Dead Friends: Chapter 40

“Jessica! Jessica wake up!” Lizzie yelled and her voice burned in her own throat as she tried to scream harder than she had ever screamed before. She was not about to watch another one of her friends die. No matter what she had to do.

She tried to reach out again to pull herself along the ground, but her injured hand refused to work. She was forced to bring it back to herself, tears falling as she worked to ignore the pain. Each time anything shifted around her hand, new stabs of pain made it hard, but she bit down on it, biting into her own lip until she tasted copper.

“Jessica, please. God wake her up. Please God!” Lizzie called. She was not a religious person. Jessica was the one who never missed a week of church. Lizzie hoped that maybe that loyalty would reward her. At least, Lizzie prayed for Jessica’s sake. “Please!”

Lizzie heard laughter behind her, and knew that it was mocking her. Overhead, the large black birds were crying out, squawking as they reached the apex of their flight. Lizzie didn’t have to look up to see that they were coming back now, formed in they’re final formation.

“Please Lord help us.” Lizzie muttered under her breath as she shifted on her place on the ground. She didn’t try to pull herself along the ground anymore. The cobwebs had cleared, and she was able to think so maybe she could run. She had to try.

She rocked back and forth once and gave herself momentum, using that and the shifting of her weight to propel herself forward. She caught herself by putting one leg quickly forward and then she did it! She was on her feet nearly straight into a run.

Her legs were still a little unsteady, but she was nowhere near the mess she’d been minutes ago. In fact, she wasn’t even sure how she was standing as she could feel her knees buckle, yet she never fell. It was almost like there was a hand holding her, keeping her up.

It had to be her imagination, and she didn’t have time to dwell on it as she rushed as fast as she could to Jessica. The birds shrieking above grew louder as they neared.

She heard a moan as she neared Jessica, then saw her leg move. Maybe she would make it in time, she thought as she neared and Jessica shakily looked up at her.

Lizzie paused when she saw the dullness to the eyes as they looked back her. Her stomach tightened. Something about them made her think that Jessica was already dead. It wasn’t like the others, as this death looked like that of l, well, of a zombie if she had to put words to it.

“Something dark is coming, and your shadow man wants to control it.” A voice spoke inside her head. She didn’t recognize it, but somehow she trusted it. She felt a warmth wash over her and much of the pain she had felt, lifted. Her hand was no longer numb and her feet somehow felt light as she could feel herself running faster. “Trust.”

“Tic-a-too, tic-a-tee, what was one will be three.” The shadow voice screamed from behind her. Lizzie ignored it as she reached Jessica, and Jessica came to life the moment Lizzie touched her. It was like an electric shock went through them both. Jessica shook her head and then looked to her. That look was gone, and her determined friend looked at Lizzie with that raw hunger of needing to survive.

“We have to run now!” Lizzie said as she pulled at Jessica to stand. Jessica was already working to her feet, so she worked into Lizzie’s grip just as the first wave of birds hit the ground around them.

The shadow thing growled in frustration as none of the birds came close to touching them. Each bird crashed into the ground, their bodies breaking on impact leaving the corpses to surround them as they ran the few yards to the door.

“Come on!” Lizzie scream. She was dragging Jessica or Jessica was dragging her. It was hard to tell as they clutched one another, pulling each other forward. Lizzie wasn’t sure how they weren’t tripping over each other. It was almost like some force was guiding them. Jessica’s skin was feeling warm to the touch and it felt like they both had begun to glow, the light tossing off the shadows that formed around them.

“We can make it!” Jessica screamed! “Help us Lord, we can make it!”

“No!” They heard a mangled cry behind them. It was a voice like they had never heard before. Part of it was Sarah’s voice but it was mangled with other voices, all of them coalescing into this one sound that it was hard to hear the words. They just heard the screams, and then the impact of more birds, none of which were even close to where they were.

They were so close to the door. It didn’t take them long. Behind them, they could feel the change in air flow as the birds were crashing down all around them, but none of them made it to them.

“Up the stairs!” Lizzie yelled to her friend, and hoped she had enough strength to make it up them. If not, she would have to shove her friend and hope she fell forward enough that Lizzie could drag her through the open door. Oh God, she hoped the door was still open.

A sinking filling flooded her stomach. She couldn’t tell if the door was open or not. What if Jessica had closed it. What if the wind had blown it closed? A thousand more what ifs tried to rush at her like the birds crashing around them, and she had to push them away. She could see them getting up the stairs just to have the door closed in front of them. It wouldn’t open no matter how hard she tried, and as she fought with the door. They would be stranded out there, and there would be no stopping the murder of crows as they flew down in an effort to due their namesake.

“Trust.” She heard that voice again, and it was like a whisper in her ear opposite to the side of Jessica. She thought she could now recognize the voice. She just just couldn’t place it. It was right their at the tip of some knowledge, like a word stuck just out of reach, it was on the tip of her tongue. She knew it, but also knew that right then she didn’t have the time to focus on who that voice belonged. She had to get into the house, and get to where it was safe.

They came to the first step, and to Lizzie’s surprise, it was Jessica who was pulling her up the rickety wooden stairs. Their protests from two people on them at the same time, loud, screaming to be heard over the calls of the birds crashing down.

“Come on, we’re almost there.” Jessica yelled down to her as she was pulling Lizzie up them. Lizzie wanted to yell at her, telling her she could get up them herself. She thought she could at least, but Jessica tugging at her was pulling her off balance and she wasn’t sure she could make it. She made it up the first step, but then tripped over the second that had her leaning heaving into Jessica for the third.

Inside the front shelter around the stairs, there was a thunderous explosion of sound, followed by three more in rapid succession. It echoed around them and pushed painfully in on their ears. They could actually feel the noise as it shook everything, rocketing through themselves as they had been rushing up the stairs.

Both of them stopped, and it only took them a second to identify the large dents in the roof of the shelter and realize that the birds were now aimed at the metal around them. First the four birds, then more started striking down into the metal. After six more hit, finally a little hole appeared where one of the birds beaks must have hit hard enough and in a weak enough spot that it broke through.

It felt like they had shotguns going off all around them, as they could feel the shock waves reverberate through them. The sound from the strikes kept rocketing through them. Lizzie thought her ear drums were going to burst and both of them stopped on the platform before the front door covering their ears as they began to bleed. More holes appeared. Dents were forming all around them. Lizzie had no clue how much longer the structure would hold, but the pain that was drumming through her head made it hard for her to concentrate on looking to see if it was open. Her eyes were closed, and she knew Jessica was the same as neither of them moved.

“It’s open. You can do it. Trust. Go through the door. Trust. You can do this. Just step through the door, and the pain will go away.”

Lizzie wasn’t sure how she could hear the voice over the noise. It still felt like a whisper in her ear, but hearing it relaxed her. She could feel the tension ease, and the cacophony around her dulled to the point that she could see that the door was open. They were right there. All they had to do was take the step, and both of them would be inside. Jessica had her hands away from her ears, and was looking at it too before looking back at Lizzie, a relieved smile breaking through the fear.

Jessica stepped across the threshold first, quickly followed by Lizzie. As soon as they were in, the noise outside faded. The drumming of the birds on the metal stopped and in mass, they heard thumps of what Lizzie guessed was the rest of the birds dropping to the ground. She didn’t need to look out the window. She knew that the rest of the birds would be dead. She would…, no, it would have killed them and let them drop as he no longer needed them.

****

They had both just stood there inside the door and were unsure how long they had been there. They had ran into the house both breathing hard, and once they were inside, didn’t want to move. Lizzie thought they were both afraid too. After the birds had died, there was an eerie quiet that had decended only interrupted by the sound of the refridgerator in the other room clicking on and off.

Lizzie never took her eyes off the door. She was sure that once she did, something, maybe even more birds that had somehow survived, would rush at them through the door. At once point, Lizzie thougth she had seen a wave of small spiders rushing in across the floor. She had been too tired to panic, and somehow, it hadn’t scared her to see them. She blinked her eyes, and they were gone. No, not gone, just not there at her cabin. The spiders were loose elsewhere in the world, yet somehow she was close to the darkness that was a part of them.

She shook her head. Way too many cob webs were spreading through her mind, and too many weird thoughts.

“You okay? How’s your hand?”

Lizzie looked over and saw that Jessica was trying to look at her hand. Lizzie remembered how much pain had been going through her when they had been trying escape the outside, remembered that she thought it had been crushed when the bird had slammed down on it. Yet, since she had started hearing that voice, the pain had faded.

She looked at it now, and didn’t see anything wrong. There were scratches on the back of it, obvious that the bird had crashed into it, but it didn’t look broken. She remembered the pain, remembered looking at it before, it had been a wreck. Some of her fingers had been at the wrong angles and she had been sure she would never be able to use her hand again.

She flexed it slowly. Everything worked. All her finds closed and she could form a fist. It was sore, but the hand worked.

