Marjory Leighton awoke with a start. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and the molding on her bedroom ceiling took shape, she could not shake a terrible uneasiness. Though the room was silent and dark, she knew she was not alone.
After a moment, she turned her head to survey the room. She coerced the aging, creaking bones of her neck to point her head toward her bedroom door. It appeared to be closed, undisturbed.
Something was different. Something was wrong. The portal to the room was indeed closed, but it was not her own white door that stood there. This barricade was dark and filled the door frame from top to bottom.
With ginger but nonetheless creaking movements, Marjory slipped from her bed and hobbled across the room. Even at an inch’s distance, she could not quite tell what was filling her doorway. Stranger still, a faint loamy, mineral odor wafted to her nostrils.
What the hell…?
Before she could think better of it, she reached out and touched the dark mass that blocked her door. Cold roughness met her skin. As she ran her hands over it, she could make out rectangular shapes, and valleys in between them. It was a familiar feeling.
A sudden bump from across the room stopped Marjory’s heart for a moment. It was followed by a “Shhhhh,” and another voice’s unintelligible response. Marjory whirled around.
The first thing to catch her eye was her window. Normally a fine, large rectangle, lit by moon and starlight, it now stood misshapen, half of it filled in raggedly.
As her eyes adjusted once more, however, a more pressing horror came into view. On either side of the window, a figure slowly materialized in the darkness. Each was tall and thin. Marjory could just barely make out some kind of strange hat on each figure’s head.
Her heart raced and her skin went clammy. She had known she was not alone from the moment she woke up, and now the terrible confirmation was staring her in the face. She tried to swallow with a desert-dry throat and croaked, “Who the hell are you?!”
“We didn’t mean to wake you, ma’am,” said one of the figures. She could not tell which of them had spoken, but the voice she heard was male, low, and even.
“What are you doing here?” Marjory demanded.
A different voice answered. This one was higher and less confident. “We’re here on business, ma’am. We’ve a job to do.”
“I don’t give a damn!” Marjory shouted. “I want you out of my house right now, or I’ll---” She hesitated. What could she possibly say that would convince them to leave?
“I’ve got a gun!” she said, finally. “And I’ll use it.”
The figures were silent for a moment. “Marjory,” the low one said at last, “we know that’s not true.”
The higher one piped in. “We made a thorough search of the house to ensure that everything would go smoothly.”
Marjory trembled, but still tried to sound as ferocious as she could manage. “If you think I’m going down without a fight, you---”
The first voice interrupted. “Marjory, we mean you no harm… directly, at least. But we were sent here to… well, to do what needed to be done.”
“Oh?” Marjory mocked. “And what exactly needs to be done to an old woman like me?”
Again the voices fell silent for a moment. Finally, the low one spoke. “I’m afraid we can’t discuss that with the target.”
“Target?” Marjory’s chest ached. She pressed her back against the wall and slid to the floor. “But why me?”
“We all have our time,” the higher voice said.
“But who decided this was mine?!” Marjory snapped. “Who the hell sent you?”
Again, silence. Then the answer came.
“You’ll know soon enough.”
Panic suddenly lit a fire in Marjory’s muscles. With an ease she hadn’t felt in years, she launched herself off the floor and rushed at the two figures. A primal howl ripped forth from her lungs as she neared them. Her speed and force were so great that she couldn’t even stop when she saw the lone brick rise up from nowhere. By the time she felt the short, sharp shock to her temple, it was too late, and darkness fell over all.
“Wellness check on an old lady,” said Officer Crouch as he and his partner headed up the walkway. “Jesus, we gotta find a different line of work.”
“You ain’t shittin’,” Officer Jennings replied.
They crossed the creaky porch to the front door and Crouch gave a knock.
“Why are we here again?” Jennings asked.
Crouch took a deep breath. “Neighbor says she hasn’t seen the old bat in a month and she’s worried about her.”
Jennings sighed. “She probably just left. Happens all the time.”
“Maybe,” Crouch said. “But wouldn’t she have cancelled her mail, though?” He pointed to the pile of letters that scattered itself over the porch during the past month.
“Old people forget shit,” Jennings argued. “You know that.”
“Yeah,” said Crouch, “but we’d still better make sure. Could be that one-in-a-thousand case. You never know.” He knocked on the door again and called, “Mrs. Leighton? Are you in there?”
“Check the knob,” Jennings ordered.
Crouch did and found that the door was unlocked. “What do you think?” he asked his partner.
Jennings sighed. “I guess we should make a sweep.”
With great care, the officers entered the house. Nothing seemed amiss apart from a noticeable layer of dust that had come to rest over nearly everything in sight.
Then came the odor. It was sickly and familiar.
“You smell that?” Jennings asked.
“Yeah,” Crouch said. “Remember how I said you never know?”
They followed the odor into the belly of the house where a flight of stairs beckoned them upwards. As they climbed to the second floor, the odor hit them harder and harder, crushing each officer with the realization of the unavoidable. At last, they came to a closed white door.
“You want to do it?” Crouch asked.
“No,” said Jennings. “You can do it.”
“Oh, come on,” Crouch said. “It’s your turn.”
Before Jennings could answer, a sound cut through the air. Something scrambled on the other side of the door. It sounded too large to be a rodent. It may have even cursed as it skittered.
Without any further delay, Crouch pushed the door open. It gave way with ease, and his regret was immediate.
They had found Marjory’s bedroom. That odor was strongest here, hanging in the very air, soaking into every surface. Light streamed in from the window, illuminating the room’s sole occupant. Sprawled on the bed was what remained of Marjory. From the look of her, she had been dead for almost the entire month she’d been missing.
In their fuss over the body, the officers never once checked the closet at the back of the room. If they had, who knows what might have happened? At the very least, they would have found a very strange figure hiding in the shadows, and clutching a single brick.