"Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands." ~Anne Frank
"Life out of the ordinary is no life at all."
This was the mantra of Mr. Grey, an ordinary man living in an ordinary house in an ordinary town in Indiana. He wanted nothing more than to live out his ordinary life without ever breaking routine. Fortunately, Mr. Grey was a librarian, a perfect job for a man in such desperate need of order. Every day, he would wake up at 6:00 a.m. precisely, have two pieces of toast and exactly ten ounces of high-quality black coffee (using sugar and cream was only a way to mask the taste of bad coffee, he thought). After finishing his cup, Mr. Grey would prepare an omelet, which he would leave covered on the dining room table for his eleven-year-old son, James. He would then drive the thirty-five minutes to the library, arriving promptly at 7:10 am where he would spend his day organizing and cataloging countless books, only to return home, prepare dinner and go to sleep.
As you can see, Mr. Grey did not spend a great deal of time with his son and most certainly not with his wife.
Allison Whitney, before becoming Mrs. Grey, was an extraordinary woman from Charnwood England. From the time she was a little girl, her courage, and love of exploring had led her on the most outstanding adventures, from the mystery of Mrs. Rosewood's pie thief to Charnwood's own buried treasure. However, it wasn't until she traveled to Tibet that she began the greatest adventure of her life. She had been searching for a secret collection of scriptures said to contain ultimate knowledge and hidden wonders beyond imagination, or so they say. It was while she was exploring the mountains that she came across John before he was known as Mr. Grey. And from the moment they met, no two souls ever matched so perfectly.
Until James was born, Allison and John traveled the world, searching for lost treasures, quenching their thirst to live a fulfilling life of wondrous experiences. Blindly walking into danger and mayhem, they lived to the fullest, until Allison became pregnant. Then the Greys returned to America and settled in Indiana to await the birth of their own personal treasure—trading in magic and adventure for the family life.
On April 24th, Mr. And Mrs. Grey gave birth to their son. When Allison held James for the first time, she could almost hear a beautiful melody playing. She knew that she loved him with all her heart. However, one night, not more than a few months after James was born, while her family slept, Allison arose from her bed and gently kissed her husband's forehead and whispered, "Goodbye, my love."
Silently, she moved through the house to her sleeping son's room. She stood over James' crib and admired her precious boy. She caressed his cheek, and he unconsciously nuzzled her fingers. She dared not pick him up for fear that she might wake him.
"My sweet boy," she whispered tenderly. She lingered in the beautiful song that was filling her heart, an unnatural melody that invaded her very soul. Then slowly stepped out of the room and out of John and James' lives.
It was that moment that changed Mr. Grey. Losing the love of his life with no explanation affected him more than he could ever comprehend. Allison was gone and despite having a newborn son, he had never felt more alone.
In the following months, he replaced the emptiness in his heart caused by her absence with routine and mundane things. Blaming her burning desire and infatuation with mystery and adventure for her departure, he vowed to remove all unpredictability from his and his son's life to ensure he wouldn't lose the only person he had left. Little did Mr. Grey know that despite his best efforts, magic would still find his young son at a great cost to himself.
The sound of glass smashing against the floor ripped John from his dreamless sleep. Reaching for the clock on his nightstand, John squinted at the glowing red numbers and groaned.
5:45 am. "Great..." he muttered as he tossed his sheets aside, unaware of the havoc that awaited him downstairs.
As he dragged into the kitchen, John's green eyes widened at the sight before him. On the table sat two plates, two burnt pieces of toast on each. Two glasses, which had almost no orange juice in them at all. Atop the stove, what he assumed were once eggs were now black ash, and standing on a chair surrounded by coffee grounds and broken glass, was his son, gawking like a deer in the headlights. John could feel his blood boil; he had no time for this. His morning routine had been obliterated.
"What are you doing?!" John said, stepping carefully over the broken glass to grab the burning pan off the stove.
"Trying to make breakfast," James said.
"Is the toaster broken?" John eyed the blackened toast, wondering how James had achieved such a dark char.
"No... It just wasn't done the first time and we are out of juice..."
John dropped the pan in the sink and turned to face James, who had sunk down in his chair. Feeling his aggravation begin to fade at the sight of his son's embarrassment, John took his seat at the head of the table, grabbed a piece of the blackened toast and took a large bite.
"Mmm... what's the occasion?" John asked, trying to hide his displeasure in the burnt dry bread.
James looked up bright-eyed, "It's my birthday!"
John sat frozen in his chair. He had forgotten James' birthday, and this was not the first time. "Shouldn't that mean I make you breakfast, Jim?" He asked, masking his forgetfulness with the most confident smile he could muster.
