Dead Friends: Chapter 33

The week had dragged on, and already Lizzie wasn’t sure what day it was anymore. She could look on the laptop, at the calendar, and see if it was a Wednesday or a Saturday. None of it mattered. Her life no longer mattered. She was trapped out there in the woods, how could anything matter. There was nothing for her there except for the undead things that kept her locked inside. They had become her guards, this cabin was now her prison. What kind of life was she now exiled too, and for what crime?

What time was it? She was just getting out of bed, and the light was already high trying to pierce through the darkened windows. It was a weak attempt, only pinholes of it able to shine through scratches that had formed over time from where pieces of paint had fallen away.

She missed the sun, but knew that an open window was a harsh reminder to the dead that waited outside her door.

Her door…

The cabin door, there was a sound. It must have been what have woken her up. Someone was pounding at it. She had thought it had just been another part of her dream, a hold over from the apartment building that she always found herself in when she closed her eyes. Each night she dreamed of the old woman, and each night the building fell before she could get any answers. The faster she tried, the faster the building fell.

But no, this knock was real, and it was growing impatient. Whoever was out there was now slamming his or her fist down repeatedly, almost like they were trying to pound their way through the dark.

Maybe they were. Maybe the dead was trying to get in. Could they have grown that strong.

She didn’t like the thought of it, but always knew it would be a possibility. Once they had grown powerful enough to attack her when going outside, anything was possible.

Slowly, she slipped out of bed, trying to avoid the places in the hard wood cabin floor where it creaked the loudest. The dresser was next to the bed, and she eased a drawer open, pulling out a oversized flannel shirt. She slipped it on and then her jeans. The same jeans she had been wearing for a week as, who cared. She was out in the middle of the woods and she hadn’t thought to bring a change of clothes when she decided to hide herself out in the middle of nowhere. 

They needed to be washed. She would, some day. 

The knocking continued and she held her breath trying to listen. Maybe it was the police. They could have found her. She didn’t think it would have been too hard, after all, her friends knew she was going to a concert with him, knew they had been broken up and that she resented him, and then boom, he was left dead in a hotel room over a hundred miles away from where they lived.

Why had she run away? She should have called the cops. She hadn’t killed him.

No, but was she going to explain to them that some weird shadow thing had reached into his chest and stopped his heart so that now Roland was an undead thing that existed outside of her cabin. Yeah, and how long would it be before she found herself locked up in that padded room.

The cops had probably found her lawyer, gotten the address for her cabin from him, and were now out there to take her in. She was about to be arrest. Then what would happen? She would be in a prison cell, locked away with half a dozen people who wanted to do nothing more than kill her so they could stop existing. 

She couldn’t open that door. She had to make a run for it and get away. 

Yeah, like that made any sense. If she ran into the woods, her dead enemies would still be there with her. They would run her down, and it would be like that dream she had of Jessica. They’d tear her apart, ripping away pieces of her while Sarah laughed at her.

She was trapped.

Maybe if she stayed really quiet, they would just go away, figuring there was no way someone would be living in this decrepit old house.

She eased into the living room, now only a short distance away from the door. Whoever was on the other side of it stopped for a moment, listening just like she was.

Lizzie couldn’t hold her breath any longer and she let it out as quietly as she could. She had held it too long, it was loud in the stillness of the room and now she was breathing hard to regain oxygen to her lungs. She was sure whoever out there could hear her, and that they were listening to her taking gasps of air.

Then the pounding continued. 

“Who is it?” Lizzie didn’t recognized her voice. It was tight and screeched with the words, wavering as she spoke. 

The knocking stopped, and she repeated herself, sure they hadn’t heard her over the pounding. This time she had more strength to the voice.

Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen. There’s nothing you can do to change it now, She thought as she approached the door.

“Hello?” Came the sharp, accented voice on the other side of door. British she thought, where it sounded more like he said “‘Ay ‘lo” more than the nasally “hello” she was used to in northern Wisconsin. 

Really, she’s out in the middle of nowhere, and some British chap was on the other side of her door. The only British person she’d met in real life was, well she’d actually never met anyone British. She’d only seen them on TV or in movies. There was actually someone British here, now? Her life was getting too damned weird. 

