fiction

Assumption

The cold wind beat against Miranda’s back as she pulled up the hood on her trenchcoat. The snow was so thick she could barely see where she was walking. Cars honked and people bundled in their winter best shuffled past her, their visibility no doubt as bad as hers. Miranda squinted her eyes to see the addresses on the buildings. She had another mile to go. “Damn.” She said out loud as she continued to walk.

Soon, the sounds of cars and people faded until the only sound was the howling of the wind that swirled the snow around her. She was in a section of the city she didn’t recognize, and she did not want to get lost with no one around. Miranda tried not to let fear get the better of her thoughts. The streetlights became sparse as she took in her surroundings. Miranda caught the address of the nearest building. She was almost there, a few more blocks.

As the wind whipped at her face, she heard crunching behind her. Footsteps. She walked faster. The crunching became more pronounced. Miranda moved to one side of the sidewalk to let whoever it was pass. They were certainly walking faster than she was, but no one passed. She glanced behind her. All she could see was the swirling snow. She increased her speed, feeling cold sweat run down her neck. The footsteps remained. Miranda saw the building up ahead, festively lit, a bright beacon in the dark. She even heard the music and laughter spill out into the quiet night. All she had to do was get past an alley. “Almost there.” She encouraged herself. The footsteps behind her remained, matching her stride.

Miranda reached the alley when she was pulled off her feet and slammed into the frozen ground. She didn’t have time to call out as she saw the flash of a serrated blade in the moonlight come toward her at lightning speed. The blade tore into her chest. The pain took her breath away. Her blood ran on the freshly fallen snow. As she watched the blood pool, her vision faded to black.

*

Shadows crept along the wall like ghosts. Miranda watched them in a trance-like state as they interacted with each other, with her. A cold sweat prickled on her forehead. Her breathing came in short, raspy breaths. The aromatic candle on her bedside table flickered in the breeze of the open window. She had only been asleep for five minutes, but the dream had felt like it had taken hours to complete. Putting stock in dreams was foolish, Miranda knew, but she couldn’t help but feel as though she should cancel her flight to Denver in the morning.

*

“Don, I just can’t.” Miranda cradled the phone between her ear and shoulder.

“You still haven’t given me a satisfactory answer as to why this meeting needs to be canceled. Miranda, this is one of our most lucrative clients!” Don was losing his patience.

“I know, but can’t you send Michael? He’s great at this kind of thing.”

“I guess I’m going to have to.” Don was silent for a moment. “You know, I’m starting to get the feeling that you’re edging out on me.”

“What?” Miranda took the phone into her hand to prepare herself for what was coming.

“It seems like you don’t want this job anymore.”

“I do want my job!”

“Three meetings you’ve canceled in the last two months, all with our most important clients! That tells me that you no longer want your job.” What little patience Don had left evaporated. “I’ll send Michael to Denver, but Monday morning you need to clean out your desk.”

Miranda was speechless. “Don, come on. You know I love my job. I need my job.”

“It’s done.” The line went dead.

Miranda looked at her kitchen counter. “Fuck.” She muttered as she placed the phone gently on the table.

An odd sense of guilt and relief washed over her. Miranda couldn’t give him a satisfactory excuse for canceling on one of their most important clients, a client that had come to trust Miranda. She couldn’t tell her boss she was canceling because she had a scary dream she was afraid might come true. It sounded absurd. She had thought a lot about the dream she had the night before. She recognized the city she was in, and it was Denver. She couldn’t take the chance.

*

“What are you doing tonight?” Miranda texted Allie.

“Jenny and I are gonna check out that new bar in Pullman.” Allie responded almost immediately. “Thought you were in Denver.”

“Nope. Still home.”

“What happened?”

“Have time to talk?”

“Not really. Gotta leave soon. Wanna come?”

Miranda didn’t respond right away. The snow was becoming blizzard material, and her car was in the shop. She’d have to walk, and she’d never been to Pullman. “Sure. What time?”

“8:30.”

“Great. You’ll never believe what happened to me today.” Miranda locked her phone and tossed it on the bed, heading for the shower. She needed a night out, if only to bitch about losing her job.

