This is a piece I wrote about two years ago now, within days of agreeing to my divorce. It’s not really a story in the sense of a piece of writing with plot – beginning, middle, and end – so much as a snapshot of a subjective moment in a character’s life. I’ve been planning to post it here forever; it’s been pinned to my bulletin board so long, the pages have started to change colour. So I post it here as a writing sample: do with it what you will.
Image via KidsGoals.
The child stands at the doorway, hesitant, peering into the obscure gloom of his parents’ bedroom. It is a place that should look safe and inviting. But it does not.
It seemed welcoming enough from the loneliness of his own tiny bedroom, where the shadows were like phantoms crossing the ceiling and the silence deafens him. He envisioned sleeping peacefully in the secure glow of his parents’ sweet affection, his father’s laugh and his mother’s gentle touch. His father’s skin warming his, the orchid scent of his mother’s favourite soap.
But somewhere along the hallway everything went wrong.
There is nothing of his parents’ reassuring presence here, not one glowing ember. Their protective love has gone cold with sleep. He can’t even make out their lumpy forms in the pitch lack. He cannot sense them. But something else in the bedroom knows he is standing there, and its malevolence – its terrifying wrongness - triggers all his instincts. He wants to run.
The boy listens hard. It could just be his father snoring; the sound is breathy and deep at once. But it also holds a hint of menace, like a dog’s warning growl rumbling threateningly low, not quite ready to rise up defensively but letting you know you better watch yourself. The boy finds that sound unnerving, that dog’s growl. Puppies should be playful and loyal and affectionate. A growl is feral and threatening.
More wolf than dog.
He can see it now, the wild thing in his parents’ dark chamber. It has ragged fur, mangy almost, but it is enormous, so instead of being pitiable it seems desperate. Hungry. A creature on the edge of madness. Its breath is loud, open-mouthed, ferocious. If there were any light coming through the curtained window, the boy is sure it would strike a mouth of gleaming teeth, wintry white or bloody red.
It might have eaten his parents up already. That growling breath is the only sound. It could be his father’s snoring but the thought that strikes him is so much more horrific: that somehow his father has become the wolf, mad and feral. The boy has no time to consider the ramifications of that, lost baseball games and bedtime stories never told and who will give him a ride to school now. The animal growls in the dark, soft throaty sounds, some louder ones too – snorts and snuffles and the occasional exploratory roar. The child feels fear tugging inside him. He strains to listen for his mother’s softer breathing, and cannot hear it.
The beast rumbles louder, the sound of hackles raised. Threat hangs thick upon the air. The boy knows nowhere is safe now, that even in bed with the covers over his head and toes pulled in tight, the monster that was his father has caught a taste for his scent. Safety is impossible. His father will swallow him up as he has already swallowed his mother. Still he craves that false security, and anxiously squirms where he stands, close to tears. Stay or go? Stay or go?
From the black he sees a narrow red glow come into focus. It could be the digital clock reflecting numbers onto the lens of glasses, but he also knows it could be more – the rabid glow of a single demon eye sizing up his presence. The thing can see him. He knows he must make a pitiful target, an anxious little boy with tousled hair and Doctor Seuss pajamas.
He turns tail and runs, as fast as his childish legs will carry him down the moonlit corridor, back to the cool and comparative safety of the room where the phantoms dwell. He prays the wolf will not give chase, and when it does not he fears it was not a prayer answered, but a stroke of blind childish luck. He buries himself beneath the blankets. His last thought before sleep takes him is that he wishes he could tell his mother he is sorry.