Chase stared out the same bus window he stared out of every day, one row from the last on the driver’s side. The very last seat had a back window and door, making him more vulnerable to the world. He liked the worlds created by his imagination much better, because he held control over them, for the most part.
He unrolled another candy, chewed it, and flattened the wrapper, laying it on the stack with the others. It was Halloween Day at Fosting Elementary. Chase wore his brother’s old werewolf costume from when he was a kid.
Chase’s heart raced as the bus pulled away from the middle school and headed up the hill for the high schoolers. He took deep breaths to calm his nerves as the bus stopped. He heard the laughs he loathed, standing on the curb.
He panicked, realizing he was still in costume and was sure to be bullied. Chase quickly through his hoodie over his costume as heavy feet stomped down the aisle, further back than the middle where they usually sat.
He felt the pressure in his seat change as a body much larger than his sat next to him.
“This seat taken, freak boy?” asked Matt, as he swiped off the candy wrappers.
Matt Stockly lived at the end of Chase’s road. He was four years older than Chase, and feared by all of the elementary students. He and his sister lived at home with his dad, an old war veteran. His older brother said that Mr. Stockly is crazy, and Chase thought that made sense given the way Matt acted most of the time.
Matt snatched the bag of candy from his hands and picked through it, tossing the pieces he didn’t like to his friend, Corey, leaving only a box of raisins and a mint.
Chase was silent as always. It wasn’t that he couldn’t talk, but one day the previous year, he stopped.
“Cool shirt, loser. Mommy get you that?”
Chase looked down at the front of his hooded sweatshirt that read “Super!”
“So, why don’t you tell all of us what you learned today,” said Matt, picking up Chase’s backpack from the seat. Chase sat still, because fighting back usually made things worse. Inside he wished he was older so he could tear Matt to pieces. He unzipped it and pulled out its contents one by one, tossing them over his shoulder until he came to a folder of Chase’s drawings. Chase tried to grab it, but Matt effortlessly held him back with one arm, cycling through the drawings with his other, tossing them onto the floor of the bus as he went. They were typical fourth grade drawings—a green tyrannosaurus, a yellow lion, and a grey robot. As Matt flipped through the stolen work a chill ran down his spine. The last picture was a black gorilla like creature with bright red eyes. Something about them glaring at him stopped him dead in his tracks.
Hiding his fear, he crumbled it up and tossed it out of the window, causing Chase to clench his fists as his breaths blew stronger through his congested nostrils.
“So, Corey bet me ten dollars I couldn’t get you to talk. I took that bet. Ya wanna know why? Because it’s a sure ten dollars. So, you’re gonna stand up right now and say Matthew Bentley is cool and Chase Garren is a loser. Pretty simple, right? I know you’re stupid.”
Corey laughed like he did every time Matt insulted anyone other than him. It was like he was employed to follow Matt around and obey his every order, which usually included tormenting the younger, helpless students. Corey never caused Chase any harm when Matt didn’t show up to school, which happened frequently. The talk around town was that Corey was going to be a professional basketball player when he’s older. He was going to lead the varsity team in the state title game next Monday as a freshmen.
“Oh, and if you don’t, I’m gonna pound you in the face with both of my fists until you do, okay?”
“Merlin!” Greg called from the back porch. His cat had never strayed from home in the entire three years since it showed up at their door, presumably dumped by a human. That was a common event on Pigeon Point Drive, which was more like a trail in spots. The city didn’t care too much to fix a road only traveled by the three families that lived on it.
Greg rounded the house and looked under the old, rotting steps leading down to the basement, one of Merlin’s favorite napping places. He checked the old swing by the fire pit at the end of the lawn. He walked to the bottom of the yard where the grass met the trees of the woods. Greg cringed looking in their depth. The plentiful skinny brown branches looked like a bunch of witch’s fingers, creepily waving in the breeze for him to come inside. He hadn’t been in the woods in years.
There was always an uneasy darkness to them. No matter how happy the world seemed around them, within the trees was nothing but gloom and a few rare rays of sun shining through the thick overhead layers of old oaks trying their hardest to hold onto the steep hillsides. The hills met at the valley in the middle of the woods where the crick trickled over the cool, black rocks.
Greg used to spend hours playing in the woods. His dad built him his own little house at the valley’s bottom. It even had a loft where he spent many nights. He quit going down there after his dad passed, so he didn’t have to face the memories they had together.
