Nathaniel

Nathaniel screamed. Once...twice. The third time, Nick reached for his dressing gown and hurried down the hall.

"He's back, Daddy," whispered Nathaniel, Star Wars comforter drawn up to his chin. Nick flicked the switch just inside the door. The warm, amber light chased any lurking shadows into all four corners, where they melded quickly into oblivion.

"There's nothing here, son," said Nick, his slippers shuffling across the thick, navy blue carpet. His hand rested gently on Nathaniel's ruffled, chestnut curls. A silken tendril curled around his forefinger. He wanted to pull the boy close, hold him in a tight embrace, but didn't want to make too much of the episode. Didn't want to give Nathaniel reason to believe he might need the shelter of a father's arms.

"Under the bed, Daddy," warned Nathaniel, tugging at Nick's legs, trying to pull them from the floor. "Don't let him get you!"

Nick dropped to his knees and disappeared beneath the tumbled blankets. Nathaniel held his breath until Nick emerged unscathed out the other side.

"Just dust bunnies," he grinned, "and I don't believe they'll do you any harm." He frowned. "We really should vacuum there more often, son." Life wasn't easy for a man left alone.

"The closet then, Daddy," urged Nathaniel.

Nick sighed.

"Please, Daddy," begged Nathaniel, teardrops threatening in his blue eyes. His bottom lip trembled. He bit down hard. He didn't want to cry. He didn't want Nick to think he was a just a baby.

Resigned, Nick nodded and threw open the door.

Nathaniel smothered his mouth with a pillow, stifling the scream bubbling in his throat. The small, dual-horned, scarlet-pelted creature poised on the middle shelf wickedly brandished its claws and stabbed at Nick's neck, barely missing the jugular. Nick didn't seem to notice.

Nathaniel blinked in horror.

"Begone, demons!" commanded Nick with a wave of his hand. The movement knocked the tiny fiend from his perch, along with an assorted collection of plush, stuffed animals. Nathaniel bounced victoriously up and down on his mattress.

It always worked...always!

"You got him, Daddy, you got him!"

Nick retrieved one of the fallen objects and handed it to his son. "Look," he said, "it's Bellow. Remember when you used to sleep with him all the time?"

Nathaniel peered fearfully over his father's shoulder, but the grotesque creature was no longer there. He stared into the melancholy face of the fluffy, red bull with its two horns...and wondered.

"Go to sleep now," urged Nick, kissing Nathaniel's damp forehead. He tucked Bellow beneath the covers. "If that ugly fellow can't keep you safe, nothing can!" Then, with a wink, he tickled Nathaniel's ribs.

Nathaniel chuckled.

"Demons all gone?" asked Nick.

Sleepily, the boy inclined his head, the bull cradled in the crook of his elbow, as though it was Nathaniel who was offering the protection.

Nick returned to his bedroom, unaware of the figure which trailed behind, leaving an arc of sooty prints in its wake. Wearily, he sank onto the bed and plumped the pillow.

The tiny intruder climbed nimbly up the leg of the night table and squatted atop the clock. One of its sharply extended claws tripped the radio button to "ON."

"Exit: light...Enter: night
Take my hand..
."

Nick sat upright as the music blared in his ear. His eyes reflected a deepening crimson glow by the glimmer of the digital numbers on the dial.

"Watch what you're doing with those," he snarled. "You damn near caught me with them a minute ago...and what have I told you about being cautious around the boy? I want him to accept his heritage gradually and without fear, not be scared to death every time he happens to see one of you."

Chagrined, the little devil hung his head.

"Sorry, Boss."

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