In the depths of the night, red eyes peered out towards an old cottage-styled home. With the waning moon on their backs, darkness descended upon the lonely house. They rushed forward with blood-stained teeth and wicked faces. Even with the street lamps offering light, something dark and evil had arrived. Just as they hit the door, Azame Jackson was awoken from his sleep. It was late in the evening, and the weather was dark and stormy. Azame didn't make it a habit to be up that late, however, something had his nerves tingling with energy. Perhaps it had been the thunder that rumbled against the sides of their house and shook the tin roof above their heads. He laid awake in his bed with his blankets pulled up to his chest, held tight in his clenched fists. The creature knocking on their front door sounded rushed, almost frantic, like any minute something would kill it. He could hear his grandmother and mother arguing in the hallway just outside his room. They tried to be quieter, but Azame could hear. He could always hear them with their thin walls.
The shadows on his walls grew that night, getting larger and larger until they spilled out onto the ceiling. They whispered to him with thick, hazy voices that terrified him down to the bone. He shook as he sat up in his bed, his eyes turned hazy and distant. Azame could feel himself walking, opening a door and walking further. Azame pointed to the front door while raising his hand as slowly as he could. He could almost see through it. He could see the horrible dark fleshed creature that sat in front of him. Its jagged teeth twisted into a monstrous grin and it cackled just outside. Its flesh had torn and bled heavily from its long walk over countless treacherous miles of horror. He was terrified, but walked closer. As he did, the door seemed to creak with each passing second. A steady thrumming of sound reaching his sensitive ears, reminding him they weren't alone out there.
"Azame!" His mother said mid-shout, voice rising steadily as she grabbed his shoulder. Azame could feel her, but he couldn't move his body. Like he'd turned into a stiff statue, paralyzed as he pointed towards the door. "Mom, what's happening to him?"
"Murder. Blood. Hatred. There's so much hatred," Azame said.
The boy could feel that hazy redness bleeding in through the entrance, crawling towards his bare feet. He could see what the creature had done as it stood out on their front porch in puddles of reddened blood. He could see the shadows of the bodies it had brought along with it. Lakes filled with blood and bone.
Azame stepped closer, and he was just inches from the door. The boy just barely came up to the door handle when he was nine. He was always a small child, a few inches behind his peers. He could see the rotten fingers pushing through the mail slot. Wiggling and taunting, but he just couldn't reach the peephole his father had harped on. His mother stepped closer to him and squeezed his shoulder tightly, reassuringly. Her long brown hair fell around him like a curtain and he briefly could feel her dragging him away from the door. In his mother's arms, he almost felt safe, like no matter what, that thing wouldn't be able to get them. His mother always made him feel safe.
"Knock, knock, knock. Let me in so I can see you," Azame repeated quietly, but the words were so terrifying his eyes welled up with tears. He had no control over his body as he reached forward and rapped his knuckles against the door with each word he spoke.
"Let's go back to bed Azame, Mom will see what the stranger wants. Come on, come here."
Fat tears rolled down his cheeks. He wanted to tell his mom what he saw. He wanted to scream and bawl, telling her, 'Don't Open the door. Never open that door'. All he could do was point, shaking like those skeletal trees in the bitter, wintry wind. His mom looked down at him briefly before glancing towards the door. She bit her lip before nodding at his grandmother.
He couldn't help but feel the frustration building within him simply because they couldn't see what he could. What he saw made him sick.
"Get 911 on the phone quickly. Just in case," his mother said before reaching out towards the door handle. Her hand grasped its cold metal.
She asked gently. "Hello, what's wrong? Are you hurt? We're getting you help, but please understand we can't open this door right now!"
"Help me!" The monster on the other side said in pure agony. "It hurts! It hurts so much! I'm in so much pain. Help me! Help ME!"
Don't open the door, Mom. Please don't open the door. However, his mother was a kind woman. A woman of compassion and humanity whose heart was bigger than it truly should have been. She opened the door and Azame screamed. It was an inhuman scream as he faced the creature, unable to move. It cackled at him and lunged forward. Long, inky black tendrils pierced through his mother's chest almost immediately right as the person stepped inside. It cackled hatefully with blood-red eyes narrowed in on the woman it'd grabbed.
His mother stared down at the tendrils inside her chest, right as blood bubbled up between her lips. She looked shocked. Her blood had sprayed across Azame's face, staining it. Azame's hands shook as he reached up to touch the wetness on his cheeks. His eyes watered; his chin trembled.
"M-Mom," Azame said in a whisper.
He was in complete horror as the monster shifted behind him.
Another set of tendrils struck the ground just a few inches away from Azame's foot. The monster peered down at him happily, and Azame finally realized what had stood across from him. What an inhuman creature it was. It should have been a man, but its skin was paper thin and its chest bare and pale. A mass of dark tendrils sprang up from the center of its back and the thinner ones had curved around its shoulders to strike his mother and himself. The monster's thicker tendrils had planted right before Azame's feet. The only reason it hadn't gotten Azame was because his grandmother had dragged him backwards.
"It's too late!" his grandmother said as she pushed him behind her. "Leave her. There's nothing we can do."
Perhaps it had been too late. Azame erupted into a bawl, bringing his hands up to his eyes to stifle his cries. The creature finally dropped his mother, and she fell limply to the floor. It reached forward and thrusted its hand straight through his mother's chest, pulling out the severed heart from her ribcage. Her body remained a lifeless heap where she'd stood. It laughed as it devoured it in one big, bloody gulp and Azame fell to his knees in a sob right as it lunged for his grandmother. The screams… the screams didn't stop that night. They would echo long into the night, for years to come.
