This story was written as part of a Halloween contest. After a double blind drawing, Samantha and Dennis were chosen as the lucky victims of my new short story, In The Shadows. Both winners were interviewed and character profiles were built off the answers provided. Any similarities to any person living or dead is purely on purpose.
"Look, I'm not saying you should quit your job. I'm only saying that you need to believe in yourself more. You're a great writer. You should be doing what you love." Dennis pulled his coat a little tighter as he saw his breath frost in the air for the first time this season.
Samantha glanced over at him, "I know what you mean, but I do enjoy what I'm doing. I'm helping people. Besides, we can't both be risk-takers. We need some assurances that we keep a roof over our head."
"Why can't we?" The old light was burning brightly in his eyes once more, "There are no assurances in life. Hell, someone could jump out of those bushes and kill us right now!" He grabbed her arm suddenly when he said now, causing her to jump and scream. She slapped his chest, "Dammit. Don't do that. These new street lights are bad enough."
Dennis laughed, pulling her in for a quick kiss, "How am I supposed to stop when you get so damn cute when you're scared?" He began to laugh harder at the colour flooding her cheeks.
She took a step back, a look of false hurt on her face. "Why must you be so mean to me?" She almost kept a straight face but lost it at his smile, "Seriously though, I'm alright with the amount of writing I am doing now. I'm happy to watch your star rise."
"I don't believe that for a minute. But, alright, I won't push." He stared at the mist of his breath, "It's not even Halloween yet. It's too early to see your breath."
"I know. That crazy wind storm took out a bunch of trees and dropped the temperature by about 10 degrees. Let's go home and cuddle by the fire."
Dennis smiled in agreement, and the pair continued their nightly stroll. The air had fallen cool and crisp, with a haunting wind rustling the freshly fallen leaves on the ground. The couple walked in comfortable silence for a few minutes, each lost in thought and the rhythmic scratching of the dry leaves whispering around their feet.
Dennis was lost thinking about Samantha's comment on the new street lights. They were meant to make the streets safer by being ungodly bright but did the opposite. They blinded you to the shadows. It made the shadows darker than dark, like driving into a tunnel on a sunny day. A part of his mind thought he should write a letter of complaint to the city council, then another part of his mind told him to check his birth certificate. How old was he? 21 going on 50? No, he would leave council letters out of his portfolio for at least another 20 years.
Samantha was thinking about the insistence from Dennis that she write more. But really, what is more? She writes now and feels satisfied with the level she is doing. It's not like she stopped altogether. Besides, she viewed writing as an old friend. One which she could pick up with whenever she felt. Although, the sounds of the leaves were getting her creativity flowing. Each rustle beneath the leaves could be a giant rat, each stem brushing her ankle, a hair on a giant tarantula's leg, alerting it to her presence. She could almost sense it lurking beneath the leaves, watching, waiting to-
"Holy shit," Dennis screamed, jumping back, causing Samantha to do the same. She jumped behind him, screaming, "what is it," while looking around frantically. Dennis took a defensive position in front of her, as though ready to fend off an attack. He was breathing hard, his senses on high alert.
Samantha grabbed his arm and looked over his shoulder. She wasn't sure what she was looking for or what to expect. Dennis suddenly relaxed and began to laugh. She stepped back from him, her fear turning into irritation, "Shit, Dennis. That's not funny. What was it?"
Dennis managed to calm his nervous laughter enough to respond just as she was about to walk away, "No. Wait. You gotta see this," he was waving her back, "seriously. You'll understand. Come here."
She walked over to him and stood where he told her to. When she looked to where he was pointing, her heart jumped, then she began to laugh as well. "Oh, geez. Alright, now I get it," she was squinting at what looked to be a shadowy figure standing beside a house. It was in the shadows where the house met the garage. "What is it?"
Dennis was squinting into the shadows as well, "At first I thought it was a little kid standing in the corner."
