Make them pay. Make them all pay.
The raspy voice carried through the attic, drowning out all other sound. Holly Denton shook her head and covered her ears. Her face contorted into a pained grimace as the whisper echoed around her. Huddled on the dull floorboards, knees drawn to her chin, she rocked among the cobwebs and cardboard boxes. Dust particles swirled in the confined space, dancing through a narrow moonlit beam. They made her nose itch and clung to her damp face.
Fresh tears cleared a path down her grime-covered cheeks when the first screams pierced the silence. Holly jumped at the sound, her shoulders hunching in a defensive cringe. Her teeth sank deep into her lower lip to keep from crying out. If she did, they would find her, and like always, they would blame her for things she didn’t do.
The staff always treated her as if she were a leper, and the children weren’t much better. She always got blamed when something went wrong, or someone got hurt, even when it wasn’t her fault. Sometimes it was, though. Like when Sally Peters fell out of the tree and broke her arm. Holly hadn’t pushed her, but she had wanted her to fall, and deep down, she supposed that was the same thing.
The attic grew hotter, the air stifling. Small beads of sweat formed along the child’s brow. She crouched in the corner and rocked faster. Acrid smoke rose through the floorboards and an ominous amber light flickered below. Terrified, she let the first sob burst free.
Keening wails pierced the night, the noise sharp and unending. She could hear the sound of feet pounding against linoleum, the noise roiling like rolling thunder through the orphanage. Holly’s own fear mounted to unsurpassed heights as she clamped her hands against her ears in a futile effort to make it stop. It didn’t stop though, and the attic gave birth to worse terrors.
The rough, wooden planks grew hot beneath her bare feet, making her toes curl. Pain made her eyes flare. It was then that she noticed the shadowy figure perched on the cedar chest. Her eyes burned, watering from the thick plumes surrounding her. Certain her mind was playing tricks, Holly blinked. Once, twice … but the figure remained.
Dim, yellowed eyes peered back at her through the tainted haze. The creature, no bigger than a six-year old child, sat poised in a gargoyle stance. Sallow grey skin, as thin as parchment, stretched taut over gaunt limbs. It remained motionless, watching and waiting, its serpentine gaze filled with predatory cunning.
Holly screamed, her lungs filling with the noxious cloud crowding the attic. Hitting her hands and knees, the child coughed and wretched in a violent fit. Back bowed, she managed to suck in a few ragged gulps of toxic air. It made her head spin and the dismal gray haze grew thicker.
A quiet rustle carried over the sound of her heart hammering in her ears. Turning her head, she watched in horror as the creature unfurled its wings with a stretch. A delicate spider web of veins ran through the thin flaps of skin, illuminated by the eerie light oozing through the floor. Riveted with unspeakable fear, Holly’s gaze traced the outline of each wiry bone, much thinner and smaller than her own. An animalistic whimper tore from her throat. In a desperate bid for comfort, her fingers sought the familiar circle of the pendant dangling from her neck.
Her grandmother had given her the jewel on her seventh birthday, along with a warning that made Holly’s inside quiver like jell-o. “This will protect you against the Monolaith, child. Wear it and keep it safe. He watches you and waits for the day he can make you his.”
“Mother! I will not have you filling my daughter’s head with such filth!”
“It’s not filth, Doreen; it’s true! This thing has haunted our family for generations. You know it and I know it.” Her grandmother’s voice dropped to a low whisper, one not meant for Holly’s straining ears. “It wants your daughter, Doreen. She’s the chosen one, the one born beneath the ninth moon.”
Holly shook herself free of the memories and took a step back.
The beast settled back on its haunches, its wings flattening against its emaciated body. Thin lips pulled back in a chilling spectacle of a smile to reveal unending rows of jagged teeth. Holly reared back and pressed deeper into the corner. Strangled noises worked their way from her throat, a mixture of pain and helplessness as the planks underfoot grew hotter.
Only I can save you now, child.
Startled, Holly searched for the source of the voice. It sounded from everywhere and nowhere all at once. The figure regarded her with a knowing gaze, its eyes unblinking. It dismounted from its perch, its feet hitting the floor with a soft thud.
Her grip on the necklace tightened.
It is like before, yes?
Dim recollection settled over her, diluted memories of past nightmares . . . of the shadowy form soaring alongside the car the night her parents died. She remembered watching it with an odd mixture of wonderment and fear, her head craning at a painful angle when it eventually looped out of view. Mere seconds after it had disappeared from her sight, the tires screeched, her parents screamed and, as the car rolled, her world shattered.
