Dead Friends: Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Though, if there were multiple attackers…

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

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

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

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

“Hello?”

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

“Yeah, hey who’s number is this?”

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

“That explains it. So what’s up?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine.”

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

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

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

“Yeah, well that was pretty impressive.”

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

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

“Thought you said you were going camping.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she had no way of stopping him…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked so concerned. Was that really for her?

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

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

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

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

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.

Dead Friends: Chapter 12

Oh Wednesday…how you frustrate me. My eyes are barely open, I can barely function and am wondering how I will stumble to the decaying halls to that we call work… Still, before I wonder off, here is Chapter 12 of Dead Friends. I hope you enjoy the chaos contained within these pages.

Happy Hump day!

****

The phone was ringing. She understood that it was ringing. She had that sensation of being ripped from some shared collective deep in the bowels of sleep to open her eyes to the revelation, and yes, there it was, her phone on the nightstand. The screen was lit up, and she saw the unfamiliar number on her lock screen.

“Probably a telemarketer,” she mumbled under her breath as she crashed back into her pillow. The room was bright. It was obviously some time in the morning, but she wasn’t ready to get up yet… and really, what was the point anymore. She had no job, no school, no life… Why the hell not sleep in until noon. The idea sure as hell appealed to her.

She grabbed a spare pillow and turned over, snuggling into it like it was someone lying there with her. It took some work, a little wriggling back and forth, but finally she had found that spot when everything felt comfortable and soft, perfect to go back to sleep and ignore the rest of the world.

Someone was knocking at the door. She didn’t want to answer it, and the pillow she was snuggling into became ear muffs as she pulled it down over her head.

“Hey Lizzie! Lizzie! Someone’s at the door.”

Sarah was her best friend. She had been since childhood and now after death, but right then Lizzie wanted to scream at her. Didn’t she know that Lizzie just wanted to hide and get back to sleep? It just wasn’t fair. All she wanted to do was go back to sleep. Wouldn’t anyone just let her? The world seemed hellbent on preventing it.

“Lizzie?”

Lizzie felt the groan escape her and it surprised her to find that she was getting up. The long stretch came and then she was reaching out to her cell phone, glancing at the time but more at the displayed list of missed calls. Majority of the missed calls came from a number she vaguely recognized, but couldn’t place it. There were two of them, one with a voicemail.

She tossed the phone on the bed as she stood and went to the closet only to realize that she hadn’t checked the time. Sure, she’d looked at it, but had completely blanked. 

“Lizzie, they’re still knocking.”

“So, let them knock. It’s probably just more Jehovah Witnesses or something.”

“I don’t think so. They’d have given up by now.” 

That was probably true, she thought as she finished pulling on her pants and tossed on a t-shirt that had hung in her closet. She didn’t pay attention to what it said, she didn’t really care yet. It was still too early for her to deal with people. Whoever was at the door was about to get her worst.

“You know, sometimes I wish you were a ghost rather than whatever you.” Lizzie said as she straightened the shirt and looked at herself in the mirror. She was never going to win any beauty pageants, that was for sure. She grimaced, wishing she had Sarah’s body. That girl could make anything look good.

Someone was still knocking on the front door, but Lizzie noticed that outside her room had gone quiet. No, not quiet. She could just barely make out the sound of someone sobbing. 

What had she just said. She wished Sarah was a ghost and not whatever… Had she really just said that about her best friend?

Lizzie opened the door to her room to see Sarah sitting on the floor, her knees pulled up to her chest.

“You know I was just kidding. It was like, so you could float through the door and see who it was. Ya know?” Lizzie said, and Sarah launched into a new torrent of tears. The tears dripping from her cheek to make a wet spot in the carpeting beneath her.

“How would you like to be dead, or told you should be a ghost because it makes your best friends life better? You’d just love that wouldn’t you?”

“Sarah, you know it’s not like that.”

“You know it’s like that. You just said it.”

The knocking on the front door stopped. Thank God for small miracles as whoever it was must have gone away.

Lizzie’s cell phone started ringing again.

“Oh for fucks sake.” She spun and dashed into her room and grabbing the buzzing rectangle. Without looking at the caller ID, she tapped the screen, ready to release the full pulsating rage burning through her.

“Tik-a-tat, tik-a-tuk, I smell a good fuck,” came the familiar raspy voice. Even through the electronics of the phone she could feel his hot breath on her and she dropped the phone.

“Hello! Lizzie, you there?” She heard coming from the phone as it fell. She looked at it, not wanting to touch it when it landed. She recognized the voice but that hadn’t been there before. No, the shadow man had called her. What was going on?

Slowly she bent and reached for it, afraid it was somehow going to reach up and bite her. That was crazy though, right?

“Hey, Lizzie, I heard you answer.”

She picked up the phone, though she refused to bring it to her ear.

“Hey.”

“Liz, hey, I’m at your door. You mind letting me in?”

That voice. It wasn’t the shadow man, but another voice that made her recoil. She’d heard it enough threw the last few years, and one she thought she was done with a month ago when she had dumped his cheating ass. 

“Roland, why the hell are you here?”

“Liz, come on, let’s talk?”

Ugh, she thought all this was over. Sure, she hadn’t caught him with Natalie, but those hadn’t been her panties she had found in his place. When she’d confronted him about it, he stuttered like a floundering fool, then had the gaul to tell that they were hers. Did he really think she wouldn’t recognize her own panties?

Such a creep…

Yet she found herself lowering her phone, hitting disconnect as she tossed in on the bed, and going to the front door. There was no knocking but she knew he was on the other side, like she could feel his presence there. She imagined she could hear his breathing, then felt it when his breath held waiting for her to open the door. Her hand lingered on the knob. Maybe she imagined he was holding his breath because she was holding her own.

“Lizzie, we need to talk.” Chuck said. He had come up behind her, and she hadn’t even realized he had been following her to the door.

“Not now,” she hissed back at him.

“It’s important.”

“Your dead. I don’t think anything’s going to change in the next five minutes.”

“Liz-“

“It can wait,” she said just before she opened the door and saw the tall lanky man in the hallway outside her apartment door. He was standing there, a bouquet of roses in his hands.

“What are you doing here?” She didn’t reach for the flowers but he continued to hold them out for her. It felt like a long minute, stretching into eternity as she held his eyes with her glare. Then he gave in, lowering both his arm and his eyes.

“I heard about Sarah. Guess I just wanted to check in and make sure your doing okay.”

“I’m fine, you can go now.” She didn’t step into the hall, and she didn’t get out of the door frame to let him in. Her arms crossed, her body language screaming ‘pissed off woman who’d been cheated on and was now ready to get payback’ as she stood there.

“Liz, I know that’s bullshit.”

