Here's my contribution to the Halloween-aplooza! It's a short story I wrote this week. I don't usually do short stories. And I don't usually do horror. So I'm not sure how this will turn out!
I laced up my faded blue sneakers and blew on my fingers. The morning air felt frigid against my cheeks, but running was the only thing that would keep my mind off Jared. And the horrible way he’d dumped me last night.
I’d deleted the text message hours ago, but hadn’t been able to sleep. So, at the crack of dawn I drove to the dismally empty park at the edge of town, just to avoid running around the track at school. There were too many memories there. Homecoming parade. Jared kissing me on the field after their big win. Let it go.
With a couple of quick stretches, and a dash at my eyes, I began to jog along the worn path that followed the edge of trees around the park. The sun still hung low on the horizon, casting long shadows in front of me. Ancient trunks and gnarled branches formed the high wall of a formidable fortress on my right side. I kept a solid pace, finishing the mile long loop and starting again.
The gunshot of a snapping branch echoed right behind me as I entered the stretch of path closest to the trees. Leaves rustled overhead before falling around me, orange and brown and red. My pulse leapt and my heart thundered in my chest.
It’s just an animal. Keep going.
But the sound of gravelly footsteps proved me wrong. I began to run faster, pushing my toes into the ground and pumping my arms to either side. The footsteps got faster too.
Just when I thought my heart would split open from all the pressure, I stumbled. I barely caught myself with my hands as tiny stones embedded in my palms. I bolted upright and forward, anxious to flee the steps behind me. But they’d stopped.
I slowed, infinitesimally, my hand reaching to my back to massage against the dull pain that had formed in the fall. Great, I probably tore something. I forced myself to breathe through my nose and out my mouth as I continued on, fearful to look back. Realizing that I’d missed the exit back to the parking lot, I continued race-walking forward.
Just, one last lap. That thing is gone. And, hey, you’re no longer thinking about Jared.
My breathing had about returned to normal when I heard another sound behind me.
The whisper startled me into a frantic sprint.
Another voice. This time male. Other voices chimed in, a chorus all calling my name. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Adrenaline and terror raced through my veins in equal amounts.
Finally, I spotted a small crowd on the path, far ahead of me. Someone knelt in the dirt. Another seemed to be talking into a cell phone. A couple others bent over something on the ground.
“Help me!” I tried to shout but it came out more as a croak. “Please, help me.”
They didn’t turn. I finally reached the group and stopped short with a gasp. They’d gathered around someone. A body, face down in the dirt. With a knife protruding from her back and blood pooling out to the sides.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I saw. It was me. But I’m right here.
Taking a step backward, away from the impossibly grisly scene in front of me, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I whirled around, shocked for the upteenth time today, to see my family standing there. My grandmother. My aunt Shelly. My cousin Aaron. And others that I only recognized from pictures.
It wasn’t my entire family. Just those who’d died before me. They stood still … eyes bright … mouths smiling … arms held out in welcome.