's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" Gone "

Submitted by Alexis Feynman

It had been an uneventful evening. A Saturday, a day with family, an evening of hot beef stew and a couple of episodes of Awful Hospital. My aunt and her two kids had decided to stop by for the weekend, so the evening was a little rowdier than usual, but the kids were tucked in at nine-fifteen sharp, and an hour later I was ready to drop off myself. I took just one pit stop, to feed the fish and shut off their overhead lamp, before I crawled into my big double bed and tucked in for a good night's sleep.

Only then, with the lights off and my thoughts spilling out into the silence of the night, did I realize that something was missing.

I couldn't put my finger on what, though. At first I thought I'd forgotten something, but as my mind played over the day's events everything seemed to be in place. Aunt Mel came by at two, we chatted, the day wore on, we had dinner, and the rest, of course, I already knew. Just to be safe, I climbed out of bed and double-checked the fish, but their light was off and I could just make out a bit of food floating through their tank. There didn't seem to be anything amiss.

I climbed back into bed, turning so I faced both the wide side and the window opposite. I shivered a bit at the faint sight of rolling hills; I had always hated sleeping next to an open window. It made me feel exposed, vulnerable. That's why Bill always volunteered to-

Wait. Who the fuck was Bill?

I combed through my memories more carefully this time, but I couldn't find him anywhere in them. It seemed like he was supposed to be someone I knew. Someone I shared a bed with, evidently, which was weird because I'd been single for years. I had a cat, for Pete's sakes. Bill never would have put up with that, because-

Now what was I doing, thinking that he had a cat allergy? I blinked several times, trying to clear that idea from my head. What a weirdly detailed memory. It must have been something I watched on TV at some point; probably a character I'd crushed on and then forgotten about. Those things tended to happen when your only regular company was a cat.

Still, the night sky was fucking creepy.

I forced my eyes shut and told myself to ignore it. Sleeping next to an open window hadn't hurt me for the last quarter of a century, and it probably wasn't going to start now. With a blanket hitched up around my chin, and my arms tightly wrapped around my pillow, I finally managed to lull myself into some sense of safety.

I was just about to drift off when a heavy THUMP hit the bed next to me. I nearly panicked, and scrambled around for something to attack with, until I heard a telltale purring and looked over to see my cat curling his fat ass up on the mattress. "Dammit, Lucifer," I grumbled. "NOW you decide you want to sleep with me."

In response, he turned the other way and promptly passed out, oblivious to the faint shadows that crept over the landscape outside. Damn cat. He never seemed to care.

From the next room, I heard one of my aunt's telltale snores.

I tried to fall asleep again, but it wasn't as easy this time. My heart was still going a little faster than normal, and even though I closed my eyes, I found them drifting open every few seconds. I'd end up staring out the window, darting my eyes cautiously over the scenery, searching for something - ANYTHING - to justify my nerves. I thought about giving Lucifer a stroke, just to calm myself, but I didn't want to wake him up - and petting a sleeping cat, when they were still and silent, was usually more strange than soothing. Instead, I focused on my breathing, and played a quiet song in my head. Gradually, the world faded and took my nerves with it.

I woke to a thin, angry growling noise coming from my right. At first I thought it was my stomach and the sound was bouncing off the wall, but when it didn't quiet down I carefully rolled over and glanced toward the window. My eyes searched the darkness carefully, but to no avail - there was nothing outside but the same night, lit by the same full moon.

Then I saw a shadow that didn't belong, creeping across the window. Swirling, twisting, but strangely humanlike, in a way I couldn't fully explain or get my head around. A hand - long, wavy, barely real - reached across the glass, and before I knew what I was doing, I'd spun around and clenched my eyes and tucked myself into my blanket.

The growling stopped.

It took a few painful, terrified seconds before my pulse began to slow and I could ease my eyes open. Now you're losing it, Brian, I told myself. There couldn't really be anything out the window. Just to prove it, I rolled myself back over and slowly, reluctantly, glanced across the empty bed to the sill. I froze there for a moment, afraid to look beyond, but steeled my nerves; my gaze darted up cautiously, back down, and then up again, confirming what I already knew.

