A Father’s Day gift from me to you…

INSIDE THE MIRRORS is currently FREE on Amazon. Load up your Kindle with this horror treat…

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Just read a great review for my novel Hatched…

“The book Hatched is the first in a series about the zombie apocalypse. There are a ton, dare I say WAY TOO DAMN MANY, zombie things out there. Luckily for us, this is unlike any you have ever read.” – James Amthor

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Dead Friends: Chapter 27

She had made it about five steps out of the kitchen and into the mess that was the dining room before realizing she would have to go back. If she was going to have any chance at finding garbage bags, the kitchen was her best hope. With it being the cleanest room in the house, it was her best hope of finding anything.

It hadn’t taken her long and she had been quick, into the room and back out. It had been a stroke of luck to find a couple boxes of garbage bags under the sink. Her uncle had plenty of them, she couldn’t understand why he hadn’t been using them. Though she could think of one reason, he had given up.

Of course he had given up. How many years had he been stuck in this cabin all alone, unable to talk to anyone but the dead. How long do you think you’ll really last? He made it nearly fifteen years, you were just a little girl when he had been struck with the curse. Do you really think you’ll last that long?

She had to push the thoughts from her head, as she knew the answer, and already feared it. She had been in the cabin less than half a day and already it was starting to wear on her. The constant bombardment on insults coming from outside, the silence in, and there was no one she could talk to. If only she had someone she could open up to, but the moment she did that, the moment she gave that creature another target.

Stay focused. The dining room had plenty to occupy her mind. Looking around, she could see the piles of papers and books. There were a lot of them, but there was also just a lot of garbage thrown about. She figured her best bet would be to start from the farthest corner and work her way out from there. That plan was a failure when she realized she couldn’t reach the farthest corner as there was just too much junk in the way.

“Well crap. Fine then,” she said to the empty house. She wished she had her phone. At least then she had some music she could play and the house wouldn’t feel so empty. 

She went to the farthest she could go which was actually near one of the chairs. The chair had scrabbooks piled on it, and well, it was as good of a place to start as anywhere else. Clear off the chair, then she would have a place to sit and work out from there. She could work her way to corner and then work out in all directions from there. It seemed like the best plan that Lizzie could come up with.

“So what do we have here?” Lizzie picked up the binder and opened it. The cover was covered in dust, but opened to reveal photos. It was an old photo album. The pages were yellowed and all the pictures were vintage. They had that look to them like old photos. It reminded her of that filter she used on Instagram a lot, though she couldn’t remember what it was called. Many of the pictures were washed out, but all of them had smiling faces. Some of the photos contained people she even remembered, while most were alien to her.

She came across a picture of her parents with her uncle and his wife. They were all standing there on a cliff, the beautiful skyline behind them and a lake that could be seen much lower than they. Underneath the photo was written on a little label, “Starved Rock Vacation, 2002.”

2002… That would have been shortly before the curse passed down to him. They all looked so happy, young, and oblivious to the hell that was about to crush them and tear them apart. Lizzie ran her finger along the photo. A tear slipped from her and landed on the clear film that protected the page and soon there were more landing there. Her parents so happy, her uncle smiling his big tooth filled grin. Lizzie wasn’t sure where she was or why she wasn’t in the picture. Her mother had just begun to lose her pregnancy weight, but there were still signs of the bump that had been her.

And there was Cynthia. Lizzie had forgotten how beautiful she was and how happy both of them looked together. They were an amazing couple that should never have been torn apart so viciously.

Lizzie turned the page to find more photos. Many of the pages were filled with ones similar to the previous one, all taken while at some national park and so long ago that she wasn’t even able to walk yet. Her parents must have had her grandparents watching her, but couldn’t imagine why they would have left a near newborn alone with them for what looked like a vacation.

As she progressed through the book, it showed other memories. Some of them were with her parents and some were with friends. It seemed like her uncle was so well liked as he always seemed to have large groups around him, and at the center he was always with Cynthia, both of them with wide genuine smiles. Had they ever truly been as happy as their pictures made them look. She remembered him, barely, but when she did, she thought mainly of the big fight her dad had with him.

She turned a page and saw the four of them. Her dad, mom, Cynthia and him as they all stood. Then she saw the little girl in the background and saw as she was running to them. Behind the girl was an agitated woman, and Lizzie immediately remembered Cynthia’s sister who would watch Lizzie as her parents and the two of them would go out to parties. In the background, Theresa was the sister’s name, was chasing after Lizzie as she was supposed to be watching her for the day.

* * * * 

“Daddy! Daddy save me before the monster get’s me” Elizabeth yelled, though she had to fight it as she was also giggling as she ran.

“Elizabeth!” The monster, who was a young woman wearing a black formal dress, called out as she tried to chase the little girl through the crowd of people. It wasn’t hard as she was wearing healed shoes instead of her flats and trying not to bunch up her dress by running too fast. This left her moving slow as she was more mindful of how she continued to look later in the day than the girl she was trying to capture. “Elizabeth get back here!”

The girl darted through the crowd of well dressed people, while the woman chasing her had difficulty getting the other adults to move out of the way. Because of this, the girl was able to seek out her target and rush him long before the monster had any hope of catching her.

“Woah there.” The man groaned and looked down at the girl whose age was around four years old, wrapped around his leg. The man smiled at her bemused and then looked over at the other man next to him. “I think I have something that belongs to you.”

“Oh?” The other man said, looking down at the girl. He made a funny face at her and she giggled as he looked back to the man. “Nah, I don’t think so. I don’t recognize her. She looks like a wild beast. Why don’t you keep her.”

“Daddy!?” The little girl said, releasing the man she had clung to so that she could wrap herself around her dad. 

“Nope. Don’t know her. My daughter is a nice, good little girl who is being good for her aunt. I mean, you kinda look like her, but she would never be running through a church.”

“I’m sorry Dan. She just took off.”

“It’s okay.” Dan said as he looked down at his little girl. She could see that he was trying to give her the ‘hard’ look but she also saw his hints of a smile. She didn’t know it then, but later would discover that he was working hard to bite back the laugh and joy of being around his little girl, his ‘Lizzie.’

“Well, we should probably make our way in to pay our respect.” Tom, her uncle, said as he looked over at Dan and patted his back. 

“I’ll take her over to the other kids so they could play. The church opened up the youth center since there’s so many here.”

