Marlon gazed out the window as the teacher droned on and on and on about… Who knew?
He had stopped paying attention long ago. All morning his mind had wandered to the strange dream of the past night. He recalled nothing of the dream per se, but had woken up knowing someone had called out his name. He had lain still and alert. With eyes wide open, he tried to pierce the darkness and the jumble of shadows cast by the slits of moonlight that seeped in through the half-closed blinds. Only the typical sounds of the night filled the silent house; the creak of the walls and foundation, the ice-maker pushing clumps of ice into the refrigerator, the buzzing sound of the smart-home equipment his parents installed weeks ago.
“Marlon!” Mrs. glass snapped.
Marlon clamped his jaw shut, but she had noticed his wide mouth that seemed to eat the world.
“Yes, Miz?” He said.
“Repeat the last thing I said,” Mrs. Glass ordered.
“Um…” Marlon racked his brain for an answer.
“Right,” Mrs. Glass’s lips tightened into a thin line, “please stay behind after class.”
Marlon nodded and pretended to write something in his notebook.
That evening, Marlon sat in bed and gazed out the window. Mrs. Glass had given him extra homework, but at least she had not demanded to speak to his parents.
Marlon’s eyes drooped; he shifted his body into a comfortable position and fell asleep.
He tried to grasp the fleeting dream, but the shout of his name had ripped him out of it. With eyes wide open towards the window, he listened to the night air.
“Who keeps calling me?” He whispered, but only the ice-maker in the fridge responded with three muffled thumps.
Then he heard the two staccato notes of the electronic voice assistant in the living room.
“Hello?” Marlon chanced a louder murmur. “Who keeps calling me?”
“I do,” the electronic voice assistant answered.
“Who are you?” Marlon squeaked; trembling under the covers pulled up to his chin.
“Look out the window,” the electronic voice replied.
“I don’t want to…” Marlon was ready to cry.
“Please do,” the deadpan voice replied.
Marlon hesitated; reluctantly, he tiptoed to the window. He saw nothing outside but the tangled mess of branches of the wildlife preserve beyond his backyard. Moonlight shone on Mom’s herb garden. Marlon was used to the nighttime sounds of the creatures roaming free in the dense woods; yet nothing stirred.
“There is a thicket beyond the herb garden,” the voice continued, “you know it well, you often play there.”
“Yes?” Marlon’s voice was steadier now as the fear subsided.
“Go there, I need your help.”
“To the thicket?”
“Yes, I am there, I need your help.”
This piqued Marlon’s curiosity, and without thinking twice, he put on his jacket and boots, crept through the house and out the back door.
He walked across the backyard and into the woods; dead leaves, mud, and mulch crunched under his feet.
Moonlight shone a path from the herb garden, into the forest and to the thicket overgrown with brambles.
Something whimpered in the bushes. He approached it, and turned on the flashlight Dad always kept by the back door, in case of emergencies.
He shone the light into the brambles.
Two eyes gleamed back at him. A fox lay among the tangled blackberries with its paw caught in a leg-hold trap. He edged toward the fox, who whimpered, pleading with its eyes. Marlon released him from the trap. The fox snapped its paw out of danger, gazed at Marlon for a moment, and then, limping, scampered into the gloom.
“You’re welcome,” Marlon said, and returned home.
The house was silent; no peep from the electronic voice assistant.
“Are you there?” Marlon whispered into the moonlit shadows, but received no answer.
Marlon shrugged and snuck upstairs.
He was about to climb into bed when, “Wait… Who set the trap?”