Then, something changed.
I'm not sure exactly what happened, and a part of me still wonders if I imagined it, but it was almost like somebody got rid of the penguin, and replaced it with a nearly identical one - except not quite. Every time I looked at the thing, every hair on my body would stand on end, and whenever I fought past the chills and managed to touch it, it was like every strand of artificial fur would try and stick to my fingers, like those spiky burrs that embed themselves in your clothes. It was colder than ice, almost painful, and all I knew was that I didn't want it anywhere near me. A part of me was sad, in a way, like I'd lost a friend, but that voice in my head was just a whisper compared to the danger I felt around whatever it was that now lived in my home.
I knew that I couldn't have it on my bed, but at first, I wasn't sure. It was technically a gift from my mom and dad, and I thought I'd get in trouble if I tried to get rid of it, so I picked it up with one of my blankets, and set it down on my nightstand. At the end of the day, though, I was still sleeping in the same room as it. That night, my parents sent me to bed, and I shut off the light, pulling the covers over my head so I wouldn't have to look at that thing.
Eventually, I fell asleep, but I woke up in the night. The covers were still over my head, and I was so tired I had almost forgotten what I was sharing a room with, but then, I heard it. It was like a massive insect was skittering across the walls. I was paralyzed with fear, and I didn't dare move a muscle. I don't know how I fell back asleep. I think the sound stopped, eventually, but I kept having the same nightmare, over and over again, of me getting up from my bed and walking toward the closet. I'd open it, and I'd hear the sound of that horror in the darkness, but I couldn't see a thing. It was like my closet had been replaced with a massive tunnel, extending off into nothing.
The next time I woke up, it was morning. I slowly lowered the sheets from my face, and looked at my nightstand. The penguin was still there, in the same place I had left it, but the feeling it gave me was unmistakable. It felt like it was watching me. I got up, and grabbed it with the blanket, turning it away, but I could still feel its eyes, like the plush toy was just a symptom of my brain malfunctioning as it tried to understand what it was looking at.
Later that day, I went back to my room after school, and picked up the penguin, taking it to my mother downstairs. I asked her to hold it, and told her that something was wrong with it, but she just picked it up like it was nothing. I even told her about the sounds, but, as expected, she just said it must've been my imagination. I wanted to believe her, and I almost did, but I knew how I felt around that thing, and no amount of self-deception could take that away.
That night, I kept my window open, so the light of the moon could shine in. I figured it was better than being trapped in the dark. I turned my lights off, and got into bed, the penguin still facing away from me on the nightstand. Eventually, I managed to fall asleep, but woke up once again. This time, I heard the sounds immediately, like something was scuttling across the floor, but then, I felt a weight upon the bed. Every muscle in my body seized in place as the weight slowly crept closer to me, a wet sucking sound reverberating off the walls. In the moonlight that shone through the covers, I saw a shadow creep into focus, like a thousand long, slender limbs were jittering and shaking in the glow. Then, it disappeared, and something smacked against the ceiling above, a low growl rumbling through the air.
A part of me wanted to scream for help, and get out of that room as quick as I could, but something told me that moving would be a bad idea. I stayed as still as I possibly could, and the noises stopped, but I still felt like something was waiting just above me, like a sense of dread that never left. I didn't sleep for the rest of the night, and when I woke up, the penguin was back on the nightstand, just where I had left it. I made up for the sleep deprivation during recess, later that day, and I planned to get rid of the penguin as soon as I got home.
At least, I tried. I was in my bedroom, I had the sheet over my hands, and I was ready to grab it, but something in my mind was holding me back. I couldn't do it. I remember my hands shaking with strain as I tried to fight it, but it was like something was taking control of my body.
I had a headache for the rest of the day.
I didn't want to involve my parents, even though I really should've. I figured they either wouldn't believe me, or I'd get in trouble, and in my nine-year-old mind, that outweighed being potentially eaten by whatever was pretending to be my childhood friend. So, I stole a kitchen knife from downstairs, and took it with me when I was finally sent to bed. Keeping the knife close, I turned off the lights, and crawled into bed, pulling the covers over my head. Everything was silent, the moonlight shining through the blankets, but I didn't plan on sleeping that night. In my mind, I was the bravest kid that ever lived, and I was going to find out what was really going on.
So, I waited. I almost fell asleep several times, but when I heard something slip off my nightstand and crawl across the floor, I was more awake than I had ever been. Only, the sound was getting quieter, like it was moving farther away, but my room was too small to account for that, and I didn't hear the door or the window. Slowly, I lifted the blankets from my head, and looked at the nightstand. The penguin was missing.
My heart hammering in my chest, my eyes searched the room around me, but nothing was there. Eventually, I summoned the courage to get up, holding the knife as tight as I could as I tried to keep as quiet as possible. I lowered myself to the floor, and looked under the bed.
Crawling to my feet, my eyes shifted to the closet, dark and hanging half-open. I carefully went through my nightstand drawer, and took out my flashlight, switching it on as I crept toward the closet doors, and slowly opened them. The beam of the flashlight shone down a dark, concrete passage that extended far beyond the bounds of the house, a sense of overwhelming danger flooding into my mind, but I couldn't hear a thing. Unlike in the dream, it was completely silent.
I don't know why I went in there, but I did, like I was being drawn by something in the darkness. I must've walked for a little over a minute, until a wet, organic slickness sounded upon the air, deepening into a low, almost mechanical gurgling, like a drain clogged with rotting debris. Then, the light met the end of the tunnel, revealing a pulsating wall of membranous eggs set into a bed of bleeding flesh, swimming with a slow, viscous texture that was painful to look at. Before I could question what was happening, I caught my hand about to graze the surface of the eggs, like I was being puppeteered by some invisible force. I pulled back, and just as I did, one of the eggs split open, the fleshy membrane parting to reveal hundreds of long, spindly legs erupting from the black chasm. I screamed, dropping the knife and running back as quick as I could. As soon as I found my way out of the tunnel, I ran from my bedroom and slammed the door shut behind me.
I don't remember much of what happened next. When I asked my parents about it, they said I was incoherent, screaming about something trying to "crawl into my head." I spent the night in their bed, but when I went back to my room in the morning with my dad in tow, the closet had returned to normal - just a small, cramped space full of toys and boxes. I tried to tell him about what had happened, but he wouldn't hear any of it. I almost thought it was a dream myself, until I realized that the penguin was still missing. I remember asking my dad, then, if he had taken it, but he was just confused. Neither him nor my mom ever remembered getting me a penguin. They did wonder about the missing knife, though, and they never did find it.