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Michael lied awake in the basement of his parents’ house. The twelve year old was too restless for sleep, for he had heard snow might be falling that night; school might be canceled. The little lamp by his bed illuminated half the room while a pale stream from a street light came from the high up window on the wall. Toys and clothes were scattered around. All was silent but the occasional barking of his dog, Copper, from outside. Michael looked over at the wooden staircase that led up to the rest of the house. For what he was about to, Michael had to be very quiet. He never knew whether his father would be drunk or not. And a peep out of Michael could be met swiftly with a belt.
The boy reached into the drawer by his bed and pulled out a scrap of paper. He unfolded it; what was written, it seemed, was all nonsense. Words he did not understand... Spanish perhaps, or something else entirely. But the man who had given him the note explained exactly how each word was to be pronounced. Beneath the scribbling was written the exact pronunciation in English. Michael remembered the phrase, and he remembered the man—that strange man.
It was at Camp Davy Crockett, a summer camp for the Boy Scouts of America. Michael didn’t make friends with the other kids. Most of the time, he was by himself, whittling a piece of wood with his knife or walking down one of the trails. But he did make friends with an old man, whom he would sometimes meet while walking. They would talk about the world and about life. And the old stranger had an odd accent that wasn’t at all like the Tennessean drawl the boy had grown up hearing.
Michael had doubts about Christianity that he confided in the man. What had God ever done for him? The old man broke into a grin and asked, “So you don’t believe in God, Michael?”
“No, not really,” the boy replied.
“There are forces in this world that hide themselves. They are there for those who seek them... But most never do.”
“What forces? Like God and Jesus?
“You said it yourself, they’re not real. Do you really think the world would be the way it is if they were? No, there are higher beings, but not them.”
“Who? A different religion?”
“No, not a religion. These are not beings you worship from a distance. These are real people, who you talk to.”
After a life of fruitless prayers, Michael didn’t think it was even worth trying. He knew how spiritual people acted, making false promises all the time. But the old man wrote down the odd words on a piece of paper and gave it to Michael. The man had said he would explain the entire ritual later in the week, but there was a death in the family and Michael had to leave camp early.
A few months had passed, and he had all but forgotten about that strange man and that sheet of paper. But Michael had rediscovered it one day while looking through his things. “If you are real,” he thought, “you will make it snow.”
He began quietly reading what had been written all those months ago. And then, he was done. He looked around the room. Nothing. No sound, no figures appearing out of the shadows. And then came the disappointment, and the anger. Michael had been tricked again, it seemed. He wadded the paper up and threw it across the room.
It was lights out, and then off to bed. But as he slowly began to drift off, he heard a gentle and slow voice in the darkness. “Now that the lights are out,” it said, “We can speak.” Michael was silent. It continued: “You want it to snow?” The boy was shocked.
“Y—Yes... Who are you?” Michael said fearfully.
“Very well. It will snow. And I will send someone to collect my payment.”
“A large animal.”
“I... I don’t have anything, sir.”
But there was only silence. Michael lied there in disbelief for what seemed like forever. Was it a dream? Had the deal been canceled? Hours passed; sleep wasn’t going to come to him that night.
Finally, there was a scratching at the high up window—an ugly sound. Michael sat there, trying to ignore it. Was someone here for payment? Maybe it was a stray cat. After a moment, he got out of bed without turning the lamp on and tiptoed over. He pulled over a box to stand on, so he could reach the window. The boy stood up and saw... something. There saw a massive silhouette eclipsing the glow from the street light. Mechanically, it was pawing at the window with a long, steely arm. For a moment, he could only stare. Suddenly, it moved closer, bumping clumsily into the window. Then both arms shot out and started clawing the glass frantically. Michael flinched backwards and fell off the box; he looked up at the window, and saw the figure back up out of sight. “Shut up down there!” Michael’s father shouted.
The boy got up and crept back to his bed. He sat there in the dark, terrified. Then, suddenly, a shriek came from outside. Michael knew that sound: it was his dog, Copper. Then there came another shriek, and then some whining. Then there was quiet. Was Copper the payment? Michael began to weep quietly.
“This is not enough Michael,” said the gentle voice.
“Please, just go away,” Michael begged through tears.
The boy, in an act of desperation turned on his lamp, but saw nothing. Out of nowhere, there came more clawing and thumping at the window. In one motion, the window shattered, and the creature from earlier flew inside, buzzing like an insect. But it was an industrial sort of buzzing, deafeningly loud. Michael screamed. It made its way to the stairs and scaled them abruptly. The buzzing began to fade somewhat.
There was a muffled commotion upstairs. Things were knocked over and walls were banged into as the creature tried to navigate the house. Shouts and screams projected into the basement, and then the buzzing got louder. The massive object finally came scurrying back down the stairs holding Michael’s mother in its pincers. As it got to the window, the woman grabbed the edges and tried to hold on, but in one jerk, it tore her loose and disappeared into the night sky. Michael’s father came running down the stairs with a shotgun, following the trail of blood. He climbed out the window and ran into the driveway, where the blood ended in speckles.
The man looked into the dark sky, trying to find any sign of his wife. And then soft snowflakes began to fall.
Written by J hardy