The Wolf at the End of the Hall
Clammy sweat oozes over my tiny hands as I slowly open and close them…over and over. I can’t hear its howling or discern the clinking scratching of its claws over the floorboards, but I know it’s there. The wolf at the end of the hall. It’s there every night, just as I’m on the edge of sleep; as if it knows I can’t escape its invitation. I swallow the bile in my throat. It, too, meanders down my throat like a thick sludge. Sitting up, I stare at the familiar surroundings of my bedroom. Everything is in its place, all of it neat and tidy.
The door is open, just as my father left it an hour ago. The wolf isn’t there where I can see it. It’s in the back of the hallway waiting…waiting for me to come into the corridor, as it knows I will. I can never seem to refuse him our nightly duel. I wipe my sweaty palms on my night gown and shift the covers over my stocking-covered legs. A chill wafts through the open door and I shiver in its frigid effect. I clamp my eyes shut, but there I can still see him. His body is twisted and contorted in ways that shouldn’t be possible. It’s uneven, glowing eyes bore into my soul, leaving its demonic imprint. I open them and the image vanishes.
I think about crying like other children do when they’re scared, but I can’t seem to manage it. The terror is too great. The floorboards rise to meet my feet and I can feel each grain and groove in the rough wood. Its cool surface molds itself to my soles. My mind makes it seem as though a clawing mist devours the floor around my legs, but I know it is my imagination playing tricks on me. Twelve steps bring me halfway to the open door. I stop. Inhale. Exhale. My heart pounds in my chest and I can hear its racing beats…thump, thump…thump, thump…
My lids close. Keeping my eyes shut the rest of the way, I tip toe to the open door, not daring to let the sight in. At the threshold, I breathe in and out, grasping the doorframe with my clutching fingers. Turning to the right as swiftly as possible, I plaster my quivering body against the wall of the corridor. My eyes remain tightly clamped. If I turn to the left and open them, he’ll be sitting there waiting…his tail slowly lifting and falling. He bides his time. I can’t hear anything but the movement of the air through his nostrils and out. If I look, I know I’ll see his jaws gaping open…jagged, jutting teeth adorning the bloody maw.
My heart picks up its tempo and I whimper. Why do I have to do this every night? I think to myself…Why is he always, always here? Moving away from the safety of the wall, I plant my feet firm, shoulder-width apart, and ball my hands into fists. I feel stronger this way, but my heart fails me. It bangs on in my rib cage like a terrified rabbit. I fight it…this impulse to open my eyes—to give light to that which haunts my precious hours of sleep. I can almost hear him calling to me…
Open your eyes, little one…
I refuse and shake my head, shrugging my shoulders and grimacing bitterly. I won’t let him see my struggle this time, I declare. Eyes still closed, I square my posture and lift my head a little higher.
I will always be here…You can’t escape me…
Stray tears escape my clenched eyes and I curse my own weakness. My warm bed beckons to me…promises me if I just open my eyes, it will all be over, but I can’t…I can’t…If I open them, I know he’ll see my horror. The wolf’s body doesn’t shift. It is I who moves towards him; taking measured steps down the wooden hall…bringing my body closer to this hideous demon that lingers in my mind even in my waking hours. I pass my door. I can feel its warmth envelope me from the open portal. I know if I return to that warmth, I’ll be safe, but the image of the wolf will remain. I must finish my battle before peaceful slumber will come to me.
My progress slows, then I stop altogether. My body becomes utterly still. Sighing, I inhale and edge my lids open. Soon, they are wide open—letting the faint moonlight from the window fill their depths. My heart goes quiet in my chest and I exhale. The only thing at the end of the hallway is my parents’ laundry hamper and a closed door. My knees grow weak, but my heart picks up its normal, faint rhythm. I’ve bested him again, I think. Tomorrow night…he won’t dare show his face to me…
But as I climb into my bed and pull the three covers tight over my head, I know I’m lying to myself. I know that tomorrow night, I will nearly be asleep and the wolf at the end of the hall will enter my consciousness, demanding our nightly contest…If I ignore him, I may never sleep again. He is the harbinger of nightmares and if I refuse him, he’ll punish me with terrors I can scarcely imagine. So for tonight, I close my eyes and drift off into the ship of pleasant and peaceful dreams…I soak them up like gilded armor that seems to grow through my vulnerable skin. I know that somehow, they’ll see me through the next night…and the next…and the next…until one day, I won’t need them anymore. I won’t need anything but my own courage to stay in my bed and refuse the wolf our battle. He’ll try to reenter my mind, but in the place of the terror he once commanded within me, he’ll find only sunlight and glowing security.
Happy Halloween, all! For my writing time today, I took a break from my current manuscript and decided to write a response to the writing prompt: “What is something that frightened you as a child?” I thought it would be a fun way to pass the morning hours and delve into two practices that are difficult for me: contemplating the effects of my past // writing in present tense… It is harder than you think to write a story about something that terrified you as a kid! If you don’t believe me, try it yourself! If you do, PLEASE, PLEASE let me know! I’d love to read your response! Here are the rules:
Halloween Short Story Prompt
Question to answer: “What is something that frightened you as a child?”
Tense: Present or Past
Length: LESS than 1,000 words
Method: Story-form ( as in, don’t just say, “I was terrified of bunnies”. You must tell us in a STORY!)
Aftermath: SHARE YOUR LINKS in the comments so we can all enjoy your responses!
Happy Halloween. I hope you enjoyed my story response! It was really fun to write!