lawl, it's weird.I made this for a final this last school year.And got an A, so... SUCCESS. - w-<3 It just makes me smile. enjoy, mebbe? ------------------------------------- Darkness hugged me close as I silently moved through the space. I had no clue where my older brother had went off to, and that scared me. That scared me a lot. My eyes were still trying to adjust, which would explain why I kept colliding with vines and spider webs. A girlish shriek left my mouth as I slapped at my neck, feeling multiple tiny legs tickling my skin. Goosebumps made a home on my arms reacting to the cold chill in the air. I was not enjoying this anymore. I wanted my big brother. My body gave in and my knees buckled. I fell into the muddy earth, splashing brown muck all over my jeans. I began to sob out loud as all my hope was gone. I was lost, and so alone.Something bright suddenly peeked in the blackness before me. I held still, watching as the pair of eyes blinked over and disappeared. “D-D-Damien? Is that you?” My body quivered as my voice was barely audible in visible breath. An abrupt rustling in the leaves made me flinch and whip my head around. Still nothing was to be seen, no clues were found out to what was making that noise, what was watching me this very moment. I felt my heart was about to jump out of my chest. And then I felt fingers curled around my shoulder. And then I felt nails digging in to my sleeve. Warm air slid down my ear as a raspy tone wiggled its way to my brain.“I’m here to take you away, boy…” The grin could be heard even though I was not brave enough to turn my head. I was stuck in paralysis and there was no way out. “You mortals have mocked our race for the last time”. A soft feather-like item rubbed against my chin, which made it very hard to keep control of my shivering nerves. I was coming close to my death as merely an 8-year-old. I had a good life, at least.The front door slammed shut; signaling mom had just come home from work. “Boys!” she called out to us while hanging up her coat. Damian and I were pulled out from our imaginary world, staring at each other. I threw his hand off from my shoulder and scowled, starting to whack him over the head with my stuffed bear. Through his shrill laughter, I could hear mom clicking her tongue at us. I looked up as she smiled down and shook her head, gathering our hands into her own. “Come on, you two.” She tugged us away to our bedrooms, ordering us to change and prepare for sleep. As usual, she made the same promise, “Once you get into your pajamas, I will read you a bedtime story.”My mother used to read bedtime stories to lull us to sleep when we were kids. These colorful, illustrated thin books always contained some sort of lesson, or a warning in the end. Some of her personal favorites were the ones that focused on “listening to our elders” and “never hitting our siblings for no good reason”. However, Damian and I had a different story we favored. That particular storybook stood out amongst the rest in our collection, standing up neatly in the shelves. The pages were lined with a golden sheen, and they smelled of roses whenever mom flipped through to start at the beginning. Of course, as children, our imaginations were very active. Still, the gold seemed too real, as did the natural, beautiful scent that wafted to our nostrils when the pages parted.Above all of this, the most memorable image in my head to this day was the art on the hard cover. Soft tones of blue flowed down a river, lined by sudden wisps of sage and lilac. The illustrative use of pastels did not take away from the focus in the picture, but acted as more of a supportive backdrop to enhance the lone figure. I can remember being tapped on the head abruptly by my older brother, who always would laugh at the way I gawked and ignored any word that came from our storyteller’s mouth. When there was the most beautiful and exotic species painted there before us, how could he even not notice the wonderful art? Maybe I was just one of those strange kids that noticed such details… That doesn’t mean I was wrong.The beauty of the Huldra was unlike any human. This was, as story had it, because Huldra were not human at all, but of a mythical race that dwelled in the forests of Scandinavia, just like the one painted on the cover of our storybook. The feminine figure in the center of the cover stared through me each time mom brought it out to read. I am recovering still from the shivers I would get when I swore that painted silhouette was alive and simply trapped in the pages. The story read that Huldra were described as having shiny, long golden locks of hair, as soft as a kitten’s fur and as alluring as freshly baked pie in the middle of August. Their eyes had better odds of turning out bright blue than any other color, with the ability to catch a mortal’s stare and hold it for as long as they deemed fit. For anyone new to the old mythological lore, they would seem like any other unnaturally beautiful, lucky young woman. As our storybook art showed with the figure kneeling in the grass, her torso