It was, of course, the same night sky as it had been for the past hour or two. Nothing out of the ordinary.

It did remind me that I really needed to do something about that window, though. I had no idea why I'd put my bed there in the first place, and I turned away from the window again. It wouldn't have been so bad if there was someone else laying there - even a cat or a dog would be nice, but the landlord had been very strict about non-fish pets. I just had to lay here and deal with my lingering terror, jealous of my aunt's loud snoring as she slept without a care. At least someone could get some rest around here-

Her snoring abruptly stopped.

My breath caught in my throat. I panicked, remembering the shadowy thing I thought I'd seen at the window, and wondered if something had happened to my aunt. But it couldn't have, I reasoned. It struck me as important that her room had a large blanket pinned over the window, to keep out the cold. Would that make a difference? I wasn't sure, but it seemed like it should.

I waited for the noise to come back, but it didn't, and an agonizing minute passed in which I tried to convince myself that she had not suddenly died.

Then a creak sounded in the hallway, and I almost laughed to myself. She was going to the bathroom. Of course.

Confident that everything was all right, I leaned back in my bed, reaching out to give Lucifer a reassuring scratch. My hand found only a cold blanket.

I flew into panic mode immediately, bolting out of bed and yanking my blankets away before remembering that I didn't have a cat. Maybe I'd dreamt I had one - the memory seemed pretty fresh in my mind, of a fat obnoxious kitty sleeping next to me. But wait... why wouldn't Bill have been in bed? I was pretty sure my husband would have taken the spot over the cat. When he got out of the bathroom, we'd probably have a laugh.

Fuck, wait. That wasn't my husband in the bathroom. I wasn't even MARRIED. In fact, last time I'd checked there wasn't anyone in the bathroom. I thought I remembered my aunt going in there, but hadn't she been dead for years? She'd left my uncle with two kids, my two young cousins who were snoring gently in the next room, and he'd pretty much been looking after them by himself.

I dropped the blankets, my eyes drifting toward the window as I tried to wrestle my memories into something coherent. Then I saw it again - the thin, hazy fingers of a shadowed hand.

Fuck reason. I seized the closest fistful of fabric that I could, then crossed the room and slid behind the desk, wrapping myself in thick plaid and staring fearfully at the wall behind my bed. I could just make out the silhouette, slipping across the window, over to the room where my cousins were sleeping.

Where, in another reality just a second ago, they'd been sleeping with their mother.

These weren't dreams, and this time I was sure. They were memories. Aunt Mel's was still almost fresh; part of me still expected the water in the bathroom to come on as she washed her hands. But the rest knew that she'd never been there to use the toilet at all. Lucifer felt more like a strange dream, a presence that I still expected to hang around but that would fade with time. And the last one... the empty space in the bed...

My mind struggled to remember ANYTHING about the man who should be there now. But his loss was something that I felt, rather than remembered. I tried to latch on to my earlier recollections - me complaining when he pushed the bed against the wall. Windows at night give me the willies, I said.

He laughed. "I'm taking the window side. You'll be fine."

"What about you, then?"

"Well, I'm not a little kid who's still scared of the dark."

It felt faint, like a scene from a movie, but I clung to it, as if remembering would bring them all back somehow. Something told me that it wouldn't help, that they weren't just gone. Somehow, all three of them - Bill, Lucifer, and Aunt Mel - had been erased. That memory, though - it seemed to be a clue. Uncovered windows - there was one in my room, and one in the bathroom, where people had disappeared. And my aunt hadn't vanished until she left her own room, which seemed to be secure.

I had to stop it somehow. I had to block the windows, do something to save my cousins. My bedroom was a lost cause; that window was HUGE and I would only put myself in danger getting close to it. But there were so many other places - the window at the end of the hall had blinds, and though the living room windows didn't, I had enough blankets to cover them all, if I could keep from being seen long enough to put them up.