"Well, I want something different this year," James said, playing with his food sheepishly and staring down at his toast as if waiting for it to respond in place of his father.
But John knew better; this was not the first time that James had asked for something "different." Several years ago, when James was barely old enough to read a book, the nightmares started. They weren't much at first, just a few creeps in the darkness of his mind, but it didn't take long before they were full-blown horrors that not only tormented the boy in his sleep but followed him out of his dreams when he woke. James had night terrors.
"I don't want to to take my medication anymore," James said, straightening up in his chair and held up his head confidently.
"James, we've talked about this..." John checked his wristwatch, 6:08 am. He was behind schedule. He took another bite of the toast and washed it down with what had made it into the juice glass before taking another large bite.
"But, this time's different!" he protested. "I haven't taken anything in a few days and I haven't had bad dreams at all!"
John immediately began to choke on the toast he had attempted to swallow, coughing hard. Reaching for the empty glass, he rose from the chair and rushed to the sink, slicing his foot on the broken glass in the process. Letting out a growl of pain, he filled his glass and drank the water greedily, washing down the dry toast that had caught in his throat.
"You what?!" He yelled, angrier at his now bleeding left foot than James.
"I haven't!" Despite James' efforts, the large dark circles forming under his eyes said otherwise. They said that he hadn't slept well at all, they said that his nightmares were worse than ever. "Nurse Cassie says that..."
John cut him off, "Who's Nurse Cassie? What happened to Ms. Rollins?"
"She's new, I told you about it two weeks ago... But she said that she thinks I've got to face my fears sometime. And I don't like how they make me feel, I keep forgetting things and the other kids make fun of me..."
"Face your... No, absolutely not." John had completely missed the point, which if he had been paying attention, was blatantly obvious. The frustration and sadness could be seen on James' face as his eyes drifted to the table as if behind the reflection on the dark wood was a memory he wished he could forget. But as per usual, John didn't see it.
"Why not?!" James snapped back, angry that his father could possibly have a reason to say no.
John turned and glared at his son, "Absolutely not."
"Why not?!" James snapped back, angry that his father could possibly have a reason to say no.
"BECAUSE I SAID SO!" John was done with the interruption of his morning.
"But that's not fair! It's my birthday, and you didn't even remember!"
"Go to your room!" John said.
James stood from his chair and swiftly moved passed the broken glass, gritting his teeth as tears rolled down his face.
John watched as his son stormed away and turned his eyes back to the wrecked kitchen. He sighed as he grabbed a broom and began to clean the mess James had left.
By the time John had finished sweeping the floor, scrubbing the pan, wiping the table, and wrapping his foot it was already 6:45 am. He would absolutely be late. John felt a moment of regret. Maybe he had been too hard on James. He decided to go upstairs and talk to him. He made his way up the stairs and down the hall, to James' door where a freshly drawn sign had been taped. KEEP OUT! Had been scribbled in large black letters. He knocked anyway.
"Go away!" James yelled through the door. John tried to turn the knob, but it was locked from the inside.
"Son, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry," John said through the door. "You have to believe me, this is for the best..." He waited a moment, hoping for a response. "I'll call the school and talk to Nurse Cassie so that she'll understand... She just doesn't know how bad it really is..." John was interrupted by the door whipping open, James stood eyes full of tears, glaring at him.
"You don't know anything! You're not brave, or adventurous. You're boring and a coward! I wish you would have left instead of mom!" James slammed the door hard in his father's face.
John stood, staring at the door. He had never felt so small in all his life. "Happy Birthday, son... I love you," No response. Fighting back the tears in his eyes, John checked his watch, 6:54 am. He carefully removed the leather timepiece and hung it on his son's doorknob. John sulked down the stairs and grabbed his coat.
Maybe James is right... maybe Allison left because I'm boring, he thought to himself, getting into his car.
"Okay, I'll fix it tonight," he said out loud. Starting the engine, he pulled out of the driveway and began his trek to the library, forty-five minutes off schedule.
The traffic didn't help his case, but he managed to pull into the Indiana State Library parking lot at 8:10 am.
Stepping out of the car, John winced in pain at the cut on his foot. Placing both feet out of the car, John stood and all too suddenly sensed a familiar feeling—the feeling that he was being watched. His senses on high alert, he searched the empty parking lot. But there was nothing, just the building, and the surrounding trees. Staring into the tree-line, John waited, though, for what, he did not know.
"What took you so long?" a voice said from behind him, suddenly breaking the silence. John almost jumped out of his skin. He hadn't even heard anyone walking up.
