In memory of my sister, Marjorie
Along a country road in the mountains of upstate New York is the small town of Vestal. In the distance across the hillside, over the knoll, stands an old, weather worn, gray two-story farmhouse. Inside, the family is getting ready for bed. Father sits in his easy chair, watching the end of the Red Skelton show. Elsie instructs fourteen-year-old Marjorie and nine-year-old Penny to get the younger children ready for bed. Marjorie helps George, age six, and Lynn, age two, into their pajamas and with saying their prayers, while Penny gets Cindy, eight, to brush her teeth. Once the children are settled down for bed and all tucked in, father and Elsie go on up the stairs to their room. The house settles down to sleep.
Whirling, swirling, fluttering softly to the ground, fresh snow blankets the now frozen creek. Barren skeleton-like limbs of the maple and white and silver birch trees, which soar forty to fifty feet into the night, sway gently near the old house.
All is eerily quiet. In the brisk coolness of the night it lies waiting, and wanting to consume, gradually coming to life. On April 1, 1965 in the early morning, it slowly awakens.
Unhurriedly it stirs, moving slowly but angrily, wanting to rage, creeping along, looking for food and finding what it needs. Unaware of the danger, the family upstairs sleeps like the dead. Their defenses are down; no one knows it is there. Nothing can soothe or satisfy the deep dark wanting inside. It is on the move. It wants more. It consumes all that it can find.
Quivering with anticipation, it moves bit by bit, sliding gloriously against the side of the house. It moves slowly, carefully, its heat rising, pulsing with the beat of its heart, the thick moist air making it all but impossible to breathe. The restlessness brewing within it grows, like a raging storm. In the purple shadows of the night, its whispers can be heard as it breaks the blackness with a flash of cobalt blue lightning, bright and close.
It starts to climb, no longer fearful or in doubt. Wicked with pleasure, triumphant in its quest, knowing it will be altering countless lives, it creeps up the side of the house, then into the bathroom, teasing and retreating, looking for its next victim. Slowly, it begins to grow. It knows it can hurt them. The animal inside finally takes over, clawing everything aside with its urgent need. Not even speed or freedom can quell its hunger. A layer of deepening, unyielding mist shimmers around its path as it moves from room to room hungrily consuming. Dawn approaches.
Tiny fingers of light skim over the surface of the house, looping and spiraling and snaking their way in. It is on the move again. Into Marjorie’s room, it moves quietly so as not to stir or awaken her. Her Bible is on her nightstand. It progresses over to the Bible, touching, caressing and embracing just the outer edges. The simple maple frame of the bed is beckoning. It dances over; it touches the post. Now there is stirring in the house. Change is coming, beginnings, endings; it is unsure of its fate.
Cindy is coughing and wheezing. Elsie is awakened. It is so dark; the air is thick and hard to breathe. Carefully, Elsie makes her way down the stairs to the kitchen. The light switch is not working. Her eyes are beginning to sting and blur as she realizes the power is off. Crossing the room to the medicine cabinet on the far wall, she sees where it has been. She is getting disoriented. It is almost impossible to focus as, wincing a little, she stumbles her way back upstairs. It is getting harder and harder to reach the top. She doesn’t know if she can make it. Elsie frantically screams out to Lyman, “The children, the children!” He hears the distress in her voice, the panic, as she hysterically screams, “Find the children! We have to get out!”
Lyman knows he has to stay calm to save his children. He must keep his panic at bay. He is dizzy with shock, terror, disbelief, tangled with desperation for which no experience in his life has ever prepared him. Bending down close to the floor, he crawls across the hall. He sees Cindy sprawled across her bed, coughing and wheezing, and Penny who is still sleeping soundly in hers. He grabs both of them and heads for the outside door to the upstairs porch. He takes them outside to Elsie, who is already there with George and Lynn.
Frantic, he realizes Marjorie is still missing.
He retreats back into the house keeping low and crawling, little by little, making his way to her room. He must get to her, but it is so dark; his eyes are beginning to sting and blur. The air is thick and hard to breathe. The darkness is broken with a flash of cobalt lightning, bright yellow and orange. It is in Marjorie’s room. The nightstand is all but consumed, almost completely charred. It is on her bed; it is all around her. Marjorie lies motionless in the bed, unaware of the danger. Tormented, Lyman screams, trying to wake her but to no avail. At last he grabs her; she is unconscious, and he drags her to the porch. Elsie has the other children on the ground. He hands Marjorie to Elsie and tells her to go to the neighbors next door as he retreats back into the house, carefully avoiding the fiend, finding his way downstairs to the phone. There he sees its path all around him. He is starting to get disoriented and dizzy, but his desperation to get to the phone is strong. He picks it up and calls emergency. As he speaks his name, the line goes dead.