The cross on a grave site signaled peace at long last for one man; but, for the woman it meant that her nightmare has just begun.
The cross on a grave site signaled peace at long last for one man; but, for the woman it meant that her nightmare has just begun.
No matter how many mountains I’ve crossed, and towns passed through, the storms of past sins always catch me.
Two girls running through the dark woods not as friends but as a predator chasing her prey.
A man wanders around the dilapidated building long since abandoned by its dwellers, he wonders–“Is it too late?”
Where to begin? Because of so and so, and of something that happened, I’m to start keeping a journal of my thoughts and feelings and whatever else I care to share. WTH.
Okay, let’s start from the beginning. My name is Carla Jones. I’m twenty-five, and I live with my parents. Eh, that sounds like an opener for one of those Alcoholics Anonymous sessions. I’m not an alcoholic, but I am a screw-up.
Damn. That sounds pretty harsh now that it’s out there. But this is what my shrink wants to read, so there you go.
I lived a fairly normal life, I guess. Grew up in a small town in the mountains. Mom was a telephone operator for many years before switching to being an administrative assistance at a local community college. Dad’s a salesperson at a hardware store. I have two sisters. Trish, the eldest, moved out of the house when she was eighteen. She joined the Navy. I hardly ever see her. Mandy, the baby, is off to college, studying power engineering. She’s the brains, like Dad.
Me? I’m the oddball. The one with all the problems.
Heck, I’m not even related to these people. Not by blood anyway. You see, my parents tried to have another baby after Trish was born, but nothing happened after four years. So, they adopted me. Mandy came along as a complete surprise three years later. That left me, a brunette with blue eyes, sandwiched between these blonde-haired, brown-eyed individuals. Yep, like an oddball.
We lived next to Mom’s parents (Dad’s parents died when he was a boy). Nana and Papa to Trish and Mandy, but not to me. They made that well known as soon as I was old enough to understand. I was to call them Pat and Dave.
Trish and Mandy were always into sports. I tried, but I was deemed too klutzy to play on any team. So, I turned to running. I never competed, though. All that hardcore training and competing in meets or races never interested me.
I never excelled in anything in school. It’s not for the lack of trying…it’s just that I really didn’t care. I studied just enough to pass the exams. That’s it. Mom and Dad never really pushed me. They pretty much let me do my own thing. They rode the other two daily, though. They accepted nothing less than As or Bs from them.
When it came time to head off to college, I had no clue what to major in. I wasn’t interested in science or math or business. I ended up picking a major in Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. I had always doodled with poetry and wrote in my journal, so why not take them one step further, right? Boy, my Dad was not happy with that. I asked, what’s wrong with being a writer or a journalist? He said that those weren’t respectable fields. So, in order to appease him, I switched to a major in Kinesiology with a minor in Athletic Training.
I got as far as sophomore year before dropping out. I sucked in science classes and ended up failing them.
I refused to move back home—didn’t want to endure the daily scorn from Pat and Dave or the disappointed looks from my parents. Instead, I moved to a small city an hour from home and got a job working as a writer for the city’s newspaper. I rented a tiny, run-down apartment downtown that robbed me of over half of my monthly salary. I had no furniture, slept on an air mattress, and ate meals on the grungy carpet.
I guess I got too carried away with my sudden independence, or perhaps I was just overly desperate to be accepted for who I was. The people I ended up hanging out with liked to smoke pot. Personally, I hated pot, but these people made me feel like I was a somebody, like I actually mattered, so I just went with it.
Anyway, I ended up getting caught with some weed and was sent to jail. Lost my job and my apartment. Dad bailed me out and took me back home. Not sure what he did, but he somehow got the charges against me reduced so that there was no court or jail time for me. However, the judge ordered me to see this shrink, and since I liked to write, this same shrink gave me this ridiculous journal assignment.
I’m writing this from my hospital bed. Actually, I’m in a psych ward within the hospital. The day after I wrote the first entry to this journaling assignment, Dad and I got into a big fight. Apparently, I’m a hardship to him and Mom, and it’s starting to affect their health and job stability. I guess I just lost it. I yelled at him saying something like, well, if I’m such a hardship, perhaps I should just remove myself from their lives.
I ran into the only bathroom in the house and locked myself in. I grabbed a shaving razor and proceeded to slash the top of my hands. Freaking out, Mom called 911. From there on, everything’s just a blur. I remember waking up in a hospital room, strapped to the bed. My whole body felt bruised. Mom was sitting beside me, crying. Dad, well, I haven’t seen him since that night. She said that it took three people tackling me to stop me from continuing to slice my wrists. I don’t remember that part, but she was right, both of my wrists are bandaged up. The top of my hands are also bandaged, so I can barely write this stupid entry.
