Heather leaned forward, spine tingling a little. “You mean like…I don’t know. Ghosts? Spirits?” Her hands wrapped around her knees.
Elizabeth had a faint twinkle in her eyes as she smiled a little. “Well, they could be called that. They certainly act like spirits, but look very real. More like nightmarish figures.”
With the silence afterwards, Elizabeth knew she had all the youngsters’ attention and it was time to spin her tale. With a deep breath she began.
“A few years ago, I was a young married woman. Tau’mi and Janus weren’t living with me then. Thomas and I had a plot of land on the other end of the town; we didn’t have the shop here. Back then, it was a small shack at the side of the road, with a farmhouse further in the back.”
“This plot had woods, and lots of them. We actually had to notion to use this and grow several of our herbs there to sell. Worked out quite well.”
Heather dreaded a little where this was going, already sensing all was not well.
“Around this time of the year, I was out in the late afternoon gathering herbs for the store. I knew the storm was coming, I could clearly hear it and knew it would hit soon. Stubborn me decided that if I could gather as much as I could before it actually hit, I’d be stuck indoors a few days and could put them all to dry.”
“That was bad, wasn’t it?” Janus asked.
Elizabeth chuckled. “Yes, it was.”
The joy faded a little bit, the woman biting her lips.
“There was one in particular I wanted, lemongrass. It was back deeper in the woods. Darkness had already set in and I didn’t have a lantern or a raincoat. I surmise I was about halfway when the storm struck.”
“There was so much rain all of a sudden I was drenched in only a few moments. The wind was strong it was almost able to blow me over. I had trouble seeing because of the weather. I tripped several times, falling flat on my face now and then.I was covered in mud and my skirts were torn up a bit. All of that had to happen when I decided it wasn’t worth it; I started to stumble back towards the house in defeat.”
“Then what happened, Miss Leesbeth?”
“Well…I hadn’t gone far, I knew I was on the right track. But out of the corner of my eye I saw a form about as tall as a person. It looked odd. The best way to describe it was a pillar of fur.”
The color from Elizabeth’s face drained. Heather’s eyes were wide. Tau’mi had reached out, putting an arm around Janus and pulling him close. Janus protested a little but gave in, urging his mother to continue.
“Then what happened?” Heather dared to ask.
“I took a few steps towards it, really baffled about the existence of such a thing right there. I was only a few feet away from it when these red eyes appeared. I froze…I could see those eyes, staring into my soul and keeping my feet rooted there. They glowed like red hot coals, having a pupil and iris. You sort of knew that it wasn’t a mindless beast; there was thought and calculation behind the eyes.”
Her voice had crackled a little bit, taking a long pause.
For some reason, Heather could feel her blood race. She already knew what it was. Somehow. Those red eyes. It wasn’t just a story. Somewhere deep down in her heart she knew it was real. She felt Elizabeth wasn’t making this up.
“That…thing reached a claw-like hand towards me. I didn’t wait and ran as fast I could; somehow it dug its claws into a good chunk of my skirts as I fled, leaving large rips as I managed to get away. I never looked back and I never stopped till I reached the house. I was a nervous wreck for the rest of the evening…”
Elizabeth’s words faded from Heather’s mind as she could hear her heart thumping in her ears. Her skin felt warm and her legs like rubber. Her fists balled into the puffy skirts of her dress as she hugged her knees tighter. She closed her eyes.
I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe, She kept repeating to herself silently.
Heather dared to open her eyes back, looking at Elizabeth. The woman’s lips were moving but no sound came out. Silence seemed to set in around her, nothing but her heartbeat audible.
A burst of stars filled her vision, feeling something pierce the inside of her chest. She let out a stifled squeak as she doubled over.
The room fell silent, everyone looking at her. Heather glanced at everyone, struggling to sit and scooting backwards a little.
“Dear, are you all right?” Elizabeth asked.
“I’m sorry…I don’t know what happened. I don’t think I feel well…I really need to go home.” Her hand felt her chest, not feeling anything wrong with her on the outside.
Elizabeth started to get up, coming towards her. “You’re white as a sheet. You’re definitely not well.”
“No, I mean I know. I need to-”
Elizabeth felt Heather’s forehead before patting her head. “Come on. Maybe the cold is getting to you on the floor. Let’s get you on the couch and you can lie down and rest.”
Every fiber of her body was in turmoil as she tried to stand up on her own with little success. Both Tau’mi and Elizabeth had her by each arm, helping her to the couch and letting her recline. Heather was able to do little else, weakly protesting.
“I have to make it home. If I just could-”
“Young lady, you’re ill and in no shape to go anywhere!” Elizabeth scolded. “You can barely even stand.”
“But-” Heather tried to sit up.
“Shush. Stay still. Relax.” Elizabeth touched her arm gently but firmly.
Her hand was against Heather’s stomach, judging her condition. Her other hand rubbed her shoulder in a soothing manner.
“If I’m not well, what’s wrong?” Heather dared to ask.
“Not sure. Hopefully it isn’t serious. I’ll have Tau’mi go fetch the doctor as soon as the rain lets up.”
No! Heather struggled inside of herself to rationalize her feelings. I’m just scared. I’m not sick. Nothing is wrong with me. I’m fine. I’m fine.
Heather laid back, staring at the shadows on the ceiling cast by the lamp. The couch was at least comfortable and the house still had that cozy feel from before. Nothing seemed malicious or harmful. Maybe she was safe here. People were around. She couldn’t be in danger, could she?
However, all that filled her thoughts was that that thing was out there. All of a sudden the fears of her father’s rage were no longer a thought in her mind. All she knew was that the longer she was away from home, that thing was more likely going to come for her.