Rose

By Pandora Banister All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Thriller

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 3

1

What an odd place to be so late at night, Chris thought as she stood in a clearing in the woods. She looked around at her surroundings: it was a clearing, seemingly in the middle of the forest, large pine trees and a few oak trees all around. The grass was very long, and swished against her legs in the breeze. Ahead of her was an opening, seemingly a tunnel that led somewhere. Chris stared at this opening for a while, a gust of breeze blowing her hair to the side and into her face, and she quickly pushed her hair away. She looked down at herself; she was still in her white t-shirt and shorts, but now had her tall canvas sneakers on her feet.

She felt something land on her head, and looked up. It was starting to rain, and it was coming down pretty hard. A drop landed in her eye, and she rubbed it until it felt better, and she looked at the opening again. She mustered up the courage, and walked toward it, and then through it. It seemed darker in this tree tunnel, like the darkness was made darker. All she could really see was the trees around her and the ground beneath her feet. She continued on, looking around as she walked.

Then the screaming started. It wasn’t just screams of fear, but also screams of agony, as if people were being slaughtered, and were screaming at the top of their lungs. Chris flinched when it began, and covered her ears, but she could still hear them, clear as day, as well as some sloshing sounds, as if these people were being stabbed reputedly with a knife. Then, along with the agonized screams came a loud, screeching roar. Chris knew it all too well: it was the roar of the hideous monster she had encountered that one day, and she ran, trying to find a way to escape.

Something appeared in the distance, and Chris stopped and looked at it. It was twice the size of herself, white, and shaped like a square. She ran to it, and stopped before this object when she saw it for what it was: a door. A large, white door with a brass handle. She wondered what could be waiting for her on the other side, and was hesitant to open it, but the screeching, monstrous roar returned, closer this time, and she quickly opened it and ran in. Before she could get far, she stopped dead in her tracks when she saw what was before her.

It was a very large oak tree, but around it were mutilated bodies of people more or less her age. The bodies were strewn all around the tree, and one was hanging from one of the branches with dozens of severed limbs. It was like a macabre Christmas tree. There were arms and legs, all bloody and dripping, hung on the branches like Christmas decorations. The body hanging from the tree was a girl, whose skin had gone pale and her eyes had clouded over. She had messy blonde hair that hung in her face, and was dressed in a white nightgown, the front being stained with blood that came from her neck. Chris suddenly became sick, and vomited on the ground, and looked around a second time at the horrific scene before her. The hanging girl’s head suddenly jerked up and she stared at Chris with those clouded over eyes, a devilish smile formed on her face, and she broke out laughing an evil, croaking laugh. Chris backed away back to the door, then turned to leave, but stopped. The monster was back, blood dripping from its mouth, red eyes glowing, and blood splattered on its body. It raised a hand, its claws growing longer and sharper, and stabbed her right through the stomach.

All at once, she shot up in bed, making a small shriek as she did so, hair stuck to her cheeks from sweat, and panting. She looked around at her room, seeing the dresser, the door that led to the bathroom, and the nightstand, and managed a sigh of relief, wiping the sweat from her face. She looked to her left; Gabby was now awake, and was staring at her with a look of concern on her face.

“Chris, I’m glad that you’re finally able to get to sleep, but this is the fifth time you’ve woken up screaming, and I’m getting worried,” she said as Chris slipped out of bed and put on her slippers.

“I know. The dreams are getting worse. There are some times where I don’t have dreams at all, but it’s not that often,” she said, heading to the bathroom. She turned on the water in the sink, and splashed some in her face. It helped a little, and she dried her face with a towel, and turned the water off, and went back into the bedroom. Gabby had gotten out from under the covers, and was sitting on the edge of the bed. She was dressed in a black nightgown.

“What are these bad dreams about?” she asked.

“I don’t feel like explaining them right now,” Chris said. She looked at the time on the digital clock on her nightstand; the time read 6:25 in the morning. She looked out the window; the sky was starting to lighten to a luminous blue-grey. She exited the bedroom and headed downstairs and in to the kitchen, and began making coffee.

Gabby had followed her down, and went and sat down on the couch. Chris opened the refrigerator and pulled out a packet of toaster waffles, and placed two in the toaster. The coffee maker beeped, and started drip, drip, dripping the coffee into the pot. The aroma was very relaxing to Chris, and she leaned against the island, trying to relax. After a moment, she poured the coffee into a mug. The toaster waffles popped up shortly afterward, and she set them on a plate, and went into the living room and took a seat on the couch next to Gabby, eating the waffles without a fork and knife or syrup; just eating them with her hands.

“Do you have to eat them like that? Use a fork and knife like a normal person,” Gabby said. Chris gave her a grim stare.

“I’m not a normal person,” she said. Gabby stared at her a moment, studying her with those blue eyes, then got up and went into the kitchen, pouring a mug of coffee for herself. Chris finished off both waffles, drank the last of her coffee, and put the dishes in the sink, then headed for the front door. Then, she stopped and opened the closet, and put on her jacket, then exited the house.

It was strange; it didn’t seem very cold. In fact, it seemed pretty warm. Well, it looks like I put on the jacket for nothing, she thought, and walked across the porch and down the drive to get the newspaper. She looked around as she knelt down to pick it up; the world was quiet, and the sun was just starting to rise, making the sky and clouds a pretty shade of orange. Down the drive, she could see a few cars coming and going, but saw no people on the streets at all.

“Hey Chris,” a familiar voice called out. Chris jumped slightly, and turned to face Fawn, who was jogging up to her. She was dressed in a pink tank top and a pair of black athlete shorts with pink accents. On her feet were pink running sneakers. Chris smiled and waved as Fawn stopped before her.

“Hi Fawn,” she said.

“So, you’ve been here a week now, right?” Fawn asked. Chris nodded. “How do you like it here so far?” Chris shrugged.

“It’s okay. I got a job at the library,” she said. Fawn smiled.

“Oh, that’s good. How is it?” she asked.

