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At fifteen I fell in love with my best friend. Josephine, or Jo as I called her, lived across the street from me. She moved in when we were both ten or so and we hit it off pretty quickly. If you thought of a tomboy, she would most likely be the image you got. One could even be forgiven for thinking she was a boy with a short ponytail from a distance.

Few would call her stunning, but over time I found myself seeing her in a different way than when we were younger and spent out time catching salamanders and cray fish in the stream. She loves sports, loves going on adventures and there are few things she wouldn’t try once. I loved her adventurous nature, one that I wished I had.

She also had her troubles.

Her mother left her father and her which was why they moved into my town, a shitty little mountain town in Pennsylvania. As our friendship grew I noticed that she was alone a lot of the time, spending hours in the woods behind her house while her father worked two jobs to keep a roof over their head. She was very protective of that patch of woods, even I wasn’t allowed near there unless she said so.

Everyone in that town had money troubles, but Jo and her dad were worse off by far. My parents even gave her some of the clothes I outgrew. And while times were tough, I learned later that she wasn’t really that alone.

A warm June day of my fifteenth year found us on the banks of the local river, watching it’s muddy brown water sparkle in the sunlight. We had spent the better part of an hour swinging off a rope into the middle of the river and swimming back. Our clothes were hung on branches as we laid on rocks in our underwear, trying to dry some before riding home.

I stole glances at her and the image of her lying beside me, with her tan skin speckled with water and her black hair matted to her head, stays with me still. She caught my look and gave me a raised eyebrow.

“What’s up?” She rose up on her elbows.

“Nothing.” I took up a stone and skipped it out into the water. “What’s next for today?”

She sat up and pulled her knees to her chest. “Got plans this afternoon. You?”

“Plans?” She was frowning when I looked over. “What you doing?”

“Got a date.” I felt my heart drop and splash in my gut. She couldn’t meet my eyes and I suspect she knew I had feelings for her then, but didn’t want to acknowledge it. “Dave asked me out yesterday.”

I nodded as it was all I could manage. I felt like someone had sucker punched me. “Cool. If he gives you any shit you let me know.”

“I can take care of him if he gets out of line, but backup is always nice.” She stood and pulled her t-shit off a branch and slipped it on. “What are you gonna do?”

“Probably go home and play the SNES. Nothing much to do around here on your own.”

“Sorry.” She said while tying her wet hair into a pony tail.

“For what? I’m more then capable of entertaining myself.”

“Aren’t most boys?”

“Wow. Really? Really? That’s low, Jo.”

“Just calling it like I see it. Anyway, I’ll catch you later.” She laughed and placed a hand to my head as she walked past me and then went up the bank, disappearing into the brush and short trees.

I sat there for a long time, listening to the birds call across the gap of the river and the sound of fish bubbling up to the surface and thought about how much of a dumb ass I was. Finally, after ripping myself to shreds mentally, I got up to leave.

The hair on the back of my neck perked up and a shiver run across my spine. I stopped mid turn and looked back at the river.

The feeling of being watched is always uncomfortable, but when surrounded by trees that created heavy shadows in their depths, the feeling is far worse. The birds had stopped their chirping too and it felt like everything had gone still. I waited, my breath slow and my eyes clicking from side to side as I looked for the source of the feeling.

Nothing. I saw nothing, but the feeling stayed with me as I trudged up the bank. It didn’t leave until I reached the road and hopped on my bike.

I rode home and spent the day inside playing video games.

Jo didn’t come around for a few days and calling always got the answering machine. I decided to go over to her place, but knocking on the front door gave no answer. Their spare key was hid at my house but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to just walk in. Still, I worried about her.

As I walked back across the street I noticed a group of five guys coming up the street, a soccer ball being kicked between them. One of them raised a hand to me. Joey. I didn’t get along with most of the other guys that were in town which is why I think Jo and I became friends so fast, but Joey was always cool with me.

He tapped the ball back to the group and jogged over to me, his soccer cleats loud on the pavement.

“Hey man,” he said, his breath still light. He swallowed hard and wiped sweat from his forehead. “Missed a great game this afternoon.”

“It’s like ninety, how many passed out this time?”

“Only three… no wait, four. We brought a shit-ton of water this time. You need to come play, you can be goalie.”

