Dib frowned, trying to stare diligently at the blank essay sheet in front of him. Staring was a good way of forcing yourself to work. After enough concentration, the sheer starkness of that glaring white sheet could drive one mad, and you'd have to fill up that homework sheet with the dark, biased facts that had been injected into your young memory, just to put your mind at peace. He was sure Ms Bitters encouraged that method. At least, he assumed that she didn't give them that essay-staring lesson for nothing. The teens would make it a contest, to see who could last the longest before they broke. The papers usually won. Ms Bitters' homework essays were tough buggers practically designed to out-stare you.
Normally Dib would have just gotten it over with and moved on; he wasn't one to participate in his fellow students' roughhousing and games. He'd tried joining in a few times when he was younger, and had mostly been chased away or shunned. But Dib needed some kind of activity. He was naturally active, bouncy, eager. He'd tried to fit in, he really had. But his classmates just didn't want such a pale, large-headed, strange child mingling with them. So he'd given up, and diverted his focus into the one field in which he'd really felt at home. Paranormal study. He wasn't judged by ghosts and aliens. They were quiet and accepting
some of them, at least. And fascinating. If humans couldn't appreciate these creatures, well, he didn't want to be part of the human race. Humans were blind and stupid. That was the main reason he'd sat up there on the roof, night after night. Just wondering whether there was some race out there that was fair. That didn't judge. That would
would actually accept him.
And six years ago, a little green child had come along and changed all that.
The teen sighed as Zim flitted through his mind. He'd been trying to block the alien out of his mind for months. Last year he'd stopped walking past that house; it was too much to look at the charred ruin of a structure that once stood proudly, defiantly, against humanity. It had almost been a sign that someone out there cared about him, even if the little alien that arrived with it could be so moronic and obnoxious. His leaders were to blame, not him. Dib felt sick at the thought that he'd ever wanted to strap the little Irken to a table and pull his organs out.
Oh, forget essay-staring lessons, this sheet was impossible. Bitters may as well have attached rotating knives to it; it practically didn't want Dib to fill it! He had a nagging feeling the paper might chew his hand of if he tried to place so much as a dot on its surface. That might have just been the unpleasant feeling that came with being ordered to write about how to extract bile from a pigeon, or maybe it was this STUPID WEATHER.
He couldn't believe it. It was cloudy again. It had been
a whole week of blinding rain, then two miraculous hours of sunshine. The weather never used to be this erratic, did it? It seemed like as soon as you made plans, the weather went out of its way to destroy them. Dib had been planning on having a nice walk, since he'd been cooped up in the house with the TV and his laptop for the past week. He needed to get out or he'd risk the slow, slow spiral into cabin fever; he wasn't feeling too well at the moment, in fact.
Dib gave one last regretful glance at the offensive paper, before slamming his textbook shut on it. Screw this essay. He was damned if he was going to miss out on this precious chance to get outside. His dad and sister wouldn't care. They were on some father-daughter trip, since it was Gaz's 'dad' weekend this month. The advancing clouds hadn't quite covered the sun yet; he could get some warmth while it lasted
Dib found his feet taking him in the direction of the wheat field out of town. Childhood memories, he was guessing. This was where he and Gaz used to play when they were younger, hiding in the long stalks and trying not to let the other find them (it was always more exhilarating when you had a scary younger sister with the eyes of a peregrine falcon, and hunting skills to match). He smiled fondly when he recalled those years. Sure, Gaz could be grouchy even when she was young. Most people avoided her because she'd had an insufferable temper as long as anyone had known, but most people hadn't seen her on a good day. She could be fun, when she was in the right mood. Which was seldom these days.
The boy continued walking, feeling some of the weight begin to lift from his mind. He didn't realise he'd been so stressed lately, it was probably the lack of sleep from all those nights spent staring at that stupid news article. Whatever it was, it felt good to be in the sun again. Maybe he should consider doing something constructive while he was here; looking for boomslangs, like he had when he was young (even though everyone had grudgingly pointed out that boomslangs were native to Africa, and if he tried to catch one he's most likely be bitten and die from internal haemorrhaging. Who was he to listen to them? He knew he'd seen one in there somewhere). But he didn't have any equipment with him, and it would be much more pleasant to walk home without a large, venomous snake dangling by its teeth from his arm. Nah, keep walking.
