This story is by J. M. Gill and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I knew I was going to die.
My legs were about to give out. Side stitch burned at my rib. I stopped to catch my breath. The icy November air stung my throat. I looked back. A trail of blood marked my path in the snow. Running seemed useless, but I couldn’t stop now. I’d rather die than give him the pleasure of finishing me off. He had already taken too much from me.
I stumbled and fell to the ground, scraping my bruised arms on tree branches. I heard footsteps. He was following closely. I had to get up. I had to keep running. He knew that I knew the truth about who he was and what he had done. He knew I planned to tell the authorities about all of the heinous crimes he had committed, and how he intended to get away with them. I had evidence. He knew there was only one way to silence me. I knew he wouldn’t stop until I was dead.
I pushed my gaunt frame up to my feet and started running. I had to reach the other side of the forest before the medication wore off. To distract myself from the unbearable pain, I allowed my thoughts to drift to the past.
Two years earlier.
My aunt died in a tragic chemical accident. She left me as sole heir of her grand estate, which included her cherished private laboratory where she used to spend nearly all of her time. In her will, my aunt requested the opening of her lab to a notable scientist.
After scouring dozens of applications, I accepted the application of Dr. Lockwood. He seemed to fit the position perfectly with a trail of prominent publications and a doctorate in virology from Harvard Medical School.
Two months later, a black Dodge Viper drove into my circular driveway. A man in dark jeans and a sports jacket emerged, walked to my door and rang the doorbell.
With a charming smile, he said, “Miss. Katherine Brighton, I presume.”
A look of confusion washed over my face as I said, “Yes.”
“I’m Dr. Devan Lockwood. I’m here for the principal researcher position.”
Tugging on a wisp of my chestnut colored hair, I smiled and said, “I’ll show you around.. aah… Dr. Lockwood.”
He winked and said, “Call me Devan.”
A few weeks after Devan settled in, I fell deathly ill. Devan nursed me back to life for weeks while working sleepless nights to determine the cause of my illness. He determined that I had a rare virus, but fortunately it was not terminal. After two months of intense research, Devan successfully developed an anti-virus treatment serum. He injected it into my arm, and it felt like restorative life flowing through every cell of my body. The only problem was one dose of serum only lasted fourteen hours and was too strong to be re-administered in consecutive doses. So I had to endure ten hours of sickness during the nights, many of which, Devan spent at my bedside. He would whisper tender words into my ears and caress my arms, comforting me in a way no one ever had. I had lost my parents at a young age and had been raised by my aunt’s hired help. I had never really known love.
He held me when the fevers raged within me, and the nightmares tormented me. It was during this time that we became romantically involved. He constantly assured me that he loved me despite my illness. He surrounded me with poetry and flowers. His love became like the drug he gave me daily: impossible to live without.
Three months passed. Awoken by a gelid draft hitting my face, I sat up quickly. There were no roses in the vases. The clock ticked loudly. 11:00 a.m. It was past my medication time. I called out “Devan, where are you?” No answer. I reached for the telephone on my nightstand. The dial tone was dead. I stirred out of my bed to close the window and search for Devan. We no longer had hired help. Devan had convinced me to discharge them. According to him, they could never do anything right and were a nuisance to his work and privacy.
I reached out and grabbed the doorknob. It wouldn’t budge. The door was locked from the outside. A folded piece of paper and the newspaper were lying on the floor by the door. I opened the piece of paper.
It read: Dear Katherine, I’ve decided it’s best for us to end our relationship. With your illness, it’s just too impractical. I’ve run out of the funds that you have given me to concoct your medication. It’s best you stay in here for your safety. Take Care, Devan
I felt stunned.
After sitting in utter shock for a few hours, I grabbed the newspaper. The headliner read: Young Woman Murdered. Body found in Ashridge Forest. Strange marks on her body seem to indicate that her murderer may not have been human.
Two weeks passed. I was down to my last cracker, and I thought I was going to die of starvation. The sound of the door being unlocked interrupted my daze. As debonair as ever, with a bouquet of roses in one hand and a cylinder of antivirus serum in the other hand, Devan stood at the threshold of my bedroom.
Before I was able to say anything, Devan said, “Oh, honey! I’m so sorry for leaving you in here. It was for your own protection. I sold my car to get the money to synthesize more medicine for you. You will be well again my darling.”
Devan attached a needle to a syringe, pushed the needle through the cylinder, and began preparing my arm with alcohol for the injection. I closed my eyes. The antivirus serum burned through my veins consuming my body with euphoria.
That’s when the vicious cycle began. Over the course of the past year and a half, he locked me up and abandoned me numerous times. Every time he returned, he asked me for more money to the point that I had drained all of the capital out of my bank accounts, sold my baby grand piano, and placed a massive lien on the estate. I just couldn’t say “No” to Devan.
When he forbid me from attending my weekly musical ensemble meetups claiming it was too dangerous for me to go out in the evenings, I agreed not to leave the estate without his accompaniment. Whenever I invited company over, he threw jealous fits, lost his temper, and broke whatever lay in his path.
I dissociated from my friends and acquaintances. I didn’t want to deal with all of the questions about the broken furniture pieces and the purple bruises that occasionally adorned my naturally fair skin. I didn’t mind seeing myself with these bruises. It was better than seeing myself sick. I found comfort in telling myself that Devan was the only one who understood my condition and only wanted to protect me. The bruises were merely marks of his love.
When my only remaining friend, Alice, disclosed that she heard stories about Devan driving a Lamborghini and gambling in the company of other women, I didn’t want to believe her. I recounted to Devan what she said, and he laughed at the preposterousness of such stories. I laughed, reassuring Devan of my trust in him. He was my safeguard, and my loyalty was to him.
Later that week, Alice was found dead in the forest. That year the elusive forest monster claimed the lives of twelve young women.
Devan’s so-called love had been like a poison flowing through my body ravaging everything in its path.
It was time to put an end to that grotesque facade of love. It was time to destroy it.
I saw bright lights in the distance. As I drew closer, I realized it was my estate. I had run in a circle. I could no longer run. I sneaked back into my home as quietly as possible with the strategy of seeking a hideout in one of the guest rooms.
I tiptoed into the fifth guest room. A large, broken mirror hung on the wall opposite the door.
I caught a glimpse of that hideous thing. I hated seeing it with its horrid blue scales, ugly claws, and sharp fangs. I stopped to stare. It’s spindly fingers warily brushed a chestnut colored lock away from its scale-covered face, tucking it behind a pointy ear. My time was up. The anti-virus medication had worn off. I had already transformed back into my unwell state. My reflection always terrified me, but this time I found beauty and strength in it.
I was no longer panged with sick love for Devan. He was not my protector. He was not my caretaker. He was not my hero.
I turned around. It was time to face the monster and destroy it.