In the blink of an eye Jonathan’s life changed forever. Not moments before, he’d been sitting in the cottage kitchen eating his dinner; now he was hurtling down the cellar steps as three black shapes burst through the living room window.
Jonathan’s mother screamed and pulled him across the cluttered cellar while his father slammed the door shut behind them. With a shaking hand he turned a rusty iron key in the lock and backed away, his face pale.
“What’s happening?” cried Jonathan. “Who is that? Why are they breaking into our house?”
His father looked at him and shook his head wordlessly. For the first time in his life Jonathan realized what true fear looked like—stark, naked, gut-churning fear. He watched in terror as the cellar door rattled on its hinges. The room shook with the force of the blows, dust sifting from the ceiling like icing sugar.
“They’ve found us!” said his father.
“Who’ve found us?” Jonathan cried. “I don’t understand!”
His mother held him tightly, kissing the crown of his head, squeezing her eyes shut to keep tears from falling into his hair. “I’m sorry, Jonathan,” she whispered to him. “I’m so sorry; we tried so hard to protect you!”
With an awful crack a huge fist punched its way through the door, splintering the ancient wood like kindling. The fist withdrew, and through the gap a face peered in at the huddled family. The face had no visible features, just a smooth expanse of skin between hairline and shirt collar.
Jonathan screamed and pointed as the face smiled—if the sudden appearance of a crimson slit filled with jagged teeth could be called a smile.
“It’s Crow,” gasped Jonathan’s father. He turned to his wife and whispered in her ear. “You know where to take our boy. Use the old coal chute in the corner; it’s the only way out. I’ll hold them off for as long as I can.” He kissed her cheek and hugged his son. “Be brave,” he said, looking straight into Jonathan’s extraordinarily blue eyes. “Now go!”
“We’re not just leaving you, Dad.”
“I said, go!” Jonathan’s father roared.
An awful, gurgling laugh erupted from outside the room. With one last massive blow, the door was torn from its hinges and reduced to matchwood. Into the room stepped three humanoid figures, each wearing shiny black shoes, an immaculately tailored pinstriped suit, and a bowler hat.
The first, Crow, was a hulking brute; his apelike arms dangled so low, his knuckles almost brushed the floor. Another was short and thin, with long dark hair falling to her waist. The last figure stood between the other two; tall and menacing, he spread his arms wide to reveal overlong fingers tipped with cruel talons. None of the three had anything resembling a face—just those terrible smiles.
Jonathan’s mother grabbed his hand and half dragged him to an open bunker in the far corner of the cellar. Behind them, slick with black dust, a disused coal chute led up to an old wooden hatch. Beyond it lay the last rays of sunset, and escape.
The tallest figure stepped forward, his attention fixed on Jonathan. “Boy!” he hissed, triumph dripping from the word like rancid fat.
Jonathan froze, his mind shrieking at him that this wasn’t happening. This sort of thing only happened in nightmares. It wasn’t real.
From the corner, he watched as his father grabbed a short length of scaffolding pole that lay propped against the cellar wall. Jonathan fully expected him to launch himself at the monsters that had invaded their home. Instead, and with extraordinary strength, his father swung at the huge brick pillar in the middle of the cellar floor, tearing through it like paper.
“Missed me,” said the tall monster.
Jonathan’s father smiled grimly and shook his head, then Jonathan felt himself pulled off his feet and onto a pile of cobwebbed coal as the old cottage let out a groan of pain. He stared as the ceiling, and a great deal of the cottage, collapsed into the cellar. It was as if a giant hand made of masonry and wood had just slammed down onto his father and the three monsters, wiping them from view.
Dust and sound exploded all around him, and Jonathan fought his mother as she tried to pull him away.
“Dad!” he screamed. “Dad!”
Suddenly his fear left him, and it was replaced by something else entirely, an emotion with which he was completely unfamiliar: cold fury. Jonathan gasped as the muscles in his shoulders and back began to howl in pain. It was like something that was buried under his skin was trying to tear itself free.
“Jonathan!” his mother begged as she dragged him bodily into the filthy coal chute. “We have to go; the whole cottage is about to—”
With a crack like a pistol shot, a wooden beam sheared from the wall above and swung down, striking Jonathan behind his right ear. He slumped in his mother’s arms, his vision narrowed to a small, dim tunnel. A wet sensation ran down his neck, and he absently raised shaking fingers to the back of his head. He felt bone move, and a flare of agony lit up the inside of his skull like a firework.
His limbs virtually useless, Jonathan felt himself dragged upward and out into the fresh air, away from the choking brick dust and the noise of his collapsing home. He lay on damp grass, staring at the huge orange ball of the setting sun, looking at the patterns it made as it lanced through the clouds. He tried reaching out to touch it, but his arms wouldn’t move.
There was a noise of a car engine being started, and Jonathan was half carried, half dragged, toward it. The world tilted as he was gently laid on something soft, his legs drawn up to his chest. He thought he could hear something. It sounded like his mother weeping uncontrollably, and he moved his lips to tell her not to be sad, but no sound came out, just a small bubble of blood.
He rocked gently on the seat of the car as his mother drove away from the cottage as fast as she could, not daring to look back in case she saw a faceless figure in a suit and bowler hat running down the road behind her.
“Where . . . we . . . going?” Jonathan managed to mumble.
“I’m taking you home, darling,” said his mother, her voice thick with an emotion he didn’t recognize. “I’m taking you home. Just hold on. Please just hold on.”
“S’okay . . . Mom. I’ll . . . hold . . . on.”
A choked sob was her only reply. Jonathan watched the flickering light of sunset through the car windows above him. He watched as it dimmed, then failed completely, leaving him in darkness. The roar of the engine and the hum of the tires on the road cradled hi...