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What Waits in the Shadows

A crackle of thunder reverberated around the inside of the barn, rattling the doors and shaking the dust covered boxes littering the floor. Desdemonda clenched her fingers around the rungs of a ladder, shielding her face against her arm and grimacing under the weight of sound scraping her eardrums.

When the crashing had stopped, and she could hear nothing but her heart pounding over the cacophonous downpour of steady rain, she swung herself up to the creaky wooden floor of an age-sodden loft.

Her skin sticky with water and shivering from the cold, she clambered over to a tiny round window. All she could see in the darkness through a heavy sheet of rain was a large looming shape in the space between the trees. It sat just at the edge of the clearing, its hulking figure mocking her.

A white streak of lightning lit up the clearing, throwing a blue casting of light through the window and filling the space with long shadows for a split second. Just moments after, the thunder boomed and she turned her back to the wall, trembling uncontrollably.

She slid slowly onto the ground and placed her shaking hands on either side of her hips. Her gray shirt clung to

her skin, barely providing any comfort in the cold, dark building. She brushed a damp lock of blonde hair behind her ear; it was plastered, dark and drenched, against her neck. She looked down at her hands, lifting them as she shifted uncomfortably on the splintered floor. They shook just as tremulously as they did three months ago, on the night she packed her suitcase.

She was crouched over her bed, itching with anxious nerves and anticipation. A soft, babbling cry erupted from the corner of her bedroom and she stilled, glancing over at the crib beside her bed. She swallowed a lump forming in her throat, feeling a wave of relief settle over her as the baby’s cries quieted. Exhaling a fragile breath, she continued to tuck clothing into her bag.

I can’t stay here, she thought, rolling up another blouse to slip between her shirts. I can’t stay here another minute. Her hand wandered over to the last few items left waiting on her bed. Among them was a small bottle of pills. She slowly lifted it closer to her face. Her eyes strained to read the label in the dark, but as she clutched the white container between her fingers, they adjusted to the lighting. Desdemona Lewis, it read, Zoloft 50mg.

Biting her lip, she gently tucked the bottle in the corner of her suitcase. Maybe.

As Desdemona sat there, her mind flooded with images of her departure. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, pushing the intrusive thoughts out of her head and slowly pulling herself up from the floor. She grasped the ledge of the windowsill with one hand, standing on her feet with her back to the window.

She didn’t dare turn around; she knew what was out there. Instead, she carefully walked across the loft to peer over the edge. She could hardly make out any shapes below her; shadows covered the dusty remnants of this long forgotten building. She turned to examine what was around her instead, and her gaze settled on some large, misshapen object pushed against the left wall. There was a dark, woolen blanket draped over the entirety of it, and as she stared more intently at the oddly familiar shape, she felt herself drawn closer.

She approached the strange item with curiosity, and ran her hands over the heavy gray material, which covered it like a tarp over a body. She slowly reached underneath the blanket and began to peel it back.

Tossing the veil aside, she started at what lay below.

“Oh,” she whispered, tracing a finger over the dust covered rim of a dark mahogany crib. What is my crib doing here? She shook her head to regain her senses as she looked inside. No, it can’t be mine. It’s probably just the same model. Still, a flicker of doubt passed through her mind, like the shifting of a lonely lighthouse’s golden beam. She pressed her hands along its wide bars.

Why am I even here? She wrapped her fingers tighter around the wood. She dug through her memories to try and recall what this place was, but it felt like squinting through a black cloth draped over your eyes, a melancholy blindfold. The last thing she recalled was running through the trees, her feet pounding and sliding through rain-slick leaves and grass.

That thing was behind her, she knew, it was chasing her. She didn’t know how close, but she felt warm breathing down her neck. It almost got her. She couldn’t remember how she got away. How she got here. She couldn’t remember when she started running or why. She couldn’t shake the feeling she had left something behind, something important. Her stomach churned with guilt she couldn’t place.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

She nearly jumped out of her skin at the abrupt banging.. She hurried over to the window, pressing her face against the glass. The blood roared furiously in her ears and raced through her veins; confusion fogged her mind when she noticed the dark figure still looming at the edge of the woods. She turned towards the doorway, just across her line of vision.

So who is it? She thought, her heart pounding incessantly against her chest. She felt a line of goosebumps rise along her bare arms, tiny blonde hairs erecting like alert soldiers awaiting direction. She gritted her teeth.

Knock knock knock knock.

This time the knocking was faster, more desperate, and it urged her to action.

