"Mother" is an ongoing fiction series about Avalyn Rosewood and her search for the truth about her history. You can read the first installments here: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

"I have to go." Ava shoved her laptop in her bag, nearly falling out of her chair.

Will started, taken by surprise. "Did I do — is it something I said?"

She paused, knowing how crazy she must look. "No! No, I just — there's something I forgot about. That I have to do."

His eyebrows furrowed, confused. She didn't blame him. One moment they're talking photography, and the next she's rushing out like her seat is on fire. "No problem. I'll see you around?"

She smiled apologetically. "Yes, of course. I'm sorry to have to run. I'll see you later."

"OK, yeah—."

She waved, practically running out. As bad as she felt ditching him so suddenly, she had to talk to Lily.

"Do you see it? This is the third time this month, Lily."

Lily stared at the screen with serious eyes. Her ice blue eyes could cut stone, and they seemed to want to cut the subject of her photograph right now. She snapped the computer closed. "Don't worry about it, it's probably just a prank."

"Then why do you look more concerned about it every time this comes up?"

Lily sighed, tucking Ava's computer under her arm. "I'll do some cross-referencing and see if I can find anything, but I really don't think there's anything to worry about here."

Ava rolled her eyes. "Yeah, your face says something completely different."

Her friend forced a smile. "Have I ever told you about your tendency to overreact?"

"I think I have reason enough to react, Lillian."

Ava paced, her thoughts jumbled. This had all started with the horror movie marathon Lily had somehow convinced her to do about a month ago. Between the endless mind games, bloodcurdling screams and jump scares, it came as no surprise when the nightmares hit that night.

That was the first time she saw his face, and she remembered the dream vividly.

Her heart pounded, panting with every step. The rain was angry, whipping her hair into her face as she ran. Breathing hurt, but she couldn't stop. She couldn't look back.

"You can run, Avalyn, but there's nowhere on this earth you can hide from me."

Tears streamed down her face. The place she used to feel at home was turned against her. Trees with distorted faces chased her with claw-like limbs, taunting her. They begged her to run just so they could chase her. Her heart broke at how her beautiful home was being used to hurt her. It was unnatural.

The wind whipped her dress around her legs, tripping her, and the voices laughed. They laughed until they morphed into one. She scrambled to her feet but barely made it a yard before the rain knocked her down again. Heartbroken and furious, she made the mistake of looking back.

She shook her head, her breath catching. "Why?"

A pale face and deep red eyes mocked hers.

She had jolted awake, screaming. It was incomprehensible... irrational, even. She woke up feeling like a piece of her had been torn out of her body. Lily threw open her door with a knife in hand but found only Ava grabbing her chest, sobbing. The dream had felt all too real, but the next day she brushed it off as just that — a dream brought on by movies.

A couple weeks later, she found Lily in the kitchen. They stayed up for a few hours, just chatting, when she saw him again. This time, it was through the window.

It was only for a moment, a blink of an eye, but it was enough. Triggered, she could only stare. Lily said later that it took her several minutes to get through to her. They searched the yard, but no one was there. Nevertheless, her friend grew more protective over the following days.

Even now, as Lily tried to convince Ava that it was just a petty prank, she couldn't clear her mind of it all. It was one thing to just dream up something weird after watching movies, and it was another thing for your mind to play tricks on you. This was something wholly different, though. This was physical evidence.

It seemed someone was intent on scaring her.