Updated: Sep 12, 2022
The Light of Life, So Sweet with Temptation
Chapter 5: The Thing That Goes Bump in the Night
My breath clouded my vision of the many pairs of eyes staring me down, sparkling at the joy of what had just fallen into their laps. Three vessels brimming with light, one of which shone with something a tad more delectable than the rest, were standing just a few feet away from them, practically offering themselves on a plate. Though they didn’t move, it was clear that they were going to go after this lovely buffet, seeing as how it was a rare opportunity. Their gazes never wavered as I allowed the heavy door to close, eventually cutting of their line of sight and their chilly presence.
Matt and Simon had stopped arguing and pulling on me as they watched the door close, having not paid enough attention to what was inside the room versus focusing on myself and each other. They watched as I began to yank the belt from my pants, my fingers nearly failing me as they shook.
“Jasmine?” Simon’s voice was cautious and quiet, watching me through his bleary eyes as I fumbled to pull the belt from my pant loops.
“You two need to go,” I said as I began to wind the belt through the door handles, looping the leather as many times as I could before I began to secure it with its buckle.
“Jasmine, what’s in there? What’s happening?” Matt’s voice was urgent as he yanked the strap from his camera case, winding the strong fabric above my belt to help fortify my makeshift lock.
“Leeches. A lot of them. They’re going to be coming after us, so we need to go.”
“I thought you said these things don’t travel together?” Matt looked at me with wide eyes, trying to think back on every conversation we’ve ever had regarding leeches.
“They don’t. They’ve never been seen as even being in couples, let alone groups.” We finished our bindings, stepping back to see how they looked. It wasn’t anything special, but leeches aren’t strong, so our quick solution should keep them at bay long enough to escape the sanitorium grounds.
“So we have an unprecedented collection of leeches in a sanitorium where spirits and living people disappear?! Is that what I’m hearing right now,” Matt asked, grabbing the back of my and Simon’s shirts and pulling us away from the door.
“Trevor’s not missing.” I looked at Matt, who stopped his backwards walk at the sound of my whisper. He looked back to the door, assessing it for a moment before looking back to Simon and I.
“Can we get him?” His expression was nearly blank, waiting to hear my answer before steeling himself with the decision that had to be made. I felt a catch in my throat as I thought back to what I’d seen. His face was so pale, and there had been so much blood staining his clothes and the white tile below him. The light that had once been inside of him had been ripped from his body; devoured by a creature so heinous and putrid and vile that they were cast aside by the other demons of the world. It was not the way to die, and had we been sooner…
“No. He’s gone. He’s been gone.” I watched Matt’s face fall ever so slightly, his emotions pulling at him as well.
“Then we’re leaving.”
I looked back at Simon, whose condition seemed to be getting worse by the minute, before nodding to Matt in agreeance with his decision. I looked back at the door once more, feeling a mix of grief and rage. I had always hated the leeches, but now… the burning in my heart and head made me grit my teeth and made my eyes sting with tears that threatened to blind me from the violence I wanted to inflict upon them. This wasn’t the time, though, and I fought myself internally to focus on getting us to safety.
I grabbed Matt and Simon and pulled them with me as we backed out of the hallway, Simon stumbling along while holding his head, turning the corner to make our way back to the others.
We all turned back, looking at the opening to the hallway we’d just exited.
The noise was loud, reverberating off the walls and down the hallway corridor. I felt my heart seize in my chest.
“Are they ramming the door,” Simon whispered as he leaned against the wall to his right, paling and looking like he was about to fall over.
“Ramming the door requires strategy, and they don’t have higher thought like that,” I whispered back as I grabbed at the two men on either side of me to pull them along again. Simon began to heavily lean on me, and I motioned for Matt to switch places with me so that Simon didn’t fall. As Matt pulled Simon’s arm around his shoulders, a loud crash and wood splintering across a floor could be heard, causing Matt and I to run and drag Simon along with us, who was not doing well at all. Our sprints brought us to the end of the hallway, which we halted at to look behind us for just a moment.
