I: Shadows Dancing On The Walls
Krissy was not afraid of the dark, but she was afraid of the monsters that lurked in the gloomy woods surrounding her house. Unable to sleep, she lay on her back, watching the shadows dance on the walls to the symphony of the wind as it howled through the branches of the lone oak tree. Even the groans of the aged timber limbs, and the sporadic tapping of the green wooden fingers on the windows didn’t scare her. Krissy was not afraid of the dark, but she was afraid of the monsters.
Many of the older children in the nearby village claimed they didn’t believe in monsters, but they didn’t live so close to the woods. They didn’t hear the monsters at night, the distant moaning coming from the dark. They never saw the shadows lingering in the trees once the sun had fallen beyond the horizon. But even those who lived in the village, who didn’t believe there were monsters in the woods, followed a simple rule: they were always home before sunset.
Determined to sleep, Krissy forced her eyes shut and pictured the daisies growing wild across the trimmed lawn surrounding the house, the yellow and white flowers swaying gently in the summer breeze. She imagined herself falling to her knees on the soft grass, her fingers caressing the green blades dampened by a sweet morning dew.
Her eyes shot open, her heart racing. In the distance, a deep groan echoed through the glade, rumbling faintly, just enough to rattle the windows in their rotting frames. Her eyes darted around nervously, the same familiar shadows shuffled across the walls, the new moon barely strong enough to give form to the dark figures surrounding her.
She strained her ears to hear if the monsters were coming nearer, but she could discern little over the sound of her own frantic breathing. She sucked in a lungful of air and held her breath, listening intently to the rustling of the leaves, to the clattering of the windows, and to the whistling of the erratic wind.
Her arms were tense, fingers clasping the blankets; the rest of her body lay stiff with fear. She screwed her eyes shut once more, whimpering as she wished for sleep to take her. She pictured a warm sunrise over the green pastures, the monsters in the shadows forced into retreat by the powerful rays of the light. Only by the comfort of the imaginary sun was Krissy able to fall asleep.
II: The Threshold
“Krissy,” came the familiar voice from downstairs, “breakfast is ready.”
She opened her eyes and saw the sharp shadows cast by the oak that rose between the house and the climbing sun. The figures stood motionless in the windless morning, as if painted by a sombre artist in burnt umber across the brown cedar-plank walls.
She rolled out of bed, and groggily pulled on clothes already muddied by her recent daytime adventures. Making her way down the stairs, she found her parents sitting at the table. A bowl of diced potatoes and eggs was ready to be served, steaming, tickling her nose and teasing her stomach.
“Good morning, Krissy,” said her mother as she put on that concerned expression. “Did you sleep?”
Krissy shook her head, morose, but with her eyes still fixed on the prize at the centre of the table. Her mother ladled a generous helping of food into a bowl and handed it to her as she sat down.
“The monsters again?” asked her father, though he barely raised his eyes from his book.
“I heard them, I…” she sighed, already knowing what he would say next.
“The monsters won’t come out of the woods. You are safe as long as you stay indoors at night.”
“But what if they do come out? What if—”
“You are twelve years old now, girl. Don’t be silly. How many times have I told you? The monsters never come out of the woods. And they certainly never come into the house.”
“There is nothing to worry about,” added her mother, “as long you are home by sunset. Only children who stay out after sunset need fear the monsters. They are the ones that never return.”
Krissy sighed again as she stared at her bowl of food. It was still full. She raised a spoonful to her mouth, and savoured the flavour of the fluffy egg and the salty potato. Even so, she couldn’t clear her mind.
“Where do they go?” she asked, as if she had never asked before. “What happens to them?”
“Who knows?” mumbled her father. “Maybe the monsters eat them.”
Nobody knew. That was the worst part of it. They simply vanished. Search parties revealed no trace of any of them. If they were killed, their bodies weren’t anywhere to be found. If they were eaten, not even their bones were left to be discovered.
Outside the window, Krissy could see the lawn stretching a hundred yards to the edge of the woods. A hundred yards in all directions, a small circle defending a lone house from the monsters that skulked between the trees after dark. It was true, she had never seen a monster cross the threshold. She had never caught more than glimpses of the shades moving between the trunks of the trees at the edge of the woods.
