AfterWorld Part 3
New to the story? Find Part 1 and 2 linked below.
ShyShy’s adventure continues in Part 3
ShyShy rushed from Silvio’s redwood tree. She didn’t bother to remove the dress the apartment had given her before racing through the walls. The bright colors of the cloth dimmed in the darkness of the forest. Her vision wavered as her eyes filled with fearful tears. She wiped the sticky blood from her hands down the front of the dress. Mother’s cry echoed off the wood, weaker than what ShyShy had heard inside the tree. Breathless, she hurried home. She had to get to her, had to make sure that she was safe. Without hesitation, she dashed through the watery entrance of the cave.
Just the crackle of the fire, their dirty dishes still discarded where they had been sitting.
ShyShy squinted in the dim light of the fire and made out the disturbed dirt floor. Two grooves extended out from the disrupted dust like something had been pulled away. A scuffle?
A distant wail sounded outside.
Mother’s moan hit ShyShy in the gut. She understood the wordless cry for help. ShyShy nibbled on the inside of her cheek and fixated on the last trace of Mother.
Footprints surrounded the drag marks out of the cave. ShyShy didn’t recognize the impressions. They were like her own, but with toes spread wider apart. At least two sets, maybe three.
Her feet pounded on the dirt, and her chest heaved up and down as she ran. Tight breaths squeezed past looming panic as she followed the shrubs that had been yanked from the ground. Bloody scuff marks stained tree trunks on the path.
Mother had fought back.
If ShyShy got to her quick, she could help. They could fight off the monsters that had taken her together. ShyShy sprinted through the forest, urged forward by the sounds of Mother’s cries. They were so close.
She was right on them.
ShyShy broke through a bush. Thorns raked her skin and, as though plants understood her pain, flashes of desperation and anger squeezed the air from her lungs. She pushed her legs forward.
Her feet smacked against the cement of a subway tunnel.
She gasped. A vision. She must have snapped a branch on the bush. She searched her hands and arms for blood, but only found the raking marks where the thorns had scratched her skin. She couldn’t see the blood in the bush’s core.
ShyShy scanned the tiled station. It was abandoned. The lights flickered overhead. Who’s eternity was this?
A bundle of rags moaned in front of ShyShy. A hand broke through the mound with dirt under its fingernails and encrusted in the grooves of its fingers.
“Whothere?” The words slurred together.
ShyShy rushed to the walls. Her fists ached as she slammed them repeatedly against the tiles. She didn’t have time for this. She had to find a way back.
“Hey!” The pile of rags barked at her. “Whatcha doing?”
Over her shoulder, the mound stood up. It was a large man, standing over six feet tall and covered in a layer of grime. He staggered toward her, repeating the question.
“Whatcha doing? My home. Ge’ out!”
“I’m trying!” ShyShy screamed back.
She bit hard on her tongue to stop her tears. She couldn’t afford to cry now, she needed to keep her vision clear, her mind focused.
Her breath caught in her throat just as her fist fell through the wall. She didn’t have time to hesitate and jumped through, back to the AfterWorld forest.
ShyShy panted on the other side of the bush. Her vision blurred from the rush through the different worlds. Dizzy and sore, the AfterWorld came into focus.
Mother’s pale face stared up at her, eyes wide and mouth agape. Halfway in the waters to the LowerLevel, her fingers splayed out, grasping for something to hold on to. Scaled limbs wrapped around her neck and shoulders. The skin that had been touched by the limbs blazed red with burns.
ShyShy dropped to her knees and clasped her fingers around Mother’s. Mother muttered gibberish, her own eyes wide with fear. ShyShy wanted to comfort her, tell her that everything would be okay, but Mother slipped farther and farther into the LowerLevel.
She grunted and pulled with all her strength. With a yank, Mother inched up. Hope blossomed in ShyShy’s mind. She was going to get her out.
Another limb flung itself around Mother’s arm and drew her back. ShyShy’s knees dragged against the dirt floor. Twigs and stones scraped her skin.
ShyShy clenched her jaw and heaved. Her teeth latched onto the inside of her cheek, finally breaking the fragile skin. Blood filled her mouth as ShyShy squeezed her fingers around Mother. They both refused to let go, the pressure of Mother’s grasp bruising the tops of ShyShy’s hands.
Another tentacle leapt from the swamp and struck ShyShy across the face. The lash burned, and she gasped. Again, the limb struck, this time latching itself around ShyShy’s wrist with a wet smack. The moisture coming off sizzled and blistered ShyShy’s skin. She cried out in an effort to keep her grip on Mother. A second tentacle erupted from the swamp and wrapped its venomous grip higher up on ShyShy’s arm. The creature had no end, with more tentacles erupting from the watery entrance to wrap around ShyShy and drag her down. The mucus that wiped off the limbs festered against ShyShy’s skin. Her body screamed for release. Her fingers grew slick with sweat and she started losing her grip on Mother.
No, no, no!
Every joint in her fingers cramped. She couldn’t let go. She had to pull Mother back to her. The tentacles dragged them both into the watery entrance to the LowerLevel. The murky swamp lapped at ShyShy’s knees.
A guttural moan erupted from Mother’s lips. ShyShy met Mother’s tear-stained stare. Her grip on ShyShy’s hand loosened. The teenager no longer noticed the burning tentacles wrapped around her body. She understood Mother without words and her body numbed. She couldn’t pull Mother out. The creatures were too strong.
The banshee released her grip on ShyShy.
“No,” ShyShy gasped. She leaped forward, leaning over the swamp, but her fingers grasping at empty air. The banshee’s white hair billowed around her as she sank below the surface.
The tentacles released ShyShy and the cold air brushed against her burnt skin. She didn’t notice as she scoured the water. Mother. She’d find her. Get her back.
ShyShy dropped her hands into the swamp, desperate to grab onto an arm or even a handful of hair, but her hands came up empty.
The water settled. ShyShy mouth hung open.
She stared into the dark. A breeze rustled the trees around her and ShyShy watched the hanging vines above her. They danced in the breeze, avoiding her as if they were avoiding her pain, just as she had so often avoided theirs.
ShyShy nibbled on her lesioned cheek. The taste of her tangy blood made her nauseous. A tremble erupted in her stomach and the quiver rattled through her bones. Behind her, a branch shook loose and crashed to the floor. What had broken it? She searched the shadows of the forests. Panic tightened her throat. All at once, she was back again to that moment when she had first arrived in the AfterWorld.
She needed to do something, but her mind was empty.
Another tremor erupted through her body.
Should she go back to the cave? She could go to Silvio. He might know what to do.
Yet, she remained rooted beside the LowerLevel entrance.
ShyShy wanted to hold her. She wanted Mother to run her fingers through ShyShy’s hair, to coo and murmur, and sing her a lullaby until she fell asleep. ShyShy was so tired that she could curl up right there on the rough forest floor and fall asleep. Maybe the creatures would come for her next to bring her back to Mother.
She released the inside of her cheek and stood up. Her burns throbbed. She stared at the LowerLevel entrance.
Mother wasn’t gone. She’d been taken to the LowerLevel, but she was still alive.
ShyShy brushed a stray hair from her eyes and gathered the rest of her curls between her hands to tie it back. Despite her trembling legs, she took a few strides back and inhaled deeply.
Mother had saved her when she first arrived in the AfterWorld. She had taken ShyShy in and taught her about this dark forest.
With a deep inhale, ShyShy dove into the swampy waters.
It was her turn to save Mother.
Thank you for reading. Part 4 is available to see what happens next! Let me know what you think of ShyShy’s in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and share.