My father once went to his Great-uncle’s countryside house. He went there with his cousin, and he was the only one out of the three to come back. He never spoke of them ever again; the police never found any bodies even though they searched the surrounding woods and that cottage thoroughly. Though the events of that summer caused him to lose his leg and some of his memories, he never once told me about it. And I had never been brave enough to ask about it.
Until one night, when I was sitting at the dining table, mutinously eating my Brussel sprouts and I saw a small notch in the dining table. I had never seen it before. Granted, I’d never sat at the head of the table. That was a spot reserved for my father, but as it was close to my original seat, I wondered how I’d never seen it before.
I asked my father about it, and a shadow crossed his face. He smacked me for sitting at his spot and told me I was a horrible son, which I technically deserved. However, he had forced me to eat Brussel sprouts, so I felt it was a lose-lose situation. But then he sat me down in front of the crackling fireplace, me on the floor, cheek still smarting, and him in his rocking chair, a glass of amber whiskey in his hand.
And he told me a story that changed my entire life.
Well, all eight years of it.
“Mikey, where are your socks?” his mother asked, scowling at him. Mikey drew himself up in all his twelve-year-old glory and glowered at her.
“They’re in my trunk,” he replied, “Now get out of my room! I was packing,” he protested. His mother rolled her eyes at him.
“Packing, you were? Did banging those drums of yours count as packing?” she snarked. He groaned.
“Mother, honestly. You’re the only mother I know who goes into her son’s rooms,” he whined. She picked up the closet object nearest her foot, a Batman action figure in this case, and flung it at him. “OW,” he roared, rubbing his chest. She glared at him.
“Next time, treat me with respect, Mikey,” she demanded. He rolled his eyes but dutifully came over and kissed her red hair.
“Sorry, mother,” he said. She smacked him on the arm.
“Goodness, what was that for?” he winced.
“That didn’t seem sincere enough,” she snapped. He sighed and knelt. Even at twelve, he towered over her petite frame.
“Apologies, dear mother, for I have wronged you, and I shall not rest until my sins have been recounted,” he said in a fake brogue. She cracked a smile.
“Alright, alright,” she said, waving her hand. Mikey stepped out of her reach. “Are you excited about this trip?” Mikey nodded.
“Is Great-uncle Julian going to pick us up from the train station?” he asked. His mother nodded.
“That’s the plan. Now hurry up. We’ve got to pick up Ryan from my sister’s place, and then you boys are going to have a great summer,” she said.
“Isn’t this just great?” Ryan sighed as the two of them sat on the bench outside the train station, bags on the ground and nobody else around. They had been waiting for two hours, and they were exhausted and grumpy from the eight-hour train ride.
“Is he coming?” Mikey asked, swinging his legs on the bench.
“I don’t know,” Ryan replied, eating an apple. They waited another half an hour until darkness started to fall. Suddenly, a honk came from the parking lot and they both turned to see a small yellow pinto pulling in.
A small portly man hopped out, brown hair streaked with white. He looked exhausted, but he smiled when he saw the boys.
“Sorry for the wait. Something came up at home,” he apologized. Ryan and Mikey eyed each other before walking to the car and putting their luggage in the boot. They rode off, the car ride silent except for the radio station which flickered in and out as they drove.
They reached the cottage in about twenty minutes, the boys peering out of the window to see what it looked like. Whatever they were expecting, it wasn’t it. It was a small two-story cottage that looked as if it came straight out of a fairy tale. However, they couldn't help feeling that it looked somewhat sinister. The top rooms had shadows wreathing out of them, and they shivered even though it was warm out.
Great-uncle Julian helped them inside, not commenting on the deep shadows in his house. It was as if he didn’t even notice them.
“Well, welcome to the house. The kitchen is down this hallway and the living room is right after it. Upstairs are two hallways. Whatever you do, don’t go down the left hallway. You’ll regret it,” he added. Eying both of them in turn, he waited until they nodded in agreement before turning to the stairs. “Your rooms are down the right hallway and the first two on the left,” he said. The boys grabbed their suitcases and headed up the rickety stairs. They came to the fork in the hallway and instinctively looked down the left hallway.
The shadows that covered the entirety of the house seemed even thicker than before, wreathing around the boys. They both thought they heard voices telling them to come down the hallway, but they both remembered what their great-uncle had said and headed down the other hallway.
The shadows seemed to cling to them down the hallway and into their rooms. Mikey pushed open his window, but the shadows stayed stubbornly put.
Uncle Julian called up that dinner would be ready in an hour, so the boys unpacked their stuff and then made their way downstairs.
Dinner was a quiet affair, the only sounds were the clinking of silverware. Each boy was thinking of how boring this summer would be, and also nervously noting the shadows that swirled around them.
They seemed to cling to them.