"Sorry, there was some heavy traffic on the way." John lied, trying to slow his racing heart.
"No worries, Fred told me to tell you to just tack the extra time to the end of your shift." The man patted John on the shoulder, handed him the keys to the library and walked toward his parked pick-up. Fred, being John's boss, was usually strict with other employees on tardiness, but with John Grey it was different. He had not been late once in the last fifteen years. If he was late, there was obviously a good reason.
"Alright, thanks, Chris. Sorry again!" he yelled. Chris stepped into his truck and waved in acknowledgment. Chris worked the night-shift, and spent his days sleeping and taking classes in criminology; he didn't mind being able to come into work an hour later that night.
John watched him drive away, leaving him standing alone in the parking lot. Taking one last glance at the tree line, he turned towards the library's double glass doors, writing off his paranoia as nothing more than a lingering feeling from this morning's disaster.
He had never been so wrong.
The last hour of John's shift bore down on him faster than he would have liked. He still hadn't thought of anything that he could possibly say to break the ice with his son let alone fix the situation. When the phone on his desk rang, he almost lept from his chair at the chance to break the self-made tension.
"Indiana state library," John said with his best helpful voice.
"Hey John, it's Chris," John began to rub his brow at the sound of Chris' voice. "I kind of need a favor."
John knew that this wasn't a good sign, over the last several months that Chris had been interning at the library, he had shown up late at least three times a week, and each time he would ask John for a favor. While John would have loved nothing more than to let Chris fend for himself, he knew that he had been late that morning and Chris didn't say a word. "Sure, what's up?" John sighed.
"My truck broke down, I'll catch out there as soon as I can. Can you cover me for a bit?"
"Sure, I was a bit late today, I'll close up shop. Just give me a call when you get here," John responded, knowing a few extra hours wouldn't be too much of a problem.
"Thanks, John! I owe you one," Chris sighed.
"No problem, good luck with the truck," John hung up the phone and shook his head. He doubted he would ever need a favor from Chris. Looking around the library, he wondered if there were any people still wondering the aisles or working at one of the upstairs computers. He opened the drawer at his desk and grabbed the master keys, figuring the best thing to do was to make his rounds to lock the doors and let people know that the library would be closing.
By the time he was satisfied that the library was empty, the sun had long set and all the windows looked as if they were painted black. John cut the main lights' leaving only a few forgotten desk lamps to illuminate the darkened rows of books. One by one John, turned off the lights and slowly the shadows overcame him. He had never been comfortable in the dark, and the unusual silence of the darkened library didn't do him any favors.
As he returned to his desk, the sound of a book shifting on the shelf to his left caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end. It was nothing more than a whisper in the dark, but it was enough to fill his heart with dread. Staring into the black alley created by the two shelves, John waited, as if hoping the sound would come again. Those few moments of silence, were all John's imagination needed to run wild. Everything inside of him cried out to run, before some horrible creature leaped from the shadows and gutted him like a fish, or drag him screaming into the darkness. So many possibilities, but still John waited.
Several seconds passed and as John was about to give up on his suspicions, new sounds rang out from the shadows. Loud sickening cracks mixed with the sound of leather stretching filled John's ears. One after the other a crack and a long stretch, until the source grew and towered above him.
John turned and ran, eyes fixated on the last lamps soft glow in the dark. Ignoring the searing pain from his feet, he fought for the light which seemed like a lifetime away. He silently hoped that it was his imagination, that he would reach his desk and feel foolish.
"Foooooound you," something sang from the darkness behind him.
John scrambled to the desk and ripped open the drawers looking for something, anything that could shine a brighter light than the faded glow of his desk lamp. A warm breeze kissed his cheek and before John could even turn a searing pain erupted from his back. He felt the ground beneath him fall away as he soared through the darkness. His body clipped several of the massive bookshelves before finally slamming hard onto the library floor. John groaned in pain.
Looking back John could barely tattered gray robes of his attacker before it shattered the desk lamp plunging them into darkness.
"We have been looking for you for a long time," It said. Its voice growled in the dark.
"What are you?" John could taste the metallic flavor of blood filling his mouth, and he could feel the warm liquid soaking through the back of his shirt.
"You know what we are," It whispered.
As John's eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see the creature staring down at him. "How?" he asked, wondering what could have led this creature to him.
It tilted its head back and sniffed the air deeply. It chuckled with delight and John swore he could see the rows of jagged teeth displayed on the creature's face as it leaned forward. "Don't you smell it? The hint of copper whispering in the air?"
John looked down at his foot in the darkness and clenched his jaw. "A wraith..." he whispered.
