The blankets on the other bed trembled as though they too were suffering in the cold Fall weather. Curious, I reached out and gave them a hard jab. A startled yelp from the blanket cave almost made me double over with laughter.
“You are such a wuss, Aidan.”
“Shut up, Brody!” My brother yanked down the edge of the blanket. Only his eyes were visible floating around in the dark.
“Well, it’s the truth.” I shook my head and sat down on the bed. “What is it this time? Dinosaurs out in the hall? Oh no, I got it! Aliens in your underwear drawer.”
Aidan shook his head, his eyes whipped back and forth in a white blur. Every couple of weeks my brother would cook up some new reason to be too afraid to sleep. Last time it was a witch in the attic. Mom spent hours trying to convince him it was just his imagination. Her attempts to soothe never worked. My brother was as stubborn as a dog with a bone. He kept gnawing at an idea until it was nothing more than shards left on the carpet.
“Come on. Just tell me what it is so I can go back to bed.” A yawn ate the last part of what I had to say. My jaw cracked from the force of it. Shouldn’t have stayed up to play video games, but I wanted to finish that level.
“There’s a clown in the closet.”
I frowned down at him. A clown? He liked clowns. Every year Aidan begged mom to take us to the circus just so he could watch the clowns goof off before the show started. The year they started letting us kids dress up and play with them was probably the best moment in his short life.
But by the terror shining in his eyes, my brother was actually scared of a clown. Ridiculous!
“Nice one, bro.” I yawned again and stood up. “Now knock it off and go to sleep. Maybe you’ll have a better story tomorrow night.”
Aidan bolted off of his bed and latched on to my arm, dragging me down to his level. There was too much white showing outside the blue part of his eyes, like someone had melted down a white crayon and poured it in the socket. His grip on my arm made part of my hand go numb.
“No, don’t leave me. Please, Brody. I’m not goofing this time.”
“Swear it.” With a twist I freed my arm and rubbed my tingling hand on my pants.
“I do. I swear it’s the truth!” If possible, his eyes had gotten wider.
“What the hell am I supposed to do, Aidan?” Man my eyelids felt heavy. I was going to fall asleep on my feet if he kept the act up any longer.
He gave a quick look over at the closet door before meeting my eyes again. Small arms wrapped around his stomach, hugging tight like he used to do with his teddy bear before mom had to throw the thing away. “You gotta check the closet for me.”
“You owe me,” I said, my feet taking me over to the closet door. “Dishes for a week.”
“All that to look in the closet?” Aidan chewed his bottom lip nervously while he thought that one over. I was hoping it would convince him that this was insane. Instead he nodded twice quickly and gave me a determined look. “Do it. I’ll wash your dishes for a week.”
Whoa, he was serious. Aidan hated doing the dishes.
Feeling a little nervous myself, but hiding it to spare my brother, I went to the closet door. My hand shook when I reached out for the doorknob. My head was a jumbled mess, like my brain had been switched with my brother’s. It’d been over two years since I thought the boogeyman hid in the closet.
But maybe the boogeyman had just been hiding for these last two years.
One… two… three!
I wrenched the door open, using it as a shield on the odd chance that my brother wasn’t making things up. When I didn’t hear anything from the inside, I looked around the door into the dark pit. My hand slapped the wall behind the door, looking for the light switch. Finally it turned on. I stared into the closet, heart pounding so loud I could hear it.
“You’re such a chicken. There’s nothing in here.” I laughed and turned towards my brother. “Uh, earth to Aidan?”
He didn’t look up. His head was lowered, hair hanging down covering his eyes. Why did I get the short straw in life and end up with a giant chicken for a brother? It would be easier to deal with if he didn’t have such a vivid imagination. I’d heard mom talk about sending him to therapy once, like a quack could wipe out the strange parts of my bother. He wasn’t a dry-erase board. Mom never understood his quirks.
“Come on. It’s way past bed time.”
“He moved,” Aidan whispered, his eyes still downcast.
Okay, fine. I’d play along so long as he went to bed soon. “Where did he move to?
”Under the bed.” He squeaked out.
A laugh spilled out of my mouth before I could stop it. Under Aidan’s bed was a disaster of epic proportions. Every scrap of forgotten homework, empty candy wrapper, and God knows how many broken toys had met their end under his bed. We didn’t dare go near it. Even to clean.
“Now way, bro. He couldn’t fit.”
