's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"The Thing at the Window"

Submitted by C. Lonnquist

    I’m telling you this with great hesitation, not only because you will think I’m crazy, or worse, a murderer, but because what may occur because of these events could draw you into it. To the best of my knowledge, there is no way to get out, and as I sit and scrawl these words on the Bible’s margins, I beg you to read and understand what I have to say. I write now because I fear that I will not have much longer to do so. The things that happened must not happen again

                I grew up a child of gravestones, living in a parsonage just up a hill from my father’s church. Between the church and our house was an open field, and beyond that, eight rows of gravestones, perhaps a hundred in all. This was not a true estimation of the dead slumbering below soft, black soil, though. The entire township was once German; an immigrant colony from before the turn of the last century who erected a church, a town hall, and a cemetery next to them. The church itself was near two hundred years of age, three towering steeples picking up at the sky like a crow’s foot, tipped with crosses made of wrought iron. Lichen and moss grew down the slate-colored shingles. Tall, narrow windows filled with stained-glass covered every inch of the building. Most depicted the Savior and his flock. One, more symbolically, depicted a hive of bees, and another was filled with sheaves of amber-glass grain.

                We did not fear the graves, my brothers and sisters and I. We would run among them on nights when the moon was full or after Sunday School, playing games of tag or hide-and-seek. We did not go near the List, though.

                The List was a massive block of granite, etched with the names of those who had died long ago and the dates that bookended their lives. Their graves had been made of wood, or torn away from age or animals. Looming between the church and the town hall, it glared down at our small forms. The bottom rows—the ones are our eye level—were the shortest dates. They were the children’s names.

                There was a strange feeling around the List; a pricking snap of a sensation around our fingertips, behind our ears. It felt as if little invisible hands were reaching from the stone and brushing against us, begging us to come and dance a ring around the rust-red monolith.

                We did not go near the List, but we did not fear the graves.

                Many of the old members of the congregation spoke an old German tongue, thick and heavy and sounding threatening with even the kindest words. They would look at the list and call itverlassen stein, shaking their heads slowly and keeping their distance. Lichen did not grow near the List. Birds did not land on it. It always seemed to be in the shadow of the church.

                Sometimes, I would sit at night in the room of our house that faced the graveyard, the security light in the church parking lot casting eerie shadows that seemed to twist and move like broken fingers between the gravestones. I would watch and wait. For what, I can’t say.

                Hours would pass while I sat in the dark, looking for something I swear I once saw in a dream; red eyes moving among the darkness of the churchyard, clustering around the List, dancing like cursed fireflies around the names of the long-dead.

                As I said, I wondered if I saw them in a dream, or when I was only a baby, held in my father’s arms as he prayed. The darkness flooded the room, and I remember his voice—low and nervous—as the inhuman orbs moved around the looming stone.

                It was this image, this dream of dancing eyes that made me pour into books and stories of the strange and abnormal. Lovercraft, Poe, and Bierce were my guides in this endeavor, their tales of elder-things and the dead come back to life whispering to me that what I had seen would come again. I could say that I was sad they did not.

                At the bottom of the hill, across the gravel road from the church and town hall, was a small house nestled amidst a copse of willows. It was much younger than the church or the List, but old all the same, white and crooked with age. A family moved into it when I was no older than nine. They had three daughters. The oldest two were around my age, with black, curly hair and rosy cheeks like their father.

                The youngest was different; hair the color of corn silk, skin pale as ivory. She was only three, and unlike her boisterous sisters, she spent much of her time standing in the doorway of their house, gazing across the road, leaning to peer around the town hall and look at the List. She seldom spoke, and was prone to inexplicable bouts of crying. Her tantrums would last hours, and on days when the wind blew up the hill, we could hear her sobs from our yard.

Then one day, as the church was emptying after a service amidst the bright morning sun, an event occurred that I attribute as the source of the horror that was to follow.

                My father and mother spoke with the parishioners as would always happen after the service, and my siblings and I would rally the three girls from across the street, running madly through the graves. We ran our fingers along the weathered grooves on the markers of the dead and sat on top of the ones lowest to climb, daring each other to try to wrest us from our morbid perches. That day, I had climbed a tall, narrow grave and wrapped my legs around it, putting a hand above my eyes to shade the sun as I crowed with victory, out of the reach of my companions.

                Perhaps I noticed because I was facing the List, but while the parents chatted and the old Germans clucked in their guttural native tongue, the youngest girl from across the road toddled away from watchful eyes and into the shadow of the old church. I saw where she was moving and called out, but the clamor of my young friends drowned out my frantic warning. Without a thought, I toppled from my seat and scrambled madly across the thick, corpse-fed grass, my nails digging into the soil for purchase as I threw myself towards the little girl.

                She cast a confused look back at me, her little blue eyes vacant and staring at things I could not see, her hair—the yellow of corn silk—swirling around her face in the morning breeze. A small, calm smile crept across her lips as she toddled the last few steps to the List and reached up. I ran towards her, my young legs straining for just a sliver more speed. Her fingers, so tiny and white, were only inches from the name-etched monolith. I cried out again, reached for her.

