Animals

   “Are they still here?” Tricia asked.
   “Yes,” Clive said. “They are.”

   From their place within the kitchen, in which they were shrouded from view by black curtains, they watched the moonbeam eyes pierce through the darkness and light their world whole. Even from such a vast distance away they could be seen—watching, waiting, salivating. They’d been here for a week now and so far showed no signs of going back.
   Directly opposite of Clive stood Tricia, his wife. Arms crossed over her chest and face painted in a mixture of pain, she locked her eyes on the furthest window on Clive’s side of the room and let out a sigh that made the hairs on Clive’s arms stand on end.
   Poor Tricia, he thought.
   It was no secret that she was troubled, as such were her eyes that, in looking at them, Clive felt weak—nothing like the strong man whom, on the second night, had boarded up their doors and tried to do the same was their windows. To know the animals were there placed upon the air an apprehension that rang in tunes of shivers and sighs, but to actually see that they were still watching—that in itself was a cold monstrosity that sucked all happiness from life and all sense of security from his heart.
   “Have you checked on the baby tonight?” Tricia asked.
   “I haven’t,” Clive said, only managing to tear his eyes away from the window when his wife spoke. “Do you want me to?”
   “No. I’ll go do it.”
   “All right.”
   Clive watched his wife flee the kitchen in but a few short steps until she disappeared down the hall off the living room—to the room he, she and their son had been sleeping for the past week. He heard first the doorknob clicking, then the door opening, groaning in anticipation. Shortly thereafter, the bedroom door was closed and their connection once more broken.
   If only I could do something.
   To think that he could do anything right about now was ridiculous, preposterous to the point where he might as well open the door and invite the things outside in for tea. His gun had been loaded, his bullet set, his sights locked in, and when tasked to bring down one of the creatures he found he could do nothing—that, somehow, someway, they were invulnerable to such displays of violence. Understanding that simple form of logic would have made any man break, Clive felt, especially a man who had a family.
   “And a baby boy,” he mumbled.
   Blinking, he looked up and at the window nearby to find that the eyes had moved forward but a few steps. No longer did they appear to be across the backyard and in the woods. Now, it seemed, they were on the freshly-mowed grass, attempting to slink forward and once again asked to be let in.
   No. Don’t think about that.
   First the doorknob began to tremble, its light brass makeup clicking like a dog’s untrimmed nails, then the knocking began anew. It came once, then twice, a third then a fourth, each in a soft pitch that would have been similar to a child knocking upon the door. The fifth and sixth, however, were much more violent, and when it stopped only to begin anew again, Clive hugged himself and took several steps back.
   They always do it three times, he reminded himself. Only three times.
   It was one to six a second time, each in low pitch, then again, this time in a fevered monotone that Clive felt for a moment might break the door down. He had to keep inspiring the urge to realize that whatever these things outside were couldn’t get into the house, especially not since he’d boarded the front door up so well.
   “If only you would leave,” Clive whispered.
   When the third and final set of six knocks ended, he turned and began to make his way into the living room.
   Before he could reach the hallway, he stopped to look back into the window.
   One of the animals stood just outside the window, its bright, moonbeam eyes staring in at things it could not see.

   In the quiet sanctuary of their bedroom, Tricia watched as on the TV the news anchor continued to talk. “There are no confirmed reports,” this man said, “as to why the world has gone dark, nor have there been any breakthroughs in determining just what these creatures are.”
   “Why are you watching that?” Clive asked, careful to close the door as softly as possible as to not wake the baby.
   “There might be news,” Tricia said.
   “There might be?”
   Tricia ignored his comment. Instead, she turned the television set up a few decibels and leaned forward, one hand poised on the cradle beside the bed and the other wrapped around the remote control.
   They’re never going to tell us anything new, Clive thought, because there isn’t going to be anything new. It’s not even worth—
   “And now,” the anchorman said, “we turn our attention to Natalie Crimcraw, professor of biology at the University of Texas in Austin. Tell us, Natalie—what exactly are the things we’re dealing with?”
   “Well, Brandon,” Natalie said, adjusting what had to be on the shelf in front of her the light she was using to make her presence known. “As you and most of the continental United States already know, we have been dealing with the creatures we are simply referring to as ‘Animals’ for the past week now.”
   “Is there any word on what exactly they are?”
   “Confirmed reports of individuals who have been in close proximity of the creatures say that they are tall, about six to seven-feet in height, and they resemble something of an upright-walking canine—most specifically, a jackal.”