“But he did!” Aidan shrieked. I held my breath waiting for Mom to hear him and yell at us for being up past midnight.
“That’s it. Get in bed. I’m done playing your game.” Soothing my brother was not worth yet another lecture from Mom.
I reached back to turn the closet light off. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of something moving under Aidan’s bed. My heart sped up again even though I told myself that it was probably just a toy he’d left on that found its way under there. That had to be it. Mom always said look for the rational explanation first. It didn’t stop the scared voice in my head insisting that an evil clown was waiting to devour my soul.
Oh jeeze, my brain really had been swapped with my brother’s.
Smooth wall landed under my fingertips. I moved them around, blindly searching for the light switch while I watched my brother. “Bed. Now.”
“I… I can’t, Brody.”
“Sure you can. Just move your feet.” My eyes burned with the need to sleep.
“I can’t!” Aidan was beginning to panic. If he yelled one more time we were both as good as burnt toast.
“Enough games, Aidan. Mom is going to skin us if we don’t go to sleep.” My fingers hit the edge of the light switch. I gave him to the count of three to get in bed.
“Not if I get you first, boys,” a strange voice said.
The shadows behind my brother moved. Like a flock of crows they came together and began to form a shape. Talons wrapped over Aidan’s shoulders, holding him in place. Big, beefy arms stretched up from the hands and hooked into a set of shoulders three times as wide as my brother.
A bright purple head of hair bounced with quiet laughter, the creature’s head rising above Aidan’s. The bright light from the closet reflected off a set of teeth a shark would be jealous of. At first I thought he was snarling, intentionally trying to scare me with those chompers. Then I realized he had no lips. The teeth shot straight out of his face. Bright red gums ran right up to its misshapen nose and down over its chin.
“Who the hell are you?” I asked as my back came flush with the wall. Man, I’d have given my right arm to be able to disappear through the thing.
The creature made a noise that was part wild beast, part honking of a horn, and totally creepy. I think it was supposed to be a laugh. Whatever it was, it made my skin shrink over my muscles.
“Yum-o,” the creature said like that would clarify everything.
“Yum-o? What the hell is a Yum-o?” My heart was up in my throat, causing my voice to come out as a squeak.
“This.” The clown-looking thing laughed again. Aidan whimpered and wet himself; the dark stain crept down the front of his pants.
Without warning Yum-o sank those shark-teeth into my brother’s shoulder. He screamed so loud I knew mom would come running. I waited for her to burst through the door and save us. All the while the clown chewed on Aidan, worrying at the flesh like a dog that’d snagged the last rib off the barbecue.
Mom never came.
After a minute or two I realized we were doomed. Yum-o raised his head up from Aidan’s shoulder. Blood gurgled up from the large bite wound. Some of the meat that shaped his shoulder was gone. Just gone. Now sitting in the belly of a demonic clown that not five minutes ago had been a figment of our imaginations.
The clown’s teeth were stained red. Chunks of cloth and other things hung from his wicked grin. I felt the cookie and milk I’d eaten before bed flop around in my gut a second before it came back up. Everything I ate splattered across the carpet and my bare feet. My heaves were accompanied by the strange laughter from across the room.
When the worst of the dry heaves were over there was silence. No beastly-honking laugh taunting my weak stomach. No raspy breaths from my brother who’d screamed until his voice gave out. Not even the sound of puke dripping off my pant legs. It was totally quiet in our bedroom.
“Aidan?” I called after trying to spit the bad taste out of my mouth.
“Aidan can’t come to the phone right now,” the clown answered. “He’s too busy playing dead!”
Yum-o sprang around the closet door. Those razor-sharp teeth stopped inches from my face. Hot breath hit my cheek, turning my stomach again. It smelled like cotton candy, hamburgers, and pennies all ground up together. If there had been anything left in my stomach, I would have hurled in his face just to get him away from me.
My eyes slid from the clown’s teeth. I tried to pretend I didn’t see a piece of my brother’s pale skin dangling between its fangs. Behind his shoulder I saw my brother’s body. His skin was so blue and he looked cold. Blood pooled around his upper half, so much more than I thought a body could hold. I wanted to cover him up, but Yum-o had me pinned. If I moved even an inch he would be touching me. My skin crawled at the thought.
“What do you want?” I asked, my voice not much more than a whisper.
“A midnight snack,” he replied.
The last thing I saw was Aidan’s body lying there and I thought, I should have listened to him. It was too late. My brother’s boogeyman had gotten us both.