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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.

Chapter Text


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.


 

It took a full minute for Sarah to react. She ran forward, her eyes dragging over the little broken body, as tears spilled down her face. Remembering her minimal first aid training she held her shaking hand over his bloody muzzle and was relieved to feel a trickle of hot breath on her fingers. Gently she took off his hat, and smoothed down the bright russet fur on his forehead.

“Sir Didymus?” she whispered, her voice cracking. She couldn’t tell if he had been mauled or had taken a massive fall, either way his wounds were extensive. His little foot was twisted at a strange angle and she could make out a bad gash down his torso. His forearms were also cut, as if he had thrown his arms up in defence.

A large tear fell from Sarah’s cheek and splashed onto the end of his nose. He stirred, his one good eye fluttering weakly. She leaned down and wiped the tear from his nose, now mixed with his blood. Her mind was spinning; she had no idea what to do next.

“Am… am… ambrosius??” Didymus said weakly.

“No Didymus, it’s me. It’s Sarah.” He looked around the room, unable to focus. He tried to move, and Sarah softly placed a hand on his chest. “Don’t try to move. You’ve been hurt…”

“Please don’t hurt him,” He said, weakly pushing against her hand and collapsing in exhaustion. “He’s just a dog… Ambrosius…”

Sarah bit her lip and choked back a sob. Her spirits rose as she realised she might be dreaming, but the stench of the blood was too sharp to deny. It hurt her so much to see her friend like this, and she felt a wave of guilt for previously thinking he wasn’t real.

“Don’t worry Didymus, I’m going to help you. I promise,” she said, without a clue as to what she could possibly do. She darted into the kitchen and returned with a tea towel soaked in warm water, and dabbed at his face and mouth carefully. He whimpered and tried to push her hands away.

“No… please… don’t hurt him!” he cried, giving a watery cough. Sarah didn’t know anything about animals or medicine, but she could tell something was seriously wrong. His lungs sounded damaged, like they were filling with fluid. She wiped her eyes furiously with the back of her hand, leaving a streak of blood on her forhead, and tried to soothe Didymus with gentle shushing sounds. He closed his eye and coughed again, clutching at his chest and wheezing. After a few moments his breathing slowed, and Sarah straightened.

She racked her brain for options. She could take him to a vet, or the hospital, but a talking fox-terrier creature would arouse far too much suspicion. She didn’t have anything in her house that could possibly help; her medicine cabinet was filled with aspirin and band-aids. Her mind flew to her step-mother, who had been a school nurse for a few years. Did she trust her enough?

Didymus coughed again and a trickle of blood ran down his muzzle. Sarah wiped it away, terrified. She didn’t have any choice. It was a three hour drive to her home in Albany, and she didn’t even know if Didymus would make it that far. She ran into her bedroom, pulling on a pair of jeans and her big winter jacket. Struggling into her boots she grabbed a blanket and dragged it back into the living room, spreading it out on the floor.

She stood over Didymus, not knowing how to proceed. She didn’t want to hurt him further, but she had to somehow get him into the car. He was so small, she would be able to carry him without any difficulty, but if he had ruptured a lung she worried moving his body would do further damage. He seemed to be unconscious again, so she gently slipped her arms under his legs and neck, and lifted him like she would a baby. He stirred and whimpered, but was still as she hugged him close to her chest. She crouched down, lying his prone body down on the blanket, and wrapped him loosely in the folds.

“I’ll get you some help, Didymus. Just hold on,” she called out, rummaging around in the bedroom for her keys and wallet. She tripped on her discarded pajama pants and swore loudly, grazing her hand on the carpet. Finally ready to go, she gathered him up in her arms, careful to keep him steady, and sidled out the door.

She was grateful for the late hour, the hallway and elevator were both deserted. She reached the basement without meeting anyone. Didymus was not moving. She fumbled to open the car, then lay him down on the front seat, dropping the back to make him more comfortable. Sarah raced around to open her own door. Within a few moments the engine was purring, and she was pulling out of the garage and onto the main street.

