I took a deep breath in, locked my claws together, and cracked my knuckles.
"Right...." I muttered to myself, going over the profile of the next one here. "Samatha O'Brian, 11. Fear of dogs, insects, performing poorly at school, and the monster that lives under her bed."
I smirked at the irony of that last one. After all, it's the monster in the closet you really have to be afraid of.
Setting my shoulders, I slowly slid open the closet door before me. Twisted shadows roiled forth as the barriers between Shadow and the realm of mortals was pierced.
A grin filled with entirely too many fangs split my face. "Showtime."
I let my hold on my body go, and from merged into the billowing shadows. This would be easy haunting. I'd just slink under her bed, and begin clawing until she woke up. Mimic a dog growling, maybe rip at her sheets. It only took, what, thirty minutes the last few times? Then I'd have a nice, solid meal to see me through the night. Which meant that I could get back to that blasted assignment. I mean, who assigned an 8-page case study due the day after a long weekend. I had plans!
I'd try to haunt my professor out of spite, but the last time I tried that, it turned out she wasn't just a retired lawyer. No, she was also a witch. Now that a fun conversation to have.
But complaining about that wouldn't get me a meal tonight. So, shoving those thoughts to the back of my mind, I slunk forth into Sam's room, nothing more than a monstrous shadow crawling across her walls, shifting slowly towards her bed.
A bed that was surrounded by several... children? I halted in my tracks. Sam was an only child; I knew that from my previous times haunting her. So then, why were there four bodies standing around Sam's bed? At two in the morning?
I inched closer, my form still merged with the deep, nighttime shadows. This was really strange. I'd never known Sam to have a sleepover at her place before... and it was a weeknight anyways. Also, all these other kids looked identical.
One of the weird kids raised their hand, and held it forth over Sam's bed. A sterile blue light shone from some strange, stick-like object, casting stark shadows across the room.
It was then that I saw Sam was actually awake, her rich brown eyes open wide and darting around wildly, her mouth formed into a silent scream. But for all the terror in her eyes, my own attention was drawn to the child holding the strange glowing object.
No, not child. Alien. Definitely an alien.
Looking right at me with those big, emotionless black eyes.
I dove for the closet as fast as I could, flying like a bat out of hell. I didn't even look back as I slammed the closet door behind me.
I leaned against the closet door, panting like I'd just run a marathon as my heart threatened to burst from my rib cage and go running off down the hallway screeching in fear.
Finally, I managed to get my thoughts back in order, and-
"ALIENS ARE REAL?"
Or not. Yeah... I would definitely have to take a time out here to process this. This can't be real. I mean, seriously, that had to be something like a couple of young mages playing a prank because, I dunno, Sam showed one of them up in math class. Or... or maybe it was a fey preying on her because Sam had just binge watched Star Wars or something. I... I mean, I wasn't exactly the most experienced person in the supernatural world, but somebody would have told me if aliens were real, right?
Right, yeah... this... this was just me jumping to conclusions. That had to be it. I'd just check again just to confirm it was nothing. Right.
I turned myself around, took in a deep, shuddering breath and slid open the door.
A four-foot tall, bald, grey-skinned humanoid stood right there in the closet, staring down at me with its big, black eyes.
Yeah, okay... myth confirmed. That was definitely not a costume.
The alien reached one spindly hand down towards me, and, in a frenzied response, I grabbed hold of the closet door with with both claws, and slid it closed with such force I'm surprised I didn't somehow break it.
All the while screaming of course, because, well, aliens are real and one just apparently tried to abduct me.
... just like they were abducting the little girl.
Oh, God dammit.
I grit my fangs together. Okay, right, aliens are real. And they're terrifying.
And they were trying to take Sam. I mean, okay, I'm a monster, but I don't actually hurt kids. I could remember being a kid, for crying out loud! I just scared them, right? It's what closet monsters do!
Now Sam, she had to be scared out of her mind, and yet I hadn't been able to feel her fear. They were doing something to her, and she needed help.
"Okay, no time to be a coward, Fringe." I said to no one but myself. If these aliens thought they could abduct a little kids, well, they had another thing coming. I flexed my claws, gritted my fangs, flung open the closet door, and with a roar-
-I was hurled across the hallway and crashed into the far wall by a painfully bright flash of light.
"THAT'S CHEATING!" I shouted at the little grey men, as I furiously attempted to blink away the blindness.
Yet as I lay there dazed and confused, nobody tried to make a follow up. Nobody crossed the threshold into darkness. Nobody tried to grab for me. Really, the only thing I could detect was the odd car passing outside of Sam's window on her side of the closet, and a faint terrified scream on my side from another closet monster having a far more successful night.
