Fear Itself

Chapter 1

Notes: I was not going to start this one! Seriously! But it wouldn't get out of my head and was preventing me from writing on my other stuff. Including Still Breathing. SO, it seems I shall be working a double fic for awhile. Hopefully this one won't be too long.

000

Being sick in the winter sucked.

Being sick on a snow day was the worst.

For the seven year old it was torture. Her head pounded, everything floated weirdly in her gaze. Currently her mother was cooking in the kitchen. She could smell soup and cocoa and all it did was make her stomach churn.

So she sat at the huge picture windows and stared into the untouched snow of the front yard. The big pine tree looking like a Christmas decoration with all its needles covered in frost and bits of powdered snow clung to the end of branches. A shiny black raven decided it was too good a chance to miss some fun of his own and was bouncing from branch to branch shaking off the snow and making great holes in the coverage on the ground.

The raven haired little girl grinned and giggled her nose pressed up against the glass and her breath making it fog.

Then suddenly it burst into frosty patterns. Blinking her fuzzy eyes at this she burst into tired giggles. For a moment forgetting how ill she felt, how her head spun or how the edges of her vision darkened oddly.

She took a breath, fighting the urge to cough, and breathed on the glass in another spot.

It fogged then suddenly broke into beautiful frosty patterns, lines of ice forming and spanning out like little patterns of fern leaves.

Clapping her hands in delight she reached up and drew a line along the foggy frost. Just a little smiley face.

Then blinked as there was the outline of a raven next to it.

She rubbed her brown eyes and then looking slightly beyond the outline of the bird and after a moment she grinned.

There was a blue boy there. His skin pale and his hair as well. His eyes an icy blue. His hair windblown and dressed with a hooded shirt and one hand in the front pocket a long staff hooked in his arm. She grinned and drew a little snowflake above his bird. And the smile that broke out on his face made her feel like for the moment… she had a new friend.

And for the lonely girl it made her happy.

She didn't know how long she drew pictures through the glass with the blue boy, her fogging the glass, him freezing it and the two of them filling it with fanciful outlines and silly childish drawings but eventually a sound caught his attention and he turned. A bunch of the neighborhood kids running down the half plowed roadway, hauling sleds and tossing bits of ice and pinecones at each other.

The blue boy laughed and then half danced over the top of the snow, leaving only swirls in his wake.

"hey.. come back!" the little girl said feeling upset that the boy would leave and not even say goodbye. It was like, he didn't realize she could see him.

She got up from the couch and rushed to the front door. Dressed in footed pajamas she pulled her mother's shawl over her shoulders and coughing she held a hedgehog toy in one arm and pulled the door open with her other.

A rush of cold air hit her in the face, shocking her lungs and making her cough so that she couldn't yell after the blue boy and the other children now tossing snow balls after each other as they rushed off for the hill the neighborhood kids all called 'dead man's drop'.

"Come.. back.." her words where broken by more coughing and she knelt huddled under the shawl.

Everything spun and felt so, weird. She glanced up and for a moment thought she saw a tall man, standing under the pine tree. The raven that had been playing there took off in startled flight cawing at the intruder.

And he only smiled at her as she collapsed.

The draft of cold air from the open doorway caught her mother's attention and she came over to see what was going on. Seeing her daughter in the opened doorway she rushed over.

"Ashley Tompson, what do you think you are…oh god." Picking up the tiny seven year old and feeling her forehead the woman bundled her up, shoving her feet into heavy snow boots she rushed out the doorway to the old station wagon and loading the little girl into the passenger's side seat she rushed to the doctors.

000

Ashley had woken in the hospital when her fever broke. When asked why she had been in the open doorway she had replied that she had only wanted to say good bye to the blue boy. The doctors wrote it off as being because of the fever. Hallucinations most likely. They said she had something called pneumonia and her fever had spiked dangerously.

They were able to break her fever in the hospital and she was on the mend. With the blizzard that came in overnight, school was likely to be out until winter break. So she had lots of time to get better before she had to go back.

Tuning out the adults she stood by the window looking out over the court yard below, all covered in white snow. Then fogging the glass with her breath she drew the outline of a raven with snowflakes around it.

000

Nine year old Ashley Tompson came awake with a snort and blinked. Reaching up she rubbed tired eyes, pushing her round rimmed glasses half up her head as she glanced down at her study desk in her room. She made a face as she righted her oversized plastic frames and held up her book. She'd fallen asleep reading and drooled all over the page. With a sigh she set it aside to dry and blinked.

Did she hear, bells? Leaning over her desk she looked through the small attic window of her bedroom and stared outside. It was a perfectly clear Christmas night. The moon looked so big! She grinned and half giggled as the effect it had upon the snow covered ground meant that suddenly it was a winter wonderland. Over the porch roof snow glistened and the white birch her mother planted next to the house the year she was born had snow weighing its branches and the few oblong leaves clinging vainly to its ends shimmered with ice coating them. The pines looked like silver Christmas trees, the ice cycles glinting back moon and starlight like little twinkle lights. A few colors glinting from the Christmas lights from neighbor's lawn displays.

