For this terribleminds flash fiction challenge, it was difficult to choose! More than a few of the photos screamed vivid stories (numbers 8, 18, 21, 28, 29, 35, 38, 39, 42, 43, 44, 45, 47, and 48) but the most vivid (it was a close race between 8 and 29 and 45) ended up being photo number 8, girl chased by penguins.
Allisa bolted upright, dashing her hands across her eyes. As soft ruffles and lacy drapes came into focus, her breathing slowed and she heaved a sigh. It was just a dream. She wanted to run to her mother, but felt too foolish. Her mother would only laugh. What could possibly be threatening about something so cute and goofy?
But those beady little eyes…
She flopped back against the pillows, hugged her velvet bear closer, and closed her eyes.
The images reappeared immediately, ending all possibility of sleep. Though it was too early to rise, she climbed out of bed. A pair of mary-janes and her favorite dress went on like armor, a flower in her curls the shield.
There. That was better.
Feeling more put together, she climbed onto the window seat to watch the dawn and wait for the household to rouse. Her bear, sitting in her lap, joined the vigil.
She noticed it just as sunlight started to spill over the wall: a dark form, lying too still in the shadows of the yard, as yet too blurry to see. She held her breath – and bear – tightly as she strained to make out details in the murky light.
“Plllllllllleeeeaase” the word squeezed from her throat, voice barely more than a whisper. Wide eyes fixed unblinkingly on the shadow. She wanted to run but couldn’t move from her perch.
With startling suddenness, dark and light met. Revealing with terrible clarity a pair of fine leather boots.
Boots that she knew well.
Her father’s boots.
She jerked her head up from where it lay against the window frame. How could she have fallen asleep? The sun shone brightly, filling the yard below with warm light. The empty yard. Empty of shadows, of boots. She rubbed her eyes, climbed down, and picked her bear up from where he’d fallen, limbs akimbo.
“I’m just a silly silly girl!” she exclaimed, scolding herself as her mother would have. She quickly made her bed – like a good girl – and placed the bear on her pillow.
She was almost down the stairs before the quiet pressed in. Pausing mid-step, she strained to listen. Cook banging around the kitchen, parents murmuring over coffee, housekeeper beating a rug, anything.
But there was nothing.
Another step, another pause. Still nothing.
Another step, another pause, and this time she heard.
A throaty click.
Click, click, click. Rapid fire, staccato. The echo of her nightmare.
She ran into the sitting room, losing balance as the smooth soles of her shoes lost grip on the hardwood. She caught herself on her hands, fingers searching for traction in something slick, wet, thick. She stared down at the viscous red covering her fingers and retched. She looked around frantically, but the room was empty, only the puddle to show someone – or something – had been there.
Click-click-click. It was in the kitchen. Reaching blindly, she grabbed the first thing her wet fingers touched, and breaking from her dream, ran towards the sound.
Broken dishes. Coffee beans spilling across the counter. Oven hanging open with a pan of dough on the floor, dropped on its way to the oven. A pair of bare feet lying motionless behind the island. She took in the chaos in an instant, eyes immediately finding her enemy. A figure of black and white, little shorter than she, with its back to the door and leaning over the prone body of the cook as it pressed a long sharp beak into his face. Allisa gagged again as an eyeball popped free and swung from the creature’s beak.
At the sound, it turned and opened its mouth, dropping the eye with a squelch. Glowing red eyes fixed on her, wings spread wide, rapid clicking transforming into a trumpet as it waddled toward her hungrily.
She shrieked wordlessly, heart in her throat yet unwilling to turn and run. With all her might, she lifted her arms.
The fire poker was nearly as tall as she, but somewhere she found the strength to lift. To swing mightily. The trumpeting stopped with a squeak as the poker smashed into the penguin’s head with a gratifying splat. The squat body fell over and slid to the floor with only a whisper. Allisa broke off her shriek.
In the ensuing silence, her limp arms dropped the suddenly heavy poker. Catching her breath, she averted her gaze and stepped past the cook to see who the bare feet belonged to, then, with a cry fell to her knees and pulled her mother’s head into her lap.
“Mum? Mum! MUM!” she sobbed, knowing it was too late. She opened her mouth to call for help, but then closed it. There would be no one to help her. She gently closed her mother’s staring eyes and hugged her close, silent tears falling.
Without warning, the body in her arms lurched and she jumped back, dropping her mother’s head with a thud. The vibrating continued furiously, gaining intensity. Allisa turned her head at another sound, just in time to see the cook’s body stop quivering, his arms and legs start to shrink, and his eye snap open.
Blood red and glowing.
Allisa crawled backwards until her head hit the oven, the sudden burn jolting her to action. She jumped to her feet, turned, and sprinted to the door. Bursting into the yard, she skidded to a stop, jaw dropping.
A large penguin stood next to a pair of empty leather boots. It started to shuffle forward. Movement to the left drew her gaze, and she saw more approaching from the stables. To her right, a few more stragglers.
From behind her, a rustling. She slowly, stiffly, turned to see another pushing itself upright from a puddle of silk. A woman’s silk dressing gown.
Allisa closed her eyes and willed it all to be a dream.
When she opened them, a horde of red-eyed penguins stood in front of her.
She turned and ran.