Only in the Night

It starts as soon as it gets dark.  The noise; low at first then louder the darker it gets and the closer they come.  You grow used to it, but it’s still terrifying.

 

         I’ve lived with it all my life.  It’s all I’ve ever known.  The dark is to be respected and feared.  You always get home before it gets dark.  You never go out whilst it’s dark.  You bolt shut the doors and seal the shutters over the windows.  You keep the dark out.

 

Or more accurately, you keep what’s lurking in the dark out.

 

We call them Creepers and they own the night.  We’ll never get it back.

 

It’s winter and the night comes at around 4pm.  During the months of the early nights, school finishes at 1pm and no one works later than 2pm.  Depending on how far you work from home depends on what time you finish.  Pay stays the same all year round.  The government can’t cut everyone’s pay just because of something that has evolved in nature . . . or does guilt control their actions?

 

I arrive home before my parents, but I’m not worried.  Everyone is always home – or somewhere safe – for the night arriving.  Panic can settle in if you have to make a quick stop at the shop for something essential, like baby milk, and you end up with only fifteen minutes to get home.  Sprinting from your car to the front door, too scared to look round, but convinced you can see movement from the corner of your eye.  Hear hammering in your chest, not from the mad dash to safety, but from the dreadful gurgling and moaning filling the air.

 

Yeah, panic can settle in if you’re close to death.  Luckily, no one in my town has been killed by a Creeper.  Everyone is careful and looks out for each other.  If you can’t make it to your own home in time then a neighbour is sure to take you in for the night.  Everyone looks out for each other when the night arrives.

 

Truth be told, though, no one really knows what a Creeper would do if it got hold of you.  We know that they are fierce and tear animals to bits with their sharp claws, but they have never come face to face with a human.  We are always well hidden in our homes by the time they come out to feed. We’ve become masters of going under ground, so to speak.  Concealing ourselves from the ugliness of the night so thoroughly that the Creepers wander between our homes with no knowledge of our existence. 

 

There’s beef stew in the slow cooker.  It smells delicious, but I have none.  I like for us to eat as a family each night.  Sitting around the table eating a warm hearty meal whilst discussing our day is a great way to take our minds off of the abominations lurking around outside.

 

We have to be quiet, though.  If we are watching t.v. or listening to music, the volume has to be just above a whisper.  They’re attracted to noise, you see, and although all precautions to keep them out of our homes are taken, any loud noise can result in a long night of Creepers scratching at the doors; growling to be let in.

 

One year, it was my 14th birthday and I had invited a few friends around for a sleepover.  My birthday is in July so the sun doesn’t set until somewhere between 9pm and 10pm.  I love the summer months.  Even though the school days are longer, there’s more time to hang out in the garden with friends.  That’s what we did that year for my birthday; had a barbeque and spent all of the evening in the back garden, listening to music and laughing loudly.

 

About an hour before sunset, mum called us in.  We continued the party in my room, too full of giggles and childish antics to keep track of the time.  We had the music cranked up further than we should, turning it down whenever my mum complained only to turn it back up again when she’d gone back downstairs.

 

I wasn’t the first to notice it; that was my friend Linzi.  She was sitting on the bed facing the window so she had a direct view.  Whilst we were in the crescendo of raucous laughter, Linzi’s face froze and she stared past all of us to my large bay window.  I followed her gaze and quickly flapped my hands, gesturing for the other girls to be quiet.

 

Everyone was watching the window now.  My curtains were still drawn so we had a perfect view of my shutters.  Shutters that were slowly moving in and out as though someone, or something, was trying to pull them open.

 

The music was still playing.  Forcing myself to move, I climbed quickly off of the bed and switched off my laptop.  Suddenly the shutters stopped moving.  We continued to stare at the window and I held my breath.

 

The shutters began to violently rattle against the glass.  I cried out, but Linzi screamed bloody murder and bolted from my room.  The other girls huddled on the bed, whimpering into each other’s pyjamas.  I watched the shutters shake so furiously I was certain that they would be torn from their hinges, and then what?  If the Creepers could do that what’s to say they couldn’t break through the double-glazing?  And if they broke in would we be able to make it to the safety of the basement in time?