This stupid assignment. Stupid shrink. I hate him. I hate them all.
I’m still here, in the psych ward. It seems that I’m not ready to be released yet. Or rather, my parents aren’t ready to take me back home. Either way, I don’t give a rip.
Mandy visited me yesterday. She said she was worried about me. She then turned around and told me how angry she was with me. How could I be so selfish to have hurt Mom and Dad. I told her to get out of my face. I don’t need this from her or from anyone for that matter!
Why is everyone against me? What have I done so wrong to be treated so? Pat stopped by for a few minutes. Long enough to tell me that my own parents were seriously considering having me permanently committed. She went on to tell me that she did some research on my biological parents. My mother gave birth to me at the age of 13. She had been raped by her 16-year-old cousin who then committed suicide shortly afterward. Pat said that I should never have been adopted and that I’ve been nothing but a heartache to Mom and Dad.
After she left, I just lied down on the bed and cried.
The shrink told me that I was actually starting to make progress and that I should continue to journal. Whatever.
Today, I wrote my first poem in months. It’s called “Alone.”
Heart is the bridge to
one’s soul, break it in
pieces and it will
strand you, immerse you
with unspeakable loneliness
You know what? After writing this, I felt better. Purged. Does that make any sense? I’m looking back over it, and am wondering…where did this come from? Am I really that pathetic? Do I really feel that way?
The answer is yes.
It’s been a while since the last entry. I have a good reason. Well, make that twenty-five reasons, as that’s how many poems I’ve written. I’m somewhat amazed at how dark and desperate some sounded. I thought about rewriting a few so they don’t make me out to be some kind of psychotic bitch, but I didn’t.
I worked up the courage and gave some to the shrink to read. I felt certain that he would definitely have me permanently committed after reading those particular ones (that would just please the family wouldn’t it?). I was stunned when he said that they were really good. Then he had to ask if I had thought about submitting them to places to have them published.
I’ve been released from the hospital/psych ward. Since I’m no longer welcome home, I’m now living in a halfway house of sorts. I’m working part-time as a dishwasher at a college. It’s nothing glamorous, just a no-brainer, tedious job. I did something last week that scared the crap out of me, though. I submitted a few of my poems to four literary journals. Shrink seems confident that one of these places will publish my work. I have serious doubts. I mean, who would want to read my stuff? They’re just stupid poems. Nothing special about them at all.
I’m in disbelief. I received word yesterday that my poems have been accepted by Julienne Literary Journal to be published. Oh. My. God.
I think I may have even hyperventilated because I found myself on the floor breathing hysterically with a bag over my face. All those poor people at the post office. God bless them for not freaking out on me.
Good news keeps rolling in. Apparently, Dad has been working with a judge to try and get my criminal/drug/psych ward incarceration expunged from my record since it was my first offense, and guess what? As of this morning, I’m a free woman with a clean record! I’ve a feeling that my shrink may have had a hand in this even though he vehemently denied it. I know better.
This will be my last entry for the journaling assignment—the psych sessions are ending. As I read through the earlier entries, I hadn’t realized just how full of anger I was, and rightfully so, but I’ve learned that I no longer need to be. There is so much more to life than holding on to the feeling of anger because people refused to accept me as I am. No more. I want to live my own life the way I feel is best for me. I no longer need to rely on others to help me feel worthy. I can do that for myself. Writing poems and journaling have shown me that. They became the keys to unlocking my true soul.
*First published with GFT Press March 2016
He knew you don’t have to be brothers by blood when you’ve bled together as you faced the demons of the earth where even death can’t sever the unbreakable bond of brotherhood.
He wanders through the vast marshes searching for the corporeal home he knows he’ll never see again.
It came from space in a fiery cluster of molten steel, shattering the solitude that covered the blue water below as it plunged deep into the cold darkness. There it would lie dormant, to be stirred by life that flourished both in the water and above.
The sun was a hazy object in the sky as dense mist hovered over the gray water of Lake Champlain. The cries of the sea gulls overhead were the only sounds heard other than the low droning noise of the 21-foot boat’s engine as the water splashed up against the hull of the Coast Guard’s navigational vessel. Anna Mae Hart leaned her petite body against the railing as her short brunette hair flapped in the brisk breeze. Her green eyes studied the dark dot of an island ahead that could barely be seen within the wall of white haze. She reached into her jacket’s pocket and pulled out a stick of gum and placed it onto her tongue.
Chewing heartily, she studied the sky for a moment. The sun was already a crimson color in the early morning hour which signaled another hot day in the North Country. As a native from Georgia she welcomed the steamy days while the locals moaned and fretted. She liked it here even with the cold, hard winters that plundered the northern state for well over seven months at a time; it was the quietness and the slowness of life that enticed her to stay.