“Krissy,” said her mother, stealing her attention from the window, “are you going to do your chores today?”
“Yes, Mum,” she said sulking, “I will do them this evening. I promised I’d go to see Eric today.”
“Who’s Eric?” asked her father.
“It’s the boy she’s been playing with lately.”
“I already told you about him, dear.”
Krissy tried to ignore her parents as they began to bicker. She scoffed down the remainder of her food, and ran outside, waving to her parents as she skipped out of the door.
“Bye Mum, bye Dad,” she called.
“Be home before sunset,” yelled her mother behind her.
Krissy sprinted across the soft grass, revelling in the warm sun as her excitement grew. When she neared the edge of woods, she slowed down, a hint of caution and nerves creeping in. The monsters never came out during the day, but the woods were still a scary place.
She stopped as she crossed into the shadow cast at the edge of the woods. The sun had little power there, the foliage was thick, the canopy almost impenetrable. Even during the day, the darkness was nearly as deep as the night. But Krissy wasn’t afraid of the dark.
III: The Whistling Woods
“Krissy!” shouted the boy as he ran towards her, stopping at one of the trees near the edge. “There you are! What are you waiting for? Let’s go. I want to show you something.”
Krissy glanced back towards her house for just a moment before she ran into the woods. She met Eric where he leaned with his back to a tall Douglas-fir, fumbling with a fallen cone the size of his fist.
“I was worried you wouldn’t come,” said Eric as he stood up.
“Of course I came!”
He smiled as he took her hand, guiding her into the woods.
“It’s a long walk, but you are going to love this.”
“What is it?”
“A surprise! Trust me.”
They chatted happily as they clambered through the woods, navigating small ravines with cool streams cutting through, leaping over fallen branches, and crawling through the animal trails that weaved through the dense underbrush.
They stopped to rest on some rocks beside a trickling brook, silence for the first time breaking their conversation. Krissy idly studied the scratches she’d collected from the sharp leaves of the holly bushes. A few rays of sun pierced the canopy, darting through to the colourful arrays of dead leaves scattered across the ground, the sharp beams of light creating patterns in the otherwise gloomy atmosphere.
“We’re almost there,” said Eric, breaking the silence. “We just need to follow the stream that way.”
Krissy only smiled as she washed her hands and face in the cold water.
“Do you want to be my girlfriend?” blurted Eric.
“Okay,” she answered after an appropriately long moment of consideration.
Eric stared at her with an expression hovering somewhere between shock and happiness. Krissy had been hoping he would ask her, had expected him to do it sooner.
“Okay,” he said after a few moments. “Um, now what?”
“Now you take me to see the surprise you have been promising me!”
“Oh, yes,” he said, uncertain.
After a slight hesitation, he took her hand again, and led her along the side of the stream. They walked in silence again, with an unexplained tension. A dark feeling.
“Where do you think they go?” asked Krissy. “During the day I mean?”
“The monsters? They hide, of course.”
“From us,” he said. “We can see them in the light, so they need to hide during the day. They are scared of us.”
“That’s silly. Why would monsters be scared of us?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I heard. Where do you think they go?”
Krissy didn’t answer. Her gaze wandered between tree trunks scattered haphazardly to either side of the stream. The thick underbrush provided plenty of cover, and wind whistled through the branches – easily loud enough to conceal the crunch of footsteps on the ground. She shuddered at what could be hidden in there, watching her. But the monsters never came out during the day.
“Here we are,” said Eric.
Krissy stopped and followed the direction of his pointed finger. There was a cave entrance, the source of the stream, water trickling out onto the mossy rocks. Blossoming dogwoods surrounded the entrance, snow-white flowers catching stray beams of sunlight piercing the verdant canopy.
“You want to go in there?”
“Come on! You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?”
“I’m not afraid of the dark!” she insisted.
But she was afraid of monsters, and a dark cave deep in the woods seemed a perfectly reasonable place for the monsters to hide during the day.
