by Nayt Rundquist
The world stopped beating, my heart stopped spinning, when her o so soft lips, her o so soft body pressed into mine. The trees, the dirt, the pinkening sky dissolved, a ruined watercolor forest. Just her, her honeycomb hair, her faint scent of lilacs, pinning me to that tree, swelling until she filled everything. We were eternal in those heartbeats. My ribcage cracked open, swallowed her without chewing.
When we surfaced for air, our breath trailed away tendrils in the too-cold evening. Our fingers twined. We huddled to keep as close to one as possible, the mounting breeze slicing through our light jackets.
Teeth-sharpening crispy leaves set us abuzz, guiding our meandering feet away from that tree we’d always mark as our beginning. The air chilled our lips and eyelids. One mouth hummed tunelessly, and the other arms wrapped us more tightly together. A slow, shambling rustle followed.
One pair of lips murmured back to the first time our fingers touched in the twilit dark of that movie theater, the electricity flickering within our tentative grip. Ecstatic terror flittered before us, the culmination of a dare between horror fanatics. The other flinching bodies and gasping mouths sloughed away, the screen and its frights, chairs, and their occupants blurred into the background, but we remained. Only we. Only the thrill of hands twining in the dark. But nothing we’ve watched in the movies came close to the grotesque that stumbled toward us.
The shriek of metal on metal tore through the purpling sky; clutching tighter, we spun. Almost alive but nearly skeletal, the thing shambled at us, both claws grasping for our bodies, its one milky-green eye drilling hungry into ours. Our legs failed as it tripped our way, flaking skin straining to cover sharp, twisting bones. Putrefying, hollow socket and yawning, nearly toothless maw sucked at our soul stuffs, pulling us nearer. Leaves whipped around us, careening on wind howls, slicing the narrowing space between us and that thing. ’Til one mouth blood-curdled and the other screamed a throat raw. Then bodies flinched, flickered away, sprinting, still clinging together, to life, to some hope of a sane world returned. The cry of a car not-quite-starting on a winter morning followed our ears between trees whose limbs looked more like gnarled fingers than branches. They rattled and clawed as we fled, weaving, re-losing ourselves in the woods.
Breathless, we paused against a new tree or an old one, gasping to top up our lungs. Our palms clammy, gooseflesh racing up our arms and necks and scalps, we slow-mo convinced ourselves we’d just had a waking nightmare. The wind animated tree branches, and they reached for us, swaying and creaking as dusk pushed the sunlight beyond the horizon.
And shadow swallowed the world.
The stench of a skunk scattered across a freeway gave a second warning before brittle knobby fingers clutched at our jackets, scrabbling to reel us in. I yelped and pulled us away, but she slid her fingers from mine, balled them up tight, and rocked them into its jaw. The dry crack was like snapping wood for a bonfire, and it echoed through the shaking skeletal trees.
She snarled, her golden hair haloing in the wind. It stumbled backward, milky eye spinning, searching for focus, jaw dangling off kilter. Heart swelling, racing in my hungry ribcage, I burrowed my hand back into hers, hauling her Amazonian beauty away from the thing. Our panting breaths entangled as I led us back to her car.
A howl swelled up behind us, keeping time with the hammering tempo in my chest, singing to my beat until a pop shattered the night and the wind died.
Nayt Rundquist (they/them) is the Managing Editor of New Rivers Press and teaches publishing, creative writing, and literature courses at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Their writing can be found in The Citron Review, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Up North Lit, Etchings, and anthologized in Unbound: Composing Home. They live just outside of space and time with their artist-jeweler wife and their fifth-dimensional dogs.
Photo by Balazs Kiss on Pexels.com.
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