Gracie slowly walked up the stairs, her arthritis acting up in her knee due to the cold night in the city. All the children had gone to bed hours ago, after their evening meal and some time watching television. Now, after cleaning the dishes and the living room, Gracie could make her way to her room and perhaps get a little sleep before she had to have the kids awake for school tomorrow.
Being the caretaker at the orphanage wasn't a glamorous job, but it seemed like the right thing for Gracie to do with her life. After teaching English for fifteen years and never finding a man of her own, she'd gone back to school and received a degree in psychology, then applied around the state for a job as a caretaker for the poor children lost in the system. After all, she knew what it was like.
She was an orphan herself.
"Gracie!" A shrill voice shouted from one of the childrens' rooms. Heaving a sigh, she hurried up the remaining steps and made her way down the hall opposite her bedroom. A few tired heads poked their way out of the darkness from behind dim doors, blinking wearily and asking what was going on.
"I don't know dears, but get back to bed," Gracie said, waving off the inquisitive children. She heard another cry from the room at the far end of the hall, the last door on the left.
A new face at the orphanage, Mikey had been unfortunate enough to see his mother kill his father with a knife, before turning it on herself. He'd hid under the bed while she'd drunkenly fought with him before she'd brandished the bowie knife and stabbed her husband over thirty-seven times.
The police didn't even know Mikey was there until they heard him crying under the bed, begging to be left alone.
He'd been there five days, and every night it's been the same thing. Nightmare after nightmare, the poor thing!
Gracie walked up to the door and opened it up, smoothening out her dress as she looked into the dark room, the only light a small night light plugged into the wall, casting a baleful glow over the room that was just enough for one to squint to see.
"Gracie!" Mikey cried, tears running down his face. "I had a bad dream again! And it won't stop trying to get me!"
"Hush darling," Gracie said, striding into the room to sit down on the bed next to the young boy. He was thin with a crop of red hair and freckles, wearing a blue shirt and pajama pants. He was partially covered up by his comforter, but he seemed reticent to allow more of it to fall away from him. Damn cold!
"Now Mikey, what have I told you?" Gracie said as she sat on his bed, wrapping an arm around his frame and pulling him against her girth. He wrapped his arms around her waist, breathing out a rattling breath as he just hugged her as if his life counted on it.
"Nothing will get me so long as you're here," Mikey said, as if reciting a poem he didn't like. "But you don't understand, it's..."
"Shhh... now I want you to relax. It's already late, and you have school in the morning." Gracie said, rubbing his back. "How about I turn up the heat so you can warm your bones a little and tomorrow I'll bring in an extra night light for you, hmmm?"
"The night light doesn't help! It's the fact that it wants to get me!" Mikey exclaimed, looking up at her with his dark eyes. "He's under the bed and has been whispering to me, about how I don't deserve to be here and I should go away like Daddy did."
"Oh really now?" Gracie said. She'd heard of survivors guilt, but never something so intense! Only in a child could you see something like this, what with their imaginations. "Well, how about I peek under your bed and tell that mean old monster that he's the one that has to go. How about that?"
"You'd do that?" Mikey asked, fear in his voice.
"Of course I would, I'm here to help you," Gracie said, shuffling up from her seat. She squatted down, fighting the grimace on her face as her knee groaned and dropped to all fours. Looking beneath the bed, her eyes went wide.
Staring back at her with wild blue eyes, was Mikey. His shirt was torn and there were scratches on the side of his neck, and he looked terrified. When Gracie was about to say something, he held up a finger to his lips and shushed her.
"Gracie," Mikey said from under the bed, "I think there's something on top of my bed. It followed me from my house and it wants me dead, just like my Mom and Dad."
Gracie stared at Mikey for a moment before pushing herself up to where she was staring at the little boy on the bed - the boy who was no longer there. Instead, there was a palpable odor of sulfur and ashes with no sign as to what could have happened to the boy she'd been speaking to. Looking across the room, she saw the closet door partially open, the light from the night light basking out around it, making the darkness all the deeper.
"Get up from under the bed Mikey," Gracie said, eyes never leaving the closet. "Get up now."
As Mikey crawled out from under the bed, the closet door creaked, opening further inch by inch, until the door blocked out the night light completely.
"We're going to make a run for the door Mikey," Gracie said. "And then we're going to run to my room and close the door. From there we'll call the police."
"Okay Gracie," Mikey said, standing up and peering over the bed into the darkness. He shivered as he looked into it. "Oh my God..."
"What? What is it, Mikey?" Gracie asked, pushing herself with the bed to stand at an awkward angle.
"It's staring at me. Don't ask me how I know, but it's standing in the doorway looking at me." Mikey whispered.
"Come on dear, you can't let it scare you. We'll get out of here together now, come on." Gracie said, taking his hand in hers before she began to practically drag him around the bed and across the room towards the door to the hallway.
Before she could even reach the door, Gracie screamed. Fingers like knives raked down the side of her flank, each cut radiating utter cold into her as if she were bleeding heat as well. Dropping to her knees, she shoved Mikey towards the door.
"Go Mikey! Go call the police!" Gracie said, turning to grapple whatever was in the darkness, only to have it pull her headfirst into the closet, the door slamming behind her.
Mikey stood by the door, shivering and crying when one of the older kids opened his bedroom door and turned on the light. The older girl grabbed Mikey and pulled him out of the room, slamming the door and locking it.
Gracie's screams were only getting louder.