July Update

Hello Everyone,

I apologize for the lack of updates. I’ve had to take a break from writing recently due to a number of reasons, including health. This is only a temporary break which has also included a break from social media.

I hope to have more updates soon, but as of now, these issues have caused delays in Here Be Dragons release, my finishing of Dead Friends, as well as work on other projects.

Thank you for understanding,

– Jason

Here be Dragons: Chapter 12

Chapters 1-12 now online for Here be Dragons

David Westdale

Enter the world of the dream chasers. It is a dark place where nightmares can kill you and if the dream chasers don’t stop them, you may never wake up…

Now enter, as here there be dragons and they’re waiting for you….

****

Hours later, after calming the anger filled creature that was Riley’s aunt, Alice, she was home. She wished she was home and in her bed, but her aunt was quick to say no to that idea. “Just because you have a cast on your leg doesn’t mean you can’t wash the dishes.”

It had been hard, oh so very hard to bite back the retort that ‘we have a dishwasher, so I don’t need to lean against the sink and my crutches washing them by hand.’ Riley had wanted to point it out to her, but it had only taken a look at the glare on her…

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Dead Friends: Chapter 24

She hadn’t intentionally timed her arrival at the cabin for dawn, but as she pulled into the long driveway with the sun peaking over the horizon she was grateful for the light. The place didn’t look any less intimidating than the other times she had been there but the thought of actually going through the front door in the dark hadn’t been a pleasant one. Still, the sun cast long shadows that stretched from its small frame as though they were ready to grab her and take into its dark confines.

If the shadow man was there, this time, she would demand that he take her with her. She didn’t want to die, but she’d had enough. She was done playing his games. She was there now at the cabin, home to where all this shit started. Maybe she was there for answers, but she knew that she could just as easily die and let it all end.

You know you can’t do that. If you die, then this will go after your brother and he can’t live alone. He wouldn’t be able to survive without his caregivers.

And she did know that. As much as she wanted to give up, it was always that thought that came back to her to keep her alive. 

Damn she was tired, and sick of thinking of all this crap. It had been three hours and a couple different pit stops along the way for more coffee before she had found her way there. The long night had stretched and as it had, different shadow creatures had followed her along the road. The worst part was she didn’t know if any of them were real or just the imaginings of the tired mind. What was worse, her losing her mind with hallucinations or that the monsters she imagined were actually real and chasing her. She wasn’t sure.

Yet here she was, returning to the scene of the nightmare, and she was stalling to get out of the car.

She reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed the plastic bags full of supplies she had bought at a convenience store near town. There were food items, enough to get her through a couple of days she hoped, but she had also take out a few hundred dollars in cash and had bought a prepaid cell phone. She wasn’t sure if the police would be after her, but she wasn’t ready to talk to them. Then she took a deep breath, glancing quickly at the place between her breasts where the talisman was nestled, and got out of the car.

Why are you doing this? You shouldn’t be going in there. Not alone… Call someone, have them meet us here.

Her inner voice was screaming at her to turn around and run. She didn’t blame it. She wanted to. If not to call a friend, then to get a away from there. It wasn’t just that her friend had died there. There was something else, a wrongness that she felt deep in her gut that yelled at her to run.

She had to do this. There were answers in there. Her uncle had told her he had left her something here, something that might explain things. Then there was the shadow man, he had started following her since her first visit here. Maybe there was information about him here? There was those occult symbols in the house, probably books too. Maybe somewhere in there were some answers?

She neared the front door, that voice screaming for her to call one of her friends, get them there to help her, to be there for her…

But they were all dead. She still hadn’t been able to reach Jess and that dream had felt so real. She knew it had to be more. She had probably watched as her best friend had been killed, and it had been because of her. Not only that, but it had been Sarah and the rest of her dead entourage that had somehow done it. The talisman she had worn had darkened them, twisting them so that they turned against her. She wished she had never put it on as it seemed like wherever it sent them, was a place that equaled what she imagined hell to be like. Maybe it even was hell.

What kind of taint would forever darken her soul as she had condemned her friends, those she cared for most in this world, to an unlife of agony and torture.

She opened the door but stayed in the threshold. There was a cool breeze trickling out from the house and on it was carried the stench of death. Her nose wrinkled and her already twisted stomach wretched harder into a knot. Every part of her told her not to go in there, yet she still heard that distant call, somewhere in the back of her thoughts that told her she needed to go inside.

Still, she was stalling again. The door was open, nothing was baring her from entering except for her own thoughts. Her worried mind was on overdrive, thinking of her brother, remembering her friends that were killed, and what she was going to do now once she did go inside. Everything, all trying to consume her at once, her mind spinning in a thousand directions, but none of them grappling on to her attention for long enough to focus. 

A tear ran down her cheek, the motives behind it unclear. She had so many things she could cry over, but wasn’t concentrating on any of them. Her chest was hurting as she heaved in large breaths. That cold breeze from inside was turning her colder and she felt the shiver run through her. It felt alien to her. Her body shook with the motion, but she didn’t really feel like it was her that was shivering. No, it was something deep inside of her and it didn’t want to go in there. 

This is foolish. Just do it. Get your ass in there and start looking for that letter. He said he wrote you one. Maybe there were some answers. Maybe all the answers were in there.

Though she knew that couldn’t be true. If her uncle had the answers, then none of this would be happening to her now. No, there might be answers inside the cabin, but it would answer everything. Maybe there were some things that never had an answer.

She stepped over the threshold into the cabin and felt the breeze die away. Inside was actually warmer than it had been outside. It was comfortable in there, like the heat had been running and had kept the place at a decent temperature as the weather had steadily gotten colder over the last couple of weeks.

That was impossible. There was no way the cabin was warmer inside as it wasn’t hooked to any city grid. The place had to run off its own system. She hadn’t seen any power lines running to the place so there couldn’t be any power to the furnace. It had to be on generator power.

There was a distant clicking sound. A few seconds later, she heard the whooshing of air and saw a couple of pages far away on the other side of the room flicker as a tiny breeze, probably from a vent behind it, sent warm air through the tiny place.

Of course the place had power. She had seen her uncle’s television and knew he also had a land line phone here was well, though where it was in all the piles of junk she had no idea. She had no clue where anything was, the place was still a huge mess just like her previous visit.

Just because the place was hidden out in the boonies didn’t mean it was cut off from the world, and it wasn’t her uncle’s cabin anymore. It was her cabin, and as she was hiding away from the world, it was her cabin.

This… this was her new home. She looked around it, looking at the endless piles of paper and what looked like trash littered about. There was a lot of it, and she didn’t know where to start to look for that letter. To her left was the dining room and the door that lead into the kitchen and to her right was the living room and two doors. One must lead into the bathroom and the other the bedroom. Neither of them were open and they hadn’t been in them when they were there last. Well, she guessed it was time to see the rest of the place.

She went to the farthest door first figuring that one the most likely to lead into the bedroom. Inside, was a small room, her uncle’s, no, her new bedroom inside. The bed was a small twin and to the left of it with barely enough room to open any of the drawers was a short but long dresser. On top of it was empty except for an envelope with her name on it.

She stepped into the tiny room, looking at the bare walls around her and noticed there were no pictures hanging up. She glanced quickly into the living room and then back to the bedroom. There were no pictures anywhere, none of her family, nothing. There were no intimate details about anyone her uncle loved anywhere inside the house.

Except in the display case in the dining room. He had my aunts decorative plates in there. Of course she’s been dead for a while, so there was no harm to keep something that reminded him of her.

He lived without any visual memories of anyone he loved. He had been out there all alone, and couldn’t keep a picture of anyone. He must of been terrified that any visual representation would bring them harm. Did he have a rational fear that it would cause someone to die? Had he seen it happen, had he experienced it, and so hid or destroyed all the pictures? Lizzie knew her dad sent him a picture every year of all of them together. Had he just thrown them out or had he hid them?

She grabbed the envelope, her hands shaking as she tried to rip it open. Her hands seemed to have a mind of their own, not working with her to open and reveal the contents. She was surprised to find that she didn’t want to read it. Somehow not knowing what was going on, suddenly felt better than knowing. What if it was something worse? What if there was more to this and suddenly zombies were going to be breaking down her door?

She looked at the living room. The rest of the house was still. It was very quiet out there. Even the hiss of the heating vents had silence leaving the house eerily quiet, only the slight buzz of power that was hidden in the background of stillness.

“If there’s someone else here, another dead man in the kitchen, I’d here it right?” She said to herself. The sound of her voice did nothing to calm her nerves as she was no longer sure she was alone in the house. She couldn’t hear anyone else, but couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that they were there.

She kept the letter in her hand and walked quietly back through the house, making her way as silent as she could in the already deafening stillness. Each step she took she was worried it would shatter the peace with a creaking floor board, but she was able to make it to the kitchen door. She stopped there, breathing as silently as she could and listened.

She couldn’t hear anything outside the normal sounds of an empty house. The refrigerator clicked and there was that ever present buzz, but nothing that would betray a stranger waiting for her.

She let out the breath she had been holding, still standing there for a moment longer not wanting to step into the kitchen. That was the room. It was where it had happened. That was where Sarah had died. She didn’t think she could ever go into that room and not think of her best friend. 

But she knew she had to go in there.

She gently pushed on the swinging door and entered into the other room. It was empty. She was alone.

As she approached the back door leading out of the kitchen, only barely noticing that the door had had been fixed from her first time there, she realized that she had known the kitchen would be empty. It wasn’t like before. She didn’t know how she had known, but she had. She hadn’t been afraid when she came to the kitchen, worried yes, but not afraid. 

