by Wes Jones

It awoke from darkness. It had been asleep a long time, lost in what seemed like endless void. After a moment, it became aware of a human standing before it. It reasoned that it must have been the human who had awakened it from its long, long sleep.

"Welcome," the human said. "I am Alyanna."

They are here.

"Yes," the human woman said.

You empower them.

Alyanna hesitated. "I need your help," she said.

You empower them.

"I know that they exist," she said, defensively.

That is how you empower them.

"I can't help that. Will you help me? I have a son. He needs to be protected."

He empowers them as well. More so than you.

"Will you help me or not?" she said, anger creeping into her voice. There was a long pause.

I will help you.

"I have a vessel prepared," she said, pointing to something on the table before her. It sat in the center of a circle of some kind of powder, surrounded by candles and strange symbols drawn in dark liquid.

It is...soft.

"It's for a child," she explained. "It will still serve for you when you need it to."

Very well.

* * *

"David?" Alyanna whispered softly as she opened the door. The room was dark inside except for a small night light.

"Mommy?" a young voice answered. Alyanna smiled and stepped into the room.

"I didn't know if you were asleep," she said, smiling.

"I can't sleep. I'm afraid," the child said in a muffled voice.

"I have something to help you sleep," she said as she crouched next to the bed. In the dim light from the hall and nightlight she could make out her son's eyes peeking over the edge of his blankets. She held up a stuffed bear and gave it a little shake. David's eyes widened, and he peeled the covers down away from his face.

"It's a bear," he said.

"A special bear. He'll help keep you safe," Alyanna said. David held out his arms, and she handed the bear to him. He took it and turned it on one side, seeming to consider something.

"Can I call him Fuzzy?" he asked, sounding as if he were asking permission to do something he probably wouldn't be allowed to do.

"Of course you can," she answered patiently. David's eccentricities were many, and asking permission to name his toys was one of the most innocuous of them. He smiled and hugged his new bear.

"Good night, David," Alyanna said, and kissed David's forehead.

"G'night, mommy," David said, and pulled the covers back up to almost over his head. Alyanna quietly walked out and shut the door. She leaned against it for a while once outside, as exhaustion began to overwhelm her.

"What did you give him now?" a loud voice said next to her, and she jumped at the sudden noise. Seeing that it was only her husband, Paul, she relaxed a little.

"You startled me," she said, attempting to avoid the question.

"I said what did you give him?" he pressed. He looked angry.

"A stuffed bear," she said curtly. Paul threw up his hands in mock surrender.

"A stuffed bear. Great. That's just what the kid needs," said Paul. "You really think you're going to fix that kid's problems by giving him toys? He needs to toughen up, and he's not going to do that if you baby him all the time, you know."

"I think I know exactly what David needs," Alyanna said coolly.

"Sure you do," he said sarcastically, and turned away.

* * *

Hours later, David still cowered under his blanket in terror. His mother had told him that it was a special blanket, and that it would protect him. He knew that wasn't true, though. Blankets weren't going to protect him from the Things - certainly not a blanket covered with little puppies. She'd given him a stuffed bear, now, telling him that it would help too. Fuzzy was a great bear, no mistake, but David didn't see what he could do to help him. The dark was full of Things. Fuzzy was nice to hold, though, and distracted him a little bit from the oppressive darkness all around him.

There was a noise from the corner of the room, and David froze. Something was in the room. Something terrible. David began shaking in terror. There was a thud and a low hiss from the dark corners of his room, and David sat up in bed and screamed, knocking his bear to the floor.

"Mommmmy!" he screamed, "Mommmmm - " he stopped suddenly, when he saw something very strange happen. His bear had stood up on its own next to the bed. As he watched, it grew larger, and its appearance changed drastically. It continued to grow until its head nearly reached the ceiling. It looked like a real bear, now, with large claws and large teeth that gleamed in the faint light when it opened its mouth and growled. David somehow knew that it wouldn't hurt him, though. He actually felt safer, and he realized that his mother had been telling the truth.

He heard a faint shuffling noise from the dark corner of his room. The bear heard it too, and it dropped to all fours and moved with surprising speed towards the sound. David couldn't see clearly, but he thought the bear swiped its paw at something in the darkness. There was a faint crunching noise, and then another as the bear struck again. Something hit the bear across the snout, but it just growled and then bit whatever it was fighting. Soon after, there was a muffled gurgling noise from the thing in the corner, and the bear turned around. There was what looked like dark green blood on its snout and claws. It walked slowly over the bed and lay down next to it.