Oh my God, what if someone is trapped out there?

Her body moved without another thought – she propelled herself across the loft and down the ladder.

“Hello?” She heard a soft plea coming from behind the doors as her feet clanked down slippery rungs. The feminine voice was timid. “Please let me in. I’m scared.”

Desdemona balled her fists and willed a moment of courage before heaving open the barn doors. The sound of the rain became crisp and tumultuous; a streak of lightning lit up the dark sky a second before its rumbling counterpart resounded through the shadows. For a moment, the light shone on a vaguely familiar face.

“Mama?” A drenched teenage girl stood in front of her, arms crossed tightly over her chest as she shuddered in the downpour. Her big brown eyes stared up from a pale face covered in streaking droplets and for an instant it felt like looking in the mirror.

Desdemona and her daughter huddled together underneath the loft, their backs pressed to the side of a dusty wooden crate. They shivered in the cold, stale air and pushed their shoulders against each other for warmth.

“Are you really my daughter?” Desdemona whispered, her words breaking the thick, silent atmosphere congesting the room.

Mara nodded her head silently, and her mother turned to cup both of her cheeks in her hands. Her stomach knotted as she silently scanned the features that were so like her own-the straight, thin nose and curved upper lip. Fresh tears stained Desdemona’s face as she stared into the honey-colored eyes of her baby. “When did you get so big?” She breathed, mostly to herself. The last she remembered, Mara was less than a year old. Where did the time go? None of this makes sense.

“Mama, why’d you leave me?” Mara’s voice cracked as she asked the question already stinging the air; it left a pungent, vinegar taste on Desdemona’s tongue as she gaped back at her.

“I’m so sorry, baby,” she breathed, her throat constricting. She struggled to find the right words. “I guess I didn’t know how to love you like you deserved.”

Mara furrowed her brow, her blonde eyebrows knitting themselves together. “What do you mean?” she asked, “Why don’t you love me?”

Desdemona felt her heart pang sharply in her chest and gasped in a harsh breath that barely made its way down her throat. What do I say? How do I answer that? Her mouth hung open, but no words came out.

“Why don’t you love me?” Mara repeated the question, and her mouth thinned into a straight, serious line. “What did I do wrong?”

“N-nothing,” Desdemona choked. “It was nothing you did. It’s not about you. It’s…about me.” She hung her head low and screwed her eyes shut. She couldn’t meet her stare. She rested her hands on Mara’s shoulders and silently shook as she sobbed. An incomprehensible pain seized her chest, and the last of her coherent thoughts scrambled from her mind like ants running from a leaking gutter.

After a few moments, she sat back on her knees and let her hands fall to her lap. She continued to stare down at the floor, not knowing what to do.

She suddenly noticed an uncomfortable pressure against her upper thigh and reached two fingers down into her front pocket. She slowly wiggled out a small clear tube, its contents rattling around as she shimmied it out into the open. She held up the bottle in front of her face, narrowing her eyes to read.

“What’s that, mama?” Mara asked, leaning forward to peer at the object in Desdemona’s hands.

Zoloft, 50mg. She felt like her heart stopped beating. Why is this in my pocket? She thought. There’s no way this was in my pocket. I thought I dumped these down the drain. She looked up at Mara and gulped. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I should never have left you.”

Desdemona shut the front door softly behind her and ambled into the living room. She clutched her fingers tighter around the strap of her purse when she spotted her mom sitting in a tan leather recliner. The baby was writhing leisurely in her arms.

Her mom pressed Mara gently into the soft pink sweater she wore and printed a small kiss into her tender forehead. Desdemona gulped and took in a deep breath.

When she looked at her 2-month-old child, she felt nothing.

She didn’t feel any sense of loathing or resentment, but where she should have felt a loving attachment or nurturing responsibility, she only felt numb. It was as if the baby she was staring at belonged to a stranger.

She nervously approached the sofa directly facing her mother and stood behind it quietly. After a few moments of hushed cooing, her mom looked up and jolted.

“Oh, Mona!” She yelped, gasping before releasing a relieved smile. “You scared me half to death; I didn’t see you standing there!”

She gave her mom a small smile – all she could muster.

“How was your appointment?” She knew this question was coming, but it didn’t make her feel any more prepared. Her mom sat forward in her seat, her expression filled with concern as she gracefully transitioned to bouncing Mara on her leg. “What did you find out?” She lowered her voice to a hushed murmur, as if somebody could be spying on them.

