Demon

Wakey wakey, Johnny. Time to play.

I know it sounds, well you know, but these words were ringing in my head before and after I woke up in the middle of last night. It was like I was dreaming them and then hearing them. I know how it sounds, but you asked for the truth, so here it is.

I sat upright in bed and listened; the house was silent but for the gentle hum of the central heating. Despite the hum, my room felt cold. I reached up to the window above my bed and checked it: closed. I leant across and checked the radiator: on. Again, I know it sounds strange or whatever, but it was freezing in there. I took this as my cue to jump out of bed and hit the head.

I slipped out of my room – trying to be as careful as I could as to not wake up the ‘rents – and snuck down the hallway into the bathroom. I did my business, splashed a little water on my face, then made my way back down the hall. As I passed my parents room, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye which compelled me to stop dead in my tracks. On either side of the bed lay my ‘rents, stood over each of them were, well… those things. They lurched over them, watching them sleep. As I peered through the gap between door and frame, the first thing that hit me was the smell.

Damn, those fucking things stank.

I covered my mouth and nose with my hand and fought the urge to throw up. It was horrible. Facing a losing battle, I pulled my t-shirt up over my face and took a few deep breaths. But it was no good: I gagged and then coughed, too loudly.

Now, you have to bear in mind it was the middle of the night and I was very close to passing out at this point, so to say I was myself would be a lie. Just thinking about it now, I’m not sure what I was doing. But when I saw one of those things go to grab my ma, I just acted on instinct, I guess. Like a crazy cruise control.

I stormed into the room, to the right hand side of the bed – my ma’s side. I threw a lazy punch at the thing’s head, but missed, barely grazing it’s scaly brown skin. Scaly brown skin, yes I know. Crazy. But I’m sure you’ve seen it for yourself by now, so I don’t need to tell you how implausible it would normally seem. My punch may have missed but it got the thing’s attention. It turned away from my mother and toward me, approaching slowly as I backed away.

Now that the thing was facing me, I could see it had three, small yellow eyes. Two were where a regular person’s eyes would be, the other where you would usually find the bridge of the nose. This was all happening so fast I didn’t have a chance to stop and think, “What the fuck!” As the yellow eyes ambled toward me, I looked for something I could use as a weapon.

The first thing I laid my eyes on was my ma’s hair dryer. It’s not exactly a baseball bat, I know, but at that moment I’d have probably grabbed a banana if that’s what was laying around. As I snatched it up into the air, the bloody plug flew round and smacked me in the knee. It was the jolt I most probably needed. Stung to life, I swung my makeshift weapon toward the thing, smashing it into its head. The thing fell to the floor much easier than I expected. I dove on top of it and slammed the hair dryer down into its skull one, two, three times. On the fourth smash, I heard a most definite crack. It was dark, but my hands and arms were now wet with what I knew to be blood. I’m not going to lie, I felt sick. But a groan to my left shocked me back into action.

The other thing was now sitting atop my pa, with its top half twisted so its head faced me. Without thinking, I dropped the hair dryer and dove across the bed, grabbing its throat as we rolled to the floor. I landed on top of it and forced all my weight down as I gripped the thing’s scaly neck between two bloody hands. I squeezed like I’ve never squeezed before. You’ll laugh, but I felt like Homer Simpson. OK, you won’t laugh. The thing flayed and wrestled at first, but I’m a big guy, and it soon stopped. I squeezed a little bit longer anyway, just to make sure. That’s when you guys showed up.

“That’s quite a tale, John.”

I could tell the detective didn’t believe a word of what I had just said. But they must have seen the bodies by now, spoke to my parents to get their side of things. Surely he could put two and two together?

I nod.

“But you see, here’s the thing, John. We did find two bodies in your house, but not of any creatures from the lagoon. We’re pretty sure they’re the bodies of Maureen Moxley, 57, and John Moxley Sr, 60 – your mother and father.”

Well done, Johnny.

I can’t focus, can’t take in what he’s said. Either of them. Too many voices. Did he say my parents? Well done for what? “No…but, no. They were there. I saved them!” I can’t be sure, but I think I’m shouting.

“You saved nobody,” he snarls. He’s upset. “You murdered both of them, you sick fuck.”

But I didn’t. They were there. I saw those things with my own eyes, could touch them, smell them. They were there. Weren’t they? The detective slams his hands down on the desk and shouts something else, but I don’t hear him. Too many voices, all talking at once. One much louder than the others.

Come on now, Johnny, it’s time to play.

The Grey Man

If you hear his scratches, learn to accept your fate. Once you hear his scratches, it’s already far too late.

