“I think I’m losing my mind. They’re always there, or they were. So much, death… and these things keep happening. I don’t know how much more I can take.” Lizzie said, holding back the fresh wave of tears that lingered on the horizon. If it wasn’t for the hot cup warming her cold hands, she would probably have slipped back into the balling mess Roland had helped off that sidewalk.
It wasn’t much. They were only at the late-night coffee shop near the hotel they were about to check into. Since she didn’t let him call the cops on the bum he had chased off, something he still felt was a mistake, she had allowed him to lead her there.
Her hands still shook when they weren’t clutching the hot cup, so she held it tight. The tea still steamed though they had been talking for a few minutes. She didn’t know why she should trust him enough to tell him everything, but she had.
This was the guy who cheated on her. That anger still flowed hot and heavy inside her, but he was also the guy she had shared and spent so much time with. Talking to him was easy, she had started telling him some of the story and then all of it just rolled off her tongue.
His hand rested gently on her wrist, and she looked up from the steam of the cup to meet his eyes.
“It going to be okay. We’ll get through this. You said they were always with you, but they’re not now?”
“Not since I put on this.” She pulled the talisman out from under her shirt. In the dim light of the coffee shop, it had a menacing quality to it as the lights overhead seemed to flow around it, bathing it in shadow. Roland reached for it but then pulled his hand back. She could see the hesitation. He was unsure of what to think or do. His hand shift to rest on her hand.
“Okay. We’ll get through this.”
She wanted to ask about Natalie and where she was in his plans on helping her. Instead, she bit back the words and let the anger ebb out of her.
“I’m worried about Jessica. I just have this feeling that its after her right now. It’s just a gut feeling, but-”
“Do you even know what ‘it’ is?”
“No, but I’m sure it has something to do with my uncle.”
“Sounds like it.”
Damn he was taking this better than she had, though she did suppose she’d had more information to tell him, more for him to go on than when all of this started happening to her. She had the pieces thrown at her and now he could see the whole puzzle. At least as much of the puzzle as she already knew.
“I don’t know. It seems like it’s killing my friends or anyone who has anything to do with me. Jessica’s my next closest friend. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost her.”
“Liz, we’ll get through this.” He said to her. Behind them the door jingled, and a blast of cool night air brushed against them raising the hairs on her arm. She turned to see two college aged girls coming. They were giggling, talking about someone named Michael. One was dressed nicer than the other and Liz guessed she had just finished what had to have been a bad date if they were together and the girl was not with the boy.
They looked happy. She had been like them once. The weight on her chest made her doubt she would ever be like that again.
“I think that might be why he stopped talking to everyone?”
“My uncle. I mean, he just cut himself off, hid himself alone in that cabin. My dad never knew why, he thought it had something to do with a big fight they had and the loss of my aunt. What if there was all this going on?”
“Well, how long was he out there?”
“Eighteen years, I think. It started after I was born but long enough that I don’t remember any of it.”
“That’s a long time to be out there alone.”
“What if he had to be? What If it was the only way people would stop dying?”
“But he made you that talisman thingy.”
“Yeah, but it sounded like in the letter that it doesn’t work for too long. I don’t know how any of this works.”
Roland let out a long breath, looking at their hands for a long minute before looking back into her eyes. When he did, she saw the hint of a tear, tucked away on the edge just ready to slip away down his cheek.
“It’ll be okay. Okay. You hear me, it’ll all be okay.” He said it solemnly and she could feel the amount of will he put into his words, like repeating them would somehow make them all true.
“I know.” She looked at her tea, the steam having gone and the lukewarm cup still untouched on the table. “I gotta use the bathroom, then maybe we can get out of here?”
She rose from the table, only bumping the edge a little, which was better than she thought she’d do. She was always being such a clutch and knocking into tables while standing was pretty much a given for her. She was happy when she didn’t knock over a drink or cause one to spill. It was a win for her and right now she needed as many wins as she could manage.
She found the bathroom in the corner of the small coffee shop, down a narrow dark hallway. The woman’s bathroom was at the end just before the steel door marked “Exit” and right below it a sign proclaiming “Keep Door Closed, Alarm Will Sound.”
The bathroom was just like others she’d been in. It was a large chain and while she hadn’t been all over the country, the ones in Wisconsin seemed to all follow the same layout. She was quick to pee and felt comfortable doing so in the large clean room.
It was a large room. Larger than it needed to be and larger than bathrooms in other coffee shops, retail stores and restaurants. It offered more privacy as only one person could be in the room at a time. It gave her plenty of space. It was warm and comfortable, reassuring. It helped bite back the unease she had been feeling that everything was wrong.
She washed her hands, looked in the mirror, and the room no longer so large. In fact, it had suddenly become quite crowded.
They were all there, standing behind her. Josh, Elisabeth, Chuck, and Sarah all stood behind her. and they looked angry. The hatred that burned in Sarah’s eyes was foreign as Lizzie had never seen anything like it. Her eyes, all their eyes were black, and they all bared their teeth in snarls. Nothing of the friendly camaraderie they had shared the past weeks was there. They all looked so rageful and all that anger was focused on her.
She turned to look at them directly, but they weren’t there. She couldn’t see them without seeing their reflections in the mirror.
She didn’t have time to think anything more of it as she felt something wrap around her. Then she was spun around and pushed so that her head slammed against the mirror.
“Look at us!” An echo of voices all of them yelling in concert at her. She could hear them as it vibrated through her skull, the sound loud enough to push through any of her thoughts.
