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Red Boiling Springs was not always such a bleak town. I remember when I actually had neighbors. It was a small place, where everyone knew each other. They would go to each other’s houses to give away baked goods that their wives had made too much of. Kids would go to the rusty playground and climb all over the metal structures until it got dark. Nothing ever happened here. It was peaceful and boring. Until they came.
I was left on the empty corner of the sidewalk as the bus drove away. My old, ripped backpack felt heavy, pulling down on my shoulders. I looked down my street. I’ve lived on Fourth Street my whole life. It, like the rest of this town, was empty and lifeless. I started to walk down the fog-covered block. The air was thick and stuck to my lungs and there were plenty of cracks in the concrete. I walked past abandoned houses that stared down at me. Shingles had gone missing on the roofs. Windows had been smashed in from people wanting to take anything of value. One house was half-gone; destroyed in a fire. A part of the second floor was completely missing, the walls crumpled and black like burnt paper. In the gaping hole, I could see them. They were hiding in the ruins. The sun was slowly inching down, and the shadows stretched through the dead skeleton of the house. And I could see them.
These things look almost human. One might mistake them for human if they look at them from a distance. But when you get up close to one, you can see that it is anything but. They have an outline of an actual person; a dark figure. They have no facial features at all; nothing but a dark face and a mouth with two rows of needle-sharp teeth. They started out calm and collected, watching the citizens from afar. People wondered about them and some tried to interact with them, but if you got to close, they would quickly evaporate into a thin, black cloud of smoke.
Mr. Shax, the old man who spent most of his days at the local bar, was the first to share his opinion about them.
“Demons!” he would yell in his drunken stupor, “Children of Hell! They want to drag you to the woods and peel the skin from your body!”
Most people would just ignore him. Why should we be afraid of things that were too shy to even be around us? Some thought they were spirits; beings that had already passed and were visiting from the other side. Others thought they were forms of energy taking on a human form. Whatever they were, they didn’t seem like much of a threat.
Then people started to go missing. That isn’t quite unusual; there is crime everywhere, but the bodies were never found. There were no traces of where they had been and where they had gone.
My parents disappeared too. They were in a horrible car accident. They swerved off of the road and crashed into a street lamp. The car was found, crumpled and destroyed. They were not.
I still live in our house with my older brother, Quinn. We are the only people who live on Fourth Street now. All the others had moved, either from the uneasiness and annoyance of living with the strange creatures, or the grief of losing loved ones. There are still people in Red Boiling. The population is around a few hundred. It’s hard to say because people keep going missing. My school has one teacher and she teaches my class of twelve kids. All grades from kindergarten to senior year. Every day I take the bus home from school and every day I have to walk down this lonely street to my house. I feel the things watching me as I walk. The bus dropped me off later today and it is getting dark.
I tighten my grip around the backpack straps. I can see one of them poking its head out through a broken window. It smiles at me, flashing its fangs. The last bit of sunlight shines through the sad houses and more are getting braver. A small one is weakly crawling out into the sunlight. I stare at it for a second and start to pick up my pace. A street light turns on. I watch in horror as the next light turns on and the one after that, all down the row. A flash of something went past me to my right and I start to run. My sneakers pound against concrete and my heart is beating hard against my ribs. Only a few more blocks. Only a few more.
As the last line of sun vanishes, I can hear my pulse in my ears. Something rushes by me. The thing’s limbs flail and block my vision for a while. I scream and fall forward. My knees sting from the impact with the sidewalk. Another one comes flying over to me and this time I feel its teeth. It bites down hard on my shoulder and I feel needles pierce into my skin and fire spread through my muscles. I kick and punch at nothing. My vision is blurred and blotchy and I am getting dizzy. Eventually I hit something and the grip on my shoulder is let loose. I jump up and sprint down the street. My throat is burning and it feels like my heart is trying to break free from my ribs, but I ignore everything and keep running until I get to the front steps of my house. I pull out my keys and fumble with the lock, my hands shaking violently. I glance back and I can see them now, racing toward me in a menacing cloud of black smoke.
I’ve never heard one of these creatures make a sound, but just now I could hear blood-chilling shrieks coming from the horde. I had got the key in and was twisting it forcefully just as one got ahead of the group and slithered up the stair, digging its claws into my leg. I screamed and kicked it where I thought would be its face. It fell back and I pushed the door in, stumbling inside and slamming it shut behind me. There was a loud thud on the door, an animalistic cry, and then everything was silent.
I sat down on the hallway floor, hugging my knees close to my chest. My heart had stopped beating so hard, but I couldn’t get my hands to stop shaking. Sometime, probably when I fell, I had dropped my backpack. My knees were scraped and stung and blood was still running from the gash in my shoulder, but I didn’t want to get up to get a bandage. I just sat there, trying to get my hands to stop shaking. Then I heard a voice in the other room.
It was my brother, Quinn.