Eric beckoned, and reluctantly Krissy followed. They climbed up the lip of the cave entrance, stepping through the stream and soaking their feet in the cold water. The sweet smell of the flowers was soon swallowed by the musty air of the cave. The light faded quickly, even against the flame of Eric’s crude torch – a stick with a tightly-wound cloth burning dimly.
The silence crept in as they made their way deeper into the cave, the rustling of leaves in the afternoon wind fading away behind, broken by the sporadic droplets of water splashing into pools formed on the uneven surfaces scattered throughout the chamber.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” whispered Eric.
It was beautiful. Krissy’s eyes had adjusted to the dim light, and she could see the intriguing shapes formed in the rocks. The four fingers jutting from the ground, sharpened claws pointing to the ceiling. The awkward faces with unusual features, watching from the walls, following as they walked, blinking with every flicker of the flame.
The was a large pool at the edge of the cavern, almost perfectly still, only the faintest ripples on the surface as the water crawled beneath on its journey out of the cave. The torchlight made a mirror of the darkness, and Krissy could vaguely see her own face, alone in the cold dark water.
She followed Eric as he pushed further into the cave, through a tight tunnel, and into another chamber as big as the previous one. The darkness was even deeper, the torch the only light remaining. Shadows long and vague stretched on all surfaces, rugged, uneven, hazardous. There was no path to follow, only rocks to climb over and hollows to navigate.
“I want to go back,” she whispered, her voice echoing in the cavern, a ghostly reply bouncing off the walls.
Eric didn’t answer. He crept further into the cavern, cautious, his eyes fixed on something she couldn’t see.
“Eric,” she whispered louder, risking the cavern’s response.
Still he didn’t answer. Krissy silently tried to follow, almost blind without a torch of her own. Her hands seeking grips as her feet slid cautiously, searching for safe surfaces to stand on.
“Eric!” she called, risking raising her voice a little.
“Shh,” he said. “There’s something…”
Krissy froze, searching the darkness for… something. Anything. Movement. The shadows from the dim light danced on the walls, the yellow flame bringing the cavern to life, every surface writhing in a haphazard ballet.
Her heart was racing, her lungs tense, struggling in the dank air. Her fingers were aching from gripping handholds. She strained her eyes and ears to find what Eric was looking for, but she could sense nothing. She tried to crawl forward, to get closer to the light before the darkness swallowed her. Every step was a labour, yet she still couldn’t catch up with Eric.
“Eric,” she whispered in desperation, but once again he didn’t answer.
Her vision became further obscured as the tears welled in her eyes. She wiped them away as she tried to regain her calm, taking a deep breath. She stepped forward and felt her foot slip. Her hands reached out in panic, searching for something to cling onto, they flailed momentarily as her balance vanished, and she felt herself falling into nothingness.
She screamed in fear as the air rushed past her, and then slammed into a pool of freezing water. It was shallow, and she hit the rocks beneath, struggling to get her bearings and break the surface. She burst through, hands flapping in the darkness searching for anything to hold onto.
She could hear Eric calling her name from above. He sounded distant.
“I’m over here!” She shouted, no longer caring what else might hear her.
She found the edge of the pool just as a faint trickle of light filled the cavern. She crawled onto the rocks and looked up towards the torch. Eric’s face peeked over the rim of the precipice high above, the light revealing a small opening above her.
“Eric!” she shouted.
The rock face fell vertically down from where he stood, a sheer drop vanishing into the pool of water. Behind her, a tunnel or cavern stretched beyond the reach of the light. She stared into the darkness, straining her eyes.
“Eric,” she said with a quiver, “please, help me.”
A faint odour drifted out from the dark cavern, sharp, putrid. The smell of something rotting. Or dying.
Krissy could see Eric waving the torch around frantically, searching for any way in or out of the cavern. In the dim light, all she could see was a sheer rock face, probably too high to climb, too difficult.
“You have to climb,” said Eric. “I can’t see another way.”
Shivering, she glanced behind into the blackness of the cavern. Even without light, her eyes began seeing things, moving, twisting in the shadows, her mind playing tricks on her, fear taking control of her thoughts.
