Chapter 7

Lizzie didn’t want to go back there. She didn’t want to go back into the house that her friend had died in. She didn’t want to go back inside the small, wooden, decrepit place that some random stranger, old and naked, had come at her; tried to eat her and God only knows what else to her. She didn’t want to go near the place of that shadow man, but even more she didn’t want to go near the maggots.

     Why was that troubling her? She didn’t know, and since she’d last been there, she had plenty of nightmares. She’d dreamed about the shadow man and his ticky-tat way of talking. She’d dreamed of the old man as she stared up at him with his member dangling in her face, but the ones she truly feared, the ones that woke her up in a sweat was when she dreamed she was in a bath tub covered in maggots, all of them with their hungry mouths. They were all eating her alive, tearing her apart and laying their eggs inside of her, more maggots bursting out of her.

     As she stepped out of the back seat of the car bringing her back there, the image of that single white wormlike creature as it fell on her from the man’s penis kept leaping into her thoughts. Though unlike how it happened, she kept remembering it wrong. In her thoughts, it fell into her open mouth made its way into her stomach and was eating her while lying its eggs. With the butterflies she felt in her stomach, she couldn’t help but think there was some truth to nagging sense.

     “Lizzie? You okay?”

     Lizzie looked over to her friend who had brought her back there. She didn’t want to be back there, but they needed to get her keys and somewhere in there she had dropped them. The police when they went there hadn’t found them. They’d found her phone, but that had been it… Well, the phone, and the bodies. They had found both Sarah and the corpse of the old man. He was also dead, though how she had no clue. The cops knew. They already knew who he was. In fact the sheriff had been to the old man’s funeral a week before he had killed Sarah in the cabin. The guy was dead. He had been a rotting corpse, buried three miles away, but somehow had found himself in her cabin to terrorize her and kill her best freight in the world.

It had been when the cops had found the corpse of the old man, lying there in what was now her kitchen, that their questioning of her had shifted. She was no longer being looked at as a victim. They no longer trusted her, or the story she was telling them. No matter how much she pleaded with them that it was the truth, she could see the doubt in their eyes.

     She had been in the hospital for three days and was questioned by the police for the last two days.

     “Are you sure you’re, okay?” Elisabeth asked. Lizzie looked over at her and her boyfriend. She was thankful they had brought her out there, but tepid as she was only beginning to know these people. Elisabeth, it felt like Lizzie was using her to fill the void that Sarah had created. Would have created if Sarah, dead or not, was still trying to be her best friend. Elisabeth’s boyfriend though, was just as nice as Elisabeth was, and he had suggested they come out there. Well, he’d suggested coming by himself so he could get Lizzie’s car and look for her keys…

     What had possessed me to say I wanted to come back here? Sure, he’d need someone to come with him as they’d have two vehicles, but anyone could have ridden with him. She doubted Elisabeth would have come. The girl barely left Lizzie’s side, becoming her protector the more the sheriff dug into her with questions.

     The old man…how could he have attacked her and killed her friend? He’d been dead for a week. The sheriff knew the man and had been at his funeral when they put him in the ground. He’d died of bone cancer barely able to lift his own arm, not able to walk for the last three months when the cancer got bad. There was no way he could have attacked them, or so the sheriff said.

     Lizzie didn’t know. She had no answers of her own other than what she saw.

     Maybe she really was crazy…?

     “Liz?” Elisabeth said, the concern heavy in her voice, pulling Lizzie from her thoughts.

     Lizzie looked over at her, trying to not be a zombie as she walked around to the front of the car. Her thoughts kept pulling her deep into her own mind. She just had to not get lost in them. Don’t focus on them, right? That was easier said than done.

     “Yeah, I’m fine. Just trying not to remember the last time I was here.”

     “I get that.” Elisabeth’s boyfriend said. Lizzie struggled to remember his name and felt she should really remember it by now as they’ve hung out for more than a day.

     “Chuck, you mind going in first? I’ll stay out here with Lizzie while you check it out.”

     “Sure, let me get killed in the spooky old death house.”

     “Chuck!”

     The color drained in his face as he realized what he just said. Elisabeth was making jerking motions with her head towards Lizzie.

     “Oh my God I can’t believe I just said that.”

     It was alright. Lizzie barely even noticed as she had slipped back into her thoughts. She found her gaze drifting over Elisabeth and Chuck, to settle on the old cabin. Her first time there, she hadn’t really looked at it. Sarah had been talking but Lizzie had been on the phone with Richard, her brother. He had been having another melt down because his caregiver had a family emergency. Samuel, her brother’s normal caregiver had called her and told her what was going on. Samual had called their service and Tommy, the backup, was on his way. None of this mattered to Richard and he had called her in a frenzy. She had to listened to him rant in that computerized voice as he typed it from his end of the call.

     “It’s still a dump.” Sarah said as though she could read Lizzie’s thoughts. Lizzie looked over, across the car to the other side and there she stood. Of course, her dead friend was still with her. No matter where she went, Sarah followed now, though she did have the decency not to follow her into bathroom.

     Lizzie tried to pretend she wasn’t there, but it was hard. Closing her eyes never helped. Wishing the nightmare away didn’t do anything. Sarah was there, whether she liked it or not.

     Sarah was right though; the house was a dump. It looked like it had once been painted a drab yellow, tough not that much of the paint was still visible as much of the original color had long peeled away. The remnants of the paint lied in a bed of debris around the base of the house having been torn away after years of neglect and vicious winters tearing at it.

     Outside, you couldn’t really see that the windows were blacked out. With the sun coming down and the boards that looked hastily placed to cover them, the house just looked dark inside. Her uncle really didn’t want anyone seeing in, or maybe he didn’t want to see what was out there? Had her uncle seen the shadow man? Had he been hiding from him?

     Maybe there were answers inside? She hadn’t thought about that before, but there could be something in there that explained that thing.

     Now you’re just reaching. You know that. You just don’t want to go back in there and trying to give yourself reasons to go, never mind that you’ve come all the way back out there, you need to go in or else you’ll be running the rest of your life afraid to face anything.

     And somewhere inside her, she was okay with that. Why not just run away from everything?

     “Okay, well, I guess I’ll go in then. It’s unlocked right?” Chuck said as he neared the door. It was obvious he didn’t relish the idea of going in alone.

     “Should be. I doubt the sheriff’s department locked up after themselves and I’m not sure where my keys are.” Lizzie said as she finally moved, taking tentative steps towards the house. The dried leaves crackled beneath her, fallen from the trees overhead. There were a lot of them. She was surrounded in trees. The whole area was nothing but trees, and then a clearing with an old house. It was like the house was hiding from the modern world, and the only connection to it was that small driveway barely wide enough for one car. “Be careful, the woods all rotted on the stairs.”

     She had stopped him just before he had stepped onto the first step. There were only three of them to reach the small landing and the front door overhang. It was odd how it was set up. The overhang was blocked off, walled on three sides so that it didn’t allow for those inside to look out past the person directly at the door. Visitors had to walk up the stairs next to the house. It didn’t allow for someone inside to look out, but outside no one could see in.

     Why would he be so worried about someone looking in? It was obvious the overhang was not a part of the original design as the metal was unpainted and it didn’t fit in with the architecture. It looked like it had been hastily done, with ribbed sheet metal quickly bolted together to add another layer in hiding her uncle away from the outside world. He had to have built it himself.

     “Your uncle was nuts.” She didn’t know who had said it. It was getting hard as Lizzie could no longer tell if it had been Sarah or Elisabeth. Both of them were behind her, and it had been just a whisper.

     “I see what you mean. One of the boards collapsed, probably one of the deputies that’d been trampling around out here. I should be okay using the sides.”

     “You be careful.” Elisabeth called after him. He disappeared and then there was a door slamming shut, what must have been the screen door as he entered the house.

     “I don’t like him going in there alone” Lizzie said.

     “This house is a dump. Why did your uncle live out here? It’s in the middle of nowhere, hidden in trees. I’ve heard of getting off the grid, but this is going too far.” Elisabeth said, Lizzie sure it was her this time.

     “And you live here because?” Lizzie said, looking back to her.

     “Hey, I live in town.” Elisabeth holds her hand up motion towards the house and the surrounding clearing, “This wanting to know no one. He was hiding from someone.”

     “Well, he did leave me a lot of money.” Lizzie said quietly, biting back what she wanted to say. That dread turning in her stomach. Her gut told her that he wasn’t out there to hide from someone, he was hiding from something and that eventually it got him.

     “Yeah, I’d be careful with that money. You got no idea where it came from?”

     “None.” Though it was becoming nice having it. The lawyer had somehow found out she was in the hospital and had let her know he had the money already put into her account as of yesterday, a full week sooner than anyone had expected. That allowed her to get ahold of someone, a person that one of the nicer deputies had suggested, that would come out and clean the mess of the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to see the blood.

     Once Lizzie had told the lawyer about it, he had taken care of all the details. Lizzie didn’t have to worry about any of it. She guessed with money, none of that stuff was important anymore though the revelation was still mind boggling.

     Lizzie started towards the side of the house. She had to see it, to see where it happened but she wasn’t sure she could go in the house. Not yet, but if she went around back…

     “Hey! where ya going?” She heard Elisabeth rushing to catch up.

     “You can see into the kitchen from the back clearing.”

     “I thought you didn’t want to go in there.”

     “I don’t. I just want to see in, see where it-”

     She didn’t finish saying it as she went around the corner. As she walked along the side of the house she could see more of the back yard and it was different from what she remembered. When she had left the kitchen through the back door, it had been a small clearing, no buildings just woods, but now she could clearly see a large shed. It was unpainted and old, but definitely used. She saw a well trampled path that ran from the house to it.

     What had her uncle been doing in there? It was large enough to fit three cars and something she’d more often find on farms for those large tractors. Back there amongst all the woods, she couldn’t see a way for them to bring in any large vehicles. So why was it there?

     She had to pull her attention away from the shed. It wasn’t why she was back there. She came around the corner and stepped into the backyard and turned back towards the cabin.

     The kitchen door was open, the screen door twisted at the bottom hinge, the top broken so that the door hung off to the side. The wooden interior door still open as it had been and now as she walked up, she could see where the small metal stairs that were supposed to lead up to the door had been pulled away; set to the side where there was nothing but the kitchen wall. They were out of place there, almost belonging more in line with a photo out of Alice in Wonderland, a staircase to nowhere. It would have been funny if she wasn’t where her friend had been killed. It did make her wonder about the sickness of the mind that drove her uncle to move them over there, never wanting whoever climbed them to get in.

Maybe he was dealing with zombies? Lizzie shook away the thought as she heard Elisabeth calling out to her.

“Lizzie! Wait up.” Elisabeth called. Lizzie wasn’t sure why she was supposed to wait. She was standing there by the back door. She hadn’t run around the house, so why would it take Elisabeth so long to catch up.

     “Hey, what are you doing back here?” Chuck said, looking at her from where he had been standing in the kitchen.

     Lizzie barely noticed either of them, her eyes transfixed on the last place she had last seen Susan alive. The tile floor was spotless. The cleaners weren’t supposed to clean up more than the mess the bodies had made, but as she looked in, the kitchen was clean. All of it. She was sure the kitchen hadn’t been that clean in over ten years as it actually now looked like a room that food could be prepared in.

     It truly was amazing what mountains money could move. Who ever had come out there had gone the extra mile, that was for sure, and to have been out there on their own? Lizzie didn’t think she’d ever be able to stay out there by herself. It was all just too creepy. Too much nature, all the bugs and animals. Never mind that the last time she’d been out there, there had been a homicidal deadman out to massacre them. How had her uncle been able to do it?

     “Lizzie, we should get away from here.” Elisabeth said. She came up to her gently wrapping an arm around her shoulders. It was soothing and Lizzie wanted to melt back into the woman as she guided her away. Lizzie didn’t want to go though, pushing away from those comforting thoughts as she twisted out of Elisabeth’s grip and looked back at where her friend fell.

     “I did… I died there.”

     Lizzie didn’t have to turn to know that Sarah was also behind her. She could hear the tears in the dead woman’s voice and knew those tears were for her own death. Lizzie wanted to turn to her but what? How do you comfort the dead?

     Maybe that was what she needed to do. Maybe Sarah was a ghost and until she came to deal with it, she’d always be there to haunt Lizzie?

     As much as it hurt Lizzie to have her there with her, she wasn’t ready to let Sarah go. She couldn’t help Sarah with her grief when she was barely holding on with her own?

     “-nothing..” Chuck was saying, though Lizzie hadn’t heard anything else. They were talking around her about her and she tried to shake free from the thoughts that kept tying her down so she once again could to focus.  There’d just been so many thoughts and memories in such a short time it kept drowning her in randomness.

     “What?”

     “I’d been through the house. I found your phone and keys but other than that, I couldn’t find anything. You sure you lost your purse in here?”

     “I thought I had. I don’t know.”

     “Well, here’s this.” He said as he held out to her her phone, dead from lack of a charge, and her keys. As she studied the phone, she saw the spiderweb or cracks down the screen. She’d hoped she hadn’t dropped it.

     At least now you can afford to get a new one.

     The thought didn’t comfort her, but as it dawned on her more and more it felt more like a rock growing in her stomach. Just ‘buy it’ was giving her a sour taste.

     “Thanks.” She said, her voice flat as she flipped over the phone and saw the scratches on the back. They made up an odd pattern that tickled the back of her mind. She turned the phone back so she could look at the screen. Looking at that shape in the back hurt her eyes, though she didn’t know why.

     “Was there anything else we need out here or should we go?”  Chuck said as he jumped down the short distance to the ground.

     She wanted to say yes, let’s get out of there, but found herself climbing into the little kitchen. She didn’t know why, she didn’t want to go in, but something inside called out to her. She could feel a thrumming course through the wood as she touched it. The air was different, cooler, and she knew if it was winter and cold outside, that air would be warmer. It wanted her in there and would accommodate for her. She just had to finish going in.

     “Woah.” Chuck said as both Elisabeth and he reached out, both grabbing her and pulling her back. She didn’t fight them. They were right, but as much as she knew it, she still wanted to go in there.

     “Lizzie?” Elisabeth moved to face her and look into her eyes.

     “I’m fine. We can get out of here.”

     “You sure?’

     “Yeah, lets just go. I don’t ever want to come back here.”

     “Yeah, the place is a dump.” Chuck said as he led them back to their cars.

     “You know you love it out here.” Elisabeth was teasing him, wrapping her arms around him.

     “In the woods, yes. This house, no way. I saw inside there. There’s voodoo, or witchcraft shit all over in there. I think I’m cursed for just walking through it.”

     “You’re kidding.”

     “He’s not. Sarah and I saw some of it when we’d gone through. It’s disgusting and creepy in there. I’d never want to stay the night.”

     Elisabeth studied the two of them as they stood to look back at the house. In the woods, something rushed through some of the underbrush, and it was loud in the silence around them. There were no birds chirping and Lizzie didn’t hear any flies buzzing around her. The slight breeze pushed back strands of her hair, but the leaves surrounding her remained still and silent.

     Where were the mosquitoes? It was fall; they should be eating them alive. There had been plenty in town and had even been some really big nasty ones larger than she’d ever seen back home. She was here, out in the woods where they should be attacking and feeding on her like a pack of vampires at a feast.

     Into the trees, there was the occasional sound of something scurrying, but even those sounds were few and far between. By the house, it was silent, dead, and that silence grew, pressing more as she had now realized it and listened for it. The open clearing and the space around her was closing in, suddenly feeling much smaller, almost on top of her.

     “Okay, well, I’m thinking we get out of here unless there was something else you need.” Elisabeth said. Chuck nodded and she turned to Lizzie.

     “Sure.”

     “So, you get what you needed?”

     Lizzie nodded, holding up her keys and her phone.

     “Okay, so we’re probably going to head back to my house. You can meet us there if you’d like. You remember the way, right?”

     “I don’t know. I might just head back home. I should check on my brother, see that he’s okay, and see how Jess and Dennis are doing. Sarah was their friend too.”

     “Yeah, you don’t have to follow us. I didn’t know if you wanted to drive this late or not.”

     “I’m not sure.”

     “Okay.” Elisabeth said, but Lizzie could feel the worry in her voice.

     Lizzie looked back at the house. The sun was lowering on the far side casting the shadow towards them. She just didn’t know how she felt or what she wanted to do. Where should she go? She didn’t know and if left alone, would probably just sit in her car at some parking lot crying. Was that a bad thing? It probably was, but still just felt right. She didn’t want to be around people right now, no matter how nice they’ve been to her.

     “So, what are you going to do with the house? Sell it?”

     “I don’t know.” But she did know. She wasn’t going to do anything with it. She’d be back there again. She didn’t know why, but there was something in there she needed. She should go in and look. Her back muscles wouldn’t relax until she did. That little nestling of a panic attack she’d had all morning, that shortness of breath she felt would never go away until she did.

     She watched as her friends climbed into their car and she walked over to her own driver’s side door. As they pulled away, she opened her door and got in. The world around her feeling like a dream that was fading and for now it was time to leave. She wasn’t going to go back in, not alone.

     Sarah was waiting in the car’s passenger seat. She was still crying.

     “I’m dead.”

     Lizzie nodded.

     “I’m dead, and I’m still here. What am I, a ghost?”

     Lizzie shrugged. What did she say to her dead friend? Lizzie sure as hell didn’t have any of the answers.

     “Can we get out of here please.”

     Lizzie nodded again, starting the car and turning around to drive down the driveway. They got to the end of the drive and saw that Elisabeth and Chuck had stopped at the end, waiting to turn on the main road.

     Lizzie didn’t feel like she was really there. Everything around her slipping into this unreal around her and she just sat there watching. She saw as the brake lights dimmed on the back of the car in front of her and then creep into the road. Then the truck felt like it came out of nowhere as it struck the car. The car had been a small compact. The semi was a large behemoth of a vehicle in comparison and had been going way to fast at it struck the little car on its broadside.

     Lizzie just sat there, not knowing how long for her to comprehend what she had just seen. It had been Sarah tugging at her arm, telling her to call 911 and telling her she needed to rush to help them.

     Help who? It couldn’t be? No, not again. But yes, it was all happening again, and more of her friends were probably dead.

     Slowly, Lizzie pulled herself out of her seat, getting back out of the car. She knew what she would see but walked to where the car was positioned against a tree, both sides smashed in by the multiple impacts. There was no rush. Why? She knew what she would find…

Chapter 6

     Is there ever a true release from the darkness? Does it not always have some hold on our souls? Even in following Christ there is always still some sliver of doubt nestled away in corners of the mind. These slivers often go ignored but are allowed to remain. Those who are blind to them are often the ones with the largest nooks and crannies for those thoughts to hide in. It often leads people down paths of corruption. They find ways to justify actions that are unethical and morally disturbing. They allow these dark thoughts to influence them in ways they are unaware.

     No one is ever truly free of the dark, but only blind to it.

     Even as Lizzie woke up in a brightly lit room, she still lingered her gaze around focusing on the different shadows that have collected in the corners and to the side of the cabinets. Then when she goes to wipe away the sleep from her eyes, finds that she is once again restrained.