Desdemona shifted on her feet and moved her bag to the other shoulder. “Nothing,” she answered quickly. “Nothing is wrong with me.”

Her mom blinked rapidly and furrowed her brow. She used her free hand to push her thin, wiry glasses up on her nose. “Nothing? You mean they didn’t tell you anything?”

Desdemona shook her head. “No, mom, they didn’t tell me anything,” she responded curtly. She slung her bag onto the couch in front of her. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ve had a long day and I’m tired. I’m going to take a nap. You’re okay with Mara, right?”

Her mom nodded, though her features were still flooded with confusion. “Of course, hun. Go rest.”

She turned and shuffled down the hallway to her bedroom. She could feel a wave of fatigue washing over her the closer she got to her room. She stretched out her arms behind her and let out a long, silent yawn. She opened the door and hurried inside before shutting it. She pulled the small, plastic bottle of pills out of her front jean pocket and tossed it onto her bed. She threw herself down beside it and scooped it up with her fingers. She wiggled herself up to her pillows and held the bottle close to her eyes.

Desdemona Lewis, it read, Zoloft, 50 mg. She squeezed it in her grip and closed her eyes. She let her arm slump beside her and felt tiredness soak throughout her body. She tucked the bottle underneath her blanket and let herself fall into slumber.

A loud crashing of thunder filled the air and Desdemona jolted out of her reverie. She jammed the bottle of pills back into her pocket and stood. She reached down to grab Mara’s hand. “Come with me,” she said. “There’s something outside and I need to keep you safe.”

She led her daughter over to the ladder she had climbed down before, and made her way up to the overhead loft. Mara followed behind, reaching out her hand once she reached the top for Desdemona to pull her up safely.

The two blondes sat in silence on the wooden floorboards. “What did you mean when you said there’s something outside?” Mara asked, breaking the quiet tension. “What’s out there?”

They both turned towards the window and Desdemona let out a soft sigh. “I don’t know what it is,” she admitted. “But there’s a dark figure standing at the edge of the woods. I don’t know why he’s here, but I don’t think it’s for anything good.”

She watched as Mara slowly stood and started walking towards the window.

“What are you doing?” She exclaimed, scrambling to her feet. “Don’t look out there, it’s scary!” Her voice cracked in dismay as Mara ignored her pleading. The teenage girl pressed her hands against the glass and peered closer. Desdemona crept slowly closer until she stood beside her.

The hairs on her arms stood up instinctively. This time, the hulking figure stood a few feet in front of the treeline. She pressed her hand against her mouth to muffle a shriek. “He’s closer,” she mumbled, her arms beginning to shake.

“Who?” Mara asked. “I don’t see anybody.”

“What?” Desdemona pointed a finger towards the dark shape. “You mean you don’t see a tall, black figure standing right there?”

Mara’s face filled with confusion. “No?” She huffed. “Where?”

“Right in front of the treeline,” Desdemona explained. “Right beside that old well. You don’t see him?”

Mara slowly shook her head before turning to face her mother. “Are you sure you aren’t seeing things, mom?”

Desdemona bit her lip. “I’m not, I swear!” She snapped. “I’m not crazy!” She turned her back to her daughter and pressed her face into her hands. “I’m not crazy,” she murmured.

“Okay, okay,” Mara said, placing a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “You’re not crazy.”

“Mona?” Desdemona opened her eyes slowly, her mind still groggy with sleep. She blinked repeatedly, trying to register the short figure standing at her door. Her body felt like it was being pulled through wet cement as she propped herself up on one elbow. Sweat made her clothes cling to her skin.

“Mom?” She rasped, rubbing her tired eyes with one hand. “What is it? I was taking a nap.”

She narrowed her eyes, noticing the white paper bag in her mother’s hand. “Mom?” She asked. “What is that?” A wave of heat passed through her body and she quickly sat up.

“You tell me,” her mom replied curtly. She held the bag up and flipped her reading glasses down over her eyes. She clutched a long paper stapled to the bag and began to read aloud. “Desdemona Lewis,” she stated. “Zoloft, 50 milligrams.”

Desdemona felt her heart pound rapidly in her chest. “Mom!” She cried, jolting out of her bed and rushing forward to snatch the bag. “Why did you go snooping through my bag?!” She shouted, feeling tears prick the corners of her eyes. “You can’t do that! That’s invading my privacy!” She tried to control her voice, which was quickly rising in pitch.

Her mom folded her arms and stared at her inquisitively. “You told me there was nothing wrong,” she replied, frowning tightly. “You lied to me.” She jabbed her finger towards the bag. “Clearly something is wrong!”