She turned and waded into the pool of cold water, swam frantically, unaware of what lay beneath. She reached the rock wall and searched for a grip. With all her strength, she pulled herself up, her cold fingers struggling to cling on the sharp edges. Her feet cleared the level of the water as she slowly pulled her way up, only just able see the rock face in the light from the torch – hovering a long way above her. Her hand found a particularly sharp crack, and she wrenched it back in pain, slipping, and plunging back into the cold water.
She was crying again, she realised as she swam back to the bank and crawled out of the water. Eric was still searching for another way, the torch dimming and brightening as he moved about. Her hands were freezing, and one was sticky from a trickle of blood.
“I need to go get help,” said Eric.
“No! Stay here!”
“I have to go, we need help!”
“No!” she screamed, tears welling up again. “Please don’t leave me alone here!”
“Krissy, remember: you are not afraid of the dark.”
She was crying, desperate, unable to contain herself.
“Please,” she sobbed, but the light vanished.
“I will be back soon!”
“No,” she screamed, fighting back the tears. “Eric! Eric!”
There was no answer. Absolute darkness filled the cavern. She couldn’t see the pool before her, nor her fingers moving right before her eyes. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, and tried to calm herself. She closed her eyes and tried to picture the sun rising over her green gardens, pushing the darkness away. When she opened them, she was still completely blind, and she could hear nothing but the water droplets falling from the roof, and the sound of her own breathing.
IV: In Cold Darkness
Shivering uncontrollably, Krissy sat alone in the darkness. Time was lost to her, the passage of the day continued beyond her grasp. The evening would be drawing nearer, sunset lingered on her mind.
She glanced up for the hundredth time, searching for the faint orange light from Eric’s torch, but all she could see was the oppressive darkness, neither near nor far, but absolute.
She couldn’t wait for Eric. She didn’t know how long he’d be, where he’d gone, or if he’d even come back. If the sun was setting, he could no longer help her, he couldn’t risk his life for her.
Krissy would need to swim across the pool to get to the wall, and try to climb up the rock face using only her hands to feel for holds. But she had already lost her bearings; she didn’t remember which direction she’d been facing once she’d settled down in the dark.
There was still a putrid odour in the air, old, faint, but distinct. The smell of something decaying. She wasn’t sure which way she was facing, but she knew she didn’t want to go towards it.
Concentrating, swinging her face from side to side, she sampled the air, inhaling lightly through her nose. For all her efforts, she couldn’t tell where the smell was coming from. Resigned to having to choose a direction without guidance, she cautiously lifted herself onto her feet, her palms still resting on the ground.
Edging forward, she tested the floor, searching for the edge of the pool. She slid her hand forward, slowly, feeling every edge of the rocky surface. When she stretched too far, she drew her first leg forward and settled her foot next her hand, then brought the next leg up with same caution. Again she stretched out ahead, tapping the floor, hoping for it to hit water, but instead finding nothing but more rock.
Losing confidence in her decision, she pushed forward another pace, sliding her hand, feeling its way as it went. She hit something small that scraped along the floor – a stone, smooth, small enough to close her fingers around. It was nearly a perfect sphere, worn by ages in the water, likely carried by the underground river.
She carefully placed the pebble back down as she continued searching for the pool with her fingers. She shuffled forward, opting to put her weight on her knees, and stretched out as far as she could, still failing to find the water’s edge. As she shifted her weight, she heard a click from beside her knee, followed by another. A moment later, the pebble began clattering away, bouncing down an incline in front of her. She waited without moving, listening as the sound echoed in a tight space, rolling down the tunnel, and eventually stopping with a strangely muted thud as it reached the bottom.
She froze as she heard the crunching of loose stones under shifting weight. She let out a faint whimper, her eyes welling up, her muscles refusing to move. Two distinct crunches on the pebbles were followed by the clattering of settling stones. Silence returned. Still unmoving, she strained her ears, unsure if she was detecting the faint echo of soft feet falling on solid ground, or if she was just hearing her heartbeat throbbing in her ears. A snort resounded up the tunnel, and her lungs failed as she gasped a panicked breath.
