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 though, she had allowed herself the chance to take a breath and relax. That was shattered with thoughts of the 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 in her own voice.

     What if she’d been hit by a car? Sure, the shadow man had already tried that today, but 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 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.

     “Hello?”

     “Hey Liz, everything going okay?” Jessica asked. Lizzie let out a long breath at hearing her friend’s 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 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 stood 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 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 lunge 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. 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 it threw 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 feel 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 her body 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 reached 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 the 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. Now her eyes were wide open, and 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.

     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 had possessed.

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 led 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 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; his eyes locked on hers until he was a few feet. Then he turned, rushing off to one of the open bars along the strip. 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, this is the last thing I should be doing. I don’t want to be with him. That ship had already sailed. He had sunk it. 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 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 cheated 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 father’s 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. 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 friend’s number.

Chapter 16

     “So why didn’t you sell the tickets?” Lizzie was sitting in the passenger seat of Roland’s car, not sure how she had let herself be talked into letting him drive. She wasn’t even sure how she had let him talk her into going. Sure, she loved Ed Sheeran and up until their breakup, had been looking forward to this getaway weekend they had planned. That had been a month ago. She had completely forgotten about the concert and with everything going on, it just hadn’t seemed like something she’d have to worry about.

     This was a terrible idea, what was she doing here?

     “I don’t know. I just didn’t.”

     “And you couldn’t take someone else?”

     “Didn’t seem right. Ya know? These were our tickets.”

     “You could have just paid me back my half and taken anyone you’d like.” She was watching what she said. It was too early in the night, and she didn’t want to start it off with a fight. Still, she knew the edge was there and he had to take the meaning of what she was implying…After all, she had dumped him because he had been cheating on her. If he wanted to be with the other girl so bad, why didn’t he just take her. Now there was nothing to stop them from being together. She had done him the favor of letting him go so he could go off and cheat on other woman.

     She could feel the anger starting to well up in her again, a rising tide that nudged her to start up the old fights. It wanted the war of words again, as the fire hadn’t faded as much as she thought it had. The wounds were still too fresh.

     Get your mind off of it.

     She looked in the back seat, noticing again how empty it was, and took a long, deep breath. Her dead friends weren’t with them. She took another breath and looked down at the bump under her sweater where the talisman rested on her chest. It felt cool to her skin, and it was weird but she swore she could feel a faint hum thrumming through her.

     She had found the talisman when she had finally opened the letter from her uncle. Jessica had left shortly after chasing away the dick who’d hit his girlfriend. She’d said that she wasn’t feeling to well, and Lizzie agreed with her. Jess had grown extremely pale and dark bags had formed beneath her eyes.

     Lizzie had been left in the parking garage, Josh once again hounding her to open the damned envelope. She’d been annoyed at first, but had stood there, looking at it, feeling the bulging contents. She wasn’t sure how long she had stood there looking at it. The garage had felt distant, her dead stalkers were silenced, she had just stood there, caressing that lump in the envelope. Then she had finally opened it, ripping away the yellowed envelope.

     It came with a cryptic note, telling her only that she should put on the necklace right away and then go to his house. There, she would find a letter explaining everything in his bedroom. There would be a box she was to go through with pertinent information about the legacy he had left her.

     The sane part of her had chuckled in her mind at this and thought, “Money isn’t really a legacy, but if he was referring to his own special kind of lunacy, that was a legacy he had left for her.”

     But she hadn’t been able to take comfort in that thought. There was too much of the crazy. It now surrounded her to make her feel that money was not the legacy he was referring too. Yeah, your legacy is the dead people, and they were throwing a party all around her.

     Josh had bust out laughing when he read the note over her shoulder. He wailed, screamed, shouted into the air. When that had not been enough, his emotions running him through the gamut, he started crying as he fell back into a nearby car. His legs had given out and he worked himself onto the cold cement.

     Lizzie had watched him and had almost felt sorry for him. She had known he was hoping for an answer in the note, something that would tell him why he was there; why they all were. Instead, there was some crappy necklace and instructions to go to his house. What, had the guy been so paranoid that he didn’t trust his own lawyers with whatever his ‘legacy’ was?

     She had looked at the odd-looking thing as she pulled it from the envelope. The object was on a strand of cowhide that had been tied into a large loop. She’d seen the type of work before, often when visiting Native American tourist traps and in Indian gift shops. Hanging on it though, looked like something a medicine man might have made. It was a large round ring with string crisscrossing on the inside. Inside the ring and tied to the strings we’re animal teeth. It was impossible to tell what the teeth were from, it was vicious as the teeth were long, fang like, and sharp.

     She had held it up to the light, dreading wearing the thing.

     “What the hell is that?” Josh asked.

     “Liz, the man was nuts. Are you sure you can trust…that?” Sarah asked as she pointed to the necklace. She looked disgusted by it and was glaring at it like a snake getting ready to strike her.

     Sarah was right though. Her uncle had obviously been nuts, but what had made him that way?

     What the hell?

     Lizzie put on the necklace and Josh and Sarah both disappeared. She wasn’t sure but she assumed that Chuck and Elisabeth were also gone. She was free. They were free. Now maybe she could return to some kind of sanity.

     “Earth to Liz. Lizzie anyone home?”

     Lizzie blinked, bringing her back to the car she was in and the man who sat behind the wheel.

     She looked over at him. Roland was watching the road but stealing looks when he could spare them to study her with those bright blue eyes.

     “Yeah.”

     “Really? So, what do you say?”

     “About what?”

     “You weren’t listening.”

     “What were you asking.” Lizzie said, getting increasingly annoyed. He used to do this to her all the time. He would talk and drone on about boring crap until she got to the point that she couldn’t take anymore and would zone out. Then he would start asking her about it, like there would be some great quiz on whatever useless nonsense he had told her.

     She thought she had become an expert on tuning him out. How had she put up with his useless rambles while they had been dating. Oh yeah, she’d talk over him, not allowing him to get rolling into what conversation he’d started. When she’d talked long enough, he’d shut up.

     She hadn’t done it this time because she hadn’t felt like talking to him. It wasn’t that she had nothing to say, as so much was happening in her life. No, she didn’t like to talk because she was afraid of what she would say and who she would say it to. The last thing she needed was to people thinking she was crazy. If she started talking to people who weren’t there, that would be the end of it. She’d be in the padded room and hitting the walls.

     It was an effort, but she tried to bring herself back into the conversation.

     “I asked a few things.” She said, trying to cover up, but realized she had no clue what he had been talking about? Probably some old cheesy horror franchise that was getting a reboot.

     “Huh? No, you didn’t. You’ve sat there for the last half hour stealing glances to the back seat like you’re expecting to see someone back there. What I had been talking about was me asking you if you were okay.”

     “Yeah, I’m fine.” Lizzie said, pulling herself around so she sat straight in her seat. She didn’t know if she was really doing it, but she felt small, like she was making herself disappear into the seat… She made them disappear, why couldn’t she make herself disappear like that?

     “Really?” He stole another quick glance at her.

     She didn’t look back, keeping her eyes on the road. She guessed they were nearing Madison as she saw the sign for the Cascade Mountain resort that was near Portage. She hoped that wasn’t the case as if it was, they’d only shared the car ride for under an hour. She was already getting antsy and wanting to pull out her own hair.

     “Because I see a mess. I can tell you haven’t been sleeping. You look tired as all get out and your skin is getting pale. I mean, you’re always white but this is ghost white. I don’t think you’ve seen the sun in weeks.” He stole another glance over. Lizzie wasn’t sure how she looked and didn’t think it was any of his business. Inside though, she felt a heat in her chest and knew there was wetness forming at the corner of her eyes. Who the hell was this bastard, to think he could tell her she looked like a wreck? “Have you? What have you been doing since Sarah died? We share friends, I know none of them have seen you. We’re all worried about you.”

     He finished, and they sat in the car in silence for a mile with her mind racing. They were driving to a concert, hours away so he would have her alone in the car. Jessica asked her out to lunch all in the same day. Jess had acted shocked about them going, but had she faked it? Lizzie wasn’t sure and as she thought about it, she was beginning to feel like she was set up. They all planned this.

     But who in hell thought it would be a good idea for Roland to be the one to get her alone? She was going to kill them. Really, who in the hell thought she was going to bare her soul to Roland?

     “Who were you originally going to give my ticket too?”

     “I told you-“

     “No, you told me some excuse to get me to go with you. Was it Natalie?”

     “I don’t want to go into that again. I was never with Natalie. Please, let’s not fight.”

     “But who were you going to take?”

     The car grew to the unsteady quiet again as they drove miles down the interstate listening to only the hum from the road and the occasional car that passed them.

     “Sarah said she’d buy your ticket. She was going to buy both tickets and I think she planned to take you. She knew how much you wanted to go.”

     Lizzie felt the anger that had been ballooning up inside her deflate, and a single tear found its way to rolling down her cheek. Sarah. Sarah wasn’t with her anymore. With the necklace on, her friend was no longer there and now Lizzie was going to have to start grieving. Her best friend was dead, and one of the last things she had planned was to take her to see her favorite singer.

     Lizzie wasn’t sure what to say. This time the silence that stretched until they made it past Madison was broken only by the sniffles as she fought to hold back the flood gate of tears. She couldn’t stop herself from looking into the back seat, this time hoping to see Sarah sitting back there, smiling at her. It would have been a relief just to have her tell her how stupid she was being going to this concert with him. Her friend would scold her, call her out on this bullshit. Her friend who would be there for her.

     She felt the pinching between her breast when she shifted in the seat, the rings of pain from the teeth causing her to wince briefly. She had put the necklace on. She had sent her friend away, releasing her. Now Lizzie would be alone.

