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It sounded like footsteps.
When she was three, staring after the retreating back of a woman with a once-familiar smell, her young brain snapped at attention at a feeble noise behind her. She had turned then, getting even more tangled in the warm heavy blanket draped around her slender body, but her round wet eyes only saw a tall green door. She eyed it curiously, marveling at the vivid colour until it opened, startling the young girl. Warm arms and a sad, gentle smile greeted her. Soothing words whispered by her ear.
When walking silently through the long cold halls, eyes wide at the darkness around her, she hear it again; a sound lifting from the deepest haze of her memories. Slow, deliberate steps a ways behind made the tiny hairs on her neck stand. She froze, breath quickening and eyes shut tight, but whatever it was ceased immediately. A rat, she told herself, there was always one of the little animals roaming the orphanage but still she ran the rest of the way to the security of her blankets, baring little concern for the other sleeping forms on the crowded bedroom.
When her friends mocked her for bringing no one on parents’ day she ran away with tears in her eyes, forcing her legs to go as fast as they could but when the heavy thumps of her boots against the stoned floor was replicated by another she was crying over a whole different reason. Rounding a corner she hit a warm body, crashing them both to the ground. Fearful eyes met soft brown ones. A girl from the orphanage that smiled shyly and suggested that maybe she needed better friends.
When she skipped school from the hundredth time, sharing a dirty mattress with a passed out girl who had long lost her shy smiles, a needle half-thrusted into her arm, she felt more than hear the mild footsteps creeping along all the others bodies scattered on the floor – stalking near her bed. But she was too far gone to care.
As she stood alone by the sad, gloomy little tombstone of her only friend, whose smile she would never see again, the wind blew an eerie presence from between the graves of the dead. Her friend saying goodbye, she wagered. Breaking the laws of nature to listen to her half-sobbed promise to change her ways, mend her life. But even then she could not turn back.
When she cushioned her son in her arms – a silly smile plastered on her face as her finger traced gentle patterns on his impossibly soft skin, the tapping resumed somewhere out of sight, stopping just behind her. It was close. Each time closer. And even as her heart threatened to leap out of her chest she simply held the fragile, precious body in her arms tighter; glaring stubbornly ahead.
It sounded like footsteps.
When she locked her car, spring in her step because finally, finally she got that promotion so long deserved she heard it walking from behind for the last time. And at the hot, putrid breath hitting her neck and the pale talon hand gripping her shoulder she realized it had always been footsteps and she had run out of time.