Now Greg was in high school, and focused on baseball, partying with his friends, and chasing women. His younger brother Chase, on the other hand, would disappear into the woods for hours at a time. There wasn’t a day that went by that his brother didn’t go play down there.
The clouds twirled in perfect whisps against the pink sky, streaked with orange and red, which meant his brother would be home any minute. Their home was the furthest from the school, and everything really, and thus the last house on the route. The sound of an engine rumbling echoed through the trees from the other end of Pigeon Point and Greg raced around the house through the front yard. He hated that he had to tell his brother he couldn’t find their cat, yet again.
Chase looked like a miniature version of Greg, except he had more freckles than his little brother and his blonde hair was dirtier. They were seven years apart in age, but passed for twins in their baby pictures.
“How was Halloween Day?” asked Greg as the bus pattered away and disappeared behind the red and yellow autumn leaves. “You better have scored me some of those blue taffy’s I like,” said Greg, snatching the sack of candy from his brother’s hand, who didn’t even try to fight back. It wasn’t until after he looked into his empty bag that he noticed the dried blood beneath Chase’s nose.
“They hit you?! I swear to God, I’m gonna drive to their houses and tell—”
“—it’s fine,” said Chase, turning away and walking to the house. When Chase spoke to Greg, it was always in minimal words, but Greg loved every one of them. They reassured him that his brother was still in there.
“You know, in four months I’ll have my license. Know what that means? I won’t have to catch rides with Nate anymore. I’m buyin’ Dusty’s old Mustang, soon as he gets that new truck. And that means you can ride with me and not have to worry about those loser dick bags anymore. Can you wait that long?”
Chase shrugged his shoulders, kicked his shoes off on the mat, and tossed his book bag in the corner of the laundry room before changing into his play clothes. He stormed out of the front door and into the outdoors like he did every day after school, even when it rained.
Chase raced around the back yard, jumping and kicking the invading lizard army created and led by the evil wizard Zar. He swung his laser sword at every tree he sprinted past. It was an old stick his father used to plant in the garden to support the growing plants. Chase didn’t remember his father, except their time spent outside. He always liked helping him in the garden.
He came to the edge of the yard where the grass met the steep hill of trees, which was an entire army and he was planet XY9’s only hope. He used his weapon to push the briars aside, entering the woods, but with an uneasy hesitation.
He slid down the muddy escape tunnel, running from tree to tree, taking cover behind them as the enemy fired with everything they had. They couldn’t allow him to get to his ship. He would obliterate them from the turret at the base. His ship was the old playhouse his father built. It had functioning windows and a little table and chairs. He even put a lock on it and gave Greg the key, so he’d feel like it was his own little place. When Greg felt he had outgrown the imaginary life in the woods, he passed the keys on to his little brother.
“Pew!” he yelled, pointing his gun shaped hand around the rock he hid behind. They had him pinned down. He was outmatched, and nearly forced to surrender until he spotted a grenade that must have been dropped by a fellow, fallen soldier. He was the last of his squadron. He jumped and grabbed the grenade, throwing the rock as far up the hill as he could. He could hear every little branch it hit on its way down, echoing through the woods.
They fired back, breaking a piece of the space bridge. It was going to take a running jump to clear the gap, but he had no choice. He sprinted as fast as he could, but the hillside was always rather damp in the thick shade of the woods, and his left shoe slid out from under him, followed by the rest of his body. His sword went tumbling down the steep hill towards the valley of the woods below, just like himself, until coming to a halt in the thick mud at the bottom.
A little shaken, he rubbed his thumping head as he laid still for a moment, trying to gather himself. He gasped at the sight of blood on his fingertips. He pulled himself from the thick mud. The front of his clothes were coated.
His sword planted into the ground next to the old rabbit cage his father built years back, but the rabbit only lived a couple months longer. It sat in the old tool shed, collecting dust behind a bunch of other junk ever since. It was a big cage, made of heavy, sturdy wood, like the tree house. It took Chase hours to drag it down there last weekend.
He grabbed his sword from the mud and very carefully, from a far away as he could stand and still reach it, he used it to pull the blanket from the top of the cage. He looked through one eye, and covered the other while he counted himself down.
“3…2…1,” he said, removing the blanket.
