Mel refocused on the road before her, throttling her bike’s speed down a notch. She knew she was a skilled rider, with the reflexes to match,but when barreling down a country road at fifty miles per hour with four hundred pounds of steel and plastic below you, it was best that one paid attention.
Her mind had been focused, instead, on how her parents were going to greet her. Since leaving for college she had shorn her hair, once hip length, to a short pixie cut. She had also had a friend pierce her right nostril (though she intended to tell her parents that it had been pierced in an immaculately clean parlor). All in all, she was not the girl that had left to study music just six short months before.
The motorcycle would, in and of itself, not be a problem. They had already signed off on that particular “eccentricity”, even paying for not only the bike itself, but for the requisite lessons that she had required for her class M license. Still, they tended to look forlornly at the machine, and it was just one more thing for them to disapprove of.
Focus on the freakin’ road, girlie. She chided herself.
Doing a header out here, in the middle of nowhere, would be a bad, bad thing. She wasn’t sure if this was the sort of place where someone could lay bleeding to death on the side of the road without intervention, but she was pretty sure that she’d rather not find out.
No matter how remote this stretch of road was (or wasn’t) it sure was spooky. Old pines shot up on either side, blocking Mel’s view of anything else, and besides the single lamp on the front of her bike, it was pitch-black.
This is the sort of place where evil witches gather. Mel thought to herself, her inner child given voice. Or worse.
She was just about to chastise herself once more for letting her mind wander when she saw the little girl on the side of the road.
The girl was about eight years old, with long blonde hair pulled back with a brightly colored headband. She was wearing the sort of dress that Mel associated with malt shops and drive-in movies,blue with a polka dotted bow on it’s front collar. She wore no jacket, even though it was a chilly fall night.
The girl’s head was down,and Mel couldn’t make out any details of the girl’s face or eyes,and Mel was filled with the conviction that she was intentionally obscuring herself.
Jesus,kiddo, stop freaking yourself out. Mel thought to herself,as she brought her bike to a stop next to the girl. This poor thing is probably lost,and here you are acting like she’s Jill the Ripper or something.
“Hey kid.” Mel shouted, a bit louder than she needed too.
The girl stood there.
“Little girl?” Mel said, making her voice calmer this time. Friendlier.
Mel got off her bike and took a step toward the girl, her every nerve tensing. She couldn’t put her finger on what was bothering her, but something about the girl was…
“Hey,are you alright?” Mel took another series of steps toward the child. The sense of wrongness increased, especially when she realized that she was no closer to making out the child’s features. If anything, the girl was even more obscured by shadows now.
Suddenly, the child spoke. The girl’s voice was nondescript, the voice of any eight year old child, neither a demonic growl nor the mockingly sweet voice of hundreds of pint sized movie demons.
“Follow me.” The girl said, and then, faster than Mel could react, bolted into the forest.
Mel pulled her phone out of her pocket, intending to call the police. She got as far as her lock screen(a live concert picture of Joan Jett screaming into a microphone) when the machine shut itself down, claiming lack of battery power.
She knew she had charged the phone before leaving her dorm.
* * *
“This isn’t funny!” Mel shouted into the night. She had considered following the girl from the back of her motorcycle,but images of crashing into a tree in the unfamiliar darkness of the forest filled her mind and made her second guess this plan. She also considered leaving the girl, stopping at the next town or rest stop and informing the first uniformed officer she encountered,but a strange sense of urgency gripped her, causing her to dismiss this as well.
A little girl shouldn’t be out alone in the woods this time of night. Mel thought to herself. Especially without a jacket. Anything could happen out here. Her final thought caused the dread, which had abated a bit with the disappearance of the child, to spike back up her spine.
Anything could happen out here…
“This really isn’t funny!” Mel shouted once more. “It’s dangerous out here at night.” There was no response,and she really hadn’t expected one.
Mel was a suburban girl, born and raised, and currently went to school in the city. To her, the woods may as well be an alien landscape. Yet memories of childhood camping trips(which she had despised)were always filled with noise. From birdsong to chirping crickets to the soft peeping of night frogs, the air had always been full of activity, even if she never saw the noisemakers.
The woods surrounding her in that moment were deathly silent.
I’m probably scaring all the animals away. Mel thought to herself. Or the little girl is. She had been around enough excited kids, especially those being mischievous, to know that they weren’t the most unobtrusive creatures on the planet.
I’ve also been yelling like a fool this whole time.
Convinced that she had solved that mystery, Mel actually calmed a bit. Just in time for the silence to be broken.
