Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Hunger: A Confession

Me, I was never afraid of the dark.

It was Jeremy who bothered me—Jeremy with his black rubber spiders in my lunchbox, Jeremy with his guttural demon whisper (I’m coming to get you, Simon) just as I was drifting off to sleep, Jeremy with his stupid Vincent Price laugh (Mwha-ha-ha-ha-ha), like some cheesy mad scientist, when he figured the joke had gone far enough. By the time I was walking, I was already shell-shocked, flinching every time I came around a corner.

I remember this time, I was five years old and I had fallen asleep on the sofa. I woke up to see Jeremy looming over me in this crazy Halloween mask he’d bought: horns and pebbled skin and a big leering grin, the works. Only I didn’t realize it was Jeremy, not until he cut loose with that crazy laugh of his, and by then it was too late.

Things got worse when we left Starkville. The new house was smaller and we had to share a bedroom. That was fine with me. I was seven by then, and I had the kind of crazy love for my big brother that only little kids can feel. The thing was, when he wasn’t tormenting me, Jeremy was a great brother—like this one time he got a Chuck Foreman card in a package of Topps and he just handed it over to me because he knew the Vikings were my favorite team that year.

The room thing was hard on Jeremy, though. He’d reached that stage of adolescence when your voice has these alarming cracks and you spend a lot of time locked in the bathroom tracking hair growth and . . . well, you know, you were a kid once, right? So the nights got worse. I couldn’t even turn to Mom for help. She was sick at that time, and she had this frayed, wounded look. Plus, she and Dad were always talking in these strained whispers. You didn’t want to bother either one of them if you could help it.

Which left me and Jeremy alone in our bedroom. It wasn’t much to look at, just this high narrow room with twin beds and an old milk crate with a lamp on it. Out the window you could see one half-dead crab-apple tree—a crap-apple, Jeremy called it—and a hundred feet of crumbling pavement and a rusting 1974 El Camino which our neighbor had up on blocks back where the woods began. There weren’t any street lights that close to the edge of town, so it was always dark in there at night.

That’s when Jeremy would start up with some crap he’d seen in a movie or something. “I heard they found a whole shitload of bones when they dug the foundation of this house,” he’d say, and he’d launch into some nutty tale about how it turned out to be an Indian burial ground, just crazy stuff like that. After a while, it would get so I could hardly breathe. Then Jeremy would unleash that crazy laugh of his. “C’mon, Si,” he’d say, “you know I’m only kidding.”

He was always sorry—genuinely sorry, you could tell by the look on his face—but it never made any difference the next night. It was like he forgot all about it. Besides, he always drifted off to sleep, leaving me alone in the dark to ponder open portals to Hell or parallel worlds or whatever crazy stuff he’d dreamed up that night.

The days weren’t much better. The house was on this old winding road with woods on one side and there weren’t but a few neighbors, and none of them had any kids. It was like somebody had set off a bomb that just flattened everybody under twenty—like one of those neutron bombs, only age-specific.

So that was my life—interminable days of boredom, torturous insomniac nights. It was the worst summer of my life, with nothing to look forward to but a brand new school come the fall. That’s why I found myself poking around in the basement about a week after we moved in. Nobody had bothered to unpack—nobody had bothered to do much of anything all summer—and I was hoping to find my old teddy bear in one of the boxes.

Mr. Fuzzy had seen better days—after six years of hard use, he literally had no hair, not a single solitary tuft—and I’d only recently broken the habit of dragging him around with me everywhere I went. I knew there’d be a price to pay for backsliding—Jeremy had been riding me about Mr. Fuzzy for a year—but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I’d just finished rescuing him from a box of loose Legos and Jeremy’s old Star Wars action figures when I noticed a bundle of rags stuffed under the furnace. I wasn’t inclined to spend any more time than necessary in the basement—it smelled funny and the light slanting through the high dirty windows had a hazy greenish quality, like a pond you wouldn’t want to swim in—but I found myself dragging Mr. Fuzzy over toward the furnace all the same.

Somebody had jammed the bundle in there good, and when it came loose, clicking metallically, it toppled me back on my butt. I stood, brushing my seat off with one hand, Mr. Fuzzy momentarily forgotten. I squatted to examine the bundle, a mass of grease-stained rags tied off with brown twine. The whole thing was only a couple feet long.