“It’s fun. My job is to mainly read to the children,” Chris explained. Fawn nodded in understanding. “What job do you have?”

“I work at the florist with my parents. It’s a pretty good-paying job,” Fawn said.

“Oh, that’s nice. One of these times, I’ll drop by to say hi,” Chris said. Fawn smiled and chuckled.

“I’ll see you there at some point,” she said. “Well, I’ve gotta get going. Seeya around.” Fawn then took off running down the drive, and Chris turned and went back into her house. Gabby was sitting at the foot of the stairs, still drinking her coffee.

“It’s a pretty warm day today,” she said, passing Gabby and climbing the stairs. Gabby stood up and followed.

“Really, a warm day in the winter time,” she asked in a disbelieving voice. Chris turned to her and nodded.

“Go outside and see for yourself if you don’t believe me,” she said, heading into the master bedroom. She dug through the drawers of the dresser, and pulled out and dressed in a tank top with a giant skull design on the front, a pair of black tights, and some torn denim shorts. She went into the closet, and pulled on her black canvas sneakers that went up to the knees, then went to the bathroom counter and put on some black rubber bracelets. She brushed out her hair, washed her face, and cleaned her teeth, then went back into the bedroom, where Gabby was now dressed in a dark-grey t-shirt with a red skull on the front, a pair of black skinny jeans, and a pair of black boots. On her hands were fitted, fingerless leather gloves. Her black hair was pulled up in a ponytail.

“Heading off to your job?” she asked. Chris nodded, and headed downstairs, Gabby following close behind. She pulled on her jacket, and grabbed her keys and her bag, and headed out to the car. Gabby stopped at the porch, and waved as Chris climbed into the driver’s side and started the car. Chris looked back to back out of the driveway, and, when she looked back at the house, Gabby was gone, and she drove off to the library.

2

She parked in the parking lot of the library, got out and locked the car, then headed up to the doors of the library. Her mind drifted back to the dream she had for the past five nights. She shivered at the thought of the woman hanging from the tree, face pale, eyes clouded, and laughing that horrible, croaking laugh. She snapped out of her thoughts, and looked back up at the library.

It was an older building, made entirely out of bricks. It had a shingled roof that seemed newer than the rest of the building, and a larger porch roof with white-stone columns. It also had a set of stairs that led up to the front doors. Chris looked up at the doors and windows at the top of the stairs, and saw the neon sign in the window flash, in blue and red letters, COME IN, WE’RE OPEN. She climbed the stairs, and went in through the doors.

Her boss was setting up books on the bookshelves in the children’s section. His name was Mr. Charles Dalton, but everyone called him Chuck. He was a man in his mid-forties, and was very tall, about six inches taller than Chris. He had dark-brown eyes with bags under them, and black hair that was always slicked back. Today, he was dressed in a white button-up shirt with a brown jacket, brown dress pants, and a pair of black dress shoes. He always dressed very nicely for someone who worked at the library, but he always had an explanation for why he did. “I’m the manager, so I must dress professionally,” he had said the first time Chris had come in.

He turned to face her when she came in, and waved politely. Chris waved back, and removed her jacket and hung it on a coat rack next to the door. Chuck placed the rest of the books on the shelf, and came up to Chris.

“You’re a little early,” he said. Chris shrugged.

“Is that a bad thing?” she asked. Chuck shook his head.

“No, it’s a good thing. So, if you want to get started, we have a new shipment of Stephen King and James Patterson books in the back. I need you to arrange them on the shelves in the adults section over there,” he instructed, pointing to a section of shelves that were pretty much empty. Chris nodded, and headed to the back room. There were only two boxes, one labeled Stephen King, the other labeled James Patterson. She stacked the boxes, and carried them to the shelves. They were heavy, but not too heavy to carry. She opened the Stephen King box, and started placing them on the first shelf. There were books like Rose Madder, The Stand, Different Seasons, Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, and The Shining; books she had at home. The James Patterson books consisted of Witch & Wizard, Hope to Die, Maximum Ride, Cross My Heart, Unlucky 13, and Invisible. There weren’t a lot of books, so it was a pretty easy job, and only took twenty minutes. Afterwards, she put the empty boxes back in the backroom. When she came out, Chuck came up to her, holding a book in his hands.

“Did you finish?” he asked. Chris looked up at him, and nodded. “Okay. The children will be here at 9 on the dot. You’ll be reading this book.” Chuck handed her the book. It was James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, a book Chris remembered reading when she was in fifth grade. Chris looked back up at Chuck, and nodded.

“Okay,” she said. Chuck, pointed to the door that led to where the storytelling for children took place.

“Why don’t you go in there and wait for the children to come. It is...quarter past eight right now, and the children will be here soon,” he said, taking a look at his watch. “You’ll be paid every hour you’re here. After you finish reading the chapter, you ask them what book they would like to be read next, and, when they name one, come out here and grab the book from the shelves. Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Chris said.

“Good, so go in there and wait,” he said. Chris turned and went into the small room. Its walls were decorated with paper cutouts of butterflies, caterpillars, grass, flowers, and birds, all made with brightly-colored paper. The floor was the typical carpet you would see on the floors of most classrooms. In the center of the room was an armchair with cushions made from soft, red fabric. Chris crossed the room and took a seat in the chair, and waited.

3

The children came after a little while, and, outside the room, Chris could hear Chuck telling them about the book that would be read to them, and the children cheering in their squeaky, pubescent voices. After that, the children came crowding in, and Chris readied to read the first chapter of the book. The children took their seats on the floor, and one child raised their hand.

“Why do you have a flower growing from your neck?” the child asked. Chris looked around the room, acting as if someone could be listening, then cupped a hand to the side of her face.

