Them

A boy acquires, unwillingly, an unconventional companion. What is it? Alien? The beginning of an invasion, or some kind of research? A ghost? If so, why is it so interested in him?

Dean Abernethy acquired it, or as he might say, caught it like one catches a disease, sometime during his seventh year. To be sure exactly when is impossible; in the beginning it would come and go, from limbo to oblivion, in no way recognizable as a pattern. It was entirely possible that the thing had been there sooner. Maybe ever since his birth and that he simply hadn't noticed it or it hadn't made itself known.

The first time he saw it was upon waking from a nightmarish dream. At his bedside the thing stood over him, vaguely appearing to be looking down at him. Its form was recognizable as ambiguously human or bipedal ape, though what use it had of limbs, eyes--more correctly, areas of black where eyes might be--or, more terrifying than that to any child, a vacant mouth in a state of everlasting yawn, is uncertain.

Seeing the thing was not a shock to him, coming upon it straight from a nightmarish dream as he did. As he became conscious the thing faded into obscurity so that he could not be sure it wasn't part of his horrible dream diminishing as he woke. Minutes later, he had forgotten all about it.

Two nights later it was there again, this apparition, and being fully awake playing in bed this time, he screamed, closed his eyes tightly, and waited for his parents. Although he didn't open his eyes until much later, he reckoned the thing must have disappeared quickly because his parents had offered that it was only his imagination. Long after they returned to their grown-up activities and he had convinced himself thoroughly that it was an isolated incident and reopened his eyes, there it was again.

He screamed again, his parents rushed in--again convinced of their son's incredible, if bothersome, imagination--and reassured him that it was all in his mind. His father told him he was brave, and that surely no mere ghost could harm such a brave boy. Thus, brave as he was, Dean Abernethy didn't scream the third time it appeared.

Glancing at the thing proved difficult for a sane child, watching it even more so. But he did, feeling as if at any moment he might just lose his mind and run screaming out of his house and down the street. Avoiding eye contact, if that was even possible, he felt was a necessity for sanity's sake, but with passing time his fear abated. Helpful was the fact that the thing didn't do anything scary. It didn't do anything at all, actually, but watch him back. Indeed, watching is all that the thing did that night and what it has done any time it is in Dean's company, though not with exclusivity, for every moment of his life since.

The End

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