From the Malafarina Files, “The Lurkers,” a short horror story from the master of the macabre, Thomas M. Malafarina

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By: Thomas M. Malafarina

The hall light never seemed to be bright enough. Tommy watched it dimly glowing
behind its yellowed bowl-shaped glass globe. He had become very familiar with its raised
floral pattern, having stood staring at it many times in his past ten years.

The meager ceiling light at the top of the stairs was meant to provide sufficiently
illumination for both the stairway as well as the long, frightening hallway that seemed to go
on forever like a horrifying tunnel of unknown terrors.

The hall led to an open door at its darkest end, Tommy’s bedroom. His door was
always open; he never closed it. He suspected someday he might want it closed for privacy,
but not for the moment. Right now, privacy was the last thing he wanted to think about.

He stood with his back against the wall at the top of the stairs looking down at the
light shining into the stairwell from the living room. He could hear the sounds of his parents
and older sisters watching My Three Sons on their black and white Philco TV. He could always listen to
the cranky voice of Uncle Charlie complaining about something or other.

Tommy recalled Uncle Charlie was a relatively new character to the show, having replaced the
boy’s grandfather, Bub O’Casey, who Tommy overheard his Dad say was sick or too old or
something. Although he liked the grandfather character, Uncle Charlie also seemed pretty
cool. That was when he was allowed to stay up to watch the show on rare occasions. The
comforting sounds of the TV helped to relax his pounding heart, at least for the moment.

To Tommy’s left, his parents’ bedroom was visible through the open doorway; the
glow from a nearby streetlight shone across the bed. Tommy never was afraid of this room,
no matter how dark, because it was his Mom and Dad’s room, and the Lurkers would never
go there.

He turned his head slowly to the right looking down the dark menacing hallway. The
right side of the hall was what he thought of as the “safe zone.” His family lived in the end
unit of a row home, and the right side of the hall was attached to the house next door, so
there was nowhere for them to hide along that wall. Often he would creep along the right side
with his back pressed firmly against the wall and his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

Tommy recalled Uncle Charlie was a relatively new character to the show, having replaced the
boy’s grandfather, Bub O’Casey, who Tommy overheard his Dad say was sick or too old or
something. Although he liked the grandfather character, Uncle Charlie also seemed pretty
cool. That was when he was allowed to stay up to watch the show on rare occasions. The
comforting sounds of the TV helped to relax his pounding heart, at least for the moment.

To Tommy’s left, his parents’ bedroom was visible through the open doorway; the
glow from a nearby streetlight shone across the bed. Tommy never was afraid of this room,
no matter how dark, because it was his Mom and Dad’s room, and the Lurkers would never
go there.

He turned his head slowly to the right looking down the dark menacing hallway. The
right side of the hall was what he thought of as the “safe zone.” His family lived in the end
unit of a row home, and the right side of the hall was attached to the house next door, so
there was nowhere for them to hide along that wall. Often he would creep along the right side
with his back pressed firmly against the wall and his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

The left side of the hall was a completely different story; that was where all the
trouble was. Along the left side were two doorways. The first led to his older sisters’ bedroom
and the last, which was adjacent to his bedroom, was to the family bathroom. Although he
knew they could lurk in either room, the bathroom was the most frightening.

Perhaps because it also had a huge cast iron bathtub, the one with four scary feet looking
like those of an eagle, each clutching a ball. Often during the light of day, when Tommy was
using the toilet, he would imagine seeing those huge clawed feet moving just ever so slightly.

He wondered if the tub might someday creep slowly toward him like a lumbering dinosaur
and crush him while he did his business.

Tommy’s parents called his fears “irrational,” Although he wasn’t quite sure what
irrational meant he suspected they were saying that he was letting his imagination run away
with him again. They always told him he tended to do that. Whatever the meaning,
he knew, irrational or not, the Lurkers were as natural to him as the sweat now beading on his
forehead.

It was strange how Tommy’s fears worked. The things lurking in the rooms didn’t want anyone else and wouldn’t come around if anyone else was present. Tommy was okay if it was daytime or someone else was in one of the rooms because he knew The Lurkers only wanted him.

Tommy wasn’t sure precisely what lurked behind those doorways at night or why they
had chosen him. All he could see was blackness, but what he could imagine was much
worse. He never imagined clowns, werewolves, vampires, or any ordinary things other kids
his age feared. No, Tommy’s imaginings were much more frightening than anything so
simple.

The creatures he imagined had no real name he was aware of other than “The
Lurkers” because he had given them that name. This was because they lurked in the
darkness, always watching and waiting. He feared these creatures more than anything. In his
imagination, Tommy saw these creatures as thin, grayish-skinned beings who he envisioned
occasionally looking out around the door frames at him down the dark hall with their long
slimy fingers and dark black eyes with blood-red pupils staring eagerly at him.

Tommy didn’t know what they wanted with him, but he was sure it wasn’t friendship. He suspected that if
he walked by a doorway where one of the things was waiting; they might reach out and
brush his cheek with their wet hands. He knew if he felt their horrible snake-like skin against
his flesh, his heart might stop from fear, and his parents would find him dead on the hall
floor.

Tonight, like every other night when he had to go to bed before everyone else,
Tommy felt himself trembling at the slow and frightening journey he had to take to get to his
room. But tonight, Tommy hoped things might be a little different. Tonight he had something
to help him battle his fear and perhaps make it, and those horrible Lurkers disappear forever.

Tommy’s Sunday school teacher Mrs. Fleisher had presented a class where
she talked about fears young people have, such as fear of the dark, fear of heights, and
things like that. Tommy listened to her intently, recalling her saying if he ever felt afraid, he
had to repeat the phrase, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. God’s always with me,” and
whatever his fear, he could defeat it with the power of God Almighty.

