It is a shame to begin a story with the main character holding dirty underpants. But that is how this story must begin, for that is what Rowan was doing. He stood in the entrance of his dad’s room, clutching a week’s worth of washing to his chest. The dirty clothes basket was inside, in the darkness, where the wolves were.
Rowan took a deep breath and slapped on the light switch. Without looking at the windows he charged for the basket and slam-dunked the clothes inside. His skin prickled under the gaze of the wolves. He ran back to the door and turned to face the windows. Although he could see nothing there, he thumbed his nose and blew a raspberry before drowning the room back into darkness.
He did not hear the rumble of growling that chased him out of the black.
It is unfortunate to begin a story with dirty underpants. But it is much, much worse to begin a story with a death. Sadly, that is how this story must go.
That night there was a thunderstorm.
Rowan had already put his dad to bed and had set about his nightly routine. Every window in the house was shut and locked. Any sharp instrument in the kitchen was put away and secured. Both stair gates, top and bottom, were fastened as he passed through them. All that remained was to brush his teeth, put on his slippers and turn all the lights out. He slept in his clothes, in case of an emergency.
It wasn’t until Rowan flicked off his bedroom light, the last in the house, that lightning flared around the room. Without thinking he dashed for his bed and wriggled under the covers.
Lightning flashed again; it pierced his curtains, firing a dash of shadows around the room that disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. Rowan tried to tuck his head down into his t-shirt.
He remembered his mother, stroking his forehead to smooth away the fear. It’s only a little lightning. It can’t do any harm.
The windows shook as thunder roared around the room.
Rowan shot from his bed and darted out onto the landing. He stopped outside his dad’s door, jigging nervously from one leg to the other. Once he had put his dad to bed, he could not go in until morning. The break of routine would confuse him and he wouldn’t go back to sleep for hours.
His dad was probably sleeping through the thunderstorm anyway. He always slept so deeply that getting him up in the morning was like waking the dead. Sometimes it was if he simply wasn’t there.
Some nights his dad would toss and turn right through until sunrise. Rowan would lie awake and try to imagine the nightmares he must be suffering. It had been like this every night for the last six months.
Another rumble of thunder, and Rowan pushed open his dad’s door.
Rowan brushed off his jeans nervously. Rain lashed at the windows as if someone were hurling handfuls of gravel at the glass.
He could make out the dark rectangular shape of the bed, the uneven form of his father lying motionless on it. The white support rails that Rowan had left folded into the wall seemed to glow in the dark. He took hold of them to gather his courage.
Lightning danced around the room. Rowan ran to the bed and shook his dad by the arm. He did not stir. Rowan shook harder, taking hold of both his shoulders.
Thunder slammed into the room.
Rowan seized hold of his dad’s thick grey beard and pulled so hard that his head lifted off the pillow. Still he did not wake.
Rowan put an ear to his dad’s nose, but now his own breathing was too panicked to let him feel anything else. The clapping of rain on the window made it impossible to listen for the deep breaths of sleep.
Tears stung his eyes. He shook them away; this was not the first time it had been so hard to wake him. It was only the thunder making him so scared.
Even so, something they’d taught him at caring classes jumped into his mind: if anything happens to your patient, stay calm and ring for an ambulance. Rowan turned and ran for the phone downstairs.
As he reached the door, something growled. Rowan felt his blood freeze. The sound was more terrifying than the thunder could ever be. It was the growling of the wolves.
Rowan backed against the wall, trying to steady his guttering breath.
A dull orange light had started to wash in from the windows. But it did not come from outside. The curtains had turned to liquid, flowing toward the carpet like gentle waterfalls but never reaching it.
An oil lantern emerged from one of the curtains, and from the other the long muzzle of a wolf. The bobbing lantern was held by a man no taller than Rowan, dressed in tatty brown animal skin and caked in dirt. The flame over his head cast thick shadows in the cracks of his haggard face.
The man looked to the other curtain, where three wolves had now stalked through. They kicked their feet impatiently and bared their teeth as another man stepped in behind them, holding the beasts on a leash around his arm.
The lantern drenched the raiders in orange light, but did not spread far across the room. Rowan remained hidden in the darkness.
The men looked practically identical. The first shoved the lantern into the other man’s hand, and then hopped up onto the bed. He appeared as a black silhouette against the lamplight’s glow.
Rowan shivered with fear, but could not convince his legs to move, even as the little man peeled back his dad’s blanket.
The man took something from inside his animal-skin. As he did so, lightning flashed around the room once again. In that moment, Rowan saw that the man was holding a knife.
The lightning faded, and Rowan could not see what the man was doing with the blade. He seemed to wriggle from side to side, before wrenching backwards suddenly. When he jumped back into the lantern light, Rowan saw that he held his dad’s beard, cut away whole from his face.
Rowan laid his palms flat against the wall behind him, his skin sticking to the paint with sweat.
The man tucked the beard into his animal-skin, grunted, and then stepped towards the curtain. Without looking back he disappeared into the material. Instantly it returned to solid fabric, blowing gently in a breeze from the window.
The other man stepped into the remaining curtain, pulling the wolves behind him.
As the hind legs of the last wolf slipped into nothingness, Rowan swallowed his fear. He charged across the room and leapt into the curtain before it could solidify.
The material drenched him with coldness, yet burned at the same time, like a spray of seawater. He splashed through it, and found that there was nothing beneath his feet. Before he could even scream, Rowan was plunging into complete and utter darkness.
Read Chapter 2 here!