Julia Benally

The July Selected Writer is Julia Benally

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by Julia Benally

I’m missing something. It’s on the tip of my mind. Where am I, anyway? I’ve been wandering through broken cars on an empty freeway for hours. Well, it used to be a freeway. The cement dividers just stopped and it turned into a regular highway. Reminds me of switching crayons when I was a baby girl. I’d get bored of the color I was using and go to a different one. I’m not too much older than those days. Okay, I’m twelve, six years older. Mom says that’s not a long time, but it sure seems a long time to me. Where’s my mom?

I enter a little neighborhood. It’s really weird. The houses are built on hills, and the road’s below them, like a black river in a cement canyon. Bushes are growing down the sides of the gray walls. There are trees, but I have no clue what kind. They’re all growing by the houses. Nothing but grass and dandelions like to grow by the road.

I can reach the houses using their own personal stairs. Where do the cars park? Did these people have any cars? Oh, wait. There are some cars. They’re crumpled against the walls on either side of the road.

All the lights are on in the houses, and the streetlights are that creepy orange. They make me feel lonely, even if there are people walking around. Now it’s extra creepy, because this place is all empty. I'm going to figure out where I am. Maybe somebody’s home?

I head up a random stair. How do they get groceries up here? My legs are hurting by the time I reach the two-story house. I can smell flowers up here.  There are yellow ones growing under the windows. Light is shining through the open curtains. These people are crazy doing that. Don’t they know about weirdoes?

I knock on the door. Nobody answers. I look inside. I see a little living room, dark wood floor, and a boxy T.V. like the one my mom has from the 90’s. It still works. Sometimes she watches movies on it in the basement, using a half-dead VCR from the 80’s. VHS movies are lined under the T.V. I can’t see what the titles are.

Somebody has got to be home. I knock again, and the door creaks open. Hopefully no Mattie-eating dog is on watch. Oh yeah, that’s my name: Mattie. It’s short for something. Hm…
Anyway, this house looks like it has a Mattie-eater inside it. Maybe that’s why the owners left all the curtains open, but aren’t they afraid of the dark looking in? There are no dark-eating dogs. If I call out and a dog comes, I can slam the door shut before it reaches me. Shouldn’t the dog have been barking already, though? I’ll play it safe anyway.

“Hello?” My voice sounds scratchy. I clear my throat and try again. “Hello?” It didn’t work. Something weird is going on. “Do-rey-mi-fa-agh!” I sound like a sick frog. I’d shoot me if I heard that in my house. Uh-oh, I just remembered there might be a Mattie-eater.

I step inside, sniffing for dog. No matter how clean people keep their dogs, I can always smell them. I used to like the smell, but it makes me gag now. All I can smell now is old suitcase. After Grandma died, my mom opened up some of her suitcases from the 50’s. There had been a will inside one of them. It said we could have all the suitcases. My grandma was kind of funky.

“Hello? Anybody here?”

Bug feet crackle across the floor. They must be wearing tiny bug shoes. I head into the kitchen. I can see the lonely black road gliding through the neighborhood. Grass is growing out of the cracks. The edges remind me of broken saw teeth. When my brother tried to saw the cement in the driveway, he ground all the teeth off. Dad spanked his butt for that.

Car lights beam against the still trees somewhere on the other side of the cement canyon. It moves toward my house.

Who’s driving? Can this person tell me where I am? Can whoever it is get me out of here? They might even know who I am. They might be a weirdo, too. Watch it, Mattie. Movement in the street catches my eye. I lean closer to the semi-clean glass to get a better look.

It’s a woman. I guess she’s pretty young, but if you’re titled ‘woman’ instead of ‘girl,’ you’re pretty old. She’s got long yellow hair, like a crayon. It’s stuck to her terrified face and clinging to her arms and shoulders. Her mouth is open, but I can’t hear anything through the closed window except that oncoming car. It rounds the corner, bright headlights flashing like sun on mirrors.

The car slams into the woman. The dull bump strikes my ears and rattles through my bones. Her body bends backward over the hood like a boneless rag, and then shoots somewhere out of my view. White shoes fly off.