“Don’t tell anyone, but it was planted by fairies,” she said in a slightly loud whisper so they could hear. Many of the children seemed very amazed and excited, and Chris giggled, and opened the book. “Okay, today’s story is James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. It’s a really good book, and it was made into an equally good movie.” After explaining the book, Chris began reading. The first chapter introduced James and his two evil aunts, Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. At four years old, James used to live with his parents in a pretty and bright cottage by the sea, but his parents were eaten up by an escaped rhinoceros on a shopping trip, and he was sent to live with his two aunts with nothing but a pair of pajamas and a toothbrush. They forced him to perform back-breaking labor, locking him up for punishment, and never letting him leave their house or garden. He could see woods, fields, and, sometimes, his former house. There was little for him to do, and the only thing that remained on his aunts’ unpleasant property was an ancient peach tree that never grew peaches. After Chris finished reading the first chapter, the children gave her a good amount of applause.

“Okay, so who wants to hear what book?” she asked. A young girl in the back raised her hand.

Where the Wild Things Are,” she said. Chris smiled, got up, and headed into the children section, and got the book, then returned and began reading. After that, someone requested The Very Hungry Caterpillar, then Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and The Giving Tree. After that, there were no more requests, and the children left. Chris put the books back on the shelves, and gave James and the Giant Peach back to Chuck.

“I’m going on my lunch break,” she said.

“Okay. Only an hour, though,” Chuck said. Chris nodded in understanding, grabbed her jacket, and headed down to her car. She drove to Jerry’s Pub, and got a to-go order of a burger and fries and a bottle of water, and drove to the park to enjoy her meal.

The park was only down the street from her house, and there was another street of houses across from it. Chris took a seat under a pine tree, and began eating her meal. She looked around at the park as she ate. There was a playground off in the distance, and she could hear children squealing and laughing as they played. A person passed by, walking their dog, and politely waved hello, and Chris politely waved back. After she finished her burger, she started eating her fries.

Something in the distance caught her eye. Or, more likely, someone. It was the boy that had saved her from that horrible monster the week before, Toby. He was playing with Sid the wolf like a person would do with a regular dog. He was now dressed in a brown t-shirt and a black jacket, grey jeans, and black sneakers and had a dark-grey beanie on his head. Chris looked back down at her food, and continued eating, occasionally looking at the rose. Ever since it bloomed, it never died. The petals never died and fell. It stayed healthy and alive all year round.

Chris finished her meal, and threw the trash away in a nearby trash can, then checked the time on her phone. She had only spent about forty-five minutes on her lunch break, and fifteen minutes left. I should get back there, she thought. She started for her car. Then, she heard barking coming closer to her, and turned to see Sid running up to her, with Toby following close behind. Sid stopped before her, panting and making that smile that most dogs do.

“Hey, it’s you again,” Toby said. Chris scratched behind Sid’s ear, and nodded.

“Yeah, it’s me,” she said.

“Chris, right?” he asked. Chris nodded again.

“Yeah, and you’re Toby,” she said. Toby nodded.

“How’ve you been since the last time I saw you?” he asked.

“Good, I got a job at the library. I read to the kids,” Chris said.

“My grandpa used to work at the library. He’s retired now, but he still tells really great stories. You should come by sometime,” Toby said. Chris shrugged, looking down at Sid, whose tail was wagging.

“When I have the time, maybe,” she said. “I’ve gotta get back to my job now. I’ll see you around.”

“Okay, seeya,” Toby said, running back to his house with Sid following close behind. Chris walked back to her car, and drove back to the library.

4

Her shift ended at six in the afternoon, and she was ready to go home. As she drove, she would occasionally look out the window at the world outside the car. The sun was now starting to set, and clouds were rolling in. Looks like another rainy one, she thought. Her stomach rumbled a little, and she stopped at Jerry’s Pub, parked the car, and went inside. It was Friday once again, so it was Karaoke Night again. Chris could see Evelyn and Fawn at a table, and they waved for her to come and sit with them. Chris went to their table, and took a seat. Evelyn was wearing a bohemian beach dress with colors of blue, violet, and teal. Fawn was dressed in a loose dress with the upper-bodice being black, and the rest of the dress being neon-yellow. Chris removed her jacket and set it on the chair.

“How’s it been going, Chrissy?” Evelyn asked. Chris looked down at her clasped hands in shock; no one but her family called her Chrissy. It was weird to hear it from someone else, especially someone she was not entirely familiar with. She looked back up at Evelyn and smiled sweetly.

“It’s been going good. I got a job at the library, and it pays pretty well,” she said. Evelyn smiled.

“That’s good. What kind of job do you have at the library? Cleaning? Or working behind the desk?” she asked.

“I read to the children,” Chris said. The waiter came by and asked what they would like to drink: Evelyn said iced tea, Fawn said water, and Chris said lemon-lime soda, and the waiter went to get them their orders. Evelyn’s focus went back to the rose.

“How’s the rose?” she asked. Chris looked down at it and touched the soft petals.

“It’s fine,” she said.

“That’s good. Does it ever feel irritating?” Evelyn asked.

“Not that often,” Chris said.

The man (whom Chris came to know as Jerry, the owner of the pub) came over with the clipboard and paperback book in his hands. Evelyn and Fawn said hi in rather enthusiastic voices, and Chris politely waved. He once again asked if they were to be singing that night, and all three girls confirmed that they were, and they wrote down their names and the songs they were to sing. After he left, the waiter came with their drinks and the three of them ordered their food. Jerry was now on stage, and announced that Janny was singing again, this time singing the song “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen. Chris huffed; Frozen was not a favorite movie for her at all. She found it quite annoying. Janny came up on stage, and began singing. She was dressed in a red plaid flannel shirt, and a pair of short overalls, and brown cowgirl boots. Her curly, brown hair was up in a ponytail once again, and was fastened with a pink bow. When she finished, Edith went up and was announced to be singing “Some Nights” by the American band, Fun. She was dressed in a brown tunic, black jacket, a pair of leggings that resembled jeans, and a pair of black combat boots. Her voice complimented the song, and everyone applauded when she finished.

