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Run, Little Girls, Run

Evil Will Find You in the Darkness

By A. J. SchoenfeldPublished 29 days ago Updated 29 days ago 10 min read
Run, Little Girls, Run
Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

When I was grown up I wasn't scared like this. But today I'm small again, a little girl just six years old playing with my best friend Jess, her sisters, and mine. It seems like a typical summer day with the sunlight streaming through the front window and bathing the five of us in warmth as we laugh together with our Barbies spread out around their living room. But my heart is pounding in my ears, my mouth feels dry, and the little hairs prickle along the back of my neck whispering to me of unseen peril. I try to focus on the fun we're having, but I can feel the danger lurking close by.

There aren't any adults here, I realize with a concern belying my tender age. Why did all the grown ups leave five little girls all alone here? Something about this feels familiar and terrifying, as though I've lived through it a hundred times before. We should get out of here; it's not safe. I'm just about to tell my friends when the room becomes dark as though a giant shadow has blotted out the sun.

“They found us,” nine year old Emma whispers, her brown eyes growing wide behind the round glasses perched on her button nose.

Now I remember. Our friends hadn't just moved here two years ago, they fled here. There were bad men after them, hunting them. And now, the monsters had found their prey.

I hear the door fly open in a splintering of wood and shattering of glass. Heavy footfalls pound up the half flight of stairs toward the living room where we played. We all jump to our feet, ready to run, but after just two steps someone yanks forcefully on my curly blond ponytail dragging me from my feet. Something black is pulled over my eyes and I choke on the pungent chemical fumes of plastic.

I'm curled in a tight ball within the confines of a thick, black trash bag. I push against the sides, clawing with my fingers to break free. But my nails have been chewed down to useless stubs.

I have to get out.

I can't move.

I'm stuck.

I'm trapped.

My breathing comes in panicked sobs. In desperation I attempt to tear a hole with my teeth, but the plastic forms a tight seal around my nose and mouth, stealing the oxygen from my searing lungs. I can't pull my face away from the suffocating plastic and I feel my eyes start to burn with tears.

Just as I'm sure I'm about to die, a slash of light breaks through the black. The seal is broken and a flood of sweet air fills my lungs. I see a small hand reach through the slit to tear the bag open and reveal nine year old Emma, Jess’s oldest sister, with a small pocket knife clutched in her fist. The murky living room is now barely lighter than the pitch darkness of the trash bag. Emma puts her finger against her lips, signaling for me to stay quiet as she hands me a second pocket knife and points to one of the three other bags containing my sister and hers.

I can hear the men downstairs, tossing furniture as they search for something. Once they find it, they'll be back for us. We have to be quick. My hands are shaking as I carefully slice into the bag and tear it away from four year old Grace. She looks up at me with brown eyes full of terror that fades to relief as she recognizes me. I help her get untangled from the remnants of the bag and look over to see Emma has already freed my big sister and the two are tearing the plastic away from Jess.

Without a word, Emma leads us through the kitchen and out the sliding door. I'm sure there used to be stairs to this deck, but today the wooden platform has no way down. Grace starts crying, trying her best to stifle her terrified sobs and Jess wraps a comforting arm around her little sister. I look to my older sister who is whispering with Emma. They both nod and then Emma boosts Angie up so she can climb onto the wooden railing and from there she scrambles onto the roof of the garage. Emma helps Jess onto the railing next then the two of us lift Grace up so Jess and Angie can help her climb over to the roof. As Emma bends down to give me a boost, we hear a triumphant shout from the basement. The men have found what they were looking for and they'll be coming back for us now. With my heart pounding in my throat, I scurry quickly onto the railing. Jess and I steady ourselves with one hand on the edge of the garage gutter as we each reach down with the other hand to help Emma climb up. Just as the three of us make it onto the roof we hear an angry roar from inside. They've discovered we've escaped.

Angie leads the way to the edge of the garage roof where there's just a small gap between it and the roof of the neighbor's shed. She leaps over with her usual gracefulness and Jess easily follows after. Emma and I each take one of Grace's arms to swing her across the gap, then I remember trying to escape this way before. Last time, Angie and Jess fell when they caught Grace, breaking a hole in the roof of the shed with a loud crash, injuring all three of them, and leading the men right to us.

“Wait,” I whisper. “This won’t work.” There’s got to be another way. “See if there’s wood in the shed we can use to make a bridge for Grace.”

Angie slides over the edge of the roof and disappears from sight. A few moments later a plank of wood comes into view and Jess carefully pulls it up and lays it over the gap. She and Emma each hold one end still as I help Grace shuffle over. Emma follows and we help each other down from the top of the shed.

Angie isn't waiting for us there, but beckons us from the bottom of the neighbor's deck steps. We race to her, hopeful someone inside is going to help us.

“I tried knocking,” Angie sighs. “But no one answered.”

“No one's home,” I remember, once again with growing dread in the pit of my stomach. We've tried this before. There won't be anyone home at any of the eleven houses on our little dead end street. We're on our own. “It's just us. All our neighbors are gone.” I wonder to myself why they all abandoned us when we needed them most.

Emma looks back toward the sinister dark outline of her house. We can hear the men rustling through the bushes and trees in the yard. “We've got to get to your home.” She whispers resolutely. “It's the only place we will be safe.”

