I had stayed up too late. My Dad had been lecturing me about it since I was a little boy, but I couldn’t help it. I’d always get caught up in my books and lose track of time. He used to tell me stories to frighten me into obeying the rules of bedtime, but I’d never listen, not until I was seven years old. That’s when I knew that they were more than just stories.
That night, I had stayed up late, reading under the covers with a torch when I heard soft steps outside my bedroom door. I shoved the book and torch under my pillow, diving under the covers and prayed that I wasn’t caught by my Dad.
I closed my eyes as the door slowly creaked open, waiting for my Dad to call out to me, but all I could hear was panting and soft footsteps. The lights of the hallway poked through my eyelids and I held my breath, hoping to hear my Dad’s voice. The door slammed shut and the room fell quiet and dark.
I opened my eyes and the room was drenched in darkness. It seemed that I’d gotten away with it, and in light of that, I didn’t want to push my luck, so I reached under my pillow and moved the torch and book to the bedside table, finally ready to sleep. As I settled back in bed, I could feel myself getting tired.
I was about to close my eyes and finally get some sleep when my eyes were drawn to the door. I couldn’t tell you why, but in that moment, immediately, I felt wide awake, and like I was being watched. At first, I thought it must be my imagination, but the more I looked, the more my heart sank.
I was being watched. There was a pair of shining red eyes staring back at me.
They didn’t blink. They didn’t move. They just stared, all night, so I stared back, too afraid to close my eyes, too afraid to move, just hoping with all my heart that when I’d blink, the eyes would disappear.
I didn’t dare close my eyes, but I couldn’t help but blink a few times, and each time, my heart pounded. I’d open my eyes and see those same scarlet eyes staring back at me. It continued the same way all night. The eyes just stared back at me, before dimming into darkness as the sun rose.
I was exhausted the next day, struggling through school until it was home time. I rushed home, desperate for sleep and hoping to get my head on the pillow before darkness fell.
I searched the room but found no trace of what I’d seen the night before, so collapsed into my bed with a sigh, wrapping myself in the blankets and slipping into a deep sleep.
He’s coming to get me.
As I awoke, hours later, I became certain of that. The sky outside had grown dark, and I could hear ragged, panting breaths by my side. I stared up at the ceiling, knowing what I’d see if I looked down and feeling nauseous at the thought of it.
I just stared at the ceiling with the scarlet stare in the corner of my eye as the night wore on. After an hour, I could feel myself slipping into sleep, digging my fingernails into my palm with a strangled breath to keep myself awake.
My dad says it’s all in my imagination but he doesn’t understand. It may have started in my imagination, but now it’s real. He is real.
All the stories he told me when I was a little boy came true, and he doesn’t understand.
As I clung onto consciousness, the creature leapt from the floor, crushing my ribs and chest with large paws as its scarlet stare bore into me.
It was Pesanta.
He was the star of so many of my Dad’s stories. A demonic dog that would stalk through neighbourhoods at night and take the soul of children who were up past their bedtime. It’s a pretty screwed up thing to tell a child, but in a way, I’m glad he did, because it gave me an idea of what I was up against.
We stared at each other until dawn, a low growl leaving his curled lips every few minutes as I lay as still as I could underneath him, praying for the morning to arrive.
As the sun reached the top of the sky, he jumped down from the bed and slunk off through the window, looking back with his scarlet eyes and wicked smile to let me know he’d be back.
I told my Dad but he just laughed, reminding me of the silly stories he told me as a child, but these aren’t silly stories anymore.
This has been going on for seven years now. I haven’t slept a full night since he appeared. I never know when he’ll show up. Sometimes he stays away all night, only approaching for a minute or two before the sun rises, sometimes he’ll stay for the whole night. I never know, and that’s why I always have to watch for him.
My Dad doesn’t hear his padding across the floor as night falls, or feel his warm, muggy breath, or the icy trail of drool as the minutes tick by. He doesn’t shiver beneath his scarlet stare as the night slows to a stop.
It is real, and it won’t stop until I am dead. I don’t know how he found me. I don’t know why he wants me. I just know that he won’t stop, so I have to stop him before it’s too late, and I will, somehow.
The night seems to arrive sooner every day since Pesanta found me, and I’ve never felt so alone. I’ve tried to sleep during the day, but with school, homework and chores, my free time before sundown is limited. I am exhausted and running out of time, barely able to keep my eyes open during the waking hours, and I know that I need to find a solution.
I skipped school yesterday and camped out in the library, determined to find a way out of my Pesanta’s path, but surrounded by books and computer printouts, I had absolutely nothing useful. Nobody seemed to know a thing about how to ward off the demon that darkened my door. In fact, people didn’t know all that much. There was no rhyme or reason for why he visited, no way to know what he wanted, just the same old bedtime stories that my Dad had told me as a boy, and vague accounts of people who claimed to see him before going mad.
