Kevin McCauley entered the front door of 23 Orchard Street and said aloud “Mom, Dad, I’m home!”
He sighed as he told himself it didn’t matter. They were gone now and he owned the house.
As he turned to close the front door, Kevin noticed a weathered newspaper sitting on the front step, he glanced at the headline as he turned back into the house and closed the door and read: ‘3 LOCAL CHILDREN DEAD OF HEART ATTACK. STATE SURGEON GENERAL WARNS PARENTS OF SYMPTOMS IN KIDS’
“No shit…,” he said to himself as he tossed the paper into the wastebasket. He had no children, and a full plate of his own to deal with, with an inherited home to prep for the market and very little vacation time to do it in.
Kevin’s mother Edna had passed away in her bed of pneumonia just one week prior and Kevin felt the guilt of not having visited her recently, he’d called her of course, but driving 45 miles from Whitendon to Godfrey was out of the question with his limited time off.
It wasn’t that he didn’t care about her welfare, it was simply that life had gotten in the way and drawn him in other directions.
He put his suitcase down in the entryway of the house and began to walk around and take inventory of his alien yet extremely familiar surroundings.
He passed through the kitchen and looked at the appliances that had all been in the exact same condition and positions when he was a child; the refrigerator was covered with notes and magnets and a Bargain-Mart calendar that his mother no doubt had put up long before she’d died.
Died. She was gone. He paused as the memory of his mother bustling about the kitchen making dinner and reminding him of his chores swam into his mind.
“Well Ma, I guess I’m gonna have to remember to clean my room on my own now,” He said to no one.
His wanderings took him into the master bedroom where his mother had died in the bed that his late father had shared.
His eyes fell on the dresser, still crowded with his mother’s jewelry and pictures of siblings long passed; An invisible hand clenched at the base of his throat and he choked back a sob.
“I can’t sleep in here.”
With a feeling of loneliness, Kevin turned his lean, six foot frame in the doorway and made his way up the stairs to the room he would eventually choose to sleep in, his.
The two twin beds were made as they had been for years. Mom was always ready for me to come home.
It was the other bed in the room that brought more memories swimming into his waking thoughts. It had belonged to his older brother, Michael.
Mikey had been an admirable brother, he was always looking out for Kevin.
When he’d died in his sleep 30 years ago, Kevin had been at summer camp while Mikey had been condemned to summer school for poor grades and couldn’t go that year.
Kevin remembered being called into the head counselor’s office and told that he had to pack his things because his parents were coming to pick him up.
There had been a “Family emergency” and he was going home.
It wasn’t until he’d been told to sit down at the kitchen table by his Dad that Kevin realized his brother wasn’t going to be a part of this discussion, at least not listening to it.
“Your brother died, Kevin. He went to sleep and just, he just didn’t wake up son,” his father had said while choking back tears.
He remembered that his mother hadn’t been able to get herself to sit down with them for that talk.
Heaving another sigh, Kevin entered the room and lay on what had always been his bed. Folding his arms behind his head he stared at the ceiling and let the flood of memories pour over him.
Kevin! Michael! Dinner’s ready! Okay Mom, we’re coming! Make sure that your room is clean and your hands are washed! Okay Mom, Gosh!
Hey Kev, wanna see something neat?
Here Kev, Dad showed me this, move your hands up the bat a little bit. Like this. It’ll make you swing faster.
A single tear ran down his face as Kevin allowed emotions long suppressed to overtake him and then, he fell fast asleep.
Kev, make sure you keep a flashlight under your pillow. It’ll keep Them away if you need to pee or something at night.
You know how when you wake up in the middle of the night, you can hear stuff in the room?
Like things moving?
That’s Them. Don’t you EVER let them see you Kev. If they see you awake, they can get you.
What’ll they do to me Mikey?
You don’t wanna know. Just don’t ever let them see you awake ok?
Kevin awoke with a start. It was now late afternoon and he’d been asleep for a couple of hours.
“Shit. I must’ve needed that.”
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Kevin got up and headed to the kitchen to make something to eat.
His thoughts wandered to the dream he’d had while he put peanut butter and jelly onto some bread.
He remembered odd childhood conversations with his brother about Them. Who were they? What were they?
30 years had sliced and diced his recollection immensely, though he did remember sleeping with a flashlight under his pillow for years.
