This story is by David J. Vowell and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It had been several hours since Malcom’s father left him alone and hungry in his room. This normally didn’t happen, but it wasn’t the first time. Hours of sitting and thinking can make a person think about all the things that they have done wrong. Or even the things that they feel they haven’t done wrong, but are paying the price for it anyway.
Malcom doesn’t think like this though. He knows why his father left him alone and hungry. It was for his own good and safety that he is sitting there, by himself, with a pit in his stomach. It could have been two hours or six hours; he doesn’t really know. There is just the thought of what would happen if he opened his door and left. He remembers what his father said to keep him in the room: “Malcom, I will be back. Stay here. Lay on your bed and be quiet. When I return, we will try to get something to eat. I love you son. Stay in the room”.
Malcom wasn’t really afraid anymore. He found himself in this situation several times in his life and remembers what happens to those that don’t listen to father. His sister left the room the year before. She never came back. His mother didn’t listen and left the room only once; she never came back. Father is the only one who left room and consistently comes back.
It could be night or day, summer or winter, it didn’t matter. A loud howl and a scouring screech were heard for miles and father knew what that sound was. He was the only person that Malcom knew that had done anything about it. The sound comes and father puts Malcom in his room and then leaves with his rifle and binoculars. Malcom doesn’t know where he goes or what he does, but he always comes back.
There it was again, another screech and another high-pitched yearning howl. That was weird and something new. Usually that sound only came once and not again for months. This was twice in one night and this was a lot closer than usual. Malcom really wants to pull the boards from his windows and peek outside. Sometimes, during the day, light will creep through the gaps between boards, but now there was only a slight hint of moonlight coming through. Almost pitch dark. He could really hear his heartbeat thumping and the sounds of his ragged breathing.
“What happened to father?” Malcom says to himself. “Is he all right, does he need my help” ran rapidly through his mind. Father never needed Malcom’s help in the past, but that second screech is different from it was before. And Father really has been gone longer than usual. Malcom gets up from his bed and quietly walks to the window. He peers out of the cracks between the boards and to his surprise, and disappointment, sees nothing. The moon is shining brightly, but there is nothing to see.
Malcom had never heard a rifle before. But when he did hear it, he knew what it was. One shot, a loud crack in the air, and then another, and another. All coming with the same loud boom and a crack of the rifle. He sees his father running back down the long driveway. His father throws the rifle and runs faster than Malcom had ever seen before.
Malcom’s father disappeared.
Where he was running was now just a mist. Malcom couldn’t see the color of the mist, but he knew what it was. He watched his father, as if in slow motion, get torn apart from the inside out, in a fraction of a second. Reduced to a mist, never to be found again. Malcom knew what happened to his Mother and Sister now.
Malcom heard the same loud screech and this time it was right outside his window. He held his breath and tried to keep as calm as possible. He didn’t know what to do. His heart was racing and he wanted to close his eyes so much. He wanted to hide in plain sight, right in his room, where he was supposed to be, where father told him to stay. Yet, he couldn’t. As he kept peering through the crack Malcom saw a shadow cross over their yard, over the picnic table, over the sidewalk, to the front of the house, and right up almost to his window. Malcom stared in horror as he saw this horrible and disfigured shape of the shadow right below his window.
Malcom forced himself to close his eyes now. Maybe if he didn’t actually look, it would go away. Maybe if he didn’t see it, then it didn’t really exist. He counted to 10 all the while with his heart thumping in his chest, sweat beading down his back, and his hands shaking.
He took a deep breath and slowly opened his eyes and focused on the crack that he had peered through earlier. An eye was staring back him. Large and protruding with thick coarse black hair all around it. Malcom saw the eye focus on him with a knowing look; it let loose with that same awful screech and howl. It sounded like a victory scream to Malcom. Malcom knew that sound. He had heard it earlier. That howl was the sound it made when it had found what it was looking for. It made that sound when it found father. Malcom knew what to do.
Malcom walked back to his bed and slowly laid down upon it. He lies on his bed and knows why he felt so guilty and wrong. Looking out the window was wrong. Opening his eyes was wrong. He should have stayed on his bed, where there was nothing to worry about; staying on the bed was staying in the room. He felt frozen in fear and he squeezed his eyes shut as hard as he could. Trapped in his room and knowing that it didn’t matter that he did exactly as his father told him to do. Now, he was never going to leave the room.