The glow of the setting sun entrenched the peaceful Italian countryside in a blazing red haze. The small rural highway was surrounded by rich forests currently going through the enchanting transformation of autumn. The picturesque landscape was unfortunately lost on the highways sole traveler Chiara Gallo. She sat behind the wheel of her car with a complete lack of interest in the stunning world around her. Her family reunion had gone exactly how she expected it would. It was 2 days straight of “Chiara when are you getting married?” “You aren’t getting any younger so you might want to start thinking about children.”
She let out a frustrated sigh. It wasn’t that she hadn’t tried to start a family however her dating life was in shambles and when it came to children she didn’t know where to start. “I just don’t understand them.” Chiara said out loud to the crisp country air. Speaking her thoughts out loud was something of a bad habit she had picked up over the years. Living alone was a quiet life and sometimes you needed someone to talk to even if it was yourself. “Add that to the list of things that make me so dateable.” She shook her head and turned up the radio wanting to drown out her whole weekend.
The sun sank beneath the clouds sending a shadow over the land. “Great just what I need. They wouldn’t let me leave early even though I made it clear I had a long drive down to Florence. Now there is no way I’ll get back before late at night. Damn it I just want to rest!” As she turned a large corner her radio turned to static almost deafening her in the process. She looked down at the console desperate to change the station and save her ear drums. She looked back up and was completely taken by surprise when she saw a person walking along the side of the road, right in her path. Chiara slammed on the breaks and swerved her car, sending up a silent prayer that she missed whomever it was walking there.
She managed to stop her car and pull over to the shoulder. Though she didn’t feel a bump or crash she couldn’t be sure with the speed of the incident. She looked into her rear view mirror and was shocked to find no sign of anyone in it’s view. “There was someone there, I know there was.” She turned around and examined the area behind her. Just barley visible at the bottom of the window was a little girl knelt over with her hands over her ears. Chiara jammed the car in park and ran out to the child.
“Oh my god I am so sorry, I didn’t see you. Are you alright? Are you hurt little girl?” The little girl shook her head and stood up slowly. She was extremely small, maybe as young as five or as old as eight, kids were such a mystery to Chiara. She wore a white summer dress and held an old fashioned rustic doll. “Sorry if I scared you. I hope you and your car are alright.” The little girl spoke, looking very shy and guilty. Chiara had to let out a small laugh. She had just about turned this girl into a pancake and this girl was apologizing to her? “Oh don’t worry about that, I’m more concerned about you. What are you doing walking the road like that all by yourself?” Chiara inquired with legitimate concern.
“I’m making my way to see my family.” The child said with more confidence. Chiara was completely stunned by the casualness of the statement. “You’re miles from anywhere darling and way too young to be out by yourself.” The little girl’s cheeks flushed and she put on her best pouting face. “Hey I’m not so little, I can take care of myself.” Chiara let out another small laugh. “I’m sure you can but it’s getting late and I can’t simply leave you out here all alone. Tell you what how about I give you a ride to the nearest police or bus station?” The little girl’s eyes filled with fear all the sudden. “The bus station is fine but no police. They always make things more complicated then they need to be.”
Chiara didn’t feel comfortable leaving this little girl somewhere on her own, even at a bus station. However since she almost ran this girl over maybe the police may not be the best place for her. “Ok you have a deal little miss.” Chiara got in her car and waited for the little girl hop in the front but the door didn’t open. She looked out and there was her would be passenger looking nervous and uncomfortable staring at the door. “Oh it’s ok I won’t hurt you, please come on in.” The little girl made a large childish grin and hopped in the front seat. Chiara smiled down at her. “There you go, see I promise not to hurt you and you promise not to hurt me. Deal?” The little girl simply laughed at the silly notion.
As Chiara began traveling down the highway again she was amazed at how dark it had already gotten in her short time off the road. The light faded rapidly as if it was fleeing the growing darkness. Chiara, whom had never been much of a night person, felt a chill running down her spine. She looked over at her passenger who seemed as happy and comfortable as she could be. “Weren’t you worried about walking around at night in the middle of the forest?” The little girl merely shrugged. “Not at all I love the night. I haven’t been afraid of the dark in many years.” Chiara almost laughed at the idea of a girl her age using the term many years.
As they drove on a strong stench began dominating the air around them. The smell was horrible almost like rotten meat but with a sense of stuffiness to it, like a room that hasn’t been used in years. Perhaps there was a dead animal on the side of the road but if so shouldn’t the smell be dying down? Chiara tried to take her mind off of it with small talk. “So where are you headed to if you don’t mind me asking?” She asked her passenger. “I’m heading to Rome for a gathering of my people.” The little girl said and there was a tinge of excitement in her voice. “Oh I’ve always wanted to visit Rome but never found the time. Is your family from Rome?” The little girl shook her head and left it at that.
