So I’m posting this thing. It’s really long.
It’s my attempt at breaking back into writing…narratively. Do me a favor and only read it if you have the time to finish it please. It’s not thaaat long, should just take 5-10 minutes or something. Leave me some feedback if you do! :D
Click the “Read More” thingy to….read more.
Ever vigilant, Ted kept guard.
Darkness enveloped the child’s room through the quiet reaches of the night. Vague forms interrupted layers of murky shadow which composed the walls, unidentifiable. In daylight, a dresser. A lamp. A jacket slung across a plastic chair. But robbed of sight, the eye plays tricks. Shapes seem to come together, coalescing into new forms. Empty blackness births substance. Solid objects melt into edgeless shadows, suddenly immaterial. A mind could lose itself trying to keep track, if it didn’t know any better. But in the end, it’s just a trick of the eye.
The child was young. Irrational. He feared the dark. Feared the emptiness. His parents dismissed him. To his horror, they wished him sweet dreams and turned out the lights. They didn’t see what he saw. Couldn’t see. That there were sometimes things lurking in that darkness. Crawling things, creeping things, things with no names but endless rows of gnashing teeth and grasping claws.
But Ted saw. He saw because the child saw. And so he kept guard.
The child’s name was William. Billy to his friends, and to Ted. Ted suspected the boy loved him, in his childish way. Certainly trusted him. And he knew he loved the boy in return. Loved his innocence and blind faith. Only with Ted standing watch could Billy finally sleep, and that small fact warmed a place in Ted’s body that he supposed would be his heart.
Countless nights Ted had sat by Billy’s side, quietly waiting until he slid sideways out of the waking world and into the place where dreams come from. Ted wondered what that must be like. He had never dreamed.
He sat patiently, as always, staring into the void.
Silence ruled the night. The world outside the window was gone for the moment, taking it’s sounds and chaos with it. In its place, otherwise imperceptible whispers of nocturnal activity reached his ears. The subtle movement of hidden rodents or insects. The protesting of elderly floorboards, sagging from time and weight into ever more settled positions. The whistling and humming of wind past the window, sometimes rattling the aluminum awning. To Ted, the sound evoked images of fingerbones brushing across a ribcage, but he had heard it before, many times, and he no longer shuddered.
These noises he filtered, but when he heard the new sound close by - much too close - his ears pricked up. Alert, he raised his black eyes, nearly useless in the lightless chamber, and scanned for movement, swiveling his head back and forth.
The eyes were the first to appear. Green, glowing, in the far corner of the open closet. Faint at first, but unmistakable in the otherwise imperceptable space, providing just enough macabre illumination for Ted to see clearly what followed.
The eyes regarded the room slowly for a few moments and settled their gaze on the boy’s bed, then Billy himself, unaware beneath the covers. Ted tensed, waited. He could almost feel the malevolence radiating out from that cold stare. The eyes drifted forward, from the shadow behind them poured a hulking form. It oozed from blackness into a shape Ted could only describe as “there.” It shifted ceaselessly, amorphous and nauseating. One shoulder grew a spike, which lanced upward and out into a membranous wing, which stretched and thinned until it resembled the lashing tentacle of a squid, and with a shudder, finally shrivelled and vanished. The beast was as confusing as it was sinister, unable to decide what it wanted to be. After all, the boy had so many terrors to choose from.
Silently, it walked-slithered-drifted toward the bed. Ted stood.
The creature stopped in the middle of the room, seeing Ted for the first time. He tried his best to impose himself, to seem bigger than he was. He wasn’t afraid. Against all odds, he was calm, collected, sure. He walked forward. The thing sneered, baring black fangs and a gaping maw that widened as it opened, improbably large. The shape surged up toward the ceiling, towering over Ted, and came rushing down at him, gullet cavernous, eyes bright and hungry. He hopped to the side, almost casually. A wave of flesh collided with the ground at his right, alternately soft, scaly, slimy, and mounded on the floor.
Suddenly a sharp pain stabbed through his side and he staggered, uneven. A claw-tentacle-paw had reached down and around while Ted’s focus was on the main part of the shifting beast and sliced into his side. Stupid, he should have seen that coming.
A change was taking place in the body of the creature. The light left its murderous gaze as it reared up again and slowly solidified, ceasing the transformations that so maddened the eye. Its bulbous extremeties and superfluous limbs dwindled and shrank as the monster grew ivory-pale skin and stood on two legs, developed a hunch and bared its gleaming new fangs.
Chose a shape, did you? thought Ted as he surrupticiously checked his wound. A tear down the side, and some pain, but nothing that would get in his way. Fine, let’s get on with it.
