I can hear one behind me somewhere, crashing through the bushes, giving chase. I can’t keep this up for much longer. I can’t run, have never been able to. But I have no choice other than to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
My lungs burn.
My sides hurt.
My throat is dry while sweat cascades down my face.
And I’m breathing so hard I think I could puke at any second.
Another branch hits me in the face and it stuns me. I stumble, my vision darkening, my blood-covered overalls snagging on a bramble… and then I’m in a clearing.
I have no goddamn idea where I am. But there’s a house in front of me, right in the middle of this leafy glade. That’s got to be good, right?
To my left, a laugh. Jesus, there’s more than one of them now.
I can hear footfalls all around, trampling in the woods, twigs breaking.
I reach the porch, not stopping to look back, and climb the steps. Place looks well kept, not derelict or deserted or anything. Patio furniture is new, the timberwork freshly painted, yet why exactly this matters to me right now I do not know.
I pull open the screen to knock on the door but there’s no time. It’s a warm night; one of the windows is slightly ajar. I get my fingers in the opening and prize it open enough to squeeze through, finding myself in the kitchen.
I can hear them now, clear as day, outside in the glade.
I must hide, no, stand my ground, try defend myself. All of these things.
I grab the chef’s knife from the block on the counter and move out into the hall. The living room is empty but there’s nowhere to hide there.
Shadows at the window. They’re here.
I take the stairs two at a time.
I’ll be safe up there, find some place to hole up, dig in and fight off these monsters.
I get to the landing and hear noises.
I don’t know how, but they’ve managed to get around me, get up here to the second floor first.
I can’t just stand here in the dark and wait for them to come to me, I have to face them.
I grip the knife tightly and move into the first bedroom. These shape-shifting bastards. One of them has climbed into the double bed and taken the form of a woman. It has pulled the covers up to its chin and is scrabbling back toward the headboard. I can’t let it get to its feet and spring at me, I must strike first. I lunge at her… it… and plunge the knife through the covers, once, twice, three times to make sure. The screams sound so real.
Where else could these things be?
The second room is empty, looks like a kid’s, toys on shelves. The bed has been slept in. It’s still warm. But no child here.
A horrible realization hits me, that I led these demons here, that they got to the kid before I did, that one of them, the one I just killed, did not take on the appearance of a woman but assumed the identity of the child’s mother after taking her soul.
The door to the last room is wide open, another child’s, but belonging to one a bit older. This bed is empty too.
I hear whimpering.
If I act fast , I can save them.
I pull open the louvred closet doors, nobody there, but see the door in the reflection in the mirror to my right. A connecting bathroom.
“I’m coming,” I shout, crossing the room in three strides and kicking at the door with my boot. It takes a couple of tries for the door to give. It cracks and splinters before I use my fists to hammer the rest of my way through.
Both kids are here, cowering in the shower stall behind a being someone without all of the knowledge I possess might think is their father.
But I know better, recognize the foreign presence in its eyes, and understand from what I see in the children’s that it’s too late for them. The entities that have pursued me throughout my life have already taken their souls, the same way they crave mine, and seized control of their bodies.
Whatever remains of them, I must put them out of their misery. I owe them that much, at least.
The father, or what used to be the father, seizes the opportunity and attacks first, but I am ready. The knife is so sharp I am able to drive it through his hands easily and, with my full weight behind it, sink the blade deep into his chest with no resistance.
The other two did not think through fully the weak vessels they were taking control of. The children’s soft, small bodies surrender easily.
I win this round, but in the distance I can hear the woods come alive again with their searching screams. Another wave. I have to keep moving.
I wipe the knife on my overalls and decide to keep it. It has served me well. Hopefully I’ll have more luck finding help and refuge in the next home I find.