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Truth Hurts

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Author's notes: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author.  The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise.  No copyright infringement is intended.Translated? It ain't mine, but I ain't makin' profit, so isallgood.


 

For the third night in a row Toby woke, only this time he was afraid.

The noises had started several nights before, the day he helped his mother clean out the attic. He was ecstatic to find a box of his sister’s toys and books, and Karen let him take them downstairs to examine. As long as he promised to check with Sarah that he could keep them. He promised he would.

It was like finding a sunken treasure. He had dim recollections of the objects sitting in his sister’s room; the stuffed toys, the neatly stacked games, the strangely hypnotic statuette of the man with the mismatched eyes. He was surprised it had not all gone to Manhattan with her, but he was also secretly glad that they had been left behind for him to find.

The statue went on the book case. The games were opened and examined, but each one was for two or more players, so he packed them away carefully. The stuffed toys were mostly discarded; he was too old for that sort of thing, except the weird red creature and the fox with the eye patch. He had always liked those two.

He saved the best until last, dragging the heavy stack of books up onto his bed and spreading them across his blankets like priceless artifacts. He had loved books all his life, ever since Sarah had begun to read to him. He remembered several of them; the boy Max traveling to the land of the wild things, the classic fairy stories that he and his sister had acted out in the bedroom, falling about in fits of giggles. But there was one book that he couldn’t recall.

It was smaller than the rest, and quite plain. It didn’t have any pictures, instead it was a play, and he recognized the format having been in the previous year’s school play. He read the first few pages but was easily confused, instead he skimmed through the pages until he found one that was marked with a faded satin ribbon. There was a speech, something about Goblins, babies and cities. He put the book down and frowned, determined to ask Sarah about the book when she came home that week for Thanksgiving.

That night the noises had begun.

He assumed it was a rat in the walls. His dad had found one the previous summer; though by that time it was dead and rotting. He listened intently to the scuttling, but then it would stop and he would drift back to sleep only to be awake again several hours later. The next day he had mentioned it to his father, who promised to put down more traps. His parents had begun arguing about professional pest inspectors. He spent the day tired and cranky.

The next night he sat upright and listened closely. There seemed to be more of them, moving about in the walls. He crept downstairs and retrieved a drinking glass from the kitchen, bringing it back upstairs and placing it against the wall, his ear pressed to the base of the glass, in the hopes of hearing the rats. But behind the scratching and scuffling he heard a whispering, a giggling. The noise was getting louder, as if the things were trying to break through. Sitting there in the dark of his room, he could have sworn he heard his name.

Toby dropped the glass in surprise. It rolled across the carpet and hit the wall with a dull thud. When his father came in to find out what he was doing, the noises stopped. Robert tucked him back into bed, listed all the likely explanations; rats, pipes, wind, the old house settling. Toby eventually drifted off to sleep, clutching Lancelot to his chest and buried deep beneath his blankets. He didn’t hear the noises again. The next morning he was late for soccer practice.

On the third night, after trudging up the stairs reluctantly, and after his goodnight kisses from his parents, he snuck out of bed and retrieved his flashlight. As he climbed back into bed his eyes caught the strange statue, eerie in the darkness. He resisted the urge to throw it away, instead covering it with his sweatshirt so it couldn’t stare at him.

He hid under the covers (making sure his feet weren’t exposed) and clicked on the flashlight, gripping it tightly. He checked his watch; it was 11:17 . His parents would definitely be asleep. Despite his exhaustion, the growing fear and anticipation kept him wide awake.

Toby’s mind raced between what could possibly be hiding in the walls; mutant rats, aliens, pirates, wolves. He thought back over the books his sister had left behind. Stories about children being stolen from their beds, forced to fight dragons in nothing but their pajamas. Stories about monsters hiding in closets that came out in the darkness and gobbled up sleeping babies. Stories about castles filled with Goblins…

The scratching started in the far corner of the bedroom and Toby gripped the flashlight tighter. He shone the beam towards the noise and it faltered, but then began again a few moments later. His breathing was shallow, and he found himself praying for his father to come check on him.

