She woke with a start, but the room was still blanketed in darkness. The red glow of the clock blinked greedily into her left eye as it showed the dreaded 12:00. Her eyes swiveled around her bedroom and some light bled in through the curtains from the streetlamps outside or maybe it was the moon. There was an odd softness to the dimness and a coldness that felt… unnatural.
A loud clatter exploded into the quiet as something fell to the floor followed by the thump of small feet on carpet.
“Mira? Is that you?” she called out.
Silence answered until a strange hissing echoed from the other side of the room. Her eyes tracked over as something darker than the walls slithered up and disappeared into the upper corner.
Her voice shook as she whispered, “Are you in here, Mira?”
A heavy lump fell from the ceiling and onto her chest. The lump was moist and the eyes shone pale in the low light. The lump moved a tiny bit closer to her and she recoiled when she realized what the matted lump was.
A raspy voice slithered out of the mouth of her expired pet, “Alissss…. Alissss, are you in there?”
Alice was just able to make out a long, thin shadow that emanated from the spine of Dagobert and went up to the ceiling fan above. The cold, dead eyes stared into hers. She pulled the sheet to the brim of her nose and slammed her eyes shut. The raspy voice chuckled as she whispered a mantra out loud to dispel the nightmare.
“Alissss, you read from the book,” the voice grated. “You called me, Alissss, and now I am here.” The sound of scales writhing over each other fell toward her as her dead cat inched closer to her, “Are you in there, Alissss?”
Dagobert’s claws scratched at her face until one hooked into her lip. She was paralyzed in fear as her mouth was pulled open. She felt the whuffling of the feline’s stagnant breath blow across her face.
“You are so close, but you cannot hide from me, Alisss. I can smell you inside that prison of meat.”
As claws bit into her gums, the… thing that wore the corpse of her pet as one wears an ill-fitting suit pried her mouth open. She felt the dank fur brush against her lips as the head slipped within the confines of her jaws. An appendage rougher than a cat’s tongue licked hers and a frightful vision sprung to her mind’s eye.
“There is a price to pay for using the book. You cannot hide from it….”
Her eyes snapped open, and the book lay on the corner of the bed with its pages open. Shimmering light rippled from the corners of her bedroom. Sinuous shadows stretched outward as the chitinous clacking of insects grew louder. “I didn’t know! I didn’t understand! I only wanted to know more!”
Her voice quailed, “I had to know more…” She looked away from the corners and realized that her pet cat was emptying its engorged contents down her throat. As she choked, her eyes fluttered as she lost consciousness.
She awoke suddenly. With a hastily sucked in breath, she pushed herself against the bedrest. Sunlight shone through the windows and bathed the room in a warm glow and the only sound was her ragged breathing. As she looked around, her eyes settled on the long shadows cast by the sun. Everything looked normal, disturbingly normal. “Maybe it was all a bad dream.”
She slid off the edge of her bed and felt the rug squish under her bare feet. As she looked down, she spied the empty carcass of Mira half-hidden under the bed. As she screamed, the dry rasp of scales echoed eerily in the bedroom and the shadows slithered around her.
“It was real… it was all real!”
There was a sudden pain in her stomach, and she folded over. Her hands pressed against her belly and she could feel the sinuous flow beneath her skin. The pain increased and she fell to her knees. Pressure from inside of her body stretched out her ribs and a memory percolated to the surface, “There is a price…”
“Where is that damn book? There must be a way!” The rustle of pages stroked her mind and she spied it laying on the floor near the dead cat. As the pain increased, she reached out for it and it leapt into her hands. The words on the page shimmered as she struggled to read them out loud, “B, b, b, b.” She giggled as her fingernails raked slivers of her flesh free from her arms. Suddenly, they became clear, “Burn it… Burn it all. And with the ash, the spell is broken.”
Mad laughter sprung to her lips as the book slammed shut. She threw it into the fireplace and the half-burnt logs exploded into a blaze. Her laughter grew more shrill as the flames licked the wallpaper and spread. Once the ceiling caught, she could see the shadow creatures slither into the cracks and corners of her bedroom. Madness bubbled to the surface and she swayed in flames and smoke as she repeated over and over, “… with the ash, the spell is broken.”
Once the fire was out and the braying of the sirens disappeared around the corner, a young boy spotted something amongst the burnt timber and the ash. The corner of an old book poked up from the detritus. Something about beckoned to him and curiosity finally bit him hard. He slipped under the safety tape and watched in horrific fascination as his hand grasped the book and pulled it free.
The cover which he knew was made from human skin sweat with the sudden contact. “Secrets… Dreams… Power…” whispered into his ear.
An odd smile spread across the boy’s lips as he clutched the book to his chest.