“Done that before, Joey. Never again.”

He laughed, patted my shoulder. “It’ll be different this time, besides we could have used another player since Dave didn’t show up.”

“He didn’t?”

“Nah, went over to his house, place is up for sale.” Joey looked down the road and scratched at the back of his head. “He didn’t mention anything about moving.”

“When did you last see him?”

Joey thought for a moment and then cocked his head to the side. “Few days ago, I think. Talked shit about a date with somebody.” He grinned. “Guess it went really south.”

I nodded and Joey soon went on his way. I decided to take a walk down to Dave’s to see for myself.

Sure enough, the sign was out front and the place looked empty. The windows were covered over and even from the front porch I couldn’t see much of anything.

Something strange was going on and I felt even more worried about Jo. Did she move too, without telling me? Did something happen on their date? Maybe they went into witness protection. That would be pretty cool, save for the whole not seeing her anymore part. I went home, trying to come to terms with the idea that I may have lost my best friend.

That night something pelted off my bedroom window. I was awake, unable to sleep with a mind full of questions, and it startled me from my bed. I crept over to the window and peered down into the lake of darkness below.

Something moved down there and another pebble whacked off the window. I opened it up and stuck my head out. “Who the hell is that?”

“Its me.” Jo whispered and stepped closer to the house so the porch light could catch her thin frame. “Can you come out?”

“Where have you been?”

“Just come out, I’ll tell you what I can.” She stepped back into the darkness and I went to searching for a pair of pants and a clean shirt. After a few minutes of quiet sneaking, so as not to wake my parents, I stepped out into a misty summer evening and shivered at the chill.

“Jo?” I started down the walkway, searching either side. She appeared from behind a tree and motioned to me. “You better explain to me what’s going on. You witness a murder or something?”

“What? What makes you think that?” She took my hand as she spoke and led me off onto the road. Once there she turned to me and pulled me into a tight hug. “God, I missed you.”

“Missed you too, so tell me why you disappeared.”

She released me and took a few steps back, looking almost sheepish. “Can’t… I mean, not entirely. Something kinda big is going on, but I’m gonna protect you, so don’t worry.”

“Protect me? Jo, what are you going on about?”

She stared at the ground and then licked her lips. “Jeeze, didn’t think it would be this hard. You trust me, right? Like, with your life?”

“Jo—“

“All right, before you get all annoyed, just listen. Dave is gone…”

“I know, I saw the for sale sign.” I said and glanced back down the road. “What happened on that date of yours? He cop a feel and you killed him?”

She laughed, but there was no humor in it. “No, he was a gentleman, but he wasn’t what I wanted.” She started to pace, her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. “I hope I didn’t read this wrong, I’m still getting the hang of… it, but there’s something here, right? Between us, I mean… and like, it’s more than friends. It’s not just me that feels that… right?”

I felt my mouth drop and found no words to say. A large part of me was sure I miss heard her and so I just stammered for a few seconds before she reached out and tapped my chin.

“Just yes or no, that’s all I need.”

I swallowed hard, amazed at how dry my throat felt and how hollow my lungs were. With a deep breath I nodded and said, “Yes.”

She grinned, a look of happiness that I had never seen before. She moved to me, placed her hands on either side of my face and kissed me.

It was just as I expected my first kiss would be: sloppy, wet and amazing. I started to kiss her too and soon after she broke it off and took a step back.

“You got no idea how long I wanted to do that.”

“Oh, I think I got a good idea… yeah.” I said and opened my eyes to see her grinning at me. We stood silent in the night, the moonlight playing off us both. I had so many questions but chose the most pressing one. “But if you feel this way, why date Dave?”

Her lips tighten and thinned. “If we… if this is something we want, I need to get in good with my mom.”

“In good with your mom? What does that have to do with Dave? I thought your mom abandoned you and your dad.”

She sighed. “Should be truthful in relationships, that’s what all the talk shows say…” She seemed to say this more to herself than for my benefit. “I can’t, not yet. Just trust me that you’re safe in all that’s going down and that I’m doing it for us.”

“What are you doing?” I reached out for her but she moved away and glanced to the tree line behind her house. “Jo?”

