“You better be a rat!” she said, and squinted into the darkness, hoping her eyes would adjust. The street lamp outside her apartment offered some help, but the majority of her room was dark and gloomy, congregating by the kitchen where the damn noise came from.
Hating that she felt so terrified and vulnerable, Chantal couldn’t help but look over to Nick’s corner. Maybe his presence would help alleviate her fear. There he was, with his head angled in her direction.
“The lights won’t come on,” she said, speaking to him aloud for the first time now that she lived alone. “I don’t know if that means some boogey man is coming for me, or my landlord needs to fix the connections.”
Silence greeted her, leaving a void both ominous and soothing, and she wasn’t sure if she preferred it to the clanking noise. She snuggled down into bed, pulling the covers up once more.
“You know, I would’ve said I was being ridiculous, but after today, I . . .”
She didn’t want to admit out loud what she’d seen because somehow it would make it all the more real. She glanced at Nick, feeling foolish and tired at the same time. She felt exhaustion from many sources, and she wished she could just sleep without the dreams, without the worries of the real world. Now, she had a whole new element to add to the scenario.
“Why did it come after me?” she asked, staring toward Nick as if his unchanging figure would have all her answers. “What did that . . . boy . . . mean when he said the shadows were coming for me?”
Nick, ever her faithful, silent companion, didn’t offer her anything but something to focus on. The fact that she depended on him was silly, but she couldn’t find it in her to care.
The clanking noise started again, this time in a steady, unwavering beat.
“That’s it,” she said, pulling the covers off her and headed in the direction of the main light switch. She’d figure out what caused the noise once and for all, but as she passed by Nick’s shadow, something caught her attention.
The head of the shadow had moved, as if following her, and she could have sworn she saw what looked like a pair of eyes, and she gasped.
There was a menacing laugh coming from the same direction as the rhythmic noise, and she backed away, terrified. A large shadow that hadn’t been there before took up the majority of her small kitchen. It moved and swayed to the beat of the clanking, like a tree caught in the breeze.
She bit the inside of her lip, a test she did often to make sure she was awake. This felt too much like a nightmare to be real, but the sharp sting and metallic taste of blood told her she was, in fact, awake. Her back met the wall behind her as she spread her fingers out against the plaster, bracing herself and wishing she could find a way out of this.
“It’ssss time, my dear,” an evil voice said from across the room, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She didn’t know what to do or where to go. The door to the hallway was on the opposite side of the apartment, and it was impossible to get there without getting closer to that shadow.
She glanced back in Nick’s direction, not knowing what to do, but he stood there, offering no help, those almost clear eyes holding her gaze. She wanted to tell him to do something if he was real, but an almost imperceptible shake of his shadowed head kept her silent. She bit her bottom lip to keep it from trembling.
“What do you want from me?” she asked the moving shadow, her voice quavering in fear.
“Your death,” the thing said, taking a step out of the darkness. “Or the equivalent would be niiiiice.”
It was a grotesque creature wrapped in a thick, dark cloak, and it shuffled from side to side as it moved, its three-toed feet offering a wide base, its bald head holding no eyes or features but a yawning, empty mouth filled with rows of razor-sharp teeth.
The clanking noise got louder as it moved closer, and Chantal noticed something hanging from the front of its robes.
“You like it?” it asked, laughing and holding up the long chain of dangling things that clanked together as it moved. They looked like little baseballs in the dim lighting, but something inside told her they were far more horrendous. “These are the heads of your kin. The ones I found while they were still in infancy.”
She covered her mouth, trying to avoid being sick. The skulls of babies hitting one another produced the sound, and she couldn’t help but let out a little cry. It laughed at her, holding up the makeshift belt so that she could get a better view.
“Don’t feel bad for them, my lamb. They had it easy, probably didn’t even feel a thing. You, on the other hand . . .”
It pulled out a long serrated blade, the edges of it coated in what looked like dried blood. Chantal moved along the wall frantically, trying to find a means of escape.
“Why? Who are you?” she shouted.
“I’m The Sssseeker, my dear. I’m the one who finds your kin and wipes them out.”
“There must be a mistake,” she said, frantic. “I’m not who you think I am.”
“Oh, but you are. I can smell the scent of Grace on you a mile away.”
The creature came closer, its stench nauseating. Chantal wanted to scream but didn’t, not wanting to alarm her neighbors. She wouldn’t drag them into her nightmare.
She had the urge to fight him off but didn’t have any sort of weapon within reach. She could hear Natalie’s voice in her mind telling her countless times to make sure she bought a gun once she reached the city, but Chantal had always brushed the warning off. Now, she wished she’d listened. Hell, even a baseball bat would do right now.
The thing came closer, shuffling steps dragging it across the floor. She glanced toward Nick, hoping that he’d pop out of the shadow and come to rescue her, but he wasn’t there. His silhouette had disappeared, along with any hope she had beforehand.
She scrambled across the wall, heading toward her bed, hoping she could find something to defend herself. She pushed herself across the mattress, keeping the thing in view as she reached for the lamp. He laughed, both of them knowing she was pathetic. He raised his blade as his oozing mouth formed a horrifying smile.
“Excuse me,” a male voice said from behind the cloaked figure, making both the creature and Chantal pause. A man stepped into view, grayskinned, dark-haired, dressed in only a black pair of jeans with those distinct eyes Chantal had seen in the alleyway. “I think the lady’s made it clear she wants you to back off. Besides, you’re kind of gross.”
The creature lunged at the gray-skinned man, thrusting his blade toward his bare torso. The man spun, melting into the darkness, becoming part of the shadow again. He reappeared behind the creature, yielding a blade of his own.
They fought ferociously as Chantal sat frozen on her bed. Each had the ability to move like lightning; each could disappear into the darkness.
“She will die, Warrior, no matter how many you send to protect her,” the creature said, spitting his dark venom onto the floor as he whipped around in attempt to slice at the man’s lower torso.
“Not by your hand, and not while I’m still around,” the gray man said, hacking his blade through the air and just missing the creature’s melonshaped head.
“You protect her in vain,” it said, landing a punch to the man’s flank.
“She’s survived this long,” the gray man said, plunging his blade deep into the creature’s abdomen. It sputtered, spraying black liquid onto the floor. “And she will survive tonight, just like I said she would.” He twisted the blade, causing the creature let out a gurgled cry, and a torrent of fluid poured from the creature’s terrible mouth, leaving a puddle on the floor.
The thing melted in front of her, joining the filth on the floor. Once the creature had dissolved, the remains sizzled like acid and then disappeared.
The man stood, his blade held out at an angle, the length of it covered in black ooze. His eyes were vacant, his mouth moving as if in prayer. Chantal watched him, horrified and amazed at the same time.
“Nick?” she said. He glanced up and captured her with his angelic eyes.
“You know, I’ve always wondered why you call me that.”