It was a barking, grunting noise, frenzied and panicked. Though it was clearly the call of an animal, it also felt somehow humanistic, making it even more disturbing and surreal in the darkness.
“Little girl?” Mel asked again,feeling like a fool for doing so. After all, that was clearly not the call of a child, though something was clearly in distress.
“Are you OK?”
The screaming continued for a few seconds and Mel made her way toward its source, her hands instinctively balling into fists.
As she came close to the noise’s source, suddenly cut out, leaving the forest silent once more.
“Kid?” Mel asked.
The air filled with a smell, acrid and cloying. Mel’s wrinkled her nose.
Its like meat,but worse…Mel thought to herself. Though she had never toured a slaughterhouse, something buried bit of instinct told her that this was the sort of smell one would be assaulted by in in such a place. She shivered once more.
“I’m here. In the clearing.” The girl’s voice was different from before. Where she had sounded normal at the side of the road, she now sounded monotone, a wooden actress doing a bad line read in the worst production of all time.
“Come on, you’ve almost found me.”
Her stomach fluttering, her heart slamming against her ribs, Mel stepped into the clearing.
The girl that Mel had followed was standing there, small hands clasped behind her back, foot tapping absently against the forest floor. Behind her knelt three more children, two boys and a girl. In front of them, still twitching with the remnants of life, was a bloody deer.
“I told you I’d bring you something better.” Mel’s girl said.
One of the boys, a tow-head with denim overalls, shoved one hand into the stomach of the deer. His voice was monotone too,as though he had also tired of their “lets pretend to be normal human kids” game.
“Good. We will eat well tonight.”
The other girl (a freckly redhead with braided pigtails) shoved an unidentifiable chunk of deer insides into her mouth and began to chew loudly. A crimson mess dribbled down the paleness of her chin.
“Maybe we’d rather just have the deer.” She said between bites.
“No we wouldn’t.” The first boy said, pulling his bloody hand free, holding his own grisly morsel.
“Besides.” Mel’s child said. “We can’t just let her go now, not now that she’s seen us…not now that she knows.”
The human brain, faced with genuine terror, often narrows its focus, defending itself by taking small bites of its surroundings at a time, dosing out the horrifying stimuli in little bits that (it hopes)will be more manageable. Before that moment, though the moon shone brightly on the scene, revealing every detail, every sick little part of the tableau, Mel had yet to notice the children’s eyes.
Their black, expressionless eyes, staring shark-like from their otherwise human faces.
Mel’s world spun, twirled. She bit the inside of her cheek to snap herself back into focus.
This can’t be real, this can’t be real, this can’t…
The other boy, who sported blue footie pajamas and a rats-nest of carrot orange hair, stood up and took a step toward Mel. The others exchanged a look before following suit. Whatever internal division had threatened to form among these strange children had been quelled.
Muscles tense and stiff,the children began to move as one. The redheaded girl and the boy that had taken the first step seemed to be driving the action, the other two following in their footsteps. The whole thing reminded Mel of documentaries she had seen on idle, lonely weekend nights. Documentaries about the hunting tactics of wolves.
No, they’re not like wolves. Mel thought to herself. Not really. They’re not like anything I’ve ever seen before in my life…
The last thing Mel saw was a tsunami of little teeth and claws.
* * *
Greg and Amy were lost.
They were supposed to be meeting some work friends at a rented hunting cabin, but had gotten confused by the odd country roads of Upstate New York (so different from the neat,simple city grid they were used to) and had found themselves turned around. They were currently parked on the side of a nondescript, narrow road in the middle of the Adirondack woods, arguing over the directions on Amy’s phone.
“I think we were supposed to take a right when we left Narrow Lake.” Amy said, pointing to the map.
“No, I think we went the right way there, see…if you look here you can clearly tell that…”
Their argument was interrupted by a sudden tap on the passenger’s side window.
They turned to look, and were quite surprised to find a child staring back at them through the car window. She couldn’t have been more than twelve.
“Can I help you?” Greg asked, the anger leaking from the argument to bubble under his words.
“I lost my mommy in the woods…could you help me find her?”
She looks just like the kid from the Wendy’s advertisements. Amy thought to herself.
There was no doubt in either of their minds that they would, in fact, help this poor, poor child.
Brandon Ebinger is a horror / dark fantasy author who lives in upstate New York with his fiance and two cats. He holds a BA in creative writing. He enjoys horror films, Gothic Rock music, and video games. He is a huge fan of haunted attractions, and spends October as a haunt actor. Brandon has written four horror / dark fantasy novels: Ash, Hollow Hills, The Afflicted, and Rose. He is currently working on his new novel.