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Inner and Outer Demons

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Theo walked to school, as he did every day, with his best friend. At least, Corbin thought of himself that way. He liked Theo a lot, as every boy in the grade did. He was rich and popular with the girls, though he didn't really show any interest in them. He was ten years old after all, not really a proper age to start dating or anything. But the other boys took note of this, and extended friendship to Theo once or twice in an attempt to obtain that popularity for themselves. He’s only mildly reciprocated this attitude to Corbin. So, in a way, the blond haired boy was right. He was his best friend.

“Hey Theo! How are you doing it today?” he asked.

“Oh you know, the usual,” Theo responded.

“You know, I would accept that answer if you didn't give it every day. How am I supposed to know what ‘the usual’ is if you won’t tell me at least once?”

He seemed to think about this as he continued walking. “You know, Corbin, you may have a point there. I’m doing ‘well’. How’s that?”

“Much better!”

“Good, now let’s just keep going before your-”

“Corbin! Wait up!” Coby said, running up to his stepbrother who groaned visibly before turning around to face him.

“What do you want?” Corbin asked. His stepbrother’s bright orange hair shook about as he neared.

“It’s my first day of primary school ever!” Coby said, pouting up at him. “Mum said you had to walk me to and from school today, remember?”

“She isn't my mum, she’s yours! And I’m not walking you!”

“But mum said I could get kidnapped if you didn't watch me!” he protested. “Besides, it’s on the way! It won’t really be a bother!”

Corbin seemed to ponder this. As much as he may boss around his new stepbrother, he never really hated the boy. They had grown close before Coby’s mother married his father, the two may as well have been siblings in the first place. Finally, he gave in.

“Fine, walk exactly three squares ahead of us! Don’t need to be seen with a brat.”

Coby smiled at this, wrapping his arms around his stepbrother’s stomach in a hug before running three squares ahead to start walking.

He looked to Theo. “What? I may not care about Grace, but dad will have my head if he goes missing!”

“Yeah, I get it though,” Theo said. “Well, I guess it must be harder being the older brother, huh?”

“I don’t know. I've never actually been a baby brother because I only just have an older brother now and I’m a bit too old. But you have it lucky, either way! Your brother is the coolest! He knows karate, and can beat both of us in every video game you own, and no one is gonna mess with ya with him around!”

“No one would mess with me period. I’m a rich boy with over protective parents, remember?”

“Well yeah, but if you met someone who didn't know you and your brother was around.”

This hypothetical idea was unlikely, as almost everyone in the town knew the Blackwell household and their successful grocery store chain. They had two in town and three others in the surrounding areas.

“Oh my god,” Corbin said, running forward and holding Coby back before he tried crossing the street.

“Eh! What’s that for? School’s this way!” the boy whined as he struggled in Corbin’s grip.

He leaned in Coby’s ear. “Stop struggling, brat! I’m saving your life!”

“He’s right,” Theo said, looking across the street at a girl who wore a black cardigan over her white school shirt, and preferred a long black skirt. Her face was also decorated with a surplus of black make up. “Well, saving your social life at least. That walking graveyard is Margaret Tyson. She’s the outcast of every grade. If you’re seen walking within ten squares of her on the sidewalk, the kids will say the witch put a curse on you for weeks on end and no one will come near you.”

“She‘s a witch?” the boy asked, scared out of his wits.

“No, not really. Some people just say she is because of an incident last year. A few actually. Every kid who made fun of her started getting sick. But they were all really tight knit. It was just a stomach virus being passed around. And if you were to take a list of kids in the school and find one that hasn't noticed her weight problem, you’re going to have a hard time. Long story short, she’s harmless."

“Unless you’re a mouse!” Corbin said. “She has a scary black cat. Even Theo won’t go near it!”

“I’m allergic, not scared!” Theo snapped as he walked across the road, Margaret far enough down the road, with the two stepbrothers laughed behind him. He stopped, feeling like something was watching him from across the street, but there was nothing there. So, he shrugged it off and continued on his way to school.

The school day went along as usual. They had recess around the end of the school day with the grade younger than them. At that moment, Corbin and Theo were playing with Theo’s deck of cards he brought that day. A simple round of garbage. This was one of the few games Corbin knew how to play, but it was better than watching him play football or something equally as boring. In Theo’s mind, winning every round of cards was much better than that. At least, until a girl walked over.