angled just slightly to show her collarbones, the back of a Huldra would dispute such belief.Despite the quakes Damian and I would receive when mom read out loud the cautionary tale, we still would jump in our beds from gleeful anxiety. Perhaps we were just those strange kids on the block that enjoyed being scared once in a while. Or maybe we enjoyed mom’s voice so much when she mimicked the tone of the mysterious woodland creature as she spoke with the fisherman. The story was always the same, but still enjoyable each and every time it was read.A young male went out to the river by the forest one day to collect fish for his dinner. Upon reaching the stream, he spotted a young woman dressed in a maiden’s attire – petticoat, blouse, skirt, apron and all. Surprised to see such a dainty thing out alone, he approached her politely. Just as he began to speak he paused at what looked like the tail of a cow dangling from underneath her coat, the blonde fluff peeking out enough to take note of. The young man cleared his throat and made sure not to stare as he had heard about the legends. He knew if he was to act rude and unkind to the Huldra, he would surely be regretting it later. With a light tap on the woman’s shoulder, the fisherman kept composed as he pointed this out subtly to her. “Miss,” he began “your skirt seems to be showing from underneath your petticoat.” The Huldra stared into his eyes for a moment, but then quickly smiled and hid her blushing face. After tucking away her tail, she thanked the human and wished him a good day. The young man gave a nod and watched the creature wander off in to the forest before continuing on with his fishing errands. That night, the fisherman came back to his home with more fish flopping around in his buckets than he could ever imagine. Each line he reeled in after saying farewell to the Huldra came back with a piece of his dinner twitching at the end of the hook. Luck had been bestowed upon him because he had acted kindly and showed respect to the Huldra in disguise. By doing so, he was able to avert any chance of a curse being placed on his soul.Our mother had agreed to read this story so often to remind us that we should be courteous to everyone we meet, especially those of Huldra breed. She would warn us if we were to mock or make fun of a Huldra at any moment in our life, even during a fleeting conversation with one, we could become doomed for eternity. I remember how high pitched my mother’s voice would get as she read the end of the story. The very last warning was about little boys who would be dragged off in to the forest by the Huldra if they were to tug at their tails or mimic them from afar. “Even when you don’t think they are watching you,” she would say in a cackling, witch-like manner, “they are near… They are always near.” I have had plenty of nightmares since I was read to before bedtime of nothing else but the image of that woman on the cover. Sixteen years later and I still am not man enough to hold back the nightly yelps, sitting up with cold, wet sheets glued to my lanky chest. I stared forward in silence, only hearing the huffs of my breathing echoing in the uncomfortably silent bedroom. My eyes squinted through the darkness in front of me, finding the shadows twitched a second ago. Had I imagined it just now? My left arm extended, fingers aiming for the outline of her spine. I could see the way her porcelain skin caved in like rotten wood directly along the center of her back as she sat at the end of my mattress. Cracks trailed her pores, leading to the hollowed space full of air. My hand dipped in to this hole for a moment to check if it was real. She had no bones there to feel as my fingers wiggled to find emptiness. My gaze followed each crevice, finding this imperfection to be unique. It was hideous and quite disturbing, yet… it was a part of her. Her bare body lured me in, despite the putrid smell that rose up from that void in her anatomical structure. Just as my nails graced the pair of tense shoulder blades, icy blue eyes darted backwards through the darkness. I was caught in a petrified trance as my muscles twisted over one another like clumsy schoolboys. A bead of sweat trickled down to my bottom lip as a white smile illuminated her face. I tasted salt, and then felt a certain softness brushing against my neck. If hairs were needles, then I would have been seen as a porcupine as at that moment the hairs on my arms stood at attention. A playful sandy-hued cow tail raised up to my vision, waving back and forth, left to right. Trailing down along the skin, I realized it was connected to her lower back and not one stuck together with the help of Super Glue. The Huldra held me in her gaze. I knew this would be the end. And then my asshole of a roommate came knocking at my door.