It Came Up To Eat

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This story was contributed by MadisonTrupp


Something is chasing me.

I've been aware of it for a while now. It's the way the shadows flicker when I start to turn my head, and how every step I take carries a hollow echo, a split-second other sound after my foot hits the ground. I don't know what it is, or what it wants, but whatever hole it has crawled out of does not want it back.

I can hear it now, breathing. How every rasp catches wetly in its throat just behind my ear.

***

I noticed it first a week ago in the Palm Shore Shopping Centre. It's the kind of mall that seems to go on forever, with sterile white lights and monochromatic floor tiles and fake green ferns. I drifted in between the warm bodies, gazing through the bright lit interior of each store, stopping occasionally to admire a tweed blazer or a cutout display for the latest, grittiest video game. A glossy image of a soldier, uniform muddy and gun cocked to unseen enemies. I'd seen dozens of iterations of him before. I stood there, lingering, pretending I was examining the display when really I was watching the people inside.

It's astounding how much you could observe from there. Watching strangers from behind glass, the air thick with a hum from the nearby food court. Thin paper wrappers soaked in grease crinkling on top of tables. A thousand conversations. It never used to be so busy here. So loud.

A raking noise caught my attention then, if only because the sound was so distinct from the cacophony. Ktchhh. Ktchhhh. High-pitched and dragging, so sudden that it made my hair raise and my spine tingle from the small of my back up between my shoulders. A sound like that begged curiosity, so I turned to look—

—and saw it, slithering between feet, disappearing into the tangle of legs.

I didn't think much of it. It could have been just a trick of the eye, but when I turned away, I felt something cold puncture the back of my neck and sensed that thing was still there.

In the early evening, on the humid cusp of a starting storm is when I saw it next. I stood on the porch watching the clouds change colour: silver to grey, green to black, monstrous innards coiling in the belly of the heavens. The chattering family inside my house sought refuge behind screen windows left open just an inch—I had installed them to feel the breeze roll in on those ending days when I was debilitated, sitting in my chair, bones aching—and I stewed in the whimsy that this would have made a lovely evening. Then the window closed. The glass sealed and cut off the lifeline of conversation I was clinging to from outside.

I was growing lonely anyway, and the rain was starting to fall. Narrow beads hitting like pinpricks, warm and wet; it was time to go back inside.

When I stepped through the threshold, the lights flickered. My eyes traveled along the plaster white ceiling to the light fixture, which trembled in the cadence of the storm. The lights should not flicker so much, I remembered thinking; I rewired the entranceway only four years ago. I stood there in front of the door, pondering, watching as the filament inside each bulb glowed and ebbed. A shatter of thunder suddenly rocked the house—and exhaled the room into dead darkness.

A chill blew in from the belly of the storm. It tickled the metal slat in the door and raked the nails of tree branches across the windows. I searched for the voices of the family to gauge their response to the blackout, but they weren't there. The sounds were dulled. All I could hear was the onslaught of rain, the peal of thunder bouncing between my thoughts. I looked at the staircase ahead of me that was supposed to lead to a familiar second floor, to my bedroom, and his bedroom, and her bedroom—but a pair of dark legs stood at the top instead. Eclipsed by the ceiling and backlit in the snap of white lightning, I saw only its feet. Black and gnarled, human and not human and dripping.

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