*

Miranda stepped out of the subway station one stop too early. Oh well, She thought. I could use the exercise. As she walked toward Pullman, theater marquees lit up the sidewalks and people rushed past her, either on their way to dinner or the theater. The cold wind beat against Miranda’s back as she pulled up the hood on her trenchcoat.

Miranda walked for a few blocks as the snow worsened. Her visibility went from a 5 to a 1 in the blink of an eye. The cars that once honked and the people that once rushed past her faded to silence. Miranda squinted at the nearest building, trying to see the address. Another mile to go.

As Miranda walked on, the streetlights became fewer and before long, she was utilizing more of the moonlight than the streetlights to guide her way. She buried her chin in her coat and trudged on. As the snow swirled around her, Miranda realized that she didn’t recognize her surroundings. She must be in Pullman.

Before long, Miranda could hear the sounds of music and laughter up ahead. She saw the blinking of red and green lights through the wall of snow. That must be it. She thought as she picked up her pace. Then she heard snow crunching. Footsteps coming up fast behind her. She moved to one side of the sidewalk to let the person pass, but no one passed. Miranda glanced behind her but saw only snow.

The memory of the dream she had the night before slammed into her like a truck. It came so fast and so hard it almost took her breath away. Miranda started to run. The crunching footsteps kept pace with her. She saw the lights of the bar up ahead, the music and laughter floating on the fierce wind. She was tackled to the ground before she could scream for help.

Miranda felt the blade tear through her skin into her back. “Help!” She managed, but her scream was weak. Pain seared through her; The red of her blood against the white of the snow an ugly contrast.

The last thought Miranda had was, I should have gone to Denver.

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Betrayed

She woke up with dried mud on her feet and red liquid splatters on her arms and hands. She took in her surroundings, blinking slowly, her breathing labored and shallow. Where am I? She thought.

Macy recounted what she could remember before the blackness. She thought about her friends and tried to come up with enough evidence to convict one of them of this terrible prank, but she came up empty. She was on the wooden floor of a musty-smelling room. Streams of sunlight shone through the single, mud-caked window. She wondered if it was mid-morning or early afternoon. From the color of the sun rays, she determined that it must be mid-morning. She was free to move around the room, which didn’t surprise her, seeing that her friends were assholes who were probably laughing about this in the school’s courtyard right about now. They didn’t mean her any harm, just a good laugh at her expense. Still, Macy couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread and unease. She knew, deep in her heart, that this was more than a prank.

Macy was a bubbly seventeen-year-old from a small, rural farming community in upstate New York. Her parents owned and managed a farm on the outskirts of that community, along an old dirt road that Macy had played on since she was three years old. The farm at one time belonged to Macy’s paternal grandfather, who in turn left the property to Macy’s father’s older brother, George, when Macy was a newborn. When George proved he could not manage the farm the way their father had intended due to his habitual drinking, Macy’s father took over the daily operations of the property and moved his family into the quaint farmhouse at the edge of the property. George, however reluctantly, moved to a neighboring town. Despite the family farm changing hands, Macy’s father and uncle maintained a cordial, if somewhat strained relationship; a tension from which Macy’s parents had successfully protected her.
Macy’s life was that of the typical small-town girl; Friday night football games at the local high school, Saturday morning farmers’ markets where her family set up a modest booth selling fresh corn and carrots, and Sunday morning church services, after which Macy’s parents would speak to the pastor for an hour or more, leaving Macy to pace by the double doors. Every morning before school Macy would help her mother feed the chickens and milk the cow, and every day after school came homework and helping with dinner. Macy realized that most kids her age went out with friends or watched television after school. Not Macy. Her mother always said: “During the week, you prepare for your future.” Macy was only allowed to see her friends outside of school on the weekends, and her parents didn’t own a television.

Macy tried to recall what day it was. The last event she remembered was having ice cream after dinner at the little stand in the center of town with Tommy Newsome. That was Sunday night. She smiled at the thought of holding Tommy’s hand on the walk to the ice cream stand. The ice cream stand was about a mile and a half away from her family’s farm, and Tommy had picked her up on foot for the date.

“Chocolate, right?” Tommy asked her, signaling to the lit menu board through the screen at the window labeled “order.”

Macy giggled. “Vanilla-chocolate twist, actually.” She corrected him sheepishly.