   “Can you confirm whether or not we are dealing with a terrestrial, or Earthly, threat?”
   “I cannot confirm that,” Natalie said.
   “They don’t even know what the fuck they’re talking about,” Clive said, settling down on the bed beside his wife before reaching forward to attempt and take the remote from her hand. When Tricia pulled away, he exhaled through his teeth and shook his head. “They think we’re dealing with aliens.”
   “What do you think they are?” Tricia asked.
   “I… I don’t know. Animals, maybe, but—“
   “But what?”
   “I don’t know what to tell you, hon. All I know is that we’re dealing with something bad.”
   “At least the power is on,” Tricia sighed. “At least we don’t have to worry about being in complete darkness.”
   Not for now, Clive thought. Maybe later, but—
   Their son began to stir in his cradle.
   “Shh, shh, shh,” Tricia said, lifting the baby into her arms and holding him against her chest. “It’s ok, Colton.”
   “We still have formula for him, right? We don’t have to worry about him going hungry?”
   “I would go hungry long before I even considered letting him.”
   Nodding, Clive reached over, cupped the back of his baby son’s head in the palm of his hand, then looked up—where, on the screen, the anchorman had switched cameras to display the station’s expansive back parking lot. Distantly, eyes could be seen piercing through the darkness, though unlike in the real world and through a real set of eyes, these appeared green, an aftereffect of a night-vision security camera.
   “We shouldn’t be watching this,” Clive said once more.
   “But,” Tricia started. “Clive, shouldn’t we—“
   Clive pushed the POWER button on the remote before his wife could finish. “We should sleep,” he said. “Besides—the white noise might be bothering him.”
   You pansy-ass pussy, he thought. Why not tell her the truth and let her know what you’re really worried about?
   To state that he was afraid electronic equipment might draw the animals was to instill within his wife a sense of dread that, as of now, lay restrained only to him. His panic was enough—a beast rolled up in a cage, it could be said—but his wife, who bore not only the difficulty of wondering if her distant family was safe, but also the burden of a child still breastfeeding? He wasn’t sure just how she was getting along, but by God was she a strong woman.
   Exactly what I married her for, he thought, then reached forward to push her dark hair away from her high cheekbones.
   In the brief moments of silence that followed, Clive stood, pulled the comforter hanging over the single computer chair in his wife’s bedroom-slash-office into his arms, and brought it back to the bed.
   Tricia pushed the cradle a few short inches away.
   Clive threw the blanket over the bed.
   In his cradle, Colton slept.
   When he and his wife crawled into bed together, Clive prayed for safety.
   Please God, he thought. Let us all be all right.

   He was pulled from bed by the gravitational force of curiosity later that night. Having just risen from a troubled sleep in which he’d tossed and turned, Clive crawled from beneath the covers and began to make way for the attaching bathroom before something drew him out into the hallway, then to the living room—where, in the far corner, the stairs leading up to the second floor stood.
   What the hell are you doing? he thought, still inching forward without much conscience.
   Of  course, had he been honest with himself, he would have said that he was going upstairs—to where, in the bedroom on the hallway above, the windows looked out at the forest, providing ample and more than beneficial opportunity for him to see what these things truly were.
   At the top of the stairs, he paused, craned his head back to make sure his wife had not followed, then paced the few feet to the end of the hallway before letting himself into the guest bedroom.
   Once inside, he was perpetually frozen by terror.
   You work up the gall to come up here only to stop halfway? What the fuck are you doing, Clive? Get a hold of yourself.
   “I am,” he whispered. “I have.”
   The looming series of windows encompassing the northern half of the room stood tall and gargantuan, their curtains only partially closed and their surfaces marred by rainwater. Here they waited for his approach—beckoning him with kind, simple eyes—and here they would stand the test of time until he stepped forward to look out their surfaces.
   Only one thought struck him in the moments leading up to what would soon be his first true revelation.
   Do I really want to do this?
   Would by looking out the window he risk not only his own life, but his wife’s and son’s? Unable to know, and not willing to risk the ignorance he held in regards to these creatures, Clive stood proud, took a long, deep breath, then began to step forward, all the while staying to his left in order to conceal his presence.
   He reached the side of the room.
   His heart beat a thousand times in more and his chest.
   By God, he thought. Am I going to have a heart attack?
   Rather than risk the implications, Clive leaned forward, took the curtain in hand, then pulled it slightly away.
   Below, they lurked—not in the thicket of trees, as he’d imagined they would, but out in the cold and open.
   Clive braced himself for the revelation which was to come.