"Where are they?" it hissed.
"I don't kn..." Before John could finish his sentence, the wraith grabbed his foot and hurled him into the closest bookshelf, as if John were nothing but a toy. The heavy shelf didn't budge, a fact that John knew all too well.
"We will not ask again..." the wraith's said in its clotted voice.
"I don't know what you're looking for!" John shouted.
The wraith began mumbling to itself rhythmically and rocking back and forth in the shadows. John could barely make out its faint mumbles. "What are you saying?" He demanded. The black creature cocked its head and let out a sinister laugh and spoke the words in a low hiss. Words that sent chills down John's spine.
"A Song That Will Forever Play
Throughout the night and every day
A Song that drags you in its wake
Your Courage and Soul this Song will take
This Song of mine You'll Never Hear
Beware O Lord the Song of Fear,"
John knew the words to the story well, one of the many legends surrounding the Night Scrolls, the secret set of scrolls that he and Allison had found in the Tibetan mountains all those years ago. What they found weren't the secrets of the universe or ultimate knowledge, it was the story of a prison hidden behind an ancient language painted on even older parchment. The word overrated came to John's mind at the time, but now as he lay bleeding on the floor taking his last breaths he couldn't help but wonder was it really just a story?
"If you don't know where the scrolls are, then perhaps the little one will." Shadows began moving all around the darkened library and out of the corner of his eye, John saw hundreds of them moving through the dark.
John reached for his watch, the tool that he had used for the better part of a decade, knowing that all it would take was a quarter turn of the dial and he would make quick work of this murder of crows that circled him in the dark. But to his horror, his fingers rubbed against the bare skin of his wrist, and he realized his fate was sealed. John hung his head knowing that he would never leave the library that night but if he wanted to save his son from the same fate, he could not let them leave either. He mumbled something that couldn't be heard by even the closest wraith. "What was that?" the Wraith asked, canting his head to better hear the doomed human's words.
"You'll never touch my son." An emerald green light appeared from the depths of John's eyes, swirling and glowing from within. Slowly at first but with increasing speed, the dull green in John's eyes was replaced by a brilliant flame. The same light emanated from beneath him, suddenly engulfing John in emerald flames that ignited the books and shelves surrounding him. The wraiths recoiled from the intense heat and John could finally see them, holding up their claws to shield their black pearl eyes from his flames. John rose to his feet and the burning rags that were once his clothes fell to the floor as his skin began to melt away, painfully. He began to walk toward the sea of wraiths, which parted and hissed as his flaming green skeleton passed.
With each agonizing step, John's vision blurred until he could no longer see through the emerald flames, but he pressed forward relying solely on instinct— thousands of thoughts flashed through his brain. Allison's smile, the first time he laid eyes on James. Spectacular memories, all shielding his mind from his body's destruction. Reaching out with a boney hand, John grabbed the wraith, that had spoken to him, pulling him face to face. The cloth clutched in his fingers instantly caught flame, burning the creature alongside John, as the sea of wraiths searched frantically for a reprieve from the flaming green coffin, howling and hurling themselves at the locked doors and barred windows. Each of them refusing to accept their fiery fate but try as they might they, along with Mr. Grey, would never escape that night.
The emerald glow of the fire could be seen from miles away and would have been seen by James if he had bothered to look out of his window. James Grey was very much like his mother, a free spirit. He was not very tall, not very thin, he had gray eyes and straight brown hair that was always neatly combed. At first glance, James was everything his father wanted him to be, an average little boy. But he longed for adventure and excitement, and since routine had been forced into him for years, his desire for change and wonder grew each and every day. On more than one occasion, he had used a "bathroom break" as a way to skip school and go on one of his haphazard adventures out in the cornfields nearby, wishing that his life was more exciting. Which, to the disappointment of his father, was one of the reasons why he didn't want to take his medication. His nightmares and fears were challenges that needed conquering, at least that's what Nurse Cassie had told him, and he couldn't very well let something as simple as bad dreams stand between him and glory, that would make him no better than his boring old man and James couldn't think of anything worse than that. If only he could have known that the terrible things that happened on that night would haunt him for the rest of his days. He would have listened to his father that morning, he would have stayed in bed and slept peacefully through the night and even grown up to be a good man. Unfortunately, none of those ordinary things happened.