“Hey, Adam. Adam! Heeeey…”If it wasn’t for the strong smell of marijuana emitting from his week-old flannel, I don’t know if I would be awake from that nightmare right now. I wipe at my eyes, clearing away all of the crusty muck that comes with having a long night of sleep before the sweat-covered blanket is thrown off of me. My head hung over to match the slumping position of my body. Bumps of being so irked still accompanied my arms as I looked them over, rubbing away the dream from my mind. Who was I kidding? It would take days, maybe even months to forget about that scene. It was just so real…BANG, BANG, BANG.I glared up at the wooden door, covered in Top Gun posters. Hoping that my loud growl would scare him away, my tired legs took me over to the closet to change and look presentable. My limbs moved through the motions of throwing on my clothes for work and everything just blurred past me as my thoughts were clearly elsewhere. That all changed when I smelled bacon.“Kyle!” Luckily, my pothead roomie dodged the door as I slammed it open, adding to the crack that had formed in the wall where it usually hit.“’Eeeey, you’re finally up man.” His overly calm and chill tone was acceptable for this morning because of one thing and one thing only; all that bacon frying in the pan.I could not help but wrap my arms around him and pull him in to a giant hug. It was natural he gave me a funny look in return, but I didn’t care. He had made us a breakfast of champions. My plate and cup were swiftly set up as I sat down to pour some coffee at the table. The book store wouldn’t open for another thirty minutes, which gave me just enough time to scarf down a few slices of that genuine succulent and greasy Canadian bacon. Sometimes it really did pay off to have a laid-back and always hungry kid for a roommate. He really knew how to cook, and I never was one to complain about this.Kyle turned around, shoveling some pieces of food onto my plate. His hands worked in a lazy manner, just like the rest of his body. I was a little impatient at the moment, so I reached across the table and helped myself to the spatula in his possession.“Dude,” he laughed his usual goofy chuckle, “you’re gonna get a mad stomachache if you inhale it.”The chair he pulled out made a screeching sound on the floor that only I seemed to hear, since he didn’t flinch at all. My head pounded in response, but I didn’t care. I continued to ignore him as my fork was lifted, jousting towards the meat sizzling before me. Sparks of grease flew off in the air, as if the protein-filled morsels were giggled at my attempts of scaring them silly. They wouldn’t be giggling for much longer once my jaw went to work. As the first chunk entered my mouth, my tongue darted around eagerly to give a warm welcome in the form of salivating taste buds. Lips pressed against each other to seal the deal, completing the initiation as my fork hit the plate. A psychedelic sensation overcame my every fiber, tingling at the marrow in my very bones as time held still. Each crunch against the crispy edges and chewy fat made everything that was ever wrong in this world so much better. Bacon, where have you been for so long? Oh, I missed you.“Aren’t you, uh, late, man?” Kyle snapped his fingers in my face, pulling me back into the not-so-tasteful reality of life.“Shit.” I threw my chair over and darted out the front door, but only after stuffing some pieces of bacon into the pocket of my pullover jacket. As I stood staring up at the dull caramel-colored sign that proudly displayed the name of my workplace, I began to wonder why exactly someone would name a bookstore “Dirty Harry’s Books.” The owner’s name wasn’t Harry, and neither was anyone in his family named that. Perhaps Mr. Johnson had a fascination with Clint Eastwood and his disturbingly squinty eyes. Maybe he secretly liked to watch the series alone in his apartment late at night in nothing but his red velvet robe eating peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. I laughed at the disturbing mental image and made my way inside. I soon fell in line with my co-workers also wearing black polos and khaki pants. Our uniforms honestly were not necessary for this type of work. I mean, it’s not like we worked for a fast food chain, or a home improvement store that would need the customers to know who they should seek out if they needed some assistance. As usual, the store was quite dull, and very empty. I think I counted out two old women in the corner and one small boy with glasses twice the size of his head once I passed through the doorway. It was a wonder how this place stayed in business. I must have stacked over one hundred books by now. The clock came into vision as the booming ticks were exciting and gave me hope. “Ten minutes? It’s been ten minutes?!” The grunt was louder than I thought as it echoed from my lips against the walls, reflecting the way I now slumped against the shelves. At least the manager was on his break, so he didn’t hear my whimpers and whines. A bright, shiny red book spine caught my attention. As I grasped it gently, and started flipping through the contents, my mind dove in to a dangerous activity: I began to think. Was I so doomed to be trapped in this god forsaken place, with nothing but brittle pages to socialize with? Would Little Red Riding Hood be my only