"That's what I thought," Samantha's voice was still tight, "like a toddler in one of those puffy black winter coats with a hood."
Dennis smiled, he loved how in sync they were, "Yeah, exactly. But I think it's just a car seat sitting with the trash bags. They probably took one of the bucket seats out of their van."
Samantha gave the darkened corner a final look before turning and thought she saw the pile move slightly. "Alright, let's get out of here. My nerves are fried." She tried to laugh, but it came out strained. She felt Dennis slip his arm around her shoulders, and they walked out of the pooling glow of the street light and into the ever-deepening shadows.
Leaves rattled along the ground in the frosty air, and an odd grunting came from the shadows the young couple had just been watching. The dark mass in the corner began to shift, then twisted to look after them. The grunting grew more excited, becoming a low squeal as its lifeless orange eyes started to glow with hunger. A three-fingered hand with split and oozing nails reached up to push the black hood back so the creature could better see. Its head turned slightly, listening to the couple walking away. Its ears, holes on either side of its head, squished open and closed like blowholes, while its mouth worked up and down, the flaccid yellow skin on its face jiggling with each grunt.
The creature's tongue slid over rows of razor-sharp teeth in anticipation. It turned entirely into the light, yet still seemed enshrined in darkness. It stood slightly hunched, about the size of a 4-year-old. The hood slid back, further allowing the brightness to highlight its features. It sniffed at the air with its short muzzle. Its face was not quite human and not quite animal, almost bat-like. It stood straight and flexed its spindly arms to the sides. It straightened its legs until they popped out of the socket and bent backward, allowing it to flop low to the ground. It reached its long arms in front of itself with a final sniff of the air, grabbed the cement, and sprang forward with its back legs in a bunny hop. It paused, kicked one leg out to the side and flexed it back and forth quickly, the pops of the joint going in and out of socket echoing off the houses. Once the kink was worked out, it returned the leg to the position, flexing its clawed toes, then hopped into the shadows after the pair.
"You know, it's funny," Samantha's words trailed off mid-thought before she continued, "I mean, how our brains work. Take tonight, for example. It's a cool fall night, fog is starting to roll in, and the air suddenly feels creepy. Nothing has changed, but everything takes on a spooky feel."
"It's our imaginations, I guess. We read the stories, watch the movies, and our brains begin to think this weather really is magical. Like a portal opens to other realms and demons walk the earth." Dennis dropped his voice as he spoke, taking on a summoner's stance.
Samantha shivered, a chill rushing from her feet to her head, "Yeah, well, my imagination is strong. It makes all the creaks of the treetops into monsters hiding in the shadows. Not to mention rustling leaves or bushes, and- wait. Did you hear that?"
Dennis froze a grin still on his face, "Yeah. You mean the pop, pop, pop, pop, pop?"
"Yeah. That wasn't gunshots, was it?"
He shook his head, "No. It wasn't loud enough. It almost sounded like someone cracking their knuckles."
"Well, I don't feel like waiting around to see what it is. Let's go home." She grabbed his hand, and they began to walk to the corner, each subconsciously picking up their speed. They turned the corner and could see their house halfway down the block. The air seemed to go still as an eerie sound echoed down the street, "tsik-tsik-tsik-chrrrrrrr, tsik-tsik-chrrrrr." The cedar hedges beside them started to shake, and they froze as the branches parted to show two glowing green eyes. The eyes hovered for a moment before a sleepy-looking raccoon stumbled out of the hedges.
The raccoon looked at the frightened couple in shock before hissing and angrily clicked its displeasure as it scurried back into the bushes. Samantha looked at Dennis as the eerie call still echoed down the street. Dennis looked after the raccoon, "Well, we know it's not a raccoon making that noise. What the hell is it?"
Samantha stared down the street, a movement catching her eye, it looked as though a shadow had moved. She shook her head and stared again, reaching for Dennis, "Hey, uh, baby. I think I just saw something moving down there."
"I think I saw it too. Let's go!"