“Really? I mean, I don’t even know half these people. I mean, who are these people? Our uncle hadn’t been seen by anyone in our family for what, twenty years?” Her dad said as he lifted Lizzie into his arms.

“As far as I knew, yeah. He’s been a compete recluse hiding away in that cabin of his.”

“I heard someone say that’s it’s all family of his wife.” Theresa, otherwise known as the monster aunt, said as she reached out to take Lizzie from her father.

“I got her, I’ll walk her in.”

“He has a wife? Someone was actually living with him in that run down shack?” Tom said as they walked towards the church entrance.

“I knew he had one, but she had passed away a while back. Dad never said much about it. He didn’t talk about his brother much. It sounded like every time they had talked it had been a big fight.”

“Da- Dang, man.” Tom said, obviously catching himself from cursing in front of Lizzie. She, of course, stuck his tongue out at him and he in return stick his out at her. They both giggled.

“Mr. Rogers?”

Both Tom and Dan turned around to see a short man, bulging out of his suit as it seemed like someone had forced the man to be shorter and now the fat was being forced out. Lizzie had to struggle not to giggle as the man fought to pull his pants back up and keep it from again falling too low.

“Yes?” Dan asked.

“Mr. Tom Rogers?” The man was questioning, obviously not sure which man was his intended person of interest. The brothers looked at one another and then Tom turned back, a raised eyebrow in question.

“That’d be me.”

“Okay. I used to be your uncle’s best friend. He asked me to draft a will, and have you as beneficiary. I’ll need you to swing by sometime later today to go over everything.”

“Today? What kind of lawyer works on a Saturday?”

“He was a friend. He asked me to do this and said it was very important to go over what you inherited right away.”

“Okay. I don’t see what’s so important and I’m busy today and tomorrow. Cynthia and I have plans and I’m not going to break them because I inherited some old shack in the woods. I can meet you at the office on Monday.”

“Your uncle said it was important we did this right away.”

“I’m sure he did. He was nuts.”

“Look, I’m sure our uncle had some crazy idea that his cabin out there in la la land was some big deal,” Lizzie’s father said, stepping up to the shorter man, his agitation clearly getting the better of him. “But this is his funeral. Why are you doing this now?”

Her dad looked from the lawyer to a couple that was entering the funeral home. Lizzie recognized them vaguely but wasn’t sure until they stopped to say something.

“Dan, why didn’t you get a sitter. A funeral is no place for children.”

“Tammy’s sister is going to watch the children during the service.”

“That doesn’t mean they should be here.”

“Yes Ms. Tamarack.” Her father exclaimed with a frustrated sigh that he tried to hide from the older woman. She responded by shaking her head and entering the building.

“Ms. Tamarack? What is she doing here?” Tom said, his mouth slightly agape at the shock.

“I asked her to come.” The lawyer said. The brother’s turned to face him again, Dan having to shift Lizzie as the four year old was getting heavy. “Your uncle has been away for many years but came to me last week. He had me do his will and then asked that I’d get ahold some of his old friends. It wasn’t easy, but I think most of them are here. Of course a number of them had died over the years, but the ones I knew to still be around are here.”

“Why?” Tom said, beating Dan to ask the question.

“He didn’t want his funeral to not have anyone. He said he spent the last twenty years in isolation, he didn’t want his funeral to be…empty.”

“There you two are,” said a very pregnant Tammy as she approached. She had a plastered on smile that anyone close to her knew was for show. She’d been in a lot of pain with this pregnancy and was supposed to be in bed. She had ignored it, saying that if Dan was going to be there to show his respect, he was not allowed to do it without his wife.

He returned her smile as she approached. It was just as forced, neither of them wanting to be there. Lizzie hadn’t realized at the time just how little anyone had wanted to be there. She clung to her father and gave out that annoyed look to them all, quickly bored as there was little to do in the ‘stuffy’ place that was filling with people. Some weren’t even dressed up but had just come in their regular casual wear. Dan noticed it now that the lawyer had said he had to talk many of the attendees into coming.

“Hey Hun,” he replied as he lowered just enough so she could give him a peck on the cheek.

“Want me to take monster?” Tammy said and she didn’t wait for a reply as Lizzie was already holding out her arms to her mom.

“You sure?” Dan looked at the protruding stomach and saw the frustrated grimace that flashed.

“Dang it,” and then she looked to her belly and added, “You better be good looking like your father because your kinda a pain in the butt like him.”

“Oh really?” Dan said.

“Your lucky you’re cute.” She said, flashing her first genuine smile of the day.

“So l’ll see you after the ceremony?” The lawyer asked, bringing everyone’s attention back to him. 

“What’s this?” Tammy asked.

“He needs Tom to stop by his office after the funeral.”

“Fine.” Tom said in resignation.

“On a Saturday?” Tammy said.

“Say’s it’s important.” He said to her then turned to Tom, “see you inside.”

Tom nodded, “Yeah, I’ll be in as soon as Cynthia’s back. She had to run for smokes.”

Lizzie’s father nodded and headed into funeral home, his daughter in one arm and the other one wrapped around his pregnant wife. He was going into a house of death, but right then, he felt like he had everything he could have that would make him happy in life.

* * * *

Lizzie turned the page in the scrapbook, realizing that the picture hadn’t actually been from the funeral. She didn’t know what it was about the picture that had brought back such an odd memory. Maybe it was being in the cabin and remembering her dad and uncle talking about it. She could never be sure. 

It was just another picture, one of many, just like the memories that were pulling at her. There were so many to remember, so many things to think about. That’s all she could really do now, was to remember and think. That’s all that was left being out there in the cabin, alone in the woods.

She turned the page, and then another, studying all the smiling faces looking up at her. Everyone was smiling and happy. She wondered if she would ever be able to see smiles like that again in anything other than a picture.

She already knew the answer as she closed the cover of the book and set it on the floor next to her chair. She’d keep the book, so it would be the first object to go into her ‘keep’ pile. As long as she didn’t confuse the piles like she would sometimes do when she was organizing her apartment bedroom, she should be fine and able to look through the pictures again someday.

She reached forward and pull the next bundle from the pile. This one was a bunch of envelopes with what looked to be unopened spam mail. She wanted to just chuck it and throw it all away, but couldn’t. All it would take would be to do that once and she might just miss that one scrap of information she would need.

