This story is by Krissy Baccaro and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ava gasped for air and thought about her next move. Don’t tell anyone your secret. Lock it up, bury it deep. Pull over to the shoulder. Gather your thoughts. As she veered to the right, her car began to jerk and flutter as if it were out of gas. The steering wheel tightened, becoming difficult to turn. With all of her strength, she forced it enough to pull over just as the car tailing closely behind her made an exaggerated swerve around her honking and swearing as it sped off.
Ava slammed the car into park, hung her head against the steering wheel and drew in a deep breath, but it wasn’t sufficient. The air was trapped in a knot that wrapped itself tightly around her windpipe and around her chest, pressing hard and not letting go. When was the last time she’d actually breathed normally?
Her life had changed when the monster came to town. She knew he’d find her and take care of things. For good. He interrupted her life and those closest to her, altering them forever. How had she trusted him at one time, pulled him in, gotten close? What had she done?
She caught a glimpse of something moving. Was that the monster through the trees a short distance from her car? She turned the key in the ignition but it wouldn’t start. Tried it again, still nothing. Her pulse raced as she sensed his growing presence around her.
Ava threw open the door and ran as fast as she could, gliding above the ground, her legs felt separate from her body. The twigs snapped beneath her feet with each step while crispy leaves cushioned them, almost slowing her at times. As she ran deeper into the woods, through the trees, everything around her looked the same and she could no longer tell where she had come from or where she was going.
She slowed briefly to catch her breath and calm her nerves but something snapped behind her. Dropping low to the ground, Ava lay still, her mouth against her sleeve, muffling her heavy panting as her lungs exploded in pain. She wished she could sink deep into the earth and disappear.
Up ahead a light flickered. Can she make it there before he sees her? What if he gets there first or what if danger lies within the light? The air grew cooler and the sun hid behind the trees, filling Ava with overwhelming dread. She listened intently to each noise in the forest trying to discern something from the wild or something far worse.
When the gunshot rang, it pierced her ears and stopped her heart. Someone yelled, “Run!” She faced forward and began to sprint. Adrenaline coursed through her veins and she ran without stopping, through the thick treed forest, tripping over vines and fallen branches, skipping over a narrow brook and up a hill until she was almost at the edge of the forest, not once looking back.
There before her, in the distance, stood a peculiar, old dilapidated mansion. Carefully Ava moved to one side, and shuffled along a cobbled path, prepared at any moment, to hide behind a tree. She stared ahead, wide-eyed, with quick glances over her shoulder, then down to the ground and straight back up again. Ready. Waiting. Fearing.
Approaching two adjacent trees, she tucked her body snug between them and peered out to scan the darkening expanse before her, all black, except for a golden glow from the windows of the house. She desperately wanted to run to the door and ask for help, but feared who might answer. At once, she jumped out from the trees and inched closer, crouching low beside the bushes a few feet from the house. Crickets interrupted the deafening silence around her. Stay focused.
“Help me,” cried a voice from inside the house.
Her heartbeat quickened and her skin tingled. Had she really heard a voice? The voice reached out to her again, slightly louder and defeated, “help.”
Ava wavered. Stay or run? Suddenly, a hand rested on her shoulder and her heart nearly stopped. “I’d almost thought you were giving up.”
She slowly turned her head towards an elderly man with straight white hair and a long, white beard. He was slender, wearing jeans and a thick flannel jacket. He had a majestic look about him and he stared at her as if he knew her. She studied his familiar eyes.
“Do I know you? Were you following me? ”
“We know each other. You don’t remember? I was in the woods, but I wasn’t following you.”
“He’s after me again. He won’t stop.” She panted, scanning the forest she’d run from.
“You don’t remember?” He asked again.
“Remember what?” She faced him, but he was gone. She saw nothing through the blackness and felt alone and afraid. Suddenly, Ava bolted until she got to the house and with her back against the wall, began edging her way towards the door, towards the voice. She hesitated, but placed her hand on the doorknob and turned. It opened easily. She slid inside noting possible exit routes as her father had taught her.
Ava stood in awe of the magnificent lodge-like mansion, scanning the tattered walls of the rooms, perhaps once a sight to behold. Antique lights hung at various lengths from the ceiling and a intricate crystal chandelier extended high above an expansive dining room table. Old paintings decorated the walls with peculiar familiarity. A large, fluffy bear fur sprawled across the foyer extending towards the base of the stairs .
The frightened voice moaned from upstairs, drawing Ava’s eyes up toward the top of the staircase. Treading ever so lightly across the old creaking floor, Ava cautiously climbed each step, one at a time, past the first landing and onto the second, with frequent checks behind her. When she neared the top, her legs grew stiff as fear coursed through her. But upon hearing that desperate voice again, she knew she would not be leaving this house alone. Follow the voice. You can do this.
A door slammed and glass shattered below. Ava hid in the nearest bedroom closet and braced herself for the worst. A smell of something rotten hung heavily in the air. Ava shivered and sweat beaded above her lip as she watched the shadow of footsteps pacing beneath the closet door. When the shadows raced away, Ava released her breath. Sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest and her head resting on top, she sensed a presence in the closet. A hand grasped her arm and Ava jumped. She strained her eyes to see a girl sitting only a few inches away. “Thank you,” said the girl, her voice was weak. It was the same voice she’d heard before.
Motioning for her to stay quiet, Ava moved toward the girl and untied her, trying to pull her to her feet, but the girl trembled. Ava struggled to lift her, but managed to hoist her arm over her shoulder and began to walk as the girl limped beside her, reeking of the dank conditions she’d come from.
“It’s okay now,” the girl whimpered. “You don’t need to rush.”
“We have to get out of here!” Ava said, walking quickly but carefully down the stairs towards the front door, practically carrying the girl against her hip.
“But he’s gone.” She said.
Ava searched her face for clarity. “No, someone was outside the closet. I saw shadows.”
“No one’s here anymore. You don’t remember then?”
“No,” she said as they hobbled through the doorway and down the cascading hill of the front yard, towards the road. Headlights glowed in the distance.
“You shot him. You shot Steven,” her voice shook. “With the gun you found.”
It was the gun Daddy left me. And then it all came back.
Ava squeezed her sister tight and kissed her forehead.
“The monster is dead now,” her voice caught as she leaned her head against her sister’s and walked toward the approaching car.