“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.
“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.”
“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.