By Jon Etter
Jimmy Tillerman awoke, eyes wide with terror, to the sound of rattling glass. Whimpering, Jimmy threw off his covers and dashed out of his room, his bare feet thumping loudly on the hardwood floors of his new home as he raced toward his parents’ bedroom.
Reaching the doorway, he stopped abruptly. Glancing nervously back toward his room, Jimmy tiptoed in. His mother slept on the far side of the bed. If he moved as slowly and quietly as possible, he reasoned, he should be able to—
“Jim?” a gruff voice grumbled blearily. “What’re you doing in here?”
Jimmy’s heart sank. “Window!” he whimpered. “Window Rattlin’!”
“Jesus Christ,” his father muttered, throwing off his covers. “This again?”
Tears began to run down Jimmy’s cheek, partly from the shame of disappointing his father again but mostly from the fear of being forced back into his room. “It’s there again! It’s gonna get me!”
“We’ve been through this, Jim,” his father sighed, sitting up and placing his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, giving it a firm squeeze. “There’s no monster out there. What Mr. Schmidt said was just…something he said. It wasn’t real.”
It had been a gusty late-summer day out on the prairie when the local realtor had shown the Tillerman family what was to become their new home: an old two-story farmhouse surrounded by fields full of corn stubble. As the winds buffeted the four of them, Joel Tillerman, his sandy hair and green field jacket whipping about, had raised his brawny arms out, smiled at the prospect of his life-long dream of living on a farm finally coming true, and happily declared, “Just feel that wind! No buildings stopping it or exhaust fouling it!”
“It does get awful gusty out here if you don’t have a wind-break of trees,” Mr. Schmidt had chuckled. “Wind could take the skin right off your bones if you aren’t careful!”
Jimmy Tillerman had known at the time that the man was just joking, but during his first night in his new room as he lay in bed listening to the cold autumn windows roar outside, he wasn’t so sure. That’s when his window first started rattling. It began quietly, a slight shuddering of the glass in the pane, but then it grew louder and louder, more insistent, more menacing, until Jimmie had known beyond all doubt that the wind wanted to devour him whole, and he had run as fast as his four-year-old legs could carry him to the safety of his parents’ bed, where he had spent most nights over the past month.
“It’s real! Window Rattlin’s real! I gotta snuggle with you and Momma or it’ll get me!” Jimmy sobbed as his father tried to lead him back to his room.
“Joel? Jimmy?” Jimmy’s mother yawned. “What’s going on?”
Joel shook his head. “Window Rattlin’s at it again. I’m just taking Jim back to—”
“No!” Jimmy cried, leaping onto the bed and crawling over to wrap his skinny little arms around his mother. “Window Rattlin’ ll get me! I’ll die! I have to stay here with you!”
“Jim!” Jimmy’s father’s voice was sharp and angry, a tone Jimmy was used to hearing on those occasions when he didn’t immediately do what he was told. “It’s one in the morning. Your mother and I need sleep. You are going back to your room. Now.”
Jimmy sobbed and clung to his mother. “I’ll die! I’ll die! Let me stay!”
Jimmy’s mother stroked his hair and shushed him. “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay. You can sleep with us again tonight.”
“Grace! I just told the boy to go back to his room.”
“I know, but he’s terrified, Joel. There’s no way he’ll get any sleep in there tonight. Besides we’ve only been here for a month—it takes time for a child to adjust to a new place.”
Jimmy’s father frowned. He glowered for a second before finally snapping, “Fine! But he stays on your side of the bed.”
As Jimmy burrowed under the covers next to his mother, he heard her say, “Maybe tomorrow you can try to fix that window like I asked. Maybe then he wouldn’t get scared when the winds blow.”
Jimmy’s father muttered something he couldn’t quite hear, but it didn’t sound very nice whatever it was.
“Thank you, Mommy,” Jimmy whispered as he snuggled in close. “I love you.”
“I love you too, sweet pea,” she replied, hugging him tight.
Jimmy relaxed, safe and warm in his mother’s embrace. Slumber, however, took a long while to come—the sound of rattling, faint and distant but nonetheless there, continued to haunt Jimmy throughout the long night.
“Well, looks like there are some places where this old storm window gaps,” Joel Tillerman called down from the top of the extension ladder his wife held in place. “Jim, you want to get me the flat-head screwdriver from my tool box?”
