by ASHLYNNE KILGORE - November 8, 2020
The first installment in the Fox Hollow Chronicles
Liz McQuoid was an unintimidating woman in the physical sense. She’d always been a small-framed person—not short, not scrawny, just little in stature. As a child in the ‘90s, she wore an oversized t-shirt that read “Tiny but Tough” given to her on her seventh birthday because she was exactly that: a tenacious conduit of energy and spunk. She loved adventure, lived and breathed it, needed it more than oxygen itself. She rode the tallest coasters, ate the spiciest foods, climbed the tallest trees. She was, at one time, the largest personality in all of Fox Hollow.
But, as her childhood faded, so did her youthful wonder. She became more mature, more poised, more controlled. She still lived for adventure, but strangers called her cold, disconnected, unemotional. When she went out in public, an impassable bubble surrounded her frail body. A couple times, the bravest strangers had come up to her and asked if she was hiding something from the world. Even if she was, she’d be unable to identify it.
There comes a time in a woman’s life when she must dangle her foot off the edge of the bed despite an all-encompassing fear of monsters, and the knowledge of what is waiting under the rug. Unfortunately for little Liz, she enjoyed that feeling more than anything else. That was why she became so detached. If one dips a toe into the pool of danger frequently enough, they will be numb and unbothered by the sharks circling below the surface.
In her sophomore year of college, Liz fell in love. Madly, deeply in love. His name was Bryan, and he was real, and charming, and his face was stubbly, and his walk was more like a lope, and she liked all those things about him. He was good at math and science, like her, and encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a science teacher. He seemed perfect, and maybe he was.
He had an old Mazda. He called her Callie, and he’d take her and Liz on night drives. Sure, Callie would groan a bit, and sometimes Bryan would have to flick the gas meter to get it to work or swear at the engine to get it sputtering again, but Liz found that endearing. He took good care of that car, better care than he gave to his schoolwork, and eventually he dropped college to work for the post office.
After a few years of pure infatuation, things started to settle down. Liz was working on her Master’s degree, and Bryan was still distributing mail. Everything seemed fine, besides a few petty fights and vulgar outbursts, and one afternoon Liz had gone to the hall closet to sift through their old rodent-nibbled and mothball-strewn quilts when something fell out from between a blanket and bounced off the floor. A bottle of bleach, with an orange-stained handle, similar to the color of rust. The fingerprints were large, and her first thought was Bryan’s meaty hands, the hands that had held her and comforted her and had helped her fold laundry and set up the new TV.
“Babe, what’s this bleach doing here?” she asked and turned to Bryan, who was nestled into the corner of the couch, a baby bird in a nest. He looked at her, and his brow darkened hilariously in the lamplight, like something she had seen out of a campy horror flick. Sleepaway Camp was what came to mind, and she smiled at him. “Remember when we got out Mom’s old VHS tapes and we watched that slasher a few summers ago, Bryan? That was one of the best nights of my life.”
Bryan looked at her. His eyes were sunken. She was afraid.
“Aren’t you gonna say something? What’s the bleach for?”
Suddenly, she saw red. Not the bright, red-hot fire you usually witness in a person when they’re angry. A dark, velvety, evil red, tainted with something so horrible she could not begin to describe it.
He had jumped up from the couch like a rabid animal and had taken her frail frame in his meaty hands, had begun to shake her to and fro like a windsock, and his breath was hot air in her face. She was cringing, and crying, and she could not fully recall what he said. Jabs about her mother, claims that she was going to be a horrid teacher, predictions that they would never be married and that she would never bear children. It was hell and it was torture and for a moment, Liz thought her boyfriend was going to kill her.
When he let go of her, he loped off to bed. She stood still in the hallway for a moment, red marks dotting her arms from where he had gripped her, and waited to hear the bedroom door close before she moved towards the couch.
She was too confident; too cocky. The monster had grabbed her. It had smelled her blood in the water. She was afraid.
She made it to the couch and sat at the edge, her hands clasped tightly in her lap. They were cold, and brittle, and smaller than she remembered. What had she done to deserve this? Then, what could she do to make sure it wouldn’t happen again? She stared off into the dark pool of the TV screen, and glazed eyes stared back at her.
Like the flick of a switch, Liz McQuoid was a woman. She was silent, and comforting, and did not speak unless spoken to. Sure, she was adventurous, but only when she felt safe enough to be. She bleached the floors, and wiped up splatters of blood off of the kitchen sink. She helped Bryan find a place for every tie, and VHS tape, and rusted surgical knife, no questions asked. Although sometimes, she overthought things, like why was Bryan so secretive about his mail? And why did he stay out sometimes, all hours of the night?
Oh, no matter. That was unimportant. Liz was in love. Madly, deeply in love. And who would distrust their one and only, their soulmate, their reason for living? Not Liz. She’d keep her feet under the covers.
Cover Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.