The Ghosts on the Rooftop
Kyle wiggled his boKyle wiggled his bottom on the carpeted steps and pressed his ear to the door of the basement
Below him, Tyler imitated the sound of crashing cars in the furnished room, sending matchboxes across the carpeted floor. Suppressing a growl of frustration, Kyle tried to ignore the sounds of his little brother playing.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell Matt. You know, he came home to get some rest. He doesn’t have long before he ships out again. And he has to deal with this.”
Silence hung in the air for a moment. If only Kyle could hear what Mom’s friend was saying on the other side of the phone.
“Rrrrr… Pffft.” Tyler careened through the basement, bouncing off the old pleather couch.
“Yes, expelled. This is the second time. He’s only nine!”
Kyle studied the wood grain on the door. It wasn’t his fault. Jordan was making fun of his red hair and freckles, he was a bully. Dad killed bullies. All that he’d done was sock the kid in the face.
“I don’t know. Maybe there is something wrong with him.”
Something wrong… Kyle rubbed his knuckles. Mom said that kinda stuff a lot “What is wrong with you?” or “What were you thinking?” Always in a half-yell. Like he was deaf.
“I don’t know. I mean, it sounds cruel to say it outloud but a few weeks back one of my friend’s sons was diagnosed with some sort of sensory thing. And that’s not Kyle but I was thinking about it. I mean... What if this whole time I’ve been disciplining him and he can’t help himself?”
What was that supposed to mean?
Tyler paused at the bottom of the steps. “Kyle, my truck’s wheels came off. Will you show me how to fix it?” He held up the skinny dumb-bell shaped car part.
Kyle gave Tyler his best angry eyes, like Dad did when they interrupted his TV time.
Mom's voice came back through the door. “I don't even know. Like some kind of empathy disorder or something that would explain why he's so angry all the time. I don't know. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I yell too much and that's why he can't control his own temper.”
Kyle dug his toe into the carpet and scowled at the line of light peeking out from under the door.
“Kyle!” Tyler stretched the name into multiple, warbling syllables and rocked on his feet. “Why are you ignoring me. I'm bored. Can you play car chase with me?”
He started to make his way up the stairwell. Kyle motioned for him to go away. If he came up here and made noise, Mom would that Kyle was behind the door.
“Go away.” Kyle whispered as loud as he dared.
Maybe Tyler’s six-year-old brain was just too stupid to understand basic instructions, or maybe he just didn't care whether Kyle got in trouble or not. He hopped up the last few steps and held out a matchbox car. “You can be the black police car. I won't even ask you to share it.”
The floorboard by the door squeaked and Kyle caught his breath. The light under the door flickered as Mom’s feet passed by.
“If you play cars with me, I’ll let you have my turn on the playstation tomorrow.” Tyler continued.
“Shut up!” Kyle didn't bother whispering this time. It was too late.
“Kari, hold on.” Mom’s voice was right next to the door. The only thing to do now would be to get down the stairs as fast as possible. Maybe she would believe him if he managed to lie well enough.
“Get out of the way.” Kyle stood up and tried to squeeze around Tyler, whose brows knit into a worried look under wild red hair.
“Stop yelling at me. I don't like it.”
The knob turned.
“Move!” Kyle shoved Tyler and instantly his heart turned to lead. Tyler's face opened up in wild fear as his hands slapped the wall on either side. A brief whimper slipped out of his lips before he fell down the stairs.
Before he even hit the bottom, the door flew open. Kyle couldn’t turn to look yet. Partially because the idea of seeing the anger on Mom’s face was almost debilitating. Partially because of the trainwreck unfolding in the other direction.
Tyler skidded onto the floor in a rapid succession of thumps. He stayed silent for a few beats, his eyes locked on Kyle, mouth wide open, before a scream wrenched free.
“Kyle? What the hell!” Mom’s fingers pressed into his arm as she pulled him out of the stairwell and shoved him aside. “You could have killed him. Did you even think about that? Did you even care?” She rushed down the stairs as Tyler continued crying, his voice sounding strangled and weak.
Mom carefully checked him over before pulling him close and rocking him close to her like one might an infant. The look she shot back up the stairwell should have peeled the skin right off him.
Kyle stuck his fists in his pockets and struggled to control his breathing and the pin-pricks exploding behind his eyes. What if he had really hurt Tyler? What if he needed to go to the hospital or something?
Mom settled Tyler in a sitting position and looked back up at him, her face a thunderstorm. “Kyle?”