Tonight that phrase had become a mantra to Tommy, repeated in a whisper continuously as he prepared to face his most dreaded fears and venture down the horrible corridor, past the lurking creatures.
“Are you in bed yet?” the stern voice of his father called up from downstairs,
interrupting his mental repetitions. Tommy covered his mouth with his hand to make his
voice sound muffled and far away, then replied, “Yes, Dad, I’m in bed. Goodnight.” His father
shouted, “You better be. Because if you’re up in the hall crying again, I’ll give you something
to cry about.” He heard his sisters giggling in the background.

“Oh, George! Leave him alone!” he heard his mother admonish. His mom seemed to
understand his fear no matter how irrational it might seem, which was a fact for which
Tommy was highly grateful. Perhaps he had gotten his active imagination from his
mother, which was why she understood; he didn’t know but was nonetheless thankful.
There had been many nights when Tommy deliberately refused to go upstairs to his
room alone and would “act up” just so his father would get angry and chase him up the stairs
and down the hall to his room.

Even though Tommy knew a sharp whack on the backside awaited him when his father caught him, it was a thousand times better than facing the lurking things in the hall. Luckily, his father wasn’t abusive, so the sore backside he would receive would often go away within a few minutes. His Dad was just a typical dad of the nineteen sixty’s and wasn’t opposed to giving occasional spankings. Tommy figured a few
minutes with a stinging backside was much better than walking down that horrible hall alone.

But tonight, he was determined to face his fear head-on, armed with his new memorable
phrase. Tommy was sure that with God’s power, no lurking thing could ever harm him.
Tommy stepped tentatively away from the wall, and, keeping his hands by his side, he turned
to his right. Now focusing on his bedroom doorway, he started strolling down the
center of the hall.

In his mind, he began reciting, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. God’s always with
me.” He repeated this with his lips moving in cadence with his thoughts. With each
frightening step, he said his powerful phrase, confident no evil thing would be able to touch
him. Eyes still focused on his bedroom, after about five steps, he estimated he was passing
his sisters’ bedroom doorway.

He squeezed his eyes shut, as he didn’t want to see any
creatures looking out at him. Even if his newfound power prevented The Lurkers from getting
him, he still didn’t want to see them. He had never seen them anywhere but in his mind and
didn’t want to start tonight. That he could certainly do without.

He took a few additional steps and re-opened his eyes, figuring the doorway was
now behind him. For a moment, he feared one of the creatures might be looking around the
opening at him, and he imagined its long slimy fingers reaching for the back of his neck.
Immediately he repeated the phrase in his mind, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. God’s
always with me.”

He imagined the thing pulling its fingers back as if it had just touched a
burning hot stove. It was working! Tommy’s new weapon from Sunday school was fighting
back the evil creatures.

With newfound confidence, Tommy continued to walk down the hall, repeating his
mantra and feeling an invisible shield forming around him like a giant glowing shell of
protection. When he was about four feet from his bedroom doorway, he considered running
the remaining distance past the bathroom and into the safety of his bedroom. Tommy had
done that many times in the past. But suddenly, he changed his mind.

He now believed he was protected and knew the Lurkers couldn’t touch him. He wanted to beat back this fear once and for all and decided if he could look his terrors directly in the face, he could destroy
them.

He stopped in front of his bedroom doorway, knowing the bathroom was now directly
to his left. He thought he could hear the Lurkers inside in the dark; their squirrel-like chittering
sounds echoing in his mind. It was now or never time to put up or shut up. He repeated his
phrase, trying to block out the sounds of the creatures, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.
God’s always with me. There’s nothing to be afraid of. God’s always with me.”

Tommy pivoted on his heels and looked directly into the darkness of the bathroom,
staring hard and daring the horrid beings to come forward and challenge him and his power.
But there was nothing, nothing but the darkness of the empty bathroom. He had done it. He
had made it down the hall without any incident, and now most, if not all, of his
fear was gone. He had beaten the Lurkers, and they would never be able to frighten him
again.

He turned confidently to go to his room when he heard someone call his name. The
the voice sounded old and raspy and barely human.

“Tommy,” the harsh voice chittered.

He could not complete his turn, frozen in fear at the sound coming from the
darkness. He tried to recall his mantra and repeat his mystical phrase but couldn’t. He
imagined his protective shell splitting with millions of tiny cracks and falling apart piece by
piece.

Again, he heard his name, “Tommy.” He had never before heard it said in such a
terrible way.

As he stood frozen, staring into the darkness, he saw the fingers, the long waving
slimy fingers snaking their way toward him out of the blackness. Again he tried to recall his
mantra but couldn’t; his mind had gone completely blank. Behind the creeping hands,
Tommy saw blood-red eyes glowing in the darkness. The dancing fingers came out of the

doorway into the hall, and each hand reached out and touched the sides of Tommy’s face as
his mother had lovingly done many times in the past. But nothing was loving about this ice-
cold and clammy touch. He felt like the fingers were sucking the heat from Tommy’s body as
he began to tremble, the red eyes coming ever closer.
Now the dead hands supported Tommy’s convulsing body as his legs gave out under
him. The last thing Tommy saw was an enormous mouth full of hundreds of needle-like teeth
opening wide and coming toward his face and a foul sulfur-like odor coming from deep inside
the thing. Then his vision went completely black.
***

“Tommy, here’s your lunch,” his mother said in her most cheerful voice. She sat on
the edge of his bed next to Tommy as she had done every day for the past several months.
Tommy didn’t answer; he never did. He sat staring out into the hall, his once brown
hair now a shock of pure white, his once intelligent face appearing slack-jawed and
catatonic. Soft mushy food dribbled down his chin with a stream of drool. Occasionally, his
lips would move, and he seemed to repeat some phrase, but his parents could not determine
what he said.

 

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