The more she took time to think about it, she hadn’t been afraid of the house ever since she stepped inside. That wrongness that had perpetually plagued her since she had first come to the house had vanished the moment she had crossed the threshold. Strangely she felt more at peace there now… It was like she had come home somehow and now this place was hers and she didn’t ever need to leave this place. It was hers and she was its protector.

That didn’t make any sense. Still, comfortable in this new house or not, she locked the back door and went into the living room. There weren’t many places to sit as papers were everywhere. She figured she would have to fix that, maybe as soon as even today as she didn’t have much else on her agenda.

Yeah, you going to clean off all the chairs and get ready for all the guests your going to have over.

She realized the futility of it, but ignored it. She wasn’t a neat freak, but the level of mess and clutter this place was in would eventually nag at her to the point of near insanity.

You think your actually sane? Your dead friends, the creature you call the shadow man, a dead man killing your friend in this house that you decided to come back and hide in after watching your ex-boyfriend with whom you had just had sex with, killed right in front of you. You really think you are the picture of perfect sanity right now?

She sat in the well worn brown lazy boy. The padding on the arms was flat and there were dark spots on the middle padding. The chair looked second had and well used. Considering the condition of the place her uncle had probably spent majority of his time there.

She looked again, at the interior of the house around her. There was just so much stuff. So many piles of books and old papers. Where would she start going through any of this? How much of it was garbage she could throw out? When did the garbage man come? Where did the mail get delivered and when were the power and utility bills due? There was so many practical things about the house she needed to find out and no clue as to go about doing so.

This really was her place to live now…

She looked at the envelope. Her name had been hastily scrawled on the front and she had been held roughly in the past as it was crinkled as though it had been balled up once or twice. She could see the spots were there was a change in texture and additional wrinkles to the paper and she recognized the signs of tears that had fallen as he had held it or maybe just rain drops. Water had dropped onto it at some point, she didn’t know from what. 

But here it was… She had come there to find answers, and this envelope, inside was the letter that would have some. He had known that this would be happening to her, obviously this had been going on with him.

Was their family cursed? It passed from one to the next, but that wasn’t possible. Curses weren’t real things, just something you read about in cheesy horror novels, but how else could she explain it. She couldn’t.

This envelope held the key, the answers, and found herself suddenly not wanting to open it. 

Instead she set it down on the arm of the chair and looked at the blacked out window. Her chest was sore from the talisman, it’s sharp claws always scraping on her flesh when she moved. He had said in his other note that she only needed to wear it until she got to the house. Could she take it off now? Of course she wouldn’t know for sure until she read this other letter, still she found herself looking down, lifting up the front of her shirt so she could see were it rested among her tiny breasts. It was an ugly thing, so small and yet seemed so powerful.

She lifted the strand that held it up over her head and pulled it off. It fell to the floor as she let it fall, herself resting back into the chair. She closed her eyes as she felt a single tear free itself from her pained insides.

Outside she heard the screaming. Her eyes shot back open and she stood straight as she recognized the voices. They were back.

“Come out here you bitch!”

Lizzie looked at the envelope, trying to ignore them. She ripped open the top.

“What the hell is this? What is happening?” That was Roland.

“I’m going to kill you, you fucking whore!” Chuck screamed. Then she heard the crying. The other voices were farther away, like they were screaming at the house but keeping their distance. The crying one was closer, like she was right at the blacked out window. It was Elisabeth, and Lizzie felt her heart twist as she listened to the woman. She spoke just above a whisper but somehow her voice carried and Lizzie heard what she said.

“You did this to us. I was pregnant. I died and it is still inside me. You killed us, this is all you fault. You killed all of us…and we are going to torture you and kill you. We have to. It’s the only way for this to end. You… you have to die.”

Throwback Thursday- Inside the Mirrors release

When my first book was released, it had a different cover. At the time, I was able to still make appearances at the Chicago Horror Film Festival and the Indy Horror Film Festival (now called Indie Horror Film Festival). This picture would have been at the CHFF festival that year, shortly after I had received the first batch of printed books.

I was still heavily playing off my associated with the festival at this time to help sell books. I had founded the festival, and had filmmakers from all over the world courting me, trying to get me to show their films. I had hoped some of that would play into me trying to sell my work.

On a side note to self-publishing authors out there who are publishing their first books. Don’t trust Microsoft Word for your editing. Hire and editor. There is a reason why this book was later re-released and that there are many reviews out there for how bad this book was edited. That is a dark mark that will always haunt this book as those reviews don’t go away.

Dead Friends: Chapter 22

The first thing Lizzie felt when she woke up was an immense pain in her temple and that sense of being pulled out of some other world. The one she was now in still was rich in haze from the fog of slumber and remnants were still fresh in her thoughts from the one she left behind. 

Had it been real? Had any of that just happened? It had been so real. It felt more like memories than dream fragments, but if that was the case why had she been Jessica. She had known her thoughts, her past, things that Jessica had never told her about herself. About her friend. She couldn’t have made all that up, could she? She was unsure, but it unsettled her, because if it was real, then her friend was dead.

The rock formed in her stomach. She had wanted to warn her earlier. She had tried to warn Jessica that something was coming after her. She had known they were next, but maybe it was because of that premonition that she had dreamed about it.

The dream had been so real. Too real. She still felt the bone deep cold inside her, and as she opened her eyes and exhaled a puff of mist formed from her lips. Lips that had just hours before been kissed by Roland. How could she have slept with him  after everything that has happened between the two of them. She could never have been that stupid, but yet she had.

The heart wants what the heart wants.

“But honey, that hadn’t been your heart talking, that had been something else. That was you pussy talking and it was hungry for the ‘D’.” A voice said to her in her head. She recognized it as a voice from long ago, though who it belonged to, she couldn’t recall. It was a voice from out of time floating in from some forgotten past.

As she tried to focus on it, more of the dream faded away yet the cold remained. It was very cold, too cold even. A shiver ran through her and that shouldn’t be right. She shouldn’t be shivering from a dream, should she? 

Something tapped into her back and she had to remember that she was still in the hotel room. He was there too, asleep behind her in the bed.

How could she have been so stupid?

She wanted desperately to get out of there. She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but the little of it she had was enough to clear her mind. God! What had she been thinking? 

Didn’t matter. The deed was done and tomorrow he would wake up and remind her of it, maybe even try for a repeat as if everything was forgotten and forgiven. Men.

She wished she had driven herself. Then she could sneak out into the night and disappear, letting the miles between them build until maybe this would become another ungodly nightmare.

First she needed to call Jessica, make sure she was okay. It was the middle of the night, the outside light filtering through the hotels curtains confirmed that suspicion, and she would probably wake her friend. 

I just need to make sure she’s okay.

But you know she’s not.

I don’t know that, just the dream had been so real.

The conversation played out in her mind and she continued to lie there in indecision. She should wake up Roland and tell him about it. He would calm her down, tell her she was being silly, but hey, here’s my cell phone if you want to call her. He’d do all those things, as he was a good guy who cared for her. So why did he also have to be such a lying cheating bastard?

Last night she had believed all his bullshit. Why couldn’t she believe him now? Because she had come to her senses, that’s why. What had she been thinking?

She could feel him shift in the bed behind her and let out a soft moan. 

He probably sensed that she was awake and was waking up too. He had always been good about waking up with her whenever she couldn’t sleep. He was usually a heavy sleeper, but the moment she had a bad dream, he was up and had her in his arms. When her parents died, he had slept over a lot, and there were many of these nights when she would find herself crying on his chest.

She didn’t want him knowing she was awake. Damn. Maybe if she was still and stayed on her side, he wouldn’t know, but she wanted to call Jess. Damn. What if she fell back to sleep waiting for him to fall back to sleep. Damn, damn, damn.

She pulled the blankets tighter around her. It was so cold in the room. They must had forgotten to turn on the heat when they had come in. Considering how they had been with each other, she wasn’t surprised. They had been generating their own heat.

Now the room was an ice box. She could use the temperature of the room as a refrigerator, their bottled water would be nicely chilled for drinking where it sat on the little table across the room. The temp had must of dropped down much lower than forecasted if the room was this cold. She hadn’t brought enough clothes.

Roland moaned louder. Then he moaned even louder. This wasn’t him waking up.

Then he screamed and she turned over to see that she had gone from dreaming one nightmare to be living in another.

“tik-a-too, tik-a-ted, there’s a dead man in your bed.” The hideous voice cackled. She could see the dark shape that was sitting on Roland. It was hovering over him but watching her and smiling at her. Even in the dimly lit room, and his obscured form, she saw the bright whites of a chilling smile as he laughed at her. He was so close. Too close, she couldn’t do anything, but get away. Immediately she jumped out of the bed and twisted to never take her eyes on him. She didn’t stop backing away until she hit the wall, then she pressed herself against it as hard as she could. She would have melted into it if she could find away.

Run. She should just run away, get herself out of there and make her escape, but it had Roland. It had turned away from her, ignoring her because for now it had what it wanted. 

Roland. She looked at him, and she could see that the shadow thing had one of its hands deep into Roland’s chest. It hadn’t broken the skin, it was like the shadow man was only part way into this world and because of that, his hand didn’t have any substance. He was was in Roland’s chest, but it had gone through the skin, not breaking it. 

That wasn’t true, as Lizzie watched Roland shake violently, the shadow man laughing as he squeezed inside. The shadow was killing him. It was suffocating him from the inside or squeezing his heart. She didn’t know what, but it didn’t matter. This was how it really enjoyed taking lives.