She turned and leapt away, still on all fours, bounded in the opposite direction and crashed into the pool of water. She swam in a frenzy to reach the rock face, clapping a hand onto the wall as she reached it. In little time, her fingers found their first grips, and she yanked herself up from the water, her hands darting around rapidly in search of the next handhold, pain having lost its power to adrenaline.
She heard another snort from behind and below, and redoubled her efforts to ascend. Tears ran rampant down her cheeks, and her sobs echoed through the chamber. Whatever it was, it already knew she was there, remaining silent could no longer save her.
Suddenly, the sheer rock gave way to a ledge, and she pulled herself onto the flat ridge. She listened for her pursuer, and could still hear the snorting below, the soft splashing at the edge of the pool. It hadn’t crossed the water, it hadn’t climbed up the rock face. But it was still following her, and it might know another a way up.
The chamber was just as dark as it was below, and she still couldn’t see anything at all. The air was fresher though, free of the odours of decay, but still thick and musty. Her hands burnt as the pain from the climb sank in, hot blood seeping through numerous gashes. With nothing else to protect them, she slid off her shoes to use her socks as gloves. Retying her laces was far less easy as her fingers rebelled, many completely refusing to cooperate.
Determined to continue, she sat still and held her breath, hoping she could hear something to give her a sense of direction. The chirping of birds in the woods perhaps, or Eric calling her name. But all she could hear was the snorting from below, fading away as it moved back down the tunnel.
She closed her eyes to help her concentrate – not that it made a difference. She clenched her hands to her chest and inhaled deeply, held her breath for a long moment, and exhaled slowly through pursed lips, quivering as the fading sobs broke free.
With the snorting gone, all she could hear was the trickling of water, droplets falling all around. And a faint whistling. The wind! If she could hear it, she could follow it. She tried her best to relax, allowing her ears to hone in on the source of the wind’s music as it rushed past the cave’s entrance.
Certain she had identified the right direction, she crawled along as quickly as she could, but each step was a hazard, and she slipped more than once. Her pained hands held tight to everything they could.
Soon the walls closed in around her. She could feel the rock above and beside her as she edged her way through the tunnel leading to the first chamber. It wasn’t long before she detected the faintest glow of light. Her heart began to race as excitement and relief poured in. Still following the walls with her hands, she rounded a bend that brought her into the chamber.
The dim light was barely enough to see, but it was a massive improvement. At the far end of the cave she could see the glow from the tunnel leading out into the woods. Rocky outcrops and dark holes filled the chamber, but it looked different without the flicker of torch flame. Everything was completely still.
Another wave of fear crashed through her as she strained her eyes in search of movement, blinking and stretching her eyelids wide. With every step she was certain another shadow moved just at the edge of her vision, but she couldn’t quite catch them. She tripped and fell, overconfident on the rough surface, and began crawling, rushing towards the glowing entrance to the final tunnel.
Her hands were frozen from the cold stone, aching from the strain of gripping with all her strength. She pushed on, more determined, so close. Soon she came across something that looked familiar: the first rock formation she had noticed when they had arrived. Four fingers, jutting into the air. She raised her body up on her knees, searching for the best path to the exit, and leaned on the nearest finger. It was warm. And it moved.
A bolt of icy shock raced through her body, and the last of her restraint vanished. She leapt up and sprinted towards the light, stumbling but staying upright. She reached the tunnel and stormed through, splashing through the water, and bursting out of the cave, tripping over the lip at the entrance, and collapsing into the shallow stream below.
She stumbled to get up, falling onto her back and pushing away from the cave, her arms underneath her as she fought to get away. Her eyes were burning from the bright light, and she struggled to see what was happening at the cave entrance, to see if she was being followed.
Sinking back to the ground, she shielded her eyes with her hand, searching for movement. The water trickled from the cave entrance, but nothing followed it. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the light, to the white flowers surrounding the cave. She could hear the wind rustling through the trees again. A wave of relief flooded through her as she stood up.
