She sat slumped on cold, metal stairs struggling for breath. With each labored inhale an old familiar scent filled her senses, the stagnant stench of decay. She sat between the fourth and fifth floors of her office building in a stairwell she’d traversed hundreds of times. Yet, she could not shake the feeling she’d been transported through a time warp back to her childhood and the nightmares it held.
Invisible rubber bands tightened and pulsed across her chest. Panic attacks had always walked hand in hand with her childhood memories. Memories she—Veya Marie St. James—had eradicated within the first year of leaving the place where they’d originated. The Island, the home of her birth, hidden deep within southern Louisiana’s swamplands. A land fed by layer upon layer of decomposing foliage and dead animals resulting in the odor now assaulting her senses.
Veya had been eighteen when she left the Island. She was now a thirty-nine-year-old woman with a nineteen-year-old daughter.
The sensation of having no control over her own body diminished with each breath, until she could sit upright without the fear of her chest being crushed by an unseen vice.
A panic attack after so many years. Why?
She searched the stairwell for the kid who’d just scared the hell out of her. It was a kid, wasn’t it? She’d been fumbling in her purse for her phone thinking she should call to check on her daughter, Triste. When she’d looked up, he’d been standing in her way, a four-foot tall black goblin with pointy ears, a tail, and red glowing slits for eyes. It’s the end of August, not October, she’d thought right before her phone fell from her hand, and her body began its well-tuned dance with the all-consuming panic. An affliction it had taken her months in therapy to overcome.
She called out, “Where the hell are you, you little cretin?” When no answer came, she wearily climbed the steps out of the stairwell, careful to avoid looking in its dark corners.
Costumes these days are too realistic.