“It doesn’t matter!” Desdemona shrieked. “You went through my bag! You can’t do that!” Her voice was quickly becoming shrill. “That’s not okay!”

Her mother pulled off her glasses and shook them rapidly towards her. “I don’t care! You’re my daughter! I have a right to know what’s going on with you! Now tell me what is going on!”

Desdemona pressed her hands to her ears and began sobbing. “No! Nothing is going on! Nothing!” She screwed her eyes shut tight and turned her back towards her mother.

“Did you forget you have a baby?!” Her mother retorted. “I’ve been taking care of her ever since she was born, and I’m not the one who let some drunk slob get me pregnant on New Year’s Eve!”

“I didn’t let myself get pregnant,” she whimpered. “I was- it wasn’t my fault.” She sobbed louder, hunching herself over her stomach.

“I don’t care whose fault it was!” Her mother snapped. “Maybe if you didn’t go to that party it wouldn’t have happened! This baby is your responsibility now, and it’s time for you to carry it!” She pointed her hand in a staccato motion back towards the living room. “Stop going crazy and get yourself together for that girl!” She turned and left the room, slamming the door shut behind her.

Desdemona crumpled onto the floor and wrapped her arms around her stomach. She continued to cry silently, hanging her head low. Blonde strands of hair formed a curtain around her face. “I’m not crazy,” she muttered. “I’m not crazy.”

As she cried, one thought penetrated the surface of chaos whirling in her head. I’ve got to get out.

Desdemona slowly regained control over her breathing, and after a few moments she pulled her face out of her hands. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I’m just scared.” She turned around to look Mara in the eyes. Their gazes locked, and she stared inquisitively into brown eyes that mirrored her own. She brought up a hand to touch Mara’s cheek, but stopped herself just before making contact. “I can’t believe you’re here,” she breathed.

Her daughter raised an eyebrow back at her. “Why not?” She asked, her tone suddenly serious. “You couldn’t run away from me forever.”

Desdemona blinked rapidly and pulled her hand away. She furrowed her brow, trying to comprehend the words her daughter had spoken to her.

Before she could say anything, a loud crash resounded around the building – the sound of broken glass shattering to the floor. She hurried over to the edge of the loft and peered over. Her heart pumped hot waves of adrenaline through her veins. All she could picture in that moment was the huge dark thing pushing itself through a window.

Instead, when she looked across the barn, she saw a small-framed, feminine figure climbing clumsily through the empty pane.

“What?” She muttered under her breath. She could hear Mara’s gentle footsteps behind her as she drew closer. She narrowed her eyes to get a closer look, but she couldn’t make out any details. “Hello?” She called out, somewhat hesitant. “Who’s there?”

The figure was crouched down on the ground, her face tilted downwards. Her boots crunched on the broken shards of glass as she shifted and stood. “I know you’re in here, Des.”

“Oh my God,” Desdemona whispered. “Oh my God.” She covered her mouth. She could feel the sweat collecting beneath her arms.

The woman stepped forward, walking into a patch of light now slanting in through the open window. Des stared down, speechless, at her best friend. She could just barely make out streaks of dark mascara smudged down her cheeks.

“Oh my God, Amity?” She choked out, “What are you doing here?” She took one step forward, then stopped, unsure of what to do. “How did you get here?”

The tall, brown-haired woman proceeded to the ladder and climbed all the way up to the loft in silence. Once she made it up, she crossed her arms and stared into Desdemona’s eyes.

“Amity?” Her voice came out as a soft squeak, and she could feel her throat constricting. The woman crossed her arms over her chest. Subtle frown lines formed around her mouth and she began to shake her head slowly.

“Here you are,” she said, “hiding. You’re always hiding behind something.”

Des grabbed her stomach, which lurched with a sharp pang. “You’re right,” she admitted. “I am.” She looked down below to the space beneath them. “But there’s something out there. You must have seen it?” Her voice cracked and her hands shook as she thrust an arm out towards the wall.

Amity simply raised an eyebrow, her tan forehead wrinkling with a look of bewildered concern. Desdemona’s arm dropped and shoulders slumped. Her voice faded to a whisper. “Will you please come and talk with me?”

Amity uncrossed her arms and sighed. “Okay,” she responded. “Let’s talk.”

The day she arrived at her childhood best friend’s apartment, she was promptly greeted at the door with a firm, swift hug and a welcoming smile. Her arms hung lamely at her sides, loaded with bags, as she returned the greeting with a small, unsure smile of her own.