For most of her thirty-four years of life, she had known nothing but instability and chaos; she came from a dysfunctional family, and as soon as she graduated from high school she joined the Navy and spent the next nine years traveling the world, and was trained in skills and knowledge shrouded with secrets never to be revealed to the common people. By the time she turned thirty Anna wanted a normal life. It was during her visit to upstate New York where she met Darren LaMonde and his family. After a short time, he offered her a position with Division 15 for the 1st District Coast Guard as a Patrol Specialist. She accepted it without hesitation, and never looked back.
“Looks like it’ll be another scorcher.” Darren was saying as he stood behind the wheel in the center of the boat. His dark mass of hair flew in every direction in the wind. He was handsome even at the age of fifty-six with no signs of gray or wrinkle. His hazel eyes were dark as they studied the lifting mist.
“You call this a heat wave? Oh, pl-lease.” Anna smirked as she continued to stare out across the lake to the island ahead.
“I don’t get how you like this humidity. It just saps all the energy right out of me.” Darren throttled the engine down as they quickly approached tiny Green Island, one of the 70 plus islands of the lake.
“Sweetheart, you just weren’t raised right.” Anna drawled in her thick southern accent and then chuckled as she leaned further into the railing as the boat gave a gentle lurch forward when Darren put the engine into reverse. They slowly drifted up to the wooden dock where there was also another boat for the Plattsburgh City Police Department.
This was the one part she disliked about her job; having to deal with dead bodies from time to time. Darren had called her around 4am to relay that a body has been reported and the police had asked for their assistance in the investigation.
As soon as the boat was aligned against the short dock, Anna jumped out and anchored the boat. Quietly they walked off the dock and down a graveled pathway towards a small cabin that was nestled in the trees. Suddenly, Anna stopped.
“What is it?” Darren asked in a whisper.
“I’m not sure.” Anna strained to see through the fog. “I thought I heard something.”
They continued until they reached the rustic cabin where they were met by two individuals dressed in dark clothes. The tall, stocky black man was the first to speak as he held out his hand. “I’m Lt. Jean Picaur, and this is Dr. Madeline D’Louverne, a member of the crime scene unit.”
The older woman was taller and thinner than Anna. She took Anna’s hand. “We’re glad you both could come out so quickly.”
“We came as soon as we heard.” Darren said. “What do we have?”
Picaur and the doctor exchanged a look as they stepped aside.
“You better come inside.” Picaur spoke as he opened the door and led them into the building.
It was a two-bedroom cabin with a large living area in the center. The small kitchen was on one side, and the bedrooms on the other side. As Anna studied the largest room she could see stark evidence of struggle everywhere. The back door’s window was smashed. The couch in the living room was overturned. There were dried blood and mud splattered on the walls and floor. The kitchen looked as if it was hit by a hurricane with utensils and dishpans scattered all over the floor and countertops.
Anna then saw a distinct trail of blood that ran from the kitchen floor over the carpet of the living room and into the den where it ended at the desk. She walked over and stood over the desk that held an older computer model; there was blood splattered over the monitor and across the keyboard, and a single bloodied handprint near the mouse pad with no mouse. The computer had been turned on. Anna assumed that it was being checked for evidence.
“Jesus H. Christ!” Darren exclaimed as he glanced at the shocking sight spread before him.
“This isn’t your ordinary homicide.” Anna spoke as she looked directly at Picaur.
The officer met her gaze and slowly shook his head. “No.”
“And we were called here why?”
“To help us sort through evidence.”
Darren turned to the Lieutenant and asked. “How many were staying in this cabin?”
Picaur pulled out his Blackberry and glanced at the little green monitor and answered. “There were two couples staying here for the weekend. They were from New York City. University students.”
Anna took a step forward. “How many bodies were found?”
Darren looked over at Anna before turning to Picaur. “Then what happened to the others?”
“At this point we’re assuming they’re also dead, but without any bodies we can’t be certain.”
Dr. D’Louverne replied with an even tone. “We do have some evidence that seems to point the time of death around 11pm Saturday. The body that was found was one of the women who we think was the last survivor to die.”
“Not a domestic homicide then?” Darren questioned.
“No. These kids were not killed in a conventional sense.”
“Dr. D’Louverne seems to think they were killed by something … not human.”
Anna’s eyes widened slightly as she turned to the older woman. “Animal?”
“I can’t make a determination at this point. We were hoping you would be able to offer any insight.”
Anna turned and studied the officer intently, without replying.
“I’ve seen your record, Ms. Hart. You have a background in Marine Biology and various classified military experimentations.” Picaur stated.
Darren shook his head. “You’re saying that some marine creature came out of the water and killed four people in a matter of days?”