     Her glance to her hands resulted in noticing the tray by her bed and the Jello sitting there on a little plate. Then she noticed the woman sitting in the soft chair reserved for guests. The woman had obviously been sleeping, still wearing the nursing scrubs she had worn all night. She was awake now, and already leaning forward to stand.

     “I’ll take care of those.” She said as she rose, nodding to Lizzie’s restrained wrists. “I put them back on when you started flailing in your sleep. You had some nasty nightmares, and I was afraid you might hurt yourself.”

     Lizzie nodded and watched as she undid the straps. Elisabeth finished with them and then without waiting for Lizzie to ask, she brought the cup over from the tray and handing it to her. Lizzie sipped at it, grateful for its cool liquid. She noticed that inside the cup was the remnants of ice, so at some point in the morning Elisabeth had refilled it with ice water long before Lizzie had woken.

     The water tasted and felt great, and Lizzie had to wonder if the woman was psychic with how she had known just what Lizzie had needed before she herself had.

     That was when she noticed more about the woman as she looked different in true morning light, not as old as Lizzie had originally thought. She did have silver hair, and maybe that was why Lizzie had thought her to be older, but her face was of someone Lizzie’s age. On a second look and in the bright morning sun, it was obvious the silver hair was a dye and a really good one.

     “Who does your hair? It’s amazing!”

     Elizabeth sparkled with a smile warming her face. She took a second to look down embarrassed, probably not used to taking compliments and especially about her hair before she looked up again.

     “A girl my mom knows. Her names Rachel and she works out of her living room, but she really knows her stuff. She does some wicked coloring.”

     “It looks great,” and Lizzie meant it. The silver just caught the light and somehow transformed it so it brightened the room. And it was so different. Who dies their hair silver? Everyone always wants to be the blond or the red head, but no one does silver. It was amazing.

     Though seeing it in the morning light reminded her and Lizzie had to ask, “Why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be off by now?”

     “I am. I kinda stuck around. Long story, but yeah, ended up falling asleep in your chair and then you woke me up.”

     “You should go home, get some sleep.”

     “I will. I wanted you to know I called the Sheriff’s department. They said they’ll send a deputy here around ten, which should be in an hour or so, so you got some time for breakfast and the kitchen is still open so all you have to do is call down to them.”

     “Okay.”
            “I did get the Jello for you earlier,” Elisabeth motioned to the glob of gelatin on a plate. “It was a while ago, not sure I’d eat it.”

     “Yeah… so how’s the cafeteria food?”

     “Decent. Better when your sick.”

     “What?” Lizzie said, not able to suppress the giggle that escaped her. She can’t believe she was giggling. She had just lost her best friend yesterday, a friend she had known for most her life. There wasn’t much her and Sarah didn’t do together. How would she ever go shopping without her?

     But now she was with this stranger and laughing. Something about being around this woman helped her to forget some of the pain and the grief. She still felt it hiding on the fringes, keeping to the corner of her thoughts, but it stayed there, not pulling her in while Elisabeth was around. And the woman had stayed when she hadn’t needed too. Maybe that unabashed kindness is part of what allowed her to keep those stashes of grief secure or at least at bay until she had a chance to feel them.

     “You know…’better when your sick’” She was saying with her hands lifted in air quotes. “Such as being so sick you can’t taste it” Elizabeth said trying unsuccessfully to hide the giggle.

     “That bad, huh.”

     “Yeah.”

     They were interrupted when another nurse entered the room and walked over to the chart.

     “Hey Lizzie, good morning. I’m Annie and I’ll be your RN this morning. Elisabeth is keeping you company I see. So how are you doing?” This new nurse seemed much more ‘matter of fact’ as she entered the room with her painted-on smile. She was short, thin, had short multicolored hair, but didn’t seem as warm or friendly as Elisabeth was. Lizzie looked to Elisabeth and saw that she was not happy with this newcomer.

     “I’m fine.” Lizzie said as Annie picked up her chart and started to finger through it, occasionally jotting down notes before putting it back in the rack by the door. Then she scanned a card she had unclipped from her waste on a pad on the wall before she proceeded to the patient of the room.

     “Okay, so I’m just going to take some vitals and get you checked out.” Annie was already pulling a stethoscope from behind the bed and motioning for her to hold out her arm. “Would you like Beth to stay or for her to go?”

     Lizzie had no problem with ‘Beth’ staying though she could tell this new nurse would like her gone. Looking back at Elisabeth she could tell the feeling was mutual. Though Annie must be the senior as Elisabeth lowered her glare first and could barely be heard when she mumbled, “I should be getting home anyways.”

     Before Lizzie could call out to stop her, she was already out of the room and hurrying down the hallway.

     “I got some good news for you. Looks like you’ll probably be released today now that your up. The doctor will be in soon for a final check up and Janice from accounting will be in for your insurance and payment information.”

     “Wait, what?” Lizzie’s head was already spinning, and she had lost focus on what the nurse had been saying. Her vision had blurred, and the nurse had kept talking saying something about “home” and “insurance.” Did she have homeowner’s insurance? What was the woman talking about?

     The room swirled around her, colors elongating as they stretched into odd distortions of their former existence. She couldn’t breathe. What was going on? Money, all this was about money? What, who did that? She wasn’t out of the hospital yet, hadn’t even seen the light of day after seeing her best friend brutally killed and they were already there to take from her? Couldn’t they just bill her, send her something in the mail?

     “It’s not a big deal. Janice will just take down your information, and if you want to make a payment you can. Its not required. No one is asking you to pay it all off or anything today.” The nurse was saying. Lizzie wasn’t even sure if the woman could see how she reacted.

     She was all alone to deal with things like this now.

     No, she’d been alone before, just as alone as she had been since her parents were gone. She couldn’t rely on her brother, and her uncle had never been there for her. It was aways her and her alone. That was the way of it and the world she now lived in.

     Lizzie found herself nodding in agreement to whatever the nurse was saying. She had stopped listening. It didn’t matter. She was getting out later today so who cared about anything in this place.

     Elisabeth had been nice. Why did all the nice ones have to go? She wished she could have talked to her more, but was that her trying to replace the friend she lost? Could she be so callous to move on from caring about Sarah who’d she had known most her life.

     No, but it had been nice to talk to someone. It got her to stop thinking about Sarah, and even if it was only for a short while, it had helped. The pain would be there, who knew for how long though she didn’t think it was going away any time soon. It would be there whenever she had a moment alone or just looked at a piece of lemon cake that Sarah loved so much. It would be there whenever Lizzie went to Penny’s as they had gone there countless times and had wondered the aisles just talking to themselves and trying on whatever they liked.

     Sarah would be with her for a long time.

     “Okay, well, your vitals are looking good. BP is up, but with what you’ve been through that is understandable. You’ll need to follow up though in a week or two with your regular doctor, but I’m not thinking anything of it.”

     Lizzie just nodded. Insurance. Her friend was lost, and they were wanting to talk about insurance. Something about that made it all now seem so real. It had been real before, all through the night, but the drugs or the dream of it all had made her find a way to ignore the reality.

     Annie must have taken her nodding as if she understood as she was already heading to the chart by the curtain. She grabbed it and was making quick notations when something occurred to her and looked back up at Lizzie.

     “I almost forgot. There was a notation about the sheriff’s department? They called earlier and I let them know you weren’t awake yet but was expected to be this afternoon. I’m assuming they’ll be stopping by. I don’t need to restrain you until they get here, do I?”

     “Why would I?”

     “Oh, some types of people hear police and run.”

     Annie never saw the mouth dropped stare she got from Lizzie as she finished her notations and was quick to leave down the hallway. Really? Did she look like a person who regularly hid from the police?

     Actually, she had no idea what she looked like. She hadn’t seen a mirror since she had left her apartment in Steven’s Point yesterday. Then they had only been going to the lawyer’s office as he had things he had wanted to discuss. When he had told her about the money and the house, the two of them hadn’t been able to help themselves and had to go check it out.

     Sarah had started making calls immediately and invited all her friends. They hadn’t even gotten their coffee from the barista at Starbucks when they’d heard back that a few of them had said they’d be there.

     Had any of them actually been there, Sarah may have still been alive. That or someone else might have died and she’d still have her best friend hanging around.

     “Damn, what a bitch.” Sarah said.

     At first Lizzie thought she was losing her mind, that the voice had been internal, loud in her head. Thought it was so much louder than her other thought voices that were trapped in there.

     Then Sarah appeared, walking out from behind the elevated bed. She looked just like Lizzie had last seen her, the large open area on her neck where the naked man had bitten into her, ripping away her flesh. That perky pink shirt she had been wearing now drenched in blood, that had blossomed out from the large now hole in her neck. Her head had that large gash in it that Lizzie hadn’t noticed before but probably came from when she had crashed to the floor… Then, there was Sarah’s eyes. Her dead, lifeless eyes still were pale as they fixed on her.

     “I thought they were never going to leave, but that last one… Did you see that condescending look? She thought you were trailer park; I could see it in her eyes.”

     Lizzie felt paralyzed, her eyes open wide, her mouth suddenly dry as she was struggled to find words. She wanted to scream, but it was caught in her throat. Her mind was now racing faster than her mouth as the onslaught of thoughts attacked her into silence. I can’t do that. I can’t scream. Screaming would just bring that nurse back in here as well as anyone else nearby and then I would definitely get restrained again. On top of that, they would find a nice white padded room and put my name on it. My name. It would be saved just for me, as here is Lizzie in the looney bin as she has finally lost it. Her and her books, all those crazy thoughts finally drove her nuts, and it would be true, I would be crazy, and everyone would be right. And maybe, just maybe I am crazy. After all, here’s my best friend back from the dead and talking to me just like I was.

Her tongue felt like a layer of dust was settling, but she couldn’t close her mouth. She tried but the best should do was just to sit there, mouth mostly closed, drool starting to wet the corners, and still not saying anything. What do you say to your dead best friend when she shows up in your hospital room? ‘Hey, how you doing? How’s death? Have you met Elvis?’

     Okay, maybe the Elvis question was a little off. Though she might have run into David Bowie. He’d been hot in Labyrinth. Maybe she’d seen him somewhere there in the afterlife and they’ve had a few go arounds. That’d be just Sarah’s way of doing things. She always got the hot guys.

I really am losing it.

“Lizzie. Earth to Lizzie. Anyone home?”

“This isn’t happening.” Lizzie said as she tossed off the thin sheet like blanket and threw her feet off the bed to touch the cold linoleum floor. She hadn’t noticed that the IV’s were gone, but had they still been attached they wouldn’t have stopped her from dashing to the bathroom.

She made it with her stomach already lurching, trying to expel contents that were not there. Her bladder had been screaming at her, but she’d been ignoring it. Now as she lowered herself over the bowl of the toilet, it was done holding back. She heaved into the toilet, only stomach juices emerging from her, but she could feel the warmth between her legs and smell the putrid scent of urine. The floor grew wet and warm. Tears streaked her face, but she couldn’t stop dry heaving into the open bowl. Maybe it was disgust with what she now sat in, or with how she abandoned her friend, but it sure as shit couldn’t be disgust with how her friend looked because she wasn’t real. It hadn’t really been her standing there in Lizzie’s hospital room. That was just impossible, and Lizzie refused to believe it.

     “Lizzie, it’s going to be okay. I’m here.”

     Lizzie turned to see that Sarah stood in the doorway. She looked pained at seeing Lizzie this way.

     No! This isn’t real. This can’t be happening!

     Lizzie kicked out, though as she tried to reach with her foot to close the door, it slipped on shit and urine that coated the floor. Her feet gave out from supporting her and she fell the short distance to the hard tile floor.

     “Get out!” Lizzie yelled it, not sure if she was furious that her friend was back from the dead or at herself for the mess she had made. She kept kicking out her feet, trying to get purchase on the door that remained just out of reach. She started to push herself towards it, not taking her eyes off of Sarah who held her hands up and backed away. “Get out! Get out! Get out!”

     Lizzie was finally able to reach the door with her foot and pulled on it. The door swung and slammed into its frame with an audible thud that reverberated along the tile. Her stomach was still tight, threatening more heaving in the future but for now it was done. Her breath came in quick heavy gasps, and she could feel the energy her flight had given her dissipate. Exhaustion was fighting its way in, but she wasn’t ready for it. She’d slept enough. She was tired, but also tired of this place. She wanted out of there, away from snake nurses and dead friends that came to visit her.

     There was a light rapping on the door. Lizzie didn’t look up, her chin stayed resting on her chest. Spittle ran down her cheek, and she felt like she was on the verge of sleep no matter how hard she fought against it.

     “Elizabeth? Are you okay in there?” Lizzie recognized the nurse’s voice. The nurse was persistent as she was already turning the knob as she spoke.

     “Go away.” The fight gone from her voice.

     “I just want to-“ Annie didn’t get to finish as she saw the mess Lizzie was in, the pile of shit, urine, and teenager all together in one large mess on the floor. Lizzie tried to kick the door closed but couldn’t find the strength to put any force into it. She was a flailing turtle of a person on the floor, acting like she had one too many beers at the fraternity kegger.

     “We need to get you cleaned up. Sheriff’s department is here.” Annie said as she moved around, behind Lizzie. Then Lizzie felt the woman’s hands under her arms and Lizzie was being lifted.

     “Get your hands off of me.”

     She tried to wiggle free, but the woman had a really strong grip. The more Lizzie tried to twist out of it, the tighter those hands clamped onto her underarm and it was really beginning to hurt. She tried to push herself up, thinking a change in direction would break her free from the nurse or that the push against her would send both of them backward. Instead, her feet slipped out from under her, putting her more into the control of the surprisingly strong woman.

     She was defeated. This woman had her.

     “It’s going to be okay.” Sarah said. Lizzie’s head shot up and she looked to see Sarah standing in the doorway. She looked like she was about to cry, worrying about her friend. Behind her stood a large burly man wearing a dark colored police uniform. He was watching her without any kind of compassion, his face showing the frustration of being called there for someone who was obviously crazy. Lizzie couldn’t give two shits if the man thought she was crazy but her friend, her friend was dead. She shouldn’t be watching her with those eyes, wearing that same expression she had when she told her she’d dumped Roland because the bastard had cheated on her.

     Annie saw where she was looking and called out to the police officer.

     “Do you mind. She’s been through a lot. Give me a minute to clean her up and I’ll have her out to you.”

     “Sure.” The man said, but he made no movement to leave the room. He just stayed there watching them, that bored impatient look pasted on his face.

     “Do you mind going out into the hallway?” Nurse Annie said as she helped Lizzie into the chair positioned in the shower. Lizzie hadn’t noticed that she had stopped fighting the nurse and had helped her. She was vaguely aware of anything other than her friend. Annie and the officer didn’t seem to see her. They just talked around her like she wasn’t there. Did they not see this hideously disfigured woman standing between them? You would think the nurse would be rushing to her, calling for her a doctor, or that the police officer would be asking her questions.  Such as ‘With you being dead, how did you manage to get to the hospital,’ and ‘do you know who killed you?’

     Lizzie’s head was really beginning to hurt as too many thoughts kept trying to come to the forefront and people talking around her. It was all too too much. She just wanted to collapse and pass out. Wait, I’m already sittingI could pass out right here… But she couldn’t. She still felt too much weight on her.

     Lizzie felt the nurse’s hands leave her and she immediately wanted to slump forward and fall to the floor. Why did she need to stay sitting up anyways? She was already covered in yuck, let her just fall over and die in it.

     She watched through the haze of her closing eyes as Annie closed the door so that Sarah and the officer were trapped outside. Then the nurse turned back to Lizzie. Lizzie looked up at her, but her face was gone. The snake face had returned. Who had she last seen with a snake face? She vaguely remembered who it was, but it had been a nurse. Were they all snake people?

     “Lizzie!” She heard a voice try to reach her, and knew it was Sarah. Was it a ghost Sarah or dead girl in the hallway Sarah? She didn’t know and she didn’t care. She didn’t care that the nurse was a snake anymore. She just wanted to sleep. Here, the floor looks nice. I’m just going to lie here for a bit.

     “Lizzie, wake up!”

Chapter 5

The next time she woke up, her head felt heavy, her mouth felt like it was full of cotton and her wrists… She could feel, there was something soft and tight fastened around them. Restraints. She pulled hard on them.

Why?

Her head hurt. She tried to think, but everything was blurred and slow and… dark.

She tried to look around the room, blinking away the fog from her eyes. She could vaguely make out shapes. A round object on the wall, a rectangle that glowed in front of her with fuzzy things moving around. 

     She looked away from it as trying to focus on the glowing box only made her head hurt more, so she turned to the window and realized she hadn’t really looked at any part of her room before. The memories of her last stint with consciousness were becoming less hazy. She vaguely remembered being awake with people that had stood over her, snake people that had been trying to eat her. That didn’t seem right, but she couldn’t shake the image of large fangs coming at her, and a mouth with a forked tongue flicking from between its lips. 

She focused on it, trying to remember what really happened, but couldn’t change the image of those large fangs, once of them stabbing into her shoulder. She wanted to remember more, but it wasn’t coming too her. Something was blocking her. It probably had to do with the IV drip that was running into her arm and the drugs, but she didn’t think she would fully remember everything from before. It was too much like a dream and dreams only faded over time.

     Slowly she scanned more of the room making sure not to move too fast. Her brain didn’t feel attached inside her skull and any too sudden movements, she was sure, would remind her of her worst migraine. She was obviously in a hospital room, and in a bed that kept her head elevated. She thought they were called gurney’s, but not sure if that was just something out of a tv show, or it they were actually called that. To her left there was a C shaped stand that was positioned on wheels and stretched over the top so that she could eat when served. Currently it was positioned behind the tall metal IV stand. Next to that was some kind of a machine that had scraggly lines and numbers that changed every so often. It was past these machines she could look out the window.

     She couldn’t see the ground outside, but she did see the top of a streetlight. It shown bright in the dark sky, but past it she could just make out the lightly clouded sky and the stars. They shined bright and she took comfort in seeing them because if the stars were out, then it wasn’t a sun hidden day. 

     Had she really been afraid of that? To her surprise, she actually had been. Though if the sun was gone, wouldn’t she still be able to see the stars during the day. She’d seen a solar eclipse once, and once the sun was darkened, the stars were able to be seen so it was possible.

     She pushed the thought down and took her time to study the cabinet that was in the corner, past the window and next to the little bench that was on the far wall. Why was she so drawn to it? It was a standard wooden cabinet, though taller than anything she had ever seen before. This one was tall enough to stand from the floor to the ceiling and she couldn’t help but wonder how they got it into the room as it looked like it extended into the panel tiles. What was in it, what did they need to hide that was so large?

     Above the bench and suspended from the wall was the large tv. She debated about turning it turning up the volume, not really sure what she would watch at three in the morning, but it would be noise in what was too quiet of a room. Since she’d been up, she’d not even heard the signs of life from outside the room, or much else for that matter. The only thing she heard was the occasional, rhythmic beep from the machine. The television stayed muted as she saw that the remote was on the desk across the room, and she wasn’t sure about standing with the IV still attached to her arm.

