She wasn’t breathing—not properly at least. The air would enter her windpipe but form a lump in her lungs that would slowly spread only seconds later. Another lump of air burned in her lungs before supplying her clenched body with oxygen. Her stomach was stiff and her limbs were numb.
When more air entered through her slightly open mouth, it didn’t enter her lungs; rather it lodged in her throat where it constricted her muscles.
Maya opened her eyes and started to cough and fresh air entered her lungs. She could breathe again, but only barely.
Rolling over to her side, with her head raised, she was attacked by another bout of coughing that hurt her throat and chest.
Between coughs, she took in big gulps of air and felt her muscles relax and invigorate.
A hand patted her on her back and Maya stiffened. She looked down and saw the hem of a white chiffon dress. She turned to see the old woman look down upon her with concern.
Maya let out a small scream and dragged herself away. The old woman didn’t seem perturbed by her reaction, instead she turned away and picked up her wide comb. Gathering her hair with one hand, she started to comb with the other while singing softly again.
In the moonlight, her tendrils looked like silver threads and Maya found herself being mesmerized by her long hair. It took her several seconds to register that the old woman had used her silver long hair to strangle her. And her face had turned...
In a stupor, she stared at the old woman whose face looked kind in the soft light of the moon.
“You tried to kill me.” The words had left her mouth before she could stop herself.
The woman’s hand paused as she combed her hair and so did her humming. She had heard her, yet when she resumed combing her hair, Maya realized the woman was ignoring her.
She pushed herself away from her, watching for any change in expression. The old woman had begun singing again, her voice so soft and comforting, as if she were singing a lullaby to a child.
Maya’s eyelids grew heavier and she fought hard to not be drawn back in. A voice was awakening in her mind, telling her about going back to the old woman and fall asleep in her lap. She would never have her mother’s love, but she could have this—a dreamless night’s sleep free from all her troubles. The voice egged her on, telling her to stop thinking of ever escaping these woods.
“Don’t go,” The wind whispered in her ear.
“No,” Maya told herself and then again, firmly.
This was all a mirage of lies, a trick to hold her back.
She forced herself to remember how grotesque the old woman’s face had become and how she had tried to strangle her with her silvery hair.
Her limbs gathered up all her energy and made her stand up. She had to run as fast as she could, but something was still holding her back.
The old woman seemed not to have noticed her predicament or her movements since she had veiled the side of her face with her own hair.
Maya stepped back as soft-footed as she could manage. She cursed her heels and wished she had worn something more practical like sneakers. Raising one leg, she used her hands to unstrap her heels. Her fingers deftly unbuckled and pulled off the shoe and she repeated this with the other..
With her heels in her hands, she gazed at the woman who remained oblivious of her movements and her plans to escape.
She took another step back, wincing as the soles of her feet scraped against a thorn. Taking a deep breath, she whirled and began running when she heard a voice.
“Don’t leave me.” The voice was familiar and Maya immediately stopped in her tracks.
She looked at the old woman and saw her with despair in her eyes.
“Please don’t leave me here alone.” The old woman begged.
Maya blinked at the old woman whose voice was now that of her mother’s. For a fleeting second her face had morphed into her mother’s as well.
She raised up her hand, beckoning her and Maya could do nothing but stare with utter disbelief.
“You’re not my mother,” She managed through numb lips. The energy had been zapped out of her limbs again and she was standing only because she was incapable of any other movement.
“No, but I can give you a mother’s love,” The old woman said sadly. “I used to have children, two of them. A son and a daughter. I loved them so much.”
“Wh-what happened to them?” Maya asked.
“They wanted to leave me.” Her tone had changed though it still sounded like her mother’s voice. She turned so that she was now standing face to face with her. “So I killed them.”
Maya felt a cold shiver run down her chest to her stomach. The woman’s eyes were no longer kind. It had darkened into a well of madness and a wide grin appeared on her face.
Maya gasped and stepped back, but still couldn’t make herself escape this place.
The old woman raised one pointed finger up at the sky. “Until I don’t bring their souls back with me. they won’t let me in.”
“Who won’t let you in?”
“They.” The old woman tilted her head, her silver hair swaying as the cold breeze of the night brushed against them.
“But I can’t find them.” The old woman put both hands on her head and then straightened when her eyes fixed on her. “You’re here.”
“I’m not your daughter,” Maya replied, finding her voice.
The old woman appeared dejected. “I know. But then how do I leave this place?”
The old woman waved her hand around their surroundings. “I don’t want to be here any longer.”
“Please don’t kill me!” Maya sobbed. “Please...”
The old woman gave a kind smile. She stepped closer and put one of her taloned hand on her head, smoothing he hair.
“It’s not you. I thought you were. It’s one of your friends.”
“What?” Maya asked, rattled by her words. She wanted to pull away but was afraid she may anger the mad woman.
“One of your friends will die tonight,” She continued, speaking to her as if she were soothing a crying child. “It’s not you.”
“Who’s going to die, and how do you know? Please don’t kill them!” Maya rambled.
The old woman turned away, her silver hair swayed in the gentle breeze.
“Someone will die tonight. .”
Maya saw the woman stretch out her arm. “It’s a message rushing through my veins. One of them will meet their demise tonight.”
“I have to find my friends,” Maya said, more to herself.
The old woman stiffened. “I can feel it now. They are close.”
“What? Who?” Maya wanted to grab the woman and shake her until she revealed more, but the image of being strangled by silver hair returned and she paused.
“The one who’s going to die,” The old woman said, her voice devoid of emotion. She dropped her shoulders and bent her legs. When she turned with her clawed hands before her, Maya was reminded of a wild animal getting ready to charge and pounce on its victim.
The old woman’s face morphed into a demon’s. Her purplish skin looked wrinkled and stretched, while her eyes had turned into a fiery red glow. She opened her mouth and saw pointed needles instead of teeth.
Maya fell on the ground at the sight of such a demonic person. He heart turned cold and she held her breath when the creature before her opened her mouth.
Maya uttered a shrill scream and found herself being swept back by an invisible force. She struck a tree and hit her back on a rock, but was too frightened to feel the pain or the wetness of blood pouring down her back.
Her eyes searched for the demonic creature and found her walking with hoofed feet towards a grove.
“Don’t kill...” Maya tried to say, but the creature didn’t hear her.
With the last of her strength, Maya opened her mouth and screamed.
“Run! She’s coming after you! She’ll kill you!”
The demonic creature turned its head to look at her and then gave a low hoarse chuckle before going in search of its victim.