Macy had first seen Tommy swinging a baseball bat on the practice field behind the high school. He played for the high school’s team, the Bobcats. She thought the team’s name to be lame, and many of the guys in her school wouldn’t dare be caught playing baseball. The coveted sport was football; you only played baseball if you were planning on doing it professionally in the future. Tommy had a real knack for it, and Macy had no doubt that if he stuck with it, Tommy would “go pro.” Tommy looked at ease swinging the bat, like it was a natural extension of his arm. It seemed he was born to play baseball.

He swung at the ball and knocked it out of the field on the first swing. He jogged leisurely to first base, smiling and laughing at the jeers his teammates sent his way. After he arrived at first base, Tommy made eye contact with her, and waved. She remembered feeling her cheeks grow hot, and realized she had been openly admiring him. “Geeze,” Macy remembered saying to herself. “He thinks I’m an idiot.”

Tommy went out of his way to talk to her in the hallway at school after that spring meeting. When the semester ended, he had slipped her a jaggedly torn piece of notebook paper with his phone number on it that read, “Call anytime, but not after nine.” It wasn’t until later that Macy found out that if she called him after nine o’clock at night, she would wake his parents, and they would be angry enough to ground him for weeks. At the time, however, she smiled at the note and put the scrap paper gently between the pages of her own notebook.

Macy and Tommy spent a lot of time together once school let out for the summer. She introduced him to her parents, and he always addressed them as sir and ma’am, which made him a favorite with her mother. Her father was still on the fence about what he deemed their “friendship.” Tommy never failed to lend a helping hand around the farm when he was visiting, and always commented when he was over for dinner with “this is great, ma’am” in response to her mother’s cooking. Most nights after dinner, Macy’s parents would allow her to go over to Tommy’s house, where they would sit on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, watching his parents’ old black-and-white, rabbit-eared television.

When the summer ended and school began once again, Macy went back to her old routine, which meant she would only be able to see Tommy on the weekends. Macy wasn’t happy about it, but she thought Tommy took it a little harder than he should have. As Macy sat in the dark, dank room, a comment Tommy made wouldn’t stop echoing in her mind – “We’ll be seeing each other a lot more than that, I promise.”

That must have been weeks ago now, and there had been no mention of it since. Macy’s mind floated back to the last thing she could remember – eating her vanilla-chocolate twist ice cream cone with Tommy. Tommy had instructed her to grab the last picnic table available before someone else did, and she did as he said, realizing that there were several families milling about. Several families already occupied the remaining tables. Tommy, in turn, has requested and paid for the cones. The two of them talked and laughed as they ate their respective cones; he had ordered bubble-gum flavored ice cream for himself.

“You like bubble-gum flavor?” Macy asked, not only surprised, but a little sickened.

“I love it. You don’t like it?” He obviously noticed the green look on her face.

Macy shook her head vehemently. “Reminds me of that baby medicine my mom used to give me. So gross.”

Tommy laughed. “I remember that stuff; couldn’t wait to get sick.”

They both laughed at that.

Macy smiled as her mind drifted back to the present. Where am I and how did I get here were the only questions on Macy’s mind. She looked at her hands and realized that, aside from a few splatters of the red liquid, they were clean. Her favorite dress – white with yellow flowers – was ripped and caked with mud. She sighed, upset about her dress, and simultaneously realizing that she had not been home since last night, since ice cream with Tommy. Looking at the rays of sunlight streaming through the dirty window, she gathered that it must be Monday. Someone must be looking for me. They can’t just leave me here.

*****

In fact, Macy’s parents were frantically searching for their daughter. They had notified the police, but had to wait until that night to file a missing person’s report, so they were on their own. “She’s not a child anymore, Marge.” Macy’s father, Hugh, said to his wife.

“We must consider the possibility that she has voluntarily left.”

Marge turned on him. “Run away, you mean?”

Hugh nodded slowly, deliberately.

Marge shook her head roughly. “No. I know my daughter. She’s been happy here.”

Hugh shrugged. “Not so happy when we told her she could only see Tommy on the weekends now that school’s started.”

Marge had to admit her husband had a valid point. It was true that Macy had voiced no complaints about life on the farm to either Marge or Hugh, she didn’t even complain about not having access to a television. Although, Macy had always been an easy-going child – carefree, taking the world as it came to her. Marge didn’t see any reason this should suddenly change now that she was involved with some boy.

