(I originally wrote this for a scary story contest on Chilling Tales for Dark Nights. It didn’t win, but I still like it anyway ^_^)
I don’t believe. It’s not real. I don’t believe.
I repeat this over and over in my head, like a mantra, but still the memories, the dreams persist unabated. She comes to me in my dreams. The Gray Woman. Faceless, spine bent into unnatural curves and conformations, drab skirt hanging like a bell around tall, emaciated legs. Reaching, always reaching towards me from the dark, a basket of oozing fungi hanging from her groping arm. I run as if through molasses between the shadowy silhouettes of the trees, bending and shifting as if racked by a gale, though the air is stiflingly thick and still. Every night, the same dream, haunting me, causing me to awaken tense and unrested.
I wouldn’t complain, though, if it were just the dreams. I could deal with the dreams. What bothers me most is when they bleed into reality. When I see the silhouette of the Gray Woman pass across a window, or disappear around a corner in front of me. When I see her out of the corner of my eye in broad daylight, drifting through the city crowd, or standing in an alley, hunched over, faceless visage leering at me from the shadows.
It’s not real. I don’t believe. I don’t believe.
I see other things too, things that shouldn’t exist, that can’t be real. Bright shapes, floating through the air. Objects bending and warping in ways that defy physics, as if a hole is about to open in the fabric of reality. Blood, or black slime, oozing from cracks in the ceiling, dripping to the floor like syrup. People whose faces change when I look too closely, shifting into terrible expressions of malice, with insect eyes and razor fangs. I try to ignore these things, tell myself that they’re just tricks my mind is playing on me. They must be, right? Besides, if I concentrate on them too much, it draws HER closer. Yet still I see them; I can’t help but see them, and every time I do, it brings back the memories, sends them stabbing through my heart like an icy shard.
We were such naïve children, my sister and I. Such stupid children. We found the faerie ring in the woods behind our house. Our grandmother had told us stories of the faerie, stories from the old country that presented them as dark and capricious beings, rather than the innocent flower-dwellers of modern fairy tales. It is said that if one eats the food of the faerie, one can never return to the human world. But that’s just an old wives’ tale. Faeries don’t exist. They’re not real. I don’t believe. But, oh, how I wish that we had back then. We were such stupid children.
My sister felt the effects first, and most severely. I remember my joy as she chased phantom butterflies about the faerie ring, laughing more wildly and freely than I had ever heard. Then I remember that joy freezing into sharp, icy terror as she suddenly shrieked, falling backwards and pointing out into the shadowy mass of trees in abject horror. I rushed to her, concerned, seeing nothing that should have been causing her such alarm. She kept shrieking insensibly even as I tried to comfort her, scrambling backwards away from whatever had frightened her. I couldn’t make out most of what she was trying to say, but at some point I remember hearing what might have been: “She’s coming to get me.” Then, quickly as a flash, she was back on her feet and bolting from the ring, out into the tangled mass of vegetation beyond.
I followed after her, screaming her name, terrified of losing sight of her in the dense forest. Then, something began to happen. The trees around me began to blur, their edges losing definition and focus until they seemed almost to be bleeding into the surrounding air. The blue of my sister’s dress grew brighter and more vivid, her silhouette a cerulean glow that flickered through the branches as she bobbed and weaved in front of me.
Such beautiful colors.
I continued to scramble after her, even though I now felt lightheaded and my balance was beginning to fail me. I shifted my eyes to the ground in an effort not to trip, lifting my gaze only momentarily to make sure my sister’s glowing shape was still ahead of me. The uneven dirt shimmered like a heat haze and seemed almost to breathe, rising up and down beneath my feet. Finally, after several intense minutes of running, I lifted my gaze once again to glimpse my sister – and caught my first sight of HER.
I never get away from her. In the dreams, that is. She catches me every time. I hear her voice echoing through the trees, hoarse yet somehow musical, whispering unintelligible words in a strange language. Then, suddenly, her spindly hand closes around my forearm like a vice and she pulls me inexorably closer, her blank face stopping mere inches from mine. She stinks of soil and rot, and I instinctively look away, my gaze falling on the basket in her arm. I realize with horror that the basket is filled not with fungi, but with human body parts, severed fingers and toes, all oozing black blood – and all adorned with my sister’s favorite pink nail polish. I freeze, petrified with grief and terror, and that’s when the Gray Woman violently shoves her skeletal fingers into my mouth, tasting of dank and death and faerie poison.
And that’s when I wake up. Trembling, sweating, and still unbearably tired. I tell myself that it was just a dream, it’s not real, the Gray Woman is not real and she can’t hurt me. But in those dark, frightened hours of the early morning, my mind sometimes whispers that she lives even so. That she lives somewhere beyond reality, behind it… or perhaps even in my head. That if she gets a hold on me, she can draw me out of reality, into a terrible twisted dimension, into insanity.
No. NO! She is not alive. She doesn’t exist. I don’t believe. I don’t!
Sometimes, too, lying terrified in my bed reminds me of another bed – a hospital bed – where I experienced the greatest terror of my life. I don’t remember how my sister and I got to the hospital. I just remember waking up to her shrieking in terror once again and seeing the Gray Woman, oozing from the wall above her bed, taking terrible form as she emerged. I’d like to say that I ran to her aid, but I was petrified by fear, and perhaps by whatever drugs were dripping through my IV. The Gray Woman reached down towards my sister, gripping the sides of her face as the terrified girl shrieked and thrashed beneath her. A dark aura seemed to surround the both of them, as if the fabric of spacetime was collapsing around them. The Gray Woman’s hands stretched and morphed, warping into a mass of tiny, fungus-like tendrils that burrowed their way under the skin of my sister’s pale face.
The girl’s shrieks redoubled in intensity, and she bolted upright in the bed, ripping out her IV as she tore at her face with long, pink-painted nails. Several doctors heard the commotion and rushed to subdue her, but in her adrenaline-fueled rage the little girl somehow found the strength in her body to overpower and evade them.
One of the doctors had a scalpel in his pocket.
I like to tell myself that most of what I saw happen that night was an illusion, like the Gray Woman. However, even when I felt that I had fully returned to reality, I still saw the splotches of blood on her favorite teddy bear, and the deep gashes stretching across her face and neck as she lay in her casket, not entirely hidden by the mortician’s cosmetics.
One night, I awoke before the dream was over. A loud crash of thunder jerked me from my restless slumber, and as I blinked the sleep from my eyes, I slowly began to realize that I was not in my bed. Confused and afraid, I tried groggily to get my bearings. I felt a chill and realized that my nightgown was soaked through; then I felt the rain still falling on my back. Looking around, I could barely make out the silhouettes of trees looming all around me in the darkness. My heart fluttered with mounting panic as I turned my gaze downward and saw my hands covered in soil, clasped tightly into fists around… something… which felt squishy and organic in my palms. I raised one hand slowly to my face and, with nearly unbearable trepidation, forced it open.
In my palm, its cap hanging like a bell over a bent, emaciated stalk, lay a single mushroom.