Into the woods
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After being framed for her parent’s death and ending up in an insane asylum, Maya escapes and hopes to settle down in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The small house seems like the perfect place to bury the ghosts of her past, but sometimes those ghosts refuse to stay dead, and perfect isn’t so perfect after all. After meeting her neighbor Drake and the two men who live with him, Maya notices things aren’t quite right with the three men. She didn’t think her life could get any stranger, but when she notices the animals hunting her—particularly the wolves. Maya finds herself in a never-ending battle to keep them away, much to her landlord and his friend’s amusement. Little does she know that those wolves are more than they seem, and so is her landlord. That they aren’t just stalking her as prey, but they are hunting their mate.
Pulling up out the front of my brick apartment building, he is waiting for me. I can see him lurking in the shadows of the metal stairs that creak under the slightest weight. There he stands in his dark clothes and hoodie, watching from the shadows as he always does. I grip the steering wheel tightly, my knuckles turning white. My breathing is harsh, and I clench my eyes closed, trying to remember what my shrink told me. 1… 2… 3… 4… 5. Opening my eyes, I exhale, relieved this time it worked. The dark figure that always watches and haunts me, disappearing like the hallucination he is. Or so everyone keeps telling me.
Reaching over into the footwell of the passenger seat, I grab my black leather handbag and my work folders before climbing out of the car. Instantly, the hairs on the back of my neck rise, and I glance around anxiously. My eyes dart back to the shadows by the stairs leading to my apartment. Locking my car, I turn, sucking in a deep breath while berating myself for being so foolish. No one is stalking me. The police said there was no evidence. But how did my window get broken last week? A bird, they had said, but how does that explain the rock sitting on the carpet just inside the window?
How do they explain the paint scrapes up the side of my old wrecked car that was driven off the road and killed my twin? Some part of my brain wants to believe I am crazy because the possibility of him being real is even more petrifying.
Clutching the strap of my handbag, I jog across to the stairwell, my heels clicking on the concrete, then I grip the handle railing, taking the steps two at a time. The minimal light around the apartment complex makes the shadows seem like they are hiding something… Him.
My heart races, and I jump at every sound as I make my way to my apartment door. The gold numbers gleam in the low lights. Shoving the key in the lock so quickly and twisting, I slip inside my apartment, close the door, then start locking it with the several locks I have attached to the door. Once they’re all in place, anxiety has me checking them again and again before I finally build up the courage and convince my overthinking brain that I did indeed lock them.
I let out a breath before casually strolling through my small apartment. I flick on every light and then drop my handbag onto the counter while checking the landline for any voice messages. As suspected, I hear my mother's screeching and scrutinizing voice demanding proof I took my medication, telling me I missed my shrink appointment and demanding to know why. Then lastly, telling me what a disappointment I was compared to my twin. Then she hangs up or thinks she did because I can still hear her faint voice.
"We should have her committed again. How many more people does she have to kill, before they realize she should be locked away for good?" my mother spits at whomever she is with.
It doesn't take long before I notice the person she is talking to is my father, because his voice is the next I hear.
"Freya, calm down. You know she's unhinged, but she's not our problem anymore. You're getting worked up over nothing."
"Don't tell me to calm down, Larry. You didn't have to identify her, you didn't see what I had to see!" my mother yells at him then breaks down sobbing.
My stomach sinks, yet I can't bring myself to turn off the recording even when my father starts comforting her with a soothing voice I've never heard once directed toward me.
"I'm sorry dear, I didn't mean to upset you, I just–" he exhales loudly, so I know they must be in the kitchen where the landline is kept for me to hear it.
"It should have been her. Leah didn't deserve what that monster did to her. She just wouldn't listen. We told her Maya would get her in trouble, instead she ended up dead!"
"I know, dear. You know she always felt sorry for Maya. She wanted to see the best in her," my father tells her. My mother continues sobbing.
"If I only stopped her going, she might still be here," my mother wails loudly.
"It's not your fault, dear. It's Maya's. You can't blame yourself for how messed up she is. We were good parents, she was just one of those kids that nothing you do to help them would fix, a troubled child."
"Troubled?" My mother exclaims loudly.
"She is nothing but fucking burden, an embarrassment to this family. Her lies and dramatics are out of hand. She needs to be locked up for her crimes. Maya was always so jealous of Leah I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't an accident at all!" She screeches.
Tears burn my eyes and I cover my mouth to stifle the noise that tries to leave me. I hang up, clutching the countertop and regathering myself. I'll never be good enough for them. Never be the daughter they want, never be Leah. One day they'll see I'm not lying. He exists. He's not in my head!