“Yeah, and how do you know that?”

“I know you and I knew Sarah. You two were inseparable.”

Lizzie fought to keep her breathing calm and her anger in check, but her chest burned while she bit back the curses she wanted to spew at him. This piece of bile actually felt like he could console her, that he knew something about her? If he knew anything about her, he’d have known not to cheat on her. Where does he get off at implying that he knew her.

“Liz, can I come in. Maybe you could put these in water?”

“Just toss them in the dumpster.”

“If that’s what you want. I guess I can just toss these away too.”

She hadn’t noticed the envelope that had been in his other hand. She looked at it, and had to think about it. What was the date today… Could those be…?

He brought up the envelope, jostling the flowers as he needed the other hand to open and pull out the contents. He got frustrated and handed the envelope to her. She opened it and there they were.. tickets to see Ed Sheeran, tonight. The event was in Milwaukee, so they’d have a three hour drive. 

She remembered when they bought the tickets, how they had laughed and made plans to make a weekend of it, getting a hotel and maybe while they were in town checking it out and maybe going to a Brewers game. It seemed like forever ago, and in a away it was a lifetime ago as so much in her life had changed now. For one, she was no longer with Roland. Why would he show up now and still want to go? She would have thought he would have sold the tickets or taken whoever he was screwing.

He couldn’t be dumb enough to think she’d go with him, right? She had always thought he’d been smarter than that. He was a sure fired geek/computer nerd. He should have something in that head of his telling him that the idea of them going together would be idiotic. 

He kept looking at the floor, occasionally sneaking a peek up at her. He was probably gauging how she was reacting as she let him fidget.

“What do you think you are doing? What do you expect to happen here?” She returned the tickets to the envelope.

“I’m not expecting anything to happen. I came to say that I’m sorry. I messed up. In addition to that, I’m worried about you, and I wanted to see if you were okay. As to that,” he raised his eyes and nodded to the envelope she was now playing with in her hand, hitting the corner of it into her palms as she continued to study him. “We’d already bought the tickets. I never felt right about selling them, and I had no one else to take. I thought maybe we could go. Not as a couple, but just as two people. No strings.”

“You know how stupid that is right? There’s no way I’m going with you.”

“You don’t have to. You could take yourself. Hell, you can have my ticket. I just thought you could use it as a distraction from, well…”

If she was honest with herself, she really did want to go. She loved Ed Sheeran and the tickets were really good. Roland had spent more than he should have on the tickets. He’d spent all that money, just to go and do something so stupid. Maybe he really was dumb under all that smart exterior.

Lizzie was wavering. She knew she shouldn’t be.

“Shut the door Liz. He’s not a good guy, and we really need to talk to you,” Sarah said into her ear. Of course Sarah was listening in. Hell, they were probably all behind her, watching and listening. She never had moments alone anymore…

Maybe she could use that to her benefit. If she did go to the show with him, it wasn’t like she’d be alone with him. She’d have all her dead friends. Oh, how odd of chaperones they were but they’d keep her from doing something stupid.

Was she really thinking of doing it though? She thought she was done with this loser. She should shut the door and never see him again, let that be the end of it.

But she wasn’t shutting the door.

She could go, but they both go in their own vehicles… No, that wouldn’t work. Milwaukee was what, two hours away, three? She’d never actually been there so she wasn’t really sure. Either way it was too far and made no sense to take separate vehicles. Even if he was a creep that she didn’t want to be around, she still couldn’t bring herself to be that wasteful.

Dammit, she was going to do this. She knew it was a bad idea, stupid really, but she had already said ‘yes’ to herself. It was just a matter of telling the asshole.

Her stomach twisted with the thought of spending at least four hours in the car alone with him. Then she was reminded that she had just gotten up, was standing on the threshold of the hallway and still hadn’t gone to the bathroom. Her bladder was reminding her that it was not going to be patient for much longer.

Then her phone started chirping again from the bedroom and she realized she really needed to get out of the hallway.

“Fine, I’ll go. Give me a call later and we’ll get it figured out when to leave. She started to close the door but then opened it again, ignoring his outstretched hand as he tried to hand her the roses. “Better yet, just text me.”

She closed the door and rushed to her room. The bathroom was calling, but going in there without her phone just wasn’t happening. She grabbed it and glanced at the recent missed call. That same number again.

“Liz, I can’t believe-“ Sarah started, but Elisabeth was talking over her.

“Lizzie we really need to-“ Elisabeth was saying. In the background she could hear Chuck.

“For crying out loud.”

“-you’re going out with him.”

“-talk to you.”

She rushed into her bathroom ignoring the cacophony of voices trying to get her attention. The door slammed behind her.

*

The voicemail had been from the lawyer and had taken away any joy she had about the concert. His words, a nervous stutter as he bumbled through leaving the message, repeatedly saying there wasn’t much he could say over the phone.

“Ms. Rogers, I’m calling to say that there was been a mistake in the, in the reading of the will. You see, your uncle, well there’s not much I can, I can say over the phone. You see, he changed his will right before he died and it had been so recent that our filing records hadn’t rec-recorded it yet. If you can call to set up an appointment, I really need to go over it with you. I’m, I’m sorry for all of this.”

She’d lose all that money. She knew it, and that was why he was so nervous. He had to tell her that she wasn’t getting it. She was going to go back and being broke. All the good fortune of having that money was going to evaporate and she’d never get to know how it felt to be that rich.

“Liz?”

Lizzie looked up to see Sarah looking at her, concern etched on her face. Any signs of the tears from earlier home, leaving only the gory remains of Sarah’s death. It was yet another reminder that her friend was dead, and any tears were shallow to the tragedy she has already endured.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Yeah, you don’t look it.”

Her phone buzzed and she took a quick look at it. It was Roland. She lowered the phone realizing just how late in the morning it really was. It was past ten, she slept in for most the morning. Five minutes ago, that wasn’t a problem, but now with the prospect of finding a new job looming, sleeping in this late felt like such a waste.

What was she going to do? Go back to school? It’d be too late to register for this semester and she hadn’t decided on a new major, having given up on her last one shortly before deciding not to go back.

What the hell!? She thought her life would be getting so much easier, and now she was getting nothing but all these problems. 

“Lizzie, we need to talk.” Elisabeth said. Then a crash came from the other room and Lizzie washed to see what was going on.

Lizzie’s apartment was not that large and similar to most she guessed. There was the front door that opened into a split between the nook that was the kitchen and the open area that most would use for a living room. The little space between she had guessed would be a dining area, and the hallway then lead back to the two bedrooms and the tiny bathroom. It was just like nearly any other apartments she had ever seen, and she looked forward to one day not living there. 

Though with her currently not having a paycheck and no incoming in the near future, it was a bit above what she could afford. Even working, it had been tough for her and Sarah to be able to afford it. 