     She couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t haven’t any friends. Sarah had been her bestie since…since… well long enough that she couldn’t remember a time without her.

     Now she had no one.

     She felt utterly alone, stuck in hell with the lying sack of shit she had allowed herself to listen too. It was fitting really. It suited her, didn’t it? They deserved each other. His lying and her betraying her friend, getting her killed and now sending her away.

     You didn’t send her away. You released her. Now she’ll be wherever dead people go, with any luck it was a better place, and Sarah was up in heaven somewhere.

     Though as often as she tried to convince herself of that, she didn’t truly believe it.

     “So, what’s your favorite Sheeran song?” Roland said. The silence must have stretch to a point that he couldn’t help himself and tried again at the dangerous art of talking.

     “Huh?”

     “What’s your favorite Ed Sheeran song?”

     “I like all of them.”

     “Sure, but you gotta have a favorite.”

     “I do.”

     “What is it?”

     “It changes. For like, the last month I’ve been listening to ‘Happier.’”

     “Really?”

     “Yeah, why?”

     “Just not sure I know that one.”

     “You do. It goes ‘Only one month we’ve been apart, you look happier…” Lizzie screeched out. Roland started laughing as he shook his head.

     “Please, please stop.”

     “Hey now, I can sing,” she said.

     “Remember, I heard you Karaoke. No, you can’t.”

     “Fine, like you can do any better.”

     “You’re right, but I know my limitations.”

     “Oh, your karaoke just as bad as the rest of us.”

     “I’m not going to argue. Just I know to wait until I’ve had enough to drink that I don’t realize how bad I am.”

     Now it was Lizzie who was shaking her head, and an honest laugh that welled from so deep within her, that the painful memories from earlier was momentarily slipping away from her. With any luck, they would stay away for a little. The wetness that still hovered in the corner of her eyes threatened that they weren’t going to be gone for long.

     “So, oh wise one, what’s your favorite song?”

     “The A-Team,” he said and in such a way that made it sound like he was announcing it proudly, which was odd. She couldn’t imagine him liking any of Eddie’s music that way.

     “Really? Why is that your favorite?”

     “Because.”

     “Oh no, give.” Lizzie was having a hard time repressing the smile she had somehow slipped into her voice. They were doing it, for better or worse, that old patter of returning barbs to one another and everything was mentally hidden under the fog of the last month.

     She wasn’t sure she liked that, but it was hard. They’d been dating for a year and much of it had been a lot of fun.

     “How can I not love the A-Team?”

     “You’re stalling.”

     “No, just don’t see why I need to explain it. I didn’t make you explain yours.”

     “Yeah, you do.”

     “Why?”

     “Because I want to know why the A-Team?”

     “Well… it’s the A-Team. How can’t you love a song referring to an old school 80’s show.”

     Lizzie sat there, staring at him, not sure if he was serious or just playing with her. She knew her mouth hung open and she was looking at him dumbfounded, but really, how could anyone blame her. There was just no way he could be this ignorant. Either that or he’d never even listened to the song.

     He hadn’t. She should have seen it. Eddie wasn’t his normal stuff. She had known that since she had first started dating him. He liked all that heavy devil music with squealing vocals and where the singer, if you could call them that, was grunting indiscriminately throughout the song.

     “What?” He asked, glancing over at her, registering her look of utter amazement at him as she realized something else. He would have never bought these tickets if not for how much she had wanted to go. How had she never seen it before?

     “That’s not what the song is about.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “Eddie’s A-Team. It’s not about some obscure-“

     “The A-Team was not an obscure show. It was huge.”

     “Whatever. So. The song is not about some show trapped back in the 80’s”

     “There’s also a movie.”

     “So?”

     “The movie had Bradley Cooper and Liam what’s his name in it. That ‘Taken’ guy, he played Hannibal. It was awesome.”

     Lizzie had never before wanted to smack her head into the dashboard as much as she wanted to right then. The pain had to be less than listening to Roland as he tried to explain the song has something to do with whatever show he was talking about. She had never been able to understand his love for ancient television. She knew he also loved to watch old black and white twilight zone episodes on holidays. How lame was that?

     “The song… it has nothing to do with the movie… the show, any of it.” She said. She had a hard time not yelling the words at him. He was an idiot, how did she ever put up with him? “It’s about angels. The song is about drug addiction and angels. A young woman who drifts away and because she’s too blind to the path her life is taking, she overdosed and dies. The angel’s die. Get it.”

     They sat in silence for awhile as the miles passed by, marked by the white lines and green signs. Finally, he glances over at her. “Na, I still say it’s about the A-team.”

     Her mouth dropped open and he sees it, returning her stunned expression with a smile of his own. If he wasn’t driving, she would have hit him right there, putting all her strength and weight into it, because right then, the only thing she wanted to do was to knock that smile right off his lips.

     “I’m just kidding with you. Loosen up. Try to have some fun tonight, okay?”

Chapter 15

“I must really be losing it. I could have sworn I heard you talking to Sarah.”

     Lizzie looked over Jessica’s shoulder to where Sarah was hovering. She had a pang of guilt. She really wanted to tell Jess just how right she was. She wanted to confess to her that their best freight was there and standing right behind her.

     They were both sitting outside. The day had warmed up to where it wasn’t uncomfortable and many of the cafes and pubs had opened their front areas to outside seating. Someone from colder states might have felt it a bit chilly, but Jessica and Lizzie were born Wisconsinites and the chill was refreshing.

     It hadn’t taken them long to get to the cafe as it had been just around the corner, and they been able to quickly walk there. It went unsaid that neither of them wanted to ride in a car.

     “Oh, come on, can we just get some food for take out.” Josh groaned. He had made his opinion clear that he didn’t want to sit around while a bunch of damned women jibber-jabbered, his words. He wanted out of there. He didn’t want to be there or anywhere.

     He was coming to terms with the fact that he killed himself. He’d been high, drunk, and stupid and had gotten the gun from his security case. So, he deserved to be… somewhere. He didn’t know if that meant hell or just an eternity of nothing. It didn’t matter. What did matter was that he wanted it all to be over with. He wanted to slip into the dark and let the world around him go away. His family was gone, what did he have to exist for?

     “Lizzie, earth to Lizzie.” Jessica said, snapping her fingers. As she did, the waitress was lowering their salads in front of them. Lizzie looked briefly at it, thanking the server before looking back at her friend. She’d gotten so used to dead friends around her always talking amongst themselves, it was getting easier to just zone out when someone living was talking to her. She knew that wasn’t a good thing. She’d have to work on getting better about that.

     “Sorry about that?”

     “About what?”

     “Drifting off there. My mind keeps doing that lately.”

     “I’m sure. It’s been hard on all of us, and well, we’re worried about you.”

     “Who’s we?”

     “Some of the sisters. I know you didn’t get into the sorority, but my sisters still care. And Dennis, as well as Tammy and Cynthia. You have friends you know. We’re all here for you.”

     Funny, as Lizzie couldn’t remember the last time she’d talked to half of the people on Jessica’s list and the sorority had made it clear that she had not been good enough stock to be one of their sisters. Though Lizzie wouldn’t say anything about that to Jessica, she couldn’t do anything about the comebacks and the thoughts that festered.

     “I know,” was all she said, keeping her eyes downcast, studying her salad. It was what she’d ordered and normally she loved the Mediterranean salad with grilled chicken, but she was losing her appetite. Hearing Jessica talk about all these artificial friends as though they were people who cared about her made her wonder just how much Jessica cared. After all, it’s been nearly two weeks before they had even seen each other and even now something was off. It was like there was this rift between them now, and Lizzie wasn’t sure what to say anymore.

     They sat in silence for a minute that stretched into another.

     “Come on, this is bullshit. Let’s just get out of here.” Josh said. He kicked at a chair, and it fell over. Sarah looked at it shocked, but Lizzie didn’t notice it. Elisabeth and Josh were gone again, walking somewhere nearby. More and more they seemed to go off to be on their own.

     Lizzie looked up and saw that Jessica was looking at something. She turned and saw that Jessica was looking at the chair toppled over. She didn’t see Josh standing there but Lizzie saw as he squatted near it. He looked puzzled, like he wanted to reach out and touch it but kept pulling his hand back not daring.

     “That was odd.” Jessica said and Lizzie looked back at her. She had a far away look like she was thinking about something. “You know, it’s weird but sometimes I feel like Sarah hasn’t moved on. It’s almost like I can feel her and know she’s here with us.”

     Lizzie felt another stab of guilt and looked at her dead friend. Should she tell Jess? Lizzie highly doubted that Jessica would believe her. She knew she wouldn’t had if positions had been reversed. Just how would she take it? She knew she wouldn’t get Jessica committed, so that was off the table. She didn’t think she’d think her friend was messing with her, but she also didn’t think she’d believe her.

     No, she knew what she would do, and her passive aggressive nature was probably to blame. She’d listen to her friend, tell her it would all be okay, and over the course of the next few days or weeks, stop calling and asking to hang out. She’d distance herself until months down the line they would find themselves getting together and she would casually ask, “So hey, you still seeing dead people?” and if she said yes, would drop her out of her life completely.

     She looked at her friend who was reading something off her phone in one hand, holding the fork in the other, and munching on some of the salad. She was completely oblivious to Lizzie across from her and her inner turmoil.

     “I know what you mean.” Lizzie said as she pushed around a radish until it fell out of the salad bowl.

     “I think we need to get out of here.” Josh said quietly into Lizzie’s ear. She recoiled from it as he had never been that close to her before. It was kinda freaky.

     “Liz, I think he’s right. Did you see what he did? That shouldn’t be possible,” Sarah said.