 

The basement is our safe place.  There are sofa beds, food and bottled water down there to keep us going until we are rescued . . . or at least until daylight.  But Creepers don’t break into homes; they don’t know we’re here – unless we’re stupid enough to make too much noise.

 

My parents arrived just in time to see a crack appear in the glass.  They quickly and quietly rounded up us girls and herded us downstairs.  There was Linzi, cowering in a corner of the hall, I rushed over and yanked her to her feet.  We ran down to the basement and spent the rest of the night on lumpy sofa beds, too afraid to sleep.

 

When morning came we tentatively went back upstairs, expecting to see destruction and chaos, but the only evidence of last night’s episode was the crack in the window.  The shutters were still intact.

 

My mum phoned all of my friends’ parents who swiftly came and picked them all up once they’d learned of the night’s events.  Linzi barely uttered two words before she left and wasn’t in school for the whole of the following week.  She’s fine now, but won’t sleep over at anyone’s home anymore.

 

As for us, dad got my window replaced and bars installed on all of the windows.  This looks like an eyesore from the outside, but makes me feel safe on the inside.  Back to concealing ourselves, making little to no noise so that the Creepers would forget that there was anything in here and go back to wandering the streets for animals to eat.

 

Just as I finish setting the table both my parents arrive home at the same time.  It’s half past three and already dull.  In another half an hour it will be completely pitch black outside.  We sit down for dinner and my parents speak briefly about their day.  Mum is a supervisor in a clothing store in a shopping centre and explains that they’d had a tough day dealing with a group of Creeper Lovers.  These folk go around preaching to all who will listen (and even those who won’t) that the Creepers have been sent by God to quell the evil amongst us, that we must sacrifice at least one wrong doer per night to satisfy the Creeper’s insatiable appetite for evil.

 

They call themselves The Soldiers of Souls (to everyone else they’re the Creeper Lovers) and I often see groups of them in town bleating about sacrifice.  What really surprises me is that every time I see them the crowd surrounding them is bigger.

 

Mum says there were around 15 of them following a group of four teenage boys and spouting nonsense about the will of God.  They reached mums shop before one of the boys got fed up and punched the closest Soldier.  Security from all nearby shops ran out, stopped the fight and the Creeper Lovers were kicked out of the centre. 

 

  It’s 6pm now and well and truly dark outside.  Mum and I go around closing all of the curtains then we all go to the living room to watch some television.  Mum and I watch some soap operas whilst dad does the crossword puzzles in the newspaper.  At around 9pm I decide to turn in.  I kiss my folks goodnight, head upstairs and get ready for bed.  Once I’ve brushed my teeth and changed into my jammies, I lie in my bed, in the dark, staring up at the ceiling.  Listening.

 

This is my nightly ritual.  I can’t go to sleep until I hear them.  I don’t know why.  Does some part of me think that I won’t hear them?   Or is there some sick part of me that just wants to hear them?  Some morbid curiosity that needs satisfied before I’m able to rest?  Whatever it is, I cant close my eyes until I hear them.

 

            I don’t have to wait long.

 

            A high-pitched cry sounds from far down my street.  I jump in my bed and pull the covers up closer to my chin.  Soon another cry follows, this one a little closer, then it goes quiet.  My heart is thudding in my chest and I gulp over a lump in my throat.

 

            Each night is different.  Sometimes two cries are all I hear before I fall asleep, and other times I have to wear earplugs to block out the screeching and growling.  Tonight all I hear is one more shriek before my heartbeat slows and I fall fast asleep.

 

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

Something’s wrong.  I wake up to the sound of screaming and jabbering.  The Creepers have woken me up before, fighting amongst themselves, but this sounds different.  They sound excited . . . almost as if it’s feeding time at the zoo.

 

            I sit up in bed and listen closely.  Car alarms ring as Creepers jumped onto car roofs, scrambling around to reach whatever is causing all the excitement.

