When midnight came and went and all that was left on the road was a pile of bones glinting white under the moonlight like lost pearls, Rock turned to his brother and asked, “What now?”
Now that the stars were winking in an ink-washed sky and their bellies were full of meat so fresh it was still hot as it had raced down their gullets, and their hearts finally slowed to an easy lullaby calm they did “Nothing”. Pine formed the word around a yawn. “If you can't sit and wait, go find something else to do.”
No one seemed to care when he got up and teetered down the road, avoiding the headlights of the car still running in the ditch. His bare feet made little flopping noises, like land-trapped fish as they slapped against the pavement on his way to the park. It was late and dark and no cars passed him trooping through town by himself. If they had, they would not have stopped anyway, for everyone here knew that bad things waited in the dark and no one dared venture out once the sun set. He passed an empty corner store and stopped to peer at the face of a boy who gazed down at him from a poster in the window.
3'4” / Blond / Male / 6 years old /Last Seen September 2nd
Please help us find our boy!
Rock pulled the poster down. It ripped where the tape had been piled against the corner. In the picture, blunt teeth were bared in a delighted smile and the boy's cheeks were pink and splotchy beneath wispy hair so light it was almost white. He was wearing a pair of pajamas with alligators on them that looked especially warm. Rock pulled the fur about his shoulders closer to him as a chill passed through the night air. The only word he could read was Benjamin.
He crumpled the paper up and threw it away.
The wind blew through the park, making it seem alive. The light from a lamppost stuttered over the rusted swings where Rock sat squishing the mud between his toes.
A lock clicked across the street from the park and the door to a house opened, artificial light spilling out across a well-groomed lawn and illuminating the figure of the homeowner, a man in his early thirties, whose eyes darted up and down the street as he crossed quickly into the park toward the boy he'd spotted from his window.
If it had been day, he may have sat down next to Rock, introduced himself as Alan and asked him where his parents were, but it was the middle of the night and everyone knew what sort of things a lingering person might call upon, so instead he asked in a hushed voice, “What are you doing out here?”
The rusted swing squealed loudly as the boy began to pump his feet, a flurry of motion that got him nowhere but up and down in a single space while Alan wracked his brain, looking for a name to go with the familiar face.
“I know you! You're that lost boy, Benjamin!”
Rock paused, remembering. Benjamin was missing. He had slipped out of his little bed with its striped covers on a night not unlike this one, where the moon shone brighter than his night light and he could hear the sharp sounds of Pine and his friends in the distance and the steady, boring ticking of the clock in the hall. Benjamin walked through the house and left the door open behind him, a gaping mouth screaming for him to come back. That had been over a month ago, and Benjamin was still gone.
Rock jumped from the swing, flying through the air and landing with a thud that sent spikes up his short legs. He twirled in a circle and fell in a heap on the ground, breathing heavily. Alan's door hung open in the distance, beckoning with its yellowed light to return to safety. He was not lost.
In the air around them, mosquitoes buzzed. Alan slapped at his face and smeared blood down his cheek. Above them, the moon held her silent vigil. A moth beat itself against the lamplight. In the shadows, something moved. A car squealed down the road. Something not-so-far-off howled. Alan grasped the boy around his arm and yanked. A sharp sting, the burn of flesh tearing, pulled at his hand in response and then he was stumbling back towards his house, leaving the boy and a trail of crimson splattering his stoop.
He slammed the door shut and went to the window, his heart hammering. Rock's twisted silhouette turned towards a distant sound of screaming before looking back at the house. He licked his lips and his tongue was too big for his mouth, dragging red down his chin. Alan wondered how he could ever have thought it was a boy. The thing in the park only loosely resembled a child. Now he could clearly see the grizzled, blood-spattered snout over knife-sharp teeth and eyes that glowed green in the dark.
Rock turned to stare at him before taking off down the road, like it had never been a boy who sat on a swing and thought about his mommy and daddy and missed his warm bed. Like it was truly some wild thing that belonged out there in the dark.
The air in the house was stuffy and hot, but Alan didn't dare open the window. The deceiving calm of the night had been disrupted and flurried movements that looked a lot like monsters now danced outside. And it was real, or it looked that way now that he knew. He couldn't un-know it, not tonight and maybe not ever.
Dawn broke with an audible crack, a back stretching itself out of a long nighttime cramp, and all was still.
*I'm not certain that I achieved what I was going for, but as long as this makes any sort of sense and doesn't feel too disjointed, I'll be happy. Any constructive criticism on the storytelling would be very much appreciated.