The window had been clear last night but this morning the thin jagged tendrils of frost had woven their way across the glass. Jake sighed and watched the frost disappear and reappear with his breath. It was still warm enough in the shambles he called home to be comfortable, but he knew that’d soon change.

It always did.

It only took him about a half hour to finish his morning routine and head out the door for the morning slog. The grass wasn’t quite crunchy with frost yet, but he knew it was only a matter of time. He puffed a little, as he walked… he couldn’t quite see his breath yet, but he liked to pretend he was a dragon anyway. Behind him, the house seemed to stare at him sadly as it became smaller and smaller in the distance. Jake shifted his huge, heavy backpack and resisted the urge to turn around and get back under his blankets. He puffed, mightily.

Soon enough, he had reached the school. As usual he was one of the first kids in.

As usual someone had tampered with his locker.

He’d long since stopped leaving much of anything in the locker, so this time he didn’t have to worry about shredded notes or stolen books. This time it seemed he also didn’t have to worry about scrubbing it, either.

This time there was just a doll there. Something a kid would make, roughly in the shape of a person and roughly stitched. With its stitched mouth and stitched X’s for eyes, it reminded him a little of a voodoo doll. Its heart was exposed, and the tag read simply, “Jake.”

He glanced around quickly to see if anyone was in the hallway and then puffed, imagining the doll disintegrating into ash and smoke. But it didn’t, so he stared at it until the noise of other kids made him startle and bit, and he gently set it down on the bottom of the locker. He shrugged out of his jacket and hung it, along with his empty backpack and skittered off to homeroom.

As usual, he was polite and quiet. He answered the teacher’s questions. He responded appropriately to the other students, even as they teased him or commented about him within earshot. No one said anything about the doll… yet.

A girl snapping gum behind him in 4th period asked if he had an extra pencil she could borrow. It was probably the 3rd pencil she’d borrowed from him. He smiled, and said, “Sure,” and handed it to her. As she leaned forward to take it, he imagined reaching out with a long scaly neck and what it would feel like as his teeth punctured her skull. If his jaws were as strong as a crocodile’s, would her brains burst inside his mouth like a cherry tomato? As she grasped the pencil, she looked into his eyes for a moment and paused. His smile slipped a bit. “What?” he squeaked, then winced. He hated how whiny he sounded. Had his mask slipped a little?

Julie snapped her gum again, “…Nothing.” She finally said, leaning back. She looked back down at the worksheet she was working on, and seemed to make a deliberate point of ignoring her. His stomach churned nervously. He turned back to his own worksheet and closed his eyes. He tried to imagine the feeling in his gut was the feeling of a dragon’s furnace boiling inside him. Screw her, anyway.

He caught her watching him again later in the day before school ended. He didn’t linger. In fact, he was in so much of a hurry that he didn’t realize he’d packed the doll into his backpack until he was halfway home. He stopped in front of an abandoned freight trailer with the words “VIRTUAL REALITY” spray painted on the side. God, if only he could unplug from this shit life. He set down the pack and rummaged through it until he found the doll. He tossed it in the general direction of the trailer, and it disappeared into the shrubbery. Fuck you, doll. Fuck you guys. Fuck you, Julie. When he closed his eyes, he could believe his hands were claws, his churning stomach was lava, and his breath was fire. He stretched his wings… then opened his human eyes in his human skull on his human body to stare at the same old writing on the trailer. He sighed and moved on.

The house looked as sad and dewy-eyed as he’d left it, the late afternoon sunlight shimmering off something along the bottom edges of the windows.

Jake made himself some eggs and toast for dinner, and worked on his homework before bed. While washing up for the night, he noticed the water was draining more slowly than usual. But he didn’t have the will to think about what that might mean. He’d look to see if he had Draino or a plumber snake or something tomorrow.

In the night, the cold had deepened. Again, he looked at the glass on the bathroom window. The tendrils were thicker now, softer, and rounder. When he breathed on them they seemed to swell and grow.

No… he could see it. They were growing, organic. They were writhing towards him.

He leaned closer.


Nightmare Fuel 2019, Day 7, 8, 9, 10

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