I guessed those strange little gray men were gone. Good, because they were terrifying. Also, make a mental note to to yell at one of my instructors next time I saw them for, you know, failing to tell me that ALIENS WERE A THING!
Slowly, on all fours, I crawled forward into Sam's room, keeping the shadows tight around me just in case something even weirder happened. I inched towards the bed, my ears alert for any kind of movement, since my eyes were still watering from the blast of light, but there was nothing. Heck, I couldn't even hear Sam breathing.
I couldn't hear Sam breathing.
"SHIT!" I shouted, and jumped forward, shadows twisting space around me so that I appeared right on top of her bed. Her empty bed. The sheets were made perfectly, not a crease or rustle. It was like the bed had never been used before.
The bastards had taken her.
I scrunched my eyes closed and ground my teeth together. Great job. Just... great job, Fringe. Had I moved just a bit quicker, I might have just saved her from... whatever those things were. But instead, she's gone. Because of GOD DAMNED ALIENS!
WHO KNEW THAT COULD HAPPEN!?!
It was then that I heard a slight buzzing in my ear, and the fur on the back of my neck started to stand up.
"What now?" I asked, but of course nothing answered me. Instead, the buzzing became a ringing, and the whole room began to brighten.
I made a break for the the closet again, but I wasn't quite fast enough, as another explosion of light sent me careening across Sam's room, where I landed with a thud in a pile of stuffed animals.
Which of course left me completely powerless because, in case you missed the memo, stuffed animals and closet monsters don't mix.
I tried to crawl out from under the pile of lions, tigers, and bears, but whatever had just appeared in the room wasn't having any of it. A hand plunged into the mass of plush, grabbed me around the chest, jerked me up, and slammed me into the wall.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SAMANTHA FIE... weasel?"
I attempted to squirm my way around to face whatever was holding me pressed against the wall, but it really was an exercise in futility. I did however manage to get out a rather angry "Closet monster!" in response to my assailant's slanderous allegation.
"A talking weasel?"
"For the love of..." I growled between clenched fangs, before trying again. "I'm a closet monster!"
"Truly? Because you look more like a weasel to me."
Oh... whomever this was wasn't gonna be having a good day once I got loose. "Really? Could a weasel do this?" I snapped, and sent my shadow to go and rise up behind whomever was grasping me.
Only it didn't. Nothing happened.
I tried again, furrowing by brow... "Hnng!" Nope, more nothing.
"Umm... you... you wouldn't mind checking to see if there's a teddy or something still caught on my tail? That would be great, thanks."
My assailant wasn't having any of it, and they spun me around so that I could see them face-to-face.
And I immediately figured out why I couldn't use my shadow powers.
See, angels glow.
Yes, standing there bathed in celestial radiance, a burnished silver breastplate gleaming over pristine, white robes, was an angel, wings and all. A young woman by the look things... though it's always hard to tell with angels.
"Cut with your mind-games, beast!" the angel shouted... seriously, if she forgot to put up a field to dampen noise, then Sam's dad should be coming through the door behind her with a shotgun any second now. "Where is Samantha O'Brian?"
"Yeah, not a beast either, thanks..." I really wasn't in the mood to help out this holier-than-thou flygirl. "And, here's the thing, you'd know exactly where she was if you arrived like five minutes ago!"
And now I had a sword of light at my throat. Wonderful.
"So you do know what has befallen here!" the angel had a triumphant look in her eyes, like she had just solved the world's greatest mystery.
"Actually, here's the truth, I really, really, really don't."
The blade pressed in a bit closer. Always one for drama, angels.
"I mean, seriously, I had no idea aliens even existed until tonight."
"Little gray men or reptiles?"
... okay, seriously? This angel here knew about aliens, and yet nobody decided to inform me? I rolled my eyes and clicked my tongue in annoyance. "The gray ones."
The angel staggered back, shock in her eyes, and then fell to her knees. Meanwhile, I just barely managed to dive out of the way of the stuffed animals, and slammed, muzzle first, into the floor.
Just in case I wasn't having a bad enough day.
"No..." my erstwhile assailant moaned. "They have taken her. I... I have failed."
Okay, now this was awkward. I picked myself up from the rather unceremonious position I'd fallen in, but, well, honestly, I didn't know what to say in circumstances like-
"She was the first child I was assigned to as a guardian!" the angel cried out, before burying her head in her hands and stating to... cry? Seriously?
