This story is by Judy Atterberry and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Something is very wrong. She can feel it. Tammy switches lanes to get off the interstate. Suddenly, her heart starts racing and her palms start sweating. “What in the world?!” she thought She looks over at her son and sighs with relief.
She parks the car. She leans back so she can rest for a moment. She still can’t believe that they are finally making the move to Chicago. This morning, she was sure that they were going to be stuck in Oklahoma for a long while.
Tammy hears a strange sound coming from her son. She glances over and notices that he’s very pale and he’s unconscious. “Johnny!” she screams. She opens the driver’s door and races around the car, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket and dialing 9-1-1 as she opens the door.
The ambulance arrives, sirens blaring. “Come on, Johnny. Wake up!” Tammy pleads with her son.
“Ma’am, step back.” Tammy whips around and notices that the paramedics are standing behind her. She swiftly moves to the side and lets them work.
“He has to go to the hospital,” one of the paramedics says to Tammy as he’s strapping Johnny to a gurney. “You can ride with us or follow in your car. He’s going to General. It’s not that far away.”
As she’s driving, Tammy hears a strange voice. “It’s him or you.” Tammy nearly drives off the road. She looks around. There’s nobody there. “It must be the stress of this day.” She brushes off the voice without another thought.
She pulls up to the hospital and parks. It’s dark outside. As she exits her vehicle, she turns to lock the door. When she turns around, there’s a man standing there. He’s tall, with dark hair and dark clothes. “You scared me!” says Tammy. She giggles nervously. “Maybe you should wear cowbells, so people can hear you coming,” she jokes with the stranger.
He stares at her with eyes as cold as ice. “It’s him or you.”
“What did you say?!”
“It’s him or you. If he is to live, you must die. If you want to live, he dies.”
Tammy stares incredulously at the stranger, unable to move.
He says nothing more but disappears right before her eyes, like a puff of smoke in the night.
As Tammy turns, she sees a woman with long, black hair staring at her. She seems to have heard everything. Before Tammy can speak, the woman runs away.
“That was really strange.” Tammy runs into the hospital. “Please don’t let anything be wrong with Johnny.”
Johnny is sitting up on the edge of the hospital bed when she enters the room. “Wow, kiddo. You had me scared!” Tammy rushes to her son and crushes him to her in a tight hug.
“Mom,” says Johnny, blushing with embarrassment as the doctor enters the room.
“Mrs. Johnson. I hear Johnny wasn’t feeling good today,” says the doctor.
“That’s right, Doctor. Do you have any idea what is wrong with my son?”
“No, but we’re going to run some tests while he’s here and see what could be causing this.”
A few hours later, the doctor returns. He is frowning as he looks at Tammy. “Mrs. Johnson, could we please step out into the hallway for a moment?”
Tammy follows him into the brightly lit hallway. He turns toward her and says, “Mrs. Johnson, I have run all the tests I can think of and my colleagues looked at the results as well. We can’t find anything wrong. He’s a healthy young man.” The doctor’s beeper goes off and he takes off down the hall.
All Tammy can do is watch him walk away. Her mind flits back to the strange man in the parking lot. While she’s thinking, Johnny walks out into the hall. “So, am I going to be all right or what?”
“You’re fine, kiddo. You’re probably exhausted from all the excitement today.” She reaches up and ruffles Johnny’s hair. “You want to get out of here?”
Walking up the hall, Tammy notices the woman from the parking lot. Tammy turns to Johnny. “Wait here for a s…never mind.” The woman has vanished again. Johnny is lying on the floor like somebody just dumped him there and he doesn’t appear to be moving.
“Johnny! Somebody help me!” Tammy screams as she drops to her son’s side. She gets pushed out of the way as nurses rush to his side. “CODE RED! THIRD FLOOR!”
“Mrs. Johnson,” says the doctor quietly. I have no idea what’s going on.”
Tammy barely hears him as she’s staring at the strange man from earlier. He’s standing in the corner, unnoticed. The man holds a finger to his mouth to warn her to be quiet and points at Johnny in the bed. Tammy decides to keep her mouth shut. Nobody else seems to notice him.
As everyone leaves the room, the strange man stays behind. “Time is running out. You or him! I told you. Make your choice.” As he fades away just as before, Tammy watches in disbelief.
“People don’t just disappear into thin air like that!”
She whirls around and the woman from the parking lot is standing there. “I know what to do, Tammy.”
“You know who he is and what he wants, don’t you?” Tammy barks.
“Yes. He’s a warlock. He’s fixated on you and your son. He won’t go away until one of you is dead. Choose wisely because I can help. I can’t tell you any more right now because when he comes back, he just has look at you and he’ll know that I’ve told. You’ll just have to trust me.” She turns and walks away.
Tammy sits, crying, while holding her son’s hand. “I love you, Johnny. You are my world. Everything I’ve ever done has always been for you. I hope you know all of this. I must make this choice. It’s hard but it’s what I must do. Please forgive me.”
Tammy feels a coldness to the air and she knows he is back. The strange man holds the life of her and her son in his hands now. She turns to him.
“So, have you made your choice?” he demands.
“I have,” she said. “I hate this. Take him. Take my son’s life before I change my mind.”
He steps back and looks in her eyes so deeply, she thinks he might be able to see her soul, read her thoughts. He starts laughing. “I had you wrong. I figured you were weak. I figured you would beg me to spare your son’s life in exchange for yours.”
He reaches down and puts a hand on Johnny’s hand. He starts chanting words Tammy doesn’t understand. As Johnny starts gasping for breath, Tammy starts screaming. “NO!”
As Johnny quits moving, the man turns and disappears. Tammy runs over to Johnny’s bedside. “Please be okay. I should have told him to kill me. I can’t live without you.” Someone lay a hand on her shoulder.
“Let me get up next to him,” the woman says. “I told you I could help. Part of you must have believed because you made the choice. If you had chosen differently, I wouldn’t be here.”
Tammy swiftly moves.
“Please help him.” The woman lays a hand on Johnny’s chest and the other hand on his head. She closes her eyes. Then she reaches down just below the collar of her shirt and pulls a necklace on a chain from around her neck. Upon closer inspection, Tammy realizes that it’s an ancient amulet. “What have I gotten myself into?” Tammy thought. She stays back and allows the woman to work. The lady opens the amulet and puts it up to Johnny’s mouth. A small amount of liquid slips into his mouth and down his throat.
Almost instantly, Johnny’s eyes start fluttering and he says, “Mom,” barely above a whisper.
Tammy can’t bring herself to say a word. It’s as if she has forgotten how to speak. She runs over and wraps her arms around her son and holds him tight. After what seems like an eternity, she speaks. “I love you, baby. I’m so glad you’re all right.”
“What happened, Mom?” he squeaked.
“I’m not sure. When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.”
As Tammy turns around to thank the woman, she gets the shock of her life. The lady just disappeared into thin air, just as the man before had done!
As Tammy steers the SUV toward their street, she looks over at her sleeping son. She can’t believe the events of the last few days. It’s almost as if she had dreamed the whole thing. Then, with a start, she notices that her son is wearing the amulet. The one the woman had used to save his life.