One night when Melody Bannock was five years old, she awakened from a deep sleep, cold, with a bitter post-winter chill creeping in through the broken bedroom window. Her big brother, Paul, had broken it while batting rocks outside with a slab of wood. That had been before Melody could even remember, but that was how the story went. Her daddy had said it had to stay that way but Melody heard someone say broken windows could be fixed. She didn’t see how; it sounded like magic to her and magic wasn’t real, and anyway, she believed what her daddy told her.
She couldn’t really remember the window, and her mommy said it made for nice sleeping in the summer when the breeze comes through the hole where it used to be. She was looking forward to that. Summer came after Spring, she knew, and it was springtime now, so summer would be the next thing. She was really excited about summer; she almost couldn’t take the anticipation. She got too excited about things. She knew that because everybody always said so. They said she was too hyper, too curious, and too impetuous. She didn’t know what most of those things were; all she knew was that she was scared a lot. Of everything, all the time.
And now, she was scared of her dad waking up in the next bedroom, and smelling what she had done: she had peed the bed again, and peeing the bed was wrong. It was what only babies did and she wasn’t a baby, and she knew she would be punished for being such a bad and stupid girl.
She was freezing from the waist down as the dampness of her body intensified the coldness of the room. She reached blindly for the blanket to cover her legs. It wasn’t there. Then she remembered her parents had taken it for the night. They didn't have a bedroom door so they always took her blanket to cover themselves whenever they wanted to play their kissy giggling grown-up game in private.
But there was a dirty sheet, at least, crumpled at the bottom of her mattress. She knew that would help a bit, and she hoped maybe it might cover up the smell too, so then her daddy would never know and then he wouldn’t hit her tomorrow, at least not for that. Then she nearly cried when she remembered the sheet was outside hanging on the line, after being washed because she had peed the bed last night too.
Frustrated, she sat up, and tried to focus in the dark. Of all the things that she was afraid of, the dark was the worst of them all. Because anything can happen in the dark. When she closed her eyes in the daytime, sometimes she saw hideous monsters floating there, reaching toward her, smiling and snarling, wanting to eat her. But she could open her eyes and they would all be gone. In the dark though, in the dead of the night, when she opened her eyes they were still there, laughing at her for trying to will them away. There was no way to turn them into nothingness. For Melody, nighttime was a very bad time.
Sitting there, freezing, listening to her daddy snore in the next room under her nice warm blanket, she became more alert, and knew she had to get the sheet. Outside, at night. She had never gone out at night by herself, not when everybody was sleeping. She wished Paul was there; he wasn’t always nice to her, but Melody knew he would protect her if he could. But he was always staying out with his friends lately, drinking beer and getting weird, doing just what her daddy did all the time. She sometimes wondered why Paul was starting to act just like Daddy when he said so many times that he hated the way Daddy was. So many things in the world seemed strange to Melody.
Then she considered waking her mommy, but that couldn’t be done without waking Daddy too and Mommy always just did what Daddy wanted her to. And she always felt like her mommy didn’t really care a lot about her anyway. She didn’t know why that was.
Melody was out of options. She was alone in this situation, and thought maybe she should just go back to sleep. Maybe getting Daddy mad in the morning wouldn’t be as bad as going outside in the dark. That thought began to seem like the better plan until she shivered again, and knew she couldn’t sleep while she was so cold.
She looked warily at the front door.
Slowly, she rose and began creeping toward it, hoping the squeaky floorboards didn’t rouse her father. Why was the floor so loud at night? she wondered. She made her way to the door, being careful not to bump into anything or step on any empty beer cans or whatever was in her path. She kept expecting a monster to jump out at her from the shadows and she whimpered at the thought as she found the door knob and began to turn it. It seemed to take forever for it to go far enough to open, but it finally did. It made a loud click and her daddy suddenly stopped snoring. She froze. She held her breath and waited, too terrified to do anything else. Then he made an ugly sound in his throat and the snoring started again. She exhaled and relaxed, but just a little, as she opened the door and peered into the vast and silent night.
There was nothing there.
She couldn’t see their nearest neighbour’s house, or the fence, or – or anything. She left the door open and began creeping along the side of the small home, terrified that someone, some thing, might grab her. She walked on, her bare feet felt the dew on the grass, and she wondered why it was wet even though it hadn’t rained. She didn’t understand, but she liked the sensation. It felt nice. It felt real, unlike the rest of this expedition. She tried to concentrate on that, instead of scary monsters, as she rounded the side of the house where the clothesline was.
The grass was taller there, even though it hadn’t had much time to grow yet, and she felt the blades of grass tickling her ankles. She could have giggled if she wasn’t so scared, and then a different feeling: she couldn’t describe it at first, but then the pain announced itself. Melody squealed and quickly moved her foot but the shard of aluminum embed in her heel stayed put.
She sat down hard on the damp lawn and grabbed her foot. She didn’t know what was stuck in her heel but it hurt, and it was making her bleed. She began crying and summoned the courage to pull it out. She threw it away but her foot was bleeding more now. She cried harder, louder, and rubbed her eyes, not realizing her hand was covered in blood. It stung, and she tried to shake away the blood that was now obscuring her vision, but without much success.
She tried to stand up; it hurt to put pressure on her bleeding foot but she limped on, toward where she imagined the clothesline to be. Then she saw the vague outline of the white sheet, rippling gently on the line. She was so excited to see it, she almost forgot about her bleeding foot as she hurried toward it.
It was then she saw the eyes, gleaming in the dark.
They were green, like little twinkling sparks, beside where she thought the shed probably was. The eyes might have even seemed pretty, if she hadn’t heard the deep, guttural growl that emanating from the same place, there in the darkness.
