He was a small boy - too small for his age. His lips were chapped from the cold and his nails were filed down from trying to get back into the house. It was no use. She’d locked the door and no matter how loud he cried, she wasn’t going to open it again until she stopped being mad at him. He was a small boy - too small for his age - and he wore clothes that weren’t anywhere near warm enough for the weather.
He shivered - then sneezed. Once, twice. He was no good against the cold and so he’d always resented the winter months. During summer, he could bear being locked out. The wind was still merciless at night and all the sound from the forest still scared him, but he could curl up on the porch and press his hands against his ears and try to pretend he was somewhere else. Somewhere nice and warm.
Now was not the time for pretending.
His skin prickled. It hurt and he’d been outside for so long already. Yet the night was barely even upon him. Would she forgive him in time? He didn’t know. He was too afraid to find out. So the small boy - too small for his age - picked himself up from the porch. He walked down the steps. One, two. His feet pressed into the thin blanket of snow - the white cloth laid over a corpse. He winced and then forced himself to take another step.
The backyard wasn’t fenced in. The property was - but not the backyard. She would tell them that they could go anywhere on the property just as long as they were back by dinner. She liked to cook so dinner was always when she was in her best mood. The four of them would sit on the floor, legs crossed and silent, like good little kids. They did not speak. Sometimes this made her mad. She’d scream at them for being so quiet. She wanted them to be normal.
Screaming was fine. He’d always prefered screaming. After she screamed and then cried, he would get up and get a blanket while the second eldest confronted her on the floor. She patted her head and said, “There, there.” The littluns didn’t understand yet. They knew how to be quiet though. They were still quiet but followed their sister’s lead. He was left to finish dinner - though it could get him hit later because she was supposed to do that. She was their mother after all.
It wasn’t his business to take care of his little sisters. She often accused him of stealing their affection away from her. He just stared. She said he had a vacant gaze. She would pull his hair and scream at him to act normal and then when she was through she’d lock him outside the house. “If you act like an animal you should go be outside like one too!”
His feet were careful in picking out the best path. He could see his breath thick in the air, though that was about all that he could see. The darker it got, the harder it was for him. He couldn’t see right in one of his eyes. She hit him too hard once with a fire poker once. It left him off balance and he never saw right through that eye again.
The path was easy enough to find, though. He didn’t need his eyes. The earth was trustworthy beneath his feet. He spent a lot of time outside - away from her and he actually enjoyed it so long as the sun hung high and the forest sang with the daylight things. But when Ms. Moon came out… he was scared. The nightlight things were loud. They were harsh. They knew nothing besides their instincts which drove them to carve death wherever they ventured.
One time, he found a pile of bones. Deer bones - both white and bleached. He’d picked up the skull and carried it back home with him. She had screamed when she saw it and kicked it away from the porch. She then screamed at him for bringing something like that back to the house and warned him about what might follow. What might be lurking near the bones. Things with sharp teeth and claws. Monstrous things. Things that were even worse than in the house.
Ever since then, he hadn’t slept right. He kept hearing those things outside the house - hunting him like they hunted the bones.
Ms. Moon was getting higher and the cold didn’t seem so bad. Was that a good thing? He didn’t know. He walked in the last of the sunny spots, headed to the old garden shed. It wasn’t too far. She said that the last owners of the property used to have a garden with all kinds of tasty vegetables. He’d always wanted to bring it back but he couldn’t figure out how to do it on his own. So instead, they used the shed as a playhouse, as a castle, as a ship, as whatever their childish minds could still dream up when the weather was right.
The weather had not been right for a long time now. The snow was too thick - too heavy - to let them play outside for any significant amount of time. All the more reason he was looking forward to the coming spring. When the snow was melted they could play and play and play for hours on end. They could wake up with the sun and be happy.
That thought made the small boy - too small for his age - smile. Almost there. Almost to the garden shed. Almost to springtime. Almost, almost, almost. One, two. And that was when a very odd sound caught his ear. It was unlike any other sound that he’d ever heard before. Some strange combination of a curious kitten and the yip of a fox cub and the bleat of a fawn who’d lost its mother. Something like a: “Drrrt?” and it was enough to make even the least curious a fellow give pause.
He wasn’t curious. He might’ve been at one time, but now that was very much not the case. He didn’t want to know what made sounds, he wanted to know how to avoid them. So when he stopped, it was not to investigate, but rather to freeze. His heart began to race with all the terror of a small rabbit. All of his muscles were locked together as he tried to find the origin of the sound.
