Frankie tilted her head toward her unicorn themed bed-side lamp, giving her mother the tiniest of nods to indicate it was to remain on. Frankie wasn’t scared of much, but every eight-year-old prefers shards of darkness be shooed away by a little night light. Her mother obliged, then kissed her softly upon her crinkled little forehead. ‘Mommmm! She let out the slightest of giggles, another subtle signal her mother had learned to pick up on. She lent down toward her daughter’s face, which even in the dimmed light seemed to beam, and rapidly kissed her all over, tickling her in the process. The pair let out shrieks of infectious laughter, the kind that binds small children to their parents in the most sacred way, before staring at each other in silent admiration. Finally, Frankie turned her head toward the other side of the pillow, and by the time her mother reached the bedroom door she’d tumbled fast into the land of wonder-filled slumber.
Frankie dreamed wordlessly, the way many small children do. Conjuring up a celluloid stream of potent desires she didn’t even know she had; flickering images of things she’d never seen wrapped around her like a warm-hug. There are few childhood desires that cannot be expressed through images, and they dream as though they’re watching an endless reel of their favourite film. Frankie was captivated by her reverie. Only this night she found a foreign presence in her dreams; slightly out of sight, brushing on the edges of reality; a slender figure lurking in the foggy-corners of her unconscious. Ever the curious child, both awake and asleep, Frankie turned to face this new addition; hopeful of another person to play with. The figure stalked through the outer realms of Frankie’s dreamland, and she chased him with gleeful, unbridled bounds – as though she was simply chasing a balloon that danced delicately away from her. What a fun game, she thought. The lure of finding something new is always captivating to a child.
Eventually the new friend stopped and turned, ever so slightly, creaking its neck around as to get a better glimpse at the child whose dream it had invaded. ‘Hello!’ Frankie greeted with naivety. The figure stretched out its hand, and Frankie moved closer with temptation and wrapped her tiny hand around the creatures index finger. Its hand was pale, ash-almost, with chipped finger nails almost putrid in colour. The dreaming child tottered closer and leaned her small, girly pink fingers toward the stranger’s other hand, returning the gesture it had given her. Upon their flesh touching the colour-filled dream sunk beneath a ghostly grey horizon and a barely a blink later, the eight-year-old found herself rooted in the blackest of nights. Her panic levels went up a notch, and her hands stung as though she were clutching shards of splintered glass. She tried to wriggle her hand free with all the gusto of a feeble child, but the stranger latched onto her now trembling arm and padlocked its fingers over her shoulder. Frankie’s skin crawled and the spectre, whose body from the torso up had been cloaked moments before, emerged from a thick of darkness. Frankie gazed up, rheumy eyed and fearful, at the markedly pale gentlemen that stood before her – it was like a child seeing death for the first time.
His complexion was bloodless and his eyes seemed to sink into the very depths of his skull. He wore a suit, a colour that seemed blacker than black, which was tailored perfectly to his lanky, skeletal body and covered his elongated limbs neatly. Frankie squirmed and jolted, dreaming of waking up, but the gentlemen snatched her closer and placed one chilling, bony finger across her lips. The stench from the man washed a sickly feeling over Frankie. It polluted the air, permeating her nose and mouth. This was a fouler breed of dream than the child had ever had; but as rooted to the ground in terror as Frankie was, she found the stranger oddly familiar, as though they would be in each other’s lives for years to come. The creature leeched toward the tiny child and examined her fragile, slender body. It leaned in close to her ear, its serpent-like tongue fluttering in and out of its mouth; and in a rotted way, it hissed: ‘Mine now, whilst riddled with innocence; mine then, when decaying with age.’ It then let out a shuddering bark and with a jolt Frankie sat upright in her bed, quivering, awake; a warm puddle between her legs and beads of sweat drenching her whole body. She looked around and saw nothing, other than her night light had been extinguished.
The next day when her mother came into the room to wake her, she found Frankie still asleep. She watched her sleeping girl with equal parts admiration and awe. Frankie was a lively child; getting her out of bed was never an issue. She loved her daughter very much, but a few extra minutes to herself was a welcome, albeit seldom, luxury. With hesitation in her eyes, she rocked her child gently in a bid to summon her from the land of dreams she loved so much. Frankie awoke but paid her mother no need; morning seemed like a fouler time today. ‘Wake up, sleepy head. You’ll be late for school.’
Flashing the weary-eyed eight-year-old a loving smile that only a mother can, she sat beside her daughter who seemed reluctant, if not unable, to move from her soaked bed. ‘Mommy, I don’t want to go to school today. I don’t feel good.’ Dubious as all parents are to their children’s self-diagnostics, she enquired further as to what exactly was making her feel unwell. After pulling the vaguest explanation from her daughter, she notice the urine stained bed-sheets. She cupped her worried heads around her child’s face and asked what happened. ‘I don’t know, mommy. I just feel very sad today.’ Her mother kissed her gently on the head and signalled her daughter silently to crawl upon her back. ‘Come on, sweet thing. I’ll carry you through to the kitchen.’
They ate their breakfast in silence and Frankie’s mother noted that the vibrant spark usually coursing through her beloved child’s veins seemed somewhat extinguished. No longer feigning concern, she asked if Frankie would like to stay home today. The child dropped her head twice, and pushed her bowl of cereal away, and left the table. ‘I’m going back to sleep, mommy.’ As her daughter tottered away, the back of her nightgown slipped slightly revealing three almost claw-like scratches on the blade of her shoulder. Children are prone to accidents, so she soothed herself with that thought as her beautiful child wondered off to her room. Frankie tumbled over the threshold and her mother heard the door slamming behind her, but could swear she’d heard her daughter’s bed creek, the way it does when she climbs into it, moments before. Too restless to stay still, Frankie sat up in her bed and swung her legs over the side; they dangled, almost lifelessly, over the edge, unable to touch the ground. Glancing away at the floor below, she tapped anxiously against the metal panel of her pink bed-frame. A glimpse of something familiar streaked past her, but no matter how fast or far she turned her head, it evaded her, and sat just out of sight in the corner of vision. Frankie strained her eyes on the top left corner of the room and even though she could see no one, she knew, somehow, that someone was there; something was there. Watching her, waiting for her, haunting her. Frankie’s fingers hovered unexpectedly up and she let out the slightest of waves as though she were trying to conquer this new-born fear before it grew into something more sinister. With a dry throat, the child spoke: ‘You stopped me from sleeping good last night. Now I’ve missed school.’ There was so response other than the scratching of fingers along the wall and a snake-like hissing.