This short story takes place after Half Alive.
Dawn inhaled sharply as the cold air hit the skin on her arms and face. She raced through the front door of her home and quickly descended the porch steps into the front yard, almost missing the last step as one of her legs clumsily ran into the other. She looked up between the trees surrounding the house and for a moment felt a sense of tranquility just as the sun was setting and the sky took on the pale hues of pink, orange and blue. It may have been too cold to go outside without a jacket, but she kept walking as if the chill didn’t faze her at all.
She had to leave the house. She needed somewhere to hide. Last summer, she discovered a crawl space space underneath some shrubs that curled over a fence adjacent to the neighbor’s yard. The shrubs provided a rudimentary fort where she could be alone, unafraid… and be herself. She had grown several inches taller over the last year so it was becoming difficult to crawl through the tiny space provided between the branches. And after summer had passed, Dawn had seldom sought sanctuary there because it was too cold.
Today was different though. Wrapping her arms around her body she turned to the right and stared at the shrubs and contemplated once again crawling into her hiding place. The creak of the someone opening the front door snapped her back into reality. She turned around, facing her house just as the thing she was trying to get away from emerged, making eye contact with Dawn.
It was too late to try to hide from him now, the sight of him made her wish she could melt into the ground and disappear. Clutching her arms even tighter, she hunched over as he approached and tried to talk to her. She looked away and stared obtusely into the trees. Dawn could hear words coming out of his mouth but she had no idea what he was saying. All she could listen to was the pounding of her heart in her chest.
Letting out a breath of disgust, he walked away from Dawn, clearly irritated with her unresponsiveness. She took the opportunity to once again make her escape and stepped towards the shrub fort when movement in her peripheral vision made her stop.
Dawn’s older sister, Maria, had been inside when Dawn had made her abrupt exit, but she was now standing as still as stone outside to left of the house. There were only two exits from their home – one of course from the front entrance and another off to the right of the house which harbored a storage room closed in by thin wooden panels and screens which you can easily see through. Dawn hadn’t seen Maria come through either exit, so she knew she must have jumped through one of the windows.
She wants to hide from him too. Dawn thought to herself as the thing noticed Maria standing sheepishly alone and tried to approach her. However, as soon as he took his first step, Maria ran behind the house and disappeared. Looking defeated, he walked towards the front of the house where Jason and Angie had just emerged.
Angie was only about seven years old – she still possessed the curiosity and innocence of a young child. She had yet to develop abstract thought, to know right from wrong; she merely took in the events around her for face value and didn’t think about the consequences of anyone’s actions. Nonplussed, Dawn watched Angie walk right up to the thing and ask, “Do you remember that game we used to play, you called it the tic- “.
“No.” He replied brusquely, cutting off the rest of her sentence while turning on his heels and sprinted up the porch steps. Angie had not finished asking her question, but she didn’t need to. He knew what she was confronting him about and so did Dawn.
I’m not the only one . Dawn thought as the harsh reality sank in and a chill crept up her spine, reaching for her heart and seemed to stay there.
“What?!” Jason asked Angie as the thing slammed the front door behind him. Dawn felt a numbness take over her mind as she tried to listen to Angie explain ‘the game’ to Jason. Neither of her siblings had acknowledged Dawn standing several feet away, frozen where she stood. The stoic expression on her face defied what she felt inside. She couldn’t move, and she could barely process the words coming out of Angie’s mouth.
I’m not the only one.
Jason grabbed Angie’s hand and pulled her towards the house, demanding she call Dad and tell him everything she had just told him. The thing had come back because Jason had supposedly tampered with the radio in his car after he moved out. He was trying to ask Dawn and her siblings if they had seen Jason do it, but no one was cooperating. Now Jason was taking the opportunity to make him leave, and possibly get a reprieve from his own troubles.
Dawn snapped out of her reverie after hearing the front door slam for the again and she found herself in the front yard alone. She moved slowly towards the house, her legs were limp like noodles, almost refusing to climb up the stairs. She was reaching for the door knob when it suddenly opened and the thing emerged. Her breath caught in her throat as he brushed past her and she stepped through the entrance, quietly closing the door behind her.
He hadn’t said a word when he left but she was glad he was leaving, hopefully this time for good. Dawn quietly turned towards the kitchen and listened to conversation going on. She overheard Angie retell the story to Dad over the phone. Dawn needed some kind of confirmation, she didn’t want to believe it and hearing it again only worsened the dull ache in her chest.
I’m not the only one… Dawn thought to herself again. However, knowing this didn’t make her feel any better, she should have said something when she had the chance but didn’t have the courage. She was glad Angie did, and felt ashamed her younger sister was the one who confronted the thing about the twisted game they used to play. He called it a game, but it wasn’t a game at all.