“Oh, Des, it’s been so long.” Her smile slowly turned into a sympathetic frown. “Come on in, babe. Let’s get you settled.”

Once she had helped her get unpacked, they sat down in the living room and Desdemona filled Amity in on everything that had been going on in her life. They talked and laughed together like they hadn’t done in six years. She opened up about her baby after a couple glasses of wine, and soon enough, Amity was holding the bottle of prescription pills in her hand.

“Oh, Des,” she murmured. She looked up at her friend, eyes slightly glazed. She opened her mouth and closed it before pulling the blonde into a tight embrace. Unsure, Des leaned slowly into her best friend’s chest and hooked her arms around her shoulders. Her eyes watered, but no tears would fall. They sat in silence for a couple minutes, letting the still air speak for them.

For a few days, Desdemona gradually adjusted to her new home. She bought a few things with her savings to spice up the guest room and make it her own. Amity showed her around the city; her favorite part was downtown, where they walked late at night between worn red brick buildings and admired the twinkling fairy lights strung between the street lamps. People around them bustled quietly to and from shops and restaurants, sometimes walking alone, with their spouse and kids, or simply on a romantic stroll with a lover. Amity showed her to her favorite Thai food place, cafe, and even a cute little boba tea shop. The week went by with the fairytale haze of a family vacation.

After the week was over, it was time to confront reality; Des quickly remembered how bills were, in fact, a thing, and she couldn’t contribute to them laying around on the sofa watching Netflix. Amity introduced her to the manager at the hole-in-the-wall Southern comfort diner she worked at, and before she knew it, her friend’s glowing recommendations earned her an application sent on the fast track, a scheduled interview, and then her very own Grace’s Plates t-shirt with a sticky note on the front displaying her first week’s schedule.

“I’ve gotta admit,” Amity told her on their way home from the diner one evening. “It’ll be a relief having the extra income to help me keep up with the apartment.” She nudged Des playfully with her elbow. “Now I just need to show you how to handle a budget.”

“This isn’t my first job you know,” she replied with a roll of her eyes. Her smile betrayed her. “But you’re right, I’ve never been good at budgeting.” The two laughed together and linked arms, continuing down the sidewalk.

They were walking again now, their shoulders at least two feet apart as they ambled quietly through the darkness of the barn. Des picked her way over a wooden crate that had fallen on its side, spilling undistinguishable contents onto the cold floor. She coughed, waving dust away from her nose as she stepped on the edge of the crate’s lid. She stumbled forward, and Amity reached out to grab her arm with a firm hand. She teetered, holding her other arm out for balance before settling surely on her feet.

They kept walking in silence, passing under the loft and creeping further into the dark. Amity finally broke the silence.

“You know what you did wasn’t cool, right?”

Des gulped, taking in a shaky breath to calm her beating heart. “Y-yeah,” she forced out. Her skin somehow felt warm and flushed, even with the cold clothes still clinging to her body. “I know.” She didn’t know what to say. The silence stretched out between them and they separated to explore different areas.

“Where are we?” Amity asked. “You just had to pick the most god-forsaken wretched old building for this reconciliation, didn’t you?”

Des furrowed her eyebrows. “What? What do you mean? I don’t know where we are. And I didn’t pick anything. I was chased here by…by some thing.”

“But you invited me here.” Amity’s voice was quieter now. Desdemona turned and stared out across the gap between them, but the shadows completely concealed her form.

“What?” She called out. “I didn’t invite you anywhere!” She flung her arms up and narrowed her eyes, trying to force them into adjustment. When her statement was met with silence, she cried out. “Are you even listening to me?!”

Her voice seemed to echo across the room, but she wasn’t sure if she was imagining it. Frustrated, she stomped her way to the other side, squeezing between towers of old bins and crusty old suitcases. Finally she made out the edges of Amity’s outline, and hurried towards where she stood, standing over an open dresser drawer.

“I’ve been trying to tell you,” she spat, hacking and wheezing through the dusty air. “There’s a freaking monster outside, and all you’re worried about is-” she gasped for breath, hardly able to finish her sentence.

When she drew nearer, she recognized the dark mahogany stained wood, and her last thought abandoned her. She fingered the small glass drawer knobs and felt her heart slowly sink into her stomach. “No way,” she whispered. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. “Am, I…” She looked over at her friend, who was clutching onto an old coffee stained turquoise apron.

Des peered closer, feeling her hands begin to shake. She opened her mouth but fell short of consolation as they stood in silence for a minute longer.