escape, and thus be the only world I would be able to fall in love and end up tricked by a beast with gnarly fangs? My body melted in to the awkward-yellow carpet as my misery and despair washed over me like a full container of spilled milk. Clearly, my brain had already left the building as I swore I heard the most melodic, childish laughter going on above me. My eyelids gave in to the force of being opened. It wasn’t until then did I know I was very wrong about being alone and crazy (at least the former was definitely false).The first thing I noticed about her were the ends of her full blonde hair, all gathered up in braids of intricate designs and patterns. Baby blue elastics helped the natural color to stand out and keep everything in place. It was quite magical and mysterious how girls just knew how to do those kinds of things with their hair. There must be a private school tucked away in secret, teaching all females how to twist, pull and tie like delicate boy scouts with the strands from their scalp. What was even more mysterious about this young woman, and yet so entrancing, was the way her eyes seemed to bore into mine.Those soft blues were so huge on her delicate, pale face. Seconds moseyed on by as I continued to gawk, finally feeling interaction upon my jawline. The girl reached out to me, helping speed up the process of shutting my open mouth and regaining my composure. I cleared my throat and jumped up to my feet. With a moment of stumbling and almost kissing my balance goodbye, I had already made an impression on her. She commenced in her sweet giggling once more, sharing a sympathetic smile as if she understood my curse of being clumsy and awkward. I felt my cheeks grow hotter than the sun as I mustered up some words while dusting off my stupid polo. “Uh, do… Do you need any help, Miss?” I was so smooth on Monday mornings.My words fell in to the silence that was to follow as she just stared at me. Finally, she clasped her hands together in front of her full green skirt and replied. “Help, yes. I do need help.”I waited a beat longer to see if she would elaborate. Nope. Luckily, she was cute enough that I didn't mind. I mustered up a smile and reached out more than I would for any other customer in this place.“Well, there are many different kinds of books here. What things do you like to read about?” I wasn't sure yet why I was acting so nicely to a customer, especially in this dump. But, something about her just caught my attention. And, no, it wasn't just because she was a sight for sore eyes. She began to fidget with her fingers, looking around and scanning the shelves with her eyes. “I like…anthropology.” Her head tilted to the side and she kept her focus on my face. I expected her to say she liked knitting, kittens or maybe gardening. This answer threw me for a loop. But then I remembered where the section she sought was located. I nodded to her and stepped out from our aisle. “So, are you new around here?” I figured this was just as good a time to strike up a conversation as any. I had been piling books into my arms for a few minutes now, gathering some options for her. She had stayed pretty quiet for the entire time so far. It was nice not being so alone here, though. It really helped work go by at a quicker pace. When I glanced over she simply replied with a nod of her head. I expected more words from her mouth this time, silly me. I smiled and continued on as we moved to another section. “It’s a pretty small town. Most of everyone here knows each other, and you have a face that I am sure I would remember.” Times like these made me wonder why I was single for so long. She just giggled behind me as we reached the checkout counter. Taking my position behind the cash register, I rang her out for the six books on human activity and nature. It was actually kind of cool that she was so into something so scientific and interesting. She must have been studying at a college nearby or researching just for fun. “That’ll be $15.64,” the ringing sounds from the cash register filled the silence after I spoke. I looked up to watch her digging around in the pockets of her forest green, vintage cardigan. It looked pretty old, actually. And it had a few mud stains on the ends. She must be one of those nature-types. I smiled as she brought out her fist over my open hand, dropping her payment down. As her hand was withdrawn, I noticed she had paid me in a metallic red button, a very bent paperclip and the head of a dried up yellow dandelion. She sure was eccentric.I looked around to double check that the manager wasn’t in yet. My free hand searched around my khakis for a $20. Pulling it out and stuffing it into the register, I figured it would be nice to just do her the favor. Maybe she was having some troubles with money back home. She seemed trustworthy and nice enough, and I wasn’t the type to hold it to her to pay me back. Actually, there was an idea…“So,” I began to tuck the books carefully away into a plastic bag, “to make it even, why don’t you agree to go on a little date with me?”The girl blinked a