“Today, at 3:40 AM, a worker at North Falls zoo was mauled by a panther. When workers came to help him, the panther escaped. It is now on the loose. Officers and animal control are struggling to track down the wild cat. It is strongly recommended that you stay indoors and keep all pets indoors as well.”
Melanie and her family stared at the television in horror as the woman on screen spoke her bone chilling scoop. She felt her mother wrap her arms around her and her sister, and her father shake his head. The family cat was batting lazily at some yarn and the dog was barking at something that was outside the window.
“M-mom,” stammered Melanie’s little sister, “w-will the p-panther come and e-eat us?”
“No,” their Mother answered. “We’re just going to stay inside until they can find the panther, alright?”
“But that’ll take forever!” Father yelled, throwing his hands up in the air. “I know a 230 pound panther won’t be able to blend in long in Nevada, but there are forests everywhere!” Mel knew that her father was only worried because behind their home was right in front a forest.
“Stay calm, dear,” Mother said.
“No!” shouted Father.
“You two, go to your room,” Mother said. Melanie grabbed her sister’s sleeve and drug her down the hall. She swung open her bedroom door and shoved her sister inside.
“Hey,” gasped her sister. The little girl, eleven in a half, brushed her messy brown hair out of her eyes and glared at Melanie. “I can walk, you know.” Her green eyes were sharp and annoyed.
“Dad looked as if he was about to explode,” said Melanie. She scratched her dark brown hair, a scared expression on her face. The fourteen year old felt as if she was carrying a backpack stuffed with pounds of metal and rock. “I hope he doesn’t take it out on mom.” Their father had a history of hitting their mother when he got really mad. For some reason, mom never left him because she was scared about what would happen to her daughters.
“He’s not,” Riley said. She straightened her dark blue shirt. “You know that the last time he hit her was on accident.”
“Accident?” Melanie repeated. Pushing her mother to the ground and pounding her cheek was not an accident.
“Yes!” Riley yelled, stomping her foot.
“Shh!” hissed Melanie, smacking her hand over her sister’s mouth. “Shut up! Do you want dad to come in and hit you?”
“He’s not going to hit me,” snapped Riley. At the same time, the sound of the door opening creaked in Melanie’s ears. Riley’s face went pale, and Melanie turned her head, eyes wide.
There stood father. Blood was smeared on his face and hands, and Melanie could see locks of her mother’s brown hair in their father’s fingers.
“You two were talking about me,” he said. His grey eyes were glassy and glazed over as if he was not sure who he was staring at.
“No!” Riley yelped before Melanie could speak. “We were talking about… wrestling!”
“Don’t think I’m a fool,” snarled the man. He shoved Mel aside by pushing his hand against her cheek. She yelped, crashing into her sister’s play dresser. The toy combs and brushes fell on her, and the plastic mirror fell on her face. Her sisters screams filled her ears, and she struggled to pull the pink dresser off of her, but it was rather heavy.
“Mel!” screamed Riley. “Help! Please! He’s hurting me!”
Fueled on adrenaline rage and fear, Melanie shoved the dresser off of her. She grabbed it and hurled it at her father. It connected with his side. With a guttural roar he stumbled away, clutching his injured side.
“Run,” Melanie snapped at her sister. Riley had a cut on her cheek and her hair was even more messier and blood caked her hair. Riley stood stiffly, her eyes blank. Mel grabbed her sister’s arm and ran out of the room. The stairs seemed a mile long, but Mel gripped her arm tighter and skipped down the stairs.
When they reached the bottom, a sharp and metallic scent filled their nostrils. Mel nearly screamed. There lay her mother, her body twisted and broken. Her eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling and she lay in a pool of her own blood.
“Mom!” screamed Riley. She ran over and squatted near her mother. Her dark blue shirt grew damp with blood and the legs of her jeans turned red as well. Mel crouched beside her, placing a hand on her mother’s chest.
“Mom,” Mel said. “Mom, wake up!” Tears began to blur her sight, and before she knew it, she was sobbing uncontrollably. She heard crying and knew that Riley was weeping as well. Snot poured from her nose and tears flowed from her eyes.
“Mommy!” wailed Riley. “Please! Wake up! We’ll take you somewhere else! Just get up!” Mel sniffed a few times, wiping the tears and snot from her face. Her throat burned from the lump in her throat and she swallowed painfully.
“Riley,” whispered Mel. “We need to leave.”
“No!” screamed Riley, shoving her sister. Mel gagged as her legs slipped in the blood. “I won’t leave her! Mom needs our help! Melanie, call 911!”
“Riley, she’s dead!” Melanie shouted. “We have to go!”
Riley began to let out incoherent noises, more tears flowing from her eyes. Her shoulders shook. “Mommy,” she whimpered. “Mommy…”
Melanie stood. She wrapped her arms around her sister and hoisted her to her feet. She hug her close, nuzzling her face into her bloody hair. “It’s going to be okay,” the girl whispered. “I swear, I’ll keep you safe.” Mel knew it was her duty now to keep her sister in safe hands. But right now, she was doing a pretty bad job.
Mel found a blanket on the couch and threw it over her mother. “Rest in peace, mom,” she said. As she spoke, heavy footsteps made the stairs creak.
Riley knew who it was before Melanie. “You bastard!” screamed Riley. “You did this! You killed your own wife!”
“Riley,” snarled Mel. “Don’t you say that word!”
“Shut up, Melanie,” snapped Riley. “That asshole deserves to die!”
Mel longed to smack her hand over her sister’s cheek, but tears still dripped from her eyes and stained her pale face. She knew she was just speaking through a grief-stricken heart.
“That’s not how you talk to your father,” their father said with a smirk. His eyes were now cold and evil, a wicked look in her eyes.
“You’re not our father!” Riley yelled. Mel eyed the back door. It was just through the kitchen… which just happened to be right by the stairwell, where their father was standing. Mel grabbed Riley’s wrist.
The man looked at his wife’s body, his smirk growing wider. “So, you’ve seen my newest piece of art,” he said. He walked over and lifted his wife’s head by grabbing her hair. Her glassy eyes seemed to tilt to the side.
For the first time, Mel saw something. Laying in the pool of blood were two eyeballs. Two blue eyes… Mel hunched over and vomited. She wiped her mouth, her body shuddering.
“You two have the most beautiful of eyes,” their father drawled. He drew his finger over the glass eyes. Their mother’s lips were stitched together, and someone had used the blood on her body to write ‘PRETTY.’
“You can’t have ‘em!” Riley cried, her voice just a high-pitched croak.
“Really?” The man squished a eyeball with his thumb. The sound of the squish made Mel shiver and she vomited again.
“Run,” Mel muttered to her sister. She grabbed Mel’s bloody sleeve and they made a mad dash for the kitchen. They expected to hear their father going after them, but he was only laying on his wife’s body, playing with the eyeball he hadn’t squished.
“Sick fuck!” Mel yelled at him. She swung open the door and Riley didn't waste any time, leaping over the two stairs and into the forest. Mel slammed the door shut and ran after her sister.
The two sisters had totally forgotten about the panther on the loose.