A short story by Saph Dodd

I wake up confused and in a setting I don't recognize. Immediately, I sit up, alert and awake, with a dull ache in the back of my head. I'm in the very back of an SUV, all of the windows rolled up, and it's dark outside.

Carefully looking around, I climb over into the back seat, then stretch into the front. I hit the "unlock" button and hear the doors click. Slowly, making sure no one is standing outside of the vehicle, I exit through the passenger side back door.

When I'm outside, I take a look around. There's a large, white farmhouse with green shutters, an old pickup truck, a cornfield behind me, and a forest surrounding it all. I've never been here, and I try to remember where I was before.

I was walking home when a middle-aged man in tattered clothing asked me for a dollar or two so he could eat, and as I turned to get my wallet out of my purse, someone struck me over the head with something hard.

That's all I can recall.

Just now I notice the dark-green front door opening and without waiting to see who comes out, I make a mad dash for the cornfield. It seems the easiest place to hide.

"She's out! She went that way!" I hear a man's voice call as I disappear into the stalks.

I can see flashlights move overhead but I just push further into the field until I reach the far corner. Then I crouch low and allow the corn to hide me from view, my heart pounding in my chest. I cover my mouth to keep my ragged breathing as quiet as possible and strain to hear the loud rustling of my pursuers.

There is nothing but silence. And then I hear from across the field, "This way, dad!"

So it's a man and his father.

I watch the flashlights vanish into the woods on the opposite side of the field from me. Though I feel rooted to the spot and would be content to hide here forever, I know it won't get me farther from my captors or any closer to home.

So I dart into the forest to my left. Autumn has left the ground covered in treacherous, crunchy brown and gray leaves. I have no choice but to run through them, my boots making all kinds of racket.

It isn't long before I hear another set of footsteps shuffling through the leaves. Two sets of footsteps. How did they catch up to me so fast?

Looking around frantically, I spot an evergreen pine and hoist myself into the crook of the first branch. I scramble up the trunk faster than I've ever climbed a tree in my life. Then I hold on tight and stop breathing to keep them from hearing me pant.

They pass by below me, two rather large men carrying flashlights and rifles, wearing ball caps. They stop just a few feet from my tree and I think I might wet myself with fear. I'm not a religious person, but I am begging whatever god or gods above to make these two keep going.

Don't look up. I think, my lungs burning for air. But I dare not draw breath, lest they hear me.

"Let's continue east. She can't have gotten far." The younger one says, and at last they move.

I breathe in deep, sputtering and gasping. I feel like crying, I'm so scared.

What do these men want with me? Why did they bring me out here? My clothes haven't been torn or disheveled, but that doesn't mean that they weren't planning to assault me at some point.

Remembering the rifles, I climb out of the tree and wonder why they would kill me now instead of earlier when I was unconscious if that's what they planned on doing all along.

Since they went east, I go west. The woods are eerie and disorienting, and I jump at every shadow.

I try to calm myself but it's no use – I'm too on edge.

I can see light between the trees now – a house? I run towards it, feeling relief wash over me. But my hope is shattered when I realize it's the back porch light of the farmhouse. How is this possible? I went in the complete opposite direction of it. Perhaps I got turned around somehow?

I stand at the edge of the forest and think, looking to the trees beyond the other side of the yard. Deciding to take my chance, I start running for it.

"Hey!" a woman's voice stops me in my tracks. "What are you doing out here, Anna? Your father and grandpa told you to stray inside."

My name is not Anna. But as I turn to see the woman, I find that she's wearing a bandage over her eyes. Her mousy brown hair is pulled into a bun and her yellow dress has an apron tied around the waist.

"Well, don't just stand there. It's time for your bath." She turns to go back inside, and I have to follow because I've been caught.

Hopefully she doesn't realize I'm not her daughter. I silently enter the house, once again praying to a higher power for my safety.

The interior of the house is dark; I can make out the shapes of furniture as we pass what I assume is the living room and ascend a staircase. Upstairs there are sever rooms with closed doors. The woman stops in front of one and opens it, standing aside so I can enter.

It's a bathroom with white and black tiles on the floor, a claw-footed tub filled with steamy, soapy water, and of course a toilet on the other side of the sink. The rugs and shower curtain are light blue, as well as the hand towels on the towel rack. A dolphin shaped soap dispenser sits on the counter.

"Well, hurry up and get in, child!" the woman chides.

Even though she can't see me, I still feel vulnerable as I peel off my clothes, setting them aside so I can quickly grab them again.