Sitting in the living room as he ate his sandwich, Kevin decided it was time to go through the house and look for anything that he could donate or give to more distant relatives.
His childhood curiosity was piqued as he considered the different areas of the house that he hadn’t seen in decades.
“I’ll go through Mom’s stuff later. I just don’t think I can do it right now,” he said to his invisible audience.
God, it feels like I’m on a sitcom or something, the way I’m talking to myself out loud. I guess it must be one of those coping mechanisms you read about or something.
After deciding that the most logical and least taxing place for emotions would be the attic, Kevin swallowed the remainder of his sandwich with a flourish as he had always done as a boy.
Kevin Daniel McCauley! You’ll choke if you keep eating your food like that!
I’m fine, Ma!
Don’t you sass me!
He smiled at the memory as he made his way to the attic entrance in the center of the upstairs hallway ceiling.
The cover to the access door gave a small fight as he tried to force it passed years of paint melted together over innumerable summer days, but finally, it gave way.
The attic ladder hadn’t changed. It was still the type of thing you looked at with caution as you pulled it down, always fearing a powerful shot to the chin.
CREEEEAAAAK! The ladder was down with that final complaint. Kevin examined it for a moment to see if it looked worthy of his size.
Satisfied that the old thing looked stable, he slowly made his way up into the attic.
The air was stuffy and warm, and it was nearly pitch black. Kevin felt around for the pull chain of the single light bulb which hung above the ladder.
With a click, Soft yellow light poured over the attic and Kevin could see dozens of boxes littering the eaves all the way around the perimeter.
He glanced around until his eyes fell upon some boxes labeled ‘The Boys’ in magic marker.
“Bingo!” he exclaimed as he moved towards the boxes.
Opening the largest box, he discovered a large pile of toys, many of which he had long since assumed had been thrown away.
He fumbled with a few G.I. Joe figures making soft pew pew sounds mimicking gunshots.
Growing more enticed, he rummaged through another box labeled ‘Michael’ in his mother’s black marker handwriting.
Inside, he discovered several artifacts that spurred memories to life. His brother’s favorite baseball cap, music tapes and a tattered looking notebook.
The notebook had no title, but it was filled with pages upon pages of writing.
It didn’t take long for Kevin to realize that his older brother had kept a sort of diary and with just a moment of doubt, Kevin began to read.
June 10, 1984
So, I can’t go to camp. The teachers said I didn’t pass physical science, so that means I have to go to summer school. Bummer. Kev’s going to camp, and the little brat’s gonna tell me all about it when he gets back, which is gonna piss me off.
I guess I have to just buckle down, as Dad says, and get through this.
This went on and on with Michael extolling the famous lines “I’ll never use physical science in real life.” and “They just don’t understand me.”
Kevin skipped ahead a few more entries until he came across the following:
July 13, 1984
I had to buy new batteries for my flashlights again, and Mom’s getting mad every time I ask her for money to get them. She doesn’t know how bad I NEED them!
They come every night now, and they know I’m awake. I hide under the covers with a flashlight, and when I hear them, I turn it on but they don’t run out of the room anymore. They used to. I think they’re just waiting for me to mess up so they can get me.
I wish Kev was here. He’d at least be someone I could talk to. They come in through the closet door, I think, and then they go around the room moving stuff, and sniffing the air. They’re looking for me, but the blankets protect me somehow.
I even heard them kind of talking to each other. They don’t sound like us, though. They sound kind of whispery, and creaky. It’s really weird.
Last night, I heard one of them UNDER MY BED! It was scratching around, and I felt it push on the mattress. I almost pee’d my pants.
I turned off the flashlight to see if they’d notice, and one of them touched my blankets near my head! I turned the flashlight back on, and it screamed!
How come no one ever hears them but me? Mom and Dad never wake up, no matter how much noise they make.
I have no more money for batteries, and I know the flashlight is going to die tonight. If they get me, I hope someone reads this, and gets Kevin out of this room, because they will come after him next.
A box of toy guns fell off of the heap nearby and startled Kevin out of his reading.
“Holy SHIT!” He hollered into the darkness.
Holding onto the notebook as he tidied up the pile of boxes Kevin decided to give it another look later and he headed back down into the house.
