"Mom? Dad?" eleven year old Alina slowly opened her parents bedroom door. "I think someone is in the yard."
They didn't reply, apparently too deeply asleep to hear her quiet concern. She tip-toed to the side of the bed, reaching out a hand to gently shake her mom awake.
Alina closed her eyes as she blew out the candles - thirteen flickering lights on a chocolate birthday cake.
"Did you make a wish?" David asked, excitement sparkling in his eyes. All of five years old, sometimes Alina was jealous. Sometimes she wanted to have that same innocence, that same faith that everything could be fixed if you just turned on the light.
Her mom still didn't move. "Mom, wake up." Alina shook her a little harder. "Mom. Someone's outside."
But sometimes turning on the light just illuminated things that should have stayed in the shadows.
"Alina?" he asked. She opened her eyes and smiled.
"Yes, and now it's time for cake." She glanced at her aunt, Nicky, who was busy talking to a neighbor. She wondered how long this party would last, knowing it was only thrown so her aunt could socialize. Nicky lived on attention, thrived on it. She would make this last as long as possible.
And Alina was sure they had already been here for hours.
She walked around to the other side. "Dad." She shook him, too, gently. Then a little less gently. "Dad, please, wake up." No response. They must have been drinking earlier.
Alina stood in front of her bedroom window, the party finally over, looking at the night sky. And, as she did every night, she closed her eyes and made a wish. She wished that she could go back, that she could forget. That the images in her nightmares wouldn't come anymore.
Alina stepped back, irritated. "Come on, guys." She hadn't turned on the light yet, knowing that dad hated to wake up that way. But she wasn't seeing another option.
Stepping back from the window, she went to bed, praying that tonight the dreams wouldn't come. That the pictures would stay away, for just one night.
She made her way toward the light switch. "I'm sorry, but I have no choice." Flicking it on, she turned around to tell them about the person who had been at her window.
And she screamed, and screamed, backing away from the blood until she hit the wall next to the door, pushing her hands against her eyes as she stumbled out of the room.
A man, surrounded in a soft light, stood over Alina's bed as she whimpered quietly in her sleep. His eyes were sad, his voice quiet. "My darling girl." he whispered, reaching out to pull the blanket over her.
Alina heard David's cries, she had woken him up. She stumbled towards his room, just down the hall. She took a deep breath before opening the door.
The man seemed to have made a decision. "I'm not really supposed to do this." he said softly. "But for you, tonight, I will make an exception." He studied her for a moment. "Though you may not thank me for it."
As Alina stepped into David's room, she saw the window was open. She was confused - they never opened David's window. Feeling a bit numb, probably the beginning of shock, she went to close it, looking down before she did.
She screamed, jolted out of shock and into terror as the man from before, the man she had seen looking into her window, smiled up at her. There was blood on his shirt. He opened his mouth and Alina slammed the window shut as hard as she could, turning and crouching on the floor below it. She stayed like that for a while, shaking, until at some point David's crying cut through the fog around her. She stood, almost mechanically, and locked the window. She barely remembered that part later, picking David up. Telling him it was okay. Picking up the phone. But in her dreams it was vivid. All too real as she relived it over and over.
He placed his hand over her forehead and closed his eyes, the light around him growing brighter. "Forget." he told her. And as the light dimmed he stepped back. "Goodnight, my child." he told her. And then he left.
Alina woke up to the sun shining. The birds were chirping. She could hear someone moving around the house.
But as hard as she tried, she could not remember where she was.
She didn't remember how she had gotten here.
She couldn't remember anything, really.