Todd Wilson’s scream echoed through the walls of the house. Terror and panic backed it up as it roared out of his fourteen-year-old mouth as if a bull horn was strapped to the front of his face. The rest of the Wilson family jumped in their seats, hearts pounding.
“Jesus Christ, Todd!” his father, Jerry, shouted from his easy chair in the living room.
“What’s gotten into you, young man?” Janie, his mother, chimed in.
The boy was struggling to catch his breath; the scream had just about taken it all out of him. He frantically pointed at the far window in the dining room, whimpering.
“What’s wrong, bud?” Jerry said as he got up from his chair and headed toward his son.
Todd continued pointing at the window with wide eyes and a pale face in the beginning stage of shock.
“Alright, Todd, calm down,” Jerry said. “Slow, deep breaths. Remember?”
“The window!” Todd managed to say. “A face!”
They were used to this. It wasn’t the first time Todd had panicked over something he thought he had seen outside, sending the entire house into an uproar. Most of the time his screaming fits went off in the middle of the night, when everyone in the house was fully embraced in the warm arms of sleep (the night it happened while Jerry and Janie were in the middle of their weekly slap and tickle session was memorable).
Everything scared Todd. All it took was one zombie movie when the kid was twelve and suddenly every shadow, tree branch, or creaking door became a monster sent from hell to claim him and everyone he loved. They had tried to snap him out of it without seeking professional help, hoping the boy would grow a pair when he hit puberty. Lately, it didn’t seem like that was going to happen. He kept getting worse with age, not better, it seemed.
Heather came downstairs, both concerned and angry. Her little brother was growing up to be a real pain in the ass, especially if he pulled this crap while she had friends from the majorette squad over.
“Dad? Seriously?” Heather whined. “How am I supposed to do my homework with cry baby screaming his lungs out down here?”
“Really, Heather? Homework?” Jerry said. “Was I born yesterday? You’re on the phone with that Johnson kid from down the street. If you weren’t, you’d be down here watching this movie with us. You know, the one you begged us to rent?”
Heather attempted a rebuttal, but nothing came to mind. Her father had her dead to rights. Not that it was a big deal; her parents actually liked Keith Johnson (not the official boyfriend yet, but he was calling more often these days). As for the movie, Jerry was right about that, too. His daughter had bailed out of family movie night the moment her teenage hormones saw Kieth’s name pop up on her phone screen.
Jerry looked at his silent daughter for a few seconds, relishing in his small victory. Heather turned around and stormed back upstairs.
“Dad! Honest to God,” Todd said. His voice had returned after the calming breaths did their job. “I saw a face outside, looking in the window! It was horrible!”
Jerry looked at the window at the far end of the dining room, then back at his son. “Todd, I can assure you no one is out there. You have a vivid imagination, that’s all.” He walked over to the window without turning on the light and looked out. “Come over here, buddy. I want you to see what you thought was a face.”
Shaking his head in repulsion at the thought, Todd wouldn’t even consider his father’s request. Unimaginable horror waited in the dark shadows of the night, just on the other side of that glass. The things with fangs and claws and fiery red eyes were begging Todd to come and surrender himself to their blood-thirst.
“Todd, now,” Jerry commanded.
“Don’t scare him, Jerry,” Janie said, standing behind her son with both hands on his shoulders. “He’s going to be up all night. Remember the last time he had a panic attack in the middle of the night?” she winked and gave her husband a flirtatious smile.
Jerry thought for a second, then the memory of the night he and Janie were in the middle of mattress mambo and the kid broke the mood with a scream that would have made Janet Leigh proud came to mind. He questioned his wife with a look that said: “Is tonight…?”
Her playful expression gave Jerry the answer he was looking for.
“Alright, Todd,” Jerry said. “There’s nothing out there. After the movie is over, we’re all going to bed. Let’s finish it up.”
Jerry and Todd went back into the living room and got comfortable. Janie went into the kitchen to make popcorn. Heather was upstairs on her phone, complaining to Keith Johnson that her little brother was a giant pain in the ass.