With a grown, she opened the first envelope. Yep, there it was, the solution to all her problems. She had just won Publishers Clearing House. She was rich and now she could live that life of luxury.

With a chuckle, she tossed the envelope into the garbage bag and started on the next one.

Dead Friends: Chapter 25

I’m thinking of shifting the release day for my posting of this story from Tuesday to Wednesday. Tuesday is such a big day with new releases that there is always so much else that you could be reading. I would love to hear what you think. Should I post these bits of story on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday?

Getting back to the story, and this week the tone changes somewhat. I hope you like it…

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Elizabeth,

I.. I really don’t know how to write this or even what to tell you. There’s so much. I’ve written this letter so many times over the years, though not always addressed to you. I figured the curse would fall on to others before you. Then when Tommy died, I knew you would be next.

I’m sure none of this makes any sense. It doesn’t. It never has made any sense for me as well and I’ve lived with it for nearly fifteen years. I think it’s been fifteen. Time is a little hazy when you are isolated and it feels much longer, but when I try to do the math, that’s what I come up with. 

All this, I’m sure I sound like a crazy old hermit and I’m sure that’s how I seem to you. I don’t know what you’ve been through. I know a little about your life, and I have no clue how your life has been since my death to you reading this letter. I was hoping to make everything…

Shit, I’m losing myself and getting ahead of things. I’m sorry. I just don’t know how to get this started, tell you what you need to know and catch you up on the little that I know. I want you to be more prepared than I was.

I know you don’t know too much about me. You think that your dad and I had a huge fight and then I chose to live out here in the woods. Bet you think I’m a really big weirdo, huh. Well part of that is true. Your dad and I got into a fight, but it wasn’t what kept me away. I had already moved out here to the cabin after Cynthia died and your dad was worried about me. The fight was about him wanting me to come stay with you guys and I wouldn’t leave the cabin. He was afraid for me, how I could just leave behind my successful job and all my friends to live alone out here. How could I tell him I was doing it to keep him and everyone I cared about safe. 

Cynthia was dead. It is my fault. That’s not survivor’s guilt, but a fact. You have to understand this curse that is your true inheretence inheritance and I am so sorry that this burden has fallen on your shoulders. I still remember the day you were born. I was at the hospital with your dad. I held you in my arms. Your eyes were closed and boy could you scream. You came out with such a set of lungs on you. 

You were also the most amazing thing I’d seen and I couldn’t wait for Cynthia and I to have one of our own. We were trying. In retrospect it was a good thing that our wishes had never come true as I think that would have broken me when this fell on me. Then this would have been your dad’s burden and we would have lost all of you. Well, I would have already have been gone, but it would have been your dads turn to lose everyone he loved. 

Maybe that would have been a good thing. The blood line would have ended. Yeah, hate me for saying it. I hate myself for writing it, and I really don’t think it was smart. I don’t even think that would have ended it. It might have just made it worse.

I’m still getting ahead of myself. Let me start over.

I don’t know what it is or what it wants. I don’t know if it is a curse on our bloodline or something to do with this house and where it stands. I have a bunch of theories but none of them matter. What does matter is that all those close to you, friends to you, anyone you keep in regular contact with, will die. I wish I could say that was the end of it, but they will die, and then come back and haunt you. (Though I don’t think that haunting is the right word. Most of those who have come back have been very nice. They know I loved them and they have never truly left me.) 

Not all who come back though are people you know. I don’t know why, but those connected with those who die around you, those who are killed by the curse and are affected by it. Damn, I don’t think I’m explaining this well.

Say a man died. He had a girlfriend. She gets depressed because her boyfriend was killed and kills herself. Well, now not only is the boyfriend haunting you but so is his girlfriend.

I don’t know how or why this works this way. I’ve spent years trying to figure all this out and still, it doesn’t make sense. As soon as I think I know all the rules and what they are, things change and I have to learn everything new again. 

Sometimes I think she does it just to mess with me, but I’m not ready to touch on that yet, so Hey, what else do you need to know? Dead come back and haunt you. Check. Anyone you care about and keeps in contact with you is going to die. Check. Oh yes, even if you get to familiar with someone on a regular basis, guess what, they’re going to die.

You’ll end up never wanting to leave this cabin or talk to anyone from the outside world. I almost never left and my only contact with the outside was pretty much through phone and internet. Yes, there is internet here and WiFi. Sorry, but I destroyed my computer tonight. Well, shortly before writing this letter to you. You’ll have to buy your own laptop I guess or bring your own if you thought to do so. Password for the WiFi is a set of numbers on the box in the corner. All the utility bills are paid for in advance for the next ten years.

Yeah, you don’t have to worry about much financially.  I bet your wondering where all the money came from. I sure as hell didn’t inherit it myself. All I had to start out was this cabin and the curse. I didn’t even get a letter to explain any of it, just stories of my crazy uncle who lived by himself out in the woods.

What I found was a niche market that I could use my technical knowledge and craft things to make old objects of immense value, work again. Essentially I fixed old antique clocks. These clocks are each handcrafted so there are no set parts for them so to fix them, I had to handcraft the replacement part to get them running again. On some clocks I made nearly a hundred grand and being the poor boy I was growing up, this blew me away.

The back barn is my tool shop and work area. It’s less cluttered and safe as well. The same incantations that are placed around the house are placed around the barn as well. However the path between the two can be dangerous. It partly has to do with the talisman, which I guess I should explain how that works. Well, I’ll get to that in just a minute. I need to tell you one last bit about the clocks.

I have one that is finished for a Mr. Douglas. I had called and told him the work is complete and should be sending an employee to pick it up. It will probably be Mr. Ketchum. Ketchum is an older man and he’s grown surly in his old age. You won’t like him. No one does. He’s rude and pushy and will criticize everything. Just make sure you get the fifty grand they still owe for the work.

Oh, money. Yes, you got a lot in the inheritance, but there’s more throughout the house. I didn’t do much banking so who knows how much is hidden away in this house. It’s not like I got much of a chance to spend any of it. People came from all over the world for me to work on their clocks and I loved to work on them. 

