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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Fantasy · #2317647
The monsters are coming.
A scream pierced Caitlin’s ears. She looked up. A young girl ran through the forest, weaving between trees. Caitlin stepped in front of her, and the girl came to a stop.

“Hey, hey,” Caitlin said, “you’re alright. There’s nothing here.”

“Let me past.”

“What’s your name?” She knelt down to the girl’s level. “I’m Caitlin.”

The girl glanced behind her and clutched a porcelain rabbit figurine tighter to her chest. “Mary.”

Caitlin smiled. “That’s a pretty name. Where’s your mom?”

“I dunno.” Her eyes darted back and forth. “Mama needs me, and the monsters are coming. You hafta let me go. The monsters are coming.”

“There aren’t any monsters here,” Caitlin said.

Mary’s eyes widened. She leaned closer to Caitlin and whispered, “They’re coming.”

“What do the monsters look like?”

The girl hesitated, then held out her rabbit. It had a smug smile on its face, as if the rabbit had some sort of secret that it wouldn’t tell, even if it weren’t a toy.

“A rabbit?” Caitlin guessed.

Mary shook her head. She pressed the doll into Caitlin’s hand. She looked behind her. There was some sort of animal running toward them. It was like a rabid wolf the size of a bear, but its fur was so dark it seemed to absorb all the light around it. It was the void. It was darkness itself, and Caitlin’s heart raced at the sight of it.

Caitlin grabbed Mary’s hand and started running away from the creature. Mary wriggled free.

“It’s not here,” she insisted, “they’re coming.”

Caitlin reached for the girl so they could keep running, but she deftly dodged. “I saw it,” Caitlin said. “I saw it and … and now I don’t.”

“Mama says the bunny is a helper. It’s sigh-kick, I think.”


Mary nodded. “See, it’s happy, so we’re safe. That’s what Mama said. I hafta find Auntie Lydia.”

The girl started walking. Caitlin frowned, then caught up and walked beside her.

“You shouldn’t be wandering around in the woods by yourself,” Caitlin said. “And I thought you were looking for your mom.”

“Auntie Lydia can find anybody. She'll find Mama.”

Caitlin thought about the monster she’d seen. Maybe she was going crazy. Maybe this was the first step to insanity. Or, perhaps, it was real.

Whatever it was, she had to get this girl back to her mother. Caitlin blinked back tears as she remembered the day her own mother had died. She didn’t have anyone else. She had been alone for many years. She couldn't let that happen again.

Soon, they came to a lake. Light sparkled on its surface, and the water reached almost to the horizon. Caitlin barely saw trees on the other side.

“Auntie!” Mary shouted across the lake. “Auntie Lydia!”

Silence resettled. There was no response. Mary dropped her rabbit on the shore and waded into the lake. Caitlin grabbed at her, but Mary slipped past.

Caitlin glanced at the rabbit figurine in time to watch its smile turn downward into a frown. A giant, dark wolf-monster appeared on other side of the lake and started swimming toward them. Mary’s head slipped under the water.

Caitlin gasped. She dove into the lake and grabbed the sinking child in her arms. They resurfaced, and Mary spat out water. Caitlin looked frantically for the monster, but it had disappeared.

“Auntie Lydia!” Mary shouted again.

“She’s not here,” Caitlin said.

“She hasta be here. It’s her home.” She snatched the rabbit off the ground.

Caitlin stared at the rabbit. It was smiling again. She squinted, wondering how it changed like that. Or perhaps she was just imagining things.

A face appeared in the water. A woman walked along the lake floor toward the shore. Her green seaweed-hair clung to her head, and her lips were blue.

“Auntie Lydia,” Mary said with a grin. “Caitlin said you weren’t here, but I knew she was wrong.”

The woman blinked slowly. “Why are you here, Mary?”

“Where’s my mama?”

Lydia pointed a webbed finger. “That way. She’s not far.”

Mary nodded. She turned and walked in the direction the strange lake woman pointed. Caitlin watched as Lydia sank back underneath the water.

“Who was that?” Caitlin asked.

“Auntie Lydia.”

“Right, but what is she?”

“She’s my auntie. She knows where everybody is.”

They walked in silence. The sunset came quickly, and darkness settled around them. The rabbit that Mary held began to glow, illuminating their path.

Mary’s eyes widened, and she shrieked. She ran to a figure lying on the ground. Blood pooled around the woman’s abdomen. Caitlin shed her jacket and pressed it against the woman’s wound.

“Mama,” Mary said. “You’re gonna be okay. You hafta be.”

The woman struggled to smile. Caitlin recalled the same look on her own mother’s face before she was taken from her.

The rabbit dimmed. Caitlin watched it frown before its light was extinguished. Caitlin heard a growl. A pair of chilling, blue eyes floated closer. It was the monster again. It had to be.

Caitlin grabbed her pocketknife. It wasn’t much, but it was all she had. Fur brushed against her, and she stabbed at it. The wolf creature snapped. The light turned back on, and the monsters were gone. Caitlin fell to the ground.

The woman winced and sat up. “No, no,” she muttered. “Why did you do that?”

“It was … it was gonna attack you,” Caitlin said. She coughed. The taste of iron stung her tongue, and she spat out blood.

“It’s not a living creature,” the woman said. “It is a collector of the dead. You took my place. Why?”

“Your daughter needs you.”

Mary hugged her mother. Caitlin stared at the smiling porcelain rabbit until her eyes closed. A girl and her mother were safe.

“Thank you,” Mary said. Her voice was soft and muffled, floating through the air like a feather. “Thank you.”

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