This story is by Justin Caldwell and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Shh!” Brad hissed at the woman next to him as he crouched below the window. Broken glass littered the rotting floor around them and hung from the frame like large jagged teeth. He could see his breath coming out of his mouth in steady puffs, white bursts of air escaped from him like a steam engine as he fought to regain his composure.
He peered up over the sill and into the night. Moonlight spilled down, illuminating the darkness with its silver bands. The dilapidated farmhouse currently serving as his sanctuary squatted forlornly, a single building surrounded by acres of empty land. Brad cocked his ear, straining to hear any indication they were coming.
The woman next to him sat propped against the wall, silently sobbing, her face buried in her hands. He was surprised to find her here. In his haste to escape his pursuers, he never considered someone occupying the run-down home. He moved over and sat down next to her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching out and gently putting his hand on her shoulder. “I just-”
“No, I understand,” she replied, looking up at him.
She wiped the tears away with the back of her hand and gave him a grim smile.
“I’m Brad,” he said, extending his hand out to her.
She grasped it delicately in her own. “Molly. Nice to meet you.”
“Did you see any?” she asked timidly, afraid her voice might betray her, and she would break down again.
“No,” Brad replied, shaking his head. “But it’ll only be a matter of time.”
He pulled his phone out of his pocket. How it had survived to this point, he had no idea.
“It’s almost one-thirty now. Sunrise will be around seven.”
“We have to find a way to survive for the next five and a half hours?”
“Looks that way,” he said to her, standing up to peek out the window. Still no sign of them.
He surveyed the room for weapons. There wasn’t much. He might be able to use the dust-covered wooden chair sitting in the corner. Or maybe the lamp pole hiding behind the worn-out sofa. Either way, it wouldn’t matter. The use of a weapon might buy him a few more seconds, but not much more.
“They got my dad,” Molly whispered, tears beginning to form again at the corners of her eyes. “It was horrible. There was so much blood. They tore through him like he was made of paper. And I ran. I’m such a coward!”
She once again buried her face in her arms and began to sob.
“I’m worse,” Brad said, sitting down in the chair, ignoring the dust that puffed up around him. “They took my girlfriend, and I did nothing. I just stood there and let it happen. I knew if I stood around long enough they would come back and do to me what they were doing to everyone else, so I took off.”
He looked over at Molly, an empty hollowness in his gaze that made her wonder how he was able to find the strength to go on. “She begged and screamed for me to help her, but I did nothing. I can’t begin to imagine why they took her when they were killing everyone around them.”
“What could you have done?” Molly whispered.
The answer that came back gave her a chill.
They continued to talk to pass the time, reaching out to one another as human beings, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be found.
“Where did they come from?” she asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said to her. “And even if I did, I might discover that I was better off being ignorant. But if the rumors are true, they’ll go back into hiding when the sun comes up.”
“Some of the folks in town were talking about them. Apparently, this has happened before. No one knows when it’ll happen, or why, but from what I heard, they’ll be gone again after sunrise.”
“Sunrise,” Molly repeated, staring off into the blackness around them. It seemed like an eternity.
He moved back over to the window and peered out, then slid down next to Molly. She leaned her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He did the same.
They slept for a bit, propped up against one another like two soldiers trying to keep out of the muck. A blood-curdling scream tore them from their slumber.
The cry was still a ways off, but closer than Brad or Molly wanted. He looked off into the east, trying to will the sun over the horizon. Was that the first faint glow of dawn he was seeing, or was it his mind playing tricks on him?
“Come on,” he said, taking Molly by the hand and leading her toward the back door.
“Where are we going?” she asked, unable to keep the terror from creeping into her voice.
“I’m not taking my last breaths inside this dirty, disgusting excuse for a house. I’m going to die with my head held high and fresh air in my lungs.”
She hesitated, considering her options.
“Well?” he asked.
“Okay,” she agreed. “But can we at least walk? I don’t want just to stand around and wait.”
“Deal,” Brad said to her.
“Ready?” he asked. Molly nodded in agreement.
They set off, hands intertwined like a pair of siblings lost in the woods.
The air seemed to be warming as they walked, faces set to the east, both hoping to see that first small sliver of sunlight peeking up over the far edge of the world.