The creature smelled like burning, like fire. It was strange – it had never smelled like fire before. There was an odd scent mixed in, however, mingling with the scent of firewood and decaying material. The smell of burning flesh was a recognizable one, even for those who had never smelled it before. It was simply one of those strange smells that, when finally taken through the senses, that people could assume the origin of it. Despite her curious nature, the small redhead kept her gaze down and focused on the succulent apple, little fingernails digging into the red flesh of it eagerly while her teeth tore away at the morsel. The creature’s eyes – dark like the night with a white gleam that often shimmered over them – were set on the back of Hollen’s head, watching with an uncanny sense of patience. One could almost say that the gaze was admiring. And claiming. The creature had, obviously, claimed the little girl for herself, caring for her and making sure that she understood where she was now. Despite how it appeared, the creature never hid itself from the little girl. Hollen would never be able to forget what this creature looked like, especially with it frequently haunting her dreams.
It had appeared to her on the second night.
Not physically, no, but right there in the corner of her mind, in the background of her dreams… there was this creature. She was on a swing, swinging back and forth, going higher and higher, but she knew it was there. She was watching herself, and she could see it behind her, hiding in the trees. The moon was reflecting on it, and the sun was shining on her. It was warm against her skin, making her hair look like a flame. The creature was hiding, though the moon showed it. There were patches of uneven fur, scars and marks, and she could see the ribs pressing against taut skin. Back legs were buckled against the ground, and extremely long frontal limbs were balancing its tall body and keeping it upright. Antlers, tangled with vines and cobwebs, rested upon its head – but the face was all wrong. It looked like a dog, with its white teeth pressing down over its bottom lip, black nose wriggling towards her scent and taking her in. Those eyes… the misted white gaze never left the redhead, never left her alone.
At first, it was just a presence there in her mind, in the back of her continuously repetitive dream. Then, slowly, it became more pronounced, and soon began to take more of a role on in her dreams. The darkness would soon overcome the day, darkening the entire dream into a nightmare. Nightmares of guns, loud noises, fire, screams. Nightmares of people frantically praying to a God that Hollen never believed in, chanting voices, and torture. Yet, the young child never felt in danger. The creature always stood at her side, as if opening her eyes to the world she was missing and protecting her from what it was revealing. Nothing ever harmed her; Hollen was always aware that she was in a nightmare. It was a very strange sensation and reaction that she had, whenever the creature joined her. She had no control, but at the same time, she knew she would never be harmed, no matter what her dream was about. The creature would keep her safe, despite how nightmarish it looked itself.
The fear Hollen felt was more present because the creature wanted it to be, especially when it came around in person. The young girl didn’t know if that was something the creature could control… or not. However, it didn’t matter – the creature brought food, and that was what mattered. She finished the apple, sucking the core dry and chewing the last bits she could from the flesh. Then, she licked her fingers, one at a time, for no drop of the precious taste would go to waste. Licking her lips clean, blue hues finally lifted to take a look at the creature from her nightmares; the creature that had shown up after the incident and shortly after Papa had really begun to decay…showing up when the snow began to fall and the search had long been called off.
“Don’t you talk to me! This is all your fault!”
Instantly, her mouth snapped shut and her young eyes widened, staring at the man who’d called himself her Papa for a few years now. Her little hands trembled and, out of nervous habit, she raised her left hand to her mouth. Chewing, she began to rip open a scabbing mark that was resting near her palm. She licked the blood forming, pooling, and she began to gnaw at the skin. Her Papa began to curse more, screaming at the sky, making the young one flinch and begin to tremble, chewing harder at her own flesh. Truthfully, it was not her fault that this habit had formed. Her past life had been rather unbearable – but no one even thought of it that way. She merely kept quiet, continuing with her habits, while her parents had gone slowly insane. Her father, standing before her now, was mumbling and screaming, waving his gun around. Then, he went quiet, suddenly. Her eyes flicked up, her actions stopping and freezing as she saw him pointing the gun in her direction. Papa was going to kill her. Tears welled up in her eyes, seeing some falling from his own and splashing onto the jacket he was wearing. He said something, something she didn’t understand the meaning of – “May God have mercy on your soul.”
Then a shot.
Then Papa fell, a bullet hole having ripped through his left temple and splattered his brains along the wall behind him. His body slumped, crumpling to the ground in front of Hollen. She stared, shocked, and stared for about an hour. Finally, she moved, stumbling forward to grab the gun that had fallen to the floor. She snatched it up with one bleeding hand, holding the gun away from her body as if it held a disease. She carried it to the side door in the kitchen, and she threw the gun outside, into a pile of snow.
That gun wouldn’t be harming anyone, anymore.
But gunshots would forever strike fear into her young heart.