You had been in this stalemate for hours.
“It’ll be fun.” Your friends had said. Spilling courageous and frightening tales from their own trials. Tales you’re betting were mostly fake.
“Everyone does this, it’s like a right of teen passage.” Your Father had exclaimed, somehow managing to look happily nostalgic and terrified at the same time. While your Mother had shaken her head in the background, a complicated smirk on her lips.
“You don’t have to do it, dear. But personally, it can be rather freeing.” Your grandmother had told you, while handing you a bright hand-knit sweater and a hunting knife with a sagely nod.
So you’d agreed, because that’s what you were supposed to do, right? Now you were stuck in this dusty room, your back pressed against a brittle wood door, with only a thin witch’s costume and your gift sweater for warmth. Till sunrise, several hours away. Fantastic.
(Every year, on Hallows Eve Night, one can walk into the abandoned hotel at the end of the block (every town had one), sign in for a key, and stay in a room, with your greatest fear in the other side of the door. The only way out; either wait till sunrise, or open the door and face your fear.)
You’re wondering for the hundredth time why you’d given in. You could’ve made up an excuse, but you’d done it several years in a row now, and your friends were getting suspicious.
Not everyone does it, you’d argued. Your friends and cousins — heck, everyone — had laughed in your face. Only your parents hadn’t, but your sure it’s just because they’re your parents and are supposed to love you unconditionally. You’re pretty sure they’d probably laughed behind your back.
So here you were, doing the thing you really didn’t want to do, and hating every minute of it. Hating the creaking and scraping noises outside your room, the heavy breathing beyond your door. You’re not sure what’s waiting for you, but you sure as hell don’t want to deal with it.
(Mostly because you don’t really know what is on the other side.)
You sigh and pull your knees to your chest, resting your chin atop the thin fabric of your leggings. You should have prepared better, but in your defense; it had been a last second decision, and it hadn’t been too bad until you’d opened your door a crack. Until you’d caught a glimpse of something unspeakable, something with teeth and claws. Playing the long game seemed like the best course of action after that.
By now your first spike of white-hot fear had long winded down, and with your sweat and adrenaline gone, you were bored, and more than a little annoyed. This, this was the reason you hadn’t wanted to come in the first place, you’d known you’d be stuck waiting, but you’d just had to change you’re mind.
(Stupid peer pressure.)
You sigh again, watching the smoke billow from your lips, and begin tapping your knife against the floor. Snuggling deeper in your sweater, you began humming a lullaby. One your mother had taught you ages ago, one you’d used to calm yourself when you were sad or stressed. A simple sweet tune, yet immediately it made you feel better, regardless of the chill, or the unknown monster behind your flimsy door. You continue to play, eyes falling shut. Maybe tonight wouldn’t be so bad.
Then claws tap against the door behind you, and you freeze, pulse rising, an uncomfortable heat flashing along your ears and temple. The sound repeats, once, twice, three times, before silence falls again. Then, after a beat, it comes again.
Then you realise; it’s mimicking your song.
You blink, and tap your knife against the wood again, the same few notes, then stop, waiting. Again, the notes echo back at you. Again they stop, waiting for you.
You hum louder, tapping out a different set of notes, followed by the echo of claws on wood. A grin spreads across your lips as you continue tapping, changing the notes, creating little sets with your beast, following even if you change suddenly, rushed along while it followed at a steady pace behind you. You pull out your phone, pulling up the recording app, and save the sounds for later.
It was kind of fun to play with someone else, not even your family knew about your passion for music, considering your admittedly dorky choices. You were a classical instrument girl at heart, though you’d found you could hear music in just about anything. The world was a beautiful instrument if one chose to listen.
You stop one last time, fingers playing with the blades edge, waiting for the other to finish as well. In the ensuing silence, throat dry, you ask;
“Do you like music?”
Silence. A shaky sigh passes your lips, and you lean your head against the door, setting the knife back inside it’s little sheath. Your eyes burn, so you curl back into a ball. You sniff, unsure why the rejection of your greatest fear, bothered you so much.
Tap. Tap. Scrap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Clink.
You sit up, turning to face the door, staring wide-eyed at the wood, listening to a different tune than the ones you’d been playing. Then, just a suddenly, it stops, as if the creature was awaiting your response. You clap, harsh in the quiet, chuckling at the excited tapping you receive.
“Do…Do you like my music?” You breathe, palms pressed flat against the wood. Excited tapping answers again, and you smile, jumping to your feet. Reaching for the door, you pause, mind whirling; were you really about to face your monster over something as simple as a shared interest in music?
Click. Went the lock, the metal strangely warm under your hand.
(Apparently you were.)
One deep breath later, and you throw open the door, eyes shut tight, muscles tense as you waited for… whatever was supposed to happen. Nothing. You pop open one eye, the other following as you stare at… yourself.
Well, your silhouette anyway. Standing before you is a girl your height and size, nearly completely black, except for the white musical notes curling around her arms, legs and abdomen like tattoos, and the mouth of white teeth. Her eyes were wide like a child’s, bright too, not unlike your own.
She smiles wide, offering a clawed hand. Hesitantly, watching her every move, you take it. Your monster hums, squeezing gently as she leads you back towards the hotel entrance. You bite you lip, returning your key and signing out at your monsters silent instruction. Then finally, as she packs away the ancient book, smiling softly at you, you snap.
“So what are you supposed to be?” You bark, waving your hands around the unkempt lobby. “My love of music? My inability to show it to other people?” You scoff, crossing your arms. Your monster simply smiles, before riffling behind the desk, pulling out a piece of paper and a pen. She scribbles something across the surface, then turns it towards you.
“Not all fears are tangible monsters.” She flips it around. “You shouldn’t be afraid of what you love, shouldn’t be afraid to show the world what you can offer.” You blink, looking back at your monster, then back to the sign. There is a moment of tense silence.
Then, you smile. So wide it almost hurts, and laugh, scrubbing at your eyes. Your monster opens her arms, and you accept the warm embrace, squeezing hard before stepping back, warmth curling around your heart, settling there.
She offers a hand again, and you take it without hesitation, letting yourself be lead out. Stepping outside you find it still to be night, the moon shining down in silver splendor. Taking a deep breath you turn back, a thank you on your lips, but find only the abandoned hotel lobby. Not a flicker of claws or teeth to be found.
A sad smile pulls at your lips as you touch a hand to the lingering warmth in your chest. You take another breath, then pull out your phone, calling up your parents to come get you.
“Hey Mom, yeah, I’m done. Say, how do you — how do you feel about music?”