He clicked off the torch and waited, trying to pinpoint the sound. A second scratching began near the doorway and he gasped in surprise. He tried to convince himself his father was right, that it was just a rat, or pipes, or the wind, but the noises grew louder and louder, and were soon joined by a thumping coming from below the bed. Summoning all the courage a 10 year old could muster, he pushed his head further from the blankets and shone the flashlight around the room.

The noises stopped again as the light caught his familiar toys and furniture. Everything was still, and the only sound was his heart pounding in his ears. He swallowed quietly and continued to scan the room, his hands white knuckled around the flashlight.

A movement out of the corner of his eye made him yelp, he dropped the flashlight in his lap and clapped both hands over his mouth, his eyes wide in the darkness. Nothing else moved; no noise from his parent’s room down the hall. A full minute passed before he picked up the flashlight with trembling hands and swept the beam towards the book case. He sighed with relief, realizing his jacket had simply slipped from the statue and was lying in a heap on the ground.

‘This is silly’, he thought, trying to calm his breathing and his thundering heart. He glared at the statue for a few moments, before swinging his legs over the side of the bed and placing his feet on the bare carpet. He would just cover the statue, go back to bed, and the next day he and his father would fix the problem so he could sleep.

As he bent down to pick up his jacket he heard the voices as clear as day.

“Toooooobyyyyyyy…..”

He was off the floor and back on the bed in seconds. Simultaneously grabbing Lancelot and hurling the flashlight away he paused on his bed and leapt for the bedroom door, tearing down the staircase as if all the demons of hell were after him. He raced into the kitchen where he flicked on the light, and huddled behind the table, his eyes clenched shut, holding his breath.

The kitchen faucet dripped water into the sink. Outside a car drove past. The clock in the hallway chimed the half hour. Toby buried his face in the tattered teddy bear and waited. He expected his parents to come thundering down the stairs, scold him for being out of bed, force him to sleep in his room with the… with the… the things that were coming to get him. But nothing happened.

Toby was too terrified to move. He wanted the things to go away. Wanted his parents to comfort him, but he knew they thought he was being silly. He needed someone who understood, who would believe him, who would tell him what to do. He knew exactly who he needed, but she was so far away.

The phone hung on the wall near the fridge. He tiptoed across to it, reaching out his foot and kicking the kitchen door closed as he did so. He grasped the phone, stretching the cord down and under the table where he curled between the chair legs. It was speed dial 4, after his dad’s office, the police and his school.

The phone rang once… twice… he realized how late it was and prayed she would wake up. Three times… four… A tear slipped down his cheek unnoticed. Five… “Please Sarah, please pick up. Please.”

A click on the other line and his heart stopped. A silence that seemed to stretch on for an eternity… and then…

“Hello?” Her voice was sleepy, and he could tell she was stifling a yawn.

He gave out a small sob and his voice squeaked. “Sarah?”

She was silent for a moment. “Toby? Is that you buddy?”

All he could do was nod in agreement. He wiped his face on the back of Lancelot’s head, now crying freely at the sound of his sister’s voice.

“What’s wrong Toby? Is it dad?” she sounded panicked and he felt a pang of guilt for calling her.

“Sarah, I’m scared.” He said, hiccupping slightly. “Something’s in my room and I don’t know what to do”.

She sighed down the line. He strained to hear her, wanting her to say she’d be right there, to protect him. “Toby, it’s 11:30 . You gave me a real scare!” His guilt escalated and he sobbed. He heard her voice soften. “If you’re scared, why don’t you go wake Dad and Karen?”

He shook his head again, and stammered slightly. “D-Dad says it’s rats and Mo-Mo-Mom says I’m too b-big to be scared, but there’s something in my r-room! I heard it!” His voice squeaked again, and he stole a glance at the kitchen door, praying that the things weren’t coming for him.

“Hun, calm down. Just breathe for a minute, okay?” Sarah made gentle shushing noises and Toby closed his eyes, squeezing Lancelot tighter and imagining his sister was in the room with him. He brought his ragged sobbing under control and breathed out deeply. Despite feeling bad about waking his sister, at that moment he was so relieved to hear her voice he didn’t care.