She hurried into the living room to find Chuck and the stranger standing nose to nose squaring odd again, but the picture that was on the floor broken was on the other side of the room. It had been a picture of her and Roland that has been setting on the corner shelf between the curbside find of a couch and the lazy boy that had been a goodwill special. Sarah was standing near the picture looking down at it in horror.

“What’s going on here?” Lizzie scanned the room. Sarah looked at her apologetically but the other two didn’t turn away from one another.

“Just don’t like being told what I can and can’t do.” The large man said, then sat in the Lazy-boy.

“I get that.”

“Lizzie, something weirds going on.” Elisabeth said, moving to stand next to Sarah. Chuck continued to glare.

“I know I know you two from somewhere. And that ain’t good.” The stranger said to Chuck then point to Elisabeth.

“Really? You do?” Elisabeth said, the shock evident. 

“Let’s start simple. What’s your name?” 

“I told you last night.”

“Yeah well, middle of the night. I just remember you were fighting with Chuck and another picture got broken. So yeah, I wasn’t really focused, or really even awake.”

“Names Josh.”

“Okay Josh, and you know your dead right?”

“Yeah. Just because I blew my brains out doesn’t mean I don’t have any.”

“Nice. Really funny.” Chuck said.

“Give’em a break. It’s not like you were much better when you first got here. Until he came you were Mr. Grumps.” Lizzie turned back to Josh sitting in the chair. “Now the big question, do you know how you got here?”

“Nope. I shot myself in the morning after my wife went off to work and woke up here last night.”

“Really? So you didn’t show up here right after you died?”

“Nope. Not even sure if it’s the same day. What day is it?”

“Lizzie, something else is going on.”

“What?” Lizzie asked, turning slowly, lingering her gaze on Josh.”

“Broken pictures” Sarah said.

“Yeah all our frames are getting ruined. I’m going to have to go to the dollar store later and buy some more.”

“I’m not talking about that.” Sarah went to the next picture on the shelf and then with an intense look of concentration, she reached out and pushed it. “Remember when I first came back and I couldn’t interact with anything. Well, we can’t grab anything as far as I know, but look at this.”

“I know I recognize you two.” Josh grumbled as Lizzie watched Sarah push the picture frame until it fell from the shelf and crashed to the floor.

“Sorry.”

Lizzie’s phone rang, the chirping sound making her jump. Lizzie didn’t look to see who it was, she clicked “answer” as she brought it up.

“Hello?”

“Ms. Rogers.”

“Yes?”

“Hello, I know I’ve called a few times this morning, but I really need you to come to my office. I’ll be able to meet you any time, I’ll reschedule whatever I must, but it really is rather urgent.” The lawyer sounded frazzled. What could be this important? 

“Is everything okay?” She felt the dread creeping up into her voice.

“Yes, Just there’s a new will we just found with some new details we need to go over.”

She remembered the text she had gotten earlier and pulls the phone away from her face so that she could swipe and see it.

“How about we leave at 2?” Roland’s text read.

“I can get there in half an hour.”

She could have Roland pick her up from the office? Maybe she’d get lunch while she waited for him after meeting with the lawyer. That was if she still had any money. 

Damn! She couldn’t believe she had allowed herself to get talked into going with him. Eddie, I hope you know how much I love you to put up with his cheating ass.

“I got it!” Josh exclaims, and he stands quickly. “It’s you two! Your the idiots that pulled out in front of my truck! You fucking idiots ruined my life, I’m going to kill you, you son-of-“ and with that Josh was leaping across the coffee table which was surprising with his large mass, and slammed into Chuck who had stood there frozen with shock. They both fell to the floor, everything on the table clattering to the ground, remotes, books, and magazines flung off without acknowledgement of their existence. 

“Fuck this, I’m out.” Lizzie said, grabbing her keys and purse, then storming out the front door.

Dead Friends: Chapter 9

I want to take a minute and thank everyone for the massive amount of support on Thursday. Chapter 8 was one of the most viewed posts on my blog and that while this excites me, it also terrifies me to post Chapter 9.

Thank you…

Just to remind everyone, this is a first draft and I am posting this for Beta Read purposes, so if you have any suggestions or comments, please do not hesitate.

*****

“Oh my God! Liz, you okay?”

Lizzie turned and looked up, having to shield her eyes from the sun that the short woman only barely blocked. She had recognized the voice when she heard it calling out but even now she wasn’t sure she could believe Jessica had been there. Though it did make sense as Jess was just as much one of Sarah’s friends. 

”Here, let me help you up. Did you hit your head when you fell? I’m so sorry I haven’t been by to check in on you. Dennis and I were out of town, but we hurried back as soon as we heard. Why didn’t you call us to tell us. Patty was the one who called. I don’t even know how she heard.” Jessica said as she was pulling Lizzie up. Jessica was known for speaking like that. When she was excited, she would release a torrent of words that often had everyone around her struggling to keep up and no one could get a word in. 

Not that Lizzie had anything she wanted to say. Her mind was still reeling from the gravestone. It had really said to ‘beware the dead.’ Why would it say that? How could her uncle have known.

Lizzie looked at the three dead things that were gathered around her. Elisabeth and Sarah looked concerned but Chuck was glaring again. She was to beware them, why? What could they do? They were dead. They were annoying but they couldn’t touch her or anything else solid. Why did she need to beware?

“Hello? Earth to Lizzie? Did you hit your head? I can-“

“I’m fine. Did you talk to Sarah’s parents? How are they doing?”

“Well, not good. I really didn’t get a chance to talk to them much. I saw you walking off and wanted to catch up.”

“Thanks.”

“Yeah, no problem. Dennis stayed over there. Why didn’t you talk to them? They’re like your second family.”

“They blame me.”

“You’re kidding? Why?”

“Because she fucking got their daughter killed you dumbass.” Chuck screamed in her ear. Lizzie winched, not realizing he had rushed to catch up to them as they were walking back to Sarah’s grave. Jessica hadn’t noticed the brutally deformed man right next to her. Lizzie could barely keep from looking at him. It seemed the more he was there the angrier he became. He blamed her. She hadn’t caused his death, but that didn’t matter. He was there, and he had died when she had not.

“I lived,” Lizzie said, lowering her eyes as she couldn’t keep from staring into his hate. 

“Oh, girl,” and before Lizzie could protest, she was pulled into the shorter woman and had to fight to keep herself from falling farther forward into her. “It’s not your fault. You gotta know that don’t ya. It’s not your fault.”

“Sure.”
“Oh no, your not getting away from me that easily. I’m not letting you go until you say it.”

“I’m okay.”

“Say it.”