After Edith, Evelyn went up, and was announced to be singing “Stop Standing There” by Avril Lavigne. She did very well, dancing along with the beat of the song as she sang. It was a very catchy song, and Chris had it on her iPod. After Evelyn finished, Fawn went up and sang “Just My Imagination” by The Cranberries. This was a very upbeat song, and Fawn danced along with the rhythm. After she finished, she bowed low, and received a large amount of applause. Finally, Chris went up, ready to sing. She had selected to sing “Human” by Christina Perri. It was a song she felt could be about bullying, and loved it. As the music started, she began singing, carefully going over the words in her head. As she sang, she looked around at everyone at their tables, smiling a little at Evelyn and Fawn.

Then, she saw Janny and Edith glaring at her at their table. Chris could never understand why they didn’t like her; she had done nothing to provoke them, nothing that could possibly make them hate her. She remembered one day she had encountered them while working at the library. They began stabbing fun at her, calling Rosy Rascal like the girls at her school used to do, and pushing her and punching her before Chuck broke it up and told them to leave. Chris thanked Chuck for what he did.

She finished the song, and everyone applauded, and she returned to her seat. Evelyn and Fawn complimented her on how good of a singer she was, and Chris smiled at them, and finished off the rest of her food. A few other people had gone up to sing, and Chris applauded for each of them. Then, Janny and Edith came over to their table.

“Having fun, Rosy?” Janny asked, an evil smirk on her face. Chris looked away, seeing Evelyn and Fawn glaring at the two.

“What do you want, Janny?” Evelyn asked. Janny put her hands on her hips.

“I just wanted to say something to Little Miss Rosy here,” she said. Chris glanced up at her, then looked back down at her half-eaten food. Janny took a step toward her, but Evelyn stood up in her seat, giving Janny a glare that said “Back off”, and Janny stayed where she was.

“You’re lucky you have your friends here, Rosy. Otherwise we’d beat you to a pulp,” Edith said, making a slitting motion at the throat with her finger. Chris shivered at the sight of it. The girls at her old school were mean, but not as brutal as this. Janny slammed her hand down on the table, and Chris looked up at her in surprise.

“You don’t belong here. You’re just a freak with a flower in her neck. You don’t mean anything. No matter what you do for the rest of your life, you’ll always be nothing. Now, I suggest you leave this town before I dismember your limbs and beat you with them.” Janny’s voice was very threatening, and it scared Chris. She didn’t realize she had tears trickling down her cheeks until Janny and Edith started laughing.

“Are you crying? What are you, five years old? Grow up, you little bitch,” Edith said. Chris wiped her eyes and looked down at her food. She felt hands on her shoulders and looked up. Evelyn was standing over her, her hands on Chris’ shoulders, and glaring at Janny and Edith.

“What gives you the right to be saying that kind of thing to people? Chris did nothing to you, and she doesn’t deserve any of the stuff you’re doing to her. Besides, you two are more pathetic than her. Janny, you literally pissed your pants for the new movie Annabelle. And Edith, I know you suck your thumb at night. Now get out of here, before I disembowel the both of you and strangle you with your own intestines.” Evelyn had a very dominant and threatening voice that slightly scared Chris. She looked back at Janny and Edith, who looked at each other, and headed back to their own table. Chris wiped the remaining tears from her face, and looked up at Evelyn as she sat down in her own seat.

“Thank you,” she said. Evelyn smiled sweetly.

“No problem. Those girls are bitches. Don’t let them get to you,” she said, placing a hand on Chris’ shoulder. Chris smiled back, and pulled her phone from her pocket. The time was fifteen minutes past seven, and she remembered Gabby.

“Do you want me to stay to help pay?” she asked. Evelyn shook her head and pulled out her wallet.

“No need. The only thing you can leave is a ten-dollar bill to help out a little,” she said, giggling a little. Chris got out her own wallet, and pulled out a ten, then handed it to Evelyn, said goodbye, and headed out to her car. It was already raining, and it was coming down hard. She quickly climbed inside her car, and put the key in the ignition, turned it, and drove home.

5

When she pulled up in the driveway, the rain was coming down even harder. Through the windshield that made seeing outside impossible because of the rain, Chris could just make out a figure in black standing on the porch, safe from the rain. There she is, Chris thought, and stepped out and closed and locked the door, then headed up to the porch, where Gabby stood, arms crossed tightly, a look of concern on her face. Chris passed her and walked up to the door, and tried to open it. That failed. She took out her keys and unlocked the door, and turned to Gabby with an irritated expression on her face.

“Locked yourself out of the house, huh?” she asked. Gabby shrugged.

“Sorry,” she said. Chris smiled at her, and entered the house, holding the door open for Gabby, then closed and locked it.

“You don’t have to be sorry. It happens to everyone,” she said, setting the keys on the coffee table in the foyer, and getting a small bottle of lemon-lime soda from the refrigerator. It had a strong taste that burned her tongue. Gabby took a seat on the couch.

“When are you going to get a TV?” she asked. Chris took a couple gulps of soda, and set the bottle back on the counter.

“I just don’t want to waste all my money right now. And, besides, TV rots the mind. Read a book,” she said, putting the bottle back in the refrigerator, and headed upstairs. She could hear Gabby following her up.

“That’s not my type of style. I don’t wanna read the news in a newspaper. I wanna watch the news on TV,” Gabby said. Chris walked into the bedroom, and started changing into her pajamas. When she looked at Gabby, she was changing into her nightgown.

“Just watch it on your phone,” she said. A look of vexation crossed Gabby’s face, but she just went and sat in the bed, and started watching stuff on her phone.

“Well, can you at least get me my own bed?” she asked. Chris pulled on her pajama shirt, being careful of the rose, and went and sat on the bed.

“You’ll just have to hold out,” she said, laying down in bed. She was starting to feel drowsy, and closed her eyes, awaiting to fall into slumber.