     “I keep saying we need to get out of here and read that letter. Somethings gotta be in there about all this.”

She felt something pinch her butt and looked at Josh who was on the other side, both hands in view.

     What the hell? She reached back and found the letter, that stance bump in the envelope right where she had been pinched.

     “Dennis just texted, wondering what you’re doing tonight.”

     “Got plans.”

     “Really?” Jessica looked up from her phone, setting down the fork. “With Who?”

     Great. Open mouth and insert foot. Lizzie did not want to tell Jessica that she was going with Roland to a show in Milwaukee. She should lie. It was the only way. She should just up and lie.

     “Roland. We’ve had tickets to see Ed Sheeran.” Dammit. What is wrong with you?

     “For fuck’s sake, will you just open the damned envelope” Josh screamed. She tried to ignore him.

     “Wait, What!? You’re going with Roland? I thought you dumped him because he was fooling around with that Natalie tramp.”

     “Yeah, well..” Lizzie fidgeted more with her salad. Now it was starting to feel like old times. These were the conversations she remembered having with her BFF’s. Though she did wish she wasn’t the one to be on the hot seat discussing how she was going out with the ex-boyfriend she had just broken up with a short time ago. She did deserve it. She was the idiot who had said yes to going.

     “Yeah, well what? I mean come on. He turned you into a wreck. You’re still trying to get over him and now you guys are going back on a date. He already cheated on you once.”

     “It isn’t a date.”

     “He’s picking you up?”

     Lizzie nodded, not trusting her mouth anymore. It seemed to have become too honest for her own good.

     “And you’re going to a show together. How is this not a date?”

     “I don’t want it to be. I can’t stand the asshole. We just… We got the tickets and I really want to go to the show.”

     “So go by yourself or hell, take me.”

     “It’s not that easy. He showed up at the apartment and he’s-“ her phone started buzzing and she flipped it over from how she had put it on the table to see that Roland was calling. “Shit.”

     Jessica stood so she could look down at the caller ID from the other side of the table. “Here, let me talk to the son-of-a-bitch.”

     Lizzie clicked on the side of the phone, silencing it until it went to voicemail.

     “We’d bought the tickets when they went on sale. He’s held on to them, and God, I just want to see my Eddie. They’re really good tickets.”

     “You’re Eddie huh.”

     “Yes, my Eddie. He’s going to look down at me from that stage and realize how much he needs me in his life and going to take me off to tour with him.”

     “You are a dreamer.”

     Lizzie threw a carrot at her.

     “Someone kill me. Again. And again.” Josh said as he started slamming his fist into his head. “This is hell. There is no big mystery. I’m just in hell.”

     Lizzie’s phone buzzed again, and she looked down, this time to see the text message Roland had sent.

     “Rdy to pick u p.” She saw on the screen, and she quickly mentally translated to ‘I’m ready to pick you up.” She shook her head and turned back over the phone. She wasn’t ready to deal with him again. Not yet.

     And you still have to survive a three-hour car trip with him.

     Ugh.

     “So, tell me how is this a good idea?”

     Lizzie winced, shrugging in acknowledgment that her friend was right. “I get to see Ed Sheeran and try to have him run away with me so I can have wonderful, beautiful babies with him.”

     Jessica lowered her head, shaking it. They were both giggling.

     “You dumb bitch!”

     Lizzie was getting used to Josh cursing and yelling at her that it took a moment before she realized that wasn’t Josh yelling. For Jessica it hadn’t taken so long, and she had quickly looked up and past Lizzie to the screaming behind her. By the time Lizzie did turn, she had been just in time to see the man a few buildings down as he slapped the girl he was with. Lizzie assumed he was with. He had his other arm wrapped around hers possessively and was pulling her along.

     That was all it took for Jessica as she was already up and rushing to the two strangers. She had looked at Lizzie as she rushed past. Had those red rings returned to her eyes? Lizzie wasn’t sure but she remembered them and thought about how close Jessica had nearly come to getting killed.

     What if…? What if something was killing her friends or those close around her. It was crazy but just what if? It was killing them and leaving their spirits with her. It was targeting those she cared about. Jessica was someone she cared about. What if that red ring was some kind of marker…? Then Jessica could be in danger.

     That’s a lot of ‘what if’s’. There’s also the what if that she could be crazy and imagining all of this.

     As Lizzie stood, she noticed that the few others that had been dining outside had looked but were now focusing intently on their food. Everyone seemed to be actively ignoring what was going on.

     “Now get in the car and let’s get home.” The man was yelling. Lizzie was paying more attention to him as they were getting closer. He was taller than them both and muscular. Lizzie didn’t find it attractive, but she could see other girls fawning over him, though he had that Magic Mike vibe and damn, that was such a turn off. He stood hovering over the shorter dark-skinned woman. He was leading her to his car, door open for her.

     “What does she think she’s doing?” Sarah yelled. It sounded like she wasn’t that much farther than Lizzie, hurrying behind her.

     “This woman’s crazy.” Josh said and Lizzie could swear she heard him laughing. This was her friend they were dealing with, and that asshole is laughing. Lizzie would have to talk to him later.

     “Read what’s in that envelope and he won’t be so ornery. It’s all he’s asking for,” her inner voice told her. It was far calmer than she thought it should be as she was running on full alert chasing her friend.

     “Hey asshole.” Jessica said. Lizzie cringed. She had no idea what her friend was going to do. He was a beast. Jessica was a fly when it came to him. A fly on the wall and Lizzie sensed she about to get swat.

     It didn’t take Lizzie long to realize though, her friend wasn’t a fly. She was a full-on hornet. She ran right at the man and as he turned, she slammed her fist straight into his jaw.

     Lizzie stopped and felt a force and a crushing instant headache as Sarah slammed in behind her, but it couldn’t be helped. She was left awestruck watching the blow and the cascading effect of the shock registering on the large man’s face.

     “What the fuck.” The man spit out blood from his new busted lip. “You fucking hit me. What the fuck you dumb bitch, you fucking hit me.”

     That was all the man was able to say. While he had staggered back, spitting out the words with blood punctuating the curses, Jessica had moved with the momentum. It the distance she had moved to rush the guy, she had kicked off her heals and now moved with the grace of a dancer as she sidestepped the guy, lifted her knee high, and brought her foot crashing down, hard, into the side of the man’s knee. The large man crashed to the ground, first with a crunch on his ass and then Lizzie watched as his head smacked the pavement with a loud crack.

     She held her breath as Jessica stood. Did they just kill the man? He wasn’t moving. What kind of trouble would they be in? They had attacked this random man on the street surrounded by witnesses. Jessica murdered him. She could go to prison. They’d send her away with the death penalty. What was the law in Wisconsin? Was it life or injection?

     Then the other thought hit her like a fist to the gut and she quickly looked around at the surrounding crowd. What if he did die… and came back like the others.

     She didn’t see him in the crowd. Yeah, she didn’t see him, but all the others had come back in the middle of the night. He might not come until she was asleep.

     “You okay?” She heard Jessica saying. She looked at her, about to reply when she saw that Jess wasn’t talking to her. She’d walked over to the other girl and was looking at her. The girl was crying but she still nodded.

     “It was my fault. You shouldn’t have hit him; he’ll only be upset when he gets up. It was my fault. I had forgotten to pay the cell bill and his phone was turned off. I shouldn’t have forgotten.” The woman was in tears, backing away from Jessica as Lizzie approached. She was shaking her head vigorously back and forth. It was obvious that Jess wasn’t going to get anywhere with her.

     “Fuck!” The man screamed from the ground. He started rolling back and forth grabbing at his head. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.

     Well, at least he wasn’t dead.

     Lizzie moved to help the girl, moving slow as the girl backed against the wall of a corner grocery store. She saw inside how people were gathered near the window watching the commotion outside. Sure, and none of them were willing to come outside and help. Assholes.

     “It’s going to be okay.” Lizzie said. Jess must have realized she was not being any help as she turned away from the woman and walked back to the man on the ground. Lizzie didn’t turn around, but it didn’t take long before she heard him screaming.

     “She shouldn’t be doing that. It was my fault.” The woman said, almost in a whisper as she hugged herself and backed away from Jessica.

     “I know. She’s a mean person. It’s going to be okay.” Lizzie said to her. She reached out to the woman to gently touch her arm, but the woman quickly recoiled, moving a few steps away from Lizzie.

     The woman wouldn’t look up and Lizzie again tried to ease herself close to her. The woman kept her eyes locked on her boyfriend. She was a mess, but Lizzie could see that when her makeup wasn’t smeared and she wasn’t hiding herself in this pity, she was beautiful enough to be a model. Maybe she was. She was rail thin, had that long brunette’s hair that was perfect even with all the craziness going on around them.

     Lizzie almost admired her. But then, how could someone this beautiful be with such a jerk. Did she not see how amazing she looked? She could go out and find anyone better than this piece of shit with no problem, but here she was.

     Lizzie was finally close enough to touch her again, and gently lied her hand on her shoulder. The woman’s eyes focused on her for the first time, and shot wide open with a look of sheer terror. It was like the touch electrified her. Her mouth started moving wordlessly and she pushed herself away. She was desperate to get away, pulling her shoulder back from Lizzie’s hand, and nearly falling in the sudden jerky motion.

     Finally, she found her voice as she whispered, “moun ki gen madichon.”

     “What?”

     “Madichon. Madichon!” The woman hissed it at her, then spit to the ground. Before Lizzie fully realized what was happening the woman turned around and ran. She didn’t just jog away, she ran at full speed like she was running for her life, to get away from Lizzie.