Her jaw as opened as she lifted her eyes from the fist in front of her to Jessica who was standing next to her. Jessica wasn’t watching her, she was watching the door and Lizzie turned to see why.

It was there. It still held the shape of Sarah, but there was a darkness around it now. Somehow, Lizzie knew that even if this thing stood in the direct sunlight, those shadows would still cross its face. That darkness was something the sun could never push away. It was older in the sun. Lizzie knew that, and if made her stomach clench as she stared it down. Her knees were weak, but she was not about to give in to the fear that tried to weigh her down.

The thing was obviously furious with them as it took turns glaring at them. It stood just on the platform outside of the front door, not daring to attempt to cross into the house. Whatever protected them remained strong, but that didn’t stop it from standing there seething at them.

Finally it spoke, and Lizzie wished it would have remained silent as that voice was like nails on a chalkboard. It screeched with the voice of a thousand voices, all speaking at once and forming the words. Were they all the voices of the dead? Who knew how long the thing had been killing, how many generations had fallen victim to the curse, but now they all spoke.

“Tic-a-too, tic-a-tee, you are now trapped with thee.” it said. It was staring straight at Jessica, and Lizzie felt her heart sink. Lizzie hoped she was wrong by what that would mean, but knew she was right. Jessica would never be able to leave now. She was cursed just as Lizzie was.

It smiled at her, those orange eyes of fire burning suddenly through Sarah’s own as it drilled that look into her. Then it was gone, but the after image of those eyes were burned into her vision even after she tried to blink them away.

They both stood there in silence as they continued to watch the door, afraid that if they took their eyes off of it, something new and hideous would come for them at any minute. Finally, Jessica did move. She walked across the room and slammed the door close.

“Let’s killed that damned thing.” Jessica said as she went into the dining room and grabbed one of the journals Lizzie had piled in there.

Dead Friends: Chapter 39

“Sarah!” Lizzie yelled as she felt the sudden rush of air around her, the wind howling through the trees surrounding the clearing. Her tone was pissed, as the emotions raged through her, a torrent that combined her pain and frustration that had been building throughout the last few weeks. Many of her friends were dead and she was hiding because even in death, they weren’t gone but physically trying to hurt her. Everything that she loved and care for was being torn away. She was being stripped of what she had always taken for granted as being their for her, and it was turning her into this mouse who hid and she no longer recognized.

But the mouse was always her, you just never allowed yourself to see your true nature. The voice of insecurity said, again trying to beat her down and pushing her to go back inside. Well, for the second time that day, she was done hiding inside.

“Get your boney was out here! Sarah!”

“She’s dead.” Jessica said. She stood at the bottom of the stairs to the cabin, looking at Lizzie. She looked troubled as she watched her friend twisting around, calling out for their dead friend. She would take a step towards Lizzie, but then stop and pause. It was obvious she was unsure of herself and wether or not she should rush over and comfort her friend.

Lizzie would look at her. She could tell what Jess wanted to do, and damned her for it. She would never be able to get her to see what it was she was going through unless she was given the chance. If Jessica came to her now, it would… It would… Lizzie wasn’t sure what it would do.

Lately every time she went outside, she had been attacked. Could the dead also attack Jessica? If she was near Lizzie would they go after her as well?

“Stay there!” Lizzie said, as she watched her friend come to a decision and had taken a step towards her. “Just give me time.”

“Time for what?”

“To show you.”

“Oh? What are you going to show her?” Sarah said as she walked around from the side of the house.

Lizzie looked at what had once been her best friend as she strutted in her direction. It was the walk of a panther as it approached her prey, knowing it was trapped and had nowhere left to run. Lizzie locked eyes with her, and never looked away, the remaining scars from her death having faded were still hideous to look at. They no longer fazed Lizzie as she grew more hardened, her emotions no longer getting the best of her.

If it doesn’t kill me, it only makes me stronger, she chanted in her mind, telling all her other insecurities they needed to back off.

“This isn’t you.”

“Oh, you still think we’re friends? We were never friends, but if we had been, you really think a friend would have put up with all this and still be your bestie? You sent us to HELL Liz. HELL!”

“I said I’m sorry. Josh even asked for it. You all thought the talisman would somehow cure what was going on. You wanted it as much as I wanted it.”

“I didn’t want that! I’m sure none of us did.”

Lizzie noticed that none of the other’s were coming around with Sarah. It was just her and what had been her best friend. That seemed odd, and she didn’t now quite what to make of it.

“But it was what you asked for. You were hoping for peace, and I needed some quite for my own sanity. I thought it would be like when we traveled. That you would just be gone. That you’d be somewhere else and then just bounce back in. How could I know it would have done that.” Lizzie noticed that the desperation and pleading was gone. She no longer begging for her friends forgiveness. It was simple, this is what happened. She was going to tell her friend the truth, and was at the point that it no longer mattered if Sarah believed her or not.

The Sarah she knew would believe her.

Goose flesh prickled along her arm, and she had a feeling that something was wrong as Sarah approached her and got right up into Lizzie’s face. Lizzie could see the flaps of skin vibrate as Sarah spoke and it looked like there was something there underneath Sarah’s skin.

“Hell, Liz. You sent us to hell.” Lizzie looked at Sarah, keeping her eyes locked onto hers. “Now it’s time for me to send you there.”

Lizzie felt the blow as it slammed into her stomach. It knocked her off the ground, rising into the air before she fell back on the hard earth. The blow had hurt, but the landing felt much worse. She had a moment to think she had just broken her tail bone when she felt that feeling of being grabbed by unseen force and dragged.

“Lizzie! Lizzie, what’s going on!” Jessica called.

Lizzie opened her eyes, not realizing she had closed them when she had landed and looked. Jessica was hurrying towards here. Lizzie held up her arms and shook her head ‘no’ the best she could. Jessica stopped, but she looked pained to do so.

“Looks like blondie has finally caught on. So nice for you to try and protect her.”

The force let her go roughly and Lizzie had no way of stopping herself from having her head slam against the ground. Stars briefly flashed in her vision and lines of colored swirled around her as she tried to ignore the pain now spiking through the back of her skull.

“Why-” Lizzie gasped, struggling to form words, “Why are you doing this?”

“You know why.” Sarah said as Lizzie felt her head again slam down. This time her vision went briefly went black and she swore she heard something snap in her skull.

“But…your lying.” Lizzie said, and with as much effort as she could from being at such an odd angle, she pushed against the force as it rushed her head hard to the ground. It did little to slow the oncoming pain as again her head cracked against the earth.

She didn’t lift her head this time as it hurt too much. Instead it was pulled up by her hair. Sarah was talking, something about Jessica not being safe there, that it could still get her in that house, but Lizzie could barely comprehend the words. Her struggle was more with consciousness than with what was being said.

How often had Sarah ever lied to her?

It was a brief thought that the pain was quick to push away as her mouth filled with a coppery taste.

Some semblance of survival made her move. She could barely feel her body as her mind was numb and felt loose inside her skull. Still she moved. It was slow, her whole body was racked with pain, but she continued to grab handfuls of dirt, pulling herself away from Sarah.

Her vision was blurry, but she saw the shape of a car and continued towards it. She had to reach it. It wasn’t far. If she could get to it, she could escape. It was only ten feet away. She grabbed another handful and then another, willing herself to keep moving forward towards her goal.

“Maybe I should go over there and play with blondie.” Sarah said. It was a hovering voice, somewhere over her. Lizzie couldn’t tell where it was, but felt that that it was close.

“Where…are…the others?” Lizzie said, as red spit darkened the dirt.

“Lizzie, stop this! I believe you. Now get inside.”

“I think blondie would like to have fun under the sun. What do you think. tic-toc, time is running out on the clock.” Lizzie heard Sarah’s voice, but felt the chill. Something that had been nagging at Lizzie clicked into place, a thought from the back of her mind realizing itself about how Sarah had been acting.

“You’re not Sarah.” Lizzie gasped, her breath pushing up a cloud of dust below her. She stopped reaching for more handfuls and turned herself around so she could look up at the dead person standing above her. The sun beat down, so all Lizzie could see was the outline of a person. “You’re not Sarah.”

“Tikkity toc, tickity tit, better just get over it.” The thing above her said. It still sounded like Sarah, but now it echoed with that same voice she’d heard coming from the shadows. It was him. He was inside her.

A chill ran down Lizzie’s back, but she clamped down on the fear that tried to push her. Instead, her mouth tightened and she ground her teeth to where she heard them straining, threatening to shatter under the force. As she did, she twisted the rest of her so she was on her back keeping her glare on it.

“tic-toc, tic-ted, how about your friend.”

The woods erupted around them. Birds that had been quite in the trees took to the air, their cries shrieking through darkening sky. There were so many of them. They created their own breeze and it blasted the trees, shaking the branches as they circled above them. It was like a tornado rising higher until it peaked, closing off the clearing and taking away the light from the sun. It was a swirling cloud of crows that surrounded them.