I loosened the knot and pulled one end of the twine. The bundle unwrapped itself, spilling a handful of rusty, foot-long skewers across the floor. There were half a dozen of them, all of them with these big metal caps. I shook the rag. A scalpel tumbled out, and then a bunch of other crap, every bit of it as rusty as the skewers. A big old hammer with a wooden head and a wicked-looking carving knife and one of those tapered metal rods butchers use to sharpen knives. Last of all a set of ivory-handled flatware.

I reached down and picked up the fork.

That’s when I heard the stairs creak behind me.

“Mom’s gonna kill you,” Jeremy said.

I jumped a little and stole a glance over my shoulder. He was standing at the foot of the stairs, a rickety tier of backless risers. That’s when I remembered Mom’s warning that I wasn’t to fool around down here. The floor was just dirt, packed hard as concrete, and Mom always worried about getting our clothes dirty.

“Not if you don’t tell her,” I said.

“Besides, you’re messing around with the furnace,” Jeremy said.

“No, I’m not.”

“Sure you are.” He crossed the room and hunkered down at my side. I glanced over at him. Let me be honest here: I was nobody’s ideal boy next door. I was a scrawny, unlovely kid, forever peering out at the world through a pair of lenses so thick that Jeremy had once spent a sunny afternoon trying to ignite ants with them. The changeling, my mother sometimes called me, since I seemed to have surfaced out of somebody else’s gene pool.

Jeremy, though, was blond and handsome and already broad-shouldered. He was the kind of kid everybody wants to sit with in the lunchroom, quick and friendly and capable of glamorous strokes of kindness. He made such a gesture now, clapping me on the shoulder. “Geez, Si, that’s some weird-looking shit. Wonder how long it’s been here?”

“I dunno,” I said, but I remembered the landlord telling Dad the house was nearly a hundred and fifty years old. And hasn’t had a lick of work since, I’d heard Dad mutter under his breath.

Jeremy reached for one of the skewers and I felt a little bubble of emotion press against the bottom of my throat. He turned the thing over in his hands and let it drop to the floor. “Beats the hell out of me,” he said.

“You’re not gonna tell Mom, are you?”

“Nah.” He seemed to think a moment. “Course I might use that scalpel to dissect Mr. Fuzzy.” He gazed at me balefully, and then he slapped my shoulder again. “Better treat me right, kid.”

A moment later I heard the basement door slam behind me.

I’d been clutching the fork so tightly that it had turned hot in my hand. My knuckles grinned up at me, four bloodless white crescents. I felt so strange that I just let it tumble to the floor. Then I re-wrapped the bundle, and shoved it back under the furnace.

By the time I’d gotten upstairs, I’d put the whole thing out of my mind. Except I hadn’t, not really. I wasn’t thinking about it, not consciously, but it was there all the same, the way all the furniture in a room is still there when you turn out the lights, and you can sense it there in the dark. Or the way pain is always there. Even when they give you something to smooth it out a little, it’s always there, a deep-down ache like jagged rocks under a swift-moving current. It never goes away, pain. It’s like a stone in your pocket.

The bundle weighed on me in the same way, through the long night after Jeremy finally fell asleep, and the next day, and the night after that as well. So I guess I wasn’t surprised, not really, when I found myself creeping down the basement stairs the next afternoon. Nobody saw me steal up to my room with the bundle. Nobody saw me tuck it under my bed. Mom had cried herself to sleep in front of the TV (she pretended she wasn’t crying, but I knew better) and Dad was already at work. Who knew where Jeremy was?

Then school started and Mom didn’t cry as often, or she did it when we weren’t around. But neither one of them talked very much, except at dinner Dad always asked Jeremy how freshman football was going. And most nights, just as a joke, Jeremy would start up with one of those crazy stories of his, the minute we turned out the light. He’d pretend there was a vampire in the room or something and he’d thrash around so that I could hear him over the narrow space between our beds. “Ahhh,” he’d say, “Arrggh,” and, in a strangled gasp, “When it finishes with me, Si, it’s coming for you.” I’d hug Mr. Fuzzy tight and tell him not to be afraid, and then Jeremy would unleash that nutty mad scientist laugh.

“C’mon, Si, you know I’m only kidding.”

One night, he said, “Do you believe in ghosts, Si? Because as old as this house is, I bet a whole shitload of people have died in it.”

I didn’t answer, but I thought about it a lot over the next few days. We’d been in school a couple of weeks at this point. Jeremy had already made a lot of friends. He talked to them on the phone at night. I had a lot of time to think.

