Maternal Instinct

Story by
Neha Dhunna
Artwork by
Cole Webber
Read by
Julz LaBrash

“I still don’t understand why we’re here. This is the last place I’d want to be spending my summer vacation,” she whines to her mother, “No one has been here in ages. It looks like a dump.”

“EMILY, that’s exactly why we’re here! We need to fix this place up for when your grandmother comes back from the hospital. You know she wants to move back here,” her mother responds feigning excitement in her voice, but unable to hide the weariness. Lately, she hadn’t been feeling well, just like her mother. All the things she left behind here…

Her mother hides the tear that wells at the sight of the old cabin.

Emily steps inside the isolated home. No other form of life is visible for another 5 miles or so. There must be bugs crawling about in here; mites, spiders. But you can’t see them. They’re food at hiding. Taking in the putrid smell of the rotting house, she climbs up the stairs to look around.

Deeper into the hallway she finds four doors; one leading to the bathroom, two bedrooms, and – the last one locked.

She claims the one on her left as her own bedroom. Being hers, she starts by cleaning through the old dusty boxes like looted treasure. But there’s nothing good. Just old cook books and recipe cards, mostly. Old baby toys, though they seem like they should be eaten through, like the rest of the place. Must have been her mother’s. By the time she finishes the sun has set and the sky gleams with spreading fingers of darkness.

Heading down the stairs to tell her mother of her day’s accomplishments, she stops suddenly, as the air fills with a blood curdling scream. Oddly enough, the sound was of a foreign voice, more like that of a child then her mother.

She runs down the stairs. “Mom, did you hear that?”

But, in return, all she receives is silence for an answer.

She searches the entire house but her mother is nowhere in sight. Looking through the front window, she finds that her mother’s car has also disappeared. A long orange glow from the light of the porch is all that’s left on the gravel and sand.

The back door creaks open, and Emily slowly walks towards the kitchen, grabbing a knife at the same time. She peers from behind the wall through the narrow corridor to the rusty white back door. She can’t hear, she can’t move. It’s as if time freezes. A trail of blood is smeared, clawing, out the door. A red handprint beckons on the white surface, shuttering with the wind, leading out towards the forest. Petrified, yet at the same time aware of the fact that sitting here would do her no good, she grabs a flashlight and follows the trail of blood. It’s wet. Her sneakers move it around, and leave small footprints in the dirt that catch the light shooting out of her shaky hands. “Mom?! Mom?!”

As she walks deeper into the forest, the trail begins to fade. It’s drug, in a line, without footprints. And it leaks to a stop, like something has bled out. But where is it left? There’s no carcass, no nothing.

She hears a faint cry, like a smaller version of her mother’s voice, in the distance. It’s a hiccupping staccato; she cannot tell if it’s laughing or crying. She runs to the sound. As she nears, she finds a little girl sitting on an old tire swing, in a neatly maintained clearing swaying back and forth. Behind her, there’s a shack of sorts, no bigger than a doghouse. And piles of things – leathery, like old boots. Stacks of metal pieces and discarded radios and tires, even piles of clothes. The junk makes a wall around the small gap in the forest.

But still, it’s only a little girl. “Who are you?” Emily whispers. The girl turns to face her and laughs. It’s too familiar. She backs up without realizing. The little girl continues swinging, back and forth, her head craned up and over her neck and back, giggling. It cuts in and out – as if the noise from her throat is not from her. It switches from laughing to crying to screaming, and Emily is unsure of where one ends and one begins.

The sound of a twig cracking makes Emily look back in the direction she had come from. It takes her a moment to notice the face on the motionless, pale figure, standing at attention in the cloud of darkness. But she sees, she knows, it must be – her mother. She runs towards her opening her arms in a wide embrace, hoping to bury herself in her. But the other remains motionless. Not even a blink. She runs, maybe she can shake her awake, but — Emily’s arms go right through her. Stunned, she cannot counter her own momentum, and cascades over a branch. A horrible splintering sound punctuates the white grinding on her ankle. She falls, down further, unaware of the cliff beneath. Her scream echoes through the valley, not to be heard by another soul.

The little girl stumbles over to the edge of the cliff and looks down. “See mom; if I can’t have you then neither can she.”

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