The gate had been opened. It wasn’t very complicated to open, but too hard for almost any animal. There was one latch that had to be flipped upwards and slid to the left. Then the front gate could be lifted to get inside. There was nothing inside the cage but an old bloody collar, and some pieces of yellow fur here and there. With mixed emotions he picked up the collar and rubbed away the dried blood from the tag that read “Merlin.”
“Chase?” screeched a voice from his backyard.
He jumped, so frightened he fell backwards, now covering both sides of himself in mud. In a panic, he darted up the hill so fast he forgot to grab his sword.
Exhausted, he emerged from the woods, falling right between a pair of block heeled pumps.
“Where in the Hell have you been? What did I tell you two days ago? I said no more going in the woods after dark. What the hell do you even do down there that’s so fun?” asked his mother, glaring down into the eerie trees. The fog sifted inward through the frail branches, like it was being sucked into the black center.
Chase looked up from his knees to his mother towering over him with folded arms and a vexed expression.
“I made dinner. I hope it’s alright cold. Do you know what time it is?”
Chase said nothing, but she was used to answering her own questions.
“It’s 6:30. Why do I have to go to work all day, come home and spend hours in the kitchen, and then have to come and find you because you don’t have the respect to show up to dinner with your mother and brother? Your brother already ate because he had to get to practice and–What the hell happened to your head? You’re a muddy mess. Get inside and get cleaned up. Now!”
They sat across from one another at the dinner table. She asked questions and he replied with his usual yes and no nods and questions that required him to speak were left unanswered. She mother glared at him, only breaking contact to look into her glass as she swirled her red wine.
“I got another call from the school. Mrs. Bartels says you haven’t turned in any assignment for two weeks. She said your last spelling test had a drawing on it. No words, just a picture of some make-believe creature,” she said, taking a large sip from her glass.
“I want to help you, Chase, but there’s only so much I can do for you. You won’t say a word to the tutor. You lie to me and tell me you don’t have homework when you do. Now you’re not even doing the work at school either.”
Chase stared into his food with no more signs of life than the porkchop while his mother wiped a tear from her right eye.
“School isn’t optional. Life isn’t optional, Chase! You can’t just live in your fairytales forever. Your teachers probably think I’m some kind of shitty parent. What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to tell them the truth? My son is a freak and I don’t know what to do with him?”
She massaged her aching head with one hand while blindly reaching for her wine with the other, accidentally knocking the glass from the table. Chase watched as the red liquid swam across the white tile like a snake.
She looked to the tiny shards and felt herself relating. Her husband was taken at the hands of a drunk driver, leaving her to raise Chase and Greg on her own. She couldn’t help but feel like she was failing, but she didn’t know what to do anymore. Chase had seen every specialist and psychiatrist within three hours of Pigeon Point.
“Why? Why Chase? Why are you like this?!”
Beneath the table, Chase twirled his thumbs around one another as he stared out of the window into the yard.
“Go, then. Go be outside, alone. That’s all you’re ever going to be. I wish your father could see you. I wish he could be he to see us and know I’m trying and know its not me. I’m normal. I’m normal! It’s you!”
Chase’s twirling thumbs froze, tucking themselves within his clenched fists. With a swipe of his arm, he cleared his plate of dinner from the table and leapt onto it using all fours like some sort of animal. Sounding like a wild beast, breathing frantically through his congested nose, he scurried across until he was right in his mother’s face, and then he broke his silence with the most terrifying roar he could make, with all his fingers curved towards his mother like claws.
Screaming, she fell backwards in her chair. Chase jumped off the table and sprinted up the stairs into his room, slamming the door behind him, and his mother laid in her wine and tears, weeping so loud a neighbor could hear, had they had any.
Chase got himself up and ready for school on his own, like he did most mornings. His brother never came home the night before and his mother leaves him a sacked lunch next to his jacket and book bag before she heads out the door at five. To his surprise, she was standing in the place of his brown bag. She presented herself with angst, and it spread to Chase like a virus, as he slowly descended the stairs.
“You won’t need your backpack. You’re not going to school today.”
The wind tossed sheets of rain onto the hood of his mother’s car. Chase watched the tiny streams run down his window. He followed the journey of an individual drop as it zig-zagged, sometimes pausing and then taking off like a rocket. The street signs looked more like neon smudges in dark as the sun rose over the bank on East Main Street behind them.