She searched the canopy to try to locate the sun, to get her bearings. There was a deep orange glow peeking through the branches, covering much of the sky over in one direction – the western horizon. It was sunset.
V: Be Home Before Sunset
Her respite in the orange glow of the sun was passing quickly. It wouldn’t be long before darkness swallowed the woods, and she was a long way from home – a long way along a path she didn’t even know. She was cold and wet, her knees were covered in scratches, and her hands throbbed in severe pain. The socks covering her wounded hands were stained red, soaked in blood, but she kept them, as she had nothing to replace them.
Desperate to be home before sunset, despite knowing it would be impossible, she sprinted along thhe edge of the stream, back the way they had come, hoping she would recognise the place where they had met the brook that morning. She called for help as she ran, even if she knew it was already too late.
“Eric!” she shouted, but there was no answer. “Eric, where are you?”
Dusk fell quickly to darkness, and soon she was struggling to see the stream beside her. The thick canopy of the woods dulled what little light the stars and the moon could provide. She slowed to a steady walk when her path became shrouded in darkness, concentrating first on where her feet were landing, but her eyes were soon dragged to shadows moving in the woods.
The tall Douglas-firs were scattered haphazardly, their mossy trunks dotted around with bushy buckthorns wildly dispersed in between. The underbrush was thinner in this part of the woods, allowing fewer places for anything small to hide, but more room for something larger to move around. Krissy could hardly discern the edges of the trees in the darkness, could barely tell where each began and ended. But she could see one that was moving.
She froze, eyes fixed on the shadow, which soon settled – she prayed that a gust of wind had blown it, and nothing lay behind it. She watched closely, but the tree remained nearly still, swaying only slightly in the breeze along with its surroundings.
Crickets chirped to complement the rustling of the leaves, and an owl hooted in the distance. With her eyes still fixed on the tree that had moved, she listened carefully for any signs of larger life. The snapping of a twig, perhaps, or a cough. What she heard was much worse.
The deep rumbling groan she had become familiar with from the safety of her bedroom echoed through the woods. It rose and fell, lasting several seconds, sending shivers down her spine and weakening her legs at the knees. The monsters were out. And she was trapped in the woods with them.
Her breath caught as she struggled to decide whether to run or to hide. The sudden cracking of splintering wood struck her into a terrified recoil, the sound of a great tree collapsing nearby.
She couldn’t see where it came from, though she could tell it wasn’t far away. Even with her eyes struggling to see the ground, she began running in the opposite direction. Her heart was racing despite her best efforts to remain calm.
Another deep moan ripped through the air, closer, and from the opposite direction. The sound was heavy and laboured, like the yawn of something waking up too early from its slumber, something large enough that the noise carried right through the woods.
She switched direction, attempting to run away from both the monsters, only to hear a third coming from somewhere in front of her. Cornered, she stopped to think, panting with her hands on her knees as her eyes darted frantically in search for somewhere to hide.
A patch of thick underbrush trailed off to her right. Too dark to see into, she had no idea what may be lurking within. The terrain was more open in the other direction. There was more room for the large monsters to move, to find her.
She rushed into the underbrush, into a tunnel cut by small animals, and crawled deeper into the maze that she couldn’t even see. She could still hear the monsters, the leaden groaning coming from all around her, near and far. She paused to listen, sitting down on the soft soil. Her knees and hands were bleeding even more, the pain was excruciating. She was shivering, from cold and fear.
A familiar odour wafted through the air – sharp, putrid. Death. A twig snapped nearby, and then another. She crawled away quietly, her eyes fixed on the source of the sound, until her back hit a tree trunk. Trying desperately to remain silent, she held her breath as she listened for movement, but there was nothing to be heard. The stench remained, thick, as if something has been killed nearby, something that was rotting.
She leaned back, her head falling on the tree trunk behind her as she tried to concentrate, to think of any way out of the woods. The shivering eased as she felt warmth flow though her. From behind her, she realised as she tensed. With the bare skin of her elbow, she tentatively prodded the trunk. It was warm.