“Lizzie!” Jessica screamed from where she was by the house.

Lizzie looked at her and the thing above her stepped away from her and was quickly moving in Jessica’s direction. Lizzie knew it wanted her and here she had just set her friend up.

“Run! Get inside.” Lizzie yelled, quickly getting to her feet. She was running, though her head still felt full of cobwebs, she ran as best she could. Every other step she would stagger one way or another, but she fought to chase after what looked like her friend Sarah as she ran towards where Jessica stood.

Jessica had never been a person of inaction, and Lizzie was glad to see that none of this took that away. She had been watching the birds for as they had rose up, but she hadn’t stood still waiting to see what they would do. She had already been backing towards the door. As soon as she had heard Lizzie she had turned and run.

Sarah moved fast, but Jessica was already to the stairs as Lizzie followed her.

Then Jessica stopped and looked back at Lizzie. What the hell is she doing?

“Get inside!” Lizzie yelled again, but Jessica stood there, looking at Lizzie and then to the birds in the sky. Then it dawned on Lizzie why Jessica wasn’t rushing to get back into the house. She didn’t see see Sarah. She looked back to Lizzie and held out her hand to Lizzie.

“Hurry up!”

“She’s coming for you! Get inside!”
“Lizzie hurry!”

“Watch out!”

Lizzie stopped running. Sarah would get to Jessica first. Lizzie was all over the place, her staggering getting worse as she tried to run, the world threatening to spin like a top as it trembled beneath her. Her head felt like an anchor on her neck, and the more she ran, the more she just wanted to lie out there on the ground and pass out.

She couldn’t though. She had to stop it from getting Jessica. Jessica needed to get inside. Damn! But maybe, if Lizzie stopped, Jessica wouldn’t stay outside waiting for her. Maybe she’d realize that she needed to get in where it was safe.

“Lizzie!”

Lizzie looked up. She had stopped without realizing it and had been easing herself down, her body deciding on its own that it needed to sleep. Hearing Jessica call out to her shocked her awake enough to upright herself and look in the direction of her friend who was rushing towards her, afraid to see Shadow Sarah preparing its attack of her.

Sarah was gone, making Lizzie even more confused. She knew she’d been there. Where has she gone?

Jessica reached her and brought her arm around her in a sideways hug that held her up. Quickly with Jessica’s support they were taking steps towards the house when the first bird struck. It came in hard and fast and hit Lizzie’s arm before falling to the ground, dead. Lizzie barely had a chance to look at it when she heard Jessica cry out and the arm around her briefly grow slack to realize she’d been hit.

“It hit me.” She said in disbelief and Lizzie looked at her friends arm to see the red streaming down it. Then she heard a thump ahead of them and saw where one of the birds missed them and hit the ground directly in their path.

Lizzie struggle to push more of the confusion out of her head. She needed to focus and think and they needed to get inside.

“Hurry!” She said, relying less on her friend and trying to walk faster. They weren’t far from the house, only a couple yards, but as more birds fell into their path, she knew it was not going to be easy. Another bird struck her in the middle of her back and had hit with enough force that her legs momentarily buckled beneath her. She was going down.

Jessica pulled her back up and took two steps of her own, keeping Lizzie tight against her side. Then Jessica was hit with another bird and she was launched forward. She hit the wall of the cabin, and Lizzie rushed to catch up, when she was pulled back, the strength of the grip pulling her hair caused sensations of pain along her scalp, setting it ablaze. She fell hard, landing on her butt nearly two yards from where Jessica had fallen to the ground.

That’s when Lizzie realized her friend wasn’t moving. She had hit her head when she had crashed against the house and crumpled to the ground.

Lizzie struggle to pull herself forward towards Jessica when two birds crashed down. One hit a foot in front of her, the other smashed into her hand. She howled in pain and pulled her hand back to her chest. She was sure it was broken. It hurt like a nothing she ever felt and had gone numb.

A shadow washed over her and she felt herself forced to the side, falling flat to the ground. She looked up, and there was Sarah again standing over her, a dark sneer barely able to be seen as much of her was now hidden in darkness.

“Time to watch your friend die. Tic-a-too, tick a tee, oh what will it be. Tic-a-too, tic-a-tat, curiosity killed the cat.”

Sarah turned from Lizzie and looked up to the sky. Light started to burst through the darkness above and for a brief moment, Lizzie thought maybe they would be saved. Then she saw why the darkness was leaving. The birds were rising higher into the air, breaking their dome overhead as they rose out of sight.

Lizzie knew they were not leaving them. Even though they were flying away, it was only to get higher. They were preparing, and soon they were going to be crashing down. They were all coming for them, no long in ones and two’s but now they were coming in mass. It would literally be a murder of crows as they came down to kill.

Jessica was about to die, and there was nothing Lizzie could do

Dead Friends: Chapter 37

How do you convince your best friend that everyone close to you has been killed because they were close to you? Okay, so maybe it sounded crazy, but it was true. They were dead, and now they were undead and it was all because they were close to you.

Lizzie wanted to scream, as the frustration was growing and it felt like the breath of each word was producing this pressure inside her chest. It was building, and each time that Jessica interrupted her, it wanted to escape in a fierce blast of anger.

Jessica had fought Lizzie through the whole retelling of what has been happening the last few weeks. Lizzie wasn’t sure if it was because she couldn’t believe it or because she refused to believe it. Lizzie would tell her about Sarah’s death, which Jessica understood Lizzie’s hard time to talk about it, but when Lizzie told her about Sarah’s reappearance she had bulked.

“So you really think Sarah’s still alive?”

No, she wasn’t alive. If Jessica would just listen to her. Lizzie had told her she’d undead, still appearing to her and talking to her. Though, telling Jess about her had created a pause in the story. Lizzie couldn’t stop herself. She had to know if any of it was true and if Jessica had known anything about it.

Lizzie had always felt like it had been weird that these two amazing and beautiful people would be friends with someone so shy like herself. Why had Jessica been her friend? She had always thought it was because Sarah was her friend. So if Sarah had been playing her this whole time, had Jessica been in on it?

So Lizzie couldn’t help but ask, “Did Sarah ever talk about my parents? Or say anything about my dad?”

Jessica had been surprised at the sudden turn in conversation, but had recouped quickly enough to not sound like she was making something up.

“Not really?” there was a question Lizzie could tell with how she said it. She stretched out the really and made a face as if to ask why Lizzie was bringing it up. “I mean, I know she was devastated when they passed away. We both loved your parents. Sarah always thought of your mom as her second mom, though I think she’d of rather had your mom over hers. You know there was always rough times for her at home. Well you know, you were always with her.”

And Lizzie had always been with her. It was why she couldn’t believe the things Sarah had been saying lately. It didn’t make sense to her. How did it even work, for Sarah to have done what she said.

Lizzie shook it off, telling Jessica to never mind as she continued then with trying to tell her about Elisabeth and Chuck.

In total it took her nearly forty minutes to get through the story. She hadn’t mentioned anything about the strange Englishman or the clock. She still wasn’t sure what to make of it, or of the barn with the black wall. She had felt different in there. It was like, the house felt safe, magically safe even if she had to put it into words, outside felt like ‘his’ playground and he was waiting out there to play with her. Then there was the barn, and it was cold, dark, and that there was something else in there entirely. Whatever was in there was waiting for something. It wanted something to happen, and when it did, it was ready to emerge. When that happened, she wasn’t sure when that would be, but she knew it was bad.

Whatever he was, and no matter how bad the shadow man was, whatever was in that barn was much worse.

It sounded crazy. So much so that she didn’t tell Jessica sure that it would be the final straw for her friend to be shipping her off to the looney bin with the padded white walls and floors.

“You’re crazy Liz. I love you, but your crazy and I think you need help.” Jessica had said. Lizzie just finished eating the last of her can of fake spaghetti sauce and had tossed it in a garbage bin. Next to it was a garbage bag that was filled with similar cans and other refuse. She hadn’t been sure what to do with the garbage out there, so for now she left it inside.

Lizzie stared down into the darkness at the bottom of the garbage bin. It was a fresh bag, so the can had gone to the bottom and was almost completely lost to the dark plastic.

Her life was beginning to feel like it was lost to darkness. Why had she come all the way out there to the cabin? Was she going to hide out here for the rest of her life like her uncle had? It seemed like a good idea at the time, and she’d hoped that when she got back there that she’d have found some kind of answer. She would walk right into the cabin, open one of his books and “voila” there it was, the answer to what was going on.

She had found an answer at least. The answer was that he had never really known what was going on either, nor had his uncle who passed it down to him.

Though someone must have, as she had the voodoo necklace. Well, she assumed it was voodoo. She kept having dreams of the voodoo woman and she assumed the woman made the necklace.

