Meanwhile, inside, in the air conditioning, the adventure goes on.
The Visitor crawled under the covers beside the boy’s sleeping body. As though sensing he was there, the Boy repositioned himself into a C shape around the small dog, his arm falling across him.
It was hot under the blankets and the weight of the boy’s arm pressed him uncomfortably into the mattress. If he’d had his choice, he would have lain at the foot of the bed, but this was the best vantage point to guard from. Nuzzling the small face, he measured the Boy’s breath and listened. He was in a deep sleep, not yet dreaming, but it couldn’t be long now.
He sensed the Many were not far off. They were hovering, watching and waiting for an opening. They would be swift to enter when that moment came and after that the battle would become a war—a daily fight to keep the humans safe from the darkness. Not that different than any good dog’s job, but once they were in, it was no longer about just guarding, giving warnings, and skirmishes. It would be fighting and killing and sometimes losing.
The Visitor did not want to think about losing. Not again. So he lay in the darkness, tense, watchful, listening to the house, the rustlings of the other dogs as they checked rooms, the cat on the kitchen counter—taking advantage of the night and the sleeping humans. Water dripped from a faucet; something electrical somewhere whirred, clicked, and hummed.
The boy beside him twitched, stirred, muttered, then twitched again. The small Visitor closed his eyes and went in.
They were in what appeared to be the back yard, except that it was no longer fenced and the lake, normally two acres away, bound rock and forest, was lapping at the western fringe. It was night.
A large human stood opposite them holding something that the Visitor could not make out in the darkness. Though he could not see or feel him physically, the Visitor could sense the Boy’s terror. To the Boy’s mind, the figure was the fearsome thing. To the Visitor, he was a distraction from the real danger.
The Visitor scanned the tree line, then the banks of the lake. A Creeper had to be there somewhere, he could feel it.
The Boy pointed at the human silhouette . He has something bad.
The human was approaching, swinging the object, a bag, in his hand. He spoke in a surprisingly high, sing-songing voice, “Take it. Take it. Take it” and swung his arm forward, slinging its contents toward them.
The Boy cried and fell, trying to dodge the approaching missile. It landed at his feet, writhing, and he kicked at it.
A snake slithered out of the bag and hissed, curling its body and arching its head, cobra-like. It raised as though to strike and the Boy rose and began to run. Behind him the snake increased in size and pursued him.
The Visitor ignored the snake itself. It was another distraction. The danger was ahead of them, in the house they were running toward.
The door. Of course. The Boy would try to open the familiar back door and it would be locked. He would run to the front door and it too would be locked, but another would appear magically nearby and when he opened that, he would let in something far worse than the phantom chasing them now.
The Visitor did not stop to wonder how he knew this. He simply followed the boy and allowed him to test one door after another, saw him bang on the windows, screaming to parents inside who were either indifferent or deaf to his pleas. The Visitor knew that before he could help the Boy, he would have to see the Door and learn not to open it.
The door finally appeared. It glowed with invitation, light seeping from the cracks around it. The Boy sobbing in relief, ran toward it. Stepped into the boy’s path, the dog tripped him and he fell. The snake was approaching rapidly. Screaming again, the Boy rose, took another step, and the Visitor tripped him again. The snake was upon them now, hovering over them, its fangs dripping, its eyes glowing.
The Boy tried crawling, but the Visitor blocked his path. Look at it. Look at what it really is.
I can’t. It’ll bite me and I’ll die.
I won’t let that happen.
It’s a snake. It wants to kill me.
Look at it.
Crying softly, the Boy faced the snake. It hissed and reared its head, now towering over them. The Boy, shaking in terror, stared up at it for a full second.
What does it really look like?
It—it—it—looks like a belt. The boy exhaled sharply. It looks like Allen’s belt.
The snake stopped hissing.
A big boy at school. Lots bigger than eighth graders usually are. There’s something wrong with him. He chased us around the playground a couple of years ago, swinging his belt, trying to hit us with it. Everybody else got away, but I fell down and he hit me a couple of times before the teachers stopped him.
It stopped moving.
I remember thinking that his buckle looked like the head of a snake.
It stopped looking like a snake and then disappeared.
The Boy exhaled. He looked down at the dog. Wait. You can talk?
And with that, they both woke up.
The Visitor crawled from beneath the covers and stretched. It was nearly dawn, the sky outside the boy’s window just beginning to change from blue black to blue-gray. Beside him, still half asleep, lay the Boy. The Visitor could feel his eyes tracking his movements.
He turned, wagging his tail a little and lay down, his nose inches from the Boy’s face.
“I had a dream. You were in it, Dante.” The Boy whispered.
At the sound of his name, the dog’s ears perked and his tail wagged.
“You could talk.”
The Visitor licked the Boy’s face and rolled over to have his belly rubbed.
“Of course, there was a giant snake there too. And it turned into a belt.” He scratched the dog’s stomach and yawned. “Silly dream, huh?”
Rolling back over, the dog pressed closer to The Boy. Yes. Silly dream.
They both fell back into a dreamless sleep.