I was torn from my sleep by the sound of my daughter’s screams. I rushed across the hall and saw Jessie standing in front of her bedroom window. When I wrapped my arms around her, I noticed her pajamas were soaked with sweat. The screams tapered off and gasping sobs replaced them; her tiny body heaving as it attempted to take in more air than her lungs would allow.
I picked her up and carried her into my room. We sat on the bed and I held her until she’d calmed enough for me to ask what happened. She shook her head. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks.
“Please, sweetheart – I promise it’s okay. What happened?”
Jessie’s wide, blue eyes stared into mine, still leaking away the memory of whatever trauma she’d endured. She pulled my nightgown, beckoning me to come down to her level so she could whisper something in my ear. I obliged.
“There was a big girl in my window making faces at me.”
I lifted my head again to look at Jessie, still feeling the hot condensation from her breath in my ear.
“A big girl?,” I asked, puzzled. Jessie nodded and wiped her eyes on her sweaty pajamas.
“Come on,” I told her, forcing a smile. “Let’s get you in the tub. I’ll let you use my bath bomb.”
For the first time since the ordeal began, a smile flashed across her face. Finally.
As we waited for the tub to fill, Jessie held me around my waist. Her crying had stopped, but she still trembled. I stroked her hair and told her it was okay, over and over, while wondering what could have possibly scared her so badly. This type of episode was entirely unlike her. Quite the contrary; I’d always walk in on her sneaking peeks of scary movies on TV even though I’d told her, in no uncertain terms, that she wasn’t to watch them. But still, even though she’d seen some creepy monsters and murderers, they’d never given her nightmares.
When the tub was filled and the bath bomb was releasing bubbles and glitter and scents that delighted and relaxed Jessie, I helped her out of her pajamas and into the water. She sat there peacefully as her tiredness caught up with her again. Her eyes closed. I continued stroking her hair.
After a little while, knowing she needed to go back to bed, I shook her awake. She opened her eyes and saw me, prompting a smile. But then she stiffened, her eyes widening, and screamed again. I reached into the tub and grabbed her, trying to hold her close, but she pushed and clawed at me, trying to get away.
I cried out to her, “Jessie, what is hap –” and I stopped. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something behind me. Something at the window.
I whirled around, yanking Jessie against my back as I shielded her from something I hadn’t even properly seen. But soon I had. And my own panicked shriek drowned out that of my daughter.
Peering in through the bathroom window was a round, wide face. Pale white with small, jaundiced eyes, it pushed against the window screen until it fell out and clattered on the floor. The face moved toward us on a dowel-thin, articulated neck connected directly to its chin.
“Get out!,” I shouted, mustering up as much violence in my voice as possible.
The neck was blocking our path to the door, and the hideous face turned and stared directly at me before opening its mouth and saying one word: “Jessie.”
A paralyzing wave of incomprehensible terror bloomed inside me. The voice was low and droning, like a normal woman’s voice slowed and pitched down an octave. I felt Jessie stiffen against my back and she pressed her face against my spine, as if trying to hide inside me.
More neck came through the window, the vertebrae bulging against its tight skin as it swayed in the space around us like a long finger with a hundred knuckles.
“Jess……ie.” The voice was even deeper now; I felt it in my chest and bowels.
The face moved toward me and I struck it with my fist. My hand thudded uselessly against its forehead. Before my eyes, the face began to change. Its features elongated, then contracted. Its mouth stretched to its earlobes, then shrank down to a pinhole. The entire topography of its cheekbones and chin and jaw shattered, then reformed. A second later, I was looking at a terribly deformed version of my daughter.
“Jessie.” It exhaled heavily. Hot, stinking breath filled my nostrils.
The strength in my arms vanished. The stability in my legs evaporated. I dropped to the floor, helpless. Jessie was exposed.
“Jess…ie.” The long neck wrapped around my daughter like an anaconda and pulled her toward the window. Jessie, no longer screaming, struggled to breathe against its constricting grasp. Her face reddened. The terrible thing drooled black fluid onto the top of her head. Jessie stopped struggling. She, and the creature, disappeared into the night.
My body regained its strength and I bolted to the window. In the dim light of the crescent moon, I watched the long legs of the thing carry my daughter away into the woods.
I called 911. The police came. They investigated for days. I was the only suspect in her disappearance, but as days turned into weeks and weeks stretched into months, the trail had gone cold. Even if I was still a suspect, they had nothing to even hint at me being the reason for her disappearance. And, in fact, there was evidence to the contrary.
During the initial investigation, when every nook and cranny of the house was looked at, when every piece of furniture was upended, and when every inch of the property was examined, there were only two pieces of evidence; neither of which had anything to do with me, other than to help corroborate my story.
The first morning of the investigation, officers noticed a trail of glitter from the bath bomb stretching from the bathroom window all the way through the yard and high into the trees at the mouth of the forest. When an officer scaled one of the trees, he found glitter stuck to leaves 25 feet up. It was strange, they admitted, but in their words “glitter gets everywhere.”
While they were quick to dismiss that as direct evidence, they couldn’t explain the other thing they found. Smeared across the window in Jessie’s room was the greasy, distorted shape of a woman’s enormous face. When the lab analyzed the cells that’d been left behind, the results were “inconclusive.” The samples were deemed “non-viable.” To me, that meant they wanted to hide what they’d discovered. After a long while, the active investigation was closed.
It’s been six years since Jessie was taken. I live alone in the same house, and every night, I go to bed wishing my daughter would come back to me. Recently, I noticed my bedroom windows had started getting dirty faster than they usually did. I washed them and didn’t think much of it. Not until this morning.
This morning, I woke up to find the outside-facing side of every window covered in grayish, translucent grease. For a while, I struggled to understand what had happened. Then I got to the picture window in the living room. It, too, was filthy. But there was something in that filth. Outlined against the wide piece of glass was the impression of a large face and a thin, articulated neck. The same face I’d seen that night. And next to it, clear as day, was the print of another, smaller face.
Supported by the same, terrible neck.