The Grey Man

Jenny semi-stifles a yawn and rubs her baby blue eyes as she rolls across her bedraggled duvet. Hank the Elephant has fallen from his side of the bed; she reaches into the darkness for him. She finds his trunk and swings him upward, tucking him under the duvet at her side. She glances around her room and sees nothing but black: it’s definitely not morning time yet. Her clock tick-tocks away on the far wall, but the night’s shadows make it impossible to read. She sits upright for a moment and listens; the silence of the house broken only intermittently by the wind’s gentle whistle against her window. Jenny can’t even hear her dad snoring, which she usually can when nighttime sleep interrupters visit her.

A sound.

Not the wind or the clock, or her father’s snoring or Hank’s teasing. Nothing so mundane and recognisable. Something else.

Jenny straightens her back and grips Hank tightly across her chest. While the black which surrounds her shrouds the goings-on of the night, she feels something close.

The sound again, coming from her bedroom door.

Definitely foreign, much clearer this time. Almost like a scratch. Like a rusty nail on an old chalkboard, Jenny considers. A sound she knows all too well. She feels the palms of her hand moisten, quickly dampening Hank’s floppy trunk. She pulls the duvet up to her chin, forming a thin, nylon shield. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

A strong, tormentingly-long scratch reaches out from across the room. Jenny finds herself clenches her fists. Its point of origin absolutely the other side of her bedroom door. Her child’s body tells her to turn away; clammy palms now joined by feet and neck, sweat coursing from every tiny pore. But she can’t. She stares across the black, eyes locked on the door as the scratching grows louder, deeper.

Jenny can’t see the door handle turning, but the distinctive creak of its metal alerts her it is happening. As if finally catching up with what is going on, her curiosity wilts and she finds the strength to slip fully under the covers and out of view. Out of sight, out of… danger. Or so the mind of nine-year old girl believes. She hears the tap-tap… tap, as the door nestles to a rest against her pine wood skirting. Dad never did put up that rubber rest like he promised. Her disappointment is short-lived; footsteps ripple throughout the room. The click-clock noise they spawn is jarring; the only other time Jenny has heard such a sound was her father’s shoes on the hard wood floor of the church on the day of her mother’s funeral. A sound she – even at such a young age – knows she will never forget. As scared as she is – a fact Hank and the grip he finds around his neck can attest to – she finds the sound strangely comforting, enough to pull the duvet down below her eyes. As she does so, the footsteps stop.

Jenny finds the room empty. Nothing but dark corners and the finest illumination of moonlight across the foot of her bed. But she’s not alone, she can feel it. Then, as the footsteps slowly make their owner’s presence once-again known, the blurry grey outline of a man can be made out. It’s almost like a mirage, like grey smoke on black night. She can only just see it – the hour makes it hard to be sure – but Jenny is positive that it’s there. The footsteps stop, and the silhouette disappears, right at the foot of her bed. It may have been only the briefest of glimpses, but she’s sure the shape was that of a tall man, wearing one of those funny hats like those men she’s seen in the old movies her father always watches. Abraham something she thinks one might be called.

For a moment, nothing but the sound of her own breathing. One hand grips Hank, the other sinks fingernails into palmy flesh. The reprieve is brief.

A hand reaches out from the foot of the bed; the grey silhouette reappearing. The arm is long and spindly, reaching much farther than any adult Jenny has ever seen before. She squeezes her eyes tight and grips Hank tighter still. She knows she should scream – her body screams itself for her to do so – but she doesn’t. She braces herself as the sensation of bony fingers through her hair sends goosebumps across her skin, and the sound of scratching echoes all around her. Winter’s cold night bites into her bare skin as she feels herself being lifted from her bed. She holds on tightly to nothing and finds herself thinking of her mother.

She slowly drifts away into the black, the sound of heavy footsteps marking her passage to a place where nightmares of scratches and shadows await her.

Monitor’d

Nobody noticed what he was doing at first. It was subtle, nothing more than a wobble. But as Will’s anger rose, his actions became less subtle, more evident. This was a problem.

He watched as Joey started, once again, to go off on Rachel. He’d probably caught her looking at another boy again, or chatting inappropriately to one of his friends, or any other pathetic reason he could conjure. Will had seen the routine many times before, but always did nothing as Rachel actually seemed to enjoy it; it was their dance, their thing. But recently she had seemed more upset by them and it became clear she was tired of this lovers’ masquerade. So, as Joey’s voice grew louder, so did Will’s irritation. It was unfortunate – for both of them, Will thought, but mainly for Joey – that he had already spotted the old computer monitor resting on top of the IT classroom’s storage cupboard. It was one of those early models whose sheer size was only matched by its weight. The classroom was nowadays fitted with much smaller, flatter screens, of course, but Mr Jenkins had fought to keep a couple of these older monitors handy “just in case”.

