The Tempter Comes

1) The First Night


1         The First Night


People who have insight, when they sleep, they see things;

people who have fear, when they sleep, things see them.



Thomas Parker was sleeping in the guest bedroom of his good friends the Donnelees. Every summer he came here for one to two months depending on his parents’ travel schedules. They both worked for the same company that required a lot of overseas travel during the summer. So for as long as he could remember he always came to Jabesh and stayed here. But this year due to an extra amount of travel for his parents, he was going to stay for the entire three months.

Getting to Jabesh from his house was a long bus trip, maybe ten hours or more and the closer he got the more scattered the rest of civilization became. From the large city where he lived to small towns, from small towns to farms, and from farms to desolation, that is, until he would spy Jabesh approaching. Then he would regain whatever energy the trip had drained away.

He always looked forward to his stay here and enjoyed the change of pace and scenery. It was probably his favorite time of each year. This summer, though, would be different—very different—although he had no idea.

                He had just arrived that early evening and after all of the hoorays and hugs was now sound asleep in bed. It was a simple room as most guest bedrooms are wont to be. The twin bed was in the middle of the room with a small end table on either side. An old cherry dresser with a mirror was along the wall to the right and next to the door. A single window was on the left. The window was open but it was an unusually still and silent night. The thin curtains hung unflinching on either side. The window reflected in the dresser mirror much to Thomas’ relief. A closet stood opposite him. There were a few small pictures on the wall but nothing of distinction. Because it was so old, all of the wood in the room was much darker than when it had originally been shaped into furniture or moldings. This made the old-fashioned white porcelain doorknob on the closet stand out even more.

                Tonight was fairly dark; not much of the quarter moon made it through the window. After having been jostled out of every three-minute nap on the bus, Thomas was sleeping quite deeply on his right side on the edge of the bed.

Then slowly an unsettled feeling crept into his dreams. He unconsciously began fidgeting and making low moaning sounds. His fingers gripped the blanket more tightly. Then at once he awoke but had not yet opened his eyes or moved. He did not know why he had awoken. He listened. There were no noises; no one was walking around in the hallway outside his door. Why had he been startled awake? He remained that way for a minute, listening intently. Nothing. Like a spring, he opened his eyes.

No more than six inches from his face someone was staring at him. Before he could even react there appeared a deep darkness and then nothing. With a yelp he scrambled to the center of the bed never taking his eyes away from the spot where he saw someone. His heart was pounding like the beat of a drummer leading an army into battle. He was up on one arm and sweat was sliding down his face. Yet never did he remove his eyes from that spot. The room was dark but whatever was there was now gone because he could see the black shape of the dresser and the reflection of the window in the mirror. He sat up and swiftly scanned the room. Faint sounds of fear leaked out of his throat. There were no shapes other than what he expected. Still he scanned and breathed more and more heavily until he thought that he would faint.

No, he had not imagined it; he knew that. He or she (it) must have ducked under the bed. Now what should he do? Should he leap out of bed as far as he can and bolt through the door? Should he continue to listen to try to figure out where it is? Thomas felt like he sat there for an hour; barely moving although it was probably no more than several minutes. It was as though the room had been filled solid with lacquer; nothing moved except the heaving of his chest, nothing made noise save his own fears, all time had ceased. The air became hard.

Though it lasted less than a second he reviewed that moment over and over. “It couldn’t have been Toni,” he thought. “She wouldn’t do anything that bizarre.” Toni was the Donnelee’s daughter. She was the same age as Thomas and, over the years, they became great friends. Besides, he could swear that whoever was staring at him had unusually large, what looked like, totally black eyes. And the skin—he thought that it was the palest skin that he had ever seen. Of course the room was dark and it did happen fast but the more that Thomas thought about it the larger and blacker the eyes became and the skin became as white as a tombstone.

He knew that he had to do something. He could not sit there all night in terror; he would be dead by morning. So he very slowly pushed himself closer to the only end table with a lamp. Only this was the end table nearest to where the face had been. Still he had to do something. He got to exactly an arm’s length away from the lamp and not an inch closer. Willing not a bone to crack, he slowly extended an arm towards the lamp. He pictured exactly where the switch would be and moved his fingers to that exact spot. He was pondering, “If something grabs my arm what should I do?” Screaming was clearly the most immediate response. Beyond that all bets were off; anything could happen.

He held his breath as he extended his arm with the speed of a tree growing. With a great relief he got his fingers onto the switch and turned it. The light went on and he jerked his arm back. With this addition of light returned the streams of sweat and the swift jerks of the head to examine every part of the room. He half expected to see an arm extended over the side of the bed working its way towards him but there was nothing new. Still, he sat there listening for scurrying, breathing other than his own, perhaps seeing a hunched shape disappearing out the window (the option he was hoping for). But there was only the dresser, the pictures, and the unchanged items that he had seen for the many years that he had been coming there.