few times at me as I handed her the bag. Her delicate fingers wrapped around the handle, gathering the crinkled material together as the weight hung by her legs. Her eyes just lit up as she answered me in actual words, “Yes, please.” I just knew that bacon was a sign it would be a good day.My co-worker stood nearby, filing some papers away in to the back office. I peeked over and shouted out to him about taking my break early. While I was throwing on my jacket, the girl began heading for the door. I jogged to catch up to her once she was outside. She just stood there, arms up to her shoulders, head tilted back as the sun beamed down rays on her skin. She was strange. I....kind of liked it. “Noooo! How could we be out? How could this happen to me?!” This was turning out to be an awful day. Seriously, it was just the pits right now, man. “I need those Doritos to function. No, no I can’t survive… My heart it hurts!” The drama right now filled my lungs up so much I was huffing for air once I heard Adam banging at the front door. Would he have my sweet, precious cool ranch delicacies? Oh, sweet Buddha, please let him be my savior from these wretched munchies of colossal proportions.“Adam! I love yo- Oh…” I looked him up and down. The disappointment hit me like a stake through the heart. A heavy sigh passed my lips as I turned around and let the door fall on his body. He was worthless to me now, so very worthless.“Well, nice to see you too!” As he scoffed in the kitchen, I had already taken back my throne before the television. Sure our form of visual entertainment didn’t have the biggest screen nor was it the flattest. But it worked and that was all we needed. Besides, colors were always more vivid for me. My hand wrapped around the remote to begin clicking like the robot technology programmed me to be. I thought I heard something in the back of my head and I knew for certain it wasn’t my thoughts.“What?” I looked over to Adam, arching an eyebrow at him.“I was telling you about my shitty day at work. So, anyways-““WAIT.” My eyes popped open as I threw the controller down to the ground, abruptly ending his insignificant sentence. “I have something more important to say!”The glass he grabbed from the cabinet hit the counter as his eyes rolled over in my direction. He would never know how much that look he gave me hurt my feelings. I was a tender boy inside, I really was. His usual growl sounded out as he responded, “What?”“Alright, so History Channel was playing a bunch of those animated programs on mythology today. And I thought what better thing to do but watch them and learn something, right?” My fingers itched against my mess of red curls as I took a moment to think. Oh, right, I remember again. I continued as I checked my fingernails and cleared my throat.“Nymphs, man. Nymphs, like, from those Greek legends.”“Nymphs…?”“Yeah! Apparently, these sexy ladies lived in the forests. They would frolic around in, like, nothing but maybe some leaves or fairy dust covering their lady bits, ya know?” I nodded to him, flicking away some dirt that appeared from under my fingertips. I should wash them eventually. “Anyways, they would go out and hide around the humans. Eventually,” my voice got lower at this point, to add dramatics and stuff, “they would lure men back to their trees. And you know what would happen to those poor souls?”Adam shook his head as he sipped loudly at his water. Yeah, I bet I was scaring him now. I tipped my head down and looked up, pressing my eyes to the top of my brows. I felt super creepy, so I must have looked like it. I was on a roll. “Those men, they never came back. They never came back ever again.” I never took any theatre classes. But, I really think I deserved a standing ovation for that performance. I held my stare until Adam would respond.“Well,” his lips curled into an impressed frown, as if he was contemplating his reaction. The fingertip taps on his chin boomed out loudly in my ears even with our distance from one another. I knew the perfect cure for that headache later on. “That is very,” Adam smirked at me and shook his head, “very stupid.” And with that he placed his empty cup into the sink and went to his room, shutting the door behind him. I stayed silent as I watched him go, my mouth having a nice convention with the carpet as it hung open. He could be such an asshole sometimes. Crispy golden flakes bashed against my teeth, filling in the craters between each one as I heard Adam emerge from his bedroom. I was content now with some old Bugles that were in hiding in a bag behind the couch cushion. Curled up with these babies, not even his tone could ruin my flow of happiness now. The History Channel was showing that same program again about Nymphs and stuff. I had missed some facts earlier, due to passing out from exhaustion. But now I was ready to learn and let my brain turn to grandma’s mashed potatoes. I could see my roommate in the corner of my eye as he stood before the hallway mirror, checking himself out. “Whoa. I mean, whoa.” His periwinkle dress shirt and black pants deserved a whistle of appreciation. “You are lookin’ sharp, my man. What’s the occasion for looking so spiffy this evening?” A few clicks from my tongue here and there were sure to give him a confidence boost. Every guy needed one of those from a pal once in a while, whether they liked to admit it or not.