Here is another short story-though it is much longer than Lost In a Moment. LIAM would actually almost be considered flash fiction, which I never believed myself to be very good at though I now think that one piece is one of my best works. Funny how things happen. I hope you enjoy this most recent piece, titled Lure.
The sun began to sink into the West, taking all of the promise and hope that daylight was able to make seem graspable with it as it fell. Shadows lengthened with a rushed and hurried feeling; stretching their arms across green grasses and cracking tarmac alike as Julie hurried towards her father’s trailer. She lived there half of the week and with her mother and stepfather in their large house for the other half. It was a nearly forty minute drive between the two homes, and it made it hard for Julie to get to her job on time when she was at her mother’s. Her job was only five minutes from her father’s trailer, and more than a half hour drive from her mother’s spacious home.
Eddie Gonzales was not a fan of the upkeep and bills that came from owning a house as large as his ex-wife’s and had no problem with his modest piece of property in a well-kept and adequately-managed mobile home park. It was more than enough for him and Julie, as they had their own rooms on opposite ends for when they’d prefer to be alone and a cozy living room and kitchen to share when they wanted to have a discussion or simply spend time in each other’s company. Though Julie’s mother’s house was several times larger, it felt close and cloying to her compared to Eddie’s trailer. Julie’s mother Pauline always wanted to be around her daughter; always trying to interact. She was always attempting to strike up a conversation or draw Julie into her hobbies-which were numerous and dull to everyone except Pauline. Julie preferred her father’s home. As much as she was prone to annoyance and a lack of privacy at her mother’s, however, she didn’t want to stay with Eddie full time. He had a life outside his home where a seventeen year old girl just didn’t fit comfortably. Julie was content for things to stay as they were for the time being.
When she saw the creamy siding and dark brown shutters of her father’s trailer, Julie breathed an unexpected sigh of relief. She’d taken a walk to clear her mind and come to regret it. Doing almost the exact opposite from what she’d intended, the walk left her feeling more than paranoid. She felt stalked, hunted.
The discomfort had started early in the morning, when she’d awoken to a burning sense of wrongness around her. She felt unchanged, but some secret part of her knew the world had become a feral and hungry thing, intent on tearing into her with teeth sharp and twisted desire unquenchable. Her father had already left for work and Julie hadn’t had to go to her own job or school that day. She was alone with no one to discuss the sudden onset of claustrophobic terror with. Having no reasons for the feelings only made Julie cling to them harder. She’d seen no threat, experienced no danger, yet the feeling of being hunted had begun to intensify the more she thought about it and steadily increased throughout the day.
Julie was not prone to delusions of paranoia or even harmless fantasies. She was as stout of mind as she was simple of name. Maybe that was why her seemingly psychic attunement to whatever lurking horror had begun its pursuit of her had not been ignored. She knew herself to be a logical girl and didn’t doubt her sanity.
Julie called her mother at home, hoping for a diversion from the terrible worry that something the epitome of cruel and horrifying was watching her at every moment; wicked eyes wide, fang-filled mouth slavering and vile hunger ever-burning.
She got no answer at her mother’s home-which was not intolerably unnerving-and no answer on the cell, either. That part left her feeling unsettled at the least. Her mother always had her cell charged and on her person. More times than not, it was Julie who was scolded because her mother couldn’t reach her via cell. Julie could count on one hand the number of times her mother had failed to pick up her mobile phone, and she had always called back within a few moments.
Julie watched her phone for a long while, waiting for it to flash with her mother’s number on the screen and begin its trilling ring.
Finally, becoming more distraught the longer she stared at the inactive little bastard, Julie shoved the cell into her pocket and began to pace agitatedly.
She thought about calling her dad and immediately reconsidered. Eddie was foreman of a large work crew and would be very upset if Julie disturbed him on the job for nothing more than a nonsense feeling of dread. She would pop into the homes of the neighbors to either side of her, she finally decided before slipping into her well-worn shoes and grabbing her keys. She intended to walk, not drive, but she would lock the doors while she was away. Door locking was a common practice of hers, but Julie was even more inclined to keep the trailer as ‘safe’ as she could ensure it. Crazily, she had become convinced that if she left the door unlocked, she would encounter some nightmare made flesh when she walked back inside after her visit to the neighbors.