She didn't say anything at first, and neither of them reacted more than tensing a bit. For the better part, they just acted like she wasn't there.

“Theo,” she said, attempting to gain his attention.

Due to his proper upbringing, he didn’t have it in him to not respond to his own name. So, he played through his turn before setting down the unlucky jack and turning to the girl. She was, much like the other girls, dressed in a white shirt and a plain grey skirt. The girl was somewhat overweight with small pigtails that sat on her head.

“What do you need?” he asked, crossing one leg over the other.

“I want you to be my boyfriend,” she stated timidly.

All movement around them stopped. Other students had seen her walk over to them, and knew something was about to go down. Now they waited for one of the popular boys to move. What if Theo agreed? Would he be dragged down, or would this girl rise to the ranks just like that? Even secondary school relations were complicated. But, these questions were soon answered as Theo began cracking a smile and Corbin began laughing hysterically. This caused the attempt at not laughing to fail miserably and soon the whole school yard was filled with laughter.

Theo, pulling himself together, stood up and faced the girl who had a surprised look on her face. “What makes you think you can even ask me that? A fat pig like you? Were you hoping I’d feel threatened by your size and say yes?” When she began to tear up a bit, he continued with the insults. “Don’t give me that look, and these are honest questions! I don’t think you have the right to even look at the paste eaters in their third year, much less ask me to be your boyfriend!”

The school yard was aflame with laughter, regardless of how weak the insults really were. This was mostly due to the way she seemed to shrink in size. Things went up a level as a girl ran up and tugged on one of her hair ties. Other kids joined in, some of them even went as far as to push her down so that she couldn't get away from the assault of children. Theo, being the smart boy that he was, packed up the cards and forced Corbin to not get involved. The blond boy followed, asking “Why can’t I have a bit of fun, too?”

“And get in trouble? Besides, the pig isn't worth it,” Theo said, undoing his tie and rubbing dirt on his face and shirt. “Like I said, she doesn't have the right to even look at us.” As this was said, a chill went up his spine. Yet he continued marching away until he ran up to a teacher on the black top. “Mrs. Lee! There’s a fight on the playground.

They got away with it, of course. Some of the kids took the fall for Theo when it came to instigating the fight. The story was that Margaret had asked for a relationship, he politely declined and she attacked him. The other students ‘retaliated’. The story was spread by Corbin while he was telling the teacher his side of the story with Margaret and her messed hair and makeup. So, by the time the reluctant teachers got to bring in other students, it was far too late for anyone to not have their story together.

“So, you’re coming over for a sleep over tonight, right?”

“What do you mean? I told you, my parents don’t trust you since that time you set off fireworks in your shed and almost burned it down.”

“I also remember you saying that if you came, you’d have to bring Alex! That’s still a deal, and you can come!” Corbin said with a large grin painted on his face. “Come on, it’ll be fun! You know Alex won’t say much with Joey there!”

“I’m still not sure. What if they get into a fight or something? You know, like the basketball game we played where they forgot about us and- oh.” So maybe Corbin wasn't so dumb after all. “Alright, fine. I’ll ask him, after you tell me what you’re planning.”

“Well, I asked Joey, and he said he’d lend us his scariest movies!”

“Oh come on! Enough of that rubbish! Let’s do something else.”

“Okay, like what?” he asked. Making sure Coby wasn't listening, he leaned over and said “They have boobs in em’!”

Theo may not have been interested in girls, but there isn't one ten year old boy that doesn't want to see a pair of knockers for curiosity’s sake, or the chance to rebel.

“Well then, I guess it wouldn't be a total loss if we just checked it out then.”

Corbin’s smile grew as he trotted off saying “Great then! See you at seven!”

Theo walked down to the house, Alex in tow. The house wasn't as big as his own, but the place was hardly small. It wasn't like Theo was the only rich kid in a small town with only a handful of state schools to offer. Somehow, seeing his friend’s house reassured him that Corbin wasn't in it for money and was genuinely interested in friendship.

“I still don’t understand why you insist on hanging out with this boy,” Alex said, both bags hanging from one arm.

