“It feels good to be home,” Richard said as he pulled out his keys. His voice was tired, weary.
“You can say that again.” I walked to my side of our minivan. It had collected a thin layer of dust in the time it sat in the airport parking garage. After two weeks in Africa on a mission trip, we had just arrived back in the United States. I blew off the handle before I opened the door and scooted inside. Richard started the car. The clock on the dash told me it was after midnight.
After a moment settling in, I realized we weren’t moving. I looked at Richard, who was rubbing his temples. “Are you okay?” I asked. “I can drive if you want to rest.”
“No, it’s fine,” he said and he took a deep breath. He straightened up to stretch his back, then fell back into his seat. With a slow exhale, “I think I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep very well on the plane. I’m just trying to wake myself back up. My eyes feel a little fuzzy.”
The trip was exhausting emotionally as much as it was physically. Between long shifts building medical aid buildings, we spent time counseling families. Impoverished communities tend to develop bad habits. As medical counselors, our primary role was to teach the use of medicine instead of dangerous rituals. Some discussions went well and some took time. Two weeks of hard labor and emotionally-draining conversations left us in a fog. Thankfully, sleep on a 12-hour plane ride gave me a chance to reset.
“Well, it’s really no problem if you want to switch seats,” I said. “You can get a chance to sleep more. I’m feeling pretty good, actually.”
“No, it’s fine. Just give me a minute to recover.” He cracked his knuckles and forced his head side to side. He always thought that helped loosen his neck, despite my insistence that it would make it worse.
I saw something move in the side-view mirror.
“What was that?” I leaned down to get a better look through the mirror.
Richard cupped his hands across his face. With a muffled voice, “What was what?”
“I don’t know,” still trying to get a better look through the mirror. “It looked like someone jumped behind our car.”
“It’s a full parking lot. There are other people out there.”
“I know that…he was just so close. It startled me.”
Richard dropped his hands and leaned his head into the headrest. I would have thought he was falling asleep if it wasn’t for the way he was pursing his lips. There was too much strain to indicate any sort of relaxation.
“Are you sure you’re—”
I heard a tap at the back of the car. I twisted to look, but saw nothing. “I think someone’s trying to get in,” I whispered.
Richard turned to look, humoring me.
I squinted my eyes, trying to adjust to the darkness.
Slowly, a faint red glow appeared in the window. It looked like the tip of a lit cigar, but out of focus. “What the—?”
I propped my elbow on the center console and squeezed between the seats to get a better look. The glow was stationary and seemed to get brighter the closer I got. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Through the back window, the glowing embers floated in midair.
I blinked in an effort to bring it into focus, but the glow was too faint.
Then it disappeared.
Beside me, I felt Richard adjust in his seat as his breathing slowed. He must have fallen asleep.
I very quietly crawled in the backseat, keeping my gaze fixed on the rear window.
The glow floated into view again. Though it was still faint, I could see it more clearly now. The glowing orb’s center pulsed with crimson starbursts. It would disappear every few seconds then return, exactly in the same place. As I watched it, I struggled to keep it in focus – it was bright when I looked past it, but it seemed to fade when I looked directly at it.
I sat still for a few moments, hearing nothing but Richard’s soft breathing in the front seat. The glow was unchanged.
I pulled myself up over the back of the seat and threaded myself into the rear of the van. I crouched down into the empty space where our back seats were before we removed them to haul our supplies. Once back there, I sat with my nose against the rear window. The glow was gone.
Staying pressed against the glass, I swiveled my gaze to the left, then the right. Nothing.
I leaned back. When my reflection shifted out of the way, the glow was back. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t looking at something outside the window; I was looking at a reflection. The glow was inside the car.
I turned around. A glowing red eye – belonging to Richard – glared at me from behind the driver’s seat. His face was half hidden by the headrest. As he looked at me, his crimson eye pulsed, blazing with intensity. His fingers gripped the seat, the leather crackling beneath his nails.
His faint breathing turned to growling. His red eyes radiated red from their sockets. He sat up, peering both his eyes over the headrest.
“Richard, what….what are you…” I couldn’t find my words.
He crawled over the seat toward me. His face looked different, inhuman. I heard a slurp from the back of his throat as his lips pulled back, revealing rows of sharp, jagged teeth.
Panicked, I ran my hands along the door, feeling anything that would open the back hatch. Nothing. I turned to bang on the window and screamed until my lungs burned.
When I took a breath, a faint echo of my scream reverberated down the open corridor of the parking garage. The inside of the car was silent; I no longer heard Richard.
I slowly turned around, meeting his pulsing, red eyes.
I opened my mouth to scream, but his hand grabbed my throat and his other wrapped around my back. His long nails sliced into my neck. I grabbed his arms to pull him away. His skin was rough, like stone. Exhausted from the effort, my body fell limp, and I collapsed on the floor.
He pulled himself over the seat and sat on top of me. The skin on his face ripped down the middle and peeled away. The creature’s face beneath had tufts of spiny fur pushing through it. Mucus dripped off the fresh skin, releasing a rancid odor.
As its claw clenched my neck tighter, my vision faded. The last thing I saw was a burst of flame from deep within the hollow of its crimson eyes. Then all went dark.