Outside the Window
In a small, green bedroom in a yellow house in the country, Ricky pulled the covers a little higher, trying to look away from the window. His green and white curtains gaped just a little, giving a good view of the huge tree outside. Despite the stifling heat, the window was closed. Not because it was painted shut, or because the heat had swollen the wood and caused it to be jammed.
No, Ricky had closed the window out of fear. He’d slipped out of the bed and closed the window with trembling hands as soon as his mother had left the room. He’d seen it earlier, moving in the leaves in a way completely different than the wind. He knew there was something in the tree. A something with big, glowing green eyes.
If the window was open, then only a screen would be able to prevent the thing with the eyes from getting into the house. Screens could be shredded with ease, their neighbors’ dog had ruined three last summer and another two this year. Then the thing would be able to get inside, might eat him. Eat him up with sharp claws, and huge pointy teeth and leave him no more than broken bones and scraps of skin and a spray of blood on the walls and the floor. Or maybe it had a beak, like a bird, and it would peck out his eyes before swallowing them down its long skinny neck. If it had a long, skinny neck. Maybe it didn’t – Ricky wasn’t sure.
He just knew there was something out there. Not a cat, or a raccoon, or an owl. Something else.
A hungry, nasty monster.
A hungry, nasty monster that would love to devour a small boy.
Outside the yellow house, the small figure, not quite as large as the child behind the glass, crouched in the tree. Claws curled around one of the branches, and a muzzle full of sharp teeth twitched as it studied the sluggish wind for scents. The large eyes narrowed as it studied the house. Every portal was closed. But surely they wouldn’t stay that way forever… It could be patient. When it finally slipped into the building, the little one would be the first.
Ricky had a lot of trouble falling asleep that night. He kept seeing another glimpse of those glowing eyes. Eyes that didn’t belong to a cat, or a raccoon, or an owl. If he didn’t watch for the thing, how would he be able to defend himself? How would he know when it was making its move? After all, everybody knew that the monster attacked when you weren’t looking.
In the morning, Ricky looked at his mom and dad. Dad was reading the paper, a cup of coffee beside him. Mom was lurking near the stove, watching something cook. They looked busy, but he had to try. “Mom? Dad? I think there was a monster in the tree last night.”
“What sort of monster?” His mother was giving him that look again. The one that said she thought he was making up stories like Billy down the street did when he was bored.
“I don’t know, but it was in the tree and it had big, glowing green eyes,” Ricky whispered.
“Probably just a cat,” his dad commented, turning the page of his paper. “Their eyes shine in the dark.”
“I don’t think it was a cat,” Ricky shook his head. It was obvious they didn’t believe his claims of there being a monster.
He worried about it all day. He even mentioned it to his friend Owen at the park. Owen had just shook his head, muttering that there weren’t really monsters. But Owen’s big brother Sean had ruffled his hair, called him a shrimp, and then promised that if he couldn’t see the monster, then the monster couldn’t see him. Something about if it worked for bugbladder beasts it would work for tree monsters. Whatever a bugbladder beast was.
Ricky wasn't a shrimp, or a midget. He was seven years old! Seven wasn't a midget anymore, seven was starting to get big. Big enough for almost half of the rides at the fair, old enough Mom wouldn't need to walk him to the bus stop anymore this fall.
At night, when he was once more sent to bed, Ricky stared at the tree for a good long while. Were the leaves shaking? Was it the wind, or was there something moving in the tree? He’d almost convinced himself it was just the wind when he caught a glimpse of a glowing green eye in the darkness.
Ricky yelped and dove for his covers. That wasn’t his imagination! He prayed that Sean was right, prayed that if he couldn’t see it then it couldn’t see him.
Morning took a long time to get there. When Ricky crawled out from under the blankets, he discovered that something had ripped his screen in the night. Several strips were flapping loose, and a few chunks were just gone. Obviously the monster was something with sharp, nasty claws or else a vicious pointy beak. And it HAD wanted to get inside and eat him.
He almost jumped into his clothes. At the table, he was still glancing back towards where he knew the tree was. “Mom, Dad… something ripped up my window screen last night. I think it was the monster in the tree.”
“There’s no such thing as monsters,” Mom insisted from behind the refrigerator door. “Stop imagining things.”
“It wasn’t my imagination that ripped the screen,” Ricky sulked.
While his parents did have to admit that something had ripped the screen, his dad thought it was a raccoon. His mom was still insisting that monsters weren’t real.
And Ricky thought he saw movement in the tree again. Did that mean the monster was still there? Still waiting in the tree outside, trying to find a way inside? Did the monster fear the sunshine? Did it only come out at night? Or maybe it was just a cat up in the tree.
Ricky knew something was lurking in the tree. Something awful. Ricky just wished that someone would believe him. That he had the right words to make them listen. He was afraid of the lurking thing, even if he didn’t know what it was. The torn screen was proof enough that it was nothing good.
Ricky spent a miserable day trying not to freak out about the lurking thing. He picked up his toys, and took his dirty laundry to the basement. He helped Mom weed the flowerbeds, feeling horribly aware of the tree with the lurking thing the whole time they were outside. There was a bit of catch with Owen and Dad and Sean. He even helped a little bit with dinner, setting the table and rinsing the veggies for Mom. He was still fretting.