Her mind continued to race as she drove. She left the city and hit the thruway, traffic easing off. She pushed the speed limit, stealing furtive glances at Didymus. She wondered what she was going to say to Karen. Picturing it in her head, her stomach sank at the thought. How would it look? 3am, pounding on the door. ‘Hi Mom, Hi Dad, can you fix my imaginary friend? I think he was attacked by something, and I found him dying on my kitchen table.’ The word dying made her eyes well with tears, and her foot pressed down on the accelerator, but the bright lights of a passing car brought her to her senses and she slowed a little. The last thing she needed was to be pulled over for speeding.

About an hour into the drive and her heart had slowed, but her mind had not. She tried to get her thoughts in order. The last time she had seen her friends was the night she had solved the Labyrinth. The only evidence that they had existed at all was a forlorn party streamer she found several weeks later on top of her wardrobe, and a tuft of dark red fur that had come from her largest friend Ludo. She kept both items pressed in the pages of her diary.

There were so many unanswered questions. How had Didymus arrived in her kitchen? She wondered if the Goblin King had anything to do with it, but the thought of him attacking the tiny knight did not sit right in her mind. Deep down she knew what was responsible; the same things that had been haunting her dreams for so many months. The creatures that were vicious, that would attack. The creatures her own brother had been afraid of that very evening… 

She accelerated unconsciously as she thought of Toby. He was not that much bigger than Didymus and unlike the knight he had no idea how to fight. He was only a little boy. She swerved around a car and it blared a horn. Beside her Didymus woke again, pushing against the blanket and coughing up a mouthful of congealed blood. Sarah fought back the tears, worried that they would blind her. She reached out a hand and tried to still her friend while still keeping her eyes on the road.

A loud cry from Didymus made her swerve again and she screamed, thinking she had lost control of the car. She skidded to a halt and with a shaking hand turned off the ignition. Resting her elbows on the steering wheel and placing both hands over her eyes, her heart raced as she gasped for air.

“My lady?” His voice was feeble and Sarah leant over the seat, fumbling with the seat belt buckle and tossing it aside so it made a loud cracking sound against the door. Didymus winced at the noise and she shushed him, stroking his muzzle and using the blanked to mop up the blood that was now flowing freely from his mouth.
 
“I’m here, Didymus. It’s alright, I’m here.” He held out a small paw and she took it, his claws gripping her fingers but not enough to hurt. She realised that he was using all the strength he had left and she bit back a sob. “You’ll be ok, I’m taking you somewhere safe.”

He shook his head, his eye rolling. “Nay. They are after me. They are looking for…” he broke into a spasm of coughing and Sarah tried to prop him up, lest he choke on his own blood. She could barely see; her eyes were filling with tears, blinding her.

The reality hit her then, and she bit down on her bottom lip until she drew blood.

“Don’t die,” she whispered, and he stopped coughing and focused on her face. The paw holding her fingers slipped and she held it in her own hand carefully. “You can’t die.” He gave her a weak smile.

“My Lady? Hast thou returned to us?”

“Yes Didymus, I’m here. I’ve come back.” He closed his eye and let out a deep sigh that tore at her heart.

“That is good,” he said, and his little body went limp.

“Didymus? Didymus!” Sarah shook him gently, then harder, but her efforts wielded no response. She turned away and stared out the window, her whole body shaking uncontrollably. She was unaware of the passing cars, of the gathering clouds, of the sound of the wind that had lifted and was whipping the roadside trees into a frenzy. Sarah beat her hands against the steering wheel, again and again, until she could feel nothing but the pain. She screamed, before collapsing over the wheel and sobbing until she could no longer breathe.

After half an hour she leant over and turned on the engine. She drove carefully along the dark road, sticking to the speed limit. Somewhere on the way home she unconsciously pulled the blanket up and over the body of her dearest friend.