   When it finally struck him, his sense of reality was lost.
   They resembled something like jackals stripped of their coats and allowed to roll carelessly in the dirt. Tall, emaciated, with a pair of glowing white eyes that pierced through the darkness and more—hunched over at the shoulder, they looked to be something akin to hunchbacks who once upon a time had walked without care. Perhaps the most terrifying feature, however, past their smiling, open mouths and their devilish rows of crocodile-like teeth, were their hands. Not paws, as many would have expected, but a series of five fingers which lay forward, they carried them limp-wristed with the nails hanging to the ground and the flats of their palms law curled and depressed.
   In standing there, hidden to the world and the monsters that offered, Clive could barely believe their eyes.
   They’re, he thought, then swallowed a lump in his throat.
   What was he to have said? Smart, agile, regretful, inappropriate—just what should have come out of his mouth in order to describe the very things that were lurking in his backyard below?
   Clive drew a step back.
   His hold on the curtain shifted.
   The three animals who’d been stalking together instantaneously turned their eyes up.
   Their stares instantly stabbed daggers in his heart.
   Did they see me? he thought, attempting to breathe whilst he stood there trying desperately not to panic. Did they? Did—
   The things below began to make a grating, chuckling noise, a sound which could have been compared to a lifelong smoker’s laugh unsupplied by proper oxygen but fueled by ulterior intent.
   After taking a few steps back, Clive was finally able to gain the breath he’d so desperately wished to inhale.
   They didn’t see me, he decided, nodding if only to give himself better support. They just saw the curtain move. That’s all.
   That, however, did not answer the question that rang strong and clear in his mind.
   Could they determine the movement of objects within a dwelling and therefor deduce that someone was inside?
   Trembling, Clive turned, wrapped his hand around the doorknob, then let himself out of the room.
   A few short minutes later, he crawled back into bed beside his wife and closed his eyes.
   No matter how warm it was beneath the covers, he couldn’t help but feel cold.

   It was seven AM and there was still no light. A thought unwelcome, a burden all but carried, Clive opened his eyes to find that the nightlight in the corner of the room—which, until just now, had been dead—had miraculously come back to life.
   What did you expect? Clive thought at the notion of light and what all it met. Sunshine? Maybe even a rainbow?
   At his side, Tricia slept peacefully, her arm sprawled out, her body cupped in his. Directly opposite him their baby son continued to sleep without a care in the world—Colton’s light, almost-inaudible snores a chorus to the peace Clive felt within this very house. It was enough, for just one brief moment, to make him disregard the world that existed outside—that the monsters, so frail and old, had all but disappeared. Unlike miracles, however, and unlike the sweeping hand of God coming forth to push all the sand away, that feeling soon disappeared. With its absence came a sense of apprehension that, within the air, seemed tangible enough to cut with a knife.
   Stirring, guided only by the nightlight that rested on the outlet in the corner of the room, Clive threw his legs off the bed, rose, then began to make his way out into the living room, dressed in only a pair of boxers and a short-sleeved shirt.
   So cold, he thought. So very, very cold.
   Near the threshold that opened into the living room he stopped to consider what it was he was actually doing. There, between two walls and the entrance to a gateway called hell, he contemplated just whether or not it was worth going out into the kitchen to make him and his wife something to eat, as no more than a few feet outside the animals would be watching. While that notion was all but clear, it did little to disarm the hunger that snaked through his stomach, wrapping about his gut and creating an almost-unbearable lightness.
   With little more than a sigh, Clive took his first step out into the living room.
   He turned to look at the windows.
   He braced himself for what was to come.
   He saw, distantly, the moonbeam reflections piercing in through the windows—watching, waiting, hunting.
   Don’t worry. You’ve got a four-inch wooden door between you and them.
   Added to that realization were a series of several wooden two-by-fours—which, in their current state, made the entryway resemble something of a final threshold between them and death.
   “You’re getting yourself in over your head,” he whispered. “Stop.”
   While most thought within his head ceased to exist, the cat-shaped clock hanging above the stove continued to tick—tail switching, sound egressing. Each individual vibration that came from its insides sent trembles of unease throughout his heart. Hello, it would have said as it looked down and upon him, its bobble-head eyes jumping up and down, left to right. Come to get yourself something to eat there, Clive boy? Well, let me tell you something, good sir—you are quite the work of art, coming out here all by yourself. But you’re not alone. You know you’re not.
   Of course he wasn’t. No one was alone in this world—not anymore, not after this... calamity, if it could be called that, had struck them.
