Authors: Thomas Grave
His memory was fuzzy.
What was that?
There it was again.
Finally, he comprehended the sound. His phone vibrated.
He took a deep breath and remembered the dream.
Just a dream. He reached over to his end table to grab his phone. It wasn’t until then that he remembered it still sat on top of the book. The tips of his fingers barely grazed the top of the leather binding. The pulse sent a shock throughout his body, like a heartbeat.
He jumped, wide awake, and pulled his phone back with him. His hand had barely touched the book.
his phone vibrated in his hand.
He lowered his gaze to his phone. Hope’s picture glowed bright on the screen. It was his favorite picture of her. She’d taken it of herself exclusively for his phone. It was a close up of her face, the wind blowing her pixie blonde hair, her smile genuine.
“Ha—hello,” he said, still feeling what he called, “the groggy.”
“Have you heard from Jared today?” Hope asked, worry in her voice.
“No, why?” He stretched his aching body and yawned.
“I haven’t heard from him all day and I’m getting worried. I called you earlier to let you know, but you didn’t answer.”
“I . . . took a nap, sorry.” His hands still shook.
“I’ve tried calling him too, but I think he’s avoiding me. I’ve left him all kinds of messages.”
So Jared is missing now? When did this happen?
Sebastian scratched the back of his head. “Let me wake up a bit and then I’ll call him too. See if I can find him,” he consoled.
“Sebastian, um, we need to talk. About what happened earlier?”
A beat of silence.
She continued. “I feel like I need to apologize. I completely overstepped my bounds. That clearly wasn’t the right tim
“Hope, it’s fine. I get it.” He swallowed the lump that was in his throat, then took a breath. “You were just trying to help,” he said softly as he took another breath, collecting his thoughts. “If there is anybody I can talk to about this, I know it’s you.” He paused and gazed out the window. “As soon as I’m ready, your number will be the first one I dial.”
“No matter what time of day or night, I will always answer. I’m here for you, okay?”
He nodded. “I know. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Sebastian set down his phone, the nightmare disappearing into the recesses of his mind, and then he took in his surroundings, half wondering if any little water fairies, air fairies or maybe even dust fairies might pop up from somewhere. His bedroom seemed its normal, semi-messy self.
He glanced at his alarm clock. The red display blinked 9:05pm. Beside the dreadful thing with the numbers was his lamp. He turned it on, illuminating the room, as well as the thing that had been haunting him for two days: the Book. Something had triggered when he touched it. Now, he wanted to know what.
The memory of the strange water lady intruded on his thoughts. He knew in his gut it hadn’t been a hallucination. What had happened with Ariel was real, and whatever she had done to him still had his body buzzing.
Somehow she had made him feel relaxed about all this. Accepting.
A spell perhaps?
Considering everything that had happened, why not? Any normal kid probably would have checked himself into some sort of mental institution by now.
He sat up. This was it. In the blink of an eye, he grabbed the Book, pulled it onto his lap and then let go. This time, nothing happened. He glanced at the book it had been sitting on:
The Abdominal Snowman
by Thomas Grave. It was one of his favorite books, very hard to put down.
With the Book heavy on his lap, he began flipping through its pages, puzzled. They were all blank. He put his hands beneath it and heaved it up. Again, nothing happened. He let its weight settle back on his lap.
Each page was brittle, almost ready to fall apart into dust. Every one of them had some sort of nick or tearing or discoloration. Yet a gentle tug on one of the pages did nothing. It held, even as he tugged harder. He continued to flip through the pages until something caught his eye. It was just another page, just as blank as the others, but somehow this one page called out to him.
But still, Sebastian somehow knew, it had a message for him.
In an instant the page seemed to come alive, almost vibrating. A bright light fell from the ceiling onto the page, showing dust particles floating gently in the air. Writing appeared, faintly at first, gradually becoming darker. The ink was black and shiny with wetness.
Just one word in a beautiful cursive slant.
A calmness came over him: the memory of Ariel’s lilting voice. Even though he had just met her, even though she was three inches tall and made of water, he believed her. There had to be a connection between them. She’d said they knew each other. Something in his gut told him he could trust her.
He took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m ready.”
Though the tone of his voice was confident, a twinge of nervousness still nagged at him.
Very well then,
a voice intruded in his mind.
Let it begin.
A blinding flash came from the book, encompassing the entire room. Shocked and temporarily blinded, he thrust the Book from his lap and leapt off the bed, tumbling to the floor, his arms thrown up to shield his eyes. Before he knew how to react, his hands became heavy, as if a sack of bowling balls were dangling from each wrist. Any attempt to move his arms was met with more weight, pulling his hands towards the floor on either side of him. Beneath him, an inky black puddle of something thick and viscous bubbled up from the floorboards, attaching itself to his feet and legs. Streams of thick, greasy fluid crept up his fingers and wrapped around his hands.
Shackled to the floor by the still spreading ooze, his nervousness evolved into full-blown panic. He thrashed and screamed, desperately trying to pull himself away from the horror crawling up his arms and legs, until at last the puddle released its grip on his hands.
When he pulled his hands out of the murky pool, he realized they were sporting a brand new pair of jet black gloves. The material was thick and matte, something he’d never seen before. And they were tight, far too tight, like a pair of twin vises were squeezing relentlessly on his hands. He tried to pull them off but they were stuck tight. He tried to stand up, expecting the black ooze to hold him fast, but it released him. He leapt up and found that on his feet, instead of his white sports socks, he wore heavy black boots. So heavy, and so tight. Too tight. His feet cramped.