     Not like you could if you wanted to. You know you’re still restrained. You won’t be going anywhere until the doctor comes back and you can get your hands freed. She thought it to herself, that inner voice speaking to her, and it was right. There was no way she could do anything. 

     To the right of the desk was another cabinet. This one wasn’t as high, but it was wider. Past it to her right was a light blue curtain that looked like it ran on a track around her bed. It must be there for her privacy when she needed to change, though she would have preferred just to have a door on her room.

     Which was what truly frustrated her about the room, or more adequately described as a large cubby hole put off to the side. She had no door. She had no fourth wall. Where the wall on her right side should be was one long curtain. It ran the length of where the fourth wall should be. It didn’t stretch fully to the floor, so under it, she could see the slight glow from the hallway beyond.

     Behind the bed to her right was more gadgets hooked up to her. I mean, Christ, with how much crap was connected to me, you would think they needed to jumpstart me like a car. I’m not on life support, so what the hell is all this garbage.

     Her head was clearing. She hadn’t realized it at first, but it felt like forever since she could start to remember things. They were distorted and none of them made sense. It was like a dream that wasn’t a dream, or something that was real that should have been a dream. That just about summed up her whole day, but in that sense, it was a nightmare, one that wouldn’t go away.

     Had there been something about one of her nurses being a snake that was going to poison her? Oh god, she hoped she hadn’t actually hit her doctor, though it did explain the restraints.

     She slammed her head back into her pillow trying to hide from the empty room, so embarrassed that she never wanted to see another living soul. She had, hadn’t she? She had hit her doctor and who knows who else. She was pretty sure she had been thrashing around for awhile. Anyone could have been caught with a loose fist.

     Someone should have gone ahead and hit me back. I deserved it. But of course, none of them had hit her back, not physically. She wasn’t sure what kind of sedative they had given her, but it had done the job.

     They had been asking her questions though, before she had freaked out. She was pretty sure she had mentioned Roland, but what else had she said? Another wave of embarrassment hit her. Had they called him? Great, what would he be thinking? He already thought of her as an emotional flake who found any reason to go nuts. What would he think if the doctor had mentioned something about her episode? Of course, he would never come visit her, but the story would be all amongst their friends by the time she got home. It would be years before she would ever live it down.

     What if she had told them about her brother? That… Now that would be worse. There would be no way he could get there to visit her, and he would be trapped in Madison worrying about her. She would need to call him and let him know she was okay.

     She should call him now, just in case they had called… But it was three in the morning. Well, now it was getting closer to four. Where had the last twenty minutes gone? Even if they had called him and he had stayed up late fretting about her, he would be asleep. Worry only lasted for so long before exhaustion took its toll.

     Where was her phone?

     She looked around the little room and didn’t see it. Maybe it was with her clothes, wherever those were… She wasn’t sure. Maybe that was the purpose to one of the cabinets across the room. Probably…though she wished they would have left her phone out and over there by her so she could use it.

     She lied back in the bed.

     What was she going to do? She was up now and didn’t feel tired at all. The bed was getting uncomfortable, and she wished she could at least lower the back portion and turn on her side. The restraints made any movement impossible. She was going to lie on her back wether she liked it or not.

     “Hello.” She said into the dark room. Her voice was timid and cracked. She hadn’t realized just how thirsty she was, her cotton mouth getting the better of her. She had to swallow down saliva a few times, though there was not much to work with before she tried again, this time a little louder into the quiet.

     “Hello. Anyone out there?”

     She waited. She didn’t hear any kind of a response and she had a sudden, scary thought. What if she was alone? What if no one was out there manning the nurses station? What if she wasn’t even near a nurse’s station? Would she just have to lie there until someone finally checked on her?

     The thought of spending the next few hours lying in the bed, waiting for someone to finally pull back the curtain and slip into her little space was torturous. Could she really last that long; no tv, no internet, no phone.

     She continued to listen. The only sounds she heard was her breathing which grew louder the more anxious she became, and the machine that kept a constant beep next to her.

     How did they ever expect anyone to sleep in there with that damn machine beeping at her all night? Yeah, well, people didn’t go to hospitals to sleep, they went there to get better. If she wanted to sleep, she should dig herself a grave. Wasn’t that the old adage. She didn’t think she had it right, but her mind was still working through the haze of the meds.

     The sedatives.

     The drugs. They had drugged her. How could they drug her and knock her out like that?

     Wasn’t there supposed to be one of those call buttons at the ready? Something she could use to page for the nurses. There was something on the side of her bed. It was a small box connected by a cord that ran below the bed. It had a few buttons on it, but she couldn’t say for sure what any of them were as the pictures on each button had been worn off by use.

     Though she could just start pressing buttons at random, if she could reach it. She tried to grab at it, but the restraint was just tight enough that she couldn’t grasp the dangling box.

     “Ugh” The cry escaped her in frustration as she slammed herself back onto the bed. “Hello!”

     “Hello!” she called again; this time louder as she grew more confident in her voice. She was still so thirsty, but her throat didn’t feel as restricted as before. 

     Being awake must be helping, she thought as she lifted her head again, cocking it to hear better. She thought she heard the sound of a chair creaking out in the hallway. Was she by the nursing station? Could they hear her after all? Maybe that last time had been loud enough?

     There it was again, another creak. Then the definite sound of someone shifting their weight to stand. There was someone out there and they were getting up.

     Lizzie listened intently as she heard the release of the chair, recognizing it as the sound of the chair rising to its unseated state. Then came the soft steps and slight squeak of a person wearing well worn tennis shoes, but the person was walking away from her. The footsteps were getting quieter. They were leaving her, were they going to go tell someone she was awake.  Why wouldn’t they just call someone, and then come in to check on her?

     “Heeellooo!” She said again, this time exaggerating as she spoke, trying to put as much strength as she could, expelling the air from her lungs in force as it formed the word. She reminded herself of Josh Gad when he sung “Hello” in his opening number for the Book of Mormon. She had never seen the musical, but the soundtrack was in heavy rotation on her phone. 

The footsteps were returning. She could hear them getting closer, and then saw as the light under the curtains showed them. They reached the edge, and just as Lizzie was expecting a huge pulling back of curtains reveal, a quant woman slipped in and disappeared as the curtain closed again behind her.

“Hello Lizzie, how are you feeling?” The nurse said as she was illuminated with a faint light. Lizzie could see that she was standing by a light switch on the wall and what must have been a dimmer as she brought up the light gradually. Lizzie recognized the woman as one of the ones from earlier, the one who…had Lizzie really thought this woman had turned into a snake?

“I’m okay.” she said, not really sure if she actually was. She didn’t feel like she was hurting too much. Other than a slight headache and the fuzziness around her thoughts, she felt fine. She didn’t even feel the soreness she would have expected for all the falling she had gone through, or any of the scrapes she had gotten running through the woods. 

     “That’s good. I’m Elisabeth. I’ll be your nurse tonight. Can I get you anything?”

     “Water?”

     “Sure. I’ll refill your cup.” She spoke softly and if there was any resentment from before, it didn’t show. The woman moved gently and was smooth as she glided over to the little table next to the bed. Lizzie hadn’t noticed the water bottle next to her bed but watched as she grabbed it and took it to the sink across the room. She filled it then turned back towards Lizzie, “I bet you’d like some ice.”

     “Just the water is fine.” 

     Elisabeth had already started towards the hallway but stopped and turned to the bed. She was quick to bring the water, tilting the cup so Lizzie could drink from the straw.

     Lizzie looked at that approaching straw protruding from the water cup and was filled with a strong sense of dread. A deja vu washed over her and a rasping voice whispered in her ear that it was poison. That was impossible but she couldn’t shake the feeling as it mixed with the hazy memory of this woman with a serphant’s face. She had to close her eyes to push away the memory and allowed herself to drink.

     The water may not have been ice cold, but it was still cool, soothing her throat as it made its way to her empty stomach. She could feel as it moved inside her, the touch of it on her insides alighting herself. It seemed to flow through and back up, and she could feel as her head felt lighter, her brain waking up a little more with some of that haziness chipping away. 

     “No, no, not too much.” Elisabeth said softly as she pulled the cup back. She eased it away and Lizzie felt the little drips that leaked from the corners of her mouth, running down her chin.

     She was alive. Why was it that with everything that had happened, it wasn’t until that drink of water that she truly felt like she had survived it. She was safe now; she was in a hospital and everything was going to be okay. 

     “Thank you,” and she was grateful as she didn’t think water could ever taste that good. Well, it hadn’t tasted good, as she had cottonmouth, but water had never been so refreshing as it had been.

     “That’s good. You seem to be feeling better.”

     “I guess so.”

     “Good. Do you know where you are?”

     “No, not really.”

     “That makes sense. From your chart, you were unconscious when the EMT’s brought you in and you’ve only been awake a few times.”

     “I have? I don’t remember too much. It feels more like it was all a dream.”

     “Yeah, the sedatives can do that.”

     “So where am I?”

     “You’re at Atlas Healthcare in Wautoma, the Christmas tree capital of the world.” 

     “Okay, and why am I here? and why am I in these handcuff thingies?”

     “Um, well, you were brought in earlier today sometime in the afternoon. They were originally going to keep in you the ER, but they brought you up here to intensive care when you weren’t waking up. Hope you have good insurance, eh?” The woman said that last part, with the strong “A” that mixed many northern Wisconsin accents with Canadian. It was interesting with how the accent wasn’t always there when the nurse talked, but then it occasionally slipped in. Most the time, Lizzie would have guessed she was from farther south but still in the Midwest. It was hard to tell, as culture became more centered around televisions, accents seemed to fade.

     “No, not really. College student.”

     “Oh crap. Yeah, well, at least staying in intensive care won’t be as bad as those student loan payments. And if you don’t like your major, you can always take up boxing.”

     “Sure. So, did I really attack the doctor…and you? I had hoped I’d dreamed that.”

     “You swung, but it was a swing and a miss.”

     “I’m sorry.”

     “Part of the job. Is there something I can get for you? There’s no one else on the ward, so you have it all to yourself, but I still need to keep watch in case an emergency comes in.”

     “Can you open the curtain and let some light in. I don’t want to be in the dark right now.”

     “Sure.”

     The nurse went to one side and grabbed the edge and worked the curtain. She was halfway when it looked like the curiosity got the better of her as she turned look back at Lizzie, “Do you mind me asking, what happened to you?”

     “I’m not sure. My best friend and I were at a house, my uncle’s house that I inherited…which I guess makes it my house now.”

     “I guess so,” Elisabeth said as she finished pulling back the curtain. 

     Lizzie could now see the nurse station across the little hallway, though all she could see of it from her angle was the counter and on that a rack holder with a single file in it. That must be her file with who knew what kind of records. Had they pulled her whole history? Was there information about the broken arm she had at the age of fifteen, or the tonsils she had removed when she was ten? 

     Elisabeth walked back over to her and to Lizzie’s surprise, pulled up the reclining chair that had been next to her bed. 

     “We went there, and then, there was this strange naked man in the kitchen. He attacked us…well, he attacked Sarah.”

     “Wow, did she get away okay?”

     “No, I think he killed her. I barely got away. I don’t know how, but I ended up here.”

     “Yeah, you need to talk to the cops.”

     “I know,” though up until just minutes ago she had forgotten why she needed them. How could she have forgotten Sarah? 

     Those dead eyes looking at her, watching her as she ran away to leave her there…

     “I can call the sheriff’s office. I’m not sure anyone’s there this time of night, but I’d think someone would be available.”

     “Thank you. Do you know if they called my brother?”

     “I don’t think so. Do you want me to call him?” 

     Lizzie hadn’t realized how much that had been worrying her until the sudden release of tears, glad that they hadn’t. The nurse was quickly to scramble for the Kleenex. 

     Lizzie tried to wipe them away herself but was stopped by the wrist restraints. She laughed as she looked at them. It was the tired laugh of the frustrated and it brought more crying. She was laughing and crying, and, in her head, there rolled a hurricane of emotions. Her parents were dead, her best friend was dead, her other friends were miles away and busy back in Stevens Point and Madison, leaving the only person who really knew her to be her brother. 

     There was no way she could unload all this on him. It would only make him worry about something he could do nothing about or even get to her to comfort her. It wouldn’t even do to talk to him over the phone and hear that robotic voice of his machine talking back to her. Was there anything less helpful than to hear a computer-generated voice even if it was her brother’s words typed by stylus on his keypad?

     Elisabeth dabbed at Lizzie’s cheeks and Lizzie looked into her kind eyes. This woman who barely even knew her seemed to genuinely be concerned for her. How could Lizzie have ever thought of this woman as a snake?

     “Thank you.”

     “No problem. I take it you don’t want to talk to your brother.”

     “It’s not that. I do, its just…its complicated.” Lizzie didn’t know what else to say, and the nurse seemed to understand. She stood there, and they both just looked at each other, one knowing the other wanted to say more, and that when she was ready, the nurse would listen.

     Lizzie let out a long sigh, and looked down, catching sight again of the ungodly large clasps around her wrists.

     “Do you think you can do something about this?” Lizzie asks, looking up again and catching Elisabeth’s eye.

     “You promise you’re not going to slug me again?”

     “No, but I’ll dance a jig if you do.”

     The nurse didn’t know what to make of it, and Lizzie wasn’t sure what she had meant by that as well. She ended up cocking an unsure eyebrow at the nurse in what had to look like a mix between a puppy dog pleading for forgiveness and an older sister who was ready to drag you into something naughty that would definitely get you in trouble. The look would have probably been more convincing had Lizzie not had the streaks of fresh tears and the red puffy eyes of the recently crying.

     “Yeah, forget I said that” she said, “but I’ll still appreciate it if you’d take these off me.”

     “Just, please, no hitting. I’d have to do more paperwork.”

     Elisabeth was quick with the straps and like that, Lizzie was free, her arms lifting into the air happy to be loose.

     She stretched, then yawned. The early morning was starting to catch up to her and she was beginning to think she might actually be able to get some rest.

     “Here,” the nurse said, bringing over the plastic cup and Lizzie was grateful to be able to hold it herself as she brought the straw to her mouth. She took a long drink, felt as the cool water hit her stomach, and then realized something else. She was hungry. Very hungry, which was announced to Elisabeth with the roar that erupted from Lizzie’s stomach. It could have scared a bear to run for safety.

     “You know, the cafeteria is closed, but we keep some light stuff in the fridge. I think we may have some crackers and some jello, but there’s not much else in there.  

     “Yeah,” Lizzie nodded in relief.

     “And then I’ll call the sheriff, okay?”

     Lizzie nodded as she lied back on the bed. She was spent. By the time Elisabeth had left the room and pulled the curtain closed behind her, Lizzie was already caught in the first nightmare. The cackling voice surrounding her as maggots swarmed over her. She was twisting and turning in her sleep violently shaking the bed, but there was no waking. Not until the nightmares were ready to let her slip back into reality. It would be a while, as they enjoyed playing with the new toy, and the maggots grew in size, their mouths exposing long vampire like fangs.

     She wanted to scream. She wanted to wake up, but she was trapped. She wanted it all to end. End it, end it now, she pleaded in her mind.

     But she could barely here her own thoughts over the cackling voice… 

     “Tik-a-tee, tik-a-tet… your death does not come yet…”

     She slipped further into the darkness.

Chapter 4

Beep…

Beep beep…

Beep…

Beep beep…

Tik…

Tik-a-too…

Tik…

Tik-a-tok…

     Lizzie’s eyes shot open; her breath caught in her chest in mid scream that never went past her lips. She was ready to scream forever into the dark, but something was wrong. She held it in, and it burned her lungs like a fire storming inside her.

It was dark. Wherever she was, it was dark, but she wasn’t blinded by it. There was light from somewhere, and she was looking up at a ceiling tile. Her neck was stiff, and her body was sore. She didn’t want to move, and her eyes, they struggled to stay open. 

She felt a chill that was deep within her bones and a shiver that was uncontrollable. 

     There were lights. She tried to focus on the lights to keep her eyes open. They weren’t in the room she was in, but it was nearby and illuminated just enough around her that she could see the walls. 

     Walls in a room that trapped her. They were white, she was trapped back at the house and it was night now. The naked man or the tik-tok man must have dragged her back there and now they were going too…

     Was she tied up? 

     She wasn’t sure. How could she not be sure? She didn’t know but when she tried to move, the room moved more than she did as it tried to spin around her. The world was shaking, was it an earthquake?

     There was a loud laugh from somewhere deep in the darkness. It turned into a cackling. The room echoed with it and she could see cracks breaking apart the ceiling and then racing along the pieces of tile. Chucks were beginning to into pieces and the dust started to sprinkle down around her like snow… Snow.. White fluffy things… Her chest grew even more tight as a flash of the woods came back to her and those fluffy things that had been everywhere were filling the room around her. She knew this was all a nightmare and she was going to wake up back there. She had never escaped. She was going to die. 

The tears were coming back to her and she could feel herself thrashing, fighting back, while she still felt a million miles away from it all, separated from her body.

     She heard a woman’s voice nearby. “Calm down. It’s going to be okay.” Lizzie tried to focus on it, to reach out to the voice. It had to be an angel. An angel had come to rescue her. Finally, she was saved.

     She heard her heart and could feel it shaking her chest. It was pounding so loudly in her chest that it throbbed through her ears. Still over it she could hear that wonderful voice and she immediately felt the wetness at the corner of her eyes, though she didn’t know why or how she would be crying.

     “Just lie back down. Everything’s okay. You’re safe now. You’re safe.” The voice told her, and she felt it. The voice reached into her and relaxed her, pushing her back down on the bed. She hadn’t realized how she had arched up her back and had been focused on the ceiling until she melted back onto the bed.

     Light flooded the room and she saw where she was. The beeping equipment, the wall mounted tv and the little wooden cabinet on the other side of the room made the hospital room unmistakable. She thought she smelt the faint odor of anesthetic, but it was hard to tell as she swore she could smell her own stench. She could smell the odor of old sweat. 

     How long had she been out? Had she been in a coma? Her muscles were sore, but she didn’t feel like she was weak. She wouldn’t have any energy if she’d been in a coma, right? That’s what she thought but she wasn’t sure. 

     “Come on girl, just breathe. Deep breaths.” 

     Lizzie felt something touch her shoulder and she jumped, her scared eyes shooting in the direction of the voice. There was the owner of the voice, and Lizzie looked at her with eyes open wide, another scream at the tip of her tongue.

     The large black woman who looked at Lizzie with so much heartwarming compassion and sadness that Lizzie felt like she should be able to trust the woman, but how could she trust anyone? She couldn’t stop her body from reacting and recoiling, kicking herself back trying to get as far away as possible. She felt the bed rocking and didn’t know if it would tip. She just had to run, to, get away and flee from strangers.

     The nurse reached out and grabbed both of her shoulders, keeping her eyes locked on Lizzie. As she did, another woman came into the room and rushed to take Lizzie’s legs and pull them away from her so Lizzie was helpless, falling flat on her back. 

     No, I am not going to be helpless! Not ever again!

     She thrashed.

     “Elizabeth! It’s okay. You are okay. You are okay. We need you to relax. Everything is okay.”