Ted recognized the monster now. It was a feral, drooling vampire, exactly like the one Billy had seen on television with his parents earlier in the day. It had scared Billy, though he tried not to show it. He knew vampires didn’t exist, knew it in the logical way that he knew one-and-one was two and that you shouldn’t touch the stove when it’s hot.
Billy knew what he saw on television was fake, and yet he believed it. It was in the back part of his mind, as in all children, behind and around the logical center, that his imagination fired and roared with the thought of monsters, fueling his fear, his fear further bolstering his imagination in a brilliant, cruel cycle.
As a child, he knows the stove is hot, but sometimes he touches it anyway, just to see; and in his heart of hearts, sometimes he feels that monsters are real.
Billy believed in the monster, and the monster Became.
Ted braced himself for the fight to come. He knew it would be fast, and over quickly. Just as the fictional vampire was designed to be a fierce adversary, this flesh-and-blood copy would be murderously strong and ludicrously agile.
Ted knew, however, that the creature’s mimicry was both a strength and a weakness.
The two lunged simultaneously. Ted, being slight of stature and immutably weaker than the beast, was knocked aside with ease. He struck the desk next to Billy’s bed, knocking an array of objects to the floor.
In the brief moment it took Ted to right himself, the beast was upon him. It stood over his prone form, mouth open, exposing fangs that angled outward like those of a shark. Its neck arched like a cobra as it poised to strike the finishing blow. Ted knew this was his only chance. He surged forward into the creature’s embrace, dodging its feral attack only by the barest of margins, too close to be bitten.
The two froze then. For what seemed an endless moment they were poised at each other’s throats, and ever so slowly, the monster that fancied itself a vampire began to fall.
Ted jumped back, revealing the nub of an eraser and an inch and a half of #2 Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil protruding from the creature’s sternum. Blood oozed from the fresh wound, congealing almost immediately.
Ted had seized on the opportunity as he fell against the boy’s desk, and subsequently to the floor. Knocking construction paper and craft materials about with the impact, he wasted no time in snaring a pencil and conceiling it under his body. The world’s least imposing stake, but a stake nontheless. As the monster had copied the villainous form and abilities of a vampire, so had it copied the weakness of one.
Ted watched without interest as the slain monster repeated the vanishing act that its kind always played out at the end. As it collapsed to the floor, the shape of the vampire became unrecognizable. In an instant it lost distinctness and melded imperceptibly into the darkness of the room. With no discernable transition, the vampire became just another shadow, and was gone.
The next morning Billy was awoken by his mother. She remarked upon the state of his room and proceeded to collect spilt crayons and pencils from the floor near his desk.
Billy rubbed his eyes blearily and told her of a nightmare. She shook her head and swore not to let him watch any more scary movies.
Her daily admonishments cascaded gently in one ear and out the other as Billy picked himself up and hopped out of bed, spilling an old battered stuffed bear to the floor. His mother picked it up and commented on a fresh rip in the side. Smooshed cotton padding protruded from the hole. She said maybe he ought to consider getting rid of this toy, huh?
Suddenly earnest, Billy proclaimed “No, not Ted!” and persuaded his mother to sew the poor bear together again. She agreed, reluctantly, and made a note to fix it by nightfall. The kid just wouldn’t sleep without his Teddy nearby.
Ted rubbed his side. Good as new. Mom did good work.
He prepared himself for his nightly vigil. Poised on the edge of the bed, he scanned the room, ready for anything that may come creeping out of the darkness.
Ted knew that this would not last. He knew that one day soon the boy would forget about his fears and stop being afraid of the night. In so doing, his imagined terrors would be robbed of their life, and he would be safe at last. Ted also knew that one day soon, Billy would forget about his stuffed bear too.
If he were a man, Ted would think of many things. He would ponder his fate. Fret over his existance and what awaited him in the passage of time.
But Ted wasn’t a man, and he did not think of the future. Didn’t think of the day when he would no longer be needed or believed in. Of the day when imagination’s keen sight first slipped from the child’s mind, causing the illusory contours of his room to return to mere darkness. It would be an end to the monsters. An end to senseless fear. An end to belief.
Those things didn’t interest Ted. He had a job to do, for however long he was needed to do it. He raised his head and stared into the empty blackness, and it stared back into him.
Ever vigilant, Ted kept guard.
I haven’t legitimately written anything in a long time, so this is an experiment to see if I still know how to put words together.
The idea was partly inspired by Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” and partly by this drawing from the quite talented Alex Panagop.
I’m a big fan of the idea that our thoughts shape reality. Especially those of children, whose imaginations have a force and purity that’s hard to comprehend. This is a theme you’ll probably see again, if I choose to write more, and if you choose to read it.
I only wish I still had the powers of creativity I wielded as a kid…I would be unstoppable.
-Graham Hughes, June 2012