Defender Against the Dark

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Isaac had finally reached the 53rd level of the dungeon when he encountered the one boss he could never defeat: his chores.

“Isaac! You have to put some flea spots on the cat! You promised you would do it hours ago.”

He sighed….it was at times like these he hated his previous self, the one who had avoided doing his chores for the past three hours. How could he be so stupid? He’ll never make it this low in the dungeons again. After 2-3 minutes of hoping that his mom would forget, he heard a stomping on the stairs that signaled his father’s approach. There was a light tapping on the door.

“Son, take care of that cat before you head to bed, or I’ll let your sister decorate your room.”

With a quick flip he switched off his N64 and hopped to his feet. “Alright, alright, I’m going!” he said with a huff. “Just keep Stacy out of my room!” The low timbre of his father’s chuckles could be heard as Isaac yanked open the door, saw his dad’s smile, and emerged from his room for what seemed like the first time in days.

“Where’s Duncan?” the disgruntled boy asked.

“I don’t know”, the older man replied, “I saw him earlier this afternoon, lounging around enjoying the sun. He might have gotten out again.” Isaac groaned and began to stumble down the stairs. His mom gave him that ‘I-told-you-so’ look as he passed the dryer, a look he pointedly tried to ignore.

“Mom, where’s Duncan?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know honey”, she replied while folding some of his shirts. “But you had better find him. We need those spots to be on him before we leave for our trip in the morning. We can’t afford to feed the cats AND the fleas!”

Maybe Stacy would know where Duncan was. “Alright, I’ll take care of it”, he replied, and continued down the hallway, taking a left through the kitchen towards Stacy’s room.

“Where’s that stupid cat?” he thought to himself, taking a moment to reflect on the pets living in his home.

Duncan was the oldest. They had gotten him a long time ago, further back than Isaac could remember. The mangy cat was more a part of this family than Isaac was, although not a very interesting part. When Duncan wasn’t running around outside getting himself scratched up, he was just laying around the house, enjoying the sun, and refusing to play with Isaac or Stacy. Sometimes Duncan allowed himself to be held, but he never seemed happy about it. His fur was so matted and patched that nobody wanted to carry him around much anyway.

Idaho, on the other hand, was much more fun! Idaho was younger, and would attack anything that moved! He’d play with you at the drop of a hat, and had silky smooth fur to boot. Everyone in the house loved Idaho, but none more than his little sister Stacy. She was always grabbing that cat and locking him in her room.

He raised his hand to knock on the door, and hoped against hope that Duncan was trapped in there. Before he could knock, the door swung open and Stacy ran out holding what appeared to be a highly deformed child wrapped in hair and a scruffy tutu-like dress.

“Do you know where Duncan is?”, Isaac asked.

Stacy didn’t even turn as she shouted back, “Haven’t seen him since I let him out a few hours ago.”

“YOU WHAT?!” Isaac shouted, and swung around to follow after her. He quickly caught up with her and cornered her at the foot of the stairs.

“Yeah, I let him out. He really wanted to go outside, and kept mewling and whining.” Stacy mumbled as Idaho desperately tried to escape the dress.

“But I need to find him and put his flea spot on him! Now I’ll never find him…..”Isaac trailed off, realizing that now he could return to his game, and finally beat the ogre that kept-

“Here son, it’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” Isaac’s dad tossed him the large mag-lite and he could hear his mom giggling as if his dad had made a pun of some kind.

“He’s just a lonely old man!”, Isaac’s mom yelled down over the sound of the dryer.

Isaac tried to ignore their jokes and get out of this situation somehow. “But it’s dark outside! I can’t go out there alone. And Duncan could be anywhere, I’ll never find him.”

“Sorry kid, but you knew you had to get this done today. I’ll be working under the house in a few minutes, so I’ll be outside with you, but I’m not going to search the woods. I’ve got enough chores of my own!” Isaac’s dad smiled, and went into the bedroom to change into his work clothes.

Isaac groaned out loud, and put on his best surly face while he grabbed the flea-spot goo and headed to the front door. He turned on the light and opened the front door. It was after sunset, and in a few minutes the woods would be pitch dark.

Before he stepped outside, a thought occurred to him. He’d never find Duncan just by shouting or shining the light, and needed some kind of bait.

A few minutes later Isaac emerged holding one of the fish from the freezer in one hand, and the maglite in the other. His dad had already started working under the house by the time Isaac retrieved the fish. He made it a point to ignore his father and stomped off towards the treeline as loudly as possible.

“Come back after you find him, and don’t wander off so far that you can’t see the light of the house!” His dad shouted after him. Shortly after, he heard the sound of the buzzsaw being started up, and the squealing of metal against metal.

“This is just stupid”, Isaac thought to himself as he walked through the edge of the treeline. “Duncan!”, he yelled, “Hey DUNCAAAAAN! C’mere you stupid cat! Let me put that flea stuff on you!”