There was only one problem: the blankets were still on the bed, and I didn't dare risk going back to that open window. Desperately, I uncurled and pushed myself flat onto the floor, snaking an arm until I could reach the nearest one, keeping an eye on the wall should that shadow return. As soon as my fingers grasped fleece, I seized a fistful and yanked the entire mess toward me, knocking something off the nightstand with loud CLUNK.

I froze then, thinking for sure that would get their attention, but it didn't seem to matter; it seemed they were long gone. Or was it just that I couldn't see them? I didn't care; I was alive, and I was getting out of that room before anything else could happen. It took a few moments of struggle, trying to hold my bulging, heavy bundle, hunching my back so I couldn't be seen from the far window. Only after I'd secured both the bathroom and bedroom doors did I feel a modicum of safety.

All right. The living room windows couldn't be seen from here, and the hall window was a simple matter of holding a quilt up in front of me. It made the walk slow going - I bumped into an end table that I couldn't see and had forgotten about. I moved more slowly than that, focused on keeping the heavy blanket from falling, despite my shaking arms. I became slightly aware that the plan seemed to be working, and in just a few steps I'd have reached my goal - then I stepped on something thick, and the bunched yarn was yanked suddenly from my hands.

I collapsed to the floor on impulse - eyes away from the window - and waited to disappear, but when a second or two had passed and my heart continued to pound, I realized I hadn't been caught. I was still, miraculously, alive. I had every intention of staying that way, but no desire to waste any more time - I grabbed the blanket and made a run for it, almost crashing into the wall before I could stop myself. Clumsily, trying to keep my shield up with one hand, I twisted the catch for the blinds - NO, WAIT, THEY'RE COMING OPEN, TURN THEM BACK, TURN THEM BACK - my hand scrambled, twisted, slipped more than once. Finally, the blinds eased shut, and I collapsed to the floor, shaking, half-sobbing, ready to cover myself with the blanket and just wait out the night here on the floor.

"Uncle Bri-"

I screamed involuntarily and lashed out at the voice, only stopping when I felt my arm hit solid flesh. A new kind of panic took me as I opened my eyes and looked at a very confused Mikey, who had her hands held out in surrender. Gasping air back into my lungs, I pulled my arm back and mumbled an apology.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said. My voice came out much harder than I'd planned it to - and more terrified - but I didn't have time to sound composed. "I'm fine. Go back to bed."

"...Sure. I'm just gonna use the bathroom."

"NO!" I sprinted past her, feeling like an idiot as I blocked the door with my body. "Sorry, man. I just really gotta go." Without thinking, I opened the door and squeezed myself inside.

The room was pitch black. I could practically feel how small it was, and I couldn't even see if there was anything outside the window. I flicked on the light, then made a mad scramble for the shower, crouching in the bathtub as I stared in the direction of the thin black slot that had exposed my aunt to whatever was out there. Mikey was knocking on the door; she knew I wasn't using the bathroom. I tried to tell her to leave, but terror seemed to rob me of all control; it was all I could do not to scream as the knob turned and the door opened.

She never had the chance to turn and see me. The room grew steadily darker - not black as before, but thick and twisted with shadows - shadows that wrapped themselves around her, and her skin turned white as plaster as her eyes faded to shadow, and the faint scream that drained from Mikey's throat seemed to fall weakly on the tiles under her feet.

I didn't feel a need to scream anymore. My limbs felt strangely loose - as though watching my cousin get taken had been cathartic, in a way. Yet I didn't feel safer, only fearful and desperate. I waited for the light to return, then found a towel and used it to stuff the bathroom window until not even a sliver of darkness could come through. I now had only myself to protect, and Terra, if she was still there - but what state was she in if she was still around? I'd almost forgotten most of the missing. Would she remember any of them? And what if I failed - if all of us were taken? If my youngest cousin and I vanished into the night, would anyone realize we'd ever existed?

It almost felt like it was too late, now. So many of them were gone. I'd protect the two of us for as long as I could - but if those things came back during the day, how long would I last? And what was the alternative? Was I really going to leave someone else here to die or disappear or whatever was happening to everyone?