     “What the hell was that?” Jessica asked. She stepped up next to Lizzie as they watched the woman running across the street nearly getting hit by a car.

     Lizzie looked over at her friend. Behind her she could see the man getting up. He was staring at them with venom, but he was also holding his side and could barely stand. She didn’t think he was going to start anything, and he didn’t as he stumbled and climbed into his car.

     “Don’t know,” Lizzie said and then cocked her head back in the direction of the man. “So, where you learn all that?”

     “Remember that guy Dennis told you about. Well, he’s one hell of a self defense teacher… and he teaches a little boxing on the side.” Jessica said with a wry smile.

     “Excuse me. Excuse me. Are either of you going to pay or do I need to call the police?”

     They both looked over to the waiter who was standing next to their table, their checks in hand.

     Both broke out in laughter and walked back to the table.

     Sarah and Josh were already there, sitting in their abandoned chairs. Where the hell was Elisabeth and Chuck and how had they missed all the action?

     Lizzie was going to have to ask them if they ever returned.

Chapter 14

Lizzie ran. She wasn’t sure if she should be running away. That was her instinct. Run and get away from whatever was going on. The screaming wasn’t good, and she’d heard enough of it in the last month…

But she thought she had recognized that screamed and ‘oh god,’ she knew it was Jess. Deep in her gut, Lizzie just knew it and there was no way she could run away and leave her friend to die. She’d done too much of that lately, she was not going to let down another one of her friends.

     And if she had run away, she knew what was coming. She knew that soon she would see her friend. That Jess would be joining her for lunch and every other lunch soon thereafter. She would be with her eternally as one of the dead that surrounded her.

     That sinking feeling in her stomach had already stolen any thoughts of an appetite. That couldn’t stop her, and she didn’t let it.

     So, Lizzie was running, but against all her desire, she ran towards the screaming. It didn’t take her long. Within fifty feet she rounded the corner, and at the lower edge of the ramp she saw where there was a car stopped, its hazards flashing and the driver’s side door open.

Lizzie had somehow known what she would see. She knew there would be a car stopped, the driver out to examine a body, shock already clutching their rational mind as they stood over the dead or dying while they were immobile as they watched.

She was so sure of it, that she already had tears wetting her cheek when she rounded the corner and saw the stopped vehicle in the middle of the car path. The driver stood outside of his car; the door open. It was almost just how she had imagined it… but it wasn’t. What Lizzie hadn’t expected was, Jess, standing there yelling at the driver and occasionally punctuating words with slamming her large, oversized purse down on the man’s hood.

     “-you need to get your eyes checked. How do you pull out here and not see me? Pay attention.” She was yelling at the man. The man stood there and as Lizzie approached, she could see his mouth opening and closing, never allowed to get a word in. He looked like a fish as he would just open and close, open and close, never given that moment to speak out and defend himself.

     Jess was a professional talker. At least she should be. She could talk forever and not let anyone else get a word in. Lizzie had learned never to argue with her as it was impossible to win. The woman just browbeated you into submission.

     Lizzie almost felt sorry for the man. He towered over Jess, but as Lizzie approached, she could tell that Jess was dominating him. He was already backpedaling to his car, occasionally looking over his shoulder to assure himself the door was still open, and he’d be able to make his getaway.

     “Watch it, watch it, watch it.” Jess continued to slam her purse down, already there was a dent from previous purse attacks.

     “Leave the pour man alone.” Lizzie felt her heart relaxing and she took a deep breath as she slowed her walk up to her. Her friend was still alive, and she was A-okay with that.

     “I didn’t see you; you came out of nowhere.” The man insisted, taking the chance to finally speak when Jess had turned her head away.

     “And you still think you don’t need glasses? I mean really, how can you not see this.” She ran her hands up and down her bright orange dress as though presenting it to him, though her face you could tell this was no offer. She was still red, her face burning with anger as Lizzie came up to her.

     “So, who’s your new friend?” Lizzie asked.

     “Some blind man who somehow convinced the DMV to give him a license. I should get your plate number and report you. You were driving like a maniac through here.”

     “Hey!” He tried to get more out but Jess had turned back to him and was bringing her full attention down on him.

     “What’s your name again? Bobby what? I want your license number and your address. Who’s your insurance provider?”

     “Jess, let him go. You hungry? I’m ready for lunch.” Lizzie said. Behind her, she heard Josh whispering to someone.

     “Who the hell is this girl?”

     “That’s Jess. We’ve all been friends since freshman year. Trust me, you do not want to get on her bad side. She can use that tongue like a green beret can use a knife” Sarah said.

     “This little…jerk… almost killed me. He came speeding around this corner, and I just barely got out of the way. He’d have gotten me if I hadn’t jump so yeah, I feel he needs to be … I don’t know, something.” Jess through her hands up in frustration and let out a long sigh before turning back to the bewildered man.

     “I didn’t see you; you just came out of nowhere. I came around the corner and there was nothing, then a big flash of light and I saw you there jumping to the side. I jerked the wheel, or I still would have clipped you. I stopped and there you were.” He was talking in a rush. He probably never noticed Lizzie’s open mouth as she turned to look at her friend. There, just barely reflecting from the light above was the cross Jess always worn around her neck.

     Lizzie didn’t have time to think about it as Jess was already approaching the man. He was rushing to get into his car, he must have seen it too, the fire burning in her eyes.

     “Jess, come on.” Lizzie said, reaching for her.

     “Damn this is getting good. Cat fight!” Josh yelled from behind her.

     “Cat fighting is two women going at it. She’s going to tear that man apart.” Chuck said quietly.

     “Nah, that man’s enough of a pussy to qualify.”

     “I’d like to see you try to go up against her.” Sarah said, rushing to keep up with Lizzie. The man had made it back into his car, closed the door and to his credit, had locked himself in.

     Jess, however, wasn’t letting him get away that easily. When she had pulled on the door handle and found it wasn’t going to open, she started kicking the door. Though there wasn’t much to the kick as she was wearing open toed heels and after one kick, had pulled her foot back howling. Which only fueled her anger as she started hitting the window.

     Lizzie felt sorry for the man. He looked so scared in his car.

     “I’m calling the police,” he said, holding up his phone to show Jess the screen. ‘911’ was already keyed in and all he would need to do is click the round red button to initiate the call.

     “I’m hoping he calls them. Can you imagine the cop when he shows up? I mean, he knows that’s only for emergencies, right?” Josh said. Lizzie looked over and saw him leaning against a Ford pickup parked a stall down.

     She was surprised that they were being good, so to speak. Maybe they were all just enjoying the show, but not Sarah. She was right there with her, and that made sense. Sarah was Jess’ friend too. There had been many times Sarah had to hold Jess back. She was small, talked a lot and came off as being nice, but Jess had one hell of a temper once you set her off.

     “Get out of there you little twat.”

     “Jess, when did you eat this morning? Jess…” She wasn’t listening and gingerly Lizzie touched her shoulder. Jess turned and looked at her in surprise and Lizzie’s next words stuck to her tongue.

     Jess didn’t look right. Her eyes were open wide to where Lizzie could see red forming around them. It wasn’t like her eyes were bloodshot, but a ring of dark red ran the rim and were they stared at her, it didn’t feel like Jess saw her.

     “Jess?”

     She was breathing heavily. Her whole upper body was quivering. Lizzie thought she was having a seizure as her body was spasming. The eyes rolled up into her head and only the whites remained. Drool dripped down the side of her mouth. She was convulsing and Lizzie was left standing there not sure what to do or how to help.

     Then Jess closed her eyes and Lizzie had just enough time to see her body go limp to reach out and catch her. She couldn’t keep her up, Lizzie was nowhere near strong enough, but she could hold her and ease her down to the cold hard cement.

     “Is she going to be, okay?” Lizzie heard the man ask. She didn’t turn to face him but looked at Sarah instead who was also kneeling. Sarah looked just as scared as Lizzie felt.

     “Did you see her eyes?” Sarah asked.

     Lizzie nodded, then looked over her shoulder at the man. He was still in his car probably with the doors locked but he had rolled down his window.

     “I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

     He nodded, then looked to the lowering slope of the parking garage and then into his rearview mirror. No one was there. They were alone. “Look, I didn’t see her, she just came out of nowhere.”

     Lizzie nodded and then looked around, noticing for the first time that she didn’t see Jessica’s car, which was odd if she had just parked there and was coming towards Lizzie. Which how did she know where exactly to find her? That was some dumb luck of Jessica’s part as Lizzie had only told her the name of the lawyer and where his office was located. She hadn’t told her anything about what parking garage or where she had parked.

     “You should get out of here.” Lizzie said, and she didn’t have to look at Sarah to know she was drilling her eyes into her. “She’ll be fine.”

“Here,” he opened his door and handed her a business card, she didn’t look at it as she slipped it into her jeans pocket. “If you need to contact me.”

She didn’t watch him but heard the door close. Moments later the car was pulling away.

“Did you see her eyes,” Lizzie said to Sarah as she sat there with her friend.

“No why?”

“There was something wrong. They were red. I mean, like well part of them were. It was weird.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, What’s going on?” Josh said, pushing himself off the truck to walk over to them.

“You ever seen anything like that?” Lizzie turned to Elisabeth who had been standing back. Chuck had his arm around her, and they were keeping a distance from everyone. Had she been crying? Something was up with those two, but Lizzie didn’t think now was the time to pressure them.

“I didn’t see. What happened?”

“Her eyes were red.” Lizzie said.

“Like blood shot?”

“No, like she had a ring of red around her normal blue eyes.”

“Shit, who cares? What does any of this have to do with us. Nothing, unlike that envelope you conveniently forgot and slid into your back pocket.” Josh said, already losing interest.