Behind us, waiting at the opposite end of the long corridor, was a leech. It looked at us with its glowing eyes, hunched over with its twisted back while its long arms drug on the ground below its emaciated body. From its mouth a few droplets of light fell, disappearing before they even hit the floor. This had been the leech I’d seen standing over Trevor moments ago. It had left a light source? To chase us down? That didn’t make any sense…
“I’m not seeing anything. Are we good, Jasmine?” Matt looked over to me, wanting confirmation. I opened my mouth to speak, but the leech beat me to it. Opening its mouth, it let out a hellish shriek, causing the three of us to cringe and retreat, our feet moving our bodies in a mechanical way until our brains caught up enough to help them move fluidly. Helping carry Simon, whose full weight was now almost completely upon us, we stumbled away from the leech, trying our best not to trip as we ran.
I looked back for a moment, and found the leech coming after us, stalking us with a speed I’d never seen before. My heart began to beat painfully, and a yelp escaped from my throat. With my free hand, I dug into my back pocket, pulling from it one of the vials of silver and salt. Pulling the cork with my teeth, I plugged the opening with my thumb, keeping an eye of it in my peripherals. The air around us became colder and colder as the leech approached, making it harder to run as icy air assaulted our throats and lungs.
“Are we getting chased by that thing,” Matt yelled as we ran, terror in his voice.
“Just keep running!” I kept looking back as we ran, watching as the leech gained more and more ground on us as we twisted through the halls. My brain was speeding through every possible escape route I could find as we ran, trying to figure out some way to get out of this situation unscathed. As we turned a corner, I saw the door leading to an office that we could escape into, which could give us time to plan an escape and warn the others.
“Matt! Office on the left!” I looked over and saw him acknowledge the open door, angling us to run right for it. I looked back one last time, seeing the leech practically on top of me with its jaw wide open, its rows of mangled and rotting teeth greeting me. I watched as it ran, using its arms to help propel it forward just a little more with every bound it made. Its eyes locked onto mine, staring me down just as it had done when it spotted me in the doorway, which was even more terrifying now that I could see every wrinkle and scar on its face. This leech was determined, and it was not going to stop.
I lifted my thumb from the top of the vial, dumping the contents behind me and hitting the leech square in the face. It shrieked and broke off from us, running into a wall where it then fell to the floor, writhing in agony. We didn’t break stride as the leech squealed in pain, running into the open office where we gently dumped Simon beside a desk and closed the door, barring it with what we could from the inside so that the leech could not easily enter.
“I need to check on Simon. We should be safe now. I got the damn thing right in the face.” I looked to Matt, who breathed a sigh of relief at my statement.
“Good. The thing can go to hell for all I care. Go check on him, I’ve got the door.” He rubbed my head as he caught his breath, incredibly unhappy with the way things had turned out for us from his expression. I turned and knelt down in front of Simon, who was nearly passed out against the desk. Taking out my phone, I turned on the flashlight, rubbing Simon’s face to rouse him.
“Simon, I need you to open your eyes.”
His brows furrowed heavily, sweat starting to collect on his face. “My head is pounding, Jasmine. Just let me shut my eyes for a second.” His voice was quiet and tired, which made me more concerned than a moment before.
“I know Simon, but I really need to check on something. Just open your eyes for a moment.” He groggily complied, keeping his eyes open long enough for me to shine my light by both of them, confirming what I’d suspected. “Ok Simon, it looks like you have a concussion. I need you to stay awake, ok? It’s really important you stay awake.” Simon squeezed his eyes in pain, but nodded ever so slightly. I squeezed his hand before standing up, walking over to Matt.
“He has a concussion. We need to get him out of here quick. This office looks to lead to a secondary office that should take us back out to a main hallway, if I’m seeing things correctly. We should be able to get out that way and get back to the main foyer quickly.”
Matt nodded, looking over at Simon momentarily before turning back to me. “What was that thing? It couldn’t have been a leech. It went against everything I’ve ever heard from you when describing them.” I shook my head, trying to clear out the muddled thoughts within my brain.
“It was a leech, but it’s nothing that I’ve ever seen or heard about before. This thing… it chased us at incredible speeds, figured out it needed to break open the door to come get us, has strength that goes against its frame…” I started chewing my thumbnail, trying to piece together everything I just saw.
“So, it’s a leech, but on steroids or something?” Matt looked out the office window, trying to see if he could see anything in the halls.
“I don’t know. I think… I think maybe…” I kept trailing off, terrified of what I might say.
