The dried blood under his fingernails matched the blackness of his eyes to a tee. What seemed to some to be an overly rambunctious two-year-old, was actually something much darker. And now as Melissa hid in his parents' pitch black garage, trying to distinguish the sound of her heartbeat from what could be tiny footsteps coming her way, she understood what fear really was.
Two days prior, her knowledge of her nephew was based solely on Facebook posts and a few photos sent to her in holiday cards over the past year. When she was finally able to take the time away from work to visit the little guy and her stepsister in Vermont for a four day weekend, she was thrilled. Well, she was thrilled-ish. Her stepsister Eileen was always a bit odd when it came to her son. And for Melissa, being nearly thirty and nowhere near starting a family, she figured that's just how new parents were.
Eileen spoke of Clive as if he were anything other than her son. On the phone, Melissa would often hear Eileen's voice crack while speaking to him on the other end. She'd also heard a story from her cousin about something horrible happening to Eileen's neighbors and that many believed that little Clive had witnessed the entire incident from their living room window.
But what made what her cousin was telling her even weirder, was that when Eileen's neighbors were found in their yard, apparently brutalized by something unknown, the police claim to have seen Clive at the window, laughing as he stared at the still bodies of his neighbors. Eileen was questioned, and mostly about Clive and his well-being.
Eileen told the police that she'd heard screams and that she came running out to see what was happening. She told police that Clive was there on the couch when she ran out, but he wasn't looking out the window; he was simply watching television.
But Melissa's cousin believes that Clive did see something. And he also told Melissa that one of the police officers at the scene, who was a friend of his, told him that when they were interviewing Eileen that night, that Clive kept laughing at something in the corner, and that it was the eeriest thing he'd ever experienced in his entire career as an officer. Not quite the reaction you'd expect an adult to offer up on a child's joy.
From what she knew about Clive, was that he was small, had yellow-blonde hair, and bright green eyes. And despite what that officer claimed in his story of the night Clive's neighbors were murdered, he never seemed to show even a hint of a smile in any of the pictures she'd seen. And something about that always disturbed her. It wasn't like it was a law that all children needed to smile. But it was more than just a baby grimacing because his diaper needs changing or he's hungry for the gift of boob. No; this was a frown with serious thought behind it. A frown with a secret. But what could one be hiding at only twenty-four months old?
When she pulled up at her stepsister's house, screams shook the ground before she even stepped foot on it. The taxi driver drove off and Melissa began to walk towards the porch. Just before reaching the top step, the door swung open and her eardrums took an instant hit. The small child's mouth was wide open as a shrieking scream pierced her brain. She froze, not knowing if she should extend her arms out to him or block him from running further out of the house. Before she could decide, he ran right to her. She caught him, opening up for a hug, and in return, he threw his head back and lunged at her thigh, biting down hard. When he threw his head back up, he smiled at her. As his eyes zeroed in on hers, it reminded her of a spider about to kill its next meal in its web. Nom Nom No.
"Clive! You don't bite, do you hear me?" Eileen came running after him and swooped him up as she gave her sister a hug. Her frizzy red hair invaded Melissa's face.
"I'm so sorry about the little rugrat, Melissa."
Melissa allowed the hug, but moved her face as far away as she could from the toe-headed piranha in her sister's arms.
"No, it's fine. He barely made contact." She looked at him as he gave her a stone cold stare down.
"Hi little one. I'm your Aunt Melissa. I'm so glad to finally meet you pal!"
He moved his face away and buried it in his Mother's bushy hair.
"Oh, stop being so shy Clive!"
She showed Melissa around the house. It wasn't as big as Eileen had made it out to be, and that was fine for her. Eileen would always be one to criticize Melissa's smaller New York City apartment. But the one thing that had Melissa feeling uneasy, besides Richie Rich at her feet, was that the house was located a bit into the woods. There were other houses, but they seemed so scattered that if something were to happen, as it had previously with their neighbors across the road, would anyone know about it?
"The house is great." Melissa said, forcing a smile. Her cheeks were burning.
