“So, what do you think?” Livia Scion pushed the door open, waved her arms and did a slow turn. It was Ky’s new room, and with one look he knew it was beyond perfect.
“Mom, it has to be the biggest room in the house,” Ky exclaimed as he looked around with wide, silver eyes. The space was massive and felt more like a studio apartment than a room in the family manor where they just moved. There were hardwood floors stained chocolate black, floor to ceiling windows that let in dazzling sunlight, and a luxurious king sized bed that didn’t even make a dent in the space. Even with its matching wardrobe, bureau, and desk. There was a leather couch and armchair by the fireplace—because there was a fireplace in his bedroom. It was crazy; a bedroom, living room and office all in one, and through the door across the room he could see a full sized master bath. Awesome.
“Mom, it’s too much. You and dad should take this room. I’m sure I’ll be fine in something, well, normal sized.” It killed Ky to say it, but he knew in a few years he’d be done with college and out of the house anyways.
“Tut, you. This room just screams ‘Ky,’ and dad agrees with me.” With a grin, Livia pointed up to the ceiling. Ky followed her gaze and gasped when he caught sight of the four large stone gargoyles leering down from a ledge, one on each wall of the room. “Marcus could never sleep with those things in here; you know how he gets. Look at the windows. Just think how much art you can make with light like this. And the space! Ky, you could do all your painting in your room with the right ventilation. Heck, you might never leave the house again.”
His mom was very, very persuasive and Ky really wanted the room. It was perfect. He crossed to the windows and looked out into the backyard. Down below, an ancient wrought iron fence glinted dark among the overgrown shrubs; both wrapped around the manor and yard. Roses bloomed erratic red explosions among the wild green. Behind the bushes was a neglected orchard with twisted pear, apple, and peach trees tangled among vines and grass. The place truly was beautiful in a worn down way.
The dilapidated Scion Manor had been empty for years with none of their relatives willing to live there. Ky didn’t remember his grandfather, but he did recall being young when he learned he disappeared. Anselm Scion had left no specific will as to who was to inherit the manor among his five children. Ky’s Uncle Alex took ownership of the home as the eldest son, but none of Anselm’s children wanted to live there for long.
Ky’s dad, Marcus, recently decided it was time to give the huge place a shot. Coincidentally around the same time Ky found family dinners consisted of canned beans and pasta most nights. It was why he chose not to complain about being ripped out of his home of many years in the suburbs to be stuck in the small, backwater town. Apparently, his parents were trying to make it up to him with an amazing act of bribery. It was working.
“Mom, it’s too much. I love it, I do, but it’s nearly the entire floor.” It was literally half the third floor; the bedroom and bathroom took up the length of the back of the house. Still, Ky couldn’t pull away from the view of the sprawling mountains and fluffy clouds on the horizon even as he told himself he couldn’t keep the room.
Livia walked over to the wardrobe; the large oak furniture dwarfed her petite height and slim form. She threw the doors open wide, and glanced back to her son. “Too late. We already put your clothes away. Nothing can be done about it now.” She flashed him a cheeky smile. “You can store your finished art in the room across the hall, or paint there. Or you could turn it into a gallery. You’ve got a lot of options in a place like this, and Marcus wants to give you the whole third floor. And really, Ky, there’s so much room where we’re sleeping. You’re not taking anything from us. We’ll never need all this space.”
When he caught sight of his black clothing, studded belts, and silver chains hanging in the large wardrobe, Ky couldn’t help but beam. “Well, when you put it that way. Let me help you get all your stuff in.” He tore himself from the window but Livia stopped him at the door.
“Hold on. Something else comes with this room.” Livia pulled a jangle of silver from her pocket and smirked at her spiky haired son. “It’s going to be hard to get into your room without your keys.”
“Sweet!” Ky grabbed the metal key ring enthusiastically, only to blink when he saw it properly. “Three?”
“Yup. House key, garage, and bedroom.” His mother pointed each one out. “They’re pretty cool, right? They look ancient.” The manor keys were longer than normal, narrow and odd shaped, almost like skeleton keys.
“They’re beautiful. I’ve never had a lock on my door before. Not that I need it,” he added. Still, Ky loved the idea. His parents always gave him his privacy, but there was something empowering about being able to lock his door whenever he was painting.
“Well, I imagine you’ll want to bring someone home one day,” Livia said teasingly.
“Mom.” Ky blushed and turned to escape. “I seriously doubt that’s going to happen while living in Blackstone Falls. I’m probably the only gay guy in the whole damn town.”