She wasn’t sure how she knew, but as soon as the thought occurred to her, she was certain she was right. It liked death, and took it in any way that it could. When Sarah had been killed, it had no way of killing her directly. Same way with Josh and Elisabeth, it couldn’t touch them directly. She didn’t know why, and there was much of it that didn’t make sense. There must be some set of rules this shadow had to play by, and killing directly was a no-no. It used surrogates and manipulation to take most the lives, so it was less accustomed to the joy of taking life within its own dark grasp. 

So what had changed the rules? Why was it there now, killing Roland? Was it getting stronger? She vaguely recalled something Josh and Sarah had been arguing about. There had been many things, but something Sarah had wanted Lizzie to notice.

There had been the picture. Last night, oh God had it really just been last night that Josh had appeared to them? It had and this had easily become one of the longest days in human history or at least she’d ever had because it seemed like so much shit just kept rolling her way. 

But the picture. It fell. The two fighting had been able to move it and the picture fell and then it broke. How had she not noticed that before? 

She thought back to the hospital room and how Sarah by herself hadn’t been able to move anything no matter how hard she tried. Oh, and then there was the touching each other. They had both made each other sick trying to do it, but at the coffee shop Sarah had no issues with choking her.

You still don’t know if Sarah was even there. It hadn’t been like before. That could have been just you. You know your losing your mind, right?

She wished she could silence her own thoughts, especially with some of the newer thought voices that kept giving her their opinions.

It had been Sarah and she had been choking her. They were getting stronger. He was getting stronger. She was feeding it somehow.

It was all the people around her that was doing it. They kept dying. It fed off the death. It wanted her friends to die, her loved ones. It was killing them, all of them, and was going to keep doing it until she stopped it.

If she could stop it. Her uncle hadn’t been able to. 

Her uncle hadn’t been able too. How did she know he had fought it. Because it all made sense. He had hidden himself back in the woods, away from everyone, cutting himself off from the outside world because anyone he cared about was killed.

She couldn’t think about it right now but it all was rushing at her. This thing had killed her parents. It killed her aunt. It had been after all of them and when her uncle couldn’t handle it anymore, he had killed himself and now it was killing everyone she loved.

Tears rolled down her cheek but she paid them no attention. Instead, she looked around the room for something, anything she could use. She heard Roland’s wheezing breath, and knew she had to be quick. 

But why even try. Her uncle had years to fight this thing and it had never done any good. How are you going to stop it?

She didn’t know and the thought voice was becoming increasingly annoying. She wished it would just shut up. Shut up and let her think, dammit! 

In the dim light she could see Roland, his face was turning grey, dark lines stretching along his cheeks and bulging from around his eyes. She feared those were his veins. His blood was being replaced by the shadows darkness and now his veins were visible through his skin by their black hue.

She wasn’t sure what possessed her to throw it, but she had unplugged the coffee maker by ripping it from the desk. The cable struck her and she grabbed it, quickly wrapping it around the little gadget and them flung it across the room. She didn’t wait to see the thing react as she grabbed more from the desk. She used the tray the coffee maker had been on, a local phone book, and a folder that must have contained local delivery options or the TV guide directory. It didn’t matter because if she could lift it, she had thrown it. She didn’t stop until she tried to lift the large lamp at the end of the desk only to find that it was mounted to the desk. She was pulling at it, trying to shake it back and forth, wrestling it free when she heard the laugh coming from behind her.

She couldn’t get the lamp free and she had nothing else to throw. Slumping her shoulders she turned to look back to the bed wrestling with another idea, one that was crazy and not like her to even think it. Maybe if she ran at the thing, jumped at it, even wrestled with it, it would release its death grip on Roland.

She stopped when she saw the thing was looking at her. It’s eyes burned red with some internal flame, and they burned into her. His smile was wide, and somehow the light that flickered from his eyes never touched his teeth, as they were white to the point that they seemed to glow and they were sharp, each tooth ending in a narrow point.

“Hello.” It said, speaking to her for the first time without that sing-song cadence. Now it was fixated on her, and she was hypnotized as the unseen lips moved, only noticeable for how they blocked the glow of its teeth when it spoke.

“Get away from him.” She said. She could hear the tears in her voice but was surprised at the anger. Where had that come from? At first she wasn’t sure but as she stood there, clenching and unclenching her fists, remembering what this thing has taken from her, her friends that it has killed. She knew the anger, and she embraced it. She wanted to be done with allowing this creature to come into her life and steal everywhere cared for from her.

“Why should I? What is he to you? A lover? A friend? You care about him that much?” The voice grated on her nerves. It was rough, a gravely voice that echoed in her ears as though many voices tried to speak as one.

Lizzie took at deep breath and let it out through her mouth. Her fists unclenched and she shook out her hands before she clenched them again. She could feel her nails digging in, the uneven edges from how she chewed at them threatening to break her skin.

“He’s nobody to me.” She tried to sound convincing. Yesterday she wasn’t sure if she would even have stopped the shadow thing from taking Roland, though she likes to think that deep down she was a good person. Even a good person wouldn’t let a lying, cheating son-of-a-bitch to die when she could stop it. 

Today, she found that she still did care about him. Her feelings were still there and that is why she had hated him so much. Because under all that anger she did love him.

She couldn’t tell this thing that. It had some kind of connection to her. It killed those close to her. So she had to find that anger and hate she had for Roland if she was ever going to save him.

She had to find a way to kill the shadow man.

It had been watching her as she stood there and the longer she didn’t say anything more, a sound grew from him. It wasn’t until it developed into a sound she recognized that she realized it was laughing at her.

“You sleep with him. He fucks you, and you say he is nobody to you.” And as it says that, Roland writhes in agony below it. 

“Fuck you.” She says to him, the anger now boiling up inside her. She had noticed something. She had just caught the slight glint of metal on the floor and had taken a moment to realize just what it was. The keys to the car had fallen to the floor, probably having dropped out of Roland’s pockets as she had pulled his pants off of him.

“Those you wish about and those you love

From the wings of an morning dove

All those in which you cherish

Will slowly die in agony and perish

They will be mine these dreary few

And once they are gone I will come for you.”

She hadn’t waited for him to finish. She didn’t want to hear any more of his creepy words. Each once made her skin tingle and her back tense. She tuned him out the best she could as she made her plan. It wasn’t a good one, and she knew it wouldn’t work, but it was her doing some thing. She was so tired of not doing anything. She had to try something to stop him.

She rushed forward, grabbing the keys as she moved. Her arm rose high, she had her sites set, aimed for where she wanted to strike while fumbling in her hand to have one key out between her fingers. She was unsure of herself, having never been a fighter, but did all she could to put everything she had when she brought her hand down.

It struck just below the eyes. Or it would have, had the shadow man been anything more than shadow. Her hand slipped through him, and then she was slipping through him, her momentum carrying her into him and landing on top of Roland. 

This had been a mistake. She had realized it the moment she had made contact, but as she was flung over the bed, she realized just how much of a mistake it had been. 

Her skin had turned to near ice as he was just so cold. She couldn’t breathe. Her breath was frozen in her lungs. All of her was frozen. She was trapped and even worse, she was in his essence and there she could see… something.

She didn’t know what it was. Around her there was so much darkness. It was an ether. She knew she wasn’t on earth. It was an ‘other’ place, one where there was no light to cast the shadows. Shadows were not made, they were things, and hid other things. 

She could feel that hate that emanated from that place, from all the creatures that surrounded her there. She couldn’t see them, only feel them, sensing that they were reaching out for her. They wanted her, to take her, torture her how they have been torture. She was a creature of the light and they hated her for it.

How did she know that?

Because she was inside of him. He was from this place and he felt that way towards her. But that didn’t make sense. If he hated her, all of them so much, then why not just kill her. Why kill all of her friends.

Because the shadow man, thing didn’t hate her, it hated man. She was a person, one who lived in night and day. The shadow man, wanted all light to be perished from the world.

She was the lock that kept them at bay. She didn’t know how that worked. 

Now she was there in the dark place. The things were moving around her. They had noticed her. She could feel them moving towards her. A wave of fear ran through her but it wasn’t her fear. The shadow man was afraid of these things. It was afraid… of them. It didn’t want it to get her. 

She was not sure what to make of that and she didn’t have the time to find out as she found herself ripped out of him, back in her own world and being hurled across the hotel room. She had the briefest of sensations of no control, the weightless as she flew, and then the pain. She hit the wall, and it forced the air out of her lungs. Then she fell to the floor and everything hurt. Her insides felt like they had been squished, her arms and legs were sore. She wasn’t sure if she broke anything. It felt like if she hadn’t then she had definitely sprained something, everything.

Across the room, cutting through the cold and dark was a blood curdling scream that was quickly cut short.

The room grew deathly still. The only thing Lizzie heard was the repetitive sound of her breathing. Even the hum from the electronics in the room was silent. The darkness felt out of time. She was all alone. She feared what she would find when she stood and looked on the bed.

She pulled herself up. Each movement took a concerted effort as she fought against the pain. 

When she stood, she turned and saw Roland on the bed, the shadow man was gone and he wasn’t breathing. His skin was ash grey and she knew he wasn’t coming back. She was alone in the room with her dead ex-boyfriend. A man she had made many public threats against his life and bodily harm.

She was quick putting on her clothes, finding her phone and wallet before grabbing the car keys and getting out of there. 

Outside, the world was dark, the street lights having burned out in the last half hour. She worked her way through the dark the best she could, got in Roland’s car, and drove away. She knew she should call the police. There would be plenty of questions and they would wonder why she just left. She wasn’t sure if she had any answers for them.

