The Child, she Cannot Sleep: A story for The Blood is the Life: A Frightful Halloween Quest

Emily looked up at the wooden parrot hanging from her ceiling. Its small eyes were black, and delicately painted so that they appeared to shine, like real eyes. They also had depth, like real eyes. She could see a personality in its eyes. It nearly had a soul and could think for itself. More than anything, she felt that she was communicating with it. Dark secrets were passing between her and the parrot. What they were, she could not fathom. The thought worried her and she tightened her grip on her quilt - her last salvation.

Her mother walked in, and distracted her from the parrot's attention. She began conducting the nightly ceremony that Emily remembered since the beginning of time. She walked over to the bed and after kissing Emily on the cheek, whispered, "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite." She fastened Emily's somewhat ruffled bedsheets, which, for her, was comforting and reassuring. She walked towards the door, and glanced once more at Emily.

"Goodnight, Mom." came a voice from the window's side of the room. Usually, Emily would turn on her side, assuming a sleeping position. Tonight, she was still lying on her back.

"'Night, Emily." Her mother switched the light off, ending the ceremony. She left to her own room, probably to resume typing on the computer and mumbling about taxes, something she almost always did with her glasses on. Emily thought this in accusation for leaving her alone at night, looking around at the newfound blackness, her eyes reaching out to see, but they saw nothing. In time, things began to appear.

Silently, she wished her mother could come back and comfort her some more. Realistically, she thought, she could handle herself at night, now six years old. From the doorway entered a narrow slice of light from the hallway. When the door began to shut itself, the light visible on the ceiling diminished, and thinned. It closed itself without excessive noise and without effort. Emily looked at the tree outside the window, and then at the opposite wall. The beam from the traffic lights passed through the tree's branches, and cast a dull shadow on the wall which became distorted every time a car drove by on the street. She thought she could see familiar shapes flicker on the wall as the cars drove by. A face, a cat maybe, or perhaps a vision of something she saw earlier today. She felt a chill, even though her window was closed.

A few days ago, on the drive to school, she had asked her mother what paranoia was.

"It's when you feel that someone is after you, all the time." her mother replied.

"All the time?" she asked, with a surprised look on her face.

"Yes," she explained. "It's not good to be paranoid. That's what Dad was like, actually."

"Was the IRS after him?" She laughed enthusiastically, thinking of the cliché image of IRS agents that she had seen on a cartoon show.

"Oh no, that's only in the States," she said, sharing the laughter. "Here, we have Revenue Canada."

The memory faded, and Emily wished for that sort of company once again, which would not return for hours, a sabbatical of sorts. I must be paranoid, she thought. She remembered the phrase, "Don't let the bed bugs bite." It had never occurred to her to ask what bed bugs were. She imagined little black insects, each with six legs, each marching forward with mindless ambition. They would sparsely populate the surface of her bed, crawling towards her. Whether or not such things could be, she wasn't sure. She wanted to call a desperate plea to her mother, but the morbid desire for fear, which lingers in all humans, tickled her. She needed more of it, and if she got enough, it might eventually go away.

She looked at the tree's shadow on the wall, and then at the tree through the window. In the daytime, its bare branches were attractive, and seemed playful, but at this time of night, their gnarled shape was a sick expression of suffering and grief.

Emily's gaze shifted from the tree back to her original antagonist. The silhouette of the parrot was becoming more defined, as her eyes adjusted in the darkness. Still, the parrot was missing important visual details that created vague interpretations. What was that shape on its back? A finger, or a hand reaching out? Was the parrot turning into a monster? She tried not to think about it. The parrot now appeared menacing, and more evil than before. How could such a motionless thing be thinking for itself? It possessed too much life, she thought.

"Mom!" Emily wanted to cry out, but could not. She supressed the screams building up inside her. Her eyes welled up with tears as she turned her face to the pillow and hyperventilated.

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