This story is by Jessica Baker and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Whatever dragged itself across Thurber Avenue that morning was surely not human.
I’d been on my way to start my shift at the airport at the ungodly hour of 4am, eyelids heavy as I listened to a radio show blathering about climate change. I was stopped at a red light when the creature limped in front of my Toyota. My trembling hands fumbled the Aquafina I’d been sipping, and water sprayed onto my lap. But I didn’t even curse. I simply let the bottle fall, and gaped at the thing blocking my path.
The thing now staring through the windshield at me.
It was approximately human-shaped, bipedal. Its build seemed female. Those eyes boring holes into mine were oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place why.
That’s where the human traits stopped.
Its skin had a melted ice cream look to it, hair matted and peeling off a high forehead. Lips and nose grotesque and misshapen. Spikes lined its arms, like bone fragments punching through flesh. It raised its hand and I saw a crescent-shaped scar on its palm, aglow in my car’s headlights.
I looked around for witnesses. At this hour, there were none.
When I turned back, the creature had disappeared.
There was the smell of ash and something chemical, a smell so strong I coughed and my eyes watered. A motion in my rearview mirror drew my eyes to it. I looked.
The creature was in my backseat.
I shrieked. My heart thudded in my ears as I grasped for the door handle. Then, the thing began to speak. Not actual words, but into my mind.
Be calm. I’m here to show you.
A cold, gnarled hand shot out and grabbed my shoulder.
Instantly my head was filled with a vision, like I was peering through someone else’s eyes. There was a bloody hand. A crescent-shaped wound on the palm. In the background, I heard a buzzing. No, not buzzing. A news report.
“This is believed to be a terrorist act…” a male voice said.
In my vision, I studied the back of my wounded hand. Bubbling skin. Like a sunburn. Then a loud crash.
Suddenly, I was back in my car.
“It wasn’t terrorism. We think it’s in the water,” the creature’s raspy voice said into my thoughts. “They thought we would die. Many did. But some changed… evolved.”
“Why are you here?” My voice sounded small.
“For you, Evie.”
“How do you know my name?”
But then the smell of ash dissipated. I turned.
The creature was gone.
After work that night, I had immediately told my boyfriend, Jack, about the incident in the car, who assured me that my imagination was running wild. “You need to get off that damn early shift, it’s playing with your head, babe,” were his exact words.
But try as I might, I couldn’t shake the sound of the creature’s voice in my head. The feel of its cold hand on my shoulder.
It’s in the water.
Complete nonsense. I’d been watching too much science fiction lately. It wasn’t real life.
So I tried to force it from my mind. I turned on the television and caught the end of a special. The camera panned over a miles long traffic jam in China, heavily obscured by thick smog. Flash to stranded polar bears. The Pacific garbage patch.
I heard Jack rustling around the kitchen, from where he’d banned me when he so graciously offered to cook dinner since I, in his words, needed a relaxing night.
So, maybe my job sucked, but at least I’d landed a pretty awesome guy.
Distracted, I stared at the glass of water in my hand, eyeing it down.
It wasn’t real, I told myself. But try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to raise the glass to my lips.
The evening special was interrupted by breaking news.
Bile climbed my throat.
“Scientists can’t place the strange symptoms…”
Hands trembling, I stood on wobbling legs, my mouth forming the news report I somehow already knew. Had already seen.
“This is believed to be a terrorist act…”
I balled my hands in fists.
The glass I’d nearly forgotten I was holding shattered in my hand.
Shattered, as though it had been made of sugar.
I used the bottom of my shirt to stave the flow of blood. Somehow, I already knew what I’d see when I examined the wound.
Oh God, what if…
It was then that I noticed the back of my hand. Skin bubbling, blistered up like the worst sunburn I’d ever had in my life, back when I was eight. Red and angry looking.
In the background, the news went on.
“Until we learn more we suggest you stay indoors, and if you experience any symptoms, report them immediately. The CDC has issued a statement…”
There was a loud clatter from the kitchen. I raced to find Jack holding up his blistered arms in horrified bewilderment, the faucet behind him still running, the pot of spaghetti he’d been cooking a mess across the kitchen floor, splattered on his ankles.
“Evie, what’s happening?”
My stomach heaved and I drew a breath, because I already knew. Because I’d seen it that morning. The creature had shown me.
The creature whose eyes looked so familiar.
Those same hazel eyes that stared back at me in the reflection off the stainless-steel fridge.
A strange sense of calm came over me. The sound of sirens outside was quickly swallowed by the sounds of chaos. I reached around Jack and shut off the faucet.
It’s in the water.
Flashing lights from outside the kitchen window blinked across my vision, casting ominous shadows. Red and blue, blue and red.
“It’s gonna be ok,” I whispered.
The lights went out.
I hugged Jack, undoubtedly leaving a crescent-shaped mark in blood where my palm pressed into his shirt.