Streaks of light expanded through the horizon, just enough for Alivia to see where she was going.
She needed to get back home before dark so she wouldn’t get in any trouble.
On the verge of wanting to leave, Alivia stopped and noticed that the clearing had more weeds and rocks, where before it didn’t.
Her brows wrinkled.
“What’s wrong?” Lauretta asked.
“Are we here?” Skeeter asked.
“We should just go. I was kidding. It was a joke,” Alivia said.
Lauretta placed a hand on her hip. “Are you kidding me right now?” Her voice was stern.
Alivia kept quiet.
“She’s not joking. She’s telling the truth,” Skeeter stepped forward. “You are bad at lying cuzy. I can tell if you’re really lying or not.”
“What?” She avoided eye contact. “I’m not.”
“See, you’re avoiding eye contact, so you’re lying.”
The cousins stood there in silence.
“Fine, I’ll look for it myself then,” Skeeter said.
Alivia rushed in front of him with an arm out to stop him and said “Alright. It’s right there,” she pointed. “Are you happy now?”
“Are you sure this is the place?” Skeeter asked.
I don’t want them to go in there, not after what I saw.
Lauretta grabbed Alivia by the arm and pulled her to the side. “You don’t have to do this. We can turn around and go back like it never even happened. We don’t even have to tell aunt Dorraine. And on second hand, I’m not going in there.”
“Oh, come on.” Skeeter was so demanding and curious.
Now Alivia knew she shouldn’t have brought up the woods or the woman. She just didn’t want anything to happen to them.
“We’ll look, and then leave right away,” Skeeter suggested.
“Okay, let’s go.” Alivia went first, then Lauretta, then Skeeter.
The fresh scent of flowers and grass lingered the air. It wasn’t as creepy as it was when she had first come; maybe it was because her cousins were with her. She felt more protected and safe, not as vulnerable as before.
Skeeter kept peering over his shoulder, his brows creased. Maybe for the first time, he really felt scared.
“Where is it?” Lauretta asked.
“It’s down this way.” It felt like a maze in her mind.
“Alivia didn’t your mama teach you not to be running off in the woods. Don’t you remember?”
Alivia stopped and glared at Skeeter.
Lauretta shook her foot to get the dirt and leaves off her expensive shoes, but it wasn’t working. She placed a hand on Alivia’s shoulder to balance herself. “I should have brought an older pair of shoes.” She wiped the dirt off and gasped. “Oh no, my nails,” she whined. “Why did I do that?”
“Does it matter?” Skeeter asked. “The finger nail polish is already chipping off anyway.”
Alivia shook her head and kept walking. “And by the way, no.” Skeeter, I did not run off.”
“Do you know how much my mom paid for these shoes, Alivia?”
“Yeah, I know you’re a shopaholic. We all know this.”
“They were expensive, cuzy. You wouldn’t know, you weren’t there.”
Alivia rolled her eyes. “Lauretta, you should have just gone to a cheap store.” She peered off into the distance.
Light pierced through the woods. It dissolved the shadows.
Alivia came to a stop. Her lips parted and her shoulders slumped.
It was a vacant clearing. No house. No woman.
It had all felt so real to her. The woman’s voice, her touch, the house, the diamond, her dress, the crystal stone, everything. It was so vivid and clear in her mind that she could now see it. “The house, it—it’s gone. I know it was here!”
“What?” Lauretta asked. “You didn’t say anything about a house.”
Skeeter frowned. “Yeah, Alivia, you didn’t say anything about that.”
“It was here, I swear!” Alivia yelled then clenched her fists.
“I don’t see it,” Lauretta yelled back.
Alivia wrinkled her nose and gritted her teeth. “But it was…” She motioned at the empty field.
“I gathered that information, where is it?”
“I don’t know,” Alivia muttered then stared back at the vacant clearing. “I don’t know.”
Was I dreaming? Was the sun playing tricks on me? Or was it just a trick of my imagination? The house was here earlier. How could it be gone? It didn’t make any sense.