I even asked Dad about it. “Try not to be dense, Si,” he told me. “There’s no such thing as ghosts, everybody knows that. Now chill out, will you, I’m trying to explain something to your brother.”

So the answer was, no, I didn’t believe in ghosts. But I also thought it might be more complicated than that, that maybe they were like characters in a good book. You aren’t going to run into them at the Wal-Mart, but they seem real all the same. I figured ghosts might be something like that. The way I figured it, they had to be really desperate for something they hadn’t gotten enough of while they were alive, like they were jealous or hungry or something. Otherwise why would they stick around some crummy old cemetery when they could go on to Heaven or whatever? So that’s what I ended up telling Jeremy a few nights later, after I’d finished sorting it all out inside my head.

Hungry?” he said. “Christ, Si, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” He started thrashing around in his bed and making these dumb ghost noises. “Oooooooh,” he said, and, “Ooooooooh, I’m a ghost, give me a steak. Ooooooooh, I want a bowl of Cheerios.”

I tried to explain that that wasn’t what I meant, but I couldn’t find the words. I was just a kid, after all.

“Christ, Si,” Jeremy said, “don’t tell anybody anything that stupid. It’s like that stupid bear you drag around everywhere, it makes me ashamed to be your brother.”

I knew he didn’t mean anything by that—Jeremy was always joking around—but it hurt Mr. Fuzzy’s feelings all the same. “Don’t cry, Mr. Fuzzy,” I whispered. “He didn’t mean anything by it.”

A few days later, Jeremy came home looking troubled. I didn’t think anything about it at first because it hadn’t been a very good day from the start. When Jeremy and I went down to breakfast, we overheard Day saying he was taking Mom’s car in that afternoon, the way they had planned. Mom said something so low that neither one of us could make it out, and then Dad said, “For Christ’s sake, Mariam, there’s plenty of one-car families in the world.” He slammed his way out of the house, and a few seconds later we heard Mom shut the bedroom door with a click. Neither one of us said anything after that except when Jeremy snapped at me because I was so slow getting my lunch. So I knew he was upset and it didn’t surprise me when he came home from football practice that day looking a bit down in the mouth.

It turned out to be something totally different, though, because as soon as we turned out the light that night, and he knew we were really alone, Jeremy said, “What happened to that bundle of tools, Si?”

“What bundle of tools?” I asked.

“That weird-looking shit you found in the basement last summer,” he said.

That’s when I remembered that I’d put the bundle under my bed. What a crazy thing to do, I thought, and I was about to say I’d taken them—but Mr. Fuzzy kind of punched me. He was so sensitive, I don’t think he’d really forgiven Jeremy yet.

I thought it over, and then I said, “Beats me.”

“Well, I went down the basement this afternoon,” Jeremy said, “and they were gone.”

“So?”

“It makes me uncomfortable, that’s all.”

“Why?”

Jeremy didn’t say anything for a long time. A car went by outside, and the headlights lit everything up for a minute. The shadow of the crap-apple danced on the ceiling like a man made out of bones, and then the night swallowed him up. That one little moment of light made it seem darker than ever.

“I met this kid at school today,” Jeremy said, “and when I told him where I lived he said, ‘No way, Mad Dog Mueller’s house?’ ‘Mad Dog who?’ I said. ‘Mueller,’ he said. ‘Everyone knows who Mad Dog Mueller is.’”

“I don’t,” I said.

“Well, neither did I,” Jeremy said, “but this kid, he told me the whole story. ‘You ever notice there aren’t any kids that live out that end of town?’ he asked, and the more I thought about it, Si, the more right he seemed. There aren’t any kids.”

The thing was, he was right. That’s when I figured it out, the thing about the kids. It was like one of those puzzles with a picture hidden inside all these little blots of color and you stare at it and you stare at it and you don’t see a thing, and then you happen to catch it from just the right angle and—Bang!—there the hidden picture is. And once you’ve seen it, you can never unsee it. I thought about the neighbors, this scrawny guy who was always tinkering with the dead El Camino and his fat wife—neither one of them really old, but neither one of them a day under thirty, either. I remember how they stood out front watching us move in, and Mom asking them if they had any kids, her voice kind of hopeful. But they’d just laughed, like who would bring kids to a place like this?

