Hollis lay in bed, glaring at the ceiling, listening to the wind whip through the trees, the pine needles pelting their cottage. She rolled onto her side, clutching her ragged teddy bear tighter to her chest, the feeling of him in her arms a source of comfort for her. A gift from her father, one small piece of him that she kept near in secret. She knew she was too old to keep such childish things, but she couldn’t help it. Without Willow, sleeping was near impossible.
A creak of the floorboards outside her door alerted her to her mother’s presence. A few seconds later, candlelight filled the darkness, and her mother shuffled in, pulling her shawl tight about her shoulders. She sat on the chair near the window, setting the candle on the desk and giving Hollis a tired smile.
“I’m making a run to town tomorrow, do you need anything?”
Hollis bit her cheek, knowing better than to ask to go with.
“No,” she sighed, rolling onto her back once more. She felt her mother’s eyes studying her.
“You and Willow used to carry those bears everywhere with you,” her mother said, a sad smile on her face. Hollis bristled, hating displays of uncomfortable emotions.
“What will happen to me when you…” she trailed off, picking at her quilt, unable to finish her question, for fear it may somehow come true. Her mother sat still, spine a bit rigid.
“You’ll live here, safe and sound.”
It was a reality they had to face, but had yet to do so. After Willow’s death, Hollis began to see her world in a different light.
Hollis’ eyes caught her mother’s, and she glared.
“No one will be able to stop me from leaving, then,” she countered. Her mother quirked her head to the side, wondering how to combat her daughter’s trail of logic.
“True, but then you will be giving up everything your father fought so hard to protect.”
“You never even talk about him.”
“He was a good man, and he loved you with every ounce of his being. He wept when you were born, Hollis.”
She felt her throat constrict at the image, yearning for that paternal force in her life. She clutched Teddy (as she’d so aptly named him) tighter to her chest. They’d buried Willow with hers.
“How did you meet, if you’d lived here your whole life?”
Her mother and grandmother had lived here for decades, and she knew her father had somehow managed to gain approval to court and marry her mother, but the story was rarely spoken out loud, the memories too painful. His death was another topic off-limits for discussion. Hollis had only tried once and swore she never would again.
Her mother grinned, leaning back in her chair.
“Your father came down from the Alaska Province,” she said. Hollis’ eyes widened in surprise.
“He was from the township of Anchorage, I believe, and he was just passing through when he saw me. He brought me all sorts of gifts, and papa turned him away every time, until he realized it was useless,” she said, eyes glistening at the warm memory.
Hollis felt her cheeks lift in a responsive grin, but it faded as reality crashed upon her.
“I will never know what it is like to love,” she grumbled. Her mother chuckled.
“You love me, and your grandmother and Willow. You know what it is to love,” she said.
“You know what I mean,” she growled to her pointed toes under the quilt.
“Hollis, I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but this world is so…complex, and dangerous, and if anyone got their hands on you, they’d—” her mother cut herself short, snapping her mouth shut.
“They’d what?” Hollis pried, interest piqued.
“Hurt you. People like us who aren’t wealthy, who don’t offer much to society, they are used as science projects and breeding vessels. That is not the life I wish to see you live.”
Hollis rolled her eyes, knowing this argument was as useless as a blunt knife. Her mother stood, bending over her and placing a kiss on her cheek.
“I love you, Hol, always.”
Hollis felt her eyes water at the mention of her sister’s nickname for her.
“I love you too, mom.”
Cole groaned, feeling waves of unrelenting heat and nausea lap at him. He struggled to sit up, feeling for his glasses in the mud and clumps of ferns, his memory jogged but his conscious mind rejecting what had happened. Feeling the familiar rims, he pushed them up his nose, head pounding, lenses cracked. It was enough to stave off most of the blur, but he wished he hadn’t been able to see the macabre sight before him.
The plane was nothing more than twisted bits of metal, engulfed in leaping flames that lit the surrounding nighttime wilderness. He had no inkling of where they had crashed, but he knew they were far from their destination. The smell of burning flesh tickled the back of his throat, and he turned to the side just in time to vomit his dinner onto the forest floor.
Through the wreckage, through the flames, a giant of a silhouette appeared, unscathed and seeming to draw strength from the screams it was leaving behind. The crew, the pilot—Cole knew they were burning to death. He scuttled back, so afraid of his fate that warm liquid trickled down his legs and soaked his pants. If this was the punishment for creating such a monster—for playing God, then he felt it was just, and in that moment he had no questions regarding who’d created the universe. Damn his science and his cold, hard facts, for they’d led him to his very own destruction.
The monster paused, one foot away from him, shoeless but otherwise impeccable. Cole’s shaking gaze traveled up and up and up, to those golden eyes that held him quaking to his spot. The creature crouched down, reaching out a massive hand, wrapping his long, strong fingers about Cole’s throat and constricting. He sucked in what little air he was able before his windpipe became crushed.
