An abrupt banging jolted Michael from sleep. They’re here! They’re gonna get us! He panicked. Pulling the blankets up over his head, the young seven-year-old laid as flat and still as he could but it was no use: Michael couldn’t slow down his breathing. He was sure they’d be able to hear his heartbeat thumping so loudly that it partially blocked out the banging. Soon he found it difficult to breath altogether.
Bravely, he lowered the blanket and clambered out of bed onto the floor banging his foot against the base of his floor lamp. Pain pulsed through his foot as he hopped awkwardly back onto his bed. Looking around his sparse room, he saw the shiny reflection of a black garbage bag full of his clothes. Warily peeking out his window, his heart felt some relief, despite the constant banging, when he saw that nothing was there. The fire escape was empty. As was the dimly lit alleyway below. But that didn’t mean that they weren’t watching. This thought caused him to freeze and he lowered himself onto the floor, crawling slowly and silently. He made it to the doorway of his bedroom and into the hall before he let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding in. The constant banging on their apartment door hadn’t let up. He took another deep breath of air before holding it again. Peeking down the hall, he was met with the image of a silhouetted creature kneeling on the floor creeping right toward him.
“A-” He tried to scream out before a slender, dirty hand clamped over his mouth.
“Shh! Shh! Shhhh! Don’t scream or they’ll get us,” whispered his mother’s voice. As she scooted toward him, the moonlight from the window of his bedroom casted enough light to transform the terrifying creature back into his mom.
“Understand?” His mother asked. Michael nodded and she removed her hand from his mouth.
“What do they want?” Michael whimpered.
“Shh!” His mother grabbed his hand and scooted backward down the hall. Michael followed. Once they were out of his doorway and in the hall, away from doors and windows, she lowered herself on her stomach and laid still on the floor. Michael did the same all while holding tightly to his mother’s hand.
“I know you’re in there!” A gruff, familiar voice yelled from the other side of the front door.
“That’s Ray voice!” Michael exclaimed, forgetting to keep his voice low.
“Shh!” came a stern response.
“But we can trust Ray-” Michael said, this time in a lower tone.
“No, we can’t. They got him. They’re trying to lure us out.” His mother whispered. “Now please be quiet!” She pleaded.
Michael scooted across the carpeted floor closer to his mother and felt an arm wrap around him. She gave him a reassuring squeeze as they huddled in silence for whatever would happen next. They got Ray, Michael thought as a tear trickled down his cheeks. He was one of the good guys. Always nice. But the man on the other side of the door did not sound nice. It would only be a matter of time before they would come for us. . .
The pounding subsided.
“Bitch!” The voice called out. For a long time they heard nothing but remained still.
After Michael had counted to 10 Mississippi in his head, he looked at his mother’s shadow-covered face.
“Do you think he’s gone?”
A long silence followed. Maybe she is asleep thought Michael.
“I don’t know,” finally came a response.
“Do you think he’s coming back . . . with them?”
“I won’t let them take you.” A thumb gently caressed his cheek. Michael rested his head on his mother’s arm before falling into a restless sleep.
That night he dreamt of them. They came up the stairs through the door; others crawled through the windows. They surrounded him and his mother ready to turn their minds. Their pale faces, long, sharp claws, and black holes for eyes all stared at him. Michael awoke in a sweat just before they grabbed him. It was still dark. He felt cold and his back ached from sleeping on the floor. Beneath his head was carpet. He reached an arm out for his mother but she wasn’t there. Frantically he sat up and began to grasp at the air and carpet around him.
His breath quickened and his heart began pounding again. He took some deep breaths. He had to be quiet or they would hear him.
No, they didn’t get her, he denied. He would have heard them. Unless, it all wasn’t a dream. Maybe they got him already. Michael began to scurry on the floor on his hands and knees. His doorway was closest. He would look just for a second. They wouldn’t see him if he was quick. He peeked around the corner to see that the sheets were gone from his bed and his clothes, which had been kept in a garbage bag in case of a quick, needed get away, were thrown around the room. The creepiest part was that his comforter from his bed had been hastily tied to the curtain rod above his window, just allowing some light to peek through from the edges.
Michael jolted back hiding around the corner. So they had been here! Next, he crawled down the hall to his mother’s doorway. Peeking just ever so slightly around the corner, it was the same. The sheets were gone and the clothes were scattered; her comforter was also tied up covering the window.
