The wind howled it’s way around the cracks and corners of the tiny house. Inside, the youngest of the family, a boy of five, was the only one awake, the blanket to his chin. He heard that wind in his nightmares sometimes, as it came whipping in off the long plains that stretched around the farm forever. It scared him less when the thunder slammed into the windows with it, or it brought the snow to take the world away. Those times it was right, and natural, and only doing what wind must do, because it is wind.
On nights like this, however, it screamed for no reason but to scare him. His father hated it because it hurt the trees, and his mother hated it because it made her sneeze, but he feared it as it encroached, enraged at him for some reason he could never understand.
He could swear he felt the house crouch lower huddling and hiding against the onslaught. The boy could commiserate, and scrambled further down into his quilts, large eyes staring. It almost seemed like he could hear things rustling in the attic above. Perhaps the wind had found it’s way in, or scared in a creature much like himself, small and quaking. Or maybe, as his mother so often said, her lips pursed, her voice snapping like the knots that burst in the fire, his imagination was simply too active. He tried to make it behave, but it never seemed to listen.
Listen. The creaking of the wood, right above his bed. A hole in the roughly hewn planks tried to catch his eye, and he pulled the blankets higher with a gasping little noise.
There’s was probably nothing up there, just like the apple tree wasn’t a skeleton, and the fox holes weren’t secret tunnels to buried treasure.
Some of the things had been true, though, like the time he dreamed that Janey Levit from the next farm down had been taken away by trolls. She had gone missing that very same night, but when he had tried to tell his mother who had done it she had just cried and screamed and finally hugged him, confusing him again.
So he knew not to get up to explore the thuds and creaks above him. Even if he wasn’t afraid – and he was always afraid, even when the wind wasn’t howling at him – it would be a bad idea to get up. If he was found out of bed at this hour Mother would be scared and worried and his father would walk back and forth and yell about how ‘that imagination wasn’t from his side of the family’ and then mother would cry.
He hated it when Mother cried.
But he hated the noises from the wind and the attic even more. If anything was going to keep him firmly in this bed until morning, it would be that fear, not his parents.
The boy snuggled even further into his narrow bed, pushing down so far that his feet bumped against the footboard. That wouldn’t do either; too close to monster territory, and they certainly didn’t need any help. After a few moments of struggle he finally compromised by curling up in a tiny ball in the middle, clutching his pillow under the blanket with him. It was harder to breathe here, true, but it was guaranteed monster free.
As he struggled to fall asleep in his new position, the wind picked up. Something outside began to slam open and close, over and over, and the noises overhead grew with the wind. That meant the sound was probably the wind, inside the house, fighting with itself because it couldn’t get out. Which meant that the scolding mother he heard in his head sometime, the one that made him feel bad when he thought of doing something wrong, was right again. This time it was a tree, and not a troll.
Up above, the boards creaked and rolled.
Rolling over, trying to ignore it, trying not to kick off his blankets, trying not to give in and just stick his head out of the blankets to get away from the close, thick air. Could air run out under a blanket? It was tight all around his head to prevent intruders from getting it. Maybe he wasn’t hot, maybe he was suffocating, and then the monsters wouldn’t matter anymore because he would be dead.
With a gasp he pushed his head out, deciding quickly that monster prevention didn’t matter if he wasn’t alive to enjoy not being eaten. They would be happy about his death, too, and that was almost worst.
The pillow was in a panicky clutch, held to his chest as he tried to look around and see everything all at once. He had begun the long work of calming himself and convincing himself that sleep was safe when something in the hall slammed. An embarrassing screech came from his throat and he fell backwards off the bed with a thump. For a brief moment he was completely defenseless, and his scramble back onto the bed was both graceless and breathtakingly fast.
From down the hall Mother spoke softly and Father groaned. Thier bed squeaked sharply. That was the best thing he could hope for; if Father was awake, he would find the wind and lock it out. Things would go back to normal, and he could go back to sleep. From outside his door he could hear his father move up the trapdoor the boy was never supposed to play with to go into the attic. His eyes carefully followed the boards as they moved under his father. Then, a thunk, his father’s mumbles, and the house stopped speaking, abruptly cut off.
Well then, it was the wind. Just the wind, angry but helpless, like his baby brother used to be before he stopped crying one night. It wasn’t dangerous at all. Now all he would have to do would be to make sure that Mother never found out how scared he had been tonight; she worried and hugged him too much already.
