When I was eleven years old, my family had this antique table. Its leaded paint was chipped, and the wood was rotting. Notches and scratches covered the surface, from when I tried to show my sister how fast I could stab a knife between my fingers.
Underneath it was worse. Globs of long forgotten gum littered the underside, mixed in with snot from us nose pickers. Bug filled cobwebs were in every nook and cranny; it seemed my family wasn't the only ones who enjoyed meals at the table.
One of the legs had somehow become much shorter than the others. We stacked a pile of Lego blocks underneath to make it even. There were many dark rings, from where my father placed his coffee mug. The wood had warped, so if you sat in the wrong place, your plate would slide away from you.
The odd time my mom would hang a tablecloth over it when she wanted to appear fancy for visitors. The cloth was wider than the table, and it dropped to the floor on all sides. It made for a great hide-and-seek spot.
Every time I thought about that table, it reminded me of a day so many years ago I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count. It had been hot, hellish, nearly forty degrees Celsius from sunrise to sunset. There were no clouds in the sky, no wind and even the bugs were hiding away from the heat. My family’s house was on a busy street. There wasn’t a person in sight.
After sunset the temperature dropped, but not nearly enough for it to be comfortable. The house felt like a furnace. The Devil’s Furnace.
I remember I went to bed early that day. I was tired from heat exhaustion. I woke hours later. The house was a freezer, colder than the Arctic. We didn’t have air conditioning in the house. I could see my breath. Everything smelt like rotten eggs.
I climbed out of bed, and the hardwood was like icicles on my feet. I pulled on socks and sweater and even questioned putting on my winter coat. It was the middle of July.
I walked out of my room; frost covered the doorknob. I was going to find the thermostat; it was somewhere on the main floor. I walked to the top of the stairs. From where I stood I could see the front door. It was wide open. Sometimes my family could be buffoons. How hard was it to lock the door?
I took the stairs one at a time. Each one groaned in protest, the noise carrying through the whole house. The stairs were never used this late in the night.
I looked out the front door. Dense fog covered the street. I couldn’t see past our front lawn. I bolted the door shut. The house was completely silent.
I turned around to head down the hall. The dining room was to my left. I could see the outline of the table in the dark. I flipped on the light above the front door. The light seeped into the dining room and crawled down the hallway.
I could see the table now. The tablecloth was on it.
I continued down the hallway towards the living room.
In the another room, something fell to the floor. The deafening crash made my heart skip a beat, and I squeaked. Butterflies rose in my stomach. My heart pumped fast. It had sounded like a five-ton boulder meeting concrete, or at least it did in the quiet house.
Shattering glass followed the noise and then the creak of a floorboard.
Suddenly I found myself under the table, wide-eyed, rocking back and forth.
I laughed at myself. Why did I scare so easily? It was nothing. My dad was probably having a drink in the living room, and he dropped his glass. He did that quite often. He lived in his chair, a drink in hand. My mom hated how clumsy he was.
I started to question what the other noise had been, but I was interrupted by the clamor of footsteps. They sounded like the hollow banging of a war drum. They were slow and evenly paced. The floorboards didn’t creak. No one in the house had footsteps like that.
It felt like my heart was in my throat. I had no reason to be scared. The noise was most likely coming from my dad. I laid down on my stomach and carefully lifted the tablecloth, just enough to peek one eye out. I was expecting to see my father’s house slippers. With the sound, they were making I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that they weren’t.
Big, muddy boots walked down the hallway across from me. My body shook, and a chill went through my spine. I didn’t dare lift the cloth more. No one in the house had boots like that.
I recoiled back, and my muscles clenched tightly. I could barely think my body was tensing so much. I was breathing heavy through my nose, and my teeth were clenched so tight they started to hurt.
Each step the boots took echoed through the house. They went to the stairs. They began to climb them. For such thunderous footsteps, they moved so silently through the house. I couldn’t be the only one hearing them. What about my dad in the living room. I had a gut feeling he wouldn’t hear anything anymore. I wanted to cry.
My heart was pumping faster than I could think. It was so loud it was making my ears bleed. I tried to control it, but my body was shaking too much.
The footsteps reached the top of the stairs. They stopped for a moment. They started again. They were headed straight for my parent's bedroom.
I wanted to move but I couldn’t. My fear wouldn’t let me.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. Whose boots were those? I needed to call someone, to get help.
I didn’t want to leave the safety of the table. I couldn’t force myself too.
The door to my parent's bedroom creaked open.
The shriek of a banshee filled the house. My mother’s scream.
I covered my ears. The tears welled in my eyes.
Shouts of pain and cries for help followed the shriek. I did nothing. Silence followed. Something slammed onto the ground. The heavy footsteps came back.
Fear petrified my body. My stomach felt sick. I wanted to vomit. My hands started to hurt, and I hadn’t realized I had balled my fists. My nails made my palms bleed.
My sister’s screams came next. I drowned it out with my own cry.
I bit my hand to stop my shout. I tasted blood in my mouth. The footsteps came back. I could hear something dragging on the floor. I didn’t want to know what it was. I think I already did. Sweat covered my body, my warm clothes sticking to my skin.
The footsteps started down the stairs. Each step they took was followed by a crash.
Step, bang. Step, bang. Something was hitting the stairs with each step.
The footsteps went straight to the living room. The dragging followed close behind. I pinched the bottom of the table cloth and peered through.
There was a long streak covering the hallway. It was dark and shiny in the overhead light. It smelt like blood. I feared that it was.
I scurried away from the edge of the table cloth. I gripped my knees. Tears came. I stifled my want to cry out. It didn’t work. The tears flowed.
The footsteps started again.
This time, they were coming closer. My heart began to pump faster and faster. The steps seemed to be in sync with my heartbeat. They were coming right for me. Goosebumps formed on my arms, and I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck.
They were right outside the table.
I muffled my cry, but I already knew it was too late for that.
I peeled the tablecloth up. The muddy boots were right there unmoving. It seemed like forever that I watched them. Before I realized it, I wasn’t looking at boots anymore, but knees.
Skeletal like fingers slowly wrapped around my own. They were colder than mine. They started to raise the table cloth. My breath quicken and I nearly passed out. I couldn't control my breathing.
An eye looked right at me.
It was a happy memory of a time so many years ago. I couldn’t help but think about it as I stand in front of a table, much like the I had. It is dark inside the home, but I have no trouble seeing. I look down at my feet. I wear heavy, muddy boots. In one hand I am holding an ax. Red coats the head of it. Blood red.
I lift the tablecloth and look into the eyes of a little boy. The boy is shaking, his eyes are wider than the moon. Just like me, he had been smart enough to take refuge underneath the table.