She smiled huge in wonder at the sight and then heard again the sound that had woken her. Bells, and.. laughter? Looking up she saw the outline of something. It was not a plane, it looked like…

Santa's Sleigh!

"Oh wow!" she laughed. This was a real treat! She wondered what presents the kids would be talking about when school started again!

Her family didn't celebrate, but that was ok. Her mom and dad told her that presents were not just one time of year, they were all year and she didn't want for toys or other things.

Besides, Ashley's interests were pretty cheap. She loved books, and little ceramic boxes that she would hunt for at garage sales with her mom. She usually asked for paper and pencils. The sloped ceiling of her room was papered in her drawings. Some decent, some not so much. Of super heros and landscapes and against the opposite wall near the stairwell that went through her sister's room, she had an oil painting that she and her mom did together. A waterfall with ice clinging to the rocks and the moss glistening under the lights from above.

So many happy little trees. She giggled and getting up she spun about her room for just the pure joy before dropping into her bed and holding her head briefly as she misjudged and bonked her head on the low ceiling.

But she curled up pulling close her favorite toy, a stuffed puppet hedgehog her mom gave her when she was five. Her sister had a white seal in a sailor's outfit, she closed her eyes with a sigh. Falling into peaceful slumber.

Under the shadows of the spare bed a set of eyes watched her and a wide sharp smile. Her dreams, didn't seem to be as peaceful as the little girl frowned and then curled tighter under her blankets.

000

"You are a little old to be complaining about monsters under your bed dear." Her mother brushed back the eleven year old's hair and began braiding it.

"But mom! I did see a face under the spare bed! It was smiling at me, and… I hear a voice. Sometimes." She hugged her arms closer around herself.

"Hold still, and what does this voice say?"

"Lots of things, sometimes bad things, other things don't make sense. Sometimes he says things that make weird sense. But, I just don't like it!" she could stop the shudder. A feeling like cold fingers walking up her spine. It felt so, dark, slimy, as if something horrible was going to happen.

"It's just bad dreams, they will go away." Her mother said. "You just got to be strong and tell them that you aren't afraid of them!" and her mom kissed her cheek. "If you aren't scared of shadows they lose their power and go away."

"… I hope so."

000

Twelve years old and she dreaded going to her room. But despite her sister having no trouble with it, her parents insisted she sleep in her own room. As if they thought her fear was childish nonsense.

Maybe it was, but Ashley couldn't help it.

She didn't just see glowing eyes and a sharp smile anymore.

"Welcome back Ashley, how was school today?"

The young preteen stopped at the opening of her room looking behind her she could see the wide eye fearful stare of her sister. Biting her lip she gave the other girl a smile.

She knew her little sister could see him too. Could hear him.

The Boogey Man.

"It was, fine." She said softly edging around his form. He was seated on the spare bed, smiling pleasantly at her.

She didn't trust him. After a year of his constant scaring her she knew he could go from pleasant to dangerous in a short time. The wrong word could set him off.

And no amount of being brave could make him go away until he felt like it. And if she tried being too brave.

Well he showed her how little her bravery mattered to him.

She sat down at her desk and pulled out her homework.

And felt his shadow fall over her shoulder. She restrained a shudder. "What do we have today? Math? My my, hope your grades have improved over last semester."

"Um. Yeah." She said softly "you were right about that faster way to solve the problems." Talking kept her a little more focused and a little less likely to piss her pants.

He patted her shoulder "Well it's just because I'm a bit older than you and been doing this longer." And leaning over he looked over her pages. Pointing out some errors in her homework.

Even if she spent the next couple hours terrified, her homework got done.

And Ashley was not going to be forgetting this tutelage anytime soon.

000

Eighteen and collage. She packed her bag and sighed, staring at her empty room. The last couple years had been a strain on her and her family. Her father had fallen at a construction site and between the breaks and burns he had gotten, he wasn't going back anytime soon.

So he had been forced into an early retirement. Ashley was going to be going to college, but her family would be moving to the southern states were it was cheaper to live on their dad's much smaller income.

She sighed, for a moment she thought she felt ice cold fingers up her spine, but looking around there was nothing. Just a few shadows in the corner.

The girl shuddered and pulled up her knees hiding behind her bangs and limbs. A silvery bracelet hanging between her fingers. She sighed standing up and leaving the bracelet on the bare spare matrice that was to be left behind.

It was almost over, he couldn't follow her if she no longer lived here, right?

Right?

000

Ashley stared at the fish bowl. She had hoped the weekend feeder would be enough for the short time she had been gone, but, it did not appear so. The little goldfish floated on the scummy part of the water at the top. When she tapped the glass the little thing sunk to the bottom. Once a living creature, now, fishbait.