   Rather than face succumbing to the devils of insanity, Clive instead decided to partake in the pleasures of the human landscape before him. He crossed, in but a few brief steps, the break in the carpet and the beginning of the tile and opened the fridge to find that, inside, the remnants of last night’s chicken noodle soup lay in plain and bold sight.
   Can’t eat it warm, he thought, then sighed, pulling the pot from its place inside the refrigerator.
   Oh well. He could care less whether or not his food was warm. The fact that they had food was enough to put him at ease.
   While he poured himself a small bowl of soup, taking care not to give himself too much for fear that he would deprive his wife and infant son of nourishment, he tried to keep his focus on his food rather than on the window at their side. That, however, was impossible. It seemed that their presence alone was mandated—that their appearance, though slight and grim and almost-invisible in the darkness, was of the utmost degree—and no matter how hard he tried to keep from looking out the corner of his eye, his peripheral vision continued to send shards of reality into his brain, directly connecting to the optic nerves in his head a horrible image of something standing directly outside the window.
   No.
   “No,” he said.
   The doorbell began to jingle on the opposite side of the room.
   I think it’s time to leave now, he thought, taking several steps back.
   “Clive?” Tricia asked.
   Something bumped into him.
   Clive released his hold on the bowl.
   It fell, then, upon impact, shattered.
   A chorus of laughter began outside the house.
   “Is that… them?” Tricia asked, beginning to retreat back toward the hall as the doorknob continued to jingle with increased intensity.
   “That’s them,” Clive replied. He pushed a hand back to position his wife behind him. “Stay back, Tricia.”
   “But—“
   A heightened pitch of laughter began once more.
   In the bedroom, the baby began to cry.
   Fuck.
   “Go get him,” Clive said.
   “What are you—“
   “Just go get him!” he hissed, turning, then taking her by the shoulders. “He can’t keep crying. They’ll hear him.”
   “I know, but—“
   “Go, Tricia! I’ll make sure the two of you are safe.”
   Tricia turned and bounded down the hallway without a word in response.
   Clive paced his way to the couch.
   The laughter continued. The cat clock clicked. The doorknob jingled.
   At the loveseat, Clive bent down, took several deep breath, then began to pull the cushions from their place.
   Come on. Come on! Where the fuck are you?
   The rifle, complete with its trigger locked, came into view a short moment later.
   Clive grabbed the gun.
   Something began to pound against the door.
   “Clive!” Tricia called out.
   “Stay there!” Clive called back, taking the gun into his hand and removing the lock in but a few short moments. “I’ve got the gun!”
   “Are you sure it won’t—“
   A bought of laughter so loud it drowned out Tricia’s voice echoed throughout the house.
   Please God, he thought, pulling the fully-loaded cartridge out to check it one final time. Please, just let me protect my wife, my son. Grant me the strength to—
   All sound disappeared instantaneously.
   Trembling, Clive pushed the cartridge back into place and checked the chamber to make sure there was a bullet in it.
   Thank God.
   A single bullet lay in the trigger—waiting, it seemed, for its chance to declare justice.
   Raising the gun, Clive trained it on the door and waited for something to happen.
   Outside, the creatures continued to shift back and forth along the windows, their glowing eyes the only presence that he could see.
   “Clive?” Tricia asked.
   Clive lifted his head, looked down the crosshairs, then shook his head, lowering the head of the rifle to the floor before raising a hand to keep her in place.
   If they break in, his conscience said, there’s nowhere for them to run.
   Maybe they should go upstairs, Clive thought. Maybe if they were up there I wouldn’t have to worry about—
   The doorknob began to jingle again.
   “Tricia,” Clive said, raising his voice as once again the knocks on the door began. “Take the baby and go upstairs. You’ll be safer there.”
   “But what about—“
   “I’ll come when I make sure we’re safe.”
   Tricia said little in response. Instead, she lifted the baby into her arms, walked carefully out into the hallway, then stood directly beside him, where she waited but a moment to kiss his cheek before turning and making her way up the stairs.
   Please don’t let anything happen, he thought. Please, God, don’t let my family die. Kill me if you want, but don’t let my wife or my baby suffer.
   As had happened before, all sound ceased to exist.
   Outside, the creatures laughed.
   Their eyes, once pressed close to the window, began to retreat back through the yard, into the tree line where there their presence diminished until nothing could be seen.
   Rising to his feet, Clive sighed, took a deep breath, then expelled it before turning and making his way upstairs.
   Only one thought ran through his mind.
