Lizzie didn’t know the layout of the house but she had seen the sun shining through the window so as she ran, she pushed open the door and burst out into the daylight. Then the world fell away and she quickly found herself on the hard-packed ground that was the backyard just steps away from the kitchen.
What the hell? Why weren’t there stairs there?
She hurt, the fall had forced the breath from her lungs, and she was struggling to get turned over. Her hands burned, scraped on the way down, and now what the hell was all of this? Everywhere she turned there was green. The grass was tall, surrounding her, and it was loud with…life. She couldn’t see anything, but she heard it. The ground around her was alive with motion. She listened as things moved through it. Some was the bounce of animals as they scurried away, but there were other things, things that she could hear slithering and those noises… They sounded like they were the creatures coming towards her.
Her heart beat loudly in her chest, pounding out a scream that told her to get up and get the hell out of there. She felt it’s pulse in her ears as it throbbed. She was trying to hold her breath and hear what was coming towards her, but it was impossible. Her lungs burned and she breathed harder in her attempts to fight it.
Come on girl, get yourself out of here or you’ll be like Susie. Come on!
The slithering stopped. It had to be a snake right? logically it had to be, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was the old man? She could have knocked herself out when she fell and now he had followed her. He could be slithering his way towards her, pulling himself on his stomach, scraping that exposed penis across the ground.
No, I’m not going to think about him. He was back there, I’m out here and I can get away.
She just needed to get up and run away. Snakes were more afraid of her than she was of it, right? Or was that spiders? What the hell was she thinking as none of that mattered. She had to get out of there.
She twisted herself around and reached down to push herself up. Her hand had just touched the ground when something long and with a lot of legs crawled over it. Her hand was quickly back In the air as she recoiled, looking at the place she had touched.
What was that? It wasn’t big but long, had a segmented body and they all had legs. It was some kind of bug but it looked nasty.
She felt the wetness return at the corner of hers eyes.
No! No more tears. I just need to get out of here. I can’t cry. Come on, we can do this.
She pushed herself up and started to stand. Pain shot up from her ankle. Damn, she must have twisted it on her way down, but at least the pain was bearable. She just had to get out of there and then she could focus on it. She needed to get to the road, find a phone, call for help.
She took a tentative step and her ankle threatened to give, but it didn’t. She could walk. She had to walk, Because is she didn’t…
Behind her, that cackling laugh floated out into the woods echoing into a cacophony of noise around her. Leaves fell and birds flew to escape the hideousness of it. It reverberated. She heard trees splintering, their bark falling exposing the cracks beneath, and inside her, her heart sank.
Before turning around, Lizzie knew what she would see. She wanted to stop herself but couldn’t. She turned and there he was standing in the doorway, arms outstretched and grasping both sides. He looked like he was preparing to launch himself at her.
He was wasn’t he? He was getting ready to chase her.
Those long talon like nails, each hand a claw holding the door frame. The wood creaked under the pressure of him squeezing. He was rocking back and forth, each motion preparing to expel him from the house towards her. Those black, soulless eyes were fixed on her and the smile. She refused to look at his smile. She wanted to close her eyes to avoid it, but the moment she did, he would be on top of her.
It was no longer a question of if she could walk. Now she had to run, and she tried. Her first step away she found the snake that had been slithering near her. It wheeled up and launched at the thing that had dared to disturb it.
That thing was her and she felt it before she saw it. It was like a fire exploded in her leg and her body no longer supported her weight. The grass again rose up to meet her and it forced all the air out of her. She wasn’t sure just what had happened.
The fire continued to throb and she vaguely remembered seeing a black shape that had emerged quickly from beneath her and then, whoosh, she was falling to look up at the tree limbs that were watching down from above.
The world swayed back and forth. No, wait, that was her. She was shaking her head back and forth. It hurt. All of her hurt, and her leg especially, though not all of it. Now, part of her leg had started to go numb. That was good. At least a part of her didn’t hurt.
Was she going into shock?
No, she wasn’t hurt. How could she be going into shock?
She wasn’t sure, but as the world around her swam, she had two reoccurring thoughts. The first was how all around her, none of this seemed real. It was all just a picture show and she was watching it through some kind of game. It had to not be real. Her friends didn’t die in real life and in real life she wouldn’t be out in the woods lying on the ground just after getting bitten by a snake.
I hope the snake isn’t poisonous. She had no idea what kind of snakes were in these woods, but even if she did, she hadn’t seen enough of it to know what kind of snake it had been. It had been a vicious bugger, that’s for sure.
The other thought that kept fighting to press in on her was that she had to get out of there. It wasn’t safe for her to be lying on the ground.
Of course it wasn’t safe. I’d just been bit by a snake and my friend is dead just inside the house.