 

Just below the raucous sound of the Creepers I can hear what sounds like a car engine.  Impossible.  No one ever steps foot outside once night has fallen.  Not even to get in their car – it’s just not safe.

 

            Then there’s another sound, this one louder than the other two and more frightening. 

 

            “THIS IS THE SOLDIERS OF SOULS.  WE WISH TO ABSOLVE YOU ALL OF YOUR SINS.  TO GIVE UNTO JESUS A SACRIFICE SO THAT HE MAY BE HONOURED.”

 

            It’s a P.A. system and its blaring Creeper Lovers bullshit.  Nothing good can come from this and just as I climb out of bed, my room door swings open.  I cry out in surprise and both my parents motion for me to be quiet.

 

            “Are you okay?” mum asks.

 

            I nod, “What’s going on?”

 

            “I don’t know,” dad says, looking pensive.

 

            The three of us fall quiet as the P.A. system continues, each announcement getting closer and closer to our home.  The Creepers howl with excitement.

 

            “Is there any way we can see what’s going on?” mum asks.

 

            Dad looks horrified, “Why would you want to do that?”

 

            Mum’s unfazed by his shock, “Nothing like this has happened before.  I just want to see what’s going on.”

 

            I understand where mum is coming from.  Even after 17 years of being taught to fear and respect the Creepers, and even after my own near miss, I still wonder what the night is like.

 

            “Aren’t the shutters on the attic window on the inside?” I ask.

 

            “That’s right!” mum says, turning hopefully to dad.

 

            He opens his mouth, ready to protest, but I can see the visible change on his face as he realises that he is curious as well.

 

            “Alright, but listen,” he says, holding up a hand, “we need to be quiet at all times.  No matter what happens do not make a sound.  We go up there, have a quick look, and that’s it.  We secure the attic again then go straight back to bed.  Got it?”

 

            Mum and I both nod in agreement.  We follow dad out to the hall and he pulls on the toggle hanging from the ceiling.  The attic trap door falls open and the ladders slowly unfold down to the floor.  We climb up.

 

            When dad paid to get the bars installed, the joiner was unable to secure the shutters back onto the outside of the attic window.  In the end the joiner had fitted the shutters on the inside, stating that the Creepers might smash the window, but at least wouldn’t be able to get inside.

 

            We keep the lights off as we all tiptoe toward the window.   Dad unlatches the shutters then, with one last querying look at my mum, slowly pulls open them.

 

            The cacophony outside becomes louder.  The three of us kneel on the floor and peek over the window ledge and witness a horrifying sight.

 

            I have never seen a Creeper in the flesh before.  I know what they look like, there are pictures of them in all the school textbooks, but nothing could prepare me for seeing one in real life.

 

There must be around twenty of them crawling around outside.  Tall, stick thin humanoid creatures moving around on all fours, they can stand up and move around on their legs, but favour all fours.  Their arms are unnaturally long compared to their short legs and they’re completely hairless except for tufts of wiry black hair on their shoulders. 

 

They gather outside of my house, emerging from the darkness of gardens and nearby streets.  The sound of the P.A. system comes from our right and the Creepers faced toward it, like pointer dogs.

 

Dad cranes his neck to get a better look.

 

“It’s a van,” he says, “What the hell are they doing out there?”

 

I can see it now, a white transit van with speakers on the roof.  The Creepers all stare in the direction of the van; some stalk still, others jumping up and down from cars in agitation.

 

“THE TIME IS NIGH!” comes an announcement and, to our horror, the van stops just down the street.

 

Mum grabs dads arm, “What are they doing, Phil?”

 

Dad can only shake his head as the three of us stare at the van.  The Creepers are staring, too.  A pack of wild animals come face to face with an unknown threat.  They are all still now.  Watching.  Waiting.

 

The side door of the van slides open.  In the gloom we can just make out the shape of a few figures scuffling in the back of the van.  Then one of them is shoved out onto the road.  The door is slammed shut.

