This story is by Monica Martinez and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
**February 12th, 1998 **
There are many things Emily finds scary. The first and foremost is the inevitably of death, the loss of her mother a grim reminder of that. The second is any kind of horror stories of the supernatural variety, the way they make you recoil at your own shadow afterwards. But recently it seemed her fears had taken a more tangible form, and as the branches scratch her face in her frantic race to safety, she can’t help the hysterical laughter that bubbles at the thought of being chased by something not even her worst nightmares could conjure up.
I’m going to die.
She feels it when her foot snags and she falls. In the painful twist of her ankle and the taste of dirt as she rolls down, a curse leaving her bloodied mouth.
I’m going to die.
She feels it at the crushing weight on her chest as she collides with something solid, at the cold and numbing embrace of snow surrounding her. At the stillness that follows her stop.
I’m going to die.
It’s a mantra she is pretty sure she’d be voicing, probably screaming if it were not for the lack of air in her lungs. If her vision wasn’t blurring, her head wasn’t screaming in agony.
The last image she sees before darkness consumes her is that of bloody claws resting on the white snow, just beside her head. Hot, acrid breath caressing her face, and familiar blue eyes.
I don’t want to die.
**April 11th, 1997**
Emily stands alone, if she concentrates enough she can feel her heart beat in tune with the raindrops hitting her face. She closes her eyes and imagines, the wind isn’t cold but a warm summer breeze, and there is a soft, comforting weight on her shoulder. For a moment she feels safe, warm, loved. She imagines that the arms she holds around herself aren’t her own, cold and shaking, but her mother’s. She imagines she can her her sweet voice singing that same old lullaby.
So maybe she is surprised to find that the wet trails running down her cheeks are tears instead of raindrops, maybe she is surprised when she opens her eyes and sees the grey headstone of her mother’s freshly dug grave. Maybe she is finally ready to believe her mother is gone.
But maybe she isn’t.
They buried an empty casket after all.
**April 26th, 1997**
Dinner is a yellow paste that was supposed to be Mac & Cheese. Apparently, neither her nor her father, are any good at cooking. She sits at the table alone and forces herself to eat, promising she will buy a cooking book tomorrow.
The television drones on, something about an escaped specimen, filling the smothering silence that always seem to surrounds her now, but the emptiness is still suffocating.
She knows he is grieving, but so is she.
**November 24th, 1997**
She lies awake, unable to sleep. Her mind keeps going over the fact that her closed window was wide open this morning.
She made sure to close it tonight, she double checked and even locked it.
The last few weeks had taken their toll, she is having nightmares that leave her feeling watched, paranoid. Every sound or shadow feels like a threat in the darkness, and as her tiredness finally wins, she swears she hears a soft creak at her window as if the lock is being pushed back.
**December 16th, 1997**
They aren’t nightmares.
She laid awake the last few days, and something crawled through her window, something with claws if the soft click of her wooden floor is anything to go by. She hadn’t dared to look, hiding under her covers is not ideal, but at least she can pretend it’s another nightmare.
She can pretend not to see the scratch marks on her floor or the window sill, not to hear the heavy breaths.
She can pretend it’s all in her head.
**January 24th, 1998**
Her nightmares stopped, she can rest again. But she still feels paranoid, watched.
She is convinced she keeps seeing the same car drive by her house, and there always seems to be someone outside. A lone salesman, someone walking their dog, a jogger, an electrician.
At least her nightmares only happened at night.
**February 1st, 1998**
Her mother was murdered.
Three hundred days after her loss and the knowledge hits Emily like a sledgehammer.
Maybe a part of her still hoped to one day open the door and find her mother there, maybe being approached by strangers that claim to be protecting her from a creature she refuses to believe exists is not enough. Maybe being told that she is being hunted is not something she wants to believe, even if she knows it’s true.
And so, she cries, she laughs, and she sobs and breaks down in the middle of the coffee shop. And she screams, and she wails at the absurdity and unfairness of it all.
But she also feels relief.
Relief in knowing that she isn’t losing her mind, in the confirmation that her mother is gone. Relief because for the first time in months she finally feels like she can move on.
**February 11th, 1998**
They want to take her away, claim she can only be safe under their care, claim she is dead if she stays.
It feels more like a demand than a request.
They are scientists too, she recognize their faces, worked with her mother, were there at her funeral.
She would consider it if the offer were also extended to her dad. They claim he is nothing more than a walking corpse, that she lost him the same day she lost her mother. They claim sometimes you must be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.
But, he is her dad.
So what if he changed, what if he barely talks anymore, if his eyes are vacant most of the time. She won’t leave him behind, she can’t let go. Because that would mean she accepted she lost him and Emily doesn’t think she can survive if she loses him too.
As long as the creature merely watches, she can stay.
She can pretend she doesn’t see a shadow looming over her bed. She can pretend there is no knife under her pillow.
She can pretend it’s just a nightmare.
**February 12th, 1998**
Some people don’t take no for an answer, especially if they turn out to be an armed group.
Her door was broken down late in the afternoon. They came in with guns and rifles, and they told her to come down, hands raised. She grimaces as a cold steel nozzle digs painfully in her shoulder when they push her out the door a bit too hard, her feet are an unsure mess beneath her, and her breathing comes in short gasps that she tries to steady.
She sees an open black van before she feels the warm spray of blood on her face, and she tries to process what exactly is happening.
She can’t hear the screams or the gunfire, she can’t hear the gurgle sounds escaping the dying man in front of her. She can only hear the terrifying screech that comes from the thing she kept pretending was only a nightmare.
As the ground comes to meet her in an all too unwelcome and sudden embrace, her instincts kick in, and she runs.
She doesn’t wait to see the outcome, she just bolts, trying to make some distance from the fight. It’s only when a branch buffets her in the face that she realizes she just ran into the woods, away from any help.
I’m going to die.
Emily doesn’t know what surprised her more, the fact she is being cradled, or the soft familiar tune that brought her back. She awoke to a soft rocking motion, she wasn’t expecting to wake up at all. And for a moment she feels safe, warm, loved. She imagines that the arms holding her aren’t long, cold and bony, but her mother’s instead.
That’s when she recognizes the tune, it’s the same song her mother used to sing before she kissed her head and wished her a good night.
So maybe she is not surprised to open her eyes to recognize the blue ones looking back at her, maybe she already suspected, maybe she is just a bit surprised to see an inhuman face staring back.
“I missed you mom.”