“Who is it?” She walked slowly to the door. It had some kind of protection to keep the dead things out, but no clue if it would protect her from intruders. She was a woman, alone in the woods, why had she never worried about men breaking in here. That should have been her first concern. Just what in the hell had she been thinking, not keeping the door locked. Maybe he wouldn’t try to get in. Yeah, and maybe he’s just there to have a nice round of fish and chips, whatever the hell that was.

The man had paused when he had heard her voice, no more knocking but he was still there. He was listening to her approach, that was it. He had stopped to hear when she would get close.

She stopped a yard away from the door, close enough to it to talk to him, but far enough away that if he burst through, she could try and run for the kitchen or even her bedroom. Neither of them great escape plans, but it was what she had.

“Is Mr. Hooper available?” 

Who the hell was Mr. Hooper? Lizzie had no clue. The man must be lost, or just acting like he was. When had she become this distrustful?

“Sorry. No one here by that name.”

“Really?”

“I think your at the wrong house.”

“Now I know that that’s not true. Miss, I’ve been here many times before and I am inquiring about Mr. Hooper. He was working on a clock that belongs to my master and my master has grown impatient with the lack of progress.”

Lizzie took a hesitant step to the door. Clocks… Something about the clocks rattled around in her head. Hadn’t her uncle said something about working on old clocks. There’d been something in his letter to her about them.

“You said Mr. Hooper was working on them?”

“I don’t think that was his real name. He was a weird sort, maybe that was why he was living out here, but he had come to us as being highly recommended and thought to be one of the best in the world. He had repaired a number of other clocks for my master and we’d become quite impressed with his efficiency and craftsmanship. He has our latest find, but he has not followed up with in a timely manner.”

Lizzie opened the door. Standing there and looking out of place with the cabin and woods around him, stood the Englishman in what appeared to be a finely tailored suit. He was facing away from her, looking at the yard and woods around the cabin and hadn’t noticed she’d opened the door.

A couple of yards behind him sat Elisabeth and Chuck. Chuck was sitting on the ground and Elisabeth was lying against him. She looked like she was crying while Chuck was keeping a watchful eye on her. None of the others could be seen and Lizzie wasn’t sure if that made her more or less comfortable.

Lizzie knew he couldn’t see them, but it almost felt like he did and was watching them.

“I’m sorry, but Mr. Hooper has past away.”

The gentleman turned to look at her, and a shiver ran down his eyes. His gaze was intense, his eyes dark in the shadows of the overhang. His noise was small and pointed and his mouth tight with disapproval.

She couldn’t hold that gaze for long. As he looked at her it felt like his eyes were burrowing deep into her soul and as it did, there was a cold that tried to invade her heart. It was like a hand made of ice reached into her chest and caressed it, making it hard to breath and blood flow becoming erratic. She couldn’t stop herself from thinking of that night, the shadow man on top of Roland as it took his life from him.

“Then I would like my master’s property returned to us.” The man made a move to come inside the house, but Lizzie refused to step out of his way.

“It’s not in here. It might be in the barn.”

“Then we shall retrieve it.” The man said, taking a step back, obviously frustrated at not being allowed in. Then he looked back over his shoulder and Lizzie was again struck by the sense that he was looking at the dead couple as they were now both watching them. Sarah had stepped around from the side of the house and all three of them were watching curiously as the man turned back to Lizzie.

“Okay, go back there and grab whichever one is yours.”

“You won’t be accompanying us?”

“You know which one is yours. I have no clue.”

“I’d feel much more comfortable if you would join us. I am not in the habit of fumbling through another’s domain.”

Lizzie looked at her undead guards and then back to the Englishman. Would Sarah and them attack her on the way to the shed? Lizzie hadn’t been there yet, but she thought she had read somewhere from her uncle that the path and barn were protected. Had she actually read that or was it just wishful thinking?

She hadn’t left the cabin since that night. She hadn’t showered for even longer and couldn’t imagine how bad she smelled. The man was being kind enough not to acknowledge it, but she had to have wreaked like the dead. Yet he wanted her to take him out to the barn, and be in an enclosed area with her. He must really want that clock back.

…Or he really wanted to get her someplace dark an isolated.