The girl sighed and pushed back her hair. She'd cut it when she went to college. It was shorter lengths now. Her mother hated it, but Ashley was horrible at taking care of long hair without someone else to do the braiding. With as compact as her college days had been and working part time with various jobs to pay for her school books.

She just needed one thing in her life to be easy.

As she got her fish net and gave her little friend a burial down the toilet drain, she leaned back against the bathroom door and slowly sank down to the floor. Everything just felt so, wrong. Like this was not how her life was meant to be.

She'd gone to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with her family. Everyone had been so cheerful. Her sister was married with lots of happy fat babies (triplets. They were still trying to figure out where they came from) Her father resided over the turkey and ham with his electric carving knife and bad puns. Guaranteed to bring groans to the table every year. (Do fathers go to school for that? How to tell bad jokes and embarrass their children even among family?) Her mom cooked in the kitchen and made everyone else clean up after. While she sat with her feet up drinking eggnog.

But Ashley felt, well disconnected from it all. She smiled and laughed and chased the triplets around with the cats, she brought along her early Christmas presents and received a few for herself in return. (Mostly gift cards as she been flying)

But it just felt all so very far away from her. Her latest boyfriend dumped her right before she left. (With the old adage 'it's not you it's me!' How could she believe that when they where twitching at shadows and practically flying out of her front door?) So that had not improved her mood. Her family had expected to see him but she had to inform them he was not coming and why.

So she got the lines about plenty of fish in the sea, maybe he was gay? All those words of comfort she'd heard a million times. (Well her sister said she didn't like his nose anyway. Too small.)

And she comes home to the only living thing dependent upon her, well… no longer dependant.

Worse though was when she and her sister started talking about their childhood and the old house.

And she had to pretend that she was 'over' what happened. Her sister, had forgotten most of the details. Just thought it was nothing but a mild hysteria or her just playing along with her sister's fear.

Ashley wrapped her arms around herself in the bathroom and tucked her head between her knees. She tried not to think about that time. She hadn't seen the boogeyman in a long time, but she was still scared.

Still knew he was real.

Very very real.

Just like Santa and the Toothfairy. All of them. She'd seen most of them in the distance. Had a few minor interactions with a couple.

She still remembered the look on Cupid's face when she told him to save his arrow he had been aiming at a guy. Sure enough, the girl had opened her arms to another man who came around the corner.

She'd seen them meet for lunch many a time. He thanked her for saving a bit of heartbreak and went on with shooting someone else. Surprised her that the next arrow had gone to a child, who then saw a little puppy in a box, hidden in shadow.

When she turned to ask, the blond man had been gone. She'd put her hands in her pockets and went on her own way.

She'd shortly after met one of her boyfriends, that had been a real rush, so she had a feeling she'd been the target of one of those arrows too.

That one had lasted the longest, more than three months at least. But then he too had left.

Quaking in such fear. He at least had been completely honest.

He couldn't handle the nightmares. Whenever they where apart the dreams stopped, but whenever they were together too long…

Ashley sniffed and hugged herself closer. Curling her toes around each other. Was she so horribly marked by having the personal attentions of the boogeyman? She had been away for years and never even gone back to that old house she grew up in. Not even to drive through the town. She drove around it.

And of recent she'd transferred for her masters clear on the other side of the country! One couldn't get further from Washington State than New York.

Well she might have tried for Maine, but they didn't have any schools with her courses in them. Or at least, not with the degrees that the other schools offered. Might not have been one of the Ivy Leagues, but it was still one of the better. She'd been hoping to get into Boston, but unfortunately her application hadn't been accepted at MIT.

But New York had felt far enough away and at least she had snow, and her own apartment instead of dorming with a bunch of strangers.

It wasn't much. It had been called a 'one bedroom'. Though the bedroom was basically only divided by the fact that the bathroom was right between that space and the rest of the apartment, giving a sort of divider and no door. But the price was right and for a generally single girl, it was good enough.

The light above the old cast iron tub flickered and she found herself looking up startled, feeling her heart in her throat.

For a brief moment she thought she saw an outline of a man in the corner. Tall, foreboding. With a wide white smile and glowing eyes.

The flickering stopped and the light evened out again. There was nothing there but the shower curtain and a rack she kept her towel and shampoo on.

Shaky she got up and went back out to her living room. Cleaning out the fish bowl and putting a little Chinese meal in a box in the microwave for her dinner.

She spent the evening watching cheesy old holiday specials that started after Thanksgiving and would go on into Christmas. Munching her dinner with chopsticks. Next to her rested an old stuffed hand puppet hedgehog as she huddled under a blanket in her PJs with domo slippers on her feet.

Doing her best to forget the past and keep her fear of the darkness at bay.