Chiara started to dwell on the girls accent. It wasn’t Italian, that was for certain, it sounded east European but she couldn’t quite narrow it down. Chiara gave a shrug and kept on the conversation. “I just got back from a family reunion myself.” The little girl looked to her and nodded. “Yes sorry it didn’t go so well. Families can be such a pain can’t they?” Chiara was a little shocked. “How did you know that it didn’t go well?” It was the little girls turn to shrug. “Something in your voice. You sound like someone who has been torn down by your family but at the same time you know that they are partially right.” Chiara got another chill. “Wow you are a very astute little girl. That happens to be right on the money. You must do well in school.” Her passenger simply chuckled and looked back out the window.
Outside a thick layer of white fog began to roll in seemingly from the forest surrounding them. She didn’t remember seeing calls for fog in the weather forecast. Suddenly the previously scenic forest was now ominous and foreboding. To make matters worse that smell had not gone away. Quite the contrary it had grown stronger if possible. “So do you have any siblings? A sister or a brother?” Chiara asked trying to calm herself down. At the word brother the little girl’s entire demeanor changed. No longer was she calm and smiling. Her face narrowed and she began to aggressively pant under her breath. She looked like a wild animal in a deep snarl. “I had a brother but no more. We do not speak of him and when we do it is in cursing his name. He and his friends hurt my family. I will never forgive him for that.” Chiara could sense that this subject was only going to garner more animosity from her fellow traveler so she dropped the subject.
“You must be excited for this reunion though. That must be something.” The little girl’s face returned to normal and she nodded. “Yes the gathering, I am most excited for that. There has never been a collection of our people like this, not in many lifetimes.” Chiara was a little unnerved by the usage of lifetimes and our people but she didn’t want to delve deeper. She remembered how family gatherings felt when she was younger and smiled. The big banquet with only the freshest of foods. Being allowed her first sip of wine by older relatives. She would spend the day playing hide and go seek with her many cousins. Then the night would end with a big bonfire, roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories.
“Oh there will be plenty of fires, I suspect before our gathering is over and plenty of new ghost stories for people to tell.” The little girl said with a big grin on her face. Chiara was shocked and then succumbed to embarrassment. “I’m sorry I tend to think my thoughts out loud, sometimes I forget I’m not alone.” Chiara shook her head not believing she had thought out loud in front of this little girl. But had she? She didn’t remember feeling herself do it this time. All around the road the fog grew thicker making it harder to see. A gust of wind began swaying the trees back and forth almost as if they were alive. What she wouldn’t give to be in her home right now soaking in a tub with a glass of wine. She sighed as now she couldn’t even go straight home. She had to deal with this little girl first.
“If I’m too much of a bother I am more then fine to walk the rest of the way. I’m sure that you would rather be at home resting in the bath.” The little girl said sounding a little disappointed. Chiara was floored, this time she knew she didn’t think out loud. She looked over at her passenger and found her simply staring at her. She looked at her with those puppy dog blue eyes with pupils almost too big for her face. It should have been cute but Chiara could feel something underneath. It was as if those eyes had hidden layers to them, like you could drown in their endless depths. Whatever the owner of those eyes wanted you had to obey them or lose yourself in that stare. “No don’t be silly I can’t leave you there on the side of the road. Not after dark with this fog out there like that.”
Chiara nodded and turned back to the road, feeling a little light headed after her eyes left the little girls. Despite the fact that she had broken her gaze, she could tell the little girl had not broken hers. She could feel those eyes staring into her, never blinking, never veering. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the little girl grinning. It was not the grin of a happy girl but the grin of a beast, a predators grin. The stench blasted in her nose and it took all she could manage to not let go of the steering wheel and plug it. “How is she standing it?” She thought to herself. “There are worse things in the world then simple smells.” The girl said flatly. Chiara almost swerved off the road. This was the third time this girl pulled something straight from her mind. She began to feel very uncomfortable with her in the car and wanted nothing more then for her to be gone.
“Don’t you ever get tired of being alone Chiara? Don’t you want to be part of something more?” The little girl said in an almost hypnotic tone. “What do you mean?” Chiara asked back shaking well she did so. “I mean there are so many people like you out there, lonely and desperate for connection. You struggle in vain for I know of a place where you could have all the company you want. A people that would accept you with open arms, with no judgement or fear. My family we have ways to connect that you can’t even imagine. You would never have to be alone again. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?” The scary thing was to Chiara that it did sound wonderful. She could picture herself seeing her family not in fear or frustration but genuine excitement. A family where she could truly just be herself. “I could give that to you Chiara and all you would have to do is ask.” The little girl’s eyes were almost luminescent in the light of the moon. She could feel herself getting closer and closer to her in the seat.