On that night, James pretended to sleep, facing the wall and clutching his blanket tight. It wasn't the sound of his locked door creaking open that woke him or even the sound of footsteps on the hardwood floor stopping at the edge of his bed. It was the humming that pried him from his feigned sleep. He could feel it staring down at him as it hummed its eerie lullaby; beeum, beeum, bambalow, bambalow and dillidillidow. He refused to open his eyes and pulled the blanket tighter around his body, as all children do to protect themselves from the monsters in the dark. And just as he was about to cry out in terror, the humming stopped and for a moment he thought the nightmare was over. Until something gripped his body and pressed him down into the bed causing the frame to creak under the force as if whatever it was leaned down on top of him.
He wanted to scream, to call out for his dad but the air was being forced from his lungs. Panic overcame him, and he flailed wildly against the increasing pressure. His eyes filled with tears and he whimpered beneath his sheets. It's coming for you! A bloodcurdling voice growled into his ear as the life was being crushed out of him and with an unsettling giggle James was released. He gasped for air as the sound of footsteps running away echoed through his room. His bedroom door swung open and slammed shut, leaving James sitting dumbstruck on his bed, illuminated by the moonlight shining through his window.
He wanted to call for his dad and for a few moments he was convinced that he would; but then he remembered what Nurse Cassie had said and he remained silent. He threw his sheets aside and placed both feet firmly on the cold floor and stood on shaky legs. "I'm not scared..." he whispered to himself as he began to slowly creep toward his bedroom door. His plain pajamas were soaked in sweat, his skin was covered in gooseflesh, and his hands were cold as ice, but he continued forward. Just not fast enough.
James froze in his tracks as the doorknob turned and the door slowly opened revealing a long ribbon of darkness on the other side. "I'm not scared..." he whispered once again, but this time he wasn't as confident. He held his breath and wrapped his fingers around the cool wood of the door and ripped it open as quickly as he could as if it were a Band-Aid covering a scab. He heard a light thud at his feet as the door swung open and he stared down wide-eyed, expecting some creature to be reaching for his bare toes, but to his relief, it wasn't some red-eyed horror gripping his ankles or any creature at all. There beneath the moonlight was his father's watch. For a moment, James forgot all about his fears as if they were all part of the same dream to be dismissed before breakfast.
Unhooking the leather strap, he noticed the engraving on the back of the watch face.
Time for a New Beginning.
He tried to fasten the watch to his own wrist but found that it was far too big. "Why would he leave this here?" he wondered.
A light clicked on from somewhere downstairs and James could see its shine from the banister. "Dad?" He called out and waited for his dad to respond, to reassure himself that he was, in fact, awake. But nothing came. He quietly crept to the top of the stairs and stared down at the light shining on the front door, hoping to see or hear anything.
"Jim, are you up? Come on down here, bud!" The sound of his dad's voice was music to James' ears for multiple reasons. The most important being, that he was awake and survived his little nightmare.
James bolted down the stairs, passed the front door, through the living room, with a large grin plastered across his face. "Dad, you won't believe what happened! When I..." His footsteps slowed to a halt just at the edge of the kitchen, which to his surprise was completely empty. "Dad? Where'd you go?" called James.
"I'm down here, son. Could you come down here a sec?" His dad's voice called from behind the basement door to his left and James knew that something wasn't right.
The one good thing about routine is that it's predictable. James' father was so precise in his daily routine that if just one thing were to be out of place, his entire attitude would change, James would even venture to say that it would become downright deplorable and for as long as James could remember he had never once seen his father go down to the basement, let alone be awake at this time of night. But he was sure it was his father's voice. He had heard it clear as day from the top of the stairs and once again from outside the basement door, it couldn't have been his imagination.
Banging erupted from the front door, loud enough to make James jump out of his skin and after three knocks, he was left in silence. "Who is it?" He called out, staring nervously at the front door, not daring to move any closer. No answer.
Just as James was about to work up the courage to move toward the front door, he caught something move out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head just in time to see the basement door creak open and an unusual terror overcame him, he didn't understand how but he knew that whatever had opened that door was not his father and was far more frightening than whatever banged on the front door. So, James did the only sensible thing that he could do in that situation, he tried to run.
He made it no further than two paces from the basement door before the sleeve tightened around his wrist and any hope for escape was lost. Looking down at his right arm, he could see black slender fingers wrapped tightly around his wrist. From just beyond the darkness of the basement door he could see two glowing eyes staring out at him. Eyes that burned bright orange and stared hungrily at him, like a cat ready to pounce and yet, James never looked away.
"I'm not afraid of you," he said defiantly, glaring at the orange-eyed creature in the dark.
We'll see. It responded, with a shockingly elegant voice. So elegant, in fact, that James' stone face relaxed and revealed his surprise. It almost sounded like... a girl, he thought. And with a low growl and a violent tug, James was ripped back into the nightmare and into the basement as he howled in pain.