 

The figure on the ground lies perfectly still.  I begin to think that maybe he is dead.  Had maybe wacked his head on the road.  Slowly, though, he begins to move.  He pulls his hands in under his chest and pushes himself to all fours.  He raises his head and looks around.

 

Mum gasps and recoils from the window.

 

“What is it, mum?”

 

She points down to the figure, “That’s one of the boys from the shop today.  Who were getting pestered off of the Creeper Lovers.  I recognise his jacket.”

 

I turn back to the window.  The boy is wearing a dark jacket with distinguishable fluorescent patches around the arms.  He is looking towards the Creepers.  They haven’t moved yet.  Some have their noses in the air, smelling the boy.  Smelling his sweat and fear.  The boy can’t stay there; he’s a sitting duck.  He has to make a move soon.  As though he hears my thoughts, he scrambles back onto his feet and throws himself at the van.

 

            “Help!” he screams, pounding on the van, “Let me in!”

 

            His screams are shrill and shaky.  They hurt my head and I feel a tightening in my chest.  I close my eyes and will him to stop.

 

            Mum pushes away from the window and gets to her feet, “We have to help him.  We can’t leave him like that.”

 

            Dad stands up beside her, “There’s nothing we can do.”

 

            “BEHOLD YOUR SACRIFICE, OH LORD!”

 

            The booming voice makes me jump and I look out of the window.  The boy now has his back against the van, hands pressed against his ears as the P.A. continues.

 

            “THIS IS WHAT YOU DESIRE, OH LORD?  YOUNG BLOOD TO QUELL THE THIRST OF THE BEASTS YOU HAVE SENT HERE TO US?”

 

            Mum and dad are back crouching down beside me.  Mum whimpers as the boy slides down to the ground, his face twisted in grief and fear.

 

            “THIS IS YOUR WILL, LORD, THEN SO SHALL IT BE DONE!”

 

            At that the van’s headlights come on, momentarily blinding the Creepers.  This seems to snap them out of their weariness and they all emit a mixture of sounds.  Some growl, others chatter excitedly, but worst of all, they all begin to move.

 

            The boy is back on his feet, pounding on the van again, “Let me in! Let me in!”

 

            He spins away from the van; they aren’t going to help him.  A couple of the Creepers are no more than ten feet away from him, shoulder blades rising and falling as they move towards him; sleek as cats.

 

            “Help!” he screams, full panic has set in and he sounds hysterical, “Somebody! Please, help!”

 

            “I can’t handle this,” mum says, putting a hand over her eyes.

 

            I know I shouldn’t watch this, either.  It’s only going to go one way and from what we’ve been taught in school, Creepers are brutal in their killings.  This poor boy isn’t going to survive the next five minutes out there with these monsters, and I can’t stop watching.  It goes back to the morbid curiosity I get every night before I fall asleep, having to hear the Creepers, and now I just have to see what’s going to happen to this boy.

 

He stops begging for help and instead, with one last-ditch attempt for safety, sprints for the nearest house.

 

            He’s fast, but the Creepers are faster.

 

            They catch up with him in a matter of seconds.  The closest pounces onto his back, sending him back down to the ground.  The rest are on him in no time.  They tug and pull on his body; yanking his limbs from their sockets to carry away and eat in peace.  They eat fast and furiously, as though their meal might be snatched away from them.  Is this their first taste of human flesh? Do they like it?

 

            Mum is sobbing gently beside me.  I put an arm around her and look at my dad.  His face is ashen as he stares down at the carnage below.  Then he utters a single word, Monsters, and I don’t think he’s talking about the Creepers.

 

The lights go out in the van and the engines cranks into life.  The van begins to pull away, but one of the Creepers, that hadn’t quite been able to get at the body, turns toward the sound of the engine.  From the window I can see it’s ugly hairless face twist into a snarl, and then it launches itself at the van.

