Ten Years Ago:
The first few steps were so painful Lexi thought she would just pass out, that everything would go black and then the monster would come in and do to her what it had done to Tina, to Chewy...
But after those first steps, her mind found a way to block out the pain. Or maybe her body just became numb to it. Either way, she was on the move- through the second floor hall to the staircase, then down one turn of stairs, then down the last turn, which opened onto the family room. She was rushing from the bottom of the staircase toward the short hall to the basement when the beast crashed through what remained of the front doors.
She didn’t dare look behind her; could only imagine the wolf-man speeding closer and closer, claws reaching out to grab and pull her back, where those teeth would be waiting...
Lexi raced through the short hall to the basement door, still open from when she had left. She darted into the doorway and she could actually smell the monster-a smell like hickory and alfalfa and kind of like Chewy-as it passed within inches of her, moving too fast to stop and change direction.
It was only a split second, but it was long enough for Lexi to shut the door. While the door rocked in its frame she sped down the two sets of stairs to the daylight basement, back to where she had been when she first heard Tina scream, when this whole crazy nightmare began. The gnawing sensation in her feet had come back even worse than before as the glass pieces worked their way further into the bottoms of her feet, but she was so close. So close.
The box was there in the middle of the floor where she had left it. She positioned herself on the box’s other side so she could see the stairs, dropped to her knees, slid the rifle off her right arm and began rummaging.
Upstairs, wood cracked and split. Not seeing the bullet immediately, Lexi turned the box over, tossing the magazines and the papers and the canteen aside...
And there it was, shining in the overhead light.
The door burst to pieces.
Lexi snatched up the rifle, hit the button to eject the magazine, pulled the bolt back. The old casing flew out.
The beast took the first set of stairs in one big jump, so big that it smashed into the wall at the turn, ending up stuck, half inside the wall and half outside...
Lexi looked at the bullet-the size of it. She hadn’t thought about it before but she had to hope now that it was the right size. The right... what was it dad called it? Caliber? It would work. It had to work. She dropped the silver bullet into the chamber, shoved the bolt forward and down...
You can do this. I love you.
The wolf-man pulled itself out of the wall and crouched on the landing, staring with its yellow eyes, eyes that seemed to say this was it; her time was up; that she was nothing more than meat to warm its belly.
“No I’m not,” Lexi said out loud in a strong, steady voice.
She thought of all the things in her life that she couldn’t control; all the things that weren’t fair, all the things that were happening around her and to her... enough was enough. This was it: one bullet, one shot, one chance to take back control of her life.
She lifted the rifle.
The beast leapt.
Lexi pulled the trigger.
The weight of the monster crashed down on her, driving the breath from her lungs. She waited for biting and the clawing, waited for the end... but nothing came. A rattle escaped the thing’s throat but other than that it didn’t move or make a sound.
Enough of her left leg and arm were out from underneath the wolf-man that she could use them to push the rest of her out, leaving the rifle behind. She scooted away, staring at the quarter-size hole in the thing’s back. The center of its back; on the other side of where its heart would be.
Scooting further, to the base of the stairs, she kept an eye on the monster. It still didn’t move. Slowly, she forced herself to stand.
And then, something strange happened. The skin of the thing began to... ripple. Like waves. Like there were bugs underneath trying to get out. The thing shifted and jerked and Lexi’s heart caught, as she thought at first that it was coming back again, but this was different. There were snapping sounds. The legs with the knees that went backwards cracked, popped and repositioned. The fur covering the wolf-man went the other way, like it was growing in reverse, going back into the skin. Soon, what was there was a man, lying on his belly with his head sideways.
He was naked, which was gross, but she took two painful steps to the side, toward the boxes against the wall. She had to see its face. She had to know what this man looked like, this man who killed Tina and Chewy and almost killed her.
Two more steps and she could see that face. The eyes were open. They were the eyes of a stranger. The face was not a face she knew. Dark eyes, black hair.
Lexi thought back to when dad had started acting strange, talking about how scary the world was... that happened not long after he had talked about the bad people, and how he had gotten them all; the whole family...
But what if he had been wrong? What if he hadn’t gotten all of them, and this thing, this stranger, was the one who killed her dad... and then he came after his family, to get back at him?
Maybe. Maybe that was what happened, maybe not. Maybe Lexi would never know.
What she did know was that she was alive. Tired, and hurting, but alive. She reached into her shirt and pulled out the silver pendant dad bought her for her birthday and she held it tight.
I couldn’t be more proud of you, Bug-a-Lug. I love you, more than anything in the world. I always did, and I always will. My heart and my soul live on inside of you, my beautiful Baby Girl.
And then the voice was gone. But Lexi knew that she hadn’t heard it for the last time. It would be there, when she needed it most.
No matter what, after tonight, Lexi knew that no matter how bad things got...
She could survive anything.