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.
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.