     The woman’s mouth was moving. Lizzie could hear the words, but they just didn’t make sense.  There was a wall inside her and she only heard the cackling. It had stayed in the room after the darkness left and she could hear it in the undercurrent. It reverberated around her. It was a part of her, inside her and it just made…her…want…to…SCREAM!

     It finally erupted out from her. The scream echoed through her, billowing out from her, shattering glass around her. She didn’t know where any of it came from, but she was now in a rainfall of tiny shards that glistened in the fluorescent light.

     A man emerged from behind the curtain. A curtain? She hadn’t noticed that before but one whole wall of her room was just a curtain. Beyond was a lighted hallway she could only catch a glimpse of before the curtain fell back into place.

     “What’s going on?” The man said with an air of authority. She guessed he was a doctor as he had stepped into her room, is it really a room if it only has three walls.

     “She woke up and immediately went into hysterics.” The woman, a short stout woman wearing flower designed scrubs. She had glasses and silver hair pulled back into a pony-tail. She didn’t look old though. Her face was young, ageless, and Lizzie felt so confused as she was distracted, studying her rosy cheeks.  

     “This the woman they found in the woods?”

     The silver haired woman nodded.

     “Okay, let her go.” The doctor said as he stepped closer to the bed. He held his hands up, showing there was nothing in them. He was moving slow and kept his eyes locked on hers. “You are going to be okay,” he said soothingly as he approached.

     The woman at the end of the bed let Lizzie’s legs go and took a tentative step back. The two of them shared a skeptical glance, neither one trusting the other. Then Lizzie felt the pressure relax on her shoulders and turned as the other woman was straightening. 

     This one didn’t step back. The nurse stayed there, looking down at her with a deep sadness. Lizzie could see the winkles creasing her face and felt a fond affection for the woman. Something about her was like that of a grandmother. It wasn’t of her own grandma, but there was that quality she always imagined, there in how she looked at her. She pictured Mrs. Brady of that old TV show. The one with all the sisters and brothers. Mrs. Brady hadn’t been a grandmother, but she should have been as she had that kindness. It made Lizzie just want to reach up and give the woman a hug.

     “Did we get any identification?” The doctor asked the nurse as he stood next to her, the pair looking down at Lizzie.

     “No, there hadn’t been anything when they brought her in, and this is the first time she has regained consciousness.”

     “Hi, my name is Doctor Everson,” he said as he eased closer to her, bending down. She was sure she could see he had something in his hand. It was long and she could see the glint of metal. “Can you tell me what your name is?”

     His voice was smooth and hearing it calmed her frayed nerves. He was a doctor. He was a good guy, the white hat from westerns, or her Prince Charming. No, doctors didn’t do the saving, well she guessed they actually did do the saving, but they weren’t the rescuers that pulled you from a burning building.  This man was just going to look her over and make her all okay. She needed to trust him, she knew that.

     He still had that metal thing hidden in his hand. What was he hiding from her?

     And why were they asking her for her name? The nurse had said her name hadn’t she, when she had first come in. 

     Lizzie’s head spun and she had to struggle to concentrate as none of this was making sense. She needed to talk, and realized the doctor was waiting for her to answer, hovering over her but not moving any closer. It was like the world was hanging, waiting on her and everyone was watching her.

     “Lizzie” she said to break the stillness and it proved harder than she would have thought. Her throat was dry, and it came out as a raspy breath. It sent her into a flurry of dry coughing, and she would have thought one of them would have come to rub her back or offer her water. Instead, they stood there, statues afraid to come any nearer.

     “Okay Lizzie, is that a nickname?”

     She had to say more but feared it would send her into another coughing fit. She wished she could write it down but didn’t see any pens or paper.

     “Elizabeth. Elizabeth Rogers.”

     “Okay Lizzie, and is there any family I should call?”

     “Rolan-“ she didn’t finish as she knew that wasn’t right and it took her a minute before she remembered that she had broken up with Roland. That had been over a month ago. Who could they call? Other than her brother, who did she have now? 

     She really didn’t want to get Brian upset, and there was nothing he could do for her so why call him? Why should she ever call him. She was pretty good at avoiding him and didn’t want to change that now. Not for this?

     Sarah would have been the one she wanted to call. Her friend until the end, the girl she had grown up with and was like a sister to her. The girl whose dead glassy eyes kept looking at her every time Lizzie closed her eyes.

     She hadn’t realized she had stopped talking. The three others in the room were watching her and the doctor was saying something…

     “Roland who? Can I get a last name?”

     “Never mind him,” she said as she tried to wiggle herself up in the bed. She wanted to sit up but didn’t trust herself yet, the world still threatening to do some more spinning. “Can I get some water?”

     “Sure. Nurse?” the doctor looked at the one who was standing at the foot of her bed. The nurse pursed her lips, but she nodded and turned to the first cabinet to the right. She scanned her id card into a panel to the side and it popped open. Lizzie couldn’t see what was inside of it, but she saw the large hospital cup the woman pulled out and then went to a sink to her left that Lizzie hadn’t noticed before.

     “Lizzie. Is there anyone we can call tik-a-too?” She heard the doctor say and she quickly turned towards him, her shoulders again tensing.

     “Where’s Sarah?”

     “Lizzie, I need you to stay calm.” He said in that milk chocolate tone of voice that made her want to melt, but it was too late for melting. She had heard it. He must be one of them.

     “Who’s Sarah tik-a-too?” The black nurse said. She had a note pad now and was taking notes.

     They were all with him. What were they going to do to her? She thought again about that glint of metal, oh no, they were going to cut her throat. They’re going to kill me!

     She tried to see what he had done with it, but he had positioned his hand, so it was obscured from her view, hidden behind his body.

     “Lizzie, come on Lizzie. I need you to focus and to stay calm. Who can we call? Who should know that you’re here in the hospital?”

     I’m not in any hospital. It may look like a hospital, but these people want to cut me open. They’re going to slice me up like they opened up Sarah. They want to know who they can call so I can give them more people to kill.

     She shook her head. At first it was a simple back and forth, signaling her refusal, but as she again worked to pull herself back in the bed it grew more furious. 

     “She’s having a seizure!” someone called out. She wasn’t looking to see who. She clawed at the bed, trying to pull at anything that would give her leverage.

     Arms pressed down on her shoulder and someone grabbed her head. She closed her eyes refusing to see the knife coming at her. That had to have been what was in his hand. Though doctors didn’t call them knives. They were scalpels and they were even sharper that knives. They were razors that could slice through her flesh with barely any pressure. He was bringing that down on her, she knew it. It was coming for her eyes. It was always about the eyes. They were the windows to her soul, and they wanted to look inside of her.

     No, they wanted her soul.

     Here it comes.

     Light blossomed around her. Everything turned pink as the light was pushing in on her closed eyes. Then her eyes were forced open, and she saw the light that pointed straight at her, blinding her as it hovered there.

     Then it turned off, and she saw through the circles of light that clouded her vision, the doctor straightening from how he had hovered over her.

     “She might have hit her head harder than the EMT’s thought.”

     “We don’t know what she’s been through. She had looked pretty beaten up when they brought her in. It looked like she’d been attacked.” The nurse who had gone for the water said. She held the large jug in her hand, presumably with the water and was now standing across from the doctor on the other side of the bed.

     “Attacked? Here, in the woods. That’s unlikely.”

     “Maybe.”

     “Okay, well, get her name to Pinkerton. He’ll want an update, and if she was attacked, he’d need to start investigating, I guess.” This the doctor had said to the black nurse next to him and she took down the notes before nodding to him and heading back out of Lizzie’s room.

     This was really getting pretty frustrating. She was right there, and they were talking about her like she wasn’t even there. What was she, some wild animal they needed to tame?

     Don’t worry about that right now. She needed to get away from them. They were with him. As soon as she let her guard down, they were going to strike. So, she couldn’t allow her guard to fall. No matter what, she had to stay alert to what these two were doing.

     “Drink this…it’s poison.” She heard the nurse say, though it sounded more like she had hissed out the last part. Lizzie turned to see that the woman’s face had become that of a snake, its tongue flicking out as she was holding the large cup out to her. “Drinkssss.”

     “Get away from me.” Lizzie said. She reached up and grabbed the cup from the things hand. It wasn’t even a hand, not anymore. It had become a viscous claw, talons extending around the cup and Lizzie could see where they dug into the plastic. Lizzie didn’t stop to think about it or how she got the cup away. She tore off the top and flung its contents. The water hit the serpent nurse in the face, and she stumbled back, sputtering from the sudden display.

     The nurse took the hint and stayed back, but the hairs on the back of Lizzie’s neck rose. She turned just in time to see that the doctor was moving to hover over her, presumably to push her back down. All he would have to do is get her down flat and then the other one would be back to strap her down.

     “No! Get away!”

     “Lizzie, calm down.” The doctor was repeating, his smooth voice had now a tinge of sternness. He was getting frustrated. Well, that was too bad, she was not going to make this easy for them. Her friend had died because she had made it too easy. She was done making it easy. If they wanted to hurt her, they were going to have to fight for it.

     He reached out to push her down into the bed and she pushed his arms away. She didn’t hold back. As she grabbed to pull his arms away, she dug in her nails and twisted. The nails dug into his flesh.

     “Ugh.” the doctor cried out in pain and confusion and stumbled back. “Lizzie, you have to let us help you.”

     The room started to shake around her. The cackling was getting stronger and in the back of her mind she heard the dark man chanting. Tik-a-tak, tik-a-too, boo, boo, boo…bounced around her thoughts and grew stronger. It brought tears to her eyes as it pushed its way through anything else and it hurt. Fighting it sent lightning bolts to behind her eyes as she fought.

     “Get..sedative…dy” she heard the doctor saying, but it was hard to hear him outside her mind as the voice in her head was getting stronger.

     “Li…This wi…ck…you…lit..ile” The doctor said. She only caught pieces of it but thought again about that metal he had in his hand. She couldn’t see it anymore. He did have something else. It was long. A long tube with a sharp point. A needle. They were going to try and poison her again. They were…

     “Okay, its inssss.” 

     Lizzie spun her head to see that the nurse was standing near an IV drip. She had a needle inserted into a piece of plastic connected to it. She pulled out the needle and looked at her, a smile at the corner of that snake like mouth. The tongue flicked out and in. Then the mouth opened, and Lizzie watched as long fangs flicked out as the snake thing prepared to attack. 

     They truly were going to poison her, but it was going to be snake venom. It would look like a natural death, death by snake.

     But why would that matter?

     She had no clue, but what did any of it matter anymore? Who cared about any of it?

     She did… Wait, what was happening to her. This wasn’t right. She was upset, she needed to fight back.

     They had done it. They had poisoned her after all. The needle, the IV.

     She looked down at her hands. On her left hand she saw now that the IV was running into her. They had slipped it that way. She hadn’t needed to watch for the doctor.

     Damn how could I have been so stupid.

     She felt herself slipping away. It would be the last time she ever woke up. She knew it. Damn, she was too young for this. She hadn’t traveled enough. She should have traveled more. Gone to England and gotten laid by some hot Englishman or checked out China and visit the great wall.

     She wouldn’t be doing any of that now.

     The sedative did its job, and Lizzie faded off to sleep. She barely heard the two talking over her but caught part of what they were saying.

     “…she be okay?”

     “…been through a lot, b…be okay.”

     The darkness took her, and she slipped away…

Chapter 3

     Lizzie rushed through open the door and burst out into the daylight. The fresh air would have been a breath of relief against the stench and horrors inside the little cottage had the the world not fallen away with her fir   st step of freedom. With her first step she found herself falling and quickly landed on the hard-packed earth that was the backyard just steps away from the kitchen.

     She hurt, the fall had forced the breath from her lungs, and she was struggling to get turned over. Her hands burned, scraped on the way down, and now what the hell was all of this? Everywhere she turned there was green. The grass was tall, surrounding her, and it was loud with…life. 

Lizzie couldn’t see anything, but she heard it. The ground around her was alive with motion. She listened as things moved through it. There was the bounce of animals as they scurried away, but there were other things, things that she could hear slithering and those noises… They sounded like they were the creatures coming towards her.

     Her heart beat loudly in her chest, pounding out a scream that told her to get up and get the hell out of there. She felt it’s pulse in her ears as it throbbed. She was trying to hold her breath and hear what was coming towards her, but it was impossible. Her lungs burned and she breathed harder in her attempts to fight it.

     The slithering stopped. It had to be a snake right? logically it had to be, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was the old man? She could have knocked herself out when she fell and now he had followed her. He could be slithering his way towards her, pulling himself on his stomach, scraping that exposed penis across the ground.

     She just needed to get up and run away. Snakes were more afraid of her than she was of it, right? Or was that spiders?

     She twisted herself around and pushed herself up. Her hand had just touched the ground when something long and with a lot of legs crawled over it. Her hand was quickly back In the air as she recoiled, looking at the place she had touched.

     What was that?

     She felt the wetness return at the corner of hers eyes.

     No! No more tears. I just need to get out of here. I can’t cry. Come on, we can do this.

     She pushed herself up and started to stand. Pain shot up from her ankle. Damn, she must have twisted it on her way down, but at least the pain was bearable. She just had to get out of there and then she could focus on it. She needed to get to the road, find a phone, call for help.

     She took a tentative step and her ankle threatened to give. She took another step. She could walk. She had to walk, Because if she didn’t…

     Behind her, that cackling laugh floated out into the woods echoing into a cacophony of noise around her. Leaves fell and birds flew to escape. It reverberated through her head like firecrackers going off behind her eyes and she saw stars flash in her vision. She heard trees splintering, their bark falling exposing the cracks beneath, and inside her, her heart sank.

     Before turning around, Lizzie knew what she would see. She wanted to stop herself but couldn’t. She turned and there he was standing in the doorway, arms outstretched and grasping both sides. He looked like he was preparing to launch himself at her. 

     Those long talon like nails, each hand a claw holding the door frame. The wood creaked under the pressure of him squeezing. He was rocking back and forth, each motion preparing to expel him from the house towards her. Those black, soulless eyes were fixed on her and the smile. She refused to look at his smile. She wanted to close her eyes to avoid it, as she knew in the pit of her stomach that  the moment she did, he would be on top of her.

     It was no longer a question of if she could walk. Now she had to run, and she tried. Her first step away she found the snake that had been slithering near her. It wheeled up and launched at her and she felt it before she saw it. It was like a fire exploded in her leg and her body no longer supported her weight. The grass again rose up to meet her and it forced all the air out of her. She wasn’t sure just what had happened.

     The world swayed back and forth. No, wait, that was her. She was shaking her head back and forth. It hurt. All of her hurt, and her leg especially. That, she could feel the fire fade and part of her leg started to go numb. That was good. At least a part of her didn’t that hurt.

     Was she going into shock?

     No, she wasn’t hurt. That had to be it. How could she be going into shock?

     She wasn’t sure, but as the world around her swam, she had two reoccurring thoughts. The first was how all around her, none of this seemed real. It was all just a picture show and she was watching it through some kind of game. It had to not be real. Her friends didn’t die in real life and in real life she wouldn’t be out in the woods lying on the ground just after getting bitten by a snake. 

     I hope the snake isn’t poisonous. She had no idea what kind of snakes were in these woods, but even if she did, she hadn’t seen enough of it to know what kind of snake it had been. It had been a vicious bugger, that’s for sure.

     The other thought that kept fighting to press in on her was that she had to get out of there. It wasn’t safe for her to be lying on the ground.

     Of course it wasn’t safe. I’d just been bit by a snake and my friend is dead just inside the house. The thing that killed her was right there, and if she didn’t get moving, she would be next.

     And she knew that, she just couldn’t bring herself the desire to do anything about it. She just wanted to lie there and wait for whatever happened, to happen. Maybe some young, dashing prince charming would show up and rescue her.

     She’s seen way to many fairy tales. Which might be the case, but she couldn’t shake the thought that someone would show up in the nick of time and save her. That was how all the stories always went, wasn’t it?

     But this isn’t a fairy tale and you’re not a princess. A voice rang in her head, telling her to get up, get out of there, find some semblance of survival instincts and run, you stupid, stupid girl. If she didn’t run, someone would find her there, but they would find her dead. She would be a corpse to be buried and when they put her in her grave, her tombstone would read:

Elizabeth Rogers

She died because she was too 

damned lazy to get up and save herself.

     And it would be true because here she was lying there on the ground feeling as the numbness was feeding on her, pushing away all her senses.

     What did any of it matter?

     Her life mattered.

     From the house, she thought it came from the house, there was a loud crashing sound as something large hit the ground.

     It was him. He had fallen like she had. He was coming after her and wouldn’t be that far. He would be on top of her and then what was he going to do? 

     Maggots. Maggots filling her, eating her from the inside, that smiling face over her, those red teeth, sharp as they tore into her. She knew exactly what he was going to do with her.

     Her mind hadn’t fully grasped what she needed to do yet, but somewhere, something had. She must have some core of survival instinct as before she had decided to pull herself away from the house, she noticed she was already doing it.

     It was like her mind was pulling her out of a dark haze, conscious again of the world. She was on her elbows walking herself backward. She was kicking herself back, not sure where the snake had gone to, worried it would return. 

     She felt that fire in her leg now, it was throbbing, and the pain was good. The pain was helping to push away some of those cobwebs that kept threatening to reweave themselves through her thoughts.

     Run, damn you! The thought screamed through her and she knew it was true. She couldn’t backpedal like this through the woods, she would never get anywhere. She had to get up, and get the hell out of there. She needed to leave this house once and for all.

     There was a thrashing behind her and she couldn’t help herself. She looked up at the house before she turned around. The naked man was no longer in the doorframe but he wasn’t running after her. He had fallen out like she had thought and he had to fight to get himself on all fours. Now he was there just outside the kitchen and he was watching her. She couldn’t see all his face, his mouth was hidden by the tall grass, but those eyes tracked her movement.

     She didn’t need to see the mouth. She knew the smile was there.

     Around her, the woods grew dark. A chill ran down her and she couldn’t stop the shiver that touched her soul. 

     There was something else out there. It was watching her as well, and it was something much worse than the naked man.

     She looked to the woods and saw it. It stood there in the tree line. It was the shape of a tall man but she knew it was something else. It was evil, darkness, the absence of life swirling in the shadow of a man and it stood there just behind a large gnarled tree. 

     She wasn’t sure how she stood or how she wasn’t face planting herself from the pain of the snake bite, but she found herself running away from the house and the thing in the woods. Instead, she ran to the woods across the clearing, and now was fighting through branches that reached out, grabbing at her. Many of them slapped her in face and arms, but occasionally one would scrape across her leg and she would bite down on her lip and push away the agonizing the scream that threatened.

     It didn’t last long. She wasn’t sure how far she had run, or if the naked man, or the death shadow was still following her. She thought they were, but as she had gotten away from the clearing around the house the sky had lightened and she could see the sun again. Now she was out of breath, her whole leg was ablaze, she had to pee and the tears rolling down her cheek were either because of the pain, the death of her friend, or just everything rolled together in an unmeasurable mess of emotion.

