What a cold night it was, one of the numerous cold nights of the season, promising more to come. It was September 21st. It had been over a week since Ana disappeared. There was something so haunting about the way she had just vanished without a trace. No one in our small town of Stagsmere, North Carolina seemed to remember who she was, I know because I asked. Not even our other two friends, Orin and Laura or Ana’s family. No one remembered the peppy brunette whose eyes were as bright as spotlights, it was as if she never existed at all. I was the only one who truly knew what happened, a memory I truly did try to forget. I sat at the lunch table with a few of my friends, my movements agitated. I never believed in the supernatural, my family had always been skeptical of the tales of unexplainable creatures and cryptids but I knew what I saw. It had horns like alabaster, contorted limbs, and the skull of a stag. Its eyes were hollow, its sharp fingers red, as it hunched over Ana’s twisted body. I wanted more than anything to forget seeing my best friend get mauled by a cruel, elaphine Mephistopheles. It was too late to shrug it off, because whatever took Ana was still here.
“Earth to Alice, you okay dude?” Orin looked at me with tired eyes, his sandwich hung out of his mouth as if he did not notice it. There’s been a lot of not noticing recently, I thought bitterly. Laura almost put her hand on my shoulder, almost, before hesitantly putting it back near her food. She didn’t know how to act around me. I didn’t blame her, I wouldn’t know either. She was Orin’s girlfriend; the apple of his eye. Needless to say, we didn’t have much in common.
“Yeah, yeah. I just… have a lot on my mind, that all.” I mumbled out, my untouched, stale food made my stomach gnaw at itself; the thought of eating my own flesh sounded more appetizing than the food on my plate. I must have looked rather concerning then and there, my raven black hair had lost its shine and I was hunched over like a paranoid raccoon over its scarce meal. My brown eyes stared into nothing, my mind was no longer present and the ticking of the cafeteria clock made me fidget.
Tick Tock. Tick Tock. Tick Tock. Orin looked at me in worry but I did not have the energy to care. Time crawled slower than a snail, I was tapping to the clock’s synchronized ticks when I noticed it. The tips of my fingers were longer than they were before, sharper, and bruised with a color that was just dark enough that I had to take notice. I took a deep breath and rubbed my eyes, but it was still there. Opting to forget about it, I decided that my fingers turning purple was the least of my worries, especially now, with a demon after the students of Stagsmere.
Orin went missing on a Sunday. October 13th, less than a month after Ana. Just like Ana, no one remembered him. Laura and I were no longer on speaking terms, though that would not be entirely accurate. She acted as if we had never known each other at all, undoubtedly because she didn’t remember Orin, the solemn thin boy who had introduced us only a few days previous to the murder of Ana. My head spun, I felt as if I was going insane. I know he was real. Orin was a real person with a real life. Ana was real. Ana was as real as the shirt on my back. Somedays I wondered if I were still alive or if I were in some personal hell where my hands resembled the claws of a beast and the blood I wept from my eyes were liquid charcoal. Something was terribly wrong and only I knew about it. As I, perpetually taunted by a monster that I could not see, was the one who found Orin’s head on my nightstand and his blood on my wretched hands. The dead leaves on my bed scared me more than I wished to acknowledge.
I wore gloves and multiple layers of heavy jackets that day, Laura sat across from me at the cafeteria table, we were the only ones without friends to sit next to and chatter like incessant mice. We did not talk, she did not even glance at me. I barely recognized her, the shine in her eyes were gone and she looked distant. Her eyes were tired and her skin almost translucent, nothing like the Laura I knew from days prior. I had to look away, my blurry eyes morphing her thin face into Orin’s head on my bedside, contorted into a scream.
“Do you ever think that you’re a monster?” Laura’s voice croaked out. I looked up startled, wondering if my excoriated ears were playing tricks on me.
“Some days.” I replied. Laura’s voice was uncomfortably detached, she looked like she had no control of her body. Her eyes were focused on nothing and her body was limp like a cadaver. She spoke with no emotions, as if reading off a paper.
“Me too.” She said, her voice suddenly filled with so much bone-chilling spite that I felt as if I had betrayed her. Her voice was so cold that I was unsure what she was agreeing to. Abruptly, Laura got up and walked out of the cafeteria, but only I noticed the slight stumble in her step. Shaken up, I pulled on my gloves to make sure they covered my nightmarish hands. I couldn’t remember the rest of the day; it was like I had been in a trance, like I didn’t have control of my body. The last thing I remembered was standing in the corner of the empty cafeteria. There was nothing but me and the clock. There was something horribly wrong, and I was not just talking about my increasingly diseased skin. I could not sleep well that night, my dreams have been haunted with nightmares and deer horned beasts since Ana disappeared.
I found Laura’s body the next day, under the open window in the cafeteria, the same one that I found myself in front of after I blacked out. She was alive the day before, I was sure that I had talked with her. Her face was frozen mid-scream, just like Orin’s was. That wasn’t the face of a girl who threw herself out the window, it was the face of a girl who was pushed. It was that monster, the one I saw kill Ana, I just knew it.
I spent the day hiding in the forest behind the school, where I had first met the thing. The air was cold and brisk but my body felt impervious to the frost. My coats and gloves abandoned on the ground next to me, I sat vigilante until the night started whispering and coaxing everyone into their safe caves. The sides of my head felt heavy, my headache pounding. I felt crows land on me but I paid them no attention. I stood up, feeling my legs extend longer than they should. My breath heaved for air but still my lungs ached. My hollow eyes flickered from side to side; something was there, I could feel it. I heard a rustling behind me. I braced myself for the beast and closed my eyes. The footsteps grew closer and I struck out. My distorted hand dug into warm flesh, deeper and deeper until I opened my vacant eyes to see Ana’s body crumpled over onto the forest floor, her limbs thrown askew.
It couldn’t be. I looked down at my grisly, misshapen, familiar hands. No… I couldn’t deny it any longer, I killed Ana. Oil leaked out of my skulled face from different cracks, leaving streaks of black from my cranium to my fleshed neck. On October 13th, I found Orin’s blood on my hands, my feet dirty from a trek in the woods that I could not remember. I hunched my large, gnarled body over Ana’s crimson body protectively, though I knew there was nothing I could do to save her. I found Laura where my hellish hands had pushed her. I pushed her over the edge. Above me stood myself, Alice, face terrified and mouth gaping. Her legs, unbeknownst to her, forced her to run from herself. She was destined to become me, a monster. I touched my cracked skull, there was nothing I could do now but let go of reality once and for all. I was ready to succumb to my sacrilegious desires for death. I let unconsciousness overtake my cursed body, letting it control my spindly limbs, knowing that there was no end to my misfortune at the hands of the merciless Mistress of Time. There was no escape from this bittersweet loop of insanity cast upon me forevermore.