After another ten minutes the wheat field ended, and Dib found himself staring up at a monster of archaeology. It was a huge, decrepit and partly broken building. Of course, the old library! This was another relic from his childhood he had gone in there several times in the past, suspecting there were chupacabras lurking in there. He'd only found cyborg possums so far, but it payed to be on the lookout; especially if anyone started losing any goats around here.
The boy cupped his hand over his eyes, squinting up at the stark sky. He still had some time left before the rainclouds set in. Why not take a quick look now?
It was only when he forced open the heavy door that he remembered why he'd only come in here a few times. The old building was always less exciting and mysterious when you were actually inside it, and more dark and terrifying. Dib swallowed, remembering himself to be much less afraid and more stupid when he was younger. Monstrosities could lurk beyond those murky rows of shelves, and in the piles of old cushions and blankets littering the place. The floor had always been covered by a thick layer of choking dust, but occasionally he'd seen tiny scratch marks scarring the surface. His sister had said they were probably tiny demons. Everyone else had said he was tilting at windmills; they were rats. They were stupid - everyone knew windmills were only outdoors...
He wanted to run. He wanted to go home, jump under the covers with his laptop and get stuck into that essay. Coward! There was nothing dangerous in here! The only way he'd ever hurt himself in here when he was young was by pulling down some of the books on top of him, and he was a teenager now. He was sure he could handle a few books. Dib's steps became more and more uncertain as he stalked his way through the maze of dark shelves. Some of them even still had books, but he was certainly not tempted to read any. Yeesh. Some of them actually had fingerprints on them, as if they hadn't been undisturbed for decades. He passed by quickly, a tingling he couldn't quite place settling along his spine. Now, where had he felt that before?
He turned a corner, and staggered.
And they were fresh.
At that very same instant, Dib heard movement behind him. So, he wasn't alone after all.
For a second, the boy seriously considered screaming, but managed to choke it down. Stupid idea, the creature or person might as well come and finish him off! So Dib just stood there, stock still (except for his hands, which seemed to want to leave very much at that moment), and stared into the darkness. At first he didn't see the creature, but it didn't take long to spot what was lurking up on the top of a shelf. A pair of eyes!
About twenty thoughts were fighting for position in his head right now. Chupacabras. Chupacabras, you idiot! He knew the monsters were known for their habit of feeding on goats' blood, but would they attack a human as well? How stupid he was not to bring a weapon with him!
The creature moved. It skulked along the shelf, before disappearing entirely. It just
melted into the darkness, and seconds later Dib was sure he heard claws scratching somewhere behind him
He ran. Shelves blurred past, piles of debris leapt out at him, snagging on his coat and tripping him mercilessly. He could always hear the noise of sharp claws skittering harshly behind him; they almost sounded metallic. The creature was definitely chasing him. Dib went faster in his panic, blundering into walls, desks and all manner of nameless things, not even sure where he was going at this point. Curse these shelves; they were more effective than a maze. They were a maze. He skidded wildly around yet another corner and heard a heavy thud behind him as some unseen force knocked some books off a shelf. The creature was gaining speed faster than he was. A terrible snarl erupted directly above him it sounded like he didn't know what, and was punctuated by harsh, broken clicks. Was that what a chupacabra sounded like? Heart hammering, Dib swerved to his right only to have the thing drop down in front of him. It growled again, and he saw the glint of curved tips highlighted in silver the creature was going to attack! Without thinking, Dib reached behind him and grabbed the first item that came to hand which just happened to be a small coat stand and aimed two wild swings in the direction of his attacker. He felt a jolt up his arms as the second swing made contact. The creature howled deafeningly and recoiled, but not before Dib felt the warm splatter of liquid on his face and clothes. Without a second glance, Dib dropped the weapon in panic and ran for it. Ahead were the big double doors. Sunlight. Safety. The noise behind him stopped as the scared-brainless teen rocketed out of the building, unlikely to stop until he'd put the library far, far behind him.
In the lonely darkness, a pair of deep red eyes stared astonished and unblinking at the black scythe-lock of the retreating trespasser.