Something was feeding off the child. It came out at night, from out of the closet. It fed on her, whether she was awake or asleep, for it did not care if it was seen by the young. It knew that if the children – for there had been many, across its lengthy lifespan – said something to their elders, they would be mocked. Maybe even punished, for none have the potential to be as cruel or nonsensical as those who are charged with the care of young minds.
It fed on her as she slept, her heavy breathing pained and laboured. It slurped and sucked and gulped its feast in the silence of the twilight, where only the crickets chirped, where only the owls hooted, where only the shadows lurked. It fed on her as she lay wide awake, her eyes open and oh so white, body trembling. It fed on her as she fixated her gaze upon her bedroom ceiling, trying to not look at the thing that lurked at the corners of her vision. It fed on her as she repeated the mantra, over and over and over within her mind: Eat and then go. Eat and then go. Eat and then go.
And, as was the case every night, once Old Strittie had had her fill, she retreated back to the place from which she’d emerged. Walking her creaking, twitching backwards walk. A walk that seemed to hiccup and jolt every few steps, like a scratched CD or a damaged VHS tape. In reverse she walked, head down, long black hair cascading over her obscured face, movements jerky. Backwards she crept, into the shades and silhouettes that she called home.
The child could not say why, but she got the distinct impression that not looking at her was the safest thing to do. Yes, Sasha was being depleted, and – despite her young age – she knew this was intrinsically bad… but so far, Old Strittie had always left. And so far, she’d always survived the night.
But slowly, ever so surely, Old Strittie sapped the child of her energy, stripped her of her youth, drained her of her vibrance. A life that had once been an explosion of rainbows and colour was now beginning to yellow and fade; the corners curling like an old photograph.
“She used to be such an energetic child, so bubbly and vibrant!” remarked Miss Elson. “Vivacious, even! What’s happened? Is there something I need to know about?” A note of concern crept into the teacher’s voice. It had an accusatory aftertaste.
Sasha’s parents just frowned and shook their heads. “No,” they said in unison. “Nothing’s changed.” And, as far as they were concerned, nothing had. As ignorant to the affairs of small children as most adults are, they knew nothing of Old Strittie. If you had told them that – back in their own childhoods – some of their old school chums had encountered the thing that feeds from the shadows, they would have laughed and poo-pooed you. But it would be true. Oh yes, it would be true.
But the ones that encounter her in youth never make it to maturity.
The night was black, except for the purple glow from the lava lamp that gently bubbled its wax, up and down, up and down, up and down. The house was deathly silent. It felt as if the very walls themselves were holding their breath. The carpet that lined the floors seemed to shrink; cringing away into the boards, away from the threatening gloom.
Sasha gripped her duvet tightly, her face partially covered. She could hardly breathe. Her eyes were focused on the closet door. The child could feel her pulse – thundering in her temples, booming in her eardrums. The seconds tick-tick-tocked at a snail’s pace; the cleansing rays of dawn an eternity away.
The brass knob of the door jittered slightly, a faint metallic rattle tinkling into the air. The little girl gasped as the air caught in her throat. She turned onto her back and locked her eyes on the ceiling above, the blood in her veins turning to ice. Time stretched out before Sasha, suspending her between the present moment and that which was to come.
Creeee. The closet door started to squeak open. Creeee. A gaping chasm of nothingness yawned open in the wake of the swinging door. Creeee! The door stood open, swaying slightly. The shadows seemed to bleed from out of the closet, staining the world with their inky blackness.
And then: shuffling footsteps whispering across the carpet. A blackened silhouette lurching out of the dark. The outline of a woman with her head down, lank hair dangling; Old Strittie, walking backwards out of the gloom.
Joints clicking and tendons creaking, the woman of shadows closed in on the child. With the crawling approach of a predatory spider, Old Strittie scuttled towards her meal. Her movements from closet to bed were awkward and lurching. The spectre moved in fits and spurts, accelerating irregularly in spots, freezing up and halting in others. Old Strittie moved with the air of a woman who has been fighting rigor mortis for a very long time.
All of this Sasha watched from the periphery of her vision, until Old Strittie was standing at the side of the bed. She lingered there, swaying slightly for a minute. The colour and light of the world seemed to dim, as if the hag were a black hole, pulling all into impending oblivion. If Sasha pricked her ears, she swore that she could hear the ragged breaths that escaped those rotting lips.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Old Strittie began to turn around, naked feet padding against the carpet, long toenails scratching at the material like thorns against cloth. As the crone’s eyes fell upon the child, Sasha couldn’t help but utter a whimper. The sound was tiny and pathetic in the hush of the house.
And then, all was blackness, as Old Strittie bent her haggard form over the child, the greasy curtain of hair falling across her face. For one awful moment, the woman remained hovering above her. Sasha could smell the rot and decay from her mouth, could hear the wheezing, gasping notion of her respiration.
Next came the wet, slurping, suckling sounds… as Old Strittie began to feed.
10th February 2020
Written for the February 2020 #BlogBattle