This story is by Sarah Prescott and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Sarah felt a chill rush over her so she pulled the sheets up over her face. Nothing changed the fact that she could still see the little boy standing at the end of her bed. >Third morning in a row>, she thought, closing her eyes tight. He was just tall enough to rest his chin on the wooden bed frame. His light hair had been roughed up and his wet cheeks glistened in the morning light. He had been lurking around her bedroom and each night he would get a little bit closer. >Why won’t you talk to me?< He stared through the sheets in silence. Sarah closed her eyes, waiting to hear a name, see a shape or feel an impression. That’s usually how they communicated with her, ever since she was very young. Sarah pulled the covers down off her face and sat up to face the boy, squinting in the blinding light. Then she sucked in a deep breath and exhaled slowly as she felt her muscles begin to warm and loosen. She was focused on ‘letting him in’. Their eyes met and immediately pictures flowed through her, like she was watching an old home movie on a projector screen, except it wasn’t her life she watched. Overwhelmed with emotion that filled her up to the brim, she gasped for air. It always felt as if they were her own thoughts, vivid colors and clear images bounced around inside her head sporadically until a detail stuck out. The boy pushed one particular memory on her that felt important. She watched him walking alone on the side of a long dirt road, his red sweatshirt tied around his waist. There were vast green fields on the left that stretched for miles and a thick forest of trees lining the right. He stopped next to a big hydrangea bush and started picking flowers. She heard the sound of an engine approaching and a tall shadow appeared to tower behind him. A wave of nausea hit her in the pit of her stomach and a metallic taste formed on her tongue. A name began forming in her mind like a symbol, >J…Jack….Jackson. Is that your name? The county – what?< But he was gone. Light flooded the bathroom through a skylight in the shower. Sarah stood under the piping hot water letting it wash over her. >Where had she seen that dirt road before? Whose shadow was hovering over him?< The boy was in the hallway, she could see him through the steamed glass standing in the crack of the door frame. His face appeared differently to Sarah through the condensation, his eyes and mouth just three gaping black holes. “You know -- it’s not polite to stare!?” She snapped, her heart thumping outside her chest. In return he shared another glimpse -- and it made her lose her footing, landing on her hands and knees. She was back on the dirt road by the hydrangea bushes, staring into the dense forest. She could see someone in the distance then felt a sharp blow to the back of her head and a warm trickling sensation down her forehead. Her body felt ice cold. Sarah grabbed at the towel rack to steady herself and stepped out the shower. “Okay Jackson! Stop, stop. I’ll go.” Then the pain eased and she got dressed. ### Sarah let the back door slam behind her as she marched down the path towards her Prius. “Cooper!” She called, and he came bounding up towards her from the garden. “Good boy, ok come on.” She unclipped him from the garden leash and opened the rear car door, he stepped up onto the back seat and sniffed around until satisfied. Sarah climbed into the driving seat and started the engine. She drove towards the only dirt road she knew, on the edge of town, hoping she would know exactly where to stop. She turned east heading out of town and onto a path where a familiar field stretched for miles along her left and fur trees lined along on her right. >Jackson? If you’re there I could do with a little help.< She could see Cooper in the mirror panting in the heat so she opened the window next to him, he hung his head outside and opened his mouth. The wind pulled his face back into a permanent grin, Sarah smiled. “You like that, Coop?” She said, laughing. Cooper barked out the window alerting to her right. She slowed the car, pulling it over on the edge of the trees and came to a stop. Cooper jumped out the window and ran across the grass through the trees. “Coop!” He was out of sight. As she stood facing the thick line of trees Sarah noticed a large hydrangea bush to her left. Its color stood out fiercely bright against the green backdrop and she noticed a small pair of legs standing behind it. >Jackson,< she thought. He stepped out from the shadows as if not wanting to alarm her, his face was more scratched up and his hair dirtier, and there was a black bruise ring around his neck. He raised his bony arm and pointed towards the forest directing her. “Really? You want me to go in there?” She said, rolling her eyes. >Well I have to find Coop anyway<. She trudged through the opening in the trees. It was much darker once inside. Jackson walked ahead, leading her through the forest deeper until she couldn’t see the light from the road behind her. He stopped at a large egg-shaped rock and stood looking straight ahead. >Okay then.