I clamp my hands over my mouth. I can’t scream. My throat isn’t big enough to let it out. The car stops under the nearest streetlight. A huge shadow emerges from the car. It’s like somebody took the black from the bottom of the ocean and gave it a shape. I think it’s a woman, but she’s massive like shot-put women.

She heads to the place where the blonde crashed, and then emerges carrying her mangled body. Head and limbs dangle in weird positions. Something dark floods from the body and vanishes into the road. I know what it is, deep down, but I go into denial. The trunk glides open without the shadow touching it. She shoves the body into the trunk the way my sister shoved her clothes into her suitcase.

My blood’s frozen in my veins, and my muscles are tense. Losing shape, the shadow slides to the roof of the car, like water going backwards. The murky water rises into a standing woman. For the first time I see her eyes: two pinpoints of bright red. She scans the houses across the street. Her eyes reflect off the windows in the houses. It’s like the laser my teacher uses to point at things on the board. Not every teacher has one. Mr. Ramirez is cool like that.

The shadow turns to the ones on my side of the street. My heart clenches up. I feel like if those eyes reflect on my window, she’ll see me. I crouch on the floor as sweat moistens my forehead. Will she investigate the houses? What will she do if she finds me?

The whir of the engine goes up the street. Relief balloons my chest. Looking out the window, I see the red back lights wink at me before disappearing around the bend. I don’t want to stay in the house. I don’t want to go outside. I just want to go home. Tears dribble down my cheeks as I bite on my nails. Where are my mom and dad? Where’s everybody?

“Get a grip, Mattie. You can do this.” I take several long shuddering’ breaths. “Plan. Plan. I need a plan.” Dad said to always have one, or if you don’t have one, stop and make one. Don’t panic.
A plan slowly forms in my rattled head. As long as I keep an eye out for the headlights, I should be safe. I should be able to hear the car coming’, too. I just need to always be near a hiding place.

Now, which way should I go? I look out the window again. Mom says sometimes you can feel where you should be going if you’re still enough. I never tried it. Might as well try now.

It comes to me after a few minutes. When I look in a certain direction, my gut says it’s right. I can’t believe it works. My plan’s formed, I know where I’m going, and now it’s time to be brave.
Straining my ears for the car’s engine, I creep out the front door and hurry down the stairs. I look to the left and listen. Nothing. The car shouldn’t double back, right? I run in the opposite direction. Every footfall sounds like car wheels crunching rocks. My heart skips beats even though it’s quiet.

Calm down, Mattie.

I reach the edge of town. Here the road dips at a forty-five degree angle. This is the perfect place for sledding. My sister would take me and my brother, but she never sledded with us. She’d stay in the car. She was usually drunk by the time we were done. Mom and Dad got mad at her when she plowed into a snowdrift with us.

Below me is a forest full of Christmas trees. The forest looks like a place the car can’t go, off-road at least. It’s got good hiding places. The only danger is the sledding hill. There’s nowhere to hide on it.

I take off at a sprint, feeling like a squirrel racing a hawk to its nest. I saw that once, when we were camping. It was like watching a movie. The hawk was right on the squirrel’s tail. The squirrel made a desperate dive into a hole in the tree and just escaped. Some of the fur on the end of its tail got clipped by the hawk’s talons.

I plunge into the forest, running several yards before I slow to a walk. I made it. I’m safe. I listen. Quiet. There are no lights but the orange ones at the top of the hill. I continue on.

The woods grow so dark that I can’t see anything in front of me. Why didn’t I get a flashlight from one of the houses? The road’s hard under my shoes. No wind blows. My forehead isn’t hot, but it’s damp. This whole place feels like the day they buried Grandma.

A single light gleams through the dark. For a second I think it’s the car, but the light isn’t moving. It’s not blinding, either. I inch forward and come upon a rundown shack. Light is shining through a small window in front. Is the shack empty like the houses on the hills?

Maybe I should keep going, but this is the only light I’ve seen in forever.  This place is in the middle of the forest, but by the time I reach it, the trees have vanished. The shack’s now in a huge foggy meadow. Before I can even wonder what’s happened, car lights cut through the gray clouds. The whir of an engine chills my blood.

I run into the shack.