A screeching wind tore through the room, bringing with it a haze of purple smoke. The smoke swirled around him, obscuring his surroundings and becoming denser by the second. His heart thumped furiously in his ears. He was about to die.
Ariel’s familiar voice chimed in from somewhere beyond the darkness. “Don’t be afraid,” she soothed. “You don’t have to fight it.”
Easier said than done, but he did his best to heed her advice. Relaxing his muscles and taking deep breaths yielded immediate results. The crushing sensation from the gloves and boots stopped. The smoke, however, thickened. Taking in such deep breaths had filled his lungs to capacity with the strange mist. He fell to his knees in a coughing fit, hacking uncontrollably. His chest burned as though he’d sucked in an open flame.
The floor around him gave way, hardwood board by hardwood board, into an abyss of swirling darkness, leaving him kneeling on a small floating section of his bedroom floor. In utter amazement, he stared below him into the darkness. From the deepest recesses of the void, tentacles of cloth sped toward him. They coiled around his form in waves, tightening around his neck and pulling at his limbs. Fear gripped him. The cloth surrounded him, covering even his face, and he was no longer able to see. With life of its own, the black fabric slithered over his body, the material soft and warm. Under the ever-deepening ocean of strangling cloth, Sebastian screamed in silence.
Again, Ariel’s voice broke through in his mind. “You have nothing to be afraid of. These are your robes, a physical manifestation of your power. Calm yourself and take control.”
Sebastian braced himself. There could be no more nervousness, no more fear. If this power was his, he would find a way to control it. His fists clenched along with his jaw. With every fiber of his being, he mentally commanded the robes to stand down. They did not. They squeezed him tighter, trying to squeeze the life out of him.
He opened his eyes with fierce determination.
“Stand. Down,” he commanded, his tone harsher, determined, confident.
The layers of cloth loosened their grip immediately. The fabric in front of his face parted, leaving a space for him to see out, creating a thick hood.
He felt drained of energy, and weakened, just as he’d felt when Sara’s roof had exploded. Unable to stand straight, he lowered himself down to one knee.
The Book was once again on the bed, closed. Waiting.
What had just happened?
Hopefully answers would be in the Book. With all the energy left in his body, Sebastian pushed himself off his knee and propelled himself towards the bed. His vision blurred. When it came back into focus, the Book was gone.
A numbing feeling crept into his hands. No, his fingers. He tried to shake it off, but the tingling sensation wouldn’t go away. Instinctively, not understanding why, he snapped his fingers.
The ripples, just like the ones he’d seen in Mr. Thompson’s classroom, flowed out of his fingers, flooding his room. They brought with them a dark flare. And then the world changed again, as it had before. He was still in his room, still leaning against the bed, only now it was replaced with the creepy, haunted house version.
He stood in front of a half broken mirror, frozen in fear. In place of his jeans and red t-shirt he wore a dark robe, black as midnight. It was made of many layers of cloth, the deepest layers tattered and ancient, edges frayed.
Staring back at him from his cracked reflection was the Grim Reaper.
The thunder hit so hard, it sounded like a bomb had gone off in the sky. Mr. Thompson’s house shook a bit and he jerked upright. The mug on the glass of the coffee table rattled.
Mr. Thompson rushed to the windows in his living room and brushed the curtain aside. The clouds were moving in unnatural ways. A huge funnel of black and purple fire circled the neighborhood. He knew any normal person walking by couldn’t see what he saw. To others, the clouds would seem normal. This was wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen until he was twenty-one.
I thought I had time. I failed him.
“It’s happening,” he told himself, the words escaping in a hushed whisper.
His wife, Imogen Thompson, came into the living room. She was in the process of putting her long black hair up in a ponytail, her bangs swept to the side. “What are you looking at?” she asked.
He couldn’t answer her.
She paused, seeing the expression on his face. “What’s wrong?”
A few seconds passed. Then she joined him at the window and saw the black and purple funnel. The dark clouds twisting, lightning crackling at the center.
“He’s awakened,” Mr. Thompson whispered.
Imogen sucked in a breath. “Already? What are we going to do? I like this life we have here. I don’t want to pack up and move,” she stammered.
He gazed into her sparkling eyes and brushed a finger over the tiny mole on her right cheek. He loved that mole. It was his favorite thing about her otherwise flawless skin.
“I know,” he said, “but it might not come to that.”
He knew his words were unconvincing.
“If he’s awakened, they will come for him. And if you’re around, they’ll discover Paige. If they try and take my child, I will kill them,” she said with deadly seriousness.
He nodded in agreement. He’d do the same, in a heartbeat. But one step at a time.
Outside, the wind howled as it picked up force.
Things were about to change . . .
Monday, 9:09 pm
The layered black robes surrounded his body, flowing in a supernatural wind. They stopped a few centimeters from the ground. The Reaper cocked his head and breathed out. Cold mist exhaled from within his hood.
An ominous presence surrounded him, covering every surface of his room. His sketchbook, with all of his half-drawings, lay burnt and torn. His door-length mirror webbed with cracks, and was missing pieces, leaving jagged edges like shark’s teeth. A black oil-like liquid oozed from the ceiling and dripped down the walls.
The smell of burnt wood was carried by gusts of air through the room, and the sound of a crackling fireplace could be heard, yet Sebastian didn’t have one in his room.