“In a matter of hours actually.” Dr.D’Louverne corrected. “I’m saying we’re not sure at the moment.”
Anna looked around the cabin once more. “Okay. Show me what you got.”
Dr. D’Louverne sat down at the computer and brought up a blog site on the internet.
“The deceased, Shelli Watson, blogged on this site regularly. She recorded their last hours.”
The doctor, with gloves on hands, worked on the keyboard until she leaned back. “You can start here.”
Dr. D’Louverne then stood up, stepped aside as Anna took the chair. She accepted a pair of latex gloves from Darren and pulled them on over her hands. She then read one of the postings.
“July 7th, Friday, 7:45pm. Whew! We finally made it after driving for God forever long, all 7 hours of it! We spent another 2 hours at a lakeside boating store trying to find a boat we could afford to rent. Lisa and Mark are making dinner, spaghetti I think; and Dru, not sure where he took off to, probably out exploring the island. I can’t believe we’re actually spending an entire weekend on a tiny little island in the middle of a lake, not an ocean, but a fresh water lake! Dru and Mark have been dead set on going out on the lake to fish, and hopefully also catch a glimpse of the local legend monster, Champ. Lisa and I keep telling them that those were only stories to lure tourists to the area, but boys will be boys. While they are doing that, we’ll be out on the beach sunning ourselves. Well, I’m being paged …”
Anna, using the keyboard, advanced to the next posting.
“July 8th, Saturday, 8am. The guys are off on the lake, fishing and looking for Champ. I keep telling Dru, in vain I know, that he wasn’t going to find anything. Oh well. Lisa and I are now off to relax for the morning.”
“Sounds like typical 20-something kids to me.” Darren commented.
“Yeah.” Anna replied with a nod. “Next post.”
“July 8th, Saturday, 12:35pm. The guys came back all excited. Dru claimed he got a picture of Champ. Lisa and I didn’t believe them, not until they showed us the picture. It doesn’t look quite like the pictures I’ve seen online of Champ, but it is definitely something. I’ve included the link here in case anyone was curious to take a look. Feel free to comment on what you think of it.”
Anna tabbed until the link was highlighted and hit the enter key. A picture filled the screen. Darren leaned over Anna’s shoulder and they both studied the picture. It was slightly blurry but there was a definite dark form rising partially above the surface of the water; the boat filled the bottom of the picture as one of the men had taken the photo looking across the lake towards the mainland. Anna studied this form. The sun was directly overhead, casting shadows on this figure, which obscured any clear view.
“What do you think?” Darren asked.
Anna shook her head slightly. “Not sure. Shelli was right. This doesn’t fit what we know about Champ. This doesn’t look like any amphibious being I’ve seen before. This here looks like a head.” She ran a finger along the profile of the form. “Champ is much more rounded. This looks like an arm, and a hand, or more like claws …” Anna leaned closer to the monitor. “To me it looks as if this creature was swimming towards their boat.”
“And perhaps followed them back here to the cabin.” Darren said blandly.
Anna exited out of the picture and continued to read.
“July 8th, 2pm. A strange thing has happened. Our boat’s gone. Mark swore he tied it to the dock. Now we’re stranded. Grr! None of our cells seem to be working now. Odd. We have no choice now but to wait until someone shows up to get off this island.”
Picaur then spoke up. “When we arrived there was no sign of their boat.”
Anna gave a quick nod and read on.
“July 8th, 6pm. I’m freaking out. Dru’s gone. Lisa’s hurt bad. There’s something out there trying to get in. I want to go home now. I’m so scared.”
“Someone that was wounded had been on the couch.” Dr. O’Louvern pointed to the torn, upturned furniture. “I found dried human blood.”
“There were also tracks around the cabin. They are unlike any animal prints I have ever seen.” Picaur added.
“Let’s see what happened next.
July 8th, 8:30pm. There’s still no sign of Dru. I can still hear him screaming in my head. He had gone into the woods to find Lisa while Mark stayed with me. Then I heard Dru screaming, and Lisa came running back a few moments later. She was covered in blood. And her right arm was completely gone! My god. What is happening here?”
Anna leaned back in the chair, rubbed both hands on the back of her neck. “This creature’s intelligent. It stalked them, watched and studied them. Waited. Dru was the first to die. Lisa was allowed to get away. Kind of like a cat and mouse game.”
“Like a predator hunting its prey.” Picaur muttered. “Would this be anything the military’s responsible for?”
Anna glanced over at the big man and eyed him momentarily before she answered. “No, this creature was not created by the military, or by any other country that I know of.”
She turned and focused on the monitor for a moment. “Nor is this any marine specie I have ever encountered before. This is either specie we’ve never seen before now or …”
Anna looked up at Darren as he asked. “Think this has anything to with the meteor shower we had several months ago?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not sure. Perhaps.”
