Alexis was only six when she and her family moved into the neighborhood. At first she resented it. She missed the wide open field behind their old house, blades of yellow and green as far as the eye could see, an entire world of dirt and mud and worms and bugs teeming with life beneath. She missed the line of pine trees along the side of the house where she and her older brother would build makeshift forts. She missed the bright stars at night, her father and her lying on the roof and counting each of them as they fell.
She missed her friends most of all. Her mother reassured her over and over that she’d make new friends in time, but Alexis was not so sure.
The first person her age she met was a girl who lived across the street. She insisted on calling her “Lexi” and Alexis hated it. Only her dad could call her Lexi. In retaliation she called this new girl “Kels” but the girl didn’t seem to mind. She giggled every time and said, “Like shells and bells!”
“Or smells!” declared Alexis, her arms crossed firmly across her body. “Kels who smells.”
Kelsey sniffed really hard, scrunching up her nose into her forehead and then exhaled, “I don’t smell anything.”
Alexis grunted and retreated into her backyard. Kelsey followed.
“Are all the backyards here so stupid and small?” asked Alexis. She hopped onto a swing and kicked her legs back and forth. At least her dad had brought the swingset.
Kelsey jumped onto the swing next to her and looked around, “I think yours is bigger than mine!”
Alexis snorted and kicked her legs to swing higher and higher.
Kelsey swayed gently toward the ground and looked up at Alexis. “Have you seen the monster yet?” she asked.
Alexis stopped swinging for a moment and allowed herself to slow down. “What monster?”
“Oh my mom says not to call him that,” she replied gravely, “but he looks like one. He lives a ways down the street and every once in awhile if you wake up in the middle of the night you’ll see him, walking right down the middle of the road.”
“You’re making that up!” exclaimed Alexis. She jumped off the swing and ran into the house, “Mom! Dad! Kels who smells is lying!”
“Am not,” Kelsey mumbled to herself as she shuffled her feet in the dirt. “And I don’t smell anything!”
Later that night Alexis couldn’t stop thinking about the monster who lived down the street a ways. She stayed up for as late as she could, sometimes staring at her nightlight trying not to blink to trick herself into thinking it was daytime. She must have fallen asleep at some point because when she jerked awake her clock said it was three in the morning. She rubbed her eyes slowly, yawned, and out of the corner of her eye saw a figure moving down the street.
She gasped silently and covered her mouth. She stuck her fingers between the blinds and lifted them so she could see better. The monster, she thought to herself. It walked with a strange limp and its hair stuck out in all of the wrong places but Alexis didn’t really think it looked like a monster.
“Stupid Kels,” she said quietly. She was about to close the blinds but then the monster slowly turned its head and looked up at her. It was a boy. He had only one eye and his ears were different sizes. He was staring directly at her. His mouth moved as though he were speaking to her but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. She saw a light flip on the opposite side of the street and saw Kels’ face appear in the window. Alexis glanced at it and then back down at the boy monster, but he was already shuffling away.
Alexis woke up startled. She frantically reached out an arm from beneath her blankets and fumbled to turn on her bedside lamp. She recoiled at the sudden brightness and squinted to adjust to the newfound light, slowly opening her eyes. She stood up and crept over to her window, peering between the blinds.
When the hell did Hashtag start sleepwalking again? she wondered to herself, it’s been years. She waved at him, knowing he wouldn’t see her. He slowly looked at Kelsey’s house and then he looked at hers, his lips moving silently. Ugh, well it’s still super creepy when he does that. Alexis closed the blinds and hobbled back to her bed. She slid under her blankets and sighed deeply. As she turned the knob on her lamp, she thought she heard a scream in the distance. She froze and lay there silently but heard nothing more than the quiet of the night. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Bright sunlight peeked through the blinds, shining directly onto Alexis’ closed eyes. She flinched, yawned, and stretched, looking over to her alarm clock. She counted down quietly, “Five, four, three, two...” The clock blasted the air with its cacophonic noise and she swung her hand onto it hard to silence it.
She slowly stood up and stumbled to her windows. She yanked the blinds open and allowed the sunlight to pour over her. She opened the windows and welcomed the morning breeze. She inhaled deeply and the aroma of flowers and grass and leaves tickled her nose. She had not remembered a morning so vibrant and full of life as it was today.
Her second day back at school surely would be better than her first and her first was not that bad, albeit a bit strange hanging out with Hashtag and Squeaky. She had to admit, however, that they were not as off-putting or as repulsive as she had imagined. They had a strange sense of humor and could be depressing at times, Hashtag especially, but they seemed to make the best of what they had.
Alexis happily got ready for school and bounced down the stairs into the living room. She saw no one but knew her mother was likely still lying in bed. “Bye mom!” she called out, “I’m going to go walk to school with Kelsey!” She received no response as she expected, but rather than being downtrodden by such thoughts she hopped out the door and embraced the energy of the day.
She quickly crossed the street and knocked on and simultaneously opened the front door of Kelsey’s home. “Hello? Kels? Mr. or Mrs. Pruitt?” she called into the house, slowly stepping inside.
“Oh, hi Alexis!” Mrs. Pruitt greeted her. Both Kelsey’s parents were sitting at the dining room table, eating English muffins and drinking coffee, reading the morning newspaper. “It’s been awhile since we’ve seen you over here.”
Alexis twirled her foot on the floor. “I know,” she replied, “it’s been a few strange days lately. So, where’s Kels at? She oversleep again?”
Mr. Pruitt looked over the newspaper. “Oh probably,” he said, “with the nightmares she’s been having lately, I swear she doesn’t sleep through half the night. I heard her scream pretty good last night too. You best go get her up.”
Alexis removed her shoes and slowly walked up the carpeted stairs. “Kels, you up?” she yelled into the hallway. “We’re going to be late for school!” Alexis knocked on the door. “Kels?” Alexis opened the door.
There was so much red strewn about the room that at first Alexis could not understand what she was looking at. The walls and ceiling and carpet were littered with arcs of blood. Shattered glass was scattered throughout the room. Kelsey sat upright in her bed, her head craned toward the now open door. Her hair was matted thickly and stuck to her face and behind her ears. Her mouth hung wide open, an expression of terror locked into her pale and motionless face. Where her eyes should have been, two empty chasms stared directly at Alexis.
Alexis screamed over and over and as Mr. and Mrs. Pruitt raced up the stairs, she bolted down them and out the front of the door and retched into the bushes over and over as the world spun sideways and lost its focus.
“What did you do?” she grunted between bursts of heaving, “What did you do?”
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)