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Growing up, a lot of my friends talked about spending time at their grandparents’ houses, whether during summer vacation or for one weekend. I could never relate, as my mom and dad made a point of never letting me see my grandfather.
Their reasons were legitimate: a vehicular accident before my birth left him bed-bound, and issues with expenses on both ends prevented either of us from traveling the nine-hour distance to see each-other. My parents also said he lived in a “bad neighborhood” they didn’t want me in, and at the time, I believed it.
Maybe the finance thing was an excuse, but the last part wasn’t exactly a lie. I dislike my parents for a lot of reasons, but part of me wants to thank them for keeping me away up until they decided I could no longer live with them.
I distinctly remember arriving at my grandfather’s house for the first time. He lived in a very isolated town, isolated enough to have no internet and barely enough electricity. I was lucky to catch a bus there. The neighborhood was rustic rather than run-down, but everything seemed gray, and the air was always quiet.
As soon as I stepped off the bus and onto the road, a solemn feeling came over me. It was odd, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I only had to stay for three days before a friend of mine would come to pick me up to live with her, since I didn’t have anywhere else to go with so few connections. That was part of the reason I resorted to contacting my grandfather – most of my friends cut me off after high-school for whatever reason, and neither of my parents had any other relatives. All I needed was a halfway point between me and my future roommate, and despite us never having prior contact aside from a few emails, he was happy to oblige.
My grandfather’s house wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I was greeted by his carer at the front door, a man in his thirties who exuded normality as well. He took me inside, where the house was sparsely furnished (just enough for a disabled, elderly man and his carer), and escorted me upstairs to see my grandfather. His bedroom had more medical equipment in it than furniture.
He was pale, balding, and was laid up in a bed similar to that of a hospital’s. Still, he greeted me with a smile and had me sit down and talk to him for a long while. Long enough that I only noticed that the carer left when he came back upstairs with a meal cooked for dinner. I wasn’t too keen on conversation, but my grandfather was family, and I would feel bad if I just brushed him off after he took me in.
Hours went by as we ate, and by the time I filled him on my life until that point (or, what I would tell a kind old man), it was eight ‘o clock. The carer took our dishes and left, while I stood from my chair to leave as well. He stopped me as I turned away:
“Oh, Frankie. Before you turn in for the night, there’s something you need to know.”
I turned back to him. “What’s that?”
The expression on his face was grim, and it made my throat tighten. “Make sure you keep the blinds drawn, and past eleven, don’t look out the window. No matter what.”
His advice confused me. That seemed like an odd house rule, but I assumed it had something to do with this place supposedly being a bad area. I nodded and left for the guest room across the hall, which only had an old bed and a dresser. The window was along the same wall as the bed, so that I could see it when I laid down.
The blinds were drawn. I heeded my grandfather’s words and left them alone.
I got ready for bed, but spent most of my time over the covers messing with games on my phone until around 12 A.M. My eyelids started to get crusty, and I decided to put my phone down and actually go to sleep. The silence of the house finally hit me. Back at my parents’ house, there was always the tick of a clock, or the whir of a fan, but here? There was nothing. I figured there would be some noise with the medical equipment, but the walls must have been thick because it was dead silent – until I heard it.
The best way I can describe the sound is a thud, but much softer, like a heavy piece of furniture being placed against the earth with the utmost care. It had a particular rhythm, like footsteps, and sounded like it came from outside. Underneath the covers, I froze. The noise filled me with fear, enough that my heart pounded against my chest and my blood rushed in my ears.
One thought filled my head: there’s something outside, but my grandfather’s words repeated: don’t look out the window. No matter what.
For some reason, I found myself slowly pulling out from under the covers and getting to my feet. I had to see it. I needed to see it. The sound grew louder as it grew closer, and even though I felt a sense of impending doom, I needed to figure out what the fuck was making such an impossible noise. Just a glimpse. A sliver.
I tiptoed carefully to the window, crouched down so that if there was a thing out there, it hopefully wouldn’t notice me. With as slow movements I could manage, I stuck two of my shaking fingers between a slit in the blinds, and took a deep breath before I slipped them open.
Outside, in the street, was a dark mass. It stretched and contorted so much that I couldn’t tell its size, but within it I saw something that looked like eyes. They shifted, and set on me. I don’t know how I could tell, but I felt it as if it were sharp pain in my chest. I let the blinds snap shut and fall back on the floor. I scrambled back away from the window, towards the bed.
I followed my instincts, and instead of getting back up in the bed or getting underneath it, I tucked myself in the corner of the room behind its headboard. I curled into a fetal position while my head swam and beads of sweat started to form on my skin. I mentally screamed at myself, I should have listened. I should have listened. I should have listened.
I was going to die.
I heard a click, the sound of the window being opened, but what I saw outside couldn’t have been capable of such a thing. The blinds snapped against something, and a shadow spread across the floor as it entered the room. What I saw outside must have been almost as tall and half as wide as a house, but the shadow it cast snaked into the room with ease. I pressed my hands over my mouth and kept myself quiet, but I was able to see it through a hole in the ornate carvings on the headboard.
What came through the window looked almost like a long neck, but stretched in contorted in ways that made my gut churn. Some kind of grime stained its faceted skin, and the crack and pop of bones sliding against each-other accompanied its movements. The ‘neck’ supported what I can only say is a ‘face,’ but it lacked any features aside from a pair of large, human-looking eyes.
It turned its face in my general direction, and although it didn’t seem to notice me, I suppressed a shiver as its piercing gaze scanned the room. The creature brought a stench with it so horrid that it made my eyes water. It smelt like rotten eggs, blood, and burning rubber all mashed together. I squeezed my eyes shut while my ears rung, and silently pleaded for it to go away.
The nauseating sound of cracking bones continued as it turned its ‘head’ around the room. There was a long pause, with the dead silence returning, and I had to hold down the bile building in my throat from the smell and the sight of it. I think I was crying, but I’m not sure if it was from the odor or out of fear.
I flinched as the cracking started up again, but a wave of relief came over me as the shadow steadily slinked out of the room and back through the window. I remained still until the same gentle thud from earlier resounded through the house, and then another, and then another. Once they faded into the distance, I got to my feet – with my knees trembling – and took a moment to catch my breath and calm my heart as my mind struggled to process what I just saw.
I went back to bed, but I couldn’t fall asleep.
The next morning, I had breakfast with my grandfather in his room like dinner the night before. I had rings around my eyes and looked pale as a ghost. I didn’t want him to find out that I had broken his rule, but my exhaustion kept me from keeping up an act. He looked at me with a grim expression once the carer had taken our dishes downstairs.
“You saw it, didn’t you?”
I pursed my lips and nodded.
He sighed. “Well, I hope you’re satisfied. Don’t do it again.”
“…what was it?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, “…but it’s been here for as long as I have, if not longer. It’s this town’s little secret. It’s…taken outsiders who attract its attention before, and those who provoke it intentionally. They vanish without a trace.”
I gulped. I was close to being one of them. “Why outsiders?”
My grandfather shrugs. “Maybe it’s some sort of guardian over this area. Maybe we’re in its territory and it doesn’t trust new guests. Most of us have lived here for a long time, and can trace our families back a ways, which might be why it leaves us alone.”
A bad neighborhood, I thought to myself. My parents weren’t completely lying.
I promised him not to do it again, and we changed the subject to normal things. For the next two nights, I drowned out its footsteps with headphones in my ears, and tried to keep the image of it making its way into my room out of my head.
Credit: Jordyn Walker