     She ran as far as she could. Her legs could not hold her weight anymore and she collapsed against the closest tree. Her breath was coming out in harsh rasping gasps, the air around her thick with those white fluffy things she had chased as a kid and it was getting in her lungs. So much life around her and it was killing her.

     Cottonwood. They were seeds from a cottonwood tree. She didn’t know how she knew that but it was true. The seeds were drifting around her. It was almost beautiful, they were so white and light and seemed to glow in the shifting sunlight as they drifted around her.

     There really were a lot of them.

     The airborne fluff continued to fall. It grew thicker. Around her was the white of cottonwood and had it not been the late summer she would have thought it was a winter snow fall, thick like a winter storm.

     She was having a hard time focusing. Her breathing was coming in shorter gasps. Why was she trying to run? It was so nice out there, and it was the perfect place to just lie down and take a nap. It was peaceful out there, why not just lie down and enjoy it. She could make a snow angel. It really was so beautiful.

     The ground looked so soft. It was covered in the white fluff, it looked like the snow, but she could image how comfortable it would be to lie down in all that cotton.

     Is this where cotton comes from?

     No, it couldn’t be, and that didn’t seem right, but it was so soft. One had landed on her hand and she felt its delicate lightness. It danced in front of her as she watched it drifting on the wind.

     It was entrancing. She could only focus on the little flake on her hand. It flowed back and forth, moving to music only it could hear as it moved in its own rhythm. 

     She didn’t blink.

     She barely breathed.

     Everything had become her watching that little fluff of cottonwood seed. The world around her at first becoming white from the falling seeds, then growing dark as so many of them fell that the sun could no longer be seen.

     What did any of it matter? It was just so beautiful.

     She was barely breathing. The world around her was swaying back and forth. No, that was her moving, the earth around her staying still and inviting.

     A laughter boomed through the trees around her and she felt the vibration as it rumbled through her. It hadn’t been that cackle from the naked man, as this was a rich deep laugh that felt like it could crack open the earth and move mountains. This felt like the laugh from a god, and it pulled her from the trance she had fallen into.

     She fell forward on her hands and knees, gasping harder and coughing.

     “tik-a-to, tik-a-tee, you are dying, on your knees.” a voice chimed around her, coming from everywhere and speaking in a sing song manner that swam through Lizzie’s head. She heard it but couldn’t concentrate on it. Was it man, woman, she didn’t know, but it was strong.

     “tik-a-too, tik-a-tee, you are young, too young for me. tik-a-too, tik-a-tet, you will die, but not die yet.” 

     Lizzie took in a deep gush of breath and then coughed one hard and final time. A large clump of the white fluff landed with a wet plop onto the ground and she could breath again. She didn’t take her eyes off of it as it moved and she couldn’t not think of the maggot as it slithered out-

     No, she wasn’t going to think about it, but she couldn’t stop herself. That mental image was never going away.

     The woods around her faded, going dark. She looked up to see that the trees were gone and that a man was standing over her. As close as he was, she still couldn’t make out anything about him. Even in this place with the absence of light, he somehow stood in the shadows, yet she still saw him. It hurt her head to event attempt to look at him.

     “tik-a-tee, tik-a-too, devily dee, devily do. tik-a-too, tik-a-tay, Your time will come, just not today. You have much to do, you have much to say.” He spoke in that sing song cadence but it was far from sounding like it was singing. The voice had become rough like sandpaper and it gritted when he spoke. He talked slow, almost like a cowboy out of an old western, but that didn’t fit with the accent. She could hear a trace of one, but wasn’t sure from where she recognized it.

     It was hard to hear him and she didn’t want to hear his words. That stupid rhyming made everything he said sound like kid’s speak and garbled noise.

     As she looked away, finding the fluff covered ground hard to look at as it glowed somehow in the darkness with its own light. Looking at it hurt her eyes, but she would gladly burn her eyes out to keep from looking back up at the man who was not a man, the dark that was not dark that hovered above her.

     The thing must have sensed her discomfort as it called out a long loud howl that dwindled into a laugh. She didn’t have to look up to know he would no longer be there. The fluff around her was fading and she felt the warmth of the sun now on her skin. The hot suffocating wind was a welcome sensation as the wind was again moving around her and the cotton fluff was dancing upon it rather than falling to the ground.

     She could breathe again without fighting for it and she pulled in large gulps of air. She had gotten free from the house, escaped the naked man and now survived some kind of woods demon she had no way of explaining, to now be alone in the woods. All she had to do now was find the road and get help.

     The cackling echoed in the trees around her, booming off them, surrounding her. She didn’t have to turn to know what was behind her,  but she did and there he was. She was surprised to see that she was barely out of the clearing from the house and could see his shape as he stood there in the tall grass.

     He was still naked, his appendage wagging between his legs and that grin with those dark eyes that locked on her. How could he stand there, his bare feet to the ground. She had just crawled on her hands and knees that little bit and she could feel the cuts and scrapes. He stood there no problem, no sign of any pain, just that tooth filled grin.

     The man ran towards her and she stepped back, turning to run away when she hit the tree she had been leaning on. She fell, twisting as she did and landed on her butt but she didn’t stop. She continued to back pedal quickly, watching as the man neared her, him running faster on bare feet than her spider crawling backwards.

     He came to the edge of the clearing and stopped, not entering the woods. Lizzie didn’t. She wasn’t going to stop until she could no longer see those eyes. She kept fighting to move faster.

     It should have taken longer but something wasn’t  right. It barely took her a minute before she was pulling herself into the street. She wouldn’t have noticed as she never looked away, oh no, never take your eyes off the devil or you become his, her grandmother would say.

     She barely noticed the horn that blew as the man’s cackle had distracted her. It had been the loudest yet and she was sure her ears were bleeding as it had reverberated through her sending her into convulsions.

     The last thing she felt before she passed out into the black was the hard hot cement beneath her and a dark shape that was standing over her.

     “Are you okay?” A woman’s voice said, but before Lizzie could answer she was gone, that cackling laugh following her into unconsciousness.

Chapter 2

On the other side of the kitchen there was a skeleton of a man, his skin stretched tight on his bones was near transparent.  He was naked, covered in dirt and he stood there on the other side of the center island.  He was fighting with Sarah.  He was pulling at her clothes and when he saw exposed skin, he bit down.  Already her arms were red with blood from where he had taken chunks of her flesh.

Lizzie stood in the doorway frozen. She had no clue what should she do. This wasn’t possible. They were there to check out the house she just inherited.  There was nothing in the lawyers description of the place that said there would be a crazy, naked man attacking them when they went there. The house was hidden back in the woods. It was supposed to be the home of a reclusive hermit of a man who had once been her uncle. Nowhere in the description was there mention of a crazy man who would eat them.

Her mind felt like it was going into overdrive while it detached itself from her body. Why couldn’t she move? She stood helpless watching Susan’s clothes torn away. Tears streamed down her own face, but she was trapped in her own body listening to Susan scream. She couldn’t breathe, her lungs burned and she watched as her body struggled to betray her as it desired nothing more than to turn around and flee.  

Neither of them saw her there as both were turned away. Lizzie could just run right back out the door and leave this craziness behind her.  It would be easy. She could run to her car, call the police, and drive away. The realtor and the crazy man could have this place, she would leave and never come back.

Something told her that if she did leave, there would be no escape. Her mind would always be locked in this room, in this moment, and even though she would be away from this place she would still be there. Someday,, she new she would have to come back. There was no getting away…

Why, and why did it matter now?

It didn’t. She had to do something. This man was tearing her friend a part. She had to… do what? What could she do?

She looked around the kitchen for anything she could use.

The man ripped a large chunk of Susan’s shoulder, the flesh pulling away, stretching before tearing like paper being pulled a part. It was then that he turned to Lizzie. He grinned at her, his teeth covered in blood as he gave her a wide tooth filled smile that seemed to large for his mouth. He had too many teeth and all of them looked sharper than they should have been. Red drops dripped to the counter top and he bent over licking them. The blood smeared, and more of it was now streaked along the counter as he continued to drip.

Sarah must have felt the change in attention as she made a burst to get away. She took three steps before the man’s thin arms wrapped around her and pulled her back. He turned her so that she was facing Lizzie and now Lizzie could see her blood covered, tear streaked face.  Strands of hair were stuck to it, and there were patches from her forehead where he had pulled some away.

Almost as though he could read her thoughts, he reached up and grabbed another handful of hair, pulling back hard until it ripped away from the scalp.  He licked it as it came free before stuffing it in his mouth.

“Just let her go.” Lizzie said.

Sarah cried harder, “Please, just please,” she sobbed.

The naked man didn’t speak. He never spoke. He just kept his gaze on Lizzie, flashing her that large red toothed smile. He stood there, watching her. Sarah struggled to get away but she couldn’t break from his grip. He was stronger than he looked.

“I don’t know what to do.” Lizzie said as she looked to Sarah, pleading. “Please, let her go.”

Sarah shook in his arm, trying to kick her foot back into the man’s exposed testes. He held her too tight, and pulled her in closer to him, forcing her off balance. Her knee hit the corner of the counter and before she could register the pain, the naked man pulled Sarah back harder by the hair. She let out an earth shattering scream as more hair was pulled free as she slipped.

Lizzie watched as her friend started to fall, held by one arm around her chest and another on her long hair. The man grabbed more hair, sensing that she was getting away and both her arms where grabbing at his to push it away.

“Please let her go,” Lizzie said again, her voice trembling with fear. The man kept smiling at her, cackling as he would pull harder, then relax his grip as she would pull away. She wouldn’t make it very far as his grip would tighten and Sarah would again get yanked back to him.

Those eyes. That laugh. Lizzie knew she would hear that sickly cackle for the rest of her life as the nightmares would never let her forget it. 

The man didn’t take his eyes off her, and Lizzie found herself pulled into them. Time slowed. His laugh grew louder and rang through her head like a bell, a church bell chime that with every dong in time with her heartbeat. One naked man became two as her vision doubled. Yet somehow she still watched him, the true him, and those hollow, dark recessed eyes.

Time passed but it was lost on them. He had her as well, but it wasn’t in some death grip. He was in her soul, and she could feel that darkness spreading. A chill ran through her as her insides grew cold. It was in her bones, her blood, and it was spreading getting closer to her heart. It would freeze her completely if she let it. 

A scream rang out. She wasn’t sure if it was from her or Sarah, but her vision pulled back and she saw both of them again. The naked man was nodding at her, that smile never disappearing, but he turned from her and looked at the prey in his arms. He licked the blood from his lips and momentarily closed his eyes in relish, his head lifting for a moment as he showed to be in pure bliss.

Then in a flash his eyes were open and alert and he was studying Sarah.

Lizzie knew she had to do something. What!? What could she do? She could rush him, she had to rush him. That naked disgusting form had his friend. If she hit him and they toppled over, then her and her friend could beat him up, or just run away. They could get out of her.

On some level, that rational brain of hers was trying to convince her that she needed to do it. She needed to attack this man or she was never going to get friend back. If she didn’t her friend would be gone, probably dead or worse. 

What was worse?

She knew what worse was. There was living after life was taken from you. That half life of existing after some thing like this defiled you. She knew that. She was studying psychology after all. She knew what this did to the living corpse left behind.

Why hadn’t Susan and Lizzie taken those rape prevention courses at the ‘Y’? They had both talked about it, knowing that it was always a possibility, especially being young girls on a college campus. They lived where every woman needed to be on constant guard of rape as every year multiple attacks would happen and not go reported. It was believed that colleges were a breeding ground for sexual predators and they were prime bait.

Why hadn’t they gone?

Because, there was always another study group, or another drink with a friend to go to. There was always something that they were doing, and who had time to start dedicating to some class at the ‘Y’. They could always do it some other time. It wasn’t like it was ever going to happen to them.

But now here it was. It was going to happen to them. 

The man continued to study Sarah. He had pulled her close and was smelling the hair in his hand, then biting down on it. He noticed that Lizzie was still studying him and spit it out to nuzzle up to Sarah’s neck and lick the tears that were spilling down.

Sarah was whimpering in his grip. Her eyes closed. She would occasionally twitch, trying to pull away from him, but it was obvious the fight was out of her. 

The laugh got louder. Lizzie wasn’t convinced it even came from the man as it felt like it was echoing through her head. It was misplaced as he was over there and she heard how clearly that voice cackled in her thoughts.

“Please.” She whimpered as much to hear her voice against the sound of his.

The laughing intensified and her forehead throbbing with its rhythm. Stars formed at the edge of her vision, and the pain pushed in as she tried to pull her focus from the naked man and look at her friend.

Sarah was covered in sweat and blood. It had melded together and was running from her scalp where there were now visible patches of exposed scalp.  Her shirt had been torn, and the naked man had exposed one of her breasts. He was grabbing at it violently. There were cuts from his nails from where he had squeezed too hard and more blood now smeared her exposed flesh.

We’re not going to get out of this alive.

Lizzie felt her legs give out. She lowered herself to the floor and kneeled there, raptured by sobs at what was happening to Sarah. She couldn’t watch anymore and buried her face in her hands.

Sarah screamed. Lizzie heard her fall. She landed hard and Lizzie had heard the ‘plop’ as flesh hit the tile floor without trying to catch herself. The bastard had probably thrown her down. Lizzie couldn’t look to see. She knew Sarah would be on the other side of the kitchen island and there wouldn’t be any way for her to see if she was okay.

What did it matter? They were both dead. Why did it any of it matter anymore?

If she could turn into a puddle of tears and sink right there into the floor she would. Enough tears came, she thought she would soon be in a puddle. They just kept flowing, and she felt her shirt getting damp.

She didn’t get a chance to lie down there and die when she noticed that a shadow was looming over her. It must be her turn. He was there for her.

She looked up and he was there. His member was dangling between his legs, its thick shaft was purple and she could see where there were cuts along it. Flesh had been torn away in some places, and the meat underneath was exposed. She was surprised that it was brown and ash gray underneath. It was a foot away from her face, and as disgusting as the torn piece of meat was, she couldn’t get past the intense smell of decay that emanated from it. 

She didn’t want to look at it, but found it harder to turn away and study the rest of the man. She had been so terrified by his blood soaked mouth before, but now she was looking at him differently, having to look up at him, and with how close he now stood, she saw more of his deathly state. 

He had scrapes all over his body, some of them still bled. The dark splotches that were all over his body she had mistaken for dirt were under his skin. It was like some kind of infections or bruises, and they made what was his ash white skin take on these unearthly patches. Maybe it was dirt, but somehow under his skin? It looked like scales with thin white lines that crisscrossed his skin. That didn’t make sense either…

When people say ‘what kind of rock have you been living under,’ they were referring to him. He looked like he had crawled out from under that rock but while he had been under there, had died and they forgot to tell him he was dead. 

He cackled and reached for her, grabbing her by the back of her head and was pulling her closer to him. She knew what he would want her to do and fought against him, pulling her head back. Again she was surprised by his strength, this time feeling it for herself as she wasn’t able to stop herself from being pulled in. The stench grew worse. Rotten meat. The wreak of it twisted her stomach and she could feel the vomit touching the back of her throat.

This really couldn’t be happening. How was it? Why did this  have to happen to them?

The tip of his penis twitched. 

Oh God, don’t let him get hard.

Then she watched as a small white object protruded from the head. It emerged and wiggled back and forth almost like a finger beckoning her closer. She was already close enough that she could see lines, circular lines around the body, like it had segments to it. The part that had first emerged was larger and she thought she could see a large opening. Is that a mouth. Oh my Lord is that…

Is that a maggot?

She’d never been this close to one, but was sure it was. It withered its way free, and fell onto her chin.  

“NO!”

She felt the scream push through her until it exploded from her lungs into a rush. It slammed into the man, and the pure intensity made him step back, releasing her as he stumbled.

Inside her something was different. She snapped.

Lizzie wasn’t thinking about what she was doing, she just did it. She attacked. She pushed herself up and in one motion pushed out with her hands. It connected in his chest and she felt his sudden shift as he lost his breath his balance. He fell back and she persisted. He hit the counter, keeping him upright but he was dazed, stunned by her blow. She followed up with a knee to his groin and he made an audible gasp as he bent over. 

She didn’t stop. She brought her hands together and brought them down on his back. He fell to his knees and then collapsed to the floor. 

Lizzie stood there, watching him. She was panting, not realizing how much exhaustion went into beating someone up, but she had done it. She had stopped him.

She wasn’t sure how long she stood there feeling proud of herself. It was longer than she should have, she knew that much.

Sarah! She needed to check on her!

Lizzie hurried around the counter hoping to find her friend okay. She saw the blood before she came upon the body. The blood had become a river flowing in the cracks toward the open back door. Then she found that lake of red around her friends head. 

Lizzie was sure she would never forget how her hair was all wet and matted in the pool. She couldn’t help but think how upset Sarah would be when she saw herself in the mirror because it was matted and Sarah couldn’t go a second with having her hair not perfect. There were lumps of it that were drenched and had turned her sunlit rays of blond into a dark red mush.

She needed to do Sarah’s hair before she woke up. That’s what she needed to do.

Lizzie lowered herself down, keeping her legs together and staying poised like a lady when she looked at Sarah’s eyes. They were open, looking out into the distance.

They didn’t blink. Not even when a fly landed on them. 

Then she noticed that some of the blood was coming out from the side of Sarah’s eye. Half her skull was caved in there making her face not even. That shouldn’t be like that. And her mouth… her jaw was ripped away and there were teeth missing… her smile, she was going to be pissed. Sarah was relentless about using teeth whitener so she had that super sweet, innocent as cherry pie smile that often lured in guys.

She had to get Sarah out of there. She wasn’t going to be happy, but maybe the doctors could do something.

Lizzie reached forward and pushed on Sarah’s shoulder.

“Hey, we gotta get out of here. I need you to get up.”

Sarah didn’t move. Lizzie thought about trying to nudge her friend again, but she didn’t have time for this. Sarah needed help, but Lizzie didn’t think she could carry her. Would she be able to drag her?

So much blood. It was going to get all over her shirt and jeans, but she had to do it.

She reached forward, trying to grab Sarah’s shirt top, adjusting her balance while also trying not to step into blood. It was tricky, and she didn’t realize until she tasted the iron as it filled her own mouth that she was biting her lip.

Sarah’s shirt was wet, but Lizzie got a good grip on it and pulled. Sarah slid on the floor, streaking through the blood and allowing more of it to soak into Sarah’s blouse. As she moved across the tile, there was a scraping sound and Lizzie tensed at how loud it sounded in the stillness that had descended on the house since she had knocked the naked man down.

She stopped. She had to as she was losing her balance pulling her friend and feared she would fall on her butt and then her own jeans would be covered in red. 

Damn why hadn’t Dennis come out there with them? Sure, Sarah and Lizzie were friends with Jessica and Dennis was just the boyfriend, but he was useful. When Sarah had needed someone to carry her new mattress up four flights of stairs because the elevator was out in her apartment complex, Dennis had done it. He had complained for the last two flights of stairs, and gotten irritated with their giggles and jibes, but he had done it.

Who else would she get to move a dead body when she needed it?

