Another tinder date, and Nahma liked this one. They made their way through a bottle of red with a French meal, and lingered over a rich chocolate desert and the dregs of bourbon-laced coffees. He asked her about work, then about family. When she couldn’t decide what to order, he suggested they get both and share. He complimented her necklace. He didn’t talk about himself too much, just that he was from the area, worked in forestry, and family was important to him because he looked after a gaggle of younger brothers. He had good table manners, a kind smile, and he picked up the bill.
It was all the enthralling newness of a first date combined with the comfort of a years-long relationship, but not in a boring way. Nahma hated to be bored.
Which is why, after he helped her with her coat, offered his arm to lead her through the restaurant, and assisted her into the backseat of an efficiently-hailed taxi cab, she suggested they make one stop instead of two.
One eyebrow raised in a controlled manner. “Your place, or mine?”
“Mine, probably,” said Nahma. “I don’t want to wake up your brothers.”
He sat up straighter and said, “No, let’s go to mine. I want you to meet them.”
Nahma peeked at the digital clock on the driver’s dashboard. “They won’t be asleep?”
He chuckled. “When I called them ‘little’ earlier you might have gotten the wrong idea. It’s just that I’m very tall and they’re not, really. But I’m certain they’ll be awake. They’re basically nocturnal.”
“Ok, then,” Nahma said, checking her phone to make sure she was still sharing her location. She fired off a quick text to her roommate so she wouldn’t panic when Nahma’s location stopped for the night in the woods. “Let’s go to your house.”
There was no house where the taxi dropped them off. A long driveway that led to nothing but trees. Thorn bushes. A sliver of moon to navigate the endless forest.
Nahma met her ever-worsening date’s brothers. None were taller than two and a half feet tall, with arms that scraped the ground as they moved, and each was bald on top with long, greasy strands of hair hanging limp around their cheeks like dead snakes.
Gremlins. Goddamn gremlins. And Nahma was usually so successful at avoiding the supernatural in this stupid town. Except for the vampire attack at her fifth grade talent show… or the high school boyfriend who’d turned out to be a changeling… and once she’d been at a bar on Allen St and a demon had exploded from an old bottle of moonshine. That last had caused some issues. Some nightmares. A few nights she hadn’t been able to stand sleeping alone.
Now, these gremlin bastards. Hundreds of them. Nahma couldn’t be sure, but she thought the black bile dripping from their lipless faces was drool. They were hungry for her.
“Why are you doing this to me!” she screamed at her guffawing tinder date. “Why did you trick me? Is this funny to you?”
His eyebrows lowered. His head dropped. He looked at her through buggish eyes. “Funny?” he groaned. “No, not funny. Hungry!”
His head fell through his shirt. Nahma stumbled back when his trenchcoat fell to the ground, empty.
Nahma gagged at the smell of rotting flesh. A mass from under the black coat started squirming. One mass burst in two, then a third crawled out of the first. The third was the first to emerge, one black claw creeping out. The two others followed, hissing at the slim moonlight.
“Ew!” Nahma hollered. She had kissed him in that taxi cab. Now, she wasn’t sure which of those three ugly fuckers had been at the wheel for that experience.
One of the little freaks grabbed Nahma’s ankle. She screamed and punted the sack of skin, but it ripped off her charm anklet. She kicked another beast just because she was mad.
The gremlins made mechanical chuckling sounds like a mob of wind-up toys. One lunged out of the darkness, baring its teeth.
Nahma turned and ran. She ran and didn’t bother looking over her shoulder, pumping her arms and thinking faster!
Nahma’s foot caught under a log. Her arms windmilled, but the momentum sent her catapulting over the log blockade and tumbling until at last she knocked up against the base of a tree and came to a stop.
Angry tears mixed with sweat. She sat up, glaring at the obstruction, and her tears slowed. What she had tripped over was not exactly a log, but a fallen branch. She should have broken it in half when her foot caught on it, but she hadn’t. Why not?
It was hardwood. Almost too heavy for Nahma to lift. No sooner had she raised it up when a tree branch creaked overhead. Nahma caught sight of the creature’s claw before it retracted from view.
“You want it?” she shouted up at the thing. Before she had time to add, “then come get it!”, the gremlin leapt from the tree and rocketed downward to eat her.
Nahma swung her bat and sent the gremlin flying. She listened to the sweet sounds of the creature blasting through twigs and leaves. It grunted when it hit a tree head-on, and fell from branch to branch until it finally hit the ground with a quaking thud.
Chattering sounds came from all around. She spun slowly, listening to their voices. At first, the noise was like static: separate, confused. Underneath, a chant started up, and as more and more joined what Nahma had to assume was a war cry, the high-pitched squeaking and squirming died out and became one low voice. The chant was a smattering of sounds, but Nahma could imagine its meaning: We’re coming to kill, YOU, Nahma! We’re coming to kill, YOU, Nahma!
Nahma barely had both hands back on her bat when the first of their gremlin-army hurled itself through the air at her.
Nahma bagged herself a home run.
Two more jumped at her. She caught them on the branch and slammed them into the ground. She used her weapon as a battering ram, smashing their bodies until a green and purple muck splattered over her clothes and face.
“OK!” she shouted to her enemies. “I didn’t realize you wanted to play squash!”
They came at her in waves after that. Scratching her face with their needle-tipped nails and biting her with razor-blade teeth. Most she shook off and took out with her bat. One bit her toes through her shoe, causing Nahma to scream and stomp the devil to death.
She flattened some. She tore others into pieces. A few were sent flying through the woods and did not come crawling back. When the attacks started to slow, and then at last stopped altogether, Nahma did not rest. Long after she could no longer feel her arms, she still drove the slimy branch into the wet stack of corpses again and again. Finally the log slipped through her tingling fingers and rolled into a puddle of goo.
Nahma followed the trail of dirt and scratches in the tree trunks until she found the access road. The trenchcoat lay where three monsters had crawled out of it. Nahma shivered, but didn’t bother to scoop up the coat.
Hugging her bloody arms across her chest, Nahma started down the access road toward civilization.
After two hours, she still had not reached civilization, but she had reached cellular signal.
“Hi Marnie. Sorry to interrupt. Yeah. He was kind of a creep-a-zoid. I’ll explain later. Yes, please. Thank you. See you in a bit.”
She tried to slip her phone back into her pocket twice and failed both times. When her phone slipped to the ground, she slipped too. Nahma hugged her knees into her chest, praying Marnie would drive up soon. Nahma wanted to climb into a hot shower and then a warm bed. For now, she kept her eyes open and her senses alert. She had killed hundreds of gremlins tonight, but she wasn’t so sure she had killed them all. And now they wouldn’t just be hungry. Now they would be mad.
When Marnie pulled up, Nahma jumped in before the car was in park. “Let’s go,” was the first thing she said. Someone else could deal with those gremlins. Someone else could be eaten or fight them off. Nahma dozed off on the drive home and dreamt of hot chocolate and triple antibiotic cream.
Lizzie Frank is a writer originally from upstate New York who now lives in Brooklyn. Lizzie loves arts & crafts and will collage on any available surface. Find more of Lizzie’s work in Bear Creek Gazette and Stone of Madness Press. Forthcoming work in Yalobusha Review. Twitter: @LizzieF99