Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
What do people usually fear when moving out to live on their own? What sort of problems does one normally encounter when finally venturing from the safety of their parents’ home, into a place of their own? Perhaps it’s paying their rent on time, or having to do all the cleaning without any of mommy’s help. These were things I anticipated. I never could have predicted the events of the past week.
We had finally moved the last box into my new house. Single level ranch and only two bedrooms, but for a bachelor like me, it was a dream come true. The house was right in the heart of a great suburban neighborhood, with a two-car driveway and a pretty big backyard. When I had seen the yard, the first thing I thought of was all the parties I’d be hosting. I stepped onto the deck and took a breath of the fresh air while closing my eyes to imagine the endless nights of friends, booze and, of course– women. I stretched my arms out and let out an exuberant sigh of relief.
As I scanned my surroundings, I couldn’t help but notice the elevated deck gave me the proper vantage point to see into my neighbor’s backyards. I figured since I hadn’t formally met any of them yet, I would try and guess now whom I’d have to worry about if my parties got to rowdy and the risk of 911 calls would become a harsh reality. To my right, I saw a vibrant garden, a grill and hammock. I figured it was a middle-aged couple.
“Hopefully they’re not too old and cranky,” I thought to myself as I turned my head to view my neighbors to the left. That’s when I saw… him. Under a large oak tree, adorned in colorful Christmas lights, was what looked to be a young boy swinging away on his play set. “Great”, I thought, “I bet his bedtime is a lot earlier than any party I throw would be ending.” I continued to look at the boy. His back was turned to me. He wore a hoodie and gloves, which I struck me as odd, since it was summer and pretty warm outside. I brushed it off and assumed the boy was sick.
I went back inside and began to unpack everything. With the help of some friends, we managed to put together all my furniture, hook up my entertainment system and more-or-less get the house in working order. “I just sent out the texts guys! Get ready to party tonight!” I exclaimed as I leaped off the couch and finished my beer. The guys all began to cheer and a round of high fives were exchanged. By now, the sun was setting, as it had been several hours since we first had brought in all my belongings.
My friend Dan was unpacking one of the last boxes as he eagerly looked out of the window. “Have you met your neighbors yet? Any fine young ladies gonna be comin’ around here asking to borrow some sugar?” he asked in a sarcastic tone as he turned to me with a lewd gesture.
Smiling and walking over I replied, “Nope not yet, but I don’t think I’ll have much luck in that department. From the looks of it, it’s just a bunch of normal families. One of them even has a kid.”
As I pointed to the house I had seen earlier, my face scrunched to show a look of confusion and surprise. The boy I had seen swinging earlier was still there. He was still swinging under the ambiance of the lit-up tree.
“Weird… that kid was swinging when we first got here too,” I said to Dan as he looked at his phone. Barely acknowledging my comment, he raised his hand up and mumbled, “Must be a Special Ed kid or something.” He walked off, calling more people to invite them to the house warming party. I turned back to the swinging boy. He couldn’t have been swinging this whole time… could he?
That night, as planned, we had my house warming party. It was such a great time. I greeted my friends and cousins as they arrived, handing them all the beverage of their choice. We were outside until around 3 or 4 in the morning when the weather suddenly got cool and it began to drizzle. I would have been willing to stick it out until it passed but the girls all began to freak out, claiming their hair would frizz and all ran inside. Naturally, the guys followed, holding makeshift umbrellas over the girl’s heads. I laughed to myself at how hard they were trying to get lucky.
I took the opportunity to quickly clean up some of the trash that had accumulated before going inside. I scooped up a bunch of cans and bottles before I turned around and was left in awe. I guess we were all distracted by the music and alcohol to notice earlier but now, with everyone inside I saw it… the boy was still outside and on his swing. He was still in the same position and outfit I had seen in him all day, back turned to me, wearing the same hoodie and gloves.
I stood there for a minute, lost in thought when from behind me I heard a loud, “Hiya neighbor!” I jumped and did a quick 180, dropping the trash I had been carrying.
“Whoa, sorry about that, bud! Didn’t mean to startle ‘ya!” laughed an elderly man. He was wearing pajamas and slippers as he held his hand out, waiting for a shake on my end.
“Oh, hello, sir,” I said as I cleared my throat and shook his hand, recollecting my thoughts. He smiled and began to fumble with his hands.
“I hate to be that guy, especially since you just moved in and everything, but you think you guys can turn down the music a bit? The wife and I are pretty light sleepers and at this age, we tend to be early risers,” he said bashfully. I smiled and laughed as I put a hand to my face in embarrassment.