Livia crossed her arms over her chest. Her smile turned sad as she followed Ky down the hall and to the stairs. “I’m sure you’ll meet someone at the college. I know it’s a community college, but you still get students coming in from all over the state. Your world is going to be a bit bigger than this little town.”
Ky nodded but he didn’t quite believe her. They moved to Blackstone Falls so his parents could start a landscaping company. Everyone in the town was either farmers, hippies, drunk, or the wealthy who chose to dwell there half the year with their large houses left empty during the winter months. The area was a sprawling mix of extreme poverty and wealth, including the towns around them. Most of the inhabitants were dull and hostile to what Ky was; it was something he found out quickly when he visited his uncle and cousins while they tried to live in the manor a couple of years ago.
First Ky was ostracized for being a city kid. Then it was for being a weirdo freak who believed in magic, dressed in black, and wore makeup. Once the locals figured out he was gay, it was just the icing on the shit cake for the redneck bigots his cousins hung out with. He wasn’t expecting college in the area to be much different.
It didn’t matter. Ky was going to become a skilled artist and move to the city. He didn’t need to be famous; he couldn’t really stand much attention as it was. He just wanted to make a living with his art. No one looked at his eyeliner and nail polish twice in the city. Some definitely liked how he looked in black lipstick. He knew a few farm boys had, which only made their taunts all the more ironic when they were hard over him. Ky didn’t care. There was a place out in the world where he fit, and he was willing to wait to get there.
“Hun, before you run off. Can you bring some things down to the basement? The stairs are steep, so be careful.”
“Sure, Mom.” Ky followed Livia down the main stairs to the first floor where boxes were waiting outside the closed basement door. There were more than a few, and he decided to have a glass of water before dealing with more lugging.
“Hey there, kiddo. What do you think of your new digs?” Marcus asked when Ky stepped into the kitchen. His brow was furrowed as he tore through a box in search for silverware. With gray just starting to frost his short, dark hair, Ky’s father looked more like an advertisement for outdoor living than the engineer of many years he once was. Fit and tanned, he adapted to being laid off quickly, and rose to the challenge of working with his hands like he had in his teenage years.
“I love it. Still, I think you’re going to regret giving me the biggest room in the house.” Ky went straight to the pack of water on the floor and grabbed a bottle.
Marcus shook his head and peered up with a serious look from behind his glasses. “I don’t say this to be dramatic, Ky, but this place, in particular Anselm’s old room, gives me the willies. The last place I want to sleep is up there. Even Uncle Alex didn’t sleep there.”
Ky tried not to smile. His father was very ‘sensitive,’ as Livia liked to put it. He was frightened of anything occult, to the point Ky used to fight his dad just to watch movies about magic when he was younger. Marcus may have relaxed a bit over the years, but he still got freaked out over everything from ghost stories to Ouija boards. Marcus’s extreme fear was what first sparked Ky’s interest in the occult. It also kept him only scratching the surface, respectful of the powers that could harm him if mishandled.
“Well, I’m glad you get the willies dad, if only because I get that amazing room. The view is spectacular, and I already know what I’m going to paint.”
“The gargoyles?” Marcus asked knowingly. He frowned at the idea of canvases of the ugly creatures littering the house.
“Exactly.” Ky thought they were beautiful, if not a bit grotesque, and couldn’t wait to unpack all his equipment. Even if he only found his sketchbook and did some graphite work that night, he’d be happy. “Mom asked me to drag some things down to the basement. Anything else here that needs going down while I’m at it?”
Marcus shook his head and his jaw tightened. “Ky, be careful in the basement. I don’t like it down there.”
Ky kept his smile to himself. His dad was an overgrown toddler. “You know the washer and dryer are down there, right? You’re going to start smelling if you never go in the basement,” he called cheerfully to his father while he made his way down the hall.
Ky went to open the basement door, only to find it jammed. The wood was expanded, most likely from moisture. He wrestled with the door and finally managed to pry it open with a loud wrenching noise.
A dank smell greeted him, and he wrinkled his nose and peered into the absolute blackness of the unknown space before him. The dim afternoon light of the hallway only penetrated a foot or so past the door. Ky shivered and the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. It felt like something was staring back at him, level with his height. His eyes began to adjust enough to see a thin chain hanging down connected to a bare light bulb.