“This was my first apron,” Amity murmured. She slid the fabric through her hands until she found the large brown espresso splotch set into the material. A puff of air pushed through her nostrils and she smiled. “I remember that stain. Mrs. McAllister told me I earned that stain, that it was the mark of a true barista. I was so nervous and so new, but when she told me that…it helped me so much.” She sighed, and dropped the apron back into the dresser before turning away. Des thought she caught a frown just before her face disappeared from view. “Well, there’s no use for sentimentalities now. Guess it’s best to just move on.”

Des watched as she walked away, standing there listlessly. “I’m sorry.” She turned her stare to the ground, and could barely make out her shoes. “I can’t even say it loud enough for you to hear it. What’s wrong with me?”

Des had spent her first few weeks at Grace’s Plates learning about the different positions and shadowing some of the employees, including Amity (waitress/espresso extraordinaire), other servers, and the busser.

Everything was going well, and she even started taking her prescription, at the urging of her friend. She could almost see things brighten up before her eyes; the streets were bursting with colors and smells and feelings she thought she’d lost. Amity told her one afternoon when the diner had emptied, “You know, I haven’t seen you this happy and carefree in a long time. It reminds me of when we used to go to school together. You were always so…free spirited. It’s refreshing.”

“Well, you know, opposites attract,” Des quipped back with a playful nudge. “I’m carefree and you’re…well, not.”

One evening she was given her first solo table. She hurried excitedly over to one of the window booths, where warm sunlight slid in through the uncovered window, casting a golden hue on the dark wood of the table. The young man sitting by himself looked up at her. The light sparkled in his eyes and played on his mousey brown hair. He gave her a mischievous smile.

“Good afternoon!” She greeted, her voice bubbly. She bounced on her platforms and clutched tightly onto her notebook. “How are you doing today?”

“You’re new here aren’t you?” He asked immediately. She could feel her face heat up, but he quickly laughed and reached out his hand to shake hers. “Doing well, how about yourself?” As she returned his smile and reached out tentatively to shake his hand, she noticed the prominent smile lines set in his face. His hand was warm and firm, with a strange softness.

“I’m great,” she responded, smiling broader. They remained that way for a few moments before breaking off the contact. She glanced nervously down at her notebook and tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. She pulled out a pen, uncapped it, and looked up again. “Any drinks I can get you started with?”

“I’ll just have a glass of water,” he glanced at her nametag, “Desdemona.” She glanced up in surprise, her cheeks heating further at the sound of her name. It rolled out of his mouth gently, like a silky creek bubbling through the trees.

“That’s me,” she said, “What’s your name, sir?”

“Oh, I’m just David,” he answered. Leaning back into his seat and stretching his arm out across the back of it.

“I’ll have that water right out for you, just David.”

A sliver of white teeth shone through his lips. “Thank you.”

She shared one last smile with him before hurrying off. She found Amity immediately at the espresso station, working on a drink. “Oh my gosh, Am,” she whispered in her ear. “The guy over there, at that table.” The two of them conspicuously glanced to where he was sitting. He was currently staring out the window, still leant casually back. “He is so cute, and just, super sweet.”

“Psh,” Amity jabbed her softly with her elbow. “You hardly even know him,” she teased. “What’s his name?”

“David.”

“Ugh, the lovesick look in your eyes is making me sick.”

Des rolled her eyes and smirked. “Whatever,” she retorted, prodding her back.

“Really, though,” Amity chided. “Just be careful, please.”

“Okay, okay. I will, I will.” She put her hands up and sidled off to retrieve his water.

Throughout the hour that David lingered, him and Des shared a few playful exchanges, bantering and small-talking in between her serving his food, refilling his water, and bringing out his cinnamon dusted cappuccino.

As he was leaving, he slyly tucked a bill and a piece of paper into the front pocket of her apron. “Oh!” She exclaimed, taken aback.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, the words so fast he nearly interrupted. He rubbed the back of his head. “I just gave you your tip but I’m sorry if that was too forward or if you didn’t want me putting it in your pocket like that. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“Oh, no,” she replied with a small smile. “That’s okay. Have a good night, David.”

He smiled back, letting out a quiet breath. “You too, Desdemona.” He turned and headed out the door. She watched him go, her chest filling up with warmth and a giddy smile creeping to her lips.

That night, she found a slip of paper with a ten digit number scrawled fluidly across. She quickly shot him a brief text, which wound into a stream of messages and chatting that bled into the early hours of the morning.

