“Mother, I do not want to go back to sleep.” Hayley yawned noisily, unable to suppress it any longer.
“It’s just a nightmare,” said her mother, caressing her daughter’s hair. “You’re just not used to living in a new house, is all. Now get some sleep. Your father and I are just down the hall.” Giving her daughter one last kiss on the forehead, Hayley’s mother got up and turned off the light from the overhead chandelier.
Hayley thought she heard the wiring fizzle out. Obviously the wrought iron circle dangling above her head was old – even older than her parents, she reckoned – and so was everything else in this house. The walls and floors creaked, the wind howled through the rafters, and despite its size it felt so…empty. Even before she tried to sleep the first night, something about the place made her skin crawl.
Despite the eerie feeling, her body needed sleep. She’d awoken every time she started dreaming. Although she tried to hide it from her parents, they noticed her unhealthy pallor and droopy eyes. When they asked her if she was well, she was too fatigued to do anything but tell the truth.
In her dreams, she heard the branches of the tall, gnarled oak outside rattle her bedroom window. Like the knobby fingers of her grandfather, they rattled the glass like they were skipping across it. If she didn’t know any better, the branches seemed to try to get her attention. She didn’t think too much of it at first, at least until she looked outside and saw it was in all actuality too far away to touch the house. But in her dreams, somehow it had approached nearer to tell her all was not well.
All of a sudden, Hayley had noticed the house had stopped making any noises. Everything became covered in a blanket of darkness, the kind of shadows that seemed to drink in light and never have its fill. She couldn’t see her hands in front of her face, and there was no way she could sense which way she ought to go to safety. Had she fallen asleep?
Was she back in her nightmare realm?
Somewhere far away the wind rustled through the branches of the oak tree. This time, they did not rap upon the glass. No, they sounded constrained, as if some other unseen hand had held them at bay. Something else was here with her tonight, something even more terrible and maddening that she couldn’t even fathom. Oh, how could she have ever been afraid of the tree? This kind of terror stuck in her throat and stifled any cry she could make. Whatever it was that was out there, why did it wait?
As if answering her call, a lone howl pierced the windy cacophony outside. A great snarl uttered forth from a beast that could not be said to be of this Earth, and Hayley could do nothing but freeze in abject terror. Her eyes fixed upon her window, for outside a fiery purple light cut through the darkness and illuminated her room. In a few bounds, the beast had arrived at the window, laying a massive paw upon the glass. It looked like a dog with the most peculiar eyes, and smoke seemed to come forth from its nostrils.
Summoning all of her courage, Hayley closed her eyes and screamed as loud as she could. Moments later, when she opened them, her mother was at her side with the light on. “Hush child,” she said wearily. “I am here now. Whatever is the matter with you?”
“I cannot sleep,” Hayley protested. “It’s terrible!”
Her mother soothed her daughter, tossing aside the covers and picking her up in her arms. “You can sleep with your father and I tonight,” she said. Taking Hayley away, her mother flipped off the light switch with her elbow and carried her daughter down the hall to the master bedroom.
Upon the panes of the bedroom window, with the full moon providing complete illumination, was a single massive paw print.