The streetlight flickered as I walked underneath it. I heard somewhere that they do that randomly to let the bulbs cool down or something, but it scared me nonetheless. I looked over my shoulder and it was still there. Still following me.
I picked up the pace a bit, trying not to tip it off that I knew it was there. It looked like a small child that would dart from shadow to shadow. Every once in a while it would stop in a darkened doorway or behind a bush and just giggle. That fucking giggle.
It was 3 am and I was on my way home from the bar. It had been last call and I struck out, which was nothing new, but this was a familiar walk. Usually it’s a refreshing way to wind down and sober up after a long night since my apartment is only five blocks away. Today though, something was very wrong. I had stumbled out the front door and walked past the forested park, when I could see the silhouette of a small child playing on the jungle gym. Probably about 5 or 6 years old, with no parent in sight.
I got my phone out to call the cops and made my way into the park when it stopped and looked at me. There was something very wrong and I couldn’t place it. I quickly put my phone away and started back down the road when I heard the giggle. Just like a child’s laugh, but forced. It reminded me more of an animal call than actual human laughter.
The streetlights luckily illuminated my entire way home, but the kid was always dressed in shadow.
I started running now. My Chuck’s were pounding the concrete sidewalk and I cursed not wearing something more comfortable to run in. Turning my head, I caught sight of the kid, this time on a second story balcony, just watching me. I had no idea how the fuck he got up there, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to start asking.
Then I heard it, it was a skittering noise. It didn’t sound like my steps on the pavement, but more like when a dog scrambles to get traction on a wood floor. Just claws scraping as something began to run.
It was getting closer. I pulled out my keycard from my jacket pocket and sprinted. I was thanking God that I ran cross country in high school instead of joining the mathletes or something like that when I reached my front door. Practically slamming the keycard onto the magnetic reader, the door unlocked with a click and I was inside.
The door had a window about eye level for me and I peered outside into the spotty blackness. No sign of the kid. I sat down on the stairs for a minute to catch my breath and try to make sense of what I saw.
For a while there I was chiding myself from running from a small kid, but how the fuck did he get on to that second story balcony?
I looked up and there he was, face pressed against the 5 1/2 foot high window. What I saw made me turn and run up the stairs as I could hear scratching and pounding on the hard metal door. Up two flights, I dropped the key to my apartment but quickly recovered. Opening the door I ran as hard as I could to the kitchen knife sitting in its block on the counter.
After bolting my door, I tried dialing 911. My hands were shaking so hard that I couldn’t press the numbers right. All of a sudden there was a scratching sound at my door.
I shoved my couch in front of it and threw all my weight against it as something slammed into the other side repeatedly. The wood was making horrible splintering noises as I burned all the calories picked up from drinking.
Then, it just stopped. I could hear skittering down the hallway back towards the stairs.
I finally got a hold of 911 and told them someone was trying to break in. The operator said they’d send officers right away.
Then the lights cut out.
I dropped the phone and it disappeared into the darkness. Clenching the kitchen knife, I pressed my weight against the couch. I raised the knife, ready to plunge it into whatever was waiting outside. I knew I couldn’t hold out much longer, and the doors in my apartment are practically balsa wood so there was no retreating.
Still nothing against the door.
That’s when I realized the sound was coming from the window. We don’t have a fire escape.
I turn and recoil as I see the thing illuminated for the first time. I think at first it’s the body of a child, but it looks instead to be that of a child-sized doll. Peeking out from behind it was a face with empty eye sockets and a gaping hole for a mouth. It was connected to what looked like the torso of a man, but it spread down into spindly legs. More than normal. I could count four gently bobbing and weaving in the wind as the thing looked me dead into the eye.
It echoed from its open mouth, as it worked the jaw of the puppet. I staggered backwards as it shoved the puppet through the window pane, sending shards of glass scattering onto the apartment floor. I stood up and tried to drag the couch away from the door when it began to pull itself in using pale, sweaty arms. It dropped the doll on the floor and flopped onto its stomach, dragging itself towards me. I could see the legs crumpling to normal length behind it, like a tape measure being slowly wound in. The sickening sound of bones and cartilage cracking as its legs shriveled and disappeared made me sick to my stomach.
With a burst of strength I tore the couch away from the door and ran out into the hallway, running straight into two cops.
They grabbed me and handcuffed me while they searched my apartment. I told them I was the one that called but they wanted to be sure considering the damage to the door. The only sign of the thing was the puppet it had left on the floor. They took it in as evidence, and I made up a story about how it was some scary drunk guy who broke in carrying the puppet. It didn’t make sense, but it was the only thing I could think of.
They released me in the morning and I cautiously made my way back to my apartment. I figured I would pack a bag and head to a hotel for a few days. I’d let my landlord sort out the damage, and I should be in the clear with the police report.
The room seemed less ominous in the daylight, and I stuffed everything I could into a sports bag.
Arriving at the hotel, I asked for a room on the highest floor available. Satisfied with the sixth floor, I put the chair in front of the double locked door and collapsed into a deep sleep.
I awoke with something poking my face. It felt like I was lying on a bed of needles. Opening my eyes I saw the source of the pain. Pressed up against my face was a child-size doll made of sticks, leaves, and moss.
From the corner of the room I heard it.