They hadn’t offered to pitch in, either—and people always offer to lend a hand when you’re moving stuff inside. I know, because we’ve moved lots of times. I could see Dad getting hotter and hotter with every trip, until finally he turned and said in a voice just dripping with sarcasm, “See anything that strikes your fancy, folks?” You could tell by the look on Mom’s face that she didn’t like that one bit. When we got inside she hissed at him like some kind of animal she was so mad. “Why can’t you ever keep your mouth shut, Frank?” she said. “If you kept your mouth shut we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

All of which was beside the point, of course. The point was, Jeremy was right. There wasn’t a single kid in any of the nearby houses.

“See,” Jeremy said, “I told you. And the reason is, this guy Mad Dog Mueller.”

“But it was some old lady that used to live here,” I said. “We saw her the first day, they were moving her to a nursing home.”

“I’m not talking about her, stupid. I’m talking like a hundred years ago, when this was all farm land, and the nearest neighbors were half a mile away.”

“Oh.”

I didn’t like the direction this was going, I have to say. Plus, it seemed even darker. Most places, you turn out the light and your eyes adjust and everything turns this smoky blue color, so it hardly seems dark at all. But here the night seemed denser somehow, weightier. Your eyes just never got used to it, not unless there was a moon, which this particular night there wasn’t.

“Anyway,” Jeremy said, “I guess he lived here with his mother for a while and then she died and he lived here alone after that. He was a pretty old guy, I guess, like forty. He was a blacksmith.”

“What’s a blacksmith?”

“God you can be dense, Si. Blacksmiths make horseshoes and shit.”

“Then why do they call them blacksmiths?”

“I don’t know. I guess they were black or something, like back in slavery days.”

“Was this guy black?”

“No! The point is, he makes things out of metal. That’s the point, okay? And so I told this kid about those tools I found.”

I’m the one who found them,” I said.

“Whatever, Si. The point is, when I mentioned the tools, the kid who was telling me this stuff, his eyes bugged out. ‘No way,’ he says to me, and I’m like, ‘No, really, cross my heart. What gives?’”

Jeremy paused to take a deep breath, and in the silence I heard a faint click, like two pieces of metal rubbing up against each other. That’s when I understood what Jeremy was doing. He was “acting out,” which is a term I learned when I forgot Mr. Fuzzy at Dr. Bainbridge’s one day, back at the clinic in Starkville, after I got suspended from school. When I slipped inside to get him, Dr. Bainbridge was saying, “You have to understand, Mariam, with all these pressures at home, it’s only natural that he’s acting out.”

I asked Dr. Bainbridge about it the next week, and he told me that sometimes people say and do things they don’t mean just because they’re upset about something else. And now I figured Jeremy was doing it because he was so upset about Mom and stuff. He was trying to scare me, that’s all. He’d even found the little bundle of tools under my bed and he was over there clicking them together. I’d have been mad if I hadn’t understood. If I hadn’t understood, I might have even been afraid—Mr. Fuzzy was, I could feel him shivering against my chest.

“Did you hear that?” Jeremy said.

“I didn’t hear anything,” I said, because I wasn’t going to play along with his game.

Jeremy didn’t answer right away. So we lay there, both of us listening, and this time I really didn’t hear anything. But it seemed even darker somehow, darker than I’d ever seen our little bedroom. I wiggled my fingers in front of my face and I couldn’t see a thing.

“I thought I heard something.” This time you could hear the faintest tremor in his voice. It was a really fine job he was doing. I couldn’t help admiring it. “And that would be bad,” Jeremy added, “because this Mueller, he was crazy as a shithouse rat.”

I hugged Mr. Fuzzy close. “Crazy?” I said.

“Crazy,” Jeremy said solemnly. “This kid, he told me that all the farms around there, the farmers had about a zillion kids. Everybody had a ton of kids in those days. And one of them turned up missing. No one thought anything about it at first—kids were always running off—but about a week later another kid disappears. This time everybody got worried. It was this little girl and nobody could figure out why she would run off. She was only like seven years old.”

“She was my age?”

“That’s right, Si. She was just your age.”

Then I heard it again: this odd little clicking like Grandma’s knitting needles used to make. Jeremy must have really given that bundle a shake.

Shit,” Jeremy said, and now he sounded really scared. Somebody ought to have given him an Oscar or something.

