T. A. Branom
A dazzling sphere of light beamed through the window and woke little Annie. She rubbed her eyes against the rays pouring in from the night sky. The brilliance was much brighter and closer than the streetlight outside. The lamp next to Annie's bed glowed increasingly intense, sending the rotating lampshade into a squeaking spin.
Radiance swelled across Annie's room like water, spilling into the hallway. A low, slow pulsing hum lulled the little girl's body. Scenes raced along the walls and ceiling of her bedroom from the twirling lampshade panorama of southwest America .
A click, clack echoed from the hall.
Annie threw back her blankets and tiptoed to the doorway. The attic door was open and the staircase pulled down. A black shadow planted one foot on the stairs and the other on the floor.
“Daddy?” Annie called. The figure turned toward Annie. Charcoal features were visible, although the form itself was a silhouette in the murky hours of night. The eyes were inky dots; the lips dim slits.
It was not her daddy.
Annie opened her mouth to scream, but she barely mustered a breath, much less anything else. She spun around and sprinted for the safety of her bed. The pictures were a blur in the bedroom, twirling with a ceaseless click, click, click .
Pop ! Shards of broken light bulb scattered on the carpet. Blackness consumed the room, leaving only the glimmer from the lumin ous orb outside.
“Would you like to go for a ride, Annie?”
Annie's lips trembled, but oh, how she loved bye-bye rides.
* * *
Annie's mother woke and swung her feet out onto the floor. With a gasp, she jerked them back. Curled up sleeping on the oval rug next to the side of the bed, the little girl groaned.
“What are you doing down there?”
Annie sat up and rubbed her head. “I don't know.”
“What's going on?” Annie's father rolled over and glared at his wife.
“I think Annie was sleepwalking.”
“Do five-year-olds sleepwalk?”
“I saw a man in the hall last night,” Annie announced.
“What?” Annie's mother stiffened.
“He came from the attic.” Annie pointed to the ceiling.
Annie's mother whipped around to her husband.
“I'll check it out.” Still in his pajamas, Annie's father shuffled to the attic door. He turned the knob and the latch click-clacked . Cautiously, he lowered the staircase. Standing on the steps, he slowly poked his head through the entrance. Satisfied with the initial inspection, he proceeded in. Annie and her mother listened to his footsteps creak above them. As he came back down, their wide eyes followed his every move.
“No one's been up there for months. If someone had been, they would have left footprints in the dust somewhere.”
Annie's parents both looked down at her.
“I saw him,” Annie insisted.
“I'm sure you did, honey.” Annie's mother stroked Annie's long auburn curls.
“It was just a nightmare.” Her father scuffed to the bedroom. “No more sweets before bed.”
“But, I saw him.”
Her mother batted sheep eyes at Annie's father. “Are you certain it wasn't you hiding something maybe?”
He knew what she meant. Christmas presents. Rolling his eyes, he answered a flat, “No.”
“There was a light. A big, bright light,” Annie continued, as she made an “O” with her arms around her head.
Her mother stroked Annie's hair. “Of course there was, honey.” Annie's mother's eyes searched her husband's face. “What if...”
“It was the streetlight outside her window,” the father grumbled. “And that's that.” He banged the bedroom door behind him
The final verdict was Annie had a nightmare. But, Annie knew what she saw. She remembered.
That is not how it is supposed to happen. No children should see, and they definitely should never remember.
Annie's home was a two-story house with an attic above and a basement below. Upstairs were two bedrooms and Annie's mother's sewing room. The dining room, living room, and kitchen were on the main floor. The staircase from upstairs to downstairs fed into the dining room with a large rectangular dinette set in the center. The basement stairs were through a door off the kitchen and very old and rickety. Because they posed such danger, Annie parents forbid her to go near them.
Nonetheless, it came to pass that Annie traversed those cellar steps regularly. Every so often, she woke in the middle of the night. When the streetlight's glint stirred her, she crawled out of bed, went downstairs, coursed the dining room and kitchen, and crept to the cellar door. There she would stop only briefly to listen for anyone following her, and then continued into the gloomy basement. By touch alone, Annie found her car seat and dragged it thump-thump-thump-thump up the decrepit steps, through the kitchen, and into the dining room. At the bottom of the staircase, she plopped into the seat and stared at the door, waiting for her “bye-bye” ride. Her parents never heard a thing.
Annie loved that first excursion, and she very much wanted to go again.
