Chapter 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not really.”

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

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

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

No, she needed to figure out where to go. The cops would be looking for her and the last thing she wanted was to explain why she had been with her cheating ex-boyfriend when he had died.

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure thing.-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, like you know what happened.”

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

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

“That’s bullshit.”

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

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

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

Kind of like what she was doing now.

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

“You need something, honey?”

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

“No, I’m fine.”

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

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

“We weren’t disturbing you, were we?”

“It’s okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry about your loss.”

“It’s okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why’d he tell you?”

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

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

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

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

“Like what?”

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

“You ever hear of zombie ants?”

“You’re full of it.”

“No, no. I saw it there on Facebook.”

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

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

“Uh huh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wrote on the paper.

     Dead man

                 -how did he come back to life

                 -why did he come back


                 How is he killing them?


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

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

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

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

“It ain’t no skin off my back.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 22

The first thing Lizzie felt when she woke up was an immense pain in her temple and that sense of being pulled out of some other world. The one she was now in still was rich in haze from the fog of slumber and remnants were still fresh in her thoughts from the one she left behind.

     Had it been real? Had any of that just happened? It had been so real to her. It felt more like memories than dream fragments, but if that was the case why had she been Jessica. She had known her thoughts, her past, things that Jessica had never told her about herself. About her friend. She couldn’t have made all that up, could she? She was unsure, but it unsettled her, because if it was real, then her friend was dead.

     The rock formed in her stomach. She had wanted to warn her earlier. She had tried to warn Jessica that something was coming after her. She had known they were next, but maybe it was because of that premonition that she had dreamed about it.

     The dream had been so real. Too real. She still felt the bone deep cold inside her, and as she opened her eyes and exhaled a puff of mist formed from her lips. Lips that had just hours before been kissed by Roland. How could she have slept with him after everything that has happened between them. She could never have been that stupid, but she had.

     The heart wants what the heart wants.

      “But honey, that hadn’t been your heart talking, that had been something else. That was you pussy talking and it was hungry for the ‘D’.” A voice said to her in her head. She recognized it as a voice from long ago, though who it belonged to, she couldn’t recall. It was a voice from out of time floating in from some forgotten past.

     As she tried to focus on it, more of the dream faded away yet the cold remained. It was very cold, too cold even. A shiver ran through her and that shouldn’t be right. She shouldn’t be shivering from a dream, should she?

     Something tapped into her back, and she remembered she was still in the hotel room. He was there too, asleep behind her in the bed.

     How could she have been so stupid?

     She wanted desperately to get out of there. She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but the little of it she had was enough to clear her mind. God! What had she been thinking?

     Didn’t matter. The deed was done and tomorrow he would wake up and remind her of it, maybe even try for a repeat as if everything was forgotten and forgiven. Men.

     She wished she had driven herself. Then she could sneak out into the night and disappear, letting the miles between them build until maybe this would become another ungodly nightmare.

     First, she needed to call Jessica, make sure she was okay. It was the middle of the night, the outside light filtering through the hotel’s curtains confirmed that suspicion, and she would probably wake her friend.

     I just need to make sure she’s okay.

     But you know she’s not.

     I don’t know that, just the dream had been so real.

     The conversation played out in her mind, and she continued to lie there in indecision. She should wake up Roland and tell him about it. He would calm her down, tell her she was being silly, but hey, here’s my cell phone if you want to call her. He’d do all those things, as he was a good guy who cared for her. So why did he also have to be such a lying, cheating bastard?

     Last night she had believed all his bullshit. Why couldn’t she believe him now? Because she had come to her senses, that’s why. What had she been thinking?

     She could feel him shift in the bed behind her and let out a soft moan.

     He probably sensed that she was awake and was waking up too. He had always been good about waking up with her whenever she couldn’t sleep. He was usually a heavy sleeper, but the moment she had a bad dream, he was up and had her in his arms. When her parents died, he had slept over a lot, and there were many of these nights when she would find herself crying on his chest.

     She didn’t want him knowing she was awake. Damn. Maybe if she was still and stayed on her side, he wouldn’t know, but she wanted to call Jess. Damn. What if she fell back to sleep waiting for him to fall back to sleep? Damn, damn, damn.

