Pringles started barking in the middle of the night. She does that sometimes when I forget to let her out before bed. She doesn’t have much of a bark because she’s such a little dog. She scratched at the back door and yipped. Dad was sleeping hard. He was snoring. I think he drank a lot of wine after he saw my drawings. I heard him open another bottle. So I got up and walked down to the kitchen and let her out. Because I had brought her home and Dad said she was my responsibility. It was cold, so I shut the door behind her and went to get a glass of juice. I got a cup and opened the fridge and when I closed it I dropped the carton on the floor. It splattered, but I didn’t care.
It was my secret. It was swarming outside the kitchen window. Like a bunch of giant black cockroaches.
I was right. It had come back. Only it had grown. It was too big for Pete’s cage, that was for sure. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I think it wanted to come in. But it couldn’t. Like something was blocking it from me. From my nightmares.
And then I wondered how long had it been since I had one. Since the day Mr. A. Tranjay came.
I watched those giant roaches swirl over the window and I was glad I was inside and the door was closed. But then I heard Pringles barking at it outside. She was barking and barking. Then she yelped. She was such a little dog.
I shoved my bare feet into my boots and grabbed my heavy coat with the furry hood and ran out the door. I thought maybe I could talk to it. Like I’d done before, when it was smaller. Well, we didn’t talk really. We just had an understanding. That’s what my dad would say. I understood what it needed, and it understood I would feed it, but only if it let Emerald go. It was a deal. Only I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about it, even my dad, or it would go back and hurt her again.
It was a lot smaller then. I think it could hurt me now.
It was quiet outside. I was about to call for Pringles when I heard her bark from inside the hollow. It looked so dark in the trees at night, even though most of the trunks were skinny and they weren’t that close together. I shivered and ran back for my gloves and hat and scarf, then I grabbed Pete’s cage from the side of the garage and walked into the hollow. Everything was still. I could see my breath in the light from the moon. I could hear the leaves crunch under my feet. It smelled crisp, like maybe it was going to snow, even though Dad said spring break was soon and we might go see Mom.
I don’t know how long I walked. I called for Pringles a couple times. I was almost to the basement when it found me. Leeches dropped from the trees. They landed on me. On my hair. On my arm. Even on my neck. I could feel them, cold and slimy. They were bright white with circles of black teeth. They wriggled and squirmed, little mouths trying to get a grip. Trying to feed on me. But not on blood. Something else.
“No!” I dropped Pete’s cage and shook and swatted and shivered. “This isn’t what we said. No!” I ran to get away. But the leeches kept falling. “Leave me alone!”
I almost tripped once, but I kept going. But then my shoulder hit a tree and I fell on my knees. The leeches covered me. I screamed. And I shouldn’t have done that because they were going to get into my mouth. And then it would be over. Like how it got inside Emerald.
But they didn’t get me. I screamed and my mouth was open but they didn’t get me. The leeches scurried away.
I heard a gallop on heavy ground. I looked up at the stag standing over me. I turned. My secret had disappeared into the hollow. I fell. Maybe I cried a little. But not like a little kid. I know I was shaking. I know now I should have gone home, but then I was too afraid. It was dark and my secret was still out there somewhere. Hurting people. I couldn’t get up.
The stag walked through the clearing. It strutted and grunted in a circle around me. It dragged its hooves across the ground, exposing dirt. It shook its giant antlers. After it did that a few times, it dropped to the leaves and lowered its head like it was ready for sleep. Its body wrapped around mine. I was so tired. I didn’t think I could make it home. I just wanted to rest. I felt safe there. And as I laid back, it whispered something to me. And I agreed.
I’m posting the chapters of my forthcoming urban paranormal mystery, FEAST OF SHADOWS, in order until the book is released. A blend of hard-boiled whodunit and contemporary urban fantasy, it’s been described as “Tolkien meets Dashiell Hammett for dinner in the present day.”
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You can start reading in order here: The old ones are patient.
The next chapter is: (not yet posted)