The monster glared at him, his dark brown hair flecked with the ashes from the plane.
“Where…is…Res?” he spoke, voice low and deep and monotonous, as though this were his first time speaking these words. In a way, it was. Cole reached up, clawing at the massive hand that was slowly killing him. With a scowl, the monster let up his hold the smallest bit, and Cole gasped.
“Wes—west, Seattle,” he wheezed, wondering how this creature knew of Res. It couldn’t have been from when Cole spoke of him, could it? With a sneer, the beast tossed Cole aside with the flick of his wrist. From his position on the ground, Cole watched as he picked up the backpack that had been designated for him. His keen intelligence was astounding. The monster rolled out his shoulders and neck, already becoming more limber by the moment, and shouldered the backpack. His neck turned sharply to the right, toward the wreckage, and he stomped his way over, picking through the flames and metal without an ounce of fear.
In the firelight, Cole watched in horror as he wielded a white-hot machete—a weapon from one of the guards. Making his way back toward Cole, he paid him no mind, stomping past, his bare feet shaking the ground. The stars twinkled, watching on in fascination at the ancient entity that had been reborn.
“Wa—wait,” Cole rasped, flipping over, head spinning. The monster stopped, peering over his shoulder with disdain.
“What…what are you going to…do?” Cole asked as dread gripped him. The monster considered a moment.
“You reek of fear and piss, weak human. I want the one who owns me, for I know it is not you,” he said, words still delivered in a mechanical manner, but with all the superiority of a god.
The monster snorted, already having grown a sense of dark, sinful humor.
“I will have no other masters.”
Hollis awoke later than usual, having been tossing and turning all night, staring at maps of all the Provinces on their continent before pinpointing where her father had come from. It felt a lifetime away from her, but she vowed to herself that one day, she’d make the journey, she’d honor her father by touching her bare feet to the soil of his ancestors. Maybe then, she would finally be at peace.
She was still in her room, the window open to a breezy spring afternoon, an apple pinched between her teeth as she flipped the page of her latest book, one she’d already read ten times. It had been Willow’s favorite, but Hollis had always hated it, for the mushy romance felt fake to her. The only thing remotely risqué in the entire book was the one kiss they shared, and it happened on the very last page.
Sun streamed in through the window, warming her flannel-clad arms, teasing her with the temptation of summer. The incessant chirping of a nearby squirrel grated on her, and she threw the core of her apple out the window, effectively shutting him up so she could focus more on her book. Her ears perked up, however, at the sound of thundering hooves along the road. Mother never pushed their old horse faster than a trot.
She sat up, pushing her feet into her worn shoes and jogging to the porch, dread gripping her torso. Her mother rode into view, and the look on her face was nothing short of alarming. Hollis ran down the steps to greet her, grasping at the reigns as her mother jumped down, words flying from her mouth.
“I’ve been followed, go, go get a bag with necessities, go go!” she screamed, shoving Hollis back toward their cottage. Her ears filled with cotton, and all she could register was the pounding of her heart. In a state of shock, she watched her numb arms throw clothes into a bag, along with Teddy, some matches, the map, and her rain jacket. Her mother was somewhere in the living room, yelling at grandmother, both their voices rising in panic. How would they all get away? Would they hide? Where would they all hide? Who was after them?
She turned, about to leave her room, when her father’s Bible caught her eye. She lurched for it, but her mother tugged on her arm. Fighting against the opposing force, she reached the soft leather, ripping the heavy tome from its resting place and shoving it into her bag. She was pulled to the front porch, pushed to their old horse, Winston, and urged into the saddle. It took a moment for Hollis to realize what was happening.
“Mom?” she asked, unknowingly crying, her voice shaky against the calm of the day. The woods cared not for the ordeals of humans. Her mother gazed up at her, an eery calm replacing her panic.
“Go, Hollis, I’ll keep them away,” she said, hand squeezing her daughter’s knee. She shook her head as Winston whinnied and swayed beneath her, sensing his rider’s rising panic. Her mother set her jaw, her blue eyes icy and resolved.
“No!” Hollis yelled, lurching back down.
“I love you, Hol. Promise me,” she said, pausing as deep shouts wound their way up the road. Hollis’ eyes bulged, disbelieving of what was happening.
“Promise me you’ll live. Promise me, dammit!” her mother yelled, her face wearing a look of sheer determination.
Hollis let out a strangled sob as the voices drew nearer.
“Come with me, please don’t leave me, mom, please—”
“Go! It will be alright, grandma and I will be alright,” she said, a calm smile etching itself onto her face. Hollis shook her head, gripping the reigns, the leather slippery in her sweating hands. Her mother backed away, raising her hand and slapping Winston’s rump, the sound echoing through the woods. With an angry jump, the old stallion took off, thundering down the road in the opposite direction of the voices.
Hollis’ mother stood in the dust left behind as the jaws of fate closed in around her.