The footprints started in the snow, coming from the road. They lead through the pristine snow and into the large spruce tree in the front yard. Tiny. Certainly human. I examined the tree from afar. I wanted to investigate, but not with the kids with me. The bus finally arrives. I follow the tiny steps until I’m an arm's length or two away from where they end. I keep my distance but circle around the tree. No more prints, just the set going in.
As I start to take a step towards the thick spruce, the branches rustle. I nearly fall on my ass as I frantically back up. Nothing emerges, nothing makes a sound. My brain pushes the issue. It keeps telling me that there has to be a kid in there. It had to have been dropped off, and then wandered into the tree. I grab a long stick from the edge of the driveway. I lift a few of the needled branches with it from a distance.
It looked like something the size of a toddler’s been rolling and writhing in the dead needles. Nothing was there, no animals, no kids. I went back inside to start breakfast for myself. While standing at the counter, I looked out of the window and saw a streak of brown hurry past near the window sill. I leapt to the window, but couldn’t find anything in the yard.
I was in the shower when I heard it. It was a quiet whining or groaning. I stopped the water and listened. It seemed to be close, maybe just under the little bathroom window. After climbing up on an overturned waste basket, I pulled the window open. A single line of little human foot prints along the perimeter of the house. The prints led straight to our decorative pond, there was a hole broke through the ice.
I didn’t even bother to dry off. I grabbed my robe and ran out into the snow barefoot and soaking wet. I slid across the frozen patio. I almost went into the freezing water. I looked around my yard and saw a large black cat with an odd stride moving down towards the creek. After some slipping and sliding I make it into the house and stand by a heat register to thaw out my feet.
I called my wife. I assumed she had to be playing a joke on me.
“Hey, what’cha need?”
“Not much, did you notice any weird foot prints around the house on your way out this morning?”
“What? Like el chupacabra?”
I love my wife, but she can’t lie. I laughed at her joke and told her to never mind. There was a few moments of silence, followed by the kind of scream that only comes from a kid. The sudden noise dazed me for a moment. Once I realized what was happening, I ran to the front door. I jerked it open as fast as my arms would move. A lump of fur about the size of a three year old was sitting on my porch. It had a long tail and pointy cat-like ears. The scream stopped as soon as the door was cracked open.
Like a teenager trying to sneak out of the house I locked the storm door as quietly and slowly as I could. The lock clicked into place. The head started slowly turning with a twist of the body. What stared at me wasn’t a cat’s face. It was a face I’d only seen in photographs. Those little blue eyes, the same eyes from that picture on wall at my neighbor’s house. The eyes stared through the glass at me. It licked its lips with a black tongue, and formed its lips into an innocent smile. Then came the sweet laughter of a child. It wasn’t just coming from the… thing, it was coming from every nook and cranny of my home. I felt like it was coming from inside of me, too.
It pressed its face up against the glass of the storm door. “Let me iiiiin… it’s cold out heeeere...”
I slammed the door. Bolted the dead bolt. I even used the little chain at the top. I leaned against the door and tried not to vomit. The only place I’d ever seen that face was in a picture on my neighbor’s mantle. I started away from the door and heard a tapping on the glass in the family room. It was standing on the flower box, rubbing its face against the window.
“It’s meee... Toooony...” echoed through the house.
My stomach rejected everything I’d ate. All over the entryway and part of the family room. The laughing started again, it was loud enough that I felt like it was shaking my bones. It stopped abruptly, and I heard the sound of the storm door lock being opened. I ran for the back door. There it sat on the washer. I couldn’t move, I tried to run but nothing worked.
Its eyes rolled back into its head and its head started to nod up and down in long swings. The furry body shook violently for a few seconds. Tony's face swayed around with it, then began to staring at the ceiling as circle of old jagged teeth emerged from the mess of fur. I almost threw up again when the wet clicks started. Every click bought a new yellow eye out of the thicket of fur. Dozens of yellow eyes opened. Their pupils bounced around, like they were analyzing every little detail of its surroundings.
It hissed. It lunged at me. Something clicked inside of me. I ran. I grabbed a skillet on my way through the kitchen, it was on my heels. I turned, and threw the skillet as hard as I could down at it. It slumped on the floor. I grabbed my snow shovel from the door and stuffed it into the living room closet that’s under the steps. I pushed the couch up against the door. I sat on the floor against the other end of the couch, and laid my head back. I opened my eyes and saw the circle of teeth pointed at me from the ceiling.
All eyes on me, it dropped from the ceiling. I rolled out of the way, it landed with a thud. My hand was burning, but I was scrambling back into the kitchen. I stopped at the island, turned and saw it standing in the doorway. Little Tony’s face was staring right through me. The left side started to drop, like wax slowly melting. It quickly became unrecognizable and started to pull back up into place. The face that came back wasn’t the matching half of Tony’s face. It was mine.
I grabbed the closest thing to me, a sea salt grinder. I threw it as hard as I could at it. The salt grinder shattered into a hail of glass and salt. It hissed. It twisted. Those yellow eyes swirled around its body. Before I knew what was happening, I had run back to the mud room. I grabbed the bag of rock salt I use for the icy sidewalks and I ran back to the kitchen. I dumped the entire bag on the thing. It screeched a horrible cry. I don’t know what it was, but I know the sound of agony. It sounded like it was being seared to death.
When I swept up the salt, there weren’t any traces of the monster. I had bandaged up the gash on my hand, I guess it got me a little. I’d made an effort to have everything back together by the time the kids got off the bus. When my wife was giving them their bath, she called me in to look at something. On their right shoulder blade both boys had the same mark. A little circle that looked like it’d be perforated right into their skin. Then I remembered something I’d brushed off earlier. One of the boys came up to me while I was cooking dinner, and asked when he could go outside and play with Tony again.
Before I covered them up for the night, I gave them their hugs, and when they told me they loved me, they looked back up at me with yellow eyes. I did a double take. Their eyes were back to brown. I’m not sure what will come of this, but I needed to warn the rest of you. Beware of lost children, you never know what you have to lose.