Her next few shifts at work, David stopped by and chatted with her throughout the day. She started asking Amity to cover for her while she slipped away to run around the city with him looking at shops and walking through the park. Some days she disappeared for almost an hour, and Amity confronted her about it at home, but she generally used the excuse of “oh, well, you know I have to see where this goes, Ammy” and “but he’s such a great guy, I just really like spending time with him.” A few weeks went by like this, and David and Desdemona decided to make their relationship official.

Des watched as Amity disappeared once again in the shadows of the barn; her shoulders sagged and she turned around to walk back out into the open space, where at least some moonlight filtered in through the windows.

She stopped and started trembling. She badly wanted to look more closely through the windows, but her fear nearly paralyzed her. After a few still seconds, she took a step backwards and peered around the corner.

She could see the trees in the distance, where they curved around the side of the barn. Just when she was releasing a relieved breath, the spark of hope in her chest was extinguished.

Slap. She jumped, clamping her hand over her mouth and biting down on her finger. The shape of a huge black hand smacked against a window pane. The fingers were long and thick, the palm nearly as wide as the window itself. She felt bile rise up her throat, burning like liquor against the back of her mouth. Just don’t think about it. Ignore it. Maybe it’ll go away. It can’t come in here…right?

As she walked forward, she made out a shape up ahead of her, sitting on a rickety old rocking chair.

She stopped in her tracks, right foot slowly skimming over the ground before lining up with her left. She could feel her heart hammer rapidly in her chest as, for a moment, she thought she was looking at the figure from outside. But when the stranger stood up, goosebumps formed along her arms with recognition of the tall, slender silhouette before her.

“Desdemona?”

She gasped, shaking her head in disbelief before stepping forward.

“David?” She asked, her voice shaking.

The figure marched forward promptly, and in a matter of moments, firm toned arms were locked around her waist, pulling her into his chest. She quickly wrapped her own arms around him, taking in the familiar scent of his cologne. It smelled warm, like honey and whiskey mingling together.

She pulled back almost as quickly as they had embraced, and stared at his face, illuminated by a thin strip of light across his eyes and cheek.”David, I…why are you here?”

He pulled her away towards the walls of the barn. “Come on,” he said, “Let’s walk. Like before.”

She gave him a hesitant smile and followed. Their hands slid naturally together, but her mind felt like a whirlwind of cogs and gears clanking together, set off in discordance by a missing bolt. Every movement suddenly felt jarring. As they drew closer to the doors, she said, “Please, I need to sit,” but her hoarse voice came out as little more than a ragged whisper. He turned to her and nodded, and soon they were sitting on a pair of cardboard boxes across from each other.

She could see behind him through the very window Amity had broken earlier. The rain pressed on outside, and the wind shook the barren trees, sending twigs and dead leaves against the roof and through windows. She flitted her gaze back to David, who leant forward and took her hands in his.

She remained upright, hesitantly allowing his hands to engulf her smaller ones, which she kept curled together in her lap.

“I’m sorry, David,” she choked out. “I’m really sorry for what I did. And I’m just…I’m so sorry for everything.” He stared back at her with light brown eyes turned black in the darkness. He gave her hands a squeeze.

“I know,” he responded. “You have someone else to apologize to.”

She sucked in a breath, her stomach pulling in tight as it clenched anxiously inside her. “I know.” She looked up to the window again, and it seemed as if the whole world went still.

“Oh my God.”

“What?” David turned and looked. For him, the noise still raged. “What are you looking at?”

She let out a shrill scream, cutting it off with her hand as she bit down on it.She screwed her eyes shut, clawing desperately at the terror consuming her mind.

“Oh God, Des, stop that! What’s happening? Are you alright?” He moved a hand up to her arm and scooched closer in. Soon enough, she could see her daughter climbing down from the loft and Amity hurrying over from the back of the barn.

“What’s going on?” Amity asked, breathless by the time she reached them. Mara walked up slowly, eyes wide in confusion.

“Mama?” She asked. “Are you okay?”

“That thing!” She yelled out, pointing towards the window. There it was, the hulking black figure, standing just before the open window pane. No matter how much she blinked, she couldn’t make out a discernible shape. It seemed to be made of shadows, twisting and moving, and resembled a large person, yet remained far from humanlike. “How can you not see that?” She screamed, as they glanced between each other silently.

She yanked herself away from David and shoved her head into her hands. She pulled at her hair. “I just want this to stop. Please, oh my God, don’t let it take me.”