Alivia stared at the unoccupied land and took a few steps forward.
The vibe changed within the air.
It was hard to take a deep breath. Her footsteps became slower through the leaves and twigs. She placed both hands to her chest and felt the rhythm against her chest bone.
The temperature dropped and the breeze died down. As if something was out there, waiting and watching.
Her body stiffened and her eyes widened. Goosebumps slithered up her body.
Skeeter and Lauretta weren’t rubbing their hands together or shivering. She didn’t understand why all of a sudden she felt cold and they weren’t. “Are you two cold or is it just me?”
Lauretta’s brows creased and shook her head. “No, I’m not cold. It’s warm out here. She cringed in disgust and waved a hand at her face. “Oh, my, gosh, it’s so hot out.”
“Yeah, it’s warm, Alivia. I’m not cold,” Skeeter replied. He slid a hand across his forehead and wiped his hand on Lauretta’s shoulder.
She screamed and jerked back, grimacing at him. “Don’t touch me; I don’t want your sweat on me!”
Skeeter laughed, then reached out and tried to touch her shoulder again.
“Don’t!” she screamed, then smacked his hand away. “Stop it. I’m serious. I hate sweat!”
Alivia took a few steps forward, but then stopped.
A sinister feeling spread around her like a heavy, dark cloud. She knew something was with them, and whatever it was, it did not like the fact that they were in its territory. Alivia knew at that moment it was time to leave. She didn’t want to be here anymore. She wanted to go home, where it was safe. She couldn’t look away from the empty clearing.
She wasn’t moving, why wasn’t she moving? It was like her feet were stuck to the ground. Something didn’t want her to leave.
Within a few seconds, a hand gripped Alivia’s shoulder. Her stomach heaved and she spun around to raise an arm to protect herself.
It was only Lauretta.
Alivia pushed at her shoulder. “Don’t scare me like that, Lauretta. You know I don’t like it.” She pushed her again for a warning.
“I wasn’t trying to scare you, Alivia. Did you not hear me? It’s getting dark fast. There’s barely any light left. We need to get back to your house before Aunt Dorraine comes looking for us, then we will be in trouble and I don’t want to get into trouble.”
Alivia peered back at the blank clearing. Her gaze dropped and she shook her head in denial.
A rustling noise startled them. Alivia stood there motionless.
“What was that?” Skeeter asked.
“I-I don’t know,” Alivia said.
A low snarl from close by, alarming them.
Alivia flinched at the noise, including Lauretta and Skeeter.
It got louder and closer.
Chills crept under Alivia’s skin.
The three of them took a few steps back.
A large red muscular arm with scales like a crocodile skin emerged out from behind a tree. It’s long black claws dug into the bark of the tree, leaving deep indentations.
Alivia screamed and lurched back, slamming right into Lauretta.
They both fell to the ground.
Lauretta crawled back for a moment as Skeeter got up and took off running.
Alivia grabbed Lauretta’s arm.
A head peeked out from behind the tree and its two red glowing eyes looked straight at Alivia.
For a moment, the creature grinned showing its treacherous blood stained razor sharp teeth. There was a row of long black rough spikes going from its forehead and down the back of its head. Her body was paralyzed in fear. Her ears rang and she heard her own heartbeat thudding beat after beat. In the background, Lauretta’s voice faded out. Her eyes widened as she gasped for air. Her lips trembled and he couldn’t breathe.
“Alivia come on,” Lauretta called back.
Alivia found the strength to move and sprinted down the trail. Her feet grew heavy and her legs numbed; it was like something was sucking the life source right out of her.
Growling sounds echoed from all around her. She saw Lauretta and Skeeter ahead of her. Her body slowed down, she couldn’t keep up.
“Hurry Alivia, come on,” Lauretta called back.
The ground in front of her blurred, going out of focus. Everything was off balance. In and out, in and out.
Alivia scrambled across the trail. She saw the open path. It was right there. Just a few more steps and she’d be free.
Come on, Alivia, you can make it. Just a couple more steps.