And she knew that, she just couldn’t bring herself the desire to do anything about any of it. She just wanted to lie there and wait for whatever happened, to happen. Maybe some young, dashing prince charming would show up and rescue her.
She’s seen way to many fairy tales. Which might be the case, but she couldn’t shake the thought that someone would show up in the nick of time and save her. That was how all the stories always went, wasn’t it?
But this isn’t a fairy tale and you’re not a princess.
That still didn’t mean if she stayed there, that someone wouldn’t find her…
Oh, but they would find her. They’d find her cold dead corpse just like they found Susan’s inside the kitchen. She’d long since been dead and when they put her in her grave, they could put on her tombstone:
She died because she was too
damned lazy to get up and save herself.
And it would be true because here she was lying there on the ground feeling as the numbness was feeding on her, pushing away all her senses.
What did any of it matter?
Her life mattered.
From the house, she thought it came from the house, there was a loud crashing sound as something large hit the ground.
It was him. He had fallen like she had. He was coming after her, and wouldn’t be that far. He would be on top of her and then what was he going to do?
Maggots. Maggots filling her, eating her from the inside, that smiling face over her, those red teeth, sharp as they tore into her. She knew exactly what he was going to do with her.
Her mind hadn’t fully grasped what she needed to do yet, but somewhere, something had. She must have some core of survival instinct as before she had decided to pull herself away from the house, she noticed she was already doing it.
It was like her mind was pulling her out of a dark haze, conscious again of the world and it. She was on her elbows walking herself backward. She was kicking herself back, not sure where the snake had gone to, worried it would come again.
She felt that fire in her leg now, it was throbbing, and the pain was good. The pain was helping to push away some of those cobwebs that kept threatening to reweave themselves through her thoughts.
Run, damn you! The thought screamed through her and she knew it was true. She couldn’t backpedal like this through the woods, she would never get anywhere. She had to get up, and get the hell out of there. She needed to leave this house once and for all.
There was a thrashing behind her and she couldn’t help herself. She looked up at the house before she turned around. The naked man was no longer in the doorframe but he wasn’t running after her. He had fallen out like she had thought and he had to fight to get himself on all fours. Now he was there just outside the kitchen and he was watching her. She couldn’t see all his face, his mouth was hidden by the tall grass, but those eyes, they kept watching her.
She didn’t need to see the mouth. She knew the smile was there.
Around her, the woods grew dark. A chill ran down her and she couldn’t stop the shiver that touched her soul.
There was something else out there. It was watching her, and it was something much worse than the naked man.
She looked to the woods and saw it. It stood there in the tree line. It was the shape of a tall man but she knew it was something else. It was evil, darkness, the absence of life swirling in the shadow of a man and it stood there just behind a large gnarled tree.
She wasn’t sure how she stood or how she wasn’t face planting herself from the pain of the snake bite, but she found herself running away from the house and the thing in the woods. She had ran away, to the woods across the clearing, and now was fighting through branches that reached out to her. Many of them slapped her in face and arms, but occasionally one would scrape across her leg and she would bite down on her lip and push away the agonizing torment.
It didn’t last long. She wasn’t sure how far she had run, or if the naked man, or the death shadow was still following her. She thought they were, but as she had gotten away from the clearing around the house the sky had lightened and she could see the sun again. Now she was out of breath, her whole leg was ablaze, she had to pee and the tears rolling down her cheek was either because of the pain, the death of her friend, or just everything rolled together in an unmeasurable mess of emotion.
She ran as far as she could. Her legs could not hold her weight anymore and she collapsed into the closest tree. Her breath was coming out in harsh rasping gasps, the air around her thick with those white fluffy things she had chased as a kid and it was getting in her lungs. So much life around her and it was killing her.
Cottonwood. They were seeds from a cottonwood tree. She didn’t know how she knew that but it was true. The seeds were drifting around her. It was almost beautiful, they were so white and light and seemed to glow in the shifting sunlight as they drifted around her.
There really were a lot of them.
The airborne fluff continued to fall. It grew thicker. Around her was the white of cottonwood and had it not been the late summer she would have thought it was a winter snow fall, thick like a winter storm.
She was having a hard time focusing. Her breathing was coming in shorter gasps. Why was she trying to run? It was so nice out there, and it was the perfect place to just lie down and take a nap. It was peaceful out there, why not just lie down and enjoy it. She could make a snow angel. It really was so beautiful.
The ground looked so soft. It was covered in the white fluff, it looked like the snow, but she could image how comfortable it would be to lie down in all that cotton.
Is this where cotton comes from?
No, it couldn’t be, and that didn’t seem right, but it was so soft. One had landed on her hand and she felt its delicate lightness. It danced in front of her as she watched it drifting on the wind.