She was empty. Empty of answers, empty of emotions, empty of everything. She was a shell, and even the tears weren’t coming. 

She made her way to the interstate. Within a half hour she was speeding down the road, on her way to somewhere unknown.

Dead Friends: Chapter 21

We are almost caught up to where we left off with new parts of the story released every week. I hope you enjoyed the recap of parts 1 and 2, and look forward to returning to the weekly posts. I’m sorry that the stream of posts has been inconsistent over the last two weeks, but have been battling illness in myself, and now in my son. It’s been a long two weeks.

I do have some great things in store for this month and look forward to having you join me.

I would like to remind everyone that if you sign up now for my mailing list and until the end of the week, you not only get “Hatched” free, but in addition the horror anthology “The Dead Walk”. Click here to sign up.

*****

The wind had turned cold. There had been a chill earlier, but it hadn’t bothered her so when she left, she hadn’t grabbed her jacket from the counter. It wasn’t winter yet, and the nights had been mild. She was a big girl, she’d grown up in the Wisconsin and had lived there all her life, she could handle a little October chill. No one was going to tell her different and even though there was no one around, she would not give in to wearing a jacket this early in the season.

And it hadn’t been that cold when she left. Come on Jess, your tougher than this, she thought as she tripped over another root. She’d been walking through the woods for a while now, stumbling through the dark forest trying to find her damned boyfriend. Dennis had come out there earlier and at this point in her search for him she was sure she was going to kill him if she ever did find him.

Damn! Another root she hadn’t seen, and another stumble. She caught herself, she always had been graced with amazing balance but after the years of boxing and martial arts training, her balance had only improved. Now she was not only a well toned fighting machine that people often overlooked due to her smaller stature, but she was also as graceful as a butterfly on a spring morning. Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee, she has always loved that and admired the man who had once said it.

She scanned her flashlight around her. She was still on the path that on which Dennis had left. He had told her it was the path to the lake though she thought they were much closer to the lake than this. She’d been walking for twenty minutes and still not even a trace of it.

Had he lied to her? If so, his ass was grass when she got her hands on him.

She had just left hanging out with Lizzie earlier when Dennis had called and said he had made arrangements for them to go to his Dad’s cabin for the weekend. They’d never been up there and Lizzie had never heard of his dad owning a cabin, which she had thought was strange for how long they’ve been together. She would have thought he’d of said something in all that time. He knew how much she loved rustic cabins. They brought back some of her best memories, allowing her to slip away into memories of grandpa and fishing trips as a little girl.

He knew that. She had told him stories about it. 

Then when he picked her up, he had explained that his dad had just bought the cabin. He hadn’t discussed it with any of them, even his mom. So now both his parents were fighting, the big D word, divorce, has been thrown around a few times though Jessica couldn’t imagine it coming to that. Those two were such an amazing couple who normally did everything together.

This trip had been as much as a romantic getaway for them as it was an escape from his parents fighting. Though Jessica didn’t know how much his dad paid for it, she thought that whenever his mom did come to give it a chance, she would like it. 

The cabin was clean, much cleaner than she expected after hearing the story of his dad buying it on a whim. She had assumed his dad had gotten it especially cheap which lead her to believe it would have been a small shack covered in dust and filled with animal bones. She had expected to walk into a horror film, much like Lizzie had, and was surprised when she had found a well cleaned, nicely furnished rustic cabin home out in the woods. 

Dennis had immediately put their bags in the upper bedroom and then had gone outside to start up the wood stove. Okay, maybe it was a charcoal grill… she hadn’t looked it over too closely but knew he had to work to get the fire started and once it warmed up, he had thrown on steaks he had brought with him. 

He had done it up, that was sure. He had cooked steaks on the grill, lit the fireplace in the main room of the cabin, and then somehow, he had placed and lit half a dozen candles throughout so that when he brought in dinner, they had cozy firelight, that romantic flicker washing over them as they ate.

If there wasn’t the air hanging over them about his parents fighting, she would have thought he was going to propose to her. He had already asked her to marry him once before, but that had been a shamefully bad attempt and had gone terribly. She knew he felt bad about that and wondered if he was going to do it again now that he had gone all out and created this wonderful setting.

She felt a tingle inside her. No, that tingle was on her arm. She felt something something dancing along the skin, and found herself back in the woods, ripped out of her memory from earlier to look at her arm, shaking it and quickly stepping away from where she had been.

She flashed the flashlight in that direction and couldn’t see anything and she still felt that tingling. She looked, it was getting closer to her body, moving up her arm. She moved the light beam to her arm and…

There was nothing there. She ran her hand along her fingers along her arm, accidentally flashing to light into her own eyes, but couldn’t feel anything where she had felt the tingle. There was nothing there.

Damn she was really starting to hate he woods. What have ever allowed her to think she would like it out there.

This wasn’t anything like when she had gone camping with her parents as a kid. Those places had woods but it was like a controlled wooded area. Small patches of trees easy to walk through and you never got the sense that you were getting lost. She had no clue, wait, she really didn’t know which was she was going. She wasn’t sure which way she had been coming down the path. Both ways looked the same. It was all the same and it was so damned dark out there. 

On their drive up she had marveled at how beautiful the moon had been. It had been large in the sky and so bright she was sure that if Dennis had turned off his lights, they’d be able to find their way in that dark brightness. 

Yeah, well, where the hell is that moon now, because she couldn’t see a thing. The trees reached so high and all of them joined together to blot out any chance of her seeing the sky above her.

She was lost. She should call out, yell, and maybe Dennis could hear her. She didn’t need to let him know she was freaking out. She was out there looking for him, why not call out his name. 

“Dennis!” She yelled, not quite at the top of her lungs, not yet, but she still had a booming voice and in the silence of the woods around her, it was loud to her own ears. “Dennis!”

Why had he even left the damned cabin? He had set the scene, it was perfect, and then he stood up. She thought he was going to come around the table and get down on one knee. They had been sharing a moment, just looking deeply into on another’s eyes. 

Then he had stood up, said he needed to take a walk down to the lake and that he’d be right back and that was it. A half hour later and he still hadn’t returned. It had gotten dark and he had left without a flashlight. Jessica didn’t know what to do, afraid that of she left to look for him, he would return to find her the one that has gone missing. 

She had started looking through drawers in the kitchen not even realizing she was doing it. She just needed to do something while she waited. It was when she found the flashlight that it occurred to her that she had been searching for it. 

What was up with him? This wasn’t like him and it made those knots forming in her stomach twist to think about what it meant. What if he hadn’t brought her up there to propose again? What if he brought her up there to break it off? Could she have done something wrong? Something that might have upset him? She couldn’t think of anything. Nothing. They had been happy, or so she thought. 

But he had walked away from her. No real explanation, he just got up and left.

What the hell!? The path ended abruptly to thorn bushes. She hadn’t been paying attention and walked right into them, and they were tearing into her flesh. As she pulled herself back, she could see the scrapes on her hands as well as something else. There was something white and stringy. It stretched out from the bushes and was all over her arms, clinging to her sweater and hands.

It took her far longer than it should have to recognize the strands of the spider web. It probably had something to do with all the shifting black things that had kept her from fully comprehending what she had stepped into. 

“Oh God, what the fuck.” She exclaimed as she took another step back, stumbling as she did. Damn another root, they’re frickin’ everywhere, she thought as she bit back another curse. 

She lifted her foot higher and took another step backwards, this time slow so as to not put all her weight when she wasn’t sure of the ground. Her arms still had so much of the white crap and she kept shaking them, trying to get it off her. Those couldn’t be spiders, she had to keep telling herself that, but she could feel the tickling sensation moving across her arms. Then she felt them getting under her shirt. They were getting everywhere.

Her foot came down on something raised but it was also soft. She shifted her balance, glad she had kept her calm and had moved slowly. It was easy as she felt the dancing devils getting everywhere.

She turned as she moved and shined the flashlight down, glad she hadn’t dropped it. 

Dennis was on the ground. A shape just behind it looked like a person hovering over him. If Jessica had continued back she would have fallen over the person. The person was looking down, close to Dennis as though she was kissing on his chest and neck. She was moving viciously and it almost looked like they were making out if it wasn’t for how still Dennis lied there, his eyes open and lifeless. 

Then the face looked up at her, blood dripping from her mouth and Jessica recognized her though it wasn’t easy. The woman’s face was mangled, her skull looking like it had been crushed, one eye having exploded out of its socket and had dripped, now dried on her cheek. Her teeth were white beneath the blood splatter and caught in a haunting smile as she spoke.

“Hey Jess, missed me?” Sarah said, her voice on the verge of a cackling laugh as she spoke.

“Sarah..” The name escaped her own lips, though Jessica didn’t know this alien weak sound.

In the woods behind Sarah, others emerged, all mangled, blood dripping from wounds. None of these people she recognized, and she found herself looking back at what was her former friend as she stood up from where she had been devouring Jess’s fiancé.

Jessica wanted to back away and run. She could feel the tingle all over her body, it was electricity in the air and sent sparks to every part of her telling her to run. The dead were there for her and she needed to escape.

Spiders. That was made herself tingle. Come one Jess, they’re covering your body, you were trying to shake them off when you stumbled upon the dead. 

She shown the light back to the bushes behind her, but they were gone.  Behind her was a wide open clearing, inside of which stood the shadow of a man. She flashed the light to where she saw the shadow, but the light went through him. She had to blink to wonder if she actually saw it, but then a twig snapped and it brought her spinning back to face the oncoming horror.

Jess, if you want to run, now you can. You saw where the path went now. Through the clearing the path went on. You can get out of here, escape.

