by Ladee Caid
Contest entry for "What's Your Line?."
CalligraphyCarina shoved her Biology text into her backpack with a heavy arm. She and her friend Timberly had been studying in Timberly’s disheveled bedroom since they’d driven home from school. It was dark now, and Carina wanted to get home. Hours of focusing and thinking had drained her. She wanted to be in her own room with its inviting, unrumpled bed.
Prompt #1: "There can be only one."
Word Count: 2,449
“Hey, my mom wants to know if you’ll to stay for supper; we’re having her world famous spaghetti. I’ll drive you home afterwards.”
Carina’s stomach cramped with hunger, but she just wanted to be rid of this place. The yellow walls of the bedroom were starting to feel like a prison.
“No thanks; I’m not hungry,” Carina said in her small, high-pitched voice.
Timberly tilted her head and raised one eyebrow at the sound of Carina’s rumbling stomach. That expression always made Carina giggle.
“Okay, I’m hungry,” Carina said, “but, I’m sure mom has something cooking by now.”
“Aww, my mother would love the chance to shovel food down your throat. Look at you; a strong wind could come along and blow you away. My mom’s words, by the way, not mine.”
Carina was petite. She only stood as tall as Timberly’s shoulder. A lot of her clothes were purchased from the children’s department; it was just the way she was built. All of the woman in her family were no bigger than the short straw.
“Okay, alright, I’ll take you home now.”
Timberly snatched her coat from the bed. Carina scowled and shook her head.
“No, I’ll just walk.”
“It’s dark outside, Carina. Not to mention cold.”
Carina continued to shake her head with her palms together wedged between her thighs.
“Your dinner will get cold.”
“My SUPPER won’t get that cold.” Timberly snapped her hands to her hips then jabbed her fingers in the direction of Carina’s house. “You only live four blocks away. Besides, what if you’re walking along minding your own business, and a werewolf decides to attack?” Timberly leaned into Carina. “He’d swallow you whole; backpack and all. No one would ever know,” she whispered. Much louder she said, “There’d be missing girl flyers on every light pole in town.” She put her hand over the top of her left breast. “I’d feel super guilty every time I drove past one in my nice safe car.”
The longer Carina sat there arguing with her friend the more her need for escape. She stood, slipped on her navy jacket and knitted hat, hefted her book bag, and bounced it to a comfortable position on her back.
“That’s right; I only live four blocks away. I won’t freeze to death, and I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself in the event that a werewolf comes charging at me. I can be very vicious. Besides, it isn’t a full moon.”
Timberly threw her arms across her chest.
“Alright, fine. You’re wrong about the big girl part, but you wouldn’t be much of a meal anyway. However, if some gigantic, hairy mass of muscles with huge jagged teeth dripping in saliva decides he wants an appetizer, go for the balls, alright?”
“I’ll rip them off with my teeth.”
Timberly’s face puckered, and she sucked air in through her pursed lips.
“Alright, I’ll see you in the morning. You driving?”
Carina nodded and left the room.
Carina trotted down the stone porch steps and onto the side walk. Since Timberly’s house stood at the bottom of the residential hill, she had to force her tired legs to pump up it. Her pack felt heavier than ever. The hill wasn’t big, but tonight, it felt like a mountain. She looked back at her friend’s house.
Maybe I should go back and take her up on the ride? After a moment’s thought, she shook her head. Nah, I’m already more than half way to the top.
She turned and continued up Mt. Everest thinking about her plush duvet and fluffy pillows. That made the climb worse, so she pushed the images away to focus on the houses she passed. Suddenly, she stopped and whipped around.
Had she seen something crossing to her side of the street? A shadow of a figure under the street lamp perhaps? She scanned the road, parked cars, and yards. All was quiet except the slow breeze through the bare tree branches. Her breath caught when something moved in the dim on the ground near a parked Subaru. Corina stiffened. It undulated and snapped then fluttered across the grass. It looked to be only a trash bag that had perhaps liberated itself from a bin somewhere.
“Damn it Timberly.” All that talk about werewolves has me freaked out. “She’s going to get an ear full tomorrow.” She’ll laugh at me no doubt. She shouldn’t feed me stories when my brain is too numb to work.
Corina chuckled at the thought of it then readjusted her backpack and continued along the walk.
As she neared the summit, she heard the rapid loud puttering of a faulty exhaust driving by on the street above. Traffic is what she expected to hear, but that vehicle seemed to be the only one. It was unusually silent this evening like the hour was later than she’d thought.
She pulled her phone from the pocket of her coat. A searing pain momentarily blinded her from the brightness of the screen. After her vision became accustomed, she saw that it was only 6:37. Well, it was a Tuesday. She was usually at home on Tuesdays. Perhaps the lack of cars was typical for a night such as this.
She was dismayed to see the red line on the otherwise empty battery icon on her screen. No matter. She would be home soon. She could recharge her cell while she ate and showered.
It was but a whisper behind her. The voice was too low to recognize. She spun. No one was there. It was the wind. It must be the wind. She laughed nervously and picked up her pace. She’d feel better once she’d taken those last few steps to the busier street. But, the road wasn’t all that active tonight she reminded herself. Well, it was better than parked cars or no vehicles at all.
Carina turned onto the intersecting sidewalk. The wind blew in her face, and the night seemed to be colder. She stuffed her hands in her pockets and tucked her head into her collar like a turtle. She didn't feel quite as tired, but she desperately wished she would have taken Timberly up on the ride. She could turn back, but the voice was that way. Sure, it was just the breeze, but it was creepy. It was best to stay here in the open with the non-existing travelers and homes with spacious lawns. She looked back at the sidewalk she’d just left and saw someone there.