For the first time in months, she recalled the grated whispers that had sounded against her ear as something pulled her from the gnarled metal prison of the car. Broken glass and blood surrounded her like macabre jewels, fractured reflections of diamonds and rubies. The pain was unbearable and her terror immense as she lay there, screaming in anguish for her mother or her father. They lay immobile, not breathing, not speaking, blind to her suffering as Holly plead for help.
That was when the cool, leathery fingers curled around her arms. Something whispered against her ear, its breath reeking of damp earth and mildew: Embrace me, Holly. Accept me and I will save you, for I am yours, and you are mine.
Scared, wounded, and alone, she had.
Unable to draw any oxygen from the oppressive air, Holly’s head started to spin. Sirens sounded in the distance, a faint chorus above the screams and sobs echoing from every direction. The orphanage shuddered; the attic pitched and swayed. Everything started to fade into an enveloping black haze.
I am your fate. I am your destiny. Come, embrace me. No time remains.
Common sense warred with the instinct for survival. A long moment passed before Holly managed a weak but acquiescent nod. Her blonde head bowed in an attempt to avoid making further eye contact with the creature. She heard the rustling though as it neared, a sound like burnt paper being crumpled into the wind. She smelled the sickening sweet stench of her own roasting flesh mingle with its fetid breath. Pain and fear enveloped her … and then, Holly felt no more.
~ † † † ~ † † † ~
Blinding white lights and a symphony of beeping machines greeted Holly upon waking. She squinted against the invasive glare, her face wrinkling from the harsh antiseptic odor permeating the room. Long, clear tubes dangled from a metal stand. They wormed needles under her skin and crept up her nose to release a cool stream of air. Soothed by her ability to breathe and the lack of pain, she let her cheek settle against the crisp pillow and closed her eyes. Once again, the creature had kept its word.
She stirred sometime the next day, disturbed by the zipping sound of opening blinds. Dazed, Holly propped herself up on one elbow and shielded her eyes from the sun with the other.
“Good morning, sunshine. I’m glad to see you are awake. There for a moment, I almost lost you.”
The soothing voice washed over her, striking chords of familiarity she could not place. Smiling, Holly greeted the handsome man with raven curls. She stared unabashed into his pale green eyes, mesmerized by their hypnotic pull. He broke the spell with a disarming smile and crossed the room in long strides.
“Who are you?”
“No one of importance, Holly. At least not yet.”
Confused, she dropped back against the pillow. “How do you know my name?”
She closed her eyes, her head pressing into his touch as he ruffled her hair. The orphanage, the fire, it all felt like a bad dream. She had some recollection of huddling near the lower stairwell, hazy beams sweeping through the darkness, shouting, and the feeling of strong arms carrying her to safety.
Holly’s cobalt gaze studied the stranger, searching for any features that might trigger her memory. “Are you the one who saved me from the fire?”
“All in good time, sweet child.” He lifted her hand in his and his fingers pressed something cold against her open palm. “I believe you lost this.”
She stared at the pendant, a flood of gratitude surging through her. Her fingertips traced a reverent path over the knots surrounding the polished circle of agate. The precious heirloom was the only thing besides blurred memories that Holly had left of her parents and family. Tears welled in her eyes and she clutched the necklace tight in her fist.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re quite welcome, my dear. Now, you need to get some rest.” He seemed to sense her sorrow, for his lips pulled into an empathetic smile. “Don’t worry, angel. We’ll see each other again.”
Holly’s golden brow furrowed. “How can you be sure?”
His hands spread in an opening gesture. Eyes as hard and cool as granite remained riveted to the necklace in her hands. “Fate. I’m a strong believer in destiny, Holly. When the time is right, we shall meet again.”
He turned and headed for the door. Not wanting to be alone, she couldn’t resist one more question. “How will I know how to find you if I don’t even know your name?”
The man paused. “You know all you need to know, Holly. My name is not important.”
His voice became a raspy whisper. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled and stood on end as his head craned with slow deliberation. He smiled at her, revealing rows of jagged teeth.
“I am the Monolaith. I am the eternal nightmare from which you cannot awake. We are together as one. I am your fate. I am your destiny.”
The chilling mantra crashed into her, jarring her from the false security of her world. Somewhere in the distance, emergency alarms sounded. There in the room, Holly heard the faint rustle associated with death and destruction. The Monolaith had come again, determined to claim his captive bride. He would never stop, and as her grandmother warned, she would never be free. Fear cinched Holly’s heart into a knot. The Monolaith pressed closer. Its cracked lips stretched into a feral grin. She smelled the creature’s putrid stench, felt its searing breath roll across her skin . . . and screamed.
© Copyright 2010 Adriana Noir