However hard he tried not to be, Ethan was afraid. Nervous energy thrummed throughout his body as he held the back door to his house open. ‘Now, it’s just a little stroll, Ethan. It’s probably just nothing,’ he told himself, biting his lip. He looked back into his house. It was dead quiet except for the steady ticking of the metallic hands racing along to strike the italic twelve sprawled on the face of the clock. It was just a few minutes until midnight.
Ethan jerked up his chin resolutely. This was what he wanted, didn’t he? To explore the night and see what really happened outside. His parents always tucked him in right at nightfall. In his mind’s eye, he brought back his dad, his big, broad shouldered frame, cutting in half as he progressed to close the door of his bedroom. ‘Stay in bed, little Ethan. Don’t you ever sneak outside for there are night monsters looming everywhere.’
Cold air seeped in through the open door and Ethan shook his head ruefully. He knew monsters didn’t exist. But still, he was setting out in the dark alone….
He propped up his chin again, this time with more force. He was seven. He shouldn’t be afraid. His hands flew up to his chest to steady his speeding pulse. His face was a mask of defiance as he hastily stepped out into the night, the door swinging shut behind. Opps. He feverishly hoped that he hadn’t wakened his parents.
It was awfully cold and his teeth were clattering because of it and a little of something else as he walked upon the old pavement running along his shadowy street. In daylight, he thought, everything had looked so cheerful and familiar and somehow people were always bustling about. But now it was so mysterious. And adding to its mysteriousness was the fact that he couldn’t see a single soul or a vehicle.
The sole of his shoe kept tripping him from time to time as it sandwiched itself between the fissures in the pavement stones. He tried to slow his pace. Without his parents by his side, he felt as if a protective armour had been ripped off from him, leaving him exposed and vulnerable.
The usually lit up street was now pitch black as the idle lampposts stood asleep like everyone else. Ethan subtly noted that the only source of illumination was the shimmering full moon hanging above him like a clean round dinner plate. It was as if the darkness had leached the colour and light out of the world and handed it over to the bulging moon instead. Ethan also noted with some surprise that the fear bubbling up in his stomach had suppressed into a deadly calmness, slowly suffusing inside and everywhere until a sudden loud tintinnabulation sounded in his ears, startling him quite badly. Terror washed all his calmness away and Ethan whirled around, looking frantically for the source of the sound, his trembling hands betraying the return of his fear.
But soon he was relieved of it as he sheepishly realised that it was just the chime of the turret clock of the church striking twelve. The cold air stung his arms, raising tiny goosebumps.
Stupid, Ethan chided himself. There’s nothing to be scared of in here. Nothing happens at night.
Despite not having recovered from his sudden shock (his hands were still slightly twitching) a smug look crossed his face as he realised that he’d come out at midnight all alone and survived, though there had really been nothing threatening his survival, he added as an afterthought. Nonetheless he would tell everyone all about it at school tomorrow. He wiped the sweat off his hands in his shirt. He had finished his little stroll and it was time to head back home.
And he turned back on his heels and started toward his house. The trees planted alongside the road rustled in the wind and the smell of smoke hung heavy on the air. Ethan hadn’t noticed either of the things before.
Suddenly a dark unnamable figure hurtled past him, zooming in and out so fast that Ethan felt a rush of coldness pricking his body again like sawdust.
Tendrils of panic unfurled inside him, sending his heart pounding against his chest. He willed himself to be calm and resumed walking at a faster pace, anxious to get home.
The trees rustled again and it sounded to Ethan like they were sighing in unison. He shuddered and walked even faster, almost tumbling down in his haste. He righted himself and glanced up and for a moment, his breath caught painfully in his throat as he took in the scene before him:
Three dark figures, a little further away from him, stood on the dust brushed pavement. They were cloaked in a dark silky material, stamped with faint patterns of blood red swirls and their talon- like hands on their sides were curved and twisted. And the fact that sent Ethan’s heart drumming faster than a percussionist was the lush thick slime that oozed out from their gnarled disfigured faces, gliding down gracefully in rivulets around their toeless feet.
A scream buried itself in Ethan’s throat, coming out as painful gasps of breath that sent his whole body trembling like a leaf in the autumn wind.