Am I going mad? I don’t know. Perhaps all those people who saw him weren’t mad. Just suppose he was real, and they were just unlucky enough not to make it? Is anyone ever really mad? Perhaps they are all just unlucky.
If I am going mad, then I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It feels so real, so relentless, but until yesterday, I couldn’t find anyone who understood.
I didn’t find them in the library, or online. No. Someone closer to home. Someone who believed me. Someone who knew I wasn’t going mad.
I scrolled through every website I could find, and cycled home with a pile of books, but there seemed to be no hope. Night came, and as I closed my bedroom door, Pesanta’s eyes lit up under my bed and his bared fangs shone in the moonlight, almost as if he was smiling.
I reached back towards the door, feeling blindly in the darkness, but my hands simply sailed through the air into nothing. I turned around and the door seemed to have vanished. The walls were falling away and nothing remained but empty, echoing, dark space.
I tried to scream, but my voice seemed to disappear with the room. Soon, there was nothing but the darkness before me, more darkness to my left, even more darkness to my right, and a low, gravelly growl behind me, that made me so sure I shouldn’t look back.
“Why don’t you give in Francesco?” A voice, scratchy and low, filled my ears. I could feel the hot breath lapping against my skin as they spoke, and a chill ran down my spine as I realised that there was nobody else it could have been. “You must be so tired.” I nodded, overcome with weakness and exhaustion. As much as I tried to hold on, it was getting harder every second. “We’ve been playing for such a long time.” I fell to the ground, staying for a moment on the soft ground before seeming to fall through it, down and down into nothing. My body felt at peace, for the first time in years. I didn’t care where I was falling, I just wanted to sleep.
As I fell, I saw so many faces staring from the darkness. The faces, full of fright as I passed, seemed to look past me, down to where I was falling, but I wouldn;t follow their eyes. I didn’t want to see.
“You’re almost there Francesco.” Pesanta whispered, his voice almost softening, but still surrounded by the sinister snarl that had kept me awake for years. It was almost over, and I would have kept falling but as I passed the terrified faces in the darkness, one caught my eye, a man, so familiar but in a way I couldn’t place, with eyes that seemed more sad than scared.
“Wake up Francesco!” He called, his pleading eyes seeming to shine through the darkness. “Don’t let him take you!” I began to struggle, Pesanta’s paws appearing from the darkness and snatching me close, but I continued to fight back, pushing against the cold steel of his grasp as he growled and snapped at the air. “How many stars adorn the sky Pesanta?” Pesanta continued to reach for me, trying to push me down into the darkness, but I kicked at his rough fur, avoiding the gaze of his glowing eyes as I tried to escape his nightmare. “Show us your intellect Pesanta. How many stars adorn the sky?” Pesanta turned his head for a moment, barking in the direction of the voice before turning his scarlet stare and snarling snout back towards me.
“How many stars adorn the sky Pesanta?” Another voice joined the call, and soon, another. “How many stars adorn the sky Pesanta?” The voices seemed to become one, echoing through the dark, empty night as his grip began to weaken, and Pesanta snarled and spat as he faded into the darkness and the voices fell silent.
Exhausted, I fell, suddenly landing in the sheets and blankets of my bed. I sat up, trying to catch my breath as a pair of eyes peered through the darkness, by the side of my bed.
I let out a scream, scrambling underneath the covers as the bedside lamp flooded the room with light.
“Francesco, relax!” It was my Dad. I crept out from under the covers, shaking with a sheepish look on my face. “That must have been some dream you had. You were yelling about counting stars and falling.” He smiled warmly, ruffling my hair as I nodded, trying to calm down. “I haven’t heard stuff like that since I was a kid.” He muttered, adjusting the blankets back around me before reaching for the lamp again.
“Wait, what do you mean?” Our eyes met and he pulled his hand away from the lamp, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“My Dad. Your Abuelo. He used to believe challenging him to count the stars would send Pesanta away.” I gasped, recalling the familiar face in the darkness as I fell. My Grandfather must have battled Pesanta himself, many years ago, passing the stories down to his father,
“Did it work?” I asked. My father shrugged before shaking his head and standing from the bed.
“Pesanta is just a story, Son.” He said, a hint of sadness in his voice as he switched the lamp off and headed for the door. “Your Abuelo… he was… he wasn’t well.”
Just like all the faces that I’d seen in the darkness, my Grandfather was seen as a mad man, but I know the truth. He saved my life. I just hope that the little he taught me will be enough to keep the demon dog at bay, because something tells me that Pesanta won’t be counting forever.