Jimmy, happy to help his dad with house projects because of how pleased his father seemed to be with him when he did, rummaged through the red metal box until he found what he was looking for. He jumped up and held out the screwdriver to his father, who had climbed down during the search. “Here, Daddy!”
Jimmy’s father smiled. “’Dad.’ Let’s work on making it ‘Dad.’ You’re a big boy now. And that,” he said, pointing to the screwdriver, “is what we call a Phillips-head screwdriver. See how the point is like a little cross? We need the one with the head that looks like a straight line. The one with the blue handle. Can you get that one for me?”
“Yep!” Jimmy dropped the Phillips-head screwdriver and grabbed the one his father had described. “Here you go, Daddy—I mean Dad!”
Joel tousled Jimmy’s hair. “We’ll make you a first class handyman in no time, Jim.”
As his father climbed back up the ladder, Jimmy’s mother leaned in and whispered, “You can call him ‘Daddy’ all you want. And I want you to keep calling me ‘Mommy’ until you’re…oh, how about thirty-seven?”
“What are you two whispering about down there?” Joel asked as he tightened screws.
“Mommy-son secrets,” Grace said with a wink.
“Yeah, mommy-son secrets!” Jimmy echoed.
Joel shook his head and kept tightening screws.
“Is this gonna keep Window Rattlin’ from killin’ me like it killed all the birds?” Jimmy asked.
Since the day they moved in, the only birds the family had seen or heard were geese flying high overhead on their way south for the coming winter. In fact, aside from the odd spider or stinkbug, they hadn’t seen signs of any of the animals they had expected out in the country—mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons, etc.—and the land, except for when the wind blew, was eerily (“peacefully,” Joel argued) quiet.
“There is no Window Rattlin’,” Joel declared. “It’s just the wind rattling your window. And nothing killed the birds—without any trees, there’s no place for them to live near our house. We’ll plant a few trees and bushes in the spring and then you’ll get all sorts of pretty birds around here. Can you get the hammer out for me? The frame’s bent in a few places, but I think I can pound it out.”
“Okay!” Jimmy took out the hammer and got it ready as his father climbed down. “So…so is this gonna keep the wind from killin’ me?”
“Jimmy, honey, the wind can’t kill you,” his mother said, placing her hand on his back.
“Well, a tornado could,” Joel said, taking the hammer from his son. “Thanks, buddy.”
“Yeah!” Jimmy’s eyes grew wide. “A tornado could!”
“Joel! Is that really helping?”
“Just trying to be honest with the boy. Plus we do live in Tornado Alley. We all need to be prepared.” Joel pounded on an edge of the storm window several times, squinted to check the extent of the gap, then pounded it some more.
“Is Window Rattlin’ a tornado?” Jimmy suspected it was—a tornado that came at night and pounded at the window to get him.
“No, honey. Window Rattlin’s just the wind shaking your window. A tornado would do a lot more than that.”
“Like knock down our house?”
Jimmy’s father hopped off the last rung of the ladder. “It could.”
“And kill us all?”
Jimmy’s parents exchanged a worried look. “Why are you so worried about dying all of a sudden?” Jimmy’s mother asked.
“Probably because of your Great Aunt Irene,” Joel said. “When are you driving down to Canton again?”
“I’ll leave around ten tomorrow. Is that why you’re scared of dying, Jimmy? Is it because Mommy’s going to Great Aunt Irene’s funeral?”
Jimmy shook his head. “No. It’s because Window Rattlin’s trying to kill me. I think it’s a tornado trying to get in!”
Joel put his hands on Jimmy’s shoulders. “A tornado’s not trying to get you, Jim. That’s just your imagination. Tornados are just big winds that whip around in circle. They don’t try to get people. Plus, if there is a tornado, there’re always warnings on TV and the radio, so we can keep ourselves safe.”
Jimmy wanted to believe his parents, but he knew they were wrong. Parents never believe in monsters, but he and his friends knew that they were real and lurked under beds and in closets and now outside Jimmy’s window at night. Jimmy also knew that it wasn’t worth arguing about when there was no immediate threat because they’d never believe him. Instead, he asked, “So…so…if a tornado does come to get us, what do we do to not get killed?”
Jimmy’s father pointed to a cement slab in the grass about twenty feet away from the house from which rose sloping rusty metal doors. “Remember what those are?” he asked.
Jimmy shook his head. “Nope.”
“Those are doors to our storm cellar. If there’s ever a tornado, we’ll either go down the stairs in the kitchen or, if we’re outside, through those, and then shut and bolt the doors tight. Even if the tornado knocked down our whole house, we’d be safe and sound down there and could get out through those doors when the coast was clear.”
