IMAGINATION

The shadow danced on the wall. Its movements were natural, like a tree branch swaying in the wind, but still unsettling. And unlike a branch in the wind, these movements suggested life.

Ricky rubbed his sore eyes, as much to confirm that what he was seeing was real, as to clear his head. Beads of cold sweat trickled down his forehead and into his eyes. The slight stinging sensation bothered him a little, but not enough to take his eyes off of the shadow.

"Who's there?" he called out to the darkness. "What do you want?"

Strange, unrelated thoughts raced across his mind, hindering his ability to focus on the dire situation he was in. His grandmother came into view in his head, her multi-colored apron flapping in the gentle breeze as she held out a dish stacked high with freshly baked cookies.

Ricky, dear, look, I've made some sweets for you.

He could practically still smell the chocolate chips.

Another vague memory of his grandmother filtered into his mind.

Ricky, dear, I need my teeth. They're in the glass in the bathroom.

Ricky shuddered when he thought about those nasty old teeth moldering away in their cleaning solution

"Ricky, are you there?"

The words weren't coming from some old memory he was reliving. These were coming from his room, from the shadow by the far wall.

"Ricky, dear! Where are you boy?"

He swallowed hard and reached over to switch his lamp on. Predictably, nothing happened.

"Ricky?"

Feeling the need to arm himself, Ricky began to search around the room for anything he could use as a weapon. He finally settled for his old baseball bat.

The shadow was now emitting a low, nearly-inaudible growl that resonated off the walls. Pictures rattled. A small glass fell to the ground. The light fixture above his bed swung back and forth.

"Ricky, dear, help your old grandma."

A brief pause.

"Ricky, dear, your old grandma misplaced her teeth again. Would you help me find them?"

Something shuffled in the darkness. Whatever it was it was having difficulty moving, struggling to gain control.

"Ricky! I know you're there! Just stay put and your old grandma will be right there."

Ricky closed his eyes and tightened his grip on the bat, trying desperately to hold on to the memories of his grandmother. In his mind, his grandmother read bedtime stories to him. She baked him fresh chocolate-chip cookies, and played all of his favorite games with him, often letting him win. She did all of the typical things a loving grandmother did with her one and only grandson, including being there for him when his parents weren't.

But this wasn't his grandma. This thing that was slithering toward him in the supposed sanctuary of his bedroom was not even human…at least not anymore.

"I'm coming, Ricky," the thing drawled. "You just wait there for me…you hear me boy? You just wait for me."

Ricky began to play with his hair as he tried with all of his might to look away from the nightmare coming toward him.

Should he call out to his parents for help?

The overwhelming urge to do so was hard to resist, especially considering the situation he was in, but his desire to prove that he wasn't a baby anymore to his strict and overbearing parents was also strong.

"Ricky, dear, I'm coming. I'm almost there!"

"Mom! Dad! Help me! Mom? Dad?"

But the familiar sound of footsteps galloping down the hallway toward his room was alarmingly absent. Only the wet thuds of the thing approaching his bed filled the dark room. It slithered nearer and nearer to the bed, leaving a foul smelling residue in its wake.

"Ricky, I'm almost there." The words were followed by heavy grunting and slobbering. "And don't worry, dear, your old grandma found her teeth this time."

Ricky, spurred on by his instinct to survive, leaped out of his bed, and gripping the bat in his sweaty hands, straightened up in front of the thing approaching.

More grunting and slobbering.

"Ricky, dear, don't you want to see your old grandma?" The tone of the words had changed slightly, gravitating toward an elderly woman who was merely happy to see her grandson. It was still hidden by the darkness, only occasionally poking out a limb here or there, as if to stimulate its victim's imagination. It wanted Ricky to think about what it might look like, just what it might actually be.

Despite his fear, Ricky found himself fascinated by the scenario unfolding before him. His imagination was running wild with possible explanations, each one trying to grasp plausible reasons for the horrible anomaly. He'd always had a strong and vivid imagination, it helped him to cope with the hardships in his life such as struggles in school, his general rejection from girls, the terrible voices that occasionally filled his head, and… the death of his grandmother.

