He had come home from the hospital, slightly delirious. “You must always take your inhaler, young man,” scolded the doctor lightly. “Asthma is serious business. I do not want to see you here again.”
Fenn had nodded sleepily, and the rest of the day had been grey, simultaneous clucking and caring from his mother, and just weird things in general. Like the static in the air when they got home, and how the clock had stopped working. The lights went out in the window of the house behind them, and its baby wouldn’t stop crying. It gave Fenn the shivers.
He had finished most of his chores, whilst swearing that there was a thieving gremlin out to get him because last week it had been his socks and phone, and this time he couldn’t find his inhaler anywhere. Again. Great.
Exhausted, he flopped on to his bed. “Don’t forget to water the flowers,” his mother called from downstairs.
He groaned. “I’ll do it later.”
Fenn succumbed to sleep then, the beginnings of a fever forming to take over. Outside, the flowers wilted.
The nightmare tormented, teasing cruelly.
A blistering heart and hands that violently tremored. His head pounding so wildly, wilder and wilder to the stinging point where he was certain it would crack in two. And then those- those- things had slithered out from under the shaking bed, insects with huge, wings that wouldn’t stop batting, poisonous green caterpillars and flowers that crawled, into his ears, his eyes, his mouth. The clown with the horrible grin and the black-and-white jester’s hat, crooked on its greasy, bald head. It had drawn its face inches away from Fenn’s, blackened lips split with blood, pulled into a hideous grin. Jagged rows of yellowed spikes and crumbling, ashy makeup. A bleeding, convulsing eyeball on its forked tongue.
Fenn had tried desperately. To scramble away. To scream. To do something, anything, God, please. Tears burning in the corners of his sleep-crusted eyes, stomach roiling with polluted waves of lurching revulsion. But his limbs were broken ceramic and his voice had been dissolved in toxic acid WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP-
And then there was a cold hand on his sweaty forehead, but instead of calming him, it seared. Icy flames that flared red-hot frost until the air around him dropped to a suffocating, pneumonia-inducing chill that scared him so bad his eyes snapped open.
A dream. His heartbeat did not slow. Just a dream.
Through Fenn’s dim, hazy vision, he could only just register the shadow in the light of the hallway.
“Mama?” he croaked.
But the shadow looked wrong. Too tall, off-kilter. Hair that looked like hissing snakes, and Fenn shrunk back, frightened.
The cold reached for his neck, briefly forcing his eyes shut but he strained and opened them again.
The old boiler clanked. The omnipresent draft trilled. Nobody was in the hallway.
His chest tightened, shortening breath coming in wheezes. All he wanted to do was hide in bed, but the threat of another asthma attack loomed over. Ugh.
Fenn steeled his mind. With unsteady feet and a messy brain, he rose from his blankets to find his inhaler.
Halfway down the creaking stairs when the lights flickered and went out. That. Was creepy. Fenn gripped onto the bannister, skin crawling. It was too dark to notice the slashed out faces of the photographs on the walls, the hands of the stopped clock contorted into ugly, distorted wire.
The image of the grinning clown branded into his mind. Fear raced up his left arm, paralysing and Fenn scrambled for his phone, as it had a light. Scoffing incredulously when it wouldn’t turn on; it was dead.
He wanted Ma.
Silence overwhelmed the house. It was so deafening that he almost didn’t notice, but when he did, he froze. There was a long moment where nothing happened and then faster than lightning speed, a blur tackled him and shoved Fenn down the staircase.
Fenn momentarily lost track of his senses. What had just happened? His whole body ached and then-
A growling coming from above him. The lights flickered back on. He wished they hadn’t. Five meters away was a levitating beast, surrounded by a heavy black mass.
Its hair shined greasily, matted to one side. Nostrils hooked with metal, lurching towards him with nails out, long and curling, like they hadn’t been cut for a billion years. Its skin was a shrivelled husk, empty sockets dripping death. In its open maw was half of a decapitated, dying bird.
Hungry, it snarled at him. Food!
The monster lunged again, and he did not move.
“Ma?” The syllables in his mouth dropped out, incredulous.
It was Ma. Her hair. The jumper she had worn today, hanging off her skeleton like rags. In her leathery grasp was Fenn’s inhaler.
“Ma,” he gasped, his chest turning over. “Ma, what have you done?”
She lunged again, screeching, and the sound jolted him out of his shock. With tears in his eyes, he got to his feet, instinctively breaking into the living room. Grabbing the bat behind the sofa, Fenn whirled around, ready to slam her down with it.
That was when claws wrapped around his own shuddering grip and teeth ripped into his aching temples.
Eyes cracked open to pitch black.
A stench, rotten and decayed, punctured his senses. Get out. Get out of here right now.
Something hit the window, a flump and he swallowed down a scream. Then the Thing entered, and everything went deeper down hell.
Ma, he wanted to scream. Ma!
The door shut behind her.
Fenn Simon thanked God that the Thing had thought he was good-looking, because it was the only thing that was postponing his imminent death right now.
“You’re a pretty one,” it had crooned, wickedly sharp nails gleaming. “I’ll have to save you for later.”
He shuddered. What had even happened? This demon- but it didn’t matter now. He would not stall time any longer.
He leaned and bit down hard on the snakes that were circling his wrists. Black and slimy, their squeals pierced, attempting to wiggle free. He gritted his teeth harder, ripping his hands away from the cuffs and they came bleeding, but free.
No time to lose. Whatever that thing was, it was stupid. It had trapped in the room with a window, and he would use it to escape and get help, and then save his mother with more back up later.
The window was locked. Fenn’s mind was racing. He brought a fist up and the glass shattered, tiny, gleaming shards embedded in his bloody face.
Brought a leg up to jump-
A heavy mist fogged up his brain. It sneaked into the corners and made his eyes water.
His hands were not his own. They pulled at his face, as if trying to rip it off.
Ears pulsing, wet with blood.
Fall, fall, fall. It’s okay. Fall.
The Thing tittered softly when the resounding crack filled the air. Stupid, huh.
The Thing rose softly, floating out of the window, lightly landing next to the broken body with an agile jump. Stupid, huh.
The Thing kicked the neck of the stupid human. Harsh. Blood squelched out, and the dry roots of the flowerbed sucked it up.
The flowers giggled, now purple. They had gone blue with laughing when the body of the boy who hadn’t bothered to water them had fallen out of the window, mixing with the red of his blood that the Thing had so kindly given to them.
They nodded, and the Thing smiled back.