It was entrancing. She could only focus on the little flake on her hand. It flowed back and forth, moving to music only it could hear as it moved in its own rhythm.
She didn’t blink.
She barely breathed.
Everything had become her watching that little fluff of cottonwood seed. The world around her at first becoming white from the falling seeds, then growing dark as so many of them fell that the sun could no longer be seen.
What did any of it matter? It was just so beautiful.
She was barely breathing. The world around her was swaying back and forth. No, that was her moving, the earth around her staying still and inviting.
A laughter boomed through the trees around her and she felt the vibration as it rumbled through her. It hadn’t been that cackle from the naked man, as this was a rich deep laugh that felt like it could crack open the earth and move mountains. This felt like the laugh from a god, and it pulled her from the trance she had fallen into.
She fell forward on her hands and knees, gasping harder and coughing.
“tik-a-to, tik-a-tee, you are dying, on your knees.” a voice chimed around her, coming from everywhere and speaking in a sing song manner that swam through Lizzie’s head. She heard it but couldn’t concentrated on it. Was it man, woman, she didn’t know, but it was strong.
“tik-a-too, tik-a-tee, you are young, too young for me. tik-a-too, tik-a-tet, you will die, but not die yet.”
Lizzie took in a deep gush of breath and then coughed one hard and final time. A large clump of the white fluff landed with a wet plop onto the ground and she could breath again. She didn’t take her eyes off of it as it moved and she couldn’t not think of the maggot as it slithered out-
No, she wasn’t going to think about it, but she couldn’t stop herself. That mental image was never going away.
The woods around her faded, going dark. She looked up to see that the trees were gone and that a man was standing over her. As close as he was, she still couldn’t make out anything about him. Even in this place with the absence of light, he somehow stood in the shadows, yet she still saw him. It hurt her head to think how she could see and not see him as he stood before her, yet she also didn’t know how she knew it was a man.
“tik-a-too, tik-a-tu, devily dee, devily do. tik-a-too, tik-a-tay, Your time will come, just not today. You have much to do, you have much to say.” He spoke in that sing song cadence but it was far from sounding like it was singing. The voice had become rough like sandpaper and it gritted when he spoke. He talked slow, almost like a cowboy out of an old western, but that didn’t fit with the accent. She could hear a trace of one, but wasn’t sure from where she recognized it.
It was hard to hear him and she didn’t want to hear his words. That stupid rhyming made everything he said sound like kid’s speak and garbled noise.
As she looked away, finding the fluff covered ground hard to look at as it glowed somehow in the darkness with its own light. Looking at it hurt her eyes, but she would gladly burn her eyes out to keep from looking back up at the man who was not a man, the dark that was not dark that hovered above her.
The thing must have sensed her discomfort as it called out a long loud howl that dwindled into a laugh. She didn’t have to look up to know he would no longer be there. The fluff around her was fading and she felt the warmth of the sun now on her skin. The hot suffocating wind was a welcome sensation as the wind was again moving around her and the cotton fluff was dancing upon it rather than falling to the ground.
She could breathe again without fighting for it and she pulled in large gulps of air. She had gotten free from the house, escaped the naked man and now survived some kind of woods demon she had no way of explaining, to now be alone in the woods. All she had to do now was find the road and get help.
The cackling echoed in the trees around her, booming off them, surrounding her. She didn’t have to turn to know what was behind her, but she did and there he was. She was surprised to see that she was barely out of the clearing from the house and could see his shape as he stood there in the tall grass.
He was still naked, his appendage wagging between his legs and that grin with those dark eyes that locked on her. How could he stand there, his bare feet to the ground. She had just crawled on her hands and knees that little bit and she could feel the cuts and scrapes. He stood there no problem, no sign of any pain, just that tooth filled grin.
The man ran towards her and she stepped back, turning to run away when she hit the tree she had been leaning on. She fell, twisting as she did and landed on her butt but she didn’t stop. She continued to back pedal quickly, watching as the man neared her, him running faster on bare feet than her spider crawling backwards.
He came to the edge of the clearing and stopped, not entering the woods. Lizzie didn’t. She wasn’t going to stop until she could no longer see those eyes. She kept fighting to move faster.
It should have taken longer but something wasn’t right. It barely took her a minute before she was pulling herself into the street. She wouldn’t have noticed as she never looked away, oh no, never take your eyes off the devil or you become his, her grandmother would say.
She barely noticed the horn that blew as there man’ cackle had distracted her. It had been the loudest yet and she was sure her ears were bleeding as it had reverberated through her sending her into convulsions.
The last thing she felt before she passed out into the black was the hard hot cement beneath her and a dark shape that was standing over her.
“Are you okay?” A woman’s voice said, but before Lizzie could answer she was gone, that cackling laugh following her into unconsciousness.
* * * *