Christopher Golden is the New York Times bestselling, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of such novels as Ararat, Snowblind, Red Hands, and the new  Road of Bones. With Mike Mignola, he is the co-creator of the Outerverse comic book universe, including such series as Baltimore, Joe Golem, and Lady Baltimore. Golden co-hosts the podcast Defenders Dialogue. His work has been nominated for the British Fantasy Award, the Eisner Award, and multiple Shirley Jackson Awards. His original novels have been published in more than fifteen languages in countries around the world. Please visit him HERE 


by Christopher Golden


At first, Tyler thought he’d imagined the voice outside his window. Half-asleep, drifting in that space where thoughts blurred and peace fell over his body as he surrendered to slumber, he jerked awake. He blinked in the darkness of his room, stared at the orange glow of the nightlight he told his friends was only there in case he had to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

The voice came again.

“Tyler,” it said. “Wake up, Tyler. Come out of there.”

A shiver went through him. He tried to tell himself he was dreaming, but he could feel the softness of his flannel sheets and they felt so real. He had his back to the window and the voice seemed to slither through the screen and over the sill to reach him.

“Tyler,” it said, more urgently. “Please, son, you’ve gotta come out here.”

Come out?

He glanced at his hands. His friend Sarah had told him that if you were in a dream, you could never see your hands, which sounded weird but also true. Tyler could see his hands just fine, which meant the icy fear that trickled along his spine didn’t come from a nightmare. This was real.

Fully awake now, his breath caught in his throat. He stared at that orange nightlight for a second or two, and then slid out of his bed, knelt beside it, and turned to look out the window. The moonlight had turned the night a deep blue. He could see the trees outside his window, the ash and the maple in the back yard, and the pines at the edge of the property. The house was a split-level, with his room upstairs, so the window was too high for him to see much of the yard from a spot kneeling beside the bed.

“Damn it, Tyler!” the voice rasped, frustrated now, more urgent than ever. Hushed, trying not to make too much noise…trying to stay secret. “Please, you’re in danger.”

Blinking, he stared at the screen. “No way,” he whispered, because now that fear had burned all traces of sleep from his mind, he recognized that voice.

Tyler crept onto his bed and looked out into the yard. “Dad?”

Looking down at his father’s face in the moonlight, he almost thought he must be dreaming again. He glanced at his hands. Nothing made sense. The hushed fear and rasping desperation in his father’s voice had prevented him from recognizing it at first, and now he saw those same emotions on his dad’s face.

“Ty, thank God,” his dad said, moving closer to the window, lowering his voice to a barely audible whisper. “Listen to me, son. Don’t make any noise. Don’t ask any questions.”

Tyler’s fear grew and shifted focus. “What?” he whispered. “Dad, what are you—”

Outside in the moonlight, face etched with emotion, his dad shushed him. “Just listen. Push out your window screen. There are latches. It’s easy. Just unlatch it, push it out, and drop it down to me. I’ll catch it, but we can’t make any noise. Then you’ve gotta jump.”

Jump? Was he crazy?

Tyler glanced at his bedroom door. The last he’d seen his father had been in the living room. Mom had been working a double shift at the hospital, so it had just been her two men, as she called them. They’d grilled burgers and made salads and then watched a monster movie while they’d demolished what was left of the bag of Oreos mom had bought the day before.

From downstairs, there came a thump.

Tyler flinched. His heart had already been racing but now it thundered so hard his chest hurt. If Dad was outside and Mom was at work, who was inside the house with him?

“Damn it, Ty!” his father rasped.

He heard a creak on the stairs. Someone coming up.

It snapped him into motion. Tyler knelt on his bed and stared at the bottom of the screen. In the moonlight he saw the latches clearly. He flipped the one on the left, but the other one stuck. He could hear himself breathing, quick sips of air, in rhythm with the pounding in his chest.

Another creak, halfway up the stairs now. He knew those stairs so well, but they had a stranger on them now. A stranger in his house.

“That’s it,” his father said, outside the window. In the yard. Safe.

He’d be safe out there, with his dad.

Tyler forced the other latch. It snapped open and he scratched his finger, drew a little blood but what was a little blood right now?

He popped the screen open, shoved it out, and it sailed down toward the yard. His father lumbered a few awkward steps to try to catch it, but failed, and that felt more real than anything. Dad was a big guy, never the most graceful. Tyler had never loved or needed him more.