“I’m not crazy.” Lizzie answered, realizing Jessica was still in the room and watching her.

“I didn’t say you were. I said it sounded crazy. I just think you need to talk to someone and get some help. There has been a lot going on and it would be a lot for anyone to handle alone.”

“But I’m not alone. I haven’t been alone since they died. They’re always out there.”

“They’re outside right now? Why don’t they come in? You said at the apartment they were there with you.”

“I don’t know. There’s something about this cabin. Maybe it’s why my uncle has weird symbols carved into the wood throughout the house. Who knows. I do know that they can’t come into the house and kitchen, and that dead things can only make it into the kitchen but not the rest of the house. I think the kitchen was some kind of add on or something.”

“Either that or it has something to do with the plumbing. If there was some kind of protection spell then it wouldn’t be effective in a room that has pipes of running water running in and out of it.”

Lizzie looked at her friend, her mouth dropping open.

“I’m not saying that I don’t fully believe you. I don’t know what I believe. I’m just saying that if there is some kind of protection on the house, it may not be as effective on rooms with a lot of pipes running in and out of it.”

“And how would you know that?”

“I don’t. Duh. But come on. You’ve seen just as many dumb horror films as I have. There’s like, rules to witchcraft mumbo jumbo. If you have a circle, you can’t have things breaking it or the magic won’t work. Well, it wouldn’t be an actual circle, but it there’s magic and protection, then this room has a lot of pipes I would guess running in and out of it. I’m guess the bathroom would be the same way.”

Lizzie looked at the door that lead into the bathroom. The color drained from her face and the vision she had wasn’t comforting. She could see herself in there, doing her business, when the undead man, huge smile spread across his bloodstained teeth came crashing into the room and grabbing her.

Then there was the shower, and suddenly the theme music played in her head. “Eh, eh, eh, eh” and a knife coming swooping down like out of that Hitchcock movie.

Maybe she wouldn’t be taking a shower anytime soon. She hadn’t felt comfortable enough in the cabin to take one yet, and another few years wouldn’t hurt anything. Well, maybe it would effect her sense of smell, but that’d be worth it.

“I guess that makes sense.”

“You know it does. Come on.” Jessica lead her out of the kitchen, and exhaustion must have been kicking in as Lizzie let her.

“Where are we going?”

“You’re taking a shower.”

“No I’m not.”

Lizzie stopped moving and they both looked at each other. It was obvious that Jess was concerned about her, but Lizzie wasn’t about to go into that room and get naked. There was just no way.

“Liz, I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I know its a lot. I understand what you think you’ve been through and we’ll talk about it more when you get out, but you stink. You stink more than this house does, and as long as you have warm, running water, then the shower will do you some good. I’ll stay with you. Nothing is going to happen, to me, or to you. No one is going to attack you.

Lizzie didn’t believe her, but somehow found the small woman was surprisingly strong as she pushed her through the house to the small room just off the living room.

“I don’t think we have hot water.” Liz said as they neared the door.

“Really? None?”

“I don’t know. Haven’t tried, but theirs no basement and I’ve never seen a hot water heater. I’m not sure.”

“Well, guess what, there’s only one way to find out.”

Lizzie tried to think of another way to stall, but it was too late, they were at the door. Jessica stepped in front of her and pushed it open, and then beckoned Lizzie to enter. She did and Jessica followed, the room suddenly cramped as it was never meant for two people cohabitation.

“I knew it’d be small, but this is like both of us trying to fit into a port-a-potty.” Jessica wasn’t wrong as she was forced to nearly sit over the small, dirt and rust stained toilet that Lizzie had slowly come to trust. Her first couple of days in the cabin she had just hovered over to use, but after Sarah and the rest of them had beat her, she hadn’t had the energy to keep it up and now was used to sitting on it.

Then there was a little sink, and above it there had once been a mirror that in the past had been removed and now was open to the contents. All of it was her uncles. She had no tooth brush and hadn’t done anything about her teeth since she’d gotten there. It was probably a good thing there wasn’t a mirror. The more she was beginning to realize it, the more she felt like she could imagine what Jessica was seeing. She really must have looked like one hell of a mess.

The sink wasn’t what she was in there for, and she turned to study the tub. The room had obviously not been designed for the thing when it had been built and once it had been installed, it allowed just enough room for her to sit on the toilet and her knees just touch the cold porcelain. The curtain was hung on a make shift steel rod that was fastened to the wall, and the shower head hung from a wire dangling from the ceiling. It was one of those loose kind that you could hold while using it and the head was discolored from years of inactivity and age. It was covered in dust as well as the inside of the tub. None of it looked appealing to use.

“Maybe we should just go to a motel? There’s one around here right? Get a room, you can take a shower, maybe even get some sleep in the bed?”

Liz shot Jessica a look.

“You know I can’t-“

“Oh yeah, I know. Sorry. Just look at this. It looks like it hasn’t been used in years and is from a lifetime ago. Shit, I bet this tub is from before you were born.”

“Yeah, it probably is older than that.” Lizzie said as she bent over and started studying the contraption at the back of the room. It was hooked to the shower and she had no idea what it was there for. It looked like some kind of pump. She clicked the little switch on the top and it whirred to life.

“What’s that?”

“No clue.”

“Water pump maybe? I know my great aunt has a cabin and they have one of those hooked up to it. Maybe you do have hot water, I think it’s supposed to work with some kind of specialized hot water heater.”

“I have no idea.”

“Well turn it on.”

Lizzie looked around as the pump continued to run. Eventually she found a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo that was crusted at the top. She grabbed for it, and Jessica shook her head.

“Give me a second. I brought my own.”

Jessica left the room and a second later Lizzie heard the front door slam. Her heart quickened as she just realized that Jessica had gone outside. What the hell was she thinking? Hadn’t she just been told about what was out there?

Lizzie rushed from the room, nearly knocking over one of the piles by the easy chair. It was more books on witchcraft as well as a diary on top. Lizzie barely noticed it as she made her way to the front door and nearly crossed the threshold.

She stopped herself and cursed at the front yawning. It was great to keep people from seeing into the house when they were in the front yard, but made it impossible for her to see where Jessica had gone.

All she could do and listen as she heard what sounded a beep and then car doors being unlocked. There was a scraping, and then a kathunk, kathunk sound as something heavy fell to the gravel.

Lizzie cringed as she could imagine Sarah or Josh, even Chuck if he got back to that raged induced person she had seen when he had first died, attacking her and that was her falling to the ground. They could be swarming over her, tearing her a part. Even the shadow man could be out there or one of his dead lackies like what had killed Sarah. Anything could be happening and Lizzie was trapped in there powerless to stop it.

Why had she gone out there?

Had Jessica the red rings around her eyes? Lizzie hadn’t noticed, but she couldn’t help but think about when they had been in the parking garage. Jessica hadn’t been acting herself, it was almost like something was influencing her to put herself into a dangerous situation. No, just just any something, the shadow man, he was doing it. He had controlled her then, and now her friend was again in danger.

Lizzie inched closer to the door, wanting desperately to poke her head out and peak around. Her pulse was pounding, and she feel her heart trying to pump its way out of her chest. She tried to listen, but it was hard over the loudness of her own breath and silence of the woods.

Then she heard it. Something was being dragged across gravel.

Lizzie grabbed both sides of the door as though she was getting ready to launch herself out there. She was pacing back and forth, her movements growing more frantic as she wanted to propel herself past the threshold.

She knew Jessica was in trouble. What was it going to take for her to run out there and save her? Was she really going to stand by while another of her friends was killed, this time while there might be something she could do?

She gripped the threshold tighter, preparing herself to run out there. Her mouth was clenched, her teeth threatening to grind down to nothing as she tried to will herself to just do it.

The dragging sound, it was getting closer. What were they going to do, drag Jessica over to her and kill her so she could watch.

Come to think of it, most of the deaths had happened with her watching. Maybe that was one of Shadow man’s things, to have her watch. He did love to torture her. It was like he fed off of her pain, enjoying her suffering at watching those around her die.

I can’t take this anymore. I have to do something.

Her foot crossed the threshold, and she felt that foreboding fear slam into her. It didn’t matter what was out there, she had to hurry. Her friends life was in danger.

She was in the entryway created by the little yawning and turned to rush down when a shadow appeared at the bottom. Her momentum paused as her heart leapt into her throat.

Then the shadow became a person, and Jessica stood at the bottom of the stairs. She was dragging her rolling suitcase, the wheels barely any help in the rough gravel. She stopped short when she saw Lizzie at the top of the stairs.

“Woah, you okay?”

Lizzie didn’t wait. She dashed down the stairs, grabbed Jessica’s free hand and pulled her so they were both rushing to get back inside.

Once they made it past the threshold, Lizzie nearly collapsed on the floor. Instead she made it into the chair and finally allowed herself to burst into tears.