“Listen, Todd,” Jerry said, as they sat in the living room with the movie paused. “I know the world is a scary place, but you can’t live in fear of everything. Fear is the absence of knowledge. We’re afraid of what’s in the dark because we can’t see it, but when the lights come on, we realize there was never anything to be afraid of in the first place. I’m not saying you should walk blindly through life unaware of danger, but fear can’t rule you either. Understand, buddy?”
“Yeah,” Todd said, embarrassed that they had to have this conversation again. At least his father was gentle about it.
“You’re going to be fine, son,” Jerry said. “I have faith—”
A loud crash in the kitchen interrupted Jerry’s father/son talk. It sounded like a metal bowl hitting the tiled floor.
“Everything ok out there, babe?” Jerry said.
The kitchen was quiet for several seconds. Finally, Janie said: “Would you come here, Jerry?” Her voice didn’t sound confident.
“Stay here, Todd,” Jerry said, stepping past his son.
Janie was standing in the corner of the kitchen with her back against the refrigerator. A metal bowl lay on the floor, popcorn scattered everywhere.
“What happened, babe?” Jerry asked.
Janie was staring at the window across the room. Her eyes were wide and her face was as pale as Todd’s was moments ago. She was also trembling. “Someone is outside,” she whispered, pointing at the window.
“Are you serious?” Jerry said, looking in that direction.
Janie’s demeanor was becoming increasingly nervous. She looked like she might scream and run at any second. “He was hideous,” she whispered. “His face looked like dry-rotted leather! Oh my God!”
“Okay, calm down,” Jerry said.
“Dad?” Todd’s voice called out from the living room.
“Everything’s okay, bud,” Jerry said. “Go ahead and start the movie. We’ll be right there.”
Jerry slowly walked to the kitchen window, his eyes wide and dry. The window looked out into the backyard. It was too dark out there to see anything except for the shadows of trees and landscaping. “There’s no one out there,” he said, now with his face close enough to the glass to breathe condensation onto its surface.
“He was looking in the window, right up close to it,” Janie said. A repulsive shiver ran through her body and she protectively folded her arms.
Moving slowly, now almost as nervous as Janie and Todd, Jerry reached for the light switch next to the kitchen door. He turned on the porch light over the back door and the floodlights which illuminated the entire backyard. Part of him was afraid of what the lights were about to expose.
After a few seconds of scanning from the window, he relaxed. “I still don’t see anything, babe,” Jerry said. “Are you sure Todd’s little panic attack in the dining room didn’t put an image in your head?”
“Oh, sure. That must have been it,” she chided. The sarcasm in her voice was fierce.
Without turning to look at his wife, Jerry knew he had just royally screwed up. His only course of action that might get him out of the corner he had backed himself into was to take on the role of protector, to save his family from the evil outside which sought to destroy them. If he did that and triumphantly returned, perhaps there was still a chance he could save sex night.
“I’ll go out and take a look,” he said.
“Maybe we should call the police instead?” Janie replied.
“Eh! Don’t worry. I’ll be right back,” Jerry said.
“Famous last words,” Janie mumbled.
Jerry grabbed a long-handled flashlight out of the kitchen utility drawer (he couldn’t remember the last time they had used the thing, but surprisingly the batteries still worked), then headed out the back door, winking at his wife as he stepped out.
Janie watched her husband through the kitchen window while he checked around the yard. He looked so cute protecting his family. Not that he’d do much damage to the thing she had seen for that brief second at the window; the monster outside was big and menacing; Jerry was, well, average. But his heart was there, and that made him bigger than any monster hiding in the darkness. She lost sight of him when he walked around to the side of the house, out of range of the backyard flood lights.
With his ear cocked to one side, Todd had listened to his parent’s conversation. He couldn’t hear it all—they had kept their voices low—but what he had comprehended validated that he wasn’t just seeing things out of his own imagination. Mom must have seen it too, and it sounded like dad had gone outside to investigate.
