horror by Gerri Leen
The rain fell in sheets, as if the heavens were trying to drown the city. Sarah ran to the corner, searched the oncoming traffic for a cab. Two raced by her, their roof lights darkened, fares warm and dry within.
Sarah turned, backing into the crosswalk and slipping, and a car honked as she tried to correct. She fell, cold wetness soaking into her pants from the rain-drenched pavement. The car went around her, the window opening just long enough for the driver to call her a crazy bitch.
Crazy was letting the thing that stood looking at her catch her.
She scrambled to her feet and ran. She covered two blocks, as fast as she’d ever run, and then she bent over, hands on her thighs, breathing hard.
“Mommy?” This time the voice was ahead of her, and Sarah looked up slowly, peering through her sodden hair to see Emily.
“You’re dead,” Sarah said, and took off the way she’d come, afraid to run through whatever the thing that was pretending to be Emily was. Afraid to find out that it wasn’t a ghost, wasn’t a figment of her imagination, wasn’t too much stress or not enough sleep.
She didn’t want to find out it was really Emily because Emily was dead. Emily had gotten sick and died, in Sarah’s arms, on the way to the hospital. In a cab that had stopped to pick her up, the way none of the ones passing now would. The driver had taken her all the way to the roundabout and the sliding doors; he’d waited while she keened and rocked and wouldn’t give the people from the emergency room her little girl.
Her little girl who was dead.
Sarah turned and there Emily was, light brown curls not wet despite the rain, yellow dress dry as a bone.
“You’re not real.”
“I am. You wanted me back.”
That was true. She wanted her back. She’d prayed for her to come back. She’d gone to that woman, the one in East Village, the scary one with the snakes and the black candles.
“It’s natural, what I do,” the woman had said when Sarah had backed away from the terrariums full of reptiles. “It’s not evil. Don’t be afraid.”
Sarah had handed over her money. She’d let the woman cut her. She’d held the snake. The one with brown and yellow scales, Sarah’s blood smearing over them, her blood not seeming to bother the snake, its tongue flicking out at nothing as it had slithered out of her hands and around the woman’s neck.
“You’ll be with your daughter again,” the woman had said, and the snake’s tongue had flicked in and out as she spoke.
Sarah had fled.
“It’s me, Mommy.” Emily walked up to her, took her hand in hers.
For a moment, there was only joy. For a moment, she was certain this was Emily, come back to her. And then coldness flooded Sarah, and the rain seemed to stop falling on them.
“You wanted me back, Mommy.”
“I did.” Her hand where Emily held on was falling asleep, a pins and needles feeling streaming up her arm, into her shoulder, to her neck.
“I can’t come back, Mommy. Some things aren’t allowed.” Emily smiled and it was a sweet smile, a dear smile. The smile of her little girl.
She heard again the wail of the sirens from ambulances trying to get past the cab in that roundabout in front of the emergency room, as she’d held her little girl, as the doctors and nurses had tried to pry Emily free.
“I can’t come back. But we can be together.”
Sarah sank down, the same way she had that night, when they’d finally wrestled Emily away from her. She sank down and felt her heart beating hard and fast as coldness dipped down from her neck, into her chest, on to her gut. Her head hurt.
“Need a doctor.”
She’d told Emily she would get her to the hospital. And she had, she’d gotten her to the hospital. She just hadn’t gotten her there alive.
Her body felt frozen. Her legs were cramping and she slid flat, lying on ground that should feel cold, that should feel wet. The only thing that felt cold was her, and Emily’s hand.
She heard a person; they sounded so far away. Then she realized they were talking to her.
“Yes,” they said. “Yes, I’ll get you help.”
Her little girl’s grip tightened.
“Let me go, Emily.”
“No, Mommy.” Her daughter’s tongue flicked in and out.
It was not a cab that came this time. It was an ambulance. It would get her to the hospital. It would.
So what if her dead daughter was sitting next to her on the ride? So what if she was smiling down at her, singing a song that sounded like the wind and the waves–or like a snake slithering over leather? So what if the EMT reached through Emily every time he checked Sarah’s vitals?
“Are we there yet?” Sarah asked the EMT.
“Almost,” he and Emily said together.
Copyright July 2010 by Gerri Leen
Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia, but originally hails from Seattle. You can find her stories in such places as: Sword and Sorceress XXIII, Return to Luna, Triangulation: Dark Glass, Footprints, Sails & Sorcery, Origins, Desolate Places, and GlassFire. Look for her upcoming collection of short stories, Life Without Crows, in early 2010 from Hadley Rille Books. See what else she’s up to at Gerri Leen’s Virtual Abode.