“Liz, what the hell? I just went out to get my suitcase.”

“You could have died.”

“I just went out to my car.”

“Elisabeth and Chuck, they died just at the end of the driveway. Sarah died in that kitchen. Being around me, there isn’t any, ‘just went out to my car’ moments anymore. They’re always out there, and the shadow man, he’s everywhere.”

Jessica let go of the suitcase and lowered herself to look into Liz’s eyes. She grabbed her hands and waited until Liz looked up and their eyes met.

“Liz, I’m not going anywhere. You need to calm down. You’re not the cause for these freak accidents. Okay.”

“You still don’t believe me.”

“I believe you need to stop blaming yourself.”

“You still don’t believe me.”

“Not really, but I’m here for you and I’m going to help you.”

“You need to believe me.”

“Okay, fine. Then I believe you.”

“No, you don’t, but you will.”

Lizzie stood quickly, nearly knocking Jessica out of the way. Before Jessica could say or do anything, Lizzie was at the front door. She rushed outside and was gone, down the stairs and past what was visible with the yawning.

“Come on out you bitch!” Jessica heard Lizzie yell. “Sarah, come and get it!”

Jessica’s mouth dropped as she hurried to catch up to her friend.

Dead Friends: Chapter 36

“What was that all about?” The voice was familiar and Lizzie didn’t have to wait for her eyes to adjust to the dark to know who her savior had been.

“Jess…? What are you doing here?” Lizzie said as she reached to the counter to help her up. As the adrenaline was wearing off, the pain in her knees made throbbed and she could felt little burning cups along her arms and in her palms.

“Really?” Jessica said and there was a bite to her question. That is, seconds before she was attacked by Lizzie who wrapped her arms around her in what was the fiercest hug she could manage.

“I thought you were dead.” Lizzie felt the wetness on her cheeks as it soaked into the sweater her friend was wearing.

“What the hell? You have some serious explaining to do.” Her friend was barely returning the hug, her hands just barely resting on Lizzie’s back as she remained buried in her friend’s chest.

“You’re not dead. Oh thank God you’re not dead. I was so worried about you. Is Dennis okay?”

“What? Of course Dennis is okay. Why wouldn’t he be?”

That’s when Lizzie felt herself being pushed away, and she allowed it, standing up and taking a step back to lean against the counter. She wiped away the tears from her cheeks, and looked at her friend. She couldn’t stop smiling. Jessica was there. She was standing in Lizzie’s kitchen, and she was alive.

That dream Lizzie had, it had been so real. She had been in Jessica’s head and been a part of her while her friend had tried to kick as. She sure as shit had done better than what Lizzie had just done. How had Jessica ever survived that?

Because it hadn’t actually happened. It had just been a dream. Her whole life had drifted away to feel like one long nightmare, just what was real anymore?

“He controls the dark spaces, and dreams lie in those places to live. Beware your dreams.” Lizzie heard the old woman’s voice in her head, reminding her of something Lizzie had forgotten.

“Are you okay?” Jessica said, but she didn’t reach forward and she hadn’t really returned Liz’s hug.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Really? Because I just heard you yelling at someone and then I saw you jumping in the back door as though you were being chased.”

“Thank you for that.” Lizzie couldn’t take the way they were both awkwardly standing there and so she stepped around the island and grabbed a glass by the sink. She filled it with water, already dreading the foul taste of the tap water, but she was doing something and keeping so that Jessica couldn’t see her face.

“For what? I didn’t see anyone. No one was out there.”

“Hey, did you see a large, dark colored car when you pulled in?”

“What? No? Driveway was empty other than Roland’s car. OMG, why did you take his car!?”

Lizzie finished filling the glass and took a drink, keeping herself turned away from Jessica. She didn’t feel like she was ready to face her friend. Inside her was a war of emotions with no clear winner as to how she felt. So instead she was feeling them all, at once and in turns. She wanted to throw the glass against the wall, while crying a river of blood drenched tears and hugging her friend. She wanted to call the floor and ball herself into a corner, and she wanted to stand there hiding her face in her hands.

She wanted to do so much, so instead she did nothing. She stood there and looked at the water as little air bubbles floated in her glass. The water was sour, tasting of both rotten eggs and lead. The pipes were bad, and she’d run out of bottled water days ago.

“Liz?”

Lizzie looked over her shoulder to see that she wasn’t the only one who was having a hard time talking. Jessica stood there, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, but no sound escaped them. Her eyes were pleading like she wanted an answer but wasn’t even sure what question she should ask first.

“I’m okay. Really.” Lizzie said.

“No, your not.”

“I am,” but even as she said it she knew her friend was right. She wasn’t alright and hadn’t so since the first time she’d entered this house.

“You look like shit.”

“Thank you.”

“No, really. You smell like you have showered in weeks, your still wearing the pants and jeans you wore when I last saw you and you skin is baggy and pale. Have you left this house since Roland died?”

“I told you, I’m fine.”

“Liz, stop it!” The volume and command in Jessica’s voice brought Lizzie up short. “You’re not fine. Don’t lie to me.”

Lizzie was now the one lost for words and stung by her friend’s words. She left the room, no longer able to stay in the kitchen. The house itself now felt small and stuffy and even as she stepped into the dining room it felt like there wasn’t enough room for them. It was making it hard for her to breathe.

“Liz, don’t just walk into the other room. Talk to me.” Jessica followed her into the dining room, but wasn’t as quick to go any further into the room. Lizzie had been trying to clean up the mess she had found in there when she had inherited it, but it was still a mess. There was just so much to go through. She’d read a few of her uncle’s journals, and had read a few of his books on witchcraft.

Those had been harder to follow and she would often find herself looking back at title page wondering why her uncle had gotten the book from the Hammond Public Library in Illinois and just how much of late fees did he owe. The book had been checked out three years ago, did libraries still charge late fees for that long or at some point did they just right the book off? She could just imagine her uncle and now her, owing a thousand dollar late fee for a single book.

Needless to say, there were still piles and piles of books and clutter that made walking through the small rooms difficult. Lizzie had become home to making it through the mess, but Jessica had to work her way through to where she’d gone. It wasn’t far, and with Jessica’s grace, she was standing next to Lizzie as she was looking down at one of the journals. It was bookmarked with a picture of Lizzie’s parents.

“Liz, I know you’ve been through a lot, but you need to talk to someone.”

“Last person I talked to died. Everyones dead. Everyone but you.”

“Liz, you can’t blame yourself.”

Liz refused to look at her friend, but kept her eyes locked on her parents picture. How old were they? It looked like the picture had to have been from before her brother was born as none of the grey had started in her father’s goatee. She’d never seen this picture before and everyone looked so happy. She hadn’t read this journal yet and opened it to the page it marked.

“Can’t I?’

“No, you can’t.” Jessica tried to twist Lizzie around to face her, but Lizzie pulled herself free from Jessica’s grasp.

“You should go.”

“No.”

“I said, you should go. Go, or you’ll be like the rest of them.” Lizzie nodded as she looked over her shoulder towards the window.

“And I said no.” Jessica watched where she was stepping and moved to stand in front of the window Lizzie had turned to. Briefly their eyes met, and Lizzie quickly turned away, fighting to hold back more tears. She cried a lot, and she felt like she needed to stop doing it so much.

“You’ll die. They all do.”

“Liz, come on. Do you know how crazy that sounds.”

Liz just laughed. If only her friend knew the realms of crazy Lizzie had started to call home. Her life was nothing but crazy.

She looked around her, knowing that what she was looking for would be nearby. Jessica watched her, though Liz knew she was growing impatient. Why wouldn’t she just leave? Liz had told her to go, and it would be for her own safety. She needed to get Jessica out of there, but maybe she could explain some of it to her. Maybe her friend would even understand.

Lizzie remembered why she hadn’t told Jessica everything the last time they had seen each other. Lizzie had still thought she could live a normal life then. Well, normal as she could with dead people constantly with her, yelling in her ear when she tried to have conversations with people.

Lizzie found the diary she was looking for. It was the first one, the oldest of them all. She briefly turned the pages until she found where her uncle was talking about losing his wife and her coming back to him. She quickly skimmed through the pages, running her fingers across the tear stained paper before she handed it over to Jessica.

“Here.”

“What’s this?” Jessica took the book and just briefly looked at it before looking back to Liz.

“It’s my uncle’s diary. It talks about his introduction to all this craziness.”

“What does your uncle have to do with anything? You just inherited his house and money, not his insanity.”

“Sometimes crazy isn’t so crazy when your on the inside.”

“What? Is that like, if your crazy, you don’t know your crazy?”

“Something like that. Just read it.”

