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The shrill scream echoed through the silent house. It was the same almost every night. Except tonight. Tonight seemed different. There was more fear. It seemed almost strangled. Down the narrow hallway and to the left six boys groaned. Each of them pulled their pillows over their heads.
“Ira! It’s your turn!” the oldest, Elijah Knight, called throwing a pillow at his younger brother. Ira groaned, but he did as he was told, dragging himself out of bed and sliding down the long wooden hallway. As the screaming became louder and louder, Ira quickened his pace. He slid hastily down the corridor toward his sister’s bedroom. As he ran, he saw a flash of a shadow flicker passed the little girl’s door. He blinked and the shadow was gone. There was nothing there, he told himself, it was just a trick of the eye.
“Sophie! Sophie! Sophia!” He shook the tiny little girl. She was curled in a sweaty ball as shrieks escaped her tiny, pale lips. Sweat dripped from her face and soaked her oversized t-shirt. “Sophia, please wake up!” Ira pulled the child from her sheets and into his lap. He sat with her cradling her in his arms for ten minutes before the screaming finally quit.
“Ira?” Sophie whispered hoarsely, clutching at her older brother.
“Yeah I’m here kiddo. Don’t worry you’re safe, it was all just a bad dream.” Like every other night, Sophie shoved her brother away, frowning.
“It wasn’t a dream Ira! It was real! I’m telling you!” she choked out. “He was standing over me tonight. He was whispering bad things. Evil things. He wants me to hurt you guys.” Sophie was crying hard now. She was shaking so badly, Ira thought she just might break. She’d gotten so thin ever since the night terrors had begun. They started right after their father left to find work out of town.
“It’s okay Sophia, don’t cry,” Ira pleaded softly as he pushed her damp, golden hair out of her dark brown eyes. “Do you want to sleep in my room tonight?” The six-year-old nodded solemnly as he lifted her into his arms. He grabbed her blanky, and stuffed bear, Shadow, before carrying her down the long dark hallway and into the biggest room in the small house. Ira set her gently on his bed and curled up beside her, hoping she wouldn’t start screaming again and wake the others. Luckily she slept soundly through the rest of the night.
The next night she began screaming again, but this was nothing the six boys had ever heard before. This scream was different. Elijah jumped from his bed, tripping over Jeremiah who was stumbling from his mattress. Ira was right behind them, with James and Jonny following hastily. Michael was the last to slip and slide down the corridor as he followed closely behind his brothers.
“Sophia! Sophia!” Elijah shouted glancing around the room rapidly. Sophie wasn’t in her bed like she normally was. She was curled up as far away from her window as possible. Her eyes were wide open and she was visibly struggling to breathe. Elijah raced to his sister and swung her into his arms. She was completely covered in sweat, clutching at her throat.
“Sophie what happened?” James asked as he gently took one of her clammy hands in his own.
“He…he was trying to kill me. He was choking me,” she gasped as tears streamed from her beautiful, chocolate brown eyes.
“Who was Sophie?” Michael asked, concern etched onto his face. Sophie closed her eyes and shivered.
“The Forest Demon,” she whispered as another shudder rippled through her tiny frame. Jeremiah couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“The Forest Demon!” the youngest boy shouted with a laugh. “You mean the one from all those stupid stories?” He laughed harshly. Jonny hit him forcibly in the stomach.
“Shut up dumbass!” the fifteen-year-old scolded as his twelve-year-old brother doubled over in pain, gasping for air. James laughed and patted his twin on the shoulder.
“Nice job Jonny, your gonna make the baby cry,” he whispered.
“Guys knock it off!” Ira scolded his younger brothers. It was the middle of the night and they still couldn’t get along. Elijah shook his head in dismay as both of their attention returned back to Sophie.
“It’s true,” she whispered defensively. “He tried to kill me. He said we were invading his forest. He wants us to leave. He says that he’s going to kill us like he killed mommy.” Elijah held his baby sister tighter as the words poured from her lips.
“Mommy isn’t dead baby, she just went away for awhile,” Michael half-heartedly tried to reassure the six-year-old.
“No!” she shrieked deafeningly. “Mommy is dead! The Forest Demon told me so. He said he’ll kill us all!” she insisted, maybe a little too loudly. Michael, Jeremiah and Jonny all covered their ears and backed away. James would have, but Sophie was gripping his hand tightly. He hadn’t even known she was that strong.
“Sophie, Sophie, calm down. I believe you,” Elijah lied. He just wanted her to be the tranquil little child he once knew. If their mother was here, she’d know what to do.
“You do not.” The boys had never heard Sophie speak that way before. It was like she knew what they were thinking. None of them believed her, but who would? They’d lived in the house in the woods for almost two years. The only weird thing that happened was their mother disappearing. But she probably just ran away. She was angry when she left to go for that walk. But what if…No! Sophie was a small child having night terrors about a fictional character. That’s it!
“Sophie, do you want to sleep in our room again tonight?” thirteen-year-old Michael asked sweetly. He rubbed her back gently. Sophie shivered violently and let out another shriek.
“No, I don’t want to go back to sleep. Not EVER! A bad thing will happen if I do!” she screamed hugging tighter to Elijah’s neck. “Please. Don’t make me go back to sleep.”
“We won’t,” Ira reassured her, smoothing her hair down gently. Elijah glanced at his younger brother. Why was this put on their shoulders? They were too younger to be playing “parents” with their five younger siblings. They were only seventeen and eighteen for crying out loud!
“Let’s give her some of that tea that mom used to give us. You know? the one she used to give us when we couldn’t sleep,” Jonny suggested.
“I don’t know Jonny. What if she’s right? Maybe we should get out of here. We could move back to town,” Ira replied glancing over into the family room where Jeremiah and Michael were keeping Sophie busy.
“Ira, look at the circles under her eyes. She hasn’t slept in two days. That’s unhealthy for a six-year-old,” James pointed out. Elijah nodded his head in agreement.
“We’ll give her some tea to help her sleep tonight, and we’ll leave tomorrow,” Elijah decided.
The scream that filled the heavy air that night, didn’t come from Sophie’s room. It was closer. Elijah’s eyes shot open only to see a shadowy figure clutching Sophie by the neck.
“You should have listened to me,” she whispered devilishly.
“Elijah!” Ezra Sampson called as he hurried through the woods towards the Knight’s home. Elijah hadn’t been to work in three days. That was unlike him. Highly unlike him. As the chubby man followed the eerie dirt road, he began smelling a fowl stench. He realized with a start that it was coming from the small house not far ahead. “Elijah!” he called again from outside the door. The smell was beginning to get so bad that he drew his handkerchief from his pocket and covered his nose and mouth.
He slowly pushed the front door open and tiptoed through the silent house. The smell was unbelievably awful. But when he turned the corner and began walking down the narrow hallway. He reached out and turned the doorknob of the first door, where it smelled the rankest. When he looked inside, his first reaction was to turn and throw up all over the shiny wooden floor.
Blood covered the entire room. Ezra Sampson forced himself to look. Floors, walls, bed posts, blankets, they were all dripping with the bright red liquid. The man searched the room, wondering, who was sick enough to do something like this? All of the boys had their eyes open, they must’ve seen who had done this to them before it happened. When the man heard a small sniffle, he jumped, his old heart racing.
When he turned, he saw a little girl huddled in a corner. She clutched a bloody teddy bear to her chest. She was holding a boy’s hand tightly. He must have tried to protect his sister, the man concluded as he edged closer. The small girl was trembling violently, cowering further into the shadows.
“He’s going to kill you too,” she whispered coldly as a shadow fell over the man.