He felt a faint roaring in his ears as his feet tried to back away and flashed across his mind were two bright words: Night monsters.
And they were strolling towards him.
He stuttered back, numb with fear. Their cloaks and slime were caressing the ground as they advanced towards him, sharp hands outstretched.
Ethan’s terror wave breached a levee and he took off, running uncontrollably across the road and ceased only to realise that they were relentlessly coming after him. Spasms of fear attacked his body. ‘Mom, dad!’ His scream failed a second time, regressing miserably into a little hoarse whisper.
Oh why hadn’t he listened to them, oh why? Tears welled up in his eyes, clouding his vision as he ran.
They were still following him, those dreadful monsters and Ethan’s lungs were hurting but he finally ended up ducking inside an alley, stumbling into it. His legs brushed painfully against a wall and they bruised up with tiny droplets of blood freckling his knee. Tears streamed down his lashes, wetting his cheeks. He slowly turned behind tentatively to see if he’d lost them. It did seem like it. The night had fogged up and there was no sign of them anywhere.
Relief and fatigue attacked him. All he wanted was to go home, to his parents. They always come to the rescue, Ethan thought weakly, if only they’d magically appear now. Every inch of his body ached for them, to lie inside the circle of their arms and to hear them tell him that everything was fine, that it was okay. But he only heard silence and he felt icy all over. His knee felt pierced as if someone had jabbed a thousand needles into it.
Wiping away his tears and snot on his sleeve, he shifted his eyes away from the misty night and realised with a start that he could faintly recognise the walls enclosing him on the sides. He was in the alley between the old grey stone walls of the abandoned metal factory, the alley he’d use everyday after school, the alley which was fastest way to get home. Home. With sparks of hope in his heart, he turned around towards alley only to find two night monsters staring right down at him.
Ethan screamed. Ethan screamed like he’d never done before. Not even like the time when the dentist had pulled at his teeth.
They were too close, the night monsters. One was so big that the slime which was cascading down in rivers from its vast face, was thoroughly drenching its cloak. The other one was completely cloak less, revealing powdery brown skin like rust. It reminded Ethan of a bark of a tree except that it shimmered a silvery glow every time its slime touched it.
Ethan smelt a smoky scent wafting out from them and was seized by a sudden spasm of vertigo. He let out a dazed huff of a scream and backed away to run off when the cloak less monster held him back with flick of its wrist. Its talon-like hands were only a facade of lethality because the grip on Ethan’s shoulder felt firm but soft. Nonetheless he screamed and both the big and the cloak less monster rushed forward in unison to hold him down. Ethan thrashed out forcefully, terror rippling in his veins. He struggled against them with cold slime wetting his face and body. It was two monsters against a child. There was no way out. Ethan kicked, punched and smacked at the hands seizing him but to no avail. He felt himself sag down, red motifs playing in his eyes and mind until he was suddenly relieved. He felt their hands unclenching and he spun back in surprise. The night monsters stood still as if stuck in time. Ethan took his chance and whipped past them, narrowly dodging an arm as he took off.
He passed several houses before he stopped and looked back. His shirt was clinging to his back with slime and sweat and his knee throbbed and he was trembling all over. He took off again when he realised they weren’t coming after him.
The night had become cloudy and misty and the fading moon looked like a ball of cotton plugged into the sky. Ethan sprinted relentlessly. Just a corner to get home, spoke the little voice in his head, just a few houses, two houses, one… There, he was home. Relief crashed over him as sped across the lawn to the door. His hands still shook as he fumbled with the doorknob. He finally clicked the door open and bustled into his house. The clock inside pointed at an italic one. ‘Mom, da..d’ His cry caught in his throat as tears splashed down his eyes. He ran up the staircase. ‘Mummy, daddy!,’ he sobbed as he passed his bedroom. Anxiety rose inside him.
Why weren’t they up?
‘Mummy, daddy!’ He threw open their bedroom door and his heart skipped a beat. They weren’t inside. Their bed looked neat as if they hadn’t slept in it. They were gone.
But that wasn’t the thing that made Ethan’s blood freeze, his body paralyse in fear and his head roar with noise. It was the forgotten cloak which hung on the peg among his parents’ everyday clothes, with its familiar whirling patterns of red swirls.