They began to jog toward their house, eyes locked on the deep shadows at the end of the street. Nothing else appeared to move as they ran up the steps to the house. The door slammed shut just as the leaves on the front lawn began to rustle, and their hedges shook as though someone had run into them. Samantha threw the deadbolt while Dennis ran past their two dogs to check the back door.
They met back in the kitchen, red-faced and panting. The couple broke into gales of laughter, feeling silly now that they were safely home. "I don't know whose imagination is worse, yours or mine?"
"I don't know, but that was scary. What could have been making that noise?" Samantha's breath was slowing back to a regular pace.
"Not sure, probably a cat getting sick or something." Dennis was leaning into the fridge, "Feel like some wine?"
"Great idea, I could use a drink. I'll grab the glasses." She headed out of the room as Dennis began to open the bottle. She told herself there was no need to check the back door; it was the first thing Dennis did when they got back. Still, she couldn't resist. Samantha crept down the darkened back hall toward the door. She reached out with her hand and felt around until she found the thumb latch for the deadbolt. It was vertical, meaning the door was locked.
Going to her tip-toes, she looked out the half-moon window into the backyard. Everything looked normal until a flicker of movement caught her eye by the fence. She reached out and flipped a light switch, flooding the yard with light. Her eyes jumped to where she saw movement, yet all that was to be seen was the overgrown section of their garden. She turned off the light and rubbed her eyes, muttering about her overactive imagination and headed to grab the wine glasses.
The shadows in the garden seemed to pool in one place, around the dead thistles, which started to tremble as the creature hiding within began to creep out of the weeds. Its hood once again pulled low over its face, the creature scuttled in the shadows to the back of the house, pausing beside the air conditioning unit, once more sniffing the air. Its tongue rapidly tasting Samantha's unease still lingering in the air. Its head spun drunkenly at the thought of the feeding tonight.
It went by the name of Prechna, its real name (Hurroouurrrr'eeeaggggha), could only be pronounced by humans when they vomited. Prechna belonged to an ancient order of earthbound imps the Cicadtera. They live hidden in the roots of trees and surface to feed on the same schedule as the cicadas, using the insect's loud noise for cover. Prechna's tree had been blown over in the windstorm, awaking it early. The young couple had stumbled past it just as it was beginning to hunt.
It reached its hands up the air conditioner's side and hooked its dirty claws into the grill. It silently pulled its body onto the unit, slowly stretching its legs until each joint quietly popped back into the socket, then pulled them into a crouch. One hand flashed across the screen in the window directly above its head, slicing it open.
The voices of Samantha and Dennis could be heard floating through the window. Prechna licked its lips and pulled itself through the screen to land on the floor with only a click of its claws. The sound was subtle but enough to bring the couple's dogs running into the room. Prechna pulled itself into a corner and waited with a snarl on its face.
Both dogs came running around the dining room table and began to bark at the creature in the corner. Prechna bared its teeth and growled at the dogs before hissing a series of strange words and waving one of its hands in front of them.
Both animals immediately lost track of what they were doing and looked past the creature, oblivious to its presence. At the sound of Dennis approaching to check on them, the dogs ran out of the room and met him in the hallway. He turned and led the dogs back to the kitchen as Prechna made its way deeper into the house.
"What were they barking at?" Samantha was finishing cutting cheese to go with the wine.
"Not sure. Knowing them, probably a dust mite." Dennis grabbed the wine glasses and headed to the living room, "I'll turn on the fireplace. After we relax a bit, do you mind helping me with a song? I'm stuck in a spot."
"Of course. You know, I may even do some writing myself tonight. I'm feeling inspired."
They sat together in the living room, sipping their wine and discussing the noise they heard on the street. The conversation eventually fading into neighbourhood gossip, with one dog curled at the end of the couch and the other by the fireplace. As the mantle of warmth and conversation settled around the pair, they began to forget about their fear earlier on their walk. The first glasses from the bottle disappeared in lockstep with the cheese. Dennis got up to bring the plate back to the kitchen and grab the bottle for a refill.