Jimmy had found his father’s words about tornados and storm cellars very reassuring in the bright light of day but of no comfort at all in the dark of night as he lay in bed clutching his stuffed owl, Arnie, waiting for sleep to come. But it didn’t. Jimmy lay there, surrounded by a silence that was only broken by the occasional faint creak or crack that he had been told was just the old house settling.
Well after he had heard his parents go to bed, it happened: the window rattled! Loud and hard it shook, as if Window Rattlin’ were mad at his father’s attempts to keep it out! Jimmy screamed and ran to his parents’ room, leaping into their bed. “Window Rattlin’s gonna get me! Window Rattlin’s gonna get me!”
“Goddamn it,” his father muttered. “I fixed that window.”
As if in response, the window in Jimmy’s room rattled loudly.
“Apparently not,” Jimmy’s mother said. “Maybe the glass is loose in pane? Or maybe it’s the window frame and not the storm window?”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy’s father groaned as he got out of bed. “I’ll check it all in the morning. Come on, Jim—back to bed.”
“No!” Jimmy cried as his father pulled him out of the bed. “Window Rattlin’ll get me! Window Rattlin’ll kill me!”
“We talked about this,” Joel said as he threw the kicking and sobbing boy onto his shoulder. “It’s just the wind.”
“No! No! No!” Jimmy screamed.
“Joel, the boy’s terrified!” Jimmy’s mother objected as she followed the two to Jimmy’s room. “Let’s just let him sleep with us and—”
“No, the boy’s going to stay in this bed tonight,” Jimmy’s father insisted as he put Jimmy in his bed and did his best to hold the boy in place as Jimmy fought to get out and run back to their room. “Jim, you’ll be five in a few months, and you start kindergarten next fall. You’re a big boy, and big boys do not sleep with their parents every night!”
Between sobs, Jimmy managed to gasp, “But…but…Window Rattlin’…”
Jimmy’s father shook his head in disgust. “There’s no such thing—”
Jimmy’s father’s dismissal of his son’s fears were interrupted by an especially loud rattle of the window and a sharp scream from Jimmy.
“Joel, Jimmy’s hysterical! Just let him—”
“No. He needs to get over this stupid fear and sleep in his own bed.”
“We need our sleep and Jim needs to start acting his age. That boy will not be sleeping in our bed tonight. I refuse to baby him anymore.”
Through his tears, Jimmy saw his mother cross her thin arms. The soft kindness of her face hardened as she looked up at his father. “Then I guess I’m spending the night in here with Jimmy.”
Jimmy’s father looked surprised. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“Go back to bed, Joel. Jimmy and I will see you in the morning.”
“I said go to bed, Joel,” Jimmy’s mother said sharply.
Jimmy watched his father turn and stomp off. Jimmy heard a door slam as his mother climbed in bed and wrapped her arms around him. “It’s okay, my sweet boy. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Jimmy knew that wasn’t true, but he felt safer in her arms, although every rattle of the glass he heard made him wonder just how safe he could ever be.
Jimmy spent the next morning reading books and coloring with his mother while his father attacked the window in his room with every tool and swear word at his disposal.
“All right, that will just about do it,” Jimmy’s father said, coming down to the living room. “I’ve tightened up everything I could, put in some shims, and caulked the bejeezus out of that window. Jim, I don’t think even a tornado could rattle that window now.”
“Good,” Jimmy’s mother said. She got up from the couch where she had been coloring with Jimmy and headed upstairs without looking at her husband.
Jimmy’s father gave a pained look after her before he came over and sat on the floor next to Jimmy. “Look, Jim. About last night… I’m sorry if I got a little mad. Mommy and I just get really tired and crabby when we don’t get enough sleep. Plus you’re a big boy now, and I hate to see you get scared of something silly like the wind rattling your window.”
Jimmy didn’t know what to say so he just kept looking down at his coloring book. His father tousled his hair and got up to get a cup of coffee.
A little while later, Jimmy’s mother came down wearing a black dress with her dark hair pulled back and her overnight bag slung over her shoulder. “Okay, Jimmy—Mommy’s going to go like we talked about. I’ll be home around lunchtime tomorrow. Be really good for Daddy, all right?”