“That’s odd. No, I’ve never heard of a red ring. Bloodshot or red eyes are burst blood vessels that can look and turn the pupils red. Just a red ring, that’s just very… well odd.” Elisabeth raised her arms in frustration and Lizzie turned back to Sarah. Jess sighed, and her headed rolled back and forth as she vaguely started to come around.

“Lizzie? Sarah?” Jess whispered; her eyes still shut. Lizzie’s eyes shot straight to Sarah, who’s own eyes had gone wide. Around them, everyone else grew still and it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the parking garage, everyone afraid to breathe.

“We’re here. I’m here Jess.” Lizzie said, holding her hand. Jessica’s eyes fluttered then open and at first, she just stared at the cement ceiling. Thank God, her eyes were normal, the red ring was gone. Then those eyes fell to Lizzie and focused on her.

We’re here?” She said, “Who else is with you?”

Chapter 13

She wasn’t surprised when she climbed in the car, to find Sarah in the passenger seat with Chuck and Elisabeth sitting in the back.

     “Where’s Josh?”

     “Who cares? I don’t.” Chuck said, obviously still upset that he had been attacked by the larger man.

     “Okay, I meant to ask you guys this last night because I gotta know, what happens when you’re not with me, in the car or whatever?”

     Lizzie turns to Sarah who shrugs, “I’m not really sure. It’s like, yesterday when you left with Jess. We were with you in the cemetery, but once you climbed in the car, you were gone and then we were back with you when you got out. It’s like … well I don’t know how to describe it.”

     “It’s like we don’t exist and then we do.” Chuck said, obviously frustrated.

     “It scares me sometimes. You’ll leave and we just disappear, and, well I don’t know what this is. I mean, we’re dead, right, but we’re linked somehow, to you, and when you leave, we just are gone and then come back wherever you are. Well, what If we don’t come back some time. What happens then? Do we move on? Are we lost in limbo? The darkness scares me,” Elisabeth was holding herself, struggling to hold in tears. “I don’t know why, but it does.”

     “And what happens when you are in the car? Why did Josh not come with? I mean, I know there’s not enough room for him, you really need a bigger car Liz, but who chose that he would be the one in the darkness?” Sarah added.

     “It’s scary.” Elisabeth said.

     “I hate not having any kind of control.” Chuck continued as he turned to look out the window.

     “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what happened, why you’re here. I’ve googled it and such, but I don’t know. I wish there was something I could do to help.” Lizzie said as she started the car.

     “We know that. Liz, you’re like a sister. I know you’ll be here for us. And we’re here for you, anytime you need us.” Sarah said as she reached out for a hug but stopped herself remembering that they couldn’t touch.

     “Love you sis.” Lizzie said as she put the car into gear, wiping away tears of her own.

* * * *

     Lizzie hadn’t been surprised that once she parked the car and got out, Josh was standing there waiting for them. He was disoriented, looking around at the parking structure, and now she understood why.

     The rest of them soon appeared around him, not having to get out of the car, but just at one moment sitting there and the next to be standing outside. None of it made any sense, but did she really want the answers?

     Josh immediately turned to Chuck and Elisabeth, his fist already clenching.

     “Stop it!” Lizzie said forcefully. Something must have shifted in her voice because all of them had stopped moving and looked at her. She quickly glanced around to see if she saw anyone in the structure before continuing. “We’ll talk about this later. Josh, I get that you’re pissed. Not sure what your situation is as we don’t know you, right?”

     She turned to Elisabeth and Chuck to confirm that they didn’t know him. They both shook their heads.

     “So, we’ll talk later and work this out. Right now, I gotta find out what’s going on with this lawyer and why he needs to see me so bad. I can’t have you guys fighting while I’m trying to talk to him. You guys make it hard sometimes when I’m talking to living people that I’ve been lucky no ones sought to have me committed. Please, not in front of the lawyer who actually could and probably would have me locked up. I don’t know if I trust this guy, he’s a lawyer.”

     “The only good lawyer is a dead lawyer.” Josh quipped and Lizzie nodded.

     “So please, no getting upset,” she turned and looked at Sarah, “with whatever news he has for us. We need to remain focused.”

     Josh was seething. She could tell he didn’t want to do what she was asking, his fists opening and closing were signs he was ready to throw another punch.

     “Josh, I don’t know what you’ve been through,-“

     “I was losing everything. All of it was going to slip away. My lawyer said I’d never see my family again. All because of these two idiots.”

     “Josh. Listen to me,” she moved so that she could get him to see her, then her eyes locked on his. It was hard with his disfigured face to look at him, but she fought to keep her disgust in check. “We don’t know what’s going on and I’ll be honest, we should have tried to figure this out. We really should have, but Sarah… I was being selfish, and I don’t know how I’d been able to handle her being dead. So, her and these two… I’ve been selfish. You being here now, that changes things and we’ll figure this out. I don’t know what’s happening or why you’re here but trust me. Okay.”

     Josh wasn’t saying anything, but just watched her. Maybe she was getting through to him. She’d like to think that maybe some of those psych classes were paying off but in truth she just said what felt right. Those psych classes had just taught her about Pavlov and Id and superegos. She hoped that speaking from the heart would help him.

     “I don’t know you.”

     “I know that. We don’t know you either which is-“

     “I don’t know you so I have no way of knowing if I can trust you. Why should I?”

     A car door slammed shut nearby and Lizzie turned, scanning to see if she saw anyone. In the distance, the sound of another vehicle making its turns in the garage as it circled through the layers trying to find a parking spot. It was getting closer.

     “I know you don’t know me. I’m just asking you work with me for a little while and go from there.”

     Josh continued to stare at her, and she felt like the scene was going to continue until someone saw them. It would become awkward, her standing there glaring at nothing. Then her phone rang, and she was relieved for a break in the growing tension.

     “Yeah?” She said as soon as she tapped the green button that was just below the glowing picture of her friend Jessica.

     “How ya holding up?”

     “I’m doing okay Jess.” She said. The group of the dead around her started to walk around her, some growing uncomfortable with just standing around in the parking structure.

     “Really? Its okay. You know you can talk to me.”

     “Who is it.” Sarah mouthed even though she had to know Jessica couldn’t hear her.

     “Jess” Lizzie mouthed back, and then into the receiver, “Yeah. While I was in the hospital I had met with a nurse and she’s helping me through it.”

     “A grief counselor? That’s good.” Lizzie wasn’t going to correct her, but it helped if her friends thought she had already been talking to someone. She knew that if she’d said anything else it would be the beginning of phone calls from a variety of friends and acquaintances, all offering their ears and their advice on professional help. This way, Jess would get word out she already had someone helping.

     That was much easier than explaining that she wasn’t really grieving because she hadn’t really lost her best friend. She was right there and continued to be with her.

     “Fine, I’ll trust you for now, but can we just get going? This parking garage has me uneasy. Don’t know why but it makes me feel like I’m in my own grave.” Josh said as he leaned against her car.

     “You know, I’m also here to talk and hey, I wanted to ask,” she said, “Dennis is working today, but I’m off with nothing to do. You want to get together later?”

     “I have plans this evening.”

     “How about lunch?”

     “Sure. I’m at the lawyer’s office now but can meet up when we’re done.”

     “Okay, when and where?”

     “I’m thinking sushi.”

     “Hmm, well,” Jessica said, and Lizzie could picture her as she closed her eyes thinking about her favorite places downtown. “We could go to Little Joe’s”

     “That works. Meet you there?” She said as Josh started pounding against the car. She turned from him and started walking towards the stairs.

     “Is that really necessary?” Elisabeth hissed at him just before he quit and followed Lizzie.

     “I don’t know what’s worse between the two of you.” Sarah said. Lizzie wasn’t paying any of them attention and missed the look Sarah gave the two men. “You two keep acting like a bunch of children. We’re dead. Get over it.”

     “What the hell did I do?” Chuck asked, running a little to catch up.

     “Both of you have acted like children. Your no better than him, yelling all night long.”

     “I get bored.”

     Lizzie didn’t wait for them as she entered the stairwell, the fire door slamming shut behind her. The silence enclosed around her, and she embraced its briefness as her and Jess finalized their lunch plans, and she disconnected the call.

     She took in a long deep breath, letting it out in a sigh. She was alone and it felt great.

     “So what floor is this lawyer on?” Sarah asked.

     Lizzie opened her eyes to see that they were all gathered around her. Her solitude was gone, she hoped that it would not be forever lost.

* * * *

     The entryway for the lawyer’s office wasn’t much better for privacy and Lizzie felt cramped in the little amount of space that was used for a waiting area. She had been surprised her first time there, and it hadn’t changed in the last two weeks. It was nothing like she’d ever seen when she watched them lawyer shows. Where was all the glass and the polished metal? There was none of it.

     Instead, what she found was that the office was in a complex, the third floor and over a bank. The front office area when she walked in had a younger man sitting behind a desk, an older computer and a monitor littered in post-it notes. The desk was covered in folders, and in fact, folders of paper were everywhere. The walls were lined with filed cabinets and even these had files on top of them. The whole room was a graveyard of dead trees as there was enough paper to fill a forest.

     Quickly after introducing herself to the man, his name was Adam and he had a slight lisp, she sat in one of the two chairs. Both were old leather chairs, dark brown and not fashionable to the light decor of the room. Though the room itself didn’t have much of a theme going for it. The walls were an off white, and Adam’s desk was was gray with dark accents. Someone really needed to fire the interior designer, but that wasn’t her place. At least it didn’t smell bad in there.

