My upbringing was about as traditional as an upbringing gets. My parents were married, I had a younger sister, we lived in a nice suburban neighborhood, I had friends at school, all the trappings of a normal, healthy childhood.
But there was one thing.
One rule that was reiterated daily to my sister and I since the day we were able to understand what it meant.
One rule that I swore by.
Don’t look out the windows after dark.
Our house was, as I said, in a suburban neighborhood. It sat at the side of a cul-de-sac, the entirety of which was bordered by a small woodland area that separated it from the next neighborhood. It was a perfectly safe area; there wasn’t anything immediately apparent that we might see if we looked out the windows at night.
I abided by the rule, as did my sister; we didn’t know any better. We figured if our mom and dad insisted upon it, there must be a good reason for them doing so. I didn’t know that it wasn’t a rule all families recognized.
Until third grade.
We’d had a substitute teacher one day just before winter, and that substitute teacher had elected to play a movie, and that movie was The Right Stuff. This movie had so entranced a classmate of mine, Ben, that when he came to school the next day, he brought with him the assembly manual to the telescope he’d convinced his father to buy him the night before.
Ben was ecstatic, bragging to all the other kids who had enjoyed the movie about how it was set up in his room, and how he was going to “look at the flag on the moon” and other feats when it got dark out that night. I questioned rather matter-of-factly just how he planned on doing that, considering he couldn’t look out his windows, and unsurprisingly, I was met with odd looks and a few awkward, confused laughs from kids who had no idea what I was talking about.
Our parents had never told us exactly why we weren’t supposed to look out the windows after dark, at the very least they hadn’t told us any real reason beyond just enough to get us to stop asking questions. Their favorite seemed to be “If you love your family, you won’t look out the windows after dark.”
For a time, our windows had been boarded up, but neighbors had complained and the city had threatened a fine if they weren’t taken down, so every night when the sun was setting, my parents would go around and use duct tape to make sure our blinds stayed shut. Not wanting to be forever known as the weird neighbors, they would remove them and open the blinds every morning.
When I got home from school the day that Ben had bragged about his telescope, I posed the question to my parents again.
“Why can’t we look out our windows after dark?”
I got the same answer I always did, and something inside me, some odd mixture of curiosity, embarrassment at what had happened at school, and doubt, made their answer unacceptable for the first time. For the first time, I didn’t just blindly believe what they’d been telling me my whole life.
That night, some time after my mom had kissed me on my forehead and told me goodnight, and my dad had put duct tape along the bottom of the pulldown window shade, I sat up in bed. I felt like I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t know why. As such, I peeked my head into the hallway, making sure there was no glow from the TV emanating from my parent’s room.
When all felt secure, I went to the window in my room, a single window that faced the backyard. I took some deep breaths, mentally preparing myself to see some unholy hellscape that somehow arrived at dusk and packed up and left by dawn. I went to the side of the window, where I could just barely pull the shade back, and with one final deep breath and blurred images of unimaginable horrors racing through my mind, I shut one eye and looked through.
I saw trees. I saw my backyard, and past it I saw the trees that made up the thicket of woods that surrounded all the homes of the cul-de-sac. In the sky there were a few stars, which up to that point I’d only ever seen in videos or if I happened to be outside after dark (for whatever reason, being outside after dark wasn’t forbidden; the rule was strictly limited to looking out the window, though my parents did their damnedest to make sure we were in before the sun set every night). I saw the moon.
I sat back for a moment, thinking. There was nothing there, just the same things that were there during the day, only now at night. I was both disappointed and relieved, but more than anything I was confused.
I looked back through the space between the shade and the window frame again, and that’s when I saw it.
Something dropped from a branch of one of the trees and hit on the ground below it, landing parallel to the ground. I squinted my one open eye to see what it was, but once it hit the ground, it didn’t move any more. I stared at that spot for what seemed like a long time, and just as I looked away, at that very same moment, whatever it was sat up. When I looked back, I saw the silhouette of whatever it was just sitting straight up.
Then it stood.
Its legs wobbled like a baby deer is it started walking towards our house. Maybe it was the fact that I was a child, but I remember it looked tall, upwards of 7 feet. I watched the silhouette saunter towards our house, and I distinctly remember my heart beating harder with every step it took. I watched its thin, spindly arms sway, and I remember its head looking all around from side to side, up and down, like it was observing the world for the first time.