It vanished suddenly, pulling away rapidly to the violent cracking of trees snapping behind her. She swung around in time to catch a large tree collapsing, vague shadows surrounding it, all moving, rapidly. There was too much happening, in the confusion she could barely make sense of the swirling darkness – between what were trees and what might be the monsters.
She vaguely sensed the shadow rushing towards her from above, and ran away to one side just as she heard the tree crashing to the ground behind her. She stumbled in her flight, rolling, and quickly climbed to her feet, tripping again before crashing head-first into something solid.
Even right before her eyes she couldn’t tell what she was looking at, the darkness was so deep it was barely discernable from shadow. It pushed back at her, and she fell over, hitting her head on the ground.
She rolled over and climbed to her knees, trying desperately to make sense of her surroundings. Shadows moved all around, too fast to understand. Or too big. The stench of death surrounded her.
Something wrapped around her, raising her from the ground. She screamed in fear and pain, relentless, her voice so loud it drowned out the incessant rumbling of the chorus of the monsters. But even constricted, she needed to pause for breathe, while the moaning all around came from countless monsters.
She began violently slapping her arms against the darkness ensnaring her, the surface tough and rubbery, like bare skin, warm to the touch. The pain seared through her body, vibrating, shocking. She convulsed, her body in spasms under the pressure. She screamed with all her fading strength until suddenly the grip vanished, and she fell to the ground.
Coughing and panting, fighting for air, she glanced around. The monsters had her surrounded, the dark figures flowing in between the trees. Every time she thought she could understand what she saw, the figure vanished into darkness.
Determined to escape, she leapt up and began running. She didn’t care which direction, any one would do. Any that got her out of the woods.
Trees began collapsing around her, the shadows keeping pace on either side. With every sighting the shapes looked different. Some as tall as the highest trees, others hiding behind the saplings. Some as wide as the lowest hanging branches, and yet more swinging through the treetops.
She could hear the steady falls of heavy feet behind her, but she didn’t risk turning to see what chased her. She tripped again and fell awkwardly, rolling, and fought to get up to regain her balance. A sharp snort resounded right in front of her, and she collided with a shadow that hadn’t been there a moment before.
From the ground she could see she was surrounded again. The shadows were closing in, circling in a symphony of dark chaos. A small figure appeared before her, and a shape began to form as warm tendrils clenched her wrists. She ripped her arms away to free herself from their grips, and once again she leapt up and broke through the barrier of monsters, sprinting forward.
It seemed too easy to get away, and they were too quick to catch her. They were toying with her, playing with their prey. Despair sank in even as she ran, hope of escaping fading rapidly.
A sharp hiss emanated from behind her, followed by a chorus of deep groaning, louder than ever, near deafening. She clasped her ears with blood-soaked socks, her hands failing to dispel the noise at all.
She let out a whelp as her energy faded, her legs slowing to a trot. She shuddered, and held herself against the cold. The snapping of teeth behind her jolted her, but she barely had the strength to move.
Suddenly she broke through the cover of trees and onto the green gardens surrounding her house. With renewed hope, she burnt the last of her energy in a desperate sprint towards the house.
“Mum!” she screamed. “Dad!”
The lights were out, and she could see no sign of her parents. A distinct change in the chorus of the monsters caused her to turn around. She stopped midway, staring back at the edge of the woods. The clear sky was bright with the light of a million stars, illuminating the canopy of the woods, but the monsters within remained in darkness, shuffling between the trees. Singing their melancholic songs, calling to her.
Spinning around she made for the house, panting as she closed the last few yards. She reached the porch and ran up the stairs, reaching for the door handle to yank it open. She misjudged, pulling nothing away. Again she frantically grabbed at the handle, and watched as her hand flew straight threw it.
She froze in confusion, staring at the blood-soaked sock covering her hand, at the closed door before her. Cautiously, she pulled the sock off her hand, and saw nothing but dark shadow. She raised her arms before her, and looked down at her chest, her legs, her feet. She couldn’t discern the form of her own body; it was little more than darkness in the night. She had become nothing more than shadow, banished from her home. She had become a monster in the woods.
I hope you enjoyed reading Be Home Before Sunset
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