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SHORT STORIES

Amber Light

“That’s stupid, and you’re stupid for thinking that’s true,” the boy said, though he gripped his blanket tight. The only light in the bedroom was the faint blue aura of the nightlight plugged in the wall. His friend-- laying on the toy-cluttered floor in an old Batman sleeping bag—scrunched his face up.

“It’s not stupid; it’s true!” the friend said, crossing his arms. “Danny told me about it.”

“And you always believe what your older brother says?” the boy asked.

“Yes, I do.” the friend said.

The boy wrapped his blanket around his shoulders as the shadows in his room grew more ominous. His friend always tried to scare the boy during sleepovers, and the boy always begged him to stop, yet tonight the poem his friend told had enraptured him until it was too late. His friend’s words reverberated in his mind and left him with a dread that stole his comfort and threatened to keep him awake.

Three in the morning, dead at night,

A silly saying, it’s all it was.

A lantern will visit, with amber light,

Poems were dumb anyway. They were only things his teacher made him memorize.

Its holder black, shrouded, Death,

Just because it rhymed doesn’t make it true.

Will take your last, living breath.

“If you think it’s so stupid,” the friend began, “then I dare you to stay up all night!”

The boy didn’t answer at first, the dark poem repeated in his mind. The words of his friend echoing louder and louder, drowning out his own thoughts of how ridiculous the poem actually was. Yet, it was so simple. If he looked out his window at exactly at three in the morning and he saw a lone lantern, it meant he was going to die.

Ridiculous.

“Max, did you hear me?” the friend asked with a slight smile on his face. Clearly his story had found its mark. “I said I dare you to stay up ‘til three and look out your window, unless you’re scared!”

The boy forced a laugh. “I’m not scared and I’m not staying up because it’s stupid. Just another one of your stupid stories.” He turned to his friend and found him nodding off. It was late, after all. The last words out of his friend’s mouth before succumbing to sleep were “I dare you…”

The boy didn’t realize he too was on the verge of sleep. His room was a soft blue from the nightlight. His friend filled the room with the gentle breathing of one in deep slumber. The boy remembered the words, the words of the poem: Three in the morning, dead at night…

***

The room was dark, hot, and stifling. The boy had awoken to find his blanket wrapped tight around him. Gasping for air, he whipped the blanket off over his head and let the cool air wash over him. He’d had a nightmare, the kind you don’t remember when you awake, but you still feel its effects. His friend still lay on the floor in his sleeping bag zipped up to his neck. His chest rose and fell with each breath. In the corner, the nightlight gave off a warm, orange glow.

My nightlight is blue.

The boy turned to the digital clock that sat on his end table. Its bright red colon blinked slowly, to the rhythm of his heartbeat. But that blinking grew faster and faster as he saw the time.

Two fifty-eight. A.M.

The silence of outside seeped into the room. No birds called; no cars drove by. His parents weren’t up and about. The entire house was silent, save for the deep breathing of his friend.

“Mike?” the boy said. “Mike, wake up.”

The friend remained sleeping.

“Mike!” the boy yelled. The friend remained sleeping. The boy felt the urge to scream, to wake up his mom and dad, to tell them the stupid poem and tell them about Mike’s stupid brother for telling him it in the first place. But it was just a poem, just a saying. He didn’t want to upset everyone by waking them up.

Two fifty-nine.

The room began to dim, the nightlight refused to shine in the deepest corners and its will to light up the rest of the room waned to nothingness. The only light that the boy could make out was the red digital numbers of his alarm clock. The blinking dots continued to quicken. It had to be all a dream, but he’d never had a dream in which he knew he was dreaming. He slammed his eyes shut and ducked under the covers.

Three o’clock.

The sound came from outside. Slow, plodding steps. Outside on the street. The boy could hear it clear as if it were outside his bedroom door. He trembled under the blanket, but a curiosity took over him. If he could only prove his friend wrong, he could show him how stupid his poem was. He lifted the covers off slowly and saw an amber light permeating the darkness of his room. It wasn’t the night light; the bulb was black and dead. It wasn’t from his alarm clock; the now ominous red glow barely radiated more than a few millimeters from its face. No, it came from outside his window. Black shadows danced over his ceiling as the light appeared to be moving, like the reflection of light off water. It shimmered and writhed.

Maybe the power went out, and the clock is wrong? The boy thought. It’s just the morning sun coming through. He looked at his clock again.

Three o’clock.

The boy got up and drew his curtains back just enough to see. There, floating at the end of this driveway hung a lantern. It was simply designed. Four sides with a peaked cap on top. Each side blazed with a fiery intensity. Even though the light emitted from the lantern shone brilliantly, it couldn’t resolve the dark entity holding it. The boy shut the curtains and his eyes. He slowly opened them and the light was no longer came from the outside. His room was dark once again. He looked to his bedside table.

Three o’clock.

An orange light flashed into existence within the room. The boy turned and hanging in the middle of his room was the lantern, held tightly by the entity that could not be seen. His friend continued to slumber, unaware of supernatural that occurred in the room. The boy jumped to his bed and threw the blanket up over his head.

“Mom! Dad!” he yelled. “Help me!”

Three o’clock.

For reasons unknown, he was compelled to remove the blanket. The room was filled with dozens of lanterns, all floating in air. Some were close enough to touch. Others shied in the high ceiling. The black lightless entity stood in middle of the room. Despite the dazzling lights, the harder the boy looked upon the entity, the darker and more out of focus it grew.  A force pushed him down onto his back. The boy screamed. He could feel a hand tighten over his throat. The boy fought in vain at the nothingness. His words choked. His breathing stopped. The light that blazed as molten metal blinded him. Then, the boy saw the hideous face of Death.

Three o’clock.

***

The friend woke up. The room was dark, save for the lazy blue light of the night light. He looked over and his friend lay silently in bed, not moving a muscle. In the dim light it didn’t even look like he was breathing. Funny trick of the light.

 He looked at the clock, then looked out the window and saw nothing but the night sky and a sprinkling of stars. He chuckled to himself that his friend Max would get so upset about a scary story. He knew his older brother always made stories up like that, but it never scared him. It sure scared Max. The friend looked at the clock again, and fell back asleep.

The clock read three oh-one.

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