A harsh ringing hit John's ears as he groggily opened his eyes. Fumbling for his alarm clock, he tried to soothe his aching head by massaging his temples. Finally, he reached the snooze button and blessed silence filled the room once more. Like scenes in a movie, memories of the previous night eventually began to filter into his head. He had graduated the previous day. The ceremony had been dull and dry but he and his friends had indulged heavily at the bar afterwards. John was not top of his class but had managed to land a solid, if not super exciting, job working in agricultural consuting in rural Wyoming. He was flying out today to Bradshaw, Wyoming. A town with barely over 1000 residents. But, he told himself, the money was good and the experience was invaluable. Once his loans got paid off he would be able to move, take a job in a city, and start life for real.
"Bradshaw?" His mother had said. "That's funny, did you know you have some distant relatives out there?"
"No" he had responded, his attention diverted towards party planning.
"Yeah your dad's cousin lives out there with her two daughters. They must just be starting middle school now. You should reach out to them, see if you could stay with them and save some money."
And so he had. Gloria, his something cousin - second? first? once removed? It's impossible to remember. She was warm and welcoming, and John quickly had his life in order. He would be staying in Gloria's spare room, living with her and her daughters Kate and Emma. All he knew was that Gloria was some of personal trainer and that Kate and Emma were 13 and 9 years old respectively.
To cut a long story short, the hours passed with goodbyes to family and friends. John promised his mother he would call when he was settled in at least a hundred times. Eventuallly, he was in the air. About to enter the world as an adult with a real job.
Some hours later his plane landed. John worked his way through the terminal and was greeted with a large sign bearing his name in bright green sparkling ink. The woman holding it appeared to be in her late thirties, very fit, with light brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. This must be Gloria, John thought. Accompanying her were two girls, both with dirty blond hair, blue/grey eyes, and wide smiles that betrayed their excitement. One was several inches taller than the other, probably Kate. She had already begun to develop curves, setting her apart from her sister.
"JOHN! YOU MADE IT!" The cried in unison and ran towards him. He was knocked off balance and staggered as they rammed into him on both sides, hugging him tightly.
John was not overly muscular, nor tall, Kate already came up to his shoulder, and he struggled to keep his footing while clutching his bag. The two girls bombarded him with questions, all the while never letting go of the grip they had on him. It took a laughing Gloria to pull them off.
"Well that was quite a welcome girls but I think you need to give John here some time to get used to us," she said, pulling John into yet another hug. "How are you dear? We're so excited to have you."
"G-good." John stammered, "I'm doing good, thanks for asking. Thanks for having me."
Gloria laughed again, "it's our pleasure John, although I think I should be thanking you for staying with us. The girls don't get to meet a lot of boys so you're probably going to be overwhelmed for a while." That's right, John remembered, her husband had left before Emma was born.
"Are you really going to stay with us?" Emma asked, looking up at him with wide eyes.
"Are you in school still?" Asked Kate, "what are you learning? Do you have a girlfriend?"
"What? Yes, no, and no." John tried to keep up. The girls giggled.
"No girlfriend?" Kate questioned.
"Do you like a girl?" Emma followed up.
Gloria saved him before he could answer, "knock it off you two! C'mon, let's get home. You must be exhausted."
The ride from the airport was filled with more of the same blunt questions. John felt himself becoming mroe and more relaxed among this side of the family as they laughed and joked along with him. He wondered why he had never met them before. The girls were balls of energy while Gloria was a sarcastic parent. They seemed like the most genuinely nice family he had.
"Look!" Emma cried out, pointing at a sign.
John directed his attention toward the sign. "Welcome to Bradshaw" it read, "Home of the Imps. Population: 1007"
"Nearly there," Gloria said "you're in luck John. Your work is just a couple blocks from our place, so you can just walk there in the mornings."
"Awesome, thanks so much for having me again, Gloria, I really appreciate it." John said politely.
"You're already our favorite!" exclaimed Emma, throwing her arms around him as best she could despite the seatbelt.
"Yeah you gotta stay here and tell us all about boys!" Kate added.
Gloria turned into the driveway of a modest two-story home. The outside was painted a light brown to match the surrounding foliage. John looked around the neighborhood as he stepped out of the car, it looked like any other cookie-cutter neighorhood. Different variations of the same two story family home lined each street, the houses having small yards to set themselves apart from their neighbors.
"I hate to say this but I have to head to work. I have an appointment with one of my best clients. You don't mind watching Kate and Emma, do you John?"
"Not at all, it's no problem." He replied.
"Great! Thanks so much! I'll likely be home pretty late, so just make sure the girls get to bed at a reasonable hour. Otherwise you can help yourself to anything in the house!" With that, Gloria reversed out of the driveway and drove off, leaving John, Kate, and Emma standing in the driveway.
Kate grabbed John's hand, "c'mon, let me show you around." She led the way as they entered the house.
Kate opened the door and John got a glimpse of a stylishly decorated living room. A large couch extened around a home theater system with a small wall offsetting the whole setuo from the grandiose kitchen. A large wooden table sat in the back near a sliding glass door leading to the backyard. To the right was a hallway leading to what John assumed where bedrooms and to the left was a carpeted staircase leading up to the second floor.
"Look out there." Kate pointed toward the sliding glass door. John saw a small, fenced in backyard with withered grass. The neighbor's house stood directly across from them, painted a dark blue color.
"What am I supposed to see?" John asked.
"The light," Emma replied. Both girls giggled. This wasn't the same laughter as before though, John thought he could here some sort of cold edge to the sound.
"Wha-" John began, but before he could finish a painful glare hit his eyes. Blinded, he staggered around, trying to shield his eyes, but the light seemed to follow him no matter where he turned. John fell to the ground, clutching his eyes shut despite the ever intensifying light. Soon, it consumed his senses and, with nothing else to do, he sank it the whiteness, abandoning himself.