As Brian struggles with the condom, there’s a creaking outside the cabin. His hands freeze. He and Natalie lock eyes, their breath smoking. They listen for several seconds — wind scattering leaves across the wraparound porch, branches shivering.
Brian slides off the mattress and slinks towards the cobwebby window, slim body silver with moonlight.
Natalie covers her chest with the sleeping bag. There’s a white glint in the corner of her vision — an occasional annoyance ever since the corrective surgery. She massages her nasion to make it stop.
Brian checks the lock on the window, then shimmies into his jeans, pulls out his phone, activates the light.
“What’re you doing?” she whispers.
“Gonna make sure the door and windows are secure.”
“You don’t think…”
“About what Lin said?”
Uplit face ghoulish, Brian titters and gnashes his teeth the way Lin had when handing over the keys to his parents’ cabin — mimicking the e’gui feasting on human flesh.
“Will you just hurry? I’m co-old.” She flutters her legs inside the sleeping bag
“Be right back, Nat.”
He passes into the dark hall, and the door shuts.
Natalie wriggles back into her panties and slips on Brian’s red sweatshirt, draping her long copper-brown hair over one shoulder. She’d read online that boys find it sexy when girls wear their clothes.
As she dresses, she hears Brian entering the bathroom, the sound of the window lock catching. Then the footsteps creak over to the kitchen.
She picks up her phone and taps on the light, illuminating the half-unfurled condom lying in the dust. She checks herself in the glow of the mirror. Makes slight modifications to her hair.
The Brian-sounds advance to the other bedroom. A bit of a struggle with the window there, but soon the steps proceed down the hallway towards the main room. She strains now to track his progress, then hears the door opening.
An angry voice shatters the quiet. Her father’s voice.
Natalie tenses, clawing at the sleeping bag.
How could he know we’re here?
The voices die suddenly, and she recalls what Lin said about the e’gui taking the form of loved ones.
Footsteps approach down the hall. Not the soft sound of Brian’s bare feet.
She deactivates the light, and with strange synchrony a lamp outside clicks on, shining through the threshold gap.
It calls her name, luring her out.
Her breath catches as she hears a doorknob turning.
The other bedroom!
Natalie flings the sleeping bag from her and tiptoes over to the door, crouches down, and peers through the gap. It’s dim, but she can just make out a pair of large muddy boots entering the second bedroom.
The thing calls her again. It tries the light switch, but the bulb is dead.
She sprint-creeps to the window and unfastens the lock.
The heavy footsteps approach the door.
“Natalie?” it calls — just as Lin said the e’gui would.
She slides the window up, but it jams halfway.
The doorknob starts to turn.
She gulps, squeezes through the half-opened window, and worms out palms first onto the porch, ducking down just as the door swings open behind her. She crouches there in a silent freak out as she smacks a spider and its ruined nest out of her hair.
The lights flick on. The footsteps approach the mattress and pause.
“Natalie, come out.” Its near-perfect imitation of her father raises goose prickles on her arms.
Heart racing, she crabwalks along the porch, towards the front of the house.
The exterior light cuts on, illuminating the façade of the woods beyond. Two distorted shadows sway there — silent sentries near the front door.
She freezes, rubbing her cold legs, mind racing.
On the road to the cabin, they’d been teased with intermittent cell service. If she can reach the road, call her father, he’ll know what she should do, and Natalie will know for sure if he’s in the mountains.
The floorboards creak as she shifts her weight. The shadows turn.
Natalie springs to her feet, leaps off the porch, and dashes into the woods. All three of the e’guis scream after her — Brian, her father, her mother. Brambles lash at her face and legs. Rocks and roots jab at the soles of her feet. She runs until the cabin light is a faint pinprick behind her, then veers towards the road, ducking and dodging past skeletal shrubs and limbs.
A flashlight beam lances into the woods, but she’s out of range and in minutes has reached the road. By the moonlight, she splashes through the mud, panting, struggling to keep cool. The glinting in her corrected eye flares up.
Every few seconds she checks her phone, waiting for bars.
She dials her father.
It rings, and there’s a peculiar echo behind her on the road. She turns to see the distant flashlight beam droop. The figure pulls out a glowing phone.
“Dad?” she whispers.
In the woods off to the left, something titters.
Natalie’s father rushes over, sheepish, unable to meet her eyes as he squeezes her. “Christ, Nat, you’re freezing. Here. Pants.”
Natalie claws the leggings out of his outstretched hand.
“Brian’s fine,” he huffs. “With your mother. You should be ashamed of yourself: lying to us about staying with Alice… However, we need to come clean, too. We’ve been watching you.” He points to his eye. “A micro-camera and tracking device implanted in your eye during last year’s surgery. It’s a new program for parents to supervise their kids.”
She says nothing, head drooping beneath tangles of hair.
“Just checking in occasionally,” he qualifies, starting to walk back towards the cabin. “The signal cut out once you entered the mountains. It was hell finding you, but looks like we arrived just in time.” When he notices Natalie isn’t following, he turns back.
She hasn’t put her leggings on yet. They’re just dangling there in long-nailed fingers. Fingers with too many joints.
He looks up at her face — and gasps.
Tim W. Boiteau’s fiction has appeared in such places as LampLight, Kasma Magazine, The Writing Disorder, and The Paragon Journal. This is his third piece at Every Day Fiction. Tim holds a PhD in experimental psychology and lives in Michigan with his wife and son. He’s currently trying to sell his first novel.
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