“Hey, it’s dead now. Whatever it was it’s fine now. Damn thing can’t do much now that it has a face full of leech poison.” Matt rubbed my upper arms, seeing my mind race with the possibilities that could explain what had just occurred. I sighed and nodded, wanting to just get out of my mind for a bit.
“Yeah. Yeah, of course. Thanks, Matt.” We both took a moment to catch our breath before we moved to sit next to Simon, who was resting his eyes but rubbing his rosary while whispering a prayer.
“How are you doing, Simon?” Matt asked, putting his hand on the holy man’s shoulder, rousing him from his prayer.
“I’m quite sick. I hadn’t realized I’d hit myself this hard to have a concussion. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to walk much, let alone stand by myself.” I watched his face twist into frustration and shame. I grabbed his hand and held it.
“We’re getting you out of here, safe and sound. I promised you that, after all.” He closed his eyes and nodded slightly, looking very tired now.
“We should get moving. The longer we wait, the longer the rest of the leeches have to find us.” I let go of Simon’s hand, standing up alongside Matt.
“We should tell the others where we are. It’s past the point we should be outside.” Matt glanced down, looking for the walkie-talkie on my hip. I reached for it, but found nothing in return. We exchanged a look before searching the room, coming up empty handed.
“You’re telling me she buys a walkie-talkie that can work for miles but doesn’t have a decent clip? I know we had the thing before we started running!” Matt cracked his neck in aggravation.
“I know, I know. I think it was -,” my breath suddenly hitched as I closed my eyes, realization hitting me unpleasantly. “It was hooked onto my belt.” I opened my eyes and looked at Matt, whose face fell before he looked back at the hallway we’d just run from. Sighing loudly, he ran his hand through his hair, pulling at his locks in frustration.
“Yup, that sounds about right,” he mumbled as he dropped his hand, looking at me with a tired expression. “Nothing can be easy in this profession, right?”
“It would appear that way, yeah,” I sighed, looking at the barricaded door myself, frustrated that I’d let the radio drop to the floor without noticing in my panic. “Let’s just get going. They’ll all start to panic soon. We’re not too far from the front now, I believe.”
A demonic shriek pierced the air, making all three of us wince. Matt and I rushed to the window that looked out into the hallway to see what was happening, trying to look as inconspicuously as possible. Nothing was out in the hallway that we could see, which only served to fuel our panic.
“We need to move,” we said in tandem, running over to Simon to help pull him to his feet. He mumbled a quiet “thanks,” and then proceeded to lean forward and vomit, which took Matt and I by surprise. It was over fairly quickly, but Simon’s retching was loud, which caused me concern with whatever was still roaming the halls. We waited for a beat allowing for Simon to compose himself, and then we began to walk to the back of the office where the connecting office was located.
The door we had barricaded suddenly began to be hit violently, something large ramming against it on the other side. Our small collection of objects keeping the door closed began to move with each hit that assaulted the door, slowly allowing the thing on the other side to gain entry.
“Take Simon and go,” I whispered, removing myself from under Simon and placing his full weight onto Matt.
“Jasmine! You’re not playing hero here,” Matt scolded through gritted teeth.
“I promised him I’d keep him safe,” I whispered angrily as I began shoving them out the door, doing my best to be as gentle-yet-firm as possible while doing so.
“That doesn’t mean you sacrifice yourself!” Matt pushed back against me, making it more difficult to get he and Simon out of the room. “You’ve been making these reckless decisions all night! What is going on with you?!”
“Matt, you’re the only one who can get Simon out and I’m the only one who can see the leech! It needs to be this way.” He stopped fighting to look at me, his expression a mix of anger and fear. “Please, Matt.”
He looked back at the door and then back to me, tears brimming in his eyes. “You get five minutes. Then I’m coming back for you.” I nodded, finally pushing them out the door and closing it behind them, turning around just as the door leading to the hallway flung open, the leech whom we just encountered falling through the open doorway. I backed up against the door, looking to where we’d all been sitting a moment ago to find my bag laying on the floor. The leech lay only a few feet away, making it far too dangerous to go for it immediately. I waited silently for the leech to move, doing what I could to keep its attention off of me.