Michael shrank back, his body making a soft thud against the wall. What did they do with his mom? Just then, he became aware of a crackling sound coming from the main room of the apartment. It sounded like . . . like the sound of something being unwrapped . . . but that didn’t make any sense. It was them! It must be how they communicated. Mom said that they could use telephones and TV signals to get through. But Michael and his mom had unplugged everything days ago. They must have found another way. Maybe they were planning their attack. The thought made his stomach turn. Maybe they had his mom out there.
He wanted to call to her. He wanted to scream and cry for her to come get him but he knew he couldn’t. If they did not know he was here, they would.
He needed to get to the other side of the doorway without being seen by them from her room. That is, if any of them were in there. They could be anywhere. He had to be quick. Standing up on his feet, he readied himself to jump from one side to the other. One, two, three! He pounced landing on his toes and pushed his back against the wall.
As soon as he completed the jump, the crackling sound stopped and Michael froze in horror. He saw a head, in the shadows, peering out from around the corner; it was watching him! His blood ran cold and the hairs pricked up on the back of his neck.
“Michael,” his mother’s whisper called from their main living area. The boy squinted to see the head poking out from around the corner at knee level, was hers, clearly on her hands and knees. “Did they see you?”
Michael shook his head.
“I don’t think,” he uttered barely audible.
“Come here,” his mother commanded before her head disappeared. In less than a second, it peeked back around again, “crawl.”
Michael lowered himself back down on the floor carefully and quietly making his way to the main room.
His mother was hard at work. The sheets, missing from the bedrooms, were covering the window of the main room and one was rolled up plugging up the front door. She had begun ripping up garbage bags, causing a crackling sound, and was carefully moving just enough of their sheets to replace the covering. Light poked out from the edges of the window and through the sheets providing just enough light for him to see.
“Here,” she said, handing him a bag. He watched her and mimicked the way she did it.
“Why are we covering all the windows? Won’t they see?” His mother’s head perked up and she looked at him with a deadly serious expression, “They already know we’re here.”
The words made him shudder and his stomach lurched. The only other time she’d looked at him and said anything to make him that petrified was when she had appeared at his school nearly four days ago.
He’d been called to the office, afraid he had done something but was not sure what. There she was standing there in jeans and a sweater talking politely with the principal and secretary. They seemed to understand that Michael was going away.
Michael was confused but his mom smiled and said goodbye to them both. Grabbing Michael’s hand, she pulled him aside in the hallway and told him what was happening. He was in danger. They were coming and some of them might already be here. He began to get worked up but she caressed his cheek and told him he could NOT cry.
As Michael now helped his mother unroll black garbage bags, he thought of his classmates’ terrible fate.
“Wh-why couldn’t we save the others?” He asked his mother tentatively.
“Who?” His mother asked unrolling the duct tape.
“My friends, the other kids, my teacher-”
“-becaus- ugh,” she cut off a piece using her teeth and finished patching up a corner of the window. “Because they would have gotten you too. Keep working.”
Michael hadn’t seen them yet but his mother had. That morning when he got on the bus, she told him that she watched from the window, like always, and they were there. They watched him get on and looked up at her with two black holes where their eyes were supposed to be. She’d driven immediately to the school, but she knew they were following her. When she picked him up, she made him lie down on the floor of the car hoping to fool them.
Thinking about it now, Michael recalled how he had stupidly thought it was kind of fun that first morning as he channel surfed cartoons. Then the phone rang. He froze and looked to his mother for guidance. She let it ring again, and again, and again. In a panic, she finally picked it up and had a quick, quiet conversation that Michael couldn’t quite hear. He padded into the kitchen in his socks, but his mother turned her back to him, avoiding his eye. Hanging up the phone, she spoke quietly, “They were asking about you.” A silence lingered. The phone rang again and his mother picked it up and slammed it back down. She stared at it then over to the TV.
“We need to unplug everything.”
The phone, TV, DVD player, an old walkman, two clock radios, Michael’s PS2, which he was most upset about, and their microwave had all been locked away in his mother’s closet. Although he was bored with now only a handful of comic books, colored pencils, scrap paper, and action figures to occupy himself with; Michael thought that he and his mother were finally safe. Then, as if to answer this thought, the lights went out in the apartment.
By early morning of day two, he and his mother polished off the rest of the milk, hoping to it hadn’t yet spoiled. But Michael spent the rest of the morning laid out on the couch with a stomach ache. It was awful feeling sick without any movies or TV to watch. It would have helped preoccupy his mind from the occasional sound of footsteps coming into the building and walking toward their door. Each time, the footsteps passed by the apartment and continued on. They were close by probably looking for any who had escaped or were hiding from them.