     Her first time there, she had thought she was in the wrong office. It was only after confirming she wasn’t that she thought the phone call and letter had all been some sort of scam. After all, who would leave her anything? She had forgotten about her uncle and her parents had long since passed away, and the little family on her mother’s side was nonexistent. She never knew why, but her mom wouldn’t talk about it.

     Now she was there again, and her dead entourage took up the extra room around her. She had to wonder about whatever force kept them with her and how it worked? Especially with the size of the small room, it would be nice if one or two of them had vanished into that in between nothing Sarah had told her about.

     Immediately Josh had taken the other chair and was quickly becoming bored with waiting. She was starting to get the sense that he was a highly impatient person. Maybe that had something to do with how he had barreled into Chuck and Elisabeth.

     “Thank you, Mrs. Robbins. I’ll talk to you again next week.” Adam said into the phone. He had been taking a payment and now lowered the receiver as he looked over to her. “I can check to see if he’s read.”

     “Thank you.”

     He rose and stepped though the door behind him. Other than the entrance it was the only other door in the room.

     “Hurry up and wait. Just as bad as being in the military.” Josh said as he slumped down in the chair.

     “You have some big date?” Elisabeth gave him a frustrated glare and Lizzie was suspecting that the truck driver was getting on many of their nerves.

     “Hey Charles, tell me, you like a good joke?” Josh said, not even looking at him, keeping his eyes returning Elisabeth’s stare.

     “Sure.”

     “You can come in,” Adam said as he quickly emerged from the office. Lizzie was quick to stand, already feeling crowded by the bickering dead people scrambling around her. The dead could be so annoying even if they couldn’t physically interact with her.

     “So, this man was working out on his roof, and it was hot and all that. He was putting down some new shingles with his friend helping him. His friend was getting frustrated and asks him, ‘Hey, what time is it?’” She heard Josh as he told them the joke while she left the room. Sarah was following and Lizzie wished the rest of them would stay in the outer office.

     If she’d been unimpressed with the piles of files in the outer office, she was equally unimpressed with the lack of files and the dingy furniture in the inner room. Even the computer looked liked it had been out of date five years ago. The desk looked like one of those back-to-school specials on sale for fifty bucks at any office supply store and the chair was a thrifty high back rolling chair with its faux leather torn along the back side. She sat in the chair across from the lawyer.

     The man behind the desk looked tired and old. When she’d seen him before, he had been an older man yes with a complete matching set of silver hair and beard, but it had been perfectly in place. In fact, to all the chaos his office represented, his appearance had been perfect.

     What has happened to this man? He looked so haggard now, his hair on end and skin was an ashen pale. His eyes were dark, deep shadows under them as though he hadn’t slept since she’d seen him. His suit could have been the same one he’d worn then and has since never been removed. It was wrinkled and fit him poorly. Had he lost weight since she’d seen him?

     Oh no, he’d better not be dying. If he did, would he become one of her ghosts? Something about this unkempt old man following her around sent a twinge of disgust through her. It just seemed wrong.

     “Hello Miss Rogers” he said as he looked up from his computer screen. “Do you like music?”

     She was surprised by the question, and he must have noticed as he smiled at her, and his pale face colored with embarrassment. She could see red stains on his teeth in that smile and she barely suppressed a shudder as she thought of the naked man as he crushed Sarah’s skull.

     “I’m sorry. I just, sometimes in rough times, get lost in a good melody. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting but had been listening to Dylan and was lost in that soulful way he releases his pain.”

     “The man saw as his watch slipped off, but he couldn’t stop it, it was going to go off the side of the roof.” Josh said, watching Chuck for any kind of reaction as they entered the room. Chuck lingered in the doorway, not entering quickly filling space.

     Lizzie briefly glanced up at them, annoyed. “I listen to mainly Imagine Dragons and stuff like that. I love Ed Sheeran.”

     “He has some good stuff. Nothing as intense as Dylan, but it’s great to just disappear into the rhythm and let your thoughts fade.”

     “Stop it!” Elisabeth hissed at Josh who didn’t care as he kept telling his joke.

     “So, the man ran across the roof, slid down the ladder and was running back around to the other side of the house, back over to where he had been when his watch had slipped off. All of this while his son-”

     “Thought you said it had been a friend helping him on the roof.”

     The lawyer seemed to have drifted away, looking blankly out his window, studying the view of the neighboring rooftop. Lizzie was relieved as she glared at the men that only she could see and hear and who had no regard that she was trying to have a conversation. Neither of them paid her notice and she briefly caught Elisabeth’s eye as she shrugged apologetically back at her.

     “Your right, his friend-”

     “I’m sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, sorry about that. I haven’t been sleeping well and as my partner passed away last month. I don’t know if you remember me telling you that, but he had, and this had been his case. He’d been managing much of your uncle’s dealings for the last ten, fifteen years.” The lawyer said. She tried to pay attention to him, but the lawyer spoke softly while Josh was loud, his voice boisterous.

     “But the man ran around to the side of the house. He was huffing of course by this point and the friend watched him, wondering why he was hurrying so much just to pick up his watch that by this point would have fallen to the ground.”

     Lizzie was shaking her head, getting frustrated with all the noise confusion floating around her. It was all too much, and she found herself closing her eyes to help herself focus. At the funeral it hadn’t even been this bad, but with both talking, Josh and the lawyer, it was like she had struggled to listen to two fighting, squabbling kids as they talked over one another. She just couldn’t do it.

     “-Are you okay?” The lawyer cut off whatever story he was just about to tell her when he’d seen her shaking her head, noticing the first in the latest set of tears.

     “-Yeah” she gasped.

     She could feel more tears welling up inside of her and she had no clue why. Why now? Why here? She could feel her chest getting tight and knew she was on the verge of letting loose.

     Come on girl, get it together.

     “Liz?” Sarah asked. Lizzie heard the lawyer getting up from behind his desk. She tried to push them all away, but found that the harder she tried, the more she thought of Sarah lying there on the floor.

     That had been her fault. All of it was her fault. Sarah wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for Lizzie asking her. Sarah would still be alive, with her her today and really be there for her.

     “Are you okay? Can I get you something or call someone? I mean-”

     He was hovering over her, and she wanted to listen to him and get this over with, but she just couldn’t tune it out. Josh was telling that hideous joke and with all the chaos around her, she just kept hearing him.

     “The man reached out and grabbed it. The friend had watched and couldn’t believe it. He called down and asked, ‘how’d you do that?’ and the man replied, ‘well, the watch always was a bit slow.’”

     Lizzie couldn’t help it. The joke wasn’t even funny, but she found herself giving in and letting the laughter take her. It brought with her more tears and she truly thought that the last bit of her sanity had just snapped.

     “Lizzie, come on. It’s going to be okay.” Sarah was saying. Lizzie had her head in her hands, the laughter shaking through her, but she could feel her friend close to her.

     “I’ll be fine.” Lizzie said, trying to reign in the fluttering of different emotions inside her.

     “Are you sure. I can get you a glass of water.”

     “I’m fine, really.” And if she just kept repeating that long enough, she might actually start to believe it herself.

     “You sure Lizzie?”

     “Yes, I’m fine.” Lizzie said, looking briefly at her best friend before looking back at the lawyer. She knew eventually she’d remember his name. It was something to do with food, she remembered that much.

     The lawyer was going to the door anyways and she had no doubt he would return with a cup, probably filled from the fountain in the hallway. So then, she had been surprised when a figure emerged in the door handing the surprised lawyer a bottle of water.

     “Thought she could use some water,” Adam was saying to the much older gentleman who nodded his appreciation. Though as Adam went back into the outer room and the lawyer was turning away from the door, she noticed that he was closing it behind him. Josh had quickly ducked into the room, pushing up against Elisabeth, leaving Chuck to sit it out in the waiting room.

     “So, you want to hear another one.” Josh said as soon as the door was closed and the lawyer returned to his seat behind the desk, passingly handing her the water as he had gone by.

     “I hadn’t realized you and your uncle were so close,” he said as he started sorting through his piles of folders, looking for one he eventually found near his computer. He pulled it out and perused the contents, occasionally looking at her. It took a few seconds to realize that he was purposely avoiding eye contact.

     She glared at Josh for a moment longer, long enough to see the little smirk and his quick glance to her. The smug bastard was enjoying this, and he was doing it on purpose. He was doing it and she was sure it was because he knew she couldn’t do a damn thing about it. She couldn’t just walk right over there and knock that damn smirk right off of his mouth.

     She would have too. She’d never hit another person in her life, but she felt the anger, the violence rising inside of her. She had never wanted to hit someone so hard in her life.

     “We weren’t. I don’t know if I’ve ever met him. He had a huge fight with my dad, and they’d never talked until just over a year ago, shortly before my parents passed away.”

     “Oh, my misunderstanding.”

     “My best friend just died last week.” She turned to look back at the lawyer who was now looking up from his folder and studying her. She could feel those judgmental eyes on her, and she hoped she was about to wipe that right off him. “She had been murdered in my uncle’s house while we had checked it out.”

     She watched the color drain from his face and his jaw was ready to hit the floor. Win! Score one for the crazy person. We’ll see if he still wants to judge her for breaking down in his office. Though she didn’t feel like a winner. Far from it.

     “I…I’m sorry for your loss. This happened at your uncle’s house?”

     “Yeah.”

     “You got a key?”

     “Yeah, Adam had given it to me when I had stopped by to sign the paperwork you left for me.”

     “Right right. Hmm,” he studied the piece of paper again that he had pulled from the folder. Then he pulled out an envelope that she hadn’t noticed before.

     “Is there a problem?”

     “What? For you, no, probably not. For me, maybe. It all depends on how you would like to proceed and if you decide to come after us, I completely understand. I just want to start by saying, I’m sorry about all of this.”

