Everyone told him that studying would make him smarter. They said that it would help him understand concepts he could not yet grasp.

So he studied. He studied very hard.

He studied the twitching limbs and curling fingers. He studied the way the bodies curled inwards, away from the gleaming metal. He studied the way blood ran so similar to their tears.

He observed like in science class. He repeated his experiments, over and over. And when he still could not understand, he began to broaden his observations.

He started listening. To the screaming and the begging, the crying and the desperate pleas. But nothing, not a stir.

He watched as they slowly awoke, their looks running from confusion to horror at the sight of blood and rotting corpses – the failed experiments – that littered the room. Faces were, he realized, very strong indicators of emotions. They twisted and contorted in an acrobat of expression. But stronger still, he found, were the eyes. They showed their fear, their pain, and for some, in the end, their resignation. He kept those ones in a jar, but they had lost their emotions once he had removed them from the body. He could not understand why.

He also touched. Touched their shivering limbs, their quaking bodies, their warm blood, their cold corpses.  But it gave him none of the answers he sought. He learned only that they became quick to shy away from him when he approached, wriggling like bugs trapped in a spider’s web. Their chains would shake, clinking, but they were unable to flee as his hands drained them of their lives.

Finally he tasted. First their blood, for it was the same colour as his own, and he knew that all humans were made of the same materials. But it was metallic and nothing more. Then he tasted their tears, for they always cried when they felt strong emotions. They were salty, and it reminded him of the ocean’s devastation. But these people were small and weak and very soon they stopped crying and stopped moving at all.

A monster, they called him, but he could not understand. For he and they were all the same. Blood and limbs and beating hearts. So why did they spend their lives smiling and crying, while he wandered the days never needing to shift his expression and never able to create tears? It was something that puzzled him greatly.

He still, he figured, had much to learn. And studying, he hoped, would provide him with the answer.


Happy Halloween!

Skeletons in the Closet

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.

Good boy.

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.

Something Flickered

“Stop running ahead, Jimmy!” His father panted as he finally caught up to the excited child. Then he glanced up at the next house. “The lights are all off in this one, Jimmy,” he eyed the wood boarded across the door. “Let’s go to the next one.”

But the young child saw a light flicker in the window and shook his head. “No, I want to try this one.”

“Alright,” shrugged the father. He stopped at the edge of the property, and let his son run up the path. He glanced down at his phone as it buzzed. His wife wanted to know how the trick-or-treating was going.

The boy eagerly climbed the stairs. His heavy bag of candy weighed him down, but he was sure he had seen a light inside. And he really, really wanted more candy. Last year Ben, his classmate, had gotten two full bags, and hadn’t stopped bragging about it. This year, Jimmy had decided, he would have the most loot out of everyone. He couldn’t wait to see Ben’s jealous face.

He raised his hand to knock, and then hesitated as the door slowly swung open before he could even touch it. He bit his lip and shifted uncertainly, then poked his head under the board in to peer inside.

It was dark. He couldn’t see the light that had been shining before. But the moon was bright this night, and it shone a clear path down the hallway. And as his gaze traveled further, he spotted a plastic pumpkin lying on the floor. It was tilted slightly, and several candies had fallen out.

He grinned and hefted his own bag up and over the doorstep as he stepped inside. The floor creaked as he walked, the red shoes his parents had bought to match his spiderman costume seemed strangely heavy. But he was almost at the pumpkin. If no one had noticed him yet, he was pretty sure they wouldn’t even be aware that he had been there at all.

Outside his father pressed ‘send’ and looked up from his phone. A frown appeared as his son was nowhere to be seen.

“Jimmy?” He called out, looking around. The door was still closed and the lights off. He sighed loudly. “Running ahead again,” he muttered, taking off towards the next house. “I told him to wait for me.”

The moon’s glow began to dim, and soon it was too dark for Jimmy to see properly. He glanced back, but the clouds now obscured the moon. He licked his lips and clenched his candy closer to his body. It was heavy, and his arms were getting tired. He edged his foot forward. He knew he was close now. It was just a little bit further. One step, one more…

Then something flickered in front of him, pale and glowing.

His eyes widened, and a sob escaped his mouth. “Dad…”

His sack of candy dropped from his loosened grip, spilling over the side as it hit the ground.

Happy Halloween!