David was speechless. After a moment, he realized that he must not have managed to wake up his parents with his cries, but no longer needed to. He was finally safe.

"Thanks, Fuzzy," David said quietly to the bear. Fuzzy blinked sleepily at him and yawned, showing its sharp teeth again. "Let's get some sleep," he said, and curled up under his blankets.

* * *

At first, Paul wasn't going to argue with results. David was sleeping the whole night through, now. It was wonderful to finally get a good night's sleep, now that David didn't interrupt it screaming for his parents. However, Paul thought David was getting too old to be carrying a stuffed bear with him everywhere he went.

It was early evening, and Alyanna was out picking up a few groceries they'd need for breakfast the next day. Paul decided it was time to have a talk one on one with his son, without Alyanna there to baby him. He sat down on the floor beside David, who was coloring. The bear was next to him, of course. David never went anywhere without it.

"David," he began, "don't you think you're getting a little old to have a teddy bear?"

David dropped his crayon and snatched Fuzzy to his chest immediately.

"I can't give up Fuzzy!" he said, clearly terrified by the idea.

"David, it's just a toy. The other kids are going to make fun of you if you keep carrying it around. Big kids don't play with toys like that."

"He's not a toy! He's my friend!" David argued. Paul sighed and shook his head. It was worse than he thought.

"David, it can't be your friend. It's just a stuffed bear."

"But Fuzzy protects me from the monsters!" David said. Paul was getting angry, now.

"David, that's ridiculous. There's no such thing as monsters."

"Yes there is!" David said.

"No, there isn't!" Paul said, raising his voice.

"There are so! I've seen them!"

"Don't lie to me, David," Paul said, standing up. He towered over his terrified son.

"I'm not lying! They live in the closet, and the basement, and they come after me sometimes!" David said. He was starting to cry, now, and he was hugging his bear to his chest with all of the strength his small arms possessed.

"Don't be ridiculous! There's no such thing as monsters! There's nothing in your closet but toys, and nothing in the basement but old junk and the furnace!"

"It lives in the furnace!" David countered. Paul decided he'd had enough of this.

"Alright, we're settling this right now," he said, and he grabbed David's arm and pulled him to his feet. David tried to pull away, but Paul practically dragged him across the room. He pulled open the door to the stairs and led the way down to the basement door. At the bottom, he pushed his son through the door.

"And give me that," he said, grabbing David's bear. David howled and reached after it, but Paul just pushed him back and shut the door in his face. "You're going to stay in there until you stop crying, and then you're going to come out here and admit that you've never seen any monsters, and there's no such thing!"

David pounded his fists on the door and screamed for his father to open it, but Paul just stood there with his back against it, ignoring his son's cries. "It's time for that kid to grow up," he said to himself, glowering at the bear in his hand.

Paul heard the front door open, and he looked up the stairway to see Alyanna step up to the doorway, her arms full of shopping bags. She could clearly hear David screaming and pounding on the door, and she stared down at Paul in confusion.

"What are you doing?!" Alyanna asked, her wide-eyed stare darting between Paul and the closed door behind him.

"That kid needs to get over this ridiculous fear of the basement! And monsters! It's always monsters!"

"Let him out of there right now!" Alyanna shouted furiously, throwing the bags to the floor and rushing down the stairs towards him. She stopped short when she saw what he had in his hand.

"You took his bear?!" she cried out, fear echoing clearly in her voice.

"He's too old for this!" Paul shouted, shaking the bear at her.

"No he's not! You're pushing him too fast! Let him out of there now!" she said. She quickly closed the rest of the distance between them and tried to push him away from the door.

"No! That kid needs a dose of reality!" he shouted, and refused to move out of the way.

The screaming from behind the door suddenly became even more insistent, and then it was drowned out by a terrible roar. Paul and Alyanna froze. The roar faded away, and David's screams were once again audible, and more terrified than ever. Then the scream stopped suddenly, and was replaced by a horrible crunching sound.