The maglite was very bright, but had a narrow beam. Isaac was constantly shifting it from side to side, hoping to see the eerie green reflection of Duncan’s eyes. His father’s buzzsaw ran intermittently for several minutes, and was somehow comforting.

“After I find that stupid cat”, Isaac thought, “I’m going to stay up ALLLL night to beat that dungeon!”

After a several more minutes of fruitless searching, he realized that he hadn’t heard his father’s buzzsaw in a while. He stopped to look back from where he had come from, but could no longer make out the light of the house.

Panic gripped him, followed by a slow realization that he didn’t recognize this part of the woods, and had spent most of his time thinking about how unfair his parents had been instead of keeping track of where he was going. He stopped, took a few deep breaths, and tried to get his bearings.

“Alright”, he thought, “I’ll just backtrack a little, and head back to the house.” Brightening up a little, he continued, “I guess I’ve looked pretty far into the woods, but Duncan is nowhere to be found. Guess I’ll just have to go back to playing video games…”

Isaac hadn’t realized just how loud the crickets were, especially further away from the house. It’s amazing he was able to get so caught up in his thoughts earlier, but now that he heard the crickets, he couldn’t shut them out. He tried to ignore the quiet creaking, rustling sounds of normal forest activity. Those sources of noise were just leaves and branches, and certainly not some horrible monster that he had seen on level 32 of the dungeons….

With a start he realized that there was a new noise amidst the trees. It sounded like the soft shutter of a camera clicking rapidly, and had probably not been a part of the sounds earlier, but he couldn’t quite tell. As he stopped to listen, he realized that it was getting closer. His heart caught in his throat.

Taking off at a dead run, Isaac began to get away from where he thought the noise was originating. It was hard to tell because it seemed to echo off the darkness itself, and soon became the only noise he was able to hear. His feet were pounding through the forest almost as fast as his heart was pounding in his head. A part of him hoped that he was just being silly, but the rest urged him forward even faster.

After a while he began to slow, even though the sound still echoed in his ears. He was getting tired, and wanted to see what was making that sound. It was almost scarier NOT to look, and Isaac held on to the small hope that this was all his imagination.

Turning to face the noise, he saw the branches part as a huge menacing darkness slowly approached him. In that moment his entire body shut down, and his mind made several cold observations and realizations.

The Thing was darker than his surroundings, and strangely reminded Isaac of trying to look at the sun. You can’t make out the shape or the size of the sun, you only know it’s there and it hurts to look upon. The low breathing he heard was revealed to be a constant intake of air, as if the Thing was constantly gasping for breath; yet never got enough. He can’t make out the form or outline of the Thing, except to know that it was bigger than he was, and did not seem to be in any kind of hurry. It barely seemed to exist at all, projecting a loud roaring emptiness that ws in danger of consuming him.

A low groaning sound filled his head, like feedback from a speaker system. A part of the Thing extended towards him, and he cried out. Turning to run, he tripped over his own feet, and begun to scramble away from the horrible shape.

Something moist and soft gripped his shoulder, draining the warmth from it. After a few seconds in the grip of the protrusion, he felt it shift suddenly, and something pierced his arm, slicing through his skin. He felt his blood being drained from the wound, and his head began to swim. As his mind fogged up, he realized that he was going to die, and soon it would all be over. The fear subsided, replaced with a mild desire for the pain to end.

Then, with a sharp sucking noise, the thing gripping his shoulder was yanked away, causing a sharp pain. The flash of hurt cleared his head, setting fire to his sense and renewing his adrenaline. He stood up, turned to run away, and risked a glance backward, curious as to what had freed him.

What he saw was hopeful and terrifying all at once. The Thing was groaning and squealing with a horrible sucking noise, and it moved about the clearing seemingly at random. Amidst the blinding darkness Isaac thought he could make out a small shape dancing around the monster, darting back and forth between the appendages. Whatever it was, it had saved him from the Thing, and he ran while he still could.

Trying not to think about what he had seen, or how close the monster could be, he ran and ran and ran. Emerging from the woods onto a familiar street, he realized he was only a 10 minute walk from his house. Tearing down the road, Isaac couldn’t accept the comfortable familiarity of his home stretch; he kept thinking about the horrible darkeness that lay behind him, and tried not to think about how fast it could catch up to him.

Tear began to fill his eyes, and he tripped running up the steps to his house, slammed open the door, fell upon the floor, and bawled his eyes out while yelling and crying for help.

His family was shocked. His mother held him, and his father went outside with his rifle to see what had terrified his little boy. It took several overwhelming minutes before Isaac was able to calm down enough to tell his mom what happened. As he talked, he could see his mom put on her “I believe you face” while not actually believing him. By the time his father returned from scouting outside, Isaac realized that no one could possible believe his story.

He tried to choke back the tears, and convince his family that he had seen a dangerous animal. A bear, he said, or a tiger. Anything that would convince his family to move far far away from here. Unfortunately he wasn’t a very good liar, and his parents wouldn’t hear any of it.

