James’ eyes flew open. Sweat poured from every pore, and he shivered in the cool, summer night. The small treehouse spun around him as he tried to steady himself with both hands, propping his arms against the wall. Panic subsided as he realized it was only a dream, and yet the longer he thought about it, the less he remembered. Images and split-second frames flew in and out of his mind, before he could process them and decide what they were. Eventually, he gave up and discarded them altogether, instead trying to focus on the room itself.
The small lantern they’d left on shone confidently in the middle between the four boys, its flame dancing with the soft breeze. Although its light wasn’t bright enough to reach every nook and cranny in the treehouse, James could still make out the forms of Ronny, Keith and his older brother; their chests rising and falling steadily with every breath. He tip-toed across the padded floor of the tree house, opened the small trapdoor and crawled out onto the rope ladder that creaked with every step he took. He dropped the last few steps to the ground and turned to look at the small home. Every light was off, so he knew his mother had gone to bed already. He looked at his bare wrist, and realized he’d left his watch up in the treehouse. He turned to climb back up, but thought better of it and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Spinning around, he walked out from behind the house and onto the street. This part of town, one of the oldest in Dover (ol’ Mr. Peasley would say Mr. Dickens was inspired by “this same road”) still had the old street lights, whose circuitry was rather faulty and were prone to turning on and off with a mind of their own. But if one had ever gone off, another would’ve brightened up to take its place. James couldn’t remember a time when they’d all been out completely.
But as he wandered onto the street, he was ambushed by darkness. Even the stars had sought refuge deep in the sky’s folds, and refused to come out. James’ breath grew shallow and a long, cold shiver ran down his spine, he quickly spun around in a full circle, expecting something to come from the silent blackness that had enslaved the lonely street. He groped around helplessly, forgetting where he had come from, and in which direction the street ran. His heartbeat pounded through his chest, echoing it seemed from every direction and deafened the young boy. Void of sight, sound and too petrified to even focus on what he could smell, James’s mind dashed back and forth in fear from idea to idea, from what he thought might have brushed past his arm to what he thought might have been a breath on his the back of his neck. He whirled around, his arms whipping through the darkness, trying to rip down the black curtain that robbed him of all sense. Something jumped up and grabbed his foot, as he quickly lost balance and tumbled to the ground.
He lay there, ignoring the sharp pain in his leg and hoping with every inch of his soul that someone or something would save him. Then, as if in answer to his prayer, the moon silently crept out from behind her cloudy prison and the street was bathed in a clean, pure white light. James lay there for a few moments, not altogether sure of what to make of all this. He waited, the silence interrupted only by the pitter-patter of small feet near the sewer and the soft, flapping of an owl’s wings. His eyelids clamped shut and his body locked in a fetal position, he awaited his doom. But whatever had tugged at his foot had not come to finish the job. He was quite sure he was still in one piece, so he let his hand slide down to his legs. He sighed, Yes, they were still there. His older brother’s words echoed in his head, from years ago:
“Yeh know James, the evil creatures of the night? They’s smart. When they getcha, make sure yeh protect yer legs. They go fer ‘em first, yeh see, so’s yeh can’t run away.”
Finally, quite sure that everything was safe; he got up, brushed himself off and looked for the source of his fall. An old, gnarly root slithered out from the feet of one of the giant oak trees lining Curious Crescent that kept guard over the neighbourhood. He looked up into the branches of the old guardian as it towered over him. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he suddenly felt safer than he had before, in the presence of the giant tree. Suddenly the cool night air, that had been still not a moment before, picked up a quick gust of wind that sent leaves and newspapers tumbling down the road out of the key. The tree stood majestically, unflinchingly against the wind and James took one last, admiring look at the old tree before following in the wind’s wake.
As he went further, the old, rusted lampposts grew dimmer and dimmer until the light of the moon and her children were all that remained. Although the darkness seemed to cluster around him, almost drawing out his every breath against his will, the celestial beacon shone loyally down on him. He was filled with a sense of courage, that he was not alone on his venture. He took in a deep breath and pressed on.