Finally, the leech looked up, letting out a terrible screech of pain. Its face looked chemically burned, melting off its frame in some places while oozing black sludge from others. My aim must not have been as good as I had hoped, I thought to myself bitterly. The leech reached around wildly, clawing its way around the room with no particular direction to its search. I watched as it moved through the room, running into walls and other objects as it went. Its eyes were now completely dissolved, leaving gaping holes in their place. It was blind, which could be my way out of here.
I remained as quiet as possible, tip toeing around the room’s edge to keep as far a distance as possible from the leech as I could. As it made its way around the room, I mirrored it, slowly making my way back towards the doorway. The leech’s breathing was labored, most likely due to the fact its airway was now compromised due to the silver mixture I’d thrown at it. I watched it closely, trying to see if it was affected any other way. This was the first leech I’d ever seen that had survived being hit with salt and silver, which only added to the peculiarity of this situation.
I neared the exit, taking small steps to ensure I made no noise. The leech was highly invested in what was on the other side of the room, which helped fuel my confidence of making a silent escape. I took another step, and felt that, as my weight came down on my foot, something shifted behind me. I looked back in horror to see the stack of objects Matt and I had stacked together shift, and then collapse in on itself. I turned back, but the leech was already sprinting across the room, heading straight for me with its teeth bore. I jumped to the side, my body acting on its own once again, hitting the wall to my right as the leech crashed into the piled objects. Now blocking the doorway, I ran to the opposite side of the room, grabbing my bag as I went, readying myself to do this all again.
The leech sprung up, looking around wildly. I waited for it to begin stalking me once more, but this time, it began running wildly about, running into walls and objects in an attempt to hit me. I dodged the leech’s attacks, but that in turn caused me to move and make noise, which prompted the leech to throw itself at me at every turn, bringing it closer and closer to my position. I went to dodge again, but slipped on a fallen object, sending me to the ground where the leech quickly pinned me beneath it.
It screeched in my face, causing my ears to begin to ring and making me nearly deaf. I fumbled to grab my bag, but I couldn’t get a good grip on it from where it was underneath my back. The leech leaned in close, pushing against my arm that I was using to keep it away from me and allowing me to smell its putrid stench of eternal decay. I gagged, trying hard to keep my composer. I felt so cold underneath it, my exposed skin burning as if it were suffering from frost bite.
Something hard kept poking into my lower back, and I realized the knife that Matt had made me take from the kitchen was still in my pocket, somehow sticking with me through all of this. I reached back, grasping the end of the handle and pulling it from underneath me. Unsheathing the blade with my teeth, I positioned the knife in my hand, thrusting it up into the leech’s ribs.
It screeched again, and I covered my ears to try to keep them from bleeding. I pushed the leech off of me, moving sluggishly towards the door and into the empty hallway as my feet and limbs stubbornly refused to work, my body feeling as though I’d been exposed in a blizzard. I made my way down the hallway, trying desperately to go faster than what my body was currently allowing, unable to hear anything following me due to my ears ringing from the leech’s screams.
After turning another corner, my body finally began to respond to my brain’s desperate pleas to move, and I began to hobble down the corridor instead of simply limp. I looked at the hallway, but realized I’d gotten turned around at some point, and I had no idea where I was going. I looked at the rooms as I went, but they all looked the same from rooms we’d seen in other hallways. My brain felt muddled, and I realized I might not find the right hall in time to escape another attack.
As I approached an intersecting hallway, a small bright light illuminated one of the corner rooms. A small head peeked through the doorway, waving me on as I approached. I hobbled inside the room, collapsing onto the floor before scooting to hide from the open doorway. I rubbed at my ears, trying but failing to get any function back. I looked into the room to see two bright spirits: a boy and a girl. The boy couldn’t have been more than five and the girl looked to be about twelve. She was holding the boy’s hand as they stood and stared at me, their expressions unreadable.
“Tommy? Sarah?” I whispered as best as I could, trying to use muscle memory to keep myself from being too loud. The girl nodded, then put a finger to her lips. I nodded, and watched as they ran and hid behind an old bed in the corner of the room, keeping an eye on the hallway. Their eyes eventually caught sight of something, watching it move through the hallway and out of sight. After waiting a few moments more, they both came out from hiding, standing back in front of me and smiling.
