The sparkly silver stars shimmered in the dim light against a soft background of pink cloth. My hands gently brushed the unique bedspread as I tucked a smiling enraptured child into bed for the night.
"…then all the princess's wishes came true and she lived happily ever after, the end."
The drowsy little girl stretched her arms as a large yawn escaped from her tiny, fragile body. She was barely able to move from all the thick sheets that were pulled tightly over her. The only window in the room was opened slightly so that a gentle nighttime breeze could sweep across the child's hot cheeks. Her silky blonde hair was pulled into a messy bun and the straying wisps of hair created a real life halo on top of her sweaty head.
I made a mental picture of her, hoping she could give me strength for what I was about to do. I caressed her reddened cheek with the back of my hand and held her tight to me.
"But, but did she rescue the pony? What about the little singing rabbits?" she asked me, her voice barely above a whisper.
"She saved them all, baby. Remember? The princess took the fairy's magic wand and whisked them all away to a beautiful castle," I said.
I forced my lips to spread into a smile as I smoothed out the lovely nighttime decorated bedspread one last time.
"Now off to sleep, I'll see you in the morning," I kissed her again on her wet forehead and turned off the lamp on the nightstand.
The once peaceful, pale blue colored bedroom fell into darkness and a worrisome frown yanked at the corners of my mouth. The darkness seemed too dark; the silence was too quiet. I could feel my blood pressure rising to dangerous levels in brewing anticipation. I could see the dark corners of the room shifting; making shapes, and it took all my effort not to scream.
"Cassie?" her small voice reached my ears.
I hadn't realized that I had closed my eyes and that my hand had clutched onto the bedroom doorframe. My knuckles were turning white. Maybe she hadn't noticed.
"Yeah, hun?" I said, my voice strained.
"I forgot to tell you I love you…lots," she said, her voice fading toward the end as she started falling asleep.
"I love you too Clare, lots" I said, before turning quickly on my heel and rushing down to our kitchen with a renewed motivation that burned like blue fire.
When I reached the kitchen, I grabbed my keys off of the counter and unlocked the front door to my right. I paused under the open doorway to take one last glance around. All the lights were off, all the windows were shut, and our only fireplace was roaring with orange and red flames. Satisfied, I closed the door and locked both of its locks before heading out onto the damp street.
My sneakers squeaked with each of my steps and every rubbery sound penetrated the surrounding darkness. The street lamps casted an eerie glow across the pavement and every now and then they would flicker off. The houses I passed started out small, standing at only one story high with cheap plastic and metal fencing. The colors of the houses varied from faded blue to pale brown to dull green. The lawns of the houses were either overgrown with weeds and dandelions or littered with children's toys that were never put away.
As I continued to walk, my arms crossed to conserve warmth, I counted the numbers of lampposts I passed. It helped keep my mind off of what I needed to do and prevent myself from turning back around in the opposite direction.
I paused; I could have sworn that I heard footsteps behind me, echoing in the darkness. Just keep moving Cassidy, I told myself.
There it was again. I instantly turned around and was faced with a dark and empty sidewalk. Okay, just my imagination, I thought, just keep moving.
The footsteps started again. I paused, but the sounds of footsteps continued and then a loud sneeze from behind me interrupted the nighttime silence. I broke into an instant run.
I needed to shake this person off of my trail so I swiftly sprinted onto a small side street that I used to take when I was walking home from school as a child. Mrs. Dud's Great Dane the size of a boulder began to bark and howl at me as I ran by its resting place on her front lawn.
I could almost hear Mrs. Dud's scratched and gravelly voice, "What now you old mutt? One day Imma set you loose on those hooligan teens causing havoc…"
But even over the devil dog's barks and the old woman's ranting, I could still hear those bone chilling footsteps of my pursuer. My blood was pounding relentlessly in my eardrums as my legs burned from the strain of running and my heels ached from pounding against pavement.
I saw the end of the street open up and I decided to make a sharp left by the old dry cleaners. Then I made a quick right over a family's fencing and through their lawn only to hop over the other side of fencing and into another's backyard. I decided to make a right back onto the side road and continued to run straight along it in order to head into town. I silently prayed that my little detour threw off whoever was following me.
Even at such a late time of night the little town was bustling with people either walking around and laughing or happily leaving restaurants fully satiated. I almost envied them. No, I did envy them. They lived without a single care in the world, without the fear of not being able to stay afloat or the anxiety of not knowing whether or not there would be food on your plate by dinnertime.
My pace did not falter for an instant as I pummeled through pedestrians like Moses parting the seas. At the end of the block I was on, I made a left by my favorite Dunkin Donuts. I knew that I was then only about a minute away from my destination and I could no longer hear those ominous footsteps. But, nevertheless, my heart would not slow down in its rapid beating.
The streetlights began to thin out again and the stores began to dwindle in size and distance from each other until more houses took their place. Though these houses were not those pale and dilapidated ranch style types with toys in the front yard and grass growing in the gaps. These homes ranged from two to four stories tall with beautiful front porches and fresh-looking coats of paint or primer. They shined in the dull light from the crescent moon or maybe from the streetlamps. It was hard to tell from the sweat dripping into my eyes. I fought the urge to hunch over for breath, as my panting grew deeper and heavier.
The ground started to become steeper with each step I took and at the very peak of the hill I could just manage to see the biggest house on the block. It was a six-story mansion that was lit up in thousands of lights that made it appear even more beautiful than when touched by daylight. A four-inch thick, eight-foot tall, platinum plated, electronic fence surrounded the property. A "Danger; Electrified" sign was bolted to the fencing and for once in my life…I believed it.
At the entrance of the gate, there was a tiny, unimpressive plastic box that read "intercom" on the side. I pressed its small white button and almost immediately a snooty, bored tone of voice blasted through the speakers.
"Yes? State your name and purpose," said that haughty, feminine voice.
"My name is Cassidy Pent and I'm here to…" I started to answer, but I was cut off by the rough sound of the heavy gates opening.
With the last bits of my energy, I pushed my exhaust-riddled legs down the cobbled red stone pathway to the front doors of the mansion. The doors towered over me by at least two stories. It took all of my effort not to bend over and give myself a few minutes to catch my breath from running. I smashed my hand against the doorbell and pounded on the dark mahogany doors.
After a few minutes of waiting outside in the chilly air, I decided to indulge my second thoughts and leave as quickly as possible. Just as my back turned, I heard the giant doors creak open, which sent my blood running cold and a shiver down my spine.
An image of Clare's angelic face flashed into my mind, forcing my breath to catch in my throat on reflex. She needed me to be strong and that was exactly what I would be for her.
So I turned around.