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m.j. claire

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Nightsweats in Bigelow Hollow
by m.j. claire   

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ISBN-10:  1935367005 Type: 

Copyright:  2009 ISBN-13:  9781935367000

March Books

A midnight walk turns into much more for college student, Kelly Black

Kelly had always been brave; the kind of brave that is more heart than smart. Not exactly reckless, she just wasn’t prone to over-thinking her options. Tonight was no exception.

Looking around the deserted park, that she had walked through a thousand times before, she debated taking a different route. Cutting through this secluded area was so much faster than going around.

The moon was full, casting a silver glow over the surrounding landscape. The wind danced through the trees to low sonorous tones. Moonlight painted eerie patterns of shadow through the night skies. Nonetheless, Kelly was bone tired; all she wanted to do was get back to her apartment and go to bed. Just like that, her decision was made.

Thinking about her parents and how horrible things were since the divorce, Kelly was distracted but she wasn’t so preoccupied that she failed to see the furtive shadow off to her right. ‘It’s probably your own,’ Kelly chided herself. But no, the moon was at her back. Her shadow was preceding her. Slowing her pace, she glanced to her right. “Is anyone there?” This was foolish. It was Halloween after all. This was just a case of the heebie jeebies, nothing more.

She supposed it wouldn’t hurt to pick up the pace a little. Kelly accelerated her steps in an attempt to catch up with her wildly beating heart. There was a rustle of leaves. A shadow appeared on the path before her. She pulled up abruptly, releasing a shrill squeak, followed by a chuckle. Kelly placed her hands on her thighs. She paused, for a minute, to catch her breath.

“Oh my God, you scared me,” The small figure before her gave no response. “No offense, but you’re the last thing I need tonight.”

The jet black cat sat calmly. Kelly approached to pick it up. The animal waited until she was inches away. Then, claws extended, it swiped.

Three bright red lines appeared across the back of her hand. “Shhhhh....t,” Kelly hissed, grabbing it to her chest.

The cat vanished like a warm breath on a cool morning. It was hard to believe that it had been there at all. But Kelly had the proof. She looked at the three tracks on her hand as they bloomed, bright red, with blood. “Stupid cat,” she muttered, starting on her way again.

Kelly’s thoughts returned to her father and her situation at school. She didn’t know how she was going to come up with next semester’s tuition. Kelly was already working full-time at the bakery. That was in addition to her full-time schedule at Bigelow Community College. From Bigelow, she hoped to transfer to State, then on to school for Veterinary Medicine. Some vet she’d make, she couldn’t even handle one measly cat. But none of that really mattered. If Kelly didn’t fall into some money soon, she’d be out of school. The thought of being stuck at the bakery for good was not a pleasant one.

Bigelow Hollow was a great place to live, but job opportunities were few and far between. Of course Kelly could always take the easy way out. All she needed to do was side with the devil. Maybe that was being a little harsh…maybe.

Two years into her parents’ divorce, Kelly felt like a T-bone steak tossed into a pit with a couple of rabid hounds. As much as she loved her father, she just couldn’t accept his actions. Of course both of her parents had made mistakes, but it was her father’s affair that had put the final nails in the marriage coffin. Now, in a desperate attempt to get her support, he was dangling her tuition before her like a carrot on a stick. All Kelly had to do was take his side. It was blackmail, plain and simple. Kelly didn’t like ultimatums, they made her cranky.

She stopped short, listening intently. There it was again. It was as subtle as a heartbeat. It was barely audible, like the sound of someone breathing.

“Hello, is anyone there?” Kelly hated hearing the quiver in her voice. The crack of a twig and a rustle of branches were the only reply. “Is that you, Kitty?” Even as she said it, Kelly’s brain was unable to accept that as a rationalization. There was another rustle of leaves. Now she was fully convinced that this was no cat, not unless it had somehow gained 200 pounds. Whatever was in those woods was big. It sounded as if it was coming right toward her.

Kelly turned, hurrying along the trail. Immediately, the noise from the brush became louder, more urgent. Kelly yelped, tucking her head down. She started running. “Help, help!”

