It was in the middle of the night when little Geoffrey was awoken by the tugging of his bed sheets. Without thought he closed his eyes as tight as he could, curled up into a tight little ball, and clutched his blanket turning his small knuckles nearly white. He desperately tried to let his mind wonder elsewhere but found it difficult since this was the third time this was happening tonight. Geoffrey braced into himself and began to think simple happy thoughts. Thoughts about mother. Their trips to the apple orchard or the sound of her voice calling him back for supper as he played outside with the dog. The tugs on his bed sheets were now few and far between and getting fainter with each occurrence. Curiosity always getting the better of him, he slowly opened one eye and quickly examined the corner of his room. There was his red wooden chair with his model plane resting on the seat just as he left it. But, just as he feared, the same peculiar shadow was draped over it. He quickly pinched his eye closed and dared not to make a move.
For Geoffrey knew what was looming in his room that night. He had seen it before, most unfortunately. And what has to be many times by now. But the first time was what left a lasting impression on the young boy. Geoffrey couldn’t help but linger on that memory. He thought back to what started out as a beautiful summer evening. The sun was setting across the meadow turning the sky to a striking purple and pink hue. The once boisterous manor was now quiet and tranquil. Geoffrey retreated to his room occupying himself by playing with a set of tin soldiers his father bought for him during a business trip to England. His mother’s caretaker fixed him a bit of supper earlier but he hadn’t had much of an appetite as of late. The sudden echo of the screen door being slammed shut in the kitchen sent a jolt down Geoffrey’s spin that snapped him out of his playtime slump. He bolted down the stairs with inquisitive hast only to find out the wind had been responsible for his excitement. He glanced into the blusterous fields. The once colorfully painted sky now grew dark and clouded.
“Papa?!” He called out.
His heart knew he’d receive no reply, but he did it anyway. As he slowly began to lock up the door the toll of the family grandfather clock resonated throughout the household. It was time to retire for the evening. Geoffrey dragged his feet upstairs and noticed the house had grown oddly chilly. He proceeded to his bedroom to grab his robe and say goodnight to his mother. He often wished he could crawl into bed with her and rest his head on her chest as she docilely hummed him to sleep. But so much had changed. Geoffrey opened the door and stepped into his room. As he grabbed the robe off his chair he felt another presence. Assuming it was the residence caretaker he turned around to address her.
That’s when he first seen it. That’s when he first seen the man.
When recalling a memory such as this, Geoffrey wondered why he didn’t just run away or call out for someone. Why would he just stand there motionless gripping his robe. His mouth agape. A single word not able to escape. But, then again, Geoffrey was an exceedingly curious child. The phrase “curiosity killed the cat”, which was often said by his mother, became a motto describing the young boy’s antics.
But this was different.
The man did not approach Geoffrey. But instead seemed to gaze back with the same morbid curiosity.
Geoffrey studied the man mere feet away. He stood what seemed to be nearly 7 feet tall with his exceedingly elongated arms crossed and resting in front of him. His fingers were thin, sickly, and riddled with dark veins. His nails seemed to be filed to a sharp tip and yellowed from malnourishment. Draped over his lanky skeletal frame seemed to be some sort of long dark cape or cloak with the consistency of burlap. The bottom being tattered and muddied. The man’s reedy neck protruded out of his chest like a vulture. His skin was brown, dried, and clung to his skeleton like paper mache. Geoffrey was immediately reminded of the various pictures of Egyptian mummies he had seen in history class. As the boy’s eyes moved up to the man’s face he observed withered eroded lips barely covering what was left of crooked mustard colored teeth. Sharp cheekbones protruded out of the gaunt static face. His eyes were dry, bulged, and bloodshot. Making his face have a look of constant surprise or excitement. Several strands of inexplicably wet, gray hair topped his lumpy misshapen head and hung down to his shoulders.
But grotesque appearances aside, the thing that frightened Geoffrey the most was the inexplicable silence that accompanied him. It wasn’t merely the absence of sound but the absence of ambience. Of life. Of existence. The man stood there motionless. Statuesque in nature. Geoffrey snapped out of his trance like state and frantically bolted out of his room speeding down the extensive hallway to mother’s bedroom. He didn’t bother knocking and slammed open the tall doors bursting into the room making the caretaker spring from her chair in the process. He threw himself onto his mother’s bed, into her arms crying uncontrollably. He desperately tried to form sentences and tell her what was wrong but all he can mutter are the words “man in my room”. The caretaker dashed out presumably to check for this intruder, as Geoffrey tried to warn her not to leave. But mother held him firmly and rocked him back and forth. Geoffrey began to calm down as he clutched his mother’s nightgown, burying his face into her shoulder.
“There there, young boy…” Mother whispered. “There there.”
