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The Scream

It sees me through the window, deep into the woods.

By Marina FortuñoPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
Second Place in Unexpected Uncovering Challenge
Stock photo: Jaymantri on Pexels

These nights have been restless.

It was supposed to be a relaxing getaway. A romantic getaway.

The waters have been rough between Robert and me in the past months. We've had struggles before, but the last drop was the affair. It was a week before our anniversary when I received the call from my brother Daniel. My husband. Another woman. Before marriage, I promised that I would never forgive a cheater. I was wrong. Leaving him was harder than I thought. He admitted his mistake, and after circling, long conversations, I understood cheating takes two. Now, he is moving land, sea and sky to win me back.

That's why he brought me here. To the woods. Away from the chaos and the sea of people. Away from mortgages, intrusive neighbors and financial worries. Away from marital fights and young actresses. Staying at this rustic little cottage, away from the world. Lost in nature, away from everything. As Robert said it, “a fresh start, away from all problems”. The perfect opportunity for a relaxing and quiet time. If only for two weeks.

But that was not the case.

These days have been anything but relaxing.

Usually, I enjoy autumn evenings like this. Surrounded by trees, with the setting sun and the strokes of bright orange and red in the sky. The leaves dancing on the branches and mimicking the sky colors. The fallen ones covering the ground like a majestic rug, golden and brown. I love autumn nights in nature, fresh, with the sound of the cold wind swooshing through the trees. But not here.

It started six nights ago. A day after we arrived. At midnight.

I told Robert, since that first time, about the maddening sound in the night, the relentless eyes staring from outside my window. “I haven't heard anything. It must be a recurrent nightmare. Are you taking your pills?”, he said yesterday while braising venison on the wooden kitchen counter. I am not a big meat eater, but Robert enjoys hunting. He hasn't cooked for months, so I can’t complain.

Since that day, every night, the same story. The unforgiving screech, all night. Every night. Robert swears he hears nothing. How would the man know? Rarely being in the room at night. He spends most nights in the tiny studio downstairs, working on a project. And me, tiptoeing at the brink of exhaustion. Six nights without sleep. A walking body with a sleeping mind. And tonight, I find myself in yet another battle. Alone. The thing is here. Once again, in the dark, lurking outside my window. Screeching relentlessly. This will not be the seventh sleepless night. “This is war”.

I extend my right arm, but the bed is empty. I call out for Robert twice. Nothing. So, I slip my fleece jacket over my cotton nightgown and take my slippers. Now, I'm rushing to the door, ready to meet my nemesis who is resting on a tree near my window.

“Shoo shooo”. My arms are flapping briskly up and down, but the creature remains still. Staring at me from the tree, as if I were some kind of mad animal. Suddenly, a rush of anger. A slipper slides swiftly out of my foot and into my hand. A projectile in the air flying toward the tree branch.

"Darn it!" It misses its target. A tiny screech. A laugh. “Are you mocking me?”.

***

I feel the crunch of leaves on the ground cracking in crescendo as my legs move faster. Twigs are pricking my left foot. The cold air rubbing fiercely against my face. Running. Wishing I could fly. Still chasing that ghastly creature, with its white wings, cutting through the wind not far ahead of me. After the scene by the tree, the vicious beast flew right to my head flapping its wings against my face. It snatched my slipper and flew away.

“I should have brought Robert’s rifle, then I could to get rid of this creature once and for all”. The nature of my own thoughts hits me. I have never been cruel to animals. On the contrary, I have often pleaded with Robert to stop hunting. But, in this moment, I only feel anger. Mad. Out of my mind. Heated with wrath. I want to be free of this nightmare.

The blur of white flies in the night, swishing like wind through the trees, then out and above the highway nearby, and back into the shelter of the woods. Its wings slowly shift to the sky as it comes to a stop, resting again on a tree branch. Stillness again.

My stride slows down as I struggle to breathe through my nose, to balance my sharp inhales. It takes a moment to recompose myself after running for what felt like a mile. Now, my movements are strategic. Approaching carefully, like a lion hunting its prey, I step towards the selected tree. I can feel its eyes watching me, observing, but the ghost in the night remains motionless. One step, and another. I do not know what I will do, but I feel the urge to move closer. The pull of a magnet.

I stop just before the creature. For a moment, its beauty captures me, ethereal like a magical spirit of the woods, bathed in gentle slivers of moonlight. Amber and obsidian jewels looking into my soul.

For one second, in the woods, I feel peace.

But then, I see it. Even in the darkness, I catch the slightest glimmer in its eye. I know. It’s coming.

Before I can do anything, a shriek echoes in the woods, deafening, from deep within the lungs, passing though the throat and finally out of the mouth. Eyes open wide. But it's not the animal. It's me. My voice comes out as a high-pitched scream, shrill and piercing to the ear. The call of a banshee. A screech like the one that has tormented me the past week. I can feel everything coming out of me. The frustration. The exhaustion. The pain. I feel the stinging in my throat from the effort, but I care not. I could not control it even if I wanted to. I feel possessed. The scream is pouring out of me and I cannot stop.