The trail was dark with shadow, but Kelly enjoyed the luxury of familiarity. Many a quiet afternoon had been spent in this park. She knew every rock and root on this path. Running with this confidence, she headed for the gate. Still, the sounds from the brush increased. They seemed to be getting closer with every step.

Kelly glanced over her shoulder, disrupting her concentration. The distraction caused her to catch her foot on a tree root. She flailed wildly in an attempt to recapture her balance. It was too late. She was going down. Kelly executed what would have been a beautiful dive; had there been water. There wasn’t even enough time to try to break her fall with her hands.

Kelly took the fall face first. Her neck slammed into her spine with wicked force.

She lay there for a second, stunned. Footsteps approached. They were accompanied by the sound of labored breathing.

“Help,” she intoned feebly. Kelly rolled over, pushing herself backwards in an awkward crab like movement.

A low growl emanated from the woods - much too close. Kelly wildly scrambled to get to her feet. Her back screamed as she spun around, hitting the trail running. Headlong, toward the park’s rear entrance, she raced.

‘If I hadn’t had to sell my car to pay last semester’s tuition, I wouldn’t be in this mess’, Kelly thought. It always seemed to come back to her father. Maybe he’d regret his emotional blackmail when he had to come to identify her body at the morgue.

Why couldn’t anyone hear her? It was Halloween after all. Someone should be in the park still. It wasn’t much past 11 p.m.

This couldn’t be happening! Bad things just didn’t happen in quiet little Bigelow Hollow. About 30 feet from the park’s rear entrance, Kelly saw it. She paused for a second in horror. It was an effort to process what she was seeing. The back entrance to the park was closed. ‘This gate is never closed, what’s going on here?’

The cast iron gate was topped with vicious looking spikes. Even if Kelly was a good climber, which she wasn’t, she wouldn’t attempt going over that. Kelly only weighed 105 pounds, if she leaned to the right when she got on the scale. Even so, the bars were much too close together to squeeze through.

Her only option was to go back the way she had come. Turning back on the path, she hugged the side farthest from whatever was making its way through the woods.

Suddenly, a huge figure, obscured by shadow, materialized on the path in front of her. It was ill defined in the darkness cast by the trees. Kelly could sense its size. Whatever, or whoever, this was, it was huge.

She had no choice. Diving into the woods, she ran blindly. A few yards in, she ran headlong into a young birch. Ricocheting off of the tree, like the metal sphere in a pinball game, she lost control. The momentum spun Kelly around, knocking her over. It sent her sprawling over the edge of the ravine. Then she was falling, and falling, and falling...

Kelly hit the ground with a thud. The air whooshed out of her lungs. Her head slammed back with a hollow thump. It was the sound of a wooden floor. ‘What the heck?’ She extended her arms in an attempt to still the feeling of vertigo, grabbing a handful of shag rug. ‘Hey!’ It was the throw rug in her bedroom. Kelly rolled over, trying to extract herself from the jumble of bedclothes wrapped around her legs. A wave of relief washed over her. It had just been a dream, Technicolor maybe, but still, just a dream.

She got up, going to the mirror in the bathroom. There were dark circles under her eyes, but everything else looked okay. Starting to leave the bathroom, she paused for a moment, lifting and tilting her chin. There, along her jaw line, was a smudge of dirt. ‘This wasn’t possible’.

If this was all just a dream then where did the dirt come from? Why did her neck feel like a compressed accordion? Kelly looked down at her hand. Three angry red scratches stared back at her. She reached up to turn the light over the vanity on, noticing a small shadow in the mirror’s reflection. There, black as onyx and as still as a marble statue, was the black cat. It sat there, serenely, perched on the edge of her bureau. Worse still, the darn thing seemed to be grinning at her.

“No way,” Kelly said, under her breath. She turned on the taps, filling her hands with water. She splashed her face, oblivious to the moisture soaking through her shirt. When Kelly looked back at the mirror, the cat was gone. She stumbled back to her bed, snagging her comforter off the floor with one hand.

Kelly lay down on the bed, curling into a tight ball, while pulling the comforter close around her body. Things would look better in the morning. She was sure of it. In the distance, she heard a faint meow, as if in agreement. Then there was silence.

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