I thought today was going to be like every other day. I went to school. I stumbled along from period to period as usual. Things were normal. At least until fifth period. That’s when I saw him.
He was new, today had to be his first day. I would remember him being in this class. Especially since he had a very distinct look about him. He was lanky, his shaggy brown hair flopped all over his head as he played dodgeball like the rest of us. He was the last one on the opposing team. He reminded me of an animal almost, the way he chose a target and stalked them until just the right moment to strike. Something was feral about him. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.
When he finally got knocked out, we all piled onto the court to play again. He didn’t move from the benches, he sat with his elbows on his knees, catching his breath. He didn’t rejoin the game. I kept stealing peeks over at him, watching him as he watched everyone else. I couldn’t help it. There was something about him that just felt odd to me. Although I hadn’t properly met him, it was almost as if my brain was telling me to stay away. But that only made me more curious about him.
I got knocked out quickly and sat down across the gym from him. When I sat down, I realized his eyes were now on me. I looked away as fast as I could, my cheeks and ears burning hot. My brown hair was in a tight ponytail unable to shield my face like it usually would. My eyes watered with embarrassment. I didn’t look up or at him for the rest of the class.
As I walked through the hoard of students to my next class, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I quickened my pace. I felt as if I were being stalked in the hallway.
“You were staring at me.” I looked to my left, startled. The kid from gym walked in sync next to me. It was like he materialized out of thin air. I jumped away from him. Where did he even come from?
“Um… I’m sorry?” I said. I clutched my bookbag straps.
“I saw you staring at me in gym,” he said again.
“Oh, sorry, you’re just…”
“The new guy, yeah I know. I’m Landon.”
“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled. “Nora.” It was a lie. I wanted to run as far away from this dude as I possibly could. Something was off about him.
“I noticed you don’t really talk to anyone, in our gym class anyways,” he said. He stared into my face.
I narrowed my eyes at him and shrugged my shoulders. “And?”
“We could be friends?” he suggested.
“I have friends,” I snapped. I hated how this guy was making it sound like I was all alone. Why was he singling me out anyway? There was a ton of loners in this place.
He held his hands up in surrender. “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. In gym you seemed lonely.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“Okay…Anyways, I just moved here from Lingletown High, and I don’t know where anything is. Could you tell me how to get to the art rooms?”
Why was he still talking to me? The nervousness I felt initially was quickly turning into annoyance.
“Down the hall, back the way we came. Turn right when you see the trophy cases,” I said.
“Thanks,” he muttered. He went to turn around and his face blurred. I blinked hard. He no longer had any hair. His pale skin was now dark red and looked burnt or scarred, almost like Freddy Krueger. His once blue eyes were now a yellow gold. I gasped and backed away, looking around to see if anyone else saw. No one seemed to notice his sudden change in appearance. When I looked back at him, he was back to normal. My heart was racing, my palms were slick with sweat. He was staring at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“I… have to go,” I said and quickly walked the other way.
That night I laid in bed. Maybe he just moved too quickly for me to actually see. It’s not like his face could actually change like that. It wasn’t possible. And if it did, someone else would have seen it…right?
Every time I closed my eyes, I saw that face. It leaked into my dreams. Tormenting me. In my sleep, I was in the woods. It was as if something was calling to me, pulling me deeper and deeper into the thick forest. Shadows danced along the outskirts of my vision, weaving through the trees. With each step I took I felt as though whatever was calling me was leading me to an untimely end. I crept further and further into the forest. As I got closer to what I thought might be my destination, my heart beat quickened. I swallowed hard and stepped through some trees. I just caught a glimpse of Landon’s face when I jolted awake.
I didn’t know where I was. All around me was pitch black. My toes curled in the loose dirt below my feet. When my eyes adjusted, I realized I was in the woods. I still had my pajamas on and was standing in the middle of massive trees. A shiver went through me, and I held my arms tight to my chest making my way back through the woods.
As I walked along, I noticed the grasshoppers stopped chirping. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end again. The woods went dead silent. I kept moving, hyper aware of the snapping twigs and rustling leaves behind me. It was the only noise in the entire woods it seemed, beside my own steps.
When the noises behind me started speeding up, I took off in a dead run. I didn’t know if I was running in the right direction, but I prayed I was heading back toward my house. As I ran, I heard them going faster and faster. I could feel them gaining on me. It was as if they were looming over me, threatening to consume me if I didn’t get away. I pushed myself harder until finally I broke through the tree line into the street. The street was lit. The feeling of being chased subsided. When I looked back at the trees, nothing revealed itself but shadows.
Night after night, the dream repeated. Each time, the exact moment I step into the clearing and see Landon’s demon face, I startle awake. And each time, I’m deeper and deeper into the woods. Whatever is chasing me gets closer each night too, almost catching me. It’s claws just passing by me or catching my pj’s right as I break through the trees.
Then, when I get to school, Landon is there, watching me. Every time I pass him in the hall, his eyes are on me. In gym, he stays close hovering over me. It’s like he knows about the nightmares somehow. His eyes look at me like escaped prey. He keeps to himself, never really talking to anyone else. He watches me as I watch him, waiting for him to show his true face again to confirm it was real. That same feeling I have in the woods is always there when he’s around. I am hyper aware of him, always making sure I know where he is.
I decided to look up his old school. I wanted to learn more about him and maybe why he left his previous town. I searched and searched until finally, I found an article. Landon was named the prime suspect in the murder of his girlfriend, but not enough evidence was found. He had been released quickly. She was found, surprise surprise, deep in the woods. No wonder he moved. The whole town though he was guilty. And from the dreams I’ve been having and seeing his true face, I would guess he was guilty too.
There was a knock on my door, and I jumped. My mom pushed it slightly open. She had her work uniform on.
