Prologue: Lair of the Slumbering Beast
SNOW—BILLOWY AND delicate—softly powders the slumbering houses along . The wind is hard at work: Creating drifts against the base of every structure, vehicle, and tree lining the street. The entire town is gowned in white. Like a rotting corpse, draped with a sheet. The ancient and condemned ramshackle on the corner—intersecting with Cambridge Road—moans as if in pain, bearing the weight of the rapidly compiling snowfall. A sudden gust whips its way inside the once-happy home, forcing all open doors to become emphatically shut. A spider, knocked free from its web, is ravenously gobbled up by an emaciated Mus musculus. The rodent’s black and beady eyes close, while its dainty whiskers twitch in delight. It sniffs the air a few times, before darting back to the safety of its nest under the stairs.
The fusty odor of decay permeates the air. Mildewed furniture in grave disrepair, lay rotting—forlorn and forgotten—upon the warped, hardwood floor of the parlor. An ornately carved full-length mirror stands slightly askew in the far corner. Its glass has become milky and distorted with time. The fireplace’s hearth seems cold as death, displaying the charred and shattered remains of a grandfather clock. Its face appears odd, because of the number of hours: Not twelve, but thirteen. A thud echoes through the house, causing plaster to fall from the walls and ceiling.
An ominous, hulking figure shambles down the second floor hall: Clad in weatherworn work boots, tattered coveralls, and a hooded trench coat. Muttering something about seventeen, floorboards groan in protest beneath every ponderous step. The behemoth ambles onward. Mercifully hidden beneath the patchwork hood, his grotesque face resembles that of a nightmarish jester from Hell: Scarred onyx and alabaster. It is set with intense cerebration. Huffing and puffing, the gargantuan continues his methodical trudge through the hallway, halting momentarily at the head of a rickety staircase to snatch a cockroach off the wall. Grumbling incomprehensively, he pops the roach into his ghastly gob. With a crunch. While intently considering the steep narrow staircase.
The man—if such a dreadfully disfigured, merciless creature could ever be considered a man—laboriously descends the creaky, unsound staircase to the main floor. Without calamity. His movement is almost arthritic. Rubbing a massive and gnarled hand down his craggy, ashen cheek, he stands before the exit of his home: His prison. Staring through the peephole with a quince-colored eye, he can see the white, sleeping world. The giant growls low in his throat. Slowly and with determined grace, the beast pulls a razor-sharp, rust-speckled hatchet from his coat. With a grunt, he slams the blade deeply into the meat of the door, marking the passage of yet one more day until his allotted freedom. Just a few more days, he thinks to himself, holstering his beloved weapon.
“Just a few more days until precious freedom,” the colossal creature’s raspy, sing-song voice echoes within the emptiness around him. “Just a few more days until the killing season.” This declaration causes every scampering, creepy-crawly thing hiding in the domicile’s dilapidated walls and recesses, to drop dead of an unperceivable pestilence. ”It’s futile for anyone to try and resist the sweet abysmal abyss of my baneful kiss!”
Peals of vitriolic laughter shriek through the streets of . This causes all residents—dreaming or otherwise—to shudder with fear.
A storm like this hasn’t been seen since the Blizzard of ’99 ravaged . Snow, seeming to swallow like a spoiled, fat, and greedy child with the last Rock N Rye in the house, is more of a nuisance for the townsfolk. Conditions are becoming so terrible that the rest of the country is beginning to refer to the region as the “Wasteland of White.” The inclement weather has taken the hardest toll on seventeen-year-old JJ Douglas.
For JJ, winter break has just commenced, but he can’t leave his house to go to the party store without twenty pounds of clothes, ice cleats, and a snow shovel. Snow even plagues his dreams. Jolted awake by what sounded like laughter, he groggily sits up on the edge of his bed. What the hell was that? He wonders. Sounded like someone laughing hysterically outside my window. In this weather and at this time of night? Not likely. No way.
Scratching absent-mindedly at his neck, he searches for his Detroit Lions slippers. The wooden floor feels frigid against the soles of his bare feet. Snow has made itself welcome in his room! Finally locating his slippers—his feet now comfortable and warm—JJ hurries to secure his bedroom window. Outside, the blizzard blows on. The unrelenting snow continues to amass itself in earnest, with no hint of letting up anytime soon.
