Maura McCoy is a freshman from a town in the suburbs of Chicago, the oldest child in a family of five and graduated in the top ten percent of her class in high school. She plans to major in Creative Writing with a possible minor in Communication in order to pursue her goals of becoming an author as well as working in the film and media industry. She dreams of living in California because of the exposure provided by cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but also because she loves the sun and the ocean.
It has always been a passion of Maura’s to write that stemmed primarily from her love of books; she has a collection of over two hundred books in her bedroom at home. Her favorite series is ‘The Ascendance Trilogy’ by Jennifer Nielsen and her favorite stand-alone book is ‘Boy’s Life’ by Robert R. McCammon. She especially enjoys meeting new people, traveling, walks, growing flowers, and listening to music.
Red as Blood
“You do not have to, you know,” She whispered back and Cade couldn’t tell whether it was on purpose or not, but he felt the scuffed leather of her glove reach for his hand and their fingertips brushed lightly. For a brief second, he wanted to encase her hand with his in an attempt to try and make the fear go away, to ignore the worries pacing around his mind, but he moved his hand away instead.
He did not want to ignore what she said and the reassurance that called out to him as if offering a home in its welcoming arms, but the scene unfolding before him herded him down a different path. “Actually I do.”
“Must you argue with everything I say?”
“Makes it more entertaining.”
“It also makes it more frustrating.”
“For you.” She grumbled unhappily at his words, clearly disliking the truth in them.
Cade shook his head and blinked rapidly, quickly forgetting about their bickering and getting distracted by the woods around him. He thought his sight was adjusting to their damper surroundings but he could still barely discern the different shapes. He couldn’t tell whether his frightened thoughts were impacting the images appearing in his view but he was certain something was wrong with what he was seeing.
“Ivory.” His voice trembled slightly when he spoke her name and he could feel her tense against his back. “I think I’m hallucinating.”
“What? What are you talking about?” She sounded uncertain whether the boy was trying to trick her or not.
“I can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t. I think I’m seeing things that aren’t there.”
“What do you mean you can not tell what is real? Cade, how could you possibly be hallucinating?” She let her voice rise slightly, tied back with a rope that she tugged on so that it returned back down without question to the level of a whisper for only their ears to hear.
“Well obviously I don’t know,” he bit out in frustration that quickly shivered back down to worry.
Cade was trying to figure out how to explain that he was seeing two red eyes situated in between a set of trees in front of him. The way they moved was surreal, as if they were gliding in open air without being attached to a body. Then they would shift so stiffly that he knew they had to be real. But quickly after, they would glimpse out of existence without a trace, and it seemed as though they were never there at all.
“Come here.” Cade did not give her a chance to respond before tugging her hand in order to bring her to stand at his side, facing the endless void of darkness ahead of them. His breathing picked up tremendously, his shoulders growing and dropping like waves crashing against a rocky shore. Whatever lurked in the darkness was thoroughly enjoying its prey being driven mad by the apprehension. “You,” He had to stop to swallow. “You see that, right? Right in between the two giant trees right over there. Please tell me you see that.”
“You are not talking about the red, glowing eyes that are staring into my soul, right? Holy Hades tell me that you have somehow put your hallucinations onto me,” She whispered back, staring wide-eyed at the two red dots in front of her. Cade could not see the expression on her face, he could hardly see his own two feet from the sheer darkness, but he knew that she was most likely frozen in shock. He couldn’t decide whether to be glad that he was in fact not hallucinating or whether to be more terrified that the sight was real.
“Great, so you see them too.” They both stood in distress, too afraid to even whisper in fear of admitting what they both already knew.
“You do not think—”
“Yeah,” He breathed, moving his hand slowly towards his hip where a sharp dagger rested in a special sheath. “That is most definitely a volhound. Here take this and don’t lose it, I want it back.” The knife was cold to the touch, even though the handle was firmly wrapped in year-old leather and the blade remained clean of scratches and stains. A small red ruby lay encrusted in the hilt, tiny enough that it would be pointless for a thief to barter but large enough that it would fit atop his fingernails. He mentally encouraged himself to part ways with it for even a little while.
“I have my own you know,” Ivory retorted, letting the tips of her fingers brush against the sharp edge, but not taking a hold of the small weapon. Pressure of any harder degree along the point would elicit a crimson red stain on both the appendage and the dagger.
“If you trust me, you’ll take this. For once, if this is the only time you do, please just trust me and take it.”
