I was wearing new pajamas, lying on the top of a new bunk bed, in my new room in my new house. I knew I liked my room. I knew the living room was bigger than the last one. This house had a backyard and there was a boy my age who lived next door.
What I didn’t know was we had left the safe side of the city. Had walked out of the house where you didn’t have to lock your door and stepped into a different kind of reality. I didn’t know this was Latin Kings territory. The gang controlled everything here. I didn’t know I had moved into the section of town no one ever went to visit. I had moved into a dark place and the things that moved at night had a motive, had a method.
I was six, struggling to sleep and worried about the school I was going to the next day. Worried about visiting my father that weekend. Would the kids in my new life like me? Everything was new and the world was about trepidation and confusion.
It started out as a cry like a cat, a high-pitch howl with a low end that warbled through the air like a weak and dying wind. It echoed through the streets mournful and chilling, a kind of horrible that stained the air, a kind of sound that elicited fears long forgotten to the history of man. This sound was primal, a pitch and a tone that carried with it a promise of darkness. It was far off. Much too far to be a cat. This was a larger creature. This was a person.
It came again, this time a scream, a murder victim, like the movies I should never have seen. The sound of it would not be denied. This was trouble. A person trapped in fear, a person experiencing the worst moments of her life.
I sat up in bed my heart trembling, eyes filling with tears. I was afraid to call for my mother, filled with panic that whatever was out there would hear me, would come for me and share its horror with me. I gripped my covers as I heard the TV turn off in the room beside mine.
My mother, my stepfather, silent and still, the dog loosing a half-hearted bark.
“What was that?” my mother said.
“Not anything for us to worry about.”
“Tom, that person might need help.”
And as if in answer a desperate cry, “Help me, please! He has a knife!”
I crawled, my knees thumping as I made it to the end of my bed and pulled back the curtains. I looked outside, my heart stopping in my chest, tears spilling down my face.
“We have to help her.” Mother.
“We need to stay here.” Stepfather.
I looked outside at the snow-covered streets, cars trapped under white blankets of fluff and icicles hanging from the top of my window like fangs.
Across the street I saw a living room light shut off. Farther down the street, the same thing.
“Get down there and help that woman. What if that was me?” Mother.
“What if it is one of them?” Stepfather.
The terror pouring through me at that point was rancid. It burned my veins like acid pumping through my heart. I did not comprehend what was being said, who they were, but the idea of it was not wasted on me. For in that moment I was the one outside, a monster had a knife and no one was helping. They were out there and no one wanted to face them.
More lights being doused. More darkness gathering in the windows of more houses and the wailing rose again in abject fear. Desperate, begging. I heard pounding on a door not far from my house. The fists were desperate as they echoed through the streets.
“Please, God! Please help!” she shrieked.
Then I saw her. Teenager. Barefoot in the snow. She wore a plaid skirt, long past her knees and a shirt torn and in tatters. She hugged her shirt to her chest but it had been reduced to rags and I could see one of her breasts, pale as the snow and just as cold. She was bleeding, her hair torn from her head on the left side. But it was her face that was so striking about her.
Her face didn’t look right. It was doing something I had never seen a face do before. The face was long and stretched into different lines. It was a landscape of Hell, an expression of torment and panic. I have never seen anything like it and I pray I never do again, for I saw a thing in her face that I will never forget. I saw impending death.
She looked up at our house, and I froze as I looked in the room beside me, because the light was on. She charged the house, her fists pounding out a staccato as frantic as my heart.
“Please, help! You have to help me! Please!” She screamed.
Fire maybe, the steel of a blade parting flesh perhaps, these things or others when put to a body might cause a scream like this. Or maybe this was new to me. A newfound nightmare in sound that can only be teased up from the soul in horror.
“Go let her in. We will call the cops and help her.” Mother.
“It’s not a good idea to get involved.” Stepfather.
I looked outside again and saw a shadow moving up the street. Time and terror have blotted out the memory of face and hair. They have dulled every feature save a few. There are only a handful of things I can recall.
Shape. It was a man-like thing. Its arms longer than arms should be. Its head thicker, sitting on shoulders without the aid of a neck.
Size. It was immense. Hulking and heaving. It was broad in every way, tall in every nuance.
Color. It was black. It seemed like a shadow, not a man at all. Not a black man, but a man based in such darkness as to have no skin of any color, but that which a soul of pure evil could provide.
I remember teeth. Pale as milk. Flat and thick.
I remember the knife.
Light erupted from floor below me as my stepfather opened the door. I could see him silhouetted against the snow. My stepfather was lean, not made of muscle, but bone. Not made of stern, but of compromise. She rushed for the light and I heard my stepfather whine as he saw the man.
The door slammed.
The scream loosed once more to scrape against the night as if to break a chip off the darkness of the sky. The scream shattered and in the street below I heard a laugh.
My eyes stared. I can’t bring to light what they saw.
My ears listened. I can’t summon up the racket. I can’t hear the screams or the cursing. I can’t recall the keening.
My body reacted. I loosed my bowels. I peed my pajamas. I remember a jittering, gyrating cry coming out of my body, a cry so filled with fear it shook my bones. I gripped the mattress with my six-year-old fingers until the springs within whined. I scooted myself back away from the window until I fell out of the bed. I hit my chin on the side board and fell to my back. My head slammed the floor and I screamed.
The comfort of my mother, I don’t remember. I woke up in new PJs. I don’t remember the breakfast the next morning, though I do recall silence at the table. I don’t remember the lunch box, or the coat being put on. I don’t remember being shoved out the door to walk to the bus stop for school.
None of these things stick out in my mind.
But I do remember blood in the snow outside my house. I do remember the first night in my new house.