As JJ closes the window, a streetlight abruptly flashes a final, blinding gleam. Before winking out, this gleam—seen through the falling snow—makes the tree, growing just outside, appear more monstrous than arboreal: A creature with ravenous jaws, filled with jagged teeth. Flinching backward and his heart hammering wildly, he trips over his backpack. Slamming to the floor with a thud, knocking breath from body, he reminds himself: It’s just a stupid, effing tree. Embarrassed he grunted back up to his feet.
Staring out through the cursed snow, JJ tries to make out his homey Curtis Olsen’s house, just across the street. But he’s unable to see it, as the sky continues to smother the city in a unforgiving blanket of white. Tree branches snap under the unaccustomed weight. Hospital ERs are full of frostbitten, homeless folk. The uninvited snow at JJ’s feet begins to melt quite quickly, soaking his Honolulu-blue and silver house-shoes.
JJ gasps as the freezing water finally soaks through, reaching his flesh. Flicking off his wet slippers, he drapes a bath towel over the puddle and mops it absent-mindedly with his feet. Still staring out the window, mesmerized by the dancing flakes, JJ’s mind begins to zone out. Then he distinctly hears the laughter again—and as impossible as it sounds—it seems louder than before.
Where in the fuck was that shit coming from?
Curious, JJ thrusts open the window again. Snow immediately finds its way back inside, piling around his benumbed feet. He plunges his mop of messy brown hair (along with the rest of his melon), out into the freezing torrent. Craning his neck awkwardly, and leaning perilously farther out his window, JJ searches up and down for the source of that terrible, mirthless laugh. It seems to be coming from the old Johnson place on the corner. JJ tries in vain to catch a clearer view of the condemned house.
A tremendous crack behind him makes JJ jump. He reluctantly turns to see his door still closed, but it begins to bulge inward with fissures—seeping blood, spider-webbing across the surface. His shocked eyes flick to his digital alarm clock as it ticks midnight. When he returns his troubled gaze to the door, all signs of damage are gone. Nothing but a pristine white surface. What is my major malfunction tonight? Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten so many of those special brownies, JJ wonders, closing his window again. He’s never had such a jumpy, insane, sleepless night in his whole life. He’s always been such a heavy sleeper (usually because of the brownies), that not even the buzz of his piercing alarm can rouse him most mornings.
A slight, unnatural movement within the branches outside catches his eye as the window clicks shut. Cupping his hands to the window, JJ peers through the pane for fear of more snow engulfing him. His third scare of the night commences: The branches outside distinctly have a face within them, carved into the bark of the tree. A crazy, clownish face— like something out of Oz or Wonderland—seethed malicious intent. Staring and smiling directly at JJ. As if it could sense JJ watching, the frightful tree-face winks at him. Frozen with fear, he strains his eyes in an attempt to focus; while his brain struggles to process just what the eyes are witnessing. The tree seems to be more than just a living organism made of wood and sap. It is animated and self-aware.
JJ hears a sadistic laugh emanate from within the room—HIS ROOM! It washes over him in a wave, and growing louder, forcing him to slam his hands over his ears in pain. Before the cacophony can explode his ears drums, the deafening chortle dissipates—echoing down the street, as if the wicked tree-face sucked it through JJ and out the window. With his forehead pressed against the cool pane of his window, he takes his hands from his ears. His heart thundering and ears ringing, he tears himself from the window. He rotates, making a slow 360-degree turn, scanning the room for the worst. Everything’s the same: Nice and messy. JJ desperately wants to flee, but to where? He’s already home, “safe” in his room. There is nowhere else to retreat. Not wanting to, but unable to stop, JJ returns his terrified gaze to the spectacle within the tree. Fixed with fear, he continues to stare out his bedroom window. The hideous, grinning tree-face begins to mouth words, which JJ blessedly couldn’t hear—until he did.
A guttural, sing- song voice emanates from beneath his bed. JJ closes his eyes, horrified and contemplates placing his hands back over his slightly-ringing ears.
“Bolt your doors and bolt them tight,
Boogeyman rambles through the night…”
The rhyme sounds eerily familiar to JJ. Like something long-forgotten from when he was a little ninja playing Cowboys and Indians in the backyard.
