Long, wicked black claws curled around his closet door with a soft tick-tick sound. One narrow red eye peered through the slim opening, glowing imperiously. Everything else in the room was cast in deep shadow. Only that eye and those claws seemed visible in a sea of darkness.
Matthew held his breath and watched. He tried not to move. He tried not to exist. Wide hazel eyes remained fixed on the claws because the eye filled him with cold dread. That eye paralyzed him.
Visions of blood and claw marks flashed through his memory, sepia and red film reeling violently. Matthew could not breathe. He couldn’t think. He closed his eyes. He trembled.
The sound of claws sliding over wood and plaster sent a shiver down his spine.
“Gil,” he whispered, his voice shaking on the single syllable.
He heard Gil’s voice in his head.
“I see them every night, Matt. They’re hunting me.”
Matthew told him he needed to get help. He didn’t believe Gil but how could he? His paranoid delusions of a monster hunting him in the night sounded crazy. Who would ever believe something like that? Even Matthew, his best friend, didn’t believe him. He wanted to—he wanted to believe that his friend suffered from a supernatural attack more than he wanted to admit that he might be sick in the head.
It wasn’t until he woke up to Gil’s mutilated body in the bed next to his that he began to believe.
“Gil,” he whispered again. “Tell me what to do.”
Gil couldn’t tell him what to do; he didn’t even know what to do. He couldn’t save himself from the horrible torment of a shrouded death bringer. His body had been in tatters, ribbons of skin curling against blood and muscle and tissue. His mouth formed a horrified scream. His eyes, his brilliant blue eyes, were gone, leaving nothing but hollow sockets.
Gil was gone. He died. Just the way Matthew would die right now.
Knock, knock, knock!
Knuckles against wood, the sound jettisoned Mathew out of his bed, shoving the blankets aside as he stood beside his bed, shaking, hands held close to his chest. He could feel the beat of his own heart, erratic, fluttering, quick. The closet no longer housed a nightmare creature. Matthew took a step closer to his bed, his calf pressing into the mattress.
The clock next to his bed blinked red numbers back at him. 12:14. Just after midnight. Matthew rubbed his hands over his chest.
He must have imagined the knock.
Knock, knock, knock!
Matthew’s mouth went dry. The sound didn’t emanate from the closet. Somebody was at his door. Matthew sucked his bottom lip in and then shakily took a step forward. One after another, he finally made it to the door, hand trembling as he reached up to touch the door. He peered through the peephole.
Relief washed over him. He pulled the chain out with eager hands then unlocked the deadbolt and finally the doorknob.
He threw himself against her and felt her arms coming up around him as she let out a sound of surprise. Lavender surrounded him. He felt a hand in his hair.
“Matthew, son,” she began in a soothing tone. “You need to come home.”
“Now? Mom, it’s midnight.”
“Now,” she said, in a voice that brooked no arguments. She stroked his hair. “Baby, you need to come home with me tonight. I don’t like you being here alone after what happened and I know you haven’t been going to school.”
Matthew swallowed guiltily. It was true. Ever since Gil died, he couldn’t make himself do much of anything. He couldn’t sleep at night so he slept through the day. All day long, he ignored the sound of his phone ringing, even when his mother called.
“You must have been worried,” he said in a dead voice, staring into the hallway behind her.
“You know I have. Why haven’t you been taking my calls?”
Matthew didn’t know how to answer that so he didn’t. Instead, he slowly pulled away from his mother and without looking back at the room behind him, he said, “Let’s go.”