The full moon hung low in the black sky, its pale light washing the cemetery in yellow hues. A nearby grove of trees shuddered in protest as a girl burst through them, her long silvery hair tangling with the dark, lifeless leaves that scratched at her face. She barreled forward, ignoring the rustling crunches and thuds that followed close behind. She continued towards the cemetery, and, without a second thought, dove behind a large rectangular headstone.
In the blackness of night, however, no orange and yellow leaves danced atop the dewy class. Instead, they looked remarkably dull, as if Earth’s painter left this spot unfinished, devoid of color. She looked down at her pale, bare feet, and resisted the urge to pick the black dirt from underneath her toenails. Blisters from running barefoot were already forming to accompany the fresh cuts on the soles of her feet. Absentmindedly, she rubbed at the purple bruises encircling her wrists.
Although the temperature lingered at 55°, beads of sweat lined her hairline and strands of hair clung to the back of her neck. Her heart dropped low into her stomach as the sound of someone emerging through the trees bounced through her ears. Despite her best efforts, she shook violently. Should I have kept running? she asked herself as panic rose in her throat. No, I can’t outrun him. Afterall, she had only made it that far because he slipped in the ravine just south of the cemetery.
A man’s broad shadow glided over the headstones in the row just in front of her. Metallic scrapes filled the night as he began dragging something across the curved marble top of a black headstone.
“Where are you girlie?” his thick voice made her cringe. “Why don’t you come out, and we can talk about this at home?”
Home. She could have laughed at the incredulity of that word, but she kept her mouth glued shut. In her mind, she could see his scarred mouth twisting around that word. Lies.
He was six headstones to the left. What do I do? Her chest tightened uncomfortably. She knew she had very few options. Five. She could try and make a run for it. Four. Or she could try and crawl behind a different headstone. Three. Tears welled in her eyes as his shadow drew closer and closer. Two. It was too late. One!
Just as he came into view above her, she sprang upwards and headbutted him smack in the abdomen. Together, they fell onto the wet grass and the small hatchet he had been carrying landed near them with a soft thump. His black eyes, though initially wide with surprise, melted into emotionless pools as he went to grab her by the back of the head. Quickly, she rolled away, the sting of losing a clump of hair spreading onto the space by her right ear. The loose silvery strands danced in the air for a moment before settling onto the white, nameless headstone. He moved towards her again, this time attempting to rise off of the ground. On her back, she kicked upwards and planted her foot just above his knee. As he stumbled back down, she lashed at him with a balled fist. His teeth glinted with blood as they scraped through the soft flesh of her knuckles. She winced slightly, but forced herself to remember the beatings she would endure if he took her again. She couldn’t let him take her. She would rather die.
His labored grunts turned into maniacal laughs as she attempted to get up herself. He grabbed her by the ankle and pulling hard, she fell down again. This time however, the top of her forehead connected with the white headstone. Blood dripped into her eyes and blurred her vision. His gloved, slender fingers wrapped around her neck as he pinned down the rest of her body with his knees.
“They always run.” He whispered as she squirmed beneath him, his stringy black hair hanging wet around his face. “And they always die.”
“H-help,” she rasped out as best she could, but it was far too silent for anyone to hear.
Her chest labored intensely as she futilely attempted to suck in air. Just as her vision began to form a starless sea of black, his grip loosened. His hold on her remained, but he hesitated. She couldn’t see anything, but her body shuddered at the cold wind that seemed to emerge from nowhere and whipped relentlessly around the two of them. The sound of his leather jacket rubbing against itself told her that he was whipping his head from side to side as if in an effort to find something.
Then, a piercing white light, like that of a spotlight, shined harshly in her eyes. What is that? she whimpered internally, struggling to unseat him while he was distracted. Then, the sound of something flying through the air edged near. In a split second, a wet thud filled her ears and both of his hands immediately left her throat. Quietly, he gurgled for a second or two and slumped to the left.
Breathless and free, she scrambled away from him, the white light still beaming into her eyes. Although her vision remained fuzzy, she saw that the man lay prostrate on the ground, his small hatchet buried in his throat. She twirled her head around, searching for the person who threw the hatchet. A white figure came into view but made no sound. The figure was wrapped in white garb, which, although the wind had died, billowed silently.
“Who are you?” she asked with a hoarse voice as she attempted to wipe blood from her eyes.
The white figure ignored her and glided forward.
“What do you want?” a sudden terror filled her as she pressed her back against the headstone.
A white hand extended forward and her vision became fully clear. It was a woman. Or at least, it looked like a woman. Her skin was white and as smooth as glass, but appeared to be somewhat see-through. And she wasn’t standing – she was floating a few inches from the ground.
The girl’s heart hammered against her chest, but she reached forward towards the white hand. It was cold as ice and a freezing sensation crawled up her arm as she attempted to stand on shaky legs.
“Why did you help me?”
“You payed in blood money.” A voice rang through the air despite the woman’s motionless lips. Her white eyes turned listlessly towards the headstone and her voice was oddly hollow, “We all honor the blood money. It is the only currency we can accept.”
“We?” the girl said more to herself as she followed the woman’s gaze. A few drops of blood, her blood, had dripped down the headstone and into the yellow grass below. Although there had been no name on the headstone before, now there was a collection of words glowing in red. The girl blinked hard several times, wondering if her vision was still foggy or if the blow to her head was serious enough to cause hallucinations. Slowly, she scanned the red words:
Hell is empty and all the devils are here
“Blood money is priceless to all dead.” The woman let go of her hand and moved to touch the blood.
To the girl’s surprise, the woman was able to touch it. The red blood suddenly began to spread down the woman’s finger and expanded onto her hand and arm. She watched with wide eyes as the woman’s color changed from stony white to a light olive hue. Within a few moments, the woman’s skin was completely changed and her long white hairs transformed into a deep chocolatey brown. Her lips remained inhumanly pale and her light blue eyes were glassy. Despite these two features, however, the woman looked alive.
Her white lips parted into a smile, “Thank you for the payment.” Her voice, hollow only seconds before, was now silky and soft.
The girl remained motionless, her legs no longer shaking. Thank you? She was pretty sure it was she who owed thanks to her savior. Her train of thought was interrupted as the white headstone shone even brighter. Then, in horror, the girl watched as the words on the headstone changed to a very familiar name – her own.
Death always comes too early or too late
Riley Hines is a graduating senior at the University of Alabama and loves all things fantasy. When not writing or petting her needy dog, Gimli, she passes the time by watching movies such as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Lately, her plate has been full with schoolwork as she juggles reading 4-5 novels at a time. Riley’s pronouns are she/her and she one day hopes to publish a novel of her own.