Why had he done that? It seemed so stupid now. Sure, he’d avoided getting in trouble for spying. Now he was in trouble for so much worse. And Tyler… Kyle gulped down the knot in his throat, blocking any attempt at explanation. Finally the words exploded from his mouth like a snapping rubber-band.
“It’s not my fault he’s a stupid shit head and can’t take no for an answer.” He slammed his fist into the door to punctuate his point and Mom jumped slightly. “He just kept…”
“No. No. You know what, go to your room. I just can’t deal with you right now.”
But he wanted to see if Tyler was alright.
Kyle stood at the stairwell for a moment more, as Tylers screams fluctuated, before he spun on his heel and ran through the kitchen. His sweaty feet clung to the tile floor as he grabbed the banister and mounted the steps two at a time.
Mom hated him. She thought he was broken. And wasn’t he? What if Tyler was really badly hurt, and he couldn’t even say sorry? The name he’d spit out had left a nasty taste in his mouth and it seemed to be spreading. Growing like the black mold dad has once shown him in the bathroom. Creeping up his skull and into his brain. Down his spine and into his lungs and heart until it filled him. Dirty. He was dirty, and disgusting.
Tyler was the son they wanted. He was the good boy who never made mom cry. Who said “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am” when Kyle couldn’t slow his brain down long enough to remember what polite was. Tyler had never set the carpet on fire to kill the monsters under his bed. Or overflowed the bathtub to drown a spider who’d built its web between him and the door. Tyler didn’t get “tsked” by old women, or glared at by teachers.
And Kyle had nearly killed Tyler. Mom and Dad would have been stuck with just him.
He should make it easier for them.
The door shuddered as Kyle slammed it before stomping over to his closet. He broke one of the slats on the folding door as he yanked it open and started dragging out junk. A couple base-ball bats and his old football helmet, from Mom and Dad’s attempt to “put his energy somewhere useful.” Dirty clothes, that he’d hid in the back of the closet when he was supposed to clean his room. A few airsoft guns he’d stolen from his friend’s older brother.
He grabbed one of them and his back-pack, still heavy with books from the end of the school year. He would need food, and clean clothes. Maybe some cash. He couldn’t get those things now. Mom was down there. And if he waited in the room, he’d have to listen to a speech from her. Then Dad would come home, and he would be really disappointed. His blue eyes would turn gray, and his lips would tug down, and he would get that deep gruff voice that said he wished he had a different son.
So Kyle couldn’t wait in the room.
He grabbed a few shirts out of the top drawer, and pulled open the bottom drawer with his toes. His Swiss Army knife was on the top shelf. A gift from Dad before he’d gone overseas last time. He shoved it into his bag, among the rumpled clothes, and then shoved the bag under the bed.
Now to hide. Kyle turned slowly around the room. They would look in the closet and under the bed first. He jumped over the pile of bedding he’d made on the floor when he’d woken up that morning and flipped the lock on the window. Orange streamers of late-afternoon light radiated heat off the shingles as Kyle tugged the glass up and popped out the screen. He turned back just long enough to shove his feet into his sneakers and ducked through the window frame.
He’d climbed out on the roof a lot of times. There was no easy way down, though he’d considered climbing down the huge maple tree beside the living room. It was too far away, though, and the branches reaching over the roof were too thin to crawl on. It could still help to hide him. On that side of the house, Dad wouldn’t see him when he pulled in the driveway and no one could see him from the backyard because the tree was in the way.
Carefully fitting the screen back in place, Kyle scrambled over the hot roofing. The shadow under the maple was actually quite cool. Ignoring the bite of the sand-paper-like texture of the shingles, Kyle lay carefully down, keeping his feet angled downward.
Mom and Dad went to sleep at around ten or eleven o’clock. Unless they got in an argument. Either way, it would take a while. He should have brought some comic books.
Light filtered through the maple leaves, turning green and yellow as it illuminated the tender veins. A raven landed on a branch and pecked at something by its feet. It stared at Kyle with black marble eyes and croaked out a hoarse cry before lifting back off.
Kyle watched it for a moment before turning his eyes on the setting sun.
The bed squeaked. The floorboards groaned hideously. Something was scratching.
Kyle tucked the blankets up around his nose and held his breath. He was too old for monsters in the dark. Too old to run to Mom and Dad and ask to hide under their blankets. That didn’t make the desire to run any weaker.