That didn’t make any sense. She was already isolated. How much more isolated could you get?

“Su-Sure. I’ll meet you out back.” She didn’t mean to stutter over the words but she’d gotten trapped in the man’s eyes again.

He released her by turning away. She watched him go down the stairs before she closed the door. There was no way she was walking around the house. Josh had ventured into the front yard and they had all been watching the stranger. Curiously, as she closed the door, she again sensed that the stranger was watching them as well.

Now she had to meet him around back. If she knew the man, and trust him, she’d just hurry through the kitchen, but who the hell was this guy. She wanted some kind of weapon. Even if the Englishman didn’t put her nerves on end, it still wasn’t smart to go out there with a stranger. 

Was there a gun somewhere in the house? She’d been cleaning the house a little each day. There was still much she hadn’t found, and so often she would get sidetracked by reading more of his diaries. Still, there wasn’t any firearms and she hadn’t seen anything large like a gun cabinet or secured like a small gun safe. So unless her uncle practiced very poor firearm safety, she didn’t think he owned one.

What kind of person lives in Wisconsin and doesn’t own a firearm. Sure, maybe if you were from Madison, but everywhere else in the state had common sense. What if a wild animal came around or even a bear. That wasn’t uncommon to see, they did have bears up here.

But that wasn’t true either. There were bears in the woods, yes, but nearby there wouldn’t be. The wildlife knew better.

So no gun. Nothing to arm herself with.

She entered the kitchen and felt that familiar pain and a twinge of guilt knowing this had been where Sarah had died. It was brief and quickly she focused her attentions on finding some kind of weapon to take with her.

“Hello? Miss? You never told me your name. Miss, are you coming?” The man was on the other side of that door. It was the door she had fallen from to get away from the smiling dead man. It was also the door that lead to the barn. She knew she’d have to go through there or walk back around the house.

“Just a minute.” She called back. Near the sink was the silverware, inside she found a set of small knives. She’d debated on grabbing the butchers knife one drawer over, but there was no way she could conceal that. A small steak knife wasn’t much of a weapon, but her uncle had purchase good quality and the little blade she worked along her arm felt sturdy. She just had to find a way to secure. 

“Miss, please don’t keep me standing out here all day.”

Lizzie opened another drawer and pulled out the plastic wrap. She hastily pull out a stretch of it, fighting as it bunched up, but still wrapped it around her arm a few times. She hoped that would hold as she let the sleeve of the flannel shirt fall back into place.

It wasn’t much of a weapon, but if this guy meant her harm, she didn’t have much of a chance to begin with.

She went to the door and pulled it open. Outside, was a cool October day, or was it November now? Her sense of the time had been lost being out there. The trees were nearly bare, the leaves forming a bed of dead and discarded to be walked on. The clearing around the house was covered in them, and nowhere was there a trace that animals had been through there to rustle them. 

The woods were still, the air quiet as not even a breeze dared to stir. They were in a place out of time.

“Please, I must get this piece back to my master.”

“If it’s so important, why didn’t he come?”

“He is very busy and doesn’t make public appearances, especially during daylight hours. Just know what his money is good.”

Lizzie eased herself down, remembering when she had fallen out of the kitchen when she hadn’t realized that the steps were gone. The Englishman reached a hand out of help her, but she waved him off. Just being this close to him put the hairs on the back of her neck on end, the last thing she wanted to do was touch him.

As she heard the gravel crunch beneath her feat, she looked around. She saw all her dead standing in the back yard. Were they going to rush her, or rush the both of them? No, they were all just standing there, watching them. They seemed to be studying the man, and were as weary of him as she was.

Lizzie, you should just run right back into that house and lock the doors. Hide. Get away from him. Get away from him now!

The voice was screaming inside her head, and she had a hard time ignoring it. What was it about this man? She pushed down her fears, and lead them both to the barn. She had to admit to herself that she was more than a little curious as to what they were going to find in there. She’d been wanting to explore it, but feared what it might contain as well as the dead that surrounded her, hellbent on doing her harm.

The door was unlocked, only held closed by a large wooden board that was held in place by metal hooks. She pulled up on the board. It was heavy as she feared, but as she wiggled and worked at it, she felt it lifting from its holders. The Englishman stood behind her, and she was thankful that he didn’t try to help her.