On day three, Michael and his mother had polished off a box of peanut butter crackers which they drank with orange soda. A lot of their food had spoiled in the fridge and freezer. Michael’s mother refused to cook anything or run any water as it would make too much noise. Michael tried playing with his soldiers on the floor. He was disinterested and distracted as his mother paced the main room. As he ran over guys with one of his rescue jeeps, his mother suddenly grabbed his hand. Putting her finger to her lips. Michael froze and the two listened in silence. His mother said she thought she had heard them, talking. Straining to hear any sound, Michael suddenly heard low murmurs coming from the apartment below. They spent the rest of the day huddled together on the couch.
Now on day four, Michael helped his mother cover up the last of the light coming into their apartment. One small patch remained when it occurred to Michael that he was afraid to be in complete darkness. They could get him in the dark.
“Maybe we should have a flashlight.”
“I smashed it. I didn’t want them to use it. They know how to manipulate those things.”
“We have a candle in the bathroom.”
“They might see the light and know we are here.”
“But you said they already know.” He waited for a response but his mother kept her back turned.
Finally, Michael made a decision. Getting on his hands and knees, he felt his way over to the bathroom squinting to see. Once he’d retrieved the candle, Carefully, holding the candle awkwardly, he crawled to the kitchen and felt around for the matches in the junk drawer.
Making his way back, his eyes began adjusting to the darkness and he sat down near his mother’s shadow. He could see some movement and the sound of duct tape being ripped and taped up. Fumbling for a match, he made a strike against the box. A small flame illuminated the room, he quickly lit the large, vanilla scented candle that he set on the empty TV stand and waved his hand to extinguish the match.
Suddenly, he felt angry eyes upon him. Looking up, his mother was staring at him, her hair hanging down over her face and her eyes staring out were cold and wide.
“Why did you light that?” She demanded in a low rasp.
“I-I-I” Michael did not have an answer. She’d never spoken to him that way. He did not know what to do. He was now terrified of what would happen both if the candle stayed lit and if he put it out.
“I don’t wanna be in dark,” he finally managed in a frail voice.
She didn’t respond. He could hear her breath becoming heavier and faster as the light of the candle danced across her face contorting it in unnatural ways. She whispered something under her breath in a throaty tone. Michael leaned in to hear but her lips were moving so rapidly he couldn’t understand.
Just then a quiet knock came from the door causing him to jump. Michael looked to the door all the while aware that his mother’s eyes never left him.
“You’re one of them,” said his mother in a low growl. Michael rapidly shook his head side to side, his eyes turning back to her, pleading for hers to believe him.
“Mommy,” he whispered quietly. Her eyes gave no recognition.
“Nina? Mike?” came the familiar voice of Ray; this time his voice was gentle and friendly like it usually was. “I’m sorry about last night. Could you open the door?”
Hugging his knees to his chest, Michael’s eyes darted from the door to his mother’s cold, icy stare still on him. Last night, Ray scared him but now it was his mother who did. He wanted to trust Ray. He could trust him. Ray had always been nice to him. But was it still him or was this how they got you?
“It’s their trap,” his mother whispered almost as if she could sense what he had been thinking. Could she?
Another gentle few knocks came from the door. “Please open up. I’m really worried.”
How could she know his thoughts? Unless . . . unless! Michael stared horrified at his mother. She stared back menacingly while the candle’s flame continued to warp her face. Cautiously, he scooted away and prepared to stand and run. His mother’s face stayed hard and cold while her body stiffened.
“Mikey? Open up, Bub.” Ray’s voice called.
Michael’s mother lunged toward him with an inhumane screech while Michael sprang back kicking away as he felt nails graze the skin on his ankle.
At this, a pounding came from the front door with what sounded like more than one voice talking hurriedly. It was them and they had gotten her!
Michael continued back peddling away from his mother while she lunged forward a second time. His foot connected with something hard. Finally, he found his footing and sprinted off as fast as he could around the corner toward his room. Behind him, he heard the sounds of his mother’s shrieks and furniture being tossed and broken in the apartment. Dishes shattered on the kitchen tile and drawers being yanked off their hinges.
Glancing back, he saw silverware fly to the other side of the room followed by a loud crack of glass. As he made it in the doorway, he slammed the door but it did not have a lock. Quickly Michael grabbed a nearby t-shirt he felt near his right foot and jammed it under the door for a makeshift lock. It was so dark he could barely see anything. Bumping into his bedpost and stumbling around the room, he finally took a deep breath and grabbed the comforter that was blocking the window.