6

Something in the night awakened her. She sat up in bed, and listened. It was very faint, but she could just make out the sound: a weird morphing sound, like the morphing sounds that were heard in the forest in The Blair Witch Project, a movie that had actually scared her. Now, she was hearing these sounds in her own house. She shook Gabby awake, who sat up in surprise. Her black hair was in her face, and she pushed it away.

“What is it?” she asked in an irritated voice. Chris shushed her, and told her to listen. Both paused and listened. Chris crept out of bed, and looked out the window; the rain had stopped, but the clouds were still in the sky, and the world outside was pitch black. Chris slipped on her slippers, and headed for the door, Gabby following.

Upon opening the door, the morphing sounds were much better heard. Chris took a deep breath, and crossed the threshold, with Gabby following. Both looked over the landing as they walked, and stopped at the stairs. Down below was nothing but empty blackness, as if the entire downstairs had been consumed by a black hole. Chris gasped in horror and revulsion, and the blackness seemed to start spreading up. Chris stared at it in horror, and felt Gabby tugging at her arm. Chris gave no resistance, and allowed Gabby to pull her across the landing. The blackness seemed to be spreading faster and faster, and it seemed to make everything crumbled and sizzling, as if everything had been burned. Gabby opened the secret door in the bookshelf, pulled Chris in, and slammed the door shut behind them. Gabby pulled the armchair that Chris had bought for the room, and forced it up against the door. Chris half-expected the blackness to creep under the door, but it did not.

“What was that?” she asked in a frightened and soft whisper. Gabby looked back at her, then focused on something behind her, and made a small shriek, pointing to something behind Chris. Chris turned, and saw that the window was completely black, with something rippling in the center, as if it were a sideways pond with black water. A hand came out of it, and Chris backed away to the wall. After the hand came an arm, and then a full body. Now, there was a man standing before them.

This man looked like the villain from a Stephen King horror novel. He was very tall, almost seven feet. He had a muscular build, and his forearms colored down to black, with his nails being curved and sharp. He had loose hair the same color as blood, and he had the most evil-looking eyes, with the sclera being black and the pupils being yellow. He was dressed in a loose black t-shirt, grey jeans, and a pair of black working boots. Out of the two of them, he was mainly staring at Chris, and, in the blink of an eye, his hands were around her neck and he started to squeeze. He had closed his hands over the rose, and Chris could feel the juices from the petals trickle down her neck and chest. She started gagging, and tried desperately to pull his hands away.

“Let go of her!” she could hear Gabby say, and she saw Gabby push this man off. However, before he was pushed back, and used his curved and sharp nails, and slashed Chris across the face. Chris clutched at her face, which was stinging and she felt the blood flowing down, and, when she looked down at her hands, they were smeared with scarlet. Chris shrieked in pain, horror, and revulsion, and looked up at this horrific man, whose face was formed in a psychopathic grin, revealing a set of dagger-like fangs.

Chris shot up in bed, panting hard, and sweat making her hair stick to her face. She looked around, and was happy to find that she was in her room, safely in her bed, having survived another nightmare. She looked over at Gabby, who was sound asleep on her side of the bed. She looked at the digital clock on the nightstand; it was midnight. Chris wiped the sweat from her face, then looked down at her hand. In the darkness, she could make out something darker than sweat smeared on her hands. She looked down at her pajama shirt, which had a dark stain at the collar. She got out of bed, and hurried to the bathroom, flicking on the lights, and stared awestruck at her face.

There were three slashes on her face: one that went from her hairline and cut diagonally on her forehead and across her left eye, one that crossed diagonally across her right eye, across her nose, and down her left cheek, and one that crossed from her right cheek, across her pale lips, and ended at her chin. They were bleeding, and she had blood smeared across her face. What happened? she thought. She reached up and touched her face, which stung slightly. Luckily, she had bought a first aid kit for such an injury, in case she ever ran into the beast in the forest. She took it out from under the sink. She grabbed a washcloth, wet it with soapy water, and began washing the blood away, and cleaning the slashes. She dried her face, and saw that the cuts were now much more visible. They were cut pretty deep, and Chris took a needle and thread from the first aid kit, and began the precarious act of stitching up the wounds. Each time the needle was stabbed through her skin, it hurt, but not enough to make her cry.

After she finished, she looked at her face. Those stitches were not a pretty thing to see, and there was still a little blood coming out. She made some skinny string wads of gauze, and taped them over the stitches, hoping that would help with the bleeding. She stared at her bandaged face in the mirror for the longest time. Then, she noticed something under her chin. She turned on the light and examined her neck; even though the rose was still intact and beautiful, there were large bruises on her neck, as if someone had tried to strangle her. Chris sighed, wondering if she was going insane, wondering if what she had just experienced was real or a dream. What was real anymore?

Chris exited the bathroom, glanced at Gabby asleep in bed, and exited the bedroom. She looked over the railing, and was relieved that there was no empty blackness; there was only the darkness, and, even then, she could make out the furniture she had purchased for the foyer: the sofa with floral-patterned pillows, the armchair, and the oval-shaped coffee table that was decorated with cork coasters, her keys, and an empty vase that would be filled with flowers at some point. She had never taken the chance to visit Fawn at the florist, to ask how her day was, and to purchase some flowers that she would set in the vase. She didn’t take time for anything except, breakfast, her job, lunch, and dinner. What’s become of me? she wondered.

She broke from her gaze at the furniture below, and crossed to the bookshelf that housed the secret door, and pushed it open. Listening, she heard that the rain had, indeed, stopped, but the clouds had parted, and the outside was illuminated in the luminescent blue glow of the moon. The moonlight was streaming in through the window, and Chris could see the armchair in the center of the room. She crossed over to the window and looked out. Down below, she could see what appeared to be children. There were four little girls outside, all dressed in white dresses, and all had blonde hair in hairstyles like braids or pigtails. They were all playing Ring around the Rosie; she could hear them singing the tune. Ring around the Rosie / A pocket full of posies / Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. They seemed to be having fun, and Chris smiled a little.

