I know the dream. Darkness surrounds me. A hollow wind whistles from above. Haunting tones rise and fall from one minor note to another. I’m lost in the vastness of nothing, the darkness of nowhere. I search for the light. There must be light somewhere.
The shadows fade. A small girl slumbers, lying across the back seat of a car. Still in sleep, she pulls a ragged teddy bear close to her cheek.
I try to bring myself out of it. I can’t watch. Not again. Seeing two familiar figures sitting in front, my heart seems to stop.
The man holds the steering wheel tightly, eyeing the dark forests lining the road. In almost a maniacal way. The woman twists and tugs at the locket around her neck. She moves her eyes from her wringing hands, to the wet highway ahead of them, finally resting on the little girl sleeping soundly behind her.
“We won’t be able to explain this away.” The man speaks in a deep, gentle voice. Large drops of rain patter against the windshield.
The woman nods. “I know. I think it might be time…” She pauses. Her eyes dim. Her back arches unnaturally. A lifeless look in her eye, but the man doesn't notice. He never even looks her way.
I try uselessly to push myself away.
Minutes pass, but finally the woman’s fingers twitch. The color floods her face. She sounds a garbled cry. With a shuddering voice, she whispers, “They know where we are. They’re coming.”
The engine protests as the man flattens the accelerator. Everything outside darkens into a black blur of looming silhouettes.
The woman turns to her daughter, now awake and waiting still. Their eyes lock. The little girl’s smile morphs into a sleepy yawn. The woman opens her mouth, but nothing comes.
A green light explodes across the horizon. Crashing, it illuminates the darkness with an eerie tint. The squealing brakes force the car to a jolting stop at the edge of the road.
The man and woman leap from the car. Their dark figures meet, huddled in the pouring rain. The man takes his wife’s shoulders, pointing to the black forest rising up beside them. The woman shakes her head, over and over. Tears fill her eyes.
“You have to go on ahead. I will be okay.” The man’s voice only touches the cracking thunder. His gaze falls to his daughter, pushing her door open and sliding from the car. She stands soaking wet, still clutching tightly to her ragged bear. The man sighs, “It isn’t me they want.” The woman follows her husband’s eyes.
“We’ll meet you at the cave.” She keeps her face to the ground. “Just be there, alright?” Taking the little girl’s hand, she pulls them off the road, down a muddy slope, and toward the darkness of the trees. Never looking back.
They enter the forest, and a wet chill clings to their skin. The woman tightens her grip around her daughter’s hand. Everything around them stands dark and looming.
A soft gleam of moonlight leads them to a tight clearing. A long, shrieking howl echoes from somewhere up ahead. The little girl draws close to her mom.
The woman’s body stiffens. Her eyes glaze over.
The girl tugs on her mother’s arm. “Mommy?”
The woman’s eyes flutter. She turns in circles, maniacally searching the darkness. As if suddenly realizing her daughter, she tries to smile. Kneeling on a patch of frozen mud, her eyes are level with her little girl’s.
“How much do you love me pumpkin?” The woman’s eyes again fill with tears
Her daughter smiles. It’s a game they play, and she knows what to say. “I love you up to the moon and back down again… a bazillion times.”
Something of a sob or squeal sounds from the woman’s throat. “What would you do for me?”
The little girl pauses before answering, searching her mother’s eyes. “I’d do anything for you.”
The woman brushes back a stray hair from her daughter’s face. “Okay, because I really need you to.” Something stirs in the trees. The woman jumps, but does not turn. “I need you to go on ahead without me. Straight ahead, there’s a cave. You’ll be safe there.”
The girl opens her mouth to protest, but her mother hurries on. “I’ll be right behind you, pumpkin.” She stops. A sigh escapes her parted lips. She brushes a finger against her daughter’s cheek. “No matter what you discover, just remember. I did what I did to protect you.”
The little girl trembles. “I can’t leave you.”
Here in the wood, the rain is silent. Nothing stirs. Only the sound of their hushed voices carries into the air, their labored breaths.
The woman swallows hard. “You can’t stay with me right now, sweetie. I have to do something. But once it’s done, I’ll find you. I promise.” The woman’s fingers move to the locket around her neck. Slowly, hands shaking, she unclasps the chain.
She secures it quickly around her daughter’s throat, though something like a cry erupts from her chest.
“Make me a promise, Sylls.” The woman’s voice is hardly a whisper. “Promise me. You’ll never take it off. No matter what happens, you’ll wear it always. Until I can find you. Promise me.”
The little girl looks from her mother to the locket, and nods slowly.
A strange glow filters through the trees. The woman turns. And when she speaks, her voice is flat, emotionless. “You have to go now.”
The little girl doesn’t move; she can’t. A howl echoes through the wood. The woman turns back to her quivering child. “Go!” She doesn’t raise her voice, but it echoes powerfully.
The girl stumbles as she turns. And she runs, not knowing what else she can do.
Acidic tears eat at her skin. She sprints recklessly through the trees, tripping over every stone and branch that crosses her path. Hours seem to pass before breaking through the last of the branches. A wide, grassy meadow sits at her feet.
A single scream shatters the stillness. It echoes through the night air for an eternity. The little girl falls to the dewy grass, rubbing the frozen ground against her cheek.
She searches for tears, but they don’t come. Nothing’s there, only emptiness. She waits silently as a breeze picks up against the leaves. No words said, no shots fired, no blood spilt. And yet…
I jump awake. Strange sounds, soft whispers, a deafening hum. I sit up, searching the space around me before realizing my circumstances. Wheezing gasps fill the silence. And I realize they sound from my chest. I lower into my seat. Beads of sweat inch down my face, into my eyes. I lean against the window. The icy glass cools my forehead. And I shut my eyes, forcing two hot tears down my cheeks.
The plane lurches, rousing several passengers from their sleep. Looking down, I realize my fingers have found their way up my neck. They cling tightly to a red jeweled locket, glimmering softly in the cabin lighting. And I try to steady my pulsing heart. As I cling tightly to the locket I’ve always worn. The locket I’d kept close to my heart… ever since that night.