“I…I thought you were gone.”
“Where would we go?” Elisabeth’s voice asked, her voice empty.
The force that had pushed her against the mirror released her and she pulled back to see that it had been Sarah’s hand that had her.
“Yeah, whatever that thing is, it doesn’t release us.” Josh said. Strangely enough he was to the back of the group and looked at her with less hostility than the rest of them. In fact, was he… he looked like he felt sad for her, or was that guilt?
“You sent us to hell.” Sarah snarled at her and then thrusted Lizzie’s head back into the mirror. It slammed with an audible crack, and she was sure she would find shards of glass wedges in her skin and hair. She tried to close her eyes to protect them, but the pressure on the back of her head let up as Sarah quickly reached around to hold open her eyelids.
“Oh, no! Keep those peepers open. You wouldn’t want to make me have to cut those off, would you?” Sarah hissed as she leaned in close to Lizzie’s ear. She got close, her lips near enough to kiss Lizzie’s ear if she chose to and Lizzie could help but flash back to remembering the smiling man that had killed her. Sarah was looking at her in the eye though the reflection as she whispered, “Look at me. See what you did. You did this to us. I should have known it was about you. It is always about you. You did this.”
Lizzie tried to breath or hold back the tears that were streaming as she stared at what had been her best friend. She was different now. Her skin was ashen, which made the red lips vibrant, and as bright as the blood seeping from her eyes and dripping from her scalp. There were patches of her hair missing, and what was left was clumped together.
She looked so…fresh. If Lizzie hadn’t already seen her friend post death, or how she’d been healing in death, she would have thought Sarah had just died and was still in that pool of blood back in her uncle’s kitchen. Well, her kitchen now, but it didn’t matter. Her friend, dead friend, mattered. Before Lizzie had put on the talisman, each of her dead companions had looked better. She wouldn’t say their dead conditions were healing, but they had faded, the image of death not as strong around them. Sarah had almost looked like she had before they had entered the cabin.
Now death permeated from them, their stench filling her nostrils when there was no way she should be able to smell anything. She never had before. Now, they were… more real, but how when she couldn’t even see them if not looking through the mirror.
“Say something bitch.” Sarah snapped at her as she slammed Lizzie back into the mirror. This time it was hard enough that darkness swam around her on a river of stars. She felt her body go limp as she crashed to the floor.
Someone knocked on the door.
“Are you alright in there?” A woman’s voice called out from the other side of the door. Lizzie wanted to respond to her. She could hear the woman, but it sounded like they were in a tunnel, and she was far on the other side. When she opened her mouth to yell, her air was cut off. Something hard was wrapped around her throat.
She tried to open her eyes, but some invisible fabric was wedged against her face. It smelled like dirt and decay. She didn’t want to imagine what it was, but it kept light from forming in the world around her.
She tried again to call out, but she opened her mouth in vain as she felt something forced into it. She couldn’t keep away the horrific thought of the old man’s penis, the one who had killed Sarah. She remembered the maggot that fell on her and gagged at the fear that it had now somehow been forced into her. No..he wasn’t there with them, but Chuck and Josh were.
“Miss, I’m going to get the manager. If you’re having a seizure, don’t worry as we will be calling 911. Are you sure you’re not okay?”
“Oh no, you are definitely not okay. How stupid does this bitch have to be? ‘Are you sure your not okay?’ Sarah hissed into her ear. “Like if you are having a seizure, can you please take it somewhere else to die.”
On the last word, Lizzie felt her head being lifted and then slammed back to the floor.
“Sarah-“ she tried to gasp out the name around whatever had been forced into her mouth. The attempt pulled the cloth further in and she spasmodically shook against being restrained. Her body shook more vehemently without her having any control. She felt like a blind passenger in her own body as it continued to writhe around on the floor, and she couldn’t stop herself or see what was happening around her.
There was the cloth and she felt it touching the back of her throat. She couldn’t breathe, that was enough feeling.
“You’re going to die. I’m going to kill you. You sent us to that place. You put us there and you know what?”
“Miss?” A new voice spoke from the other side of the door, the concern evident in his soft-spoken tone. Strangers outside the door who were worried about her while her best friend was trying to pound her head through the tile.
“We know why we’re here. Yes, we know.”
Lizzie heard keys jingling on the other side of the door as the pressure on top of her intensified.
“Lizzie!” Roland called out from the other side. “We’re coming in, okay?”
Cold struck against her ear in an arctic blast as Sarah hissed the words, “We’re here because of you. You killed us.”
The door to the hall swung open and the pressure on Lizzie disappeared as well as the gagging sensation down her throat. Whatever had been in her mouth and on top of her was gone. She was left only the after affects. Small tremors ran through her as she gasped in mouthfuls of air.
She felt arms around her and saw a shape forming above her as the darkness faded.
“Sir, I don’t think you should be lifting her up like that.” The barista, probably the manager said from behind him. She could feel the smile creasing her lips and she wasn’t sure why but God it felt so good to be held in his arms.
“Lizzie, are you okay?”
“Cindy, call an ambulance.” The manager said to the scared looking woman who stood behind him.
Lizzie shook her head, though it hurt. Marbles seemed to be rattling around in there as the grey matter didn’t quite feel right. She bared it as she pushed herself up to lie back in her elbows.
“No, I’m fine.” She said to them, her voice a bare whisper. Though she knew she wasn’t, she was not going to another hospital. She had enough of them and had no intention to be going back to one tonight, even if it was only for a couple of hours.
After all, who knew when her friends would return.