Paul spun around and yanked the door open. He started to run into the room, but then stopped short, his eyes widening in shock. Alyanna tried to push her way past him, but then she too saw what awaited them just inside the room. There was something in the room, and it wasn't David. The Thing was about twelve feet tall, and its large eyes glowed with a sinister red light. Its triangular head was filled with huge teeth, and its claws dragged on the floor as it crouched over their son. Its coarse gray fur was stained dark with blood. The door to the furnace hung conspicuously open.

Alyanna regained her voice and mobility first. She turned to her husband and beat her fists on his chest in hysterical rage.

"You bastard!" she screamed through her tears, "You murdered my son! You murdered my son!"

"What is that thing?" Paul whispered in terror and disbelief, not feeling her blows at all.

The monster charged at them and knocked them both to the floor. It threw back its head and the walls shook from its thundering roar. The creature lunged forward and was about to sink its claws into Alyanna, but then it jerked back and howled in pain. It turned around to find an enormous bear, its claws already wet with the monster's blood. The bear snarled ferociously and once again slashed the monster with its claws. The monster tried to strike back, but the bear was faster. It sunk its teeth deep into the monster's shoulder and then raked huge gouges in the creature's chest.

The monster cried out in pain and then managed to push the bear off. While the bear was off balance, the monster took its opportunity to escape, leaping over the fallen humans and up the stairs. The bear tried to follow, but couldn't move as quickly as its prey. There was a crash as the thing smashed though the front door of the house.

The bear made a mournful sound, and then began to shrink and change shape. In seconds there was only a stuffed toy sitting on the floor where the bear had been. Alyanna, sobbing, dragged herself over to where her son had fallen and cradled his limp form in her arms. Paul was still numb with shock. He did nothing but whisper to himself, over and over again, "What is that thing?"

* * *

The official police report determined that some kind of wild animal must have somehow gotten into their basement. There was some suspicion of foul play by the parents, but no evidence to link them to any wrong-doing. Forensic evidence certainly cast no suspicion on them, since there was no way a human could have inflicted the wounds found on David's body.

* * *

A few days later, Alyanna decided that she shouldn't put off contacting the spirit in the bear any longer. Once the connection was established, it was the first to speak.

I failed.

"It's not your fault," Alyanna said, though she felt odd to be consoling someone else, under the circumstances.

I failed. I couldn't act. I was separated from the boy, and your mate was too strong.

"I know."

What will become of me?

"I don't know. I have other things I need to deal with right now."

I am a guardian. It is why I am.

"Maybe we can find someone else for you to protect," Alyanna said, with little conviction.

Will you and your mate have another child?

"No. No, we most certainly will not," she replied stiffly.

* * *

The days had passed with little communication between Alyanna and her husband. She had no real desire to speak to him, and he was too distracted to try talking to her. He seemed more confused by what had happened than distraught over the death of his son. Doubtless he greived as well, but he did it largely in silence. He still couldn't believe any of it.

Finally, he approached his wife. She seemed less surprised than he by what had happened. Maybe she had some answers for him. He found her in David's room, which was not surprising. She had spent much of the past few days there. She was sitting on the floor, staring at David's stuffed bear. Paul jumped a little when he saw it. He wasn't sure he believed that it had actually turned into a real bear that day, but the thing still made him jumpy.

"Alyanna...Alyanna I'm so sorry. I had no idea." Paul began, and then paused, hoping that Alyanna would speak. She continued to sit there in silence, seemingly oblivious to his presence. "If only I'd known," he began, but then Alyanna finally spoke.

"But you couldn't have," she said. "You had to see it for yourself. Nothing is real for you until you see it with your own eyes." She shook her head, and then turned to regard him with cold eyes. "You were safer before you knew, you know. Knowing about them just gives them strength. I'd be careful, if I were you." Paul backed away from her a step.

"What are you talking about?" he said, clearly unnerved.

"The one in the basement may have gone, but there are others." She gave him a grim smile. "Many, many others. Maybe you'd like this?" she lifted the bear from the floor and held it out to him. He recoiled from it as if it were a live snake, and then backed out of the room without another word, staring at her as if he'd never seen her before.

Alyanna allowed herself a faint smile when he'd gone. The Things didn't normally prey on adults, of course, and they couldn't form at all unless there were children present. He was perfectly safe. But a few sleepless nights were the least he deserved for murdering her son.

Alyanna turned her attention back to the bear and thought for a moment. Finally, she decided to keep it after all. The Things were getting stronger, and she was sure she would eventually find someone who would need a guardian.

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