“I’m okay.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“Come on, admit to it. You killed us.” Chuck whispered into her ear.

****

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****

“Chuck!” Elisabeth yelled and Lizzie looked up to see that she was working with Sarah to pull him away from Jessica. 

“Liz,” Jessica released her from the hug to hold her out at arms length, studying her. Lizzie was sure her friend could see the tears, both not the that had fallen the ones that were threatening on the horizon. 

“Say it with me. Its…not…your…fault.” She waited each time, watching and making sure Lizzie repeated back to her. “Good.”

It brought more tears, and somehow, even though the larger woman was shorter than her, Lizzie found herself burying her face into Jessica’s shoulder.

“It’s going to be okay.” Sarah was saying behind her.

“We’re here for you,” Now it was Elisabeth near her as well.

“You’re all pathetic.” She could hear the disdain in Chuck’s voice. She wasn’t sure if she preferred him not to be talking to her. The silence had been filled with his hatred but at least he had stayed quiet. She wasn’t sure if this new development was for the better. Maybe he was beginning to cope with what had happened to them.

“Come on, I don’t know who’s all still around, but Dennis will be waiting for us at the car. I know you probably don’t want to go back to the house, so…I don’t know. How have you been? You able to sleep? You know you could stay with us for awhile. It’d be like it used to be when we were roommates.”

It had only been four months since Jessica had moved in with Dennis, but she made this sound like it had been a time long ago and that staying with her would be some trip down nostalgia lane. It wasn’t that long ago, and they hadn’t stopped hanging out together. They had just gone shoe shopping two weeks ago and Lizzie had found herself some really nice flats that she’d been wearing. Jessica had talked about Dennis the whole time, and Sarah had kept trying to bring up Roland, knowing that Lizzie had just separated. Sarah was hungry for all the juicy details and was hoping Jess would help her get her friend to spill the beans.

They had laughed and talked and had spent the whole day together. Why couldn’t things just return to that? That one moment in time, possible the last one that she had been such completely lost in her friends and happiness. She hadn’t been worrying about school and if she was going to change majors again, it would be her third major in two years, and she hadn’t been worried about pleasing anyone else. She had just enjoyed being with people she cared about and was glad to be alive. She had been happy that her friends were alive and were there with her.

“I’m not sure. I don’t want to trouble you and Dennis.”

“Liz, it’s no trouble. You know that.”

“I know.”

“Do you really want to sleep in that apartment alone. With what happened?”

She wouldn’t be alone. She had all her dead hanger-ons who didn’t go away. She would never be alone. She had Chuck to scream all night while Sarah and Elisabeth fought with him to shut up. Lizzie had her crying and of course, there was all the nightmares when she could get to sleep. The shadow man that followed her inside the dreamworld and then lingered into her waking life.

So Lizzie was never alone. They would never allow it. She would always have someone there to make her life miserable. If she took a powder, Sarah or Elisabeth would be there with her. Chuck would be there and he would torture her, watch her even when taking a shower. He had tried that morning, but Sarah prevented it. Eventually she’d get tired of stopping him.

“I’ll be fine.”

“No, you won’t. You can either sleep at our place or I’m staying there. You’re not getting rid of me.”

“I’m fine. I said I was fine.”

“Hey, I’m only trying to help and be here for you.”

“But you act like I need someone to save me, like I can’t handle this or do things on my own. Your not my mother, Dennis isn’t my father and I don’t need to be babied.”

They were getting closer to the cars and Lizzie could see Dennis was giving Sarah’s mom a hug before she got in the car. She didn’t know if they could hear them, but with how Lizzie couldn’t control herself with how loud she was getting, she feared the worse. As the car drove off and Dennis looked at them with a pained look, Lizzie was pretty sure she was right. They’d heard it. She didn’t know how much but they did.

Dennis walked toward them. He was Jessica’s matching set. They were both larger, but shorter and if you only looked at body dimensions, looked like they could be brother and sister. However where as Jessica had dark hair, his was a brilliant red. He kept a well manicured beard that somehow brought out his smile rather than hid it in the hair. As he approached, she saw the smile, but could tell it was for her benefit, while not genuine to how he felt. There was a deep sadness to his eyes as they wore lines at the corners.

Before saying anything, he stepped to Lizzie and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. “We’re here for you.”

As Lizzie pulled back from him, she couldn’t suppress the slight smile and the fresh wave of tears. “Thank you.”

“So, where we off to?” He looked at them both. He was trying so hard not to act upset, and it was odd, but Lizzie felt herself relaxing as he hid his own grief from them.

“What did she say?” Jessica asked, nodding to the car that was leaving the driveway at the edge of the cemetery.

“That she would be okay, she loves us, but that all of us may not be welcomed at their house for drinks. She’s worried it would cause undo drama.”

“That woman was like a second mother to Liz and now their blaming her like she killed her. That’s not right.”

“Yeah, it’s bullshit, but it’ll take awhile. They just need to deal with it in their own way.”

“Hey, I’m right here.” Lizzie said, a little frustrated with them taking like she wasn’t there.

“Oh there you are, thought we’d lost ya.” Dennis said with his smirk, his sarcasm heavy on his tongue and she couldn’t stop herself from giggling and smacking him on the arm.

“So, whose up for lunch?” Dennis said as he stumbled back, playing the part of the injured man as he rubbed where she had hit.

“Don’t know. Haven’t really thought about food much the last couple of days.” Lizzie looked over her shoulder. The others followed, the disfigured trio that walked behind them. Lizzie had no way of telling them, her two living friends about the dead’s ones. How every time she tried to eat, they were there and she found her appetite slip away.

“We don’t need food. We need Belts.” Jessica said with a giggle, pushing Lizzie softly towards their car.

“You just think ice cream is the solution to all.” Dennis laughed.

“And you agree. Remember when we took your dad there. I thought his eyes were going to explode out of his head when he saw the size of the cone. It was bigger than his head.”

Lizzie allowed herself to drift back as they started to tease each other. Her car wasn’t parked too far away, but she’d have to leave them soon to walk to it. She wasn’t sure she was ready to do that. Not yet.

She figured she’d follow them there. She didn’t like the idea of leaving her car in the cemetery and she knew where Belt’s Soft Serve was. 

The last time she followed someone, they ended up dead. She saw the crash, watching as the truck plowed into the car, the sound of crushing metal and breaking glass shouting through her memories.

“So, you just going to follow us there?” Jessica asked “I mean you could ride with us, it’s up to you. Dennis has to move his trombone out from the passenger seat, don’t ask why he brought it, I’m not really sure and he just laughs when I ask him.”

The car. The crashing. The screeching metal.

“I can make it work. I don’t really want to drive myself right now.”

Well, sure. Climb in.” Dennis said with a shrug.