Lizzie left her friend there and went back into the kitchen. She wasn’t sure she could eat anything. There wasn’t much too eat, she was down to the last few can goods that had been there when she’d moved into the house, but her stomach was hurting. She vaguely remembered eating last night and it had been a long day since then. She needed to eat before she passed out. It would be hard, it was twisted in knots and the last thing she felt was hungry.

Jessica followed her, the book unread in her hands.

“Liz, I don’t care what happened to your uncle. I’m worried about you. You can’t stay out here. It’s not healthy, I mean just look at you.” Jessica held up her free hand as if indicating that Lizzie’s appearance was proof of some point, and maybe it was. When was the last time she’d showered?

She opened the cabinets and found the two remaining cans. One was for Spaghetti O’s and the other was canned soup. She ignored the soup and grabbed the fake pasta.

“Ew, really?”

Lizzie popped the top and tossed it into the sink while grabbing a spoon off the counter. It looked clean. Well, clean enough…

She forced a bite, still not enjoying the rolling around in her stomach and looked up at her friend.

“What? I’m hungry. Read the damn passage.”

“At least wipe your mouth.”

Lizzie had felt the dribble on the corner of her mouth but had been talking. What would it take to get Jessica to read it. So of course Lizzie didn’t care if a little had hit her cheek, she wanted Jessica to read the damned thing, and motioned so using the spoon.

“What’s so damned important in this?” Jessica held up the book, her finger marking the page Lizzie had opened it to, so at least she was curious.

“It’s about Sarah.”

“Really?” Jessica looked at the pages. “This book has to over be five years old. How is this about Sarah?”

“It’s about what happened to his wife. It happened to Sarah.”

“So what? You have to let it go. There was nothing you could have done. My God Liz, do you really think your responsible for what that bastard did? Is that why your hiding out here?” Jessica put down the book and stepped over to Liz, her arms wide for a hug. “You didn’t do anything. You’re not the reason Sarah or Roland died.”

“You’re wrong.” Lizzie said, fighting to hold back the tears. It was getting easier as less tears threatened. Maybe she didn’t care anymore, or maybe she was just past the point where tears came at every time she thought about their deaths. Maybe she could even tell Jessie what’s been going on without becoming a complete wreck.

Lizzie knew she was being silly about it. As soon as she opened her mouth, she knew it would be a mistake. Jessica would never believe her, and she would either think she was nuts or… No, there wasn’t anything else she would think, but maybe then she would leave and be safe. That’s what Jessica needed to do. She needed to get out of there before the shadow man did his voodoo, heebie jeebie, killing thing.

“Jess, you’re in danger and the longer your here, something could happen. Please, just go.”

Jessica dropped her arms, giving up on the hug that Lizzie never stepped into, and they both stood there studying one another.

“No.” Jessica said. Lizzie was taken aback by Jessica’s stern look.

“Yes, please.”

“No. I’m not going. You need me. I brought my bag with me. I’m not leaving you out here all alone.”

“Jess, you can’t do this.”

“Yes I can. I’m taking a break from school and I’d already quit my job, so yeah, I’m staying.”

Lizzie looked at Jessica and noticed that Jessica was wearing more make up than usual. It seemed especially heavy under her eyes, like where a woman would cake it on if she was hiding a black eye, or something else. Had Dennis been beating on her? Did she need a place to hide out?

Oh my God, if he has been hitting her, I’m going to kill him. It flashed through her mind so quickly she wasn’t even sure the thought was hers. Even as she thought it though, she couldn’t believe it and had that feeling that something else was going on.

“Jess, is everything alright?” Lizzie set down the can of Spagetti O’s, untouched since that first spoonful and stepped forward, taking Jessica into a hug. Jessica resisted, her back straight for a briefest of moments before she put her arms around Liz.

“I’m fine. I’m just worried about you.”

“Dennis hasn’t hit you, has he?” The hug was gone and Jessica nearly jumped back out of Lizzies arms, her eyes wide.

“What? Where did you get that idea?”

“Well, Your, Um? Why would you quit your job.”

“I quit because that asshole, Tony, tried to feel me up.”

“Did he hit you?”

“No, but I nearly dropped his ass there in the center of the store. No, no, where in the hell did you get the idea that someone hit me.”

“Your eyes.”

“What about my eyes?”

“Um, I don’t know. It’s just..”

“I’ve been having trouble sleeping. That okay with you?”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I think I’d notice if someone had hit me. I don’t regularly go out looking for fights and I don’t let people hit me.”

“Okay. You’d tell me if someone had right?”

“Liz, this isn’t about me. I’m here because you just disappeared. How could you just run off like that.”

Lizzie let Jessica go and step back to collapse into the counter, her legs weak and her chin dropping to her chest.

“I watched Roland die.”

“What, did he have a seizure or something? Did you call the paramedics? Wait, why were you in the same room with him? Did you guys..?”

“I watched it kill him. Most the others he didn’t do it directly, but he seemed to be telling me something when he killed him. It smiled at me. I could feel it. It wanted me to see it.”

“Liz, what are you talking about?”

“The shadow man, or sometimes I think of it as the Tic-Toc man. He’s not a man though. It is death, and it surrounds me.”

“When did you get so poetic.”

Lizzie looks to Jessica, their eyes locking on one another. Lizzie has an expression Jessica isn’t sure she’s ever seen on her friend. She’d seen her intense, so focused when working on a project that she would tune out the world around her, and that was the closed Jessica could relate this look too. No, there was something more to it than that. There was a hatred burning with intensity and focus that twisted with obsession, and all of that made her look fierce.

“Poetry is dead as life is around me. The shadow man is real, it is a monster hell bent on spreading darkness, and it is using me to try and do it.”

“Maybe I should leave. I think I need to get you some help. You know the police are looking for you. Your brother too. Maybe they can get you what you need.”

“I’m not crazy. I thought that at first. I thought I was losing my mind. I’m not though. There’s this thing, and no one seems to know how to stop it. I don’t, but I need to find out. It wants us all. Just somehow, it is trapped here, and I seem to be it’s anchor and food source. It started long before Sarah and even my uncle.”

Lizzie nodded towards the book. She hadn’t noticed when Jessica had set it down on the counter.

“Lizz…”

“It started for me the day Sarah and I came here. Sarah was killed by a dead man who had dug himself out of his own grave. I thought that would be the last time I seen her. Later that night, she came back to me, and has been here ever since.”

“Wait, your saying you’ve been seeing her ghost?”

Lizzie shook her head, and then went on to tell her friend everything. It would be the second time she’d told anyone. Maybe this time Jessica would live long enough to help her.

Dead Friends: Chapter 33

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

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

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

Her door…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was trapped.

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

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

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

Then the pounding continued. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is Mr. Hooper available?” 

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

“Sorry. No one here by that name.”

“Really?”

“I think your at the wrong house.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You won’t be accompanying us?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So no gun. Nothing to arm herself with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

So why had she expected something truly hideous out there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?”

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

“But your sure your going to be okay?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Miss?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s not leaving.”

“What?” 

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

“What the hell is he waiting for?”

“I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

Dead Friends: Chapter 32

I wish I knew what was happening to me? Why? How come I can’t even talk with someone without them turning up dead, their spirits brought back to torture me? What have I done to deserve this? Why do I even write about it.

Maybe just to preserve my sanity? Maybe these will be found one day once I’ve succumbed to the madness. Does me no good, so fuck these books, this writing and fuck my life.

I can’t even have one friend. I truly am alone in this world.

Okay, While I don’t think I’ll feel any better anytime soon, I have taken a minute, made myself a shot or two of some Jack, the one friend who won’t die on me, and have sat back into my chair. The bottle is next to me, ready to toast myself into oblivion.

I try not to drink it obsessively, but today, I earned it. No, not earned, I didn’t do anything to deserve this, but I need this. I need the stupor tonight. Tonight is when I’m sure Bobby will be joining the group outside.

Yep, Bobby, the one friend I fool heartedly allowed myself to have. Knew better. I know anyone who befriends me dies, but it was an accident. I’d talk to him a little on my trips into town. Everyone needs to get supplies and well, everyone needs a little interaction with other living people as well. You can’t just live off of talking to the dead, even if they do talk back.

Bobby had become a friend. I hadn’t realized it. Every time I went into town he was there. Of course he was, he owned the convenience store, not that it was much of a store. It looked like it had once been an old farm house, and I had missed it. Spent what seemed like an hour trying to find it before I stopped off and actually asked someone at the post office. Once I came back, I’d seen the little sign on the porch.

It was a place that didn’t want to be found, much like the town it belonged to. A small town deep in the woods, off from any major highways and only a little road leading to and from. Had that main street that held everything, all the residents and the businesses. At the end of the street had a small school with a parking lot just large enough to turn around in. There wasn’t room for anything else. Any more houses to build, the surrounding forest would have to be cut away, and no one seemed interested in doing that.