No! Sarah wasn’t dead. She couldn’t think that way. She just needed to get her out of there and go for help. They needed to find the police and get them out there before the man woke back up. He could regain consciousness at any time, any noise could do it. 

She listened to her breathing. It sounded loud and raspy to her. It was deafening. She tried to control it and breathe easier, but her heart was racing. Her body was betraying her. She wanted to keep quiet, still as the house around her, but every part of her seemed to cry out in betrayal. Her ankle popped as she reached forward to grab Sarah again and she winced.

The man would be waking soon. She pulled on Sarah again and that scraping on tile screamed through the kitchen. Lizzie looked at the man, worried he would be waking up.

He was staring at her. That smile had returned and he was lying there on the ground watching her. There wasn’t even any sign that he had been passed out. Had he been watching her this whole time?

“Come on Sarah!” Lizzie reached forward and pawed for clothing. “I need you to help me here. Get Up!” 

Her hands couldn’t make purchase throwing her balance off.  She didn’t fall back though and had been able to push off, standing as she stumbled back until she hit the wall to regain her balance.

The man laughed at her, his cackle echoing off the linoleum. She didn’t turn to look, to see that blood red smile, but it didn’t help as her eyes stayed locked on Sarah.

The cold dead eyes that confined to stare at Lizzie. Lizzie had never seen a dead person’s eyes before. She hadn’t thought there would be a change, that the eyes would look the same if someone was alive or dead, but that wasn’t true. No matter how still someone is, there was always some movement to the eye, a twitch or a throb as blood circulated through the corneas. 

Only the dead remained still. Sarah wasn’t moving.

She heard something sliding on the floor. She didn’t turn to look. She diipdn’t have too to know the man was pulling himself towards her. The image of his blood filled mouth, the maggot that slithered from the tip of his penis, all of it was already burned into her memory. Another look in his direction would only be another nightmare she would need to avoid.

Instead she turned from the man, turned from her friend and ran out the kitchen door.

Dead Friends: Chapter 49

Lizzie knew it was a bad idea, but she she woke up the next day, she felt like she had to go outside and talk to Jessica. There were some things she needed to get off of her chest. It was that ever present idea, that was there just as soon as she opened her eyes. Like a seed had been planted in her thoughts, and when she nearly jumped out of bed, the idea had grown to dominate her thinking.

She was stopped from it though, because after her feet touched the cold floor and she turned to go towards the door, still not even dressed, Sarah stood in the doorway.

Lizzie’s breath caught in her throat and she took an immediate step back, knocking into the coffee table behind her.

Sarah looked just like she had the day she died, if not a little worse. Unlike what Lizzie was used to seeing, Sarah looks like her eye was still hanging from its socket, it the orb was now gray and withered. She was withered, like the life was getting sucked out from her. Her lips were dry and split in areas. Her skin was ash, and her eye remaining eye was sunken and dull.

“How are you in here?” Lizzie asked, pushing past her initial shock and standing tall to stair down this thing that wore her friends face. It was still hard to place that the shadow thing was doing something, trying to trick her with Sarah.Who knew how long it had been doing it?

“Liz” It tried to say, but the jaw was dislocated and Lizzie could hear the grinding of bone as it forced out her name. It was trying to say more, but seemed frustrated with how hard it was to form the words.

“I said, how the hell are you in here?” Lizzie shouted, and rushed across the room. She reached the thing that looked like her friend and didn’t stop to think about what she was doing. She got there, and pushed, only as she was too late into the motion that she realized she was going to push at nothing and that she would be sprawling forward. She was already bracing for impact with the ground when she actually reached her friend.

To her surprise, she didn’t go through Sarah, but it was Sarah who was forced backward to land roughly to the ground. The dangling eye, snapped off the decaying strand and rolled away on the floor, Lizzie watched it for a second and then turned back to Sarah who wasn’t getting up. She had turned on the floor and was leaning on her side, her hair covering her face.

After a moment, Lizzie continuing to stand over her, her fists clenched ready to start swinging, Lizzie realized that Sarah’s back was heaving up and down and she sounded like… Was she crying? Yes, Lizzie could hear her. Sarah was sobbing, not trying to get up and fight back.

“How are you in here?” Lizzie demanded through gritted teeth. She felt her own chest burning and wetness formed at the corner of her eyes. The more she wanted to cry watching what looked like her friend on the ground, the more the anger was internally seething, preparing to blow up inside her.

It was a conflict of emotions inside her, if it was clear who the winner would be. The pain of her grinding her teeth, wanting to smash things out of per frustration was such a rampaging desire, that it was hard for her not to just walk over, grab a chair, and slam it on the back of the imposter.

“Lizzie, stop, please.” Sarah said, the words sounded course, grating out like nails on a chalk board.

“Why, so you can try to kill me in here too?” Lizzie yelled. “You never stopped when you were about kill me and Jessica.”

Lizzie kicked her foot out and pushed Sarah so that she lost her balance and landed on her back.

“You haven’t stopped killing my friends, or anyone else.” Lizzie growled as she stepped over Sarah. She was looking around, trying to find something to smash down onto this thing on the floor. At first, she wasn’t going to get violent, it wasn’t in her nature… But this thing was in here, her safe place. Not only that, it was weakened, probably by breaking through the protections. This was her chance. This was finally going to be her way of ending it.

When her fist slammed down into the chest of the thing below her, it felt like she was hitting brittle candy. Dust erupted from where she hit, and she heard the popping sounds as bones shattered under the impact. The rotting clothes her dead friend wore caved in to the dents she created, and yet she brought her fists down in another strike. The room was filling with the sounds of children’s cereal, the snap, crackle, and pop of bones breaking.

“Please-” it gasped as though it struggled for breath. Lizzie had to fight back a giggle, seeing it try and plead with her. “Liz- Liz stop. Tinker b- bell.”

Lizzie pulled her hand away, revealing the carnage of the chest beneath her. There wasn’t much left of the shirt it wore and the bones were mostly dust allowing Lizzie to stare into the beating heart and lungs of what had once been her friend. It was her friend. I’m or maybe it wasn’t. The shadow man had done an excellent job of fooling her in the past.

“Tinker- bell.” It hissed as it quit struggling beneath her, not that it ever really put up much of a fight.

Tinkerbell…

Sarah only called her that when she was really trying to get under her skin. It had started as a childhood name, one that Lizzie hated when her parents would call her it, yet they still would. When Sarah heard it, she had done so too for a brief time, until Lizzie had once gotten so angry that she pushed her down. It had been the one time that Lizzie had really done something so out of character as to push Sarah. It had shocked them both, and Sarah had laughed it off, saying “All right, I’ll never call you Tinkerbell.”

And Sarah hadn’t…

But was she now calling her that or was the shadow thing getting into her head again. It had been years since the incident, but this was eerily similar. Lizzie hadn’t consciously been thinking about it, but she didn’t know how the shadow man did its thing. She would never know as the voodoo lady was right, and it always changed things up. You never knew what its limitations were.

Was..It..Getting..In..Her..Head..Right..Now!

How would she know?

“Liz, please…it’s…me.” Sarah rasped below her, fighting through struggled breaths.

Lizzie looked down and saw the pain twisted onto what was left of her friends face. This Sarah did look different to what she was used to seeing outside. The dead outside had all been healing since their deaths. It was weird to see that each day they looked better, but the Sarah beneath her looked worse. Kinda of like a zombie that had been left out to rot, how it decayed as it walked around. Sarah was not looking any better. Hell, her eye popped off, who knows where it had gone too.

Oh God, I’m going to have to try and find that later before it starts stinking up the house…

Lizzie stood and backed away from Sarah, taking a quick glance around the room, trying to see where it might have rolled. It wasn’t directly visible. It must have rolled under something.

“A..little..help” her dead friend rasped, and Lizzie looked down to see that Sarah was trying to get up, but was having a hard time moving with her chest mostly caved in.

Lizzie reached down, and started to lift her, pulling her towards the recliner. As soon as she put the slightest of pressure on Sarah’s shoulder blades, she heard the popping sound and knew that more bones were breaking.

“I can’t lift you.”

“Get.. Chair”

Lizzie wasn’t sure if she meant to get Sarah over to the chair or to bring the chair to her. She decided the latter would probably be easier and lowered Sarah back to the floor.

The chair was a large recliner, and would probably slide no problem on the hardwood floor, had there not been piles of books still spread throughout the room. Lizzie had been doing as much as she could in the weeks that she had been in the cabin, but there were just so many books and she was always afraid that the one book she through out would be the one that she needed.

Of course, now there were so many of them in the way, that she had to push piles into other piles and listening as they all toppled over. They fell like dominoes so as soon as one pile went, more followed as they went into each other. Two of the piles fell into the path she was trying to clear, and she cursed as she reached forward trying to brush those books off to the side as well. It was near impossible. There was just no place to push them all.

“Come on!” Lizzie grunted trying to force her way through the unmovable piles of books. She still had Sarah, working to drag her, but Lizzie could hear more popping sounds and could hear the wheezing from behind her.

“Liz- stop… tinker.”

Lizzie stopped, feeling the wetness she had denied herself earlier start to form again and the first tear streaking to its downfall.

Lizzie sat there for a moment, sitting back on her knees, before turning herself around to face Sarah. Both shoulders were now crushed the arm Lizzie had wrapped around her when she tried to drag her to the chair. The corpse looked so small now, her width almost no wider than her head as there were no longer any upper torso bones to widen her out.

“Tinker… ease me down.” Sarah said, and Lizzie let out a sudden, tear filled giggle as she did.

“I told you not to call me that.”

“Then.. listen.. next time.”

Lizzie had a hard time looking at her friend. It was too much like watch an old corpse that was still breathing. There was almost nothing of her friend that was recognizable and it was hard to believe considering her friend had only been dead a few weeks. Surely corpses didn’t rot this quickly…

“I.. I’m not..here.” Sarah said.

“What do you mean your not here? I don’t know how, but you are definitely in the cabin. You know, where the dead things can’t get inside. Or is it just evil…” Lizzie said, taking glances at her friend, but each time, she would quickly look back to the living room window. The curtain was drawn, but she could tell through the lack of light that it must still be night outside.

“You’re.. not.. here..” Sarah rasped. Lizzie was about to respond, but the words were trapped in her throat and before she could say anything, Sarah was able to get another breath and finish. “I.. don’t.. know..”

Lizzie looked at Sarah and then around at the house around her. She started to notice that things weren’t right. When she looked at the books around her, they were all generalized. There were no titles on any of them and they all looked like they could have been the same old couple of books taken out of some ancient archive somewhere. Which wasn’t right. She hadn’t had time to look through all the piles in her uncle’s house…her house, but she had been around them enough to know they all didn’t look like that. As much as her uncle loved to steal old library books about demons and witchcraft, there were also plenty of other trade paperbacks, but Lizzie couldn’t see any of those.

They weren’t in her uncles house…

Then where?

“Sarah. You’re … are you real?” Lizzie looked back at the faded lifeless eye of her friend and the empty socket. She tried, and it was hard, to focus on the one good eye. Sarah, the eye of her friend did seem to be looking at her. Her friend, not the creature that used her shape as it tormented her outside, but her friend, the one she saw die, was staring up at her. This was her. It had to be her.

Sarah didn’t speak, and Lizzie could see why. Her breathing was getting weaker. Could the dead die? Was that what was happening? Lizzie didn’t think she could handle losing her friend again.

“Are you dying? What is happening?”

Sarah shook her head.

“Al- dead…”

“You know what I mean. What is this? Where have you been? You can’t leave me all over again. I don’t know what’s happened to you. You were here and then you were gone. All those other dead bastards came back, why can’t you.”

“Not.. back. Trapped.” Sarah wheezes.

“Where? How are you trapped? You’re right here? You can’t be trapped.”

Sarah shakes her head and looks up. Lizzie follows her gaze and sees that now they’re not in the cabin, but Lizzie quickly recognizes it. It was hard not too. They were in the back half of the barn. She could see the well, the darkness floating at the top like vapor over boiling water. Small tendril shapes occasionally rose up, but fell back into the mist.

Lizzie didn’t have to look, as she knew she would see the busted out back half of the barn. Just like she knew if she looked to the sky there would be no light. It was all darkness around them, but yet she could see. This was the dark place. The one where the original cursed had been taken. This was a very bad place.

“Are we really here?” Lizzie yelled as she looked back at Sarah.

“I… am.” She said.

“How did we get here? I need to get us out of here. We can’t stay.”

Lizzie was near shouting. She had only read about it, but that was t what terrified her. There was a sense of wrongness to the place. A feeling that she needed to get out of there before she was noticed. If it found her here, then it would have her, and she could feel it’s hunger.

What was it? What do you feel?

She felt the foulness of it. She could smell it in the air. It was how there was no wind, there was no smell. There was a complete blandness to everything around her and it felt like a vast nothingness that had her and was pulling her deeper in. It was a void…

What had it been like when she saw inside the shadow man. She had seen.. she tried to forget about that moment but it had burned into her soul. She had seen the darkness before and what would be again…the time before. This wasn’t like that, but there was something about this other world that reminded her of that place. She wasn’t sure what it was.

“You…need to go…” Sarah warped a wheezing breath. Lizzie feared it was her last as she wasn’t making any more sound. She wished she could see her faux sister with her eyes instead of whatever this mind vision was. Even in her decaying state, Lizzie wanted that one last chance.

Instead, Lizzie bent over and gently kissed the forehead. The brittle bones cracked on just the slightest of touches, and Sarah’s eye shot open. She let out a blood curdling scream and Lizzie couldn’t help but drop her and back away. More bones shattered as what was left of Sarah’s body landed in a whimpering corpse, her sobs of pain suffocating Lizzie as she watched.

“I thought you were dead.”

“Am-” Sarah wheezes.

“But, really gone.”

“Ca-t” Sarah said, barely able to form the words as her face contorted in pain.

Lizzie felt her skin crawl with a tingling. It wasn’t that there was a breeze but a change in the presence around them. Lizzie could feel something getting closer, and she struggled to keep her focus on her friend.

“Can’t? What do you mean you can’t? You can’t die yourself out of existence? I don’t understand.”

Sarah couldn’t move. She was immobilized by pain and each breath it was apparent that it was another lesson in agonizing torture.

What could she do? She wasn’t a doctor. She wasn’t even a good friend. She could have been better, done more for her. Now she couldn’t even touch her without shattering another bone.

Sarah was looking at her in terror. Her lips were moving but no sound escaped them.

It took Lizzie a moment to realized that Sarah wasn’t looking at her… She was looking past her. Something was behind Lizzie, she could feel it. That electricity that was building up was now a fire upon her skin. Her hair was alive, and she felt that voice inside her screaming at her to get out of there.

But this was a dream. It had to be a dream. That was the only thing that made sense. The realities shifting around her, her lost friend coming back to replace the thing outside. All of this wasn’t real. She was just dreaming it.

No… The fear was real. That pain she felt in her chest as her heart beat so passionately that it wan’t to leap up out of her throat, was real. Her inability to breath because of the terror she felt forming from whatever was behind her, all of that was real.

“Sarah.. what have you done? Where are we, where have you pulled me into?” Lizzie asked.

Sarah didn’t answer, her eyes never pulled away from whatever was behind Lizzie. Lizzie wasn’t sure Sarah could answer, but knew that her inability wasn’t what keeping her quiet. Lizzie could feel the sensation of immobilizing fear as the waves of it washed over it.

“Elizabeth…” The voice wasn’t around her, but inside her head. The shear massiveness of it shook the very foundations of her skull and she thought her head was going to explode with the volume it smashed through her thoughts. It shook the reality around her, and blurred even the darkness to the point that even it could not be seen.

Lizzie feared what came with that voice. She knew it was behind her, and that it had set its sights on her. It was coming, and it was coming for her.

She didn’t want to turn to look. Her sanity would be gone the moment her eyes fell upon it, snapping like a twig under foot of a giant. She was but an ant to whatever it was, and soon she would know just how it felt to be at the insect end of the magnifying glass. It was coming…

She didn’t want to turn and look, but she was in the other place. She wasn’t seeing things with her eyes. Her mind controlled what she was seeing. She didn’t have to turn her head, or gaze upon it with her physical body, her mind could do it all without so much as a twitch. It was already starting to do that, turning, seeing the woods and clearing around her as her mind gaze slowly spun around.

She knew she would see it soon, and then all sanity would be lost. She saw the shadow man hovering near the woods, but this other thing, it wasn’t him. This was something more, something larger, and it was about to let loose her grip on her reality. Just a little more and she would see it…

“LIZZIE!” Screamed another voice inside her mind. This one she clearly recognized. This one, was Jessica, and with it, Lizzie felt herself ripped out of where she was, losing her grip on the other world, in she was…somewhere else.

Dead Friends: Chapter 48

I have never made a torch before, but the mechanics were simple enough. I wrapped a few strands of the cloth around the long wooden pole and then tucked in the lengths to the top. It was crude, and I figured I would hammer nails in once I had recovered the hammer. I just needed to get my hammer back first. This one should work until then.

I went back inside and grabbed matches from the kitchen drawer. This was still my first year at the cabin, and winter hadn’t fully hit yet, but figured whoever had been here last must have had a long winter with a lot of power outages. I had found matches spread throughout the house and various kerosene lamps when I had moved in. As I ran back outside, box of matches in hand, I looked at the torch I had just made lying on the ground and stopped.

I had kerosene lamps in the house…

My plan had been to light the torch, work my way to the door of the barn and recover the hammer. It was not a great idea, and I’d been concerned about setting down the torch at some point once I had recovered the hammer and needed to use it.

Yeah, not the brightest idea when I realized I had lamps actually in the house and I could use the lamps just in the way I had planned to use the torch. Though, unlike the torches, I could set the lamps on the ground when I was done with them.

I rushed back into the house and quickly found two of them. I lit them both when I was back outside and looked back at the barn. The shadows had stretched another foot since I had returned and were now reaching close to where I had set down the supplies for what would be the torch barrier I had planned to build. With the shadows, I could already see those long strands of darkness inching towards them.

“Shit.” I muttered under my breath and rushed over to where they lay, setting down one of the lanterns. I was already losing faith in my plan as the lantern was not giving off a lot of light in the daylight around it.

My stomach twisted into knots and I could already feel the chill coming from all those strands of darkness that were twisting in the shadows. There was going to be no way I was ever going to reach the hammer.

I had too. There wasn’t any other options.

I lit another match and fired up the last two lanterns. They ignited quick, and I heard the hiss as the lamps started to burn away the kerosene from the interior wick. It was like the fire was sucking away my breath as I could feel my heart quicken.

The day way getting cold, and I knew why. I refused to look up as I left the one lantern lit by my supplies and stood with the other two in my hands. I kept my gaze focused on that fire as I moved towards the door fo the barn.

It didn’t take long for me to be surrounded by the darkness. When everything was gone around me and I could see my breath in a mist in front of my face, I looked up to see that the strands had grown so thick in the shadows that the entrance to the barn wasn’t visible. I separated the two lanterns as I walked, and their light was now bright in the dark so maybe my plan wasn’t as harebrained as I had originally thought.

