Little Light of Mine
by Daniel Bautz
Alton liked corners. Feeling the walls against his back told him nothing could sneak up on him. Propped up and wide-eyed, he watched the shadows. Some he knew made sense, others he eyed with suspicion. A pile of clothes oddly organized, conglomerations of toys, and the spinning shades of the ceiling fan. They seemed poised to strike. Ready to pounce on him if he lost his focus. He held the phone in his hand, squeezing it as he watched those shadows.
His phone buzzed, but he didn’t look. Stay focused. Shadow monsters only moved when unwatched. It was deep night, and the sun would make itself known soon enough. His tired mind begged him, sleep. Alton knew better. They’d grab him and pull him into their world.
In their world, they ate little boys one nibble at a time, savoring every morsel. Tears of children were wine, and cries for moms and dads a symphony sublime. A world where dark things crawled on you and burrowed under your flesh. In one perverse final insult, they took your place. Using your skin, the monster took your spot in the family. Your parents would wonder why you behaved out-of-character and surly but chalk it up to hormones or some other anxiety inducer.
Even if you made it back from this world of shadow, it was too late. All your prayers, teeth brushing, baths, and helping old ladies across streets would be undone. The monsters destroyed reputations in days, sometimes hours. He’d seen it. At least, he’d heard about it. No. Alton wasn’t risking it.
His phone vibrated, pulling his eyes to the illuminated screen. That was it, all that was needed. It may have looked like a pile of dirty clothes stacked on his desk chair, but the skeletal dark hands stretched across the room and wrapped around his ankle. Icy and rigid, the grip felt like a chain ratcheting around his joint. The hand tugged him from his corner. He tried to stop it, but the corner gave him nothing to hold onto.
Scream, Alton tried. Another hand clasped around his jaws, its nails digging into the back of his neck. He screamed anyway. The hand muffled that noise as he slid across the beige carpet under the bed and toward the open dark cavern of his closet. Icy fingers wrapped around his mouth, a steel grip around his ankle, he thumbed at his phone. Hoping it would call someone or make a sound. His flashlight popped on, a beacon in the dark bedroom. His shaking hand turned the light toward the closet to whatever was pulling him into that dark hell.
Pale eyes stared at him. They didn’t reflect the light back but absorbed it, ate it with a voracious appetite into their shimmer grey-blue fog. Glistening, loose, translucent skin oozed and folded over red sinew and musculature, glimpsing the mechanics of the monster to any unlucky enough to see it. A pink tongue dripped with yellow saliva as it cleared the mucous from the pointy razor-sharp teeth. The mouth traveled the circumference of the oval head at the end of a spindly and crooked neck.
The hand couldn’t muffle the scream much after that. The floor vibrated with Alton’s terror-induced exclamation. His free hand tried to grab the bed legs, but his fingers only rubbed against them as he slid past. He attempted to pull the ichor covered fingers from his face, but the slime and maybe the flesh came free as his fingers slipped over it. He grabbed at the carpet. The strands, too short, offered no purchase.
The thing pulled him into the closet. His grab at the wall halted the journey long enough for him to see the knob on his bedroom door start turning. He heard his father asking if everything was alright. Then darkness, pitch black, nothingness. His cell phone light the only arrow piercing the abyss.
The luminescence fanned out in the deep, a cone of pale yellow. With no surfaces to reflect the glow, the ray faded into the nothing. Hands tore at the boy. Pawed his face, pulled on his limbs. His screams fueled the motion of the appendages attempting to rend him. His voice cracked and failed, resembling the nothing of the place he found himself.
The light from the phone was all he had to tell him his eyes were open. He squirmed in the embrace of the dark that tore him from his bedroom. He tried to remember the prayer his Nana taught him. His lips moved, and his hoarse voice rattled in fragments of squeaks, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord-”
He felt his tongue pincered. Caught between two sharp objects, the pink bumpy muscle stretched from his mouth. He could taste the fingers pinching his tongue, blackened toast slathered in salt. Something slimy slipped around his tongue, spiraling inside his jowls. He gagged as it filled the cavity of his mouth. Slime dripped down his throat and coated the inside of his cheeks.
The clicking noise came before the pain. Alton’s cheeks expanded out. The sharp ends of the phalanges in his mouth forced through the flesh at the back of his jaw. Both cheeks now pierced. The skin of his cheeks ripped as the sharp claws pulled slowly toward his lips. The flesh around his mouth flapped as he floated in the dark, his tongue still pulled from his mouth.