He walked to the sink, setting down the plate, his mind rolling over the troublesome lines, "Don't let the display of shut-eye deceive you, Memories rejoice at the thought of two, That's where they- No, that's where some…" He opened the fridge, ducking his head inside to grab the wine bottle when he heard a crash and Samantha screaming.
"Sam!" He stood upright, smashing his head off the freezer door and ran to the living room, grabbing the top of his head, "Sam, what's wrong? What happened?" He was angry to find her on the couch smiling at him and even laughing a bit, "What the hell?"
Samantha's expression grew serious, "What? Why are you pissed off?"
"Why am I-," he checked his fingers, no blood, but it still hurt like hell. "Why am I pissed off? I almost knocked myself out trying to get in here when I heard you scream. That's not funny."
She sat forward, confused, "What are you talking about? I didn't scream."
"Yes, you did. There was a crash, and then you screamed. Seriously, I thought you were hurt." He sat on the couch, still rubbing his head.
"OK, I don't know what you are talking about, but I agree. It's not funny, knock it off. My nerves are still fried from earlier. I'll go get the wine." She got up and walked out of the room, leaving Dennis confused and still angry. She knew how he felt about the safety of those he cared about. That's not something to joke around with.
He leaned back and closed his eyes, feeling the throb in his head begin to subside. "DENNIS!" Samantha's scream lit the air around his head on fire. His heart leaped in his chest as he ran to the kitchen to find Samantha screaming and sitting on the counter, pointing at a paper bag on the floor. He walked closer to the bag to see it had been full of bugs but now lay on its side, spilling them all over the tiles. He jumped back and looked at Samantha in shock, "What is this?"
"You tell me! I came in here and kicked something with my foot, then I …" she began to shudder, "Shit, Dennis! That's not a prank, you know I hate bugs."
"I didn't do it. Why would I bring a bag of bugs into the house," he was staring at the squirming paper bag, "Hell, where would I even get a bag of bugs?"
"I don't know, and I don't care. Just get rid of them. I'm going to bed." She got off the counter, stepped over the bugs and brushed past him.
"Baby, wait. I didn't do this? Hey, what about my song?"
"I'm going to bed; we can work on your song tomorrow. Right now, I'm too pissed."
He heard her call the dogs and go upstairs. Her footsteps thumped across the floor, but there was no slamming of doors. That was good, at least. He watched the bugs, trying to figure out how they got there and how to get rid of them. He decided the best way would be to sweep them back into the bag.
He opened the broom closet door. It seemed darker than before and smelled terrible, like mouldy earthworms. He bent lower and felt around in the darkness, his fingers brushing against something warm and moist. He cringed back and looked closer. There was just enough light coming in for him to make out the colour yellow.
He straightened, wiping his fingers on his pants in disgust. One of the dogs must have been sick, and Sam didn't clean the mop properly. That must be the reason for the musty smell. He grabbed the broom and shut the door; he was in no mood to deal with the mop now. He began to sweep the bugs into a pile, feeling more and more like someone was watching him.
He couldn't take it anymore and spun around to see what was behind him. All that was there was the open broom closet door. His hair stood at end all over his body as he tried to remember if he had closed the door or not. He noticed his hand trembled as he reached for the doorknob, his mind screaming to check if the mop was still there.
His fingers closed around the knob, and he slammed it shut, throwing his body against the door, feeling like he was losing his mind. He needed to get away, to lose himself in his music. He grabbed the broom, swept the bugs back into the bag, and threw it into the backyard. He closed the door and locked it, before heading to the living room to work on his song.
His heart sank as he walked into the room. His guitar was on the floor, a large crack running across its face, and all the strings broken. His face felt hot as blood and anger raced to his head in a throbbing pressure. "What in the living hell," the words came out in a whisper, "Why would she do this?"