   They were safe for one more night.

   In the upstairs master bedroom—where, in past days, he had come to view the progress of the animals outside—Clive pulled the curtains across the window and fell to his knees. Exhausted not from lack of sleep or a slight of his body, but the emotional integrity that was the possibility of death, he allowed the gun to slide from his grasp and onto the floor—where, once flat on the ground, he pushed it up against the wall until he felt the distance between it and everything else in the room appropriate.
   “Are you all right?” Tricia asked.
   Clive didn’t respond. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to so much as it was he couldn’t, as no more than a few minutes beforehand he’d saw his whole life flash before his eyes, but to know that he was so mortified that he could not speak stirred tears from his eyes and made clever trails of oceans along his face.
   Am I all right? Clive thought, still staring at the carpeting below the window.
   What could he say to such a question? Could he lie, grieve, mourn, rant and scream and yell at the top of his voice despite the animals outside that he was not all right, that he was not ok? To do anything in and at that moment would possibly cost him everything. His wife, his life, his son—just what was he supposed to do in the aftermath of such a horrendous moment without breaking down and succumbing to tears?
   You’re stronger than that, Clive. Get a hold of yourself.
   “Clive?” Tricia asked. “Are you ok?”
   “Not really,” he managed, “but at least the two of you aren’t dead.”
   Rising, Clive turned and took the short few steps it took to get to the bed. Once there, he sat down, sighed, then reached up to run a hand through his unruly, curling hair.
   “You really thought they were going to get in that time,” Tricia said, “didn’t you?”
   “I don’t know what to think, Tricia. They’re… they’re just…”
   “There?”
   “Yeah. There.”
   “I’m fairly sure we’re safe in this house, Clive. I mean, look at what all you’ve done—you’ve boarded up the front and back door and moved us into a room where they won’t know where we’re at.”
   “I sure hope to God that’s the truth.”
   “I guess,” Tricia said, crossing her arms over her chest, “we have to decide something, here and now.”
   “What would that be?”
   “What we’re going to do if they break in.”
   The silence that followed played cruel symphony to an apathy neither of them had discussed since the animals had appeared. A broken harp, a withering cello, a series of whistles played from a crystal flute whose surface had been cracked time and time again until it could no longer make noise—the wind whipped around the house and screamed hellfire at their plight and  the sound of Colton’s breathing drew cold the reality in plain and bold colors across his vision. It was in these moments, during which time not a soul or a monster spoke, that Clive looked into Tricia’s eyes—that, within their blue surfaces, he saw the weight of the world and then some, a warm blue planet that had since been shadowed over by darkness.
   Ok, he thought. What’re we going to do about this?
   “What do you mean?” Clive finally asked.
   “What we’re going to do,” Tricia said.
   “I get that, but…”
   “But… what, Clive?”
   “I’ll shoot them if they come in.”
   “You know good and well that if those things get in we’re all going to die.”
   “I won’t let that happen.”
   “You’re not a one man fighting machine.”
   I’m not? he thought, then laughed before reaching up to paw at his face.
   His laugh was not reciprocated with one of Tricia’s own.
   Ok… she’s serious.
   “What do you suggest we do?” Clive asked.
   “What I think we should do,” Tricia said, “if in the event they get in—“
   She’s playing with your head, Clive. She’s trying to mess with your thoughts.
   No she isn’t, he thought. She would never—
   Listen to what she’s asking!
   “Clive?” Tricia said, raising her voice just to the point where he could hear its whispered pitch. “Clive, are you even listening to—“
   She wants to kill you. She wants to kill herself. And you know what’s worse? She wants to kill your little boy.
   No she doesn’t.
   Yes she does!
   No she—
   The hand waving before his face brought him back to reality. “Clive,” she said.
   “Yuh-Yeah,” he managed. “I’m here.”
   “Why aren’t you listening to me?”
   “I am listening to you.”
   “No you’re not.”
   “Yes, I—“
   “What did I just say then?”
   Clive remained silent and merely stared as a dumbstruck smile crossed his wife’s face.
   “You weren’t even listening to me,” she said.
   “Yes I was.”
   “Then what did I—“
   “You’re absolutely mad if you think I’d ever agree to anything like that.”
   “Anything like what?”
   “I would never hurt you or our son,” Clive said, standing.
   “Is it better to be torn apart,” Tricia asked, “piece by little piece? And what about after we’re dead? Huh? What do you think they’ll do to us?”
   “I don’t know.”
   “You don’t know?” Tricia laughed. “Clive, you saw it on the news. You saw what they did with the bodies.”