Will tried to stop himself, he really did. He had begun trying to teach himself the best way to deal with his new “issue”. He had never really considered himself as having much of a temper, but it had become clear that even the slightest irritation could cause the issue to quickly get out of hand. Just ask the raccoon which surprised him in the garden last Wednesday. Poor bugger.

So it was posing to be quite a problem that Joey was throwing one of his tantrums right in front of him. The computer screen shook a little harder and, unbeknownst to William Macintosh, someone was watching.

* * * *

While the rest of the class chit-chatted away, some watching the argument taking place, others ignoring it entirely, only one person sat still. Summer Stanley was watching him, as she often did. Sat behind Will, and out of his line of sight, she could see that the events unfolding at the front of the classroom had his full attention. She watched closely as he watched closely, face ahead, focused and strong. Summer didn’t say anything as she saw the computer screen above Joey Massey’s head begin to shake. Hell, what would she shout? “Watch out Joey, flying IT equipment!” She’d look even sillier than everybody already thought she was. Plus, she didn’t much like Joey anyway. She watched for a while longer, just to make sure: it was most definitely moving, the screen glistening in the mid-afternoon sun.

That’s when it happened.

When later interviewed by police officers, most of the pupils would say it looked as though Joey slipped on a sheet of ice, legs flying into the air as his top half hit the deck. It was an apt description. Summer actually missed this part, such was her focus on Will. She didn’t miss what happened next. With Joey now led face up on the floor, the shaking monitor rolled of the storage cupboard and fell to earth. There was no drastic movement, Summer noted, but a gentle roll, as if an invisible giant had flicked the monitor with its index finger. If the roll was gentle, the landing was not. As it came crashing down, smashing Joey Massey’s skull with an attention-grabbing crunch – so loud, Max Harper would later claim to have heard the smash from halfway down the corridor – the entire class stopped.

For a moment, silence. Quiet realisation.

Then, noise. Lots of it.

Rachel screamed and turned away, before falling toward the floor herself. One of her friends – conveniently placed nearby in case this latest quarrel got out of hand – managed to cushion the fall by part-grabbing her as she fell. Then she turned, saw a computer monitor where Joey’s head should be, and screamed herself. Then she threw up a little, covering her unconscious friend’s back. Summer watched as some of her classmates ran from the room, some cried, some also screamed, and those which dared take a closer look also filled the floor with their putrid bile. But they all seemed to be doing something. All expect Will… and herself.

* * * *

The screams were deafening, a reaction Will had not taken into consideration. Girls his age didn’t like seeing IT equipment where heads should be, apparently. Mental note made. He felt sure that, once the dust had settled, if anyone figured out what he had done, they’d probably thank him. Will noted that not a single one of Joey’s friends rushed to his aid, just in case he was still alive. He wasn’t, of course – the pints of blood and traces of brain now covering the floor of Room 815 was evidence of that – but they didn’t even try. Regardless, he really needed to get these emotional impulses in check; he couldn’t be throwing around school property whenever someone got him all riled up.

And so he rose up from his chair and strolled out of the classroom, away from the scene of the impossible crime. Such was the commotion, nobody even noticed him leave.

* * * *

Summer watched as Will bounced up from his desk and slipped out of the classroom. Some students were now on their cells, frantically dialling for help. She already knew it would be of no help to Joey: he was most definitely dead. So, as the class continued to scream and panic, as Rachel continued to be unconscious, as Joey continued to be faceless, Summer followed Will and slipped out of the classroom unseen. Not that she expected to be.

Such was her happiness at that moment, she didn’t even see Mr Jenkins until he was already on top of her. Their shoulders met and, being much smaller than he was, she stumbled to the floor. He stopped for a moment – a puzzled look etched across his face – and surveyed the open air around him. His bemusement was quickly halted by another scream from within his classroom. Summer watched as he rubbed his eyes and rushed inside. She then popped to her feet and scurried down the corridor, hoping to catch Will as quickly as her little legs would allow her. She had so much she wanted to share with him.

They’d make quite the couple, she fancied.

The Fight

The Fight

The invasion wasn’t like the ones you’ve seen on TV, all giant ships and death rays. There were ships, sure, but they weren’t anywhere near as impressive as the old sci-fi movies had led us to imagine they’d be. The enemy was strong, yes – stronger than us anyway – but not unbeatable. What we lacked in strength we made up for in numbers. If they expected a quick victory, they were sorely mistaken. In a way, a quick victory may have been better for everyone.

