The Gathering. Short Story.

Jenny looked at her watch, then looked outside. On time as usual. She wrote down the time on her notepad and started counting. So far they appeared at the same time each day, though the numbers varied. There was always at least two and could be as many as thirty visible from the window. They made their way to their spots and stood, staring back at her. Across the street Jenny saw a curtain twitch slightly, no doubt Mrs. Jacobson was peering out as she usually did, but she was too afraid to look at them directly like this. Jenny had been doing it for almost a month now and nothing bad had happened to her. They seemed to gather at her house a little more perhaps, but no more than anyone else’s. In an hour they would be gone, going back to where ever it was they came from. No one knew and no one tried to find out. Going outside was dangerous now, at least for the next hour and Jenny had seen what had happened to those who had been caught, she didn’t want the same happening to her. No, she wouldn’t die like that, she’d kill herself before allowing that to happen. She wrote down the clothes they were wearing, trying to guestimate ages. It was difficult, at first, but the longer she observed them the easier it became. They all wore similar outfits, white gowns that were almost hospitalesque, they were closed at the back and they all wore white trousers beneath the gowns, perhaps a kind of cotton? And they were all barefoot, their feet black, stained and in some cases bleeding freely. They continued to stare at her, unblinking. She took a step to the left, some of the eyes followed her, others didn’t. Interesting. She took a deep breath and prepared her next test, this one was dangerous. She gripped the torch tightly. It was bright, blindingly so. She turned it on and shone it into the nearest ones eyes. He didn’t blink. Interesting. She shone it at another, a girl, she took a step backwards, looking confused for a second, then her face cleared and she returned to staring. Jenny put the torch down, her heart beating what felt like a thousand beats a minute, she felt a thin bead of sweat slide down her back. That was as far as she was going to push them today.

She looked at the children, the oldest she had seen was about fourteen according to her guesses, the youngest was maybe five. Each one was pale and slightly grimy looking, their eyes were completely black. The first day she had seen them she had paid no attention as she past the window, why would she? There were plenty of children on the road and no doubt they were playing some kind of strange game, one of the ones they enjoyed so much. The next day she looked out when she heard the screams. It was Bobby, from next door. She had watched what they had done to him, shivering uncontrollably and unable to look away. When it was over she threw up, once, twice, then a third time, heaving until there was nothing left but froth. When she stood up again, they were gone, but they had left Bobby behind. She had called the police, they came, took Bobby’s body and that was the end of it. Jenny had called to follow up and they denied all knowledge of anything happening in her area. Thinking that perhaps it was some covert investigation she gave up and instead, she rang the local news station, they seemed interested, promising to be out to do a story, but they never came. The newspapers never responded to her phone call, she gave up. Everyone on the road would talk about it, in hushed whispers, some spoke of ringing the police, one or two others had done as Jenny had and tried to contact the media, but they were met with the same responses as Jenny. No one seemed to care, she had tried talking to her sister about it, but her sister had seemed uninterested, then actively hostile when she tried to press the issue, tried to make her sister understand what exactly was happening. Jenny didn’t really know what that was, all she knew was that people were actively avoiding the subject. The children seemed to be docile enough as long as a person didn’t approach them. She didn’t know what had happened with Bobby, how or why he had been attacked, no one seemed to know, but she had seen animals walk past them without incident, she had even seen a magpie land on one of the children’s shoulders before taking off again a moment later, completely fine, the child hadn’t seemed to notice. Perhaps Bobby had shook one of the children and the others attacked in some kind of defensive response. The children all seemed to wander off in different directions once the hour was up, Jenny had never seen the children anywhere else and everyone else claimed the same thing. There was no trace of them once they were gone, there were no buildings they could be returning to as there was nothing in the housing estate that could discretely hold that many children. They just seemed to vanish. Jenny put her notepad down and stepped closer to the window, trying to see if they were moving at all, but they were motionless, none of them fidgeted or swayed.

A dog came running into view, a golden retriever, Bongo, Sandie and Josh’s dog, why the hell had they let him out? He ran up to one of the children and ran his head against their hand, the boy didn’t look at the dog, didn’t respond. Bongos tail slowed, then lowered, he moved to another child and was met with the same response. Damn, what if they attacked Bongo? They hadn’t attacked other animals, but no other animal had actively sought their attention. Jenny took a deep breath, then decided what she had to do. She went to the front door and cracked it open slightly, looking out at the children, none of them seemed to notice, taking another breath she called out in a frantic whisper “Bongo, come here boy, come on.” One of the children started to look around. Shit, why had she done this, this was stupid. Bongo turned his head, looking directly at her, “Good boy, come on, what have I got here? Something nice?” His ears perked up, c’mon you stupid dog, he started to trot over to her, tail wagging again, happy to have some attention. The boy spotted her, he made a noise, a kind mewling sound, the other children started to look around. Shit. What the fuck was she thinking, Bongo paused, looking around at the children, tail going between his legs. “Something nice?” Bongo looked at Jenny and whined slightly, he started to move towards her, he took two steps then broke into a run, the children’s heads whipped around, following him, the boy started to walk towards her, picking up into a jog. Jenny opened the door wider, Bongo fled into the house, she slammed the door, a second later something banged into it. The boy started to scratch at the door. Jenny stood back, heart thudding, she had that between her and the kids at least, they wouldn’t be able to break the thing down. Would they? Her back garden was clear, she could flee there with Bongo if she had to, the neighbours next door would probably let her in. The scratching stopped. She looked out the keyhole, the children were walking away. Every one of them. She moved into the sitting room and looked out the window again, they seemed to have forgotten about her. As she watched them leave she decided she’d be staying in another house the next time they came, just in case. Bongo rubbed himself against her legs and she reached down and scratched his ear. She looked down at him, “C’mon, lets get you some cheese.”

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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