The instant he put his feet on the floor, though, the darkness under the bed would grow and the skeletal fingers would stretch.
But maybe there was no stopping that.
Something like raspy breathing reverberated under the bed, and thin, grey-skinned arms reached out. The carpet wrinkled and twisted in its grotesque fingers, and then began to turn black. Like rot, inching its way across the fabric.
The arms kept unraveling, heaving the creature out from the shadows below as if dragging it out of hell itself. Kyle pulled the blankets over his head and curled into as small of a ball as he could, sucking his breath into his chest until it ached. Maybe if he didn’t breathe…
The shadow was clear even through the comforter. It was tall, unearthly tall. Somehow tucked up against the ceiling and twisted over Kyle . His arms hovering just over the blanket.
Kyle squeezed his eyes shut, but he could see… no feel it. It was still there.
His chest burned, his pulse throbbed in his neck, his cheeks puffed out in an effort to hold in his breath and his fear. Finally, it burst out in a loud hiss.
Tingles raced over Kyle’s arms and fingers. He rolled onto his back and yanked the blanket down, ready to face the monster. But it was gone.
“What?” He sat up, carefully studying each shadow. No. It was gone.
Did it go back under the bed? He was not sure he was ready to look, but he turned his eyes down anyway. Black scorch marks radiated out from the carpeting and along the floor boards.
Huge, awkwardly-shaped footprints dragged across the floor. Mud, like it had crawled from the grave. Or scorch marks, like it was hot. Or mold, like it was rotting the very world with its presence. All of them, and none of them. But there was a distinct smell that it left behind. Wet, and cold, bitter.
Kyle sucked in a deep breath and let his feet hit the floor. The footprints were cool against his bare feet, making the shiver crawling up his spine that much worse.
The trail led around the corner, into Mom and Dad’s room. Dad’s gun was on the floor, his boots laying by the door. Someone was crying. Kyle risked a glance inside.
Red and blue lights flashed through the windows, making Kyle squint. There was something standing over the bed, dark against the windows. The creature, abnormally tall, bent awkwardly reaching with one hand to hold onto something in the sheets.
Dad lay on the floor. His body was contorted, his eyes staring up at the ceiling, empty and glassy.
“Daddy?” Kyle whispered.
The creature stood up straighter, though its neck was still bent awkwardly to allow it to fit in the room. It was clear what his hand was on now. Tyler.
“No!” Kyle screamed. “Get away.”
Tyler whimpered, curling up in an attempt to escape the creature.
A hand fell on Kyle’s shoulder. Mom stood behind him, staring at the monster in the room with an odd sort of thoughtfulness on her face.
“Mom, you have to save him!” Kyle motioned at Tyler’s shaking form.
Mom nodded. “I will.” She looked over at Dad, and back at the creature who now leaned forward. Large white eyes filled its face, and its mouth hung open in an empty scream.
Kyle shuddered as it tilted its head on a thin and broken neck.
Mom’s grip tightened on his shoulder “It’s all your fault. It came from your room. It’s your monster. And now look what you did. What is wrong with you?”
Kyle’s stomach dropped. What did she mean? This was his fault?
The monster released Tyler and reached out long arms. Its spider-like fingers groped the air, reaching for Kyle. He tried to pull back, get to safety, but Mom’s hand held him firm.
“What is wrong with you?” She repeated. With a violent twist, she shoved Kyle forward.
He couldn’t scream. The monster’s arms closed in around him, and its gaping mouth fell onto him, sucking him right in. And he fell.
Kyle jerked awake as the sensation of falling ripped through him.
He kicked back and something under his hands rushed passed. A rough surface ripped through his palms, taking skin with it. Leaves and sticks slapped his face as he hit something brittle. The gutter. He was on the roof.
The thought snapped through his mind a moment too late as his toes skidded past the weak metal and out into open air.
Kyle screamed, flailing his legs as he snapped his hand back. Thin branches slipped through his fingers, snapping and ripping. Something caught, and he slowed down for a second, his lower body swinging in the emptiness below.
“Dad!” He scrambled to get a grip on the tiles on the rooftop. He was going to die. He was going to die like this. Falling through space. Landing in a crumpled heap on the ground.
Red lights flashed overhead, illuminating the edge of the roof and the tree branches stretched overhead. Police?
“He’s back here!” A voice called. Kyle risked a look down as shadows began to trickle around the corner. Was one of them abnormally tall? No, that was just a dream.
