A cold breeze cut through Tracy’s pajamas. Her body trembled. Her shallow breaths formed tiny white puffs that were snatched away by the wind.
It was past midnight. A faint siren wailed in the distance, but the city street, eight stories below, was empty and silent. Tracy pressed her back to the frigid bricks behind her and looked back at the window she had crawled through.
The ledge Tracy was standing on was less than ten inches deep and ended a few feet to her left. The next ledge, at her parent’s window, was at least six feet beyond that.
If she could get her parents’ attention, she could ask them to come to her room. “Mom? Dad? Heeeeelp.” No answer. The fancy triple-paned windows her parents had paid extra for kept the city noise out. She had zero chance of being heard.
“This is crazy,” Tracy mumbled to the pigeon that had just landed on the ledge beside her.
The tall, horned thing she saw standing at her bedroom door, the thing that scared her enough to jump out of bed and climb out the window, had to be a figment of her imagination. Tracy had watched a horror movie on her iPad and had been having nightmares all week. The dreams were so bad her mom had given her a sleeping pill last night to help her rest. Being out in the frosty night air had brought Tracy back to reality—the pill must have caused her to hallucinate. She would climb back inside the window and get back in bed. No one ever died from a vivid imagination.
She shuffled her bare feet a few inches toward her bedroom window. The figment stuck its red scaly head out the window and lit a cigarette by flicking its long fingernails together. The creature looked at Tracy with its glowing yellow eyes. “Mind if I smoke?”
Tracy gasped. She didn’t answer. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to stop her legs from trembling. Something warm and wet trickled down the inside of her legs, soaking her pajama bottoms. Tracy opened her eyes. The creature was blowing smoke through its long crooked nose and studying the pigeon on the ledge between itself and Tracy.
The creature gently wrapped a bony hand around the bird, making soft cooing noises. It held the bird close to its face and quickly bit the bird’s head off. The creature closed its eyes, chewed slowly, and swallowed.
Tracy felt her legs turn to jelly and gripped the brick behind her. The creature tossed the bird’s limp body over the ledge and ran a long, forked tongue over its scaly black lips.
“What.” Tracy paused and sucked in a gulp of the chilly air. “What do you want?”
The creature grinned at her, showing rotten, crooked teeth. It raised one eyebrow over a yellow cat-like eye. “You, Tracy Simpson. 125 West Blvd, apartment 9B.”
“Why me?” Tracy heard her voice crack. Salty tears streamed down her face.
“They never tell me why, darling, only who.” The creature examined the rest of the cigarette, pinched delicately between two bony fingers.
“What happens n-n-n-now?” Tracy rubbed her arms to warm them. Her wet pajama bottoms sent a chill through her that made her teeth chatter.
“You come in and I do my job.”
“W-w-what’s your job?”
“To remove your beating heart and deliver it to my master.” It tilted its head and gestured to a black sack slung over its scaly shoulder. The bag was pulsing like it held a living thing.
Tracy’s heart thumped louder, assuring her this was not one of her nightmares. She looked across the street at the fire escape ladders hanging off the balconies of the old building. There were there no ladders on their fancy new apartment building. “What if I just stay out here?”
The creature sighed. “You’ll put me behind schedule, but not by a lot. You’re about eighty pounds, correct? I’d say you have ten more minutes before hypothermia sets in and your legs give out. The drop’s not too far, but it’s far enough.” It took a deep drag on the cigarette and blew smoke rings into the darkness. “You might not feel a thing.”
Tracy looked at the sidewalk far below them. A car rolled slowly down the empty street. “Hey,” Tracy shouted, “up here. Stop.” The car kept moving and disappeared around the next corner.
“Darling,” the creature said, “you can stand there until your legs give out, you fall, and hit the sidewalk below. I’ll still take my prize. If it’s not too damaged, that is.” It took one last drag from the cigarette and flicked it away.
Tracy looked to her left and tried to guess the distance between the ledge and the next window. On the other side of that window, her parents were sleeping soundly. It was a long leap and her legs were limp as overcooked spaghetti, but if she could get there, she could bang on the window. Her parents would hear her and let her in. Her father kept a gun in his nightstand and he would kill the thing that was waiting for Tracy in her bedroom.
She only needed to distract the creature for a few seconds. “You w-w-win. I’ll come inside.”
“Very good.” The creature disappeared back into Tracy’s bedroom.
Tracy sucked in a gulp of air, turned, took three small steps, and lept from the ledge. She landed hard on one knee—her other leg dangled off the ledge. Tracy grabbed the edge of the window frame to steady herself and sighed with relief. This nightmare would be over soon.
She raised her hand to bang on the window. Something wasn’t right. She squinted into the dark room. Her parents’ bodies were under the bed covers, but where their heads should have been, there were dark spots instead.
A face appeared on the other side of the glass. Tracy gasped.
The creature turned the latch and slowly lifted the window.