Jerry Davis climbed into bed, pulling the blankets up under his chin. He had never been scared of the dark and had never worried about monsters in his closet or under his bed. He knew there was nothing there during the day. It wasn’t like anything could sneak up to the house unseen, even at night. The most he had to worry about was the occasional scorpion or rattlesnake getting in.
Out in the Arizona desert it was hard to find babysitters, and his parents both worked nights a lot of the time, so he had to be brave. He didn’t mind being left alone at night. He was going on twelve years old after all and was practically an adult. Garfield and Timmons were there, so he wasn’t really alone anyway. Timmons was a black and white tabby and an expert at killing whatever wandered into the house, whether it was a spider, scorpion, or snake. Garfield was an orange Maine coon, the loudest cat Jerry had ever known, and he often played the alarm for Timmons to come attack something.
The two cats watched him head to bed and left to patrol the house before joining him. It was funny to Jerry how they did that every night. He couldn’t imagine a dog would guard the house more zealously than those two did.
He yawned, the soft music from his radio filling the room. He was happy it was summer break, unable to imagine being stuck in that stuffy school building in one hundred degree heat. His own house was bad enough, and it had air conditioning built in. Today it had only hit somewhere in the nineties, but that was still too much. Jerry missed living further north with real trees and real seasons.
He closed his eyes and listened to the radio. It was a channel his mom picked—soft rock with a lot of songs about love and happy couples. It wasn’t his preferred music, but it did help him get to sleep. Tomorrow would be fun too, with his dad’s days off starting. He’d get to sleep in really late, and then they would go into town together or something. His dad made it a point to spend time with him whenever he didn’t have to work.
Smiling, thinking of the day ahead, his eyelids started to feel heavy even as they were closed. He felt Timmons jump up onto his bed and pad his way up to him, nuzzling his hand to be petted and to make Jerry move his arm just right so he could curl into him. A minute later the mattress dipped again as Garfield jumped up and nosed Jerry’s other hand. He curled up with his two cats, one on each side of him, both purring quietly. With the soft music playing, he could feel the cats purring rather than hear them.
Then he felt the purring stop as the bed gave way under another weight. His heart immediately jumped into his throat, but he forced his eyes to stay shut. He had to be dreaming. There weren’t any predators out in the desert, with the exception of the odd coyote, and one of those couldn’t have gotten into the house. The radio continued to play as an odd smell reached his nostrils. His mind tried to place it in the zoo category, listing it along with the smell of the elephants, but it was completely new to him and it certainly wasn’t an elephant on his bed.
Timmons and Garfield stood up, facing the foot of the bed. Garfield howled at the sight of the form sitting on the edge. Timmons hissed and swatted in its direction before jumping back a little. It moved farther up the bed, the smell becoming stronger, more foul. There was a hint of sweetness, like an apple had fallen from the tree and was left to rot on the ground. A growl, but higher-pitched, filled the air. The intruder spread out onto four points, slowly moving up toward him on the bed.
Timmons and Garfield both hissed and dove off the mattress; Jerry could hear them tearing through to the other end of the house, leaving him alone with whatever else was on his bed. He didn’t dare open his eyes, even as its front most point passed his left foot, advancing toward him. The smell only got stronger and more rancid as the creature approached. The sound it made reverberated in his small bedroom, the pitch of it getting lower and sounding more wet. A few more steps and it was hovering over him. He could feel the heat of its breath on his face; the smell was overwhelming. He squeezed his eyes shut as tears welled up under his eyelids.
His breaths came in short, shallow gasps. This was definitely a predator. What it was or how it got in he didn’t have a clue; he didn’t want to know. He lay there as still as he could, hoping it would think he was dead and go away. Maybe chase after the cats. He was ashamed of himself for that thought, but he was scared, more scared than he had ever been in his life. More scared than the time Porky Roebuck and his buddies had chased him up a tree with baseball bats.
It made a sound at him, almost sounding like words. For a moment the poor attempt at speech eased his fear and made him curious. After all, no predator he knew of could speak. He slowly allowed one eye to split open just a hair.
It stared at him with large, empty, black eyes, like the sharks he had seen on the Discovery channel. Its skin was almost transparent, milky white; dark veins throbbed gently underneath. No hair grew anywhere. It’s mouth hung open, seemingly stretching from one side of its head to the other. Small, pointed teeth, more than Jerry could count, lined both the top and the bottom lips. He couldn’t breathe at all. He was frozen in fear. His one partially open eye could only watch as saliva filled to the cusp of its lower lip and spilled over, running down its chin and dripping down onto Jerry’s cheek.
The wet contact broke his paralysis and everything went at once. His young bladder erupted under his blankets. He screamed in pure terror as both eyes flew open, the sudden sound spurring the predator into action, its teeth driving into Jerry’s face. His small bedroom was flooded with sounds: Jerry’s screams, the wet crunch of teeth on skull and flesh, and the radio giving it an underscore of Hotel California by The Eagles.