First appeared in Night Terrors II, January 2012.
Amanda C. Davis
The floor was lava.
Emily crouched on the arm of the sofa and surveyed her options. The rocking chair. Dangerous, but tempting. The armchair was perfect, but it was all the way across the room; she’d need an intermediary. There was the bookshelf (too high) and the little wicker chair that held a decorative doll (absolutely, positively forbidden to touch–she’d learned that the hard way). But the lamp stand…
She stretched an arm just to see how far it really was. Her fingers brushed the edge. She got up on her toes on the very tip of the sofa’s arm. She could make it. It would be an incredible act of derring-do, but she could make it. She steeled herself for the leap. Like they said in the cartoons: one small step for man….
The front door banged open. Emily fell backward onto the cushions. She heard her father’s shouts before she saw him, so she sat up fast–had he seen her jumping on the furniture? But he was shouting at her mother, not her, and moved so quickly through the living room that she doubted he even saw her.
“Nothing. Don’t take anything. Shoes, get shoes. Where’s Emily–?” He spotted her and swept her up. In a dizzying few seconds they were in the front room. “Put your shoes on. We have to go.”
“Go where?” said Emily.
Emily’s mother tried to help with the shouting: “Paul, you’re acting crazy! Just stop for one minute–” but Emily’s father was much better at it–and by then he had Emily on his knee and he was grinding the sneakers over her footie pajamas without even undoing the Velcro. It hurt, but Emily knew with deep certainty not to mention it. She didn’t say anything. Not when her father stood her back up; not when he faced her mother and shouted right over her:
“Trust me, Lisa. We have to move. Now.”
Emily’s mother’s face went strange and hard; it got lines and looked old, all at once. She grabbed Emily into her arms. Then off they went, out the door to the garage, into the car–not even into the car seat!–and the car went screaming out of the garage into the street.
Emily sat on her mother’s lap and tried her very hardest not to cry.
“Paul, please. I need to know–”
“It was an accident. At the plant. I don’t know what happened. I only saw, and I knew–I knew we were working on something bad–what’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I stop them before this?”
“I didn’t stop to think. I just left. We’ll just leave. Once we’re gone, we’ll think of something, we’ll be okay….”
“Where are you taking us?”
“I don’t know, Lisa, I don’t know, I don’t care as long as we just–”
He stopped shouting then, but it didn’t get quiet because another sound happened: a terrible screech. Emily’s mother screamed and that made it worse. Her arms went around Emily even harder, so hard it hurt. Emily buried her face in her mother’s chest with her eyes closed tight…so she didn’t see. She didn’t see anything. But everything went crazy, up and down, side to side, and then everything hurt, and then–
Then she was sleepy as if it was morning. Then she was cold. She opened her eyes.
It was dark. She was in her mother’s arms. It felt wrong. She said “Mommy” and reached for her mother’s face, but couldn’t find it. Her mother didn’t move.
Her father was wrong. Folded over. The car was wrong. She saw the seats hanging above her. But her father was there on the floor of the car that used to be the ceiling, looking at her. Talking to her.
“Emily. You have to be really brave. You have to leave us here and go away.”
She said, “No no no no,” like she used to, not long ago, before she learned her words, in the days when no matter whether she was angry or sad or confused or tired, she could only say “No.”
“Yes. Listen to Daddy.”
Something soft thudded against the window. She looked across her wrong-way Daddy to see a man scrape past, very slowly. His hand clung to the glass like a bad Squeegee. It fell away when it hit the door handle.
More thuds. Another man. A woman. A whole lot of men and women…she peeked back and front and out of her own window, and saw them everywhere. Slow. Strange. Wrong.
“Listen to Daddy, Em.” She looked back. “You have to be a big girl. Get out of the car. Go through the woods. Find someone to help you. Someone who looks…” He made a weird sound. Blood came from the side of his mouth. “Someone nice. Like a policeman or fireman or teacher. Someone. But Emily, listen….”
“Daddy, no, no….”
“Don’t touch the people. The people are…poisonous. They’re bad. Don’t touch.”
“The people are lava,” said Emily.
“Yes,” said Daddy, and he made the weird noise again, only she thought he kind of smiled. “The people are lava. Don’t touch the people, Emily, but go as fast as you can, and we love you, and you’ll be safe, and go…go….”
But he had stopped talking. He didn’t even make the weird noise.
One of the back windows was gone, just a ring of sharp teeth in the door. Emily crawled over the ceiling floor and squeezed out. It wasn’t hard to fit. She fell with a thump and stood up. All around the road there were people walking and swaying and standing still. They were all wrong. Far off she saw the edge of the forest, where Daddy had told her to go.
“The people are lava,” said Emily.
Then she wasn’t small or scared. In an instant, she was brave and confident, an explorer, an adventurer, and she laughed in the face of lava. She was an expert at this game. She could make it. Like they said in the cartoons: one giant leap for mankind.
Emily began to walk.
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