Tomorrow marks the five thousandth day since this war began and none of us can ever see it ending.

No single country fell first. We were always told to expect certain nations to crumble before others; we were considered the strongest, the most prepared. The most prepared for what? Certainly not this. The enemy first appeared over China, sure, and China was definitely the first to attack (it’s still not known who fired first), but they didn’t fall. Many thought they had, some of the things we saw on the news – back when there still was news – gave the impression they’d been destroyed, but we still receive sporadic transmissions from the region; they’ve dug in, found a way to fight and live on.

That was perhaps the enemy’s biggest mistake. After the Chinese “announcement”, they soon spread out. Too thin, in my opinion. I’m almost certain they didn’t bank on our strength, on our will to survive being so strong. Their warships soon hovered over capitals around the globe, an intimating sight at the time. This was all before we realised how vulnerable they were, of course; before discovering our weapons could harm them almost as much as theirs hurt us.

Russia were the first to discover this, we’re told. They certainly said so anyway. I’d grown up to believe all alien space craft had force fields and laser-guided protection systems, so it came as quite a shock when I was told Russian ballistic missiles (UR-200s, ironically) had brought down one of the enemy crafts. No one knows how many missiles it took, but if the attack was anything like those which we carried out after, it was many. It will help explain why the Russians seemingly ran out of firepower so quickly. The missiles may have worked, but they work a lot faster if you know where to aim the buggers.

That’s where Professor Rupert Bhutra came in. It’s crazy to think that in a war fought between two vast and powerful species, a single man would have such an impact. I wish I had been there when he first discovered the apparent area of structural vulnerability. It wasn’t big, but it was enough. I bet the soldiers around him couldn’t fire quick enough once they were told. I know I couldn’t. In hindsight, I bet it seemed pretty stupid to have even a single area so poorly protected; design oversight, I guess. No doubt one of those spiny buggers saw the underside of a boot – or whatever their equivalent may be – for such incompetence. Regardless, once the word had spread, they dropped like flies.

You’d think this would have swung the battle our way, but it didn’t. After all, this all happened in the first five hundred days.

The fight then became mainly ground-based. We still used aircraft when we could, but they were easily shot down if discovered. The enemy still found a way to produce smaller aircraft of their own, but they were nowhere near strong enough to take over entire cities. We took care of them when and where we were able. That just left soldiers, ours and theirs, us and them.

This is how it’s been ever since.

A decade of war passed and the old men who made the decisions in those early days had died, by enemy hands or the hands of time. Soon, it became unclear who exactly was in charge. Regiments split, factions formed. This doesn’t just go for us, either. Our satellites – the few we still had working, anyway – told us that, three thousand three-hundred and seventy-two days after they first entered our orbit, the enemy’s Mothership (for lack of a better word) drifted back out into the darkness of space. Again, you’d think this would have ushered an end to this war, but it didn’t.

Hundreds of thousands of enemy troops remained, now marooned on our planet. Various peace treaties were attempted, some even worked. Most didn’t. The alien creatures who accepted peace deals stopped fighting us, but refused to help us fight their brothers and sisters. I kinda get that. We gave them asylum anyway – where it was safe to – and they currently live alongside the few remaining civilians in pockets of life across the globe. The rest of us still fight. I’m not even sure why any more.

I think it now comes down to a battle of will. The problem is that they’re just as stubborn as we are. They’re on a foreign planet, their superiors have long-since left them behind, but still they fight. Why? We’re fighting for the right to remain the dominant species on this, our planet. Why are they? It’s the question I ponder every night, and the question I wake up every morning still unable to answer.

It will have to end eventually. At least that’s what I tell myself. Whether or not I’m still around when it does, I’m not sure. We’re clinging on, fighting for our lives, doing everything we can to survive, to live. I just hope there’s enough of us left when the fighting’s done to rebuild this planet. I’ve got plenty of fears, but this is by far the worst. If there’s only one man left come the end, if he’s one of ours, it’s all been worth it.

That’s enough for now. Morning calls in four hours and there begins my five thousandth day on duty. We’ve been given word of an enemy group holed up a couple of clicks West from our current location; far too close. The end’s not quite in sight yet, but I still hope for it.

That’s why I’m writing you these letters, Claire. If I’m not around to tell you myself how it all happened, at least you’ll know. I just hope that, by the time you’re old enough to read them, the fight has already been won.