That night still seemed clear as day to him. Geoffrey coiled his body a little further and pulled the covers closer to his face. The tugging seemed to have stopped for the night. He slowly opened his eyes once again seeing his red chair and model plane now shining in the moonlight. The shadow had disappeared. He sat up in bed and glanced over his bedroom. He looked past all the exotic toys and gifts his absent father had sent him over the years. He saw through all the various school books and sports memorabilia that adorn the desk and dresser. The room was empty. He was safe for yet another night. But he was restless. The evening he recalled while bundled in his bed was a long time go, for a child anyway. And since that fateful night, as the sun went down the man had been visiting little Geoffrey ever since.
Standing in his bedroom. Watching him sleep. Tugging on his bed sheets. Not saying a word.
At first Geoffrey thought that it was some sort of trick of the imagination. The various caretakers never spotted the man. Nor did they spot any signs of forced entry into the empty manor. Doctors informed the caretakers that it simply must be psychological, perhaps an effect of losing his mother.
But Geoffrey knew it wasn’t.
He pulled himself up and began to aimlessly roam the dark hallways of his home. Something he had become accustomed to. He rubbed his eyes trying to stay awake and shuffled past the staircase to the kitchen. Past the master bathroom. Past the guest rooms. When soon he came open the tall doors to his mother’s bedroom. He hadn’t stepped in since she passed away. The boy faced the doors for a few moments in silence. Geoffrey braced into himself and began to think simple happy thoughts. Thoughts about mother. When she would read his favorite pirate adventure stories to lull him to sleep. Or the intricate egg hunts she would stage for him every Easter. Geoffrey began to quietly sob over his mother. As he does most nights. Yet he suddenly felt cold. He shivered to himself and began to poke his ears because of the sudden quietness. The absence of sound…of ambience…of existence.
He wiped the tears from his eyes and realized that he heard faint weeping coming from behind mother’s bedroom doors. As he put his hand on the cold brass knob it immediately stopped. Geoffrey could have simply turned around and walked away. He could’ve threw himself back under his bedroom covers and tried to have gotten some sleep. But, then again, Geoffrey was an exceedingly curious child.
He turned the knob and pushed open the tall wooden doors. The moonlight flooded mother’s bedroom revealing that it had been left just the way it was before she had passed. This brought a familiar smile long since lost to Geoffrey’s face. A smile that only his mother could bring. But that smile soon faded when the boy realized who was standing in the middle of the room near the bed.
The cold. The quiet. The man had returned.
The man stood there completely still. Bloodshot eyes locking with Geoffreys. The faint sound of his strands of hair dripping onto his burlap cloak. Suddenly the man did something the boy never saw him do before: He moved. He slowly uncrossed his elongated arms and pinched the opening of his cloak with his thin sickly fingers. Then he began to pull the burlap drape back, revealing his starved and emaciated body. Standing still he gripped his cloak as if they were batwings ready to take off into flight. Geoffrey both shocked and awed remained in the bedroom doorway.
It was then when a small figure began to walk out from the shadows of the man’s cloak. As it crept towards Geoffrey, the moonlight revealed the figure to be a small child only coming up to the boy’s waist. Its bare infant like body hobbled on the ground. Its large cranium had hollowed eyes, its skin dark and leathery. A darting breath shot out of its eroded nose with every step it took. Two more children, nearly identical, drew from the shadows cast by the man’s cloak. All three began to approach the boy…each step seeming to cause them physical pain. Geoffrey stood in lament and seemed to suddenly be washed over with sympathy.
One of the children began to tug on the sheets of mother’s bed, not being able to see if anyone of on top. The two final children stopped in front of Geoffrey and faced straight ahead. The boy looked ahead at the man. His arms still drawing back his massive shadowy cloak. His face still in a never ending look of shock. Their eyes still locked on each other. It felt like minutes had passed before Geoffrey let out a deep sigh.
He took a step towards the man.
Followed by another.
And then another.
Perhaps it was the comforting warmth of being in his mother’s room that filled little Geoffrey with such courage. Perhaps it was the sleepless nights of being haunted by this unwanted presence. Either way Geoffrey slowly followed the infantile husks into the arms of the man. With each step his skin began to darken and dry. Clinging to his skeletal frame never wanting to let go. His lush head of hair began to wither and fall to his feet. In mere feet his steps went from a healthy cycle to a shuffling stagger. As he approached the man the boy’s life was draining before him. With all the energy Geoffrey could muster he lunged into the man throwing his arm around his cold boney hips. Little Geoffrey rested his head against the gristly sunken stomach of the man. He desperately tried to form a few words but was simply unable to. He felt the cloak drape around him. It’s fibers rough and scratchy on his now leathery skin. The man’s dry paper like face tucked into Geoffrey’s ear.
“There there, young boy…” he whispered. “There there.”