His mother put the car in park, pulled her hood up and braved the storm. She opened Chase’s door to reveal a sign that read “Dr. Hoffer’s.”
“I appreciate you doing this for me, Nancy,” Chase’s mother said to the receptionist. “I know Dr. Hoffer is a very busy man, but everyone else turned us away on such short notice. Last night was one of his worst episodes.”
Nancy was a long term friend of his mother who worked as the assistant for the psychiatrist in the nearby town, Beallsville.
When his mother called in tears, she knew it was important. The door to the waiting room opened, revealing the tall bald man with round glasses and a gray handlebar mustache.
“Hello, Chase. What has it been, a couple months? Anyways, come with me. I’d love to hear about what you’ve been up to,” said the doctor with his hand extended, and like a walking mannequin, Chase took his hand and into his office they went.
“The growling?” asked Nancy. His mother nodded, fighting back the tears as she dabbed the corner of her right eye with her wadded up tissue. “Dr. Hoffer is the best. If anyone can help Chase, its him.”
The two of them talked for an hour while Chase was in the back. They exchanged stories of the latest town gossip. Greg’s baseball coach and art teacher had been sleeping with one of the baseball moms. And Mr. and Mrs. Ogden were going to buy out the corner cafe that everyone loved and turn it into a hardware store.
Suddenly their eyes turned to the white door. There was a thud followed by screams, but they weren’t Chase’s.
The door bursted open to a fluttered Dr. Hoffer. He put his back to the door as Chase walked between it, staying as far away from the child as he could.
“Doctor? Is everything alright?” asked his mother.
“I’m afraid Chase is presenting problems unlike any I’ve addressed. They may be beyond my abilities. I’ve written three more refills for his prescription. We’re not going to schedule any future appointments at this time.”
“But, I don’t understand. Isn’t there some–”
“–have a good day,” said Dr. Hoffer, shutting the door behind him with force, as if to keep everything on the other side of it away from him.
The car ride home was mostly silent, other than the gasps that forced their way out of his mother’s mouth, when emotions won the battle over her best effort to suppress them.
The weather didn’t change Chase’s routine, nor did it alter his mother’s. He ran upstairs and traded his nice clothes for his play clothes. He looked across the hall at his brother’s open door and let himself in. He needed his weapons for the woods. He opened the bottom drawer and pushed aside his brother’s boxers, revealing the Puukko knife his brother had won at the Pumpkin Festival two weeks ago. He told Chase he could have it in a few years, but Chase saw where he hid it. He was back through the door before his mother finished pouring her glass of wine. Tonight’s was taller than most.
Chase found a long, thin stick that had fallen from the maple tree in his backyard. He snapped the curved end off over his knee, leaving him with a mostly straight spear, his weapon of choice on the front lines. He was the king of an ancient warrior tribe on planet Tali, and he was leading the front lines into battle. He raced across the back yard, screaming a cry of war. He threw his spear as hard as he could and watched it spiraled into the trees towards the valley of the woods.
The war moved from the plains to the trees, as only he and a couple of his men remained. They had no choice but to fight gorilla style, being as heavily outnumbered as they were. He pulled his dagger from his side and sneakily made his way from one tree to the next. He looked to the sky through the branches overhead. The sun was being replaced by the moon. It was getting hard to see. The woods would soon be pitch black. Then his heart began to race. Just on the other side of the valley, a yellow glow descended the hill. He stayed perfectly still, up against the tree. He tried to listen, but all he could hear was his own heart pounding.
Matt lived on the other end of Pigeon Point Road. His dad was always obnoxiously drunk at the local pub, which made it easy for Matt and Corey to steal from his liquor shelf. They sat around a fire passing a bottle at the bottom of the yard, where the grass met the woods. The same woods that Chase spent most of his free time playing out his fictional missions. The sun had nearly fallen behind the hills and the country sky filled with shades of purple and orange over Matt’s old house with most of the white paint chipped away.
“I took another drink, now you have to. That’s how it works,” Matt said to Corey, who was pale in the face, holding his turning stomach with one hand and the nearly empty bottle of whiskey in the other.
In fear of looking like a wimp to Matt, Corey forced another pull down his throat, but it came back up much faster.
