The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
She Has Never Lived
by Naching T. Kassa
Leah stood in the tall grass, her hand over her mouth, stifling a scream.
The raven gazed into her eyes then leaped into the air, leaving the body on the ground below. It settled in one of the many pines nearby.
“I told you we shouldn’t come here,” Becky said. Her gaze remained on the corpse before them. “I told you the ghost would kill him if we did.”
“But that was just a story,” Leah replied. She turned away, unable to focus on the man’s mutilated face. “There is no Cyrus Castle. He doesn’t exist.”
“Tell me who killed Don, then. You heard him scream. It took us what—a minute to get here?”
A chill rose over Leah’s skin. She glanced about, searching the trees for movement. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“You’re going to have to get the car keys. They’re in Don’s pocket.”
Becky held up her hands. “I’m not touching him. He’s your boyfriend, not mine.”
“He isn’t—wasn’t—my boyfriend. He’s just a friend.”
“You should have told Cyrus that.”
A twig cracked and Leah jumped. Up above, a large bird took flight. The tree limb it had been perched on plummeted to earth.
“He’s still here,” Becky said.
“That’s a vulture, not a ghost.”
Another twig cracked and still another.
“Hurry and get those keys,” Becky cried.
Leah took a step toward the body.
Don lay in a pool of blood, his face slashed beyond recognition. He’d been such a handsome man. Such a good friend.
“Hurry!” Becky said. “Cyrus is coming!”
Leah reached into the pocket of Don’s khakis. She pulled the keychain from it.
A bird shrieked. Leah glanced up and into a pair of coal-black eyes. The man glared at her from between the trees. She recognized him from the stories, the ones kids spun around campfires on warm summer nights. Cyrus Castle, the Litton Woods Lothario. Disfigured and jilted by his fiancé in favor of a better-looking man, he’d killed her and her lover before hanging himself in the wood.
Scar tissue twisted the ghost’s mouth into a permanent frown and blood
soaked the matted mane atop his head. He floated out of the wood.
Leah ran. She dashed between the trees, avoiding the branches which scratched and the roots which tripped. A deer trail allowed her an easier path and she took it. When her lungs could take no more, she ducked behind a tree and doubled over, panting.
She caught sight of the mushroom then. Its red cap shone in the glimmer of sunlight filtering through the trees. Had she seen it before? It seemed familiar. She stared at it, willing the memory to surface.
The vision came in a soft haze. Something had been hanging above the mushroom, something which twitched and moaned. When she’d looked up, Becky had appeared and covered her eyes.
The dark-eyed woman had disappeared. Leah couldn’t remember when she’d seen her last. She scanned the forest behind her, hoping for a glimpse of her. Where was she? Was she still alive?
“Hey,” a voice murmured in her ear.
Leah spun around and found Becky standing behind her.
“I thought he caught you,” Leah said.
“He followed me, but I got away.”
A shadow passed over them, a large one. Five more joined it, and they circled the women like light cast by a shadow lamp.
“Vultures,” Becky said. “They’re his eyes. He’s looking for you.”
“We’ve got to get to the car.”
She started forward, but Becky didn’t move.
“I can’t do it anymore, Leah,” she said. Her brown eyes glittered. “I’m so sorry.”
“For what? What are you talking about?”
“Do you remember when you were a little girl? When we first met?”
“I…Yes. It was when…”
“You don’t remember. Do you?”
The shadows changed, melted into one. A single shadow which swayed back and forth above Leah’s head. A face flashed in her mind, the neck broken at a crooked and impossible angle.
“You found Cyrus hanging there. Heard him groaning. I came to help you…to keep you sane,” Becky set a hand on her shoulder. “I covered your eyes.”
Leah leaned against the pine’s rough bark. She shook her head. “Oh…Jesus…you’re like him. You’re a ghost.”
“No. I’m no ghost. You can’t be one if you’ve never lived.”
Leah glimpsed movement from the corner of her eye. Down the trail, a figure loomed.
“He’s offered me your life, Leah. If I give you to him, he’ll let me take your body.”
Leah stood rooted to the ground. She tugged at her motionless legs, her heartbeat rising in her ears.
“I’m tired of running from him,” Becky continued.
She wrapped an arm around Leah and embraced her, plunging her into darkness.
“I’m so sorry,” Becky whispered. “It will never happen again.”
Leah opened her eyes.
The door stood open before her. Beyond the threshold, concrete steps and a parking lot lay silvered in moonlight. A sign with the legend, LITTON PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL stood outside.
The lot led to a road at the edge of the woods. Trees stood silhouetted against the moon.
Heavy, cold metal filled Leah’s hand. She stared at the ring of keys, then her eyes drifted to the plain green scrubs she wore.
She turned. A man, dressed as a security guard, lay on the floor behind her. His name tag read, “Don.”
Leah slid down against the door.
In the woods beyond, Becky screamed.
Fiction © Copyright Naching T. Kassa
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Naching T. Kassa:
Crystal Lake Publishing proudly presents Arterial Bloom, an artful juxtaposition of the magnificence and macabre that exist within mankind. Each tale in this collection is resplendent with beauty, teeth, and heart.
Edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Mercedes M. Yardley, Arterial Bloom is a literary experience featuring sixteen stories from some of the most compelling dark authors writing today.
With a foreword by HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Linda D. Addison, you are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.