“Be brave, be brave.” He whispered before yanking it with all his might. The rod above the window came crashing down along with the blanket. Light overwhelmed his eyes causing him to be temporarily blind.
Squinting and blinking, Michael spotted the large floor lamp with the multicolor bulbs next to his bed. It was bulky and awkward to carry but if he hurried, it might work to block the door. Michael dragged it by the neck as close to the door as he could get it.
Just as he was about to jam it underneath, he paused and listened. The banging had stopped. So had his mother’s shrieks. There wasn’t a sound. What did this mean? Were they gone? Was it over? Looking over out the window, Michael was greeted with the same usual scene of the fire escape balcony and alleyway that’d always been there. No men with black holes for eyes were watching him. Nothing.
Michael left the lamp close enough to the door so it would stop if it was pulled open too hard and got on his hands and knees. Removing the t-shirt, he placed a shaky hand on the doorknob and turned it. He only opened it enough so a small line of sunlight peeked out into the hall. Nothing was there. He opened it a little wider, expanding the line of light. He could only see directly in front of him but there was still nothing there.
Squeezing in between the jammed doorway, he could just fit his head, arms, and shoulders through to take a glance down the hall.
What he saw terrified him. The figure of his mother on hands and knees scurried toward him. The candle which had been lit in the main room illuminated the walls behind her casting an orange glow in the background. The result made her look like a wild-eyed demon crawling out of the depths of hell. As she crept away from the light and into the shadows, at an alarmingly fast rate, darkness covered her face leaving only blackness over her eyes. Then her whole body was in shadow. She muttered under her breath first in one voice then in another, lower voice. Michael propelled himself back through the opening, as fast as he could but not before a pale hand gripped his wrist.
Michael pulled back with all of his weight managing to get to the other side but his mother’s hand still clutched on tight.
“You’re one of them! You’re not my son!” She rambled over and over again as she pushed her way through the opening.
As the front of her body breached the doorway, Michael squeezed his eyes shut and used his feet to kick the door closed, pinching his mother in the middle. A howl sounded. As tears poured freely from his eyes and his stomach twisted in knots, Michael forced himself to kick again and again and again. Finally, the grip released from his wrist leaving behind a throbbing sensation. Opening his eyes, he saw his mother disappear on the other side of the gap. He threw his body forward and slammed it shut with all of his might.
The door jerked open a few times as his mother rammed from the other side. He gripped and heaved the lamp just in front of him awkwardly while trying to keep his weight against the door. The door jerked slightly open a crack just as he moved the lamp in place.
Michael could still hear his mother rambling in words that did not make sense to him. Thinking of his next move, he looked out his window to the fire escape. It meant going out there where they were. Suddenly, he heard scratches coming up and down the door. He whimpered and moved away. Scratches and bangs erupted causing the floor lamp to shake. It would not hold for long. He had only one chance.
Running over to the window, he unlocked the latch and pulled and pulled the window before it finally released. As soon as he did, his ears were pierced with the sound of sirens, lots of them, coming closer. They were coming!
“Where’s my son! What have you done with him!” came a cry behind him followed by a crash, as the lamp gave way and toppled to the floor.
He did not wait to see what was coming through the door as he hurried out onto the fire escape. Making his way down the iron steps, cold and hard on his socks, he could hear more screams and shrieks. The sirens were deadly close now. He had to hurry. Looking around, he saw a curtain move in the window of the next building over. They knew he was here.
His feet touched hard concrete as he stepped out into the alley. Looking up at his bedroom window, he took one last look saying a silent goodbye to his home and his mother who had tried so hard to protect him. In turn, they had gotten her. He began to sob openly as he turned and sprinted away disappearing into the labyrinth of alleyways.
Nina Kloemann woke up in a white sterile room with pain radiating her entire body. They had hooked her up to all kinds of wires, tubes, and machines. Her body was strapped down on a gurney. The room was sparse aside for a small window with the blinds pulled closed. As she blinked her eyes open, she looked up to find a man in a suit, with black holes where his eyes should have been, standing over her bed.
“Sleep well?” He asked coldly.
“One of them, one of them, one of them.” she mumbled in fear.
“Who told you my name!” Nina demanded with wide, horrified eyes.
“Actually, it’s on your license. And it’s expired.” He said with a smirk.