She didn’t see anyone outside as she made her way to the trailer to the left of the one she shared with her father. A small copse of pine trees-three medium sized ones surrounding one old monster-made it so Julie shuffled through piles of soft, discarded pine needles and crunched a few cones underfoot. The sound was jarring to her, and she forced herself to move more quietly; checking her footing so she didn’t step on anything else.
Julie reached the first neighbor’s front porch. Her mind, though clouded with worry over the strange feeling that permeated the day and lack of sounds or sights that would indicate other living people, strained to remember the man’s name. He lived alone and spent his time baking and watching movies. Julie had shared cookies, cake and cinematic experiences with him more than once when she was younger and Eddie had to work very late. Todd-that was it, she thought. She knocked on the door with a ready smile and excuses for her visit already being rehearsed in her head.
No one answered the door, making Julie’s disquiet lodge itself in her throat as a tickle of nerves soon to become panic. Todd didn’t work. He didn’t have anything to do except bake cookies, pies and peanut butter balls all day long. Where had he gone?
Backing slowly away from the door, Julie fought her imagination for control. If she let it run away on her, the fear would tighten its grip and she’d descend into a panicked madness from which she might not be able to easily escape. It was no use trying to wrestle dominance over her racing mind, however, and she found herself envisioning a horrible scenario in which Todd had gregariously invited a stranger inside for cookies and cakes and found the visitor once within had more of a taste for flesh than sweets. Then, because her mind struggled to fit logic into the box of fear that was slowly compressing her, Julie found herself theorizing that Todd wouldn’t let just anyone inside his home, so perhaps some virus or biological weapon in the form of deadly gas had spread through the town-or, God, even the world!-while she slept and Julie was the sole survivor.
She stepped on a pine cone and squealed in surprise at the deafening crunch it elicited as her weight crushed it.
“Pull it together, Jules,” she ordered herself. “Things can’t be as bad as you’re thinking. You’re just letting some stupid feeling creep you out like an idiot.”
Huffing out an agitated breath, Julie renewed her determination and her course and made for the neighbor on the other side of her father’s mobile home. She pulled out her cell on the way and checked to see if she’d missed any calls. Sometimes when it was in her pocket, the sound was muffled and she didn’t hear the ringer go off.
The screen was empty of notifications and Julie frowned and cursed at the phone before returning it to the confines of her pocket.
There were no pine trees on the other neighbor’s side and no pine cones for Julie to step on and startle herself with. There was usually a small, annoying little dog that the woman who lived there put out daily on a leash that seemed far too short. It yapped incessantly, and Julie could often hear it even when both she and the dog were inside their respective homes. That was another thing, she realized belatedly. She hadn’t heard the yapper engaging in its irritating routine once since the night before. The woman, Ruth and the dog Mitzi had been completely silent. Ruth didn’t even have her music up loud enough to waft through open windows as it frequently did.
Julie didn’t even want to knock on the door at that point. Everything seemed strange, foreboding and as though she’d awakened into a world that was not her own, yet was not ready to reveal itself to her truly. She tried to call her mom again before she approached Ruth’s door and still got no answer. If she wanted human contact, Julie would have to keep working to find another living soul around her.
She knocked on the door, and the breathless bundle of nerves that had her fidgeting on the porch made another dramatic lurch towards true fear. Everyone was gone, she told herself. She was alone in the world. Or, everyone was slowly being eaten alive by monsters that had risen up from beneath the ground; or aliens that had descended from the sky. Though Julie was typically so affixed in reality she barely ever experienced dreams that ventured into plots and worlds that were not calm and normal, the fantastic wrongness of the day had her imagination sprinting in a thousand unbelievable directions at once. Perhaps that was what unnerved her the most.
Feeling she would either have to return to the trailer or take a drive to clear her mind, Julie was about to step off Ruth’s porch when the door handle twisted. The door swung inward and Julie prepared to run; the plan of action dependent upon what greeted her beyond the threshold.
All of Ruth’s shades were drawn and the lights inside were off, so the paltry ray of late morning sunlight was the only thing illuminating the space before her. She saw the small tiled area where visitors would leave shoes that led into the maroon-colored carpet. Her father’s was nearly teal, so she couldn’t complain about the shade, though with the way the light was striking it, the floor looked like it was covered in blood beyond the four pristine white tile squares.