Picaur took a step closer. “What are you suggesting?
Anna nodded. “I still have some connections in the military and I inquired about this meteor shower we had here a few months ago. I was told that an unidentified object exploded just above the earth’s atmosphere. Pieces of it rained down and landed in this lake. Nothing was ever recovered. Not too long afterwards people began reporting strange sightings of a creature that wasn’t Champ. Fish and other water life became scarce.”
She paused to glance over at the closest window before she met Picaur’s dark brown eyes. “The point is that this creature didn’t appear until after the so-called meteor shower, and as far as I know it never killed … until now.”
“Perhaps the guys did something to provoke it.” Darren suggested.
“That is a possibility. Okay, the final posting.
July 8th, 10:40pm. I can hear it scraping around outside. It’s growling. Mark is standing watch by the back door. God, I don’t want to die. Please, anyone who’s reading this send help. Please! “
They were quiet for several moments before Anna stood up and peered over at the back door where the window was shattered.
“It came through the window.” Anna began. “Killed Mark on the spot. It then came after Shelli. Shelli fought and died hard. Then it killed Lisa, or perhaps she was already dead.”
“How would it have gotten out?” Picaur asked.
Anna walked over to the back door and studied it for a moment. “It simply just opened the door and walked out.” To demonstrate she turned the door knob and the door slowly swung open on its own. She then stepped out and onto a small deck. “Doc, shine your laser light over here.”
Dr. O’Louvern did just that. “Blood. It goes down the steps and into the woods.”
“This is where we go as well.” Picaur said.
When Picaur and Darren started down the steps Anna reached out and touched Darren’s arm. “Wait. The sun’s gone. Looks like a storm is coming.”
Darren peered up at the sky and sure enough, the sky was now covered with dark clouds. The wind, now cooler, had picked up in intensity. He looked over at Anna. “You’re thinking it’s still out there?”
Anna’s eyes were focused on the moving shadows of the trees as the wind whipped through them. “Yes.”
Everyone stood still for several moments as they listened to the howling of the wind and the rain started to splatter on and around them in big drops. Just then, Picaur gave a shout as he stomped to the other side of the deck.
“God damn it all! The boats are gone!” He bellowed.
Darren moved besides him. “Both of them?”
The women came to look as well and saw that both vessels had simply vanished.
“We should get inside.” Darren muttered.
They quietly went back inside the cabin with Picaur being the last one in as he shut the door behind him. He ran his fingers through his wet hair and said almost in a whisper. “So, now we’re the hunted.”
“It appears that way.” Anna replied. “We need to be ready. The doors need to be secured.”
Darren gave a nod as they worked together to drag the ragged couch over and leaned it against the back door. The other door they barricaded with the heavy oak coffee table.
Picaur took a step back to study what they had done. “These probably won’t hold it back for very long.”
“No.” Anna answered as she checked her weapon to be sure it was fully loaded. “But it should buy us enough time to respond.”
They all suddenly froze when they heard large branches outside cracking and snapping.
“The winds have died down some.” Darren whispered.
“The creature?” the doctor asked in a shaky voice.
For the next several moments, they stood completely still as they waited. The silence in the cabin was eerie. Anna held her breath as she strained to listen for any sound from the approaching creature. She heard nothing until suddenly, a loud bang slammed against the back door as the couch literally shot across the room, smashing into both Darren and Dr. D’Louverne as they flew across the living room floor.
Before either Picaur or Anna could react, the officer yelled out as a claw-like hand reached inside and grabbed one of his feet and pulled him effortlessly outside into the rainstorm and fog. It happened so fast the creature and Picaur were nothing but a blur to Anna.
Next thing she knew, she stood alone.
* * *
The wind had died down as the fog settled heavily over the island. Rain came down in large droplets. As she stood in the doorway, Anna stared out in disbelief. The fog was so thick she couldn’t see beyond the deck. As she looked back into the cabin, she saw both Darren and Dr. D’Louverne lying on the floor, still breathing. They were alive. For now. She listened for sounds but could not hear anything above the pouring rain. It would make no sense to go out into the storm, blind and practically deaf. It would be suicide, not to mention foolish. Picaur was most likely dead. Her responsibility now was to the injured inside.
Anna stepped inside and went to close the door but saw that the hinges were damaged, so she left it partially ajar. She needed to get them off this island; however, she had a feeling this creature didn’t intend to let any of them leave alive. This left her with only one choice. She must find a way to kill it.
* * *
Darren moaned as he tried to sit up, but Anna, as she knelt beside him, pressed him back down. “Easy there, cowboy.” She spoke gently. “You have a head injury and I don’t want you moving too quickly right now.”