From deep in her mind fear and rational thought burst out. “Don’t let her near you. Don’t let her sway your thoughts. You need to get rid of her and quickly!” Her mind screamed. Chiara shook her head and clear thoughts returned. The voice was right, there was something wrong with this girl and she had to go. “Say we are coming up to a service station are you hungry at all?” The little girl froze for a moment then finally blinked and turned from Chiara. “Well I am quite thirsty.” Chiara smiled and nodded. “Then it’s settled we will stop at the store and get you whatever you want and it’s my treat. Anything to get off this foggy road right?” “And away from you.” She thought praying the girl wouldn’t pick it up.
A few minutes later she had pulled in to the station and parked out front. “I’ll wait in the car.” The little girl said flatly. Chiara’s blood froze for this did not fit her plan. “Oh but I don’t know what you like. Here I’ll give you the money and you can get any drink you want. Even if it’s something you can’t have at home, I promise not to tell.” The girl wrinkled her nose and thought it over. “Just go inside. Get out of my car and leave me please.” She prayed in deeply inside of herself making sure not to voice it. The little girl finally shrugged. “Sure I won’t be long just wait here for me.” Chiara smiled. “Sure thing cross my heart and hope to die.” The little girl smiled at this and hopped out of the car.
Chiara had reached for the gear shift when she saw that the little girl had left her doll on the front seat. That stupid doll with it’s old fashioned setter type dress. The thing looked ancient and was like an antique “Oh wait dear you forgot your doll.” The little girl swung around with a big grin on her face. “Oh thank you so much I never go anywhere without Heidi.” The little girl took the doll and cuddled it to her. Despite wanting to be rid of her, Chiara suddenly felt a great wave of guilt. In all this time she had not asked the little girl’s name even once. “Oh I’m so stupid I never did get your name darling.” The little girl laughed. “Oh how silly of me it’s Gracie. Now I’ll be right back please wait here for me.” Chiara pointed down at her spot and Gracie went inside.
As soon as the door closed Chiara put the car in drive and sped off as fast as she could, not giving a damn how it might look to anyone else. She raced down the road afraid to check her mirrors lest Gracie be looking back at her. She felt a little guilty leaving her but screw it. There were a lot of people at that rest stop, let one of them deal with that creepy girl. The more she drove the more she felt like herself. Her heart slowed and began to calm down. That foul stench was gone and even the fog seemed to be lifting. It was as if she had gotten rid of some cursed object.
“Well that’s a horrible thing to say about a little girl like that.” She said out loud no longer having to be embarrassed by it. “Hey no disrespect but that girl was not right. Besides I got her a little further down the road, I’m not running a limo service here.” She nodded her assurance that she was in her right to do what she did. However as her odometer grew so did her guilt. Sure she may have been strange but she was still just a little girl all on her own in the woods.” She felt guilty alright but something about the word woods seem to have struck her. This road was almost nothing but forest for miles going both ways. Where did that little girl come from? Had she been walking all day on that sun parched highway? If that was the case then how come she wasn’t hungry at all and only thirsty. Again the word thirsty struck her with a type of dread. It was as if her subconscious had picked up on something she hadn’t.
“Oh what was there to pick up? She was just an ordinary little girl and I abandoned her. The poor thing was so helpless and shy she wouldn’t even get in my car until…” She almost jammed on the breaks in sheer shock. “Until I invited her in.” Suddenly all the pieces in her head clicked together at once. Suddenly she had a clear and horrifying picture of exactly what was going on. “I couldn’t see her in my rear view mirror.” A barrage of the things the girl had said exploded in her mind.
“I haven’t been afraid of the dark in many years.”
“No police they always make matters more complicated then they need to be.”
“I’m heading to Rome for a gathering of my people.”
Chiara’s heart pumped wildly, threatening to burst from her chest. She had heard the legends but never thought they were real. And yet here she was, she had sat next to one in her car. ” She was a creature of the night, the living dead, a….” Chiara wouldn’t let herself say it, out loud or otherwise. “You shouldn’t have driven away.” A voice sounded from outside her driver’s side window. She looked over and there was Gracie floating outside her car despite it pelting down the highway. She let out a loud scream and looked back to the road. The highway was turning and she didn’t have time to turn with it. She jammed on the breaks but not fast enough to stop her car from slamming into a telephone pole.