She heard a sound from behind, and quickly turned. Nothing. She looked behind the armchair, assuming the cause of the sound was hiding behind it. No one there. She shook her head in confusion. Then she turned back to the window. What stared back at her was what she was dreading to see: the monster man that had attacked her in her dream. He stared at her with those demon eyes, and grinned an evil grin. He lunged at her and Chris fell back to avoid his grabbing hands, holding her arms up in an effort to defend herself. She backed up into a corner, and looked up. The man was gone, and she sat down in the corner. She had no idea what was going on, and rested her forehead on her knees, and hugged her legs tightly until her breasts hurt. She calmed down, and didn’t notice that she had fallen asleep.

7

When she awakened, she was still in the corner with her forehead on her knees and her arms wrapped around her legs. When she lifted her head, she could see sunlight streaming in through the window. She looked around at the small secret room, with barely a glimmer of how she had gotten there, and then the sting of the stitched-up slashes on her face, and the feel of the gauze covering them reminded her. She could hear Gabby calling for her, and got up and exited the room. She could still hear Gabby calling for her downstairs, looking for her, and called down, saying she was in the bedroom. She went to the closet, and got dressed in a long-sleeved black dress with white lace trimming on the hem, then went to the dresser and pulled on some black tights, then went back to the closet and put on her canvas sneakers that went up to the knees. She went to the mirror, and removed the gauze from her face. Thankfully, the bleeding had stopped, but she was still unhappy at the scars.

She saw Gabby looking at her from behind, and turned to look at her. Gabby had already dressed in a black hoodie with designs of a ribcage on the front and humerus and ulna and radius bones on the sleeves, baggy black jeans with straps on the legs, and a pair of black sneakers. She had her hair up in a ponytail. She had a look of concern on her face, and came up and touched the stitched-up scars that were now displayed on Chris’ face.

“What happened?” she asked. Chris pushed her hand away, and turned back to the mirror.

“That was my first reaction when I saw these. ‘What happened?’” she said, taking a brush and brushing her hair. She pulled the front section of her hair back in four rows of mini-braids, but left the rest of her hair down. She washed her face and cleaned her teeth, and headed downstairs. She could hear Gabby following, and went to the closet, and pulled out a black double-breasted military coat she had bought this past Monday to replace her black jacket that had been damaged by the monster in the woods. Gabby had stopped by the door that led into the kitchen and living room.

“Come on, let’s have breakfast,” she said, opening the door. Chris shook her head as she slipped on the coat, and headed for the door, grabbing her keys from the coffee table.

“I’m not hungry,” she said, opening the front door. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll be back later.” Gabby came up to her as she took a step out.

“Don’t you think that people will give you funny looks with those scars on your face?” she asked.

“I don’t care,” Chris said, and closed the door and locked it. She looked up at the sky, seeing that the clouds were starting to come back in, and huffed silently, wondering why it rained so much in this town. She walked down the steps and started walking down the road, glancing to her left to see if Fawn would jog by. No one. She walked to the park, her mind still drifting back to the horrible dream. She could still see those black and yellow eyes that pierced into her soul, could still feel the claws slice into the skin of her face, and the hands that pushed down on her windpipe. She was certain it was a dream, but couldn’t figure out why she had the slashes from the monster man’s claws and the bruises from him trying to strangle her.

Her path was blocked by two figures, and Chris looked up at them in surprise, and groaned silently when she saw who they were. She looked around, and found that she was in the park, and not really far away from Toby’s house. Then a hand pushed at her, and she broke out of thoughts, and looked back up at Janny and Edith. Both had wicked smiles on their faces, and Janny had her hands on her hips.

Janny was dressed in a pink pea coat, a pair of skinny jeans, and her white sneakers, and had her curly hair down. Edith had on a blue jacket, a white t-shirt, black skinny jeans, and a pair of red sneakers, and had her hair in braids like it always was. Janny chuckled a sinister little chuckle that made Chris shiver.

“Well, well, look who’s out? And with no one to protect her this time,” she said. Chris turned to run, but felt a hand grab the back of the belt for her coat, and a foot kick the back of her knee that forced her on her knees. She turned to look at the two, and felt Janny take of fistful of hair, and start to yank as hard as she could. Chris started crying out in pain, and covered the rose with one hand when she saw Edith reach to grab it.

“Look, she has stitches on her face. What’s wrong, squirt? Get in a fight with a clawed monster?” Janny was laughing as she said this. Edith then kicked Chris in the stomach, a hard kick that made Chris breathless. The pain was excruciating, and Chris almost fell, but stopped herself. Then, a hard kick to the back forced her down. She tried to get up, or to crawl away, but Edith gave her a hard chin-check, and she fell back and landed on her ass. Janny and Edith started kicking her hard in the stomach and Chris started to cough up blood, a drop landing on Janny’s shoe.

“You bitch!” Janny exclaimed in a rage that was horrifying to see and hear. She grabbed Chris by the collar, and started punching her in the face. Chris could only see Janny as a blur, and, with each punch, could see stars.

A loud bark and some snarling made Janny look up, and both she and Edith ran off, screaming in terror. Chris was dropped, and she laid on the ground, coughing, feeling blood running down her cheeks from the corners of her mouth. She felt hands get her into a sitting position, and her vision cleared of the blurriness and stars. She could see Janny and Edith, standing a good ten feet away, obviously on edge. Standing in between Chris and the two bitches was Sid, who looked back at her, and she saw (or thought she saw) a small glimmer of concern in his blue eyes.

The hands helped her stand up, and, when she looked up, she was met with Toby’s green eyes. She looked back over at Janny and Edith, the both of them scowling.

“How do you, of all people, have people everywhere to protect you?” Janny asked. She took a step forward, and Sid snarled and growled, which spooked Janny enough to make her jump back. Sid made a small lunge toward them, and a loud bark, and they were off and running. Chris managed a sigh of relief when she saw them run. Then she looked back at Toby. He was wearing a black t-shirt with a green cargo jacket, blue jeans, and black sneakers. On his head was the same dark-grey beanie she had seen him wearing the day before.

