The trees overhead grew thicker and closer together, branches seeming to clench their knobby knuckles together in fists, intent on obscuring the pink glowing light of the winter sky. Their weak flashlights shone narrow laser beams of light, enough to illuminate small stalagmites of branch and ice but little else.
“Jax, we can’t see enough,” she said. “We should do like the cops do on those shows, and walk all arms linked and stuff. Check the whole ground for footprints. And slow down!”
“You’re so silly,” he said. “We ain’t cops, and this isn’t television. Ranger isn’t hidin’ from us. He’ll come to us once he hears us.”
She nodded, and kept following. Just like she always did. Followed quietly in Jax’s footsteps, trusting him and believing his every movement and every breath. She idolized her big brother. Although he could be a douche, he genuinely cared for her. She could see it in his eyes, feel it in his squishy hugs. As much as he teased her and snarked at her, he also looked out for her constantly. Came in her room and hung out with her when she had watched a scary movie, or when mom and dad were having an enthusiastic argument. And he always took her side when she fought with her friends. He and she were a team, and together they could do anything. Even find a wayward pooch in a winter forest in the dead of the night.
After ten more minutes of trudging through snow that was now threatening to seize their legs just above the knees, Jax cried out.
“Prints!” he hollered. “Real recent, too. Snow hasn’t filled ‘em in yet. He’s here, close by. Ranger! Ranger!”
Jax cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted out to the silent woods, and Maya shone her flashlight around the trees to see if she could spot movement. Nothing caught her eye. Just a monotone canvas of greys and whites, crisp snow and leafless flora that had shed their greenery at least a month before. Then, through the beckoning bellowing from Jax’s lips, she heard it. A rumble, swelling through the bush to their left. A low sound, interrupted by occasional gurgling spittle. She squinted and stared at the lifeless bushes, but was reluctant to turn her light towards the guttural utterings. The trees seemed restless, and she swore she could see minute movements from the trees themselves. Something felt wrong. Something felt terrifying.
“Jax,” she whispered. “Over there Jax.”
Jax turned and looked at her, then directed his gaze along the line of her extended pointer finger. His flashlight followed his eyes, and revealed the glowing green eyes of their old faithful friend. Jax sighed a breath of relief, but she tensed.
“Thank god, ol’ boy,” Jax said, walking towards the bush.
She shone the flashlight along Rangers body, and caught a glimmer against his matted fur. Squinting in the darkness against the reflection from the snow, she could make out what looked to be a chain wrapped around his neck.
“No Jax,” she whispered.
Jax paid no mind to her weak protest, and approached the dog. She could still hear the rumbling, like angry thunder brewing in Ranger’s tummy. Jax knelt down, and Ranger began to lick his face. Despite the gesture of peace extended by this pup she had known her whole life, she gasped and covered her eyes. Something was wrong, something was very wrong. Eyes covered, trembling violently within her winter clothes, she heard the rumbling again. She almost felt it. But this time it was accompanied by light. A flash seeped through the gloved fingers covering her eyes, and she heard a snap crack though the night. Then more rumbling and gurgling and spittle. Heavy lapping and mashing. She slowly parted her fingers and peeked though at her brother and Ranger. Jax’s flashlight had fallen in the snow, and was pointing directly at her face. All she could see beyond the blinding light was a heap of dark movement writhing quietly on the ground. She gingerly stepped to the side and out of the spotlight so she could get a better look at what was going on. She immediately wished she hadn’t.
Jax was down on the ground, back towards her, his body heaving up and down. Her hands dropped to her sides, and she forgot all about stealth as she walked around to see what was happening. As she rounded Jax for a frontal view, she found Ranger's face buried in Jax’s chest. She took one step closer, and her boot clicked two buried stones together, sending a muffled knock sailing into the pink night sky. Ranger lifted his head. His jowls were dripping with crimson, and strips of Jax’s throat dangled from his jaws. She gasped, suffocating on her own scream. Ranger considered his audience for a moment, and then nonchalantly returned to his prey.
Her world started spinning, and she ran. Spinning, spinning, she didn’t know which way was home, but she ran. It was like those kids games where you were blindfolded and spun around a million times before your friends pushed you forward to run, laughing as you wobbled like an old drunk and came crashing to the ground. She made it maybe twenty feet before her head came to rest on a pillow of brush and snow, and the world turned from grey to black.
Excerpt From Delivery
Meet Maya, a young woman who lacks confidence in herself, and a driving purpose in life. After suffering an unimaginable tragedy in her childhood, Maya became reclusive and withdrawn, hiding away from others and floating through her days on autopilot. All she has is her menial job, and her dear friend Jordan by her side. After going on a date that turns from pleasure to terror, Maya finds that she is something she never imagined she would be: A murderer. Haunted by ghosts of the past, present, and ghosts yet to be, Maya examines her history, finding that there is more to herself and the world than meets the eye.
Delivery is a story of ghosts, of self-discovery, and of other possibilities. Through her journey, Maya encounters spirits of broken and deranged children, ethereal and monstrous creatures, and pain and suffering in others and within herself. Join Maya and her friends as they put together the gruesome and terrifying puzzle pieces that expose the real Maya, and the consequences of human depravity.