It must still be under the bed, he thought. Leaning over and looking underneath was easily dismissed as an option. “I might as well just tear off my face and hand it to him.”

There was nothing nearby for him to use as a weapon. Some thick books that he was going to read this summer were on the dresser. Fortunately he had not yet put them away. He devised a plan. He would leap out of the bed over to the dresser and grab the pile of books. By the time whoever it was that was under the bed managed to crawl out he could clobber him and run out into the hall. It was a plan perhaps as well conceived as Napoleon’s march into Waterloo, but it was all he could think of.

He stood up on the bed being careful to stay in the exact center as far away from any edges and groping hands as he could. He crouched as tightly as possible and then leaped to the floor in front of the dresser. Of course anyone functioning on as much adrenaline as he was is never going to do things correctly. He over-leaped and wound up crashing into the dresser. He staggered a couple of steps back towards the bed at which point he jerked his head around to canvass the area around him. Nothing darted out. He managed to stay on his feet and lunging towards the dresser he grabbed the books, raised them above his head, and turned back towards the bed with his bulging eyes staring intently at the space near his feet. Nothing stirred.

He could not hold the books all night. He was already near exhaustion just from the emotional expenditure. He crouched down slightly to see more under the bed. There was nothing. He crouched nearly to the ground until he could see completely through to the other side. Beneath the bed was empty. He scanned the room one more time. Finally he lowered the books although not daring to put them back down yet. He waited for several minutes. He put all but the largest book back onto the dresser being careful not to turn his back to the room. Holding that one book by its spine he slid his feet across the wooden floor to get to the closet. Holding the book like he is going to pitch a baseball he put his other hand on the porcelain doorknob. He paused. The knob made a very slight sound, but nothing stirred within. He turned the knob very deliberately. At any second was someone was going to burst out and leap on him? He could not vanquish the image of something with a mouth full of long, pointed fangs ripping into his neck while his last action as a human was to scream and faint. He turned the knob some more. He heard the faint click of the bolt as it pulled clear of the frame and then he was unable to turn the knob any more. The porcelain was about to slip from his sweaty hand. This was it; he had to do it.

With a quick jerk, he flung open the door and set himself ready to jam the book into whosever face he saw. The door banged against the wall as he stared into the closet. It was small and only a few of his clothes were hanging there. There was nothing else. He lowered his book arm to his side and turned around. There was no one anywhere.

He put the book back onto the dresser and shut the window. He bent down and looked under the bed one more time. He glanced at the clock; it was now after three AM. He had a mind to open each of the dresser drawers but thought that would be really stupid. Whatever that person or thing was, was certainly bigger than a dresser drawer. He did it anyway.

He climbed back into bed but did not turn off the light or lie down. He sat there with his arms wrapped around his knees. Of course he made sure that he was, once again, in the exact center of the bed.

“Maybe I was having a really bad dream. Maybe I woke up and just thought that something was there.” But no matter how much he tried to convince himself that it was just a nightmare, he was never really satisfied.

At a quarter to four he decided that unless he got some sleep he would be good for nothing tomorrow and the first full day at the Donnelees was always special since he was fussed over and questioned and treated like the prince that had returned to the castle. But he could not bear to turn off the light. So he went into his closet and got a light jacket. He zipped it up and pulled it over the lampshade. This way there was still some light but not a lot, but it was enough to see anything lurking in the room. Very gingerly he lay back down as if the bed might suddenly burst into flames. He lay there with his eyes open slowly panning back and forth but being careful not to move his head. He was very good at being vigilant. Eventually, though, from sheer exhaustion he fell asleep.


The next morning there was a knock on his door. “Get up, lazy bones.” The blanket flew up into the air with Thomas not far behind.

“I’m coming. I’m coming,” he half yelled, half grunted. His eyes sprung open and he bolted up in bed. The room was quite bright from the morning sun. His head snapped from side to side as he scanned the room in a near panic. Nothing was there and nothing appeared to have been disturbed since he went to bed. He crawled to the edge of the bed. He knew that it was foolish but still he gripped the edge and bent way down to see if anything was underneath. He fervently hoped that nothing would bite him on the face and pull him down, but he was too tired at the moment to do anything else. There was nothing there either. He got out of bed and stood by the dresser. It could have been that it was light out, that someone was outside his door, or that everything looked normal, but he was feeling more confident—maybe too much so. He went over to the closet, put his hand on the knob, took a deep breath, made a fist with the other hand, and yanked open the door. The sudden pull ruffled some shirts on hangers and the movement caused him to yelp and fall backwards onto the bed. He quickly jumped back up and awaited his attacker with clenched fists. But nothing came. He realized what happened and, after a quick double check of the closet, shut the door and wiped the spit off of his mouth.