When Ricky went to bed, he made sure his window was shut tight. He also pulled the covers high enough to cover his head. It felt like he spent hours there, hiding under his covers, waiting to go to sleep. Every noise seemed to jar at his nerves – was that a branch across the roof, or monster claws? Was that sound an owl, a raccoon, or a dreadful thing? What had caused that thumping noise down the hall? Ricky couldn’t be sure if he’d been woken up a dozen times by noises or if he hadn’t managed to get to sleep at all.
Morning found Ricky huddled under his covers, certain that he’d heard something scraping just before his Dad flung the door open with a loud “Morning! Up and at ‘em, kiddo! We’ve got things to do.”
Ricky dressed as fast as he could, darting out of his room even as he pulled the shirt over his head. If there had been a scraping noise, he didn’t want to hang around to find out what had caused the sound.
The day brought a breakfast of waffles drowning in syrup, though Mom just had fruit over hers. Over waffles, Dad explained that they'd be going to visit Grandma and Grandpa while Mom did some stuff around the house. Stuff they'd just be in the way for, so they'd go elsewhere - and maybe have ice cream on the way. Ice cream made everything better.
He didn't think about the fact that Mom was opening the windows as they left, preparing to do a big spring cleaning. Or think about how she wanted to air out the house and get rid of the closed up smell from the winter.
Not until he came home to find the window in his bedroom propped open, a new screen in place of the old, slashed one. Until he realized that he couldn't see those glowing eyes in the tree. "If it's not in the tree, where did the scary thing go?"
"Ricky, time for bed!" Dad called from downstairs.
"Sure thing," he called back. Ricky stripped out of his clothes, glad that his parents didn't make him wear pajamas in the summer. He always felt like the collars were trying to choke him, and he'd wake up in the middle of the night too hot and sticky with sweat. He tossed the shirt and shorts towards his clothes basket, figuring that draped on the side was close enough. At least they weren't just thrown on the floor, right?
It wasn't until he was pushing back the clean blanket on his bed that the awful thought slithered up his spine. What if it was in the house? He didn't think he heard anything strange, but he didn't now. With that awful idea, he started noticing dozens of soft creaks of boards moving, little scritchy noises from the roof, a low humming sound through the vents.
Ricky felt very small and young. He felt helpless. Maybe seven wasn't so big after all...
Where might a hungry thing lurk if it got into the house? Under the bed? In the basement? Maybe even in his closet? If it was in here, it could get him. Eat him, whatever scary things with glowing eyes and sharp claws did to small boys.
If there was nothing, he'd sound like a scared little kid. Not the brave, big boy he wanted to be.
"Daaaaad?" Ricky called, his nerves stronger than his reluctance to sound afraid.
"What is it?" his Dad's voice called upstairs.
"I thought I heard something moving!" Ricky called back, eying the shadows in the corners and beside his dresser. He didn't trust those shadows, they looked too murky, too dark, too weirdly shaped. Were they just his toys and clothes? Just the furniture and the corners? Or was there something that shouldn't be there? Ricky pulled the covers higher, whispering, “Oh please just be my toys and stuff. Please.”
"Go to bed!" His Dad yelled back.
For a moment, Ricky thought that they’d be sorry if some horrid thing killed him in the night. He’d be dead, and they’d know he was right, and then they’d be sad and sorry and if only they’d believed him… but then he’d still be dead, and he didn’t really want that at all. He pulled the blankets over his head and tried to convince himself it was safe to sleep.
There was a soft, scraping noise beside the bed. Ricky froze, his eyes wide under the covers. His heart had to be pounding like a drum, and he could hear himself breathing too fast, too loud.
Something else was breathing too.
No sooner had he taken a breath to scream than the covers were torn away and a sharp point pressed into his throat. It hurt, and instead of the loud scream he wanted to make, there was only a soft, wheezing gurgle. Those awful glowing eyes were back, they were right there beside his bed. The shape beside him was terrible, with lean, gangly limbs and a wide mouth filled with sharp teeth. If it had stood up straight, it would have been taller than Ricky, but it was crouched over, leaning forwards. One hand with long, spindly fingers and sharp claws was stretched towards him, a single talon digging deeper into his throat.
Ricky wanted to scream. He couldn't, and the claw in his throat hurt.
Then the thing leaned closer, and a long, slimy tongue licked over his face, from his chin to his eyebrow. He could feel a trail of warm slime over his face, thick enough to stay put instead of running over his skin. At first the slime stung.
Then Ricky's face started to go numb, spreading from the slime outwards. He couldn't move either.
By the time the claw in his throat moved downwards, Ricky only felt a slight tugging sensation. But the scent of copper and the spray of something dark and wet that moved towards the ceiling told him something terrible was happening right now. The horrid thing was here and it was getting him and he couldn’t move.
Ricky almost felt like clawed hands were peeling a set of pajamas from his body. Despite the growing coppery scent, Ricky sank into darkness. His last thought was that he felt cold and wanted his pajamas back...