Note: Contains graphic violence
From beneath the reeds under the mournful willow trees, there came a hushed voice whispering. A strong wind blew through the forest and the yellow-green tips of the dying reeds swirled back and forth, as the aged branches of the willow trees snapped and groaned. The thin yellow leaves were torn from their branches and set aloft into the darkening sky. As the wind softened and the rush of the trees wasn’t so deafening, she heard the voice again.
“Aliyah.” It was a musical sort of a voice, but there was a dark guttural cracking in the syllables that suggested pointed teeth and long, sharp, yellowed fingernails.
She should’ve run away then and never come back. She should’ve left the grove and its ominous whispers and barely given it a second thought. But she had a sister to find.
Instead, she stepped closer to the chilled water and bent down, her ear leaning in toward the source of the voice.
“Aliyah.” The voice was happy. “Aliyah.” The voice was right in her ear and she jerked back, her limbs moving sluggishly. She stumbled away from the pond, her torn leather boots crunching on the dead leaves.
The wind started again. The leaves beneath her began to stir and her hair was torn at by the long fingers of the wind. Snatching at the loose strands, pulling on her tingling scalp. Except…
She turned slowly, her eyes settling on the deep yellow of an old woman’s eyes whose hands were bunched around strands of her brown hair.
“Aliyah.” The woman crooned and wrapped her weathered hands around Aliyah’s neck. Her cracked fingernails dug into Aliyah’s soft flesh. Aliyah screamed, but her voice was swallowed by the wind. Only the willow trees heard her cry, and all they could do was watch.
The crone’s fingers pressed harder and she let out a whimper and something warm and sticky ran down her neck and settled in her collarbones.
“Aliyah,” the woman repeated. Aliyah cringed and snapped her eyes shut as the woman bent down and lapped up her blood with a forked tongue. The tongue was rough and hot and Aliyah did everything in her power to imagine it was only her family’s hunting dog, Jack. It didn’t work.
The crone slowly, slowly released her death-grip on her neck and Aliyah tensed. Every muscle in her body bunched and coiled. She had to wait, to make sure it was the right time. Ready. Ready.
She leaped, arms and legs swinging wildly, pushing against the grabbing fingers of the crone. Adrenaline pumped through her veins and she made a dash towards the safety of the willow trees.
Aliyah didn’t know why, but something thrumming through her aching bones told her she would be safe behind the treeline.
She never made it.