[This story was longlisted by Ellen Datlow for her “Best Horror of the Year Vol. 14” anthology.]
On some odd day — one of those million golden afternoons that breeds boredom or trouble regardless of character — you find yourself and a dear friend sitting alone in your living room, the TV silent, books or tongues having nothing to say, and you ask your friend to play a game.
Take that thin fuzzy blanket from the back of your chair. Unfold it in your hands. Tell your person they are to crouch in the middle of the room, hunched against the floor, shins elbows wrists touching the carpet like a sphinx. Explain to them the rule of the game: Insist that they are not to make a sound, not utter a single word, until they take the blanket off.
Cover every inch of them with the blanket, so that when you step back to admire your creation, you see a lump of covered mass and the flat skin of the sheet pooling out around it. Then, take more steps back and stop.
All is completely quiet. The cicadas call outside and a stray breeze whispers across the curtains, but no noise from now on is human.
Let this new creature, still and silent, become part of the room. Let your eyes and mind adjust to that motionless lump on the floor.
Minutes pass in this quiet. And you begin to smile, eyes crinkled up with laughter at the stupidity of you, your friend.
Haven’t we grown? Are we not still children?
But suddenly, as if feeling itself in your thoughts, the creature moves.
It cocks its head slowly, once to the side, then to the other. As if it’s observing you, listening to your heart, because in that moment of first movement, your heart patters oddly in your chest, just once: a little skip behind the ribs.
You grin hard then. With something childlike churning in the muscles of your mind. Think to yourself, Well that’s creepy. And then you chuckle, say it out loud, laughing. But the creature only bends its head one way, then the other.
You become aware of that ball of spit in your throat, refusing to slip down. And you back up once without meaning to. You bump the coffee table. The creature fixates on your location, and a few stretched seconds pass while a bead of sweat slips down your chest.
Quick but stumbling, it rushes you and something inside some crevice of you reacts — make you jump away, breathing hard, teeth chattering with chuckles and something else.
You say aloud, “Jesus man, that’s freaky!”
And this sick kind of laughter comes tumbling down to your feet, as you shake in your new spot, chest heaving.
You expect your friend to answer, but they don’t. Instead this covered creature, still and waiting, now turns slowly towards the sound of you, and pads toward you again. Slowly. Frame by frame.
Until it’s a foot away and your heart is quick and this primal fear, sharp and sudden, strikes you at your core, as this creature lunges at you again — and you again spring away but this time it was closer. Too close for your liking, so you stop laughing stop smiling tell the creature to stop —
But it stays as it is. Lying in wait all still and silent as it listens to your heart and your breath spilling out and over you in cacophonous rhythm until it lunges again as you try to insist it’s not funny anymore seriously.
But you don’t know this new creature — you don’t know if it has a mind of its own or if its creation left it only instinct, when all it does is make you dance heart pounding madly —
But you call out one last time to this creature,your voice bent up with something that isn’t quite human either, STOP.
Time itself will freeze.
You’ll watch the creature stand upright with new legs. It’ll be the size of you.
The blanket will begin to slip, and you’ll wonder if there was a time that you knew what was beneath it.