****

“Are you sure we shouldn’t go somewhere with, you know,” Dennis playfully added, “actual food.”

They were along the highway and halfway to Belts but as Lizzie sat in the back seat, she was beginning to sense that while Jessica had suggested it, she wasn’t really in the mood for a massive ice cream cone.

“I’m fine with whatever. I’m not really all that hungry.”

She watched as they shared a glance back and forth. She knew they were talking in ways she couldn’t see. Part of it was probably eye contact, but they were also no doubt, texting each other back and forth even while Dennis was driving. Lizzie noticed that his cell phone was not mounted on the vent magnetic holder where he normally kept it. They were talking, scheming and it had something to do with her.

“Hey, how’s this. We go back to our place and grill up some brats. Dennis can go to the meat market and I can soak up some wood chips while he’s gone. It’ll give us a chance to girl talk, and he can do whatever he needs to do.”

Yep, they were planning on something. They were manipulating her, but did it really matter? They were in a car, and there were no dead people in there with her. It was such a relief that the only other occupants of the back seat was a dinged up old trombone that Dennis played when he performed with his jazz band. It was heaven and she hadn’t thought about just how nice it would be to not have them there. 

“Sure.”

“It’ll be okay.” Dennis said, looking at her through the rearview. “We’re here for you.”

They’re there for her. Everyone was there for her, at least, that was what they said. She wanted to ask them, just how much they would be there for her if they knew she had been talking to the dead for the last week.

“Hey Dennis?” Dennis had turned back to watching the road but turned to look at her, nodding for her to continue. “You have a buddy who gives lessons in self defense right?”

“Kinda,” he turned back to watch the road as they neared a stop. He turned on the signal and she saw that they were taking a right turn. When they stopped he looked back at her. “Ben teaches Karate at a dojo over on Wildwood drive. It’s not really a self defense class, but, well…”

She nods to him and he makes his turn.

“So you want to learn Karate?” Jessica asks. She plays with the word Karate, stretches it out, toying with each syllable making it sound like an eighties school girl. Lizzie winces, already making fun of the idea to herself, let alone hearing it from her friend.

“I don’t know. It was just a thought.”

“Well, Ben’s a good guy. He doesn’t own or run the place, but the guy who does is supposed to be some world renowned champion I guess. I think the first class is free, so you can check it out.”

“Look, Liz, I shouldn’t kid. I know you’ve been through some shit.” Jessica said. Lizzie didn’t know what she looked like, but Jessica had stopped joking with her and now looked concerned. “If you want, I’ll take a class or two with you. Check it out.”

“I’ll be fine. It was just a thought.”

“Okay, well the offer stands.”

“Thanks.”

Dead Friends: 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 and 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 was it. Well, the phone, and the bodies. They had found both her friend and the old man, but it was with the old man that things got weird. It was then that the cops questions had turned from helping her to questioning her about what happened because according to them, it couldn’t have been the way she had told them.

She went into the hospital three days ago, had been questioned by the police for the last two days both at the hospital and at the motel room she stayed in upon her release. They didn’t believe her story, and as much as she wanted to run away from all of it, she hadn’t. Something kept her here, pulled her, tied to it by something unseen.

“Are you sure your 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, though Sarah, dead or not, was still trying to be her best friend. Her boyfriend though, was just as nice as Elisabeth was, and he had suggested they come out there. Well, he’d suggested coming out by himself so he could get Lizzie’s car and look for her keys.

What had possessed her to say she wanted to come back here? Sure, he’d need someone to come with him as they’d have two vehicles but anyone could have rode 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, so how had he attacked them?

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

Maybe she really was crazy…

“Liz?”

Lizzie looked over at her, blinking away some of the thoughts though many remained. 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 and while Lizzie couldn’t see her face, she was sure it was more than just the nod she was using to communicate how insensitive he’d just been.

“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 and looking at the small house in front of her. She hadn’t really looked at it the first time. Sarah had been talking but Lizzie had been on the phone with Richard. Her brother had been having a melt down because his caregiver had a family emergency. Samuel, her brothers 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. She was sure that had been explained to her brother, but he had still called in a frenzy. He had continued on and she had to listen 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 Lizzies 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 wether 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 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 your just reaching. You know that. You just don’t want to go back in there and trying to give yourself reasons to go. Nevermind 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 around to the front of the car. 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 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 wood was unpainted and it didn’t fit in with the architecture. 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 who said it. They both sounded alike to her.

“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.”

“And you live here because?”

“Hey, I live in town. Sure it’s small, but I grew up here and I like it. I know everyone. But this…” 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 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.

But that shed wasn’t why she was back there, and she forced her attention away from it as they came into the back yard.

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 that the small metal stairs that were supposed to lead up to the door had been pulled away and set to the side where there was nothing but the kitchen wall, looking obscene with their stairway 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.

“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 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 was amazing and they had all done this in just one night.

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 to 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 much 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, but looking at the damage she must have.

At least now she could afford to get a new one.

That 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, but found herself reaching up and 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 him 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 lead 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, but they shouldn’t all be dead yet. 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 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.”

Lizzie looked back at the house. The sun was lowering on the far side of the house 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 now 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 that never left her wouldn’t go away until she did.

She watched as her friends climbed into their car and she walked over to her own drivers 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.

Throwback Thursday – Looking back at Hatched…

Here’s the first chapter of “Hatched.” Looking back, I had a lot of fun promoting this book, but my favorite was meeting up with none other than Svengoolie and give him some new reading material.

Free on Kindle Unlimited

****

“This is the Screamin’ Demon heading westbound on I-80. I need a bacon check, come back,” Bruce said into his radio. The road seemed clear ahead of him, but it was a dark night, hard to see past the overpasses where there might be a pig hiding back in its sty waiting to write him up on some paper. The last thing he needed on this last leg would be a damned ticket. He had already been on the road steady for thirteen straight days and was ready to take a hot shower and sleep in his own bed. He had four days off coming up on his return leg and was itching to spend almost all that time in his own bed. His icebox had been acting up for the last couple days, costing him a lot of time with having to make additional stops to check on his load. A couple times, he had to work on the unit to make sure it stayed cool and kept the meat he was hauling from going bad.

His CB crackled to life. “Hey, Demon. This is the Cat Scratch Express just coming from that way. You’re all clear to exit 93. Smooth sailing.”

“10-4, Cat Scratch. Keep an eye out as there is a bear sitting in that rest stop just past 112. He’s perched and ready to pounce.”

“10-4. Put the hammer down and catch you on the flip side.”

“Stay safe.”

“Same. Cat Scratch out.”

Well, at least the road would be clear. That was one less thing to weigh on his mind. He would be able to make his way into that little truck stop outside of Ottawa, fill his tank and bed in for the night. Come morning, he would carry on south toward Bloomington-Normal. By mid-day, he would be home.

