“Stepping on Poppy” by Claire Eckrich

Read the 5th place winning submission from our Scary Story Contest by Warrior Media.

Fifth+Place-+%22Stepping+on+Poppy%22+by+Claire+Eckrich+%3A+Poppy+is+desperately+trying+to+escape+a+familiar+figure.+Maybe+the+forest+wasn%27t+the+best+place+to+hide...

Image by Omni Matryx from Pixabay

Fifth Place- “Stepping on Poppy” by Claire Eckrich : Poppy is desperately trying to escape a familiar figure. Maybe the forest wasn’t the best place to hide…

The following story contains descriptions of blood and pain, reader discretion is advised. 

On a dark and stormy night, in the thicket of the forest, I was surrounded by tall evergreen trees that towered over the rest of the shrubs, bushes, and moss-covered rocks. The size of the trees blocks out what little brightness breaks through the gloomy clouds from the lightning. The darkness sits on my shoulders keeping me from floating off into oblivion, and the wind swirls and plays with the few curls that escaped the knot atop my head. I sit on a cumbersome rock, damp from the wet mist that spreads into the air like flour when prepping dough. My knees, and hands are bruised and bloody from the climbing and my face is stricken with sweat and dirt, strands of hair sticking to my neck. I know I should keep going, keep running, but my head feels too heavy to move and my legs protest against my efforts to get up. So I sit. 

My body may be burned out and limp from the biggest adrenaline rush of my life, but my mind won’t stop racing with thoughts, preparations, and questions. I couldn’t stop thinking about where I was and how I ended up here. How could I have been so naive? Never again. Will there ever be an again? I look down at my hands, covered in chalices, cuts, and tree sap. Breathing heavily, I close my eyes and silently sob. My soundless cries are full of relief, weakness, and absolute heartache. 

Time passes and I sit, completely still, but then a flicker of light shining in and out of the mist towards my right catches my attention. My vision is blurry and my head still feels heavy but my ears have always been keen. 

I hear him yell, “You out here Poppy? Where are you?” 

Scrambling to my feet, I move several paces away from his voice, but my legs give way from under me and I fall into a dip in the earth where the ground is barren and cold. I turn onto my side and blink back the fogginess that is crawling from the back of my head over my eyes.

“Is that you, Poppy? I can hear you out there…somewhere.”

I grimace in pain, but push through it, climbing to my knees and crouch under some overgrown roots sticking out of the edge of the dip. The crunch of the twigs and leaves grows louder, as does the pounding in my heart. I imagine him looking for me, cap low on his head hiding his eyes which are dangerously angry, his hands, one clenched in a white-knuckled fist, and the other holding his big black flashlight with tobacco and nicotine-stained fingers, his hiking boots that mark his sure and certain steps behind his shadow. Knowing he is getting closer, I try and slow my breathing. The crunching stops, I can faintly smell cigarettes, the sent resting in his dark beard and heavy flannel farm jacket. I can feel him behind me searching. Holding my breath, I turn and arch my neck over the large tree roots. There he is, a nightmare waiting for me. He walks over to the rock where I had sat just moments before and sits down, putting the flashlight on the ground. Then he leans back bending himself over the rock, he takes a deep breath and looks up into the trees. 

“Poooooppppy!” 

His scream echoes throughout the wilderness and birds fly up from their safe havens just as I do. I ran as fast as I can, away from his cries. I hear him behind me. The crunching of twigs and dead leaves became closer and closer. From this, I could tell that his pace was slow and confident. He is in no rush. No matter how much I struggled through the shrubs and past the gargantuan trucks of towering trees, it seemed with every desperate lunge I took, he took a terminating step closer to me. 

How my beaten mass could continue on any longer strangely intrigued me. My mind was wandering and my focus fading, the hysteria of what was going on was grabbing hold of me. I was yoked to what terrors that were paces away from me and my own daunting doubt of a continuation of my immediate predicament. I have to keep going, no matter what. He can never catch me, I won’t ever let him get me again! 

I stop, as does the president crunching behind me. Crouching behind a bolder, I try and calm myself. Once I cannot only hear my heart pounding in my head, I notice a faint sound, a small vibration in the air, like crumbling gravel and bumblebees colliding together at top speed. But then, the smell of sulfur and the sound of a match striking rock grabs my attention. I turned around to see a tall, dark figure leaning against a trunk of a tree, watching me. The only indication that it was human was the faint glow from the end of the figure’s cigarette, lighting up the bottom part of his face, I could see a menacing smile. 

“Thinking about catching a ride somewhere?” He drawled dispassionately. 

From my crouching position, I fell to my knees in utter defeat. 

I breathed out, “Izea”, without even trying to hide my repugnance.  

Izea continued to watch me with his mud green eyes, the only thing resembling light about him. The rest of him was dark, through and through. We stared at each other for several moments before flicked his cigarette at me and strode up to my side. Knowing what was coming I turned away. I felt a sharp radiating pain on the back of my head, then darkness overtook me. 

The smell of wood sap and wet wool woke me. My eyes were having trouble focusing, everything was blurry and the right side of my face was wet. The thickness of the substance and metallic smell meant it was blood. Blood? My blood! I sat up in a start, bringing my hands to my head, and immediately feeling a familiar pain running up and down my face. My hands fall to my lap covered in the color of ash crimson, a mixture of somewhat dried blood and dirt. It was quiet and I take a look around the cabin I had grown so fond of this summer. It was morning and no longer raining. Light poured through the windows of the small room, the fire was out but the coles were still red hot, and wool carpets covering the creaking wood were soaked from being tracked on by wet boots. The atmosphere was so peaceful, I would have not noticed him there, sitting in front of the door starring at me. I starred back. Izea’s legs were stretched, his mud-covered boots still wet from the rain. He was no longer wearing his jacket, just a brown turtle neck, instead his jacket was draped across the bottom of my legs. 

“You looked cold.” He said, nodding at my legs. I winced his false courtesy, terrifying. Izea smiled at my discomfort and pull out a little tin of cigarettes that he probably had rolled while I was asleep. He offered one to me as he had always done, I turned my head in defiance. Sighing, he clicked the tin shut, lit his cigarette, and stood in one switch motion. After staring at the back of my head and taking a few drags he stomped over to the small twin bed that I occupied. Crouching in front of me he delicately put both of his paw-like hands on my knees and squeezed. I gasped at the pain that stabbed the bones in my knees. They had become black and purple from falling on them last night. 

Chuckling, Izea squeezed harder, “Now now my sweet Poppy, you are in enough trouble, so let’s not make me angrier.” His voice was light and provoking, but in an instant, it darkened into something inhuman. “Look at me.” 

I turned my head, tears streaming down my face, catching slightly in the thickness of blood and dirt. His face was cold and still, but his eyes were wild with bloodlust and fury. 

“Do you know what is going to happen next Poppy?” Izea asks, wiping my tears away with his sleeve and brushes my tangled hair back. I shake my head slowing, so as not to worsen my already horrible headache. He smiled that manic grin, teeth gleaming through his beard. 

“Neither do I, that’s what is so beautiful!” 

THE END