Todd was even more terrified now. He had seen the face, peering into the dining room window with its leathery skin and fiendish expression. It was dark outside, as well as in the dining room, but he had still made out enough of the face to see that the thing had bad intentions. And now dad was out there, alone, bravely confronting the beast. He fostered a new respect for the old man in those few moments.
The house was silent (save for the muffled voice of Heather giggling in her room as she laughed at lame jokes and flirtations from the kid down the street) as Janie and Todd listened to the air. Their hearts seemed to beat in anxious unison, adding even more tension to the moment.
A thud against the side of the house from outside broke the silence. Both mother and son jolted and gasped as adrenaline glands cut loose a dose of prescription inside their bloodstreams. Silence returned to the room quickly after the thump, as did the heaviness of fear. Maybe dad had tripped over something and bumped up against the house? It was very possible; the man wasn’t the most graceful ballerina. But that could also mean that he had just cracked his head and was now bleeding out as he lay unconscious in the bushes.
Neither Todd nor his mother said a word; they just listened, too afraid to move or speak.
The noise came again, this time louder. And not only one thump, but at least a dozen in a row, spanned out by less than a second between each. They were so fierce that the entire house shook, and it felt like the outside wall of the dining room—the area where the noise came from—might collapse at any second.
Janie ran into the living room where her phone was sitting on the coffee table. She didn’t hesitate while dialing 911. Her husband’s frail attempt at bravery might just get him killed tonight, and she would not stand by and just listen to it happen.
Todd stood next to his mother, pale and shaking with terror. “Mom? What’s happening?”
Janie didn’t answer her son; she couldn’t think of anything that would comfort him now.
“9–1–1. What’s your emergency?” the voice asked on the other end of the phone.
“Yes, my name is Janie Wilson at 1414 Speer Street. Please send the police immediately! There is a man outside our house looking into the windows. My husband went out to investigate and now I think he’s been attacked. Please hur—”
The dining room window shattered when a large object crashed through it from the outside. Todd screamed in horror as he looked into the room and saw what was left of his father, now lying in a twisted lump of clothes and flesh on the dining room table. His head had been bludgeoned in, exposing the open skull of what used to be Jerry Wilson’s face, now oozing with dark blood, chunks of grey matter, and one eye dangling out of the socket.
Heather charged down the steps in a rage. “I’ve had enough of this, Todd! You need to grow up and quit acting like a baby!” She rounded the corner from the staircase and headed toward her brother, who stood at the archway to the dining room. “I don’t know why you're so scared of every—” She saw it, the lump of flesh that used to be her father, laying in a pile on the dining room table across from the shattered window. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t scream, couldn’t even breathe. The image registered in her mind, but her mind refused to process it.
Janie screamed and dropped her phone when she came up behind her children and saw what they were looking at.
“Ma’am? Hello? Mrs. Wilson?” the distant, muffled voice of the 911 operator called out from the phone on the floor.
The front door suddenly bursted open and fell off its hinges. Splinters of door jamb flew through the air like tiny missiles and landed everywhere. In the open door frame stood a creature that had the shape of an enormous man, but the face of something ungodly inhuman. Its skin was dark grey and coarse, like ancient leather or perhaps dried jerky. The eyes were enormous with lust and excitement. It smiled an almost comically wide grin. Its teeth streamed lines of blood and saliva which ran from its mouth to its chin, then dripped to the floor. The thing wore a filthy, bloodstained jumpsuit that still clung to some of its original orange color underneath a smattering of crimson and dark brown stains.
Without hesitation, the creature fell upon the three remaining members of the Wilson family with the speed of a jungle cat attacking the slowest gazelle in a herd. There was no time for the family to snap out of their combined shock and horror. Within seconds, Janie, Heather, and young Todd had suffered the same fate as their dear father did just moments before, and were all violently reduced to unrecognizable mounds of flesh, blood, and bone.
On the other end of Janie Wilson’s iPhone, which lay face up only a few feet away from the carnage, Alice Becker, 911 operator, heard the screams of a family being destroyed by an unearthly savage force. Their shrieks of primal anguish will haunt Alice’s dreams for the rest of her days.