Something in the sleeper area started to smell. There was that locker room smell of old gym socks that had been growing stronger throughout the cab, but something else also reeked back there. He would have to clean out the whole truck to find out just what it was. He should have washed his clothes along the way, but he was itching to get home, see his wife, and maybe even have a tea party with his little girl. His wife had told him about how his little girl had thrown a tea party the other day for her and her stuffed animals. He missed it, just like he missed other things, but he hoped he could still get some of that special time.

Maybe over the weekend, he would get the energy to pull himself out of bed and take her to Build-A-Bear. It wasn’t a special occasion, but he wanted to make it special. After all, this was his last long haul. After this run, he was officially done with his contract. He would now be driving only five days a week and be home every night. His truck was now paid for. It was his. That meant his life was back in his hands again. No more big companies pulling his strings.

He let out a yawn and scanned the road ahead of him. Nothing had changed. A long stretch of interstate lay in the glow of the headlights as the road stretched off endlessly into darkness. His eyelids were heavy and his body was growing stiff.

These long hauls, the cross-country runs, were nice at first, got him out to see much of the countryside, allowed him to see places that he otherwise probably would have never seen. He had traveled from the Grand Canyon up to Maine and every mountain road in between. There wasn’t much to the great U.S. that he hadn’t seen, so he decided it was time to hang up the saddle. His ride was over, or at least this part of it. Hell, it had been fun when he was a new driver, but that had been over ten years ago. He wasn’t that young man anymore. He had a family and they missed him as much as he missed them. He needed to get home.

Two weeks after his contract ended, he would start up with another company based out of his hometown. Smaller company, pay wasn’t as much, but he would be home every night and his weekends would be free and clear. He would be with his own truck, and if it didn’t work out, he could always go somewhere else. His contract was over. He was no longer tied by the shackles of a lease. He was free and, as he tried to wipe the sleep out of his eyes, he couldn’t think of anything better. There wasn’t anything he wanted more.

Up ahead, he could see the one-mile warning for exit 98. The Clock Tower… That was it. That was the name of the damned place at the exit. The diner was in a truck stop that was open twenty-four hours. He would be able to pull off, get some chow for his food tank and get some diesel for his fuel tank Then he’d settle in for a nice, long shower in one of their stalls.

Tomorrow, he would deliver the load, then hightail it to freedom. Free to drive the remaining hundred miles to home. He would be able to drop the the load at around two in the afternoon, so he would be pulling into his own driveway in time for supper.

As his blinker shouted in its rhythmic tick-tock tone, he started to ease his rig into the exit lane. He already felt the anticipation of getting home and sleeping in his own damn bed.

He looked over at the parking lot of the Clock Tower. The lot was full, but the little diner looked nearly empty. Most of the trucks were probably just idling, their inhabitants either asleep or occupied with some lot lizards.

Bruce nestled his rig midway to the back. He didn’t want everyone thinking he wanted some action, but he didn’t want too many people around him in the morning, waking him up before he was ready. He always preferred to sleep in, miss the morning traffic, and drive later than most other drivers.

Soon, he would be home. He just needed to drop off the trailer, take a short stint through a couple small towns, then he would pull into his own driveway. Bruce reached for the door. A Grand Slam sampler sounded good, and he was ready to shovel it down.

A small spider started to crawl down the inside of the window. It was just a small little thing, harmless, but Bruce still stopped and backed away. He never did like spiders. As a kid, anytime one would bite him, he would always break out in a rash. On more than one occasion, he had to be rushed to the hospital because of a bad reaction to the venom. His airways would close up and he would nearly pass out.

A small little spider, but he knew that little creature could kill him if he gave it a chance. He didn’t have one of his little pink pills with him to toss down, if needed.

Bruce looked around the cabin. In his passenger seat, there was a case for an audio book he had been listening to earlier. He was sure the person who lent it to him wasn’t going to like spider guts on the back of the case, but he grabbed it anyway.

He slammed the case against the window and slid it down, making sure the spider was thoroughly smashed, its insides making a smeared trail along his window. It was dead, guts splattered over the large name, Stephen King, and smeared across the image of a dome.

Bruce tossed the case back into the passenger seat and climbed out of the cab. “Damn, I hate spiders,” he mumbled under his breath.

* * * *

John didn’t know what woke him. He lay there, the little light from the streetlight outside giving him just enough illumination to make out dark shadows in his room. With the lights off, no one, other than himself, would ever be able to find anything as it was all just heaps of dark shapes at odd angles. In the little light, tree branch fingers danced across the walls. If he didn’t know better, he could imagine large shadow hands reaching across his room, looking through his stuff.

Yeah, like they would ever find anything worth a damn, he thought. All he had of value was his stash, the large bag he had just brought back from little Chicago, which was tucked nicely away in his closet under a pair of soiled undies that would turn anybody away.

The bud was safe. Ah, yes. The bud was safe.

“Precious sweet bud, let you ripen so fine. Precious sweet bud, I’ll make you mine,” John said in the small, dark bedroom of his apartment. A slight smile crept across his lips as he thought about the bag. He had tried to grow his own before, but it never dried right. He wasted a lot of seed and, in the end, taught himself it was just too much damn work when all he had to do was take a small little drive to Little Chi-Town and he would come back happy.

John felt a slight tingle on the hairs of his nose and rubbed at his upper lip. He turned his head, breaking free from his daze, to look at the envelope sitting on his dresser top. He could just see it, slightly hanging over the edge. Damn bitch probably put itching powder in the shit, he thought. When he had opened the envelope, the only thing written inside had been “Enjoy”. Now there were just faint traces of the white powder left.

And he had. He had never been a big fan of the “nose candy”, but was never one to turn away a good high when it came his way. He was just surprised to see it coming from Miss Psycho Queen. He guessed she still wasn’t going to take his “get lost” for an answer. Damn, why did he have to date the crazy ones. The ones who would never go away no matter how hard he tried.

He pushed himself up, sitting, placing his feet on the hardwood floor. It was cool against his skin, which felt good in the warm, stuffy heat of his place. He wished like hell he could afford a damn air conditioner, and thought about possibly stealing one from somebody’s window. He reached over and fumbled to turn on his basketball lamp. He had to fight with the little switch to get it to turn on, grumbling with himself as he fought with it. On his third attempt, the lamp finally clicked on, the light flooding the space.

Out of the corner of his eye, he swore he saw little black things scurrying out of sight. They had been at the corner of his vision, which made it hard for him to be sure. By the time he turned his head, any traces were gone. Probably figments of my imagination, he thought, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He didn’t have the cleanest of places, but at least it had never been one known for roaches. Still, he could have sworn he had seen something, but then it was gone, probably buried deep in one of the different piles of dirty clothes littering the floor of the small room. Well, if they had gone in there, they were surely dead by now.