“This has gone too long already. I just wanted you to know that I’m okay. In a few days I’ll come by and we can really talk.” She moved toward me again and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before running off to her house.

It was days later that I started to notice something. A lot of homes were going up for sale and a lot of the guys that use to hang around had strangely gone missing. The girls were still around and seemed just as confused as I as to why so many were moving. Jo’s name kept showing up too, usually in connection with boys having a date or something with her.

That part left me lost, not only because she seemed to be into me, but that so many guys would go out with her. Like I said, she was a tomboy and I remember most of the guys would make fun of her looks behind her back. They never wanted anything to do with her before.

In the end, six homes were left empty. The last one I saw while in the front seat of my mom’s car on the way home from the store.

As we passed I noticed that the person putting the sign up was not just any random guy, but Jo’s father. I realized then I had no idea what her dad did, but it felt strange that her father was there.

I started to fear exactly what Jo had going on. No one had any idea the families were moving and no one could recall a moving truck, or even seeing the families move stuff. It was like they just flat out disappeared from the face of the earth. What could do that?

I wondered a lot those few days and wondered even more when I realized I was the last boy of my age around. Even Joey had gone.

Almost a week passed since I’d seen Jo that night. Then one day there was a knock on the back door where my family had a little rec room. It was where my gaming stuff was and a lot of my old toys. I was there working my way through Final Fantasy 2 as it had been raining all day.

I hit pause and got up. Through the windows I could see Jo, drenched and looking tried and worried. When I opened the door she came in quickly and pulled me into another hug, soaking me.

“Jesus, Jo!” I shuddered as the cold water shocked me. She pulled away, grinning wide.

“It’s finished. You’re safe now.”

“Safe? Have you seen what’s been going on? Everyone is moving out of here. Joey was gone yesterday, not a word and then I see your dad out there putting a for sale sign in the front yard. When did he start selling homes?”

“Few months ago, he finally got his license.”

“What has been going on? You know why everyone is leaving, don’t you?”

She nodded, a solemn expression coming over her. “I do, yeah. If there was another way I’d have done it.”

“What have you done?”

“It’s mom. I told her about my feelings for you and she… wasn’t happy to say the least.”

I pulled her to sit with me on the broken and worn couch. “When did your mom show up?”

“She’s never really been gone.” She started to fuss with the edge of her jacket. “She’s not a normal woman and I had to do a few things for her to get her blessing. My dad is okay with me and you, but she didn’t like it as she had her own plans. So, I’ve done as she asked and she has one more request. Will you come with me? If you do, you’ll have your answers.”

She was my best friend, the love of my life, how could I say no? Fear and anxiety were getting a good hold of me by then, but I’d do almost anything for Jo. So, I stood and she did the same. She led the way across the street to her house while the rain slowed to just a patter on the pavement.

I thought we were going inside, but she continued on down the driveway and then cut through the backyard and to the trees. She paused outside for me to catch up and then took my hand. We stepped in together.

A few yards in I noticed a smell. Woods tend to smell different in wet weather, but this wasn’t anything like that. The smell could only be described as putrid. I glanced around our surroundings, expecting to see a swamp or something of that sort. There were none and the further we went into the woods, the worse it got.

I noticed the woman standing at the base of a very large tree that was covered in what looked like ropes. Around her were tables of varying heights and were made from bark covered logs. Beyond her looked to be a cave that had been dug into the side of a small cliff.

She was very tall, at least two feet higher than me. She reminded me of a bird in how she stood. She had her long fingers folded atop each other and while I couldn’t see her eyes due to her bushy brown hair, I knew she watched every move I made.

“Is—is that her?” I asked and Jo squeezed my hand.

“Don’t run, no matter what.”

“Why would I run.”

“You’ll want to, I know. Just don’t let go of my hand.” She dragged me forward and into the clearing where the tables were set up.

The smell somehow was worse here. It didn’t take much to find the source, the tables were covered with fresh and dried blood, like someone had butchered a hundred animals on them. Bones littered the floor and crackled under my feet as Jo pulled me to stand beside her and in front of the woman.

“This is my mom.” Jo said and held a hand out to the woman. “Mom, you know who this is. I’ve done all you’ve asked.”

