The steering wheel was pressed hard into my side, but instead of moving away, I felt myself pushing back against it, the pressure against my ribs oddly comforting. I gritted my teeth and pushed harder, saliva pooling under my tongue. I relished it.
The harder I pushed, the safer I convinced myself we were.
I could hear Annie’s breath: rapid, gasping. Hysterical.
I opened my mouth, to whisper her quiet, to comfort her. My throat hitched. All that escaped was a sob.
We were trapped. My mind hung in limbo. I wasn’t thinking of escape or even death.
I was barely thinking at all.
I couldn’t hear the dragging anymore, but I couldn’t hear anything else from outside either. Had the thing stopped or gone past?
Did it know we were here?
I lifted my head, peering out the window into darkness. Nothing. The back of my neck prickled. I felt watched, like there was a target pinned to my back.
After pulling the door shut I’d cramped on my side, curled into the driver’s seat. It had felt secure at the time, moving as far from the door as I could without causing the car to shake. Now I felt smothered, unable to see out the window behind me.
Annie was crying now, sobs punctuated with rough hiccups.
“Annie, shh, shh,” I managed to choke out. “We have to be quiet. Shh. It’s okay. We’re okay.”
She gasped, loud and shaky. The sound of someone trying to soothe themselves, to quiet their own suffering, filled with wild desperation well beyond her years.
I still couldn’t hear anything outside. No dragging. No groaning. I couldn’t see anything out the passenger window.
Its movements were either muffled out by the interior of the car, or it had stopped.
If it had stopped…
“Annie.” She was so quiet now. I could hear her shaken breath, feel her quivering beneath me. “I’m going to turn around and check. If…” My voice caught and melted to a sob. “If it’s there… I’m going to keep it away. You have to go back to Jay. Just run.”
She was sobbing again, whimpering feebly in between gasps.
“Just run.” I repeated, willing my voice not to shake. There was still nothing from outside the car.
I bit down on my lower lip hard, tearing a tender strip of flesh from an already open cut. The tang of blood filled my mouth. I swallowed hard, the lump of terror sinking down my back, the hiccup pushing me back into the steering wheel.
I steeled myself against it and used it as leverage, twisting myself around, the handbrake digging and dragging into my back as I turned. I raised my hips and scrambled over the brake, stretching my legs out, ready to kick, to fight.
Not to win. Just to distract. Just to let Annie get away.
Nothing but darkness out the window. I could still make out the park. So close.
I crawled forward, inched closer to the driver’s window.
I saw it too late, doing its own deformed version of a crawl. It was dragging itself, along the bitumen, one limb nothing but a stub, scraping and weeping blood as it moved.
It was lying low, right beside the car door.
I looked directly at hell and it drew me in, every fibre of my being screaming silently.
Too late, I tried to shrink back.
Hell looked directly back at me. Its skin was pallid, but blotchy with blood and bruises in parts. Its eyes were just sockets filled with white, cloudy nothing.
Still it stared at me, even as it staggered to its feet.
It cocked its head to one side, almost thoughtfully. Its mouth fell open, a perfect ‘O’ surrounded by bloody teeth.
It was piercing, a victorious cry of the hunter trapping its prey. It leaned forward quickly, nimble despite its slow drag along the road. It raised its arms, the stump seeping blood. It held them for a moment, over its head, cocking it the other way while it stared.
It stopped screaming and stepped closer.
The arms slammed into the window, the whole car shaking violently.
Annie was screaming, but I could barely hear her. Even the sound of it slamming the car window, again and again, was muted. As though I were underwater and people on the surface were calling my name.
I saw the crack running down the window, but I didn’t hear it. I saw it widen. When it shattered around us, falling down on Annie and my legs like confetti, my mind caught up. I could hear Annie screaming, deafening. The window crunching. Its arms flailing, slamming into the body of the car now.
I pulled my legs back and kicked, blindly.
It grabbed my leg with its remaining hand. It clawed at my ankle and started to pull me. Stuck on my back, my hands slipped away from the edge of the seat. It had pulled me out the window to my knees.
It was sniffing now, grunting hungrily.
The pressure on my leg as it clawed its way up past my knee was unbearable. I couldn’t feel my ankle. Both legs were locked up, unable to kick, to fight.
The strength in its arm was unbelievable. It was climbing my leg as it dragged me out of the car, its hand now on my waist. It scratched my stomach, my side, ripping away my jacket in its frenzy.
It was snarling, its scratches digging deeper the further it pulled me out. It had me out now, I collapsed on the ground and it pinned me, straddling me with its hand wrapped around my neck.
Black spots swam all around, bouncing in the night. My vision clouded as the thing tightened its grip around my neck. My head drooped back and my eyelids slid shut. I couldn’t breathe.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard the scuffle of running footsteps, then a thunk. Another and another, the noise reverberating in my head.
It slammed into me, releasing my neck and landing on my chest, its entire deadweight locking me into place on the ground.
I swam in and out of consciousness. It wasn’t until I felt the weight lifted off my chest I realised I was alive.
A hand gripped my own and dragged me to my feet. I fell into his chest, leaning my entire weight into him, steadying myself against him.
He shook me off and pushed me back against the car. My entire body was shaking, a quivering mess of adrenaline and terror. I sank to the ground, my ankle screaming in protest.
Jay was covered in the thing’s blood. His face was a mask of red, grimy skin illuminated by the moon in between splatters of dark red blood. He dropped the shovel in his hand and ripped the car door open.
He didn’t speak, just pulled Annie out of the car, with careful speed. He pressed her face into his chest, shielding her away from the bloody mess on the ground.
“We have to go.” He said. “Right fucking now. That thing called for help.”