Something was off with her footsteps. They sounded wrong. Jessica could not place why. She wandered, mostly bare legs moving through the subtle air-conditioning breeze, and her long silk shirt hung over her shorts.
“Hey, mom, are you home?” she asked, then stood ultra-still, and waited for some indication of a living being.
All she got in response was a light noise, something that might have been the house settling. She listened harder, but her own heart thudded out any other sounds she might have been able to latch onto easily.
“Anyone here? I’m armed.”
With slow steps, she went into the kitchen and got out the largest knife she could find. From another drawer, she grabbed a hammer—prepared to duke it out with any potential serial killers. She’d seen the movies, and they would never expect a thick hammer to the head.
Jessica took an experimental step, and this time she was certain of it. Her footfalls were echoing. Doubled. A perfect synch, but still noticeable. Someone or something was matching her motions.
Again, she recalled the movies. Jessica liked scary movies. And, in those movies, they always jumped out at the last second from somewhere. A window, behind a door, under the bed—a closet even. She would not be that idiot. With a quick glance around, she unlocked her phone, held the knife and hammer in one hand, and sunk into the corner of the kitchen.
The linoleum was cold, and a bit dirty, and uncomfortably hard with her bare knees touching the floor as she kneeled. Nothing yet had happened. Another second passed, her listening, trying to convince herself that it was all in her head. That was her way of dealing with strong issues: hope to God they did not really exist.
Most of the time, that worked. Worked surprisingly well. But, this time, a hard creak sounded, and Jessica pursed her lips.
She swore, mostly in her own head, and dialed. The phone let out little pinging sounds as her fingers struck the touchscreen keys. She winced. Nothing came barreling into the room. Nothing moved at all. She leaned to peer down a hallway, trying to think of an attack strategy. If an assault came from some mask-wearing monster, she would go for the head or the balls. No playing around, no running and tripping, none of that shit—Jessica was not going down today.
The phone clicked again, and she whispered into it, “Hello…?”
The voice seemed to pause, taking in the information and implications from that whisper. Not a robotic worker, thank God. “Hello,” came the quiet reply. “Hold on, I’m tracking your location. Do you have something to defend yourself?”
“Okay, stay on the line if you can.”
Jessica did not process it immediately, but the girl on the other end seemed to be her age going off the voice. She imagined herself sitting there, with a frightened girl on the line, and she wondered if she would be that calm about things.
“I’m sending someone, it won’t be more than a few minutes.”
Jessica nodded but did not dare to speak aloud again. Then, a noise somewhere. Little motions: light and fast. Coming at her, she was so sure of it. She gripped her weapons, harder, waiting, ready to hit and stab something.
The sound then stopped. Right outside the closest door. A heavy pause hung in the air. Rather than risk the phone girl saying anything and making even tiny noises, she hung up on her and pocketed back the phone. Only a few minutes left, she’d said. Jessica could manage on her own.
The ground, that area, beyond the door, was shiny wood. The living room couch prominent past it. The tile floor, she had to imagine, would reflect her stressed face if only someone had bothered to clean it.
A foot, she was so sure of this too, would slam down over the doorframe. She kept her eyes riveted to that spot, waiting, body tense. Knife and hammer. A perfect surprises-free location. Police on the way, and aware she was in trouble.
This asshole, no matter how big he was, was not going to get a chance to do in Jessica.
Another creak, somewhere in the house, like it was settling. Like a weight was sitting and waiting. Then, distinct breathing. Unplaced.
Jessica swallowed back a bite of panic and stood back up from her kneel. It was not advantageous to be on her knees when the monster came for her. She would more likely win if she had a chance to really fight.
“I know you’re there,” she said when the tenseness could not grow anymore without her screaming from the internal pressure. “Come on out, you coward.”
The breathing increased, sounding almost aroused. From a deep turn-on, that fiery, pulsing, oxygen-sucking must have come. Jessica’s stomach churned at the thought of what this creep might do if he was not about to get a knife right in the stomach.
Her eyes narrowed. “I said come on out!”
The coolness took a second to process: kind of heavy, wet, and cold. Her body, in its entirety, had a small thrum. Her heart slowed, in that moment, and she tried to piece together the sudden stimuli. When her gaze dropped to her neck, she found something pink wrapped around it. A further sight dangled in the corner of her eye, and she tilted her head up to see that same grooved pink line flowing to the ceiling.
The red inside flesh exposed to the air. Teeth snapped shut, one going into her eye, but most incisors simply cleaving through the skull and cracking bits of her jawbone.
The hammer hit the ground a few seconds faster than the knife, but both made a noise like cracking thunder. Her body did not sound nearly as loud, but did drop as well, her once pretty face utterly shredded.
Uncoiling itself from the ceiling, the gangly serpentine creature walked on the wall and went toward the new heat signatures approaching the house.