I climb into the tub, unsure of what else to do, and make sounds like I'm washing myself. The woman seems satisfied with this and leaves, closing the door behind her.

I leap out onto the rug, dripping and shivering – leaving the warm water for the embrace of the cold air is a shock.

Drying off in a rush, I throw my sweater, skirt, and thigh highs back on and lace up my boots.

Now I just have to get out of here. Slowly, I open the door and peek out into the hall, hoping the woman doesn't run into her actual daughter.

The hallway is empty. I leave the bathroom and make my way towards the stairs. Just as I reach them, I hear a step creak and freeze. The woman is coming up, I duck into the nearest door, closing it behind me silently.

The room is obviously a child's – there's a twin-sized canopy bed draped in pink lace, the walls are pink as well, a white dresser stands across from me, and a toy chest is at the foot of the bed.

I go further into the room, and notice a dollhouse in the corner. There are rag dolls on some shelves by the windows and the only liht is provided by the moon through them.

I stop in front of a white fireplace with a mirror mounted over it. Seeing my terrified expression gives me a start. My disheveled bright-red hair is in a bun that is trying to fall down and my deep-brown eyes appear almost black in the darkness.

I now look to the mantle of the fireplace, where a couple of porcelain dolls dressed all in lace sit, as well as a really nice blue and white china urn. A little gold plate is at the tope of it with a name carved into the gold. "Annabelle".

Curious, with a feeling of dread growing in my stomach, I lift the lid on the urn. I find gray dust inside and slam the lid back down. Ashes.

This woman's daughter is dead.

"Anna! Where have you gone?" calls the woman from somewhere close. Her footsteps near the door to the bedroom I'm in and I panic, looking for somewhere to hide. That's when I spot a closet door painted with roses. Rushing over, I pull it closed after me just as bedroom door swings open.

"Are we playing hide and seek? It's a bit late for games," the woman says, entering. I back up in the closet as she gets closer, pushing through dusty little girls' dresses hanging up and expecting to meet a wall. Instead I find a staircase leading up, I slip off my boots, grab them, and quietly pad y way up the steps into what appears to be some sort of attic.

Boxes are piled high on either side of the room and some clothes hang from the rafters. I hear the woman following me up the steps and quickly hide behind a stack of towering boxes. I can see her between the cracks as she feels her way through the attic. She must not come up here often.

My breath is as quiet as I can make with with my hand clamped tightly over my mouth and nose. Hopefully she doesn't hear my heart racing.

"Anna, I know you're there." The woman says loudly. "Come back down and get ready for bed."

She's delusional. Absolutely insane. I hunker down in my little corner.

"Brenda! We can't find the girl!" The men are back from hunting for me, and the woman turns to go downstairs and meet them.

"She's here somewhere! We're playing hide and seek." She calls as she disappears down the steps. I lean against the wall to look out of the small, dusty window.

The two men are coming in from the front yard. I see below their caps that they, too, have bandages over their eyes. What is going on here?

I knock over a box with my elbow and some old photos spill out. I pick up a Polaroid. A little girl with flaxen blonde hair and clear blue eyes wearing a white nightgown is in it. At the bottom of the picture is written in marker "Anna – 1994". How long ago did she die?

Then my foot brushes up against a floral photo album, which has been defaced by black marker. It reads "Before the curse", I think. It was obviously written by someone who couldn't see.

I pick it up and flip through it. Pictures of Anna with the woman and two men fill the book, but their eyes are uncovered. All of the photos are from the mid to late eighties and early nineties.

I close the album and move closer to the window, holding my boots so that my footsteps don't make noise.

Something isn't right with this family. I haven't seen the man who asked me for spare change on the street, so he must've just been a homeless person they hired to distract me while they knocked me out.

It takes a moment, but I'm able to pry the window open. The cool night breeze hits my face. I climb out onto the roof of the porch and carefully move across it. Though I place my feet precisely and slowly, I still hit a loose shingle and slide down, then over the edge.

I hit the ground with a hard thud that knocks the wind out of me. My boots lie at my sides.

In the front porch light, I can see all three of them facing me. The two men still hold rifles.

"There you are." The older one says with an unnerving grin.

I can't move – I'm paralyzed by fear and I think I broke a rib.

In unison, the three of them remove their bandages. I stare in absolute horror: They don't have eyes. They don't even have empty sockets; just smooth skin over where their eyes should be.

Only one question comes to my clouded mind. "Why?"

"Now, Anna, don't you try to run again, or I'll have to shoot you." The younger man says. "Just like last time."