“This is a crappy idea.”
“Shut up, Sammy. We all voted like you said and everyone chose my idea!”
“The wrong idea, you mean.”
The argument was brief and quiet. Short little bursts of air from tiny little people trying so hard to be the adults they were seeking. The biggest one, Sammy, wasn’t particularly happy with the way things had gone since they voted. After all, she didn’t think a kid as small as Riley was fit to be choosing plans. It had nothing to do with the fact that the plan in question involved them facing the thing that squatted at the center of town. The thing that had taken all of the adults from their little town. The thing that looked like a big pile of sick that had been painted black. No, Sammy wasn’t afraid or anything. After all, she still remembered what her mom and dad had taught her about bad and good. There were stories that went along with the lessons too, and she remembered the pictures best. The bright colors always won at the end of the story. Always.
“Are you two done fighting?”
Sammy glared back at the two younger children that stood scowling at Riley and her. She wanted to respond, but bit back a comment, remembering how much better and louder the little ones were when it came to arguing.
“…Yeah, we’re done.”
Riley didn’t say a word, but just turned away from Sammy and continued leading their little group further into the town. They’d learned to be smarter about moving around since the first few days. Sammy’s cheeks burned as she remembered how they’d learned. They’d had a much bigger group before, almost all of the kids that had been left after the thing arrived. At first it had seemed like a gift, a town with no parents and no rules, but then they learned that the thing wasn’t alone. During the day, it just sat in the center of town, awake but immobile. But during the night? It slept, and all of its nightmares were let loose upon the town. The nightmares found the kids easily due to their rampant revelry, and Sammy struggled to not remember. It didn’t matter, they were smart now. They had learned. They moved during the day, and hid at night. That way the nightmares couldn’t find them and they could fix all of this. Just like she remembered, the bright colors would win at the end of the story.
Riley kept talking about how the thing could be beat. How maybe it could even be talked to, and that maybe this whole thing was just like hide and go seek or something. The younger ones liked that idea, and so had agreed with Riley’s idea to seek it out. Sammy’s thoughts were too difficult to accept. But then, they were a whole grade behind him. Maybe she was that dumb back when she was that young, as well. Sammy couldn’t really remember if that was the case.
Riley’s voice cut Sammy out of her thoughts, and she refocused. The two younger children pushed past her, and one of them turned away with tears in his eyes. Part of Sammy wanted to sneer at what a big baby he was being, but instead she just moved past to look for herself how bad it could be.
“Is that it?”
Sammy asked the question without even thinking, shoving a hand into her jacket pocket to feel her brother’s necklace so that she wouldn’t turn away like the others had. The thing had gotten a lot bigger than she remembered it being, and it had been big before. She remembered how before it had squatted in the center of the park like an inflatable tree left in the rain, but now there was no park left. Just the thing.
“I don’t like this idea anymore, what if it doesn’t want to listen, like Sammy said!”
The others pleaded with the two children not to move forward, and Riley seemed torn with whether or not to agree with them. He turned to Sammy, and she realized for the first time that the younger boy was just as scared as she was.
“Should we turn back?”
Sammy wanted to nod and say to run away, but she knew that meant another night of hiding and remembering things. She shook her head.
“No.” Sammy struggled with the second bit, the words coming out with some difficulty. “I was wrong, we need to try.” She struggled not to look as sick as saying the words made her feel.
Riley and the others just nodded and followed as Sammy took her first few steps towards what used to be the park. As they neared it, the thing seemed to move, like a pitch black pile of chocolate pudding stirring itself. Sammy found that if she stared too hard at the details of the thing’s surface, her eyes hurt like she was staring into the sun. She heard Riley stumble behind him, and reached back to catch the younger child’s arm, looking away from the thing to make sure that Riley and the others were alright. As Sammy lifted Riley to his feet, she realized that he was staring back at him with tears in his eyes.
“Hey, it’s alright, we’re gonna be fine.” The last few words of Sammy’s sentence died in her throat as she realized that Riley was looking past her. She turned slowly, and found another eye staring back at all of them.
The eye was massive and amber, and the pitch black pupil in the center felt as big as Sammy's head and looked to be as bottomless as the sky. Sammy stumbled backwards and shoved her hand into her jacket pocket. The eye floated upwards in response, and the black sickness parted to form a wide smile. Sharp triangular teeth and thin yellow gums quickly filled it in to complete the image.
Sammy quickly realized that she was still backing up, and so stopped herself in her tracks, holding tight onto her brother’s necklace with one hand and Riley’s hand with the other. She struggled to look at the eye instead of the threatening smile that seemed wider than her house had been.
“W H Y H A V E Y O U C O M E S O C L O S E, L I T T L E O N E S?”
The teeth parted to speak the words, and Sammy gasped in pain. She could feel its words in her head, and she heard the sobs and screams of her friends behind him. She squeezed her brother’s necklace in her hand and tried to fight through the pain to respond.
“You took people from us!”
Sammy realized she was screaming, but didn’t care. She was proud words even issued from her throat, her mind struggling to keep her speaking in the wake of the thing’s presence.
The horrible, sickening thing studied the children with its one massive eye for a moment before widening its smile.
“Y O U C O U L D J O I N T H E M, L I T T L E O N E. A L W A Y S R O O M F O R M O R E.”
Sammy felt Riley’s grip slacken as they both dropped to the ground screaming from the pain of the monster’s words. She knew she should look back to help the younger child, but refused to back down and look away from the thing. It simply stared back at her and opened its mouth, as if to allow the children entry. Sammy finally allowed herself to turn away as the eye vanished into the wet pudding that the thing was made of. Riley and the others sat on the ground wailing and crying, and after kneeling down to lift them to their feet, Sammy realized she was doing the same. Her cheeks burned, and her shirt were soaked. She pulled her brother’s necklace out of her jacket pocket and placed it around her neck before turning back to the thing’s still-gaping maw.
Sammy took a step forward towards the opening and swore she could hear something inside. She took another step closer when she realized that the sound seemed to be voices, and another step when she recognized some of them. They couldn’t see anything in the mouth, but she knew they were in there.
She could hear them, they had to be.
She could bring them back.
She could also faintly hear screaming, but it seemed to grow weaker and weaker the closer she got to the thing’s vast opening.
She struggled to remember the words her father had taught him from one of the stories as she walked into the gaping gateway. She spoke them out loud, as if trying to sound out her thoughts.
“…though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil…”