< Sarah followed him, kneeling behind the rock she followed his gaze. She noticed a shard of light piercing through the trees and hitting the earth next to her and realized they had reached the opposite edge of the forest. She peered round the rock towards the source of light and heard something move behind her. A chill ran down her spine and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end, something cold and wet was touching her shoulder. She fumbled around and felt a rock in the dirt, picking it up she quickly raised her arm up in defense, spinning around and was met with two big brown eyes and a tongue in her face. “Cooper!” She hissed, a wave of relief hit her. She threw the rock over to the left and he disappeared chasing after it. Sarah followed the shard of light through the trees and approached the edge of a small clearing, checking for Cooper. Through the trees and on the opposite edge of the clearing, she saw a pickup truck parked between the trees. A strong looking older man emerged near the tailgate, moving items in and out of the truck, minding his own business. She felt Jackson in her head again and she closed her eyes. He was holding hands with someone. A man who was not familiar to him. Her stomach flipped, weighing down her gut. >No, Jackson. I can’t go snooping over there. This is ridiculous.< A throbbing pain surged through her head making her fists clench as she thrust her hands up to cup her ears. She knew she had to check it out. ### Sarah walked around the edge of the clearing and waited until the man was completely out of sight then she made her way over to the truck. There were burlap sacks tossed in the back along with a small lawnmower and some tools. She climbed up to investigate. There was one sack further in near the rear window that had tools next to it and she moved closer pulling the top open and looked inside. At first glance there was nothing out of the ordinary, some freshly chopped foliage... dried leaves...and hair. She pushed her hand through it and felt something solid and round-shaped -- there was a lump in her throat as she pulled the sack open and stared into the face of Jackson’s decomposing body. Rotting holes now lived where his eyes once were and purple ligature marks covered his tiny neck. The chunks were rising in her throat as she covered his face up again but before she had time to gag, there was a hand on her head grabbing a hunk of her hair and she was dragged over the side of the truck landing hard on her hands and knees. A cloud of dirt billowed out from under her, then everything went black. She woke up to a high pitched ringing in her ears and felt a familiar warm trickling running down her forehead as shapes came into focus. She could smell liquor and it made her stomach turn again. “You dumb bitches, you never learn” the strong man muttered. Sarah managed to look up in the direction of the voice and saw the shadowy outline of the man from the clearing pulling at his belt and grunting. He swigged from a bottle then threw it in her direction but missed her. She tried to stand up but her head was spinning and she lost her footing, rolling over onto her left side. She was laying next to the edge of a very deep hole and there was something in it. “Cooooper!!!!” she screamed, her eyes streaming. His lifeless body lay in a pile at the bottom -- Sarah drew in a deep breath and let out a deep sob. “Oh your dog? Yeah, he got in the way. Should keep him on a leash, if you ask me. But you city girls always think you know everything. At least you can die knowing that you’ll be buried alongside Fido here.” Sarah looked back in the direction of the murderer and noticed that Jackson had appeared behind him only this time he appeared as his true self or what his true self looked like now. Sarah’s mouth hung open, her eyes glazed as she saw Jackson how he wanted his killer to see him. His flesh was rotten and hanging off, his face covered in blood. It was clear he’d died from strangulation judging by his neck -- Sarah didn’t want to know the rest. “What the fuck are you looking at?” Jackson’s killer turned around letting out a high pitched shriek when he caught sight of Jackson standing behind him. He stumbled taking a frantic step back and twisted his foot around catching it in his belt he’d tossed on the ground and tumbled head first, into the hole landing next to Cooper. Sarah heard a hard thud and winced as her head throbbed. Finding the strength she pushed herself up onto her knees, her arms shaking, as she hoisted herself up to stand. She glanced down at the murderer noticing he’d landed on his head, breaking his neck on impact. His eyes were wide open, staring up at her unblinking. Sarah let out a deep sigh as Jackson appeared in front of her. He looked like he did the first time they met, no cuts or bruises, his hair combed to the side. And for the first time, he smiled at her. “Just another day, huh?” She managed to choke out. She looked back towards the clearing, recalling various tools in the back of the truck, including a shovel. And when she turned back to face him, Jackson was no longer standing there.