She looked down at her fiancé, the mangled mess of his neck was exposed, his trachea stretched out to the side. She could see now that his eyes were gone, their sockets rough from where someone must have fought to scoop them out.

They had done this. Sarah had done this. Sarah. 

Inside her the flame burned and she knew she wasn’t going to run. She knew it from the moment she had seen Dennis on the ground. She wasn’t a runner. She was a fighter.

As Sarah came into range, Jessica took a brief step back and then launched forward, using her weight and all her training to bring the blow perfect to slam into her jaw. It connected and with a satisfying crunch, she thought it t drove Sarah’s face back. Then she realized to late that her fist had broken through Sarah’s jaw, sinking through the brittle bone into her face. It through Jessica’s balance was off and she found herself falling forward.

Within a heart beat she could feel hands on her. Sarah twisted around, and as Jessica fell, she could feel the woman falling with her. Jessica fought to soften her landing but she could feel Sarah’s hands as they pulled at her. She was trapped, all of them were around her and she knew it, soon they would all be tearing into her.

She briefly wondered how Sarah would be munching on her with her mouth now a crunched, smashes in pulp of bone and dead flesh. As she hit ground, she twisted herself and realized her hand was still in Sarah’s face. The resistance of having her hand stuck prevented her from being able to turn with the fall, allowing the blunt force of the drop slam into her shoulder. The air left her. She winced in pain no matter how hard she tried to push it away and stay focused on getting out of there.

She rolled naturally from the fall, but her hand held fast. She could feel something soft and wet suctioning on it, like a muscle around her hand was contracting. She tried to pull away but the feeling intensified, nearly crushing her fingers together. 

Jess turned to look, not being able to see to well and not sure where she had dropped the flashlight. When she did, even in the dark like, she saw the shape, what was left of Sarah’s face around Jessica’s hand. What had been her mouth, had gone inward when she had been hit but was was left of it was now around Jessica’s hand and it was like she was trying to maw on it, using the fractured pieces of her jaw to bite down with teeth that were no longer there.

“Ugh,” escaped her and she pulled harder on her hand. As she did, she was the spiders that had been crawling on her moving along her arm and up her legs. They danced in her hair and along her skin. She wanted to brush them away, but already Sarah was reaching out, frantically clawing at her, pulling at her clothes. 

Then there the other dead people. They had surrounded her and now we’re dropping down to their knees reaching out their own hands at her. She didn’t know when but she had somehow become a victim in some zombie film as the dead surrounded her, grunted and reached to tear at her flesh. When had zombies become real? Had she missed the email on that one?

“Get the fuck off me you mother fucking fuckers!” She wasn’t just talking about the spiders or zombie things, she was talking about all of it. She kicked out whole twisting. She was thrashing, trying to keep any of them from getting a good grip on her. When she thought she had worked herself into having room to move, she quickly reached down to push herself up. 

She was hoping to check the closest zombie and get him or her out of Jessica’s way as she ran back to the cabin. She was stopped when she reached down and felt her hand slip in a puddle of something wet and sticky under her.

Blood.

Dennis’s Blood

Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it.

She didn’t have time to think about it, just work with it. Maybe it was why these things were having a hard time grabbing hold of her. Now that she realized just how much of it had spread on the ground around her, she noticed how much she was covered in it. 

They had also fallen in it. His blood was what keeping her alive as their hands were just as slick as hers. Just she was a fighter and used to reacting quickly, and to using her weight, her body as a weapon. Even in the dark she had balance and her inner perception. As she moved she looked inside to find that center and pushed in to find that calm that came to her when the outer rage burned. 

She found her balance, twisted and turned, spun as she stood so they couldn’t grab her and then she was up standing. There was a large man on his knees in front of her. She didn’t even slow her momentum as she shifted her weight, accounting for the slippery ground and brought her knee up to connect with his face. It found its home and his head rocked back and the force of the blow propelled him out of her way.

Then she was running and found herself past him. She was on the path, she knew it was the right one and if she continued to run she would find herself back at the cabin, safe and able to call for help. All she had to do was keep running. The flashlight was gone, but the moon had re-emerged. The path was lit in the moonlight bright enough for her to see and she knew if she went back, she wouldn’t trip on a single root.

Yet she stopped in the path and turned back around to face the dead. 

Jessica was not a runner. She hadn’t run since she was a child and had runaway that first time. That time when he had hurt her mom. She had run them, and her mom had been put into the hospital. Jessica had ran, and ran, and ran until she found a place to run to.

She had only been a teenager when she had found the gym, the small one that was almost hidden in its neighborhood. It was an old building and looked like the gym had been there for a long time thought Jessica hadn’t remembered ever seeing it before.

She had stepped into the building crying, unsure of why she was going in. She hadn’t ever been in any gym other than the one at her school and that was for P.E. and cheerleading practice.

Inside wreaked of sweat, old and new, and while the building seemed abandoned on the outside, inside was a bustle of activity. Upon walking in the door she attacked with the noise of clattering weights as they crashed down, and the loud thump from the back of the room as people dropped down barbells. To her left was a line of treadmills currently being used by a couple of old woman as they walked, focused on some far destination as though they would ever get there.

She didn’t know what to do, she hadn’t know why she had gone in there. She just stood there in the doorway unsure of what to do. She just kept watching in her mind as her dad struck her mom, throwing her against the wall.

“Can I help you?”

She blinked herself out of her trance and turned to see an older man stand behind the counter. He wasn’t old, old, but she’d guess he was easily over 50. A woman who came in behind her and walked past, tossed down a card on the counter as she addressed the man as “Stone.”

“Hey Rachel,” Stone said to the passerby, still keeping his eyes on this crying teenager who had just appeared from outside. “You competing in Strongman this weekend?”

“Not sure. Might have to work.”

“Okay, just let me know and I’ll need your entry fee by Friday.”

Jessica watched as the woman strode across the gym to where there stood a boxing ring in the back corner. A man already stood in the ring stretching. Without pausing the woman tossed her gym bag aside and climbed into the ring.

“You ready to get your ass kicked?” She asked.

The man in head gear and boxing gloves nodded. She gave him a clap on the back and then jumped down to where her bag had landed and started taking out her own boxing equipment.

“Hey kid! Can I help you.”

With a sniff and a wipe at drying tears, Jessica turned from the spectacle in the back could rise to look at the man.

“Do you teach people how to fight?”

“We do. We offer classes. Boxing, Tai Kwan Do, other forms of self defense. You should have your parents come sign you up.”

“What if it’s my dad I need to defend myself from?” 

She saw something cross the man’s face, a cracking of stone she thought as the man had looked as hard as nails. Then he looked down to study the floor and then up to look outside the window. He looked anywhere expect to look back at the kid crying before him. 

Jessica knew when she wasn’t wanted. It came from growing up and knowing that you were never wanted around. Stone might have felt this way but was being better than her dad would have been. He would have flat out yelled at her, telling her to get her lazy, ugly ass out of there.

She went to leave. Stone called out to her before she could do more than set her hand on the door.

“Are you a runner or a fighter?”

Jessica turned back to look at him.

“I don’t want him hitting her.”

“Are you a runner or a fighter?”

“I don’t know.” Her tears returned.

“Go out that door and your a runner. You’ll what, runaway in a year or so, end up on the streets. Maybe end up in foster care when they find you if your lucky. If your not lucky, you’ll actually get away, maybe make it to some big city and end up doing what to survive? Have you thought about that.”

Her hand dropped away from the door. She felt sick to her stomach. He couldn’t be right, could he? She wasn’t going to abandon her mom, was she?

She turned back to him, finding a resolve forming inside her that she never knew was there. 

“I’m a fighter.”

“Are you sure, because it looks like you ran here.”

“He hurts my mom. I want him to stop.”

“Then call the police.” Stone locked eyes with her and Jessica steps closer to his counter. 

“Cops don’t care. They’ve come and never do anything.”

“I can call them. I’ve got friends.” 

Jessica looked past him as Rachel was climbs back into the ring. She was in full fighting gear now and she had a dangerous air around her. She was electrified with a grace and moved with a confidence.

“There’s other ways to fight.”

“Yeah, Yeah, there are.” Stone looked back to the ring. “Wait until she’s done with her lesson then talk to her. Tell her I’ll pay for your lessons.”

“What do you mean.”

“I mean your going to become a fighter.”

And she had. Years of boxing, followed by various forms of kickboxing and karate turned her into on hell of a fighter. 

It took time but eventually her dad stopped hitting her mom. 

She was a fighter. She had made that decision. She didn’t run away. She wasn’t going to run now. If she ran to the cabin what would happen. Dennis was dead, killed by these dead things. If she let them go, who else would die by their hands. What if they didn’t follow her. They could go to town or one of the other neighboring communities. What if they got into these residential areas and went on a feeding frenzy. How would she live with herself if other people died and she would have been able to stop it.

She stood on the path and watched as the dead things worked themselves to where they were standing. Jessica wasn’t sure what they were, if they were zombies or ghouls or whatever the correct term was. She knew they could be fast. They had been lashing at her, viciously grabbing at her before.

She had to be faster. They had to be stopped. They killed Dennis, they could kill others. She changed that, repeating it in her head. Then she came at them.

The big one was closest. She struck him first with a round house kick that was time to keep her moving. Her foot had connected with his already broken face and it crumpled more of his skull. The momentum of the blow sent him into a nearby tree with a satisfying ‘crack.’

Two more had been behind him. These two were smaller and looked like they had been much younger when they died. These two seemed different from Sarah and the larger man. They weren’t moving fast to get to her and they looked more at each other than at her. Their hands held each other’s, had these two been lovers? 

