This story is by S.E. Laughter and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The day I met Mercy Bowman she was leaning over a dead body. Her hands dripped blood, and her perfect, full lips curled in a smile.
I should have run.
The graying ladder-backed chair groaned as I reclined against the house. My left hand stroked the bristles across my unshaven cheek, and my right rubbed the thick fabric of my pants. My palm tingled from the motion, yet still I rubbed. A single drop of sweat snaked its way down my left temple, but I didn’t wipe it away.
I thought briefly about moving to the shade on the other side of the porch, but a breeze touched my face, reminding me it was fall. Reminding me of the shorter days and the long, dark nights to come.
What if I ran now? Jumped off the porch and made for the truck? How far could I get? I’ve tried before. I have to try again.
The front legs of the chair smacked the brittle boards as I leaned forward. Just as I moved to rise, a light chortle floated through the screen door followed by Mercy.
I turned my head to force myself to look away. I didn’t quite manage.
“Oh, you’re not still sore at me, are you?” Mercy teased.
My hand clutched my head. I needed to escape. To remember.
She stepped closer and the heat from her body wrapped around my flesh. She smelled of butchery but underneath, her warm, sugary scent roused me. Remember who you are.
I stood, brushed past her and placed my hands on the rail. “You say it as if it’s nothing.” I tried to stare out at the rambling yard, the truck, anything but her. But my eyes couldn’t pull from her pale fingers, stained pink. “Torrance was a friend.”
“Torrance was a liability. I had to kill him.” Irritation colored her words and her hands went to her hips. “There’s no going back, Able.” She sighed and her touch feathered down my arm, draining my tense muscles.
What was I just thinking about? Something desperate. Something urgent. My thoughts floated away like feathers in the wind.
I turned to face Mercy. Her large, dark watery eyes held my gaze. Her pink lips parted. Dark curls hung in her eyes and curved around her face. An unbridled urge gripped me and I wanted to grab her around the waist and kiss her. Hold her body against mine.
The crunch of tires on gravel pulled me from her enchantment and I turned, reluctantly, toward the driveway. When I spun around to tell her to hide, she was already gone.
Sheriff Frazier pulled up to the front steps. Her tan pickup truck rattled as the engine cut off. The squeal of her driver’s door echoed through the valley as it opened.
“Able.” She inclined her head and hooked her thumbs through her belt loops.
“Sheriff.” I tilted my head in response. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
The sheriff strode up the steps onto the porch, taking two at a time, and stood next to me, a little too close for comfort.
“Just thought I’d check in.” She turned to lean against the rail so her back was to the truck. “Three dead bodies in a month. We’ve got a full scale manhunt underway looking for Ms. Mercy Bowman. Dangerous times, you know?”
I gave an agreeable hum and nodded. Another bead of sweat drifted down my cheek.
Her brows drew together for a moment before she flashed a bright smile and sat down in my chair. “Have you seen Torrance Sawyer lately? You two were always thick as thieves.”
When I opened my mouth to respond, the words caught in my throat. I blinked, and tried again. Yes. Mercy’s cutting him up in the kitchen right now. Slaughtering him like he’s a damn deer. Help me. Please. I wanted to say, but only managed a grunt.
The sheriff shifted in the chair and scowled, trying to understand. “Well,” she began, “can you tell me again, how you came upon this woman? So far, you’re the only one who’s seen her. I feel like you’ve got us chasing a ghost.” Sheriff Frazier gave a fleeting smile.
“I…” Sweat beaded across my forehead with the effort. “Follow…” I croaked before I turned toward the screen door.
I stumbled inside, tripping over my own feet in my haste to not waste this opportunity of freedom from Mercy.
In the kitchen, a hatchet lay on the counter next to a butcher knife. My stomach turned. Blood splattered the sink leaving rivers of red twisting their way slowly toward the drain. Oh God. I thought. “Torrance,” I said softly, my hands going to my head. “Sherriff!” I called. “Mercy. She’s here.”
“Able?” her shrill voice echoed from the hall.
“In here. Please. Help me.” The room tilted and I caught myself on the counter. She’ll see everything. She’ll take me from this place.
“Able?” The sheriff said again as she stepped into the kitchen. Her hand went to her pistol, and caution brimmed in her eyes.
“It was Mercy. She killed Torrance.” Saying the words aloud lifted a weight I hadn’t been aware I carried.
“And where is Mercy now?” The sheriff asked, pacing her words.
I inhaled to speak again, when the shadows shifted. Mercy stepped from the darkness, her arm lifted as she aimed her revolver at the sheriff’s head.
“NO!” I screamed, just as the shot echoed through the house. Warm blood splattered across my face and shirt, its salty metallic taste tainting my mouth.
I sank to my knees, heavy with the weight of death, of love, of hate.
“Look at me.” Mercy’s melodious voice rang from the shadows.
I squeezed my eyes shut, my ears ringing.
“Don’t you worry,” she purred, “I’ll take care of her like I did all the rest.”
The rustle of her clothes alerted me to her close proximity and I covered my face with my hands. I must run. I have to get away. The whisper of her cold fingers danced across my cheek, down my neck.
“Able,” she sang, “open your eyes. It’s all over now.”
Hands tugged at my own, coaxing them away from my face. Darkness shrouded the cabin. The only light spilled from the hall. I stared at the stained floorboards, slowly lifting my gaze to the sheriff lying face down in her own blood. I fought a surge of bile racing up my throat. The tingling in my fingers subsided and I became aware of a cold weight in my hand. I couldn’t stop myself from looking at my right hand.
A pistol. I threw the gun as my last meal churned and my body went numb. The clash against the floor reverberated in my head. My hands. I turned them over in front of my face. This can not be. They were clean. Not a speck of blood. I pulled my shirt from my chest, inspecting it. White.
Breath eluded me and I gulped at the fetid, gory air. Still my lungs would not fill. Images flickered into my mind’s eye. A knife rested in my hand, easy and comfortable. I slashed at something. Torrance. He stared at me, his eyes filled with confusion and betrayal while his guts spilled from him, sloshing over his belt and down the front of his pants before he fell to the ground.
“NO!” My voice bounced through the cabin.
Still another scene materialized before me. I held a pistol and fired. The burn of powder singed my throat. The sheriff slumped forward, away from where I stood behind her in the darkness. It wasn’t me. It was Mercy. Always Mercy.
The house melted away and I was kneeling in the forest. The scent of decaying leaves dusted my nose. A shift on the ground beneath me drew my attention, and I looked down. Mercy. Mercy lay below me, struggling as I strangled the life from her.
“Don’t worry, my love.” Mercy’s sultry whisper lured me to the present. “That wasn’t truly me. Only the last body I inhabited.”
I jumped to my feet, my heart racing. I kept my gaze on the floor. Bursting from my home, I ran across the fields and into the woods. I ran until my lungs felt as if they may give out and my thighs burned. I ran until I could no more. I ran until I collapsed in the loamy cold soil.
“Able,” Mercy’s warm breath brushed my face and I started, moving to my feet, only to fall down again. “I told you. There’s no going back. I am you and you are me.”
My heart raced and my chest heaved. Swallowing, I rose to my knees, resigned and opened my eyes.
The day I met Mercy Bowman she was leaning over a dead body. I should have run.