He gathered up some clothes and went for a shower. He was still pretty shaken. He did not know if it was from the lack of sleep or from what he saw (or thought he saw). He just knew that he was glad that it was daylight and that there were people around.

When he came downstairs, bowls were sprawled across the table like houses in an urban development. Mrs. Donnelee and Toni were carrying even more dishes to the table.

“The prince is coming,” Thomas heard someone shout out as he descended the stairs.

“Thanks for joining us this morning,” said Mrs. Donnelee rather impishly. Toni was smiling broadly. It was later than he thought. “You sure are dragging your feet. It’s a good thing there isn’t carpeting on the floor otherwise you would trip over the pile.”

He sat down groggily at the table.

“Still not quite with us?” asked Mrs. Donnelee.

“I’m still getting the fuzz out of my eyes,” he replied. After a few seconds he cleared his head. “This is quite a spread.”

“Nothing’s too good for the prince,” proclaimed Mrs. Donnelee. They had given him this nickname because he was always treated like royalty when he came. It was perhaps one of the reasons why these times were always so special to him. Getting fattened up on Mrs. Donnelee’s fabulous cooking was one much anticipated pleasure and she never disappointed. Well, actually, there was that one experiment with the “mystery” pig parts but that will not be counted against her.

Thomas sat down. “Where’s Carl?”

“He didn’t feel like joining us,” Mrs. Donnelee remarked quickly.

There was a moment of silence.

“This is certainly quite a spread for just the three of us,” he announced too overly cheerfully. “Is the rest of the town planning on joining us?” And he was quite correct. There were platters and bowls with pancakes, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, bacon, sausage, toast, butter, jelly, and, yes, grits. Every year one of their goals was to get him to like grits and every year he would take one-half teaspoon and promptly proclaim his undying dislike. Just as he sat down Toni proudly put a small plate in front of him. It was quite elegant and differed from everything else if for no other reason than because it was formed from multiple items.

“What is this?”

“It’s Eggs Benedict,” proclaimed Toni. “It’s quite good. We had to, umm, practice making and, umm, eating it for several days now. We wanted to get it just perfect for you.” She stood there looking very pleased and hoping for nothing less than high expectations and compliments. In fact, both Toni and her mother just stood there beaming at Thomas. He hoped that this was not grits dressed up fancy.

“Well, isn’t anyone else going to sit down?” He felt like a monkey in a zoo. They both pulled up chairs. They bowed their heads and Mrs. Donnelee gave thanks. It seemed a little shorter than usual to Thomas but he figured that maybe it was because she could not wait for him to try the Eggs Benedict.

Finally deciding that something this good looking could not possibly contain any grits he cut off a good slice. “Mmmm, this is great,” he said with a slightly over-exaggerated look of pleasure. He knew that they were hoping for a lot from him and he did not want to disappoint. “This is really great.” This time it came out much more sincere. “You outdid yourselves on this one.” This seemed to please them both and they proceeded to fill their plates with everything else.

But Thomas could not shake his feeling of dread. That face kept flickering in his mind like a slow motion strobe. It was making him increasingly uneasy. He did not want to say anything about it because he did not want them to think that he had gone mad over the last year. Well, at least, not on the first day. He figured that some light-hearted topic would get the conversation going down a pleasant and breezy path.

“So Mrs. Donnelee, how did you get your first name? Were you named after a flower or after a musical instrument?” Mrs. Donnelee’s first name was Viola. He figured that either answer would give him fodder for many following questions. “So were your parents musical? Did they play any instruments? Did you sing a lot as a family when you were growing up?” Or “Did your parents have a nice garden? Did they teach you a lot about flowers? Is purple, then, your favorite color?” Either way they would be able to chat for a while and it would, hopefully, get his mind off of things.

Mrs. Donnelee replied, “I was named after my grandmother.”

“Oh,” he responded rather dismally. His head hung just a little lower as he drizzled some maple syrup over his oatmeal and then scooped a spoonful of the mix into his mouth.

For the rest of the meal Toni and her mother talked excitedly about everything that had happened in the last year. The Fullman kids almost burned their own house down. The church got a new assistant pastor since it was growing so quickly. All the while Thomas looked very enthused but what haunted him was unshakable.

At one point Mrs. Donnelee said, “I guess your lamp got cold during the night.”

Thomas froze solid; the fork with the sausage just inches from his mouth.

Toni giggled. Mrs. Donnelee continued, “We saw that you put your coat on it. That’s all. We figured that it must have been shivering or something.”

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: