Dark dreams, hideous and twisted, like a malformed babe stirring in the womb. Likewise, he stirred in his bed, curling into a foetal position, arms clasping his knees. But there was no security here, no warm comfort; rather, it was a dank cold hole, a hellish abyss with slimy blood— coated walls. And there were a million yellow sparks there, fleeting and gone, for they were the eyes of the hungry, the predators who had not yet preyed. Around him he could hear their rumbling growls and the staccato thumpings of a million hearts gone mad. It was the frenzied nighttime orgy of the grotesque.
They wrested him from the black and danced circles round him in a bizarre ritual, like moths circling round a flame. He could feel animal claws grasping his wrists and ankles, pinning him down, long nails sinking deeply into his flesh. Hot, putrid breath assaulted him—breath that reeked of blood and rotted flesh. He lay there suffocating, near-paralyzed, his mouth spread in an endless series of screams. But they fell silent upon the walls surrounding him. They fell silent because he was dead.
He thrust himself upright in his bed. The dark room tilted on end, then slowly rocked back. Reality returned to him, slowly, surely, and at last he began to realize its meaning. “A dream,” he thought, “another dream.” He breathed a long sigh of relief.
He eased himself back into the bed, his heartbeat slowing, his panic subsiding. Still, his eyes darted round the room, delving into the dark shadows of the closet, rnak— ing sure the coat thrown over the chair was just that and not a lurking, lopsided, dwarfish creature. Then, satisfied, he nestled his head into the pillow and stared at the ceiling. This nine year old boy would get no more sleep tonight.
Nine year old Joey Thompson was eager to move into the new house. That is, till he saw the place. Then his eagerness turned to dread, cold dread. For the house was dark and sinister, with ornamented peaks and gables jutting high into the sky. It reminded him of the haunted houses in the old Dracula movies, set back into the woods, isolated. It reminded him of his dream.
He stood rooted by the car door, his eyes riveted upon the house in that look that is too terrible to pull away. He wanted to turn and flee; to escape the unseen presences that called to him to leave while he could. But try as he may he knew he was already lost, and there was no turning, no f leeing. There was only the frenzied writhings in the spider web and the looming shadow of some menacing presence.
As he stood there the sun broke from a bank of clouds, casting its ray upon the house. In this moment the sense of dread lifted and he tried to rationalize, tried to dismiss the dark emanations as the workings of his imaginative, impressionable mind. But as much as he reasoned, as much as he told himself his fears were unfounded and pumped up his courage, he knew it was feigned courage and false reasons. There is no rationality in the world of the grotesque. There is only cold insanity.
At last he was able to move trembling forward, and he grabbed a box from the car and carried it across the lawn. His mother was bustling back and forth, her arms full. Somewhere inside the house his father worked, doing odd jobs and repairs as he’d been doing for a week.
As he got halfway across the lawn, the sun once again was swallowed by clouds. Dark shadows fell over the house and the sinister aura returned. As it reached out and seized him he saw it there, perched on a ledge near the roof. It was the dwarfish malformed creature of his dream. It was a gargoyle.
Panic rose within him, cold as ice. As the clouds swallowed the sun, so did the darkness swallow him. He reeled in it, clawing at the utter black to stop his fall, but there was nothing to grasp. And so he plummeted for what seemed an eternity until the black washed over him and he drowned in its sea. And he knew no more.
He woke in a bed, newly made. The room was sparse, dusty, cold. Beside him, his parents sat on unpacked boxes, their faces drawn with worry. His mother’s hand was on his forehead, brushing back his hair, feeling for fever. But there was none. His skin was ice cold.
When they saw he was awake, their faces lit up with obvious relief. They fussed over him, asked if he were ill, fluffed up the pillow beneath his head. Though he still trembled from fear, the presence of his parents reassured him, gave him a sense of protection. This gave him the courage to ask the question.
“Mom.. .dad,..what’s that thing on the corner of the house—near the roof?”
His father thought for a moment. “Oh, that,” he said, flashing a smile. “It’s a gargoyle, Joey. It’s like a gutter, you know? It throws water clear of the house. They used them in the olden days-way back before even I was born.” He ruffled his son’s hair. “It’s a pretty grotesque thing, I must admit, but it seems to fit with the house. It helps indicate how old this place really is. Did you know that it’s a hundred and thirty years old?” He let that thought carry him away f or a moment, then he turned back to his son. “Why?” he asked, deep lines etching into his forehead. “You’re not frightened of it, are you? You’re shivering.”
“No, no,” said Joey quickly, adverting his eyes. His fingers toyed nervously with the bedsheets. I was just wondering, that’s all. I saw it there and…it’s weird, you know?”
His father studied him for a moment, then flashed a look at his wife. “Well, Joey,” he said rising, “I think you should stay in bed. You might have caught a bug or something. Maybe you have the flu. We called a doctor—he should be here shortly. Just lay back and rest.”
When he left, Joey’s father stepped outside and strolled around the side of the house. He looked up at the gargoyle, sitting there perched, its hideous rodentlike head on a squat, dwarfish body. A funny feeling creeped up his spine, held there f or a moment, then was gone. Uneasily he walked to the back of the house and resumed his work.
The days work was done. Joey’s father lay in bed with his wife, sipping champagne. Beside him was a makeshift table, end he set the glass on this.
“I finally found out why this place was so cheap,” he said. “There was some tragedy here, maybe ten years ago. It’s been vacant ever since. The previous owners packed up and abandoned the place.”
His wife turned in the bed. “Why? What was the tragedy? What happened?”
“A little boy disappeared,” he said. “A kid about Joey’s age. Just plain up and disappeared. They never found his body-found no trace or clues or anything. I guess the general feeling is that he was picked up by some sex pervert or something. They think he’s dead and buried some-where.”
“Oh, that’s sad,” said his wife, nestling against him.
He picked up his champagne glass and sipped from it. Again a funny feeling creeped along his spine. Again it was fleeting and gone. He finished the drink, turned off the light and snuggled close to his wife. The feeling was past and forgotten.
They hissed at him from the shadows, forked tongues lashing. He raised his head and saw them lurking there and he screamed, but they dragged him down and smothered him with their vile twisted bodies. They bound his limbs with leather thongs, then sat back on their haunches, cackling. Then one of the creatures emerged from the shadows dragging a burlap bag, its gait shuffling and lopsided. The other creatures crept close, a buzz of excitement passing amongst them. With almost loving gentleness they reached out their talons and caressed the bundle, seeming almost to pay homage to it, as if it were a god. Then an ominous silence settled over the creatures as they waited, tense, awed, expectant. The one who had dragged the bag forward shuffled back to the shadows where he sat, waiting with his fellow creatures.
The bundle stirred, as if some animal, some thing, were inside it, struggling to get out. He watched it with horrified fascination, his mind conjuring up all forms of hideous creatures (but could anything be more hideous than those who lurked in the shadows?). Then a white mist formed about the bag, shielding it, so that he could only see hazy outlines, constantly shifting. In the mist something rose, standing tall, and he knew at once that it was hideous beyond belief. His heart pounded wildly; a heavy sweat broke out on his brow. Pure icy terror pumped through his veins.
Then the mist dissipated.
A young boy, perhaps nine years old, stepped forward and peered down at him. His face was calm and serene, but there was a hellish fire in his eyes and they stabbed at him, burned through him. Suddenly it came to him as he lay there trembling that he’d been right, deadly right. This mockery, this terrible paradox of a human—indeed, he was more hideous than the creatures, a million times more so. And he screamed and screamed until the screams shattered his sleep, and he found himself in his bed, his dark empty room spinning round him. As it rocked back he collapsed back in his bed with a sigh, vanquished, ravaged, depleted. He was an empty shell save only the terror. He had no will to fight.
The emanations seized him like invisible hands and pulled him from the bed. Glassy–eyed he went, the trembling of his legs his only meek resistance against the dark, unworldly power. He passed out of the room, through the dark hallway, up the flight of stairs to the second floor, each step mechanical. Then he paused at the attic door, his senses jumping. The feeling was so strong here.
He pushed open the attic door and it creaked on its hinges, sending an eerie drawn-out squeal resounding. Then he was climbing the long rickety stairwell, one hand clutching the bannister in a death grip. Cobwebs smeared across his face as he climbed. A dank, musty smell clung about him. It was the smell of age and decay.
When he reached the top step, he stopped and glared about him. The attic was dark and dusty and cluttered with things long since past their use. But his eyes slid past these, locking on a chest sitting against one wall. He strode determinedly towards it and brushed aside the lamps and gutted fans that sat on top of it- Then he opened the chest and looked inside.
First within his sight were clothes children’s clothes. He pushed these aside and dug deeper into the chest, finding various toys: a baseball glove, a bat, balls, and the like. Still he dug deeper, dismissing the various objects that popped into view. What he searched for lay near the bottom, he knew, for he felt it there, its magic calling to him. He hastened his search, becoming almost frantic as the feeling grew stronger and stronger. Then he found what he was looking for, and as he held it in his hands, his body tingled with the fire that coursed through his veins. Slowly, lovingly cradling it in his arms, he went down the stairwell and into his room.
It was a small wooden box, crudely made, as if by a child’s hand. With mounting excitement he lifted the lid. It was cluttered, like the chest, with a multitude of childish objects: marbles, baseball cards, a pen knife, a few scattered coins. He sorted through these until he found what he sought. It was a magical charm.
He held it to the light. It was an eagle claw. Tied round it were three hawk feathers, and from their quills dangled three tiny bells, of the sort found on Christmas hats. A tiny leather pouch hung from its side, decorated with multi—colored beads in curious patterns a star, a half-moon, a triple X- the sign of the Realm of the Dead. Trembling, the boy opened the pouch. In it was a mummefied rat’s head, a dog’s tooth, a human finger wrapped in cotton.