Ugh, why the hell was he up in the middle of the damn night. He leaned forward and pulled himself up from the mattresses on the floor. His bedroom had the barest of essentials and the mess stretched wide. The mattresses on the floor, his clothes thrown about, trash littering the floor in the general direction of the kitchen area. He had a heavily worn, badly tattered couch that had stuffing coming out at various seems along the back edges. Across from it was his television. The only thing in his apartment worth a damn was his 37” flat-panel television that he was currently renting-to-own.

He looked through the open door of his bedroom, toward the living room. Still on, but in sleep mode, the television cast a soft glow. It was always the centerpiece of the apartment. The only thing that wasn’t old, tattered, and a piece of crap.

John stumbled across the room, walking over the piles of clothes as he made his way to the front hallway. His eyelids were heavy, and as he stumbled, he wondered why the hell he was even trying to make his way to the bathroom. The heavy pain in his stomach and the burning sensation coming from his bowels reminded him why as he stepped into the little bathroom and clicked on the light. It flashed a few times before coming to life.

He barely caught a glimpse of his pale reflection in the mirror as he stepped past it to the toilet. The seat was up—ah, the life of a bachelor—and he didn’t even worry about closing the door behind him. Keeping his eyes closed, he listened to the sound of water on water, feeling the easing release of the pressure that had been building up. Sometimes there was no greater joy.

As he finished and opened his eyes to flush, he noticed the red of the toilet water. It was dark crimson, similar to the life force coursing through his veins. That had better not be coming from him. He looked at it, studied it, trying to see if there were any way it could have come from the water itself. He reached forward and flushed. As the red liquid went spiraling down to unknown locations of the sewer, fresh, clear water replaced it.

“Ah, fuck me,” he said to himself. Last thing he wanted was to be pissing blood again.

John groggily stepped over to the sink to wash his hands. He wasn’t the most sanitary of persons, but he had been taught to do so as a child and it was one habit he had never broken.

However, he was stopped by the pale reflection looking back at him with deep bloodshot eyes and dark circles under them. His hair was greasier and more ruffled than usual. His lips, his face without a glimpse of color to them. He was never one to focus on himself, but he was sure that if he looked that way when he had gone to bed, he would have noticed. He looked like a dead man walking. How the hell could he have missed it?

Then there was the dried blood under his nose. Just a little stream of it coming from his right nostril. It was so tiny, as though he had a start to a nose bleed. However, before it had really progressed, it had stopped and now was scabbed over.

John leaned forward so he could get a better look into his nostril. He had a sudden itch, forcing him to quickly start rubbing his nose. The itching grew stronger, a tickle becoming like fire and nearly bringing tears to his eyes as he rubbed both inside and out of the nostrils. He tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes as he peered through the darkness.

He could barely make out what looked like a hair sticking out of his nose. It was a long, black hair that stuck out at an odd angle. He reached up, readying himself to pluck it out and the sharp pain that would follow.

As he prepared to grip the hair, it twitched and started to move. He pulled his hand away and watched it pull itself back into his nose, disappearing into the darkness of his nostril.

“What the…?” John whispered as he leaned closer to the glass. The itching sensation grew so unbearable, he wished he could just rub it until it bled and the skin was raw, peeling away.

He was tired. He just wanted to get back to his mattress and the model who had been sexually assaulting his dreams.

John let a smile start to spread across his face as he pulled himself back from the mirror. He reached down and flushed the toilet. As he got ready to turn out the light, he glanced in the mirror, seeing the hair had reappeared, longer this time. It moved, shifting, then pulled itself back into his nostril.

Then the owner of the hair emerged. A small spider crawled out of his nose. John stood there, watching, his hand hovering just above the light switch. He was too afraid to move or pull his hand back as the spider perched on his upper lip.

John stopped watching it through the mirror and tried to look down at his upper lip. His eyes burned from the strain of focusing on an object so close, and all he could make out was the large black shape.

How had the thing been in his damn nose? How long was it up there? How had it survived when he had been squeezing and rubbing his nose when it itched? Ugh, even worse, what would have happened had he squashed the damned thing while it was in there? His stomach turned at the thought of it and he had to stifle a gag.

Keeping his eyes focused on the spider, John lowered his hand away from the light switch and moved back to the mirror. He could feel the spider’s legs on his upper lip. It shuddered as he moved, as though it were trying to surf him like a wave.

John looked back at the mirror, the black shape still sitting on his upper lip. A fucking spider. He could barely fathom how it had come out of his nose. He leaned over the sink, figuring it was time to try and knock the thing off and wash it down the drain.

He turned on the faucet and fumbled for the stopper so the sink would slowly fill with water. He didn’t turn the water on too fast because he didn’t want the sound of it to be too loud and scare the spider. With his luck, it would start crawling all over his face. However, so far, it seemed to be content with just sitting there.

John started to raise his hand, getting ready to shake his head and knock it off at the same time. He rocked back and forth briefly to get himself prepared, then swung.

The spider quickly ran back into his nose. It was again on fire with the itching sensation. However, this time, he could actually feel it moving around in his head. It ran deeper into his nose, and he could feel it forcing its way back into his airway.

John coughed, the lump moving up and down his throat. He gagged, trying to get it out. He put his finger down his throat to try and force himself to throw up, but the spider fought against him. It kept running around his throat. Tears came to his eyes as he tried to cough as hard as he could. His throat burned and became raw, but still nothing.

John dropped down to his knees in front of his toilet and reached his arms out, as though he had been drinking and was now praying to the porcelain gods. He tried to heave, but nothing came up. He could barely breathe and couldn’t make himself gag anymore.

Leaning onto the toilet, he wanted to cry. His body felt like it was burning up. He imagined he could feel the heat emanating off him. He was too hot. He looked at his arm, expecting it to be red. It was still pasty and pale.

He thought about the pot he had smoked earlier in the night. Damn, he hoped someone hadn’t laced his shit. The last thing he wanted to worry about was that.

Please, he thought to himself, let it just be one hell of a motherfucking bad trip.

A lump formed under his arm near his elbow. It just seemed to appear from nowhere, but protruded out grotesquely. It was nearly three-quarters of an inch in diameter and a half-inch tall, pulling the skin tight and making it red.

Suddenly, the lump broke through the skin. Another spider appeared, crawling its way out of the skin and onto his arm. Blood dripped from the hole as the spider started to run down his arm. John quickly started to claw at the spider with his other hand, trying to kill it. He nearly got it a couple times, but it was quick and kept dodging his attempts. It turned around and quickly ran back into the hole it had made in his arm.