Jessica wasn’t going to waste time thinking about it. They were dead, their feelings didn’t matter. They were killers and she was going to put them down. 

Her fist flew forward, her weight behind the blow as it slammed into his face. He staggered back and like expected, the girl had reached out for her. Jessica grabbed it and twisted, launching the girl over back and sending her to the ground. Jessica followed it up with a kick down, slamming the girl hard In the chest. Jessica didn’t hold back as she would with a living opponent and brought down her weight and she heard the satisfying crunch as ribs broke.

Then she spun around in time to see that the man, and Sarah were both coming for her. Sarah’s face was a mess, nearly unrecognizable, but Jessica knew those eyes, though the fury in them was foreign. 

In most fights, Jessica would have considered the man to be the bigger threat and have attacked him while blocking Sarah. Something screamed to her that if she did that, she was dead. The man had no life left in there we eyes, this wasn’t a fight of passion with him, but Sarah was a beast who had gone rabid. Turning away from her would be a costly mistake.

Her adrenaline was flowing. She could see herself as she moved, and it made her think of an action movie. She wasn’t quiet like Jackie Chan and now fights were always so choreographed with chairs and ladders all around him so he could use them as weapons. No, this was more bare knuckle. This was a classic Van Damme film. She was a master, a brawler, and she saw it all as she was on the attack for her remaining opponents.

Jessica approached them almost with a strut of confidence, and when Sarah reached forward, Jessica grabbed it. She pulled and used the force to twist and spin into the man. The blow knocked him off his feet and freed Jessica to continue to spin and driving a powerful blow again into Sarah’s already weakened head. There was more crunching as the blow connected and the center of Sarah’s face crushed inward. 

If she had been in a action film before, she had just crossed over into the absurd, cheesiness of a bad horror film. One of those films that went over the top with the gore, because as she hit Sarah her fist sunk deeper into her face than Jessica thought it should. Her fist going until she felt the thickness of the back of Sarah’s skull.

What had been Sarah’s brain, the grey matter that had made her a walking corpse was all over Jessica’s hand and it was like a jello mold around her fist. It suctioned around her hand as she tried to pull it back, sucking at it. Sarah wasn’t fighting her and re, her body had gone limp, but the head wouldn’t release her. As the body fell to the ground, Jessica was trapped and going with it. She fell, and only had a moment to realize she was going to land next to next to Dennis.

They were going to get married. She had come out there to find her fiancé because he had been asking so weird, but they were supposed to be planning the best day of their lives few together. There was still a lot to do, they hadn’t even been able to lock down a date yet, but she still could see it in her mind.

It was going to be in the church she had gone to while growing up. It was a beautiful church that loomed grandly in her memories. The cathedral rose high, the bell tower rising higher and ringing those wedding bells announcing that it was her day. Their day really as they were joining their lives together.

She would have a purple dress, having already decided that she would never be satisfied with traditional white. Tradition was for those who invited her family, a mother and a father. Her mother would be there, she would be giving Jessica away, but her father… 

He would never be allowed within a hundred feet of the ceremony. Jessica had the restraining order, and had taught him more than once what happened when he broke it. He broke it, she broke bones. Not just one, but multiple. She enjoyed hearing him scream.

So no father to ruin the day, It was going to be filled with only things that would make her happy. Dennis. He made her happiest of all, and as her mother walked her down the aisle, he would be there, standing in front of Father Abraham. He would be in a suit, his friends behind him, his older brother standing as his best man behind him. Tony, the brother, would have the rings hidden away, his irresponsible self actually doing something right this time.

She would walk the aisle and once next to him, he would take her hand, and hold that hand until they were married. She would never let him go.

And as she fell, she thought of him, how she loved him, and was never going to let him go. Not in her heart.

She landed hard, no hands available to steady or catch herself. Her balance was off by her hand being stuck so she had no way to prepare, to tuck and roll with the motion. No, all of her weight and the momentum of her punch came down on her and she crashed into the unforgiving earth with the air expelling in a rush from her lungs.

The thing that was Sarah somehow landed on top of her and she immediately felt hands pulling at her. She knew it wouldn’t be long before the things around her pulled themselves close and were biting in to her, and really, what did it matter anymore.

She was looking into the dead eyes of Dennis as he was less than a foot away from her. Those dead eyes that killed her soul and twisted the knife buried in her chest. She wanted tears to flow but the cold had already dried them away.

She felt the stabbing pain as teeth ripped into her leg. Then more as something landed on top of her and tore a chunk out of her back. More hands grabbed at her, they were pulling in all different directions. If she wanted, she could turn over, or try to, she wasn’t sure she could actually do it, and use her hands to fight at them as they made their way onto her. She had done it once, she could probably do it again. 

But she didn’t. Instead, she reached out her hand, extending to where Dennis was. His was covered in blood as was hers. Still hers slipped into his like they were meant to always be holding each other. 

Blood was filling her lungs. The pain was shooting through her thoughts making everything around her impossible to focus on, but she fought it. As she gasped, wheezing towards her last breath, she coughed out “I love you.”

His hand slipped out of hers. She felt it but had to blink away the tears to see why. The pain had dulled as the world grew colder. Through her blurry vision, she watched as Dennis was moving. He was a shape coming towards her. 

She couldn’t help herself, but she smiled as she coughed up another lung full of blood. 

“Den-“ she couldn’t get it out as her chest spasmed. It didn’t matter. She used her outstretched arm to pull herself towards him though she could see he was nearly to her. She thought maybe they they would get their one last kiss. She hadn’t realized just how much to yearned to feel those lips again.

His lips neared her own and she could see the blood splattering his own lips. He had a large toothy smile, and she tried to force herself to return it through the pain. His mouth opened wide, and she had a brief second to mentally question why he was opening his mouth so wide when he was going to miss her and why did it look like his mouth was full of spiders.

Then his mouth closed over her own, and her scream was cut short as he bit off her own lips. The little bit that has remained of her mind, that had stayed focused on Dennis was ripped away as insanity took her moments before the eternal night

Dead Friends: Chapter 20

Anthropopophobia is the fear of people. Often times it is a social fear or something thought of as an intense shyness. It can manifest itself in being afraid of meeting new people, or even looking them in the eye. It can be an intense awkwardness around a group. There are many ways that people can experience this intense fear. 

Lizzie had always been timid, but she was okay with being around people. Parties were her thing, and she’d be there right with her posse, Jessica and Sarah. They were their own clic as none of the fraternities would have them as a group, and they were too much their own sisters to leave one another. So they were their own force to be reckoned with.

Though, when she was alone, she never went up to people. Jessica and Sarah, they were the ones to be the life of the party and when they weren’t around, Lizzie found a corner and watched the world pass her by. Some guys would come up to her, but they would often get bored, not able to pull her from her shell. Then with a sip of their beer, they would make their way to other game who would show more interest. Thankfully Sarah and Jessica would not let her stay alone for too long. When she got in her corner, at parties or in life, one of them would always find her and pull her back into the world around them.

But she had never been afraid of people around her, she just didn’t know what to say. Whenever someone tried talking to her without her friends, her mind would just go blank. It was like, she tried to find something to talk about, and the only thing in the mental file of words that would shake its way out would be, “Hello.” After that, there was just nothing there. It was like the looking at her phone and suddenly it was empty, no contacts, no apps, just nothing. 

So when the crowd had swarmed in around her, so many people asking her if she was alright, the anvil hit her like a hammer blow. She couldn’t breathe, her eyes were dry, but tears tried to flood them anyway, Her skin crawled with the sensation that things were crawling all over her, and the slightest touch made her jump. Her eyes tried to look everywhere at once and that just made the feeling of the world twisting around her even worse. 

“I need to get out of here.” She heard herself gasping, but didn’t recognize her voice. It sounded strangled and alien to her own ears.

“We should call an ambulance.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She looks like she’s on drugs.”

“I have a cousin who does heroin, she looks like that sometimes.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“We really should call someone. We can’t have people collapsing in our bathrooms and not-“

The voices just kept assaulting her. The lights were too bright. Everything was too much.

What was this, why was this happening to her? Why were these things always happening to her? 

The weight intensified on her chest, her breathing coming out in shorter gasps. She thought she was going to collapse again, there on the floor as she tried to make her way to the door. 

A voice spoke to her softly in her ear. It broke through the noise, tearing through the cacophony and releasing some of the pain in her chest. A different kind of tear, that of relief, escaped her as she heard it.

“It’s going to be okay. Just breathe. I’ve got you. It’s all going to be okay. Let’s just get out of here.” Roland said and now she did collapse. She fell into his arms and let him guide her to the exit.

****

Outside, the cool night air struck her like a physical blow, a hammer that slammed into her and forcing away the fog of what had just happened. Her strength returned and before they had reached the end of the block, she could walk on her own, though she found herself staying in the warmth of his arms.

“We still have that hotel room we paid for. I didn’t want to bring it up earlier, but I don’t think we should be driving back this late.” He said. She felt his words rumble through him, the vibration a comfort to her, continuing to calm her frayed nerves.

“Sure.”

“Yeah?”

She pulled her head away long enough that he looked down at her and they were locked into each other’s eyes. It had been so long since she had lost herself in those eyes. They were the ocean on a clear day, and she could always sink into them when he did this. 

Then she pulled his head down to meet hers and her aching lips found his. They kissed, and as she felt the warmth flood through her, emanating from her, she kissed him harder.

