co’perate, that is.” He waved the gun slightly. Then he sighed when he received no answer. “What’s yer name, kid?”
He hesitated only until he saw the thief’s eyes narrow impatiently. “Jim,” he said finally.
“There, ain’t so hard is it, Jimmy m’boy?” The thief praised. “Now, where’re yer parents?”
“Sleeping, upstairs,” Jim replied immediately.
The criminal’s eyes darkened and he was suddenly in front of Jim, the gun digging into the boy’s neck. “I don’t like liars,” he hissed, eyes jerking minutely.
“A-away for the weekend,” Jim whimpered, eyes trying to watch both the gun and the thief’s face.
The masked man relaxed slightly and ruffled the boy’s hair. “Good boy,” he grunted. “Now, show me where yer ma ‘n pa keep their goods.” He nudged the boy with the end of his gun.
Jim took a step backwards, nodding jerkily even as he turned. He walked slowly, each breath ending with a stifled sob. His hands trembled as he gripped the rail, climbing, one foot, the other.
Then he made his way through the open door. The moon shone brightly through the gentle curtains. He yelped as the burglar grabbed his hair and yanked him backwards with a harsh yank.
“This ain’t yer parents’ room, kid. Yeh tryin’ to trick me or somethin’?” The thief’s voice was raised slightly, tones flying out of control as he spoke.
“No, no, I swear,” Jim cried out, tears leaking as the grip tightened and the gun was raised to his temple. “In there, in there,” he began to sob. “They put it there ‘cause no one would think to look.” His hand shook as he pointed at the closet. The pristine white doors and jeweled knobs.
The man grunted, then jerked him forward as he strode to the closed doors. He eyed the boy suspiciously, gun still aimed, then pulled the door open, one at a time.
They creaked, an agonizing sound that, for once, brought not fear but relief so great that Jim’s knees almost gave out.
Inside it was an engulfing black, dark even in the moon’s silver light. The shadows seemed to sigh outwards as the doors opened fully. The room grew darker where the moon did not reach.
“Nuttin’ there, kid,” the thief pushed the muzzle of the gun against Jim’s temple, then paused, eyes narrowing as he leaned forward, scouring the closet. “What was that?” He demanded.
Jim was silent as he watched the man lean further in and the shadows reach slowly out. As red flickers into view, one, then two, circles that lead to the darkest pits of hell. As the thief let out a shout of surprise, stepping backwards, jerking his gun into the face of something so dark, so horrifying.
He watched as the thief stepped back and lead the creature out. He traced the shadows that curled, tendrils that circled the man’s body gently at first. His breath hitched at the arms that emerged, following the criminal’s retreat. Tipped heavily with brown that fades into black, claws blended into skeletal fingers, hands, arms. Inhuman, the skin stretched over bones, no muscle visible. They gripped the doors and pulled the head forward into horrific clarity.
The thief fired his gun, once twice, then it was gone with a crunch, as was his hand. The creature grinned a smile that was too wide with teeth that were too sharp. Blood dripped from its stained incisors even as it opened its mouth wider, wider, until the end was visible within its jaws.
And it moved before the man could produce any sounds, its motion a blink and yet so slow that Jim could see every detail as its mouth engulfed the man’s head and bit down, drawing backwards, the limp corpse dragged with it.
Jim watched as red eyes met his own and he felt the vileness, the corruption, so repugnant that bile rose in his throat. He heard the pleased hiss that emerged, that nearly brought his hands up to cover his ears.
Bones crunched and flesh squelched as the monster consumed. Even when the creature had receded and the doors closed and Jim had finished wiping the blood from the floor, the noises continued. So grisly, they sounded, that he could imagine those same teeth tearing into his own flesh.
And when the police found him, he was curled under the blankets in his bed, his knees tucked to his chest, shivering.
So they told him that the thief must have run off and that he was safe now. That he did not have to be scared, because they would stay with him until his parents got home if he so wished.
He nodded and thanked them and promised that he would be alright, that they could continue their investigation without worrying about him.
And for the rest of the night he sat there, sounds ringing in his ears and shadows dancing in his eyes. He knew that he had not escaped, not fully. For the darkness had surrounded him too. It had slipped beneath his skin and there it would linger, a slow poison.
But it would be alright, he told himself over and over again. Because everyone had a skeleton or two in their closets.
A sort of ‘years later’ continuation of Where Even the Moon Cannot Reach.