The Light in the DarknessChapter 13
Herbert huddled in the dark on the cold tiled-floor of the second-floor bathroom. It felt like a prison; the air stunk like mildew; the fluorescent light flickered over the sink. Though even in his fear, safety felt present in the small confined space.
Part of him wanted to run straight for the front door downstairs and to their next-door neighbor’s house. He didn’t know them very well, but surely they would help. Or maybe find his bike in the garage and ride to Mr. Mewbourn’s.
But that thing from the attic was still out there in the shadows, hunting him. And he couldn’t leave his sisters; they were in trouble. And his father was with the Professor. He clutched the soft bathroom rug in his fists and held it close to his face.
He didn’t know what the safe thing to do was. Or the right thing. He imagined his mother telling him not to do one thing and his father saying it was okay. Like the time he climbed the tree in the backyard and his mother yelled at him, but his dad said it would be fine when she wasn’t looking.
His arms shook, and he closed his eyes. He gasped for air and pounded the floor with his little fists. His shaky hands through his hair and adjusted his glasses. Then they took them off and wiped them and put them back on. He took a deep breath and prayed for Aaron to be alive.
He unknowingly prayed out loud and felt stupid as soon as the noise left his lips. With mouth clasped shut, he looked about the dim room for any response to the sound. His heart rate slowly came down, until the wooden door—or more appropriately, something on the other side of the wooden door—made a noise. His eyes scattered every which way, and he backed up to the shower threshold and against the shower curtain. He held his breath while something scratched down the wooden frame. Herbert jerked the curtain in front of him and fell back into the shower. Leaning against the ceramic wall, he stared furiously at the thin sheet of nylon in front of him and listened to the sound, clenching his jaw and squeezing his sweaty hands tight.
The scratching scraped through the doorjamb, and he heard it slide across the bathroom tile. He imagined the long claw sticking under the threshold. The door knob rattled. Herbert held his breath. Seconds tiptoed by, while Herbert strained to hold his breath. His head wobbled on his neck. His chest started shaking. One eyelid closed, and the other slid down over his pupil. Herbert wondered if he could make it any longer, when he realized the noises must be gone. He gasped for air and bent over onto the shower floor. His head shook and brow furrowed. He hated feeling scared, to where he felt angry instead. He stood up in the shower, closed his eyes, shook his head, took a deep breath, and jerked the curtain open.
“I don’t care anymore,” he whispered to himself. “I’m getting my family, and I’m getting out of here. And nothing is stopping me.”
He stepped out of the shower and strutted to the ajar door. He almost jerked it wide open like the curtain, but had the better sense to turn it slowly. Somewhere in the middle of fear and cavalier was the courage he needed to obtain, and he did his best to walk the fine line of what would make his father proud and his mother smile.
The doorknob was in his hand. The door slid open. The hallway was out there.
He stepped into it and felt the calm, quiet house rush over him. Oh! What a relief and silly notion! There was nothing here. He had imagined all of it. He took a breath. Nothing was in the house but the long dreary drawl of the Professor’s piano song. All except darkness, silence…
A shriek! and ferocious gallop. Two legs pounced, and the creature ripped from the shadows. A claw slashed at Herbert. He ducked under the screaming shape and rolled onto the floor, sliding in the balustrade. The evil dog’s snapping, slobbering teeth just missed his head. Its claw stabbed into the open doorway. Herbert scampered to his hands and knees and looked up at the monster towering over him. Its quills shook on their ends and rattled like a serpent. Herbert pulled his knife and threw it at the beast. It bounced off its thick hide and Herbert felt like a fool.
He took off down the hallway, first on all fours, then quickly bent over, and then erect and racing, with the beast at his behind. The thing slashed at his legs and took his feet from underneath him. Herbert crashed into the small table he hid under the night of Spies and Assassins; his face clipped the edge, and he burst out crying. The table broke, and a vase splashed onto the ground. The beast thrust itself away from the sharp pieces and water. Herbert picked up the table’s broken leg and held it up between himself and the beast. The beast circled like a wolf, sniffing the air, and drooling oil all over the hallway rug. Its quills shook in the air and the long claw on its right paw knocked on the ground.