“You don’t need to understand. He has a hot step-mom, and you know you’re here for her and not to watch me,” Theo said sharply.

His brother only grinned down at him. “Maybe that’s it then. Who am I to argue with you, princess?”

Before he could come up with a witty response, Corbin flung open the door and raced down the driveway to meet them both half way. His older stepbrother, Joey watched from the door way as Corbin half-dragged Theo up the rest of the way.

“Come on in, parents aren't home,” Joey said coolly. He was the cool older brother Theo had always dreamed of, the kind that wouldn't get in your face if you did something wrong or fuss over you. He wasn't devoted to Corbin. Joey was just a bit more understanding and laid back about what he did, so long as it didn't involve him directly.

“Oh pity for me then,” Alex said, grinning wildly at the small inside joke.

Just before the door closed, Theo could swear he saw a figure sprint across the yard, to which he said “Don’t you think you should let the dog in before you close up for the night?” “What are you talking about? Thompson is on his pillow in the den. I just let him in a few minutes ago.”

“Funny, thought I saw something,” Theo said, scowling at where the door had closed as if the figure would suddenly creep through it.

“Well, if you’re going to be like this, maybe you guys shouldn't watch those movies tonight,” Joey said, a hand on his jaw in thought. Upon seeing Corbin’s face of shock, he added “You’re already so shaken up at the thought there is something outside. A scary movie would just-”

“Scary movie?” Alex butted in. “I thought you told me you were just watching game shows?” Theo froze. Great, it was all over and it was all thanks to him. That was, until he started laughing. “Don’t worry about it. I did a lot worse when I was your age. Just try not to burn down the house with all of us inside, okay?” He looked to Joey. “Shall we leave them to it then?”

“Yea just gotta get the youngest ready for bed,” the other teen said. “You can sleep in the living room or my room if you want.”

“Alright then.” He practically threw Theo’s bag on top of him before following Joey down the hall.

“Hope they don’t break a window or something,” Corbin said. “Come on! I already got it in! It’s an American classic!”

“Really?” he said, trying not to groan. “You mean like ‘Chuckie’ was a classic?”

“Hey, first of all, knockers were still present! And second of all, no! The killer in this one is like a zombie kid man who protects his mom or something like that. I don’t know, Joey told me about it! Just watch it with me and don’t be a smart arse, got it?”

“Yeah, yeah whatever.”

It was the around one in the morning when Theo’s eyes fluttered open. Everyone had long fallen asleep in the house. Alex was probably in Joey’s room then, from the lack of sleeping bags around them. They’d died down from their two hour sugar rush around nine thirty. He stirred a bit in his sleeping back, feeling Corbin hugging him again. He knew the boy to do this from time to time and thought nothing of it. That is, until he began pinching him on his arms and sides under his pajama top.

“Corbin, stop that,” he said sleepily, trying to grab onto the boy’s ever moving hands. “I mean it! Stop that right now or I’ll-”

“Theo, will you stop talking?” a voice asked from around his feet, causing him to freeze. “It’s like midnight or something. It’s still time to sleep.”

He went completely rigid as he felt the breath catch in his throat. The hands ceased their movements, yet remained firmly on his hips. He was a ten year old boy with a stranger stuck on his back, hugging him tightly. Knowing this, he did the only logical thing. He got a grip on the person’s hands and pulled them away, shouting that there was someone in the house and kicking at it. He tried to make out the shape of the intruder in the dark, but wasn't able to get a good look before it slipped out the front door, which opened to the living room, without another action.

Theo was slumped against the couch as Alex and Joey ran into the room, Joey holding a bat while Alex was in some type of karate position. Joey turned on the light when no obvious threat was present as Alex walked over to the couch where Theo was shaking and taking many shallow breaths.

He knelt down next to him and said “Calm down, Theo. Just breathe.”

“Huh? What’s going on?” Corbin asked groggily as he sat up. He hadn’t been sleeping through what just happened, but he was still thoroughly confused by what was going on around him. “Can you get his bag please?” Alex asked no one in particular, not breaking eye contact with Theo.

“I- didn't-” Theo was cut off by a gasp for air followed by a small fit of coughs.