“HAHAHA, you pussy!” yelled Matt, snatching the bottle from his hand and taking himself another drink. “I’m bored. We need something to do.”
“I need some food. You guys got anything good?”
“We’re not eating, we’re drinking,” said Matt.
He held the bottom of the bottle to the air and let the last drops fall on his tongue before he chucked it towards the road, listening as it shattered against the gravel.
“Why you always gotta draw attention to us?” asked Corey, wiping the string of vomit hanging from his mouth with his sleeve.
“Draw attention to us? Who in the hell can hear us? Look around you. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Mr. Ackerman is like eighty years old and can’t hear shit. The only other house within five miles is that little bitch Chase and his mom.”
“And his brother,” added Corey. “You know, the one that banged your sister?”
“What the hell did you just say to me?” asked an angry Matt, shoving Corey backwards off his chair and onto the grass. He hit his head off the cool ground, and the world began to spin even more than before.
Greg slept with Matt’s older sister, and the sophomores let him hear about it at lunch every single day. Greg made him the laughing stock of the lunch room and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Easy, man. Relax! I’m just fuckin’ with you!” yelled Corey with his hands up, as Matt held him by the collar of his shirt with his left fist. His other was cocked back ready to swing.
“Talk about my sister again and I’ll beat your ass. That douchebag Greg’s lucky I’m not a senior or I’d beat his ass, too. How the hell are him ‘n’ that weirdo Chase related? Kid’s a freak. I’d probably do it myself if I were Greg and he was my little brother.”
Matt’s eyes lit up at his own words as his anger focused on something attainable.
“I think I just got an idea,” said Matt. “My sister said every time she was over there hanging with Greg, that Chase would go play in the woods.”
“So, I said I’m bored. And you got me fired up talking about that douchebag and my sister. So, if I can’t beat Greg’s ass, I guess his little brother is the closest thing.”
“It’s almost 7:30. He’s not gonna be out playing in the woods in the dark. Besides, my big games Monday. The whole town is counting on me. I need to get home.”
“That’s the thing,” started Matt, changing the subject to something other than Corey being more successful than himself. “She said he always waited until the sun was going down. You said it yourself, he’s a fuckin’ weirdo. I guess he has a little playhouse down there. She says he spends more time in it than their own house. Even sleeps in it sometimes on the weekend.”
“I’m not goin’ in there,” said Corey, looking at the eerie woods. He always had a weird feeling about them. Truthfully, he didn’t like to hangout at Matt’s fire pit because they were so close to the woods. He would never admit that to Matt in fear of him telling the other freshmen and making him sound like a baby.
“First, you puke. Then, you insult my sister. You’re pretty much a bitch to me, right now. Do you wanna stay a bitch, or do you wanna be cool again? Now, come on!”
Corey couldn’t stop thinking about the numerous dangers like potential predators that chose the woods as their home. Just last month Matt’s dog went missing. He always ran away when he broke his chain, but this time he never came back. He stared down his long legs at the tip of his boots that he nervously kicked together. Everything about the idea of going into the woods settled uneasily in his churning stomach, but he was too afraid to tell Matt no, and agreed to his alpha friend.
The two of them carefully descended the steep hill of trees. Matt led the way, with a flashlight in his mouth. It was so steep, that he needed both hands to reach from tree to tree, while he scooted down on his bottom.
Corey looked down into the blackness below and couldn’t help but feel uneasy. He looked up to the yellow circle in the sky. It looked like a scary painting hanging overhead, the way the dark grey silhouettes of the clouds passed in front of the full moon. The ground squished beneath his shoes with each step. He had already acquired a number of new cuts on his arms from the sharp briars that consumed most of the hillside.
“It’s almost dark, man. I can’t see shit. I say we head back. We’ll go get more alcohol from your dad’s stash and play video games or something.”
“You know, you’re really starting to piss me off. We’re almost there. Now, come on!”
“Easy for you to say. You have a flashlight. Will you at least turn it back here so I can see?”
Matt pulled the flashlight from his mouth and shined it on the ground in front of Corey, who was trying to carefully jump from the rock onto the hill below, but it was steep and damp.
There was a loud bang at the bottom of the hill. Just when Corey was about to jump, Matt quickly turned his flashlight towards the noise and that’s when he saw the windows of the little house glare in the light.