“But she wouldn’t leave because of that, especially not on her own.” Marge didn’t want to say that Macy didn’t know how to take care of herself, but Macy needed her mother, and both of them knew it.

Hugh wasn’t so sure, especially now that she was involved with Tommy. Hugh could see the two of them running away together, despite Tommy’s well-mannered façade. The only flaw in Hugh’s theory was that Tommy was in school today, Marge and Hugh had checked with the high school. The dean had even allowed them to speak briefly with Tommy, and he had been as dumbfounded as them.

“I walked her to the edge of your property last night after ice cream.” Tommy said. “We even made plans for Friday night, after the football game. She couldn’t have left.”

“You’d better tell us exactly what happened.” Hugh suggested.

“There’s nothing to tell, really. We had our ice cream, and we made the walk back to your house. We didn’t stop anywhere, and we didn’t see anyone that late on a Sunday night. When we got to the fence of the farm, I saw lights on inside the kitchen. I figured you must still be awake, and therefore it would be okay to only walk Macy to the edge of the property rather than all the way to the front door. She all but insisted on that.”
Tommy took a deep breath, waiting for Macy’s parents to respond.

“She never came home, Tommy.” Hugh had said calmly.

“If you know where she is Tommy…” Marge interjected frantically before Hugh shushed her.

“If he knew where she was he would tell us,” Hugh’s gaze moved from his wife to Tommy, piercing him with his steely-gray eyes. “Wouldn’t you, son?”

“Of…of course, sir.” Tommy faltered, obviously stricken that they could think such a thing.

Hugh nodded, encircling his wife’s shoulders as she sobbed silently, but continued to stare at Tommy. “Of course you would.”

*****

Macy tried to remember what happened the previous night after her and Tommy left the ice cream stand, but she couldn’t remember much. She could only assume that after they had finished their ice cream cones, that Tommy had walked her back home. She even seemed to have some memory on the walk back to her house, but couldn’t figure out if her mind had made up the memory because it was the most likely scenario, or if the walk had actually happened. Her head was beginning to throb with the effort it was taking to remember.

What bothered Macy about her fuzzy memory was that she did remember seeing a large shadow in the trees as she and Tommy walked along the dirt road that led to her family’s farm. The shadow was roughly the size of a husky man, about six and a half feet tall. What was strange about the shadow was that it was already well past dusk, and it was simply standing among the trees. As Macy remembered the eerie shadow, she wondered why it was just standing there, and thought that maybe it had been watching them. The shadow was definitely a human, but Macy couldn’t think of any person who would stand perfectly still in the woods in the dark, and she certainly couldn’t think of anyone who would take any interest in watching her and Tommy walk down a dirt road at night. Macy ignored it at the time, but now she shivered as she considered that maybe whoever it was among the trees had followed them.

Mentally exhausted from struggling to remember exactly what happened the previous night, Macy ran her fingers through her thick, golden brown hair and tightened her hands into fists, pulling her hair at the roots. She was frustrated and anxious. Macy turned her focus to her surroundings. The room seemed to be some sort of workshop, from what she could make of it. A workbench filled the entire length of the wall to her right, and what looked like paint cans were strewn across the floor. There was the faint smell of paint thinner in the air.

She once again looked down at her hands, glancing at the red splatters on them. Macy smeared a drop of the liquid on the back of her left hand with her right index finger, but the liquid only smudged a little. She sniffed at her hands, but it was difficult to smell anything beyond the cloying sent of paint thinner. Macy determined that the stuff splattered on her hands was paint and tried to ignore any further implications. She was, after all, surrounded by half-full paint cans.

She turned her body to look behind her, her back creaking from lying on the hard floor all night. Behind her stood three easels, all covered with a dirty canvas drop cloth, the color of which used to be white, but was now a dingy light gray. The summation that someone painted in here didn’t make sense to her. There was only one window, and it was covered with mud. If she recalled her art classes correctly, painters needed a lot of natural light to get the colors right. There was no such light in this room. Still the easels intrigued her, and she felt that she needed to see what was under that drop cloth – maybe there would be answers.
Macy tried to stand. Her legs were wobbly, but she managed. Her head felt fuzzy and the rest of her body felt like it had been run over by a truck. Despite the way she felt, it was time to further explore her surroundings, and she was going to begin with seeing what was under that canvas. She took slow steps toward the far wall, her bare feet slapping on the hard wood. She lifted the drop cloth and revealed three unfinished paintings, all of which seemed to be portraits of women. One portrait was an outline, almost finished, all it needed was color. The second was a partial outline, only half of a head, and the third was an upper torso, but no head.