Right, now this just got really awkward. I inched towards the glowing woman, and, laid a hand on her shoulder, attempting to console her. "Umm... there, there?"
Yeah, and if dad did come in now, he'd have found a six-foot tall glowing, winged woman being consoled by a two-foot tall monster...
That’d be an explanation right there, all right.
Especially when she grabbed me and began sobbing into my fur. Yeah...
“Listen, it’s not that I don’t, you know...” I tried to twist out of her glowing grasp, but it really wasn’t working, “... appreciate the circumstances here, but are you certain... this is best... the best solution?”
Apparently it was, because the crying, if anything, intensified.
“I mean, you’re an angel, right? Can’t you, you know, just fly there and rescue here?”
The angel sniffled and shook her head, the tears continuing to run down her shining face. “I... I can’t. I don’t know where she’s gone. I can’t feel her. She’s too far! She’s gone!”
And then back to the tears. Right, okay, this wasn’t-
“Wait...” the angel said, something seeming to click her her voice.
And then she was holding me up, looking me straight in the eyes, her own grief-stained face deadly serious. “Didn’t you say you were a closet monster?”
This wasn’t the kind of reaction I wanted from that bit of information there. “Umm... yes?” I grinned, trying to look as harmless as possible. Last thing I wanted was a sword of light against my face again.
“Good,” she said, taking a deep breath to compose herself. “Because you’re going to help me rescue Samantha.”
“I’m going to what?” I wasn’t quite certain I heard her right. If an angel couldn’t reach Sam, then how was a closet monster going to help.
The angel set me on the floor, and stood to full height, wiping her face on the billowing sleeves of her robe. Then, she glared down at me.
“You have access to the Netherworld’s network of doors, correct?”
I creased my brow, “Umm... only a few, and it all depends on what I’ve-”
“What I mean is that you can open doors from your world to the next.”
I waved my hand from side to side “It’s not my specialty, though I can do it if needed. But what does this have to do with Sam?”
A grin tugged at the corner of the angel’s mouth. “I suspect the grays’ vessel has a closet.”
Oh... oh! That actually made some sense! There was only one hitch though “How are we going to find her?”
The angel turned to scour the room, before her eyes locked on a stuffed animal, lying on the floor next to bed. She reached down, and picked up a rather ragged looking wolf. “Hmm...” the angel muttered, looking it over. “This was her favourite. Seems a bit worse for wear since the last time I saw it.”
My ears flattened against my head and I looked down at the ground. “That... that was me. Whitefang there has a bit of a bite, and, uhh... yeah."
The angel shot me a withering glare, but thankfully didn’t decide to lecture me on the evils of haunting children. Instead, she tucked the stuffed wolf into her belt. “Regardless, it should be able to lead us to her.”
I nodded, not really understanding what she was doing, but hey, if she said it’d work, I’d trust her. I mean, she was an angel after all.
Several awkward seconds passed, as I waited for her to do something, or say something, before she gestured at the closet. “Well?”
“Oh! Right!” I bounded over to open door, and slid my hand on through to Shadow. “After you!”
The angel walked over, and grimaced. It was evident that this really wasn’t something she was looking forward to. But, with an admirable degree of courage, she stepped through and into the Realm of Terror.
I followed right after, sliding the door shut behind me.
The angel looked up and down shadow-cloaked grey hallway we found ourselves in, deep shadows billowing around our feet. “This is it?”
I looked up at her. It was clear she thought the Netherworld would be more, well, grand. “Oh, this? God no! This is just the easiest way to get to Sam’s room. It’s just a back hallway at the crumbled ruin of her school.” I shrugged. “Apparently, it connects to ruined remains of a classroom at that end of the hall there,” I pointed to the left, “and the local swimming pool that way,” I pointed to the right. “Where the water is alive and tries to drown kids.”
“Charming...” the angel sighed. “So how do we get out?”
I looked up and down the hallway, my eyes passing over the varied doors. Most of them lead to other closets, of course, which is not what we needed here. Right, which of these was out? Ahh, yes!
I jumped up, bounced off the wall, grabbed a loose rope, and dropped to the ground with the rope in tow, throwing open a set of curtains.
The eternal twilight of the Netherworld poured into the hallway, sending the cloudy shadows skittering for the far ends of the hall. Behind the curtains what a window, which looked out across an abandoned schoolyard, the rusted remains of the playground rising like the skeleton of some long-dead beast at its heart. At the edge of the weed-choked field, dozens of rows of dark, boarded-up homes loomed, their dark windows staring vacantly at the barren trees and broken lampposts surrounding them.
I grinned up at the angel “Ta-dah!”