And yet, the ghost-like figure lies still in its branch. Stunned. Still and shiny, like a Murano glass figurine. Sitting motionless. Not scared, not flying away, only fixing its glistening eyes on mine.

A sudden movement. Silence.

***

A shrill scream in the distance rips him from his sleep. He must have dozed off while drawing his plans in the studio. “What now, Margaret?”, thinks the man stomping toward the main bedroom.

An empty bed, a missing wife.

The sound in the woods. Panic.

Faster than a cheetah, legs fly down the stairs. In a split second, boots, leather gloves and a jacket are in place. A hand takes the hunting rifle standing by the wall. Out the door he runs, not bothering to close it. Into the woods. His breath agitated and sharp as he follows the trail.

He moves fast. There are no other people around this area. Not for miles. It must be her. He must find his wife.

***

The movement of the bird’s wings startled me into silence. After the scream, I can breathe deeper. My chest feels empty. There's a stillness in the air, but a presence remains here. Once again, I find myself locking my eyes on hers. “Hers?”, I think to myself. “What makes you think it's a she?”. It seems irrelevant. But, somehow, it matters. This time I can see more clearly. It may be an illusion, but the creature seems even whiter than before. More magnificent, almost regal, sitting on the branch. I look into those oval eyes again, and I can swear that I see something behind them. Compassion, perhaps.

A light object catches my eye at the base of the tree. My slipper. I lean down to cover my foot again. A truce.

Without a warning, the bird releases another shriek. Then another, and another. Like a fire alarm. Three times. A shock. I feel my blood wash down my face as I clearly hear a single word. A female voice, soft, rich and deep. “Run”.

"Am I imagining this? Am I losing my mind from sleep deprivation?". I can feel blood burning through my veins: adrenaline. And then, another screech. “Run”. There's an urgency in its tone. The voice says it. My heart feels it. My head follows. My pulse echoes...

But my body is frozen in place.

A sudden rustling of the leaves nearby startles me. There's a shift in the air, now dense and heavy. The tiny hairs in the back of my neck rise and a shiver slides down my spine. My toes curl instinctively, and so do my fingers. Then I see him out of the corner of my eye. A shadow in the dark, tall and strong, wearing leather gloves and holding a rifle pointed toward my chest.

“Robert?”

“Margaret”, I hear him say peacefully. More of a statement than a question.

“You came looking for me?”, my heart is almost pounding out of my chest. Something is wrong.

“Of course”, he says, stepping closer. The moonlight showers his face. His eyes seem hard and empty. “It would be a shame if you went missing. I have plans for us”, his voice now colder than the wind. “But, I guess, we can readjust”.

A rifle ready to shoot. A finger sliding on a trigger. An eternal millisecond of stillness.

A ghastly shriek, louder than any that I have heard before, piercing, deafening. A sound coming from the same creature that drove me crazy, so raw, so real. But this time, I welcome it. Robert’s head jerks, the rifle swings away, now pointed up high. This is my chance. My only chance.

“Run”.

As I turn to escape, I hear a shot. The bird.

The familiar cracking of the leaves now becomes more hectic than ever. My legs burn with adrenaline, as I stumble through twigs and trunks. My heart almost exploding out of my chest. I can barely see the ground, but I must keep going. Only the moonlight and a few distant lights from the highway light my path. The highway. Where the bird flew over the road. My only hope.

***

As I sit now by the window, the picture becomes clearer than the glass itself. Signing of papers. Life insurance. Documents. Secretive talks. Side glances and locked drawers. The affair. Hurtful comments. Gaslighting. The map of the woods in the cottage. The romantic getaway.

After getting to safety at the house of my rescuer, Sarah, she and her fiancé, John, convinced me to call the police and report the attempt. My stomach drops even now, with the thought: When the police arrived at the cottage, it was completely empty. Robert, his belongings, and mine, all gone. Vanished into thin air.

As destiny would have it, if Sarah had not been driving to pick up John from a bar across from their hometown, I wouldn't be here. So would be the case if that bird had not haunted my sleep and guided me into the woods.

Destiny was a white barn owl. She saved my life.

-

Thank you for reading! If you liked my writing, you can leave a ♥️ (if you're a Vocal member), a tip, or you can share it with your friends and family. Every bit of support means a lot to me as a writer.

Short Story

About the Creator

Marina Fortuño

I'm a work in progress. I love writing for fun, and a little bit of everything!

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Comments (7)

  • Pamela Williams /Perthena#2476about a year ago

    Congratulations!

  • sleepy draftsabout a year ago

    Wow! This was so gripping! Wonderfully done, and congratulations on your win! 💓

  • Novel Allenabout a year ago

    Dreams are our subconscious leading us in the right direction. We must listen to the little voices and pay heed. Beautifully written story. Bravo for win.

  • Caroline Cravenabout a year ago

    I thought this was fabulous. I love the owl leading her to safety. Great story - well deserved win.

  • Gal Muxabout a year ago

    Chilling well-deserved win .

  • JBazabout a year ago

    Congratulations A well drafted and written story. I enjoyed it very much

  • Babs Iversonabout a year ago

    Congratulations on the win!!!💖💕

Marina FortuñoWritten by Marina Fortuño

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