It was an interesting place. I don’t know why I ramble on about it. I had grown up with my brother in the a small town, but it had been nothing like this. It had been an actually town, this store, the houses that were around it, it was like a community that didn’t like or want outsiders. Still they were nice. It was obvious I wasn’t from there when I entered the store.

“Hey stranger. Lost or getting lost? I can tell you how to get back to the highway or farther into the woods, which ever you prefer. I prefer the woods myself. Got lost here thirty years ago, and still not sure I ever want to get found. Though I wish my wife couldn’t find me.”

“I heard that.” Came a female voice from the other room and I couldn’t help but smile as I took the whole place on. The scents, the decor, all of it overwhelming me.

“Damn, she found me again. Hey listen fella, help me out. Run the store, I need to flee to Mexico.”

“You’re not going anywhere you senile ol’ coot.”

It was then that I realized just how amazing these two were and knew that I had just walked into meeting some very special and dear people.

Who else would have taken an old house, knocked down most the walls so that the first floor could be used for a general store. It was wood floors and walls. Wood was everywhere. The shelves that were lined with grocery items as well as anything else you might need in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, were also made from wood. The cooler in the back wasn’t, but next to them was a wood sculpture of an old Indian standing there looking out disapproving at the rest of the store.

The store was quant, rustic and everything I never realized I’d wanted in a small country store. It smelled like her. There was always cookies or something sweet baking in the kitchen and that was her smell.

I’d forgotten what I’d gone in there for, so lost in the sweet northern charm of the place. It wasn’t until Bobby called out to me the third or fourth time that I pulled myself from whatever stupor I’d slipped into.

“You okay?” He said after I’d been staring lost in space for who knew how long.

“Yeah, just blanked on why I came in here.”

“Couldn’t tell ya. That is unless your planning to buy me out of house and home so we can finally get a day off from this prison.”

Every time I came there, he always asked me if I was ready to buy him out. Damn fool. Damned damned fool, should have never said a word to me. Now he wouldn’t be dead. If the old man had just shut up and took my money, not been someone I could talk to over the last few months while I came to town, he would still be alive.

According to his wife, that kind elderly woman who would call out from the kitchen while making another batch of those wonderful cookies or her special homemade bread, her husband had died just this morning. The store was closed when I had pulled up. She was sitting on the front porch, rocking in the bench swing that was mounted there. She had been crying most the morning, evident by the streaks of wetness that traced down her cheek and the puffiness of her eyes.

She didn’t talk about what had happened. She told me so, and I didn’t press it. I did ask her if I could join her for a minute. It wasn’t a smart idea, as I was putting her life at risk by talking to her, but I didn’t trust my legs to get me back to my car. They felt rubbery and I just needed to sit down for a few minutes.

She nodded and I sat. Both of us rocked there for a few minutes in silence, staring off at nothing. Not a single car passed by, and I thought it was strange that no one had been here or come to visit her.

That was when she said something that had nearly dropped me, even from the bench swing.

“He always knew his life was at risk, talking to you. Everyone knows those living out where you do are on borrowed time. Theres a darkness about you. Some evil that comes from that cabin. You ever notice how the birds don’t fly near you, or that you never see a bear out by your place? Probably not. You don’t realize how common it is to see bear on your property, and especially not out there. Animals know to stay away. My Bobby knew to stay away, but he just couldn’t help himself. He was too nice an old man. Said he’d lived a long enough life. If something happened to him for it, he was willing to take that chance.”

Not once did she look at me, and I know I don’t have all her words right. She said more than that, but that’s how much I can remember and its close enough. It was what she said next that killed me, and I quickly tried to escape after that.

“Do me a favor. Whatever voodoo whodoo that surrounds you and that place, make sure it takes me next, please. I want to be with my Bobby.”

That was when she turned those intense blue eyes on me and I felt my chest heave with a heavy breath, my insides burning. My throat went dry, but I tried to respond.

“I know. You don’t have no control over it, but I know talking to me helps. Will you do that? Will you come back to me here, and talk to me?”

Bobby hadn’t joined the dead that followed me everywhere I went yet, and he’s not with me now either. I’m sure he’ll come tonight as they normally do. For now there was only the army of regular gruesome faces I had come to know as my regulars, and then there was my own wife. I looked up at her, saw her moist eyes, and she shook her head at me. I agreed with her that there was no way I could come back there. As much as she wanted to be with her husband, I could not be the cause of this woman’s death. There was enough death that followed me.

“Sure.”

“Thank you.” She nodded and a small smile curved at the corner of her lips. “He wanted you to have something. You better take it now before the vultures get here later.”

She stood and walked me to the front door. I tried to open it for her and she slapped it away.

“No don’t be doing that. I’ve opened my own doors for all my life, don’t need some youngin’ opening them for me now. I’m not that old.”

I followed her in, and at first I was afraid she was walking me back to that old Indian stature. I really didn’t want to turn down whatever she was giving me, but the last thing I needed out at the cabin was this old Indian constantly watching me. Besides, with the weird shit going on, I couldn’t help it, I was afraid the damn thing might come to life. It wasn’t too lifelike, but enough so that I could see it happening. My life had become too much of a horror movie for me not to expect the crazy.

Behind the statue though, was an old clock that hung on the wall. It was beautiful and made of wood. I guessed that it was hand carved with engravings of a man and a woman. The woman stood with her hands back and her cheek turned towards the man, while the man leaned forward giving her a kiss on the cheek. The outer corners were gold, and the large face, each hand was crafted gold arms. Hanging from below it was two rods that ended in weight balls, probably to tick away the time. The clock itself hung there motionless.

“He called it the lovers. Someone had given it to us shortly after we got married, but don’t go thinking it was a wedding present. It doesn’t have any kind of emotional sentimentality to it. No, he wanted you to have it as he said the damn thing hadn’t worked in nearly fifteen years. He said to give it to you and tell you that time doesn’t always drag on. Sometimes it will stop so you can enjoy a little peace of happiness.”

I didn’t know what to say to her, and she must have seen my discomfort. I was saved though as we both heard another car pull up out front.

“Go ahead and take it. Sounds like the well wishers are starting their arrival. You’ll want to be out of here before more show. Some of the more idiotic of the fools might try to blame you and do something stupid. People don’t seem to have the sense that God gave a dog anymore, and people turn mean when they get that dumb.”

I grabbed the clock not yet sure why I was taking it.

“I just hope when my time comes, it comes easier than Bobby’s. Maybe, if I’m lucky I’ll die in my sleep.”

I wanted to ask her how did he did, but couldn’t bring myself. I’d find out soon enough.

I left the small store as a family was walking up to the front steps. The mother saw me and quickly pulled her child back, all of them giving me a wide berth as I walked to my car. I set the clock down on the back seat and left.

So the friend I had made, the one I had let myself get to know had died. I should have known better.

I guess I am meant to always be here, alone.

I don’t know what this existence is. Each day, I join my dead wife, and we walk among the trees, down some of the paths that are around the cabin. Each day, I have those few moments that I forget that she is dead. Then I try to hold her hand, and we never embrace. She is trapped somewhere between life and death, and I feel like I am as well. How else do you describe me hiding from life out here in the boony’s with no way of surviving back in the real world?

This is no way to live. I don’t know how I’m going to survive. I haven’t been back to town since that day. It’s been a week now, and when we return from our walks, Bobby is there. He cries so much. He knows how he died, and that his wife is hoping to join him. He wants me to return to town as talk to her, hoping that whatever curse took him would take her as well. He doesn’t understand that I just can’t do that. I’m already the cause to so much death.

That is only part of it-

Bobby had died viciously, a random bear attack. His face hangs in tatters to his mutilated body. If I went back and talked to her, kept talking to her until the shadow woman takes her, she would see Bobby as he was now when she got there. And how would she look? What kind of gruesome death would the shadow woman dream up for her. He doesn’t understand.

None of them do.

They all look at me with those haunted eyes. They all hate me, all except my Claire.

I want so bad to hold her.

How can I be surrounded by so many, yet feel so alone.

I dread even going outside of this cabin. When I finish the walks, sometimes I’ll venture into the barn. I’ve started to clean it up a little, using one corner of it to create a little work area. I haven’t done too much with it, don’t really know what to do. So far I’ve just been tinkering with that old clock. It is such an amazing piece of old technology that it is fascinating. I think I may have even found what is wrong with it.

It is so quiet here, without any nature sounds to make the place feel natural. I think the only way to preserve my sanity is to find some kind of project to work on. Maybe the clock will be my salvation?

So alone.

Oh God, why have you so cursed me?

Dead Friends: Chapter 30

Since then, I’ve seen the shadow woman, and she has come to torment me. Cynthia tries to stop her, but the shadow woman just laughs and chants her little chant at me. She has repeated it over and over, that stupid, tic-a-tac, tic-a-tor, soon there will be more more more. tic-a-toc, tic-a-turs, I will break her from her curse.

