By Jeffrey Kieviet
At the end of the mansion’s long hallway, we could sense it lurking in the shadows. We hadn’t seen it, hadn’t heard it, but we knew it was there. Another step, pause, catch my breath, another step. It was the waiting that scared me the most. If we just ran, charged full force, then at least the waiting would be over, we’d know if we were going to survive the night. I did not have high hopes.
I cradled the butt of my gun in my left hand, easing some tension from the fingers of my right. The standard police issue felt cold and solid in my grip, leaking minimal comfort up through my arms, but my head refused to acknowledge any relief. Detective Kean was twitchier than I was, constantly glancing back over her shoulders after every step. She didn’t need to worry about the people who had left, the ones who had escaped. They were not coming back. The ones who’d run while they could. There was no point in calling backup now. More officers would arrive soon anyway, but by then it would be too late.
Kean took another step forward, and my stupid pride would not let her pull ahead of me, so I crept at a pace quicker. She reached out her hand to slow my movement, I looked over at her in the glowing darkness, a sliver of moonlight creeping through the window and casting a sharp, white scar across her face. To my left were two intimidating double-doors that could have led outside, but they were barred and locked, covered with broken chairs and bits of wood. This would serve as no exit. To my right, past Detective Kean, was the high-rise window, providing our only source of light, as well as a fleeting glance at the outside world, a grassy field and a pool of water, desperately inviting and impossible to obtain. I stared into Kean’s bright, brown eyes, pleading with me not to continue forward. Slowly, she pulled the barrel of her gun towards her lips, and using it like a finger, she quietly shushed me. “Shhhhh,” her lips making a slight whistling sound that made my heart skip a beat.
Her gaze shifted down the hall, toward the black mass of darkness lingering at our destination, and I knew we didn’t need to be quiet any longer. It knew we were here, it knew we were coming, and it knew we were powerless to stop it. Now was as good of a time as any, we could try to run or we could stand and fight, and I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I ran. I took aim, steadying myself as best I could, my breath catching in my throat. Detective Kean’s eyes widened with panic when she realized what I was doing, but it was too late. I squeezed, and at the same instant the sound of the gunshot was drowned from my ears by Kean’s horrified shout, “No!”
I couldn’t be sure if I’d hit anything, or if bullets would even have an impact on the shadowy entity. But for guns ‘n’ glory, I kept firing. Pop! Pop pop! Kean only hesitated for a second before following suit. We only had 15 rounds each before we had to reload, and I’d lost count after the first shot. Time seemed to slow, and for half a heartbeat, I thought maybe we were winning. But then I heard the creature’s response to our feeble attempt at obstruction, a beastly roar (and was it tinted with hideous laughter or was my imagination getting the better of me?), and I could stand it no longer. “Fall back!” I called to Kean who was, again, a step ahead of me, but either she couldn’t hear me over the cacophony of the hall or she was as lost in fear as I was, but I shouted again. I squeezed another pop from my gun and then heard the “click” of my empty chamber. In front of me, Kean was also clicking but I don’t think she realized it. “click, click, click,” as if she were releasing a barrage of hope against the being that so filled us with terror.
We had to run. It may not do us any good, but pressing on was not an option. I grabbed her by the collar of her coat and pulled. She had a wild look in her eyes when she turned to face me, but it melted away once she was not longer shooting empty bullets at an unknown enemy. Her eyes registered me and we took off, back down the hallway from wence we came, back past the blocked double-doors to the outside, past the window with the sliver of moonlight, past the kitchen entrance to the hall. I considered throwing my gun but realized if we could find a safe haven, some spot to rest, if only for a moment, we could reload, for all the good it might do for us.
My arm was nearly pulled out of its socket as Detective Kean tugged me behind the island counter in the center of the kitchen. It wasn’t much cover, but nothing would stop the monstrous fiend if it was determined to destroy us. In hushed, heavy breathing, we checked for wounds and reloaded. We waited, trying to muffle our panting, which rang deafening in our ears. Time stretched on for forever until my heart began to slow within my chest, and after what felt like days, return to its normal drum and bass. Tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump. I peaked around the corner. Nothing was there.
“I… I think we killed it.” Kean’s voice was high-pitched, almost child-like with fear.
“Impossible.” I wanted to believe her. I fought with every fiber of my being, but I knew it was too good to be true. “Nothing could kill that thing.”
“We have to run, we can get out—“ Detective Kean sounded near tears, but I was too scared to comfort her.
“And go where?” I hushed my voice, the strain on my nerves causing me to almost shout in the bleak darkness. “It will hunt us, it will find us. Wherever we go, whatever we do.”
“Listen,” she hushed in a harsh whisper.
I held my breath, the only sound was the blood pumping through my ears. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Exactly. We killed it, I’m telling you.” Her eyes lit up with false promises of hope and life. “We did it, let’s just go!” She was pleading.
“We have to check.”
“What?!?” She said this too loudly.
“We have to go and check. Make sure it is destroyed.” I couldn’t believe myself. “It’s now or never. I’m going back. Cover me.”
She covered her eyes instead.
I craned my head above the kitchen’s island. I couldn’t see much but there was no demon staring back at me. Just shelves, a stove, pots hanging from the ceiling. The small sliver of moonlight cut through the entrance of the hallway to place a twinkling star on the linoleum floor. So far so good.
Standing, I touched Detective Kean’s shoulder to let her know it was clear, but she jumped and for a second I was afraid she was going to shoot me between the eyes. I beckoned for her to follow and somehow we found the strength to do so.
We were back up, nearing the frame that lead back to the hall. Bracing Kean with my arm, I glanced quickly around the corner. The end of the hallway was an almost palpable mass of deep, dark shadow, but nothing was moving, there were no sounds. Slowly, I raised one foot and placed it gently in front of me. And then another step. And then another.
Kean was pressed so hard against me I was afraid she was going to push me over, but the she pulled back and her gun was aimed down the hall, her finger tense on the trigger. If she fired now there was a good chance she would blow out my eardrum. But if she had to fire, hearing was the last of my worries.
We had reached the window in what felt like nothing. Now I was the one closer to the glass, I turned an eye to glance at the outside world for what felt like the last time. In my instant of distraction, the hallway erupted with blinding light. I only got off one shot before I screamed and fell to my knees, praying to whatever God would listen, begging to be kept safe, that my partner would be safe, that this was all a bad dream.
Kean’s mother came out of the door at the end of the hall.
“What are you kids doing?” Her voice was sleepy but pleasant. She loved her daughter, her little girl.
The light was coming from her now open bedroom door. Opposite the bedroom was the dark living room, its furniture and details faintly visible in the new light. I looked down at the pop-gun in my hand, the cork lying impotent on the loose string. Kean was no longer a detective but just another child with a toy gun, our matching pajamas no longer passing for officer uniforms. The game of “Monster” was over, the illusion destroyed.
“C’mon kids, it’s time for bed.” Kean’s mother picked her up and took me by the hand, back past the kitchen, to the playroom where we put our toys away, went to the bathroom, got a glass of water, lied about brushing our teeth. Her mom tucked us into bed, wished us good night and sweet dreams. She was a grown-up, when she walked back to her bedroom down the hallway she wasn’t scared; she didn’t need a pop-gun.
I heard her door close before I got out of bed and turned the bathroom light back on, leaving the door open just a crack. The sliver of light lacked the silver glow of the moon, but it was comforting nonetheless. I turned to Kean. I smiled and she smiled back with her big, beautiful brown eyes.
In the darkness, I whispered, “We live. We live to fight another day.”