   “That doesn’t mean anything,” Clive replied. “Just because we saw something on the news doesn’t mean that—“
   “They’re harvesting us?”
   Harvesting? Clive frowned. Why could she—
   The notion struck him shortly thereafter—when, upon staring in his wife’s eyes, he realized the intent of her words. It’d been reported not too long ago that the animals dragged the people’s bodies off into woods or heavily-concealed places of the land. What they did with them afterward was and would probably remain a mystery, but the series of lights usually accompanied by such ‘stealing’ gave life to a thought that many would rather have not had.
   To think, he mused, that this would be the way it would happen.
   “Our first contact,” he whispered.
   Tricia crossed her arms over her chest and let out a sigh that resembled something between a grunt and a sigh. She stood there for several more moments, likely internally debating just what it was Clive had said, before turning and making her way toward the door.
   “Where are you going?” Clive asked.
   “To get us something to eat,” Tricia replied. “Crackers, at least.”
   “All right then.”
   At the door, Tricia paused. She turned first her attention to the baby lying on the bed, then to Clive before turning the doorknob and stepping out of the room.
   When she closed the door behind her, Clive thought a part of him had died.
   It was almost unbearable to think that his wife would really prefer death as a way out.

    He lay in bed for a long while alone and without the company of his wife. To his side the baby lay, wrapped in several layers of loose-fitting blankets, though what sounds Colton made were barely audible above the low hum that droned in Clive’s ears. Where this sound was coming from he couldn’t be sure, as no electronic devices existed within this room and no electricity was currently lighting any object within the room.
   Tricia, he thought, then sighed, reaching forward to cup a single hand around their son’s body.
   How could she have been reduced to thinking such things—that she, as a mother, could kill her child; that he, as her husband, could then kill her; and then that he, as the only one left alive, could then kill himself? Had she fallen so deep down the rabbit hole that she could not even dream of crawling back up, or was there something else at play here—something that, while weak to begin, had since festered and grown stronger?
   She wants release. You know that.
   Humankind could succumb to such simple desires far too easily. To draw a blade, to wring a noose, to take a pill or to hold a gun to your head or chin or neck or heart and to pull from its interior a bullet that would open the portal to one world and close the other to another—it was said that men and women, as deeply-set into their evolution as a whole, harbored failures within their consciences that they could not control. It was not of the fox’s intent to eat a number of pills, as with its curiosity it would find that such things tasted quite nasty, and it was not of the owl’s good will that it would arrange from the arm of a tree a noose in which it could hang itself, as they believed such things to be much too geometrical for their own intent. Animals, as a whole, did not harbor the regret that humankind felt. For that, it could be said, humans were weak—that, without purpose, they would simply collapse in and onto themselves. To know that reality was to expose a fallacy within all of humankind—to reveal in the flesh and blood the inner makings of what it was to be alive—and in that moment, while lying there next to his baby son, Clive began to understand slowly just why it was his wife would consider an easy way out.
   Is this what you really want? he thought. For all this to go away?
   The door opened.
   Clive pushed his elbow down under him to prop himself up before turning to look at the open doorway. “Tricia?” he asked.
   She gave a slight nod, then entered the bedroom, balancing on her arm a platter of various meats, cheeses and crackers. “I figured you hadn’t eaten,” she said.
   “No,” Clive said. “I haven’t. Thank you.”
   “Clive,” she sighed. “I… Can we talk about something?”
   “We can,” he said.
   “I didn’t mention what I did earlier to upset you, and before you say it, I know it doesn’t change the fact that it did. However…”
   Always the key word, Clive thought.
   “I’m just…”
   “You can say what you want,” Clive said. “I’m not stopping you.”
   “It’s not you that’s stopping me. It’s… well… me that’s stopping me. And Colton. He’s stopping me too.”
   “Say what you need to say, hon.”
   “I only mentioned suicide,” she said, “because… I don’t want anything to happen to any of us, especially not you or Colton.”
   “I feel the same way.”
   “So… you understand where I’m coming from, right?”
   “Sort of,” Clive said.
   “Good.” Tricia set the snack platter on the bed beside Colton before taking him into her arms. She watched for several minutes as Clive arranged and ate the crackers, meats and cheeses before she sighed and settled down on the bed beside him, taking into her hand a small sandwich which she immediately thereafter put into her mouth. “Clive.”
   “Yes?”
   “The military might come.”
   “You think?”
   “I think.”
   We can only hope, Clive sighed. We can only hope.