 

            It clings onto the roof then pulls itself up.  It begins to scratch and pound on the roof.  All the noise has caught the attention of several other Creepers.  They leave their place in the queue for food and dive at the van.  They all cling on, a couple on each side and one more at the back.  The Creeper already on the roof crawls down onto the bonnet and hammers with both fists on the windscreen.

 

            “Dear God!” dad breathes.

 

            I tighten my grip on my mums arm as we all watch the Creeper smash it’s way though the windscreen.  The van picks up speed as it swerves over the road.  Creepers scream and swing about as they cling on.  The van mounts the pavement and crashes through our fence.  Dad jumps to his feet, presses his forehead against the glass to get a better look as the van crashes into our front door.

 

            “Shit!” dad cries and dashes for the trap door, “Mary. Close the shutter!”

 

            Mum grabs the shutter and yanks it closed, but not before I notice a Creeper staring up at me from the front garden.  We race after my dad and find him half way down the stairs, transfixed on the front door.

 

            “It’s holding,” he whispers, “We’ll just have to wait this out.”

 

            From the other side of the door we can hear screaming, both human and not.  The sound of scratching on our wooden door becomes more frantic as the time passes.  The screaming gets louder and I cover my ears and bury my face in my mums arm.

 

Suddenly, someone is shaking me.  I look up to see dad pointing at the bottom of the door.

 

            “Smoke.  The van’s on fire.” He says, then bolts upstairs.

 

            “Oh my God, what are we going to do?” I ask my mum.  Dad comes sprinting back down the stairs carrying soaking wet towels.  He throws them onto the floor and tucks what he can under the door.

 

            “This should stop the smoke getting in,” he says.

 

            “But what if the fire gets in, dad?” I ask, pulling on my pyjama top in agitation, “It’s wooden.  It’ll go right up.”

 

            “It’ll be fine,” dad says, but looks uncertain.

 

            The awful commotion continues outside our house, but seems to be louder.  I wonder if the rest of the Creepers haven’t finished their meal and now joined the others at our house.

 

            “I hate not knowing what they’re doing out there.” Mum says, biting her nails.

 

Dad takes her in a tight embrace, “They’re not doing anything.  Once they realise they can’t get in they’ll leave and the fire will burn out.”

 

            I’m curious as to what’s going on out there, too, and am tempted to go back up to the attic to look, but I’m also too scared.  My curiosity has been satisfied enough tonight and I just want it all to be over.

 

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

Once the young boy had been picked clean, the rest of the Creepers made their way to the house.  They were curious about the big white machine that had produced such a delectable meal.  Perhaps there was more inside?

 

            As they clawed their way into the van, tearing at the humans inside, they never noticed that a fire was burning in the passenger side foot well.  A lit cigarette had been dropped in fear and was now smouldering on the foot matt.  The Creepers felt the heat and backed off, leaving the bodies in the van.  But that didn’t matter.  They knew there was more of that delicious meat inside the house, had seen it through the window, they just had to break down the door first.

 

            They worked fast, scratching away at the wood with their sharp claws.  When their hands got cut and bloodied, another Creeper would take over, and they continued in this way, working as a team and chattering with excitement.

 

            An ear-piercing scream filled the air and the Creepers turned to see one of their own jumping around the garden on fire.  The working Creepers leapt down from the van as the fire intensified and brayed into the night at their lost chance.

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

“Dad look!”

 

            I point at the front door as the white paint begins to blister and the smoke gets thicker.

 

            “Quick, get basins of water!” dad cries.

 

We all run to the kitchen and fish basins from under the sink, but by the time we fill the first one the whole front door is on fire.

 

            “No!” mum screams.

 

            I can’t believe what’s happening before my very eyes.  My house is on fire, there are monsters outside, we’re trapped and going to die in our own home.

 

            The flames spread, catching onto the curtains drawn over the windows at either side of the door.  Dad takes hold of us both and guides us to the back door.  He goes to unlock it, but mum lunges for him, grabbing his hand.

 

            “We can’t go out there!” she screams.

 

            “We can’t stay here!” he screams back, then begins to cough, “We’re either going to suffocate or burn!”