One night Amity and Desdemona walked home together in silence. It only broke once they reached the apartment.

“Des,” Amity started, “I want you out of here as soon as possible.”

“What? Amity, I-what? What do you mean, out?”

“Out,” Amity barked, wheeling on her feet to stare her in the eye. Her demeanor pulsed with ferocity. “It means I want you out of my apartment.” Des could see her eyes were red and beginning to water. “I can’t believe what you did. I can’t believe I trusted you.”

“Am, I’m sorry, I panicked, I-”

“Don’t call me that.” Her voice chilled, and she crossed her arms over her chest. “Telling my boss I was the one sneaking out during your shifts isn’t panicking.”

“Amity, I know, I know. I just freaked out, okay! I didn’t want to get fired!” She hollered back.

“Well, look at us now. You got fired and I’m on probation. What a pretty picture, huh?” Amity groaned and pressed her fingers into her forehead. “I had to tell her that I was covering for you so she wouldn’t fire me! And now she doesn’t even think she can trust me because I recommended you so highly!”

Desdemona’s hands started shaking. “Amity, please, I-don’t do this.”

Amity turned and started walking to her room. “Once you find another job and a place to stay, you can leave. I’ll get another roommate.” She slammed her bedroom door shut behind her.

Des crumpled onto the couch, her stomach twisting in knots as she heaved tears into her hands. In a sudden fit, she stood and rushed to the bathroom. She opened the medicine cabinet, pulled out her prescription, and promptly washed all the remaining pills down the sink. She bit into her hand and let out a wild, muffled shriek.

That night, she called David to tell him what happened; he prepared a place for her in his home to stay and waited for her to show up. “You can come stay with me until you figure things out,” he had told her. “I promise, no funny business.”

She ran away from town that night.

“Desdemona,” David’s voice broke through her mangled thoughts, and she looked back up, trying to ignore the looming creature still standing outside the window. “Look at me,” he told her, cupping her cheeks in his hands. “I just need to know, why did you do what you did? Why did you leave? I don’t understand. Things were going so well.”

“I was scared,” she sobbed. “I was so scared.” She turned her head to look at Amity, staring down at her with blank green eyes.

The realization of everything she did came crashing down at her all at once like a tidal wave. There was no time to run when the current of emotions was so big and so frenzied. “I’m so sorry, Amity. I’m so sorry I did what I did. It was awful, and it sucked, and I’m such a crappy person, and I-” she choked on her tears. “I’m so tired of running away. Please help me. I just don’t know what to do anymore. My life feels like it’s crumbling apart, and I don’t know what to do.” She continued to cry, lurching over herself. “I don’t even know where I am. The last thing I remember is renting a hotel room near my old house…” She felt Mara press a warm hand against her shoulder, and Amity was behind her, stroking her sticky blonde tresses. She looked up.

The figure was no longer at the window.

She heard a knock at the door.

Just one, and she knew what she had to do.

“I have to go.” She stood up and wiped her tears, and walked to the doors. As soon as she flung them open, her world warped around her.

Desdemona blinked open her sticky eyes. She heard the honking of a car on the street outside, and slabs of moonlight shot in through cheap motel blinds above her head. She was turned on her side, sweaty sheets and blankets tangled around her limbs. She sniffed wearily, pushing herself up slowly and looking around her. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she recognized the dingy motel room she booked for the night, decked out in peeling yellow wallpaper, brown carpets, and stained nightstands on either side of the bed. There was a suspiciously dank odor permeating the air. She pulled herself into a seating position and rubbed at her sore eyes. One glance down told her the pillow was drenched in tears and the wet spot on her sheet was probably sweat. An urgent pounding on the door brought her into focus.

She swiftly threw her legs over the bed and tugged on the pair of cotton shorts thrown on the floor beside it. She peeked through the blinds and her heart quickened at the sight of her mother outside the window. She stepped over to the door, unlocked, and pulled it open.

“Oh thank goodness.” Her mother pulled her into a tight hug. “Mona, I’ve been so worried about you. I’m so sorry sweetie, please come home. Me and Mara miss you.”

No more running away, Desdemona.

She looked at the innocent face of her sweet baby girl, and wrapped her own arms around her quivering mother. Rain drizzled outside beyond the overhang, filling the small room with the pleasant scent of grass, and her mother’s clothes were damp and cold against her warm skin. She closed her eyes and breathed in the faint smell of lavender perfume on her mother’s coat. 

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Horror, Mystery/Thriller, Romance

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