Emma dug her nails into her arm, the pain enough to bring her back to the room and the whirling fan and the low music seeping from the clock radio. But moments later her head bobbed again. She gripped hard enough to carve red crescents in her skin.
“Stay awake,” she whispered, turning the music up. But soon enough she started to slip, slowly, slowly, into the solid dark of sleep.
It started again.
“He’s on the steps,” said a small boy, blond hair curling into his eyes. In the distance, a door opened and closed.
“Stop,” said Emma, still sitting on the bed. But it wasn’t her bed now. The yellow pattern of the Batman comforter spread out beneath her legs.
The boy stood in the doorway. He looked back over his shoulder into the hall.
“He’s in the house.”
“Not again,” Emma whispered. She pressed her hands against her ears, waiting to wake up. But it didn’t matter. She heard the boy close the bedroom door just the same. It didn’t lock. It had been her biggest complaint about the house.
She looked up and found him standing on his toes, ear pressed to the door.
“He’s on the stairs,” the boy whispered. Emma thought she could hear footsteps, but it could have been the Batman clock on the side table, tapping, tapping.
“He won’t hurt you,” she said. Her voice was shaking. The little boy turned to look at her.
“He already has.”
The color began to bleed out of him. His eyes were sliding from blue to gray, his skin sallowed, began to hang heavily on his bones.
“He’s in the hall,” the boy whispered, stepping away from the door until he reached the bed. He climbed onto it beside Emma and sat, hugging his knees. His lips grayed. The skin around his neck began to bruise.
The doorknob turned.
Emma sat up, heart thudding in her chest.
The fan whirled and the radio played while the clock blinked: 1:20. She took a deep breath. Her bed was her bed, the blue striped comforter. Her clock was her clock, digital so it didn’t tick or tock or tap.
Emma frowned. Why then, did she hear the soft, insistent sound of tapping? A stair creaked. She reached for the volume on the radio, just as the doorknob turned.