No. No, I wasn't. I would take control of the situation and save both of us.

Fighting my fear with newfound determination, I stormed back into the hallway and pulled as many blankets from the closet as I could. In the end table I found safety pins and a box of thumbtacks, and I made myself a cloak and hood out of a big pink fleece, hoping the soft fabric would do something to protect me should I be seen while I worked. None of the windows in the living room faced each other, but they were close enough you could see through more than one at once. If there was any time for me to fail, it would be now.

For Terra's sake, I hoped it wasn't.

The lights were off in the living room, which made me feel a little safer - I could see what was going on behind the windows. And yet, it made me painfully aware of how exposed I was - no, not just me. The entire room. The way the furniture was laid out, on the wall opposite the windows... if they came, there was really nowhere to hide.

I tackled one of the middle windows first, knowing that it would give me coverage for the two on either side. My arms strained to reach above the frame, and once I thought I'd gotten the tack in only to have it pop loose and come crashing down. My frenzied terror at my exposure only made the struggle harder, even as I pulled myself up onto the sill, praying that my sweaty hands held their grip long enough to keep me from crashing onto the sofa...

One window covered. Only three left. Three windows that could still destroy me. I nearly panicked again, but remembered what I was doing and moved to the window on its left. Here, with the blanket in front of me and one window covered, I was protected. Even if they arrived, they couldn't see where I was standing.

Bracing myself on the couch for support, I pinned one corner up and had started on the other one when a loud CLUNK sounded from somewhere behind me. My breath hitched once more as I listened - for Terra's breathing, for anything that might tell me what had happened, whether she was safe. But I heard nothing - nothing except my own heavy breathing and the pounding of my panicked heart.

That's when I felt it - a slight chill, snaking across my abdomen, weakening my grip on the pushpin above me. I glanced down even as I struggled to stay upright, and I saw the shadow play across the thin fabric - and for a moment I thought my protection had failed, but then it moved past without another thought and I nearly dropped the blanket in relief. Catching myself at the crucial moment, I redoubled my efforts and secured the second window, then ducked down behind the sofa and watched the shadow as it passed through the rest of the room. Still I kept waiting, even after it had gone - for what, I didn't remember, until a yawn sounded from the guest room and I sighed with relief that Terra was still here.

Only two windows left. Covering either one would leave the second one - and me - exposed. I had to make a gamble, or find some kind of strategy. There were only two things I knew - that they only came at you through an uncovered window, and that whatever was outside, the thing or things or shadows, seemed to move in a predictable pattern. Right to left, right to left. That meant the leftmost window gave me the most time, and I picked up my supplies and prepared myself for another round. I tried to cheer myself up, telling myself that it was almost over, but sweat seemed to pour from every inch of me and the only blankets I had left were heavy quilts that threatened to fall at the slightest slip-up. Worse, I was exhausted - it was at least two in the morning and I'd barely slept, fueled by fear and action. I took the next steps more slowly, moving inch by deliberate inch, praying that the extra time wouldn't cost me my success.

When the first quilt was secure, I nearly toppled from my perch in relief. Now I had a wide swath of safety, and only one window - nearest the kitchen - had any opening left. I gathered the remainder of my supplies and started walking past the front door - but movement caught the corner of my eye, and I turned.

Terra was standing into the entrance of the hallway.

I wanted to move, to shoo her back to her room, but with my back facing toward the window I didn't dare take a step. I could feel the cold behind me, sliding past the front door, toward the open glass that I knew Terra could just see. I wanted to warn her, but she was already speaking, mouthing words that I couldn't hear, and the room was starting to darken, and before I knew what was happening I'd thrown off my fleece cloak and was ready to step in front of the window. Forget me, I thought. If I can save even one person this whole horrible night will be worth it.

That's what I told myself, but my body didn't move. Not from fear. Not even from an unwillingness to die. It was just that I'd been trying to read Terra's lips, and I finally realized what it was she was saying to me.

"The curtain fell down in my room, Uncle Brian."