There wasn't much furniture here, so they all slept on the floor in the front room, the warmth of the slowly dying fire sending out its tendrils to stave off what would otherwise be a permanently cold slumber party. He pulled the sleeping bag tighter around his legs, cocking his head to find the source of the sound. There it was again. A lone cricket had found its way inside, probably to stay warm. In rhythmic time, it put out a slow symphony of chirps, and for some reason the tone set Jimmy's teeth to grinding.
He'd read in a book somewhere that crickets rub their back legs together or something to make the sound. Visions of the tiny insect flooded his mind, causing him to shudder. The picture he remembered seeing showed this cricket with long legs, claw-like barbs along their length. He never did like their faces, the way the eyes seemed capable of looking through you. Their mouths were disgustingly monstrous, as they chewed through whatever it was crickets ate.
He suddenly couldn't remember what it was that crickets ate, and the question left a dry taste in his mouth. The chirping became a drone, hitting his spine like a knife as he sat there trying to frantically remember what crickets liked. Creeping doom began to build within him, his imagination taking a simple idea and creating horrific visions in great detail. Maybe the reason they chirped was to lull everyone to sleep. Isn't that what everyone always said, that the sounds of crickets would make you sleep better?
His young mind couldn't remember anything for sure, and the anxiety was building to an almost maddening torrent of fear. The chirping seemed closer somehow. He reached down slowly with a hand, his little fingers searching for the flashlight his mother had set beside his makeshift bed. His smooth fingertips touched the wooden floor, feeling the grainy texture but not finding what he was expecting. Like excited spiderlegs, his fingers danced around trying to touch the plastic tube of the flashlight's casing. Still nothing. The chirping had stopped; the cabin was a grave, silent and still except for the resounding clamor of his own heart.
Finally Jimmy stretched his arm out, the pale skin luminescent in the darkness, and he felt something hard and cold. Tracing its shape carefully, he grabbed it and pulled the flashlight in close. His fingers searched for the button, finding it halfway up along the shaft. A lone chirp made him jump, his other hand leaping to cover his mouth as a scream threatened to escape. With careful pressure, he pressed the button, launching a shaft of light skyward and destroying his night vision in the process.
His eyes were tightly closed now, his mind scrambling to gain control once more. Every nerve in his body was firing, as if a thousand ants were crawling just beneath the skin, their little feet touching everywhere. He pictured the cricket out there somewhere, waiting patiently for him to go back to sleep. The light was on, but he couldn't find any solace in that fact. Jimmy was terrified, sure that something was waiting for him in the darkness.
He opened his eyes slowly, one after the other. He gazed around, seeing the dim lumps on the floor nearby that should be his family. Something wasn't right though. Then it dawned on him. There was no sound, no breathing. His father wasn't snoring like usual, a comforting chainsaw tone. There was no movement whatsoever, and the resounding beat of his own heart was a fast paced rock concert, loud and echoing in his own ears.
"Mom", he whispered carefully, not really believing she would answer. There was no response, and the silence of the room was crushing him. "Mom...Daddy...”, he cried pitifully. The enormity of possibly being all by himself was hitting him like a hammer, his fragile mind beginning to crack under the pressure. Tears began to well up in his eyes as fear tore him to shreds.
His dad said the mind sometimes played tricks on you, so he decided to shine the flashlight on someone - anyone - and wake them up. The beam moved down from the ceiling, showing the bare timber walls and empty room. Despite his terror, Jimmy took his time aiming the flashlight at the nearest sleeping bag, unsure what would be there and not really sure he wanted to find out. As the beam reached its target, he screamed without end, a wretched painful sound that ended abruptly as the flashlight fell to the floor with a clunk. The darkness enfolded the room once more like a blanket. Chirp. Silence.