“Are you okay?” he asked. Chris wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and saw smears of her own scarlet blood. She definitely didn’t feel okay, but she managed a nod. He looked her up and down, then started leading her toward the houses. “Come on.” Chris followed, glancing back and seeing Sid following.

8

Once Toby had led her inside the house, Chris had almost instantly gained the attention of an elderly woman. The woman had long, white hair that was pulled up in a loose bun and brown eyes. She was dressed in a white blouse with a rather baggy pink cardigan, tan pants that stopped a good five inches above the ankle, and a pair of shoes that resembled black Mary Jane’s. Once Toby brought her through the door, the woman looked up from a book she was reading at the bar in the kitchen, and rushed over to her.

“Oh, dear sweet Jesus. What happened?” she exclaimed, studying Chris. Chris knew this woman was looking at the stitched-up scars on her face, and looked down at the floor, avoiding her studying gaze.

“She got beat up by a couple of girls,” Toby explained. He turned to Chris. “This is my grandmother, Isabelle.” The woman held out a hand, and Chris took it, and shook it in a proper greeting fashion. This woman, Isabelle, looked Chris’ face up and down, then headed into the kitchen. Chris could hear the refrigerator door open, as well as some rattling that sounded like ice cubes being moved around.

“Toby, sit her on the couch,” Isabelle instructed. Toby led her across to the room, past a dining room table, and into the living room, and sat her down on a green couch, and took a seat next to her. Chris could tell he was looking at the scars, and put a hand up to her face, running her fingers over the stitch work.

“What did that to you?” he asked.

“I have no idea,” Chris confessed. She didn’t want to explain how she had a dream of a monster man slashing her across the face with his long claws and how she’d awakened to find the slashes there. It sounded ridiculous, and that he’d say “No, really. What happened?”

Isabelle came up with a few ice cubes wrapped in a towel, and pressed it up against Chris’ cheek, where she knew a bruise was forming. Isabelle instructed her to keep it there for a good fifteen minutes, then said she was going to make tea, and went back to the kitchen. Chris tried to look down at the rose, but the makeshift ice pack was blocking her view, and she reached up with her spare hand to touch the petals. She felt Toby poke her in the shoulder, and looked back at him.

“I bet I’ve got something that’ll cheer you up. I’ll be right back,” he said, and got up and left the room.

Chris looked around at the room she was in. The walls were painted a bright shade of red, and were decorated with pictures of family. Most of the photos were in black and white, while a few were in color. In front of Chris was a round coffee table that had a vase filled with larkspur flowers with purple and pink blooms, with a white doily beneath it. To the right was a set of glass double doors. Across from her was a rocking chair with floral-patterned cushions. To her left was a side table with a lamp, and an occupied recliner chair.

The man in the armchair was about the same age as Isabelle, and Chris assumed that this must be Toby’s grandfather. He had short salt-and-pepper hair on his balding head, rosy cheeks, and blue eyes. He was dressed in a baggy white t-shirt, khaki pants, and a set of loafers. He had a newspaper in his hands, and was staring at Chris (or, more likely, the rose). Chris stared back at him, and raised a hand politely.

“And who are you?” the man asked. Chris opened her mouth to say her name, but Toby came back in, his hands held behind his back, and answered for her.

"Grandpa, this is my new friend, Chris,” he said, and took a seat next to Chris, keeping whatever he had in his hands hidden. The man did not look pleased at all.

“That seems like a rather masculine name for a young lady,” he said, and turned back to Chris. “Were they raising you to be a boy?”

“No, it’s short for Chrysanthemum,” Chris said softly. The man shook his head.

“And they named you after a poisonous flower,” he said.

“Grandpa, stop. She’s a good person,” Toby said, putting a hand on Chris’ shoulder. The old man went back to his newspaper, still looking displeased. Chris turned to look at Toby, who was still looking at his grandpa with displeasure.

“He thinks like this of everyone,” he said. Chris poked him in the shoulder, and he turned to look at her.

“What did you bring?” she asked. Toby then brought a book out from behind his back, and handed it to her. It was Stephen King’s newest novel, Revival, a book she had yet to read. She smiled down at it.

“How’d you know I liked Stephen King?” she asked. Toby shrugged.

“You just strike me as someone who loves to read,” he said. The old man snorted, folded his newspaper, and set it down on the side table.

“You shouldn’t be reading crap like that. It mixes up your mind, and you never know the difference between reality and fantasy,” he said. Toby rolled his eyes.

“Grandpa, you say that about every book,” he said. The old man tutted.

“If you want a good and real story, I’ll tell you one. That was my job back when I was working at the library. Telling stories to the little ones. They loved me for my storytelling. But, now I’m retired. But I still tell stories as good as I used to,” the old man said. Toby smirked.

“You always tell the best stories, Grandpa,” he said.

“Well, get comfortable. Because I’m going to tell you the story of The Evil of the Forest,” he said.

9

“Once, a long time ago, just when this village was finished being built, a family moved into a house right next to a section where forest went on for miles and miles. The family consisted of Mr. Arthur Blackwell, his wife Sadie Blackwell, and their three children: seventeen-year-old Brody, fifteen-year-old Marie, and six-year-old Jessabelle. On the first night there, Marie suffered from severe nightmares. Nightmares were she was running through the woods, hearing nothing but agonized screams, or dreams of being stalked by a mysterious man. Brody had said of hearing a strange morphing sound coming from the woods. And little Jessie talked about seeing a girl a couple years older than her in a pink nightgown with a teddy bear who ran off into the woods. Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell passed these off as their children making up stories and feeling homesickness.