"Mom! Dad!"

Again no response.

The withered, bloodless hand of his dead grandmother slammed onto the floor, followed immediately by the other hand.

"Ricky, dear, I'm right here. Your imagination has helped me so much. I'm coming. I'm coming."

Feeling the need for a better weapon, Ricky scanned the room for anything he could use. He wanted something bigger, something that wouldn't require him to get too close if he had to.

"Ricky? Ricky?"

Ricky jumped out of his bed and raced to the door, swinging it open in one swift motion. He suddenly remembered where he had left it, on the floor near the bathroom door, and if he could get to it in time, it would prove to be just the ticket he needed.

To his great relief, it was right where he had left it.

"Ricky, where'd you go?"

In a flash, he was back in his bed and brandishing his new weapon, reveling in the confidence it gave him.

The sunken face emerged from the darkness. It was his grandmother, but not the one who used to bake him fresh chocolate-chip cookies or let him win in his favorite games.

The face belonged in a cemetery, a horrific painting of death, fully intent on its foul purpose.

Ricky tightened his grip on the shovel as graveyard dirt cascaded down onto his bed. When he had exhumed his grandmother's remains the night before and brought them to the house he had no idea that his overactive imagination would go into overdrive like it did. He had only wanted her to be home again, to complete the family, just like it was before she had died. His parents were for the idea as well. Their bodies, which were decomposing in their bedroom, had told him so.

"Ricky? Ricky?"

His grandmother looked directly at him, her glassy eyes dripping down her gaunt face. He tried to look away but couldn't. It was the price he had to pay for his actions, even though he did what he did for love.

But if it came to it would he have the strength to hit his own grandmother with a shovel? Could he bring himself to attack the very one he was trying so hard to bring back?

"There you are, dear. Grandma's coming."

The corpse slithered up to the bed with remarkable agility, considering it had been under six feet of cold, hard dirt just a short while earlier, and glared at Ricky.

Ricky stared back, clinging to the thin belief that there was still a shred of humanity left in it, although he knew perfectly well there wasn't.

"G…Grandma? Is…is it really you?" The words stumbled out of his mouth, and he realized just how foolish they were. Of course it was his grandma. The tombstone had her name clearly etched on it.

Almost without thought, he swung the shovel high in the air and slammed it down with all of his might onto his grandmother's rotting head.

A sound like a ripe watermelon hitting concrete filled the room, followed immediately by a terrible stench, which clogged his senses with nausea.

The corpse collapsed into an unrecognizable mass of decayed flesh. The shovel dropped to the floor as Ricky fell back into his bed, his mind racing with the implications of his actions.

Should he call the police? Would they believe him? How could he sleep with the dead body of his grandmother in his bedroom?

He lay down on his bed, pulled the covers up to his chin, and began to play with his hair. The silk trim on his blanket provided much needed comfort, just as it always had when he was a little kid, especially when he had to go to the doctor's office and get his medication.

How he hated that place with all those nasty tests and needles.

He glanced over at the nightstand next to his bed. The small piece of paper with his doctor's messy signature scrawled on it reminded him that he had forgotten to get his prescription filled again.

Not a problem though, he'd just have to remember to give it to his mom. She would take care of it like she always did.

"Mom?" he called out to the darkness. "Mom? I need my prescription filled.

No response.

"Mom?"

Still no answer.

He looked across the room and was surprised to see the corpse of his grandmother. She was on her back and was completely intact. A thin layer of dirt covered most of her body and clogged her hair. Next to her was a small shovel, his shovel, that also had dirt on it.

"Mom? Dad? Grandma's still here. She's in my bedroom. Mom? Dad?"

The anxiety that he felt when he heard the familiar footsteps walking down the hallway toward his room was immense. But the fear that he felt when his bedroom door swung open was far, far worse.