A short story written for my writing group’s Halloween get-together the other night…
The watcher at the foot of the bed appeared, to those who could see it, childlike, but had actually been centuries in the making. It bore a noticeable resemblance to the girl in the bed but lacked the definition of feature. It was a parody of her, like an almost-but-not-quite completed waxwork sculpture. The features that were defined – the nose, the cheekbones, the chin – were sharp and pinched, hinting of an underlying cruelty that was missing entirely from the face of the sleeping child. Its eyes were dark pools, depthless, unfathomable, the whites only a thin corona surrounding deep brown, almost black, irises and pupils. In one iris, the right, there swam a mote of burning amber, so deeply submerged that the fact of its visibility seemed to defy logic. It burned like a lone star in the night sky, a flickering fire lost in the depths of infinity.
The figure had been watching the girl for hours, relishing every twitch of her mouth, every flicker of life beneath her eyelids as she dreamed. Its presence in the room ensured the girl slept deeply: she could be woken, but not by the regular night noises of the house or the occasional car sweeping past on the street outside.
Earlier, the child’s mother had opened the door, walked to the side of the bed and kissed her daughter goodnight. The child had not stirred. The mother had felt a cold chill as she passed through the space occupied by the watcher, but apart from that single shiver and a momentary sense of unease had discerned nothing untoward. She was not a seer, and the watcher knew this from months of stalking the house. Leaving the door slightly ajar the mother had walked back down the hallway, turning off the hall light as she entered her own bedroom. A few moments later she turned off her bedside lamp, leaving the house in darkness save for the luminous yellow glow from the nightlight plugged into the socket by her daughter’s bed.
The illumination from the nightlight, diffused by the plastic shell surrounding the single LED glowing at its centre, was so subtle as to be almost imperceptible, but still enough to throw shadows onto the cream coloured walls. The girl and the bed created the largest shadow, their proximity to the light-source throwing them into stark relief. The watcher cast no shadow whatsoever, and, in this light, seemed almost as insubstantial as shadow itself.
On the bed the girl sighed and stirred, her body rolling deeper into the mattress, her head shifting slightly on the pillow. In her dreams the girl was running from something unseen. It felt like she was running through treacle. Her distress, in sleep, was reduced to tiny movements, her brain producing chemicals to induce sleep-paralysis and protect her from detection by nocturnal predators.
The intruder understood this process intimately and smiled at these diminished manifestations of anxiety, its cracked, dry lips drawing back over teeth stained yellow-brown. Its tongue, bloated and discoloured, licked at the crusted lips, as though tasting the air for some chemical expression of the girl’s fear.
The girl sighed again, uncurling from the foetal position she had assumed all night to lay supine on the mattress. The bedding moved with her, the cover slipping down to expose her neck and shoulder. Her eyes, beneath her eyelids, were moving more rapidly now as those pursuing her in her dreams gained ground. She was frowning, and light beads of perspiration had appeared on her forehead. The watching presence felt a shiver of anticipation run through its body, a sudden rush and release of tension almost sexual in its intensity yet completely unconnected to sex. The human form held no interest for the watcher other than as a source of amusement and a means to an end; it took some pleasure in the corruption and abuse of the body, but the ultimate prize was domination, control and assimilation of the mind.
It had been watching the girl for many months, having selected her after witnessing her perform a small act of kindness for another child. Her compassion and innocence had distinguished her from the other children playing in the park, had drawn the watcher to her like a magpie to silver. It had been watching and waiting ever since: watching for signs of transformation, waiting for the first show of blood that would signal her suitability as a host vessel. The blood had appeared two nights previously, spotting the girl’s pyjama bottoms as she slept, but still the watcher had waited. The watcher had limitless patience.
Tonight it could sense that her flow was at its fullest and that the tide would turn at any moment. It moved forward in readiness, positioning itself alongside her head. It bent forward, thin, pale hands coming to rest on the child’s cheeks, its arms, crisscrossed with healed scars, laid gently on the bedding on either side of her face. It moved closer still, its lips almost touching the child’s, its breath mingling with hers.
The girl woke and gasped, her eyes and mouth opening in shock, and at this moment the watcher entered her, swimming down into the depths of her as she inhaled. There was a brief struggle, the girl’s back arching off the bed as she tried to expel the searing heat that had filled her lungs. Then she fell back onto the bed, as lifeless as a rag doll, her eyes rolling back into her head so that only the whites were visible.
After a few minutes the girl moved. She blinked, her eyes now dark and depthless, then smiled with secret amusement. The bed on which she lay started to shift and rock, pounding against the wooden floorboards, then lifted completely, hovering almost a foot from the floor.
The child opened her mouth, threw back her head and screamed for her mother, her voice filling the house with a sound like thunder.