Alex placed a hand on his chest, as if trying to force his lungs into working properly. “I know you didn't pack it, but I did. Now don’t worry, you’ll be fine. I’m right here, and I know what to do. Okay?”

Realizing that his friend was in trouble. Corbin retrieved the bag and slid it over. “What do you need?”

“Front left pocket, and just hold onto it. He needs to calm down a bit first so he doesn't choke,” Alex said, taking Theo into his lap and rubbing circles into his back. “Just breathe, it’s fine. They’re gone.”

“Does he have asthma or something?” Joey asked.

“Yes, actually. It developed over the summer. That’s why our mother wanted me to come tonight. We know he’s okay with dogs, but we didn't know how he’d act around your other pets.” Theo’s gasps and shallow breaths were reduced to strong inhales and extremely forced exhales in no time. At this point, Alex took the inhaler from a shocked Corbin and began to administer the medicine with it into his mouth. “There you go.” He turned to Joey. “You should go call the police to report a break in, and an ambulance.”

“Yea, good idea,” Joey said, walking over to the phone in the corner of the room after shutting the door and latching it shut. “Corbin, you go get Coby and get him in here. I don’t want you two out of my sight.”

Corbin nodded and walked away somewhat timidly, but determined to make sure his stepbrother was alright or, at the least, still alive.

“What happened Theo?” Alex asked. “Explain it calmly.”

“I thought Corbin was pinching me but then he said something and,” the boy was crying at this point, clinging to his brother’s white pajama top. “It left when I screamed.”

“You don’t know if they were a man or a woman?” he asked. Theo shook his head. “Let me see where they touched you.”

Theo hesitated as he pulled up his flannel button-up just above his ribs. He knew it was bad when he winced at the sensation of the clothing scraping over an open cut. He didn’t even need to look down to know that there was blood.

“Yea, hello police? I’m calling to report a break in. Yea, they’re gone and nothing’s stolen but there’s a kid here, he’s scratched up and he had an asthma attack…” the rest of Joey’s call faded out a bit as he did look down to see long claw marks raking across his flesh.

With that, he began breathing deeply again and pressed his face into his brother’s chest as he cried.

Corbin was back at school on Monday. People wanted to know what happened, of course. Corbin didn't spread rumors about how they managed to take on the intruder themselves, but he certainly left out the bit about Theo’s asthma attack and the scratches. The news didn't help with that of course, exaggerating things to an emergency room visit. Well, he did go to the hospital after the initial check up in the ambulance for the asthma attack, but the scratches weren't very deep and nothing was known to the school yard as of yet.

He wasn't at school that day, however. His parents saw it fit to take him out of school for emotional reconstruction. In light of the events, the school agreed it may be best for the boy to stay out of school for some time, and go to a therapist. He wasn't touched, but his family could tell this was affecting him in some way.

So that was where he sat at ten in the morning on Monday, the earliest appointment they could make for the therapist the school had recommended. The doctor herself was outside, talking with his parents. Soon enough, she came in.

“So you’re Theodore, right?” she asked as she sat down opposite to him.

“Yes. Theodore Blackwell,” he said, not really caring for the woman before him.

“Oh you don’t have to be so formal! Can I call you Teddy?” she asked.

“I’d prefer Theo,” he answered. “No one’s ever called me Teddy. Ever.”

She seemed to crinkle her nose a bit at this. So she didn't like him, fine. That was okay with him. She then said “Well, okay then Theo! My name is Ms. Birch. You can call me Ellie, my first name, or Miss.”

“Alright then,” he said stoically, not looking away from the woman’s face. “Miss, I think I should tell you that I’m not crazy. I was attacked, and my parents think I need help with that.”

She pouted a bit at him. “You know, Theo, it’s okay to say if you’re scared. You've just gone through something a lot of kids would have a hard time with. That’s why I’m here. You’re not crazy.”

“You’re a therapist, and therapists are for loons,” he said, not caring how rude he might have been.

“No no! I’m not a therapist! I’m a councilor. It’s much different. I just help you organize your emotions and thoughts on certain moments in your life.”

“So you’re worried that I might be emotionally scarred then?”

“Well, no. Not exactly. I just want to help you understand that what happened to you is something that not many people have to go through, and that you don’t have to be strong for anyone but yourself.”