He had broken out into a full-on sweat and the cooler air of the house turned every pore from water to ice.
Memories of conversation with Michael came flooding back and Kevin recalled his brother’s episode of night terrors which had begun at an age where most kids were growing out of them.
I wonder what scared him so much to make him think THINGS were after him?
Kevin wondered as he made his way back to the bedroom. He didn’t like to think that his brother had lost his mind, but what else could it have been?
It was growing dark outside and he knew that he still had a lot of work to do in the house, so he prepared to go to bed.
Sleep wasn’t easy to come by though as his mind raced with memories and theories about his brother’s fears and his death which, even in those days was a bit of a mystery.
“How does a healthy 15 year old die in his sleep?” Kevin said aloud as he lay in bed wishing he could fall asleep.
And Mikey WAS healthy; he was an athlete and a good one at the time, Dad always said that it was a foregone conclusion that Michael was going to go to college on a sports scholarship, it was only a matter of which sport it would be.
So, how in the world did he just die like that?
Thinking about family members who’d died gave Kevin enough reason (he thought) to make a mental note to visit his own doctor as soon as he had some time.
I guess you just never know.
Finally exhaustion won out and Kevin put down the notebook filled with his late brother’s horrors on the nightstand and shut off the bedroom light. He fell asleep almost instantly.
Kevin found himself gliding through the house and floating up the attic ladder. The attic was brightly lit and the boxes were all organized perfectly. Sitting at the far end of the attic near the box labeled ‘The Boys’ was Michael.
Michael looked as he had the last time Kevin had seen him alive, his favorite 49ers shirt and cut off denim shorts, His brown hair flowing into a feathered mullet. Looking as real as ever, except that his skin was very pale and he looked almost haunted with dark rings under his eyes and his lips were just a shade above blue.
“Mikey? Is that you?”
“It’s me Kev. Come here for a second, I need to tell you something important.”
With no effort on his part, Kevin glided over to his brother’s side and seemingly came to rest as he felt a box give a little under his weight.
“Mikey, what’s this all about? This is a dream isn’t it?”
His brother looked very seriously at him, peering into his eyes, and said “It’s about Them Kev, it’s about Them.”
“What about Them?”
“They want you Kev. They got me, and they got other kids too, three of them, just a couple weeks back, but they want YOU now.”
“How’d they get you?”
Michael shifted in his seat as if to get more comfortable, and then a very dark look came to his face.
“They scare you to death, Kev. They reach into you, and stop your heart. They feed on your mortal soul.”
Michael held up his notebook, and said “Read it all, Kev. If you don’t, you’ll be stuck here with me, and trust me, it’s no fun.”
For the first time, Kevin noticed the blue veins throughout his brother’s flesh nearly on the surface. He looked young, and yet, old and very tired at the same time.
“Come back with me, Mikey. I’ll get you out of here.”
His brother shook his head with sadness. “You just don’t get it do you? They ate my soul Kev. I can’t leave, ever. The others found that out, too.”
“Where ARE the others? I only see you here.”
Michael looked down, and muttered “They couldn’t fight Them, and now they’re gone. They have them down there,” His finger was pointing straight down. Not at the floor, but far beyond that, to a place that Kevin knew he could never begin to visualize. “I hear their screams.”
Grabbing Kevin’s shoulders, Michael looked urgently into his eyes. “Stay under the covers, Kev! Don’t come out if you hear Them! If you do, they’ll get you! Do you hear me? STAY UNDER THE COVERS!”
He awoke to total darkness as he realized his blankets were over his head. He started to pull them down when he heard it again.
Instantly as though he was 10 years old again, Kevin pulled the blankets back up until they were securely over his head.
He sat there petrified as sounds of movement appeared to come from all over the room around him. He then began to hear what sounded like voices, not human voices, but voices that were guttural and creaky.
It sounded like they were calling his name! He listened as the sounds came closer and closer to his bed, when they had come within a foot or so, he heard their rattling breath around him.
They’re looking at me! He could feel their eyes on him, hungry, evil eyes.
Then one of them spoke almost clearly “Come out, Kevin. Come out so we can play with you.”
He felt warmth spreading around his lower body as he realized he had wet his bed in fear.
This is bullshit! I’m sitting here in my bed hiding under the covers and pissing myself in MY own home?!
