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  • Writer's pictureMerle Emrich

Refractions - Part VI

Read Part I here.

Read Part II here.

Read Part III here.

Read Part IV here.

Read Part V here.

Skin and Bone

Jae struggled against the figure’s grip, but it kept pulling her closer. Only when she finally gave up, with eyes closed so that she did not have to see the hollowness of that frozen smile, did the bones that held onto her hands loosen their grip. The words that the figure spoke floated through the emptiness of the space around them and reverberated in the dark. And Jae opened her eyes.


Alaister sat on the floor. His back pressed against the cold wall. His knees pulled up to his chest. Eyes fixed on the floor. There came a tapping from the windowit might have been the rain; it might have been fingers begging entrance.

And the voices whispered. They murmured on the walls. His hands dug into his shins. They filled the air around himmade it heavy, hard to breathemuttered in the back of his mind. And his lips traced the outlines of their words, silently.


They hung suspended in darkness. Palm touching palm, skin against bone. Jae returned the hollow gaze of the figure, wide-eyed, and smiled. A faint whisper of voices flitted through the vastness that held them, and the figure raised its other hand. Gently, it brushed a strand of hair that had come loose from Jae’s braid behind her ear. Memories flooded her brain. Countless as the voices that were weaving themselves into the backdrop of her mind. Darkness engulfed the figure, andwith the sound of raven’s feathersit vanished.

Where the figure had stood, a crack opened. Light spilled from it into the emptiness and pooled at Jae’s feet. Shapesvague and palemoved all around her. With a frozen smile, Jae stepped into the light.


The little light that made it through the blinds cast weak shadows on the floor. It pooled on the stained linoleum and Alaister raised his head a little, eyes squinted. The voices quietened until they were barely louder than a fleeting thought as a girl, barely older than seven, emerged from the pool of light.

Her dark hair was braided. A few strands had come loose and fell into her face which she did not seem to mind. She smiled, and Alaister shrunk back. It was a frozen smile, lifeless and infinite. It was a smile that spread to her eyes tearing through their childish sheen with its hollowness, like hairline fissures of age in a new painting. Alaister’s eyes flickered over to where her face stared at him, fearful and accusingly, from the wall, and he etched along the wall, slowly moving away from the girl. 


She saw recognition and dread wash over his face as he moved away from her. With his hands and feet, he pushed against the floor, pushing his body backwards, increasing the distance between them, inch by inch. She tilted her head.

“Don’t be scared, scary man,” she told him and took a step towards him. No breath left Jae’s lungs to carry her words, no sound rose from her throat, and yet, the words tumbled into the room. He flinched and came to his feet, nearly falling backwards but he steadied himself with one hand on the window frame. 


The child raised her hand in a motion that could have been her pointing at him as well as an invitation for him to take her hand. Her smile was still fixed on her face, unchanging. Her eyes were fixed on him. She didn’t blink. Behind her, he thought he could make out shapes moving. Shadowspale and humanoid.

From the walls, the familiar faces observed him: white on white, their features distorted, mouths gaping, their voices ringing in his head. His fingers tightened on the plastic of the window frame, and without taking his eyes off the girl, he reached for the handle. This time, the window opened as if it had only waited for someone to turn the handle. The girl said something, but her voice drowned in the humdrum of murmurs and whispers; the pleas and sneers that taunted him. 

The blinds were thin and tore easily as Alaister gripped them and tugged on them. The space around the girl tore. Black light flooded the room, and the shapes that had, until then, stayed behind her, rushed towards him. With claw-like hands, they reached for him. Pulled on his clothes. Tore at his flesh. Lifted him and held him, suspended in mid-air by shadows. 

And then they were gone, 

and with them the voices. 


he heard the cold winter air 

rush past him 

and saw the ground 

race up to meet him. 

When his body hit the concrete, the girl was waiting for him. 

Still smiling, she stood under the gray skies with her hand held out towards him. He looked up into her face, looked right through her skin into hollow eyes, and at bare teeth lined up in a frozen smile. 

Alaister got to his feet and reached for her hand. It was so small that it disappeared in his own; bone against skin. And together they stepped into the black light that poured from the fissure behind the girl’s head. 


Written by Merle Emrich.

Cover photo by Merle Emrich.


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