From there she didn’t remember getting to the hotel room, the memories lost in a haze of continual lustful kisses. She needed him. He was warmth, and he was her comfort. She needed to wrap herself up in him, and allow him to get inside her. She desired to feel every part of him and for them to become one.

They were in the room. He had his arms around her and pulled her into him. She kissed him again while running her hands under his shirt, down his back. She let her finger nails drag on his skin, knowing how it drove him wild. The reaction was immediate, the lump in his pants expanding. She ran her fingers gently over it, and could feel the rock hard member itching to bust loose from its constraints.

She ran her fingers along his member, following the curvature. Roland tensed against her touch and she looked into his eyes to see them closed, himself lost in a moan of pleasure. It brought a smile to her and awoke a hunger deep inside. 

How long had it been since she’d felt him? Too long.

Thoughts of death, the crowd at the coffee shop, all of it faded as she gave in to the desire. Her hands shook with anticipation. She needed him. She needed this.

She carefully eased the zipper down, being careful not do damage the cream filled candy inside. She was a child that craved the sugar rush, and wanted to suck on the hardness until the creamy goodness filled her, it’s warmth burning away the cold inside her.

His member was free, and she eased it out. Then she broke free from their latest kiss, another entanglement of tongues and lowered herself to her knees. He was shaking with excitement, and she had the brief worry she was going to give him a heart attack if she waited to long. He wanted and needed her just as badly as she needed him.

She took him in, tasting the sweat of excitement that trickled from him. The moment she wrapped her lips around it, his body shuddered. She continued, playing with his shaft, running her tongue up and down the different parts, many times lingering on the enlarged head and eye. Then she would take it all in again and viciously stroke with her hands while taking him in and out. He let out another moan, this one much deeper and she could feel his legs shake.

She had to wonder if it had been as long for him as it had been for her? But then what about Natalie. No, she wasn’t going to think about-

“Ah!” He let out a small gasp and she knew she had allowed herself to get distracted. Her teeth… He tried to pull away just a little from her, but she wasn’t going to let him get away that easily. She needed this too badly.

As he was still unsteady, she pushed on him, and he fell back, the bed waiting for him. He thumped down on it, and was already back pedaling to the head, his smile growing as he watched her climb him.

That’s it, those pants are coming off. She reached forward and undid the button and then the belt. Then she viciously tore at pulling off the blue jeans, shaking them back and forth like a dog playing with a toy until they came free. The pants flew across the room as she focused on the next target, his boxer shorts.

It didn’t take long and then she was again working on his shaft, stroking it, sucking on it, sending waves of passion through Roland as he arched his back. He was lost to the passion, concern for her lost in the moment.

Then with one last flick of her tongue across the eye of his member she looked up and him. Then like a stalking cat, purring as she moved she swayed back and forth and she worked her way up the bed. She kept her body low, letting the small swell of her breast rub across his already excited erection. Small kisses ran along his stomach and then to his erect nipples. She took a short moment to suck on each on, giving each a little nibble before moving to his chest and then finally her lips high enough to reach his own.

“Are you sure.” He gasped breaking away from her kiss. His body trembling with excitement and anticipation. His eyes were questioning and it fought with every other part of his body that demanded he have her then and now.

She nodded at him, the hunger in her eyes, demanding that she have him. Every other thought of the last few weeks were gone from her mind and all she was focused on was this moment. 

“Then I think your overdressed.” 

The corner of her mouth went up as she pulled back until she was sitting on his exposed member, though she made an effort not to put all her weight down. Then she rocked back and forth, gently gyrating as she crossed her arms and pulled her shirt over her head.

The totem hung there between her now exposed breasts and she tried to ignore it as she reached behind her, thrusting out her breasts as she undid the clasps of her bra. As soon as they were released, his hands immediately had them, kneading them, and rubbing her nipples and the flesh beneath. She inhaled deeply, waves of her own pleasure flooding her senses and what had she been thinking about before? His fingers flicked at her nipple and then she felt his fingers rubbing them between. Her breath caught and her back arched.

Something had been happening over the course of the last few weeks, but as she felt his hands and the moisture between her legs intensifying. It was there, nagging at her but she didn’t even have to try to push it out of her mind. 

She quickly reached down to fumble with the button on her pants. It released and another pair of hands assisted her in getting the zipper down. Then in a move that was well practiced, she moved herself off of him, pushing down her pants as she did and then kicking them off as she now lied there on the bed. As she had done her part, Roland had done his, moving with her, first out of her way and then guiding on top of her. It was like a dance that had been performed, each working in time with the other and moving in a rhythm. They moved in time to a music of their own making, and they were well rehearsed to make these actions look like a well choreographed sequence.

The dance ended and he was on top of her, now his mouth on her breasts, his tongue sending new sensations of pleasure while his fingers searched below. Then they found their target and she couldn’t restrain the gasp of pleasure that escaped her. He worked magic, both hands and tongue creating their own orchestra of ecstasy.

Then his hands pulled away and his lips found hers. A second later and he found his way inside of her. The rest of the night fell away. She needed this, oh God how she needed this.

Dead Friends: Chapter 19

“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 cop. 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 unsureness of what to think or do. His hand rested back on hers.

“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 it’s 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 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 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. After all, her uncle had lived alone in the woods for the last eighteen years. He had hidden himself away from everyone he knew or loved.

“I think that might be why he stopped talking to everyone?”

“Who?”

“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?”

“Sure.”

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.

She washed her hands and looked in the mirror. The room no longer felt so large. In fact, it was crowded.

They were all there, 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 angry and all of it was turned on to 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 and then she was spun around. Her head was slammed against the mirror and she tried to blink away the sudden tears that formed.

“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 thoughts.

“I…I thought you were gone.”

“Where would we go?” Elisabeth’s voice asked.

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 up her eyelids.

“Oh, no! Keep those peepers open. You wouldn’t want to make me have to cut those off would you?” Sarah said as she leaned in close to Lizzie’s ear. She got really close, looking her in the eye though the mirror, 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.”

Sarah did look different. Her skin was much more pale than it had been, which made the red lips vibrant, almost glowing as though they were covered in blood. Her eyes had blood dripping down and joined by blood that dropped from her hair. Parts of her hair were clumped together were red liquid of life still drenched it.

If Lizzie didn’t know any better, 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 before she had never been able to smell them. They were… more real, but how when she couldn’t even seen 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 and 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 of. Something hard was wrapped around her throat.

She tried to open her eyes, but some kind of 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 evolving 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 your having a seizure, don’t worry as we will be calling 911. Are you sure your not okay?”

“Oh no, you’re 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. It pulled the cloth further in and she spasmaticly 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.

“Your 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 girl 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 sad to them. 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.

Dead Friends: Chapter 18

Hey Girl.” Came the familiar voice Lizzie had hoped to hear. Immediately she released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. That was, until the next part of the message played. “Leave a message.”

Jessica probably had forgotten that her voicemail introduction was old and tacky. Lizzie had forgotten about it. She hadn’t paid it much attention as she usually texted and when she did call, if no one answered she didn’t pay it any attention whatever the greeting was and just left a message.

For that one heartbeat of a second she had actually allowed herself the chance to take a breath and relax. That was shattered as different ways Jessica might have been killed danced in her head. The shadow man was merciless, Lizzie had learned that when Sarah was killed, but since then, he had continued to take those close to her or having anything to do with her.

That explained Josh. It was strange to think he had only awakened her that morning, having arrived in the middle of the night. So much had happened today that it was easy to forget, but now that she concentrated on it, why was Josh there? She had never met him before, but he had been the one who killed Elisabeth and Chuck. They were connected.

“Jessica. Call me. Please.” She could hear the desperation streaming from her own voice.

What if she’d been hit by a car. Sure, the shadow man had already tried that today, but he could have. It was one of the easier ways to kill someone. Though when she thought about it, there were so many other possibilities. She could imagine the elevator in Jessica’s building, the cable snapping or the doors opening allowing for her to step into an empty shaft. Either way would leave her friend to pummel to her death.

Jessica could be just as easily mugged as she walked to her car. Though admittedly Lizzie would have to highly doubt that was possible. After seeing her in action earlier today, Lizzie wasn’t sure how many muggers it would take to put her down. Just one desperate soul out to devour off the weak wasn’t going to do it. Where had that fighter emerged from? She had never seen Jessica do that before. It had been amazing.

Dennis had said something about some kind of training Jess was doing. Maybe Lizzie should look into it? Why though? Lizzie’s problems all seemed to come from the supernatural so how would throwing a punch help?

Though, if there were multiple attackers…

Lizzie knew lingering on the thought wasn’t helping her as she disconnected the call, but she couldn’t help but picturing her friend lying in her own blood as she was dying. Her keys were in her hand, she was right next to her car. Jessica had almost made it before the three had jumped out at her. The first one she had taken down, but the next two both had knives.

It would have been just like Sarah, but this time Lizzie wasn’t there to watch the light slowly fade from her friend’s eyes.

She started reading through the messages on her phone. The oldest ones were from Jess, all of them worried about her. Lizzie knew Jess would have hated her being out with Roland, and Liz didn’t blame her for it. She was just about to get into the newer messages, the ones from the number she didn’t recognize when her phone rang, that same unfamiliar number calling her.

She nearly dropped the phone, and had to fumble with it to click on accepting the call. Her heart felt like it skipped a beat a she shakily raised it to her ear.

“Hello?”

“Hey Liz, everything going okay?” Jessica asked. Lizzie let out a long breath at hearing her friends voice.

“Yeah, hey who’s number is this?”

