Felix woke from the grip of a horrible dream and found himself staring into the crimson eyes of the hungry thing that crouched outside his window, waiting…
Its hide was covered with thousands of quivering translucent red worms, each as long as his hand. Its elongated snout, from which even more worms writhed, was covered with glistening black scales, and its huge mouth opened to reveal row upon row of razor-sharp fangs.
It hissed and moaned, and the sound of its voice was like the rattle of a snake. Felix tried to scream, but he could not move. The thing hissed again, and Felix saw a string of thick, crimson blood fall like drool from its mouth.
Felix tried to scream again, but he couldn’t move. The thing moaned, and then it spat, and a stream of blood splattered against Felix’s window, trickling down to the sill. Felix watched it for what seemed like hours, frozen in place, and then the thing slithered away and was gone.
Felix lay in his bed for a long time afterward, thinking about the thing and trying to understand what it meant. Was it real? Was it a dream? Was he still in a dream?
He pinched himself and it hurt. He rushed over to the window to look for the blood that had dripped from the monster’s snout, but there was nothing there: the window was clean, washed thoroughly by the torrential downpour that had been passing through the past few days. The rain had stopped for the night, but the black clouds still crowded the sky and kept even the tiniest sliver of moonlight from creeping through, plunging the whole town into a night darker than any other he’d seen in his life. Not even the old streetlights alleviated the darkness, as a thick fog had also rolled into town and obscured almost everything with a more than a few meters away.
Felix crept out of his room and onto the creaky old staircase, then down to the living room. He was surprised to find his parents on the couch, both of them wide awake. The news was on, but Felix couldn’t understand what language it was in. He chalked it up to just being tired and shaken.
“Mom, Dad,” he said, voice shaking. “Are you okay?”
“Felix,” his father said. “You’re up early. What’s wrong?”
“I just had a nightmare. What are you still doing up? Isn’t it really late?”
“Late? Of course not! It’s 6:30 in the morning, silly.”
“It can’t be,” Felix said, pointing outside. “The sun’s not up. It’s still dark out.”
“The sun’s not up? Why it’s a bit cloudy I guess, but it’s a lovely spring morning!”
“Looks like it might rain some more,” Felix’s mom chimed in. “Oh, I love the rain!”
“I don’t like it,” Felix said, shaking his head. “I think it’s too dark. And what’s with the news? Why are they talking like that?”
“We always watch the news before waking you up for school,” the boy’s father said simply. “Speaking of, it’s almost time for your alarm clock to go off. Why don’t you go turn it off beforehand and start getting ready?”
Felix’s eyes widened in a sudden shock, not unlike that in which he felt staring into the eyes of a horrible beast not ten minutes earlier, and he shifted his gaze between each of his parents and the window outside, which still looked frighteningly dark.
“I’m… not feeling so good,” Felix said nervously. “Maybe I can stay home from school today?”
“You know what the doctor said,” his father said. “You have to get back to school. Your mother and I already made all the necessary arrangements.”
“No buts,” his mother said. “You’re going back to school and that’s final, young man. Go get ready.”
Felix sighed and walked back to his room. He really didn’t feel good, and the truth was that he had been seeing a lot of weird things lately. Not things that others could see, but things that he knew were there. Crazy things, but he knew they were real — even if the doctors convinced his parents otherwise. They were things that no one else would believe; things too hard for a boy to properly put into words. Things that made his skin crawl and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Things that followed him wherever he went.
Felix sighed and turned his attention to getting ready for school. It was probably nothing, he told himself, trying to feel a little better. Just a bad dream, this time. He went to the bathroom, splashed water on his face, and looked into the mirror.
A misshapen beast, covered with blood and more writhing worms, blankly stared back at him.
* * *
Felix and the beast stared at each other for a long time, and then, finally, the boy spoke.
“Hello,” he said, waving meekly. The beast waved back with a slimy, translucent tentacle.
“Hi,” the beast replied.
“You can talk? What’s your name?”
“Of course. You can call me the Eldritch Boy.”
“You’re not a boy, though.”
“I’m not? Then what am I?”
“You’re a monster.”
The monster smiled, revealing his long fangs and his huge, slimy tongue. Its eyes seemed to grow brighter and emit a soft, pulsing red glow. The light in the bathroom flickered and then dimmed low. Felix felt his heart beating faster and his breath quickened. He could smell something burning, but he somehow knew it was the monster in the reflection he smelled. The creature that called itself the Eldritch Boy stepped closer to the mirror as if to examine the human boy in return.
“I guess I am,” the monster said thoughtfully. “But so are you.”
* * *
“Ready for school yet?” a loud voice echoed from downstairs. “Bus leaves in ten, don’t forget your breakfast!”
“Coming!” Felix called back. He splashed water on his face and looked back in the mirror, but only saw his own boring reflection. Like a whirlwind, he sped through his room and put on his school uniform, grabbed his backpack, stuffed his books inside, and raced down the stairs.
In the kitchen, his mom was packing up a lunch sack and his dad was downing the rest of his orange juice at the table, reading the day’s newspaper. Just over the newspaper, a large picture window looked out over the rolling hills outside — or, would, if Felix could see through the dense fog. A thunderous strike of lightning briefly lit the landscape from a deep black to bright white and Felix saw what looked like a thick slurry of grey ash floating everywhere in the sky.