A silhouetted figure of a tall, thin man stood out of the direct shine of the street light. His coat was long and made of a flimsy material for it wafted in the slight gust. Or was it a cape. The dark unmoving form eerily faced her. An electrical charge ran through Carina. It felt as if every hair stood on end. She was paralyzed.
“It’s just a person,” she consoled herself. “Just a person.”
She took a step backwards and then another. The man didn’t move, so she turned and continued walking at a faster pace. Carina looked over her shoulder. She expected to see him in the same spot, but he was coming toward her. A tiny squeal escaped her, and she sprinted.
“Carina, come to me,” she heard the whisper as if the air rushing past her ear was made of it.
Carina had to run faster. Too quickly her lungs hurt, and her thighs burned. She couldn’t give up. Maybe she could run to one of the nearby homes but all were dark as if the occupants were sleeping. How could that be? It was too early for people to be in bed wasn’t it? Ahead was the abandoned school. If she could make it that far without tripping or collapsing, she could hide within.
A new elementary had been built, so at the end of last year, every class celebrated never having to come back to the too cold building. Mid-summer, after Carina and Timberly were sure no one would be visiting the structure, they’d peeked in the windows. Carina found she was able to wedge her small form through the chained glass, double doors where the children had entered. She didn’t explore. She was too afraid to adventure alone through the darkened, unkempt halls. Those haunted halls seemed like the safest place for her now.
She skidded to a stop, the metal of the door rattled, and the glass vibrated. She pulled the doors apart as far as the chain would allow and began clambering through. The backpack stopped her, so she shrugged it off and crammed through scratching her cheek and arm. She hated leaving the pack on the other side; It would give away where she’d headed like a trail of bread crumbs.
It didn’t take long for her vision to adjust to the dim. Muted light from outside shown through windows and glass doors giving ghostly illumination to parts of pitch black corridors. Carina kept her arms extended in front of her and tried to dart to where she remembered the assembly area and cafeteria had huge heavy curtains hanging at the front of the stage. There were no windows there. It would be easy to tuck into a fold of the fabric. The patting of her feet echoed as loud as if she were slapping her shoes across the tile. She rammed into the double wooden doors and stoved her finger. She winced as yank the right side open and made her way to the platform where the velvety cloth would be. She groped in the dark but felt only the cold plated wall. The curtains were gone. Of course they were gone; probably hanging in the new school.
A click and hum came from the kitchen. Carina gasped; her heart pounded. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone here. Wouldn’t they have turned off the electricity? What was that? It wasn’t safe here. Someone or something lurked in the next room. She’d made a mistake coming here. She flung herself back across the large expanse and slipped through the door. She wondered if she had enough time to escape the possessed building and get away before the dark man found her, but her answer was clear.
A shadow of the figure lay across the floor in front of the glass she’d entered. He tugged the door, but the chain wouldn’t let the intruder in. Carina had to make a choice. Since the building had been built into the hill, she could either go down into the basement classrooms where the inky dark would conceal her or up the steps to rooms where the shine from the outside would make it hard to shelter. Up seemed safer than down. At least she would be able to see anything coming at her.
Carina tripped on a step and banged her shin. She bleated and crawled until she got her footing. Did she just hear the scuffling of shoes on the floor below? Had the man found a way in? Was it the entity from the kitchen? She limped on the balls of her feet trying to be quiet until she reached the end of the hall and entered the class she remembered being Science Lab. She closed the latch with a soft click, dove into the murkiest corner, and watched the door. Her chest heaved. She breathed into her arm wrapped legs to muffle the noise. Every nerve under her skin prickled. Her hair felt as though it lay on her scalp instead of being a part of it. Every creak, every groan, any tiny sound made Carina jolt. Suddenly, an aquiline nose, high cheekbones, and brow ridge appeared in the classroom’s door window from the ebony hall. The skin was so pale Carina couldn’t tell if it was the man who’d been following her or the spirit from the cook’s room. A scream erupted in her throat. She slapped her fingers over her mouth to hold it in, but air was surging from her nostrils so garishly, she was sure it could be heard. The doorknob began to turn, and the scream broke free.
Carina jumped to the window and fumbled with the latch. Fallen tears from convulsive sobbing made the lock slippery, but her shaking fingers managed to open the window. She climbed over the lip and fell to the grass beneath. She didn’t look to see if he was there; she knew he would be close behind. She picked herself up and raced toward home.
As Carina rounded the bend, she saw her father with his hands on his hips standing on the sidewalk looking for her. With the last burst she had in her, she dashed to him, wrapped herself around his middle, and blubbered into his chest.
“What’s wrong, Carina? Where have you been? Timberly called for you. She said you should have been home by now. Did someone hurt you?”
With broken words, Carina explained everything that’d happened.
Carina’s mother comforted her on the couch, while her father called the police. Uniformed men came, took a statement, and checked the school. Every window was peered into with flashlights, but no one was seen, however, they found Carina’s back pack laying where she’d dropped it.
Carina woke with a start to the beeping alarm. The sun was already rising promising a perfect day. She thought about all that’d happened the night before and started feeling a little silly. The police had found nothing. She’d been so fatigued that Timberly’s werewolf warning must have lodged itself into her subconscious giving her an overactive imagination.
It was just as Carina thought; Timberly almost peed herself guffawing. They now sat in Biology ready to take the test they’d studied so hard for only to be told it was open book exam. Carina sighed and thought about taking the test without the book anyway, but the first question stumped her. She fluttered the leaves to the current chapter. Wedged between the pages was a sheet of parchment. The yellowed paper crinkled as she lifted it. Splatters of ink from a leaky pen outlined perfect calligraphy. It read: “There can be only one. I’ve chosen you.”
Gravity pulled the paper to the floor like a falling feather.