I often work late hours. My wife's tragic passing has been incredibly tough, emotionally and financially, on our young family. Tim had struggled, still struggles, but we are returning to normalcy after many many months. I spent as much as I could with my little Tim, but there were nights that work would simply not wait, and these times required a babysitter. The pool of babysitters I could summon at short notice was not deep, but I found a consistent carer named Sally who, despite not being the most apt, was happy to be called in at all hours.
Sally wasn't required to do much as she would often be called in late in the evening. As long as Tim had brushed his teeth and gotten into bed by 8, I was happy for her to do whatever she wished. Most of the time, it was homework or chatting to her friends via message. I hardly saw her in truth, she would see my headlights pull into the driveway and quietly walk past me through the front door as I made my way inside. Tonight seemed no different as I pulled up and saw the door open. Sally was slower tonight, her head facing the ground so I could not see her face. I exited my car, locked up and said a small greeting to the leaving babysitter.
"Easy night?" I enquired. No response.
As I approached, she raised her face and grinned coyly, her face still obscured by long brunette hair. She held her phone in her hand, or at least that's what I could make out in the dim light.
"Well, see ya Sally." I offered, and slipped past her through the open door.
Our front door opened directly to the main staircase, and Tim was standing at the top of the stairs, visibly upset.
"Hey sport, what's the matter?"
Tim bounded down the stairs in his pyjamas, tears still streaming down his face.
"I had a nightmare daddy." He sobbed, trembling as I caught him in my arms.
"Oh Tim, tell me about it. Where's Rudolph?"
Rudolph was Tim's stuffed teddy that he carried with him everywhere. It had been an early gift from his late mother, and he cherished the teddy immeasurably.
Tim looked puzzled at the question, but disregarded it and began to relay his bad dream.
"I was getting ready for bed, I brushed my teeth and put my jammies on. I started to come downstairs to say goodnight to Sally, but I stopped on the stairs. There was a shadow, daddy, standing near the front door. I crept back up the stairs to try and stay hidden..."
If Sally had a boy over, I'd be very angry. She knew the rules, but I'd bring that up with her next time we spoke. For now, I asked Tim to continue, his tears still falling freely.
"The shadow, it moved towards Sally, but she didn't hear. She had her earphones in. I wanted to say something but I was so scared, dad, I didn't want to move."
I felt a cool chill go down my neck, thinking I'd perhaps left the front door open. I paid it no mind and continued listening to Tim.
"The shadow moved closer to her, I don't know what it was. When it got right behind her, its arm raised, and the front curtains moved. Sally looked shocked, and shuffled her body to face the window. The shadow moved then, daddy, it moved in front of her. When she turned her head back to her phone, it was like she couldn't see it, she just kept playing."
I wiped tears from Tim's face. He was cold, and the droplets pouring down his cheeks seemed even colder. I told him to go on.
"The shadow, daddy, it moved into her."
Into her, he said, and another shiver ran down my neck.
"What happened then Tim?"
"I closed my eyes and tried to wake up, but when I opened my eyes, Sally was at the bottom of the stairs. She was just staring at me. She stood still, but the shadow..."
"Keep going, Tim"
"The shadow split into two, and half of it started to float towards me, daddy. I was so scared."
The chill was beginning to really take over me, and I turned quickly to realise the door was still open. I picked up Tim and walked to close the door. He felt heavier, but I put that down to the fact that I was tired from work. I shut the door and moved Tim towards the couch in which Sally had previously occupied.
Her phone was still there, but I had sworn she was carrying it with her as she left. I turned back to Tim.
"Do you wanna finish your story, Tim?" I asked, almost too spooked by the tale my son was telling me.
"The shadow came to me and before I could move, it moved into me."
A knock at the door startled me, and I let out a quick gasp of shock. I grabbed Sally's phone, assuming it was her who had come back to collect it. I quickly moved towards the door, and after looking through the peephole, opened the door to a standing Sally. She was grinning and she moved one arm from behind her back to collect her phone. Her hand brushed mine, cold.
"Thanks Sally, I have to talk to you about having guests over."
She continued grinning, hardly reacting to my words, as I shut the door.
I turned back towards Tim to see he was still sobbing endless streams of tears down his face.
"Did the nightmare end then, Tim?" I asked.
The creak of the door behind me was unmistakable, and I turned quickly to see Sally grinning that same grin. I went to ask her what was wrong when I heard the scuttle of footsteps escaping me. Tim had run back upstairs, seemingly frightened by Sally's surprise return. I walked towards the staircase to see where he had run off to, which is when I took notice of the chaos.
Rudolph was at the top of the stairs, laying gently atop the highest step.
I let out a slow yelp as I pieced the picture together. Next to Rudolph, barely peeking over the top of the stairs, was a hand hanging limply. A small child's hand.
Tim was still standing tall at the top of the stairs, grinning in a way I'd never seen. I spun around to face Sally.
"What have y..."
A shadow left the widely smiling Sally and floated towards me.
The coldness overtook me.