I was eleven when it first happened. I was eating breakfast with my sister Luna. My dad came into the house. He was frantic. I wasn’t really paying attention when I watched him remove the photos from over the fireplace and the ones on the wall and shove them into a large burlap sack.
“What’s going on, Dad?” I asked, still eating my cereal.
He ignored me and continued to throw items into his bag. I peered over to my mother, who sat at the dining table, her skin was a pale white.
“Mom, what is Dad doing?”
“Eat your breakfast, honey,” she said, mustering up a smile that was more sinister than warming.
Luna began to cry.
“Jackson, can you comfort your sister? I have something I need to do.”
My mother stood up and left. She returned moments later with her arms full of black fabric. My dad had started panting and ran off up the stairs. His footsteps darted around the place like a madman. In contrast, my mother calmly approached the living room window. She held up the fabric and drove nails into the wall, holding it in place, completely covering the opening.
She continued until all the windows were cloaked. Inside it was now almost pitch black, except for the small lights that illuminated the kitchen counters.
“I’m scared,” I said.
“Shhh, you’ll worry your sister,” was all she said, and would be the last thing I would hear coming from her lips for some time.
I heard my dad race down the stairs and then talk to my mother in the hallway.
“I think I’ve got everything.”
“I’m not sure I can do this again,” my mother said, her cool facade now breaking into panic and tears.
“It has to be this way, we knew this could happen again.”
Dad rubbed my mom’s shoulders. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and I could see he had been holding back tears. This scared me more than Mom crying. Dad never cried. Something must have been really wrong.
“Don’t cry, son,” he said to me as he knelt down.
His eyes watered as he tried his best to be strong.
“Now I need you to do something for me, can you do that?”
“I need you to be a brave man for your sister. Do not, what ever you do, open the front door. Do you hear me?”
I nodded again.
“Even if it’s your mother and I outside. Okay?”
“Yes, Dad,” I said, my chest heaving as I did.
And with that, they left. I heard the locks on the front door click into place. I stood in the dim light and squeezed my sister. That was the day I grew up too young.
There was silence, unbelievably loud silence. All I could hear was my breathing and all I could feel was Luna’s hurried pants and her thumping heart.
I held her until she calmed down. Then the lights went out and the extractor fan slowed to a dead stop.
The morning was surprisingly easy. I think it must have been the shock. Luna was well behaved. The darkness of the downstairs made it almost impossible to do anything without bumping into things. I remembered where Dad kept his flashlight, so I fumbled under the sink and to my relief, it was there.
I took a couple of cans of food out of the cupboard, as well as some plates. I poured the beans out and gave my sister a couple of slices of bread. We sat there in the dark, eating our makeshift meal. As we finished, I placed the dishes in the sink and turned on the water. It spluttered for a couple of seconds and ran dry.
We played upstairs in our bedroom for the rest of the day. The windows weren’t covered up here, so the natural light kept us going until the sunset. As it did, the panic set in. We huddled each other on the bed, feeling scared and alone. And we were. The open bedroom window let in the cool night breeze and the sound of crickets.
I didn’t notice when silence fell in the pitch black. Luna was asleep next to me. I had been staring out of the bedroom door, hoping and praying my parents would be home soon.
My eyelids were heavy and my head rocked forward, only for me to jolt upright and look around, forgetting where I was and forgetting we were alone.
I got out of bed, now feeling vulnerable the window was open. As I grabbed it to shut it I noticed something in the distance, at the far end of our large front yard that was bordered by the forest. Two specs of light, each flickered like fire. They moved and I panicked, slamming the window shut.
I sat underneath the window, catching my breath. Relief washed over me, seeing Luna sleep soundly on the bed. I slowly got up and peered through the window, seeing the lights had moved closer to the house. They bobbed up and down as whoever held them strode towards the house.
I laid down on the bed and held my sister for comfort, more mine than hers.
I braced for knocking sounds on the front door, or the sound of the locks unlocking. But nothing came. When I fell asleep, I do not know.
Over the next few days things got worse. Luna was getting sick. I held my hand to her face, a burning sweat touched me. She was scared, she kept asking when mommy and daddy were coming home. She wouldn’t eat her food and she wouldn’t leave the bedroom. Not even to pee. I found her old potty and placed it in the corner of the room. Periodically, I poured the remains down the toilet, saving the one flush we had until it was absolutely necessary.
There were two large water containers in the pantry, that I had been using to fill our cups with. It was so large, I spilt more water than I captured and on more than one occasion the cup would slide and fall off the table. Even at that age I knew how precious the limited water was.
