A Girl in RedMature

Rewrite of a short story from over a year ago:
http://www.protagonize.com/story/a-girl-with-a-red-hood

The girl pulled down the hood of her red jacket, as if it could protect her from the encroaching darkness and the drunken catcalls that followed her across the street.

She was not lost. She was not lost. She was not lost.

The cold had sunk its teeth deep into her bones, and the thin slice of a crescent moon peeked over a horizon of rooftops and tangled branches.

There was no reason for her to fear the darkness, yet her pace quickened every time she found herself under another broken streetlamp. Like a moth, she fluttered from one patch of light to another, stumbling slightly over the hills and valleys of the cracked pavement. The rustle of dead leaves echoed after her in the near-silence.

She could feel something on the back of her exposed neck. The feeling of being watched.

A twig snapped behind her. She whirled around and was met with something heavy and solid.

A sharp cry escaped her, but when she stepped back, she saw that it was merely a man. Only vague features and the outline of his jaw were illuminated, but she could see his eyes clearly. His pale irises caught and reflected the lamplight in a way that turned them into disks of yellow brightness.

“Hello, little girl. And where might you be headed at this time of day?”

She flinched. She had expected a rough and gravelly voice, a frightening voice, but the stranger’s words were as smooth and sweet as honey. There was no malice in his luminous eyes, though they bored into her with an intensity that left her feeling raw and defenseless.

“I’m going to my grandmother’s house.” She clenched and unclenched her icy fists inside her jacket pocket, “I need to deliver her medication. And… I’m lost.”

"I know my way around here.” He smiled. She did not know it was possible for someone could show so much teeth in a smile. “Where does she live?"

“The last house on Grove Street.” she answered. The streetlight above them flickered. The drunken laughter of the men still echoed in the distance.

“That’s only a few blocks away. Just turn right when you reach Cerise Street.” A heavy hand fell on her shoulder, and he turned her bodily towards the right direction. “Go on,” The hand pushed at her, and she stumbled forwards a few steps, “Have a safe journey.”

“Wait,” She turned around, “Are you sure-”

There was no one behind her.

As she stared into the empty street, she could still feel the weight of his palm on her shoulder, and his piercing yellow gaze.

.....

There must’ve been a turn that she missed, a street sign that was lost in the darkness. By the time she had finally found her bearings,  the moon had risen halfway into the sky.

Her grandmother's house stood before her, its windows dark and cobwebbed. With numb fingers, she retrieved the key from under the doormat, but when she attempted to fit it in the lock, she found that the door was already ajar.

The stench of mildew and rotting wood rose to greet her as always, and this time the sharp scent of rust accompanied it. The house offered no shelter from the cold, and the wind seeped through the crevasses of the ancient walls.

But that didn’t matter for now. She had decided to finish the rest of her errands tomorrow morning. A walk home in the dark was a lesser evil than a night spent on the floor of this dilapidated shack. She tossed the bottles of medication on the kitchen table and turned to leave.

A heavy thump came from the bedroom. And then a hoarse voice, "Come here, darling."

“Grandma, I’m going home. I’ll be back in the morning.”

Instead of a response,  a fit of wet coughing came from the bedroom, followed by a noise that shouldn’t be coming out of any human.

Dammit.

She picked her way through the cramped and cluttered hallway. There was a new, dark stain on one of the walls, as stain that she’ll have to clean up, sooner or later. The bedroom door still refused to open more than halfway, but she managed to slip through the narrow opening.

The room was shrouded in darkness, except for the weak patch of moonlight that streamed through the open window.

She moved to turn the lights , but instead of a switch, her fingers found a gaping hole in the wall.

“Grandma?”

No one responded. The house was silent except for the creaks and groans of the old walls and the howling of the wind as it blew through a crack in the window.

Her instincts wanted to drag her screaming out of the house, but she couldn’t help moving closer to the bed.

She hadn’t noticed her hands were shaking until she reached for the lamp on the bedside table. It took a moment for her to grasp the chain and pull.

Light flooded the room, and she immediately wished she had stayed in the darkness.

There were heavy stains of dark red on the walls, mangled remains scattered across the floor, and a terrible face... Was it even a face? The amalgam of teeth and fur that awaited her on the bed was not anything that should exist in this world. Jagged edges of what was supposed to be a mouth stretched open, and a voice as smooth and sweet as poisoned honey spoke to her.

“What big eyes you have, my dear.”

She stumbled backwards, her fingers scrabbling against the door. Her hand touched something stringy and viscid clinging to the doorknob.

She finally screamed.

The misshapen figure rising out from the bed was neither man nor beast. It was made of spines that were tearing through bloodstained bedsheets. It was of barbs and serrated shadows, exposed bones and matted fur. It was two pinpoints of yellow brightness that held her gaze in a vice-like grip.

All her will was being torn away from her, limb by frozen limb. She could not run. She could not hide from that excruciating gaze that tore into her shuddering soul. She could only watch in horrified silence as it clawed its way towards her.

Its jaws opened impossibly wide, and its hot rancid breath scorched her face . Rows of dripping teeth stretched before her and she could not scream. She could not scream as her bones twisted and snapped, as her skin peeled back and her flesh was turned into ribbons, as the room became awash in red.

At least she will never scream again.

The End

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