“Dennis’s work phone. The idiot left his cell at home but had this. Thank god I remembered your number.” There was a joking tone to her voice as she spoke and it tried to set Lizzie’s mind at ease, but there were a lot of messages still. She was having a hard time reconciling that it was just because she was checking up on her friend. Especially since Jess had texted more times today and had spoke to her more than she had in the entire last month of their friendship. Still, for now, Lizzie wondered if it was best to let it go and just talk to her friend. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe her gut was wrong.

“That explains it. So what’s up?”

“Well, you tell me. Is Roland being a bastard?”

“He’s being civil.” Her mind raced to the kiss they had just shared, her memory clinging to his smell, his taste. He tasted of peppermints, like the candy he always kept with him, and the essence of pineapple she knew came from the deodorant that he used.

“He’s not being an ass. He’s still not claiming he never slept with that Natalie is he?”

“It hasn’t come up. Hey, so what’s wrong with your cell?”

“Battery’s dead. Been busy today, forgot to charge it. Then Dennis whisked me away for some camping trip getaway. God only knows where we are right now. He ran in to get some ice for the cooler and I wanted to give you a call. I’ve been worried about you.”

“I’m fine.”

“You didn’t look fine, and what was that with that woman? You went pale just by her talking to you.”

“I was just spooked, but come on, Ms. Bruce Lee.”

“I told you, I’ve been taking self defense classes.”

“Yeah, well that was pretty impressive.”

“He shouldn’t have been pushing her around.” Lizzie noticed the chance in Jess’s voice. A sadness had creeped into her tone and Lizzie wondered if something was hidden there in her past. Sarah, she had grown up with, but Jess was a newer friend. There was still much Lizzie didn’t know about her.

“Okay, I gotta go. He’s taking me up to some cabin his parents have on timeshare or whatever.”

“Thought you said you were going camping.”

“We’re in the woods and there’s no internet. I don’t care if we’re in a cabin or a tent, it’s all camping to me.”

Lizzie barely stifled the giggle as her friend said her goodbyes and the phone disconnected. Jessica was okay. She was alive and Lizzie had been worrying for nothing.

Maybe she was being crazy or had been crazy and was now pulling herself out of it. All of this silliness with some shadowy figure and a dead man who killed her best friend. She didn’t know what the hell happened, she should just admit that to herself.

“Hey miss, you got a light?” Lizzie heard from behind her, and instinctively her neck hair rose. She realized just how alone it was on the street and for the first time wondered how long Roland had been away. He should be back by now, where the hell is he?

She turned to look at the owner of the voice. It had been raspy, near whisper and impossible to know if it had been a man or woman.

When she first looked back, her heart skipped. It was him. He had found her. Hundreds of miles away and here he was. The shadow man was there, his face obscured by darkness.

But the image of the shadow man faded as another man standing tall and just barely able to be seen in the dim light. He wasn’t even close to her and she could smell his breath, the alcohol emanating from him like he was a distillery. His large coat hid his slender frame, but did nothing to conceal his gaunt dirt covered face.

The man was imposing enough, but as he bent over to lower himself to her, the streetlight caught his eyes. Lizzie could just barely see it, but she had already known. She knew that if the sun shone bright, she would see those red rings around his irises. The shadow man was there after all, even if she couldn’t see him.

“Come on, give me a light.” He said as he reached out for her. She had seen him coming, fearing it, and was quick to push herself forward and twisting the spin while rising up from the bench. She moved just in time, his hand only brushing against the back of her sweater leaving traces of dirt from his fingers.

His hands were covered in it and she couldn’t help but remember what the sheriff had said about the old man. A dead man had killed her friend. Was this guy dead too? He wreaked enough to call it in question but she didn’t have time to think about it now as he followed up reaching for her by lunging over the bench.

“What the hell.” She quickly stepped back. He came down hard to the cement and he slammed his fist into the pavement in frustration. She wasn’t waiting for his next move as she dashed around to behind the bench where the man had just been. A cackling escaped from him and he twisted himself up to look at her.

“What’s a matter little girl. Don’t want to wet the noodle?” His face now covered in blood that was running from his nose. He didn’t pay it any attention and continued to howl louder with his laughter as he pulled himself forward.

His legs came down from the bench, limp behind him and she would have expected him to stand up and come at her again. He was aggressive in his attack, continuing to come after her, not allowing her to catch her breath.

Just run away, she screamed internally to herself, but she didn’t. She got away from him so far, she just had to keep out of reach. Then what? Eventually he would catch her.

Jessica wouldn’t run away. She had stood up to it earlier today. She had fought against people, taken down that man. She had really kicked some ass. So come on Lizzie, are you going to run away for the rest of her life. Hell no!

She started to plan her attack. He was going to get up and lung back over the bench and she would grab his arm, pull him off balance and then slam her fist into face knocking him out. That’s right, it seemed simple enough. She just had to do it once he came at her.

Wait, don’t you hurt yourself more if you ball your fist the wrong way? She thought she’d heard that somewhere.

It didn’t matter as she never got the chance to test it. The guy didn’t stand. Instead he quickly crawled under the bench and grabbed her legs. She had just seen that he was under the bench and hadn’t registered the change fast enough. Her mind had still been on formulating the plan of him coming over.

He caught her off guard and by the time it clicked and her mental gears started moving, he was close. She only had time to take a step back but then he had her, grabbing the leg nearest him. She was still trying to pull it away when he lurched forward and wrapped his arms around her, pulling his weight into her leg and throwing her off balance.

She fell back, twisting as she did so to work her way free. It seemed impossible, his grip tight on her. She would have questioned his strength but It didn’t matter. She’d been through this before and she recognized the sensation of having the shadow man nearby. She could almost imagine his sing song of a chant and feel his damp breath. He was there, it was him possessing the man, and once again he had her.

The cement was hard and she crashed into it without any way of catching herself. Her air escaped her lungs even as she fought to keep it. The lungs that betrayed her felt pained and were angry with her as they tried to pull in on themselves. Her whole body hated her. It recognized the pain and knew it was her fault. She had the chance to get away and she hadn’t.

As she fought to pull air into her recovering lungs, she could feels his hands moving up her legs. He would grab higher and higher then pull his body a few inches at a time.

“Tik-a-tat, tik-a-tat, tik-a-tat” in that old raspy voice kept screaming though her mind.

Stars danced around her. She was still having a hard time but she was now able to gasp in short wisps of air. Her vision was getting cloudy and she felt her eyes watering.

His hand left her leg and she felt it come down on her waist, reaching and grabbing the gap between her pants and the flesh hidden beneath. She tried to wiggle away but his grip was firm on her jeans. She shook harder, coughing with the exertion as she was finally pulling in air.

“Come here honey, light my fire.” The voice rasped, coughing spastically as it spoke.

She kicked out with her legs, and reached with her arms trying to pull herself away.

“Help! Get away from me! Someone help me.” She screamed finally finding her voice now that she had air. Her throat burned with the effort.

“No one.” He hissed, “No one to hear you.” She felt him slither over her legs, like a snake as he was working his way up. Her legs were trapped, her efforts to kick him away useless. Instead she fought to twist herself away. Maybe she could somehow push him off of her so she could get up, but it was useless.

“Get off me!” She stopped slamming her fists down and twisted again, reaching down and pushing the man down. He was so much stronger than her, but she fought with everything she had.

Her arms gave out and she tried again to twist in a way to pull herself free. His hands let go and she found herself able to move. She landed on her chest and something crunched against her. It bit into her breast, but she couldn’t stop to think about it. She had to…

His arm reach up and grabbed part of her shirt. His nails were long and dug into her flesh even through the fabric of her sweater.

Why had she thought she could fight him. She should have just run away. He never would have caught her. She wouldn’t be under him now, and none of this would be happening. Why did this always happen to her?

He was going to rape her. As sure as she knew she was going to die tonight, and that it would be by his hands, she knew he was going to violate her first.

And she had no way of stopping him…

Fresh tears rolled down her cheek and she let her arms fall to the side. It was going to happen wether she fought him or not. What did it matter? It was all over.

“What the hell! Get off of her!” She heard he familiar voice but it sounded like it was miles away at the end of a very long tunnel. She couldn’t concentrate on it, barely hearing the words but not grasping the meaning of what was being said.

Around here the world was blurry and she could feel the darkness closing in, surrounding her and pulling her into unconsciousness. She didn’t care. The coolness of the sidewalk beneath her was comforting and so inviting. Maybe they could all just leave her there and let her become a statue.

She felt the weight on top of her rip away and she couldn’t help but release a giggle. Floating man going away, she thought, floating man returning to the shadows light as a feather. Another tear rolled down her cheek. She felt it as it slid down its path.

There was shuffling around her, but it was a world away, why should any of that concern her. She heard more shouting and knew now who was yelling. It was Roland but why was he at the end of the tunnel. He should be here with her. Why had they been so far apart?

Her head hurt as she tried to think of the reason, but nothing came.

“Lizzie! Lizzie, are you okay? Do I need to get an ambulance?” He was getting closer until she finally opened her eyes. She had slipped off, not realizing she had closed them, but now her eyes wide open, she saw him hovering over her.

He looked so concerned. Was that really for her?

“Hey big boy. Where have you been?” She said and the words sounded strange to her. Then she realized slowly what had just happened to her.

The tears flooded out from her as reality crashed into her like a freight train. She could stop it but didn’t feel like she had to. Roland understood and pulled her up and into his chest. She reached out and pulled him closer, clinging to him so he wouldn’t disappear on her again. Never again, he needed to always be with her. She needed him.

“It’s okay. The bad man is gone away. I chased him.” He said to her gently.

But he was wrong and she knew it. The bad man hadn’t gone away, just the vessel it possessed.