He stood stunned a moment longer, then ran for the stairs screaming for Samantha, who was brushing her teeth. He burst into the bathroom as she rinsed her mouth, "What the hell were you thinking?"
Samantha looked at him, anger still flashing in her eyes, "What do you mean? Dennis, I'm too tired for more jokes."
"So am I. But smashing my guitar is not a joke."
She stared at him blankly, "What are you talking about? Why would I smash your guitar?"
"I don't know, you tell me. Maybe because of the bugs. Which I didn't do."
"Really? You didn't do it? Then who in the hell did, Dennis? A freaking ghost? Dammit, grow up. You can be such a child. I've had enough, go sleep on the couch." She pushed past him and slammed the bedroom door. Both dogs were in the hall looking confused at the commotion. Dennis looked at them, "Yeah, you and me both, guys." He stormed down the stairs to assess the damage to his guitar.
Samantha paced around the bedroom until she heard his footsteps hit the bottom of the stairs, then she opened the door a crack before slipping out of her clothes and into bed. The door slam was more for effect; she wanted the dogs to be able to come in if they felt like it. She had planned on doing some writing but now was too angry. Instead, she turned off the light and rolled over.
The sheets felt cool on her legs as her mind replayed the night's events. Uncomfortable, she rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She was trying to catch her racing thoughts when she felt something tickle her bare leg. She twitched her foot, thinking it was a dog hair, but felt something hard scrape her leg and begin moving. It started to tickle and scratch her leg in a frenzy. She screamed and sat up in bed, turning on the lamp. Her eyes fixated on the mass moving and flopping about under the sheets. She pulled her legs to her chest and threw back the covers to find a crow flapping wildly at the foot of the bed.
She screamed and kicked at the bird, sending it across the room to hit the wall and fall to the floor with a mechanical clank. She stared at it, screaming as it slowly stopped flapping. She inched closer and saw that it was a wind-up toy. She reached for it and screamed as it let out a final rusty squawk.
That was it. She had enough of the pranks. She slipped on a sweatshirt and jogging pants before grabbing the Halloween toy to confront Dennis with it. She could still feel the old gears clicking out the rest of the energy coiled in its springs. It was obviously very old and filthy. She looked at the sheets, stained with streaks of mud. What had gotten into Dennis? He liked pranks, but this was beyond over the line.
Opening the door, she thought she saw movement in the spare bedroom. She paused in the hall and watched, but all she saw was a shadow settling in the corner. She told herself it was the lights of a passing car and continued down the stairs to confront Dennis. She found him in the living room sitting on the couch, his broken guitar beside him. Her anger softened at the look of hurt in his eyes, "I didn't think you were serious about the guitar. I thought it was just part of another prank. What happened?
Dennis looked at her, hot words on his tongue's tip until he saw the bird in her hand and the stunned look on her face, "You seriously don't know, do you?" He pointed at the crow in her hand, "Where did you get that? What are you doing with it? You hate birds."
"It was under the sheets in the bed. I thought- You mean, you didn't put it there?"
Dennis felt the colour drain from his face as he looked from the bird to the guitar and back to Samantha, "There must be someone else in the house."
The look on Samantha's face was a mix of terror and confusion. If someone was in the house, why weren't the dogs reacting? "But the dogs? They're acting normal."
Dennis nodded, "That means it's someone we know," he leaned in closer with a conspiratorial whisper, "let's find them and scare the hell out of them."
Samantha dropped the bird and slipped behind him, grabbing his shoulder, "Fine, but we are not splitting up. Where do we start?"
"The broom closet. When I was sweeping the bugs earlier, I closed the door. When I turned back around it was open. I swear I closed it." He began walking toward the kitchen, Samantha stuck to his shoulder. She whispered in his ear, "That would make sense. They could plant the bugs and hide quickly."
