Alice dashed outside, tears spilling down her face. The screen door banged shut behind her with a gunshot crack.
She ran as fast as she could. She ran as if she could escape the sight of her mother’s final, painful moments. Ran as if enough speed would obliterate the year of suffering that had crushed her parents while she helplessly watched.
Alice had thought she was ready for her mom to go. It had been clear for months there would be no escaping the cancer. She thought she had steeled herself for this day. But you can never prepare for loss. Not even when you see it coming.
She felt so jagged inside. Her brain was a broken windowpane and there was only shattered glass where her thoughts should be. She couldn’t stop seeing the light snuff out in her mother’s eyes. She couldn’t stop hearing the noises her father made when her mom finally slipped away: a terrible hybrid of groaning and howling. He’d collapsed to his hands and knees, those awful, animal sounds of agony pouring out of him like vomit.
Alice streaked through the hilly pasture that stretched between her family’s little farmhouse and the road. Her breath came in ragged sobs. She only stopped running when she reached the pond surrounded by trees. It was a special place, and she always came here when she was sad.
She stared at the still surface of the water, desperately wishing she could escape the images knifing through her brain. Behind her, twigs crackled and vegetation rustled softly. Scrubbing at her eyes with her sleeve, Alice slowly turned around, expecting to see her father, or perhaps Lucy, her mother’s caregiver.
Seven feet of razor blades and lacerated skin stood a short distance away, quietly observing her.
The creature’s head was blocky and raw, like a skinned cow’s. But its weeping eyes were remarkably human, and—it seemed—profoundly sad. They were bloodshot from producing an endless stream of tears. Moonlight glinted off the sharp blades that jutted everywhere out of its long, lanky body. Its flesh was tattered and streaked with blood. After a beat, Alice realized the razors were the creature’s bones, cruelly cutting through its skin. It must have been excruciating for it to move. Perhaps that’s why it cried so much.
The monster made a soft sobbing sound, and Alice found herself doing the same. The grief she thought she saw in its eyes called to the anguish in her.
The only part of Alice that felt calm was the piece of her that knew she was about to die. The monster didn’t growl at her, there wasn’t an ounce of menace in its posture, but she knew it was here to kill her. If she fled, it would pursue her, and it would catch her.
That’s what I’d look like if you turned me inside out right now, she thought. The image of her mom dying cut into her again, making her breath rush out in a hiss.
The creature opened its arms. Alice gazed at the weeping monster for a few moments, and then she stepped into its embrace, laying her head on its chest. It hugged her tenderly, its tears pattering on her like rain.
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