The pincers released Alton’s sore tongue. He licked at the cut flesh of his cheeks. He slid it across his teeth escaping outside his mouth instead of pressing the inside of his jowls. It burned. The taste of iron washed over the papillae. Blood and saliva seeped from torn cheeks down his face.
Alton flailed in the void. Desperate to unfetter himself from whatever bound him. His arms too weak to free themselves, his legs kicked at an absent enemy. The pain from his cheeks grew. From the corner of his eye, he could see the light from the phone.
His hand still held the phone in his little hand as his arms were forced to his side. Maybe the light could help him somehow. Alton twisted his wrist so it would shine on him. As he did, several snake-like forms glistened in mucus wrapped around his arms and chest. Smoke rolled off the dark flesh in the light and slithered out of its aurora.
Free. Free! Alton wanted to sing the song his Nana used to sing with him. The boy was no longer floating. He was on a surface, sticky, wet, and soft. He could hear his father and mother screaming his name. He shone his light, this little light of mine, toward their voices and moved in their direction.
Alton pulled his foot from the substance on the ground. The sucking sound popped once free. To speed up his escape, Alton pulled his other leg up at the knee with his arms. He heard the slithering coming up behind him. He shined his light in random rotations toward the noise of every snap, slap, pop, slither, and slip.
Moving to his mother’s cries, his father’s screaming his name, the boy found moving through the clinging terrain less arduous with each successive step. At the vanishing point, his closet door danced in the black. A lighthouse in a sea of darkness. He yelled for his mother; his voice was gone.
Alton’s father worked frantically emptying his closet. Stuffed toys flew into the bedroom in case they hid his precious little boy. Closer, the child saw the expression of dread and confusion painted on the face of the man who taught him to bait a hook. His father stood and threw his arms up as he stepped from the closet.
Alton’s phone screen lit up with the notification his battery life was under ten percent. His legs burned from pulling free of the sticky soft ground with each step. The light blazed on a million hands and eyes waiting in the surrounding tunnel it mined through this ebon dimension.
The door got bigger and bigger. The nips shredding his clothes came quicker. He looked at the screen of his phone, five percent. With another pull free from the grabbing substance under his feet, and Alton was another step closer to home, to his family.
He heard his shirt rip, and something warm trickled down his arm. He looked back to a stygian three-finger hand holding the yellow fabric pulled from his sleeve. The arm stretched into the darkness beyond the reach of his beam. Legs like lead thumped toward the closet, lit ahead, growing steadily against the atramentous surroundings.
Four percent. The light was losing its effectiveness at keeping the stygian devils at bay. The cimmerian atmosphere swallowed the beam with wendigo appetite. The aberrations in this realm’s inky belly crowded around the phone’s pale halo, swiping at the child attempting to escape their dark home. His cheeks flapped freely as his head spun to every rasp and snarl that echoed around him.
He looked to the closet. His mom ranted madly on her cell phone. His father hung on the knob of the door to Alton’s portal back. Alton moved slower and slower as his tired legs fatigued.
Three percent battery. Alton tried to yell for his father. His hoarse throat emitted a frail call. The disheartening sound of his feeble expression slowed his advance. Wet licked and flicked at his neck and ears as if testing the taste before the bite.
Two percent battery. Alton trudged on, pointing the light of the phone over his shoulder. He stopped in the sludge. His legs like concrete trunks. With the hope of a defeated warrior, Alton drew the air of his abductors’ inky home into his enflamed lungs. Alton forced the foul air into a scream for his father, who closed the door to the closet.
His raspy tone echoed by the hisses, growls, and grunts of the murky shades around him, starved for his flesh. He shook his head and moved forward one more step, disheartened. His dad pulled the closet door wide and stepped in, and began to pound the wall with the underside of his hands. Confused, but he heard his son.
The boy pulled his feet from the mire as fast as he could. Pull, stick, pull, stick, pull, stick. The burning leaden legs plodded forward toward his panicked dad. He knew in his father’s arms safety waited. Something grabbed the cuff of his jeans, the boy pulled against it. The cellphone light burnt toward the closet, now a few feet away. His eyes watered as he could see his dad leave, running from the room.
One percent battery. The yanking on his leg spun Alton around, and he directed the light there. The tentacle wrapped around it bubbled in the beam from the phone and released his legs. He directed his focus back to escaping and saw his dad returning with a hammer.
The dark noises grew louder, more intense, a chorus of thousands of the pitch’s denizens. They stood waiting outside the sting of illumination to complete the work they began. To tear the skin from the boy and put it on one of their own.