“But if we try to cross the street, they'll see us. They'll catch us before we get there.” Jess shakes her head.

But Emma and Angie smile knowingly, “No, we're not going to run across the street. We're going to play Hide-n-seek-in-the-dark.”

Fortunately, the sun is gone completely now and it's darker than a moonless night out here. Years of playing Hide-n-seek-in-the-dark along this street has given us the advantage. We can move like unseen shadows and already know the best places to hide as well as the secret ways to get from here to my back porch without being seen. Plus, Angie and Emma always win. They've got some secret the rest of us don't.

Together they lead us over the wooden fence and to the back of the empty lot next to the neighbor's yard. Crouched behind a cluster of overgrown weeds they start running their hands over the cinder block wall until they find a loose brick and push it out. In the deafening silence that has settled on the abandoned street, the scratching of stone against stone cries out like a beacon of betrayal drawing the attention of the men like a pack of hungry wolves. We can hear their footsteps on the sidewalk at the front of the lot. Without a second thought, one by one we squeeze through the tiny gap, scraping our arms, faces, and knees in our haste. While Emma and Angie push the brick back into place, I look around in wonder at my surroundings.

I'm sure there should be a playground here in the backyard of a preschool. But there's no swing set or monkey bars. As far as I can see in the near blackness, there's nothing but rows of corn. Somehow we've ended up in the field behind our home that should be on the other side of the street. Despite the clear discrepancy, I quickly accept this as plausible remembering in the recesses of my memory having escaped this way several times before.

“Wait,” I grab Angie's arm as she begins leading us into the field, recalling all the times one of us got separated and lost in the tall stalks of corn. “We should hold hands so we stay together.”

Hand in hand we wind our way, cringing at the inevitable crunching of dried leaves that rings through the silence. It seems to take eons while simultaneously occurring in the blink of an eye. I hope Angie knows where she is going. I know we've done this before, echoes of hundreds of memories push around inside my mind, but I just can't recall if we ever found our way to safety.

“Stop!” Emma whispers urgently from the back. “Listen.”

We all hold as still as we can, barely daring to take a breath. I can feel Grace shivering next to me, whether from the cold, fear, or both, I'm not sure. In the distance behind us I hear the telltale crunch of dried stalks being crushed. Then from the left and a few seconds later from the right, comes the same audible omen of pursuit. The men have spread out and surrounded us.

“Run,” Emma commands.

Angie is quick to follow orders, breaking into a sprint and pulling all of us behind her. As we race over the uneven ground, cornstalks reach out and slash at my bare arms and legs, beating against them and sometimes slicing through my skin. Without warning, Emma yanks forcefully on my hand and pulls me away from Grace. A second tug pulls Emma's hand out of my own as I crash down to the ground, landing face first with a mouthful of dirt. To my right I can hear the distant sound of corn stalks rustling as the other three get further and further away. If I get up now, I will be able to follow the sound and get home to safety. But I've done that before, and we never saw Emma again. I can't do that this time. I can't reward her for saving us by sacrificing her to these monsters.

Fortunately, I still have the knife she gave me and I pull it free from my pocket. Quietly, I creep back through the corn until I see two dark shadows struggling. The smaller is putting up a ferocious fight, but is no match for the monster attacking her. With all my strength, I lunge to her rescue, slashing wildly with the knife. Her captor roars in agony releasing his grip. She grasps my hand tightly and we sprint away.

Finally, we break through the edge of the corn rows and are welcomed by the comforting sight of my backyard. Even in my panicked state I wonder how we found our way. But the impossibility of the situation is quickly pushed away by the sheer relief. Angie beckons us from the open sliding door and we fly up the three little steps and through the door. As Emma slams it shut behind her, we are surrounded by the blindingly bright afternoon light that fills my kitchen. The shadow that had blotted out the sun has passed, the terror that had gripped my heart fades away. With a collective sigh of relief we all acknowledge that now we are home we are safe.

It's the first time we've all made it but as I look at my friends I see none of us had come through unscathed. We are all covered in cuts and scratches that will leave permanent scars. Emma's are by far the worst. She looks at us in utter shame, trying to hide where her clothes have been torn and soaked in crimson blood. But she's not a little girl anymore, none of us are. We're grown, adults with children of our own and still the scars are fresh, some even continue to bleed freely. Unable to face the rest of us, bearing blame that isn't hers, Emma turns away and vanishes into thin air.

I sit up in bed, shaken by the terror of the nightmare I thought I had left in my childhood. I had escaped those men night after night, racing through the darkness with my best friends, so many times. The dreams slowly faded over the years and I hadn't faced that terror in over two decades. But tonight, for the first time, I understand.

My friends had been followed here by a very bad man, just one. A monster who had preyed on us little girls in that dark house. A monster who was being released from prison next month after nineteen years. Emma had always tried to protect the rest of us, in the only way a nine year old knows how. Her bravery was the only thing that finally brought the nightmare to an end.

And none of us ever thanked her.


About the Creator

A. J. Schoenfeld

I only write about the real world. But if you look close enough, you'll see there's magic hiding in plain sight everywhere.

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Comments (1)

  • Rachel Deeming29 days ago

    That was intense! Great descriptions and that dream state that veers between lucidity and the fragmentation of realism was wonderfully done.

A. J. SchoenfeldWritten by A. J. Schoenfeld

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