The boy listened to his father’s heavy tread over him, his eyelids fighting him already. As much as Father could yell and scold and stand over him, tall as tree, scaring him, he was strong and safe. Anything could be solved if Father could get his hands on it. Nothing would ever touch any of them if Father was in charge.
The steps made a slow, careful circle of the attic. The bed down the hall creaked softly. He lay drowsing under his thick comforter, warm and calm. Even the wind seemed to be calming, no doubt scared by Father’s strength and the look he could give when he was over vexed.
Up above the circle ended and the thumps came down the steps, though the trapdoor didn’t click into place. His father spoke softly in the hallway, calling to his mother. His voice was almost angry. Then the footsteps moved into the other room and the voice was completely scared.
He had never heard his father scream before, but he knew what it was immediately. The boy’s breath choked in his throat, and he was only vaguely aware of the spreading warmth in his sleep pants. He heard his mother’s name screamed over and over again, and began to sob helplessly into his pillow, clutched once again to his chest, more terrified than he had ever been in his life.
When Father appeared in the doorway it was sudden and horrifying. Blood was down the front of his long johns, and his eyes were wild. The boy had only seen them that way once before, when the sheriff had come by to warn about a dog, a dog that was sick with something that made it attack people. The look heightened his terror, and he began to cough, big, whooping noises, born from sobs stuck in his chest by panic. When his father rushed forward to hug him, the coughs only became worse; Father never hugged him when he was crying. That was what Mother did.
After a brief, squeezing hug, Father released him, and put a firm hand over his mouth. He told him to be quiet, that men didn’t cry, all things that the boy had heard over and over. Then he said something that made large tears track down the boy’s gaunt cheeks. He had to go under the bed. He had to go under the bed and be a good boy, and wait for him, and not make a noise until he heard that it was safe. If anyone but Father came in, he was supposed to run, run like all the time Father had seen him run for dinner, small and fleet, and go to the Levit’s.
But what about Mother? The boy asked softly once his father moved his hand, copying the man’s quiet, swift tone, his eyes growing larger every moment.
Mother doesn’t feel good, Father answered, choking on the last word, eyes frantic. Hands gripped the boy’s thin shoulders tightly, as Father urged him under the bed, into the land of the monsters that seemed to have slipped out into a world where a blanket would no longer stop them. He was given one last hushed reminder to hide, stay quiet, and if necessary, run. Run. Run.
With his knees pulled to his chest he watched the large boots move away into the hallway. He heard Father gasp, then moan, and sprint deeper into the house. Now there was thunder, the thunder of his father’s feet ascending into the attic, as angry as God had been before Jesus made him nice. There was a blast that filled the world, and boy understood why his father had run from the attic; the only thing he didn’t know was why his father would need that gun, but he prayed frantically it didn’t have anything to do with why Mother was sick.
Another blast, this one directly over his head. Where he had heard the creaks before. The creaks that weren’t real, that needed to be shot by his daddy for some reason. Shot again, and again, and the scuffles were moving now, getting closer to the attic stairway, and the boy knew the gun took so long to shoot again.
Still he waited, hoping he would heard it again, even if it hurt his ears, but all heard was his daddy screaming and screaming and screaming, and the boy was running, trying to be brave, disobeying Father, aware he should be fearing punishment but that he wasn’t. In the hallways one small foot hit a patch of liquid and squirted out from under him.
He fell in a heap, his head connecting with the doorjamb hard enough to make his brains rattle and his eyes go dark. It was hard to fight, but he did, fought it with a man’s strength, not a boy’s, and managed to bring the world back into focus. Moonlight streamed in through his bedroom windows, and a lamp was on in mother and father’s room; more than enough to see the hallway by. There was something on the floor directly in front of him; dust. A thick layer of dust that dragged down the hall. There was something under him, too, whatever it was that had made him slip. It was warm, and felt gross, and the boy rubbed his hand furiously against his sleep clothes, mewling in disgust. It was gross color, too, a red that Mother always said made her think of -.
The boy’s mind stopped then. Father had just started teaching him to hunt, and track, and he realized with sudden horror that he understood the path in front of him. Blood. A thick, awful trail of blood that went from the room down the hall, up into the attic. It was bad, made him think bad things, like Mother might not be sick. Above him, a floorboard moaned, and the boy began to cry.
I’m Jacalyn, a freelance writer and horror fan. I’m AFAB but genderfluid (she or he) and demisexual. I live with my partner and my two terrible cats.
If you like my writing you can find more at my tumblr and in my webcomic Springs Falls, a queer and mental health focused endeavor about mythical creatures and what their mental care system might look like.
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