“You calm now?” she asked after a minute, and Toby nodded. Remembering he was on the phone, he gave her a weak yes, and opened his eyes. The kitchen was empty and the bright light reflected off the polished sink. “Where are you?” she asked, and for a moment Toby didn’t know what she meant.

“I’m under the kitchen table…” he said, releasing his death grip on his bear and pushing his hair out of his eyes.

“Thank God,” his sister said, and he heard relief in her voice.

“Where would I be?” he asked, and she gave a small laugh.

“I dunno,” she said, sounding exasperated. “The bus station? The payphones at the park?”

Toby frowned. “I’m not stupid! I know I have to stay indoors,” he said “It’s dark outside anyway”. Her laugh made him feel better, so he pushed the chairs out of the way and climbed out from under the table. Sitting down in a chair he hugged Lancelot again and tucked his feet up under him.

He could hear movement on the other end of the phone. He imagined her, sitting down on the big couch in her tiny apartment, looking through her window over the bright lights of the city. He felt comforted picturing his sister there, one of his favorite things to do was to visit her during the holidays and stare out her window, watching people the size of ants move about on the streets far below.

“Ok kiddo,” she said, sounding for a moment like his father. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”

He told her all about the noises, the creepy voices behind his walls, his father and mother not believing him. He told how he wasn’t sleeping, showing up late for school three days in a row. How the noises kept getting louder and more frequent. She listened silently, letting him get it all off his chest, like she always did. He felt silly by the time he got to his theories about what was behind the walls; wolves, burglars, goblins…

“There’s no such thing as Goblins, Toby.” She said it a little too quickly and he stopped in his tracks. Something in her voice made him afraid again, but he stayed quiet. He desperately wanted to hear what his sister had to say.

After a moment’s thought she spoke. “There’s not a lot I can do from here, buddy,” she said, and he knew it was true. Again she paused. “Why don’t you get a glass of water, go upstairs, and sleep in my old room? You can leave the light on all night, Karen won’t know.”

His mom hadn’t let him sleep with the light on since he was 6. He knew the light would keep the noises away and he breathed a sigh of relief. “Ok,” he said.

“When I get home from work, I’ll call and talk to Dad and Karen. We’ll see what we can do to make it stop.” Toby nodded silently, he had always loved Sarah’s room, even though most of her things were gone it still held memories of his sister.

“Are you coming home for Thanksgiving?” he asked, rubbing his eyes, suddenly sleepy.

“Of course silly! I’ll be there the day after tomorrow.” Toby yawned and hugged the old bear tightly. “Now go on upstairs, and get to bed. You sound exhausted.”

He stood up, gripping the bear under its worn arms, and walked around the table, the long phone cord dragging on the ground. He gave a shudder, realizing he now had to return upstairs, but didn’t want to let Sarah think he was still scared.

“You call me anytime Toby, just try not to make it so late, k?” he nodded again, and shuffled over to the door. He opened it a crack and peered out, seeing nothing but the dining room bathed in moonlight. “You’ll be alright Kiddo” she said, reassuring him. He sighed and nodded again.

“I’ve got to go now…” Toby felt like crying at the thought of Sarah hanging up, but he stopped himself, gulping back a sob.

“Sarah?”

“What, hun?”

He was silent for a moment, and closed his eyes tight. “Thanks.”

“Any time. See you real soon”.

Toby reached up and hung the phone back on the wall. The kitchen was suddenly very quiet, he could make out the low humming of the fridge, the ticking of the clock on the wall. Somewhere outside he heard a dog barking. He stared at the door to the living room, not sure if he had the courage to return upstairs. No matter how comforting his sister had been, it didn’t change the facts. There was something in his room…

…and it knew his name.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sarah hung up the phone and stared out the window. It was moments like these that she regretted moving to the city, so far away from her little brother, unable to protect him from anything.
 