Ky wasn’t sure why he hesitated. When he stepped forward and reached for the chain, the floorboard creaked in warning under his sneakers. There was a sudden puff of hot air, almost as if someone or thing was breathing on his face, followed by the overwhelming scent of blood. Startled, Ky yanked the cord roughly. The light blinked on to reveal he was alone on the top step. The only thing in sight was a dizzying flight of stairs leading down to a concrete landing below. Clearly his dad’s superstitions were getting to him.
Ky stood on the top step for a moment, and tried to shake the feeling someone was just out of reach, breathing in his ear. He was being stupid. He huffed at his foolishness and turned and picked up a large box. He carefully stepped down the steep wooden stairs and looked around. Patches of darkness filled the dim space where the bare light bulb was blocked. Tall, thick columns created the perfect hiding places for murderers and nightmares. Ky muttered his idiocy under his breath, and walked the spacious, bare cement floor so he could place the box next to the table set up as a laundry station.
He went back and forth up the creaking stairs, his heart hammering in his chest the entire time. He smelled blood. Ky was once in the back room of a butcher shop to pick up an order for the restaurant he worked at. He knew the smell of blood. Currently, it was thick in the air, and with it, the underlying scent of rot. When the last box was piled high, Ky turned to make his escape. He stopped, his foot raised in mid-air when he heard the clink of chains.
There was a space behind the water heater where a small wall held the device in place in the middle of the room. The light didn’t reach behind the wall. Ky’s eyes turned to the inky darkness, certain the sound came from there. Again he thought he heard breathing, low and strained, and so close it could have been next to him. It sent strange, hot tingles shivering down to his toes. His heart beat louder in his ear.
It had to be the water heater. The old pipes and settling house. There were no chains to rattle. Even if chains were in the dark, they would only move because he left the basement and front doors open, which would create a breeze for anything very real to rattle.
“Oh, crap!” Ky slapped his hand over his mouth when the chains rattled again. This time something slithered over the concrete floor. Like a foot… Very much like a foot. Ky stepped backward, his eyes fixed on the darkness where he was certain something was staring back, and skirted toward the basement stairs. Once his heel hit the raised concrete platform, he whirled and ran up the stairs two at a time. He tripped twice and bruised his hand but refused to stop. He didn’t care if he was acting like an absolute idiot. There was something in the basement that smelled of blood, and he wasn’t going to hang around to meet it.
Ky shut the door behind him, and slammed it with his full weight until the swollen wood fit back and finally latched closed. He rested there while panting and trying to calm his racing heart. He was apparently going to smell as bad as Marcus because there was no way in hell he was going down there again.
Ky stared down at his sneakers, paused, and raised his right foot. There was blood all on the white wall of his rubber sole. “What the…? Eww.” He jumped away from the basement door where half a rat stared blankly up at him. It was dead and wedged in the gap at the bottom of the door. He killed a rat while slamming the door! “Shit… Shit!”
Marcus peeked his head out of the living room, and made a face when he saw what Ky was cursing at. “There’s a cat living around here. At least, there used to be when Dad was here; I never saw the damn thing. It should take care of any rats.”
“Didn’t Anselm die almost fifteen years ago?” Ky reminded. He scraped his bloodied shoe on the floor and tried to shake his unease now he was in the calming light of the main house. “I doubt the cat is still alive.”
Marcus shrugged, and his eyes took on a faraway look. “My father had a lot of strange creatures we never saw. He loved that cat, had it before I was born. I’m sure it’s still around. He used to feed it a feast every night. Usually of something still alive…” he trailed off with a frown and left to find something to clean up the dead rat.
Ky shook his head in disbelief. Marcus didn’t talk much about Anselm, except to remark Ky looked a lot like him with his dark hair, colorless gray eyes, and pale skin. Since there were few pictures, Ky had to take his word for it, and the insistence of his aunts and uncles who always seemed unnerved when he visited. Anselm was a very odd parent. Reclusive and stern, he left his wife to raise his five children. When she died, Anselm rarely made contact with his family. Then, one day he disappeared.
Ky sometimes wondered if his dad was expecting Anselm to just show up out of the blue, even after all this time. It was crazy when he considered the old guy had to be in his late nineties by now. They assumed Anselm grew confused in his last days, maybe even touched with dementia. The authorities were sure he went for a walk, only to be lost in the wilds surrounding the house. They suspected his unfound body was picked apart by animals. Anselm was a recluse for so long it was easy enough to imagine.
Marcus came back with a plastic bag and bent over to scoop the pieces of flesh and fur up. Ky helped wrench the door open and stared warily with his father down into the illuminated basement. The bottom half of the rat was nowhere to be found. There was a trail of blood; it streaked down the stairs and ended abruptly. With a glance at Ky, Marcus reached forward and tugged the cord to the light. He shut the door firmly after the darkness returned. Ky tried not to think of how he felt the weight of eyes on him right before the door closed.
