Rich Rose

The December Selected Writer is

Rich Rose

Please feel free to email Rich at: richrosewriter@gmail.com

rich rose

by Rich Rose

He is walking through a forest. The sky is clear azure and though the trees are lush and green, the ground is coated in ice. This does not strike him as odd.

Though he is naked he feels no embarrassment, because he knows no one is around. His breath mists in front of him and the frozen leaves crunch satisfyingly underfoot.

The place is beautiful, almost perfect, like an illustration.

“Are you real?”

He spins around with a short gasp and cups his hands over his genitals.

“Please… please be real.” The voice is timid, barely more than a whisper. It sounds like a child.

He spots a quilt draped over a tree stump and quickly wraps it around himself. It looks remarkably like the one his mother knitted for him when he was a boy. 

“Hello?” he calls. “Who’s there?”

He waits. A twig snaps then a small face pokes out behind a tree.

It is a girl, no older than seven. She has long, blonde hair and her nose is stippled with freckles.

“Hi there,” he says gently. “What are you doing all the way out here?”

The girl watches him. Her eyes are watery pink and full of apprehension; her cheeks are stained with tears.

“It’s okay,” he says. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Cautiously, the girl steps out from behind the tree. She is wearing a floral skirt and there is a red bow in her hair. Her feet are bare. If the ice stings, she does not let it show.

“Are you real?” she asks again.

He laughs slightly. “Yes, I’m real. Are you?”

The girl nods.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“Abby,” she says. “Abby Bertish. And…and I want my mommy!”

The girl’s face creases and her eyes erupt with fresh tears. 

“Hey, hey,” he says, running over to comfort her.

The girl draws back, terrified.

“Don’t be scared.” He holds his hands above his head. “It’s fine. You’re lost. I’ll help you find your mommy.”

“No.” She snivels wretchedly. “You can’t. She’s not in here.”

“What do you mean ‘in here’?” he asks. “You mean not here, in this forest?”

“No. She’s not here. In this dream.”

He says nothing for a moment. “I—I don’t know what you mean, sweetie.”

“We’re in a dream,” she says. “Your dream. You’re asleep and I found you.”

He takes a step back. “What are you talking about?” His voice is sterner now. The child is making him uneasy. 

“You don’t have any clothes on. And look: it’s icy but not cold. You’re dreaming. I found your dream and came inside.”

He thinks for a moment. He cannot remember how he got here.

His eyes drift across the landscape. It’s true that he cannot feel the chill and now that he really looks, the forest does not add up. In amongst the cedars, there are pines and fir trees; plants he has only ever seen in books: tropical monstrosities with huge waxy leaves and spiraling stems. There is no birdsong or even any wind. Could it be that she’s telling the truth?

He looks down at a caterpillar as it crawls over his bare foot. It is over two feet long. He begins to laugh. It’s normally only when he wakes that he realizes how ludicrous his nocturnal adventures have been; this is the first time he has ever had a lucid dream.

“Please,” she whispers, “don’t get too excited. If you do, you might wake up and I won’t be able to find you again. That’s happened before when I go into people’s dreams. Please don’t wake yet. I need help.”

He stops laughing.

“Okay,” he says softly, careful not to wake himself. “You’re in my dream, but…but you’re real?”

She nods.

“Wait!” He clicks his fingers. “Wait a minute. Abby Bertish. I know that name. You went missing about a month ago! It was in the local news. There are posters around town of your face. I recognize you!”

The girl’s eyes light up. “You mean people are looking for me? My mommy misses me?”

“Of course.” He kneels in front of the child and takes her hand. He can feel the hardness of her nails and the bone beneath her skin. She is real.

“Your mommy is worried sick about you,” he tells her. “I saw her on the news only a couple of days ago. She just wants you back.” The girl smiles, but only for a second. “Abby, listen to me carefully. If you know a way for us to find you, you have to tell me now. Where are you? How do we get you back?”

A look of fear flashes across the child’s soft features. “The lady has me,” she says, her voice a low tremor. “She grabbed me when I was playing and took me to her house.”

“Who was it? What lady?”

“I—I don’t know; I try not to look at her because she scares me. Her house is horrible; it’s cold and always dark. There were other children but they’re dead now. I’m the only one left.”

He strokes her hair. “You’re a very brave little girl. But I need more than that. Where is she? Where is the lady’s house?”

She fixes him with big, green eyes. There are bruises on her face now and her hair is matted and filthy.

“She lives in a small house just outside town. It has white walls but they’re dirty and her yard is full of junk. I used to pass it with my mommy on the way to school and I felt sorry for the person that lived there. But now I know who lives there, I don’t feel sorry for her at all! I hate her!”

He glances down at her skirt. It is in tatters. Her fingers are almost black with grime and a cut runs down the inside of her right leg: it looks infected. Her skinny arms are knitted with contusions and her teeth are yellow with neglect.

“Jesus,” he croaks.