“Oh jeez, I’m sorry sir. I guess things got a little crazier than planned. I didn’t think people would stick around this long.”
I really did feel bad. I half expected the man to come out yelling, demanding us to keep it down, less he call the cops. His gentle demeanor was refreshing and I was more than happy to oblige. I laughed and replied, “I’ll go let everyone know they need to stay inside and take it down a notch. I’m Peter, by the way.” I shook his hand.
“Pleasure to meet you, Peter. I’m Paul!” he said with a grin. As he smiled, his eyes drifted past mine and towards the swinging boy. “I assume you’ve noticed the Langer’s kid by now, huh?” asked Paul, as he cupped his hands and breathed into try and keep warm.
“Yeah,” I said as I turned to face him. “What’s the deal with him? He’s been on that thing all day.”
“Not sure. No one really knows the story. He just swings and swings, until eventually.” Paul stopped and his eyes widened. “Wait, it’s happening! Check it out!”
I turned my around to find the boy had stopped swinging. He sat completely still for a moment before slowly rising from the rubber seat of the swing. He began to shake violently, falling to his knees and scraping the dirt below him. Even from where we were standing, we were able to hear his quick bursts of shrieking and gurgling. I became concerned. Was the boy okay? It looked like he was having an asthma attack or a seizure.
I started to run to the boy in order to help but stopped after a couple steps. His mother had run out. I looked at her, completely sober now from the adrenaline that was pumping through my body. It was not a pleasant sight. She was a frail, haggard woman, with a gray, knotted mane of hair on her head. Her skin was pale and her eyes had dark bags underneath. It looked as if she hadn’t slept or had a proper meal for ages. Mrs. Langer rushed out quick, holding a small, orange bottle– the kind one would receive from a pharmacist. After she reached her boy, she knelt down and poured several white pills into her hand. Before she could even finish offering the pills to her son, he had grabbed arm and buried his face into the palm of her hand, inhaling the pills.
Mrs. Langer pulled away and began to rub her wrist. It appeared the boy had hurt her, which did not really surprise me due to how skinny the woman was. Paul and I watched intensely, without uttering a single word. After a moment or two, the boy simply rose back to his feet, sat back down on his swing and resumed his leisurely activity. Mrs. Langer grabbed the now empty orange bottle and proceeded back inside, still clutching her wrist.
Paul and I were both shaken up. We had no idea what we had just seen. “Wow. I’ve seen the boy spas out before but never that bad. I bet whatever condition he has is getting more severe… poor kid,” Paul said as he rubbed the back of his head.
“What… what exactly is wrong with him?“ I asked, with my eyes still glued to the child.
“Like I said, I don’t know. No one around here does,” Paul replied, turning around and walking back his door, “Anyway, my wife is probably getting worried. You have a good night Peter.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, arranging my thoughts. “Nice meeting you, Paul.” We both exchanged a final wave and returned to our respective households. The party was dying down when I entered… and I was glad. What I had just seen took a lot out of me.
The next morning I felt like shit. The copious waves of alcohol I had carelessly consumed the night prior had finally caught up to me. My head throbbed and I was severely parched. I stood up and the arid sensation in my mouth and throat was quickly replaced by feelings of nausea. I shambled to the bathroom and dropped to my knees, clutching the porcelain for dear life. “At least I have the day off to recover,” I thought to myself.
I grabbed the sports drink I had strategically placed in the bathroom the day before in anticipation for my hangover and chugged it down in only a few gulps. I was no stranger to this feeling, and I knew what to expect. Within a couple minutes I began to vomit and immediately felt better; though, not enough to have a very productive day. I mentally prepared myself for a day of movies, video games and junk food.
After a couple hours of lying in my borderline vegetative state, I heard the mailman make his stop at my door. In no mood to get off the couch, I ignored it and continued binge watching the zombie show everyone was raving about. It probably was not the best idea to be observing such grotesque gore while it felt as if a war was being waged in my stomach. I sucked it up and continued to watch. Several episodes later, I made my way to the kitchen and popped in a giant TV dinner in the microwave. While it cooked I decided I would bring in the mail from earlier. I unlocked the front door and let in some much needed fresh air.