The closet was near. Alton’s father inside it swung the hammer with manic strokes. Pieces of drywall fluttered behind the man. The boy bent his knees and bounded toward the closet with the last ounce of energy in his body.
The black enveloped the child as the light of his cellphone died. He sailed through the obsidian pit in an eternal second. His eyes zeroed in on his dad, and gravity pulled him down. His ripped cheeks flapped with a primal scream bulldozing up from his lungs.
His fingertips strained to reach the closet. Arms stretched forward, he marveled at the fading darkness retreating from the light of his room. The expression of shock on his father’s face when he emerged in the closet alarmed the child.
The carpet rubbing against his face was reassuring. Softly, it tickled his wounded face. His shaking hands for the first time explored the wound inflicted. Wounded cheeks sang with a sharp, biting sting as he slid his finger over the jagged edge. He sobbed as he touched his bleeding face.
He was safe. He made it. His family was here, and they wouldn’t allow anything to harm him. He cried. It wasn’t sadness or pain. He cried for relief, for comfort, and for security. Those were his now. He escaped the unseeable assailant who ripped him from his world.
“Alton!” His dad lifted him in his arms. He gasped when he looked at his child. “Your face?”
Alton’s ragged cheek flushed. His father’s repulsion made him turn his head. Did the wound make him that hard to look upon?
“Geraldine! Hurry, bring bandages.” His father hugged him close as he maneuvered through the bedroom. “He’s not stitched up.”
Alton tried to push away from his dad, but his father tightened his grip on him. They left the bedroom and followed his mother to the hall bathroom. His mother was already dressed and in full makeup. She smiled at Alton as she stood in the hall while son and father went into the restroom.
“Arthur, I’ve got the bandages out and ready if you could just draw a warm, not hot, bath, I’ll take care of our little boy.” Geraldine walked into the bathroom, and Arthur set Alton on the ground. His mom got down on one knee, “Let’s see what you need.”
Alton threw his arms around his mother’s neck and squeezed her. His face in her hair, he smelled the familiar scent of lavender. He was safe. He hurt, but she would take care of that like she always did. She didn’t hug him back. She pulled his arms off and held him at arm’s length. Her eyes moved up and down, left to right, narrowing as she scrutinized Alton. Her toothy grin shriveled as her eyes moved over the boy to a frown.
“Hold still.” The boy winced as her hands came up to his ripped cheeks. “Be still.”
She grabbed a flap and lifted it slowly. She inspected inside, shook her head, and left the cheek to fall back into its resting position. She crossed her arms as she stood, tapping her left foot. She looked at her child again, shaking her head. “Arthur. Arthur! Stop the bath. Something’s not right. It didn’t work.”
Arthur, turning the faucet shut, craned back over his shoulder. “What’d you say? Couldn’t hear you over the water.”
“I said something’s wrong. It didn’t work.” She sighed, deep and slow.
Alton looked at his mom, his eyebrows scrunched down, wondering what she could be talking about. Was he that deformed?
“Well, there’s only one thing to do.” Arthur stood and took Alton’s hand. He led his boy back to his room. The closet was sitting open with the morning sun blazoning the mess of drywall inside of it. Arthur rubbed his chin, looked at the window, his boy, and the wardrobe. Geraldine leaned in the doorway.
“Well?” Geraldine asked in a tone that indicated exasperation.
“Cripes, Gerry, I’m thinking.”
Alton felt queasy, and his palms started to sweat as his eyes shifted between his parents. He tried to free his hand from his father’s, twisting his wrist. His dad let his hand go. Alton sped to his mom. “Now, now, Alton, everything will be fine. Stay here with me while your dad takes care of your room.”
Alton didn’t feel any comfort from his mother’s attempt to placate him. His chest heaved, and his breathing quickened. Energy sprung through his tired, beaten body. He tried to push past his mother and escape his room. She squeezed him into her side.
The room grew darker. Alton’s dad hung multiple blankets over the windows. Light barely managed to sneak around the edges of the makeshift curtains. “Close the door, Gerry. This should be dark enough.”
“Good, now put him back. Hopefully, they finish it right this time.”
Arthur grabbed Alton up into his arms. Balled into fists, Alton’s small hands hammered against his father’s body. Alton kicked, punched, bit, squealed as he was carried to the closet. Arthur tossed his son into the closet. “Sorry, son.”
The closet door slammed shut. The darkness swallowed Alton inside of it.