There’s another clock that is partially done. That is Mr. Barlow’s. His information will be in the barn. You’ll have to look for it and let him know it won’t be done. Be careful. He’s a dangerous man. Very dark. I was always afraid of him. Something about him always felt, I don’t know, they just felt wrong. I don’t know how to say it. It’s like, he could feel her presence and that he enjoyed coming here. Maybe it’s why I never dealt with any middlemen and he came himself. He seemed to relish it and he always had more clocks for me to fix. It was like he was seeking them out. Be careful with him.

So what else to pass on… I’m not really sure. When I started writing this I wanted to pass on what I could. Now that I have started it, I don’t want to quit. I don’t much interaction with people. Writing this letter, telling you what I have truly passed down to you and get it off my chest is refreshing though I am so sorry what it means for you and the rest of my life.

When it was passed down to me, I wasn’t given anything. Our uncle passed away, and I was told that I had inherited his estate which was essentially this cabin. There was no money to live off of, no note, and I had no clue he had even existed. Our parents had died young and Tom and I had grown up not even knowing about him.

Cynthia and I came to the cabin. It wasn’t in any better condition then. It had no interior plumbing, and the kitchen was in what is the dining room now with an old wood stove. It was very different then, but in some ways very much the same. I mean, the layout has changed and I’ve done a lot of work to it. I’m not an architect so much of it I was teaching myself as I went, but I worked my way through it. It gets lonely and boring out here all alone, the only people you can talk to are the ghosts from your past.

Cynthia died in the middle of the night. We had gone back to our apartment and were unsure what we were going to do with the cabin. I woke up in the morning with her cold body lying there, her face turned to me and those scared haunted eyes looking at me sleeping as the last thing she saw. 

I can’t tell you about that morning, of finding her, who I called, or really anything that happened for the next day as it was all a blur. I had turned over to give her a kiss, and had done so without even really looking at her, my eyes still only slits. 

Then, it was the next day and I’m being woken up mid way through the night by the sounds of screaming that quickly fell away to crying. I got out of bed, and saw her there sitting in the corner, her arms wrapped around her legs that she had pulled in. She had her head down and she was crying. It was obviously her, I knew it the moment I had heard the scream. She used to scream at mice many times over the years, and I knew the scream’s owner.

I had called out her name before I approached. She had started when she had heard it. Then she had looked up. 

I’m not going to go into any details. Its hard to remember and so much of that time is confused, but she hadn’t known she was dead. Something had happened, she was sure of that, but where I thought she had died of natural causes, she shook her head vehemently ‘no.’

That was when she told me about the shadow thing. At the time, I thought it was death and that all people who died had some grim reaper that came for them. I can not say how happy I was that your dad was out of town on business at the time and was only working as hard as he could to get home to us, that instead it was my best friend who came to me that day to try and console me through the grief and help me plan the funeral. Otherwise it may have been your dad to have been hit by the bus as he left my apartment instead of Eric.

The next morning, Eric’s dead presence was in my apartment to join Cynthia. The day after that, my sister Sarah joined my dead friends. The city bus had crashed and it hadn’t been just her that was there. My apartment was starting to not feel big enough as there was just too many of them. Now, not only were there the people who had been on the bus, but I now had the family that was in the car that the bus had hit.

All of them were confused. So was I, but I couldn’t help but think how odd it was that my uncle had lived so far away from people. I’ve never been a superstitious person, but I had never heard of anyone having the dead, anyone connected with a person, any of it, coming back like this. It was a fair assessment to say that this was all connected, and I was freaking out. I needed to get away from people, and the cabin seemed like the best place.

Damn, I’m running out of paper. I tore these pages out of my last diary. I knew this day was coming, I hadn’t thought to buy more. You might find past notes in the trash. Hell, maybe theres a note or two I’ve left for others in the past. I’ve outlived most the people I thought I would past this curse onto.

For the last five years, I have been keeping diaries. There will be much of the information in there. 

I’m sorry that I’ve left this onto you. I wish I could have lived longer. If your reading this, then something happened. I don’t know what, but I’ve felt like something was coming for me these last few days. If I’m right… If not, there’s also them. Maybe the dead finally got strong enough to kill me. There’s been an odd thing of late, or maybe I’m just imagining things. I could be wrong, but I think in the last year or so, they’ve been getting stronger. They started as only mere shadows. I could see through them, there wasn’t any substance. Now, I can see them as plain as day, like they were really there.

I wish I had more for you, but this is the best I can do. I want you to know that I have always loved your family and you. Your dad was my best friend, and I hated keeping him at a distance.

Damn. Okay then. I’m sorry.

Free Summer Reading: Saying Goodbye

It’s time to kick off summer reading, and the first title available this year is Saying Goodbye.

Available this week for free on Kindle, download your copy today!

Saying Goodbye
Truck driving is a lonely profession. It is hard on both the driver, and the families that love them. One of the hardest moments in the drivers life if after being on the road for weeks, they return home for a couple days before leaving again. They leave, and it is then that they must say their goodbyes. For this driver, he must say his final goodbye.

….and add the Audible narration for only $1.99

 

Dead Friends: Chapter 23

We return and continue on with part 3 of our story. Have you been enjoying it so far? Let me know by leaving comments and feedback. It is always appreciated.

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Are we in… the story is about to begin….

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Part 3

Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking as she tried to wrap them around the coffee cup. She couldn’t control her breathing. Like the rest of the her it was erratic and didn’t want to be controlled. She couldn’t calm down and why the held should she want to? She had just seen her ex-boyfriend with whom she had just had sex with, killed by some shadow creature from another plain of existence.

It reminded her of that movie Roland had once made her watch. It was the one with the guy who cut off his hand and replaced it with a chainsaw. He was looking at himself in the mirror, telling himself that everything was fine when his reflection grabbed him and tells him, “you just chopped up your girlfriend with a chainsaw, does that sound ‘fine’ to you?”

Well she had just saw her friend die. In the last few weeks she had seen most of her friends die, many of them coming back and had been nice to her until she put on the damn necklace. Why had she ever put it on, it didn’t matter. Because as she tried to calm herself she couldn’t help but think of all that stuff and then whispered to herself, closing her eyes to let a single tear fall and say “does that sound fine to you?”

No, it sure as hell didn’t. She wasn’t fine and she knew it, but what was she going to do about it? She had no one to talk to and it seemed like anyone I did talk to ended up dead.

