I don’t know what the creature was, or how to protect myself from it. I know that it’s dangerous, I know it’s real, and I know that it preys on young people. I guess I should probably explain how.

I was walking to a house down the street from my own to babysit some snot-nosed kids for a little cash. I don’t know why I made sure to grab my pepper spray and put it in my purse that morning, but I had, and I reached into the bag and wrapped my fingers around it for a sense of security as I walked down my block at seven forty-five at night. Damn, it got dark early now.

I knocked on the door to the house and the parents opened it after a few minutes of anxious waiting on my part. I eyed the forest once more before finally stepping into the warm home. I greeted the parents, both of whom were very excited and ready to leave their rugrats to me. I held my hand out for my pay and they gave me half as usual, ensuring that I stay with their brats to get the rest when they return.

I sigh, slipping off my worn tennis shoes by the door and walking into the living room where the kids were playing tag recklessly. I clapped a rapid pattern and the children stopped immediately to repeat it back to me.

“Now, kids, you know your parents' rules,” I say, picking at my chipping nail polish. “Dinner, baths, and then off to bed, so what do you want to eat?”

The two three-year-olds, four-year-old, and five-year-old all gathered together, murmuring excitedly to each other before one stepped away from their group. The only sister was the spokesperson, apparently. “We want hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.”

I smiled down at her. “Okay, now who wants to get their bath done first while I cook?”

The oldest, a kid I recall to be named Johnathan, raised his hand. “I will.”

I nodded. “Okay, Johnny, go take your bath and dinner will be done by the time you’re out.”

Johnny ran off up the stairs to bathe, and I walked into the kitchen to make the children dinner.

Johnny was done with his bath before I was done making the macaroni and cheese. “Did you wash your hair?” I asked him, eyes narrowed a little.

He nodded. “Well, yeah, I did. I’m not dumb.”

I nodded. “Okay.” I looked down into the pot of bubbling cheese and bent noodles. “I think dinner’s done. Go tell your brothers and sister.”

They ate slowly, prolonging the time they had before bathing and sleep. I knew that, but I let them sleep anyway.

It wasn’t long until I was tucking them into their beds. The boys shared a bedroom and the little girl had a separate one. I tucked each child in carefully, my paranoia kicking in as I peered out their bedroom windows and scanned the surrounding forest afterwards.

“Goodnight, kiddos,” I announced to them in a hushed voice before walking downstairs to the living room, relaxing on the couch.

I was almost asleep when I heard a quiet, scratching noise from upstairs. My brow furrowed as I attempted to ignore it, chalking it up to imagination. The scratching grew louder and seemed to be moving higher up the house. I sighed, getting up to investigate.

I wiped the sleep from my eyes before scratching idly at my stomach as I ascended the stairs. I followed the noise to the boys’ room. I opened the door slowly, quietly, so I wouldn’t wake them.

When I got the door open, I screamed. Not that the screaming did any good, but it did help me get a handle on the situation in one sense. I was staring right out the window to a large, black, furry monster.

It offered me a toothy grin; its lips curling up and actually in on themselves. I gasped in horror, and the boys, who I awoke with my scream, screamed too, jumping from their beds to cower behind me.

“Go to your sister’s room. Now. Go!” I hissed, and they fled for what I believed to be refuge.

The monster smiled again, bringing a hand to the window. Well, I shouldn’t say hand, it was almost a paw, with thick, stubby fingers and long claws sprouting from the tips. It smashed the window, showering the room with the glass. It crawled in the opening, and I flipped on the light.

Its fur was thick, tousled and matted. It smelled of the sewer and dead, rotting flesh. My stomach rolled, and I felt as though I’d throw up. I backed away fearfully for a few seconds before I remembered I had children to protect, not just me. I took a deep breath through my mouth, but its scent tasted worse, and I coughed violently.

It grinned the curling grin again; its large, almond-shaped eyes that had a slight yellow tint and large, black pupils narrowed menacingly. Its blood-stained nose at the end of a long muzzle twitched as it smelled me. It raised a clawed paw and reached out to me, beckoning me to it. I stepped back.

A low growl erupted from its throat, and it bared more of its stained, pointed teeth at me. It beckoned for me to step towards it again with one clawed finger. I hesitantly took a step forward. It was much larger than me, probably six feet eight inches tall.

It lunged at me, and I barely had time to react, throwing my arms out in front of me. It breathed on my face and neck, biting at my skin and tearing flesh from it slowly. There is no way to describe it, but I know I screamed. I screamed and begged the creature to stop.

There was a sinking in my stomach when I heard screams and pleas from the next room. There were more things than just the one slowly skinning me. I screamed and thrashed against the monster, but it took both my wrists in one of its clawed hands and held them above my head easily.

There was growling and the sounds of snapping bones in the next room, and I flinched from it, tears streaming down my cheeks. The monsters were eating the children’s carcasses. My stomach flipped again.

The monster on top of me had bitten most of the flesh from my left arm and was beginning to nibble on my right when an earsplitting howl filled the home. The monster’s large, triangular ears perked up at the sound before howling back in a lower tone. It stood up and off of me before half-crawling half-walking from the room.

I lay there for a long while, not wanting to move or face the dead children in the next room; the children I couldn’t protect. It could’ve been fifteen minutes, or it could’ve been an hour until I got up and walked numbly into the little girl’s room.

It looked like a bomb had gone off. The children’s blood and organs were splayed everywhere, splattered on the cream walls and staining pink shag carpeting. Their broken bones littered the room, along with shreds of their young flesh. Bile rose from my stomach, and I vomited onto the carpet, adding my own stain.

I didn’t know what to do, so I wrapped my skinless arm in gauze from the medicine cabinet before hurrying home. They’d think I was some kind of sick freak no matter what I said. They wouldn’t believe me if I said a monster did it. I’d have to run, get away, learn how to protect people from those things.

So I ran, not looking back once. I stole my mom’s car, and I packed everything I needed. I kept driving, and I didn’t stop until I needed gas, and by then I was in a different state. Now I search for answers, and ways to save children from the same fate as the ones I babysat. I haven’t saved anyone, and it’s been four years.

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