Sarah began to speak, but I shook my head, pointing to my ear as I did so. She stopped talking, cocking her head to the side before pulling her hand from Tommy’s, raising them to sign “you sign?”
I hesitated, then nodded, signing to her my name as best as I could with my rudimentary signing knowledge. She smiled, nodding her head.
“Doctor Young told me you come.” Her smile widened.
“You safe? Not hurt?” I looked at the two of them, noting that they looked unharmed. The lights in their eyes shone bright, which was a good sign. Still though, I needed them to confirm my question. Sarah looked to Tommy, asking him something I couldn’t hear. He shook his head, and she turned back to me.
“We safe. Where Paula?”
“Paula safe. Gone with Doctor Young.”
“You take us safe place?” Sarah looked at me with hopeful eyes, which made me feel terrible. I hesitated, unknowing of what to say.
“Yes, not now. Later.”
She looked at me, confusion clearly on her face. I bit my lip then moved forward, trying my best to keep quiet as I talked, wanting to ensure my words weren’t lost in my elementary signing abilities.
“Yes, but the person who needs to help me was hurt. I’ll come back, though, I promise.” Tommy looked to Sarah, asking her something that I heard as garbled talk. Sarah turned to me, asking me something that was garbled too, but began to become clearer as she talked.
“Say again?” My voice also became clearer, giving me some hope.
“I said, when do you think you’ll be back?” Sarah watched me, seeing the recognition in my face at her question.
“I don’t know, but soon. I never leave people behind.”
“But what if the monster gets us?!” Tommy looked at me with panic and worry in his face, obviously scared by the leech.
I reached into my bag, pulling out my last vial of silver and salt. I showed it to them, which they studied closely, before I spoke. “Those monsters don’t like this stuff. They’ll stay away if they know it’s here. If you can stay here in this room until I get back, I’ll make sure they can’t get in here.” Tommy looked worried, but Sarah nodded, giving him an encouraging smile to let him know it would be okay.
“Your friends left. We saw them. One stayed behind, though. He’s waiting outside for you.” Sarah pointed to a window, which I approached with caution. Outside, Matt stood waiting, looking between his watch and the front door of the building. I sighed with relief.
“You’re almost out. When you leave this room, go to the left, then take the first right, and then the first left. That should take you back to the grand staircase and out the front door.”
I turned back to look at them. Sarah held a brave smile, but I could see it quiver at the corners, telling me just how scared she was, while Tommy wore his emotions on his face clearly. They were both terrified, and I couldn’t do much to help them. I bent down to their level, looking them in the eyes. “I will come back for you. I promise I will. I won’t leave you here alone.” Sarah’s smile became a little more confident as she nodded her head, but Tommy held his hand out, his pinky extended. I smiled and put out my pinky as well, enclosing it around his in a pinky swear to him. He seemed satisfied with our pact, and allowed me to stand up again.
I walked to the door, looking out into the hallway to ensure it was safe before turning back to the kids. They watched me with big eyes, hopeful and trusting. “Remember, stay here and don’t be too loud, ok?” They both agreed before waving at me, signaling that it was ok for me to go. I closed the door behind me, spreading the salt and silver around the doorway and the windows to the room. I stole one last look at them before I departed, following the instructions that Sarah had told me.
Walking slowly down the halls, my body aching more and more each second, I tried to listen for any other noises, though my hearing was still very damaged from the leech’s screeching. The constant ringing was doing nothing to help me listen for any quiet indications of a leech’s presence, so all I could hope was that I was truly alone. Wandering the halls without my friends now felt sinister compared to how they were before, and I hated the way this building had taken our intentions of healing and turned them into death and pain instead.
I rounded the final corner and found myself back in the hallway that started this mess. Walking quietly, I passed the dark spot on the floor where the first leech had died. It felt like days ago when that had all occurred. Looking up, I saw about where Simon had collided with the wall and noticed a solid metal window frame that he undoubtedly hit as he was flung backwards. I winced, understanding how he got that concussion now. I glanced back down the hallway once more, seeing that nothing had followed me. I breathed a small sigh as I saw the empty hallway, my aching body relaxing somewhat at the sight. The places on my skin where the leech had touched burned as I stood there, though there were no physical signs on my skin that anything was wrong. The close encounter left me feeling damaged, and I hoped the feeling would go away soon.