“There’s a laundry mat in the center of town,” Marcus said quietly as he wrapped up the rat with a rustle. “Alex and his family used it all the time.”
Ky shivered, his eyes fixed on the bloodied form being entombed in plastic. No one wanted to sleep in Anselm’s old room. His new bedroom. Suddenly it seemed important since none of his relatives liked the basement either. Ky wanted to say something to his dad about how he heard the chains and smelled blood downstairs, but decided against it. Marcus had enough to worry about with getting his business to pick up and bills covered. It was probably best if he made things as pleasant as possible for his parents. Things were difficult enough already.
Dinner turned out to be a laughing mess for the Scion family. The gas stove refused to turn on, and no restaurants in the area were open after seven. The bars were, but Ky’s parents didn’t think any of them were quite the right fit for their tastes. After he got a look at a few patrons who were standing outside one bar, the group tired, ragged, and glaring holes at the family in their car, Ky agreed. They ended up eating cereal with fresh milk from the convenience store, one of only two such stores in the entire town.
Ky ran upstairs after his parents finished their exaggerated regaling of what just happened. Ky’s mom was a storyteller in her right, which was a great skill when teaching elementary school kids. Now she helped to manage and provide additional manual labor to Marcus’s new venture. Even though she was petite, Livia was wiry like Ky, toned and strong underneath her deceptive form.
Ky offered to help his parents with the landscaping business, but they wanted him to focus on his studies. He knew they were just trying to protect him from having to ‘grow up too fast,’ as his dad always said. Ky figured he had to grow up someday, and he didn’t mind sweating in the dirt and sun.
“I think this is the last box of books,” Marcus announced when he knocked his elbow on Ky’s open bedroom door. Ky watched him hesitate on the threshold and wondered if his father had ever been in Anselm’s old room before.
Marcus caught the look on Ky’s face. He took a hesitant step in, then exhaled noisily after a moment when nothing happened to him. “Sorry. Old habits are hard to break sometimes. My father used to lock himself up in here, usually for days on end. He would use the connecting bathroom and had a small fridge for food. We were never allowed in. Not even mom.”
“That must have been really weird. Your dad living with you, but not there at all.”
Marcus nodded as his gaze strayed over the room slowly. “He was an introvert. Like you, but far more extreme. Sometimes you get into your creative headspace, and even though you’re there at the dinner table or in the car beside me, you’re a million miles away. Dad just… Well, he didn’t bother to pretend, I guess. He chose to be isolated in the real world, as well as in his head.”
Ky stood from where he was kneeling to pull books out of a box and crossed the room to his father. “I’m not going to lock myself away, dad. I know I’m sort of different from everyone else, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to turn to dust locked in this room.”
Marcus gave a halfhearted smile. “Sorry, kiddo. I worry about you sometimes. You’re bright and a good looking kid, but you just don’t seem to make friends well. I don’t want you spending your life alone.”
Ky shrugged. He picked up the box Marcus brought in and grunted under its weight. “I like being alone. People sort of overwhelm me; always talking, always moving, and flashing about distracting. I need stillness to make my art. It doesn’t mean I’m going to swear off people like grandpa did. Just… I like to put a little space between the world and me when I can.”
Marcus shook his head, worry clear in his eyes. “You can’t just look at the world like a painting, Ky. You need to actually live in it, too. Life can get lonely. I know it was for my mother. Just try, okay?”
Ky could hardly refuse to try. “Alright. I’ll try and make friends at Mesabi. Maybe I’ll meet some artsy types like me.”
Marcus nodded distractedly. His eyes were caught on the gargoyles sneering down high above. “For protection. They’re scary looking, but they protect this space.”
“Dad?” Ky only just caught his father’s muttered words from across the room.
Marcus jerked his gaze away and blinked in confusion. “Your mother’s waiting for me,” he said after a moment. “Try not to stay up too late. You have orientation tomorrow at the college, and mom and I will be out early to talk with the bank. You can take her car.”
Ky watched as his father left. Marcus shut the bedroom door behind him like he couldn’t bear to see it open. Ky shook his head and left the door closed. He turned back to the bookcases he was barely putting a dent in with all his oversized art books.