Her phone sat on the counter. Jessica still hadn’t called her back. Lizzie had already left her four voicemails since she’d left the room. She had only made it forty five minutes down the interstate before she was starting to drift off behind the wheel and in that time she had kept trying to get ahold of her friend, fearing that her friend was dead too. That dream had been so vivid. It had to be more than just a dream.

She eased the coffee cup to her lips again, holding it tightly to keep it from shaking. It took an effort, but she sipped at the bitter brew. She wasn’t a plain coffee drinker but hadn’t been able to process the ingredients on the counter to sweeten her drink.

“Figured out what you want or do you still need a few minutes.”

Lizzie jumped in her seat and looked up at the woman standing over her. The woman was smiling at her, her teeth yellow from years of coffee and cigarettes. Her eyes were dark, sunken in from what Lizzie guessed was lack of sleep. Her nose had a ring in it and Lizzie realized she couldn’t guess the woman’s age. She looked old, her skin winkled and ashen, but Lizzie wasn’t sure. This woman looked life hardened, and made her age irrelevant. She was ancient in the ways of life and that was all that mattered.

“I’m sorry, you just startled me.” Lizzie noticed, glancing at her coffee, thankful none of it had spilled. Had she really drank three quarters of a cup already? How had that happened?

“It’s okay.” The waitress said as she brought over a fresh pot of the dark liquid. Steam rose from it as she poured. “Is everything okay?”

Lizzie internally chuckled at the question, not able to get that damn movie out of her head.

“Not really.”

“Do I need to call someone for you? Or are you hiding from someone? I can call the sheriff. Pete’s a decent guy. If your boyfriends doing something he shouldn’t, Pete’ll set him straight.”

“No, but thank you. I just-“ she cut off mid-sentence. What was it, did she need? She wasn’t really sure. She wasn’t sure of a lot of things. None of this, nothing in her life and her the course is of the last three weeks made any sense.

So, if she needed anything it was that. To make it all make sense. She needed to think.

No, she needed to figure out where to go. The cops would be looking for her and the last thing she wasn’t was to explain why she had been with her cheating ex-boyfriend when he had died.

“I guess I just need a piece of paper and a pen if you have one?”

“Sure thing.” The waitress said as she ripped off a piece of paper from her order pad and set it on the counter as well as pen. “Did you want to eat anything?”

Lizzie thought about it. Her stomach was in knots and the coffee was only going to make it worse unless she ate something. She just wasn’t sure what. She needed something to soak up all that acid that was burning her insides.

“I’ll just have a waffle with wheat toast on the side.”

There was a ding from the bell over the door to the diner and the waitress looked up. Lizzie followed her gaze to see two men, both looking tired. One of them smelled of diesel, though she wasn’t sure which one. As it was an all night truck stop, they were probably both truck drivers coming in for some middle of the night nourishment.

“Sure thing.-“

“World’s going to hell in a hand basket. Come on, you hear some of the crazy shit they say been going on out there?” One of the truck dr hers was saying. His voice billowed out from him and it was obvious the man had no concept of an ‘inside voice.’

“I’ll be right with you gentlemen.” The waitress said looking up at them as they sat a couple stools down from her. They nodded, but she had already turned her attention back to Lizzie. “And like I said, need anything else, just let me know.”

The woman held her in her gaze and Lizzie was transfixed by her. She could turn to look away, those eyes, the compassion emanating from this stranger as she briefly let her hand rest on Lizzie’s own, all locked her into this woman’s control.

“Thank you,” Lizzie felt herself say the words but it didn’t feel like it came from just her lips. Some where deep within her she felt a weight lift and for a short time felt it would be okay. Maybe she could think on everything that had happened, and she could make some sense of it.

There was a release and Lizzie found herself blinking her eyes, fighting back the tears that threatened. When she looked up again, the waitress was already talking to the two men, both of whom already had their cups turned over and Alice was pouring them the steaming coffee.

Okay, so she had to figure out what was going on.

She looked at the slip of order sheet the woman had given her and flipped it over to the blank back side. There she scribbled at the top, “What I know.”

So what did she know? Well, her friends were dying and then sometime during the night they came back and haunted her. Well they had. Now with the necklace on, they only attacked her in mirrors and somehow had the strength then to attack her and nearly kill her.

This wasn’t working. She had to focus. She needed to figure out the timeline and keep it in order. If she just started writing down random thoughts she would be all over the place.

Sarah had been killed by a dead man who Lizzie hadn’t know. That was strange as it was the only time the shadow man had used someone not associated with her and had somehow dug up the thing from the nearby graveyard. Had the sheriff said the graveyard was nearby? No, he had said it was on the other side of town. The dead man had to have dug himself up to work his way across the small community to end up there for when they arrived. That seemed farfetched so Lizzie had to wonder was someone working with the shadow man or controlled by him like he controlled the dead man?

Something else about that didn’t add up. Her uncle’s note said she would be safe from the dead in his house, but somehow the dead man was able to get in. Sarah hadn’t been able to get in. There had to be something different about the dead man.

“You know that was horse shit right? Another government cover up.”

“Yeah like you know what happened.”

“Hell yeah I know. I know one of the survivors. He’s a trucker. He said that the dead were attacking people.”

Lizzie’s head spun as she turned to look over at the two men. They were completely focused on each other and their coffees, neither seemed to notice her as she watched them intently.

“That’s bullshit.”

“You know, I’d agree. But I know the guy. He’s not the kind of guy who makes this type of shit up.”

“So what, there were zombies and the government just up and nuked the town? Because the idea of home grown terrorists blowing themselves up is more farfetched.”

“Lizzie vaguely recalled what the men were talking about. Something about terrorists blowing up a small town. She only remembered it from Roland talking about it, talking about them dumb flatlanders blowing themselves and everyone around them. It had only been a blip in her radar as her parents had died and she was till reeling with it. The president could have been killed and she’d barely have known as she had lost herself to her own bubble and nothing else mattered.

Kind of like what she was doing now.

She wanted to break into their conversation and ask about the dead killing people, but didn’t get a chance when Alice was back refilling their cups. They had both stopped and watched her, but she had looked to Lizzie with an inquiring raise of her eyebrow.

“You need something, honey?”

It seemed like all the world was trained on her as everyone was watching her now. The two guys had turned to look, and Alice kept her gaze.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Heyya cutie. What’s got you out so late.” The taller or the two men said to her. He was the one whose friend told him about the dead. The other man shook his head, turning away from them both as he took another drink from his coffee.