Just as he was about to say, again, that he was fine, he looked at the woman’s glasses that were perched on the tip of her nose. In them, he saw himself reflected in the glass. But he also saw some dark, ominous shape behind him. He also saw it lean down to reveal a row of pointed teeth just by his ear, he stopped breathing.

“Theo? Theo, are you alright?” she asked.

He was going to ignore it, he really was. But then it decided, having been spotted already, to reach over the couch with its clawed hand to grasp his shoulder. Before he even felt it touch him, he jumped to the side and whirled around in his seat.

“Theo,” Ellie said, obviously noting that there was something wrong with the boy. She stood up too, placing hands on his shoulders. He jumped a bit at the touch, looking up at her questionably. “What did you see?” Her glasses were clear of any other dark forms around him, but he was still unsure.

He gave a nod, sitting back down in his seat. As she sat down in her seat with a small bit of caution in her movements, he checked again for the shadow. It was still gone. He let out a breath he wasn't aware he was holding and, to his pride’s dismay, he asked her “Can you take of your glasses, please?”

She didn't question this, simply giving a wide grin before saying “Okay, if that will make you feel more comfortable.” Ellie pulled out a glasses case, in which she placed the spectacles. “Is that better?” she asked after she placed it on her desk.

“Yes. Thank you,” he said, unsure of himself as he shifted about in his seat.

“Can I ask why you wanted me to take them off?”

“I… no.”

She nodded with understanding. “Alright, I won’t push. Can you tell me about the break in?”

He told her as much as he could without another incident. Surprisingly, even after his little episode, she said that he was alright to go back to school. His father was delighted and spoke much of it as they drove home, but his mother seemed less eager.

“I’m just not sure,” she said from his left as they sat at the dinner table. “That was a pretty traumatic experience he went through.” Theo found it funny how his parents could talk like he wasn't even there.

“Rachel please,” his father protested. “Corbin has already returned to school. Why shouldn't he?”

“Corbin wasn't even aware of the attacker until he’d gone far off! Of course he wouldn't be so affected! Just look at Theo! He’s so pale!”

“Mother, I’m fine,” Theo said, giving her a look he hoped was both convincing yet respectful.

“Of course you are, and you’re going to school tomorrow! We can also stop with this councilor nonsense. I say the sooner you forget, the sooner you’ll be back to your normal self, which I can see you already are!” his father said, the last bit more directed to his mother. “So, get straight to bed after dinner, and show the world that nothing can scare my boy!” Alex seemed to want to protest with his mother, but said nothing as he picked at his plate. So that was that, and he went up to his room to prepare for the school day that would soon follow.

“Why didn't you tell me?” Corbin asked as they sat on the playground at their usual table.

“Because nothing is more stupid or weak than having a breathing disorder, okay?” Theo said calmly as he placed a king into the slot for a six, finding a seven. “I win. Wanna play rummy?”

“No, I don’t want to play rummy. I want to know why the hell you didn't tell me. I’m your best friend!”

“Corbin, calm down. Don’t want to talk about rummy? Fine. Let’s talk about something else. For one thing, whatever the hell was in your house that night.”

“I don’t get what you’re saying here. We know it was a person who-”

“That’s just it though. I don’t think it was a person.”

“Oh come on, you can’t be serious! What else would it have been? An animal?”

“No, it was smart. It knew how to open the door to get in, and apparently picked the lock. Animals don’t do that, but humans don’t have claws like it did. Animals don’t pick at their prey like that, and humans don’t either. This thing wanted to hurt me, but not fatally wound me. It may not have even wanted me to wake up! Or maybe it was waiting for that? I don’t know, but the point is that it isn't a human, or an animal, or anything I've ever heard about. It’s something new.”

Corbin looked worried and reached a hand across the table. It didn't touch him, but he knew the gesture was meant as such. “Look, it’s not coming back. Okay? We’ll be fine now! I’m sure it’s off in Whales or France by now, if it wasn't a human or animal! Besides, this thing was probably looking for me if anything. I mean, what could anything, ghost, human, animal, or otherwise, get out of killing you? ‘Hello, welcome to the monster meeting. Has anyone had any triumphs over the human race?’ ‘Well, yes actually. I killed the scrawniest, weakest, and meekest boy in the universe!’ Yea, I’m sure that would win them over!”