I stood at the door and scooped up the contents of my mailbox, sifting through the junk mail and bills, when I saw I had received a package. Without scanning the box for more details I brought the small box inside and cut off the tape. I opened it only to find a small orange bottle… like the one I had seen my neighbor holding last night. I was puzzled and searched for the mailing label on the box. The mailman had delivered it to the wrong house. Annoyed, I let out a big sigh. I was not in the mood to get dressed and leave the house for anything, let alone to awkwardly meet new neighbors in order to tell them I have the pills for their weirdo son. I looked out of my back window and saw the boy was swinging away, as usual. I heard my microwave go off, indicating my food was ready. With one last glance at the child, I told myself the pills can wait, as the boy had scarfed down several the night before. I tossed the bottle of pills aside and made my way to the kitchen. After eating, I felt fatigued, which caused me to fall asleep on the couch.
I woke up from my sleep to sound of commotion outside my home. The repetitive beeping of a large vehicle in reverse echoed through my brain. Nightfall had arrived and my house was engulfed in almost absolute darkness. The only light I could see was the dull gray from my now idle television… and the swirl of red and blue illuminating through my windows. The scene that I awoke to was almost surreal and I thought for a moment that I was dreaming. I got on my feet and looked through my front window. A crowd had gathered on my front lawn. They were facing the ambulance that was parked in the driveway of my Langer house. I threw on a light coat to hide my stained, most likely rancid smelling shirt I had been stewing in all day. In the crowd, Paul stood amongst several other people, whom I presumed to be residents of the neighborhood.
“Hey, Paul,” I blurted as I cleared the phlegm from my throat. “What the hell is going on?”
With his eyes still glued to the scene that unfolded next door he replied, “We’re not exactly sure. We think something may have happened to someone in the house. Mr. Langer is speaking with one of the paramedics and he looks panicked.”
I saw the man Paul was referring to. Like his wife, Mr. Langer also looked as if his body was depleted and barren. He wore a loose tank top that showed just how skinny he was. His ribs poked through the pale, tight skin on his torso. He was pacing around frantically, covering his eyes and mumbling something to himself. I was still gazing at the distraught man when the soft murmuring of the crowd around me erupted into a frenzy of screams and cries. I turned to the door of the Langer house and dread began to fill my body. Two policemen exited the house followed by a paramedic who wheeled out a gurney. Atop of the gurney was the bloodied body of the seemingly lifeless Mrs. Langer.
From where we were standing, we were able to see the pale, bruised wrist of the poor woman hanging from the side, blood running down and dripping from her fingertips. It began to twitch and her head bobbed around as the paramedic pressed an oxygen mask to her face and hoisted the gurney into the back of the ambulance. I turned to Paul who was standing on the tip of his feet in order to see over the crowd. One of the policemen made his way over to our now frantic group of screaming men and women, ordering us to disburse and return to our homes. Everyone began to bombard the officer with questions, asking what happened and if they were safe.
“You have nothing to worry about people. It appears a group of coyotes attacked Mrs. Langer in her backyard. We have since located and neutralized the animals,” remarked the officer, avoiding eye contact with anyone before him. It was clear he was lying through his teeth.
I raised my hand and shouted above the crowd, “And what about the boy? Was he hurt?”
The officer shot me a look of irritation as he cleared his throat and hesitantly announced, “He was not anywhere near the scene of the attack. We assume he got scared and ran away for safety, and were in the process of locating the child. If anyone sees him, please call 911 immediately.”
With that, the officer turned his back to the less-than-satisfied crowd and almost ran back to his cruiser. I turned to Paul who bared a look of dismay. He turned and shot me an apathetic smile before patting me on the back and making his way inside. I stood there for a moment after the crowd slowly disbanded. Was this my fault? Did it have something to do with the pills? I quickly disregarded the paranoid thoughts that plagued my mind, and walked back to my home.
I slid through the front door that I had carelessly left ajar and shut if behind me as I slid down and cupped my hands around my head. There was a legion of emotions coursing through me as I pondered my next move. I knew I had to get the pills out of my house. Though the chances were slim, I did not want any blame being directed at me for not returning the pills sooner. Hell, I knew I had committed at least one federal crime when I unknowingly opened someone else’s mail. I decided I would anonymously place the box of pills in the Langer’s mailbox and dash back inside. I grabbed the pills from my couch and glanced out of the back window. The Christmas lights in the oak tree were bright as ever, illuminating the grizzly crime scene that lied just below. Blood and ripped clothing veiled the ground.
That’s when I saw them.