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

Toby woke to the sound of his mother screaming. He sat bolt upright in Sarah’s bed, and not waiting to put on his slippers he raced out of the bedroom and down the stairs. His father followed close behind him. They reached the bottom and could see Karen standing in the living room. Robert stopped Toby and pushed him back, then entered the room before him. Toby didn’t know what to expect in the living room, but when he crept up behind his mother and peered around her dressing gown, he was surprised to see his sister sitting on the floor.

Sarah had arrived at the house some time in the early morning. She had parked across the street, placed the body of Didymus in the trunk and let herself in with her key. Not wanting to wake her family she had curled up on the sofa and fallen into a troubled sleep. Karen, heading downstairs to prepare breakfast for the family, had woken her with a scream so piercing that Sarah had fallen off the couch in shock.

“Sarah!” Toby yelled as he ran to his sister’s side and flung his arms around her neck. His father joined him, kneeling at his daughter’s side. Karen, one hand over her mouth and the other over her heart, sank down onto the sofa opposite, her face pale.

“Are you alright?” Robert asked his daughter as she disentangled herself from her brother’s arms. Her father grasped her by the shoulders and turned her to face him.

“Fine, Dad. I’m fine. I didn’t mean to scare you guys, I just didn’t want to wake you up in the middle of the night.” She gave him a weak smile and turned to Karen. “I’m sorry Karen. I guess the word ‘Surprise’ doesn’t quite cut it?”

Karen shook her head at Sarah and she was surprised to see a tear slip down her stepmothers face. Robert smoothed his daughter’s hair down.

“Honey, what are you doing here?” Sarah looked at her father and frantically tried to come up with an explanation.  

“Well, Toby called me last night, feeling scared. I was worried about him, so I decided to come down last night to see him in the morning.” Beside her Toby squirmed as if he was about to get in trouble, but his father was oblivious.

Robert’s voice was calm, the voice he used when he was trying to keep everything under control. “What about the blood?” Sarah looked at him puzzled until she looked down at her shirt. She hadn’t noticed, but her pajama top was smeared with blood and gore from where she had held Didymus. Her hands were covered as well, and there was a thread of russet fur under her fingernails.

“Oh,” she said, feeling sick. “I hit a dog.”

Robert sighed in relief and Karen stood up and headed over to the group, taking Toby’s hand and pulling him behind her, ever the protective mother. “Why didn’t you clean yourself up?” she said, her voice still a little shaky. Sarah could see that she was clearly relieved, and she turned back to her father who was wearing a similar expression.

He gave her a kiss on the forehead and helped her into a standing position. “I guess I was in shock”.

Karen gave her shoulder a squeeze and smiled tightly. “You certainly gave me a shock” she said and gave a light laugh. “I thought…” she glanced at Toby who was peering at his sister. “Well, I don’t know what I thought.” Sarah understood and gave her an apologetic look. 

“Why don’t you go upstairs and clean up? You can borrow one of my shirts if you like,” said her father. Sarah nodded and she headed up the stairs, Toby close at her heels. She reached the bathroom and her brother darted off.

“I’ll get you a shirt” he yelled, disappearing into his parent’s bedroom at the end of the hall. She peered into the mirror at her own reflection and she understood why Karen had screamed. Her eyes were red rimmed and her face pale and blotchy. There was a streak of blood across her forehead and over her eye. Blood had matted her bangs and her top was disgusting. She looked like a murder victim.

She sighed and turned away as Toby stepped back into the room holding out one of his father’s white collared shirts. She gestured to the towel rack and he draped it over the bar. Turning back to his sister he shuffled his feet and studied the floor.

“I’m sorry I made you drive last night,” he said and Sarah’s heart went out to him.

She sank to her knees to be on his level. “Oh, Toby. It wasn’t your fault. Something… something happened after I spoke to you.” She wondered if it was wise to tell her brother. If it weren’t for the blood, she would have thought she’d imagined the whole thing.

“I can’t talk about it now. When Mom and Dad go to work, k?” Toby looked up at her, confused, but he nodded and headed out of the bathroom and closed the door behind him. Sarah stripped and stepped into the shower, washing the blood away and letting the steaming water soak into her skin. She barely noticed as her tears mingled with the falling water.