As she replaced the drop cloth, Macy recalled a long-forgotten childhood memory. Macy always credited her love of art to her uncle George. Her father’s brother was an avid painter. He was the person who taught Macy the basics of painting, and the only one who nurtured her obvious talent for it. Macy’s uncle, as well as her love of art, disappeared when Macy entered high school. A twinge of sadness entered her consciousness as Macy turned her attention to the rest of her surroundings once again.

With her legs becoming steadier the more she stood, she walked over to the workbench, determined to figure out what she was dealing with. There was nothing on the workbench that gave her any answers to where she was or who put her here, just scattered tools and a sheet of sandpaper. Macy sighed. She hoped there was a bathroom down here, she had to go – bad.

*****

Tommy walked the length of the high school’s massive parking lot to his beat-up old Chevy pickup. He was deep in thought when he heard someone call his name.

“Hey Newsome!” The kid called. “What’s eating you?”

Tommy shook his head, realizing that his face had puckered up like he had just eaten a lemon. “Nothing.” He called back quickly, not bothering to slow his pace.

“Well where you goin’? We got baseball practice in ten.” The kid called back.

“Can’t today. Something came up.” Tommy lifted himself into his truck and turned the key in the ignition.

The engine sputtered, then roared to life. Tommy’s baseball teammate was moving closer to the truck, a worried look on his face. Tommy ignored his peer and jammed his foot down on the accelerator, causing the tires to spin and loose dirt to kick up behind him as he sped out of the lot and onto the main road.

*****

Macy never found a bathroom, but she did find an empty coffee can. The red can read Folgers in a mustard-yellow font, and she used this to relieve herself. “Yuck.” She said out loud when she was finished, staring into the puddle now housed inside the can. She shuddered and looked around her once again.

When she first woke up she figured that the door of her entrance and, hopefully, her escape was locked up tighter than the sole liquor store in the ghetto, but something told her to try the knob anyway. She looked at the deep amber rays of light coming through the window and realized that it was nearing sunset. Now was as good a time as any; she didn’t want to spend another night here.

She walked up to the door slowly, pressing her ear against the cool metal. She listened intently for a few moments. When she was content that there was nothing on the other side of the door, she tried the knob, and found that it turned easily in her hand. Shocked, and suddenly uneasy, she pushed the door open slowly.

A wooden staircase was in front of her, leading up to another door. She listened again for any type of sound. Silence. She climbed the staircase, the steps creaking softly under her weight. She tried to be as quiet as possible. When she reached the top step, she tried the knob of the flimsy wooden door. This knob also turned easily. She stared at the door for a long moment, not opening it, suddenly afraid. She expected both doors to be locked, yet they weren’t.

She let the door swing open to reveal a kitchen not unlike her own at home. The white linoleum floor was crested with beige, wooden cabinets. Gleaming white appliances complimented the country décor. All was silent save for the humming of the refrigerator. Perplexed, Macy turned her head to the right and glanced down a hallway littered with framed pictures on the walls. At the end of this hallway were three closed doors, two facing each other on opposite walls, and the last facing the open end of the hallway. All three seemed to stand in judgment of her. She turned her head to the left and saw another door, this time a screen door that allowed a view of a porch and a large back yard beyond, complete with a tree swing.

Macy knew that she should run to that screen door and push through it, into the open. However, something called to her from the hallway. All she knew was that she would find answers in that hallway. She turned her attention to that hallway, and the pictures on the wall.

*****

Tommy raced to the outskirts of town, trying to remember the exact route. The sun was beginning to set, and he instinctively knew he was running out of time. All he could think about was getting to his destination, and his mind blurred on the directions due to the stress. He stopped at a stop sign for a few moments and looked at the street sign accompanying it – 5000 W.