She set the bar to the side of the door with a grunt and looked back to him. He was turned away from her, looking over to where Roland stood by the house. They seemed to be glaring at each other. 

“You’ll have to point out which one is yours.” She said as she opened the door.

“He didn’t leave them labeled?” The Englishman seemed to be astonished by this, which Lizzie shrugged off.

“I don’t know if he did or not. I haven’t been in here before.”

“These pieces are worth a lot of money. Anyone could just come and claim them? You need to be much more weary Miss.” 

Lizzie was beginning to get the feeling that each time he said ‘miss’ it was because he was trying to get her to tell him her name. She didn’t know why, but she had a feeling that giving him her name was a very bad idea. It wasn’t just because of her uncle having never done so. There was something else, some instinct that told her that giving this man her name meant he would have some kind of control over her.

She shook off the feeling as they both stepped into the building.

****

Inside, it was a barn, not the insidious killing chamber that had somehow filled her thoughts over the last couple of weeks. She thought her uncle couldn’t be wrapped up into anything satanic or crazy garbage like that. Maybe at first, when Sarah and her both had visited the place. There was crazy runes and markings throughout the house that had made them question it, but reading through more and more of his diaries, she couldn’t see that man being part of something so obviously sinister. 

Her uncle seemed to be more about just surviving than getting into the dark stuff. He was like her, trying to figure out what was going on, but not having much information to work with. Many of this books in the house were dealing with Wicca and finding ways of using earth magic to push back the dark forces that followed him.

So why had she expected something truly hideous out there?

You were trying to convince yourself of something bad out here so then you wouldn’t want to come see it. You didn’t want to take the chance that they would attack you again.

And that was true. She didn’t want another confrontation with Sarah, whom she still tried to reconcile her once friend with the monster who now lead the dead outside.

“This place is a mess.” The Englishman said as he turned on lights. The switch had been next to the door, but she had ignored it as she had just stepped inside, looking around not having ever seen anything like how her uncle had designed it. She assumed it was him.

For starters, as the lights flickered to life, she was taken aback by just how much light there was. It gave the sun filled day outside a run for its money as there were lights everywhere. That wasn’t surprising considering what she read about how he feared the shadow woman, as he called her. Lizzie still felt the shape looked more like a man, but it was really hard to differentiate. 

The ceiling was high, which she supposed was to be suspected in barns as they were such tall buildings, and hanging from them were rows of lights. There were many fluorescent lights, but there were also rows of string lights that cascaded lower. This was supplemented by more string lights that weren’t hanging but a part of the actual tall ceiling which seemed like their only purpose was to keep out shadows above the hanging lights.

All of these lights shined down to a very bright area where there were no dark shapes. The wooden tables that should have had shadows beneath them were lit by under table strips of the same string lights that hung high over head. There was absolutely no shadows to be found.

Along the walls were work benches, the area left cluttered with tools, parts and clocks in various stages of completion. The center of the area had a table with three clocks lying on it and next to it stood two grandfather clocks that were both taller than her.

Then all of it ended. About half way to the back of the barn was a void, an ending to everything that was light as the room just ended in darkness. It had to be a large curtain her uncle had put up and she was curious as to what lie beyond it. 

“It’s a little too bright for me.” The Englishman said and Lizzie looked back to see he had retreated to the threshold of the barn. He looked ill, his face twisted in discomfort.

“You okay?”

“Yes, l’ll be fine. If you would please, retrieve my master’s clock. I believe it to be that one, right there.” He was pointing at one of the ones that was on the table, and she was glad to see that it wasn’t one of the ones that looked like it was open and ready for some major clock surgery.

“But your sure your going to be okay?” 

He was rubbing his lips like he needed a drink. She’d seen that look having been around one or two alcoholics in the past. It was the look of desperation, that need to have something when they knew they should try not to give in. It was usually the look one had right before they crashed and found the bottom of a bottle faster than anyone should be able too.

The man nodded and gave her a quick glance, but then he returned to staring at the clock.