* * *
Three hours later, Azame lay on a hospital bed in the pediatric ward with twenty-seven new stitches in his chest and wounds that would take forever to heal. He wrapped the blankets tightly around his shoulders and managed to sit up.
The hospital was quiet in the night. Filled only with the night nurses running aid to other patients. They didn't look at him; they didn't even talk to him despite how early it was in the morning. Azame looked over at his window and his heart beat furiously against his chest when he saw shadows outside the window. He was nine. He shouldn't have been afraid of the dark. It shouldn't have been that dark with the hallway lights seeping in. But it was terrifying. He couldn't stop himself from seeing the way those shadows grew into almost human-like shapes with cackling smiles and deep, blood-red eyes. It caused a tremor to spread through him, one that wouldn't leave his body for years.
Azame saw a young boy standing across from him after a hesitant knock at his door. The boy's eyes were just as red as Azame's. He looked tired, like he'd been up for hours. He offered Azame a smile before stepping inside the room.
"W-Who are you?" Azame asked with terror in his voice, getting ready to get out of the bed and run. He didn't know where he'd run, but he'd try.
"It's ok. They don't usually let people in this late. However, they made an exception," the boy said reassuringly. A sense of calm seemed to settle over Azame. "You've been through a lot, Azame. And most of that you probably didn't understand. That's ok. Everything's going to be ok. I'm Ajax."
"I don't recognize the name," Azame said, and the boy simply nodded.
The boy came to sit beside Azame. He wasn't much older than him, maybe a few months. He had long black hair that fell over his shoulders and deep blue eyes. The boy was smaller and different with copper colored skin and a steady hand. It wasn't something a nine-year-old should have. He was odd.
"You shouldn't. It's ok."
He reached forward and grabbed Azame's hand. He pressed it to his chest, and it was like electricity arced between the two. Azame suddenly saw everything, and he saw nothing. Endless, dark, nothing.
"I know everything about you. I've known you since you were born, but you didn't necessarily know me."
"I'm sorry," Ajax spoke gently. "It was my fault that your mom and grandmother didn't make it. I should have gotten there sooner."
"What are they?" Azame asked, as his eyes welled up with tears. His voice was barely a whisper in the night, and yet he couldn't stop the terror that seemed to thrum deep inside his chest. He could see their faces through the shadows now, terrifying faces that had deep red eyes and blood-stained teeth. Just like the one that had stood over his mother's body and tore her heart free from her chest.
"This is a lot to spring on you tonight, but my… my mother is waiting to move us somewhere safe so you can heal, but…" Ajax paused and he took a deep breath. "You're not human Azame. But that doesn't mean you should be afraid. Right now, those things are too scared to come after you because my people are here. And as long as you're with my people, nothing bad will ever happen to you again."
Being a kid who'd grown up reading comics of superheroes, he should have been hopeful. Excited, even. This was his chance to become a superhero. Instead, he could only feel the cooling blood of his mother on his cheeks. The horrific events from the night remained in his head vibrantly. He could still see that monster eat his mother's heart. He couldn't imagine anything but horror. His hands shook. Ajax reached forward and grasped Azame's hand in his own.
"I know how terrifying this sounds, but what you faced tonight wasn't human. It came to your house to tear your heart out and eat it. To sever the life from your chest and devour it just like…" Ajax paused before shaking his head. "I wish you didn't have to experience the world like this. But now, you can't afford to be a child anymore. You're special Azame."
"I-I'm only nine…" Azame said. "My dad… he's going to find mom and…"
At the time, he hadn't known they'd gotten his father as well.
Ajax shook his head gently. "There's no one left. You're alone now, but you don't have to be. You can come with me and we'll get you somewhere safe, with others of your own kind, so you can learn and get stronger…"
"Dad," he was breaking down again.
"Come with me Azame. If we wait any longer, they'll come for you once again. I'm not strong enough to fight a Shadow yet. I'm still small," Ajax answered. "Where you're going, you will be safe. There are others like me, who will keep you safe. The sun will be up in an hour, and those monsters will run for the hills."
Azame didn't want to leave. His heart still longed for his mom who would walk in the door any minute and run over to gather him up in her loving arms. She would care for him no matter what, as she always had. Then, she would smile and everything would suddenly be ok. He wanted his grandmother to scold him in that knowing tone of hers, only for his dad to joke and cheer him up. His dad who drove a big fancy rig across the country. Only to return at the end of the month to see him. He'd lift Azame up into the air with a cheer, and Azame would laugh. If he waited long enough, they would come to get him and they'd get to go home. Back to their house, where the monsters weren't and their life would continue as it was supposed to. Except, even their sturdy door that his father had picked out himself, hadn't been able to stop them.
The ache in his chest from his wounds reminded him that something bad had happened. He was in danger, and it was something he could not face alone. Azame could feel the goosebumps rising on the back of his neck. He could feel the way his sweat turned ice cold as the shadows on the walls seemed to lengthen once more. How the howling wind outside seemed to forebode his demise. He wanted to stay, but his instincts told him he couldn't. That now that he'd begun to run, he would never stop. It was all too much to take in.
"You'll help me?" He asked.
Ajax smiled at him before patting his own chest. "Of course I'll help you. My only job is to help you. Now come on, let's get out of here and somewhere safe."
"Ok," Azame finally agreed.
He went with Ajax, because there was truly nothing else that he could do. He was in over his head, and he didn't want to stay much longer in the dark, where the monsters hid easily.