They continued the tour of their home as Clive remained in the living room. He really was as odd as she imagined he'd be. He turned to look at her as she turned a corner down the hall. She missed her footing in the moment and banged her shin into the edge of the wall opposite her.
"Oh fuck." She felt the pain intensify even before she registered what'd happened. She pulled up her pant leg, revealing the eggplant purple bruise already in place.
"You're such a klutz!" Eileen said, helping Melissa up.
As Eileen led her further down the hall, she turned back and looked at Clive one more time. He was looking off in the distance, and this time, he was chuckling.
That night, Eileen's husband Wes returned home after working a full twelve-hour shift at the gas station up the road where he fixed cars. His stained hands rubbed off on Melissa's white top as he greeted her with a hug.
"Oh I'm sorry Melissa. Forgot to scrub the nails after my shift."
Clive came running in to his father and clutched his leg. It seemed to Melissa to be a loving gesture. But once again, something was missing; no smile.
"Were you good for Mommy today?"
Clive looked up at Wes and then at Eileen over by the sink and smirked. It wasn't a smile. It wasn't even a mild grimace, it was just a face. Clive ran back into the other room, screeching once again. It reminded her of those moments back at home, when she'd be riding the Subway and an uncontrollable child would wail, echoing a migraine inducing pounding sound throughout the metal carrier, and she'd tell herself her ovaries were tightening at the thought of ever having to deal with a child that nuts.
Clive was more than just nuts. He was eerie. That first night was not an easy one. She was used to the quiet whenever she visited her sister compared to what she'd hear at home; horns honking, neighbors partying, and probably re-animated Subway rats. She'd make a joke out of it, but what she was now dealing with, was anything but amusing. The silence of sinister things, no doubt.
At three a.m, she heard the first wave of sounds. The banging shook her out of a dead sleep. It sounded like bowling balls being thrown onto the floor. Then she heard him screaming. She thought she'd heard a few whispers too, most likely his parents trying to calm him down. But then she didn't hear the whispers anymore, only his screaming that seemed to then morph into a monotone moaning. And then it dramatically stopped. Her heart skipped a beat as that first moment of silence was akin to the panic one feels when they realize something horrible has just happened to them.
A shadow appeared by the door. And then immediately following, her doorknob began to jiggle. Someone was trying to get in. She'd locked it because she always locked her doors. Her sister on the other hand usually didn't care to lock doors, feeling safer in a more seculded area. Melissa had seen enough "abandoned but safe, but not really" horror movies to know that you always lock your fucking door. And now, more than ever, that a possible Donald Trump sucking on a lemon meets Macaulay Culkin mini-me was more than likely the one trying to get in, she was glad she'd locked it.
And then it gave up. Minutes passed and nothing rattled. She closed her eyes and tried to think about something else. But then all thoughts circled back to where she was. Maybe Clive was a sleep walker. Or maybe one of his dolls was possessed by a serial killer and out to kill whoever its owner gave the stink eye to.
She managed to find herself at that state just before one slips into dreamland, when she felt something squeeze her shoulder. She opened her eyes and screamed when she saw black eyes and a porcelain grey face looking down at her. It was Clive, but it wasn't. The grayish coloring in his skin was like that of a corpse at a wake; caked in makeup and rotting underneath lacquered flesh.
The only part of his appearance that made her feel as it if were him in some form was the blonde hair accompanied by his coy grin. No teeth, just dimples, and hell-bent on pain. He moved his face closer to hers and began to laugh when suddenly she jolted herself out of the bed. He was gone. She turned to the alarm clock next to her that now read seven a.m. The glow from the fog covered morning seeped into the room.
"There was no way I dreamed that." She thought. But then again, perhaps she did. After all, something about him had been disturbing her since she'd met him. The imagination can be known to do evil things to a sleeping mind.
She got out of the bed and listened at the door as she heard the young boy being fussy as Eileen tried to calm him down. She gathered up her clothes for the day and got her toiletries ready for a morning shower. She made the bed before heading out of the room. But just before finishing up, she noticed tucked under one of the pillows, were a few strands of yellow-blonde hair, arranged in the shape of a smiley face.