I wanted to look away, but I was terrified.
The closer it got, the more sure-footed it became. Before long, it got close enough to trigger one of the motion sensors my dad kept back there, and the whole backyard was flooded with light.
It wore no clothes. Its skin was an oily black-dark blue, and it looked like it was sweating profusely.
I turned away, unsure of what to do. I was torn between this…thing making its way towards our house and the prospect of telling my parents I’d broken their one rule. I sat in my bed, frozen.
My heart skipped a beat. I wasn’t looking out the window anymore, but I could feel it just outside.
tap tap tap
I closed my eyes, hoping against hope that it was all just a terrible nightmare.
It knocked on my window harder. I don’t know what compelled me, but I needed to look. I needed to see it. I peeked back through the space between the shade and the window frame. The overhang of the house was casting a shadow on it, but when I looked through the window, I was face-to-face with two…”eyes”. But they weren’t eyes, not really. They were voids, holes completely absent of anything in them, that were somehow darker than the shadow.
I jumped back from my window and fell to the floor in tears. I heard the crunching of leaves outside my window, crunching that moved towards my parents room. I sat there in shock, in fear, in shame, in regret, as that thing went to my parents window. It seemed like an eternity that I sat there, waiting for something, anything to happen.
Then I heard my mom shriek. Her screams were accompanied by my dad yelling “NO! NO NO NO NO NO!!” I listened as their footsteps thudded through their room and into the hallway; it sounded like thunder as they quickly made their way from their room to mine. My door flew open and my dad saw me on the ground, crying. He reached down yanked me up to my feet, grabbing me by my shoulders and shouting in my face “WHAT DID YOU DO?! WHY DID YOU DO THAT?! WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?!”
Between sobs, my mom put her hand on my dad’s shoulder. My dad turned to her and she whispered, “I don’t want him to see.”
My dad took a deep breath and turned back to me. He looked me directly in my eyes and said, “You need to stay here. I’m not kidding. Do not leave your room.”
I nodded in agreement. My dad lingered for a moment, and as he finally stood up I heard him under his breath, “God, no, please…”
They closed the door behind them and I listened as they turned down the hallway away from their room – towards my sister’s. I listened as they opened her door and walked into her room. I listened as they woke her up and walked her out of her room, making their way through the living room and towards the front door of the house.
tap tap tap
My blood went cold, and despite knowing that doing so had grave consequences, I felt the need to look back out the window, I felt the need to at least try to understand what was happening.
I peeked again and was met with that same visage, the empty eyes. But something was different this time. There was another void, another part of it that was darker than the shadows that covered it. I’ll never know for sure, but at the time, I could tell that it was smiling. It wasn’t some huge, gaping maw, not some clown-like exaggerated smile, but like it was…pleased.
I remember I got scared all over again almost immediately and looked away. I heard my front door open. There was a lull, a moment of total silence that was soon broken by my mom’s violent sobbing. I cried just as hard in my room. I heard the crunching of leaves again, this time farther away from my window, up the side of the house towards the front.
I heard my dad’s voice, pleading. “Please, take me. Take both of us, please. You can’t do this, I’m sorry, please.”
I heard no response. Just more leaves crunching, this time simultaneously going both towards the front door and away from the house. I heard the front door close and footsteps coming back down the hallway. One set of footsteps continued walking to my parent’s room while one stopped outside my door.
“You’re not the first to do it.” I heard my sullen dad’s voice say from the other side of my door. “When you have kids, I hope you make it more clear than we did that they can never, ever, ever look out the windows after dark. It’s just something our family can’t do. I love you.”
He walked back to his room and closed the door, and I heard him break down alongside my mother.
I sat back up and peeked out the window one more time, the curiosity still eating away at me, only now mixed with an unprecedented fear, a feeling of hopelessness, regret, a bottomless despair.
I saw its silhouette walking back towards the trees. I saw its spindly arms and legs, its awkward gait. And I saw it holding my sister’s hand, walking her alongside him. I kept my eyes glued to their backs as tears streamed down my face.
They disappeared into the shadows of the trees, and that was the last time I saw my sister.
It was the last time I looked out a window after dark.
Last week I found out my wife is pregnant. I’m going to make it more clear than my parents did. I’m going to tell them exactly what will happen if they disobey that rule, because them knowing the consequences of doing so is more important than keeping them from hearing something that might scare them.
They won’t look out the windows after dark.