‘I don’t think you need to highlight it for me with the big red circle,’ she said. ‘I mean, thing kinda stands out all on its own, don’t it?’
‘Yeah,’ Evan said, ‘I suppose you’re right.’
‘I suppose I am.’
He tapped the screen. The circle vanished. He angled the display back at her again. The girl squinted and scrunched up her freckled nose and poked her tanned face into the phone’s screen like someone sixty years her senior.
‘What the hell is it supposed to be anyways?’
‘That’s what I came back to find out,’ he said.
‘Yeah, I rode through here a couple days ago. Was reviewing the helmet cam and tail cam footage-’
Evan stopped. The look on the girl’s face said it all, said she had no idea what the hell a “cam” of any description was. ‘A video camera, you know? I got a little one on my helmet and one on the back of the bicycle, facing rearwards. Just in case I get into an accident or something. Was going through the footage from the one out back and it picked this up. Lot of rocks along that trail, lot of bouncing up and down. This is the clearest grab I could get.’
‘And… I couldn’t get it out of my head. Wanted to find out who or what it was.’
‘Who or what do you think it is?’ the girl asked, starting to walk away, back up the path toward the porch.
The house was some turn-of-the-century-before-last, ramshackle affair, choked with weeds and overgrown foliage, the windows thick with grime and dust.
‘You live here?’ said Evan.
‘Some of the time.’
‘Some of the time? Oh, like a summer house,’ he said. Would explain the state of the place. It was early in the season. Real early. As in hadn’t-properly-begun-yet-but-Evan-had-decided-to-cut-college-anyway-early early. Maybe her parents were on the way here or gone to get cleaning supplies. Christ knew they were going to need them. All of them. Every chemical cleaning agent the store had.
Big old place too.
Too big for her to be living out here on her own.
There was something about the girl. Something naïve. Something not quite right, but something damned undeniable.
She stopped and turned around to him.
To hell with it. ‘Can I come in?’
‘I never said you couldn’t. What are you waiting for? An invitation? You a vampire or sumthin?’
‘Nope. I’m not a vampire.’
‘Glad to hear it. Come on then.’
He jumped the gate. Not out of any need to put on a courtship display. The thing simply wouldn’t budge, its hinges seized with inactivity. Hopefully a couple of gallons of WD-40 were on her parents’ shopping list too.
‘You got a name?’ he asked, as she wrenched the screen door open.
Funny. And cute as hell.
‘And it is…’
‘”Harper”. I like that. Unusual.’
‘Not really. Not as unusual as that picture of yours. Go on. Show it to me again.’
Evan unlocked the screen and handed the phone to Harper. ‘So whereabouts is this?’ she asked.
‘Trail just above us here, behind the trees.’ He craned his neck and looked up into the hills backing onto the house. ‘Actually, directly above us, I think. Here, let me see the picture, the GPS details are tagged on the image.’
Harper fumbled as she handed the phone back to him and it fell out of her hand, bouncing on the porch with a crack and then falling through a gap in the boards.
‘Crap,’ Evan groaned.
She didn’t say anything. Not about the phone anyway.
‘Just looked like a jogger to me. Stopped to stretch as they crossed the road.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Grey sweatpants, one of them hooded tops. Looked kinda obvious to me.’
‘Is there a way to get under the porch, under the house?’ Evan started down the steps.
‘Get it later. It’s not going anywhere. Why don’t you come inside? It’s hot out here. And I’m hungry. Real hungry.’ She disappeared inside, letting the screen door bang behind her.
The speed at which he was able to turn on his heels and follow Harper was matched only by the speed at which he could read between the lines.
It took him a couple of tugs to get the screen door open again for himself. It led him into what might have been the living room.
The house’s interior was a match for its exterior. Dust motes swarming in air that could be best described as brown, the place reeked of damp and vegetation and rot. The furniture looked like it was fused to the floor, laminated in funk.
If somebody lived here, it had been decades ago, not months.
And it may have been noon, but the lack of light caused by the filth on the windows meant it may as well have been midnight. Difficult to see much of anything.
Harper’s voice came from somewhere within.
It had an echoey quality to it.
‘You know,’ she called, ‘I recognize you.’
‘You do?’ Evan took a step forward, trying to pinpoint her position. There was a hall. And at the end of it, on the right, a door, slightly ajar. It opened and her silhouette exited swiftly, padding on what sounded like bare feet into another room, directly facing him, the door of which she threw wide open to reveal what was clearly a bedroom.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘I think I saw you, on your little bicycle. Yeah it was definitely you alright. I’d recognize that ass anywhere.’
Her top flew through the air and hooked on to the door handle.
Evan ventured down the hall.
Her denim cut-offs followed.
As he reached the door, her panties joined them.
‘Maybe you recognize me?’ she said.
He stepped into the room as another garment, one she hadn’t been wearing before, hit him in the face. A silk night gown. He peeled it off and held it out in front of him. Flesh-colored, like pantyhose, with a hood of some kind. It had a face on it.
A human face.
A girl’s face.
Her actual face.
No, not silk.
‘Well?’ said Harper.
He looked up to see her crouched on the bed, coiled like a mountain lion, poised to pounce.
Of human skin and hair. In its place, a smooth, matte gray hide that was almost rubber in nature, like a wetsuit. The head was hairless, bald. The ears were nothing but small indentations on either side. No nose to speak of. Just two tiny holes for nostrils, beneath totally black eyes that were without pupils and fixed on him. Just two tiny holes for nostrils, above a mouth from which a black tongue forked the air, the similarly black gums within lined with dozens of razor-sharp, piranha-like teeth.
The floor was sticky, for sure, but something more primeval held Evan’s feet in place.
The creature held up a finger with a two-inch long, shiny black claw and pinched the air between it and her thumb. ‘That picture of yours. Of me. I was this close to you. Nothing’s ever outrun me before. Must have been those wheels of yours. But you don’t have them now. You wanted to know who or what I was. What does it matter? Only things you need to know are that this time you will not get away. And that I was not lying before. I am hungry. Real hungry.’