“Oh stop it!” Theo said, leaning back on the bench of the table. He waited a bit before he finally worked up the courage to ask “So, how’s your family taking the whole thing anyway?” “Eh, not that good. Dad and Grace don’t go out anymore after work and Coby’s been sleeping in their bed every night. I’m not gonna lie though, the locks my dad put on the windows really help me sleep at night. How about you lot? Alex gone into hypo protective mode again?”

“You said it. I found him camping outside of my room this morning when I went for a piss. It doesn't really bother me, though. As long as he doesn't watch me sleep or anything like that.”

“Eh, just be glad he’s looking out for you! What if this monster decides to make second attempt at murdering ‘the boy who existed and that was pretty much it’? You’re gonna need him then, you will!”

“Yea, I guess you’re right. It doesn't really make me feel safe though. That thing got me so deep, over and over again. What if I don’t realize in time and I wake up in the morning with my intestines are decorating the room or something?”

“Don’t be stupid. If your intestines are around the room, you wouldn't wake up in the first place!” “Wow, thanks a lot Corbin. I feel so much safer now.”

“Come on! You know I’m just teasing! Really though, you’ll be fine no matter what happens! Alex or no Alex, it’s just a person you’ll probably never have to meet again!” These thoughts remained in Theo’s head throughout the rest of the day as he moved through the last class. English was a relatively easy class for him to get through, especially since it was only the beginning of the year. Nouns, adjectives, verbs and pronouns were all things he understood backwards and forwards. At times like this, when he was assured in his abilities, Theo allowed his mind to wander off and even take to staring out the window.

The weather was slightly overcast that day, but not so bad they wouldn't be able to walk home. He looked out into the forest just across the football field outside, behind the school. Every now and again, students were treated to the sight of a fox wandering around outside. Legend in the town was that seeing one could bring you luck even. Theo had never been one to believe in such things, saying they were for children, but he couldn't help but plead in his mind for a fox to simply wander out of the forest.

Searching for any sign of movement, he looked through the trees with his eyes darting back and forth. When he finally saw movement, he was somewhat happy and tried to get a better look at it. Every time he just about figured it out in shape, it moved and seemed to change into something else. That was when Theo realized that foxes, however quick they may be, could not move so fast. He also realized, with a heavy heart, that no matter how far away it was, the figure would not be as black as it was. He knew it was insane, but he found himself terrified of the creature, as if just getting a clear visual would harm him all the way in his classroom. That was when the creature finally stopped. It grew, almost three feet into the air. It was still, but seemed to be moving in some way. He looked closer and noticed that it was waving to him.

He jumped back, causing his chair to make an audible screeching before he was forced to balance himself on two of the sturdy legs.

“Mr. Blackwell, is there something you’d like to share with the class?” the English teacher asked, causing a few giggles to break out on impulse.

He looked to the teacher, then out to the woods. The figure was gone. “N-No Sir.” He said, a bit shaken.

The teacher looked him over a bit and, noticing the pale skin and wide eyes, he asked “Would you like to go down to the nurse? You seem a bit pale.”

Theo took some time to put on his best smile before he said “No, Sir. I’m fine, really. I just, uh, dozed off a bit.” A few more chuckles erupted through the room.

The teacher’s sympathy faded at hearing this. “Then do try to remain awake for the remainder of class.”

He nodded. It was a small lie to tell. And who knows? Maybe he had really fallen asleep and that was just a thing from his nightmares.

He walked out of the school on his own that day, not waiting for Corbin. He was in his English class, and was sure to question him about what happened. How was he supposed to answer questions he himself didn't know the answers to? So he raced home, ignoring the shadows that haunted the corners of his vision from the faces of those who he passed. His parents told him not to run too much, that the strain could cause him to have an attack, but he didn't care. He had to get home. To the safety of his mother, father and Alex. Even their large afghan, Ebby, was safer than no one at all. Especially when it came down to the fact the others listed would ask him what was wrong.