“And when the skies are bleak and black,
Boogeyman slinks through the crack…”
What Boogeyman? What!? Like the Boogeyman? No way. The Boogeyman isn’t real. He’s just a kiddy fable to scare bratty, little shitheads. JJ knows this is true because his older half-brother, Rob, had tortured him with the threat of the Boogeyman ever since he could remember. Like all little brothers, JJ had been his older brother’s punching bag, guinea pig, sounding board, scapegoat, and best friend. Rob eventually told JJ the truth that the Boogeyman myth was bullshit.
So then why’s JJ pissing in his boxers?
And why is scary tree-face’s creepy-ass voice coming from under his bed?
Like a moth drawn to a flame, JJ opens his eyes to confront his woody tormentor. His fear a second ago, is replaced with a contemptuous rage. He shouldn’t be pissing his pants over a fairytale hallucination induced by one too-many bad (or great) special brownies! He’s determined to face his fears just like Grandpa Val always told him. After all, he’s practically a grown man. Damn it!
Ignoring the disturbing voice, JJ changes out of his soiled boxers and into a pair of faded slightly tattered jeans. He dons his favorite Twiztid hoodie, before making his way down to the first floor, careful not to wake anyone. He grabs his heavy coat from the rack by the back door and slips it on, then puts on his boots. Wary not to clomp and stomp through the kitchen, JJ slinks out of the house—quiet as the dead. Making a beeline straight to the shed to fetch his Grandpa Chuck’s chainsaw, he silently thanks his mother for not pawning his father’s tools.
The snowfall has let up some by now, but the ominous sky still threatens to spew forth more at any moment.
A ghoulish sky, JJ thinks.
As JJ fumbles with the combination lock that secures the shed doors, he begins to rethink his rash impulse to confront the grinning tree monster—hallucination or (horribly worse) not. More snow starts to fall like crazy, soaking through the cowl of his hoodie. It still isn’t too late to bitch out and flee back into the comfort of his bed. Maybe have some alone time with Miss October. However, one question persuades him to see this endeavor through to the end: Where the hell is that voice coming from?
JJ shivers—either from dread or cold. Possibly a little of both, he’s not quite sure which. A zillion terrible thoughts roar through his fear-encumbered mind. He knows full well that running back inside and hiding like a bitch-boy under the covers wouldn’t make him feel any less terrified. Especially not while a freaky otherworldly voice, singing about the fucking Boogeyman, was tormenting him. With fingers tingling from the cold, JJ continues to turn the touchy dial of the crummy combination lock.
After what seems like an eternity, JJ finally gets the damned lock to open. He lowers his head as he steps inside, so as to avoid banging it on the door frame. He switches on the lone little bulb and stops dead in his tracks half-way in and half-way out of the old tool shed. The whole place is festooned with spider webs. There are so many that he can’t see anything beyond them. He notices a broken broom handle to his left that he could use to clear most of the webs away when, suddenly, he hears a hiss from within the webbing. He jumps back completely outside the shed, barely missing cracking his noggin. Fixing to scream like a cheerleader about to get violated, he holds the broken broom handle like a sword before him.
He hears the hiss again, but louder this time. The owner of the hiss shows itself to JJ, causing his knees to weaken. A huge and hideous spider slowly creeps through unintelligible spaces within the dense webbing. Hissing again, thick purple venom drips from its formidable mandibles. It’s unlike any other spider JJ has ever seen. Despite the fact that it is 15 times bigger than any spider he’s ever encountered, it’s oddly colored. The spider’s head, thorax, and abdomen are the color of obsidian. Its legs from femur to tarsus are banded with intermittent black and white rings. The spider’s multiple eyes are not black, as JJ would’ve suspected; but are yellow, resembling large glass orbs with lemons inside.
JJ feels his knees totally turn to Jell-o, as the arachnid begins to clamber towards him.
Get a grip homie, JJ commands his courage, struggling to not shit his pants this time. With swift and deliberate moves, he closes and locks the shed doors again, shutting the danger inside. The spider hits the doors with such force, that the whole shed shudders. Luckily, the doors hold; nevertheless, that’s the last straw for JJ. That’s it, he declares, I’m going back to bed, freaky voice or no freaky voice. He turns to go back into his house, when he realizes that this isn’t his house. It’s the old Johnson place.
