Monday, October 22, 2018

The Dark Inside Her Bones

Kate stirred on her bed and sat up. Her brother was screaming again, but then he was only twelve and he was still afraid of the dark. She waited for the sound of panicked footsteps, then the creak of her parents' door as Ben threw it open.

Finally, she put her feet on the floor and crossed her room, eased her own door open, and stepped out into the hall. This latest round of night terrors had started three weeks ago, and nobody in the house had managed an uninterrupted night's sleep since it began. At this point, Kate wasn't even scared; she was just fed up. She was sixteen years old, and she liked sleeping.

She could hear voices from her parents room behind her: her brother's terrified description, her mother's soft reassurances, her father's firm encouragement. None of that was worth her time. Instead, she walked down the hall and through her brother's open door.

The boys room was dark, far darker than it should have been. Shadows lay heavy along the walls, spread out from under the bed. They covered the toys on the floor and the posters on the wall. They had even swallowed his Legend of Zelda nightlight, which stood a foot high and was always on. It should have been filling the room with a soft blue glow, but the darkness had taken it. Kate frowned. Did we lose power? No, a soft orange light shone like a banked coal from the top of her brother's desk, where his tablet was plugged in and charging.

"What do you want?" she asked, and took another step into the room.

A shadow stretched across the wall, spread over the ceiling.

"I'm serious," she said. "I'm sick of you waking us up like this. Tell me what you want, or go away."

Something brushed her leg, curled briefly around her ankle. Kate snorted and stepped out of it. "If you could snatch people away, you'd have done it by now. Stop it."

This time the shadow seemed to rear up in front of her, extending to touch her hand and cover her ears. There were no words, but she suddenly had a nightmare sense of cold, darkness, hunger, fear. Lost...

"Are you..." she hesitated. "Are you looking for a home?"

It reached out to her again, wrapped around her hand, and pushed a little way into her wrist. She understood it the way she understood things in dreams, facts accepted without reason or analysis. It wanted to be part of her. It needed an identity, more than a location, to call home.

"All right," said Kate. "You leave my family alone, you let us sleep at night, and you can come be part of me."

There was a momentary hesitation, then the world went dark and cold and silent.

When the moment passed, Kate realized that her father was standing in the doorway behind her. The Legend of Zelda nightlight bathed the room in its soft blue glow again.

"Anything?" her father asked softly.

Kate turned to him. She felt the darkness move inside her, leaning up to look out through her eyes. "Nothing," she said. "You can tell Ben the darkness is gone. He can come back to his bed." She shook her head, lips curling with exasperation. Ben could have done this himself, could have taken the darkness for his own. Boys... "I'm going back to sleep now."

Her father hesitated, then stepped back. "All right." Kate went past him out the door, and back to her room, and the darkness went with her. It stayed inside her, though, content with its place in the depths of her bones, and when she pulled the covers back over herself she felt it relax the same way she did. No, this wasn't so bad. She might even be glad to have it.

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