Sara was in the bath, while Beth cooked dinner. Jack Rowland stood at the window looking out at the yard.
“ Sweetheart, “ he said. “ You better have a look at this. “
Beth peeked out the window. She was alarmed, but not worried by what she saw. The family dog usually drooled, but never paced like that. The dog was growling, stopping momentarily to look at them.
“ Maybe you should take her to the vet for a check up, “ Beth said.
“ Could be a good idea, “ he agreed
After dinner, they watched television for an hour, as some families do, then Jack put Sara to bed.. He read her a story.
“ I'm a big girl now, “ she told her father, trying to read the book herself. “ I'm six and know all these words. Mummy says that when I turn seven, I'll be a little old lady, 'cause sometimes I act like one. I'm not old. “
“ No, not yet, “ Jack said, chuckling, and tickling her. “ You'll have to wait until you turn eight. “
He kissed her on the forehead and her night light started to flicker.
“ I'll change the bulb tomorrow, “ he promised. “ Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite. “
The girl was asleep in no time at all, flat on her back, her book still in bed with her. She was breathing heavy through her mouth. Jack checked on her and she spoke quietly in her sleep.
She said, “ I'm going to get you for this. “
Kids dream some silly things, he thought.
He would love to know what she was dreaming, but more than likely it would be like watching a rat in a wheel.
He took the book from her and placed it with her others. The night light flickered again as she rolled onto her side and he pulled the blankets up, covering her shoulder.
Beth was in bed before him, as usual, reading one of her trashy paperback romance novels. Jack had already read it, because like a good husband, he enjoyed keeping up-to-date with his wife.
The bedside lamp flickered momentarily, but she thought nothing of it.
Jack was in the laundry, looking out the window. The dog was still pacing and growling. She had been doing that for hours. He invited her in, speaking to her softly. She whimpered and scratched at the door lightly to get back out.. He gave her a dog treat and left her in the dark.
In the bedroom he got changed and climbed into bed beside his wife. He was asleep long before she was.
In the dark hours of the morning, Beth awoke suddenly, feeling a weight on her legs. Something crawled across the bed and settled between her and Jack. She felt licking at her ear and assumed the dog had got it. She rolled over and turned on the lamp.
Jack was sitting up in bed and staring at the bedroom door. It was closed and there was nothing in bed with them. She was puzzled and touched him on the shoulder, “ Honey, what's-? “
Jack clamped a hand across his mouth, as if stifling a scream, terrified, and pointed at the door. The door handle rattled, turned, and the door opened, just as the bulb in the lamp popped. Beth shrieked. Standing there was a figure engulfed in flames. The figure turned and walked into the child's room.
The dog howled, Sara screamed.
They ran into the child's room and her bed was shaking. All lights in the house glowed brightly at once and Sara screamed, “ The burning man climbed under my bed! “
A pair of flaming hands reached out from under there, trying to grab at Jack's ankles. The walls groaned.
Beth cried, “ It's so hot in here! We have to get out! “
Jack plucked his daughter from the bed and the family raced toward the front door. On the back of the door was a message written in blood: Death is half the rush.
For the next hour the unexplained activity continued. The family were defenceless. Door knobs glowed red hot, messages appeared, then disappeared, and the apparition of someone in flames kept attacking Jack, grabbing his ankles, as if they were pleading for help.
Beth had tried to release the dog from the laundry, but it was impossible. The dog yelped and barked at something in there with her, then the door started banging loudly, as if someone was throwing the dog against it.
Then, the activity ceased, as if it had never happened at all. Two lights in the house still worked and the phones had become active. No-one was injured.
Jack let the dog in from the laundry and she was her regular self. What he didn't notice was the fading hand print on the window.
The Police were called, but they assumed the Rowlands had been subjected to an attempted break in. The family never got back to sleep that night.
When the sun came up, a neighbour knocked on their door. He handed a newspaper to Jack.
“ Bit of trouble here last night? “ the neighbour asked. “ Heard some yellin'. Saw the cops turn up. Everyone okay? “
“ Yeah, “ Jack said. “ Just an attempted break in, I guess. “
“ Kids are gettin' dangerous, “ the neighbour said. “ Page two might interest you. “
Jack turned to page two and started reading. There had been a horrific single car accident the day before. The driver had managed to survive and walk away from the wreck, but the passenger had been trapped, then burned alive.
Jack bit his fist in shock.
The passenger had been his little brother.
BIO: I live in Orange, New South Wales, Australia. I have one child -a daughter. I was born in Sydney in 1977. My poetry has appeared in anthologies worldwide and my short stories have been published in men's magazines. I cite James Herbert, Tales from the Crypt, vintage Penny Dreadfuls, and Ripley's Believe It, or Not as an influence.