 

            “Those monsters will get us!” mum says, coughing, too, “You’ve seen what they do!”

 

Dad looks at me, but I don’t know what to say.  The acrid smoke burns my throat and my chest feels restricted.  I want fresh air, but know what can happen if we go outside.  I fall into a coughing fit and that seems to settle it for dad.

 

            “I’m going to unlock this door and as soon as I open it, we’re going to make a run for it.” Mum groans, but dad continues, “We’ll run round to the driveway, jump in the car and go.  Simple as that.”

 

            Mum and I look at each other.  What else can we do?  We look back at dad who nods then unlocks the back door.  He takes a deep breath then pulls open the door.  Mum and I cling to each other as we stare out into the darkness.  Dad sticks his head out, looks left then right.  He looks back at us and shakes his head; nothing there.

 

            He steps outside for a closer look then turns to face us.  In a whisper he says, “Coast’s clear.  I’m going to unlock the car then – ”

 

He’s cut off as two long arms reach out from the right and grab him.  Mum and I both scream as dad is dragged out of sight.  Mum starts forward to help, but another Creeper appears in the doorway.

 

            Being so close to one is horrifying and fascinating all at once.  It’s features are somewhat human, but with obvious differences.  Its nose and mouth protrude in the form of a slight snout, it’s wide mouth snaps it’s row of tiny razor sharp teeth inches from my mums reaching fingers.  The tufts of hair on its shoulders sway in the breeze, whilst it’s sinewy muscles bulge through its thick grey skin.  It’s a hideous sight, but its stench hits my senses the worst, like old blood and rotten meat.

 

 I scream for my mum to get back, but it’s too late.  When mum turns the Creeper grabs the back of her head, its talons piercing through her scalp.  Blood squirts out in all directions.  Mums mouth forms an O and her eyes go wide as the Creeper digs its claws deeper into her skull.  Then, with surprising speed, it drags her backwards through the door.

 

            Screaming so hard my throat hurts, I spin on my heel and run back to the front door.  In my terror I forget about the fire.  The front door and wall are nothing but a wall of flame.  Smoke invades my open mouth, thick and acrid.  What am I going to do?  The sound of shrieking from the kitchen gets me moving again.  I grab onto the bannister and propel myself up the stairs.  I desperately look around.  I need somewhere to hide, but also air.  All the windows are shuttered from the outside.

 

            Except for the attic.

 

            I jump up and grab hold of the toggle.  With all my might I pull down the ladders and scramble up them.  I can hear the Creepers crashing about downstairs and pray they don’t find me up here.  Once in the attic I pull up the ladders, shrouding myself in darkness.

 

I kneel on the floor, breathing heavily; sweat and tears run down my face.  I put my head in my hands and sob quietly.  Images of my mum and dad’s shocked and terrified faces as they were dragged to their deaths flash through my mind.  Why did this have to happen?  The Creepers aren’t supposed to act this way.  We leave them alone and they leave us alone.  We didn’t do anything!

 

            But the Creeper Lovers did.  They’re the reason my mum and dad are dead.  And I’m probably going to die, too.

 

            I begin to cough again, trying not to be too loud.  I get to my feet and stagger over to the window.  Maybe if I spend the rest of the night with my head at the window I won’t suffocate to death?  Maybe the sun will rise before the house burns down and someone will save me?  Maybe if dad hadn’t put bars over the windows I would have been able t

o climb onto the roof and down the drainpipe?

 

I unlatch the shutter and pull it open.

 

            A Creeper stares at me through the window then thrusts it arms through the bars, smashing the window.  Tiny fragments of glass fly into my face, but I barely notice.  The Creeper catches hold of my throat and digs it’s claws into the soft flesh.

 

            I scream, warm blood flows down my body, seeping through my top.  The pain is unbearable and the Creeper continues to dig it’s nails in deeper.  I’m getting light headed.  Darkness comes over me.  I think I stop screaming.  What’s the point? No one will save me.  No one goes out at night.  The night is theirs.  And no amount of sacrifice is going to change that.

 

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