Her airbag deployed but didn’t stop her from smashing her forehead off the steering wheel causing a fresh rush of blood to erupt. In her shock she had forgotten her situation. She slowly looked up from the bloody air bag and could see her car smashed against the pole. Small flames were coming from the engine. This shocked her back to reality. “I need to get out of here encase it blows.” She turned to her door and was put right back into a state of shock. For waiting outside her car, lit up by the light of the flames, was Gracie.
Whatever glamour the girl had cast before was now long gone. She was seeing the Gracie underneath, the true Gracie. Her skin was a dark and yet dull grey. Her hair perhaps was once blonde but years of no sunlight and sleeping in the earth had turned it a jet black. Her hands bore long and crooked fingers, each tipped with a long claw. Her skin had been rotting away in several areas and Chiara understood what that foul stench had been. Two globous obsidian eyes stared out through skeletal sockets in her head. Her mouth was open giving way to two large incisor fangs. The fangs were too impossibly large for her tiny mouth, giving her the appearance of a saber tooth tiger. There was no longer any doubt in Chiara’s mind, Gracie was Nosferatu, the vampyre.
Gracie began panting and snapping her jaws hungrily. “The blood, dear god she can smell my blood.” At the word blood Gracie began inching forward towards the trapped car and Chiara began to panic. “No you can not come in! I forbid it. I revoke my invitation.” Gracie simply let out a laugh that echoed through the forest. “Oh it’s too late for that my dear. Once given it can never be taken back.” Gracie continued her march toward her. Chiara panicked, she began searching her car for anything that might help. A crucifix, a rosary, even a bible but there was none. Her mother always traveled with a rosary and yet she never did. Chiara tried to climb out the passenger side door however it was in vain as her leg was trapped in the wreckage.
“Aww do you need a lift?” Gracie asked. She was now right outside the window. She grabbed the door and ripped it open leaving no barrier between them. “No please don’t! You promised damn it. You promised not to hurt me.” Chiara pleaded. Gracie simply smiled and tilted her head to the side. “Did I?” Horror pulsed through Chiara. Gracie never did promise her did she? Chiara had promised and Gracie merely laughed. Gracie smiled wider, pulled Chiara’s leg free and threw her to the pavement. Tears rolled down Chiara’s face as she tried to crawl away despite the pain. There was a small whooshing sound and a moment later Gracie was on her back.
“You know with your leg like that you remind me on someone I once knew. He ended up hurting my family but you won’t. You will help replenish what has been lost. You will join my coven, my family. Gracie’s decaying arm came down in front of Chiara and she had to hold back a gag at the rotting stench. A long claw dragged across Gracie’s wrist causing blood to pour from it. The blood that poured out was not dark red but pure black like her eyes. Chiara could even see tiny maggots squirming in it’s depths. Realizing what Gracie was planning to do Chiara jammed her mouth shut and screamed internally for salvation. Without warning those two cat like fangs pierced her throat and Chiara was forced to let out a loud scream. Gracie shoved her wrist into Chiara’s mouth and despite her struggles she could feel the blood streaming down her throat.
The taste the blood left was horrible beyond measure. It was as if that terrible rotting stench was personified in this black ooze. She could feel it making it’s way through her body and into her veins. She could actually feel the unholy abomination begin to change her from the inside out. Her body felt cold and devoid of all life. “This is what a corpse would feel if they could think.” The thought chilled her even further. All rational thought was seeping out of her body like air out of a pierced balloon. All she was left with was an insatiable sense of hunger bordering on madness. Gracie removed fangs from Chiara’s throat and flipped her over. She smiled down her with her horrifying grin. “Welcome to my family sister.” Gracie wiped her mouth of Chiara’s blood and clenched her fist, sending down a couple of scarlet drops. The drops entered Chiara’s mouth and to her surprise it didn’t taste revolting. In fact it tasted delicious, like that first sip of wine from when she was a child.
The next morning officers examined the wreckage of Chiara’s car. The car had been stripped of it’s licence plates and insurance papers. Despite the wreck and deployed airbag there was no blood left on the scene. That had been gleefully lapped up the night before. To the officers the case seemed pretty clear. The car must have been stolen by some drunk hoodlums from a parking lot along the highway. They had crashed the car and left it there, taking the licence plates to make it harder to track. The police left the scene and waited for someone to report the car stolen.
They did not investigate the matter any further and that is a shame because had they done their research they would have discovered that this was not an isolated incident. For all over Europe several missing vehicles turned up along the sides of deserted roads. With them came missing persons, though in truth they were not missing, they were traveling. For the dead were indeed traveling, converging, gathering. Their eyes were set on a single destination. The purpose of their pilgrimage? Revenge.
Credit : Tenac
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