Heather sat in an armchair, a book and small lamp on the end table beside her. Her hands were on her knees, which were perfectly in line with her shoulders. She sat still, silent, facing forward without even a flickering of the eye, her expression utterly neutral, blank. It was her personal way of meditiation; her body stopped and her mind focused and pointed internally. Here she could always come, here she could always think.
Her hand reached over, lying on top of the book. She slowly caressed it in swipes and swirls, feeling its fine texture across her soft fingertips. Her fingers– she looked at them with that stone gaze. She was aging. She was a mother. Her little girl was almost eleven now. Did time really move so quickly? Years had fled away like shadows from the light.
Then she thought of her little girl, who was asleep in her bedroom, for it was very late at night. There was none else but them in the house, as it had been for the last decade. Her girl’s father was a memory long passed, having left town with no warning, but she had raised their daughter with her whole heart. And now was not so hard as back then when she was young with a baby.
But never was there a true rest in all that time. Not for her.
On that night, all the town was restless, for a terror had struck it. People were killed, slaughtered in most cases, men, women, children, young and old. The hearts of the people of Sloan were petrified. Some were scared, some were angry, some grieved over lost loved ones, and some were all of these. Heather was most of all fearful, for herself and her daughter.
How many was it now? Forty-seven? Forty-eight? No matter how they all hoped– everyone in the town– the number never stopped. It simply increased and increased over those past four weeks, finding itself always alive, growing, endlessly terrifying as it lived amid the daily news broadcasts and proclaimed its deadly truth. Yes, the death count was its own monster, as it passed through the eyes and ears of all the townsfolk.
Few conversations failed to mention the killings. And few news reports failed to update on them, although the updates were more often a new body discovery than a real development in the investigation, which now involved the FBI, alongside local authorities. A few armed citizens took to patrolling the streets at night, to the police’s annoyance. A small force of private investigators worked through their own methods in the hunt for the killer, hired by some who had lost family and friends. And never was a window left open or a door unlocked anymore.
And who or what was perpetrating these gruesome fatalities? What man– and a man it must have been, for weapons were often found near the victims’ bodies– would so brutally murder others without reason or discrimination, with such crude weapons as long bars of iron or misshapen stones? Indeed, not few skulls were crushed by such instruments.
Some people had claimed to see the killer, some even to have heard it. And ‘it’ they called it– a demon. It was small, like a child, yet it moved like a spirit, something otherworldly. Grey skin, some said. Bluish, said others. Red eyes that glowed from the shadows. Some said hollow eyes, small voids in a body without life or soul. But “La Chupacabra!” others derided. Many believed the killer to be a large, able-bodied man, given that no victim had survived an attack; they were all completely dead before discovery.
Its call was said to be like the cry of a dozen tortured men, and at other times, to be the shriek of a banshee, or the wailing of a young girl, to draw in those who would come to help a child lost in the night. And though most victims were awake and outdoors at night for whatever their reasons, some were killed in their own homes.
It hit Heather there, the fear. She popped up from her seat and back down in a second, shaken from her near-trance. Terror had struck through her and now burned her inside. Not fear of her own demise by such evil, but that her child could conceivably be touched by the hands of something so cruel and deadly. No, it was inconceivable that they lived in such a world that a child could be hurt so.
Yet it had happened all around her. She sobbed, but quickly wiped away the tears that trickled down. She thought of a little boy who had been killed nearby his home. Zac, was that his name? Heather still couldn’t believe it could ever happen to her and her child. But it happened to that little boy and his family. And so many others.
She looked straight up to the ceiling. A tear wanted to fall, but it did not escape her eye. Her expression blanked again. She did not move.
Move. That thought… was that it? It felt nearly insane. Or was she insane to keep her daughter and herself in a town with a bloodthirsty killer loose?
She wondered if she could even move on from Sloan. She had worked so hard just to live and raise a child here, where she had conceived her nearly a dozen years ago. Where would she go? Where could she go? Was anywhere better than here? She remembered in an instant the days when she was so weak, so young, so helpless. Old emotions sprang up.
But now was not so. Things had changed, and in some ways at least, for the better. She felt the presence of a strength in her that she hadn’t had then, or at least not as it was now. Back then, it was a stubborn but caring commitment to properly raise what she had created. But over so many years, the strength had been tested and pushed to limits, though never broken. It was tempered by wisdom, maturity, and greater love now. There was more fear, but even more courage.
She knew then that it was time to move along with her life. Leaving Sloan wouldn’t be an escape from danger. It would be a new beginning. The next chapter. They would leave behind the tragedies and disappointments of the past and the dangers of the present for the hope of the future– somewhere new, safe. Somewhere better.