Rickety boards and sagging floors meet me. An oil lamp gleams on a small table by the window. I saw one of those in Grandpa’s cabin a long time ago. He’d swing it against the walls so that the shadows could dance. Shadows. The woman will see my shadow if I don’t get out of this room.

I speed into a long hallway that twists out of sight. The hallway seems longer than the shack had looked on the outside. Rocks crunch under wheels. Blinding light drowns out the lamp on the table. The shadows on the wall waver, forming into something big. I dart into the nearest room.
Dirt and dead leaves litter the empty room. Moldy wood poisons my lungs with every breath. I can taste it in the back of my throat.

The front door opens. Floors creak with heavy steps. I know it’s the shadow. Nothing else drives the car. Being in the same house with her sends creepy feet under my skin. I immediately go for the window. A board creaks under me. The sound might as well be as loud as the cymbals the drummers fight over in band class. Did she hear? Heavy steps fly down the hallway with a steady boom, boom, boom!

I lunge out the window, but my shirt catches on something sharp. I yank, but the piece of crap won’t come loose. If I have to, I’ll leave my stupid shirt behind. The steps are closing in on the door. Maybe if I get out first, I can jerk it loose. I’m all legs and arms. It’s like trying to get out of a tangle of blankets.

The door hinges whine. I scream in wild panic. I shred my shirt on the windowsill and fall head-first into damp grass. Feet leave gouges in the earth as I scramble away. I’m already running before my hands leave the ground. Glancing back, two hazy eyes glare at me before fog blocks them out.

I can’t breathe, I can’t see, I can’t think. I don’t even know if I’m still screaming. Bright headlights waver through the mists. The engine is roaring, the wheels cutting through unpaved wilderness.

“No! No!” I don’t want to be like the blonde lady who got run over! I don’t want to be smashed into the trunk! The car is gaining on me. My legs feel like sludge. I want to drop and die, but I can’t stop moving.

Orange light makes the fog glow ahead of me. The straight edges of two brick walls loom, standing close together. The blinding lights expose their every crack and dimple. I can almost feel the cold metal slamming into my back. In a last-ditch effort, I dive into the narrow space between the brick walls.

The hideous sound of a thousand thunder cracks batters my ears. Pieces of metal clunk around me. The engine roars as the wheels spin helplessly against the unyielding walls. Scarlet eyes bulge from the car’s murky cabin.

I stumble on jelly legs down the narrow corridor. I don’t care where it leads. I want my mom. Why did I follow my stupid sister? I know this is her fault somehow. She’d been driving too fast.
I suddenly run into a lit city street. I glance back. I’ve come out of an alleyway. This is like that place by the basketball arena. I had gone there with my dad to watch a tournament. When we came out at midnight, the place had been empty except for a single homeless man. When my dad gave him money, dozens appeared out of nowhere with outstretched hands. We almost got swarmed, but my dad was so calm about it. I wish those homeless people were here now.

I jog through the streets. It doesn’t feel safe to walk. It’s too slow. After awhile, I realize that I have no idea where I’m going. I’m panicking. I have to calm down.  I’ll do it in the shadows where it’s safe. Darting into an alleyway, I crouch in a doorway and breathe.

Okay, okay, where are you going, Mattie?

Somewhere to the right.

I follow the alley into another street. Everything here is made of brick. Lots of fire escapes reach to high dark windows. The street slopes downward. It’s more shadowy here. It feels safer. I can run up a fire escape if she comes.

Halfway down the street, a scream pierces the night. I dive behind a car. Headlights gleam in the cross street ahead. A figure sprints by.

“Please, please, no!” she screams. “Somebody help me!”

I know that voice! It’s the first familiar thing in this place! Forgetting myself, I run down the street. I stop dead in my tracks as The Car speeds after her. The impact of the hood against her body sounds like distant thunder. I can just hear her weeping, and then something crunches. I suppress a scream, sticking my fingers into my mouth.

The car drives on.

I make my way towards my unknown destination. I’m getting close. When will this city become something else? Too many times the headlights gleam at the end of the streets. High-pitched shrieks echo on the night air long after they’ve quit screaming. My nerves are about to snap.

