“Thank you god,” I whispered.
Beside me, Gary wailed. His cries pitched, morphing into an uncoordinated string of mumbled words. Just as my friend began to gather some form of clarity, I opened my mouth. With my hands outstretched before me, held up in a pleading way, I felt a tear grace my cheek. My heart continued to race, just as my legs throbbed dully in their respite. And as a cold strand of perspiration peppered and froze across my brow, I began to cry with tears of joy.
“Lady,” I said, addressing the old woman framed within the doorway.
She looked miniature in comparison and best fit, not for the woods, but perhaps on some desolate farm, nestled between rolling heels and unwavering gusts of heat. Here was a woman, best suited for the Deep South, dressed in a knee-high sundress–a southern belle, well past her prime.
I could picture her, lounging on the porch in glider, sipping homemade lemonade while the Carter Family sang through the speakers of a centuries old turntable. Yeah, I pictured her anywhere but here.
Unfazed by the two of us standing outside her house. She glanced back and forth between Gary and me. Settling her focus on me, she smiled with a slight nod, as though she wished for me to continue. I never noticed that her eyes were too small for her head or that they lacked any solid characteristics and was, as a whole, a dark and solid green.
“You need to help us, please!”
Gary grabbed my arm, tightly. He jerked me backwards a couple of steps and nearly threatened to topple us both. “We need to go,” he begged.
“Chill!” I shouted in response. “Will you just calm down and let me talk?”
“No, let’s get the fuck out of here! It’s her…”
“The woman I wrecked the fucking car over–HER!” He pointed to the old woman standing before us. “I’d rather take my chance with those mutant freaks out there, then here with her.”
The old woman held up her finger, wagging it softly from side to side. “On the contrary,” she said. “It’d be ill-advised to return out there. You see…here, you’re safe. The ragged ones know better than to encroach my property line. You leave…those little monsters are libel to rip you limb from bloody limb, until all that remains is a gnarled stump for them to fornicate.”
Her smile widened, until her lips parted, revealing teeth–sharp and jagged, like broken glass.
“The ragged ones?” I echoed. Such an off-putting name, coupled with those atrocious beasts waiting behind us, brought me to shivers.
“And they will,” she clarified. “Oh yes, you best believe that they’ll fuck you silly. They won’t stop until another victim comes along, or you decay to jelly–whichever comes first, I suppose.”
She smiled, sweet and innocent, unbefitting of the horrid things she had just said. For a moment of naive hopefulness, I held on longer, praying for salvation and rest. Perhaps, with any luck, Gary was mistaken. In hindsight, that was the most idiotic thought ever to cross my mind. As if sensing my uncertainty, the woman turned and spoke directly to me.
“Nate, I regret to inform you, but you and your unruly friend here are now guests at my cottage. And, as a result, I strongly believe that it’s about time the two of you come inside.”
Screw that, I thought.
I shook my head. “No,” I muttered. I spoke, not in defiance of what she had said, but to the crushing blow I felt pummel down upon me.
Gary fell to his knees, crying. He begged to God for whatever favor he could call. I looked down at him, his head buried in his hands, heaving uncontrollably.
“Get up,” I said.
Those two words, backed by my tone, packed enough force to snap him from his funk. He looked up, a bubble of snot bulging from his nostrils. “What?” he asked, looking fearfully up at the old woman in the process.
“I said, get up.”
“We’re not going in there. Not with her. Please, you can’t make me–”
“I’m not,” I said and looked to old woman in her malformed eyes. “We’re leaving.”
The old woman smiled, clacking her fanged teeth together. “We’ll see about that,” she cooed.
In response, the ragged ones in the woods began to growl and scream. The monstrous stampede broke her property line and charged–in seconds they would be on us and this time around, there was no doubt that either of us would make it out alive.
“You’re a bitch,” he screamed at her, competing against their battle cries.
She smiled, remaining silent.
Gary looked back, his eyes wide in horror as the beasts tore down the gravel walkway, trampling flowers and other potted handiwork. I grabbed his shoulder and jerked him upright. Surprisingly, he rose willingly. The monsters were closer now, only a couple of yards away. The flickering light inside the cottage, filtered through the curtained windows, highlighting their grotesque markings. I could see their blackened eyes and rows of needlelike teeth, perfectly.
“I’m sorry buddy,” I said to Gary as I pushed in through the open doorway. The old woman stepped aside. She smiled like a child.
“Me too,” Gary. “Me too…”