Unfortunately, the nighttime walks aggravated Annie's father. Emotions escalated into arguments and fights between the parents. He blamed her mother. Something had to change. He had to work--and Annie kept him from sleeping.
Her father yelled, her mother cried, and Annie grew increasingly frightened and withdrawn. The final decision to hasten matters came early.
“Annie, go to bed.” He jammed a finger pointed up the stairs. His eyes flashed dark and angry at his daughter.
Annie did not dare protest. Instead, she meekly began climbing the stairway. With each step, the feet of her one-piece pajamas twisted around her ankles like a rung washcloth. She kicked her legs sideways and continued to ascend until the material tightened to the point she couldn't move anymore.
Annie glanced down at her father at the base of the steps.
“My p.j.s…” she began.
“Get going,” her father commanded, jutting his arm up and his finger thrust outward like a dagger.
“No buts. Move it!”
Annie turned, teary-eyed, and tugged at the coiled pajamas until the feet pointed in the right direction enough that she could finish her climb. She looked back to her father still standing at the bottom of the stairs. He thrust his hands on his hips and his brows fixed into a deep V.
Annie glanced up the staircase and noticed, squatting on the top step, a smoky outline crouching, wagging long, ashen fingers, motioning Annie to come.
Tears drained down Annie's cheeks. She didn't know which way to fear most--her father below or the gray man above. She glanced to her father.
“Daddy, the man's up there.”
Her father huffed long and hard. “Stop it, Anne Marie. No one is there. Go to bed NOW.”
Sobbing, Annie climbed. Her small, young mind weighed the possibilities, and odds were that her father would spank her if she persisted with her story. Shaking, Annie scaled the stairs, her head down; watching her feet, hoping the shadowy figure would be gone when she reached the top.
She clamored to the last step.
Annie peeked up. The gray entity smiled. The scent of an empty medicine bottle hung around him like smog over a city. His hands opened to Annie. All she had to do was take them.
“Take my hands, Annie. Don't be afraid of me.”
Instead, she wrinkled her nose and spun away. She skidded off the step and tumbled to the bottom, landing at her father's feet.
Her father lifted her by the scruff of her pajamas.
“You're okay. Quit your crying and go to bed.” He guided Annie up the stairs. Her shins banged the wooden edges as her father forced her upward. She cried so hard she gasp for breath. Her body ached all over from the fall. Still, he made her go up the staircase.
The gray man was gone, and her father went back to his argument with her mother. She scuffled into her bedroom and plopped on her bed.
I sat with her, concealed amid the shadows so she was not fearful. We waited together that night for our familiar shining sphere, to go “bye-bye.” Moreover, to confirm Annie...to mark her, to tag her.
Annie was my chosen. I needed Annie for survival.
Static crackled like a waterfall from the television downstairs. In the living room, her mother was asleep on the couch, and her father snored in his recliner.
A thrum of engines rolled throughout the house, in the floor, the air. It tickled Annie's skin. The continual pulse kept her parents lulled in their slumber.
A blue flash splintered the darkness and shafts coursed across Annie's room lighting, searching, and seeing. Annie closed her eyes against the vivid fingers.
A blissful warmth and calm blanketed me as Annie recalled her mother cradling her in her arms singing a lullaby. To merge with her, I needed Annie to recollect such emotional highlights.
“Hush little baby, don't you cry…” The song carried in the engine's throbbing.
Our thoughts, our memories united.
The process was complete.
We were not gone long.
* * *
“I don't remember what happened.”
To this day, Annie is not cognizant of her “rides.” However, she still has a deeply imbedded memory of me as the gray man from the attic.
She is bright and promising just as all specimens are. Being one with a human child gives us new energy and strength and more possibilities of opening a way home for the others still stranded here. I cannot allow her to remember us.
We require humans. We must to be a part of them. We choose who we need and exist in the subconscious of the host mind, living, examining, and directing. The procedure does not hurt or harm. Humans are not normally aware that we are with them.
We have no choice. We are so far from home.
T. A. Branom has been published in both print and online venues including the Haunted Encounters anthologies, Ghost Magazine (fiction), The Molotov Cocktail, Everyday Weirdness, and Fictitious Magazine, with upcoming tales in various Static Movement anthologies. She is also a columnist for Unexplained Mysteries. She lives and works in the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge in Washington State with her husband Scott. Keep up with her writing at http://www.home.earthlink.net/~branom201/.