The first time I saw it, I was six.
It was late. Later than I was supposed to be up. My parents had sent to bed hours ago, and I stayed up. They couldn't tell me what to do. I was my own man.
And I lay there, in the dark, not sleeping because I didn't want to, and I heard the door open with a soft click.
My parents, I assumed, were checking on me, so I closed my eyes and stirred convincingly. No sense making them angrier.
The door closed. I stayed still, figuring they would be listening for telltale sounds of movement. I was too smart for that. So I waited, and waited, and waited, until I was sure they were gone. Proud of my ruse, I rolled over to turn on my lamp, and felt my heart leap into my throat.
There was a man in my room.
Not a man, exactly. It was as tall as a man, but where its face ought to have been, there was only shadow. It wore a tall, silk hat, and when my eyes fixed on its face, a slow smile slimed its way open. Its teeth were very bright.
I wanted to scream, but it held a thin finger to its lips. I could only tell what it was doing because the finger eclipsed the gleaming of its teeth.
Someone's been bad.
I heard the words in my head, but the creature's lips did not move. It held up three fingers, and slowly curled one downward. It laid its fingers on my eyes, and I fell asleep.
I did not disobey my parents again after that. I went to bed on time, I followed orders, did my homework. Someone had been bad, and I wouldn't be bad again.
When I was nine, my sister and I got in an argument. She called me stupid and I called her fat, and then she said I would die alone, and so I hit her. My mother told me to go to my room, and I retreated. My palm was red where I'd hit her, and the blood pounding in my head made my anger fiercer. I could have boiled water by touching it. It felt like being on fire.
When I went to sleep, I was still angry, still throbbing with the energy of hitting something. It felt so good, I forgot what was coming.
It was midnight when I heard the door open. I woke up just enough to think my parents wanted to make certain I was sleeping, and then I heard the breathing.
Someone's been bad.
I creaked my head backward, and there it stood, with that gash of a smile in its shadowy face.
Very, very bad.
It held up two fingers, and curled one down, and then it left.
I've tried to live by a law since then. I never swear, cheat, steal, lie, or lust. I've never hit another person. I speak soft, when I speak at all. I'm a good boy. When the anger rises in my throat like bile, I swallow it back down. It collects in my guts, weighing in me. Better than the alternative.
But it isn't looking at them. It's looking at me.
I am writing this in hopes someone will find it, since it will probably move on soon. Find someone else to torment.
You may wonder how I know. That answer, at least, is straightforward. I say I've tried to live by a law. But I can't be perfect.
It always comes at midnight. It is 11:59, now. I suppose I haven't much time.
There is a breathy sound behind me, just outside.
Please. I've been so good....