“Jump, Ty,” his dad said.

Tyler looked down at the bushes in the mulch bed behind the house. It wasn’t that high. He’d get scratched up something fierce, might twist an ankle, but if he was careful—

Someone knocked on his bedroom door and whispered his name.

No, no, no, no. His heart hammered even harder and he stared at the bedroom door, watching the knob, waiting for it to turn. His throat closed up, so dry he couldn’t even put voice to a terrified squeak.

The bushes didn’t matter. The scratches didn’t matter. A twisted ankle didn’t matter.

He slid the window up as high as it would go, took one more glance at his father’s pleading face, and thrust one leg out the window. Then the other leg. He reached back and held onto the window frame and started to inch himself out.

His bedroom door swung open and Tyler snapped his head up.

The man standing on the threshold of his bedroom was his father. Same face as the man in the yard. Same faded blue jeans. Same paint-spattered Boston Bruins sweatshirt. Same graying beard.

Tyler froze, staring at the man. “Dad?”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” his father barked, in the same tone he’d always used whenever Tyler did something dumb. Like climbing out his window in the middle of the night.

The world seemed to skid sideways. Nothing made sense. If this wasn’t a dream…if this wasn’t a dream, what was it?

Then, from behind him, below him in the yard, he heard his father’s voice again.

Whispering, and so afraid.

“Tyler, listen to me, buddy. It’s not me up there. I know it looks like me and it sounds like me, but I swear to you that’s not me, and if you don’t jump right now, it’s going to get you. I’ll never reach you in time. Please, Ty…I love you so much. I can’t lose you. Oh, God, please believe me. That’s not your dad in there. I’m out here. God, please…”

The man standing in the open doorway stepped into the room. “Get your butt inside right now, Tyler. I’m not kidding. I’d say you’d better have a good explanation for this, but I sure can’t think of one.”

He acted like he hadn’t even heard the other voice. The Other Dad.

How could that be?

The Inside Dad walked toward him, brows knitted in anger teeth bared in frustration—or maybe cruelty. Was that cruelty?

“Ty, please!” Outside Dad called, no longer whispering, voice full of terror.

Inside Dad reached for him, and Tyler shoved himself backward out the window. As he fell, he caught a glimpse of Inside Dad thrusting a hand out after him, a panicked look on his face, as though he feared Tyler might be hurt. As if he cared.

Tyler crashed into the bushes, felt every scratch and scrape, and then rolled out onto the back lawn. He groaned as he staggered to his feet, stumbled a couple of steps away from Outside Dad.

“Ty?” Inside Dad called from the open window. “Are you okay? Oh, man, why would you…why did you…”

His voice trailed off.

Tyler turned and saw them staring at one another, Outside Dad in the back yard. Inside Dad in the upstairs window. Both speechless, frightened, mirror images of one another.

“Ty,” Inside Dad said quietly. “Run around the front. Right now, I’ll race you to the door. Run right now!”

Frozen, confused now, Tyler glanced back and forth between them.

Outside Dad began to edge toward him, watching Inside Dad as though fearful of any move he might make. “Don’t listen to it, Ty. We’ve gotta go right now.”

As Outside Dad reached for him, Tyler shied away. Took a step back. Anger furrowed Outside Dad’s brow.

“Ty,” Inside Dad said. “Please, listen to me. I’m right here. Whoever that is…whatever it is, I swear it’s not me. You’ve gotta run around the front. You’ll be faster. You’re so much faster than I am. Please, run. Mom and I…you’re all we have.”

From the shadows behind the ash tree, there came another voice.

“He’s all you had,” the voice said, as a third Dad stepped out from behind the tree.

From the corner of the house, a fourth peered around the edge of the tall bush there. “He’s our Tyler now,” it said. “You’ll have to get another.”

Outside Dad began to laugh in that familiar Dad way that had always lightened Tyler’s heart.

Now the sound made him scream.

He backed away, stumbled and nearly fell, and then at last he ran.

From the upstairs window, his father cried out his name, promised to meet him at the front door, but even as Tyler put on speed he saw another step out of the pine trees at the back of the yard, and another emerge from the shadows at the far corner of the house.

He ran. He tried, really he did.

But there were just too many of them

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