“One day, Marie and Jessie were playing outside in the backyard. They both froze when they heard it: a loud and distant roar. Jessie rushed inside the house to tell her mother about it, leaving Marie outside. When she returned, pulling her mother along with her, Marie was gone. Seemingly vanished, without a trace. Mr. Blackwell set out, searching around the village, trying to find his daughter. Before long, Brody had disappeared as well. Mrs. Blackwell was in hysterics, and never took her eyes off of Jessie. She took Jessie everywhere she went. She had Jessie sleep with her in her bed.

“That night, Mrs. Blackwell had a dream that she was walking through the woods, and came across her two missing children, standing on the other side of a watering hole, holding hands, and waving at her. They seemed sad and alone. She woke up, and told Mr. Blackwell to look for them in the woods. And so, Mr. Blackwell traveled into the woods, going deeper and deeper. Just as his wife had predicted, there was a watering hole, but no sign of his two children. He called for them, but the only voice that replied were his echoes.

“Then, the bubbling started. In the center of the watering hole. Mr. Blackwell stared at the bubbles, wondering what was going to come out. Before he could even think, a creature emerged from the water. It was all black, with long arms, and large hands with long and sharp claws. It had four red eyes, two large, and two small. It had a wide mouth, filled with rows and rows of razor sharp teeth. It climbed out of the water, and stood before Mr. Blackwell, who was frozen in fear.

“’What are you?’ Mr. Blackwell asked. The creature grinned at him, and said, in a deep, demonic voice: ‘I am Hex, and I will now devour your soul.’ Mr. Blackwell tried to run, but Hex had caught him, and devoured his soul, leaving his body as a skinny, wrinkled, aged corpse. And, the next day, when her husband failed to return home, Mrs. Blackwell packed her bags, and left the village, bringing her only remaining daughter, little Jessabelle, with her.

“And now, Hex awaits. He sleeps for one hundred hears, and reawakens, hungry. He goes out, and finds young and robust people, with souls that are the perfect age, and feeds on them. He spies on the people of the village from the trees, or goes out in the form of a man, with clawed hands, blood-red hair, and black and yellow eyes. So, you best keep on your toes, or the Evil of the Forest will find you.”

10

Hearing this story made Chris fully understand what this creature she had encountered was. Although, she wasn’t entirely sure if what this old man was saying was true or a simple tall tale. It didn’t seem like a story to tell small children. She looked back at Toby; he seemed a little on edge, and it made her wonder if this was a true story.

“Is that true?” she asked.

“Oh, yes. I’ve seen this beast once, when I was very small. This visage of that creature has never left my mind since then,” he said. Chris looked down at the book in her lap, and trembled a little.

“I saw it. I was attacked by that creature,” she said. The old man stared at her, a small glimmer of horror in his eyes.

“No, that can’t be. It hasn’t been one hundred years,” he said.

“No, Grandpa. I saw it, too. That’s actually how we met. I saved her from that thing,” Toby said. The old man just stared, not sure what to say. Speechless, to learn that this creature had come back so early.

“Well, if that’s the case, then that monster could begin its hunt in a matter of days. You children must keep your guard up. Don’t go outside at night, and for God’s sake, don’t travel out alone. That creature has a habit of catching people off guard,” he said. Isabelle had finished making the tea and served it, and Chris had finished it at the end of the old man’s story. Isabelle had been listening in on the story, and had a look of concern on her face.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you, young lady. Where did you get those scars on your face?” the old man asked. Chris decided that it would be best to tell about the dream she had.

“Well, I had this dream that I encountered this monster man. He resembled what you said that creature looks when it has a human form. In the dream, it slashed me across the face with its claws. And then I woke up, and the slashes were there. I don’t even know if it was a dream or not,” she explained. The man seemed to understand.

“I’ve heard of similar experiences. Where people have dreams of being attacked by that creature, and wake up with the injuries. I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s a power this creature has,” he said. Chris sighed a shaky sigh, and stood up.

“I’m going home,” she said. Toby stood up also.

“I’ll walk you home,” he said. Chris couldn’t help but let her cheeks turn red.

“That’s a good idea. It’s not safe for you to be walking around by yourself. Not with that creature lurking around,” the old man said. Chris looked back at Toby, then at the old couple.

“It was nice meeting the both of you,” she said as Toby led her to the door.

Sid had been waiting patiently by the porch, and stood up, tail wagging when Chris and Toby emerged. As they walked, they were looking around nervously, wondering when the creature would jump out and attack them. Chris finally broke the silence.

“Why do you live with your grandparents?” she asked. Though, a thought occurred to her that maybe he didn’t live with them. Maybe he was just visiting. And that was a possibility.

“My parents died in a car accident when I was little, so I was sent to live with my grandparents,” he said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. She would occasionally look at Sid as he walked beside them. He seemed to be on full alert “Do you miss them?”

“All the time,” he said. He turned to look at her. “I’ve never seen your family yet.”

“That’s because I’m living alone,” she said. She didn’t bring up Gabby. Everyone she tried to introduce Gabby to could never see her. She didn’t want to be ridiculed again.

“Why is that?” he asked. Chris had no problem answering this.

“I used to be bullied pretty severely back in London. So, I decided to move out and start over,” she said.

“I feel you. I get bullied a lot too,” he said. “I don’t really have a lot of friends. It gets lonely.” Chris looked down at the ground in front of her.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends back in London. Everybody would make fun of me and call me Rosy Rascal because of this,” she said, pointing to the rose. Toby looked at the rose and smirked.

“When I first met you, I didn’t think too much of it,” he said. “You’re pretty much the only friend I’ve had so far.” Chris looked up at him, then looked up at her house. She was home.

“Same with you,” she said. She turned to him and smiled kindly. “I guess I’ll see you later.” Toby smiled and nodded, and gave her a quick hug, then ran off back to his house, Sid following. Chris walked up to the door, unlocked it, and stepped inside. Gabby was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs.

“Have a nice time with your boyfriend, Rosy?” she asked in her sarcastic voice. Chris dismissed her, and went into the kitchen, and got a peach from the fruit bowl. However, her mind still drifted back to the story the old man had told, and how she would survive this creature if she ran into it again.

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