Nightmares

Halloween, 2018

It was furious with her for getting away, but it wasn’t satisfied with just making her ears hurt and ring. Reaching out with one spectral claw, the creature grasped Suri’s stiff, frozen body. Esther could tell it was staring at her, wanting her to know exactly what it was doing. Then Suri fell, toppling it like a small tree under a lumberjack’s ax. The creature stared at Esther’s Other Self as Suri fell, stiff as a board, and slammed into the tile, shattering into a dozen pieces.

 

This time, Esther did scream. Her Other Self couldn’t stop her. If she pushed the button on the detonator, she couldn’t tell - she couldn’t feel her fingers anymore. But she threw it nonetheless, and it passed through the creature as though it wasn’t there, just as she had. It clattered against the cabinets and fell to the tile. She lost track of it almost at once. It was small and cold now, and it seemed only a part of the floor to her.

 

Her Other Self tried to pull her other two detonators out, but she couldn’t feel anything inside her pouch. And even if she managed to get them out, what would she do? Could she activate two at once?

 

Her Other Self didn’t seem to care. Both detonators were out now. She threw them to the ground. The creature swiftly retreated, and her Other Self turned and ran. Neither of the detonators had been activated. She hadn’t had the time or the dexterity to manage that, but the bluff was a good one.

 

Slipping and sliding, her staff barely keeping her upright as she slammed into this wall, then that one, she rushed for the door. Her friend was dead. All she could do now was survive. Ice shot up her spine like lightning and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Cold like pain fogged her mind and she twisted, whipping her staff through the space occupied by the Nightmare. It had followed her when it realized it wasn’t being engulfed in flame.

 

Of course, striking it with her staff didn’t help much, but it did slow it down a little. What the Nightmare really wanted, and what she refused to give it - was for her to be scared. She was angry, grief-stricken, determined to survive, but not frightened. Not yet.

 

With numb hands, she swung her staff, cutting viciously through the creature’s essence again and again, forcing it back until she had enough space to trigger her belt. It was a one-use item, but this was worth it. Still standing in the entryway, not far from the shattered front door, she set herself on fire and started to pursue her enemy.

 

Her Other Self was immune to this fire. It felt pleasantly warm, and brought feeling back to her hands and nose. That smarted at first, but she barely noticed. She was concentrating on getting her hands around the insubstantial neck of her foe. It was the Nightmare’s turn to feel fear. It fled before her, and even if it knew that the fire wouldn’t last long, it also knew it would last long enough - especially since it was catching. The hardwood under her feet thawed and started to smoke as she ran. The walls we scorched even as the frost receded. In short order, the whole house would be on fire. Collateral damage. It wasn’t enough to make up for failing to save Suri, but it would at least make it easier to move on from.

 

“Little girl!” shrieked the Nightmare, as her hand at last closed around the trailing tail of its essence. It knew it was about to die. Her Other Self reeled it in like a struggling fish and crushed it to herself, holding it tight so it couldn’t escape the flames.

 

When Esther was finally herself again, she was sitting in the yard. Her cane was gone. Everything smelled like smoke. In the distance, sirens wailed as the fire department rushed out to the scene of a house fire. Who had reported it? Her neighbors, probably. They were only a half mile away. No doubt, they’d seen something. The smoke, maybe.

 

The fire raged at the other end of the drive, crackling hungrily, devouring everything she’d known well enough for comfort. Nothing would be comfortable again for a very long time.

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©2018 by Eleanor Taylor.