“Nothing.” She said as she focused her own cup.

“We weren’t disturbing you were we?”

“It’s okay.”

“Just ignore my friend here. He seems to got zombies on the brain.” The shorter man said, looking around his friend so he could look at her.

“Its….it’s okay. I just hadn’t heard anything about-“

“He’s talking about the town that somehow managed to blow itself up. Hayward, or something like that.”

“Hammond.” The taller man cut in. The waitress seemed to already have grown bored with the conversation and stepped back, probably to place the men’s orders with the cook.

“Hammond, that’s right. You remember that right.”

“Not really. My parents had just died. I don’t think I really-“ her voice trailed off and she saw the sympathy in their eyes.

“Sorry about your loss.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, but I get what your saying. Anyways, Hammond had some kind of home grown terrorist living their, no one ever said who, just that there had been a small cell, and they had built a dirty nuke. The fools had screwed up and blew themselves as well as the whole town right off the map.”

“Which doesn’t make no sense. If had been a dirty bomb, there would still be radiation all around there. There’s not.”

“How would you know. Military’s had the area locked down since it happened.”

“Not farther out. There’d still be traces.”

“So but your friend said their was zombies? Reanimated corpses?” She cut in.

“Yeah, this guy Bruce. He’d been my trainer and we stay in touch. Ran into him a few months back shortly after it happened. He was pretty shaken up about it. Frustrated too as they had him quarantined so long afterwards that he nearly lost his wife.”

“Just why in the hell would he be in quarantine.”

“Because they don’t know what caused the shit. He said their was something to do with spiders but he didn’t understand it all. Just said it have been some freaky shit and didn’t know how he survived. Said if it got out that he was talking about it that he’d be a dead man or locked up for life.”

“Then why’d he tell you?”

“Because he was stressed about it and needed to talk to someone. I was someone.”

“Wreaks like bullshit to me.” The shorter man said and looked over to Lizzie, giving her a knowing wink, though what he thought she knew, she wasn’t sure. She had already drifted from the conversation thinking about that day in the house. Had their been any spiders? She hadn’t recalled seeing any. Each time she’d been there, she hadn’t noticed any bugs. Even outside there had been a lack of mosquitoes, which was odd the more she thought about it. When was the last time she’d ever been in the woods and there had been none of the blood-sucking bastards.

“Order up,” called out the chef from the kitchen and Lizzie turned to see her food in the elongated window that separated the kitchen from the dining area. Alice appeared from wherever she had been hiding to avoid being a part of the conversation and made her way to it.

“It may-as-well-be. I’m just telling you what he told me. Something strange about what happened, though I’ll admit it sounds crazy. But you think about it, there’s some crazy shit in nature.”

“Like what?”

Lizzie was only partially following their conversation, no longer participating as she watched Alice pull her food down from the window, put butter on the waffle and then create a small plate of fixings to go with the food. Once done, Alice was able to magically hold it all as she brought it the short distance to where Lizzie sat.

“You ever hear of zombie ants?”

“Your full of it.”

“No, no. I saw it there on Facebook.”

“It’s on Facebook so it’s gotta be true huh.”

“Hey asshole, there’s good stuff on there. Saw some guy post about some article in one of hem science magazines.”

“Uh huh.”

“Here ya go. You need anything else with these?” Alice, the waitress, asked as she set the plate down with all the condiments. Lizzie was surprised to see the little metal pitcher shaped container with warmed milk and wasn’t sure how she was supposed to use it for the waffles. She didn’t ask, instead only shaking her head to Alice as she tried to pay attention to the two men. It seemed interesting, but she wasn’t sure it had anything to do with her situation.

“It’s how this fungus controls these ants you see, and have them doing what they want them to do. The ants are dead and this fungus controls them.”

“No, thank you.” Lizzie said and Alice nodded, giving the men a frustrated looking before turning back to Lizzie with a wink a nod.

“Think I heard about a movie like that. Something about kids being special zombies.”

“What the hell are you talking about. No, this is about this fungus controlling ants.”

“Enjoy. Hopefully these dingleberries will talk about something a little less disgusting and allow you to eat in peace.” Alice said, walking past them on her way into the back area.

“Sorry about that. Derek, shut the hell up.” The shorter man said, looking at the other one.

“Sure thing. Sorry about that. You go ahead and eat up honey. We’ll talk about something more frustrating.”

“Like how much longer the Bears coach has before he’s run out of the city with his head on a- ur, I mean how much longer until he’s fired.”

Lizzie wasn’t paying them too much attention. She had looked over, and she had acknowledged them, evening nodding as they started down into some new argument. She tried to act interested, but her mind was already whirling to somewhere else. She couldn’t stop herself from thinking about what the man had said.

The old man hadn’t been the first time that dead things had come back. While she didn’t think of them as zombies. That made her think of too many bad horror films and there was no room in her thoughts as she tried to focus on the new reality shaping itself around her for those. She had enough nightmares to worry about.

The old man had dug himself out of his own grave to somehow find its way to her uncles house. Why? How? Something was definitely different there. It was like the shadow creature needed some way of starting… this, whatever this was.

She wrote on the paper.

Dead man

-how did he come back to life

-why did he come back

Friends

How is he killing them?

Why?

What does he get from it? He feads feeds off it somehow.

He’s feeding off of her… She had gotten a sense of that when she had merged with him earlier, but she wasn’t sure how that worked. It was like, somehow with how he tormented her, it fed him. That didn’t make sense though, as he would eventually deplete whatever he got from her and they would be done. Also if he had been feeding off her uncle the. Her uncle would probably not survived as long, or the thing would have starved if her uncle hadn’t been nourishing it.

Damn, why didn’t the thing try to find someone else. What was so special about her family?

She wasn’t sure if she did have any answers to any of it, and sitting in the diner wasn’t going to do anything. She came in there for coffee, was she really going to try and eat too? Her stomach twisted and she knew it’s opinion was she would never eat again.

“It ain’t no skin off my back.”

“Hell, you’d never off anyone the shirt off your back either.”

“Asshole.”

“Well, what do you expect. You only roll through here every couple of weeks. It’d be nice if I got to see my brother more often.”