I don’t know what I’m doing, why I’m even here. I came back to this cabin because Cynthia.. I love her so much and she has always been the everything in my day, my thoughts have always been how to take care of her and keep her safe. She has meant so much to me, but seeing her walking corpse has sent daggers into my heart and I don’t know how to deal with it. Everywhere I went to grieve, she was there and there would be fresh tears as I died a little each time.

How could I return to work? I tried to go back to the foundry and just couldn’t do it. Whenever I pulled back from a weld or crafting a special piece, there she would be standing next to me. She would be watching me, those dead, sad eyes. Her mouth would be working, she would be trying to say something to me but I could never hear her.

After a day of it, I collapsed. That second day, I looked over and saw her reaching out to me and I swore I could see a tear in her eye as her hands went right through me. I felt her touch, and it made me sick in a way I can not describe. When she saw me gasping, she pulled back, recoiling from me, and I felt like a cold hand had just reached into my chest and ripped out my heart and soul.

I fell to the the cement floor and that cold stone felt hot to my skin. I hadn’t thought that stone could burn. The coworkers who gathered around me, later said that I was convulsing, having some kind of attack. All I knew was that I had saw my beloved reaching out and I couldn’t do anything.

It had been a strange attack and Cynthia never tried to touch me again after it. Later that day my boss had called me into his office and told me he was putting me on leave. He knew I was upset and that I needed time to grieve. Jim and I had gone to high school together. We had never been close, but knew one another enough that he had been at my wedding. He knew I was having a hard time, just he didn’t know all of it. I didn’t know all of it.

But then I had gotten up to leave his office. I thought I was done. I was going to go home and that would be it. It was really, but as he came around the desk to usher me out the door, I saw his eyes. There was a red ring, not the kind of a long nights drink. No, this was about his pupil.

I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t have time. He walked me to his office door, and then out into the shop. Then there was a loud crash. Metal broke, and I could feel something shifting around me. The air had changed, I can’t explain it, but there was some kind of electricity gathering. Then I saw one of the machines, the large ones that the finished metal went into to cool, it exploded and I watched as a metal shard slammed into Jim’s head. Other men around us were screaming as I watched death again take someone I knew.

I can’t remember much else from that day. I don’t know how I got home, who helped me, or if I somehow drove myself. It is all a blur and when I do try to remember I don’t trust if the memories I see are real or just things I want to imagine. With what has happened since then, I want to say that it did happen, as it was when I lied there on the ground, alive but looking into the dead eyes of my former boss, I heard Cynthia, and heard her tell me it would be okay.

God help me, but I must be losing my mind.

Their all here. They all with me now, outside the cabin, unable to come in. Thirteen people died that day, and I had known and grown up with many of them. Now they are dead, but not dead, outside this very cabin.

Oh God, I don’t know what to do.

* * * *

The leather bound book crashed to the floor and Lizzie, who had drifted off, jumped awake. She hadn’t realized she had been that tired but only a few pages into the diary, or maybe it had been just sitting down to read it had brought the exhaustion washing over her.

She hadn’t thought she could ever feel so tired. Even after studying for finals and had been up for a twenty four hour study bing, there had been some kind of a second wind that had allowed her to go take the test. This wasn’t like that, or maybe it was. Maybe she had already had the second and even third or fourth winds and it was all catching up to her.

When was the last time she ate? Anytime after the diner? She remembered stopping off for gas and caffeine drinks, but anything after that was a blur. Hell, she hadn’t had any time for sleep, when would she have had time to eat. Scratch that and reverse it, she hadn’t had any time to eat, how would she have ever had any time to sleep.

Her thoughts, it hurt to think, or even to attempt it. Lifting her head and then herself was a challenge she didn’t think she could handle.

Well then, what do you think your going to do? It’s not like they have delivery out here. But didn’t they? She thought her uncle’s note had said something about grocery delivery. In fact she was sure of it. Would they deliver this late though? It was mid-afternoon already, she would probably have to call in the delivery for tomorrow and how would she pay for it? She didn’t have cash with her, at least she didn’t think she did. Maybe she’d gone to an ATM that morning.

She stood, and felt her legs become rubber under her. She had to reach out and steady herself with the arm of the chair, and even then swayed as she tried to think of what her food options could be. Maybe there would be something in the kitchen? Her uncle had been living out there getting deliveries, maybe when he died there had been a full stock. Though if he killed himself, he might have been letting it all dwindle when he went.

What was that final straw that had pushed him to do it? He had lived out there for so long, losing his wife, his brother and all those closest to him that he had to have been through it all long ago. Why now?

She couldn’t imagine what it could have been, and wasn’t sure she wanted too. It was her fate now…

As she took each step, she kept her hands on or near something wether it be a stack of books or the wall. Her head wasn’t letting up and with each movement a growing pounded echoed through her head like a drummer warming up for a metal concert. The closer she got to the kitchen, the more she was sure the drummer was preparing for a long drum solo as the beating grew stronger. Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick formed in her thoughts and she could imagine the pain in time to it.

Damn you dad for making me ‘get the Led out every damned car ride, she thought as she entered into the kitchen. In sight and sending a wave of relief through her that was short lived, she saw the two bags she had brought from the store.

“Oh God yes,” she cried out and grabbed for the bags. The cell phone was useless for now and she set they aside as she scoured through the rest of it. Of course it was mainly chips, Mountain Dew, and some cans of soup that did not look all that appealing, but at the bottom of the second bag she found what she was looking for. It wasn’t a big container, just a small pouch of generic aspirin which had cost her more at the gas station convenience store than a large bottle at any chain grocery.

She was hungry, thirsty, and needed caffeine, but right then the headache that was screaming it’s presence through all her synapses took priority. She opened the pouch, grabbed the couple of pills and then hurriedly opened the Mountain Dew to wash it down. There was an instant release and she no way of knowing if it was any of the three or all three but she was already feeling better.

She stood there holding the counter occasionally taking drinks from the soda. If she moved, she was sure she would fall. Though eventually she did look at the cans of soup. They were pop tops which was good. She wasn’t sure if she had a can opener or not.

I guess now is as good as a time or any, she thought as she looked across the cabinets and the rest of the kitchen.

The Dew was helping a lot. Her head cleared though not as much as she wanted it too. She remembered that she had gotten some money out of the ATM that morning and that she would be fine in that regard. She wasn’t sure if her uncle’s phone worked, though she saw the old landline phone hanging on the wall like some relic from the 80’s. She worried she would actually have to look up the number for the grocery store but now noticed the sticky note on the wall with various numbers. She was sure one of them would be the one she needed.

You can do this. You really can, she thought as she went around the counter and opened the drawer to the right of the sink. Sure enough, there was silverware, clean and ready to use. There wasn’t much, a couple of spoons, a fork, and two knives, one a butter knife and the other a serrated steak knife, but it would do. She was one person after all, it wasn’t like she would need to feed an army, or the dead that clung outside her door.

Could she do it? Was she really going to live out the rest of her life in the cabin, hiding, keeping away from the world? What other choices did she have? As she looked around the tight confines of the cabin, she didn’t see anything that inspired some great idea. If she went out and made or interacted with her friends they would die? This was all a nightmare.

She opened one of the cans labeled Chicken and Rice. She ate it as she opened cabinets around the room, She was stocked better than she would have thought while again surprised at how clean the room was. She also found the garbage can in a drawer and smiled as she threw away the lid she had been holding.

At least I’m not going to starve.

Not right away. She realized that she still didn’t have much in the way of perishables and while she had plenty of Mountain Dew, she still needed water as she had no way of knowing if the water there was safe to drink.

She started making a list of what she would need. Midway through, she looked up and off into the dining room.

Was it two weeks ago now, that she had walked though that door to see that naked smiling man holding her best friend and biting out chunks of her flesh? She thought that sounded right. She should be much more of an emotional wreck after everything that has happened, yet she found herself constantly adapting. Like all of this was strengthening her. She hadn’t coped well, but now so much of this rolled right off of her. Was she becoming stronger emotionally, or heartless? Either that or she truly was losing her mind.

Maybe she had never cared as much about the world as she thought she had. What does that say about her? Her ex boyfriend died last night, killed right in front of her, and here she was making up shopping lists like nothing had ever happened.

Maybe that was a good thing. If all this had been too much she would have already cracked, killed herself and now all of this would have fallen on her brother. Plus, with how this shadow thing wants to take those she cared about, it would be better if she cared less. If she didn’t care for anyone, than no one else had to die.

So yes, this cabin was her new home, and she would never be able to leave it or venture out and meet new people. Just by saying hi, it could mean that someone else would then die.

She finished the soup, tossing the can in the garbage and the spoon in the sink. It was time she lied down. Sleep was overdue and it wasn’t like the house couldn’t be cleaned later. What’s the rush, it wasn’t like she was ever going anywhere. All she had to do was sleep and sleep and sleep.

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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.