“Okay, Mommy,” he said, running over to give her a hug. “I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you,too, kiddo,” she said, hugging him. She let him go and walked over to Jimmy’s father and turned her cheek to him when he leaned in to kiss her goodbye. “I’ve got chili cooking in the crock pot for tonight. I’m sure you can manage something for lunch.”
“Absolutely,” Jimmy’s father said.
“And remember what we talked about,” she said, giving him a stern look.
“Of course, hon,” he replied, looking down at his shoes.
“Good.” Jimmy’s mother’s face brightened again as she looked at Jimmy. “You boys have fun while I’m gone!”
“Oh, we will,” Jimmy’s father said, smiling slyly and giving Jimmy a conspiratorial wink.
After his mother left, Jimmy was a little sad and apprehensive at first but those feelings were swept away in the flurry of fun his father had planned for him. Playing Star Wars with his action figures led to burgers at the local greasy spoon restaurant followed by play time in the town park, a long explore along the creek near their house, and two whole Disney movies—one before dinner and one after.
“Have a good time today, buddy?” Jimmy’s father asked as he put a bowl of ice cream topped with chocolate syrup in front of Jimmy as an extra-special bedtime snack.
“Mmm-hmm!” Jimmy agreed as he shoveled a chocolaty spoonful into his mouth.
“Good.” Jimmy’s father ate a spoonful of his own ice cream. “So, it’s almost bedtime, Jim. Are you going to be my brave little man and stay in bed all night?”
Jimmy looked to the kitchen window. It was a moonless night; the only things visible in the pane of glass were the reflections of his father’s hopeful smile and his own worried face. Jimmy thought of all the fun that he had had all day and how disappointed (and maybe even how mad) his father would be if Jimmy let him down. Jimmy swallowed his ice cream, which didn’t taste as good as it had a moment before. “Okay,” he said quietly.
“That’s the spirit!” his father said, reaching over and giving his shoulder a squeeze. “And tonight should be nice and quiet for you. There isn’t even the tiniest breeze, and if there were, I don’t think even a monsoon could get that window to rattle after all the work I’ve put into it.”
After the ice cream was finished, it was time to brush teeth, get in pajamas, and read a bedtime story. Continuing in the spirit of father-son excessive fun, Jimmy’s father let him pick out a full three stories instead of the usual one. Wary of what the night might bring, Jimmy chose three of the longest books on his bookshelf, which his father, much to Jimmy’s surprise, didn’t even bat an eye at. A full day of hard play, however, had worn Jimmy out so much that he only made it a couple pages into the second book before he fell into a deep, deep slumber.
Groggy with sleep, Jimmy opened his eyes a crack to see nothing but dim shadows cast on his walls by the red glow of his Spider-Man nightlight. Something had roused him from his sleep but he didn’t know what. His eyelids, heavy with fatigue, began slowly to shut again when a quiet rattle from the window at the end of his bed made them fly wide open.
Jimmy sat up in bed. He hoped that it had just been a nightmare or that his imagination was running wild (just as he had often been told that it did). But then it rattled again—a little harder and a little louder this time. It definitely was not his imagination! Jimmy whimpered and clutched his stuffed owl to his chest, staring at the window. He wanted to run to his father, but fear of his father’s disappointment held him in place.
Jimmy sat there in utter silence—even the ever-present noises of the house were quiet, as if the house itself were holding its breath in terror—eyes fixed on the window. Suddenly the window began to rattle louder than it ever had before, its panes visibly shaking in the nightlight’s glow as if invisible hands were trying to rip them out of the frame.
Screaming in terror, Jimmy flew from his room to the safety of his parents’ room. But when he made it to the doorway, arms swung out of the darkness and grabbed him by the shoulders, stopping him in his tracks, which made him scream even louder.
“What is the matter with you, Jim?” his father demanded, his face a mix of exhaustion, disappointment, and annoyance.
“Window Rattlin’!” Jimmy cried. “Window Rattlin’!”
“Damn it, Jim, it’s just your imagination!”
“It’s not! It’s real! Window Rattlin’s real!”
“For the last time, it’s not! You must have had a nightmare. Listen! There isn’t even any wind!”
Jimmy listened as best he could over his own sobs. His father was right—there was no rattling, no winds. Nothing. But there had been!
“My window was rattlin’! It was! The monster was trying to get me!” Jimmy insisted, hoping that his father would believe him or at least take pity on him and let Jimmy hide in bed with him.
He didn’t. “Come on!” he commanded, turning Jimmy around and pushing him back toward his room. “I’m going to show you that there’s nothing there!”