She stepped over to the table and reached out for the one he had pointed to, but stopped as her hands neared it. There was something…off about the clock. There was some kind of energy that pulsated from it. She could feel a rhythm coming from it, but it wasn’t from the mechanical innards. The clock wasn’t ticking at all, nothing was working to tell time as far as she could see. Yet, there was something thrumming from it, like it had its own hum.

She could feel her stomach getting queasy and knew it was just being in such close proximity to the item. It didn’t matter if there was something wrong it with, she just needed to pick it up and hand it to the stranger. Then she would never have to see the device again and this feeling would just go away.

Something itched at the back of her skull and she knew that if she gave it to the man, this feeling just wouldn’t go away. It would stay with her and eat at her very soul. This clock was a part of her now, and it was evil. It wanted to devour her. It wanted to devour any live soul that ever touched the device. Any living flesh that caressed its crimson varnish would always be a part of it.

She looked over to the Englishman and saw the black gloves that he wore. He knew. He knew that if she touched it, there would be something that would happen to her. He wasn’t going to touch it himself, he had worn the gloves. She hadn’t thought of it before because, well, he was English. She had thought it was just something he wore and had with him, like an umbrella and wearing a top hat or whatever those hats were called they had on their heads.

He wore no hate and he had no umbrella. Those gloves weren’t for some formal style.

She turned back and looked at the clock. This time she studied it, but was careful not to let herself touch it, no matter how much she felt herself being pulled to pick it up.

She had been wrong before. The intense light above hadn’t gotten rid of all the shadows. In fact, as she looked at the clock, it seemed like there was all kinds of them. And there were those dots on the face of it. She could almost believe that they were eyes that were looking at her, but that made no sense. Like how the arms seemed to twist up and reach out for her, stretched to become tentacles. There were all these shapes, runes on the face of the clock, tattoos of different colors, but they danced together until they too went black. That blackness joined with the hands as they elongated towards her.

She blinked and pulled herself back just as she felt it was getting near her. She had to turn herself away, and physically step back so she could breathe, the air having been sucked out of her lungs. Her head was whoozy, she wasn’t sure if she  we going to fall or pass out as the barn was spinning around her.

“Miss?”

She looked over to the man, but he wasn’t a man anymore. He was a tall black shape with horns protruding from his scalp and long nails from had been his hands. Those weren’t hands anymore, as she could see now the large claws that talons protruded from. 

He listed a leg, he was going to take a step into the barn but stopped himself. It was too late. She saw now that he wasn’t wearing shoes. His feet, they were hooves and there was just the trace of hair coming out from under his suit leg to sprout over the hoof.

She took another step back, now close enough to one of the work benches to reach out and grab it for support while she continued to work at pulling in large puffs of air. She continued to breath in air as she closed her eyes. Mentally she started the count, “One, there’s now such thing as demons. Two, there’s no way a clock was just about to invade your mind. Three, it was not about to steal your soul. Four. Five. Six, there is no such things as demons. Seven, Eight, and your dead best friend and ex boyfriend shouldn’t be outside either but they are. Nine. Ten, there’s no such thing as demons.”

She opened her eyes and looked to the Englishman standing in the doorway, his demonic shape gone leaving only those deep hollow eyes to look at her. She didn’t however, turn to look back at the clock. She didn’t have too as even before the crazy vision had started, the foulness of that design would be burned into her mind to be seen every time she closed her eyes.

The wood had been varnished in a dark crimson as though soaked in the blood of man and left to dry into it. She hadn’t been able to make out many of the details, but like the runes she had seen swirling on the face, there had been similar ones burned into the wood. Each of the top corners were adorned with red carved jewels that were shaped into gargoyle like creatures whose mouths were open, long fangs extending ready to bite. Not only was the clock hungry for her, but she felt like even these depictions of creatures starved and thirsted to taste her. 

Even with her back turned to the thing, she feared that it was reaching out to try for her once again. She wanted to turn around to make sure it was still sitting where she had set it down. She knew she was turning, she needed to know…

She had to physically reach out for the work bench to keep her from turning around. Her shoulders tended as her body went rigid with anticipation in feeling its icy touch, but she couldn’t do it. Instead she focused on her breathing.

What the hell was that thing? Why did her uncle have it in his work place.

“Miss, I can see you are not feeling well. If you’d just hand me the item I will gladly be on my way.”