“This... this is the Netherworld?” the angel seemed to be shocked. “I wasn’t expected something so... bleak.”
“Hey!” I glared. “You don’t hear me going to Heaven and griping about your choice to wrap everything in gold and alabaster, or whatever it is you do there.”
“You’re right, my apologies.”
“Besides,” I shrugged, “This is just a crummy part of the Netherworld.”
Oh, if looks could kill... I wouldn’t have been able to smirk as widely as I did.
“Regardless!” she said, swinging open the window and letting in the Netherworld’s chill breeze. “We have a child to save!” She removed the wolf from her belt, and held it close to her chest. She stood there, her eyes closed for several long seconds, before her breath caught in her throat. “I have her... hold on.”
“Hold on to-” I wasn’t able to finish off my question before she had scooped me up, and then launched into the air.
It turns out angels travel really, really fast.
I gripped onto her robes for dear life as she rocketed across the skies of Shadow. It took her only a few minutes before her feet touched down on some kind of metal surface with a “clang!”
“We’re here,” she announced.
“Yep,” I replied.
“You can let go of me now,” she said, looking down at me.
“You know, I will once my stomach catches back up to me, thanks.”
The angel sighed, and pressed onwards into the... whatever we were. It seemed to be some kind of abandoned factory, overgrown with rust and chains. She stopped at a strange looking circular door in the wall. “Here!” the angel lay her hand on the door. “Samantha is behind here!”
“Umm, right!” I said, as I untangled my claws from her robes. “Right, okay, don’t worry, I’ve got this!”
The angel thankfully stepped back, allowing me to gather the shadows around me. Opening a door like this would be a first for me, but, well, saving a little girl’s life would also be a first, so it was going to be one of those days, it seemed.
I let the shadows ooze into the door, loosening it, easing the connection between the land of the living and the realm of nightmares. I wasn’t exactly certain how long it would take, but thankfully the angel didn’t seem to either, and was being incredibly patient with me.
And then it clicked.
Light flicked in from around the door and I let loose an explosive sigh. “One door to secret alien base, just as you ordered!”
The angel beamed and walked forward. “Spaceship.”
“The grays take their abductees into space, usually beyond the orbit of the moon. That’s why I couldn’t fly there.”
I stared at the door. So I’d just connected to a ship that was further than the moon?
Well, that happened.
“So, then,” I looked up at the angel, “What’s the plan?”
“The plan? You stay back here and keep the door safe. I’m going to rescue Samantha.”
“Seriously?” I gestured at the door, “I just opened a portal into space!”
The angel looked down at me with a twinge of annoyance. “You’re also a two-foot tall weasel-”
“-who is better suited to slinking about than to taking on the grays’ security forces!”
I growled. Fine, if she wanted to go in all guns blazing, that was her call. Angels gonna smite, I guess.
And so, begrudgingly, I opened up the door. Beyond stood a strange hallway, lit by the same sterile blue light I’d seen before from the alien’s device.
The angel made to step through, but before she did, she looked down at me. “If I don’t make it, know that you have my thanks...” she placed her hands over her brestplate.
“Uhh... yeah, thanks for trying to get Sam back. She’s a good kid, and she really doesn’t deserve what... what do you mean if you don’t come back?”
The angel plucked a feather from one of her mighty wings and passed it to me. “Should I fall, take this to the mortals’ world and call for the angel Telemiel. Tell him Heather has fallen.”
I looked down at the shimmering white feather. “Okay, you can’t be serious...”
But the angel... or rather, Heather, I should say, was off, heading down the corridor, shining blade in hand.
“Right...” I sighed, and slumped against the doorway. Watching, waiting, hoping she knew what she was doing and wasn’t just racing off on some grief-stricken suicide run. “STUPID!” I shouted and slammed my head against the wall. The clang was thankfully drowned out by the sounds of screams and... lasers? Something shooting.
Well, that wasn’t good.
I inched forward, but then remembered what Heather had said. I was only a closet monster. What could I do? Especially here?
I stopped myself halfway down the hallway with a sigh. I was just a glorified doorwoman... or a weasel. She was right. What was I thinking?
But then, as I turned back towards the door, I felt a tingle run down my back, as a familiar, misty blackness wrapped around me.
Correction... I had been useless.
A grin split my face as I absorbed the strange fear into myself. Seems that an angel appearing in full celestial glory could terrify even these aliens.
Now, I wasn’t exactly good at this, but, well, desperate times. Seems like it was my time to save to the day here.
So, with that alien fear, I let loose the monster within.
And she was very, very angry.