Then she let her head down. A smile half formed in her mouth and fully in her eyes. The tears flowed freely, but she allowed them. They did not sting, like so many tears had stung her face in her lifetime. They rolled down gently, full of hope and joy, like she.
Soon she felt the tug of sleep pulling on her harder than her many thoughts pulled to keep her up and thinking. Her mind was at rest now, and so soon she would be. She went to the kitchen, pouring a glass of water. Yet before it touched her lips, a noise somewhere in the house set off her motherly sense of house safety.
The glass dropped to the counter with a small crash. But she paid little heed to it, for first she had to listen. And she did. What was that sound? From where had it come? Her head flinched ever so slightly to one side, then to the other, finely adjusting her hearing. Another sound! A large thump. Another, smaller. Was it coming from her daughter’s room? It couldn’t be.
She ran, but silently. A baseball bat laid beside the dining table, then tightly in her two hands. She held it upright as she approached the door with slow steps, her face half angered and half in fear, like a wild animal protecting its offspring. And scared though she was, at least for then she was prepared to smash anything that threatened her family, even the crazed killer that lingered in the back of her mind. And in this room? No, it couldn’t be.
She quietly opened the door, holding the bat in front of her face while she peeked into the room. As the door opened, there was a draft. The window was open, curtains lightly blowing. The moonlight poured in. But her eyes followed from the window to the floor–
Her hand smacked her mouth. She almost shrieked, but stopped herself, tears falling down her face. Bloody, smeared tracks from the window to the bathroom door. Swiftly, she approached her girl’s bed. It was empty. World-crushing fear surged through her. It can’t be.
She looked back to the bathroom door with teary eyes, a soft, sobbing gasp. Her shirt wiped her eyes dry again and she could see; the bathroom light was on. There was a deep sound, frequent but not consistent. Like the sound of voices, and bubbling, in unison. The sound was like a presence. A terrible, permeating, invasive presence. But if her very flesh and blood was in there… with the murderer.
Oh God! Fear. It struck her again, like a blow to the stomach. She became ill.
It had happened to her. Evil had come to take her child from her, like it had come for so many others. Reality wanted to set in, but it couldn’t. It was impossible. Her mind wouldn’t allow it. Yet it was right there. It was terror. Pure, sickening terror like she had never felt before.
But it had not sapped all her strength. She controlled her sobs, breathed hushedly, wiped away the tears and her running nose. She stalked over to the door.
She knew not what lied beyond, but she knew that if there was any hope– and all seemed lost– then she would find it mingled with whatever unspeakable horror lied beyond the door. How painfully right that subconscious feeling was.
The doorknob turned some, then stopped. Locked. Now anger more than panic overtook her. She looked about for any solution, then back to the door. Her teeth gritted. With a step back, she lifted her weapon up, gripped around the bottom of the bat’s handle, then swung down. Too weak! The handle jiggled violently.
“No!” she screamed, then smashed it with all her might. The doorknob fell to the floor in pieces and she pushed the door open, bursting in with the bat held high above her head, her face terrible.
But before her was no lanky, black-clothed murderer, nor a grey-skinned demon. A young girl, bathed in blood, stood naked, facing away from her. Her long, dark hair was wet with thick, crimson goo– still fresh. She stood straight and made no movement, no noise.
“Rose? Rosey?” Heather whispered. No response.
“Rosey!” she repeated in utter desperation.
The girl was yet silent. Then her body turned backward in one movement. Her head turned too. Her irises were a hellish red, surrounded by blackness. Around her eyes was dark, discolored. Her mother stared into them with bewildered, fearful silence.
The girl turned straight forward again. Suddenly she fell to her hands and knees, violently puking, hacking and screaming as she emptied her guts on the already blood-covered floor. Heather dropped the weapon and ran to her daughter.
“Rosey, are you okay?” She held the girl in her arms when the vomiting stopped. Her eyes were… normal again.
Only then did Heather notice the bathtub was already full with warm water. She lifted the girl and placed her in the tub, holding her hand.
“Mom… I hate this…”
“It’s okay. It’s okay. Everything will be fine.”
“Please… kill me,” the girl muttered weakly, spitting up into the tub.
“Please! Rosey, you will be alright!” she nearly yelled, amid sobbing breaths. “Please, please tell me what happened.”
The girl’s eyes opened more, as if she were still waking up from some unholy sleep. She sat up and looked around the bathroom. Suddenly her hands covered her eyes and she bawled, her tears dropping like rain into the dirty water, full of crimson swirls. She cried long and hard, with her mother holding her hand, like she had cried so many a night before, alone.