“You know, I never liked winter.” Tammy turned her head to the sound of her old friend Donnie’s voice, her eyes lost in the milky night sky. They had encased themselves in the freezing February dusk, struggling to search for help. They had first found themselves trapped after taking a wrong turn from a hiking path into the immense Malsano Grove. According to Donnie’s extensive knowledge of mystery movies, they were supposed to be found in at least 3 days. However, it was already weeks after and civilization appeared to be a faint dream now. The brisk air cut at their skin, their hair practically frozen in thick locks, while their fingers were red with frostbite.
“They say it swallows you whole,” Donnie mumbled to herself. “The winter. It takes away your sanity.” Tammy nodded in agreement as she reminded herself that the person before her was not a meal. Delusions like this had plagued her since she arrived in the woods, her mind unraveling with each passing day. Some days the hallucinations were simple, a mysterious sound or fictional shadows. On bad days she saw people, dead relatives or old rivals. But the worst days were the ones she dreamt of eating, feasting upon imaginary meals created by her warped brain. It didn’t matter if what her eyes saw was inedible, she perceived it to be otherwise. Even now, as she sat next to the girl she’d known all her life, all she could envision was snatching off a limb, maybe even just a hand, and sinking her teeth into the bloody human flesh to have some form of sustenance inside of her stomach.
“Have you been able to sleep at night?” Tammy questioned quietly. Donnie shook her head, her mind flashing with the images of her nightmares. They only occurred at night, unlike Tammy’s hallucinations, and only boiled down to one vivid dream. She was alone, locked within the depths of her mind, lacking any ability to move or even think for herself. At first, the only comfort she had lay in the piercing silence, leaving her with only hollowness. That’s when the shadow appeared. It was sleek and abstract, lacking any real physical form besides pure darkness. However, as time moved on, the darkness began to transmute, forming into the very person it stood behind. It began its movements by raising its arms in a gun-wielding position as Donnie’s body mirrored it, the actual weapon lying within her large hands. The barrel was cold against her skin, paining her fingers as she held on. The shadow placed its hands on the trigger, staring down the barrel towards its target. It was then that a massacre was committed, blood splattering onto Donnie’s face as the screams of her victims reverberated in her ears. And then, she’d wake up, body quaking as her fingers tingled from grasping the phantom gun.
“I sleep fine,” Tammy joked as Donnie slowly returned to reality.
“Good for you.” Donnie huffed, jealous of her friend’s clear conscience.
“I think a storm is coming,” Tammy remarked. Donnie rolled her eyes, skeptical of the sudden claim.
“You said there was going to be a storm last week. There wasn’t even a little snowfall.”
“I know. But this time is different.” Tammy turned to gaze into Donnie’s eyes then, the soft grey coloring matching the night. “Something bad is gonna happen.” Donnie bit her lip for a moment, lost in thought. Tammy’s predictions were usually close-calls at best, but otherwise entirely incorrect. The likelihood of her ideas being correct was 0 to none, although she’d never say it aloud.
“Whatever you say. Let’s just hope whatever it is leaves just as soon as it comes.” Donnie sighed while lying on the ground, pulling her jacket closer to her body. Tammy soon followed, lying on her arm with a small hum.
“Can you promise me something?” Tammy questioned.
“Depends on what it is,” Donnie chortled. Tammy closed her eyes then, her mind deceiving her with more delusions of feasting.
“If we ever get separated, I want you to run. Doesn’t matter where we are or what you heard, just run,”Tammy said. Donnie widened her eyes at the girl, surprised she would suggest such a thing. They had been trapped for so long, what point was there in separating after all they had been through together?
“Are you sure?” Donnie mumbled. Tammy nodded, her eyes locked into the stars as she came to terms with what she must do. It was with that bitter note, the two slept, allowing the soft chills of the night to lull them. That night, Donnie did not dream of her shadow, only the stark darkness that came before morning, content that Tammy’s delusions would never fall through. The following day, a sheet of white had immersed the Malsano Grove. The trees, the dirt, even the tracks that had previously been made, all were submerged in the snow. The scent of cold water mingled with dirty foliage to form something foul and reminiscent of death. Donnie opened her eyes with a start, the snow clustered on her eyelashes while her face felt like ice.
“Shit,” she huffed. “I guess you were right, Tam.” The wind whispered past, encompassing Donnie’s body with even more snow.
“Tammy?” Donnie turned to her side to find a blank patch of snow. Sirens rang through her head as Donnie jumped to her feet, her eyes scanning the woods.
“Tammy?!” Electric-like adrenaline pumped through Donnie’s veins as her heart pounded within her chest like a drum. Where could Tammy have gone? She’d only fallen asleep for a few hours; what could she be doing? Suddenly, like a faint, haunted memory, Tammy’s words from last night came to mind.
“If we ever get separated, I want you to run.” Donnie opened and closed her clammy fist, tears prickling the corners of her eyes as she realized what she must do. Nausea rocked her stomach like a ship caught in a storm, crashing in waves within her. She put herself into a running position, counting to ten before she decided to make a decision that would change her life forever. Her feet were light as she fled, each footstep worsening the ache in her heart as she ran away from the same girl she had grown to love. She could barely register her location as she ran, the snow blending together to make a prison of white. Why? Why? Why? Why was God so cruel to her, unforgiving and malicious? First imprisoned in this winter spell, and now forced to leave behind the one girl she loved, how could the world curse her so? However, as she continued to dash within the nightmare, she failed to realize the shadow that began to take shape behind her, lifting its arms with its cold barreled gun.
The sound rang across the forest, slowing down time itself. Donnie could feel her heart go still within her chest as a bullet propelled itself through her gut, staining the crisp snow an ugly crimson. Her body collapsed to the ground, her knees giving, followed by her upper half. Her eyes struggled to peer behind her, only to be met with that shadowy monstrosity.
The shadow held up the gun once more, staring down the barrel into Donnie’s eyes that were draped in betrayal. The shadow placed the gun against Donnie’s head, a devilish smile across her face as she came to accept her delusions. The death was quick, another shot echoing throughout the grove as ruby red blood pooled under Donnie’s head. The shadow showed no remorse as it leaned down towards her friend’s limp body, grabbing onto the flesh as she prepared to feast.
“You were right about the winter,” the shadow whispered. “It really does swallow you whole.”
Anisa is in 12th grade and lives in Camden, NJ with her older sisters and her mom. She enjoys writing in her spare time and plays clarinet for her school band.