“Don’t forget your lunch,” Felix’s mom said lovingly, breaking the boy out of his trance. “I’ll pick you up at three, at the usual spot.”
“Th- thanks, mom.” He glanced one last time at the hellscape outside and asked, “Are you sure I can’t stay home today? Just this once?”
“Go wait for the bus,” Felix’s father ordered. “We’ll see you after school.”
As the boy’s mother opened the front door for her son, a harsh burst of torrential wind blew into the house and caused a cacophony of destruction and noise. Several dining chairs fell loudly onto the kitchen tile, glass dishes crashed and shattered into the sink, the bookshelf shook as if there were an earthquake, and the father’s newspaper was ripped from his hands and flung across the room, wrapping itself tightly around Felix’s face. All at once, the world turned black.
“A bit windy out there,” Felix’s mom chuckled, removing the newspaper from the boy’s face. His vision returned, but everything was as it was — that is, definitely not normal. The kitchen air was now tinted in a deep purple and the furniture was all adorned with hieroglyphs. The walls, similarly, were carved with strange runes, and the floor was covered with a fine black dust that rearranged into its own set of symbols and patterns as a gentler wind from outside continued to blow into the house.
“What happened?” Felix stuttered, trying to take in everything that had just happened so instantaneously. “What are all these symbols?”
“Relax,” the mother soothed. “The newspaper got you in the face, is all. Quite the draft when the door is open!”
“But the walls, they’re not — “
“You’re gonna miss the bus,” Felix’s dad interrupted. “Give me back the paper and then get your little butt on your way. We can’t drive you anymore if you miss it again, remember?”
“Fine,” Felix said, defeated. He looked at the front door, still held wide open by his mother. A tempestuous storm raged in the morning darkness, occasionally lit by strikes of lightning in the distance. It wasn’t until Felix stepped outside and the door slammed shut behind him that the flashes of light started to illuminate a hazy, gargantuan silhouette on the horizon. It was hard to get a good look at whatever it was through the burning skies and fog, but Felix was almost certain he saw the outline of what looked like six or seven legs holding up a massive arachnoid body. He could only catch a glimpse of it before the storm clouds rolled back in, but it was enough to leave him with a feeling of immense dread and the weight of a small black hole on his heart.
Felix shivered as he ran down the street to the bus stop for safety. He was still looking back at the house when he tripped over something and landed face-first in a muddy puddle. He picked himself up and turned to see what he had tripped over. It was the body of a dead dog, bloated and rotting, with its innards strewn across the street.
The boy screamed and continued running, wiping streaks of brown sludge from his face.
A bolt of lightning lit the sky again and the gigantic silhouette revealed itself once more, this time looking completely different: it now stretched high into the sky like a tree, splitting and branching into hundreds of sharp points that stretched jaggedly across the sky. The image seared into Felix’s eyes even after the landscape went dark again and he swore he could still just barely see the creature out there, continuously shapeshifting into every other form his adolescent imagination could conjure.
He ran even faster to the bus stop, but when he arrived he was sure that he had missed it. The bus that normally waited several minutes for dozens of waiting kids to pile on wasn’t waiting, and the crowd that normally waited with him each morning to pile onto said bus was also nowhere to be found.
Felix’s lungs burned and his legs ached and he was alone in the dark. The sky growled again and he knew that the creature was out there, somewhere, waiting for him. He looked around for somewhere to hide, but couldn’t see far through the fog.
He scrambled into some nearby bushes and continued to frantically look around for somewhere better only to see headlights piercing through the fog; the rest of his school bus quickly followed. It screeched to a halt at the bus stop and he made a run for it. He flung open the door and collapsed onto a front seat, just behind the driver, gasping for breath.
The bus driver raised an eyebrow and stared at the boy through a large mirror above the windshield, then asked what was wrong.
“I thought I missed the bus,” he replied simply, still breathing hard.
The driver stared at him, his face as grey as the sidewalk outside. Besides him and Felix, the rest of the normally-bustling bus was completely empty. Felix tried to make eye contact with the driver but he quickly averted his gaze, which made Felix’s skin crawl. He was so nervous that he began to shake uncontrollably.
The driver didn’t say anything else and they drove in silence for several minutes. Felix watched the driver, but his eyes were glazed over and never again diverged from a stone-cold gaze through the front windshield. The sky flashed again and the bus flew over what must have been a speed bump, but the bus didn’t slow down.
The bus driver stared out the front window and the world outside appeared to be frozen in time. Felix sat up in his seat and craned his neck to look outside the window. The trees were covered in a layer of frost and ice and their leaves were falling in slow motion, dancing in the air with the falling clumps of ash he saw earlier.
“A wonderful winter day it is,” the bus driver sang out happily, then started whistling. The tune was familiar, but the boy couldn’t place where he knew it from.
The bus sped up even faster and Felix looked around the bus, expecting to see his classmates staring back in a shared fear. Instead, he saw that there were no seats except for the one he was sitting in.
“Where are the other kids?” he asked the driver, voice cracking.
The bus driver stopped whistling. “What other kids? This bus is just for you, Felix. You’re a special one. I’m here to keep you safe, and it looks like I was just in time!”