No daylight thing he’d ever heard before made a sound like that.
It had come from a snowbank. He couldn’t see anything but the sound came again. Longer, louder. “Drrrrrrrt?” it called. He debated his ability to run. To make it to the garden shed before whatever was in the snowbank decided to reveal itself and then… and then… leave him like the bleached bones of the deer for his sisters to find and carry home when spring came.
One two. The sound came a third time.
“Drrrrrrrrrrrttt?” it screamed and then he saw the origin of the sound. It was a small thing - he liked to believe it was too small for its own age as well. A small thing, a small thing, unlike any other thing he’d ever seen before. It had white fur as if it was a thing born of the snowbank. It had white fur and long ears, like a rabbit. But it also had pointy ears like a cat. Four ears. What kind of thing had four ears?
But the things didn’t just have four ears, it also had five eyes. Fives very dark eyes, the same color as the current sky. They seemed to be complete with their own little galaxies as well but that might have only been his imagination. The thing was looking at him with its five eyes and listening to him with its four eyes and then it came closer.
He squeaked and tried to escape it, just in case it was the thing that she had warned him about - the thing that killed and slaughtered and was so much worse than all the things inside the house.
But, it just jumped too. It made a frightened little, “Drt!” and disappeared back into the snowbank.
He peaked over his shoulder. It peaked out again.
Both of their chests were rising and falling but only one of them was any good against the cold. So he stood up again and wiped the snow from his hands, though he barely felt it at all. He had to continue on. He had to get to the garden shed.
So the small boy - too small for his age - continued picking his way to the shed. He walked on a carpet of rock and root, both of which cried out for his blood. He tripped several times, but always managed to pick himself up. It wasn’t until he was a ways down the path that he saw it from the corner of his eye.
The small thing was following him. And it really was small. About the size of a kitten, wading through the snow. Unlike him, it seemed to only walk in snow. It left the oddest tracks though and he soon realized it was because its hind paws weren’t paws at all, but rather hooves. Deer hooves.
The prints didn't last very long, though. The thing had a long tail. A very, very long tail considering the size of its body. It had a tuft of white fur on the tip and it moved back and forth, back and forth, once, twice, over and over again sweeping away the prints mere moments after its body had made them. That was rather clever of it. He watched it move for a while and then, it came to be beside him and sat down in the snow again.
He tilted his head. It tilted it’s own.
“What are you?” he asked.
“Drrrt,” the thing said in response.
“Are you a nightlight thing?” He asked this question more timidly. The five cosmic eyes stared back at him, unblinkingly. He frowned. “Do you have a name?”
“Drt drt.” It bounced slightly.
He bent over into the snow himself. He stuck out his hand and the thing looked at it, sniffed it, and then licked it before it rubbed its head on his numbed fingers. He let out a small breath of relief. The thing… whatever it was… seemed to be stealing the cold away. The blue away. He twitched his fingers experimentally and then gave them a little wiggle. They were… warm.
“Thank you,” he said, softly.
“Drrrt?” The thing cocked its head.
It didn’t seem to have understood what it did and perhaps he didn’t understand what it had done all that well either. So the small boy and the small thing - both too small for their ages - continued to the garden shed. They walked side by side - him in dirt and it in snow.
When the shed finally came into sight, he smiled. He couldn’t help himself. He tried to contain his joy even further by forcing himself to walk to the shed but that didn’t work out either as he found himself running. The snow in front of the door came up to his waist, but he didn’t mind it so much. Inside it would be warm. There’d be a break from the wind, from the snow. He almost cried out at the thought.
He pulled at the door. It groaned - then moaned - and finally gave into his tugging with a wail of dismay. The inside the garden shed was dark, save for the cracks in the walls which allowed Ms. Moon to peak in. There were old covers on machines whose names he did not know. He made quick work of them - turning them into a bundle of blankets for him to sleep on. The thing followed him into the garden shed. It wiped first its paws, and then its hooves, before joining him on the bundle of blankets.
“Are you sure you don’t have a name?” he asked the thing again as it curled on top of his chest. “I could give you one if you’d like.”
He pressed his lips together with great thought. “What about… Bug?”
“Drrrrt?” It lifted its head as if to say that might have been the only thing that it most definitely was not.
“I think it suits you.”
He smiled and ran his fingers through its fur. Warmth was spreading through his entire body now. And when he closed his eyes that night, he did not worry about the nightlight things any longer. They seemed alright to him.