Three rules, if you wanna live.
One. You sleep at dawn, and rise at dusk.
Two. If the Thing finds you, don’t hide, RUN. There will be enough light somewhere.
Three. You can’t save no one, except yourself.
That’s what I’ve figured out so far. That’s what’s been keeping me and Noah alive.
There weren't that many people in Presvern to begin with. Maybe a couple hundred. The Thing made quick work of whittling that down. It hit the hospital first. Wasn’t like anyone in there could really get away. The police thought it was some cult. Everyone had three big holes in their chest. By the time someone saw the Thing, it was too late. There were only maybe fifty of us left. But at least we knew.
My family didn’t make it. They couldn’t run fast enough. Daddy always said, “Can’t nothing catch Annie!” He was right. It’s because I never look back. You can hear the Thing coming. Bones snapping, teeth grinding, breath choking away. That’s when you start running for light. But if you look back, that’s all it needs. You slow down that one little second, cause you just have to see it. And it’s the last thing you see.
“I’m so tired, Annie,” Noah whines. He’s always whining about wanting to sleep. I can’t really be mad at him.
“Not til you see the light of day,” I remind him. “Can’t nothing get you, then.”
He frowns, and leans back against the wall of our place. It’s a room above the hardware store. It’s pretty empty. There’s two beds, and wires. They power the bulbs. I’ve rigged every circuit I could with bulbs so there isn’t a shadow in the whole room. Noah reaches a hand inside the box and fiddles with the spares, clinking the glass just a bit.
“Don’t you break those!” I snap.
He pulls his hand away quickly, and I see tears start to well in his eyes.
“You were so brave helping me get them.”
That does the trick. He smiles and blinks back the tears.
“We did good, didn’t we, Annie?”
“Yeah. Real good.”
We’d been hunting spare bulbs the whole week. If even one light went out, there was a bit of dark. And that was all the Thing needed. Just a little bit of dark. We’d cleared out most of the bulbs left in the stores around town and finally had to start breaking into the houses. Most of them stank. Bodies and mold will do that. I didn’t know death had its own smell before the Thing showed up. Made me understand why the animals can tell. They can smell better than we can. They smell death coming.
I usually made Noah wait outside the house, but he wanted to come in with me the last time. We found plenty of bulbs in the kitchen cabinet. We also found Mister Hamel stretched across the floor. Flies were swarming in and out of the three holes that went through his middle.
Noah stared and stared. I wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen anyone the Thing had killed before. I wasn’t sure about a lot of things when it came to Noah. We had found each other in the school gym. For a while, everyone tried to live there together. They thought it might be safer. They thought wrong. Fights broke out real quick over batteries and candles. Soon, the people were killing each other off before the Thing could even reach them. But Noah and I stuck together. Or, he stuck to me, for some reason. We took care of each other.
“Look at how big they are!” he gasped.
“Yeah. He never had a chance,” I sighed, going back to putting the bulbs into our box.
“I didn’t like him, anyway,” Noah muttered. “He was bad to you.”
Mister Hamel had been my Chemistry teacher. There was a streak of mean in him that he didn’t rightly have any reason for. He was one of the last others to make it, though. Me and Noah had seen him maybe two days before. I offered some food in exchange for bulbs. He cussed me out.
And I ended up with the bulbs anyway.
Noah’s head bobs again, and hits the wall hard. I sigh.
“Go ahead and get in bed,” I tell him.
He perks up just a bit. “You mean it?”
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s almost daylight, anyway. I will stay awake.”
“Promise? You won’t let the bulbs go out?”
He jumps up and climbs into his bed, snuggling under covers that haven’t been washed in weeks. But that doesn’t really matter, since we haven’t been washed, either. His head hits the pillow, and he starts breathing deep and even. I watch his chest rise and fall for almost an hour.
That’s when the bulb flickers. The one in the corner, just over his bed. It had been threatening to go out for a while now. While it’s flickering, I go over to the spare box, and wrap my hands around a replacement.
I can tell the light has gone out before I turn around.
I can hear the Thing before I turn around, too.
There’s enough light on me. I know I’m safe. But Noah isn’t.
So I finally look.
It’s so tall its head hits the ceiling. And thin. No eyes. Only deep black holes. And three sharp fingers, longer than my arm.
I stand there, with the bulb in my hand, unable to move. Noah stirs in the bed, rolling onto his back. He yawns, his mouth opening wide, and I watch the Thing disappear right into Noah, like water swirling down a drain. It vanishes into him as he rolls back onto his side, his face turned towards me. He opens a single eye. But there’s no eye. Just one of those deep black holes. He smiles at me as the sun starts breaking over the horizon.
And behind that smile, I see the Thing.
“I love you, Annie.”