I had only taken a few steps but it felt like I had entered somewhere else. The light was gone, the temperature had dropped and the world I had known felt like it had dropped away, replaced by this evil place where color was lost to a void. What little shapes I could see were only shown to me in gray, seen through a thick shade of darkness. I knew where the barn was, but knew that it wouldn’t take much for me to be lost in this shadow world.

I felt the ice cold touch as one of the tendrils slithered past my leg. I looked down, momentarily taking my gaze away from the direction I needed to go, and saw nothing. That is to say, I saw nothing below my knees. The darkness was encircling my ankles and rising.

I lowered one of the lanterns and felt resistance as I brought the light down. These strands of darkness weren’t just pieces of air where there was an absence of light. This darkness was something alive, and the bottom of the lantern touched it as I tried to see my own shoes. I could feel the friction as whatever these tendrils were slithered out from beneath the glass bottom. I’m

There was a growing odor around me. As I had entered the darkness it had smelled like a stronger sense of the forest during the fall, the growing lingering smell of leaves decomposing. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. However, as the darkness moved around me, and I lowered the lantern to free my own legs, I could smell something burning. It was a mixture of horrific odors that swirled together to attack my senses, and I had to work not to vomit. I smelled rotten meat, the burning of leaves and cinnamon as they all came together from a source I could see of the light striking the dark strands.

I knew the light was hurting this thing, but it kept around me. I could lower the one lantern as far as my ankles, but to keep the other one raised so my body did not fall in shadow, I could get it any lower.

I was losing sensation in my toes. The cold was getting unbearable, and even though it was only my shoes covered in darkness, the chill was running down my spine.

I had to rethink this, and was trying to lower myself, by bending down. Maybe I could duck walk my way to the entryway. Or so, that was what I had been thinking. It was funny, thinking of something so ludicrous as to days of when I was a kid, and would play games with my brother where we would running around cracking like geese. Right now, something so childish could actually save my life. Of course, I wasn’t thinking about that at the time, I was only thinking how I could do what needed to get done…

I never had the chance to find out. I bent my knees and tried to lower myself. I was trying to get myself lowered to do the duck walk, but I could bring the lamp lower. No matter how hard I pushed, the darkness would not let go. The smoke rose from the tendril wrapped around my ankles, and the smelling of burning rotten meat got stronger, but I could not lower the lantern. I tried raising it and lowering it down in a slam to reach the ground, but it hit the same spot and would not go any lower.

I raised the lantern to try again, and that was when my world was turned upside down.

The tendril yanked hard, throwing me off my balance, and I lost both of my lanterns. The one that had been lowered just fell to an unseen ground as the darkness had absorbed it out of my sight. The other lantern had flown away, quickly lost in another direction. I had no idea of what came of either one of them, and I didn’t have time to care. The darkness had me.

I had fallen quickly, but never saw the ground. I don’t think I had ever reached it. No, I now I hadn’t, but I could feel the movement of the dark strands beneath me as the thing wrapped around my ankles pulled me.

I could feel that I was moving but had no sense as to how or where. You never realize how much you rely on your eyes for the world around you. I have learned a new respect for the blind as without being able to see, I was in a disconnect with most of my senses. I only had the feeling that I was moving, but nothing to allow me to confirm it.

It felt like I had snakes slithering all over my skin, that the darkness was full of them and they were wrapping themselves around me. I could feel that the air was growing thin, and I continued to breathe through my nose in the fear that if I opened my mouth, one of these dark things would slither inside. It was hard though, as all I wanted to do was scream.

I thought I was going to freeze to death. The cold was only getting colder. I thought I could feel parts of my skin freezing and breaking off, but was too numb to know for sure and feel the pain from it. My mind was telling me that all of this was too much to take in so it had stopped trying. Part of me was just wanting to fall off to sleep and give up, but I was too stubborn to ever do so. I couldn’t move. I was helpless and trapped, and afraid that if I did move that the cold tendrils would do more to me. To say I was afraid that they would sodomize me sounds ridiculous, but I feared anything and anywhere, these things would go.

My heart was beat so fast, I thought it would burst free from my chest. The wetness of tears trying to form froze at the corner of my eye. There was nothing I could do and it was only getting worse.

I had to do something though. I knew I had too.

I could say that I did try to struggle, at least I tried a little. The moment I did, I realized that the tendrils were not as close to me as I feared. There were the ones under me, those I could feel, and the one around my ankles, but above and around me there were none. I could flail back and forth, and there was nothing to keep me from moving.

I wish I could say that I remained calm and that lesser man would have been flailing around in fear. Well, I was the lesser man. Finding that I could move, I thrashed back and forth, and hit with fists of fear as I spun around. I could see anything or feel anything, I swung trying to get in a good blow. It was pure desperation and fear. I tried to kick, but the cold iron grip around my ankles was like a steel trap. I tried to claw at what was under me, grunting through bared teeth but could not dig into anything. Though as I did, I felt the tendrils move over my hand and in between my fingers. I pulled my hand back and fell back to lying on the darkness.

I began to wonder briefly if I really was moving. The shifting of the creatures under me may just be making me feel like I was in motion, but how could I be sure?

What did it matter? I was still in the dark. Still held by them, and I could feel my head starting to spin. Trying my desperate escape had only thinned the air more. I was going to suffocate in there.

I had to do something. I had to think.

Or do something without thinking. Which is more so what I did. I tried to be quick, hoping I would have the element of surprise. I tried to pull myself up, reaching for the tendrils rapped around my ankle. My fingers were bent like claws and I aimed to use the little finger nails I had like claws. I aimed for where my ankles would be, ready to dig into flesh or pound away at what was there.

I never got the chance to find out. I could feel as my ankles were released and dropped to whatever constitutes as ground. Was it on a bed of darkness or something else. I still couldn’t see anything but black, and the numbing cold on my back. Whatever had been moving beneath me was now still. All I had was the stench and darkness. I had t even realized that before there had been this white noise and even now that was gone. I was left in perfect isolation to everything. I could move but feel nothing, see and hear nothing. I was in the perfect void and wondered how long until I would drown in it.

Then a woosh of stale air hit me and I could breath. The air was dry and I had no idea where it came from. Not until the thousands of strands pulled away from around me and I found myself in a dark world different from my own. I knew this, because I could see the well, see where I had started the barn, but now the back half of the barn was blown away, like something had exploded out of it.

I… I don’t know how to fully describe what I saw. It was too much for me to comprehend. There was no light, but yet I could see. The world was dark, but somehow my mind could make it out. There was no color, there was no brightness, there was only existence. It was like I was somehow seeing without my eyes, but with my mind, and it hurt. It hurt like hell.

The brighter something should have been, the more it hurt to look at it. I avoided looking up, for fear that where the sun would be, would throw me into painful insanity that I would never recover from. Instead I looked around, trying to squint my eyes so that the brightness wasn’t too much. I couldn’t grasp that I wasn’t seeing with my eyes, as it was no good. As I looked around, tiny blades of pain seared their way into my temples.

What I saw around me was the dead. I saw all of them, and they were all staring at me, that look of hate for what I had done to them…I tried to close my eyes to avoid it, but again I was not seeing with them.

“Tik a tat, tik a tee, I wouldn’t if I as me.” Said a raspy voice around me. I quickly turned back, but didn’t see anything. There was only the well and the front of the barn, where I noticed for the first time the wall of darkness that stood at the barrier for what was left of it.

Before I could obsess over the barrier, a hand emerged from the well. At least, I thought it was a hand. It wasn’t of flesh, but of darkness, like a shadow of a hand. It was there for a second and then the hand was gone.

“Tik a tit, tik a tat,” said the voice, and this time I heard it behind me. I felt its touch, it was cold, but not as cold as the tendrils had been, run along my shoulders. I looked over one, and then the other.

That was when…that was when I saw her. The shadow woman that stood behind me, and while all of her was dark, her features unable to be seen even with my mind vision, I could still make out the razor sharp teeth as they bared into a smile.

“How about that…” It said, finishing whatever unGodly nursery rhyme. I-

****

Lizzie looked at the page in her hand and turned it over and then back again. She started searching through the other pages on the table and then picked back up the journal they had found it in. She did this a couple more times before setting it all back on the desk.

That was it. That was all that her uncle had left in the journal. What happened? Who had been the previous owner of the curse and how had he survived it. Had he survived it? Obviously he must have rebuilt the barn if whatever darkness had been coming out of the well was now contained there. The barn must have been rebuilt and some kind of barrier spell had been put in place to keep it from getting out. Right?

Are you really believing in magic and spells now? What’s next, are you going to believe in the boogeyman? It was logical. Lizzie heard her that rational voice in her head trying to point out how silly she was getting with her thoughts, but what has really been rational lately. Her life was nothing but a series of crazy, mixed with evil spirits, rising dead, dead friends who don’t stay and so many other things, When all kinds of insanity surround you, how do you continue to believe that life is rational.

Maybe I should just commit myself to a psych ward.

It hadn’t been the first time she had thought that, and maybe there was some truth to it. If she committed herself, she would be locked away. Then no one else could get hurt…except the nurses, guards, doctors, and anyone else who came to visit her. What if her brother visited her? Then he would be on the things radar.

There had to be more. She couldn’t put herself there, it would only bring bad things onto the one person she still cared about. The only one left alive that is.

Jessica. She’s not dead yet. Maybe she wouldn’t be and maybe her faith would protect her.

Lizzie tried not to scoff at the idea, her ancient cynicism working to get the better of her. She had to keep positive that Jessica would be okay.

Just don’t think about it then…

Lizzie reached forward to grab the journal the pages had fallen out of. Maybe there would be some context… something had to have more information for her and it had to be in there.

She was about to give up when she came across the page that must have contained the loose ones. It referenced finding them in the wall and how her uncle had dug looking for more, but there was nothing. He doesn’t say too much about the pages themselves until she turned to the next journal entry.

****

When I read the journal, I thought I might have finally found some answer for this curse. Instead I am left with more questions. The police have started to visit me, I keep having these terrible dreams, and this Englishman keeps wanting me to fix these old clocks. There’s something wrong with the clocks, I can feel it. There’s something wrong with all of them, but it’s like they are drawn here. I thought for sure there would be some answer, but there was nothing? Why hide the pages if you are not going to finish it.

I’ve asked a few of the dead, some who have known me but also know the area. They recall my uncle, told me about how he was some creepy old writer who killed his wife and lived out here as a hermit. Now I know there’s more to the story, but there are holes.

Thomas told me that my uncle wrote under a pen name and it was really creepy stuff. It scared people. They said it got into their heads. That when they read it, people felt like they could see, even dream about the monsters. Drove some insane. It was very Lovecratian, referring to old demons and creatures so large they filled the skies.

He also wrote about darkness and a well…

I began to wonder how much of his stories were written into his books.

Thomas couldn’t remember his pen name. He thought it was Michael or Mike. Something like that. Really weird last name though. Encock or something like that.

I’m thinking about going to the library tomorrow. Maybe I can find one of his books. If I’m lucky, maybe he’ll have written the rest of it down. Maybe someone has it published?

I don’t have much hope. Hope is for the ones who are not cursed and I’ve been cursed since the moment I entered this cabin.

Dead Friends: Chapter 47

The new pastor in town refuses to make the trip out to see me, though much of his congregation had come. Many of them are now permanent residents. I don’t know what started when Margaret fell into the well, but it has been spreading and getting more aggressive.

The barn was finished. I hoped that it would help protect against the evil getting worse. I was such a fool. What evil have I unleashed upon this world? Oh God, forgive me for what I have done.

****

Lizzie read those words again, looking the wrinkles at the end of the page. The man had obviously been crying when he wrote them, and the last word had a long stroke off of the ‘e’ like he had dragged the pen on the page. He had obviously been upset, and how could he not have have been, he had been the first. Yet, he knew so much more about this than anyone else.

His entry had seemed so final, like that had been the end of it, but Lizzie was surprised as she turned the page over, that there was quite a few more pages. These were not as nicely written, the ink splotchy in many places and the handwriting barely recognizable as it was written in a rush scrawl.

She was finally able to work out the first sentence, and gasped, nearly dropping the page in her hand.

****

Today, I fucked a shadow woman, and my soul will now no longer be my own. My family is now and forever cursed. Hell is all we have to look forward to, and it was all because of me and what I have done. My soul be damned.

I hate such foul language, but it seems apt for the world I am now cursed too.

When I finished the barn, I thought that by locking away the darkness of the well, that I would find peace. Instead I have created a place for the darkness to rise. Within days of the completion of the barn, the darkness was no longer deep in the depths of the accursed object. It was now brimming at the top.

The moment I entered the barn, the last board having been hammered home not five minutes, I saw the well. It looked like water had risen up, but I knew better than to get near it. That well was older than this house, and not once had it ever had water that high.

Even still, I could see that the dark liquid moved, and it was not clear. From the door to the barn, I could see the pitch black of night in that surface. There was no light there. There was very little light in the barn itself, but nothing penetrated that surface. It didn’t even reflect the little bit of light that was present. It was like a black nothing, and I could feel the cold presence that pushed out from it.

I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t know how long I stood there, just watching the gentle lapping of the water. It could have been hours or days lost in just what was a few seconds of me standing there. Time was gone, and I could feel the distance receding between me and it.

I might have been lost then had what sounded like a large bear came crashing through the woods nearby. I never found out what made the sound, but it had pulled me back, and I was able to blink myself out of whatever trance I had been in.

I wasn’t any closer to the well, but it had changed. I saw them now. There were little strands of black that had emerged. They were moving through the air like strands of web from a spider. They seemed like they were floating on the breeze, but that couldn’t be right. The little bit of wind was flowing into the barn, and these strands were not. They were moving throughout the barn, and towards me. The closest one was only a foot away.

I was getting pulled into another trance. I realized it the moment that closest strand nearly touched my cheek and I still hadn’t moved back. Just feeling it get near me, I could feel how cold it was. It was like ice had just touched me, and the strand was still inches away.

I stepped away from the barn, afraid of it and what I might have just done. The evil was spreading, had I just given it a home to grow? Was I fostering it like a weed? I have never been much of a gardener, but was I nurturing this thing like you would a tomato? Tomatoes need sunlight so you plant them where they will get it. Whatever this is, it needs darkness. Did I really just build a place where it could grow and become whatever it was to become?

I needed help. Those who were dead around me, they were all telling me I was going to hell. Once a new person arrived, Margaret was quick to tell them about how the evil had been awakened. It didn’t take long for an army to hate me, spouting vile and obscene threats.

Much of that changed when I backed away from the entrance to the barn and the first strand tried to leave. It burst into smoke when it touched the sun’s light and around me, the God fearing residents of the town watched in horror as it recoiled back into the confines of the barn.

“You need Patrick.” A quiet voice said near me. I turned and saw that it was Margaret herself, her crushed face looking in horror as the darkness writhed. “You need him here now before it gets dark.”

She was right, and the moment she said it, I knew what she meant. The sun would only be overhead for so long, then that creature would be free, and I slept only yards away. Who knew what it would do to me once I found myself wrapped by that cold darkness.

I knew I had to go into town and find Pastor Patrick.

****

However, I did go into town, and I had found the pastor. I’d already spoken to him before. He knew my situation. I pleaded with him, telling him there was no other way. He was bringing forth the end of the world if he didn’t home back with me. I told him everything, confessing everything to God and priest. I did all of that, and it was for nothing. He would not come back with me to this cursed place. I can’t even say I really blame him. I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t have no where else to go.

I must admit, if I’m being truly honest with myself, that I’m surprised he didn’t throw me out of the church. He told me that just that morning, Miss Maisel had passed away in the night. He has now lost nearly half of his congregation, and he himself was not sure what must be done. More and more of them are dying from some disease that has been sweeping through the perish. Some in town have started calling it the sleeping sickness. Others have called it the Roger’s curse. I don’t know which is true. Is it my curse? Have I started this? What was there that I could do about it? It was obvious by the fear I saw in that young pastor’s face, that he would not be of any help.

I had thanked him, and prepared to leave, when he did offer me one thing, and at this point as useless as I felt it was, he offered to pray with me.

I don’t remember much of the prayer. I think I’ve already established that while I go to church occasionally, I am not much of a praying man. Something about that prayer did strike me though. I don’t remember the exact words, but the pastor had said something. It was a passage I could tell that he was reading from the Bible. Something about bringing light to the darkness, or casting out the darkness with light. I don’t know why, but something about him saying that, as I kneeled there with him, well it got me to thinking about ways of possibly doing just that.

How do you get rid of darkness, you bring light to it. The barn didn’t have electricity, not yet at least, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t set fire to it. Fire. Set the whole thing on fire, burn it all down…

Or, that was my first thought.

As I made my way home, I thought about why I had built the barn. Or tried to. It was hard, as I couldn’t recall to much of what had possessed me to do such a terrible idea. There were safety concerns, worried that others might fall into the well, but seriously, how often did that happen? There had to be other reasons, and I didn’t think it was all wrong. It does trap the evil during the day. I just needed to find a way to make whatever barrier is in place stronger.

Still, I was stuck on the idea of fire. I couldn’t get the picture out of my head, this huge blaze burning away, burning it all away. In my head, starting the fire turned into this monstrous beacon of light that lit the whole area and rose up high into the sky. It was glorious, this halo that would surround the world and push away the darkness.

It was foolhearty of course, and I knew I would never do it. That didn’t mean there wasn’t some merit to the idea. I didn’t have much time left before dusk would turn into night, and while I had an idea of what to do, I wasn’t sure of how I was going to do it. However, something was in my favor.

I don’t remember doing it. I don’t remember going to the store or purchasing any of the supplies, but as I neared the house, I smelled kerosene. On the floor board was a jug of the stuff. In the back seat, I saw long sticks and a pile of rags. I don’t know where it came from. Even if I had gone to the general store in town, I doubted they would have had the cloth, not in the dirty disheveled state of what was in my back seat. The poles were also dirty. So none of it was new.

Were had I gone after I left the church? As much as I tried to remember, it was like there was a dark patch in my memory. It wasn’t even that something had guided me, this was flat out, I had no clue where I was or had been.

Something was wrong, and it would have troubled me more had I not just put the car in park, and was looking at the haggard cabin I was now calling a home.

I could still burn it all down…

I knew as much as I wanted to as I got out of that car and walked my way around back, listening to the angry screams from the dead as I did so. Burning the barn would be a mistake. If I did, what was in there would be free. Whatever had kept it trapped before was withered away now since Margarets murder. My only chance was the barn. It was the only way I could contain it.

I stopped when I reached the back corner of the cabin to look at the barn. The shadows had grown long and I had forgotten to bring the torch making supplies with me. So what I saw there, the long shadows stretched out from the front of the barn, filled with the dark flailing tendrils of evil… There was not a chance in hell I was taking another step towards any of that without fire leading the way.

Maybe it was a good thing I hadn’t brought the supplies the first time. Before, I hadn’t had a plan, but as I watched the things shifting through that darkness, I got an idea. I would need my hammer, and it was only going to be a temporary solution. Probably would work only for tonight, I couldn’t know for sure. It might not work at all.

