Estimated reading time — 3 minutes
It was not a dark and stormy night. In fact, it was the opposite. It was clear, calm, and unseasonably warm for late October. The sky was full of cheerily twinkling stars, and well-light by an almost full moon. The night had an air of wholesomeness, as if nothing could go wrong in the world. Then the calm was shattered by a scream.
Stephanie’s head was filled with a blind, all-consuming panic that drowned out all human reason and turned her into a hunted animal running for its life. If she had been in any state to form a coherent thought, she would probably have been regretting listening to her friends. They were the ones who had convinced her to join them at the old barn and try to conduct a séance. It would be fun, they had insisted. It had all gone so horribly wrong. Stephanie ran as she had never run before, not daring to look back in case the whatever-it-was had followed her. Slowly the adrenaline rush wore off, and her panic turned into nauseated horror as images of what had happened earlier that night filled her mind. Exhausted, terrified, and sick to her heart, she doubled over, retching. She didn’t hear the footsteps until it was too late. She turned, finding herself face-to-face with the dark thing. Only it was walking with Janet’s body.
Janet hadn’t had time to scream. The thing had come straight for her, straight for her eyes. They had burned when it entered them. She would have cried out, torn at her face, tried to run, but the creature made her body twist and spasm from the inside out. If whatever that thing was could even be called a creature.
Stephanie’s mother had passed worried, left afraid, and was working her way up to terrified. It wasn’t like her daughter to run off without telling someone. When morning dawned and Stephanie still hadn’t returned, she called the police. Around lunchtime, she heard a knock on the door. It was a police officer. The man clearly didn’t want to be there. After a moment of avoiding eye contact with her, he said, “Ma’am, we found your daughter. But…” he trailed off. That was enough for Stephanie’s mother to catch on. “No,” she breathed. “Oh please, God, no.” Her breath came fast and shallow. Not Stephanie. Not her Stephanie. The police officer placed a hand on her shoulder, calming her and said, “Yes. I’m so sorry, ma’am, but yes.”
Janet sat in the corner with her knees hugged to her chest, staring. She had been doing the same thing leaning against a tree when the police found her. She had adopted the same pose inside the police car they had led her into. She had not responded towards anything, not so much as glancing at people that tried to speak to her. By the time her parents had been called and arrived at the police station, people were starting to get worried. It was not unusual for participants in traumatic crime to go into shock, but not for this long, or this completely. That was what the doctor had told her parents. The psychiatrist had said the same thing. But when asked by the girl’s desperate parents what to do about it, they remained silent. The psychiatrist, sensing how close the girl’s parents were to hysteria, tentatively suggested giving her some time to come to terms with whatever had happened. So Janet sat in the same position on her bed, staring at the wall with hollow eyes. Nothing anyone had done had gotten a flicker of recognition from her.
Finally, at five past midnight some life, some depth seemed to come back into her eyes. She moved her arms and stretched out her legs, slowly standing. Her parents rushed to her, calling her name, begging her to come back to them. But her eyes seemed to be focused on something behind them. Suddenly they widened, and a look of pure terror crossed her face. She held up her arms as if to shield herself.
The blow came from an unseen source, knocking her across the room with enough force to crack her head against the wall. As she slumped down, blood running freely down her back, she whispered her last words: “I’m so sorry, Stephanie.”