He switched on the light. It was a touch of genius, that—his way of saying, Hey, I’m not doing anything!, which of course meant he was. I stared, but the bundle was nowhere in sight. I figured he must have tucked it under the covers, but it was hard to tell without my glasses on. Everything looked all blurry, even Jeremy’s face, blinking at me over the gap between the beds. I scooched down under the covers, holding Mr. Fuzzy tight.

“It was coming from over there,” he said. “Over there by your bed.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I said.

“No, I’m serious, Si. I heard it, didn’t you?”

“You better turn out the light,” I said, just to prove I wasn’t afraid. “Mom’ll be mad.”

“Right,” Jeremy said, and the way he said it, you could tell he knew it was an empty threat. Mom had told me she was sick when I’d knocked on her bedroom door after school. I opened the door, but it was dark inside and she told me to go away. The room smelled funny, too, like the stinging stuff she put on my knee the time Jeremy accidentally knocked me down in the driveway. I just need to sleep, she said. I’ve taken some medicine to help me sleep.

And then Jeremy came home and made us some TV dinners. “She must have passed out in there,” he said, and that scared me. But when I said maybe we should call the doctor, he just laughed. “Try not to be so dense all the time, okay, Si?”

We just waited around for Dad after that. But Jeremy said he wouldn’t be surprised if Dad never came home again, the way Mom had been so bitchy lately. Maybe he was right, too, because by the time we went up to bed, Dad still hadn’t shown up.

So Jeremy was right. Nobody was going to mind the light.

We both had a look around. The room looked pretty much the way it always did. Jeremy’s trophies gleamed on the little shelf Dad had built for them. A bug smacked the window screen a few times, like it really wanted to get inside.

“You sure you didn’t hear anything?”

“Yeah.”

Jeremy looked at me for a minute. “All right, then,” he said, and turned out the light. Another car passed and the crap-apple man did his little jig on the ceiling. The house was so quiet I could hear Jeremy breathing these long even breaths. I sang a song to Mr. Fuzzy while I waited for him to start up again. It was this song Mom used to sing when I was a baby, the one about all the pretty little horses.

And then Jeremy started talking again.

“Nobody got suspicious,” he said, “until the third kid disappeared—a little boy, he was about your age too, Si. And then someone happened to remember that all these kids had to walk by this Mueller guy’s house on their way to school. So a few of the parents got together that night and went down there to see if he had seen anything.”

It had gotten colder. I wished Jeremy would shut the window and I was going to say something, but he just plowed on with his stupid story. “Soon as he answered the door,” Jeremy said, “they could tell something was wrong. It was all dark inside—there wasn’t a fire or anything—and it smelled bad, like pigs or something. They could hardly see him, too, just his eyes, all hollow and shiny in the shadows. They asked if he’d seen the kids and that’s when things got really weird. He said he hadn’t seen anything, but he was acting all nervous, and he tried to close the door. One of the men held up his lantern then, and they could see his face. He hadn’t shaved and he looked real thin and there was this stuff smeared over his face. It looked black in the light, like paint, only it wasn’t paint. You know what it was, Si?”

I’d heard enough of Jeremy’s stories to be able to make a pretty good guess, but I couldn’t seem to make my mouth say the word. Mr. Fuzzy was shaking he was so scared. He was shaking real hard, and he was mad, too. He was mad at Jeremy for trying to scare me like that.

“It was blood, Si,” Jeremy said.

That’s when I heard it again, a whisper of metal against metal like the sound the butcher makes at the grocery store when he’s putting the edge on a knife.

Jeremy gasped. “Did you hear that?”

And just like that the sound died away.

“No,” I said.

We were silent, listening.

“What happened?” I whispered, because I wanted him to finish it. If he finished he could do his dumb little mad scientist laugh and admit he made it all up.

“He ran,” Jeremy said. “He ran through the house and it was all dark and he went down the basement, down where you found those rusty old tools. Only it wasn’t rust, Si. It was blood. Because you know what else they found down there?”

I heard the whisper of metal again—shir shir shir, that sound the butcher makes when he’s putting the edge on a knife and his hands are moving so fast the blade is just a blur of light. But Jeremy had already started talking again.

“They found the missing kids,” he said, but it sounded so far away. All I could hear was that sound in my head, shir shir shir. “They were dead,” Jeremy was saying, “and pretty soon he was dead, too. They killed the guy right on the spot, he didn’t even get a trial. They put him down the same way he’d killed those kids.”

I swallowed. “How was that?”