She remembered all those past nights when she had woken to find him silhouetted in the door, his ratted bear dragging on the carpet. No matter what the time she would hold back the covers so he could climb in and tell her all about the monsters in his closet, under his bed, as she smoothed his hair and shushed him to sleep. Now her little brother was scared again, and she wasn’t there for him. A part of her felt worthless, and her chest grew tight.
 
She knew it wasn’t her fault. Often Sarah felt more like a mother to Toby; but he had a mother, and a father to take care of him. Despite that, she had gone to a local University rather than a better one, and seemed content to remain at home for the rest of her life. It was all Karen and Robert could do to convince their daughter to take the job at the Museum, they even paid her first month rent and bought her groceries. She had felt a little hurt at first, but as the months went by she grew to love her new life, and was grateful for the push out the door. Except for nights like this one.
 
It didn’t happen very often, it was true. Toby hadn’t had bad dreams for years, and as much as she wanted to deny it, he was growing up fast. Sarah was proud of her brother, and the older he got the stronger their bond grew, but it was only a matter of time before he was a teenager, and she wasn’t the cool big sister anymore.
 
She stood and walked over to the window, hugging her robe around her. Her apartment looked out over central park, the brilliant city skyline glittering behind. The apartment was more than she could ever hope for. It belonged to Karen’s brother, who was living in Rome and charged her little to no rent. Sarah often wondered what her life would be like if it weren’t for the apartment. She looked out over the lights, at the millions of people all living in the same city. Suddenly she felt very alone. Hearing her brother so upset had unsettled her… though not as much as his theories of what was in the walls. Silently she scolded herself; there was no such thing as goblins. The thought didn’t sit right. Not when she could remember their scent, their glowing yellow eyes.
 
She shuddered involuntarily. At first, she had remembered all the details of the Dream. She had remembered everything about her make-believe friends. She had remembered the glittering forest, the pristine hedges, the way the sky seemed lower, more colorful. Everything seemed perfect, more real somehow. Over time however, it had faded away, until all she could recall was the Goblins. Even He was a faded memory, a scattered dream that she tried to cling to as she woke each morning. Now it was only the Goblins, pulling at her clothes and hair, sniggering and snarling at her, watching her from the corners of her perception. She refused to admit it even to herself, but they were beginning to frighten her.
 
She placed a hand on the window, watching the heat spread to frame her hand in a perfect handprint. The glass was cold, even though the room was warm and cozy. It was an extremely cold November, with the constant threat of snow on the horizon. More than a few times that week, a lone flake had fallen onto her hat and gloves as she walked to work. She missed the comfort of her old house in winter; bundling up into the car with her parents as they went to Toby’s annual school Thanksgiving play, helping with the turkey, playing board games with her brother in front of the fire, counting down the days until Christmas. A pang of longing went through her, and she made a split second decision.
 
She would take her holidays a day early. The museum was never too busy the day before the Thanksgiving break. Besides, she only worked in archiving. They could quite successfully run the museum without her. She pulled her hand off the glass and breathed on the space her hand had left, watching the hand print slowly disappear. The thought of heading home warmed her considerably, and she smiled through a large yawn.
 
She glanced at the clock; it was almost midnight . Her thoughts drifted to her brother as she headed into the kitchen. She flicked on the kettle and waited while it boiled, wondering if Toby was alright. ‘It was probably just a nightmare’, she thought, tossing a bag of vanilla tea into her cup. The kettle began to whistle, so she flicked it off and poured it into the cup, stirring it idly. The gentle fragrance caused her to yawn a second time, and she picked the cup up in both hands as her wall clock chimed twelve.
 
“That’s it, I’m off to bed,” she said aloud, flicking off the kitchen light as she passed. For a brief moment as her eyes adjusted, she could see something lying on her dining table, silhouetted against the glow from the window outside. She rubbed her eyes and took a step back, reaching out to flick the light back on.
 
Her cup slipped out of her hand and spilt hot tea all over the carpet. She clamped both hands over her mouth and fought the urge to scream. She must have been dreaming. It wasn't possible. It wasn't real! She pressed her back against the wall behind her as the clock finished its toll.
 
Lying on her table, all bloody and broken, was the body of Sir Didymus.