As I put my foot down on the first step, the stair creaked and popped loudly, reverberating off the walls in a terrible echo. In a horrible act of betrayal, my body froze, cold running from my face down to my limbs as I waited for any movement or noise that I could manage to hear. The quiet that met me was more villainous that any noise, which only sped my heart faster.
As my legs gained feeling again, I began to speed down the steps, creaks and groaning wood following behind me, nipping at my heels as I raced imaginary pursuers. Finally, my foot met the final step, and as I let out a relieved laugh, my breath clouded in front of me.
As the room began to chill over, my sight was inundated with inky creatures moving into view: from the shadows of the entry hall, from doorways, from the railings on the bannisters to my left and right; hundreds of leeches now looked at me, blocking any exit except the great entry doors that were before me. I turned back, feeling the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end, to see the thing I’d hoped wouldn’t be there: the blinded leech. Its face was horribly mangled now, looking more grotesque in a way I never though possible. Its eyeless face was directed at me, black sludge slowly oozing from the empty sockets. Standing at the top of the stairs, it looked ready to leap at me at any second.
Suddenly, and all together, the leeches began croaking, the sound causing a visceral reaction in me that made me feel sick. As I covered my ears, trying to block the noise out, I realized what it was: laughter. They were laughing. These creatures, which have never been documented as living together, working together, or being in the same vicinity of each other, were now laughing together at what was before them.
The blinded leech screeched once more, and I thanked whatever deity was watching me that I was already covering my ears as it did. The leeches surrounding us quieted at once, their eyes watching with hunger.
For a moment, it was silent. Still. And then I ran.
My feet carried me in a way they never had before. In a way where I thought they didn’t touch the ground. There’s no way that they could have. If they did, I would have tripped and fallen, surely. At this speed. With this desperation.
Likewise, I could hear the leech behind me loudly bounding down the stairs, its steps matching in time with mine. Part of my mind told me to look back, to prove that it was truly as close as it sounded, but a louder voice screamed to focus on the door. It was so close now. Fifty feet. Forty. Thirty. Twenty. I put my hands in front of me, reaching for the handle in hopes to open the door while not breaking my stride. As my hands connected, I felt the door fight me for a moment before it relented and pushed open. The night air hit me, free from the dust and mold I’d been breathing for the last couple of hours. My eyes scanned the area before me, and I felt my heart sink as I saw nothing there.
Suddenly, I was flung forward, a pain flaring in my back as I fell to the ground, sliding forward for a moment before coming to a stop. The leech’s claws tore at my back, setting my skin on fire and pouring blood from my wounds. I screamed as I tried to get up, hoping to shift the leech’s weight enough that it would fall back and give me a chance to run again. For a moment, it reared up, and I was able to throw it off of me and pull myself forward, trying to stand as I did so. My ankle was suddenly enveloped in pain, and I was dragged back violently. I looked back and kicked with my free leg, landing a hit squarely in the leech’s torso. It screamed, piercing my ears once more, though not as brutally as before.
Its hand shot forward, pinning me to the ground by my throat, choking me as it held me in place. My body struggled as my brain panicked, trying to piece together some way to get away from this situation and failing miserably. As I choked, the leech leaned in, its putrid stench assaulting my senses once more. Its jaw unhinged, and I felt something I’d never felt before: my heart began to turn cold. Warmth was leaving me, and I found that I didn’t seem to have any fight left. My hands loosed their grip on whatever part of the leech they’d latched onto, suddenly feeling very weak. The sensations of my body began to numb, leaving me feeling hollow. I watched as darkness began to overtake my sight, dulling everything surrounding me.
The sound of heavy footsteps approached quickly, and a familiar voice yelled “Hey, you fucker!”
The leech was suddenly gone from my sight, and I could miraculously breathe. As I coughed and sputtered, my senses and consciousness returning to me, I looked up to see Matt holding a Louisville slugger, the one I kept behind my driver’s seat in my car, which dripped with black ooze.
