Through the weeping household stalked a small black cat—just past kittenhood, and more gamine than gangly. She darted past the skirts of a grieving wife as the woman buried her face in a... [+]
“Max do you know who did this to you?”
Max didn’t say anything.
“Please Max? Did you see anyone? Or hear anything?”
Max shrugged. He heard the principle sigh and sit back.
“Max I have just one more question, have you been sleeping well at home?”
A knot was forming in his throat.
“Ms. Lee says you haven’t been yourself in class. Is there anything stopping
you from sleeping?”
He shrugged again.
“I have to send a note to your parents,” she said with finality. “Again.”
Max didn’t even bother shrugging. The knot in his throat grew bigger. Last time he’d come home with a note for his parents they had been furious.
“Ok.” This time heard the scratching of a pen on paper. He peered up through his too long, too greasy black hair. The principle handed him a note. “Take this to the nurses’ office. She’ll help you get that off. Most of it anyway.” Max took the note and bolted from the room.
When he finally got home, his dad was fast asleep so Max ran straight for the bathroom to flush the principle’s note down the toilet. He spent the next twenty minutes scrubbing his face raw. In the kitchen he made himself a peanut butter sandwich, then muted the sound on the television and found a cartoon to watch. For the moment he was happy. He could huddle there until his dad woke up or his mom came home. Most of the marker had come off and he didn’t think they would notice. They didn’t notice much.
As predicted the trouble began when his mom came home. “Max!” she called as soon as she entered. “I got a call from your principle. Where are you?” She wandering to the kitchen and Max slunk down into a blanket. Max’s dad came stomping down the stairs, as usual he’d woken up when his wife arrived.
“What’s going on?” he yawned.
“Where’s Max? You didn’t vacuum did you?”
“Dunno just woke up.”
“You can’t keep track of our son –you don’t do any chores- honestly sometimes I don’t know why I married you.”
Max saw his dad give his mom a half smile, “because I was so handsome. And I make you laugh.”
His mom gave him a tired, exasperated look. But she did smile. Until she turned her head slightly and caught the flicking of the tv screen. “Max!”
“I didn’t do anything!” he shouted suddenly standing.
“Don’t shout at your mom.” His dad was frowning, but he wasn’t paying attention. Not really. He was rubbing the scruff on his face, deciding whether to shave or not before heading to work.
“But I didn’t do anything!”
“You fell asleep on the bus.”
“He fell asleep at school again?” said his dad incredulously.
“No! I fell ASLEEP ON THE BUS!” Max screamed with all fury he could muster, “I wasn’t at school yet!”
“I told you not to shout at your mom!”
“I think it’s all the television-”
“No! I told you there’s the thing!”
“Christ!” swore Max’s dad.
“I told you I think it’s the tv; he watches too much and who knows what he watches-”
“I put a child lock... He can only watch cartoons. I don’t know where he gets this from. I never had nightmares, Max, buddy. We don’t have time for this.”
At that point, Max screamed.
In the end he was banned from the TV for two weeks, and he refused to talk to either of them. His mom made him mac n’ cheese and he ate as angrily as he could manage. He finally spoke when he was sent to brush his teeth. His dad was gone or he never would have dared. “I hate you,” he whispered, just loudly enough to be heard before he slipped away from the dining table and ran up the stairs.
When Max finally went back to his room they were waiting. The Watcher under the bed saw him first and he could feel it watching him with its eerie blue eyes. He always watched.
“Did you miss us?” said Claws in his high singsong voice. The door to the closet creaked slowly open. Max’s legs were numb, and rooted to the ground. Long claws scratched the surface the door of his closet as the thing came around to look at him with its milky white eyes. It looked blind, but whenever Max moved its face turned to follow. Saliva mixed with the green venom that seeped down the monster’s fangs and dripped down, scorching circles into his plush blue carpet.
He tried to show the scorch marks to his dad once, but he’d just sworn at the cheapness of everything these days. Then he’d been grounded for ruining the carpet. He hadn’t bothered showing them the scratches.
The drawers of his desk and night stand slunk open and an inky blackness pooled out, spilled onto the floor, and rushed toward him. Max suddenly sprang into action. He knew instinctively that if the darkness got him it was over. He made a dash for the bed and leapt into it, too terrified to look toward the grasping darkness. He buried himself under his blanket and sat holding his legs. “Claws will go back into the closet,” he whispered keeping his eyes tightly sealed. “The Watcher will close his eyes, the Blackness will go away.” They always did. Eventually. He felt one of the creatures leaning over him. “Its story time Maxy,” came Claw’s singsong voice, as high as nails on chalkboard. He could feel the creature emanating warmth like an inferno even through his blankets.
“No, no, no,” he whispered, sobbing into his knees. But the beast kept going anyway, like it always did.
“Don’t you want a little story to help you sleep?” He laughed. “Once upon a time... there was a little boy...”
Last night it had been a little girl. Sometimes it was a man or a woman. The stories were always different, but they always ended the same way. The monsters got them.
Max bit his knees as hard as he could to keep from crying out. They’d never used his name before.
“And he was all alone... in the dark.... With no one to hear him scream... and there was nothing poor little Max could do when the monsters dragged away his daddy... and mommy...” Claws paused to giggle. “She screamed so, so loudly. She screamed for poor little Max to run. And Max ran. He ran and ran...” The thing clicked its teeth. “He ran down darkened corridors and he tripped and stumbled over a loose shoelace. He slammed into the ground, he stood quickly, but it was too late. He found himself-”
Max screamed and threw aside the covers. He found himself facing two piercing blue eyes. He could feel Claws’ breath on the back of his neck. The floor was a dark mass unaffected by the moonlight filtering in through his blinds. He swung a heavy flashlight, larger than his forearm, around swiping the edge of the Watcher’s scabby pale chin and hitting Claws somewhere in the face. Claws screamed and swiped at Max, but Max dodged and held onto the flashlight for dear life. With his heart pounding in his chest, Max switched on the flashlight and shone it into their hideous faces. He saw that he’d broken half of Claws’ fangs, and he saw Watcher’s skin boil in the light. The dark that spilled from his drawers didn’t slither back into them, not this time. Now it shrank and writhed as though in pain.
“Go, GO! Leave ME ALONE!”
The beasts gave one hideous shriek and fled though his window, destroying the blinds and shattering the glass. Max watched the monsters leave and regarded the flashlight in wonder. The school janitor would miss it, but Max needed it more.
Downstairs, his parents had heard nothing.
“Hey, I’m going to check on the kid before I head to work,” said Max’s dad. A cup of coffee lay mostly empty on the table in front of him.
“Yeah, I’ll come too. I should head to bed,” said his mom.
“Maybe we can chase away some of his monsters.”
When they opened the door to the bedroom all they saw was Max, sleeping more peacefully than he had in half a year.
“Honey, look- the blinds- The window’s broken!”