“Son, I know you’re scared, but this is a safe house. We’ve lived here for years without a single problem. Whatever you saw, you’re safe now. You’re going to be okay.” His father patted him on the arm and began to raise him up. “OW!”, Isaac cried out.

“Oh no! You’ve cut yourself!”, his mother exclaimed, “let me look at that.”

She led him to the bathroom and began to dig out the first aid kit from beneath the sink. Isaac twisted his head to peer at his shoulder. He saw a large bruised circle surrounding a C shaped cut; like a sharpened spoon had been dug into his skin. His mother mentioned how deep the cut was, and how she hoped it wasn’t infected while she cleaned around it and bandaged it up.

“Alright Isaac, it’s time for bed. Now, you’ve had quite a fright, so you may have trouble sleeping. Play video games, read, or watch TV if you need to. But do try to get some rest at least, and only wake us up if there’s an emergency. We have a long drive tomorrow, and need the sleep. Also, you’ll have to deal with that cat in the morning.”

Isaac did not sleep. He barely rested. While he played his games (starting back from level 1) he tried to focus on it, to let it embrace his mind. But there was a part of him that couldn’t stop thinking about what he had seen.

Whenever he thought about that creature, about the cold touch and burning darkness….his heart began to pound heavily, his breathing stopped, and he heard the slow gasping sound in every creak or drop of the house. Shadows became Monsters, and he kept getting up to wake up his parents before realizing that they still wouldn’t believe him, and would only get more angry.

Why had this happened to him? How? How did the community not know about this horrible creature roaming the woods at night. Surely someone had seen it before! There were neighbors on either side of his house, and the woods weren’t that big. Was it part of some secret plot? Was it a new threat, and he was the unlucky first to find it?

Isaac didn’t find any rest, or answers. An eternity later, the sun rose. The sun made Isaac feel better, and a sigh of relief escaped his lips. He was able to catch a short nap before His father yelled up to his room, alerting him that there was much work to be done.

His mother was baking croissants in the kitchen, his sister was trying to get Idaho inside the cat carrier, and father was starting to carry down the luggage. Everything seemed so normal, and Isaac began to wonder if he hadn’t just been seeing things last night. While a part of him remembered the fear and the panic, the rest of him tried to settle back into normalcy.

With a mouthful of croissant, he thanked his mom and reached for another spoonful of butter.

“You’re welcome honey, I hope you got some rest last night. You look much better today”, she said to him, smiling while doing some dishes.

“Yes! I do feel much better!”, Isaac replied, “Although I didn’t get much sleep.”

“That’s okay, you can sleep during the drive. But before you get another croissant, you MUST deal with that cat. I know you didn’t mean to put it off last night, but that still needs to happen”

His sister snickered at him, giving him that superior look he hated so much. “I think I saw Duncan lying out on the deck earlier. Maybe this time you won’t be such a baby.”

“Stacy! be nice to your brother!” their mother admonished.

“Sorry mom!”, but she didn’t seem very sorry.

Isaac sighed to himself, grabbed the flea spots, and opened the back door. Heading out onto the patio, he saw Duncan lying on the railing, licking himself.

“C’mere you stupid cat, let’s get you this flea junk. You’ve really caused me a lot of trouble…” Isaac muttered to himself as he began searching through the patched and matted fur. One of his fingers came back wet, covered in some combination of blood and slime. He jerked his hand back.

“Ugh! Gross! What have you been doing now you-”

Isaac stopped. He slowly reached forward, turning Duncan’s body so he could get a better look at his back. There, in the middle of the cat’s back, lay a C shaped cut, oozing blood. The fur around the wound seemed sticky and slimy.

Isaac’s blood turned cold, and he took off his shirt and bandages to get a closer look at his shoulder and confirm his suspicions. Yes, it was true: his shoulder had a similar cut of the same shape and size.

He slowly looked back down at the cat. Had the creature gotten Duncan as well? How did Duncan survive? Wait….

Suddenly Isaac remembered the small quick shape that darted in and out of the Thing’s reach. That small shape had shown up just in time, had rescued him. If it hadn’t been for that shape, he would have been….and the shape was about the same size as a cat….

Duncan just sat, staring blankly, enjoying the sun. “No way…no, that isn’t possible.” Isaac thought. “But how? And why-” Past images of Duncan’s cuts, scrapes, bruises, and missing fur flashed through Isaac’s mind. Duncan had been torn up and ratty since he could remember…maybe 5 or 6 years?

Isaac closed his mouth, and with a shaking hand reached to pet Duncan. His hand ran over many healed wounds, matted fur, and the slowly rising and falling of Duncan’s’ stomach. Tears began to well up in his eyes, and he carefully picked up Duncan and clutched him to his chest.

“Thank you…Thank you so much. I had no idea. I didn’t….I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Isaac sobbed uncontrollably, his tears running into the fur.

“Thank you, you stupid cat.”