Stranger Still

Will You Deny a Stranger’s Hand? by Delina Murray I sit up desperately, dreams fading with each breath. I check the corners; one, two, three, four. Dresser, desk, basket, picture. Clear and empty. In the living room, my buzzing phone. Cold breeze through the window, warm blanket over tired limbs. My head sags back, and […]

Will You Deny a Stranger’s Hand?

by Delina Murray

I sit up desperately, dreams fading with each breath. I check the corners; one, two, three,

four. Dresser, desk, basket, picture. Clear and empty. In the living room, my buzzing phone.

Cold breeze through the window, warm blanket over tired limbs. My head sags back, and I’m

sinking.

The Stranger shuffles their cards leisurely, leaning back into a cushioned chair. The table

is illuminated in the dark of the throne room, the endless halls echo as the cards are spread.

“Kings,” they say, black teeth clacking. My fist closes around a chess piece, the statues in

the room cackle.

“QUIET!” The Stranger bellows, hushing them. I startle, the edges of the white knight

digging into my palm.

“You haven’t yet gone, are you afraid to show your hand?” The Stranger laughs

breathily, sending shivers down to my bones.

“It’s hurting me, I can’t play,” I beg. The Stranger’s cards glow, royal figures coming

alive under candlelight. Diamonds, clubs, hearts, spades.

“Yes, it’ll hurt. It always does.” The Stranger’s head lifts, their eyes nothing but holes of

pale flesh. “And it always will.”

“Not if I can help it,” I whisper into the quiet of my room. I’m on my side now, body

frozen. Was I talking to someone? Corners, the corners. One, two, three—there! He’s here. Long

and static, head up to the ceiling, arms spread; fingers contorted. The black mass, still and

watching. I clench my eyes shut.

“What, you don’t like me in the daylight?” The Stranger mocks at the edge of a cliff.

Ravens peck at my head, a crown of blood dribbles down and my eyes disappear. Big breaths,

one, two, three—

I’m on my back. My eyes won’t open. Keep at it, it starts with the fingers. Claw, grasp,

twitch. I hear a door creaking—my door? —and footsteps. They stop beside my bed. Please, I

don’t want it. The bed dips, my heart jackhammers and my breath quickens. A weight settles beside me. Something pulls my blanket. My mind screams and thrashes while my limbs stay still. The pulling stops. Somewhere far away, shrieking laughter.

I leave my body, floating through the wall, over the city, into the stars. Through the dirt,

down towards the earth’s core. The magma warms like the summer sun. Twirling now, through

oceans, over neon jellyfish fields. Spinning faster, to the crushing depths of the seabed and

up through the swaying pines. Up further, to the bathroom tile of my childhood home, a short

rest on the ceramic. Knocking on the door—one, two, three—OPEN YOUR EYES!

I’m here again, my fingers are moving. One twitch is all it takes to throw my arm over—

I’m free. I sit up, exhausted. The light from outside has barely changed, I can afford a little more

sleep. I check the corners, one, two, three, four. Dresser, desk, basket, picture. Clear and empty.

Cold breeze through the window, warm blanket over tired limbs. My head sags back, and I’m

sinking.

Delina spent the majority of her childhood and teenage years either face-deep in a book or eyeball-to-pixels with a television. Now, she dissociates on the regular and has rebranded her maladaptive daydreams as “creative skills”. She’d like to publish a novel someday. If that fails, she’ll move into the mountains with a horde of canines and wait out the apocalypse.

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