However, it wasn't the wet black nose that greeted him when he ran in the house and kicked off his shoes. His brother poked out his head out from behind the wall. He initially had a smug grin on his face but turned to worry in a matter of seconds when he saw Theo’s appearance.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, coming closer to listen to Theo’s breathing. When he attempted to place a hand on his chest to check him over, the boy pushed him off. “Will you stop that? I’m not a doll, and I’m not as fragile as you think I am!” he yelled, backing away.

Alex stood up and looked down at him with questioning eyes. “No, I suppose not. But would you care to tell me why you look so disheveled? And why you’re so pale and cold on a beautiful day?”

“It’s not beautiful, it’s going to rain soon,” was the short, calm, response. “Anyway, I just raced Corbin to his house. It’s no big deal.”

“I’d say it’s a very big deal. Was this from the school? That’s almost five blocks away! What were you thinking?” he asked, stooping down to get on eye level with his younger brother. Theo only saw one way out of this situation and began to cry a bit without saying anything more. Alex’s ‘most caring older brother in the world’ side took over as he let out a deep sigh and pulled the child to his shoulder to cry on. “It’s okay. I understand. You wanted to prove yourself.” He pulled himself away to look him in the eye. “Would you like to take a nap on the couch where I can watch you?” he asked, tilting up his chin in a gentle way so that he could brush away the tears in his eyes.

Theo nodded, not bothering to fight him on the last bit. Saying he wasn't scared was a bit too much, and he really didn't want to sleep in his room anyway where the bed was propped against the window. So he laid down the black couch and began to sleep.

Deep in his mind, he was still troubled by the figure. It lingered in the corner of his vision as he walked through his house. Finally, he broke into a run for his brother’s room. Flinging open the door before swiftly shutting it, he gasped for air before turning around to run to Alex. But he wasn't there. On the bed, in a drab dress that appeared to be from the 1820's, sat Margaret Tyson.

“Well don’t you look like hot hell,” she said, pulling a tea pot off of his brother’s nightstand. She poured herself a cup in a fine piece of china she seemed to pull out of thin air. She offered the pot to him as she asked “Tea?”

Theo didn't respond. He was backed against the door. In this room was this girl, but outside was that thing. He couldn't tell which was worse.

“Margaret?” he asked, looking her over again and again.

The girl smiled at this and sipped her tea before saying “Not really. Do you know about the Tyson name?” When he didn't respond again, she gave a tired sigh before continuing. “They were the first settlers here. Hear that? Not one of the first, the first. Things got bad though. Crops were rotting in the ground, and people were getting sick- you know the whole bit.

“Well, things only got worse when other people moved into the town. They were interesting people, they were. You see, the Tysons didn't worship God like other humans of the time. In fact, they hated Him for making them so stupid and then punishing them when they got smart about the world. They instead turned to Satan, and thanked him for giving them knowledge. It was then they asked him for help. The new comers weren't too nice to anyone in the town. They slaughtered cattle that didn't belong to them, burned their barns down for being marked with the signs of their true savior.

“So they had enough, and Satan told them what they had to do. He said for them to retrieve their youngest daughter as something of a lamb. Don’t give me that look! They didn’t kill her as a sacrifice. Most Satanists don’t even use blood sacrifices. More than I can say for Christians. Anyway, the lord walked forward and gave her the mark of the Faustian contract. Well, I guess it wasn't really Faustian. You’ll see why in a minute. So, yea, this girl’s body –the one I wear now- was being controlled by me. Next, they ordered me-”

“Why are you telling me this?” Theo asked, trying to stabilize himself. “Why explain yourself to me? And if you are going to do it, then do it right and tell me: Why are you doing this to me?”

She looked surprised for a minute before walking over and stepping on his ankle, twisting it to make him cringe as she said “I was getting to that. The reason I’m doing this, is because I was ordered to free this town of malicious citizens who only wished to maim and harm those around them for their own benefit. Don’t worry about any of this though.” She stepped on his angle harder. “This is just a dream. You’ll wake up soon, and I can hurt you for real.”

He awoke, panting and whipping around on the couch. His brother was sitting by his legs with a hand placed on the small of his back.

“Don’t worry, everything’s fine,” Alex said, his voice calming him greatly.