“No! No!” Jimmy struggled to free himself, but it was no use—his father was too strong and adamant about proving his point. His father marched him up to the window and banged the glass with his index finger.
“See?” His father banged the glass again. “Nothing. It was all just a nightmare or your imagination. Now get back in that bed.”
But Jimmy knew that just because you couldn’t see a monster didn’t mean it wasn’t there. When his father let go of his shoulders, Jimmy backed away from the window toward the doorway. “No! It’s real! Window Rattlin’s real and out there and it’ll break in and kill me! It will!”
Jimmy’s father straightened up to his full height and put his hands on his hips. “Okay, then,” he said, glowering. “I’m going to prove to you there’s nothing there.”
Jimmy’s father turned to the window and flipped the lock holding the lower pane in place. He grabbed the handle at bottom and hauled up the sash.
“No! No!” Jimmy sobbed, clutching the doorframe, his eyes riveted to the inky blackness filling the laid-bare pane of glass.
“This is for your own good, Jim,” his father said firmly as he pushed in the latches at the bottom of the storm window and raised it up. Jimmy’s father reached his hand through the window and waved it around outside. “See?”
And Jimmy did see. He saw the skin stripped from his father’s hand and forearm, revealing the wet, glistening muscles underneath. Then he saw the muscles blasted into a red mist and then bare bones shake and shatter into powder. He saw his father fall to his knees, heard him scream in pain and terror as wind howled through the window and swirled around him. He watched as his father’s hair floated and pajamas flapped as the whirling winds lifted him off the ground and shredded him.
Jimmy ran from the room. He meant to head to his parents’ bedroom, the place he always associated with safety and comfort, but a primal instinct made him run down the stairs instead. A cold blast of wind struck him like a fist in the back, sending him tumbling painfully down to the ground floor, striking his head on the bannister as he went.
Knowing that the screaming winds would do to him what they had done to his father or worse, Jimmy scrambled to his feet and ran as fast as he had ever run as blood streamed down the side of his face and icy gusts bit at his arms and legs like hunting dogs trying to drag down their prey. Vague memories of talk of tornadoes guided him through the living room, into the kitchen, and down the stairs there into the cellar as cuts began to open on his hands, feet, and neck—every place not covered by his pajamas. Jimmy leapt from the bottom of the stairs through the doorway at the bottom, slammed shut the heavy cellar door as his life depended on it—which it did—and threw the deadbolt on it in place with a heavy metallic “chunk!”
There in the lightless cellar that normally would have terrified him, Jimmy leaned against the door breathing heavily. He was safe! Finally safe! Then the door shuddered. Jimmy leapt further into the darkness to get away from it. Window Rattlin’ shook and shook the door from the other side, clearly trying to tear it loose. Jimmy prayed that it would hold. Flinching with every rattle and shake, Jimmy listened for the door to give. It didn’t. Eventually, it stopped. Save for a dripping of water somewhere, the cellar was silent.
The silence lasted only a moment. From somewhere above him, Jimmy heard wood crack and splinter. From the direction of the door came a loud thud. And then another and another and another. The creature must be trying to break down the door with pieces of the house! Jimmy covered his ears with his hands to try to block out first the fearful pounding at the door and then the horrendous smashing and crashing sounds the came from above and, throughout it all, the sound of his own screams.
Around noon the next day, Grace Tillerman found the shattered remains of what had recently been her home strewn about the yard and into the surrounding fields. Confused and scared, Grace had the presence of mind to check the cellar via the exterior entrance where she found her bruised and bloodied son asleep on the ground. Based on the confused accounts of her son (an imaginative four year-old who had suffered a concussion on the night in question), the remains of the house, and a lack of other evidence or explanation, it was determined that a tornado had devastated the property in spite of the weather being completely calm in the surrounding area. No sign of Joel Tillerman was to found and it was thought that he must have been swept away by the storm.
The Tillermans moved away, never to be heard from again. No attempt was ever made to rebuild on the property. It sits there to this day as empty and vacant as the vast fields that surround it over which the hungry winter winds blow harsh and cold.
About the Author: Jon Etter is the author of the all-ages comedy/fantasy series Those Dreadful Fairy Books (Amberjack Publishing/Chicago Review Press) as well as short stories and poems that have appeared in a number of anthologies and literary journals, including Tales of the Once and Future King, Uncommon Lands, and The London Journal of Fiction. For more about Jon and his works, feel free to visit www.jonetter.com.
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