The woman took a few steps forward. I felt my breath catch deep in my lungs when I saw that her feet were backwards. Not broken, but turned completely around to face the other direction. Because of this she walked almost like the bird she reminded me of.

I started to back away, but Jo’s grasp of my hand was iron-like. “What’s going on here?”

“You’re all right. I didn’t tell you this before, but my mother has always been here. She couldn’t really live with us though because she’s… well, people call her kind Ciguapa.”

“What is that?”

Jo moved in front of me, blocking the view of her mother and took both my hands in hers. “I didn’t think you’d know what that was. She’s basically a myth, an urban legend in the Dominican where she’s from. She met my dad when he visited there years ago and for the first time she fell in love. Because of that, she didn’t kill him and instead they fell in love and moved back here.”

“Kill him?”

“I know, it’s a lot to take in. She’s not bad, no more so than a lion is bad. It’s just her nature and she can’t survive on the food we eat.”

I dropped to the ground, my mind racing along with my heart. I felt sick and puked between my legs and onto the wilting brown leaves and yellow chips of bone. Jo came down with me and wiped the bile from my lips with her thumb. “I think you know what she does eat.”

“People.”

She smiled ruefully. “Men mostly, and boys sometimes.”

“I don’t understand this. Are you—are you like her?”

“Would you hate me if I was?” She shook her head, obviously not wanting an answer. “I am a bit like her. You see her as she is, just as you do with me, but many males… they see what they want to see. It’s how she lures her food, like a Venus flytrap, I guess.”

“People aren’t flies!”

She ran her hands over my cheeks and shushed me. “No, I didn’t mean to say they were.” She paused, as if choosing her next words carefully. “I love you. She wanted to come after you next, but I couldn’t let that happen so I did what she asked. I brought her enough food that she wouldn’t even think of looking at you that way.”

“The guys? The families that moved…?”

Jo nodded slowly. “I had no choice, not if I wanted to be with you. Not if I didn’t want you… I’m sorry.”

“Joey too? Dave?”

“Yes.”

I pinched myself in hopes of waking up, but no such luck. My best friend was still knelt in front of me and a strange woman stood behind her. From the woman came three loud chirps, they sounded like an old woman trying to imitate a nightingale.

“No, you promised. He has to understand and I’ll answer any question he has.” The woman chirped again. “He won’t.”

“Do you…” I gulped. “I mean, did you eat pieces of them?”

Jo shook her head hard. “No. No, like I said, I’m not exactly like her. I’m half human and half Ciguapa. My feet are normal, I eat normally, but I can appear differently from person to person.”

“Why… why am I here?” I wanted to cry just to relieve the fear and insanity that felt like it would overwhelm me.

“She wanted to meet you.” The woman chirped again and came around Jo. I looked up to find black eyes staring down at me. “She wanted to make sure that you love me as much as I love you.”

“If I don’t?”

Jo stood silently. She looked down at me and bit her bottom lip. “I know you do.”

Her mother reached out and placed a bony hand on top of my head and bent down in front of me, grinning to show pointed teeth. She stayed there just long enough for her pale face to be burnt into my nightmares and then she stood. She went to a table and picked up what looked like a hunk of meat and tore off a piece and began to eat.

“So? Are you satisfied?” The woman munched thoughtfully and then gave a small chirp. “Really? Can we go then? I don’t think he can take much more right now.” Jo didn’t wait for an answer and instead came over and picked me up.

We started out of the woods, Jo supporting me because my limbs didn’t seem to work anymore. I think I passed out because the next thing I remember was being in my room. Jo laid beside me, asleep. It was the middle of the night and as I laid there I could hear night birds chatting away. Or perhaps, it was her mother.

Jo and I married a few years later, after college. I’ve never seen her mother again, but I swear she still watches us from time to time. I get the same feeling as I got that day on the river bank.

Jo is pregnant now and I worry that the baby may take after her mother’s side of the family. She has already been having cravings for meat, but no meat from the store seems to help as she says it tastes disgusting and the baby gets upset. I don’t know what to do. I had hoped this was all behind us, like a bad nightmare.

I’ve contacted her dad. He’s still a Realtor.

I’ll do anything for Jo. She’s my best friend, the love of my life and soon, the mother of our child.


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by reddit user jp_carver via: insidiouslyadorable.tumblr.com

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