     “What’s going on?” She looked at Josh, surprised that he was staying quiet. He was still smiling at her but didn’t say a word. He just made that childish motion of zipping his mouth and then flicking over his shoulder as though throwing away a key. She turned back to the lawyer who was again looking her over.

     My God, he thinks I’m crazy.

     “I’m sorry but we misread the will. That is to say-” cutting her off as he could see she was obviously about to say something. “We left something out.

     “You see, your uncle changed his will a few days before he passed, and we hadn’t logged the new will into our system, so we went off what we had recorded in our latest file.” He handed over the envelope. “This was left to you by you uncle.”

     She gingerly took the envelope. It was yellow with age, probably having sat around that dirty old house for years before he finally used it. Then she looked at the front to see her name delicately printed in that messy handwriting of his. Each word of her name was printed large and readable, and he had spelled out her whole name, not the nickname everyone else called her. “Elizabeth” plainly visible as she took it.

     She immediately noticed the hum that emanated from it the moment it touched her fingers and there was something inside it. There was a lump of something larger and irregular and she felt a piece of a sharp edge that was ready to bite her.

     “Okay, so what is so important that I needed to rush down here.”

     “Well, that’s it. The new will stated that you were not take possession of the house or have any of the money until you took possession of that envelope. We couldn’t transfer the money or move ahead with anything else until you had it.”

     “Really? So what’s inside it?”

     “No clue. It arrived sealed.”

     “Okay then, well that’s odd, but so was my uncle.”

     “Never met him. All his business was normally through my partner. This thing with the new will, it’s all strange. Doesn’t make sense to me, but-” The lawyer doesn’t finish what he was saying and instead looks out his office window. “Tik-tok”

     “What?” She looked around to see that everyone else had heard it too. They were all studying the lawyer. Even Josh who probably had no clue who the shadow man was had caught on and turned to watch the lawyer.

     “Tik-tok.” The lawyer seemed to break out of whatever trance he had gone into and turned to look at her, though she didn’t feel like he had fully returned. His eyes were glazed over, and he had this dreamy quality to his voice as he spoke. “Tick tock, it’s getting close to lunch, and I have a meeting. Was there anything else I can help you with?”

     Lizzie shook her head and got up slowly, not taking her eyes off the man. He had already dismissed her and had gone back to shuffling around paperwork on his desk. She watched and wasn’t sure if he even realized he did it, as he slipped her folder to as far away from himself on the desk and as if that wasn’t good enough, buried it under all the other files.

     She left the office, catching out of the corner of her eyes him turning back to the window and gazing out. The sounds of Johnny Cash followed her out. She hadn’t even seen him press play or turn to his computer.  As she waved to Adam who returned it politely, she could hear the soulful chorus of “When the man comes around.”

     In the elevator she realized she was still holding the envelope. Why hadn’t she opened it in his office or even now as she was in the elevator?

     She turned it over and studied the writing. It was her name, written in large letters. Whoever wrote it had taken great care to get it right and there were indentations from the pressure from the pen.

     “You gonna open it or just stare at it all day?”

     “Shut up Josh.” Sarah hissed at the larger man.

     “What you gonna do to me sweetheart? Kill me again?”

     “Calm it down.” Chuck said. Lizzie ignored them, something that when no one else was trying to talk to her, she was getting quite good at.

     “Go ahead playboy, take another shot. If not, then just stand there in your corner and let the adults here have a conversation.”

     “What the hell is your problem?” Chuck was getting closer to Josh, his fists clenched.

     “My problem?  Really? You’re going to ask me what the fuck my problem is.” The door to the elevator opened and Lizzie was quick to exit into the parking structure. “My problem is I’m fucking dead. I’m dead because my life was ruined when you two dipshits pulled out in front me. I was facing vehicular manslaughter charges and my scum bag of a lawyer said the best he could get me was six years in jail. I was going to jail, no way to support my wife and kids all because of you two dumbasses.

     “Then it gets better because I just don’t die, I’m stuck in some kind of limbo purgatory hell with you two shits, that glaring bitch, and some kid who we follow around with no fucking control, always just whisked away to wherever she is.

     “This is bullshit, and she’s got an envelope, something in her hand, right there, and she’s not rushing to open it. Fuck this. Fuck you! I want this shit to end, and she’s not doing a damned thing about it.”

     Lizzie hadn’t really thought much about it but noticed it struck her as there was something different. It was how she heard him talking so crisply. She looked at her friend Sarah and noticed that, yes, her face was different. Like part of it had healed a little and wasn’t so disgusting to look at and that she’d been able to speak clearly the longer she was dead.

     “Lizzie?” Sarah was looking at her, those soft blue eyes that had melted away many hearts still had the ring of blood shot, but it had clearly faded since she had first come back from the dead.

     “Don’t trust the dead.” Isn’t that what someone had written on her parents’ tombstone? Something close to it. What did that mean? Had someone else been surrounded by them.

     “Just open the fucking envelope.”

     “You think all this has something to do with her uncle.” Elisabeth said, looking back and forth from Lizzie to Josh and then back.

     “And you don’t? Are you that fucking dense?”

     They were all looking at her, she could feel their dead eyes collectively drilling into her.

     “What about all that creepy shit we saw there. It was like, like he worshiped the devil or, I don’t know.”

     Lizzie had forgotten about the carvings on the floor, the drawings, what had looked like blood, the burned candles. All of it was pushed away and she hadn’t realized just how hard she had tried to forget it. It was like how she kept forgetting that her best friend was dead, which it was so easy to do because there she was, standing and talking to her. But that wasn’t her, not truly. That dead thing was not the girl who had slept over at her house.

     She turned the envelope over in her hand and then grabbed a corner to rio it open.

     Her phone chirped breaking her focus. Then another chirp. She pulled it out and looked at the screen. There were nearly ten messages, all from Jess, the last one saying “There you are! I see you. Walking over.”

     That was when Lizzie heard the screeching of tires, a horn blaring and amongst all of it, she heard the screaming.

Chapter 12

     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 earmuffs 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 her sleep deprived mind couldn’t place it.

     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 at her worst.

     “You know, sometimes I wish you were a ghost rather than whatever you are.” 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.

     Someone was still knocking on the front door, but Lizzie noticed that outside her room it had quieted enough that she could make out the faint sound of someone sobbing.

     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.

     “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 her cell dropped from her hand.

     “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 her that she must have left them there. 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. 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-fire 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. 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. 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 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. She slammed the door 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 has 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 lost 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 to 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 gone, 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 rushed to see what was going on.

     Lizzie’s apartment was not that large and like 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 income in the near future, it was a bit above what she could afford. Even working, it had been tough for her.

She hurried into the living room to find Chuck and the stranger standing nose to nose squaring off gain, but the picture that was on the floor 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 staring 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 said.

     “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?” Lizzie said.

     “I told you last night.” The man said.

     “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. That wasn’t good.

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

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

     She remembered the text she had gotten earlier and pulled 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 exclaimed, and he stands quickly. “It’s you two! You’re 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 ground, everything on the table clattering out of their way, remotes, books, and magazines flung to the floor.

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

Chapter 11

     It took Lizzie longer than it should have to realize that she was waking up from the nightmare. The world around her still shook and the laughter, his laughter, followed her even when she opened her eyes and saw she was back in her bedroom. 

     Had all that only been a dream?

     “Lizzie, wake up!” Sarah was yelling at her and the shaking? It was Sarah and Elisabeth somehow, Lizzie wasn’t sure just quite how they were doing it, shaking her bed.

     They hadn’t been able to move things before, how were they doing this? She didn’t have time to think about it too much as she saw their worried faces as they were looking down at her. They were scared, but they were dead. What could scare them?

     “What?” She said. Her voice was little more than a whisper, her throat dry and raspy as she was still not fully awake.

     The laughing wasn’t going away, but it changed. It didn’t sound like it had in her dream. It wasn’t that growing cackle that had shook the room, but it was a deep raucous sound that was exploding out of the other room. It was coming from Sarah’s room.

     Lizzie’s face went pale, and she turned to her best friend, then to Elisabeth.

     “Where’s Chuck?”

     They both turned to the open door. Across the hallway was Sarah’s old room, the door wide open.

     She hadn’t stayed at Jessica and Dennis’. They had been kind enough to offer and had pushed saying that they had plenty of room for her, but she still said no. She understood their concern. They didn’t want her sleeping alone, not there in that apartment she had once shared with Sarah. What they didn’t realize was that she still shared the apartment with her.

     The first night she had slept in the apartment she had done just like she had always had. When she had gone to bed, she had made sure the door was locked and the inside doors were all closed.

     It had driven her three guests nuts. Well, one dead roommate and two guests. The apartment had been Sarah’s too, and when she’d been woken up around two a.m. because they were all bored, she had been reminded of that. It seems that dead people don’t sleep, and without friends to torment, they get bored.

     Since then, she’d gotten in the habit of keeping open all the doors in the apartment and the television on. That is, all the doors but her own. Not her room. Her door always stayed closed. Last night had been the exception.

     Coming home after the funeral and being with Jessica and Dennis had left her in an awful state and she couldn’t stand to be alone. Lizzie and Elisabeth had been happy to stay with her and it had almost felt like a slumber party until she, mid-party, crashed.

     That had left her leaving all the doors open, even her bedroom’s. Oh no, that meant that Chuck could have been in there watching her sleep at anytime. Who knows what he might have tried to do.

     She knew this was a childish thought. It wasn’t like guys hadn’t seen her naked, though never when she hadn’t wanted them to. Him checking her out while she was sleeping was not cool.