I grabbed the supplies and brought them to the back, and then went to grab my hammer. I thought it would be in my tool box, and when I went into the cabin for it, thought it would be on the kitchen counter where my box sat open.

It wasn’t there…

Had I really only finished the barn this afternoon?

I had, and all of this had started when I had gone into the barn, my hammer still in hand. What had I done with the hammer then? I knew the answer, but didn’t want to acknowledge the truth.

Of course, when I stepped outside and looked at the barn, I could see my hammer. Not at first, but as the dark tendrils flicked back and forth, I could see it there at the threshold of the barn. I had dropped it…

There was already not enough time to get this done, how could I ever do this… And now I had no hammer. I needed it if my plan was to work.

The thought of going back into town for a new hammer was appealing, but I knew there was less time for that, and I would never be able to contain this thing if I did that. I had to get my hammer back.

“And hey, look on the bright side, at least I’ll be able to see if this whole torch idea was even going to work.” I had said it out loud, but had meant it as a thought to myself. Kathryn and Margaret were both near me when I said and they both snickered.

“Serves you right. You’re going to die.” Margaret said.

“You need to do this. If you don’t, everyone else will die.” Kathryn said. I could see the pain in her eyes, and knew she was worried. Both of them were, which surprised me without much Margaret would love to see my die horribly.

I felt the wetness at the corner of my eye, but brushed away. I didn’t have any time for that. I quickly went to work on making my first torch.

Dead Friends: Chapter 46

Lizzie wasn’t sure how long she had been sitting there in the corner before she finally stood. She knew it had been awhile as her butt was sore as pins and needles ran up her foot and thighs. None of her pain, or the time she had been sitting there changed the fact that the bed was empty. Jessica was gone, leaving Lizzie alone in her house of death.

The light outside was fading and the room was growing dark in the waning afternoon light. It would be full dark now. There was a part of her that welcomed it. It was becoming to hard to keep fighting. Not when everyone close to her or helped her would just keep dying.

Lizzie had no doubt that she would see Jessica soon, and that will have joined one of the dead outside. Now it was only a matter of time. Then with Jessica gone, who would she have left? All her closest friends will have died. Who would it take next?

Lizzie turned on the light and stared back at the bed. Just how long had Lizzie slept? How long had she been out before her friend decided to leave? Had that been her plan since before trying to get Lizzie to lie down? Jessica had been adamant about going to see the old woman, but that had been before they read the part of the note.

Lizzie tried to think back. Had Jessica still been adamant about going to see the her. Even after they had read the note, had the desire still been there? She thought Jessica had chilled, but Lizzie could have been wrong. When had they fought. Was it before or after?

The last few hours hand become a blew and she barely knew when things had happened. With the midday nap, it really made everything feels like a new day, that all that stuff happened yesterday or something. The timeline wasn’t clear in her head.

What did it matter anyway? Jessica was gone. Soon, another one of her friends will have died.

All she would have left would be the dead ones outside. She could hear them bickering out there. Most times, she always had music or some show playing just to cut down on the stillness of the cabin and the noise outside. With Jessica there, she had turned it off.

Now that silence was growing heavy, and she could feel the pressure of the walls closing in. The space of the cabin felt smaller, the rooms tighter with not enough space for her to move through.

She had to get out of the bedroom. The dark interior seemed like it was reaching out to her, that the light had hid shadows that were coming alive. The room itself was getting stuffy. She was sweating, but yet she felt cold at the same time. Her heart was thumping in her chest and the walls started to tremble. She couldn’t tell if it was the cabin or her own eyes playing tricks. It was impossible to tell as her own body felt like it was betraying her. What was happening to her?

She rushed out of the room, coughing, unable to breathe. She made it only a few more steps, the world spinning around her before she passed out, crashing to the floor.

****

It was hard to breathe. No, wait, it was where she was at that was hard, how she was lying there. Her head hurt, but so did the rest of her. She tried to move, but everything was stiff. Her mind was stiff. The fog that clouded her thoughts did not want to dissipate. Am I waking up? Where am I?

Her eyes didn’t wan’t to open. They felt glued shut, and there was this pounding that was pulsating through her. At first she thought it was her headache, throbbing enough she could not only feel it in her teeth, but all the way down to her toes.

At least I still have toes. At least I’m still alive. But really, did she still want to be alive? Life just meant that she was still alone.

Jessica! Jessica had left her there to be alone.

Some of the thickness in her head pulled back and she started to remember the panic attack she had. That had been, by far, one of the worst she had ever experienced. God, I hope that never happens again. Though, she knew she couldn’t even make that promise. After all, what was going to happen when she did see Jessica again, as one of the dead outside.

Dead inside, dead inside, what you gonna do with the dead inside… A song was floating through her heads, the track suddenly on repeat. Even worse was she couldn’t place the song, and she was sure those weren’t the correct lyrics.

And please make that damn pounding go away! She wanted to scream at it to just stop shaking her. Her body hurt enough.

She finally opened her eyes. She had been right. She was lying on the hard wood floor. Not comfortably either. All of her was sprawled out like she hadn’t caught herself when lying down there, her face flat to the floor, her back twisted as though she had been in mid turn when she crashed.

All of her hurt… but the pounding, not that was strangled alien. It took her a few more moments to process that it was the floor shaking with the pounding, the vibration shaking through her.

Someone was pounding from outside.

“Hello!” She heard a gruff male voice barking from outside. The voice sounded angry. Who would be so angry?

Oh God, it had to be someone who know about the dead. Oh no, maybe one of the loved ones found out somehow and were now out there to get their revenge. They were going to kill me? I’m about to die.

Lizzie suddenly found herself fully awake as she pushed herself up from the floor, a slight trail of drool the only remnant to show where her face had been.

“I see the car out here, now open this door. I know you’re here.” The gruff voice growled from beyond the door as it assaulted it with a fresh barrage. “This is Sheriff <name>. We spoke at the hospital. Now open this door.”

Lizzie knew she was fully awake, but she still felt like the fog was swirling its way around her head again and her chest was tight. It was like the couldn’t breathe all over again, and she saw the darkness in the corner of her vision. She was on the verge of passing out again. Maybe SHE needed to go to the hospital again. It wasn’t right for her to keep passing out, or nearly passing out.

She worked to force herself through it, standing up, but she had done it too fast. The world spun around her and before she realized what she was doing, she had reached out to the wall and caught herself.

“I can hear you in there.”

“Just-” she tried to call out, struggling to form the sentence, “Just a second” in the hopes to get herself a reprieve from the fists slamming on the door. Each pounding beat was like a fresh wave of drum lines that struck through her head, working to rebound off her aching skull.

She couldn’t get it all out though, and was left with moving closer to the wall, leaning on it for support. She rested her head on it, enjoying the sensation of the cool wood. That was until the fresh round of pounding caused the cabin to shake and vibrated the wall.

“Open up. This is the sheriff, and I want some damn answers. Open this damn door.” She clearly heard him say, though afterwards, she swore she could a muffled, “Damn kids today have no respect for the law.” It was as though he said this to herself, and even through the pain, she felt a slight smile on her lips as fresh wetness formed at the corner of her eyes.

Come on, Lizzie, get your shit together. All you have to do is open your door and let him in. She knew that wasn’t true though. She had to let him in, but then she had to talk to him, and what did he want to talk about? How much did he know? Well, he was there, so he had to have an idea of what was going on. He had grown up around her hadn’t he? She had no clue, but even if he hadn’t, if there were as many rumors as the journal made out, then he had to have heard things.

She would never know until she opened the door.

Her head wouldn’t stop spinning, and she wondered when was the last time she ate? How long had she been on the floor? Could she be so off because of food?

FOCUS!

The voice screamed at her, and it pulled her out of the fog she knew she had been slipping back into. Enough at least, so she could push herself off of the wall and start stumbling towards the door.

****

“Hello,” She said, her voice sounding weak to her own ears as she stared up at the tall uniformed man standing outside. She barely remembered him from the hospital, but recalled how she hadn’t like him then. Elisabeth had to save her from him then, pulling him out of the room, telling him that Lizzie still needed time to recover. Lizzie didn’t recall him ever coming back though, to ask more questions. Maybe he had and she had just been out of it. That time in the hospital felt so long ago, and everything capture in this haze of confusion between what had all been happening to her lately.

What did she remember?

She hadn’t remembered him being so short. She knew that much. Her memory was fuzzy, but she recalled him towering over her, his presence filling the hospital room as Sarah was trying to calm her down.

Lizzie had hid in the bathroom, she had been terrified, but it hadn’t been the sheriff that had scared her. There had been something else there, some other creature, and it had been after her.

All those memories were a blurry mess, and she wasn’t sure how much of them were reliable. She had no clue what drugs that had been pumping into her. There was something about snakes. She had thought they had been around her, trying to attack her, but she had been in a hospital.

The sheriff watched her, now, not saying anything, and she realized that she had just stood there with the door open, allowing her thoughts to wander after saying hello. He was studying her, that much was obvious, but why, she wasn’t sure.

You do realize that Roland’s car is still parked out there. That you had driven it here after leaving him dead in his hotel room. He must have run the plates by now. He knows that you stole it. What else does he know. He’s here to take you to jail.

How long would she even stay in jail before a padded room would be needed?

“Can..Can I help you?” She asked. She had started shifting back and forth, uncomfortable as the man was staring at her, not saying a thing.

At least he’s alive, not like all the dead who were standing out in the yard watching the exchange.

“Arrest her!” Josh was yelling. He was obviously afraid to get to close to the house as he kept his distance when he yelled. He was doing his best though to get the sheriff’s attention, trying to pick up rocks and toss them at the house. The best he could do was shuffle them around, which only Lizzie noticed.

The rest were quiet, watching with interest.

“We’ve met before.” He finally said. Lizzie didn’t think it was a question, but she answered it anyway, unsure of what really to say to the man.

“I think so. I think you came to ask me about my attack.”

“And about your friend dying.”

“Yes, Sarah.”

“She was killed here, in the kitchen.” Lizzie winced as the sheriff said, kitchen, he nodded towards the room behind her. At first Lizzie didn’t feel comfortable that the man knew the layout of her house. It made sense though. He would have been in there when they were investigating the m-… death. She struggled not to think of her friend as being killed that way.

“I’ve been looking into your friends death. We don’t get many murders around here, so when one happens, I like to be thorough.”

Lizzie doesn’t know what to say. She nods, as though she’s understanding, but doesn’t move, still standing there in the door. It takes all her concentration to listen to him, as her mind wants to travel back in time to when Sarah was still alive. Her friend, going with her to movies, or just shopping as they would talk about what new infatuation either of them had.

“I think I told you about your killer. He had been dead for less than a week, but somehow his corpse came here…and killed your friend. How does that happen?”

Lizzie felt herself wanting to scream, at the sheriff and at everything around her. She wanted to run up to him and yell into his face “Because I’m cursed asshole and all kinds of weird shit happens around me with the dead. I have a back yard full of them. Do you want to come and see? I’m sure if you stay here long enough you’ll join them. I bet you would like that wouldn’t you mother fucker.”

The rage, as sudden as it was, was invigorating. The fog that had kept pushing in on her thoughts was suddenly forced away and she was suddenly looking at the man standing in the threshold with a sudden clarity. Why was he here? What did he know? Why wasn’t he asking her to come in?

Suddenly all the warning bells were flashing through her skull as something was off about this man. He must have seen it too, seen the shift in her eyes, as he changed his stance and his hand dropped to rest on the revolver holstered on his belt.

“What…What are you trying to say?” Lizzie asked, her mouth suddenly dry, but she forced the words out, the fury lacing them with self righteous anger induced sarcasm. This anger actually felt good. It felt like she was finding some of herself again. Some of the woman she’d been before her friends around her started dying.

“I’m not sure yet. That was odd. First I thought that you and your friend had dug him up as some kind of kinky sex thing. Sick, but who knows what you city types do to get your kicks. Tim Hicks, the medical examiner did say, however, that it did look like the ol’ coot did climb himself out of his own grave. All the physical evidence supports it. So… Why did he come here? What brought him here?”

“Don’t know deputy. Any other recently dead bodies start waking up? If any of them stop by, I will make sure to let you know.”

“Sheriff. Sheriff Hartley. I apologize for not introducing myself. You are Elizabeth Rogers, friends, those still alive at least, call you Lizzie. You inherited this house and now live here I gather as no one has seen your around your apartment in over a week. You used to date a,” The sheriff pulls out a small notebook from his chest pocket. She already knows what he is going to say. It was obvious as he had been looking into her. Why her? He already said he’d figured out about the old man, so there was nothing more for him to investigate.

He also didn’t answer your question when you asked him if there had been any more dead bodies to get up and leave the cemetery.

“Roland, who died one week ago from what looks to be a heart attack in a hotel room. That’s his car-” The sheriff said, nodding over his should to the car parked out from. “Parked right over there. You were with him when he died.”

“I was.”

“Then you stole his car.”

“I was freaked out. I needed to get out of there.”

The sheriff stands there for while, looking at her. That stern look never changes. The man could be carved out of marble. He definitely looks like he had been around for awhile, his weather face, the winkles that show age with his pale skin.

“Taking the car was illegal, but his parents said they wouldn’t file charges if it turned out you had taken it. They say hello by the way and worried about how you are doing.”

“I’m doing okay.”

“Hiding out here in the woods.”

“I said, I’m doing okay.”

“Yeah, well, they said if I found it with you, you can keep it.”

“How would any of that be in your jurisdiction. That was down in Milwaukee, not way the hell up here.”

“You’re right. I was looking into you, and came across the case. I let the Milwaukee PD know that I would try and help them out. That case is going to be closed, just as all the cases that surround you.”

“Okay. Then why are you here. You obviously know I haven’t done anything.”

“Other than steal the car.”

“Which you now said was okay. What are you doing here sheriff?”

Who is this woman and where had she been in the last two weeks? Lizzie was proud of herself. Maybe it was just easier to stand up to the law when you’ve been dealing with the dead and creepy other things from beyond this world. After that, the sheriff seemed not as imposing.

“The cases were closed, and I’ll admit, I’m not from this area. I moved here just a few years ago, caught up in an opening for the sheriff’s department for the county. Seems that it was hard to find a local willing to patrol this area and no one could tell me why.”

“Okay. Why are you telling me this?”

“I didn’t ask any questions then. You see, I needed a job, and most places asked too many questions about ones past. Up here, though, they didn’t care about my past. They saw my experience and that I was willing to patrol the area without questions. I was hired within days.

“It’s a quiet area. Nothing really happens. There are no major highways in my zone so I never have to worry about speeders. Bothered me at first as I wasn’t sure this district enforced any kind of quota, but the people who hired me had no issues. I felt like I wasn’t doing my duty, but I quickly learned I could just sleep away my shifts and no one would care. I was in the dark zone, and as long as someone was here, they didn’t care what I did.”

Lizzie was suddenly not feeling so well. Her stomach rolled and she felt like she was closer to his man than she wanted to be. Her face was flushed.

She swore that look had changed. He was looking at her with a hunger. She swore she could see it in his eyes. That they had shifted, The brown had changed as the black of his iris’s expanded. His voice was growing more gravely, and she watched as he swayed forward and back.

He reached out and put a hand on the door frame to steady himself.

As soon as his hand touched the wood, he brought it back, clutching it to himself. Lizzie swore she could see smoke from between the fingers of his other hand. Was it just a trick of the light? She didn’t think so as the brown returned to his eyes and he was now clearly snarling. The look was feral as he licked his lips.

“Then your friend died.” He growled. “It seems like there are a lot of people who die around you. Have you noticed that. The nurse and her boyfriend, they brought you home and then were killed in a bad accident. Do you know how long it has been since the last accident in this area? It had been over ten years ago, and do you want to guess where it occurred? I’m sure you already know. I’m sure you know a lot of things.

“Not a lot of people die around here. Statistically its one of the safest, and healthiest counties in the U.S. Though it is a small county, so there are not a lot of people left. Those that are, they don’t like to come out here. Do you want to know why?”

Lizzie was pretty sure she knew why. She wanted to step back from the sheriff. She was no longer convinced he was a man. She wasn’t sure what he was, but he wasn’t human. If she turned her back on him now, she felt, no she knew that he would be on her, attacking her, ripping her to shreds. It didn’t matter what protection the house had, it looked like it only hurt him, and she didn’t think that would stop him. Not if she allowed him to give in to his nature. He was a predator, and you never turn your back on a predator.

“Why?”

“Because people die when they come out here. Just like little Tommy Wallace. Do you know who that is?”

Lizzie shook her head.

“He delivered your groceries last week. He died this morning. Another car accident. He was run over by a semi truck. Not much of the body was left. He only had one arm attached, both of his legs had been ripped off. It was like when he got caught up in the trucks large tires, it grinded him up. He had been riding his bicycle, so that was with him. He face had spokes from the tires sticking out of him, one of his eye balls had been affixed to the end of one like a shishkabob.

“I had to scrape that poor kid up off the gravel this morning, and you know what I realized? That all this death, it all comes back to this place. That is all comes back to you.”

“People died before me, sheriff.” Lizzie could barely find her voice. She couldn’t stop thinking about the kid who had delivered her groceries. She hadn’t thought about him much. She had barely said anything to him, not wanting to cause him harm. He had tried to ask her things, but she had barely said a word.

None of that had worked. He had died anyway.

“That’s what I’m told. Doesn’t matter. It all comes back to you now.”

Lizzie blinked away her thoughts to look at the cop who was standing at the door. She noticed his hand was still resting on his revolver. He hadn’t flicked off the strap, but she could see his finger hovering.

“Does it?”

She see his tension, and it was like watching the wheels turn. She realized that his predator self didn’t need to come into the house. A bullet from that gun would have nothing to stop it. He could end this all now, and it would be over with for her. She might be able to find peace, but then it would be her brother’s turn. How would he ever be able to protect himself?

She saw as the sheriff must have come to a conclusion. His shoulders relaxed as he started to study the house around her.

“It might not. I know about your brother too. I know about your whole family. So here is what we’re going to do.” He said as his hand fell away from his revolver.

“Whenever you need groceries, or something brought to the house, you call me at the sheriffs department. I’ll bring it out. You don’t call the grocery store, you call me. You do not leave this house for any reason. You don’t go anywhere, you don’t do anything. If you feel like you need to get out, too bad. Think of this as your jail cell, because you are now under house arrest, you got that.”

Lizzie wanted to argue with the man, but she kept thinking of that little boy. She knew she would be seeing him again soon. Jessica and now him. Two more to join her legion of horrors outside.

“What if I say no?”

“Is that what you want?” The sheriff said, bringing his hand back to his revolver. Lizzie understood the threat, though in truth, it wasn’t needed. She agreed with the sheriff. For whatever he was, this might be the best solution.

She shook her head no, in response to his threat.

“Good.”

“What do you know about all this? What do you know that your not telling me.”

“That’s none of your concern.” The sheriff said. Then he went down the stairs, keeping his back away from her. She watched him until he was out of sight, blocked from view by the metal slab.

With him gone, she closed the door. She thought she would collapse like she had done before. Instead, she looked across the room at the pages scattered on the table.