“She keeps me in the basement. I’m there now. It’s so hard to sleep because the floor is cold and hard and the other children are around. Mostly they’re just skeletons now…I can barely look at them.” She draws an arm across her damp eyes and breathes deeply. “But when I sleep, I’m able to find people. Like you.”

He can hear a buzzing now, like a swarm of flies. It’s far away but getting closer. He shoots a glance over his shoulder. The plants are decaying; their fruit lies rotten on the ground. Roiling, purple clouds scud across the sky.

He is growing aware of his body out in the real world. He can feel the pillow against his ear and the hot water bottle lying on his feet. With dawning horror, he realizes he is about to wake.

“I know that house, Abby!” He grabs her by the shoulders. “I know the place you’re talking about! I always assumed it was empty. Is it the one with the broken bathtub out front?”

“Yes!” she cries. “Yes, that’s it!”

“Good, Abby, this is good! You just need to hold out a little longer. You just—”

The forest disappears in a flash.

He is staring at his bedside table. A sliver of morning sun cuts through the gloom. The clock reads 05:58. The alarm will go off in two minutes.

Hold on. If you can still hear me Abby, you just need to hold on a little longer.

He tries to raise his head but it does not move. He cannot feel his arms. He wants to call out but his mouth refuses to obey his mind. Panic swells inside him. He is neither fully awake, nor asleep. His body is stuck in the limbo of sleep paralysis.

He can hear his heart thudding in his chest. His eyelashes are sticky and he realizes he has been crying in his sleep.

Breathe, he tells himself. Keep calm and breathe.

There is a weight on his spine, pushing him into the mattress. It feels like someone is sitting on him.

There’s nothing there. You know that. Nothing!

He closes his eyes and steadies his breathing. If he relaxes, perhaps he will be able to find her again. He lets out a slow sigh. The darkness engulfs him and he drifts down, down, down…

He is back in the forest. It is night now and the place has changed. The trees are long dead and the ground has turned to mud. Above him, a red moon hangs in a starless sky. The blanket around his waist is gone, replaced with a burlap sack.

The whine remains however, nauseating and incessant, like a hundred flies inside his head.

“Abby?” he looks around. “Abby? Are you still here?”

There is no sign of her. He drops to his knees and begins to sob. He dreads to think what might be happening to her in that basement, out in reality.

“I’m still here,” says a small voice.

He spins around. The sight that greets him causes his breath to catch in his throat.

The wretched creature before him is barely recognizable as the little girl he met only moments before. She is so emaciated it’s a wonder she can stand. Her face is gaunt and her eyes are a dismal yellow-grey. Her dress is barely more than a rag.   

“Oh God,” he hears himself say. “Abby, I’ll—I’ll alert the police, as soon as I wake. I’ll call your mommy. People will come and get you, Abby. They’ll come.”

“No,” she murmurs. “Don’t do that.”

What? Why not?”

“Think. No one will believe that you saw me in a dream.”

He pauses then lets out a humorless laugh. “You’re right. That’s a very mature thought for a young girl.”

She smiles wanly then casts her eyes to her feet. Her toenails are long and splintered.

“I’ll come for you myself, Abby, that’s what I’ll do. As soon as I wake, I’ll come for you. It’s the only way!”

The whine is getting louder, more aggressive.

“You promise?”

“I promise. I’ll run straight to my car. I’ll drive to that house and I’ll kick open the basement door. I’ll get you out, Abby!”

“You have to hurry!” She begins to wail. “Promise you won’t forget when you wake up!”

“I promise. I’ll come for you, Abby. Don’t worry. I’ll come! I’ll—”

The flies are almost on him now. Their noise is unbearable. He puts his hands to his ears but another sound tears through: a high-pitched electronic beeping.

And with that, he disappears.


She wakes in the dark.

The cellar is cold and it stinks of rotting meat and excrement. It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust. Around her, she can just make out little mounds: bodies, or what remains of them.

A drop of water lands on her head: a leak from one of the rusty pipes. She rubs her hands over her forearms and shuffles forward. Her foot knocks against a skull, sending it rolling across the floor.

She really hopes he comes. With any luck, she thinks, he is already dressed and running to his car. She has tried so many times to bring an adult here but they always wake before she is able to tell them where she is. He knows the house though…

Her toe catches on something and she looks down. It is a floral dress.

Her eyes pass over little Abby Bertish. The girl is already badly decomposed. Her eyes are empty holes, and flies crawl languidly across her grey skin and through her hair. 

She feels she captured Abby’s likeness well. And her voice.

Yes, she really hopes he comes. Children can only give so much. It’s time for something more substantial.

“Come,” she hisses. “Please come.”

She flicks her tongue in and out in greedy expectation, and in the darkness, she waits.

Rich Rose is a writer from London, England. In 2017, “Whipped,” a TV show pilot that he co-wrote was produced and subsequently featured in The Guardian in an article detailing the best pilots that should make the move to TV. He has previously had work published in The Honest Ulsterman and Storgy, as well as freelance articles in Total Film.