“Fuckin’ country roads.” Tommy muttered as he accelerated, hoping he didn’t just miss a turn.
He tried, but couldn’t remember the names, or numbers rather, of the roads he needed to take. This was only the second time he was going to this house, and he tried desperately to remember the quickest route, or any route for that matter. It was essential for him to get there before anyone else did. So he went straight, hoping he would not get himself lost.

*****

Marge stared blankly into the trees lining the property at the back of their house. She sat on the back porch, in a wooden rocking chair Hugh had made for her seventeen years ago when Macy was born. No more tears would flow, and she knew her daughter was gone.
Inside the house, Hugh was conducting a hushed conversation on the telephone. The police. Marge thought. He doesn’t want me to hear, but I hear. Doesn’t want to upset me, but I’m not upset. Her thoughts were choppy, incomplete.

Marge’s hysteria had given way to numbness. She was aware of this, and decided to enjoy the peace of it. She stared into the trees, blinking only when she had to, and leaving her eyes closed for more than a few seconds when she did. Hugh was suspicious of Tommy, this Marge thought was evident, and had been from the day they met each other. Marge herself liked the boy, always so polite. Now that Macy was missing, Marge knew that Hugh suspected Tommy.

With his phone call finished, Hugh joined his wife on the porch, took a seat on the bench beside her rocking chair. “I’m going to head over to the police station.” He said with no emotion.

“Let me come with you.” Marge looked over at her husband.

“No. You stay here and rest. I’ll take care of everything.”

Marge knew Hugh was right, and she had no inkling that he was lying to her. He was so much stronger than she was. Besides, he would tell her everything he knew when he returned, he always did. Hugh left without so much as a backward glance. Marge wasn’t hurt though, she knew he was on a mission.

*****

Macy slowly made her way into the hallway, the carpeted floor plush under her feet. Something about this house seemed vaguely familiar, and the sight of the three closed doors at the end of the hallway continued to unsettle her. She couldn’t help but think that there was something sinister lurking behind one of those doors, waiting to jump out at her. She attempted to ease her feelings of dread with the thought, “I should have come up here before I peed in a can.” She frowned.
Macy flipped a light switch and the domed light on the ceiling in the middle of the hallway splashed artificial yellow light on the peach-colored walls. The light also illuminated the faces in the framed pictures. The first framed picture was that of herself – her eighth grade school portrait. Macy stared at it a moment, confused. Finally, she moved on to the one beside it. What looked like a family picture, it depicted a group of individuals, four of whom she recognized. Macy recognized herself, her parents, and her grandmother. It took her a few minutes for her to recognize her uncle George, the man who nurtured her love of art before he left her life. She knew the other individuals in the picture must be his wife and children.
Suddenly, a sickeningly eerie thought entered her mind as Macy slowly pieced the puzzle together – she had been abducted by her own family.

*****

As Tommy raced south on the lonely, country highway, he was forced to stop at yet another ill-placed stop sign. He was glad he did though, because seconds later, he saw a brand-new Ford Explorer traveling well over the legal speed limit in these parts. It took Tommy only a moment to realize that the man in the Ford Explorer was Macy’s father.

Tommy jammed the accelerator to the floor and fishtailed around the corner, determined to keep that vehicle in sight. The two vehicles were now traveling west, practically gliding over the dirt road. The Ford Explorer seemed to glide, anyway, while Tommy’s old truck shuddered and bounced all the way down the road, but Tommy managed to keep up at almost ninety miles an hour.

Ten minutes later, Tommy stealthily followed the Ford Explorer onto another dirt road, smaller than the one they had just been traveling. It took Tommy a moment to realize that this wasn’t a road, but a long, winding driveway. He parked his truck close to the trees that surrounded the property and followed up the drive on foot, using the densely wooded area as cover. Tommy hid behind a tree as Macy’s father slid out of the Explorer. He stood gazing up at the house for a moment before slipping something into the waistband of his dusty jeans. Finally, he started toward the back of the house.

*****

Macy froze when she heard a car door slam. She thought about hiding, but was too scared to move. She heard the heavy footsteps on the wooden back porch, realizing those footsteps belonged to a man, but also realizing that the sound was familiar. It was the same sound she heard when her father walked on the back porch outside their own house. A moment later, her prediction was proved correct and Macy saw her father silhouetted in the screen door by the dying sun.