The bobcat had been hunting in the bush, just behind the Bannock family’s shed, when he smelled the blood. Curious, and hungry, he ventured forth, out of his protective bush, and hunched beside the shed. He wasn’t prepared, yet, to go into open territory, not until he was more confident.
Then he spotted his prey. It was much larger than some of the creatures he feasted on, almost daunting in its mass. But he’d fought and won against bigger prey than this, too. He watched the child rise and start heading generally toward him. He scanned the yard, neither seeing nor smelling any other of the creature’s herd. There was nothing that might impede his mission. The smell of its blood excited him. It was injured, and may be less able to defend itself as a result.
He slowly, cautiously rose and began creeping forward into the open, toward the creature, never taking his eyes from her.
Melody couldn’t tell for sure, but she thought maybe whatever owned those green eyes was moving closer to her. It felt crazy to her to run closer to it, but that’s what she found herself doing, as best she could with a bleeding foot, because she had to get that sheet.
It surprised the creature when she did so, and it sprang into action.
Melody snatched the sheet from the line and fled back the way she had come. Her eyes having adjusted to the darkness a little better now, she could see the shape of the house. She crumpled the sheet as she ran so she wouldn’t trip over it, and made a frantic sprint to the corner of the house.
The animal snarled, filling her with dread, as she heard it gaining on her. It moved so fast! She ran quicker than she had ever ran before. She thought maybe if she could round the corner, the creature might shoot right past, and she could be at the front and in the door before it could turn and catch her.
She was wrong.
By the time she reached the corner of the house, it was nearly upon her. She turned to run for the door, but the cat rounded the corner agilely, barely slowing its stride as it did so, and scratched at her heels when she still had some yards to go. She screamed, almost not even caring if it woke her Daddy—and then actually hoping it would. As mad as he would be at her, he would still save her. Wouldn’t he? She couldn’t be sure but she thought so.
She fell, and the bobcat was on her. She whimpered, calling for her mommy, in a reserved voice, still uncertain as to the wisdom of that. The cat pinned her to the ground and flipped her over so she was on her back. She found herself looking dead into its eyes. It was inches from her face; those eyes, green slits that glowed with intensity. She felt its hot, putrid breath on her face, and its saliva that dripped from its mouth onto her cheek. There was no doubt: she had been right about the dark. There were monsters in its depths, and they were intent on eating her.
Her mother never stirred. Melody began crying louder and louder, until she finally threw caution to the wind and began screaming for both her parents to rescue her from the beast. Still, neither of them moved but the bobcat looked to her as if it were getting madder. And hungrier.
Her parents had argued earlier while drinking, and then made up while drinking more. It had been a particularly nasty fight. Mommy will have raccoon eyes again, Melody had thought, so their making-up session went on very late, and now neither of them could be roused by the terrified squeals of their daughter in peril.
Melody realized she was as good as alone in the world. No one would be saving her from the beast. No one could. She would get eaten, or she would fight and maybe survive. She didn’t know where the strength came from amid the paralyzing fear, but she decided to fight.
She reached wildly and found an object, and grasped it tight. It was the wire coat hanger she had discarded earlier that day. The one she had bent out relatively straight and used to impale bread onto, for the fire pit out back. She called for her parents one last time to come and save her.
Her daddy’s snoring wavered a little, then found its rhythm again as he drifted back down to the depths of his drunken slumber. Melody gasped as the cat flared its nostrils and narrowed its eyes. If it noticed her hand moving, it didn’t react to it, instead keeping its eyes locked to hers. Melody intuitively maintained eye contact with the creature so it would focus on hers instead of turning to bite her hand.
She inched the hanger closer.
The cat growled, deep in its belly. Melody suddenly swung around with the hanger in her tiny fist. The wildcat pawed her shoulder, but didn’t manage to stop her arm’s momentum. It bit her then, sinking its fangs deep into her thin forearm, and she screamed, but refused to let go of her weapon. She cried out, and it tried to bite her mouth. It opened its own mouth wide as it launched. It snarled at her again, and Melody turned her head away as she shoved the hanger deep into the creature’s eye socket.
The bobcat slunk back, uttered a horrific, menacing sound and dug its claws into Melody’s thighs. It tore through her tiny legs like paper, and tried to reach higher; it wanted her throat. It began clawing its way back up her body, gouging her belly, her chest, her shoulders... Melody had never been so terrified, and in so much pain, but she refused to let up. She didn’t care how scary the monster was. She wanted to win. Maybe this is what impetuous meant. She knew as long as she held the hanger and wouldn’t let the creature get rid of it, that she had a chance of getting through this nightmare. The only thing that could save her, she thought, was herself, and her impetuous.
She pulled the hanger out of the cat’s eye then, and blood squirted from its socket. The eye drooped, and blood oozed down its face onto Melody’s hair, her face, and neck. She wished she could aim, but couldn’t manage; the creature’s blood had sprayed into her eyes. She shut them tight and stabbed blindly at its body as it continued to screech and claw at her. She opened her left eye a little despite the sting of the bobcat’s blood in it, and saw the creature’s gaping mouth heading toward her neck. No! Melody screamed and jabbed the hanger far down into its mouth. She felt it stick into the back of the cat’s throat. It gurgled and spasmed and its one good eye opened wide in terror. Melody felt its claws contracting and she struggled to kick it off her body. She couldn’t have done it all by herself, but the cat obliged, turned and raced haphazardly from the property, away toward the dirt road and was swallowed again by the very darkness from whence it came.
Melody sat up, trembling, crying in pain, relieved to be alive... but dismayed. She wished she had killed it. She was angry now; she wished she had pulled the life from the monster, crushed it, so it could never come back and hurt her again. That would warn all the monsters to stay away too. But she had failed, so she knew there would be more.