Darlin’

3 min read

I had tried running. But I was tired. So, so tired.

Spring peepers called shrilly in the night. The sound covered up my rasping, labored breaths as I collapsed on the grassy bank.

The sky was so clear and beautiful overhead. I searched for Orion’s belt, trying to distract myself from what I knew was coming for me.

It had been following me for weeks. I started seeing it just after my boyfriend of two years cheated on me and left me for a friend who used to hug me and call me darlin’. I was sitting at a little bakery downtown, staring at my cheesy bagel, wondering why I hadn’t seen it all coming. Surely, there had been signs. I had convinced myself, though, that he was “the one.”

Stupid.

Brushing a few crumbs off my lap, I happened to look up and out the window. And there it was.  For only a fraction of a second, I thought it was just a reflection or a normal person on the other side of the glass. But it was too grey to be a normal person… and then the lower jaw started to drop. And drop. A great, black, gaping maw opened up, and the lower jaw just hung there, stretched impossibly, as the head tilted slightly to the side. I heard a noise like a high-pitched ringing, resounding in my head.

Then it was gone. I blinked and looked around. I saw that my hands were shaking. Time to go home.

Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night. Every time I closed my eyes, that face would be in front of me, elongating horrifically and setting that terrible ringing sound into my head. Was I losing it?

The next time I saw it, I was driving. It was standing right in the middle of the intersection. The mouth was starting to stretch down, and it was staring straight at me. I’d seen that face somewhere before…

BEEEEEEP! I jumped, my heart hammering in my chest. In the car behind me, the driver was flipping me off as he laid on the horn. I looked back toward the intersection.

Nothing.

My ex called me as I was parking my car, demanding some of his stuff back that he had left in my dorm room. I had to hold the phone away from my ear when his shouting got too loud. I hung up on him.

When I got to work, I took a moment in the bathroom to try to calm myself down. I was clearly hallucinating…right?

It wasn’t a good day on the job. A woman tried to return a pair of shoes, and when I told her I couldn’t accept them without a receipt, she flew into a rage. She threw the shoes at me, then came all the way around the counter, backing me up against the register. She got right in my face as she screamed at me. Her hairstyle had that “I just stuck my finger in an electrical socket” vibe.

Halfway through her diatribe, the figure appeared again. I could see it just over the irate customer’s shoulder. This time, it was smiling, and the smile kept getting wider. And wider.

“ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME?!”

Finally, my manager ambled up and asked her what was wrong. He let her return the shoes, and told her that I was just a dumb kid. The woman left, vindicated, shooting me one last, nasty look.

I hadn’t said a word since the figure appeared. It still hadn’t left at that point. The ringing sound was overwhelming me, and my fingers tightened on the corner of the counter.

“Goodness, girl. Will you snap out of it? You have to be able to handle that kind of thing on your own, you know! Are you really that much of an airhead? Just in college to get your M.R.S degree, huh?”

The figure disappeared, and I was finally able to find my voice. I cleared my throat before responding to my manager.

“She was three times the size of me!”

“Yeah, because you’re too skinny. Try eating some more.”

He went back to the storeroom, and I stared at my feet. My stomach ached, I was breathing in gasps, and the room was spinning.

It followed me home that night.

It stood right in front of me as I called my grandma in tears.

“He left me, grandma. And this lady threatened me at work, and I think…”

“Wait, that nice boy you were dating? I thought you were going to get married.”

“Well, me too, grandma, but…”

“It’s a good thing you didn’t give him your V-card, then.”

I had, actually. Not that I’d told my grandma anything about it. She had told me all my life to guard my virginity like the holy grail, warning that no good man would want me if I weren’t pure. After all, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

The figure started to shake, as though it were laughing. Its eyes were gone. Why were its eyes gone? I couldn’t stop trembling.

“Grandma, I…I have to go. I have a test to study for.”

“Alright, honey. You ace it! Goodnight!”

Now the figure was shaking with laughter and moving closer. We both knew I wasn’t going to ace that test. Not by a long shot.

It started to reach for me. Its fingers had too many joints, and they were too long…

That’s when I started running. And now, here I was, laying in the grass, waiting for it to just catch me and get it over with.

I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, the figure was bent over me, and the jaw was dropping and dropping and suddenly I knew where I had seen that face before:

In the mirror.

Darlin’

By: Elyse Russell

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