The motion sensor light on the back porch flickered on, illuminating Dad’s red hair, and his panicked face.
“Kyle, hold on. I’m coming, buddy.”
He hurdled over the raised porch, his legs eating up the ground. His arms were already held out to meet Kyle. “I’ve got you…”
More men yelled and motioned, their black-blue uniforms flashing through the light, alight with badges and buttons that caught the beams. Mom wasn’t far behind, and her hair streamed out behind her as she passed one of the officers.
“Kyle, I’m right here.”
Kyle didn’t dare look down at Dad’s voice. It would be like looking over the edge of the earth. Dad was too far down, he wouldn’t even be able to reach Kyle.
“I’m going to fall! I’m slipping.” Kyle tried desperately to dig his fingers deeper into the roofing, even as it sawed into his flesh. Dad was there, but he couldn’t even help. It wasn’t fair.
“Listen to me. I’m right below you. I’m right here. Let go, and I’ll catch you.”
Kyle tried to drag himself up, but the branch under his hand snapped and he jerked downward. The gutter moaned and twisted, slicing his skin.
“I’m falling!” Tears leaked out of Kyle’s eyes, running along his cheeks and blurring the flashing lights into the night sky.
“Kyle.” Dad’s voice was firm, steady. “Let go.”
Let go. What if Dad didn’t want to save him? What if he thought he was broken too? Maybe he just wanted to let Kyle die, so that they could have Tyler alone, and no more trouble.
Kyle choked back a sob.
“Listen to me.”
Sucking in the panic, Kyle tried to focus on Dad’s voice.
“I love you. I wouldn’t ever let anything happen to you. I wouldn’t tell you to let go if I didn’t know I could catch you. I’m right here.”
Kyle let out a shuddering breath. “Now?”
“Now,” Dad replied.
With a final gasp, Kyle let the branch slip through his fingers. The rooftop rolled beneath his hand, releasing him into the sky. He didn’t even get a chance to scream before warmth folded around him and Dad tucked him into his chest.
“It’s okay, I have you. I’ve got you.” Dad’s mouth pressed up against Kyle’s ear, his fingers curled around his ribs and legs. A moment later Mom’s soft, floral scent penetrated the night.
“He’s safe. You’re safe. Oh, thank God, you’re safe.” Tears, already cold, dripped onto his forehead as Mom leaned over him, entwining her arms with Dad’s “You scared me so bad.”
She did care.
Kyle shoved away from his dad as the police began pushing in on them. It wasn’t over yet. Where was Tyler?
“Tyler?” Kyle turned to look at Mom’s worried face. “Is he okay? I didn’t hurt him did I?”
He held his breath, trying to ignore the memories of the dream still flashing in his head. Tyler had to be okay.
“He’s fine. Your Grandma is watching him.”
Mom glanced at Dad. “We were looking for you, Kyle. We were very scared,”
Kyle looked around the ring of stern faces around him. The policemen staring in at him. Dad, his brow knit with worry. Mom, her hair sticking to her cheeks from tears.
“Can we go get him?”
Dad shook his head. “What’s the hurry?”
Kyle ducked his head. “I just… I have to say sorry.”
Dad nodded. “Of course we can. Don’t worry. We have time.”
“What were you doing up there?” Mom asked suddenly.
Kyle glanced up at the roof, shuddering at the image that flashed in his mind. A tall, bent figure, dark against the flashing lights. But he wasn’t there. He wasn’t real. Mom and Dad were, and their arms around him were. Tyler was real, waiting somewhere for his big brother to make things right. And their family was real, even if part of it was a little broken.
“It was having a bad dream,” Kyle grabbed Dad’s hand. “But I’m okay now.”
I hope you enjoyed this short look into Kyle’s childhood. He’s never been a good guy, but I think there is hope for him yet. If you haven’t read The Raventree Society yet, and seen how this story foreshadows what comes, be sure to check them out on Amazon. You can buy each episode for only $0.99, or buy the Season one collection in either ebook or paperback format. If you are a Kindle Unlimited reader, you can read these all for free.
If you are reading this before October 31, 2019, be sure to check out Amazon on Halloween. All five episodes of Season One will be FREE to download, and the eBook collection will be only $0.99. And if you head over to the extras page, you can still enter the give away for a chance to win an annotated, signed paperback copy.
If you really enjoyed the story, maybe consider sharing it, or buying me a coffee? I will need one after staying up so late to finish this. :) Thank you so much for all your support.