He resealed the leather pouch and set the charm on the bed. He strode to the window and peered out. A near— full moon shone in the sky, a day shy, casting a single ominous ray through the pane of glass. Its touch sent his heart racing. A heavy sweat broke out on his brow.
Beyond the glass, somewhere out there in the night, something called to him; something unseen, menacing dwarfish, lopsided, twisted creature. He found his hands on the windowsill, throwing back the latch, raising the window. It squealed an animal squeal as it slid in its frame.
He poked his head out of the window. By turning it upwards, he could see it there, perched on the ledge near the roof, its black form an indistinct shadow in the night. He crawled upon the sill, sought for handholds, footholds, then slowly, painstakingly pulled himself up the side of the house. When he reached the ledge at last, he hoisted himself upon it and crouched beside the gargoyle.
They passed the whole of the night just sitting there, silently watching.
At the first touches of dawn, he crawled down from the ledge and slid in through the attic window. When he returned to his room he saw the magical charm lying there on his bed and he picked it up, feeling a wave of energy pass through him. Lovingly, reverently, he set it in the wooden box and tucked it under his pillow. Then he collapsed on the bed and was instantly asleep, waiting for the dark, dark dreams.
They came from the shadows, lurking there as always, but now they showed no menace. Rather, they approached him with respect, bowing their deformed heads in homage. One by one they kneeled before him, then seated themselves until at last they formed a circle around him. Then he came—the boy with the burning eyes—and he stood tall among their numbers. He strode within the circle and held out his hand.
A confusing tide of emotions swept through Joey as he knelt there. There was fascination, awe, excitement, but still the forboding dread. A tiny voice whispered inside his head, telling him to refuse the proffered hand because it was evil and the binding chain. But the fascination over- rode the voice, for its sway was a thousand times louder, stronger. It thundered and thundered inside his skull, telling him of the ecstasy that lay in waiting. And so it swept him along.
As he took the proffered hand, he saw that it was missing a finger. Then a wave of dark power flowed into him, sweeping away the turmoil, the confusing emotions. There was only pleasure now, decadent and evil and warped. As the four fingers wrapped around his own, he suddenly understood.
The moon was full. He stood beneath it in the tall, uncut grass of the back yard. He stood within a wide circle formed of the stones he had painstakingly gathered. There were twelve stones in all and beneath the moonlight they shone eerily.
He knelt. On the ground beside him was the box containing the magical charm. Next to that was a butcher’s cleaver.
He picked up the charm and held it in front of him. The bells jingled a nonrhythmic tune—strange, chaotic. He traced a finger over the eagle claw, feeling the sharp talons. Then he was caressing the hawk feathers, smoothing them, At last his fingers found the pouch and traced the outlines of the strange symbols. Then he set it aside. He picked up the butcher’s cleaver. Its silver blade mirrored the flickering moonbeams. He stared at the blade, mesmirized by the changing colors, They drew him in, whispering of chaos, of darkness, of the malformed. He swam in them like a raging sea till they suddenly faded and there was only silver—a long streak of silver as the cleaver came flashing down.
There was blood, flowing as a fountain, and he was overwhelmed by its profusion. He rushed maddeningly about, letting it fafl on each of the twelve stones of the circle. When this was done, the stones, one by one, transformed into gargoyles, grinning twistedly, their eyes blazing in the moonlight.
Outside the circle the shadows stirred and the Tall One came forth, He stepped within the circle and held out his hand to Joey, and Joey obediantly came to him. With a touch the Tall One stanched the flow of blood and Joey looked upon the ugly stump. Then the Tall One was turning and Joey knew what it was he had to do.
He knelt and picked up the blood—smeared finger and wrapped it in cotton. Then he opened the pouch of the charm and placed it inside.
He turned to the Tall One and gasped.
No longer was the Tall One a boy, but a dwarfish, malformed monster. He was a gargoyle.
And as the black whirled around Joey’s head, he caught a fleeting glimpse of a twisted, taunting smile. Then the blackness claimed him and he passed out. It took a long, long time for him to fall.
The policemen stepped out of the house, hats in hand. As they approached the squad car, one turned to the other.
“What is it with this place? – is it bad luck or what?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you weren’t on the force then. I was a rookie myself.” He paused, opening the car door and climbing in. Once they were settled, he continued.
“The last family who lived here had their kid disappear, too. He was never found. No body—not a trace. That was—oh, ten years ago. Caused a big sensation.”
The other policeman started the motor and backed out of the driveway.
“I think he’s a runaway myself,” he said, shifting into Drive. “I think he’ll turn up.”
The first policeman watched the house sliding past his window. “I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “Sure is a creepy place, you know? Sends a shiver up my spine.” He sighed, turning back to his report. He didn’t see the two gargoyles perched on the ledge, side by side, silently watching.