“They told you.” Her words were filled with hatred. “That’s how you knew how to find me. They sent you to find me.” She said, matter of fact as a wry, unconstrained smile formed on her lips. “But you’re not here for me, are you?”
“No, we need to find your son, Michael. You still care about him, right?” The man with black eyes challenged.
A chuckle escaped her lips. So, he had escaped from them! He found a way to fight them off before they changed him.
“You’ll never find him!” She laughed again. “You can’t have him!”
Something changed in the man’s demeanor. He paced for a few moments and slammed a nearby wall with his palm.
“We don’t have time for this! Where is he? Where’s Michael?” He yelled.
Nina continued laughing and laughing. Even as liquid, seeped up the tubes into her arm and flowed through her veins, she could feel herself changing. Soon, she would be gone. But not Michael. They’d never get Michael.
The man sighed heavily. Nina thought he heard him utter, “bitch” under his breath. Loosening the tie around his neck, his attention drifted away from her over to something along the wall.
Nina looked over to the window and back towards the man. They were telling him something. Something to do to her. Walking over, he placed his hand on the cord to lift the blinds.
“Where is your son?” He asked changing tactics.
“No.” Nina defied. She’d never give him up. No matter what they did to her.
“Where is your son?” He said angrily.
“No, no, no, no, no, no.” Nina pleaded and watched his fingers around the cord. Don’t pull it. If he did, they would come for her.
“What the hell did you do to your son?” Snapped the man pulling the cord and bringing up the blinds.
“NOOOOO!” They were there. Everywhere! Black holes covering their eyes. A thousand voices all whispering to her. “NO! STOP! STOP!” She continued to scream.
A woman in white rushed into the room and pointed at the man.
“Get out!” The woman in white ordered.
As the man exited the room, a woman in green scrubs rushed past him closing the door on him drowning out Nina Kloemann’s screams. He huffed, making his way down a white hall.
“Hey!” He heard someone yell. Turning around, he came face to face with the woman in white. “Where do you get off torturing my patients?” She demanded.
The man in the black suit took off his sunglasses, exposing puffy, red, sleep-deprived eyes. “Torture? I don’t have time for this bullshit! There’s a kid out there who’s been missing for 26 hours now.”
“And you think screaming at a paranoid schizophrenic is going to find him?”
“Her,” He shot back, his blood running hot. He pulled out a picture from his coat pocket and held up a photo of a boy wearing a school uniform an inch from the doctor’s face. “What about him? Who’s watching out for him?”
“I don’t want you anywhere near my ER again!”
“I’ll be back with a subpoena! I want that nut job in a jail cell as soon as she’s medicated again!” The man hastily pocketed the photo back into his jacket before turning and walking out an exit door.
His black Chevy Impala was right out front parked next to a fire hydrant. He got in and began looking over his messy handwriting again.
Michael Kloemann, age 7. Weight: 50.5 lbs. Height: 48.5”. Brown hair, blue eyes. Last at school four days ago before his mother pulled him out with excuse to visit sick relative. Last seen in apartment. Bedroom window found open.
Landlord, Raymond Barry, age 47, no priors. Tried contacting Kloemanns after power was shut off and tenants were behind on one month rent. Heard screaming coming from Kloemann residence.
Sandra Carp, age 44, no priors, Barry’s girlfriend was present during incident. Called 911.
Neighbor, Debra Walker, age 79, retired, saw a boy matching his description, heading East on foot.
Gregory Kloemann, age 39. Currently serving a 21-year sentence for armed robbery. Gave up full-custody. No contact with boy since birth.
Nina Kloemann, age 35. Not married. Worked as a secretary for 6 1/2 years up until a month ago. Paranoid schizophrenic with delusions. First episode occurred 7 years ago. Court appointed custody with stipulation that she stayed medicated and continued counseling. Cancelled last three sessions.
The detective set his folder down and rubbed his face. Something rapped on the front of his car and he looked up to see a medic pounding on the hood telling him to move his car.
“Hey,” he hollered from the open driver’s side window showing his badge, “You want some!”
The medic, looking annoyed, stormed off towards the ambulance bay.
Detective Merdock knew he was out of line but he was too pissed to care. He hated working cases like these. He hated dealing with crazy nut jobs and sympathetic doctors who wanted to coddle them and tell them that they, themselves, were just victims. No matter what shitty circumstances, Nina Kloemann made her choices in life and now a 7-year-old boy was missing. He would find Michael Kloemann and once he did, he would make sure this woman would never hurt that kid again. He hated people like them.