She wanted to turn to the man and tell him to come in there and get the damned thing himself. He wanted the thing. She didn’t want to go near it again and she was sure as hell not going to touch it. He must have realized what she was thinking, as he eased closer to the threshold and was looking around at the room.

“I think I see some gloves behind you. If you do not wish to touch it, you may were those.”

Lizzie turned and sure enough there was a box of latex gloves open, one glove partially dangling out of the top. She pulled out two, pulling them on the pushing out the air trapped in them. They felt like powder to the touch.

She didn’t look directly at the clock, keeping her face turned away and only seeing it out of the corner of her eye. Even as she did so, she could see tendrils of darkness floating around it, ready to seek out a new victim to be entangled into its web. 

The wood was like ice, she could feel it freezing chill even though the gloves, and she knew that even though she wasn’t looking at it. Those dark tendrils were wrapping around her hands as she picked it up. Their touch could be felt on her wrists and goosebumps formed up and down her arm. The desire to turn and look at it burned in her chest. She refuse to breath, instead staying focused on shuffling her feet as she made her way to the door. 

She felt the weight lift from her and nearly turned to look at the Englishman holding it. She averted her eyes, but saw out of the side, that he was looking directly at it. The darkness did not reach out to him, but ignored his presence. They were there, but not their for him.

He produced a cloth bag from somewhere, she wasn’t sure where, and slipped it over the clock.

“I’m disappointed that Mr. Hooper was unable to get the clock working.” He said as he continued to hold the clock. Now she could look at him and watch as he held it delicately, holding it from the bottom and keeping it close to himself.

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry his death is an inconvenience to you.”

The Englishman looked at her sharply over the top of the clock.

“I could walk with you back to the house? Maybe we could have some of tea?” 

“I’m all out.” Lizzie said, and she wasn’t sure what it was, but she no longer felt safe leaving the barn while he was there. It wasn’t like her she felt safe in the barn, even with that clock gone. There was something about the house that when she entered it, and t felt like the weight of the dead was lifted from her. That effect, she realized, didn’t extend to the barn. Much of the pain she’s realized, the loss of friends, how they were killed all because of her, came crashing down on her harder than before.

“Well, I would like to sit down with you and have a chat. My employer loves to help those who are seeking to stay hidden from the world. I’m sure you have some skill that he would love to help nurture. It had been per luck coming across Mr. Hooper, but my employer has an amazing ability for seeking out individuals. I think it would be beneficial to both of us if we could go inside.”

“I’m sorry, but not today.” There wasn’t a chance in hell that Lizzie was going to let him in the house.

“That’s too bad. May I inquire as to why?” He looked around as though checking out the additional dead who had been gathering around them while they were in the barn. Lizzie noticed that none of them ventured onto the path. 

Lizzie, don’t fool yourself. That’s probably just a coincidence. They’ll still attack you the moment they get a chance.

And she thought that was probably true. Still, she wasn’t the only one watching them. He was as well, and he turned back to her showing her the first hint of a smile she had seen on his stoic face.

“I could at least walk you to your cabin.”

He held out a hand to her, now holding the clock with just one hand. 

She didn’t know why, but every sense inside her told her not to trust this man. It had nothing to do with the craziness the clock had showed her, but she couldn’t shake that demonic image from her head either.

“I’ll be just fine.” She said, not take a step past the threshold.

Slowly he closed his hand that she had left ignored. He then looked at her straight into her eyes. She could see the darkness there, lurking behind them, and then nodded to her. Then he was gone after having turned to quickly walk back around the house towards the front.

She didn’t leave the barn. She waited until she heard the sound of his car starting and the crunch of gravel under his tires as he drove down the long driveway. The sound never came to her.

Most of the dead had lingered near the barn, but Roland had followed the man around. After awhile he came back and rushed over to the barn. 

“He’s not leaving.”

“What?” 

“He’s just sitting in his car, watching the house.”

“What the hell is he waiting for?”

“I don’t know.”

Lizzie wasn’t sure why the man was still there either, but as long as he stayed, she wasn’t leaving the barn. She was trapped there.

Trapped in the house, trapped in the barn, what difference does it make?