She looked at her piece of paper to avoid looking at the squabbling brothers. There wasn’t anything new written there but she saw what wasn’t written there and began to realize what she needed to do. She had been right to not call her brother. If she had, it might have gotten him. Everyone she loved was in danger.

She had nowhere else to go. The cabin was it. It was far away from everyone hidden out in the woods. That would keep everyone else from dying, and with all the junk her uncle had, maybe there was some answers. Maybe he had found something that would help her.

It wasn’t like she would be like her uncle. She wouldn’t go there and stay hidden. She was just hiding for a little while as she got everything sorted out.

“Not hungry?” Alice, the waitress said as she seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“Not really.” Lizzie said, quickly flipping over her piece of paper she had been writing on.

“Yeah, well, least your hands aren’t shaking as much. Get some things figured out?”

“Maybe.”

“Sometimes to find answers, we just need a respite along the way.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Lizzie put the piece of paper in her little purse and pulled out her wallet. She didn’t look at the bill but dropped forty dollars on the counter. She knew it was more than enough to cover it, but money wasn’t her concern anymore. She almost relished the time a few weeks ago when it had been.

Lizzie was almost to the door when Alice called after her.

“Remember these dark times you’re going through, you will find a path to the light. ‘For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”

Lizzie gave her a weak smile. She had respected the older woman, but never had appreciated when people quoted the Bible her. She had enough of that growing up, and what did that faith ever do for her parents, her brother, or her. The woman had been nice so she nodded a thanks and then turned to look at the two men sitting there.

“Hey you guys, just so you know, I’ve seen it. Sometimes the dead do come back, and if it was enough of them, then I believe they would have nuked a town.”

She left them there looking at each other, jaws dropped. She had to chuckle a little to herself as she walked to the car. If she ever had a mic drop moment, that had been it.

Dead Friends: Chapter 19

“I think I’m losing my mind. They’re always there, or they were. So much, death… and these things keep happening. I don’t know how much more I can take.” Lizzie said, holding back the fresh wave of tears that lingered on the horizon. If it wasn’t for the hot cup warming her cold hands, she would probably have slipped back into the balling mess Roland had helped off that sidewalk.

It wasn’t much. They were only at the late night coffee shop near the hotel they were about to check into. Since she didn’t let him call the cops on the bum he had chased off, something he still felt was a mistake, she had allowed him to lead her there.

Her hands still shook when they weren’t clutching the hot cop. The tea still steamed though they had been talking for a few minutes. She didn’t know why she should trust him enough to tell him everything, but she had.

This was the guy who cheated on her. That anger still flowed hot and heavy inside her, but he was also the guy she had shared and spent so much time with. Talking to him was easy, she had started telling him some of the story and then all of it just rolled off her tongue.

His hand rested gently on her wrist and she looked up from the steam of the cup to meet his eyes.

“It going to be okay. We’ll get through this. You said they were always with you, but they’re not now?”

“Not since I put on this.” She pulled the talisman out from under her shirt. In the dim light of the coffee shop it had a menacing quality to it as the lights overhead seemed to flow around it bathing it in shadow. Roland reached for it but then pulled his hand back. She could see the hesitation. He was unsureness of what to think or do. His hand rested back on hers.

“Okay. We’ll get through this.”

She wanted to ask about Natalie and where she was in his plans on helping her. Instead she bit back the words and let the anger ebb out of her.

“I’m worried about Jessica. I just have this feeling that it’s after her right now. It’s just a gut feeling, but-”

“Do you even know what ‘it’ is?”

“No, but I’m sure it has something to do with my uncle.”

“Sounds like it.”

Damn he was taking this better than she had, though she did suppose she’d had more information to tell him, more for him to go on when all of this started happening to her. She had the pieces thrown at her and now he could see the whole puzzle. At least as much of the puzzle she already knew.

“I don’t know. It seems like it’s killing my friends or anyone who has anything to do with me. Jessica’s my next closest friend. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost her.”

“Liz, we’ll get through this.” He said to her. Behind them the door jingled and a blast of cool night air brushed against them raising the hairs on her arm. She turned to see two college aged girls coming. They were giggling, talking about someone named Michael. One was dressed nicer than the other and Liz guessed she had just finished what had to have been a bad date if they were together and the girl was not with the boy.

They looked happy. She had been like them once. The weight on her chest made her doubt she would ever be like that again. After all, her uncle had lived alone in the woods for the last eighteen years. He had hidden himself away from everyone he knew or loved.

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

“Who?”

“My uncle. I mean, he just cut himself off, hid himself alone in that cabin. My dad never knew why, he thought it had something to do with a big fight they had and the loss of my aunt. What if there was all this going on?”

“Well, how long was he out there?”

“Eighteen years I think. It started after I was born but long enough that I don’t remember any of it.”

“That’s a long time to be out there alone.”

“What if he had to be? What If it was the only way people would stop dying?”

“But he made you that talisman thingy.”

“Yeah, but it sounded like in the letter that it doesn’t work for too long. I don’t know how any of this works.”

Roland let out a long breath, looking at their hands for a long minute before looking back into her eyes. When he did, she saw the hint of a tear, tucked away on the edge just ready to slip away down his cheek.

“It’ll be okay. Okay. You hear me, it’ll all be okay.” He said it solemnly and she could feel the amount of will he put into his words, like repeating them would somehow make them all true.

“I know.” She looked at her tea, the steam having gone and the lukewarm cup still untouched on the table. “I gotta use the bathroom, then maybe we can get out of here?”

“Sure.”

She rose from the table, only bumping the edge a little, which was better than she thought she’d do. She was always being such a clutch and knocking into tables while standing was pretty much a given for her. She was happy when she didn’t knock over a drink or cause one to spill. It was a win for her and right now she needed as many wins as she could manage.

She found the bathroom in the corner of the small coffee shop, down a narrow dark hallway. The woman’s bathroom was at the end just before the steel door marked “Exit” and right below it a sign proclaiming “Keep Door Closed, Alarm Will Sound.”

The bathroom was just like others she’d been in. It was a large chain and while she hadn’t been all over the country, the ones in Wisconsin seemed to all follow the same layout. She was quick to pee, and felt comfortable doing so in the large clean room.

It was a large room. Larger than it needed to be and larger than bathrooms in other coffee shops, retail stores and restaurants. It offered more privacy as only one person could be in the room at a time. It gave her plenty of space.