Kevin tried to regain his composure since he’d realized he was shaking like a leaf and then there was a deep inhalation of air to his left.
“He wet himssself,” one of them said. “Nasssty boy!” another cackled in response.
Feeling his anger rising, Kevin was about to lower the covers and confront these voices when he heard his brother’s voice, clear as day.
“STAY UNDER THE COVERS, OR THEY’LL GET YOU!”
Kevin stopped lowering the covers and decided to yell as loud as he could “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!”
There was utter silence as his voice seemed to echo in his ears.
“He usesss naughty language.”
“He’sss a bad boy who peesss in hisss bed!”
He nearly jumped out of the bed when one of the voices spoke into his right ear “come out and play with usss, bad little boy!”
He felt a slight tugging at his toes as something was trying to grab them through the blanket.
Instinctively, he pulled his legs up and assumed the fetal position under the covers.
There was more shuffling and rasping throughout the room and then with a soft creaking sound, there was silence.
The only sound was the beating of his heart in his ears and it was apparently under the impression that he had been running for his life.
Kevin lay in his bed unmoving. He wanted to sit up and turn on a light, but he didn’t dare reach out from under the blanket.
The stink from his urine was starting to get to him as well and he longed for a shower and a fresh set of sheets.
After what seemed an eternity, the light of dawn began to shatter the darkness of the room and Kevin could see it through the blankets.
He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew it was now safe to pull down the covers.
He blinked into the morning light and then looked about his room, he couldn’t tell if anything had been moved or not nor, whether someone or some thing had been in this room with him or if he’d dreamt it all.
”This is crazy! I HAD to be dreaming all of that!” he said sitting up.
He knew he had to get out of his shorts and get his bedclothes into the laundry before they stank up the whole room, but he hesitated as he swung his legs over the side of the bed.
He realized that he was afraid to put his feet down on the floor so close to the bed, and he remembered his brother’s journal mentioning one of those things groping and scratching underneath his bed years before.
He’d never see the hand or claw or whatever reaching out to clutch his ankle in time to stop it.
So like a child, he leaned over the side of his bed, performing an act he hadn’t performed in decades and peeked under the hanging sheets. There was nothing there.
Hopping out of bed, Kevin opened the shades to let as much light into the room as possible, and began to strip his body and the bed of the sodden fabrics.
He spent the day going through closets and bookshelves and packing various items for disposal, for relatives and for his own use, he did not venture into the attic or the basement and he avoided his brother’s pseudo-diary.
Occupied though he was, Kevin could not shake the feeling that he was being watched while he went about his chores; the unnerving effect of this feeling combined with his apparent exhaustion was getting to him.
“Maybe I should take a nap and get my head together. I’ve never had a dream that messed me up like this.”
He laid himself on the couch in the living room and quickly fell asleep with the noonday sun beaming through the bay window creating a bright rectangle of warm light.
He woke with moonlight filling the living room. A glance at the digital clock on the VCR which read 1:30 am, he realized that he’d been asleep for at least 8 hours.
“Christ, I need to get my shit together,” he mumbled while running his fingers through his graying brown hair.
Fumbling for the light switch he froze when he heard movement in the room directly above where he sat in the living room. His room.
He quickly snapped the living room light on and bolted for the stairs, hitting the light switch for the hallway as he ran.
When he got to his bedroom doorway, he peered inside and found it empty.
I know I heard someone up here!
Flipping the switch at the doorway the room lit up and Kevin entered.
The room looked normal, as it always did, except for one thing; his bed, which had been neatly made earlier in the day, was now a mess of sheets and blankets. As he examined his tattered bed, Kevin heard a soft hissing sound behind him, spinning on his heel, Kevin glared around the room but found nothing at first glance. Noticing that the closet door was open just a crack and collecting every ounce of his resolve, he walked over to the door, placed his hand on the handle and pulled it with strength.
“WHO’S IN HERE?!” he hollered to a crowd of jackets and sweaters that were hanging in the same places that they had when he was a teenager.
With some unnecessary embarrassment, he moved slowly into the closet shoving aside clothing he used to think was ‘Cool’. As he looked around the closet, the door behind him slammed shut leaving him in utter darkness.
His disorientation was powerful enough that he managed to lose himself inside the closet, he couldn’t locate the doorknob and then the hair on his neck stood straight up as he heard a hissing sound directly behind him.