He clawed at the hole, trying to tear away at the skin and get the spider out. His long, dirty nails pulled at his arm, but the spider continued to run underneath his skin and toward his hand. When it made it to his wrist, John quickly felt around above the sink, trying to find his razor. His arm, blood running down from his efforts to claw out the spider, was draped over the toilet.

He could barely see above the ceramic porcelain of the sink to see where he was reaching, but he heard things falling as he felt around—his toothbrush, the large heavy sound of the shaving cream splashing into the water filling the sink.

John finally felt his hand clench around the plastic handle of the razor. It was a cheap dollar shaver, but he hoped that if he dug enough, he would get the damned spider out. Damn the things. He wanted them out. He hated spiders. More than anything else, he hated spiders.

He brought the razor to his wrist and was about to start tearing away at the flesh when he noticed there were no longer any lumps, anything moving. His skin was clear. An unhealthy pale cast to it, but it was clear of anything hiding beneath it. He still had blood trickling down his arm, but the spider seemed to be gone. Same with the spider in his throat. He didn’t feel as though something was blocking his airway.

He reached out to the sink and used it to help him stand.

He still didn’t feel quite sure of himself and felt like he might still be trapped in a nightmare somehow. That he never truly woke up or he might just be caught on a bad acid trip.

He looked at himself in the mirror. He still looked like death warmed over. He was tired and wanted to go back to bed. It was calling for him, like a siren song reeling him in.

His ear tickled. As he reached up to pick at it, he felt the familiar sensation of the spider’s legs on his skin. He shook his head, trying to get at it as he felt it starting to crawl toward his face, its legs leaving small stinging sensations along the unshaven roughness of his skin. Then, after one big shake, he felt its release and saw it land on the floor.

It just lay there. Before it could regain itself, John quickly stomped down on the cursed thing. Strangely, he expected it to squish between his toes, as he was still barefoot. Instead, he barely felt anything. He pulled his foot away, seeing black dust where the remains of the spider should have been.

“Psychosis, Spiders and Zombies, Oh My!” – 5 Star Review for Hatched

“I was interested in this book based on the cover art and title alone, and they do not disappoint. ‘Hatched’ is a unique take on a parasitic invasion that affects humans in ways that are horrifying and hard to predict. I read a lot of content in this genre and I’m always on the hunt for a unique take on a cliche – this is the one for zombie lore. I’ve consumed an absurd amount of this kind of content and there is nothing out there like this that I’ve found. If you like horror, have a fear spiders and enjoy a thrilling, spine tingling (literally) adventure, then ‘Hatched’ is the story for you! Darren Marlar gives a stellar performance.” -Simone K (audible.com)

Hatched is available in print, audiobook, and on Kindle.

If you live in the Wausau area, please request the book from Jankes’ Book Store.

Dead Friends: 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 on 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 an 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 wakes up in a brightly lit room, she still lingers 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 right morning sun, it was obvious the silver hair was a dye and a really good one. Whoever did her hair did an amazing job.

“Who does your hair? It’s amazing!” 

Elizabeth sparkled with a bright 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 she 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 awhile 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 homeowners 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 sheriffs 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 they 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 lawyers 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 she had last seen her, the large open area on her neck where the naked man had ripped away her flesh. That perky pink shirt she had been wearing now drenched in blood, most of it on the side that most the blood ran down. Her head had a large gash in it that Lizzie hadn’t noticed before but probably came from when she had crashed to the floor. Her eyes still held that dead, lifeless quality as they fixed on her. 

*****

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*****

“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 hadn’t thought her mouth could widen more, but as she stared up at her dead friend, her jaw was near dislocating and drool dropped from her open lip. She wiped at it but never took her eyes off the apparition.

She wanted to scream, but no. 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. 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 mouth was going dry. 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, 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.

Lizzie really was 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.

“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.

“Lizzie? You okay in there.” Lizzie recognized the nurses 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 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 get 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 looked up to see her standing there 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 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 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 sitting… It didn’t help as she still felt too much weight on her.

Lizzie felt the nurses 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!”

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 2

On the other side of the kitchen there was a skeleton of a man, his skin tight on his bones near transparent.  He was naked, covered in dirt and he stood there on the other side of the center counter.  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 as she saw her friend’s clothes being ripped. Tears streamed down her face, and she just stood there.  She watched, fighting with her own desire to 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 can have this place, she would leave and never come back.

Something told her that if she did leave, there would be no escape. She would return. Deep inside, she new she would have to come back there.

Why, and why did it matter now?

It didn’t. She had to do something. This man was tearing apart her friend. She had to do something about it.

She started to look around the kitchen for anything she could use.

The man ripped Sarah’s shirt, reaching for the exposed shoulder beneath. It was then that he turned to Lizzie. She could tell from the focus that he had known she was there. He grinned at her, his teeth covered in blood as he gave her a wide tooth 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, more now streaked 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.

To prove it, he reached up and grabbed another handful of hair, pulling it 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, blood smeared, toothy grin. 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, shaming her head as she looked to Sarah, pleading with her eyes, asking for forgiveness for not saving her.

“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 by her hair. She let out an earth shattering scream as more hair was pulled free and she was stumbling as she lost her balance.

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,” her plea nearly drenched in her tears as she shook, trembling with the fear that something worse was about to happen. The man kept smiling at her, cackling as he would pull harder on Sarah’s hair, 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. That was if either one of them survived this. This mad man had Lizzie’s best friend. There was no guarantee either one of them would survive.

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 dark, hollow recesses of eyes.

She couldn’t pull away. 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, and it was going to happen in Lizzie’s own house. The house she had just inherited. This place she didn’t even want, and after today, wasn’t sure she would ever be able to step into ever again.

You have to live through today first before you can decide if you were ever going to come back here. Live through today first, to make it to tomorrow.

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 as to plead for her friends life.

The laughing intensified and she felt 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 on 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 due to hair being pulled free.  Somehow her shirt had been torn, and the naked man had exposed one of her breasts. He was grabbing at it violently and there were already forming bruises. There were cuts from his nails from where he had squeezed too hard and more blood now smeared her exposed flesh.

They weren’t 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. She 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, but it was something and he looked like he would be dirty even after an hour in water.

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. Whoever they was because he had no friends.

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 apple 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, and she felt that if none of this mattered, then it didn’t matter what she did to him. He was going to kill them, and he was going to do it painfully. It didn’t matter if she fought back, it was still a nightmare, so why not hurt this bastard as much as possible before he hurt her.

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 and then 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 we’d 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 the 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 hope my 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 the pool of blood. It was tricky, and she didn’t realize until she tasted her own blood 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 but 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, and 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 pull 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 staring at 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 persons 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 didn’t have to go 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.