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

They were all there, behind her. Josh, Elisabeth, Chuck, and Sarah all stood behind her and they looked angry. The hatred that burned in Sarah’s eyes was foreign as Lizzie had never seen anything like it. Her eyes, all their eyes were black, and they all bared their teeth in snarls. Nothing of the friendly camaraderie they had shared the past weeks was there. They all looked so angry and all of it was turned on to her.

She turned to look at them directly but they weren’t there. She couldn’t see them without seeing their reflections in the mirror.

She didn’t have time to think anything more of it as she felt something wrap around her and then she was spun around. Her head was slammed against the mirror and she tried to blink away the sudden tears that formed.

“Look at us!” An echo of voices all of them yelling in concert at her. She could hear them as it vibrated through her skull, the sound loud enough to push through any thoughts.

“I…I thought you were gone.”

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

The force that had pushed her against the mirror released her and she pulled back to see that it had been Sarah’s hand that had her.

“Yeah, whatever that thing is, it doesn’t release us.” Josh said. Strangely enough he was to the back of the group and looked at her with less hostility than the rest of them. In fact, was he… he looked like he felt sad for her, or was that guilt?

“You sent us to hell.” Sarah snarled at her and then thrusted Lizzie’s head back into the mirror. It slammed with an audible crack and she was sure she would find shards of glass wedges in her skin and hair. She tried to close her eyes to protect them, but the pressure on the back of her head let up as Sarah quickly reached around to hold up her eyelids.

“Oh, no! Keep those peepers open. You wouldn’t want to make me have to cut those off would you?” Sarah said as she leaned in close to Lizzie’s ear. She got really close, looking her in the eye though the mirror, she whispered, “Look at me. See what you did. You did this to us. I should have known it was about you. It is always about you. You did this.”

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

If Lizzie didn’t know any better, she would have thought Sarah had just died and was still in that pool of blood back in her uncle’s kitchen. Well, her kitchen now, but it didn’t matter. Her friend, dead friend, mattered. Before Lizzie had put on the talisman, each of her dead companions had looked better. She wouldn’t say their dead conditions were healing, but they had faded, the image of death not as strong around them. Sarah had almost looked like she had before they had entered the cabin.

Now death permeated from them, their stench filling her nostrils when before she had never been able to smell them. They were… more real, but how when she couldn’t even seen them if not looking through the mirror.

“Say something bitch.” Sarah snapped at her as she slammed Lizzie back into the mirror. This time it was hard enough that darkness swam around her on a river of stars. She felt her body go limp and she crashed to the floor.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Are you alright in there?” A woman’s voice called out from the other side of the door. Lizzie wanted to respond to her. She could hear the woman, but it sounded like they were in a tunnel and she was far on the other side. When she opened her mouth to yell, her air was cut of. Something hard was wrapped around her throat.

She tried to open her eyes, but some kind of fabric was wedged against her face. It smelled like dirt and decay. She didn’t want to imagine what it was, but it kept light from evolving in the world around her.

She tried again to call out but she opened her mouth in vain as she felt something forced into it. She couldn’t keep away the horrific thought of the old man’s penis, the one who had killed Sarah. She remembered the maggot that fell on her, and gagged at the fear that it had now somehow been forced into her. No..he wasn’t there with them, but Chuck and Josh were.

“Miss, I’m going to get the manager. If your having a seizure, don’t worry as we will be calling 911. Are you sure your not okay?”

“Oh no, you’re definitely not okay. How stupid does this bitch have to be? ‘Are you sure your not okay?’ Sarah hissed into her ear. “Like if you are having a seizure, can you please take it somewhere else to die.”

On the last word, Lizzie felt her head being lifted and then slammed back to the floor.

“Sarah.-“ she tried to gasp out the name around whatever had been forced into her mouth. It pulled the cloth further in and she spasmaticly shook against being restrained. Her body shook more vehemently without her having any control. She felt like a blind passenger in her own body as it continued to writhe around on the floor and she couldn’t stop herself or see what was happening around her.

There was the cloth and she felt it touching the back of her throat. She couldn’t breathe, that was enough feeling.

“Your going to die. I’m going to kill you. You sent us to that place. You put us there and you know what?”

“Miss?” A new voice spoke from the other side of the door, the concern evident in his soft spoken tone. Strangers outside the door who were worried about her while her best friend was trying to pound her head through the tile.

“We know why we’re here. Yes, we know.”

Lizzie heard keys jingling on the other side of the door as the pressure on top of her intensified.

“Lizzie!” Roland called out from the other side. “We’re coming in okay?”

Cold struck against her ear in an arctic blast as Sarah hissed the words, “We’re here because of you. You killed us.”

The door to the hall swung open and the pressure on Lizzie disappeared as well as the gagging sensation down her throat. Whatever had been in her mouth and on top of her was gone. She was left only the after affects. Small tremors ran through her as she gasped in mouthfuls of air.

She felt arms around her and saw a shape forming above her as the darkness faded.

“Sir, I don’t think you should be lifting her up like that.” The barista, probably the manager said from behind him. She could feel the smile creasing her lips and she wasn’t sure why but God it felt so good to be held in his arms.

“Lizzie, are you okay?”

“Cindy, call an ambulance.” The manager said to the scared looking girl who stood behind him.

Lizzie shook her head, though it hurt. Marbles seemed to be rattling around in there as the grey matter didn’t quite feel right. She bared it as she pushed herself up to lie back in her elbows.

“No, I’m fine.” She sad to them. Though she knew she wasn’t, she was not going to another hospital. She had enough of them and had no intention to be going back to one tonight, even if it was only for a couple of hours.

After all, who knew when her friends would return.

Fear the zombie spiders…

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Dead Friends: Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Though, if there were multiple attackers…

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

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

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

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

“Hello?”

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

“Yeah, hey who’s number is this?”

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

“That explains it. So what’s up?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine.”

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

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

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

“Yeah, well that was pretty impressive.”

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

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

“Thought you said you were going camping.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she had no way of stopping him…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked so concerned. Was that really for her?

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

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

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

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

Dead Friends: Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am.”

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

“I hate to do this-“

“Oh?”

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

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

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

“I’ll be right back.”

“Okay.”

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

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

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

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

End…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica… The shadow man…

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

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

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

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

Screw this, she needed to know.

She called her friends number.