I opened the fridge only when I needed to get something out. I let Luna drink the milk, until it went sour as the minimal refrigeration ran out. Even with the door shut, the smell of rancid meat started to permeate through the ground floor. It was like an abattoir down there.
Luna spent her time on the bed, sleeping fever dreams. Crying out for our parents. On more than one occasion she said mommy and daddy want to be let in. I leaned out of the bedroom window, and in the low light of evening, saw no one there. I remembered my parents used to give me medicine when I was sick.
I went to the bathroom and opened the cabinet, trying not to heave as the foul stench of human waste wafted out of the closed toilet. I found the bottle of purple medicine that I used to have. I tried to wake Luna to give her a spoonful, though she didn’t wake. I propped her up and pushed the spoon into her mouth. She took it back and smacked her lips, a small smile grew on her face.
“Mommy and daddy want letting in,” she said, her eyes wide open.
I heard knocking on the front door. I stood up in shock. Luna slunk into the bed, fast asleep.
There it was again. The knocking wasn’t violent, it was how you’d expect to hear when someone was visiting.
I crept down the stairs and the noise stopped. I fondled the wall, making my way to the front door. I stood in the darkness and waited. Minutes passed and I gently took the last few steps. I peered through the peephole. There was no one there. I moved back and let out a huge sigh.
The knocking returned, more frantic.
“Jackson, is that you?” I heard muffled through the door.
“It’s your mother and father, please let us in?” she pleaded.
I waited in silence, not knowing what to do.
“Son, it’s your father, please let us in. Whatever you were told, let us in. It’s really us.”
It was banging now, no longer knocking, agitated but not angry.
“Please, son. Luna is ill, right?” my mother pleaded.
How did she know?
“We can help her, all you have to do is let us in,” dad interjected.
“I was told not to open the door, even if it was you. You told me. I am a good boy.”
“Son, your sister is dying, you know that.”
“No,” I said apprehensively.
“Now don’t do something you’ll regret, son!” my dad said, his voice like thunder. I’d never heard him like that before.
“NO!” I insisted.
“Please, you’re in danger,” my mom said delirious.
“GO AWAY!” I shouted, running back up the stairs to my sister.
She stood in the bedroom. Her body swayed from side to side.
“Let mommy and daddy in, I’m scared.” she said.
I slammed the door shut and rushed to close the window. I stopped when I saw the front yard alit with hundreds of torches, held aloft by people I couldn’t quite make out.
“Leave them be,” someone at the front said in the silent night. Not a cricket to be heard.
I slammed the window shut. I waited to hear something, though only silence responded.
Luna woke up.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“You need to be in bed,” I said, trying my best to be a brave boy.
“I feel fine,” she replied.
I placed my hand on her forehead, the fever was gone.
“I’m hungry,” she whined.
I fed her, and waited for her to fall asleep. The sun had now set. I looked out the window. The lights were gone. All I could see was the full moon that gently illuminated the room and my reflection staring back at me.
I got into bed next to my sister. When I fell asleep, I do not know.
I woke to my body bouncing up and down. Groggy, I opened my eyes to see I was in a car, my parent’s car.
“Dad?” I said confused.
“Jackson, you’re awake. I was worried for a moment.”
“It’s over now,” he said, looking at my mom.
They gripped hands and smiled.
Luna was fast asleep, unaware she was on a clandestine journey to a place we knew not.
We travelled into the mountains, much like the drive to our old house. When it came into view, it was magnificent. It was bigger than the last. I was told I’d have my own room. Made from logs. Dad said he felled them himself. I’m not sure I believed him.
In the living room, the photos my father took now sat on the mantlepiece above the fire, the others on the wall opposite.
That evening, at dinner, I asked, “What happened? I was scared.”
“You did beautifully. You took care of your sister like a brave young man, I’m proud of you.”
“Why did you come to the house and try to get in?”
My father looked to my mother.
“I don’t understand,” I replied.
“What you saw, wasn’t us.”
“But they sounded just like you.”
My dad chuckled nervously, “Yes. Yes they do.”
“If they sound like you, how do I know which one is real?”
My father’s face stiffened, he offered a smile that was more sinister than warming.
“Eat your supper.”
It was my sixteenth birthday yesterday, so I got up late today. When I made my way into the living room, I saw my father remove the photos from over the fire and the ones on the wall and place them into a large burlap sack.
As if on autopilot my mother’s arms were full of black fabric.
I knew what this meant. I will make sure I hide my laptop and cellphone, the power will be out soon. And when my parents arrive, I’m going to let them in.