   They were trying to get into the house again. This time, however, they had a plan.
   “Clive,” Tricia said. “What’re we going to do?”
   “I’m not sure,” Clive said.
   Along the walls they skittered, to the left and right they went, up and down they jumped in a feeble attempt to latch onto the shingles of the lower areas of the roof and around the house they stalked—they were, without abandon, attempting to find each and every way into the house, and while they had yet to succeed in exposing any flaws that may exist within the structure, the fact that they were restlessly seeking refuge from the outside world was enough to put Clive over the edge.
   It’s ok, he thought. Deep breaths, deep breaths.
   “One,” he said. “Two… three…”
   “Clive? Are you all right?”
   “Ah-Asth-Mah.”
   Tricia ran to the doorway and let herself out before Clive could even attempt to say more.
   Don’t worry. She’s just going to get your inhaler. She’s not going to do anything else.
   But how was he to know whether or not the sound of her running through the house would draw attention to them? They had not run in many, many days, had not spoken above a whispered pitch and had not turned on anything that would make too much noise. They could, metaphorically or not, have been compared to a police state—where, in every room, on every faucet and on every surface there were cameras watching each and everything they did, the Big Brother of the future determined in but a few microscopic electronic bugs.
   You’re getting ahead of yourself.
   Either way, the panic strumming through his heart was enough to make him pray for his life.
   Tricia flew through the open door.
   Clive jumped.
   She thrust the inhaler into his hand and sighed as he took his first breath off it. “Thank God,” she breathed.
   “Thuh-Thank you,” he managed, pounding his chest with the curve of his fist before taking another hit off the inhaler.
   “I wasn’t sure if I would find it.”
   “Well, you did. That’s all that matters, right?”
   Tricia nodded.
   Outside, a chorus of chuckles went up into the air.
   “What’re we going to do if they get in?” Tricia asked.
   “We have guns,” he said.
   “We’ve only got the—“
   “Did you forget about the revolver?”
   Tricia stared blankly, blinking every few minutes as if she were a doe caught in the limelight of an oncoming truck. “What?” she asked.
   “I bought you that revolver for your birthday so that I wouldn’t have to worry about you while I was on my trips.”
   “Do you think a revolver would… kill them?”
   “We can’t say it won’t if we haven’t tried, right?”
   “I guess.”
   Pocketing his inhaler, Clive stood and began to make his way for the door. “I’m going to go get the guns,” he said. “Stay here.”
   “I will.”
   “If something happens, do not come running for me. Push the vanity in front of the door and pray they don’t find you.”
   “Oh God, oh God, oh God. I can’t believe this is happening.”
   “Neither can I.” He stepped forward and pressed a kiss against his wife’s mouth before taking her hand and squeezing it. “I’ll be back,” he said.
   Tricia nodded.
   When he was sure that he need not worry about anything else, Clive exited the room, took the short route to the stairs, then began to descend them as quickly as he possibly could.
   God, please don’t let anything happen to her or Colton. Please don’t—
   A pair of moonbeam eyes stared directly at him the moment he stepped off the final stare.
   For a moment he was paralyzed—frozen with fear over just what it was that stood before him—then he realized it was nothing more than a face pressed up against the window.
   “Thank you, Lord.”
   Clive took off into the hallway that led to he and Tricia’s room.
   Inside, he pulled the bottom drawer in their cabinet open and began to fling clothes out of it as fast as he could.
   Where the fuck is it? he thought, fuming, his cheeks swelling red with anger and his heart trembling with fear. I know I put it in here. I know it!
   A brush of something smooth came under his touch.
   Clive threw the final item of clothing away.
   Before him lay the revolver—old, cold, and filled with the five bullets its chamber allowed.
   Reaching forward, he locked his hand around the grip and removed the weapon from its mortal prison.
   Outside the room—in the dark place where nothing could be seen and where their hopes for the future lay in easy access—the sound of glass falling to the floor echoed throughout the house.
   No.
   They’d never tried using the windows before, only doors. How could they have gotten in?
   Standing, Clive opened the chamber, checked to ensure that all five bullets were inside, then flicked it back into place before pulling the hammer toward him.
   The sound of glass being crushed entered his ears.
   Clive took a step forward.
   Revolver held before him, he braced himself for whatever was to come.
   In but a moment, the creature stepped into view.
   Please, he thought, trembling, his arms shaking from the reality that they were no longer safe in their very own home. Don’t you hurt them. Don’t you dare. They didn’t do anything to you.
