This story is by Meghan Owens and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Metal rims glinted in the morning sun. The sea of sedans extended as far as Hannah could see. A minute passed, then three, and her lane barely budged an inch. Her fingers rapped impatiently against the wheel, eyes darting from the road to the clock. It was no longer a question of being late, but a matter of how late, and whether her boss was in a forgiving mood. She fished for the pill bottle in her purse and popped two capsules, brushing away the mental reminder that she had already taken her dose for the day. A car horn blared behind her.
“Seriously?” Hannah turned to glare at the culprit, cursing beneath her breath. Her mouth went dry as she glimpsed the intruder in the back seat.
The great beast of a dog turned to fix her with a steely gray stare. With his shaggy black fur, he could’ve been mistaken for an overgrown Newfoundland if not for the crooked horns protruding from between his ears. Dark, leathery wings lay folded behind his back. Hannah blinked rapidly, trying to will away the impossibility before her.
“He’s not real, he’s not real…”
The too-familiar mantra tumbled from her lips, along with a swarm of memories that brought tears to her eyes.
The last time she’d seen him…
The bottle slipped from her fingertips. Blue pills littered the floor. Her empty first clenched tighter until her knuckles grew white.
You’ve already had your dose this morning, it just hasn’t kicked in yet.
The creature gave an exasperated sigh.
“Go away,” Hannah hissed. “You’re not real, and I don’t want you here!”
The line of cars surged forward suddenly. Hannah’s head whipped forward as she slammed on the gas. She felt a flicker of relief before remembering her unwelcome guest. He watched silently as the grief began to tear through her.
The first time, she thought he was just a black blur above the water. Thrashing wildly, she fought for the surface, but only pushed herself deeper. The lifeguard reached her as her toes grazed the tiled bottom of the pool. He appeared again as a shadow lurking over her mother’s coffin when the cancer left nothing but skin and bones to bury. He was the dark smudge lurking behind tombstones at her grandfather’s funeral. On the worst day of her life, she saw him from across the road. His eyes pierced through her like knives as her daughter stumbled into the path of a speeding car. Finally, she watched him looming over her daughter’s body, tucked away in her coffin among stuffed animal friends. Hannah screamed in anger, knocking away relatives and astonished onlookers. The beast fled from her like a coward. All had stared in horror at the sight of a mother losing her mind, raging at an unseen killer beside her daughter’s casket.
Hannah sped through the turn lane, yanking the wheel sharply to the left.
An avalanche of metal slammed into the side of the car. The world spun in a blur of shattering glass. Panic surged through Hannah’s body, heart thundering against her ribs as she rolled again, again, and again. Seconds or hours later, the car tumbled to a halt. The airbag ballooned in front of her, pressing her against the seat. Blood gushed from a plate of glass lodged deep in her chest. Her trembling fingertips traced the jagged gash her across her abdomen. Fragments sunk deeper into the wound with each rattling breath.
I’m going to die.
The creature wormed his way to her from the back seat, unscathed. His gray eyes were a beacon of clarity as the world around her began to dim. He touched his nose softly to hers, then nuzzled gently into her shoulder.
“T-Thank you, for staying.” She placed a quivering hand upon his face. He waited, silently, until her wrist went lax and she crumpled in the ruins of the driver’s seat.
Grim crept from the wreckage. Sirens cried nearby, and he knew others would soon find her. The acrid stench on the wind told him of a fire, only a few miles away, that would claim the lives of seven people. He could already hear the screams of pain that were sure to follow. In the opposite direction, he heard the soft quaver of a heartbeat and knew a middle-aged father would succumb to cardiac arrest in a few short hours. Grim bowed his head, unfurled his great black wings, and soared into the sky.
He wished, for one day, the world would be silent.