                Her palm pressed firmly against the List.

                I stopped mid-stride, out of breath, hand reaching as her hand reached. I was only a few feet from her. Too late! Too late! Had I been a moment faster, what would come to pass would not have been! Too late, my feet had stopped just short of her, my eyes wide with fear and superstition.

                The adults did not speak. The children halted their play. I would say that the world seemed to dim, or that a great wind whirled around us, but it was not this way. Birds continued to trill on fence posts around the neighboring field. The sun continued to shine. Thick, white clouds lazily wandered across the clear, clear sky.

                The girl’s father gathered her up, and without a word the crowd dispersed, wending homeward in thick, cloying silence.

                Our house was old. Old and stern as the Germans that founded our township. It creaked and moaned at night as its bones settled in the soft soil at the top of the hill. My room was above the room that I would sit in at night, though the line of thick White Pines outside my window obscured any view of the graveyard. Every night since the girl laid her hand on the List, the graves seemed closer. Every night since her little hand had brushed against the name of children taken at their moment of birth or by simple pneumonia, the broken shadows of the stones seemed to reach across the short corn stalks of the field that separated us from the graves.

                There were sounds in the trees outside my window that night. Snarls and screams, hissing and retching. My brother and I pulled our father—bleary-eyed with sleep—into our room and huddled together against the far wall, watching the moonlit needles of the pines quake with movement. We prayed that night; prayed and did not sleep until the long after the sun rose.

                That day, we found the torn remains of a raccoon, its paws missing, its eyes and jaw torn from its head. My father said it could have been a wolf, but it would be odd for a wolf to be that far from the northern forest, and stranger still that it would leave so much of its meal. There was surprisingly little blood, and the carcass appeared wet with something like water, which my father was quick to attribute to the summer’s dew.

                The sounds did not come again that night. We slept. The sounds did not come again the next night, and soon a week passed without event. I had been frightened from my seat on the old iron radiator that lay like a bench below the window after that first night, but soon found myself back on that seat, the metal beneath me cold as it rested, unused and unwanted in the summer heat. A few more nights passed, and while I did not hear the chilling sounds of the first night, I thought at one point I saw an orb of red picking its way through the growing rows of corn. I did not think of it beyond a passing curiosity. 

                The little girl had taken sick, or so I was told by her sisters. They danced among the gravestones with us as if nothing happened. They said her fingers were red where they had touched the red granite of the List. I tucked the words in the back of my head. Perhaps I was preparing myself.

                A few nights later, I found myself at the window, staring out across the moonlit field, down towards the graves lit with the artificial glow of the amber security light. I rested my forehead against the cool glass, and I must admit that I began to doze. My eyelids drew down across my vision, and moments before sleep took me, I swear that I saw a faint red light along the edge of the church.

                My friend, I tell you this in all earnestness. You know that I am a man prone to exaggeration and embellishment, but the things I am about to say are unaltered! Again, I plead that you listen only with the intent to never seek that place, that towering List, and those worn gravestones carved with German names! What I tell you now is the truth, and it will be the thing I see as I lay dying, as I fear that I die a bit more each time I think of it!

                I woke slowly at the window, perhaps because of a sound like the soft swish of grass crushed under a foot. Perhaps it was only the creaking of the old house, but I awoke all the same, paralyzed instantly by that which unfolded across my waking eyes.

                A sound like muttering; like old, stern German hymns thrummed through the glass my forehead rested upon. The moon pressed its rays like a leaden hand, down onto the corn, down onto the graves so eerily close in distance. No night-sounds of crickets or tiny frogs came to my ears. Even the old parsonage seemed to hold its breath as the grim dirge plucked its way up from the bottom of the gently sloping hill.

                And things danced around the List! Things I dare not describe for fear that I will slip into a gibbering madness! Things at once human and all too inhuman! They stumbled about on insect legs, dipping and swaying, their arms like the back limbs of grasshoppers, bending as human arms aught not bend as they fumbled about the towering granite marker.

                With horror, I watched them carouse and prance about the names of the dead. My mouth opened to scream, but yet no sound issued from it. I stared, watching the tall, dancing forms with eyes like bloody moons move around and around to a music I could not—and wish never to—hear. The List itself seemed to thrum with them, pulsing a softer red light in the hungry darkness.

                I screamed then, but not for the things dancing around the List. Not for the sudden thump against the window, though it jarred me more than a blow to the chest. Not for the hand that created the thump, all black and long, with more fingers than a human hand and long, thin nails at its fingertips like those used to fix Christ to the cross.

                Not for the creature at the end of the arm, black as shadow--the embodiment of light’s absence, as it stared from the other side of the chilled glass with eyes like hellish red moons. Not even for the crying cackle that issued from thin black lips past a set of teeth like long, inky spines.

                Not even for the myriad of eyes like its own that turned from the cornfield and gazed at me without a shred of humanity, and yet with a malice like that of the most deranged murderer.

                No, my friend, I screamed for the little bundle that the thing the window held in its arms. I screamed because as I looked down, it turned its face to me; a face filled with teeth like black spines and eyes like gaping, glowing wounds.

                And hair the yellow of corn silk.