She pushed the thought out of her mind as she stepped away from the door. Looking around, she found nothing other than stools near work benches to sit on. She didn’t feel like sitting up, so she closed the barn door and leaned back against it, sinking slowly to the floor.

“Trapped again. Trapped, trapped, trapped yet again.” she chanted as she closed her eyes and rest her head back against the hard wood.

Dead Friends: Chapter 3

Lizzie didn’t know the layout of the house but she had seen the sun shining through the window so as she ran, she pushed open the door and burst out into the daylight. Then the world fell away and she quickly found herself on the hard-packed ground that was the backyard just steps away from the kitchen.

What the hell? Why weren’t there stairs there? 

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. She couldn’t see anything, but she heard it. The ground around her was alive with motion. She listened as things moved through it. Some 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.

Come on girl, get yourself out of here or you’ll be like Susie. Come on!

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.

No, I’m not going to think about him. He was back there, I’m out here and I can get away.

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? What the hell was she thinking as none of that mattered. She had to get out of there.

She twisted herself around and reached down to push 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? It wasn’t big but long, had a segmented body and they all had legs. It was some kind of bug but it looked nasty.

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, but it didn’t. She could walk. She had to walk, Because is 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 the hideousness of it. It reverberated. 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.

He was wasn’t he? He was getting ready to chase 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, but 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 the thing that had dared to disturb it.

That thing was 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 fire continued to throb and she vaguely remembered seeing a black shape that had emerged quickly from beneath her and then, whoosh, she was falling to look up at the tree limbs that were watching down from above.

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, though not all of it. Now, part of her leg had started to go numb. That was good. At least a part of her didn’t hurt.

Was she going into shock?

No, she wasn’t hurt. 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.

And she knew that, she just couldn’t bring herself the desire to do anything about any of 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.

That still didn’t mean if she stayed there, that someone wouldn’t find her…

Oh, but they would find her. They’d find her cold dead corpse just like they found Susan’s inside the kitchen. She’d long since been dead and when they put her in her grave, they could put on her tombstone:

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 and it. She was on her elbows walking herself backward. She was kicking herself back, not sure where the snake had gone to, worried it would come again.

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, they kept watching her.

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, 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. She had ran away, to the woods across the clearing, and now was fighting through branches that reached out to 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 torment.

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 was 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 into 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 concentrated 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 think how she could see and not see him as he stood before her, yet she also didn’t know how she knew it was a man.

“tik-a-too, tik-a-tu, 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 there man’ 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.

Dead Friends: Chapter 17

Okay, Lizzie knew she’d enjoy the concert. That much had been a given even with the moment of doubt before hand by the complete and utter ignorance of her companion. She just hadn’t realized how much she would enjoy the concert.

Their tickets had been amazing, right up near the stage. The music had been loud but phenomenal, and Eddie… Eddie had been to die for.

She had watched him as he soulfully sung to the crowd of adoring fans but she could swear it felt like he was singing directly to her. He would look at her and she thought he was looking directly into her eyes. She had nearly melted to the ground leaving a drooling puddle. Roland had caught her and she was sure she saw a smile as he pulled her back up.

It was after the music had died away and they were filing out of the amphitheater that she noticed how close she was to Roland. She could feel her back occasionally brushing against his chest and thought she felt his warm breath on her neck. Their hands occasionally brushed against one another and what was this? No, her heart could not be skipping a beat. Not again and not for him.

Yet here they were walking. They had made it outside the theater and were now making their way down the street. The night was cool, and somehow she had allowed him to take her hand. They weren’t going towards the parking lot, and all she could think about was how natural his hand felt in hers and how wonderful the show had been.

They turned a corner and it was well lit, the streetlights on both sides were decorated with dangling orange lights as the area was prepared for the upcoming holiday. The streetlights themselves were lower than many of the other nearby streets and done in that faux style of classic candle lit elegance. Then she noticed they weren’t walking down a street. It was brick, a fake street not wide enough to be real but perfect for late night walks. She was sure there were kids who would ride their bikes or skateboards down it, but she saw no evidence of it. Maybe it was heavily patrolled to keep them away.

It was nice and peaceful and when had her hand snuck into his? She looked down at it and then felt helpless as her gaze climbed up his arm, up his chest until they fell on his eyes. He smiled at her, and neither of them said anything. They just walked.