“Dad!” Macy ran to him.

Hugh caught Macy in a tight embrace, but his face remained grim. He didn’t even look at his daughter, but remained staring straight ahead, down the hallway from which Macy had just run, like his wife did on their back porch. He noticed that the door at the end of the hall had opened an inch, and a shadow blacker than night flickered behind the door. Hugh continued to watch that door, hugging his daughter tighter. He knew his brother lurked behind that door, and he had a pretty good idea of what George was about to do. Hugh decided to enjoy this moment with his daughter and hugged her close.

Macy hugged her father tighter than she had since she was seven years old. Her father’s form felt rigid and uncomfortable against her body. She felt him staring over her head at something behind her. These cues made her uneasy, and she suddenly wondered if her father was there to take her home, or but her back in that dank room in the basement. Macy tried to push back to look at him, but he continued to hold her close. She had so many questions to ask him.

“Dad, what’s going on?” Macy tried to keep the fear out of her voice.

“Shhh.” Hugh whispered and put his hand on the back of Macy’s head to keep her close.

“No. What’s going on?” Macy was trying hard not to become frantic. “I want to leave now!”

“We’ll go in a minute, Baby, but for right now, we have to wait and be quiet.” Hugh’s tone was soft, yet firm, as he reached for something in the waistband of his jeans. Macy knew not to argue, so she allowed her father to hold her while he stared at the door at the end of the hallway.

When Macy heard the click of metal on metal behind her, she was only able to move her head two inches before she heard a loud pop that seemed to thrust her head forcefully into her father’s chest. She felt Hugh’s body move to shield her, but with another pop, the two of them hit the wooden planks of the back porch. Macy was aware of her father crawling over her, but why she did not know, and she didn’t have time to care before everything became black again.

*****

Tommy watched the house, growing impatient at the fact that no one was leaving it. He thought about storming in, but didn’t know what he’d be storming into. Tommy watched the entirety of the house closely, looking for any sign of life. He paid special attention to the upper-floor windows, but he couldn’t fathom as to why. Just a hunch, I guess. He thought as he stood stone still.

The property was eerily still. Tommy noticed the lattice work on the side of the three-story country house, and briefly appreciated the beauty of the wooden, wraparound porch, complete with a white porch swing. He imagined that a nice family lived here – two married adults with two-point-five children, and a dog named Spot or Fluffy – but he knew that this was the home of Macy’s uncle George. The man, Tommy knew, wanted to hurt Macy’s father in any way he could for taking the reins of the family farm. Tommy also knew that this is where Macy was, unbeknownst to Macy’s parents or friends. A chill went down Tommy’s spine as he thought not only about all the rumors he had heard around town, but the things Macy herself had told him in confidence. Tommy had called Hugh with his suspicions only an hour ago, and he hoped it wasn’t too late.

Tommy had a vague idea of what was happening, but couldn’t quite piece it together, until he heard a gunshot from within the house. Tommy raced down the path Macy’s father had taken a few minutes earlier, which led him to the back porch. Tommy stopped running abruptly when he arrived at the porch. He was greeted by Hugh, glassy-eyed, staring unseeingly into the trees in the back yard, rocking in an old rocking chair. Macy lay dead beside him, blood from the side of her head seeping into the wooden planks. As Tommy turned to run and call for help, George blocked his path, a gray pistol in line with Tommy’s heart. Before Tommy could utter a word, he heard the same loud pop that Macy and her father had heard. Then everything went black.
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Lunacy


Rebecca knew the moon had stolen her daughter.

Two days before Christmas Eve. Rebecca picked up Molli from her dorm room for the holiday break. The roads were snow-covered and slippery, and oncoming headlights combined with strong winds made the long journey down the highway difficult. Molli sat in the front seat, seemingly oblivious to the road conditions, happily chatting about her classes and friends. Rebecca rolled down her window a crack to see if the windows would defog.

“Oh! You’ve got to see this!” Molli unbuckled her seatbelt and turned her entire body toward the back seat, trying to reach her duffle bag.

“Molli, please, can’t it wait?” Rebecca struggled to keep the car on the road.