No matter how old he got- No matter how much he protested it- No matter how many times he swore up and down that he wasn’t weak- nothing would ever stop Theo from curling up with his brother when he needed calming down. And nothing would stop Alex from giving his brother the comfort he needed at those times. The rain softly pattered on the window and they just sat there for a while. No words needed to be exchanged between the two, as Alex understood Theo didn't want to talk.

“Mother and father will be home soon,” Alex said, breaking the silence. “You should get out of your uniform, or mother will have a fit.”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine.” He pulled himself away from his side and trotted up the stairs to his room.

His room was not a shabby place, not at all. He enjoyed keeping it clean and neat. His closet was arranged with school clothes on the left and from there the rest of the clothes were arranged by their colors. The clothes he was looking for, however, were actually in his dresser. He turned on the light and walked over to the small dresser, pulling out his pajamas. It was then he heard the rain pattering on the window behind him.

So it started raining? he thought to himself. Then I best shut the-

He stopped mid-thought as he turned to the window. Behind the glass was a dark figure, tapping its claws against the glass. He yelled, flinging his back against the wardrobe and curling his hands over his face. It was just a dream, so he told himself. This thing couldn't be real. He felt something grabbing his leg, pulling him toward the window. He kicked and screamed louder. Ebby was barking downstairs like mad. Under the pounding in his heart, he could hear footsteps on the stairs. Alex was going to save him.

“It would be so easy to kill him too, I hope you realize that,” the thing hissed in his ear in the voice of Margaret, as if it was reading his mind.

The door slammed shut and it raked its long claws down his leg, causing him to whimper and cry out in pain. He was crying on the floor, his school trousers shredded from the left knee down. Theo didn't scream as he shuffled under his desk and began holding onto the leg for dear life. The monster began to cackle as it looked down at him from its height of about six feet before it flew out into the rain.

Theo was just staring, not believing that he was alive. Alex finally got through the door and looked at the open window. He seemed like he was about to cry until he heard a slight sniffle from under the desk. His brother was still home, still alive, and still safe. He fell down, joining him in crying.

“Alex, I think I messed myself,” Theo whimpered out, feeling pathetic.

“That’s alright, Theo,” Alex said, trying to keep the tears from coming out as well. He felt like the wind had been knocked out of him when the door slammed in his face. He noticed the ripped trouser leg and looked out the window. “Come on,” he said, grabbing the grey comforter from the neatly made bed and wrapping Theo in it tightly. “We’ll get you cleaned up in a second, okay? Just let me call the police.”

Theo didn't protest as his brother used his phone, set up on his dresser. He reported the break in and the officer said they were sending someone out and to either get to a safe room or move to another house. That was how they were standing in the bathroom, Theo in his blanket and Alex standing by the door holding the pajamas.

“Do you want to take a bath first? Or do you just want to put the pajama bottoms on?” he asked.

Theo didn't know really. Getting in the bath alone, even if it was just the shower curtain separating them, lead to a lot of dangers. But he didn't want to be sticky from his own mess either.

“I’m not leaving the bathroom,” Alex said “Whatever you pick. I’d even help you bathe.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” he said. “I’m ten now!”

“You know, I was giving you baths only two years ago. No one would even have to know.”

He thought about this, and decided it was far better to just dress and be done with it. He’d bathe later. “I’ll just change,” he answered.

Alex gave a nod with a slight smirk as he handed the clothes over. So this was his idea of lightening the mood. He changed under the blanket, hard as it may have been. His pride fell as his urine stained garments fell to the ground with a wet noise.

“I can’t believe I pissed myself like some scared little kid,” he said, looking down and kicking the trousers off to the side as he wrapped the blanket around himself even tighter. Alex hugged him. It was unexpected this time, and he could hear his brother’s body begin to shake with sobs as he kissed his head.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

“I almost lost you, didn't I?” he said. “I don’t care what mom and dad say, you’re not leaving this house until they catch this guy. You’re also going to be sleeping in my bed, get used to it.”

“Alex, I’m not a-”

“I get it: You’re not a baby! But you’re still my little brother and I’m not losing you! Do you hear me?” He shouted, pulling him closer. Hesitantly, Theo returned the hug. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” he said, clearing his nose a bit.

“Alex… I didn't say that.”

A chill went up both their spines as Alex turned to face the shadow that was looming over the bathroom door.

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