The boy’s gloves and hoodie were lying amidst the carnage. My heart sank. I was sure the boy was dead, or at the very least, critically injured. Tears began to fill my eyes as I banged my fists on the windowsill. The sudden burst of sound emanated throughout my home. I hadn’t made a peep since I entered. The sudden contrast in sound made the shameful silence that followed even more noticeable. In the midst of the grim silence, I heard it: the low, spine tingling gurgle that flowed from my bedroom.
I froze. Barely breathing, I listened keenly for another sound. To my dismay, I heard it again… another disgusting gurgle, now louder and fiercer, almost like a growl. The lights in my home were still all off, aside from the weak aura that radiated from the idle television. I was frozen still. My body rebelled against my mind’s desire to move. Instinct began to kick in as my eyes adjusted to the darkness and fight-or-flight became a quick reality. I did not know what was in my house. All I knew was I definitely was going to choose “flight.”
I pulled out my phone and fumbled for the flashlight app as I took a step towards my backdoor. My eyes were glued to the short hallway that connected the main area of the house to my bedroom. That’s when I saw it. A small creature began to crawl from the hallway. I could barely make out any of its features. It looked human, but on all fours. The way it moved was eerie and awkward. The appendages moved sloppily and its head was to the ground. I heard the same terrifying gurgle from the creature and realized it was sniffing the floor. What happened next still fills me with dread when I look back. The flashlight app I had opened had finished loading up and powered on through the phone. The bright light pierced the darkness and lit up the monstrous figure.
I felt sick. Do you ever get the feeling in the middle of a nightmare where you start to suspect you aren’t in reality and you are begging yourself to wake up? That desperate feeling of despair coursed through ever fiber of my being. In front of me stood the Langer boy. Without all the layers of clothing he usually wore, I was able to see him for what he really was. This was not a normal child. His skin was tattered and worn out. Wrinkles and scars embellished his body. He slowly raised his head to the source of the light. Our eyes met. His eyes were worst part. However intense the darkness around his mother’s eyes were, they could not compete with the boy’s. The black around his peepers only worked to showcase his dilated pupils and the unnatural color of the irises.
I might as well have been made of stone. All my ability to move had completely ceased. I could only stand there and watch the situation unfold before me. The boy slowly turned his body in my direction and began to take steps closer and closer. He left bloody prints where his hands met with the wood grain of my floor. It was not long till he was less than a foot from me. For what seemed like an eternity, he did move. Neither of us did. My mind was warped in panic and I thought I would pass out. Before I had the chance, the boy rose from his animal-like posture.
He was now standing on his feet, arms dangling to his sides. His eyes peered into mine. I stared back, still paralyzed with fear. He began to sluggishly turn his focus from my eyes, to my hand– the one that still clutched a bottle of the pills. As soon as he realized what I held, he broke the silence and let out a demonic shrieked, like that of a banshee. Only his mouth moved as his jaw dropped. This awoke me from my trance and I fell down, still facing the boy. He crouched so that his face met mine. His mouth was still agape, exposing his sharp, mangled teeth. The tiny razors still contained small shreds of, what I assumed to be, his mother’s flesh. He stretched his arm towards me and unraveled his blood stained hand. Instantly, I knew what he was after.
“You,” my voice trembled, “you want your pills, right?”
He continued to stare at me, unfazed by my question. I lifted up my hand and began to open the small, orange bottle. With shaking hands, I poured several pills into the palm of the child. I waited for a minute. I did not know time could move so slowly. I just wanted him to leave. Eventually, the boy’s mouth shut and curled into a faint smile. He turned and made his way to the backdoor. He shot one final glance over to me as he tiled his head back and consumed all the pills I had given him. With an audible gulp, he pushed open the door and wandered back to his sanctuary. I watched as the boy took a seat on his swing and began to sway forward and back like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I managed to shut the backdoor before collapsing on the ground.
It’s been a week since that night and I’ve returned the pills as planned. Mrs. Langer is still in critical condition and now her husband has taken over, feeding the mysterious pills to his son whenever he needs them. I was never questioned by anyone about what transpired that night. I did not report the incident. I plan to move out soon. Maybe to an apartment in the city, where there are no yards or play sets. The nightmares and fear from that night have run rampant in my mind. My backyard is still a mess from the party. I have not dared to go back there in order to clean things up. This is due to the fact that… since that fearful night, the boy makes sure to swing facing my home.
Whenever I even glance out of the window, I see his haunting eyes peering into mine as he smiles that horrid smile. The last I saw of the boy was his father coming out to give him another dose of the medication. Mr. Langer was down to his last bottle. That… was three, long nights ago. I am looking out of the window now to see what I expected to see… an empty swing.