Hideout


"How long do we have to stay here?"

It was a question they all had asked themselves, at one point or another. Kimasa was the first to voice the thought aloud, her soft words breaching the unnatural hush that had fallen over the group. A few of the young, nestled close to the wall, whimpered. Janau eyed the huddle of children, quiet despite the other girl's question hanging in the air. No one dared breathed a response, eyes bloodshot and skin clammy.

The dark-skinned girl frowned as she wiped her sweaty palms across the torn, dirty knees of her jeans. Janau sat upright, listening to the soft, whispering sound of movement outside of their cramped hideyhole. The others stilled, almost as if fearing their very movements would alert the outsiders of their presence.

Janau closed her eyes, exhaling slowly.

"Come out, little children," a soft, sibilant voice hissed. The silky words seemed to slip through the cracks in the wall, to drift upon them like mist seeping through rotting wood. There was a moment of silence, and then a voice: "We smell you, little things. The salt of your skin, the tang of your fear. Come out, little children, for we will find you."

The adults pressed their hands over the children's mouths, their long, dark faces blanched as white as the moon outside. Janau ran her hands through her curly hair, fingers catching on the black knots. She curled into her knees, thighs pressed tight against her middle as she sent a silent prayer to the heavens. Prayed for mercy, for a quick end, for a savior to rescue them, for a painless death. She prayed, even though, deep within, she knew no one was coming.

So she hunkered low, fingers grazing the muddy floor as the door across the room began to rattle in its frame. The young and old tried to scramble away in silence, but their labored breath and broken sobs were startlingly loud. Her fingers closed around the neck of a glass bottle, the broken fragments biting at her fingers as she plucked the bottle off the ground.

She hunched into herself as the ancient wood of the door splintered.

The metal hinges bent, protesting against their abuse.

When the door broke, the others screamed and cried. Janau stayed quiet, tucked into a corner as one of the others scattered. She heard clothing tear, saw the red substance of life splatter across the mud-slick floor.

She breathed, slowly, as panic bloomed across the room.

When she felt a shadow fall over her, saw the scaly hand reaching for her...

Janau reacted.

She swung, hard. Broken glass bit into black-and-red flesh. Most shattered on impact with the scales but some fought for purchase within the soft skin between the rough, crescent-shaped plates. Rivulets of silver blood flew, splattering both her and the surrounding area. The creature reared back with a scream, quick and violent in its movements.

Janau moved, diving past the creature and through the broken doorway. Behind her, it screamed in rage and pain.

Behind her, it screamed in rage and pain. "Run, she-child! This one will hunt you. This one will consume you!"

She didn't pause, didn't stop. She raced up the steps, tore through the old hallways, and shot outside. In the distance, Janau heard the others screaming. The children's panicked cries filled the air even as she felt a presence closing in on her. Tears filled her eyes as she crossed the field, vision blurring as her hair billowed behind her like a black, cresting wave. The monster howled and hissed, voice echoing loud in the darkness.

She reached the forest. Within it, she found a glimmer of hope.

Behind her, the hideout burned.