She did not respond but hesitantly grabbed the handle and clutched it tightly so that she would never forget that it remained safe in her hands. Cade released a breath when the blade relieved itself of his possession as if the small weight removed boulders from his chest. At least her safety was guaranteed for the time being, even if he may never see a sky other than darkness again.
His moment of peace was short lived when a continuous sequence of growls erupted from the brush in front of the pair, the noises low and menacing to establish that the beast was still an eminent threat and forgetting its presence would make them pay. It was almost as though the creature needed to feel a sense of dominance or else it suffered the same ego degradation as a human. The fear radiating off of its victims was enough to spread adrenaline through its body for the time being. Leaves crumbling to dust filled the air as the beast slowly crawled forward towards the pair, its piercing eyes enlarging as it did so. Vibrant red filled their visions and their breaths hitched, the only thought running through their mind was how the blood color made them frozen like statues in their places. Just before it stepped into the clearing with them, the monster halted and remained hidden behind the shadows of darkness.
“Why isn’t it attacking?”
“Ivory, shut up.”
They could hear its labored breaths from their position only ten large strides away. Even though he was scared senseless, Cade could not help but wonder what the creature would look like in the light of a fire when it could not shield itself in the darkness or attack quickly before disappearing without a trace. The stories and personal experience did not quell the thirst of curiosity in the boy, even though the thought of being less than an arm’s distance away from it terrified him.
The boy shifted his arm down his thigh where he kept a second blade covered by the cloth of his trousers and material of his cape, not hesitating about wanting to protect himself when the moment finally pounced upon them. Another low growl exited the mouth of the beast, as if daring Cade to keep allowing his hand to itch down towards the sheath against his hip. For a moment, he thought about taking the unspoken warning of the beast but decided that his own instincts should rise first in rank on account of past experience with another creature of the same species. When his hand firmly grasped the thick handle of the stolen knife, a further noise of anger emerged from the creature and Cade knew that he finally spread his luck too thin.
The next few seconds processed through Cade’s mind slowly, as if someone was taking a shot of each second and pausing to show him the fine details. He watched as the beast leapt forward from the bushes, breaking one completely into shattered bits, and stood at the edge of the clearing in front of the two. It had a large head that was unproportional to the rest of its body with an extensive snout and skull large enough to beat an average human in a contest. The skin was rolled up on the nose while the volhound snarled at the two, collecting at the small bridge between the eyes. Its head was attached to the body by a long, slender neck constructed of bone and a layer of skin, that angled down towards the ground. The two fore legs were bent at odd angles where he guessed that the bones connected with minimal marrow, and made its stance awkward; its hind legs were bent sharply at the knees and ankles like a mangled doll.
It reminded him of an old hag hugging her arms to her side with bent elbows and wrists hanging limp in the air. The torso of the beast was positioned forward from the rest of its appendages which made the pointed bones of its shoulders jut out in the back, stretching the skin thin. Patches of thick brown hair stuck to the hide all around, coating the body more than the head leaving the edges of the skull to protrude unattractively. Consuming his thoughts and captivating him with the small black splotches it called pupils, the deep red of its eyes held more dominance up close. Briefly, Cade caught the sight of jagged teeth waiting hungrily inside its mouth; four on the sides of its jaw forming a square were larger and tipped sharply so that it could tear the flesh from its victims easier.
What should have been a quick visual of his demise greeting him with rotten breath and blood lust turned into a book of observations that he would have nowhere to write once his brain sped up. Before he could think to fully remove the knife from its hiding place, the beast howled, rearing its head back into the air with tightly knit eyes and puckered lips to release the noise that shook the pair in their stances. Its chant of glee ended and before they could react, the beast lunged forward again, bearing its teeth in a snarl and tackling Cade to the ground. He was paralyzed on the forest floor by the unmistakable stench of death slapping him in the face while the open mouth revealed drool dripping down one of the canine teeth. One of the beast’s paws dug into his abdomen while the other kept his arm planted into the dead leaves. Regardless of the overpowering position, Cade could not have fought back for his mind was lost in the face of doom.
The beast did not look into the boy’s eyes for long, instead deciding to latch its jaw tightly around the meaty part of his shoulder. A curtling shout of pain came from Cade before the creature removed the boy’s body from the ground entirely and tossed it through the air as if it weighed no more than a twig. Cade felt his back collide with a sturdy structure, bending his body around the curve of the mass until something erupted into flames of pain and he fell abruptly to the ground. Half of his face was smashed in the dirt and the other could only stare at the forest that began to blur. The last thing Cade heard was a scream of his name before the remaining outlines melted into darkness.