They poked their heads around the corner and peeked into the kitchen. Everything appeared normal. Dennis stood to one side of the broom closet door and got ready to pounce. At his nod, Samantha threw the door open. He screamed, "Ah-ha!" and jumped in front of the open door to find the closet empty. "That's strange…"
"What's strange?" Samantha still stood behind the door, not wanting to look.
"When I grabbed the broom earlier, the closet seemed a lot darker and- oh, hey, the mop is gone."
"What? The mop is in the bathroom upstairs."
"No. It was here. I touched it earlier. It was still damp and smelled musty."
Samantha came around the door and looked at Dennis, real fear creeping into her voice, "I don't like this, baby. I'm seriously starting to freak out. That crow smelled musty too."
Dennis stared at her, unsure of what to make of it all. His mind kept going back to the darkness in the closet. It reminded him of something; it was like the-
The couple stood frozen in fear as the call they heard earlier on the street, now echoed through their house. Dennis grabbed Samantha and pushed her behind him into a corner. The house went silent, then a series of excited grunts came from the upper floor. They waited, listening until they heard the top of the stairs creak.
Dennis ran to the back hall in time to hear a rapid thumping and catch a quick flash of yellow, shrouded in shadows, race down the stairs and screech past him into the dining room. He screamed and ran back for Samantha, pulling her by the arm out of the kitchen toward the front door. She ran behind him, pleading to know what it was, but all he could say was, "We have to get out of here."
They ran to the front foyer, and Samantha slammed into Dennis as he pulled up short, swearing. She bounced off his back and landed hard, knocking the wind out of herself. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't scream, but she still tried as she stared at the front door's twisted lock. Someone, no something, had punched the door with such force it bent the deadbolt, making it impossible to open. Yellow pus and dirt caked the lock, the foul odour permeating the air, the same as the broom closet.
Denis helped Samantha to her feet while she regained her breath. When she could finally speak again, she began to cry, "What's happening, Dennis? I don't think this is a prank anymore." He held her in a tight hug, "I don't think so either."
Samantha pulled away from Dennis as they heard one of the dogs thump off the bed upstairs and settle on the floor. "Whatever is going on, the dogs don't seem to notice it. It was just upstairs with them, and the dogs didn't react."
Dennis nodded, a knot forming in his stomach. He debated running to the back door, but he had just seen the creature there.
Besides, if the front door was blocked, the back door probably was as well. He grabbed Samantha's hand, and they crept out of the front foyer and into the living room. He felt a twinge of anger as he saw his guitar again.
The electric fireplace was still flickering in the corner, casting deep shadows by the wing-backed chair. They seemed darker than usual. "Dennis, watch out!" Samantha pulled him back, causing them both to fall, as a small stone statue hurtled through the space his head was. It missed him but had enough force to embed itself in the wall behind them. "It came from the chair."
They crab-walked backward until they hit the couch, huffing and grunting noise coming from the shadows in the corner. They watched in terrified disgust as the shadows lightened, and a pair of three-fingered yellow hands gripped the back of the chair as a small creature pulled itself into the seat. It turned to face the couple, sliding its hood back, allowing them to see it fully. Dennis felt as though he was going to be sick.
Samantha gripped his hand in an iron grasp and squeezed even tighter as the creature leaned forward in the chair, sniffing in their direction. It began to chitter excitedly, its lower jaw vibrating up and down, causing the flaccid skin on its muzzle to quiver. Its eyes closed halfway, and it began to rock gently back and forth as its tongue flicked the air, tasting their fear.
Keeping her eyes on the creature in front of her, Samantha motioned to Dennis her intent to back out of the room. He shook his head, but Samantha whispered, "It's distracted." She glanced at him to see if he heard and began to lean to the side. A sudden rush of air and a shriek split the room. When she opened her eyes again, the creature was only a few feet away from them.