He met her eyes that held no emotion. “Picaur?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. He’s gone now. The doc is fine. She’s over there sitting up with a broken arm.”
He turned his head gingerly to see Dr. D’Louverne sitting on the floor, with her back against the kitchen’s counter. “Did you see how fast it moved?”
“I did. I saw a glimpse of it too. It’s bigger than I thought, about seven feet tall.”
“It was standing?”
“Yeah, like a human, yet it’s not human. I’m not sure what it is.”
“So, now what, partner?”
Anna was finished with his head bandage as she stood up. “You and the doc are going to try and get a message to the mainland to send help. We still have power, for now.”
“Done.” Darren slowly sat up and leaned against the wall. “What about you?”
Anna avoided his eyes as she looked away, “I’m going hunting.”
“Bullshit!” Darren attempted to stand up, but intense dizziness threatened to overwhelm him so he sat back down. “Anna, I’m not letting you go out there alone against that thing.”
This time she met his panicked gaze as she laid a hand on his shoulder. “You are in no condition to help. I need to buy you two time to get help out here.”
He shook his head. ” No talking you out of it, is there?”
“Help me up. Shit.”
As she placed her hands under his arms Anna helped Darren up to his feet. As he stood he leaned against the wall until the dizzy spell passed and he was steady. “You come back, ya hear? Or else the chief will have my sorry ass.”
Anna smiled at her partner and friend. “I come back in one piece and you owe me an extra week’s vacation.”
* * *
With the loaded gun in hand, Anna stepped down off the deck. The rain had stopped, but the fog remained dense. She slowly made her way towards the woods where her instincts told her she would find the creature. It was mid-day, but with the thick mist that hung over everything it felt like dusk. The woods ahead of her were dark and full of shadows. She swallowed hard, and knew that any of the shadows could be the creature. As she moved into the trees she felt pressed by the overwhelming sound of silence where even her shallow breaths sounded too loud.
Anna glanced at the fir needle-riddled ground; she could barely make out the path. Then something shiny caught her attention as she bent down to inspect. It was Picaur’s badge. Picking it up she turned it over a few times in her hand, and fought back the hot tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. She slipped the badge into her pants pocket and continued onward. She was on the right path. It was only a matter of time now.
The narrow path led her up a steep incline and deeper into the fog. She could barely see inches in front of her. Then, somewhere behind her, she heard branches and dried fir on the ground crackling and snapping. For an instance, Anna froze as her heart pounded in her chest and she could hear the blood roaring in her ears. It was coming directly behind her. She must act now or die, like a coward.
She was no coward.
When she heard the low growl, Anna swung around, dropped down to her knees, aimed and fired into the fog. The bullet found its mark as she heard the creature screeched, and then came loud crashing sounds, and then silence.
A voice. She heard a voice. It sounded like Picaur! Cautiously, Anna stood back up and jogged towards the source of the sound. As she looked down the hill, she spotted a figure on the ground.
Anna quickly ran down the fir covered path to the figure of Jean Picaur as he sat on the ground, leaned back against a dead tree stump. He had an open gash in his left thigh, but he was alive.
“By the devil, Anna, it’s you!”
“Yes, sir.” Anna answered with a smile as she knelt down beside him.
He placed a bloodied hand on her arm closest to him. “I thought I was a goner.”
“Don’t thank me yet, lieutenant.” Her eyes scanned around them. “I only wounded it, and I’m sure it’s really pissed now.”
He gave a solemn nod. “Gotcha.”
With her free hand, Anna pulled the man up to his feet as he leaned heavily against her.
“Alright there?” She eyed him closely.
“Just feeling woozy.”
“It’s from the blood loss.”
One step at a time they slowly made their way back up the hill and down the other side towards the cabin. Overhead the sun was now visible as the fog began to retreat.
“Thank goodness the sun will be out soon.”
“Not soon enough.” Anna barely whispered as they came to a sudden stop. She focused ahead. They were close to the cabin now as she could barely make out its outline beyond the tree lines. To their left was Lake Champlain. Just ahead on the path, she saw the dark shadow of the creature as it stood between them and the cabin.
Anna couldn’t quite make out the body other than it was tall and lean, but she saw the eyes. It was like tiger’s eyes, red and black. Its face was human like but scaly and greenish like a reptile that held no nose, only two slits. The mouth was as wide as the width of its head, and as it seemingly grinned at them the mouth spread open to reveal razor sharp teeth of a carnivore. The growl that escaped from its body sounded so deep and low it resonated through her body from the feet up to her head.
She’d known fear and death, and had faced predators, but nothing like this. All she wanted to do was curl up on the ground and whimper.
“Holy mother of God!” Picaur exclaimed in a hoarse voice.