   The animal stretched its elongated body out as high as it could—ribs contracting, emaciated form lengthening. With its hands and its head full of crocodilian teeth braced forward, it tilted its nose up and sniffed at the air before turning its head to look at him.
   The moonbeam eyes shined directly into Clive’s.
   Momentarily blinded, he lifted his gun and held it steady before him.
   When his vision finally began to clear, he saw that the animal was stepping forward—knee bent as its foot rose, then setting back into place when it fell once more.
   I can’t believe it, Clive thought. I can’t fucking believe it.
   Such a comical display should have only existed in a cartoon—where, there, the world was allowed to operate on the absurd notions of reality and the heightened realms of fantasy. It should have been chasing the roadrunner, he knew, down the road, across the deserts, over the seas, and despite the fact it continued forward, one leg up, then one leg down. Its eyes broadened and the scope of its moonbeams became so targeted that the hallway appeared lit in light, almost to the point where Clive felt blinded by the act alone.
   “You can do this,” he whispered. “You know you can.”
   The thing’s mouth—which, up until now, had only been slightly revealed—opened to reveal the rows of needle-sharp teeth that existed between its jaws.
   Clive raised the gun.
   The animal laughed.
   He fired.
   The shot connected with the thing’s head. Shot directly between the eyes, it could only stand there for but a moment before it fell to the floor—dead, it seemed, as no longer did it breathe or move.
   Stepping forward, then around the body, Clive pushed his torso around the curve in the wall and looked out into the kitchen—where, directly before him, the door had been knocked from its hinges and now lay lopsided with its lower half still connected and the upper half all but made of splinters.
   The rifle, his conscience said. Go.
   With hate that he could have never imagined, Clive stole across the room and threw himself to the sofa. There, he flung the cushions off the loveseat and grabbed desperately for the rifle lying just beneath his touch.
   Something laughed from the doorway.
   Clive raised his rifle and trained it directly on the creature. “Get away,” he said. “Go. Now. You don’t belong here.”
   The thing laughed before snapping its jaws together and stepping into the house.
   Behind it, two more animals appeared, both in varying stages of height and hunger.
   After shoving the barrel of the revolver into his pocket and making sure the grip would remain in place, Clive rose, made his way around the couch, then stood with his back to the stairway, taking extra care not to take too many quick steps back for fear of following and shooting himself.
   The creatures advanced slowly, with the cunning intent of wolves who had just cornered in a thicket of trees the baby fawn. He would, he knew, not serve as an ample meal, as upon his frame was merely a thin layer of skin, but it was common knowledge that these things would do anything to get what they wanted, even if that meant killing him to get to his family.
   Clive stepped back.
   His foot hit the first step.
   “Get away from here,” Clive said, taking his first step up onto the stairway, hands braced along the rifle and eyes set directly ahead. “You don’t want us. You don’t.”
   The head animal tilted its head to the side, then let out a brief chuckle, its sound deep but resembling something like that of a song bird. It raised its hands and sniffled the air once more before stopping in place.
   As the two behind it stopped in turn, Clive took a deep breath.
   No.
   The animals charged.
   Clive shot.
   The bullet tore through flesh and bone along the front creature’s shoulder and sprayed its fellow companion in blood.
   In but a few moments they would be upon him.
   Reaching down, Clive took the revolver into his hand, set the hammer back into place, then screamed, “Tricia! The gun!”
   Overhead, the door opened.
   Clive threw the revolver up into the air and over the banister.
   “Clive!” Tricia cried.
   “GO!” he screamed. “GO! GO, TRICIA! GO!”
   The three animals broached the stairwell.
   It took but a moment for Clive to realize his fate.
   He was going to die—here, alone, at the foot of the stairs, with his wife and baby son no more than a few dozen feet away.
   God, he thought. Use me as your vessel. Do what it is that needs to be done to keep my wife and son safe.
   He fired a bullet.
   One of the animals went down.
   Another came in its place.
   He fired the gun.
   The weapon was knocked aside.
   Yet another bullet was fired into the air before the rifle was torn from his grasp.
   Clive could only watch as the creature pounced on him.
   It sunk its claws in.
   It bit into his neck.
   Blood sprayed the air as his carotid artery was ripped from his body.
   In the few brief moments at the end of his life, in which he could only stare at the ceiling as his body went numb and the creatures continued to tear him to pieces, he thought of only one thing as he heard from upstairs a window being broken.
   She has the keys, he thought. She can get away.
   The last thought before his life ended was of his wife and child.
   Tricia and Colton were safe.  

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