Unable to see, Corey landed sideways and felt a snap in his ankle. He screamed as he rolled down the hill, hitting his body into rocks, trees, and briars the entire way down before planting into the thick mud at the bottom.
“AWWWWLLL FUCK!” screamed Corey, gripping his ankle from his back. “I think it’s broken! HELP!”
“Oh shit!” yelled Matt, running down the hill as quickly as he could. He knelt into the mud and examined the crooked ankle, now nearly puking himself.
“I fuckin’ told you, man! I told you this was a bad idea! What the fuck are we gonna do?!”
“Give me a second, alright?!” said Matt, standing back and running his hands through his hair, trying to think, but was panicking himself.
Then he heard another loud clunking noise from the direction of the cabin. He tilted the flashlight upwards and pointed it right on the playhouse. He slowly rose, taking a step towards it.
“Where are you going?! We need to get—”
“—SHH!” ordered Matt, slowly walking to the eerie building in the yellow glow, ignoring Corey’s cries of pain. The old wood had been weathered in the damp forest bottom and the white paint was chipped away in most parts. It reminded him of an old haunted house from the movies. Matt gasped as a black silhouette raced past the window from the inside of the cabin, stopping him dead in his tracks. Something about the way it moved resonated uneasily with him.
“I gotcha now, you little fucker,” he said to himself, in an attempt to draw enough courage to approach the structure.
Matt trucked towards the cabin, having to forcefully pull each step from the mud, until eventually the mud won the tug war, and kept his right shoe. He fell forwards, planting his hands in the mud. The flashlight landed between them, illuminating another set of handprints on the ground. He looked up to find both a set of handprints and footprints, walking on all fours all the way to the door of the playhouse.
Aggravated he had fallen and ruined his shoes, he started towards the house again. Rolling up his sleeves, he warned, “You better yell for mama or big brother, because now I’m pissed off! You can yell, can’t ya? I guess we’re gonna find out!”
The door was cracked, but he kicked it wide open, revealing a room that looked like a tornado ran through it. All the tables and chairs had been tipped over. He knelt, examining some ripped up fabric under the flashlight. One of the torn pieces read “Sup—” and another “—er!”
There was a ruffle from the loft above. Matt jumped up and climbed the ladder just in time to catch the traces of a shadow. He crawled across the loft to the little window and shined the light below, but there was no one. Just footprints and handprints. He tried to squeeze out of the window, but he was too large.
Matt jumped to the floor and ran to the door just in time to see it slam in his face. He heard keys jingling and locks turning, and suddenly he was trapped. He pounded on it, screaming, “Open this fucking door right now or I swear you’re gonna wish you were never born, freak!”
He hurried to the side window, but it was no use. He was too large. He called for his friend as he beat on the glass, but Corey couldn’t even stand up.
“Corey! Corey, I’m stuck! That little fucker locked me in!”
He heard his friend scream back, but not in reply.
“No! Help! STOP! PLEASE!” and like someone turned the power off on a speaker, he went from screaming to silent.
Matt began frantically looking around the playhouse for something to arm himself with, but all he found was a busted leg of the table. He cocked it like a baseball bat, ready to swing he warned, “I have a weapon. I’m not playing anymore. If you come in that door, I’m gonna fuck you up, loser!”
He stayed perfectly silent other than his nervous chattering teeth. There was a loud bang against the outside of the door.
“Corey?” asked Matt, trying to catch his breath. He wearily laid his head against the door and listened. Something was on the other side. He heard the breaths of what sounded like a wild beast, breathing heavily through its nose. He ran to the side window, but he couldn’t see anything. It was dark and foggy in the wooded bottom.
Matt breathed on the glass and wiped it with his sleeve, peering back into the blackness. Suddenly, something slammed into the glass from the outside, and he screamed, falling backwards over the tipped chair. He heard the growl of a creature he had never heard before. It sounded vicious. That’s when he saw the eyes peering through the window. A set of eyes so red they nearly glowed. He couldn’t make out the facial features in the glass as the breaths fogged it up. Then, he saw a finger drawing on the steamed glass. It drew a creature on fours, just like the picture he threw out of the bus window.
He heard one more yelp from Corey, and then the drawing was completed with two red, bloody fingerprints for eyes. Matt sat with his head between his legs, wishing he would wake up from the nightmare. Then he heard the keys jingle, and his heart sank as he watched the lock turn from left to right.