It is like a daily routine for her to make this call, scared of me going off the deep end and, heaven forbid, being called to collect me. Grabbing the milk carton from the fridge, I set it on the counter, rummaging through my bag for my medication before eyeing the little blue pills angrily. I hate them; they make me feel foggy-headed, numb, and thoughtless. Popping one, I drink straight from the milk carton and swallow the pill of numbness down while listening to the ending of her rant play out.
Unable to listen anymore, I sigh, setting the milk carton back in the fridge and wandering out into the hallway to the linen cupboard. I open it searching for a clean towel; I really needed to get to the laundromat to do some washing. It’s just hard when I feel so tired all the time. However, shutting it, I see a figure out of the corner of my eye, standing by the wall at the end of the hall. I close my eyes, counting to 5 once again before opening them, only to see the same dark figure only this time he chuckles. My heart skips a beat, and for once, I pray the medication knocks me out or actually does its job and erases the hallucination.
1…2…3…4…5 I try again, only this time, he is right beside me. So vivid, so real that I don’t think that I’m imagining him.
“Miss me?” he growls, and my breathing picks up, and I feel the heat of him seep into my back as he moves behind me in the narrow hallway. The rise and fall of his chest can be felt against my back, along with his warm breath on my neck. Goosebumps raise along my arms, and I try to fight back a shiver.
“You’re not real!” I exclaim.
“Are you sure?” he asks, and I choke on my spit. My throat tightens as panic threatens to take over.
“Does this feel real, Maya?” he purrs, sweeping my hair over my shoulder. My bottom lip quivers.
“Does this?” he asks, trailing his hands down my sides to my hips. The touch almost tickles, and I squirm.
“I bet this does, hmm?” he purrs, looping his arm around my waist and tugging me back against him.
A shriek leaves my lips, and his hand instantly clamps over my mouth, silencing me. I try to breathe around his hand, my chest rising and falling heavily. I know that I should fight back, but I’m so afraid.
“Now, are we going to behave?” he questions, and I nod my head, tears pricking hot in my eyes and falling as the gravity of the situation sets in. He has never entered the apartment. He always watches from outside. He is real.
Yet the moment he moves his hand, I scream as loud as I can and thrash, escaping his hold and running for the front door. My hands grab and twist the locks and rip at the chains, and I curse myself for putting so many on the door. They were meant to keep him out, but they are trapping me inside. I feel fingers tangle in my hair.
The next thing I see, the ceiling, and pain split across my skull and scalp; I blink, dazed, his voice sounding distant while my head throbs to its own beat. His glowing eyes peer down at me, his face twists up in anger, and I have no clue what he’s saying. I don’t know this man, have no clue who he is. The first time I saw him, I was a teenager and had gone to the mall with friends and my sister. I had accidentally run into him when I was coming out of the bathrooms. At first I didn't think much of it, until he kept popping in random places I was, like the public library, out front of my high school, on and on it went. My parents called him the phantom, because no one ever saw the mysterious man, only me, but once I moved out of home things got worse. He would show up outside my work, standing outside of my apartment. Every night since then, I’ve seen him, each time he gets more daring, closer. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen him recently, making me question if he truly is a figment of my imagination, yet I know he's not, he can't be. Or how did my twin see him? Not that she can verify my claims, he made sure of that when he ran us off the road. It feels like he haunts my every waking moment.
Finally, I hear his angry voice yelling at me about how I am a bad girl for disobeying him and how the neighbors would have called the police. The next, I see the bottom of his boot as it stomps in my face, then nothing more, only darkness as it swallows me whole, and I wonder fleetingly if this will be the last breath I take and if I’ll see my sister in the next life.
2 weeks Later
It was the creak of the window opening that sent fear slivering up my spine. My heart beats faster as I frantically try to see in my darkened room when I see a man creep into my room from the open doorway. His eyes glow in the dark, amber, beady, inhuman eyes. The eyes of a monster watching me as he steps deeper into my room. My scream lodges in my throat, which grows tighter as I remember what the psychologist told me, and I clench my eyes shut.
“He’s not real. He’s not real.” I whisper repeatedly.
All this time running from my phantom stalker, running from a monster, and it was all for nothing.
He found me. He always does. No matter how many times I flee the cities and move on, he always finds me. Once again, this monster found me, only this time, I have put my family at risk. The stranger’s hand is overly hot as it clamps over my mouth, cutting my whispers off. I struggled against his impossibly tight hold, panic welling deep
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