's 2019 Horror Write-off:

A Child's Determination

Submitted by Shakara

“Azubah?” Jada paused at the well, holding the bucket close.

“Aye?” I looked up from my loom. Jada be my brother, and is finnicky. Tis his nature, but he is good.

“Someone comes.” He pointed to the sandy dunes.

“Could be a traveller.” I returned to my weaving, ready to make another robe.

Jada squinted. “I do not recognise them.”

“Aye? People travel.”

“They… They have no pack. No bottles of water!” He nearly dropped the bucket. “Do you think they’re hurt?”

I walked toward the dunes, holding my lantern. Seeing them now, I could see they were a woman. But with no desert robe or a mule. Had they… had they walked the entire time?

I felt sick and, despite the heat, cold.

“Are you alright?” I immediately feared for disease or madness.

“I’m fine, thank you.” She seemed almost in a trance. But, she was joyous, despite her pale skin. She looked thin. Very thin.

“Who are you?”

“Imogen.” She stretched out her hand. I shook it. It was like ice. I held up my lantern.

I swear, she looked almost dead. Her skin sickly sallow, waxen, eyes dimly white.

“Christ, you look like a corpse!” I blurted. “C-Come with me, we have food--”

“No, I have to get home, you see.” She didn’t even sound worried, despite her position. I’d seen desert sickness before.

“My child and I must get home.”

“Child?” I began to panic. She’d walked the lonely dunes with a child? “Where?” Her arms were empty. For a moment, I assumed she was hallucinating.

“Angel.” She pointed to her shoulder and I saw a darkened hand curl around it. Not dark as in tanned, but… like graphite. Thin. Mummified.

“My dear baby, Angel.” She cooed, as if she couldn’t see the same thing. The hand curled about her neck, sharp nails drawing blood as she giggled, the wound immediately scabbing but not healing over. The arm was long. Much too long. Was I hallucinating?

“Jada? Bring water.”

He came forward, bucket at the ready. He froze mid-stride as his eyes fell upon the thing squatting atop her shoulders. It sat behind her head, gripping her braided hair.

“What…?” He dropped the bucket and the water was sucked up by the sands.

“Don’t worry.” Imogen spoke, the dark hands weaving through her hair. “I just have to get to the airport, as I must get home. My family is waiting.” She smiled a lazy smile, free of all cares.

Jada crossed himself. I lifted my rosary and started to pray. The thing behind her head hissed, the air filled with the smell of burnt myrrh and rotten flowers. Jada began to weep, clutching to my dress. I held out my rosary cross out like a shield, watching as Imogen walked down the dune, past our town and into the horizon. And all the while, that thing on her shoulders laughed, raking through her braided hair.

I vomited into the sand as I saw it gouge its hands into her head, red dripping with black.