"Mommy, Mommy. I can't sleep. There's a little man at my window. He wants me to go with him." An annoying blast of hallway light along with their daughter's cry awoke Cindy's parents.
"Oh, Cindy. Do you know what time it is? What's wrong?" her father moaned. He sat up in bed and switched on the table lamp. Cindy stood next to him, a ragged, stuffed monkey in her hand.
Cindy's mother struggled to one elbow. "Sweetie, what's wrong?"
"There's a little man outside my window, and he won't let me sleep. He keeps talking to me."
Cindy's father made room for her on the bed. "Are you sure, sweetheart? Maybe you're just dreaming about the movie we watched together yesterday."
"I told you not to show her one of those horror films."
"It wasn't 'one of those horror films.' The Incredible Shrinking Man. I saw it when I was a kid. It's not a horror picture."
"Come see him, Daddy. Maybe he's still there."
"I don't think he'd still be there, Cindy. Why don't you stay here and spend the rest of the night with me and Mommy."
Cindy smiled and snuggled in.
* * *
The next morning over breakfast, Cindy's father said, "Tell me about your little man. You know you woke Mommy and me up last night. Did you really think you saw a little man at your window?"
Cindy looked at her father. She waited for her mother to join them at the table. She wanted to explain about the little man, but couldn't form a satisfactory explanation so she merely shrugged.
"Did you dream about the man in the movie who shrank real little?" her mother asked.
Cindy shrugged again.
Her father rose and walked over and kissed the top of her head. "Don't worry. You won't dream about him tonight. I'm sorry if the movie scared you. Finish your breakfast, and I'll drive you to school today."
It wasn't every day her father drove her to school, and Cindy enjoyed it very much when he did. She liked getting out of her father's car while all of her kindergarten friends looked on.
That evening no one mentioned the little man again, but deep into the night Cindy padded softly into her parent's room.
"Mommy, Daddy. He's here again. He's at the window. He talks to me in a small voice."
Both her parents moaned and reluctantly sat up.
"Do you want Daddy to go and chase the little man away?"
Cindy's father clicked on the table lamp and spun groggily out of bed. "Show me where this little man is, Cindy. I'd like to tell him to stop waking everybody up."
Cindy took her father's hand and half led, half pulled him toward her bedroom. "Don't turn on the light," she whispered. "He said he doesn't like the light."
Cindy's father pushed the door open as his daughter slunk behind him.
"Well, where is he?"
"Outside the window," Cindy said, pointing.
Her father walked to the window. The glare of the street lamp standing in front their house showed no one in sight.
"I don't see him, sweetheart."
"I saw him, Daddy. Right there." The little girl pointed to the specific pane of glass through which the little man had looked.
"How could he talk to you through a closed window?"
"I don't know, but I heard him. He talked to me in a small voice."
Cindy's father brushed his knuckles over what appeared to be a smudge on the windowpane Cindy had indicated. When his casual touch did not remove the spot, he rubbed harder. The smudge remained. He realized it was on the outside of the window. He squatted and examined it closely. He lifted the window, reached into the frigid night air, and ran one finger through it, dividing the smudge in two. He paused for a moment before pressing his own forehead against the window. It made a spot similar to the one on the outside of the glass. He closed the window.
"Come into Mommy's and my bedroom. Nothing will bother you there."
Cindy happily obeyed.
The next day Cindy's father drove Cindy to school again, but after dropping her off, he parked in the school parking lot. He identified himself at the school entrance. The guard made a call, and Cindy's father proceeded to room 212, where a young woman, Cindy's teacher, prepared for class. She smiled and greeted him.
"Ms. Christopher? I'm Cindy's father."
"Nice to see you. What can I do for you?"
"I wanted to talk to you about Cindy."
"Okay. I have about fifteen minutes before I have to meet the children."
"Cindy's been having these . . . dreams lately. She insists someone, a small man, has been staring in her bedroom window and talking to her in the middle of the night. I wondered whether you'd noticed anything or whether something happened in school. . .?"
Ms. Christopher lifted her finger. She began leafing through some papers piled on her desk. "Odd. Here, look at this. Cindy handed it to me on her own yesterday afternoon."
It was a picture of a stick figure behind a vertical rectangle with a cross within it.
A little man looking through a window.
* * *
The next night Cindy disturbed her parents' sleep with the news the little man had returned. Her father checked and found nothing amiss. Cindy watched her father inspect the window and said, "I yelled at the little man and told him not to lean against the window because you didn't want him to make it dirty like he did before. Then I came to get you."
Cindy's father stared at her but could think of nothing to say. He took her back to his bedroom for the night.
* * *
The next night Cindy assured her parents that if they stayed in her room, the little man would be afraid to come.
"Cindy, is it because there really isn't a little man? Because he's only make-believe?" her father asked.
"No. He comes. You saw the mark, Daddy."
"I saw a mark on the window."
"From . . . from what?"
"I don't know. Greasy. I don't know."
After a pause, Cindy's mother asked, "What does this little man say to you?"
"He says you and Daddy don't love me, and I should go away with him. He will love me more than you do." Cindy's eyes held a question.
Cindy's mother reached out and pulled her daughter close. "Oh, Cindy, honey. You know that can't be true. You mean more to me and Daddy than anything in the whole world."
Cindy's father added. "You know I always tell you how lucky Mommy and I are to have someone as beautiful and wonderful as you. You know we love you, Cindy. We love you more than anything."
Cindy gave a half smile and nodded.
"Don't believe the nasty little man," her father said. "He's not a good man. Do you want to sleep with Mommy and me tonight?"
Cindy shook her head.
"I know you're big, but . . ."
Cindy's mother interrupted. "Maybe she's over it. And she's right. She is a big girl."
Cindy's father swallowed an argument.
"Go get ready for bed, and Daddy and I will tuck you in."
* * *
The night proceeded in deathly stillness until the sound of breaking glass awoke Cindy's parents. They scrambled from bed and raced to their daughter's room. Cindy sat up in bed smiling and pointed to one smashed pane of window glass.
"What happened?" her father demanded.
"He came again, but he's not coming back. I told him to go away and bother a different house. He said it was my last chance to come with him because you didn't love me, but I told him you did, and I told him he had go away. Then I threw my book at him. I broke the window. I'm sorry."
Cindy's mother went to the bed and cuddled her child. Cindy's father went to the window, opened it, and leaned out. He squinted through the light snow that had just begun to fall. Broken glass a few feet below glimmered in the rays of the street lamp. In the distance to the left he could just make out a diminutive silhouette moving away through the gloom of the snowy night, growing smaller.
Cindy's father searched below the window for a footprint, but the snow had not yet fallen sufficiently to take an imprint. He looked back down the street and felt a chill rush through him when he thought he saw the glint of two fire points of eyes looking back his way. They could only have been reflections of the snowfall, he reasoned.
As he strained to see, the reflections evaporated into the shadows of the night. Cindy caught at his hand.
"Did you see him, Daddy? He's real little."
Cindy's father lifted her into his arms. "No, honey. Nothing there. He's far away by now. See?"
Cindy laughed as her father leaned her out the window and the snow hit her in the face.
Cindy's father pulled her back inside. He lowered the window as the snow began to fall more heavily, making the night seem to be one of unusual serenity.