Jinny woke with a start, flashing into fully alert. Her instincts told her something was awry in the house, something involving David. She fled from her bed, along the upstairs hall and noted his bedroom door was open. His nightlight rotated serenely, visions of unicorns and rainbow stars dancing across the ceiling and walls. His miniature race–car bed lay empty and cold to her touch. How long had he been gone? Where did a three year-old go at four in the morning?
About to hurtle down the stairs, glimpsing the closed stairgate below, Jinny changed tack and headed to the end of the hall, turned the kooky l-shape which had been one of the things to endear her to the house and skidded to a halt at the bottom of the attic steps. David stood, apparently unharmed, on the bottom step, chattering and giggling. Jinny looked up, frowning at the open attic door and the light within.
Caught between fear for her son and frustration at these increasingly frequent midnight excursions he’d fallen into, she snatched the boy up, stuck a hand round the door to flick off the light switch, clicked the door into place and took him back to bed. Tucking him under his Paw Patrol duvet she smoothed back his hair and sighed.
“Sweetie, remember what I told you, about staying in bed at night? How it isn’t safe to wander about in the dark? That you could fall and hurt yourself?”
David nodded, but his reply gave Jinny little hope that this new turn of events was going to quit any time soon.
It’s ok. Mummy, Sariel says he’ll look after me. You too, if you want.”
Sariel huh? An imaginary friend to add to the mix. Joy.
Jinny kissed his forehead, aware he was already drifting away.
“Hunny, how about you ask Sariel if you guys can play during the day?”
“Sariel says I have to know how to run.”
His eyes closed before Jinny could figure what to ask next. Why was her son preparing to run? She sloped back to her room, fell into bed and lay watching the day grow, exhausted but sleepless.
Over the next three weeks, Jinny found David on that bottom step every other night. Her doctor suggested baby sleep meds, but she was loathe to take that step. Her mother figured it was just a phase he’d grow out of and her bestie suggested putting a bolt on his door. She took that one on board, but put the bolt on the attic door instead.
The night she fixed the bolt she fell into an exhausted sleep, her first full sleep since David’s wanderings had begun. At three am she woke, let the adrenalin wash away her exhaustion, breathed through the panic and headed for the attic stairs.
David stood on the second step. The door was open and white light spilled down on his intent face. He was clearly listening to something. Jinny recognised his expression for when he was trying to process something he didn’t fully understand. Suddenly he nodded, turned around and spoke to her.
“Sariel says not to lock the door please. It makes his job harder.”
Jinny looked up, saw a flicker of movement in the light and leapt up the stairs. She slammed the door shut and bolted it, screaming at the faded blue paint and cracked wood.
“Leave my son alone!”
Once David was back in bed and she in hers the ridiculous nature of her response hit her, but she had no idea if she should laugh or cry. The supernatural was for binge watching series on Netflix, right? No such thing as ghosts and spirits who possess humans, right? Then why had her innate instinct kicked in, her deeper level fears, causing her to react to a threat? She had no answers as sleep took her.
Another fortnight passed. Jinny had men in to check the attic for anything she could use to explain the strange occurrences, but nothing was found; not even a mouse or bat. She had a new door installed with an electronic lock, which garnered her some odd looks from the workman. His bantering tone was that of indulging a silly woman, but she didn’t care. That door had to stay shut.
Still, night after night, the door opened, the light spilled out and David went to chat to Sariel, now on the third and final step. Every time Jinny rescued him she expected an arm to shoot through the crack in the door, an attempt to take her son and she was ready to protect him with everything she had. One evening, desperate and lost, she sat on the bottom step with her back to the door, in some vain attempt to stop her boy climbing those stairs again.
In the drowsing quiet of 2am she heard the door open, saw the light fall about her, but she refused to look around. A voice, masculine but light, almost melodic, whispered into the envelope of light about her;
“Be ready to let him go. If you cannot do this one thing for your son he will be lost.”
Terrified, her brain screaming that she was hallucinating, sleep deprived, Jinny bolted from the steps and back to her room, shuddering under her duvet like a frightened child, half expecting the monster under the bed to be beat the barriers of the blanket shield this once. She woke to find David curled in bed beside her, smiling gently.
“Sariel says let me run.”
Jinny grabbed him up, holding him close, smelling his unique little boy smell and swore to never let him go. Wiping her eyes on her arm she told him they were taking the day off. Breakfast with pancakes and ice cream, a painting session, maybe a swim or a ride to the mall for a treat in the toy shop. David’s eyes shone with excitement and she held his hand,, leading him to the kitchen.
Mid-day rolled around, a time when they would normally be at work and pre-school. Jinny decided it was swim time, maybe mall after. She ruffled David’s hair.
“Go get your swim bag, kiddo. It’s hanging on the knob behind your bedroom door, ok?”
David nodded and headed upstairs. Seconds later the back door smacked open, kicked in by a young man who was as shocked to see Jinny as she was to see him. He recovered quicker, hurtling across the kitchen and pinning her up against the wall, threatening her with a gun to her temple.
“Can’t let you live, bitch. You seen me, huh?”
The circle of freezing metal against her temple faded to nothing, his words and wild eyes with it. David was descending the stairs, swim bag swinging happily against his shoulder. Silently, pleading with weeping eyes, Jinny mouthed to him;
Later, when the psychiatrists talked to him, David recounted his flight, the one Sariel had prepared him for. The tear up the stairs, along the hall and round the L. The race up the steps and through the open door, the white light, the feathered arm reaching to close the door behind him, cradling him against the bang which blew his world apart.
They thought it was the imaginary friends Jinny’s family had spoken about. A way for a disturbed psyche, a terrified child, to explain how he ended up in the attic behind an electronic lock which he couldn’t reach. Adults prefer not to believe, David came to understand. They like the rational, the door left open, unnoticed. He also knew better. Sariel couldn’t reach his mother, but he’d reached and saved David and one day he would know how to thank him for the gift of his life.