Julie was rooted to the spot, but she peeked inside as far as her craning neck would allow. She didn’t see anyone. Not Ruth nor Mitzi, though the yapper was never one to let a chance to escape out an open door be ignored. Her breath came in little gasps; the more frightened she became, the more it felt like something was squeezing on her windpipe.
Who opened the door, Julie wondered. She couldn’t see anyone or anything. So who opened the door?
“Go ahead and come in, sweetheart,” Julie heard from somewhere inside the darkened trailer. The voice sounded like Ruth, but Julie knew with a certainty she would not question that it was not. “Come in for a bite to eat.”
The phrasing alone was enough to boost Julie’s creep factor right out to straight horror. She would not be eaten by some puppet master monster impersonating her kindly neighbor. Julie flung herself from off the porch and ran.
Julie walked all around the park, feeling for some reason that staying mobile meant staying alive. She passed the little playground that the park had redone just the year before. The giddily colored blue and yellow merry-go-round went around and around, though no one was near it to have been pushing it. Swings swayed in a nonexistent breeze and atop the red metal jungle gym, a small girl Julie didn’t recognize sat, just staring at the older girl as she passed. Julie shivered as their eyes locked. That was not a playground playmate she was interested in interacting with.
She still didn’t call her father. Clinging to the hope that she would interrupt his work if she tried, Julie avoided the thought that the real reason she didn’t dial his number was because she knew he wouldn’t answer anyway, and then she’d be truly lost. She walked. Seeing no one else but feeling eyes on her with every step, she walked.
When the sun began to set, Julie found herself drawn to the trailer she shared with her father. Eddie should have been home by now, showering off the dirt and smell of the day. He would ask her what she wanted to do for dinner, and they would watch one of the many comedies they loved to laugh at together.
With the dark came the feeling of hunters converging on her like malevolent shadows. She heard and saw nothing still, but knew they stalked her in silence, waiting for the night and their ability to roam free to finally come.
She entered the trailer hurriedly and quickly reengaged the lock. She threw the bolt for good measure. Even with the door secured, Julie felt cornered and exposed.
After a moment of keeping her eyes affixed to the door handle-as she anticipated it would be turned and tested by her unknown adversary any second-Julie expelled her held breath and moved away from the entryway.
Julie took some deeper, fuller breaths to calm herself and forced belief into her own mind that she hadn’t been followed home. She was safe. Nothing was trying to get her.
Sitting down in a kitchen chair, not far from the entryway, Julie untied and slipped out of her tennis shoes before placing them on the shoe rack. The simple habit was foolishly comforting. Julie breathed even easier.
Though she was overcome by a sudden compulsion to peek through the blinds and observe the world outside the window, Julie resisted and instead walked towards the living room, seeking her father.
In the hallway that was connected to the living room, Julie heard shower water running. Chances were it had been since she’d entered the trailer and her distraction over potential stalkers she sensed had deafened her to the familiar noise.
Julie sighed deeply and continued walking. Calmed immensely by the verification of her father’s proximity, she continued into the living room, intend on forcing relaxation with some mind-numbing television.
When she entered the living room, Julie was surprised to see her father standing silently by the sofa. He didn’t speak, nor did he acknowledge her presence in any way. Becoming concerned for him, Julie approached Eddie with a hand out, intent on touching his back to make him aware of her presence.
Before Julie was able to reach him or say anything, Eddie collapsed; seizing up much like Julie imagined a stroke victim might. An all-new terror gripped her. She dropped to her knees beside her father, shouting, “Dad, what’s wrong?”
When her father latched his arms tightly around her waist, Julie had a moment to think that the grip was inhumanly strong. She struggled.
As her actual father entered the living room, hair damp from his shower and eyes wide in shock, Julie felt herself jerked into some otherworldly darkness. She hadn’t needed to hear the creature clinging to her whisper, “got you,” to know she’d been right. All day Julie had felt as though she was prey in some dangerous game and now, her hunter had caught her with the perfect lure. Julie disappeared into the dark and was gone forever.
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