“I have a little picnic date under the stars in Ludwig Forest,” I swear he began to swoon just then as he continued, “with Hulda.” The way he almost sang out her name had me concerned for his sanity. I was certain by the way his eyes glazed over with an unnatural glow, and with how his mouth just could not pass up a curve at the ends. This boy was falling over the edge of fuzzy funny feelings. I was just glad he didn’t say those three words-“I think I’m in love with her, Kyle.”Well, damn. Another one bites the dust.I muted the program in front of me to show that I meant business and was truly listening in this time. “Dude, you’ve known her for like, what, a week?”“So?” He seemed insulted as he grabbed a black suave jacket and slid his arm through. “Ever since I first took her out for ice cream I just can’t stop thinking about her! She’s so beautiful, so different…” It was kind of eerie how he just stared like that at his reflection. “She’s perfection.”“Aren’t you kind of jumping the gun here? You haven’t met her family or even heard about them yet. She doesn’t work anywhere, she doesn’t go to school.” My head tilted as I counted out every reason for him on my fingers. It was all so obvious and in his face that this was strange. This girl should have some kind of background check before he goes serenading her and selling over his emotions. “Don’t you think those are all kind of deal breakers? I mean, maybe you should slow it down a bit, man.”“You know, Kyle.” Oh, here comes the rage fest. “You’re just a lonely kid with nothing but your Fritos and your joints.” He had both arms in his coat now as he adjusted it in a harsh fashion. If anyone could bend my mood right now, it was him. As he opened the door, he took one last look at me and grumbled under his breath. I strained myself to hear what he said, but I think I caught it clearly enough.“If you have a problem with being so alone, then go out and socialize. Don’t just sit there and act like you know what’s best for me.” His eyes burnt through my favorite plaid shirt as I sunk in my comfy throne. “And try washing your clothes. You really make this place smell like an ogre’s pit.” Then he was gone.My eyes stayed on that door until I moved to sniff at the collar of my shirt. I didn’t smell that bad. My cheeks must have moved on to the controller as I heard the volume gradually getting louder. Looking forward, the program had switched to something about a different kind of mythical legend. There was some talk about a feminine beast that could be compared to the Greek lore of Nymphs. This caught my attention. As my tongue went to work at dissolving the corn starchy snacks flying in my mouth, I heard something that made my chewing less obnoxious.The voiceover began to inform me about woodland ladies who enjoyed leaving their forests to scout out fine young men. However, these were not like any cougar or flimsy teenage hormonal machine. These women would have long tails like a cow, and backs that curved in as a scooped out center like holes in a tree stump. They would go undercover in public to capture a man’s eye and keep their undivided attention. Their flawless blonde hair and oceanic eyes would be mortal enough-looking to fool any human. Their games and fun would go on until the man was captivated enough by them and they felt they could bring that human back to their forest homeland. The ultimate desire for these legends would be to keep those human men in the forest with them forever, as if they were under a spell.The name of this mythical race went by Hulderfolk, and the women were known as Huldras.“Huldra…” Why did that sound so familiar to me? I pondered this over after popping another crispy chip in my mouth. The rhythmic chewing kept me focused as I stared off at the cracks in our wall, so destroyed by continuous banging of our doors. “Blonde and blue-eyed… Likes the forest… Huldra sounds kind of like…”Well, this ruined a perfectly nice evening.I jumped from my chair at that moment, hearing the faint crackle of some Fritos under my feet. I slipped on a pair of sandals, stuffed my keys into my pocket, and slammed that door before sprinting off. I don’t think I have ever pumped my legs so vigorously in my life. There was one time in fifth grade when Coach Wilkinson tried to make me, the token fat kid, run ten laps around the school track. I remember the big kids trying to chase me as my “motivation”. No, I ran even faster than that time, too. I had a better means of motivation now – the life of my good friend, and my only roommate. I hope Adam would appreciate how much my legs are throbbing from all of this after I rescue his lovesick butt. I had just illegally crossed the road next to that grocery store on 31st street. Old Lady Melba was running her usual daily