“He used those long nails on them, those skewer things. He knocked them on the head or something and then, while they were out, he just hammered those things right through them—wham wham wham—so they were pinned to the floor, they couldn’t get up. And then you know what he did?”

Only he didn’t wait for me to answer, he couldn’t wait, he just rolled on. He said, “Mueller used the scalpel on them, then. He just ripped them open and then—” Jeremy’s voice broke. It was a masterful touch. “And then he started eating, Si. He started eating before they were even dead—”

Jeremy broke off suddenly, and now the sound was so loud it seemed to shake the walls—SHIR SHIR SHIR—and the room was so cold I could see my breath fogging up the dark.

“Christ, what’s that sound?” Jeremy whimpered, and then he started making moaning sounds way down in his throat, the way he always did, like he wanted to scream but he was too afraid.

Mr. Fuzzy was shaking, just shaking so hard, and I have to admit it, right then I hated Jeremy with a hatred so pure I could taste it, like an old penny under my tongue. The darkness seemed heavy suddenly, an iron weight pinning me to my bed. It was cold, too. It was so cold. I’ve never been so cold in my life.

“Christ, Si,” Jeremy shrieked. “Stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!

Mr. Fuzzy was still shaking in my arms, and I hated Jeremy for that, I couldn’t help it, but I tried to make myself get up anyway, I really tried. Only the dark was too thick and heavy. It seemed to flow over me, like concrete that hadn’t quite formed up, binding me to my mattress with Mr. Fuzzy cowering in my arms.

Jeremy’s whole bed was shaking now. He was grunting and wrestling around. I heard a pop, like a piece of taut rubber giving way, and a metallic wham wham wham. There was a liquidy gurgle and Jeremy actually screamed, this long desperate scream from the bottom of his lungs. I really had to admire the job he was doing, as much as I couldn’t help being mad. He’d never taken it this far. It was like watching a master at the very peak of his form. There was another one of those liquidy thumps and then the sound of the hammer and then the whole thing happened again and again. It happened so many times I lost track. All I knew was that Jeremy had stopped screaming, but I couldn’t remember when. The only sound in the room was this muffled thrashing sound, and that went on for a little while longer and then it stopped, too. Everything just stopped.

It was so still. There wasn’t any sound at all.

The dark lay heavy on my skin, pinning me down. It was all I could do to open my mouth, to force the word out—

“Jeremy?”

I waited then. I waited for the longest time to hear that stupid Vincent Price laugh of his, to hear Jeremy telling me he’d gotten me this time, he was only joking, Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha.

But the laugh never came.

What came instead was the sound of someone chewing, the sound of someone who hadn’t had a meal in ages just tucking right in and having at it, smacking his lips and slurping and everything, and it went on and on and on. The whole time I just lay there. I couldn’t move at all.

It must have gone on for hours. I don’t know how long it went on. All I know is that suddenly I realized it was silent, I couldn’t hear a thing.

I waited some more for Jeremy to make that stupid laugh of his. And then a funny thing happened. I wasn’t lying in my bed after all. I was standing up between the beds, by the milk crate we used for a night stand, and I was tired. I was so tired. My legs ached like I’d been standing there for hours. My arms ached, too. Every part of me ached. I ached all over.

I kept having these crazy thoughts, too. About ghosts and hunger and how hungry Mad Dog Mueller must have been, after all those years down in the basement. About how maybe he’d spent all that time waiting down there, waiting for the right person to come along, someone who was just as hungry as he was.

They were the craziest thoughts, but I couldn’t seem to stop thinking them. I just stood there between the beds. My face was wet, too, my whole face, my mouth and everything. I must have been crying.

I just stood there waiting for Jeremy to laugh that stupid mad scientist laugh of his and tell me it was all a game. And I have to admit something: I was scared, too. I was so scared.

But it wasn’t the dark I was scared of.

God help me, I didn’t want to turn on the light.

© 2003 by Dale Bailey.

Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

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Dale Bailey

Dale Bailey

A winner of both the Shirley Jackson Award and the International Horror Guild Award, Dale Bailey is the author of The End of the End of Everything: Stories and The Subterranean Season, both out in 2015, as well as The Fallen, House of Bones, Sleeping Policemen (with Jack Slay, Jr.), and The Resurrection Man’s Legacy and Other Stories. His work has twice been a finalist for the Nebula Award and once for the Bram Stoker Award, and has been adapted for Showtime Television’s Masters of Horror. He lives in North Carolina with his family.