Pounding steps race towards my position. I leap behind a trash bin. Blinding headlights flood the alleyway. A gasping man runs close by. The car zooms into his legs. Screaming, he rolls to the side. The car skids to a stop in front of my hiding place. I clamp my hands over my mouth. I make myself as small as possible. The man crawls across the ground as the shadowy woman steps out of the car.

She’s even huger up close. She’s colder than ice. Goosebumps rise on my skin. My breath smokes. I try not to breathe. Please don’t look this way!

“No, no,” he moans. “I just want to go back home. Please!”

She cracks him in the head six times with a massive crowbar. Not a breath or a sound stirs from her lips. Bending, she lifts him up and carries him to the trunk. He’s still conscious, but his body looks dead.

When the trunk slides open, moans, whimpers, and pleas seep out of it. “Please, please,” they say.

She stuffs him in, breaking his body to fit in the tiny space where the other mangled bodies are. His eyes are still alive. Bile rises to my throat.

The shadow steps back into the car and drives away. I keep my eyes averted from the rearview mirror where those red eyes gleam. They might notice me if I make eye contact. The car turns left.

It takes forever for me to get a grip. I can’t stop crying. I want to scream for my mom, but only that thing will hear me.

Finally I get back into the street. A sign on the corner reads “Hospital.” A thrill runs through me. That’s where I have to go. I take off at a jog and reach a big parking lot. It’s big enough for three hundred or so cars, but there are only three in it. Nowhere to hide. Most of the windows are dark, some are lit. As I come closer, some of the lights in the windows go out.

One window’s brighter than all the rest. That’s where I have to go. I wish I could be a cat burglar, then I could climb to the top of the building.

I reach the glass doors. They suddenly blind me. The whir of an engine roars in my ears. I don’t even look back. I lunge into the hospital.

The glass doors shatter as the car crashes into the entryway. I look for elevators, but there are none. I rocket up the steps, passing numerous bedrooms. Unseen people weep in the dark ones.
The shadow had never left her car except in the shack, and when she took people to her trunk. She leaves it now and comes after me with the steady thud, thud, thud of heavy feet. Her strides are as long as mine when I run. She hunches to keep her head from hitting the high ceiling. Her shoulders almost touch the walls on either side.

I scream.

I read the signs on the ceiling and walls: Infirmary, Maternity Ward, Morgue. The shadow has her crowbar raised. I don’t want to go to the morgue! I don’t want to be stuffed in the moaning trunk!

I reach a hallway. I don’t know how I’m in the right one, but I am. The shadow’s crowbar swipes so close I can feel the air on my head. The cries in the dark rooms grow louder. I dart into a still-lit room. Someone’s crying in here. I can’t see her, but I see a mass of bandages in the shape of a girl lying on a hospital bed. A million tubes and wires are sticking out of it.

The shadow enters the room, and I dive into the body.


Machines beep, voices speak in low tones, light is gleaming through my eyelids. Everything hurts. I open my eyes and my mother cries out with joy.

“She’s awake, she’s awake!”

She hugs me despite all the wires. My dad grasps my bloody hand. They’re both so warm. I can’t believe I made it. Doctors run in and examine me.

“She’s going to make it,” says one of the doctors. “You put up a hard fight, kid.” He smiles. “You’re one of the few who made it out of that pileup.”

Mom kisses my head and bathes me in her tears. Movement in the doorway catches my eye. I glance towards it. The shadow is resting her huge hands on her fleshy knees. I can’t feel her cold anymore. I’m too warm and alive. Her scarlet eyes spark in rage and she backs out of the room.

An agonized cry echoes out of the hallway as a heart rate flat-lines.

Julia Benally is a wild Apache lurking in Arizona, wandering the mountains with her trusty nunchucks, Harley Quinn, at her side. Besides writing and killing zombies, she enjoys playing the piano, adores dancing, and loves to sing.

She’s thrilled to announce that her first book Pariahs will be coming out this November. It’s a dark fantasy full of monsters and high adventure.

You can find more of her publications at sparrowincarnate.blogspot.com, and you can follow her on twitter @SparrowCove.

She’s also just opened up a facebook page here: