I just realized I forgot to post my Friday flash fiction here….I hope you enjoy!
The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel
An owl called from somewhere high above in the shadowy limbs. The girl looked up at the darkness, seeing only a handful of stars through the branches, twinkling like ugly diamonds. The houses were quiet and the windows were black eyes staring at her. She picked up her pace along the leaf-scattered sidewalk, clinging to the straps of her backpack as if they could protect her.
She shouldn’t have just left her friend’s house. She should have called her mom and told her she wanted to come home. But she didn’t. Claire liked to feel grown up and figured her dad was sound asleep on the couch with the TV and her mom would have gotten mad at her, told her stick it out. Maybe she should have. Truth was, she was homesick and picked the fight with her friend. Claire didn’t really care what they watched on TV. She just wanted to be in her own bed.
Claire was eleven and still didn’t like being away from home.
She crossed under a streetlight, the off yellow glow barely helped dispel the gloom. The street sign said she was on Locust. The parked cars looked like giant black coffins. She kicked a walnut and it rolled ahead of her.
The heavy curtain of night wasn’t quite so frightening when she had something to occupy her mind.
She managed to repeat this for most of the next block, but as fate would have it, the green ball rolled into a hungry storm drain.
“Shoot,” she said.
She turned and began the journey down toward a park. The park was the halfway point, so knowing it was close also encouraged her. A breeze was drifting through the air, a wind that was neither warm nor chilly; just an emotionless hand brushing her hair and caressing her cheeks.
When she arrived at the normally lush green fields and playground equipment though, she was greeted by blackness.
It didn’t even look like the same place she enjoyed playing jump rope and swinging on the swings. The trees were black creatures standing sentry, silently watching her approach. She could hear the rusty chains of the swings, the growling metal sounded like witches cackling. Claire had a strong urge to sprint across the park.
Instead, she stopped at the edge of the playground and stared.
In the dark, the park looked like a cemetery.
It was so dark, there could be creepy people behind every tree- heck, they could be standing right out in the open and she wouldn’t be able to see them. She imagined boys sitting on the merry-go-round, peering between the handle bars. A vampire perched at the apex of the monkey bars. Zombies on the teeter-totter. Only they wouldn’t be moving, one would be low on the bottom and the other would be sitting high in the air on the other end.
That made her smile, even giggle. They would be too stupid to operate the teeter-totter.
Just go, Claire told herself.
And she did. Her pace was quick, but not a panicked run. About the sped of someone who had to go to the bathroom very badly, but didn’t want anyone else to know.
Her heart pounded in her head, under his blond hair.
Leaves rustled above, as if something was following along beside her up in the branches.
Claire made it about half way across the park, just around the shelters, when she burst into a run. The backpack was pounding on her back and every time it struck her shoulders, she imagined someone grabbing at her, not quite sealing the connection.
She was crying by the time she stumbled onto the road.
But she was safe. She paused on the road, her chest heaving. When she caught her breath, she started moving once again. Not far now. Maybe six blocks.
What would she tell her mom? Claire decided she was probably going to be in trouble no matter what she said, but she would be home. Ground her. Take away her toys. No punishment could compare to the way walking home in the dead of night was making her feel.
First thing she was going to do when she got inside that house was hug her mom. Then everything would be all better. She sniffled and sucked away her tears.
Claire rounded another block. Somewhere, she heard a dog barking, but it was muffled. Inside one of the otherwise silent houses she was walking by. The mutt must have sensed her. At least something, even if it was a dog, was aware of her being out her all alone and frightened. She decided the dog was telling her to buck up and hurry along, that things were going to be fine. Just a few more minutes.
Turning down another street, she knew it was close. Close enough that she knew many of the people that lived in these houses. Some of them were her friends, in fact.
Head held high, Claire marched down the final stretch to her block, an alley that barely qualified of that title. It was a grassy space between two rows of houses; the grass was matted down were people drove.
But the pathway was cold, much chillier than it should have been. She shivered and scanned the shadows. Nothing but black, different layers and shapes, but still, just black featureless objects.
About three quarters of the way down the alley, some of that thick black moved. Shifted. Her breath rushed into her lungs.
A man stepped out from behind a shed, triggering a motion light.
Claire stopped in her tracks.
The stranger was wearing a blue fedora and grinning, his head cocked. He teeth seemed much too large, and they were catching the light. His teeth looked just as blue as his hat.
“Wanna go for a ride on my special carousel?”
As he stepped forward, Claire tried to scream but his icy hand was faster and smothered her quivering lips.
By Erik Gustafson