“How in the fuck…” JJ muses out loud to the ether.
The answer he receives chills him to the bone. A soft, familiar laughter comes from the basement. Like a madman laughing at his own sick and private joke.
Heh heh heh heh hehhhh
Or was that the wind?
Heh heh heh heh hehhhh
Nope, definitely not the stupid wind.
An odd, unnerving rustling sound catches JJ’s attention. Afraid to, but unable to help it, he turns his gaze upon a huge oak tree that he could’ve swore was not there a minute ago. To his surprise, it seems he has an audience. Nestled within the branches of a gnarled old oak tree, an unkindness of ravens are perched—gawking and squawking intently at JJ. Or is it a murder of crows? It’s all a matter of opinion, if he remembers correctly. Nonetheless, they are posted up among the branches: Hundreds of sleek birds, preening their red feathers. Wait a minute, JJ ponders. Ravens and crows aren’t red. They’re black. Just as he makes this realization, the first raven explodes—followed by a second and a third. Red feathers rain down, covering the snow in a blanket of crimson plumage. Disheartened and completely freaked out, JJ turns from the grizzly scene and is suddenly blinded by a brilliant, glimmering radiance emanating from the basement windows.
Somebody’s down there! JJ exclaims to himself. Then: Somebody’s down there?
His heart pounding, his body trembling and on the verge of keeling over, JJ stealthily makes his way across the snow-covered lawn to kneel at the closest basement window. He peers inside to see that the whole basement is engulfed in flames. A silhouette dances from wall to wall, as a monster shambles into JJ’s view. He (IT) is horrible to lay eyes upon. It is a grotesque gargantuan. A loathsome, fiendish creature wearing a stained, raggedy cover-all and a hooded trench coat, seemingly comprised of a miscellany of odd fabrics, was trying to embrace the inferno. The giant’s back was to him, sharply outlined by the blazing conflagration it was attempting to nestle.
Dumbfounded, JJ’s bewildered eyes detected what he could swear were the shapes of children. Tiny pale faces with coal black eyes took shape within the flames and seemed to gnash at one another as the inferno raged. Suddenly a sad and eerie melody, apparently emanating from the ether, filled JJ’s ears. It started off low and slow, and then started to grow as did JJ’s fear. As the tune reached crescendo, an odd mix of children’s voices was added to the cacophony. JJ couldn’t quite make out the words, but the hulking beast seemed to revel in the ballad.
The enormous man-beast crowed wildly, like some long forgotten Lost Boy on the shores of Neverland finally recalling his happy thought after decades of cerebration. Slowly it began to turn, purposefully, towards JJ. It was then that JJ experienced the worst scare of his life. Staring back at him was the same wicked face that was in the tree outside his bedroom window. Only it was more hideous, more defined, more macabre, more sinister and much more real upon the colossal creature before him. To JJ’s astonishment the flesh of its freakish face seemed to be two toned. The base was white, as white as the blank page, with matted black scaring sort of highlighting the contours. Which, to his horror, resulted in a; this thing appeared to be painted up like he was, it was, some sort of a c—
No way, JJ reflects, confused. He can’t be, this thing couldn’t be a—
Just when JJ thought this scene couldn’t possibly get any worse, it does. The man-beast opens his gaping, black maw to spew forth great, writhing globs of maggots upon the floor. With every heave of his massive torso, a wriggling orb of maggots lands upon the floor with a splat that JJ can almost hear. This is all JJ’s overly bombarded psyche can handle.
As high-pitched girlish screams go, the shriek that painfully rips itself from JJ’s lungs is a record breaker. Horrified—
—JJ sits bolt-upright in his own bed, drenched in a malodorous, slimy sweat; the ghost of a melancholy melody echoing in his ears.
It was all just a horrible nightmare. Winter was long over, the snow long melted. Relieved, JJ flips off his covers, laughing nervously at himself and chokes on the sound when he noticed he isn’t alone in his bed. Lying next to him is the broken broom handle from the shed.
Yeah, a nightmare…
Or was it?
Three days later, after the first nightmare of JJ Douglas’s life, the first of the children are found dead in bed on Thomas Avenue.