“Mikey, Mikey, wake up,” Ryan’s hissed voice woke Mikey up one night. He blearily looked at his cousin.
“What?” he groaned, rubbing his eyes. He looked at Ryan, whose face was covered in shadows, and then at the bedside table where the clock read, 3:16 am. “Why are you up?” he asked. Ryan tensed.
“Uncle Julian is gone. Come on, I want to check out that hallway,” he replied. Mikey stopped rubbing his eyes.
“What?” he said, voice high-pitched. “He told us not to. What the heck is wrong with you?” he added. Ryan didn’t move.
“Come on,” Ryan insisted. Mikey sighed but swung his legs out of bed.
“We’re gonna get into deep trouble,” he warned his cousin as they padded stealthily down the right hallway. Ryan didn’t respond.
Once they got to the left hallway, the shadows surrounding them seemed to thicken, become more malevolent. The boys both felt a little afraid, but neither wanted to chicken out now. So they moved down the left hallway.
There was only one door on this side. A blood-red oak door with a rusted handle all the way at the end of the hallway. The boys moved through the shadows swirling around them. They reached the door and looked at each other.
“Go on. This was your idea,” Mikey said, voice trembling slightly. Ryan didn’t even notice, he was so scared. With shaking hands, Ryan reached for the rusted doorknob and opened the door.
They peered in.
And immediately regretted it.
Bones covered the entire floor and suspicious dark stains were covering all the walls. Upon closer inspection, the bones appeared to be...human. The boys swallowed their misgivings and stepped into the room. Ryan stepped over a ribcage, kicking a femur by accident.
They made their way into the middle of the room, bones clattering around them.
“Why do you think Uncle Julian has a room like this?” Mikey whimpered, his heart pounding painfully. Ryan shook his head wordlessly.
“Beats me,” he whispered. Suddenly there was a quiet snick and the boys whipped around to see the door close. Mikey ran across the room and tugged on the handle, but it was no use. They were locked in.
A hissing noise came from the ceiling and the boys looked up, nearly leaping out of their skins.
A figure was crouched on the ceiling, its head cocked as it studied them. It had a pure black body with leathery wings protruding from its back. Three rows of sharp teeth gleamed as it grinned evilly down at the two boys and its claws dug into the ceiling as it let out another hissing noise. Shadows wreathed around it and the boys realized that’s where the shadows in the rest of the house came from.
“Little boys for dinner?” it asked in a screeching, scratchy voice. Mickey whimpered and he felt warmth trickling down his legs. The creature locked eyes with him and jumped down to the floor with a thump.
“Dinner time,” it growled, leaping for the boys. Mikey and Ryan stood frozen as it barreled toward them, but a femur swung out with such force, knocking it to the side. The boys whipped their heads around and saw Uncle Julian breathing hard, his glasses askew. He was ashen.
“What did I tell you boys?” he asked desperately. The creature growled as it stood up, rubbing its head with a claw.
“You promised food. Here is food,” it screeched. Uncle Julian shook his head, holding the femur up high.
“These are my nephews. You will not eat them,” he insisted. The creature hissed, its version of a laugh, Mikey realized.
“They are food,” it said, pausing. “And you are food,” it decided, and with a snap of its wings, took off.
“Run!” Uncle Julian roared, putting himself between the boys and the creature. “It can’t get out past the door,” he said. The boys took off down the room, hopping over piles of bones. As soon as they reached the door, a rib cage struck Ryan in the back, sending him sprawling. Mikey didn’t realize it until he turned around and saw his cousin trapped in the bones of a more recent victim. He felt squeamish as he saw a familiar scrap of red lace around the skeleton’s arm.
“Ryan, get up!” Mikey screamed as Uncle Julian did the same. They watched in horror as the creature flipped their Uncle onto his back and with a sickening crunch, bit off his head. Blood dripping down its maw, the creature turned to them and smiled evilly.
“Desserts next,” it promised, and then with two quick bites, devoured their great-uncle. The boys were sobbing, snot, and tears running down their faces. Mikey ran to Ryan and tried to yank him up, but his cousin’s leg was stuck in a rib cage.
“Help me!” Ryan screamed, but it was too late. The creature, who had been creeping up to them, pounced, eating Ryan’s entire lower half in one bite. It gagged on the skeleton and Mikey scrambled back, running toward the door. Ryan’s screams cut off abruptly and Mikey dove toward the door. But he felt a searing pain in his leg and tumbled through the threshold, missing one leg. The creature hissed and snapped its bloody teeth, swallowing Mikey’s right leg. He screamed in pain, but the door prevented the creature from getting to him.
With a final hiss, the creature turned and went to digest its meal, leaving Mikey sobbing from pain and loss.
He limped out of the shadowed cottage, leaving behind everything. And as the match fell from his outstretched hands, he vowed never to think of this day again.