I took the last drag of my cigarette and dropped the end on the damp asphalt path. The midnight rain cooled the late summer air, creating a fine mist that crawled along the park grounds. I felt as though I was the only living soul wandering about. The street beside the path beyond the wrought iron gate was quiet – unsettlingly so for the city. No lights shone from the windows of apartments, nor was there life in the storefronts readying for the day. I didn’t see or hear any signs of vehicles. Not even the chirp of crickets broke the silence. My only company was the blue glow of the Gothic street lamps lighting my way.
No, that wasn’t true. Insomnia was also with me. My lifelong friend was the reason I ventured out at this time of night, hoping the aimless wandering would make me weary enough to return home to my waiting bed. I had been gone for an hour already, but the viper of sleeplessness kept the embrace of rest at bay. I was beginning to believe that tonight, like so many others before, would have to pass with my eyes still open. I checked my phone for the time again. It was only half past three. The nearest coffee shop wouldn’t be open yet. I regretted not making a cup before I left since I had no hope for reprieve. I could have sipped it whilst watching the sun rise beyond the endless river.
When I reached a bend on my journey I noticed something odd in the distance. A little girl, seeming only six or seven years old, was sitting all alone on a wooden bench. She didn’t seem afraid at all. She just kept her gaze on the ground, her tiny legs swinging freely above it. I couldn’t begin to understand why a child would be out at this time of night parents or no. Even stranger to me was her manner of dress. She was wearing an antiquated calico fabric dress like one I had once seen in a museum, albeit stained and tattered. She was even wearing buttoned ankle length leather boots. I couldn’t see her face as it was obscured by her ridiculously long hair that looked as if it once fell in gentle curls, but now was tangled and filthy with a huge once white bow tied tightly into it.
I kept my distance from her so I didn’t scare her with my sudden presence. I waited for some time leaning up against a street lamp to see if somebody would come to retrieve her. I lit and finished another cigarette with no evidence of any guardian in the meantime. It was only her and I there; me watching her, and her continuing to stare at the ground with patient stillness. It became apparent she was completely on her own in the city in the middle of the night. Eventually I gained enough courage to approach her with caution.
“Are you okay?” I said to her when I reached her, “Are you lost? Where is your mommy and daddy?”
She didn’t respond. She didn’t even look up at me. She didn’t seem fazed by me at all, even when I crouch down next to her.
“Do you need help?” I continued, “Are you ill?”
Again she didn’t respond.
I decided it would be better for me to just call the police and let them handle thing further when they arrived. I didn’t want any unnecessary trouble in case something was serious. I pulled out my phone to dial and the light of the screen finally stirred her, but not in the manner I was hoping. The little girl grabbed my wrist with a grasp like a frozen vice, crushing it. The shock caused me to drop my phone, shattering the screen. The air around us changed. It was no longer the mild warmth it was. It was cold, petrifyingly so. It bored into me filling me with unspeakable fear. I tried to breathe, but it only became a ball in my throat.
The little girl looked up at me and I knew. Her pallor was a sickly ashen green. All her veins branched out visibly in a deep blackish blue. Her face showed no signs of life, but decomposition seemed to have ceased after livor mortis. I looked into her eyes, sunken into her skull, bloodshot and soulless. All time around us stood still. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream. I was trapped in the devil child’s clutches.
After a moment she leaned closer to me. Her rank breath sent waves of nausea over me. Her blackened lips twisted into a malice filled grin, exposing her stained piranha like teeth. She laughed at me. It echoed all around me, before she finally made her way to my throat. I heard her jaw dislocate when she opened her mouth wide. She clamped down onto me disorienting me with the worst pain in my life.
I felt her drain me. I felt the warmth of my blood running down my chest. I felt my heartbeat fade as the world around me became a haze. The little girl’s horrid smile etched into my mind was the last image I saw before the world turned to blackness.