They both stood, unmoving, as did the creature.
“What is it waiting for?” the officer breathed in a whisper.
“For us to make the first move.”
“Jesus, we’re dead.”
As she kept her eyes on the shadowy form ahead, Anna tightened her grip on the gun.
“Do you still have your gun?”
“No, I dropped it by the deck after it grabbed me. I-er-can see it from here, on the ground.”
“When I count to three, I’m going to give you my gun. You keep it busy long enough for me to get to your gun, and we’ll blast it to hell.”
“Beats just standing here.”
In one movement, Anna placed the gun in Picaur’s waiting hand and dashed to the right. The officer instantly began firing as she ran as fast as her legs would go. She could hear the creature hissing and growling somewhere nearby. She didn’t know exactly where it was anymore. Her focus now was the gun on the ground, as she bounded forward, dodged low branches and leapt over rocks and fallen trees.
The deck was now only a few feet away, but so was the roar of the creature. Anna took a deep breath and jumped high up into the air and flew for the gun that lay on the hard, bare ground. As she landed on her side, she felt the air whooshed right out of her lungs with a loud thud. She wrapped her hand around the gun, rolled over onto her back just in time to see a flash of white teeth, and fired. Then there was nothing.
* * *
Her head roared and spun as she slowly became aware that her body was on the cool, wet ground. She opened her eyes to see both Darren and Picaur standing over her; both wore wide grins on their faces.
“Damn, girl! You gave us a scare!” Darren cried.
Anna tasted blood as she carefully stood up onto her feet. Her eyes scanned around her.
“Where is it?”
Picaur sat down on the steps of the deck as he spoke. “You shot it point blank in its face. I don’t know how the hell you got the shot off; it was practically on top of you.”
“So, I shot it. Where did it go?” Anna asked again.
Picaur looked over towards the lake. “It crawled into the water. It was wheezing and bleeding. Then it was gone.”
Anna, steadier now, walked to the edge of the shore. She could see its blood on the rocks and sand. It was a black-red color, and lots of it.
Darren and the hobbling Picaur came and stood on each side of Anna as they studied the water. Everything was still. Calm. The fog was completely gone and the sun shone brightly.
(Published in Piker Press August 24th, 2009)
She hurt all over. Inside and out.
She wore no shoes against the jagged rocks on the trail, and no jacket against the skin-biting cold of the late autumn air. She had run away so quickly there was no time to grab anything.
The pain in her chest throbbed as she tried to ignore it. She hated feeling this way. It was a nagging reminder of all she had lost.
She stumbled on as she kept her back to the destruction that lay behind. Black smokes rose to the sky as the putrid smell of burnt flesh permeated her nostrils. Bile burned in her stomach as she covered her cracked lips with a dirt-streaked hand.
Images and thoughts tried to force themselves into her mind, but she shook them away. No, she couldn’t face them now. They would break her into a million of pieces, pieces that she could never put back together.
A snarled tree root suddenly snagged a foot as she tripped and fell to her knees with a whimper. The impacted skin burned, and something warm trickled down that foot.
She brushed the once golden-brown-now-mud-caked hair away from her pale face, and stared down at herself. The left pant-leg now torn which exposed her ankle completely. There was a gash on the top of her foot where blood oozed from. As she sat on the icy, hard ground, she debated with herself on whether she should bother to continue. With an injured foot, she’d either be an easy prey, or die from an infection.
Stifling back the urge to scream, she pounded the earth with both fists. Hot tears blinded her as her teeth ground together.
Life was so unfair! What had she done to deserve such a cruel fate? What?!
The snapping of nearby branches startled her as she sat up and peered ahead. All she saw was a thick canopy of dark hardwood trees. A moment later though there were several shadows moving within them.
The predators have found their prey.
“N-no!” She rolled over on her knees and stood up. She then scanned around but realized that it was too late to run. She reached down and grabbed a sharp-edged rock.
Ignoring the burning pain, she faced the wavering shadows as they neared. Her nails dug into the rock as she fought to steady her panting.
Would death come quickly for her? Or would they take their time as they tortured her?
She tried to swallow but discovered that her mouth had become parched as she licked her chapped lips, and tasted blood.
The awning of the trees closed in as roaring filled her head. With her other hand, she pressed against her temple.
She couldn’t pass out now!
The sound of a horse’s neigh roused her back to full consciousness as she turned towards the source, and sucked in her breath.
The high stature of the animal clopped towards her. Its brown coat shiny with sweat and rain water. A figure sat on it, draped in a long, black coat. Her eyes moved up the muddied black boots, black pants, and finally to the face which stayed hidden behind the hood.
“State your name.” A deep male voice spoke.
Her body began to tremble, but she forced herself to stand tall and steady. “I’m called Traviata.” Her words barely came out in a hoarse whisper. Her hand gripped the rock tighter.
The hooded figure turned its head towards the smoke-laden sky above her. “State your crime.”
“Crime?” Vivid memories of her past life filled her mind. “The only crime I’ve committed is by being born!” She couldn’t hold the pain and rage back any longer as she threw the rock, and it smashed against the back of the black figure. The explosive movement caused her to fall forward as she landed hard on her knees and hands. There she stayed as she allowed the tears to flow freely down her face.
Unmoved, the low voice asked again, “Your crime?”
Without raising her head, Traviata answered, “For being me. That’s my crime.”
“You were forced out of your home?”
“Yes, by my own family!” Her chest heaved. “A-abandoned. They burned the house and my cats!” She needed to get it all out. “Why? For what? For not being like them, normal? For choosing my own path and not theirs?” She shook her head. “Why? I don’t know why — they couldn’t accept me as me. And somehow that became my crime.”
Several moments of silence passed as she continued to stare down at the gray earth. She expected pain to come at any time. She prayed that the end would be swift.
The leather from the saddle creaked, and then a loud thud sounded when a pair of boots hit the hard ground.
“Traviata.” The tone now soft, kinder.
She hesitated before glancing up. The figure now stood before her, exposed. The golden-brown eyes that adorned a youthful face squinted as a smile spread across his lips. He held out a hand to her. “Stand, please.”
Traviata exhaled and then reached for the hand. The man pulled her gently up.
“You are a jewel. Rare and precious.” His face radiated benevolence behind the smile as he continued to hold her hand. “Come with me and leave your old life behind.”
She blinked at him, and then smiled back.
Rob gripped the steering wheel as he watched a brown leaf roll across the gray hood. His haggard face covered with salt and pepper beard helped conceal the white scar across his right cheek. He stared ahead as he half-listened to the car radio.
“The President is expected to address the nation tonight for the final time.” The radio garbled. “Before leaving with his family to an undisclosed location.”
He leaned over and changed the stations.
“CDC still have no answers as to what is causing the flu-like pandemic, nor are they any closer to an effective vaccine or treatment…”
“With the death toll skyrocketing across the country and hospitals completely overwhelmed with the sick, medical personnel are urging everyone to stay indoors in hope of slowing down the spread…”
“Ten more police officers gunned down by looters as they struggle to protect the civilians still in the downtown area…”
The radio went silent when Rob opened the door. He didn’t bother to close it as he staggered into the expansive cemetery. Shadows lurked everywhere yet his own moved with each faltered step. His shoulders slumped forward as he buried both hands deep in the pockets of the ragged trench coat.
He passed rows and rows of old and broken stones until he approached a mangled oak tree. He stooped over a particular headstone, half-buried in yellowed grass. He pulled his right hand out and pressed it on top of the cold stone.
Born March 3, 1972-Died November 12, 2010
Born April 15, 2008-Died November 10, 2010
He bowed his head, eyes closed. “Jules…three years, Jules.”
He stood still for several moments. A dark lock of hair fell over his left eye as his lips quivered. Rob then deliberately reached into the right pocket, and pulled out a pistol.
“I’m so tired of just surviving.” He mumbled as he shifted the weapon to his left and then back to the right hand. “Everyone’s gone.” He pressed the trigger back. “I don’t want to be alone anymore.” And raised the gun towards his temple.
He suddenly paused midway when the branches of the nearby tree swayed and creaked. A breeze swept over his thin body as his hazel eyes searched each and every stone.
“Jules?” His voice shook.
Everything grew still. Including the shadows.
Rob sucked in a trembling breath as he extended the free hand into the left pocket, and extracted a tarnished, gold-colored pocket watch. He used the thumb to flip the lid open.
“7:15.” He whispered.
He blinked several times. There was something engraved in the lid as he continued to stare at it.
79 S 30 W
A smile slowly spread across his lips. “Dad, you son of a b–” He chuckled as he snapped the lid shut, and dropped the watch back into the pocket.
Rob leaned against the headstone as he pushed the trigger back down.
“There’s something I need to do, Jules.” He muttered with excitement. “I’ll be back to…” His voice trailed off when he turned around.
A piece of wood slammed against the side of his head, and he instantly slumped to the ground. As he lied in a heap, his eyes remained open.
They saw nothing.
A murky shadow moved across the earth and enveloped the body, and lifted the watch out of the pocket.
“Whatcha got, Jim?” A scrawny girl in a tattered dress appeared next to the corpse.
The male teen’s crooked smile revealed two missing front teeth as he grasped the ticking object in his grimy hand. “Lunch!”
(First published with Asylum Ink on April, 11th 2014)