It lay close to the floor, its legs bent backward, clawed toes digging into the carpet, ready to spring. It swayed hypnotically back and forth in front of the pair, watching them, still tasting the air. It seemed to recoil in upon itself for a moment, then leaped forward, one of its clawed hands catching Samantha by the ankle. She screamed as its cracked nails dug dirty furrows into her calf. She began to kick at the creature as hard as she could and managed to catch it on the tip of its muzzle. It let out a startled scream and fell back, letting go of her bleeding leg. The creature tried to lunge forward again, but Dennis swung his broken guitar at it, screaming in rage.
Not expecting resistance, the creature ran out of the room toward the back hall. Dennis scrambled to his feet and chased after it. Samantha looked up from her leg in time to see Dennis catch his foot on a guitar string pulled tight across the room. The string sliced into his ankle while he landed hard on his face. He rolled to his side feeling his mouth fill with blood and more than a few broken teeth.
His head rang. Through his tears, he could vaguely make out the shape of Samantha leaning over him. Everything was blurry. She sounded funny, far away. He reached up to his face and felt her gently pull his hand away. Her voice floated to him, "Your nose is broken, baby. Don't touch it. Hey! Come on, come back to me. No. No! You can't pass out. I know it hurts, but I need you. That thing is still in the house."
That thing? That thing? Clarity came rushing back to him. The creature, where was it? He drew a quick breath to ask but screamed as needles of ice stabbed into his mouth where each tooth was broken. He grabbed his mouth in agony and sat up, seeing the gash on his ankle for the first time. He had been chasing that thing after it grabbed Samantha. Her leg was swelling from the knee down. She needed help; he needed help.
Samantha held up a hand for silence. Pain and fear reflecting in her eyes. Dennis strained to listen past the screaming pain in his head. There it was, a soft clicking and shuffling. The creature was sneaking back for another attack. Dennis tried to scream "run," but his swollen lips and broken teeth made it come out as, "uunnfff!" It was enough. They both scrambled back toward the couch as the creature scuttled back into the doorway.
Their screams filled the house as the creature crept closer to them. A sudden thump from upstairs made it pause. Time seemed to stand still, then came the familiar sound of the dogs running down the stairs. The creature froze, motionless, as one of the dogs entered the room behind it to investigate the screaming. It stared past the creature at the couple cowering on the floor, then walked right past it to investigate further. They could hear the other dog coming through the kitchen and into the front foyer, headed toward the living room.
The creature watched the dog, eyes on full alert. The dog sniffed at Samantha's leg and let out a small whimper. It began to smell the air, then shook its head as though coming out of a trance. It snarled, then turned to look at the creature and let out an alarmed bark. They heard the other dog pause momentarily, and the creature waved its hand at the dog in front of it, beginning to mutter the ancient words of the trance, when the other dog burst into the room from the front foyer, breaking its concentration.
Acting as one, the dogs began to yelp and growl in a bloodthirsty rage and rushed at the creature. It let out an angry hiss and swiped at the dog closest to it. It missed, and the other dog grabbed it by the foot. The creature began to chitter and hiss even more, frantically flailing at the dog in front of it. It landed a blow, tearing a bloody gash open on the dog's face, causing it to yelp and cringe back.
The creature kicked the dog, refusing to let go of its foot and squealed in pain as the side of its foot, and one toe tore away with a wet ripping sound, as the dog sailed across the room and into the wall.
Forgetting about its prey and feeding for the night, the creature rushed to the dining room window, diving out of the screen it came in. The dogs chased it to the window barking wildly. Samantha and Dennis hobbled in after them and watched a dark shadow slip over the fence and scurry through the neighbour's backyard. Its call could be heard echoing through the night air, "tsik-tsik-tsik-chrrrrrrr, tsik-tsik-chrrrrr."
Samantha slammed the window and closed the curtains. She looked at Dennis, and they both sank to the floor, unsure of what to do next and how they would explain this. Dennis reached up to feel his swollen jaw. Samantha sat beside him, staring out the front window. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall, trying to work up enough strength to stand. His eyes flew open as he felt Samantha's hand grip his leg. Following her terrified gaze, he looked out the front window to see the treetop across the street shaking…