“Hasss he come to usss?” it said.
Kevin reacted quickly, as he felt a clammy hand clasp his forearm, his other hand found the dangling chain for the closet light. CLICK!
There was a blinding light and guttural screaming as the hand let him go and suddenly, he was alone in the closet again.
Kevin found himself hyperventilating with his heart pounding hard enough to burst.
“What? What the hell was THAT?” he exclaimed as he clutched at his chest.
Exiting the closet, Kevin slowly moved to the bed and sat down and attempted to catch his breath.
“What are they? Why do they want me?”
Glancing at his cell phone, he saw that it was 2:45 am, he entertained the idea of calling someone, but who on earth would believe him?
How long had he been in that closet? He wasn’t sure, but he knew that there was plenty of night left for Them to come back and he needed to come up with a way to deal with them.
He was considering various ideas when it occurred to him to look in his brother’s notebook for tips.
Leaning over, he grabbed the book and opened it only to find that most of the pages that dealt with the night terror incidents had been torn out.
“Sonofabitch! There was something in there that they didn’t want me to see!” he said, tossing the now useless notebook aside.
He began to formulate a plan for dealing with these… things.
He went throughout the house gathering any flashlights he could find, which amounted to one crusty 20 year old thing that looked like it was purchased when Reagan was still in office; It had batteries, but he searched for others as backup, and he managed to find a few.
Then, reaching into the closet again, Kevin pulled the light chain and turned off the closet light and slammed the door shut making sure that it caught. Heading to the bed, Kevin rigged his blanket over his bed with a few others he had dug out of the linen closet to make what he had called in his childhood, a “Fort”.
He moved the table lamp into his patchwork fortress along with the jars of peanut butter and jelly, a butter knife, a loaf of bread and the largest kitchen knife that he could find, he then prepared himself for a long vigil.
As Kevin lay in silence and darkness in his blanket fortress, he could hear sounds, very faint at first and then growing louder from the direction of the closet.
They’re coming. He says to himself, They’re fucking with the wrong guy!
And then he heard it.
He felt his entire body stiffen as he waited for his visitors from the closet.
The shuffling began softly, as sounds spread around the room.
Items were being moved and he heard hissing moving closer to his bed. He continued to wait.
Let them get closer he kept telling himself I need them to be closer.
He felt a tug at the blanket which overhung his patchwork sanctuary, then he heard the hiss near his head.
“He’sss her,.” a slithery voice said.
He felt sweat beading up on his forehead when another voice joined it.
“Let usss sssee,” it sounded excited, hungry.
Still he waited.
“We mussst get him, but he hasss the coversss,” disappointment registered in the first voice.
“We wait for him,” a third, more sinister voice said.
Kevin could feel them bearing down on him, watching his every movement, listening to his every breath.
He knew that the time to act was now. With one swift movement, Kevin yanked the covers down around him and with his other hand snapped the light switch.
Plink! There was a bright flash as the bulb burned out instantly.
Kevin saw three grotesque white faces, humanoid in form with bright opaque white eyes and needle sharp teeth filling gaping mouths.
As total darkness enveloped him, he began to scream and swing the kitchen knife in all directions, not sure where he was aiming.
There was hissing and screeching all around him.
Suddenly, he felt a cold clammy hand grasp his knife-wielding hand, its claws dug into his skin as another hand pulled his knife away.
Swinging wildly with his free hand and screaming at the top of his lungs as cold, invisible hands grabbed him and began to hold him down, Kevin felt a strange oblivion closing about him followed by nothingness.
Kevin knew nothing more.
Flashes of light filled the room as a medical examiner’s crew worked over the bedroom of Kevin Daniel McCauley (Deceased).
A police officer approaches a man in a ty-vek jumpsuit.
“Any idea what the C.O.D. Is?”
“Massive coronary. This guy didn’t have a chance.”
The officer looked confused “What do you mean by that?”
“If you’d seen his face, you’d know. He looked like he’d been scared to death and his heart practically exploded inside his chest.”
“No shit,” the officer started shaking his head. “I worked a couple of those kid cases last month. They went like that, too. People need to take care of their hearts, man.”
“You got that right,” said the medical investigator “You sure got that right.”