     She pulled the blankets tighter around her. It was so cold in the room. They must had forgotten to turn on the heat when they had come in. Considering how they had been with each other, she wasn’t surprised. They had been generating their own heat.

     Now the room was an ice box. She could use the temperature of the room as a refrigerator, their bottled water would be nicely chilled for drinking where it sat on the little table across the room. The temp must of dropped down lower than forecasted if the room was this cold. She hadn’t brought enough clothes.

     Roland moaned louder. Then he moaned even louder. This wasn’t him waking up.

     Then he screamed and she turned over to see that she had gone from dreaming one nightmare to be living in another.

     “tik-a-too, tik-a-ted, there’s a dead man in your bed.” The hideous voice cackled. She could see the dark shape that was sitting on Roland. It was hovering over him but watching her and smiling at her. Even in the dimly lit room, and his obscured form, she saw the bright whites of a chilling smile as he laughed at her. He was so close. Too close, she couldn’t do anything, but get away. Immediately she jumped out of the bed and twisted to never take her eyes on him. She didn’t stop backing away until she hit the wall, then she pressed herself against it as hard as she could. She would have melted into it if she could find away.

     Run. She should just run away, get herself out of there and make her escape, but it had Roland. It had turned away from her, ignoring her because for now it had what it wanted.

     Roland. She looked at him, and she could see that the shadow thing had one of its hands deep into Roland’s chest. It hadn’t broken the skin, it was like the shadow man was only part way into this world and because of that, his hand didn’t have any substance. He was was in Roland’s chest, but it had gone through the skin, not breaking it.

     That wasn’t true, as Lizzie watched Roland shake violently, the shadow man laughing as he squeezed inside. The shadow was killing him. It was suffocating him from the inside or squeezing his heart. She didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. This was how it really enjoyed taking lives.

     She wasn’t sure how she knew, but as soon as the thought occurred to her, she was certain she was right. It liked death and took it in any way that it could. When Sarah had been killed, it had no way of killing her directly. Same way with Josh and Elisabeth, it couldn’t touch them directly. She didn’t know why, and there was much of it that didn’t make sense. There must be some set of rules this shadow had to play by, and killing directly was a no-no. It used surrogates and manipulation to take most the lives, so it was less accustomed to the joy of taking life within its own dark grasp.

     So, what had changed the rules? Why was it there now, killing Roland? Was it getting stronger? She vaguely recalled something Josh and Sarah had been arguing about. There had been many things, but something Sarah had wanted Lizzie to notice.

     There had been the picture. Last night, oh God had it really just been last night that Josh had appeared to them? It had and this had easily become one of the longest days in human history or at least she’d ever had because it seemed like so much shit just kept rolling her way.

     But the picture. It fell. The two fighting had been able to move it and the picture fell and then it broke. How had she not noticed that before?

     She thought back to the hospital room and how Sarah by herself hadn’t been able to move anything no matter how hard she tried. Oh, and then there was the touching each other. They had both made each other sick trying to do it, but at the coffee shop Sarah had no issues with choking her.

     You still don’t know if Sarah was even there. It hadn’t been like before. That could have been just you. You know your losing your mind, right?

     She wished she could silence her own thoughts, especially with some of the newer thought voices that kept giving her their opinions.

     It had been Sarah and she had been choking her. They were getting stronger. He was getting stronger. She was feeding it somehow.

     It was all the people around her that was doing it. They kept dying. It fed off the death. It wanted her friends to die, her loved ones. It was killing them, all of them, and was going to keep doing it until she stopped it.

     If she could stop it. Her uncle hadn’t been able to.

     Her uncle hadn’t been able too. How did she know he had fought it? Because it all made sense. He had hidden himself back in the woods, away from everyone, cutting himself off from the outside world because anyone he cared about was killed.

     She couldn’t think about it right now, but it all was rushing at her. This thing had killed her parents. It killed her aunt. It had been after all of them and when her uncle couldn’t handle it anymore, he had killed himself and now it was killing everyone she loved.

     Tears rolled down her cheek, but she paid them no attention. Instead, she looked around the room for something, anything she could use. She heard Roland’s wheezing breath, and knew she had to be quick.

     But why even try. Her uncle had years to fight this thing and it had never done any good. How are you going to stop it?