errands and taking her sweet time getting to the other side of the street. I admit, I did shoot past her and might have pushed her over in the process. Hey, I had to do it; I’m in a hurry here. Besides, there are enough old ladies on this planet if one kicks the bucket early.My sandals did not protect my feet from all of this mud, unfortunately. Either way, I trudged through that molasses muck, seeping in with each step and almost wiping out every other time. A loud boom rang through my ears and surged through my bones. Cool, a storm was coming. Well, why the hell not. The rain pelted my skin as I dodged one tree after the next. Honestly, as the hail began to form, it was like Mother Nature just did not want me to act like a hero today. Was this karma for acting like such a dick to Adam earlier? I swear, I prayed in my head to dear Mama Earth, I will make him SO much bacon tomorrow morning. I will make everything better, I promise.I skidded to the edge of a creek, my toes almost falling in if it wasn’t for the broken tree in front of my body to hold me back. I gripped the sides as I squinted, finding the outline of two bodies in the distance. I could see the back of Adam and a girl becoming smaller and smaller in front of my eyes. They walked hand in hand underneath some trees, looming over them in arches. This could have been a beautiful sight to behold; however, something was making me squirm where I stood. No, something was not right here.“Adam! ADAM!!” I screamed out as loudly as I could, feeling my throat close up and go hoarse. Damn all of that junk food coating my insides. It was totally worth eating in the moment, but not so much now.Then, I saw it.I leaned in forward as if it would help improve my vision, squinting even harder until I felt like my eyeballs would roll out from their confined positions. A soft blur flicked back and forth underneath Hulda’s coat. It looked like a long, cream-colored stem, with little tufts of gold at the end. I thought back to the head of those troll dolls that I played with as a kid. If this woman was what I thought she was, then she wouldn’t be far from the likes of them.My lips parted once more to send out a warning for Adam, but my voice caught and snuffed out like flames inside my chest before it could come out. It was too late. The pair disappeared and became one with the shadows, too deep into the forest to hear my cries, my warnings. The drops rolled down my cheeks as I just stood there for a while, waiting to see if maybe Adam would appear again. Maybe he would come back, and hear me in a delayed echo. It will be okay, I told myself. The worst part was that I believed it. “No, mom. No… Y-no, no, I’m fine, mother! I’m old enough to handle this! Okay. Alright, have a nice day!”I slammed the dinky flip phone shut and groaned out loud. My head pressed hard to the note tacked up on the post board, staring at the close-up black italics and use of Comic Sans. I stuffed the cell into my pocket and continued hanging up my fliers.It has been a year since Adam was taken away by that… thing. Of course, I tried to explain it to the police afterwards. But they all laughed at me and told me to go home. Even my parents, my sister and Adam’s friends, none of them believed anything I had to say. My therapist likes to chuckle from time to time, too. But, he’s a pompous jerk, so that’s completely normal for him.Here I was now hanging up posters, looking for a new roommate to pay the rent with. It has been hard getting over what happened that night, real hard. I keep playing the scenes back in my head, just as vivid as they were in person. It’s when my mind starts to think of all the possible outcomes that I kind of lose it…I locked the door behind me as the empty apartment welcomed me home. The silence was so uncomfortable in this place lately, I’ve been thinking of buying a pet. A goldfish might be nice and easy to take care of. I could name it Adam too, in respect of my old friend. Or, would that be rude to give an aquatic slave his name?This rattled my brain as I dropped the stack of papers and stapler on the dirty kitchen counter. I flopped down in my usual seat and started to turn on the television until something caught my eye. A balled up pile of navy was pushed away underneath the heater beside my golden, ripped apart throne. Curiously, I grabbed the rain-resistant, elastic material and pulled it into my lap. Moving pieces of it around, I stared down at the white name across the right upper chest. Adam’s jacket haunted this apartment, which gave me instant chills.A slight smile cozied up on my face as I patted it gently. Something bumpy shifted near the bottom beside my left hip. Feeling around, I found a pocket that was unzipped and plainly exposed. My fingertips found something very familiar to touch, with a scent that immediately coated my senses. I observed the slight red curves that trailed up and down the slice. Traces of white, thicker edges peeked out proudly, as it stood proudly between my thumb and index finger.Year-old bacon was a truly beautiful thing to behold.