“Nora? Are you okay?” she asked. “You’ve been holed up in here for hours.”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Okay…I have to work the night shift again. Are you going to be okay? I know I’ve been working a lot of overnights. I can call and ask your dad to pick you up. You can stay at his place if you don’t want to be here by yourself.”
Dad has been MIA too lately. He was usually home mostly for work, but his boss has been bringing him out into the field more lately.
I shook my head. “He’s out of town, I talked to him earlier.”
“Oh okay, he didn’t let me know.”
“He said they told him last minute.”
“Well, do you want any of your friends to stay with you?” she asked, hopeful.
“Mom, I’m fine,” I promised. And I was. Well, I was going to be.
“Okay, I love you, see you in the morning.” She smiled slightly, then walked out.
I turned back to my computer. I read the article over and over again. I was not going to be like his ex-girlfriend. Tonight, I was going to be prepared.
I attempted to stay awake all night, but exhaustion was setting in. I put my running shoes on and grabbed a knife from the kitchen, securing it to my ankle.
The dream was the same as every night. I walked through the silent woods until I reached the clearing. When I finally stepped through, I woke up. This time I was actually in the clearing though. It was lit up by the moonlight. Landon was crouched in the middle of it. His shaggy hair reaching his eyes. His head was tilted to the right, watching me.
“You’ve been avoiding me for days,” he said.
“So, it is you bringing me here and chasing me when I wake up,” I said. I knew it was. For the first couple nights, I thought I was losing my mind. I had hoped it was a sleepwalking phase that I would eventually break out of.
He smirked and stood up. “Well, of course.”
“Why don’t you show me your true face?” I asked.
“I’ll show you what I want to show you.”
“You wanted me to see your face the first day?”
“Of course,” he said again. “I needed us to be linked so I could get in your head and lead you here. You were a lot stronger-minded than I anticipated. I think this time you let me lead you all the way here.”
“Of course,” I copied. “I needed to make sure I wasn’t crazy.”
He inched closer and closer to me. My breath quickened. He was going to try to kill me.
“Why are you doing this?”
“You were so alone. I figured you’d probably be better off. I mean, it’s not like there’s many people to miss you. I doubt the student body would even notice you were gone. You lied by the way.”
My eyes watered. He was just trying to get in my head. Make me weak. “I didn’t lie.”
“You don’t have any friends, Nora. You did lie. But it’s okay. It made my job much easier. Although, getting your parents out of the way so they didn’t notice was a little more difficult.”
He pounced before I could comprehend what was happening. I was on the ground, and he was on top of me. His face was the same demon face I had seen at school. He was completely different now though. His whole body was larger, more animal-like. Up close, it looked like he had no layer of skin. The bare muscles were exposed. He had long limbs. His hands were shaped into dangerous claws that ripped through my clothes and punctured the skin. The metallic smell of blood was overwhelming. His yellow eyes rolled to the back of his head as he took a deep breath, in complete bliss.
I scrambled for the knife as he loomed over me. His lower jaw elongated, giving me a glimpse of a bunch of sharp teeth. His long tongue shot out and licked at the spilled blood on my right arm.
“I’ve been waiting for this,” he hissed.
Finally, my hand wrapped around the hilt of the knife. I pulled it loose, slicing myself in the process, and brought my arm up. I wrapped my arms around Landon as if in an embrace and brought the knife down hard, stabbing him through the shoulder.
He shrieked and staggered back, knocking the knife out of my hand in the process. I lunged for it, scrambling on the ground. Just as I reached it, Landon grabbed my foot, dragging me backward. I kicked at him until finally making contact and he let go.
On my hands and knees, I crawled to the knife. I had it in my hand just as he jumped on me again. I twisted to my back, bringing my hand up in an uppercut and stabbing him through the jaw, into his head. He collapsed, knocking the wind out of me. I scrambled out from under him without waiting to recover, bringing my knife with me. I stabbed him again and again in the back until my hands and arms were covered in splatters of his blood and I was breathless. Once I was convinced that he wasn’t getting up I ran back through the woods. I was hyperventilating. I killed him. I actually killed someone…or something. Whatever Landon was, he was dead now. I stumbled through the woods until I broke through. I put my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath and then ran the rest of the way home.
I showered the blood off myself and bandaged my wounds, then climbed back into bed. I was too scared to go to sleep, afraid that I would wake up in the woods again.
I laid there until the sky turned light again, then went out for a walk. I went right back to the woods. I stood at the edge of the tree line for a long time, expecting Landon or whatever he turned into, to come out and snatch me up. He never did.
I decided to just go make sure he was dead for myself. I took a deep breath and stepped into the woods. Unlike the night before, the birds sang their songs as I went. The rustling of leaves echoed through the trees. This time, it wasn’t a sinister feeling and when I looked back a small animal was always jumping away.
It was surprisingly easy to find my way back to the clearing, despite being there only in the dark. I stayed back a bit and gauged the situation. All was silent. I stepped up closer to where I thought Landon’s body had fallen.
My heart sunk when I found the clearing empty. I ran to where he had dropped. There was no body, the only indication that anything happened was the torn-up grass and pool of blood that stained it.
No, no, no. I looked around wildly. A blood trail led across the clearing. I followed it until I found the knife, right at the edge of the trees. The trail of blood went into the woods and disappeared. I backed away cautiously all the way across the grass. When I was certain he was nowhere to be seen, I took off at a dead run back through the woods.
I was just about to break through to the road when I felt it, the undeniable prickle of someone’s eyes on me. The birds were silent again. He was there, watching like he has been for days.
When I got to the street, I turned around. A pair of yellow eyes stared back at me from the darkness of the trees. I stumbled back, tripping over the curb. He was still alive…and he wasn’t going to give up.