New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author

Outcast Short Story by Darynda Jones

Outcast Short Story

 Creator Robert Kirkman announced a “NoSleep” writing contest to celebrate the upcoming premiere of  Outcast on Cinemax .

 

The sun finally dipped below the horizon of Rome, Ohio, but the blanket of darkness was taking its sweet ass time settling over the landscape. Not that the reverent didn’t come out to play in daylight. They just liked the dark better. So, dark it was.

I waited. Checked my phone. Scrolled through status updates. Thought about ordering a pizza after. Then I turned to a blue door with a Welcome sign hanging slightly askew and knocked. It opened immediately.

A woman who’d hopefully seen better hair days waved me inside, her movements quick and harried. She closed the door. Pressed herself against it. Offered a brittle smile. “Lemonade?”

“Where is she?” I asked, ignoring the familiar scent that hit me like a two-by-four the moment I walked in. My breath fogged on the air. It hadn’t done that outside.

“You’re a girl,” a male voice said from a shadowy corner, but it was too dark to make out any specifics. The only light source was that of a television and, apparently, static was in. This was the third house I’d been to in as many days where the movie of the week was A Polar Bear in a Snowstorm. Maybe the white noise was somehow calming, but to humans or to the thing, I couldn’t say. “How old are you?”

“Reverend Anderson sent me,” I said, bristling at the insult. “I’m just here to observe and report back.”

“No, wait.” Panic spread over the woman’s features. She took hold of my arm and I tensed. Peeled her fingers off me. Stepped to one side so she’d get the picture. She did, but I could see the desire to dig her nails into my flesh and hold on for dear life as plainly as I could see her smeared mascara. “I don’t understand. Aren’t you going to help her? Isn’t that why you’re here?”

With pupils finally adjusting, I could see the damage the thing had done. The trauma it’d caused.

The man stood, raked a hand through unkempt hair, and walked toward us. They were young. The couple. Late twenties. Potential oozing out of every framed motivational saying. Every cheery knickknack, many of which now lay broken and strewn across polished hardwood floors. Newspaper doubled as window shades and a sliding glass door at the rear of the house was now more cardboard than actual glass. Not a single wall or door or piece of furniture had been spared. The thing had been busy.

“I just report,” I said, lying through my teeth.

There was a reason Reverend Anderson chose me. At least, I liked to think so. I felt things others did not. I sensed things. I was no Kyle Barnes, but . . .

No. Who was I kidding? I was no Kyle Barnes period. My abilities didn’t matter in the long run. They didn’t help in the fight. The fact that the couple’s desperation cinched my chest tight was neither here nor there. The fact that the weight of their sorrow formed a lump in my throat was moot. I didn’t come for them. And my abilities didn’t help against the thing I did come for.

The woman, hands rubbed raw, glanced at her husband.

“She’s through here?” I asked, pointing to a particularly mauled part of the house.

The man wrapped an arm around his wife’s shoulders and nodded.

“Stay here.” I turned and headed that way just as the woman’s knees gave beneath her.

I use the term “fight” loosely. My weapons weren’t the usual sort. Bible. Cross. Holy water, which was really just tap water I boiled the hell out of. And, yes, bad jokes were an occupational hazard.

The smell, an acrid mix of rotten eggs and days old vomit, grew more overpowering the closer I got. It stung my sinuses and blurred my vision. Despite being prepared, my stomach lurched. I had to swallow back bile before I could open the door and look inside.

Typical five-year-old paraphernalia decorated the room, only it lay in a state of disarray that clocked in somewhere between war-torn battlefield and nuclear holocaust.

The kid in question was in bed. Covers pulled up to her chin. Tufts of blond hair like dust bunnies around her head. Eyes swimming in terror.

Trusting her as far as I could dropkick her, I acknowledged her with a nod.

She poked a tiny finger toward a door next to a toppled desk, and whispered, “There’s someone in my closet.”

My resolve wilted. Why was it always the closet?

I inched toward it. Crackles of frost spread out from the doorframe and onto the walls. The closer I got, the more my breath fogged the air, so much so that it impaired my vision. I took a deep breath, fought another upsurge of bile, and eased open the door. A figure sat inside. I brought out a flashlight and angled the beam on it. A girl sat huddled underneath a pink blanket. She’d pulled it up to her chin, and she had the same tufts of blond hair. The same eyes swimming with terror.

She poked a tiny finger toward her room and whispered, “There’s someone in my bed.”