Drying herself off after a good twenty minutes in the shower she peered into the mirror again. Her hair and body were clean, but her face still looked pale. She pulled on her jeans that were mercifully clean of blood, and her father’s shirt that was far too big for her. She tied it at the waist and rolled up the sleeves, towel drying her hair as she headed down into the kitchen.

“Ah, that’s better” said Robert as he put down a plate of pancakes in front of Toby, who was silent and looked like he was brooding. Sarah noticed that he too looked tired, and she wondered how well he had slept once she had hung up the night before. Karen gave her a smile and served up a plate of pancakes for her as well while her father made her a cup of strong black coffee. She accepted both from her parents, but left the plate untouched. The idea of food made her feel queasy.

“Is the car alright?” asked he father, and Sarah looked at him confused. “It must have been a pretty big dog, I imagine.” Sarah nodded at him and glanced at Toby, who was pushing his pancakes around on his plate.

“It’s fine, Dad. I was just in shock, that’s all. Maybe we should talk about this later?” He followed her glance to his younger son and nodded in agreement. Karen sat down next to her husband, placing a plate in front of him and one in front of herself.

“We should also discuss just what happened that brought you all the way up here in the middle of the night,” she said, and Toby looked at his sister. Sarah shrugged.

“It wasn’t his fault. I was feeling a little down, and Toby called after a bad dream. I just felt like I had to see you. It’s only one day early. You really can’t blame Toby.” She glanced up at Karen, who seemed a little sceptical. “I was thinking about coming home early anyway. He just cinched it for me.” Toby gave her a look of gratitude and she smiled at him, reaching out to ruffle his hair.

“Even so, Toby. You really shouldn’t call Sarah so late at night.” Karen continued. “You can always come and talk to us if you get scared. Was it the noises in your room again?” Toby looked at his sister and she gave a minute shake of her head.
“No, just a bad dream,” he said, and Karen seemed sated.

They had breakfast in silence, Sarah not eating and Toby only finishing one pancake. Sarah cleared the plates away as her father disappeared to get dressed.

“You have to get ready to go to the Johnson’s, Toby” said Karen. The Johnson’s were a family down the street that had a boy Toby’s age. They looked after him during the school holidays, while Robert was at work. Karen was often at home in the school holidays as well, since she worked in a high school, but she was volunteering at a homeless shelter over the Thanksgiving break. Toby raced across the kitchen to stand next to his sister.

“But Sarah’s home! I can stay with her today.” He looked up at his sister and she grinned at him, up to her elbows in soapy dish water.

“It’s ok, I don’t mind watching him.” Karen looked at the two siblings and was amazed how alike they were. Even though Sarah was pale with dark hair and hazel eyes, and Toby was blonde, tanned and his eyes were a dark blue, they were still unmistakably family. Something about the way they both held themselves, something in their eyes; like a shared secret.

Karen shrugged. “Well, if you’re happy to do it,” Toby gave a happy yelp and his mother walked over to place a finger on the end of his nose, a calming technique that Sarah had always admired but never mastered.

“You behave, and take it easy on Sarah. She’s had a rough night. Got it?” Toby nodded and she patted her step-daughter on the back. “He’s all yours” she said, heading upstairs to get dressed.

Toby helped Sarah clean the kitchen and put everything away, and Sarah was grateful for the distraction of the morning chores. Robert came downstairs to say goodbye, followed shortly by Karen. As the last plate was put away Sarah heard the garage door close and they were alone in the house.

Her brother had been listening for the sound as well. Sarah turned to him and he folded his arms across his chest and watched her. “So, what happened?” he asked. Having still not made up her mind whether to tell him or not, she turned away. “Are you gonna tell me?” he asked, but she didn’t respond.

“Don’t you trust me?” his voice was small, and she sighed.

