“There’s a creature from old folktales that’s remained nameless for centuries,” Jennifer, his babysitter, told him, sitting on a stool beside his bed. In her hand was a book of old folktales he insisted she read to him. “A vile, vicious creature that preys on children.”
“It’s said it chooses its victim carefully, cherry-picking kids who don’t stand out among the crowds.” She paused. “Kids who won’t be missed as much as the others.”
He pulled his blanket over himself as if to hide from the imaginary creature.
“It creates hyper-realistic dreams, then enters them,” she continued. “Taking away their happiness and stripping them of their sanity.”
He regretted letting her read this to him.
“And then it comes to eat them in the real world.”
She closed the book with a clapping noise, setting it down on his bedside table. “So, how was it?” she asked.
“Scarier than I thought it’d be.”
“Ah, don’t worry. It’s only a story.”
She stood up and patted him on the head, turning off the lights and giving a quick “good night!” before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
He woke up suddenly that night. At 3:33 exactly, according to the clock on his bedside table. He rubbed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair, wondering why he was awake, and why he had such a horrible uneasy feeling welling up inside of him, like someone tore out his guts and twisted them into a knot. He put his head back down on his pillow and wished for sleep to take him, but to no avail. He was awake. Still, he tried, tossing and turning, throwing his blanket off and then back on again. He changed into a lighter pair of pyjamas and took off his socks, but that didn't work either. The feeling was still there, haunting him in a way he couldn't explain. He felt exhausted, yet he couldn’t sleep.
He sat up and threw the covers off himself once more, swinging his legs over the side of his bed and standing up. He walked over to the window. It was dark outside, obviously, but with the darkness came a new level of anxiety he didn't think should be there. The streetlights were dimmed down more than usual, and the moon was barely visible behind the dark clouds in the sky. He shivered, but he didn't feel cold. Maybe he developed a fever?
He made his way over to his bedroom door. Maybe he just needed the bathroom. An unusual hesitancy clouded his mind as he reached for the handle. He ignored it and opened the door, anyway. His bare feet felt cool on the wooden hallway floor, which was odd for summertime. He listened to the floorboards creak beneath him as he walked. He didn’t know why, but it felt like he wasn't alone. It was a silly feeling, of course. His parents were on vacation, Jennifer was asleep in the living room, and his little sister was staying with his aunt for the week.
Why wouldn’t he be alone?
As he made his way to the bathroom, he looked at the pictures decorating the walls. Family portraits, school photos, and even some cute scribble drawings his sister did. He stopped walking completely when he spotted a nice family photo taken only recently. A lovely portrait of his dads, his little sister and him.
Though, there was an obvious problem with the photo now; he was missing from it. His dads were there, standing behind a chair where his sister was sitting all alone, but he was gone. His sister should’ve been in his lap. Was this a prank? He didn't think it was April Fool’s Day. He wouldn’t put it past his dads, switching him out for his sister like that. They’ve always wanted a daughter.
Shrugging this whole strange experience off, and chalking it up to sleep deprivation, he continued on his way. He ignored the blatant squeak the bathroom door made as it opened. This house and its noises, he’d never get used to it.
After relieving himself he looked in the mirror on the medicine cabinet, examining his face. It was red. Bright red. And he suddenly felt hot. Like, super hot. He put his hand to his forehead, but it didn’t feel warm. Taking a thermometer out of the medicine cabinet, he put it into his mouth and waited a minute. When he took the thermometer out of his mouth it only read 36.5 Celsius. So, not a fever then. He put the thermometer back and took a deep breath. The night had been weird so far, but he was too tired to think much about it. He figured now would be a good idea to just go back to bed, so he grabbed the cabinet door and closed it.
He paused quickly when he saw the mirror on the other side, gasping then holding his breath. There, in the mirror, right behind him, stood a tall, gangly, humanoid blob with leaking black skin and glowing red eyes. He turned around only to find himself completely alone, no monster in sight. He looked back to the mirror, but the creature was gone from that, too.
His breath grew rapid as he tried to decipher what just happened. He must be hallucinating. Or developing psychosis. Or maybe the story Jennifer told him actually did some damage.
When he managed to calm his breathing enough, he moved out of the bathroom. Walking down the hallway past pictures, drawings, and portraits, he stopped again at the family photo from before.
He wasn't missing from it anymore. Instead, everyone else was missing, and he was sat alone in the chair where his sister used to be. Only it wasn’t really him. His eyes were black, and his mouth was turned upwards into a creepy smile. As he stared at the photo with tired eyes it began to change again. The portrait-boy’s mouth contorted, opening wide and showing off crooked, pointed teeth. Then the mouth produced a thick, black substance that dripped down the boy’s face.
Okay, now he was definitely hallucinating.
He put his finger to the portrait-boy’s mouth, wondering if the real photo frame was replaced with a video-playing screen of some kind. The frame felt cold. He retracted his hand, realizing as he did so that the leaking substance had come out of the picture and onto his finger. The boy was frozen in place, breath shaking and eye wide, as he watched some kind of thick, black goo drip out of the portrait and down from the frame. It leaked out in larger and larger quantities, coming out in bulks, spewing out of the picture like the creature inside was vomiting. He couldn’t even see the portrait-boy sitting in the chair anymore, there was nothing but black ink drenching the floor like a waterpipe burst.
He took a step back, staring down where the black goop was coming towards him. All he could do was listen to his heartbeat screaming in his ears, telling him to run. He feared for his life as the slimy black grossness spilled past his feet. He tried to move, tried to scream, tried to do anything, but he was completely paralyzed, stuck watching a nightmare come to life before him.
When it drenched the boy’s feet, the black retracted, then rose upward instead. It amassed, piling onto itself in a heap, building itself higher and thicker until it morphed itself into that ugly humanoid blob he saw in the mirror. It opened a hole in what might be considered its face, letting out a screeching sound loud enough to deafen the entire block. Finally finding his voice, the boy screamed. The creature lunged forward, engulfing him in one bite.
He woke up in a cold sweat, sitting up quickly. He looked around his dark bedroom for any sign of the creature. There was none. He began to cry, shaking, covering his ears as if to block the creature out of his head.
He took some deep breaths. And then some more. And eventually, when his heart stopped screaming and his eyes dried out, he realized that it was just a nightmare. He was okay. It was just a nightmare. He wasn’t dead. Everything was fine.
He looked over to his clock to see what time it was, knowing sleep from now on was unlikely. It was 3:33 AM. He didn’t let himself read into that too much.
He put his head onto his pillow and closed his eyes, pulling the covers over himself as much as possible and curling into a ball underneath them.
And as he drifted into what he hoped would be some form of sleep, he failed to notice the gooey black liquid seeping under his bedroom door.