He reached down, hooking me under my arms and hauling me up while keeping his eyes fixed on something in front of him. He began dragging me backwards, and my eyes focused enough to see what he was looking at: the leech lay crumpled some feet away, spasming slightly as it tried to stand back up. I shuffled my feet until they were back underneath me, supporting my weight so that Matt was no longer dragging me. Feeling the shift in weight, Matt released me and grabbed for my hand, pulling me quickly into my car’s trunk before getting into the driver’s seat.
“Are you ok,” he asked as he began trying to jam the key into the ignition. It took a second, but I began assessing myself, unsure of that answer.
“I… yeah, I think so,” I said, my voice scratchy from being suffocated. “Where did you go?”
“I went around back, thinking maybe you’d slipped out somewhere we didn’t know about. Then I heard it screaming again and-,” His shaking hands dropped the keys onto the floor below him, and he swore and he reached to get them. “Shit, Jasmine, I told you this place wasn’t ok! I said it so many times!” Finally getting the keys back in his grasp, he jammed the car’s key into the ignition, turning the engine over where it sputtered and then went quiet. “I know you think I’m just some dumb camera guy, but sometimes I have a brain on me!”
“I know, Matt. I’m sorry,” I fell against the trunk door, looking at the back of Matt’s head trying to discern just how mad he was. My eyes drifted to the rearview mirror where I saw him looking at me, the edges of his eyes hard but the gaze soft. His eyes then flicked down, turning the key again to try to get the engine to start once more, where is sputtered and died again.
“We need you here, Jasmine. You don’t get to die chasing ghosts and fighting monsters. Your ‘light’ is for more than that. Fuckin’ act like it.” His chastisements were quiet, but loud enough I could hear. I closed my eyes, my heart sinking for making my friend feel the way he was feeling. He was right. He always was with this sort of stuff.
“Matt,” I said, making him look at me again in the mirror. I gave him a small nod, which he returned, his eyes softening slightly. Trying the engine again, the car roared to life, just as a piercing screech broke our concentration. I looked back to see the leech standing, part of its head caved in on one side from Matt’s attack. It swayed, unsteady on its feet, but I knew it would still hunt anything that was here.
“Is that thing still not dead,” Matt yelled as he put the car into gear. I watched the leech behind us sway, and my brain suddenly began screaming at me.
“Wait?!” Matt’s voice was incredulous at my exclamation.
“Matt, put it in reverse.” I looked back at him and watched as it clicked a second later.
“Guide me,” he said as he pushed the shifter into the right slot, taking a second to put on his seatbelt before slamming the gas.
The car flew backwards, throwing me off balance against the back of the seat behind me. “A little left,” I yelled, which Matt, thankfully, understood, steering the wheel to angle the car more towards the creature. The leech perked at the sound of the approaching vehicle, but seemed too stunned to know exactly what to do. “A little more,” I yelled, which Matt followed perfectly. We were in line, and at a speed I could not estimate, we hit the leech, spraying the back of the car with its oozy blood. Matt hit the brakes, having heard the collision, and shifted the car into drive, slamming the gas and speeding away.
I watched the leech’s body, still and unmoving, as we sped away. Movement at the building’s door caught my eye, and I watched as the hundreds of leeches spilled out of the foyer in an attempt to be the first to devour their dead companion. I looked up to the second story windows and caught a glimpse of light watching us leave, filling me with absolute dread. As the giant building and its nightmare tenants disappeared from sight, I felt my body begin to ache once more, the adrenaline finally wearing off. I crawled over the back seat, landing on it hard, where I then lay motionless, everything too drained to move any more.
We drove for an hour in silence, Matt keeping the car on the road while I lay in the backseat, going in and out of consciousness as we went. My mind was muddled both in thought and pure exhaustion. I could feel my light slowly warming me once more, though it would be weeks before I felt normal again. I closed my eyes, allowing my mind to drift into the mist that would lead me to sleep.
“Jasmine,” Matt asked, scaring me with his sudden but quiet voice, “what does this mean?”
I stared up at the ceiling of the car, fully awake now, my eyes unblinking as I really thought about the events of tonight and what had just happened to us all. The ghosts, the leeches, the unfamiliar monster that wore a familiar face; what did it all mean?
“I think it means that…,” I trailed off. Truly, I couldn’t say what this meant. We were now in uncharted waters, and a lighthouse does no good when there’s no land around to station itself to.
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Cover photo credit: Jon Butterworth