     She looked at Sarah who was still looking at the other room, scared. The thought returned… What could spook a dead woman? She was already dead.

     “Sarah? What is it?”

     Sarah slowly turned to look at her, her remaining eye wide. “He’s in there,” she whispered.

     “Who, Chuck? What’s he doing in your-“ Lizzie was going to say room, but before she could say this blunder she saw that Sarah was already shaking her head.

     Lizzie looked back to the open door. If it wasn’t Chuck, then who was in that room?

     She couldn’t stop it. The memories of that naked man as the maggot slid from his scrotum to land on her chin twisted her stomach. The laugh wasn’t right. She was pretty sure of that, but could she be certain? She remembered the penis lurking over her and later looking into Sarah’s eyes, but other than that most of that day had become a hazy blur. Could she say for sure that wasn’t his laugh? She didn’t think she could.

     But how could he have found her? The police had said he had been dead. It couldn’t be him.

     He could find me. He had already been dead when he attacked Sarah and I, so what was possible didn’t make sense anymore…

     Yet she was surrounded by dead people. They were becoming a part of her everyday life. She was beginning to think that the dead just don’t stay dead anymore.

     No. that had not been his laugh. It had stopped of course, the other room now eerily quiet. The whole apartment was. The two people hovering over her weren’t making a sound. All of them were watching that open door and the other room.

     “What’s going on? Sarah?” Lizzie tried to whisper as quietly as she could.

     “Some guy showed up. He went in there.”

     “Should I call 911?” As soon as she said it, she realized just how stupid the question was, but it was too late, the words had already escaped her. To her surprise, Sarah shook her head.

     “I think he’s dead.”

     “If not, he’s got a terminal case of missing-the-back-of-your-head disease.” Elisabeth whispered and Lizzie had to struggle to take her eyes off the woman. Of course, if it was another dead person now joining her undead entourage they would be able to see how the person died. All of them had the tell-tale signs like gory tattoos, each identifying their deaths. They were the bleeding but not bleeding wounds, as blood sometimes seemed to trickle but no messes were ever found beneath these walking corpses that followed her.

     “Who’s dead?” Lizzie whispered as she tossed away the tangled covers and pushed herself out of bed.

     “No clue.” Sarah said as she looked over at Elisabeth who shared her ignorance and was shaking her head.

     Who the hell was in the other bedroom? She didn’t want to go in there, but she had to find out. Besides, they couldn’t hurt her, right? Both her and the dead person would get intensely sick, so it wasn’t even possible.

     The wood panel floor was cold to her bare feet as she stepped into the hallway. The air in the apartment had a chill as well and she wondered what it was like outside? Had the temperature finally dropped? Should she be turning on the furnace. The little fog of her breath escaping as she breathed made her think it was time.

     Behind her, Elisabeth and Sarah both hung back in her room. Of course, the two dead people were hanging back afraid. After all, what did Lizzie have to lose? Only her life, so you know, no big deal.

     She gave them both dirty looks before turning back and taking another step towards the room.

     A crash came from inside the room and Lizzie quickly was beginning to realize that everything she had thought she had known or had learned about the dead was wrong.

     Fearing the worse, she held her breath and took the last step, entering the room.

* * * *

     There was another crash as she entered and this time she saw the glass from the picture frame gliding across the room, stopping just inches of her foot. She looked at it and then where it came from to see two dead men entangled and fighting each other. One she recognized. The other was a stranger to her.

     Chuck was underneath, but the new guy was on top and had Chuck pinned down. Chuck was flailing back and forth, fighting. The two of them were kicking out, thrashing the bed, Sarah’s dresser, her clothes hamper… and the furniture was moving as they did. That wasn’t possible but it was happening. The picture that had fallen had been on Sarah’s dresser. These two had knocked it down. The hamper was swaying back and forth ready to topple over at any time. Then with one swift kick, it fell out over and a week’s worth of forgotten dirty clothes spilled out.

     Lizzie’s jaw hung open as she watched the fight, but then she heard the gasp come out behind her.

     “Stop it!”

     The first yell didn’t come from Lizzie, but from behind her. “I said stop it!” Sarah bellowed and the stranger turned to them in surprise. Chuck took the opportunity to push him off and the stranger rolled with the push and used the momentum

     “Yeah, and who the hell are you?” The stranger’s voice was a raspy gurgle and Lizzie watched as exposed muscle tissue from under his jaw waved with the motion of what was left of his mouth. Half the bottom row of teeth was missing, one dangled there, and flesh from his neck hung strung down in what seemed to only be held together by hair from his overgrown beard. She could almost see through the long hair, the large hole through his chin. It was hard to look away, but she had to as she thought she was going to puke. She had started to get used to the disfiguration of her friends, they weren’t looking good themselves, their own deaths all gruesome leaving them horrified remnants to follow her around. This stranger who was obviously dead was much worse.

     “Doesn’t matter. You’re in my fucking room.” Sarah said, quickly passing Lizzie to loom over him.

     “Like hell it doesn’t. What the hell’s going on here. Wait.” He was confused, Lizzie watched as he struggled to fight with himself when it came to forming words. “Why can’t I talk right? What’s wrong with my mouth?”

     “Half of its missing dumb ass. That’s what happen when you blow your brains out.” Chuck grumbled as he pushed himself up from the floor. He glared at Lizzie and then turned that hate at the rest of them standing by the door.

     “Missing? Blown Brains.” The man was confused but getting angrier as he tried to speak.

     “Can you tell us who you are? Because we don’t know you. Right?” Lizzie looked at Elisabeth and she nodded. None of them knew who the hell he was so why was he here? So far Lizzie kind of understood why her friends were coming to her. They all had at least some connection. She didn’t know why they were back from the dead, but she knew why they came to her. She’d been the last one with them, each of them before they died. Unless this man died in the same apartment, it didn’t make sense for this stranger to be there.

     “I…” He looked at them strangely, his hostility shifting, transforming as Lizzie could see his eyes getting wet. He looked around the room at them, his gaze lingering on Elisabeth, his brow raised in curiosity. Then that look was gone, and he turned back to study Chuck. His hostility returned and with a fire he turned that blazing stare back to Lizzie.

     “Josh. My name’s Josh.”

     “Any idea what you’re doing here?” Lizzie asked but Sarah was quick to snap herself back into the discussion, and more importantly what she wanted to know.

     “And what the hell are you doing in my bedroom?” You would think Sarah had found them going through her underwear drawer and had pulled out one of her panties.

     He just glowered at Chuck. If they were dogs, they’d be growling at each other, both with their macho egos on full display. Lizzie was getting sick of it.

     And then she noticed the glass on the floor. She hadn’t thought too much of it before, but there was something odd about that. She couldn’t place her finger on why it bothered her, but it did.

     “So, are we done here? No more fighting?” Lizzie said.

     “Who the hell are you people?” He barked. Lizzie didn’t know how she understood him, his speech was garbled by the missing parts of his mouth, but she still did. She let it go, but still ignored him, her glare lingering on Chuck.

     Chuck shrugged his shoulders, looking from Josh and then back to Elisabeth. A weak smile flashed as he stepped over to her and hugged her. It felt right to see them hold each other and Lizzie realized that since they had died, she hadn’t seen them touch one another. It had been like they had been avoiding it. Now they did, and the hug grew stronger, and she barely heard him whisper to her, “It’ll be okay.”

     Lizzie hoped so and she turned to Sarah.

     “You guys figure all this out. I’m going back to bed.”

     Sarah nodded and then to everyone, “Okay everyone, now let’s get out of my room. Out out out!”

     “I want to know just what the hell is going on! Who are you people and how did I get here?”

     “Josh. Your dead. Face it and live with it. We don’t know who the hell you are or why your here, but there it is. Next time don’t blow your brains out.”

     Lizzie heard her friend giving Josh the low down, but she didn’t wait to watch her get them out of her room. She was too tired and felt like she was going to have a lot of bullshit to deal with in the morning. She walked across the room, closed the door, and crashed down onto her bed.

     She knew she’d been tired and after the initial surge of energy from being forcefully awakened waned, she was ready for sleep.

     Questions haunted her. There were many of them. Why had people she had known, some friends but Chuck she had barely met, come back from the dead? Why were they hovering around her? What was the connection to the new guy, the one no one knew anything about? Though he did seem like he recognized them. She might be wrong, but she thought she had seen it, just a hint of it when he looked at Chuck. And why had they been fighting?

     And there was something about the glass, how it had shattered and slid across the floor. There was something odd about that and she couldn’t place what it was? Maybe in the morning she’d figure it out.

     A long yawn escaped her, and by the time she’d stretched and settled back into bed, she was drifting off into sleep. This time, the nightmares left her alone.

Chapter 7

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

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

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

     “Lizzie? You okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Maybe she really was crazy…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Chuck!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “I did… I died there.”

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

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

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

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

     “What?”

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

     “I thought I had. I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “You sure?’

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

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

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

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

     “You’re kidding.”

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

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

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

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

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

     “Sure.”

     “So, you get what you needed?”

     Lizzie nodded, holding up her keys and her phone.

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

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

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

     “I’m not sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “I’m dead.”

     Lizzie nodded.

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

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

     “Can we get out of here please.”

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “You should go home, get some sleep.”

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

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

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

     “Decent. Better when your sick.”

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

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

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

     “That bad, huh.”

     “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Sarah would be with her for a long time.

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

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

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

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

     “Why would I?”

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

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

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

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

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

     “Damn, what a bitch.” Sarah said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really am losing it.

“Lizzie. Earth to Lizzie. Anyone home?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Get your hands off of me.”

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

     She was defeated. This woman had her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Lizzie, wake up!”