Knock. Kno-Knock. Knock.
Herbert furrowed his brow and climbed to his feet, still holding the table leg out. He clenched his jaw and reared the leg back like a baseball player. The beast took the opening and lunged forward. The bat swung and hit teeth, flesh, and an eye socket. The beast howled. Herbert fell to the ground from the force and his bat shattered in his hands.
He pushed the rug away from him and stood to his feet. The animal shook its head and all its hairs and quills vibrated behind it like a tidal wave. Its long kangaroo tail flipped about in the air while it stared at Herbert. It would not stop. Herbert snatched a piece of the vase from the ground and held it up like a blade. It cut his hand in his fist, but he didn’t care. His jaw clenched, and he took another deep breath.
Then something miraculous happened. Herbert felt the hair on the back of his neck tingle. He sensed something sweet in the air and a bright light from behind him. He was afraid to take his eyes off of the beast, but everything in him wanted to look. Instead, he watched the beast in front of him make the strangest expression yet. Its face was afraid.
The light grew brighter until Herbert wondered if the sun was rising. Then he heard wings buzzing, like a massive bumblebee was flurrying down the hall. The hum zipped by his ear and he closed his eyes when a massive green light sparkled in front of him.
The beast yelped and ducked under the light. It scatted about and rammed its massive body into the nearest door. The door didn’t budge, so it made its way down the hall again, screaming and howling, until another door opened under its weight. The beast fled and slammed the door behind it.
Herbert opened his eyes to see a beautiful green fairy fluttering in front of him. Though at the present moment, she looked fierce and ready for battle, waiting to see if the beast would return. Her clothing was made from the finest plants and trees in all the forest, and a petite little hat rested on her ears. Her glow dimmed when she felt satisfied that the beast wouldn’t return, and she faced Herbert in the air.
“Starlight!” He cheered, and tears fell down his cheeks.
The little green fairy fluttered down to his open hand and hugged his pointer finger tightly. She flitted up to his cheek and kissed it, after wiping an enormous tear away.
“I never thought I’d see you again,” Herbert said, and bowed his head in exhaustion.
The fairy smiled sheepishly, and Herbert thought she looked strangely forlorn.
“What’s the matter, Starlight?” Herbert asked.
The fairy smiled at him and shook her head. She flitted back to his outstretched hand and stood in his palm. Her delicate wings fell to her sides, and she raised her hands into the air.
Herbert watched as Starlight pantomimed her words to him. She raised his little fingers up and counted out the number four. She mimicked playing a piano like a gaudy aristocrat with head held back and laughing. She acted like a lady and a dozy man. A wretched dog on all fours, and a stiff monster with arms outstretched before it.
It went on and on like this, with Herbert guessing what she was saying, and Starlight either shaking her head or nodding wildly. After a bit, Herbert put together that she was telling him he needed to find his sisters, and she knew where they were.
“Well go on then, Starlight,” Herbert cheered. “Lead the way.” She fluttered into the air and took off ahead of him. “I’m so glad you are here, Starlight!” Herbert gasped while chasing after her. “Everything is going to change now!”
And change it did. As soon as he finished saying the words, the air in the hall cleared. It didn’t smell like old mildew or stained sheets anymore. The air was fresh, light, and sweet, like Starlight’s green light. The light overhead flickered once, twice, and thrice before illuminating the hallway completely. Herbert stopped running to see all the lights in the house were flickering on and shining bright.
The Professor’s song had ended. The air tasted good again, and the light returned.
“Did you do this?” Herbert looked at Starlight.
She hovered in the air, titled her head playfully, and shrugged her shoulders.