A strong gust of wind blew the moonlight into the car. Rebecca swerved to avoid another vehicle that was drifting into her lane. She lost control of the car. The crunch of glass and metal filled the icy air. Rebecca saw the moonlight envelop her daughter.

There was no doubt – the moon had stolen Molli.

*

Molli’s funeral was two days after Christmas. As Rebecca and her husband, John, watched the casket being lowered into the frozen ground, Molli’s life flashed through her mind. The two of them baking cookies on cold winter afternoons when Molli was a toddler, flour covering her face and hands, licking a chocolate-frosted spoon with the biggest grin. Molli running into the house, crying, after her first day of kindergarten because she missed her mommy. John squeezed her hand and the memories vanished.

“I can’t do this.” Rebecca whispered to John as her eyes darted around the cemetery, searching for a way out.

John didn’t reply.

Unable to find an escape route, Rebecca’s eyes focused on Molli’s casket, the top now disappearing below ground. I’m not ready. She’s not ready. Rebecca’s thoughts screamed.

She felt unable to breathe. Her daughter wasn’t dead, and she wouldn’t be able to breathe underground.

“Stop this!” Rebecca hissed to John as the gravedigger began shoveling dirt into the grave.

John remained motionless.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Tears of desperation blurred Rebecca’s vision and she shook John’s hand as if to wake him.

“I heard you.” John finally said.

“Why aren’t you doing anything?” Rebecca’s desperation was quickly giving way to hysteria. “She’s not dead!” She screamed aloud.

The ritual stopped; everyone attending stared.

“I’m so sorry.” John addressed the crowd as he stood, attempting to make Rebecca stand with him.

She did stand and allowed herself to be ushered away from the ceremony, but not before she cried, “The moon has her! She’s not dead!”

*

The looks of concern and pity after her outburst at the funeral were not as painful as being alone in bed, the moon staring at her through the window. Rebecca stared back at it while she listened to John explain to someone that she was okay, just having a hard time accepting that Molli’s gone.

John entered the room and found Rebecca lying on her side, staring through the uncurtained window. “It’s stuffy in here.” He said as he crossed the room and opened the window a crack.

A soft breeze blew the moonlight into the room and Rebecca could feel it wrapping itself around her. She shivered.

“Dinner’s ready.” John offered.

Rebecca didn’t reply.

John sighed and left the room.

Rebecca lay stiffly on the bed, the moonlight making her eyes water. She couldn’t watch it anymore. Rebecca rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling.

Shadows began to creep along the wood floor and up the wall to the ceiling. Rebecca watched, unmoving, as the shadows entered her field of vision and began to take shape in front of her eyes. The shapes molded themselves into the events of the accident. Shadows, blacker than black, played the scene on the ceiling like a silent film. The object that stood out the most – the moon.

The scene depicted the car crash; not what actually happened, but what Rebecca was sure of in her heart. The shadows the moon cast failed to depict the moon’s role. It was trying to convince her otherwise.

Tears in her eyes, Rebecca angrily flipped onto her side and stared at the moon again. “Give her back.” She repeated over and over like a mantra until her eyes finally closed.

*

“Mom?”

Rebecca opened her eyes.

The room was flooded with blinding silver light. Rebecca felt like a block of ice. She knew it was the moon.

“Mom?”

Rebecca forced her eyes to adjust to the intense light and saw a slim silhouette standing in front of the window. She instinctively knew it was Molli. “Baby? You’re back!”

Molli shook her head. “I have to go. Just wanted to say hi.”

“No.” Rebecca was firm, getting out of bed to move closer to her daughter, but making no progress.

Molli turned toward the window.

“Don’t move!” Desperation crept into Rebecca’s voice.

Molli put her hand on the window sill as if preparing to climb out.

The desperation that had been building in Rebecca took over. “Me!” She screamed, pounding on her chest. “Let me go instead.”

Molli glanced over her shoulder at her mother but didn’t move.

“Please!” Rebecca fell to her knees, clutching her chest.

Wind from the open window whipped into the room. The intense silver light seemed to grow brighter until Rebecca couldn’t see anything at all.

*

The next morning, John woke to find Rebecca wasn’t breathing. The ambulance arrived in minutes. Apparent heart attack. Rebecca died in her sleep.

The first thing John did was pick up the phone and dial Molli’s dorm room to tell her the news.

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