The box his father carried in had one of his hats on the top. Ky scooped it up and brought it to the wardrobe. He opened the doors and paused as darkness greeted him. The darkness seemed palpable, tangible, as strange a thought as it was. Again Ky thought he felt eyes staring at him. This time they weren’t level with his face. No, this time they felt ducked down like someone was peering from between his hanging clothes.
He was crazy. Nothing was living in his closet staring out at him. Nothing was shivering in fear, tense and breathing shallow puffs of air. He was losing his mind after he talked with his dad again.
There were hooks on the side drilled into the wall of the wood, and Ky quickly reached and placed the hat on one. He reared back with a pained yelp and fell to the floor on his butt. He clutched his arm and watched as a wicked scratch bloomed scarlet on his hand. His heart raced as he again felt eyes on him from the darkness of the wardrobe. Ky glared and kicked the door shut just in case something decided to come out and attack him.
He was losing his mind. He must have scratched himself on a nail or even one of his spiked belts he liked to wear. It wasn’t the first time he hurt himself on his damn accessories. He bit his lip and reached for his fallen hat; there was a tear in that, as well. Ky stopped with fingers inches away from the fedora. There were four tears. It looked like a clawed hand scratched it. A hand large enough to be human.
There was a sudden noise under the bed next to his head. Ky jumped and his heart pounded too high in his throat. Holy shit, there was a monster under his bed. There was one in his closet, and the basement, and now there was a fucking monster under his bed.
His sanity was done for the day. Ky peered into the thick, inky darkness under the huge bed and shivered as he felt eyes stare back at him.
“It’s a rat. It’s just a damn rat. I’m being crazy. It’s just a rat. It’s more scared of me than I am of it,” Ky whispered to himself. His eyes were wide in fear as he continued to peer unblinking into the tangible darkness beneath the bed. It wasn’t a rat. There was something under there. Something large, and possibly from the wardrobe or basement. Something that might eat half a rat without hesitating and then disappear into thin air.
Ky gulped, certain he could see gleaming eyes staring back. Too wide to be a rat. Too wide apart to be anything but human sized.
He snatched his hat back and quickly stood on shaking legs. He jumped onto the bed and sat Indian-style in the middle of the large mattress covered in the lush black bedspread. He was being crazy. There wasn’t a person under his bed. There wasn’t a monster under his bed. There was no such thing as monsters, no matter how scared his dad got whenever magic and ghost stories were mentioned. He was getting as paranoid as his dad.
Ky lived in the suburbs his entire life and the small town was just different to his senses. Everything was too quiet, with very little background noise. Every settling of the old manor, every creak and groan was just caustic and surprising. It didn’t mean it was anything. Just different.
Ky licked his bleeding hand mindlessly as his gaze strayed around the spacious room and stopped at every shadow. His heartbeat was finally slowing. He knew it was stupid, but he didn’t want to get off the bed. He feared the second he lowered his feet to the floor, something with claws would wrap around his vulnerable ankles and pull him down. Drag him under the bed and…
And devour him alive.
He was out of his mind acting completely stupid like some little kid. Ky knew it, and he didn’t care. He kicked off his shoes and socks and tossed them to the floor. He took his cellphone from his pocket and set his alarm to wake him up in time for school the next day. He then proceeded to strip down to his briefs, and hesitantly threw the clothes on the floor as well to create a small blockade of fabric on one side of the bed. Two sides were still exposed since the bed was flush against the wall. At least the large headboard kept his back safe.
Ky bit his lip nervously when he reached over to shut off the bedside light. He slipped quickly under the covers, sat upright and hugged his knees. The darkness was absolute, even with the curtains open to let whatever moonlight in that could reach. There were no ambient lights, no outdoor lights or streetlights, or even television screens. Everything was utterly black.
The darkness closed in and yawned wide around him at the same time. Ky couldn’t sense the boundaries of the bed, the floor, or the walls. He could have been in an area the size of a coffin, or out floating in outer space for all he knew. It was unsettling, and his heart raced faster.
He peered out into the dark of the room and listened to the many sounds around him. Crickets chirped outside the cracked window along with the faint whistle of wind. There were creaks from the house as it settled. A pipe tapped when one of his parents used the bathroom downstairs. Something, or someone, started to scratch underneath his bed.
“It’s just a rat. It’s just a rat. It’s just a rat,” Ky whispered as he rocked back and forth in the dark. He continued like that, for how long he didn’t know. Eventually, he grew too tired, his eyes heavy, body exhausted from his fear. He slowly stretched his cramped and tense body out. His feet and long legs slid between the cool sheets as he settled on the pillow and sank into the mattress. Minutes later, he was asleep.