“First there’s something I need to do, ok? You just wait here.” She grabbed her car keys and headed outside, and Toby heard the garage door opening. He opened the door to the garage from the kitchen and watched Sarah back her car into the empty space. She stopped the engine but didn’t get out, and Toby wondered what she was doing. The trunk popped and he jumped.

Sarah got out of the car and moved around to the trunk, lifting out a blanket and laying it across his father’s workbench. She looked so tired and sad that Toby instinctively went to her, placing his hands on the bench and looking at the blanket. He could see a smear of blood on the side, but it didn’t frighten him.

“Is that the dog?” he said, and Sarah shook her head.

“It wasn’t a dog Toby. It was one of my friends.” Toby blinked at her and wondered what she meant. She turned to him. “I don’t know if you’re old enough to see this, kiddo” she said.

“But I’m almost 11!” he said, and she smiled at his defensiveness. She reached out and pulled back the blanket and heard her brother’s sharp intake of breath.

Didymus looked both worse and better than she remembered. It appeared most of the blood was on her shirt rather than on his body. His face was clean and though his arms and body were still cut, they were no longer bleeding. The bright colors of his uniform were visible still, and his face was quiet, as if he was asleep, not dead. She reached out a hand to stroke his face, but froze. Toby looked at his sister and back to the form of Didymus.

“What happened to him?” he said in a hushed voice, and Sarah shook her head.

“I don’t know. But he’s gone now.” Toby reached out his own hand and gave the terrier a light pat on his paw. The gesture made Sarah cry again, but she swallowed back the tears. “I need to bury him” she said.

“Under the willow tree?” Toby asked. Merlin, Sarah’s old dog, had died a year before. Toby had been present at the burial in the back yard, though Sarah was unable to make it due to work. She had forgotten until now that he had already seen one friend buried.

“That sounds nice” she said, and gave him a weak smile.

They worked together quietly, Sarah fetching a bucket of warm soapy water and a cloth while Toby stood guard over the body. She washed the blood away carefully and tidied his uniform the best she could. Halfway through the process Toby disappeared, returning with the plush fox knight that had belonged to Sarah. When she was done, she tipped the red water down the drain and rewrapped him in the blanket. Together the siblings walked out into the back yard.

Toby ran ahead to the willow tree. A stone had been placed with Merlin’s name painted on, and Sarah noticed his old dog bowl and leash were sitting beside the stone, looking worn. She laid Didymus down on the grass and headed back into the garage to find a shovel.

The wind picked up again, and Toby shivered in the cold. He had forgotten to put on his coat, but he didn’t want to leave Didymus alone in the yard. He hoped his sister would get it for him. He stamped his feet and rubbed his arms to keep them warm. At least he was wearing shoes; his father’s boots that he had slipped on at the back door.

A scuffling sound behind him made him turn. There was a movement to his right in the bushes behind the willow tree. He peered into the bushes but whatever was making the noise did not emerge. Curious, he took a step closer to the bush, careful not to disturb the loosely wrapped body. He clutched the plush toy to his chest and inched forwards, still trying to make out what was scraping around in the underbrush.

“Toby, where’s your coat?” Sarah called out from the house, and he turned to look towards the back door.

“In the hall closet!” He yelled back, his voice shaky. Sarah appeared at the back door, holding out his coat, and he gave her a weak smile.

He watched as his sister’s expression changed from blank to terrified. She began running towards him, at the same time a snarling noise from behind made him turn. 

Sarah screamed at Toby to run as he was knocked to the ground, the plush toy sent flying. He landed on his back beside Didymus's body, banging his head on the cold ground. He cried out, trying to see what had attacked him. He raised his arms across his face as a clawed hand raked down his forearm, cutting him deeply. He could hear Sarah still screaming, and he yelled and cried, trying to push his attacker away. 

Sarah’s feet pounded down the backyard as she tried to reach her brother. She gripped the shovel tightly, not wanting to believe what she saw. Everywhere she looked; scrambling out from the bushes, leaping down from the trees... the Goblins were coming.