Eventually they found themselves walking along the water, as Lake Michigan stretched out before them. The night had drifted into a surreal dream and if they took a step off into the water, she was sure they could walk on it, following the path of the moon that lead the way into some far off land.

“You enjoying yourself?” Roland asked as they stopped beneath one of the streetlights.

“I am.”

“Good.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and flashed her a slight smile as he kept his eyes locked into hers.

“I hate to do this-“

“Oh?”

“I need to go to the bathroom. You going to be okay here for a couple minutes.” He said. She could see his embarrassment as his face turned red.

“Yes, go, I’m a big girl.” She giggled, smiling at him and she could see how relieved he was.

“Okay. Good, I’ll be right back.” He said, and then without thinking, both of them temporarily lost in the moment and forgetting the last month and half, he bent down and kissed her. She returned the kiss until he pulled away and they were both standing there looking at each other, questioning one another with their eyes.

“I’ll be right back.”

“Okay.”

He backed away, not turning from her until he was a few feet. Then he turned, rushing off to one of the open bars along the street. She watched him go, then sat on a bench. She hadn’t noticed it before, but as he was now not there clouding her mind, she could sit and take stock of her situation.

No, that was the last thing she wanted to do. She didn’t want to be with him. That ship had already sailed. He had sunk it.

Then why was she still thinking of him, or why return that kiss. Better question how had had he talked her into going. Obviously she still had feelings for him.

No, she had to get her mind off of him. She was not doing this again. She knew how it would end.

End…

Something about that thought seemed wrong. Did she know how it would end? Sure, he’d cheat on her and then she’d be heartbroken all over again, this time without Sarah to help her get through it.

Something about that was nagging at her. There was a thought just out of reach, but if she could grab it, maybe some of what had happened today, maybe even the last few weeks would start to make sense to her.

If it was a word it would be right there at the tip of her tongue. She knew it was there. Dammit!

She opened her purse, and pulled out her phone. It had been off since the concert and figured now would be as good time as any to check her messages. Maybe there’d be one from Jess that would explain it all, or even better, one from her uncle. At least he seemed to know something would be wrong with her…

Of course he had known she would have things going on in her life, strange things that made no sense. He had written her a letter warning her. He had even left a note on the back of her fathers grave, trying to give her a clue. Of course he had known. How had the letter started, not with a greeting, but with two apologetic words. “I’m sorry.”

Her uncle had known her friends would come back from the grave. It had been happening to him too. It seemed so obvious once she took time to think about it. How else would he have known to leave the talisman for her. He knew she would need it.

He knew but how did he know? How would he know that right away her best friend would die?

Because… Because her dying, the shadow man, they were apart of it. It took her friends.

Her phone came to life as messages rolled in. The first came from Jessica, but then a barrage of messages came from an unknown number. What the hell was going on?

Jessica… The shadow man…

Earlier that day she had seen something. Her friend had that red ring around her irises, she was sure of it and had been acting so weird. She was going to get into a fight with that guy. What would have happened if Lizzie hadn’t hurried up?

Mentally Lizzie could see what would have happened. The man had rushed to get back into his car, afraid of the small woman who was coming at him viciously. He would first back away, putting his car in reverse, but he couldn’t back all the way down the parking garage ramp. He’d have to go forward. Jessica would get back in front of the car to get him to stop, he would try to slow down, but somehow his foot would slip and he would careen Into Jessica and she would roll under his car or slam into his windshield. Either way, her head would get smashed and there would be no way she survived. Her friend would have been dead.

She knew it was true. Lizzie had saved her unlike Sarah where she hadn’t been able to get to her in time. But tonight, Lizzie wasn’t in Stevens Point to protect her friend, and some how from deep in her gut, she sensed that the shadow man was on the prowl seeking his next victim. If she was right, it would be someone she knew and cared for. It would be the one he tried and failed on earlier that day.

Lizzie only glanced at a few of the messages but she found it impossible to focus on any of them. Her head hurt and tears were bubbling up inside her. They hadn’t burst through the dam yet, but painfully waited just behind her eyes.

Screw this, she needed to know.

She called her friends number.

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