Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
— G.K Chesterton.
AT THE EDGE of a clear rural road, there were – to the thousand or so residents in Noxville County who would not dare believe it – seven shadows, each with their own meticulous body, walking along a pathway like tall patches of night in a winter's breeze.
Where six large houses aligned, there were nine long, twisty trees, standing nearby like stark silhouettes against the distant moon. A strong, showery wind blew over the rooftops, shaking them like a kettle that whistled for far too long.
On that night – at 11:34 P.M. (though, to some, it would appear to be much later) – a little boy in blue Postman-Pat pyjamas awoke to the sound of a dog barking. His name was Alex Dunne, and he was seven years old. The dog outside was named Skipper – a bulky Alsatian that dwarfed Alex by comparison.
The rain drummed on the roof like a gorilla tapping its chest with clenched fists. Inside, the walls felt like pressure plates ready to set off against the strengthening gales that pushed against them. They creaked and groaned, silently at first, then picking up after the weather progressed with one mighty gust.
Alex dragged himself up from his covers and slouched against the headboard. His bed was quite small, and his covers had Disney characters spread throughout the fabric. The first was Mickey Mouse, the second Goofy, and the third – his favourite to some degree – Donald Duck.
He gave a wide glance around the room. Everything was blurry, and all was in darkness, but he could confidently make out the dividing lines of his furniture. The first thing he noticed was his unclosed curtains. Outside he could see . . . nothing. Nothing but darkness. The power in Noxville County had been wiped out when a daring stroke of lightning decided to snap the lines.
The water dribbled down the window like snakes on their way to a feast, squeaking the glass with each wind that rushed by.
The storm had been building slowly over a period of four days (according to the CBC Weather Report the days prior), and little Alex could tell. His house was smothered in a caisson of rain. It dripped and dropped onto the pavement, swelling up the pits and hollows of his front yard with miniature oceans.
The next thing he saw was the tall, rectangular outline of his wardrobe. It reached the ceiling. A poster of a cartoon serpent was attached to the left door; it had scaly, bright green skin with a scar amongst its left eye.
The poster stared at him.
On both sides of his bed, there was a nighttable.
The room itself was about the size of a classroom, and to many it would be considered far too large for any boy his age. His plasma-screen television stood undisturbed at the front, next to the serpent, and he had a little DVD player sitting atop a wooden coffee table at the fore of it.
A thin chill passed through Alex's 4'7" frame and shivered his toes. He breathed and grabbed a pair of glasses from the nighttable on his right.
"Ooooh, jeez," said Alex, twiddling his thumbs, bumps of gooseflesh gathering on his nape.
He brought himself out of bed, although reluctantly, and looked at the wardrobe. He gazed intently at it and shivered. Alex hoped the serpent wouldn't come to life. Those creatures made him intensely uncomfortable.
Alex, after a moment, tip-toed across the darkness of his bedroom, his feet sneaking along the carpet like lingering spiders, careful to keep his silence.
When he stopped at the edge of the wardrobe, he shook with a resemblance to heads whenever they pressed up against a bus in motion. Alex gripped the knobs of the closet and pulled them back slowly, a portal of blackness revealing itself on the other side.
He grabbed two blankets from the bottom of the closet.
A stroke of lightning clapped overhead, illuminating his room with one great, big roar.
He snapped his head back and looked over towards the window, drops of mizzle slipping down the pane, the streets clear and visible for the merest fraction of a second.
Alex stood shaking, clutching to his quilts, looking out into the street.
For a thin moment – a very thin moment – he saw something that he couldn't quite describe . . . a shadow, standing broad and wide on the opposite side of the road like a skinny gloom.
After that, all was dark again. His heart sank as he flexed his toes in fear. A long, icy bead of sweat drifted down his nape and tickled his upper back. He stood there, in the darkness. Alone.
His eyes widened and widened until . . .
"MOMMY!" He dropped his blankets on the carpet, reached for his door, and with one quick motion, sprinted out of the bedroom, gibbering his whole way down the hallway.
Rushing through his house, a second clap of lightning split the night sky, revealing a second window at the opposite end of the hallway. Then . . . he saw it. Another shadow, and this time, it was inside.
"Mommy! Mommy!" cried Alex, tears welling in his eyes.
Making his way towards his mother's room, the child stopped in his tracks, tripping over his own legs like a woman sprinting away from a murderer in the woods. Alex's heart raced, his lungs tightened, and his fingers froze in agony. He could see the figure in front of him from the corner of his eye. It was a tall creature of the night – without detail, without form.
Mommy! yelled Alex, but no such word came out.
A deep cold floated along the hallway and tickled the arches of his feet.
He didn't dare look up; instead, Alex cowered on the carpet, furrowing his brow and stuffing his hands desperately in his armpits.
"Mommy," he whimpered.
After ten painfully long seconds, the shadow grabbed Alex by his legs and, in one impossibly quick movement, dragged him out through the window, shattering it into a million shards.
The night, for most, had ended – not with a wail or a whimper, but with the coming of shadows, and the long and echoing bellow of a child.