     She didn’t know and the thought voice was becoming increasingly annoying. She wished it would just shut up. Shut up and let her think, dammit!

     In the dim light she could see Roland, his face was turning grey, dark lines stretching along his cheeks and bulging from around his eyes. She feared those were his veins. His blood was being replaced by the shadows darkness and now his veins were visible through his skin by their black hue.

     She wasn’t sure what possessed her to throw it, but she had unplugged the coffee maker by ripping it from the desk. The cable struck her, and she grabbed it, quickly wrapping it around the little gadget and them flung it across the room. She didn’t wait to see the thing react as she grabbed more from the desk. She used the tray the coffee maker had been on, a local phone book, and a folder that must have contained local delivery options or the TV guide directory. It didn’t matter because if she could lift it, she had thrown it. She didn’t stop until she tried to lift the large lamp at the end of the desk only to find that it was mounted in place. She was pulling at it, trying to shake it back and forth, wrestling it free when she heard the laugh coming from behind her.

     She couldn’t get the lamp free, and she had nothing else to throw. Slumping her shoulders, she turned to look back to the bed wrestling with another idea, one that was crazy and not like her at all…

     She stopped thinking when she saw the thing was looking at her. Its eyes burned red with some internal flame, and they burned into her. Its smile was wide, and somehow the light that flickered from its eyes never touched his teeth, as they were white to the point that they seemed to glow and they were sharp, each tooth ending in a narrow point.

     “Hello.” It said, speaking to her for the first time without that sing-song cadence. Now it was fixated on her, and she was hypnotized as the unseen lips moved, only noticeable for how they blocked the glow of its teeth when it spoke.

     “Get away from him,” she said. She could hear the tears in her voice but was surprised at the anger. Where had that come from? She wasn’t sure but as she stood there, clenching and unclenching her fists, remembering what this thing has taken from her, her friends that it has killed. She knew the anger, and she embraced it. She wanted to be done with allowing this creature to come into her life and steal everywhere cared for from her.

     “Why should I? What is he to you? A lover? A friend? You care about him that much?” The voice grated on her nerves. It was rough, a gravely voice that echoed in her ears as though many voices tried to speak as one.

     Lizzie took a deep breath and let it out through her mouth. Her fists unclenched and she shook out her hands before she clenched them again. She could feel her nails digging in, the uneven edges from how she chewed at them threatening to break her skin.

     “He’s nobody to me.” She tried to sound convincing. Yesterday she wasn’t sure if she would even have stopped the shadow thing from taking Roland, though she liked to think that deep down she was a good person. Even a good person wouldn’t let a lying, cheating son-of-a-bitch to die when she could stop it.

     Today, she found that she still did care about him. Her feelings were still there and that is why she had hated him so much. Because under all that anger, she did love him.

     She couldn’t tell this thing that. It had some kind of connection to her. It killed those close to her. So she had to find that anger and hate she had for Roland if she was ever going to save him.

     She had to find a way to kill the shadow man.

     It had been watching her as she stood there and the longer, she didn’t say anything more, a sound grew from him. It wasn’t until it developed into a sound, she recognized that she realized it was laughing at her.

     “You sleep with him. He fucks you, and you say he is nobody to you.” And as it said that Roland writhed in agony below it.

     “Fuck you,” the anger now boiling up inside her. She had noticed something. She had just caught the slight glint of metal on the floor and had taken a moment to realize just what it was. The keys to the car had fallen to the floor, probably having dropped out of Roland’s pockets as she had pulled his pants off of him.

     “Those you wish about and those you love

     From the wings of a morning dove

     All those in which you cherish

     Will slowly die in agony and perish

     They will be mine these dreary few

     And once they are gone, I will come for you.”

     She didn’t want to hear any more of his creepy words. Each once made her skin tingle and her back tense. She tuned him out the best she could as she made her plan. It wasn’t a good one, and she knew it wouldn’t work, but it was her doing some thing. She was so tired of not doing anything. She had to try something to stop him.

     She rushed forward, grabbing the keys as she moved. Her arm rose high, she had her sites set, aimed for where she wanted to strike while fumbling in her hand to have one key out between her fingers. She was unsure of herself, having never been a fighter, but did all she could to put everything she had when she brought her hand down.

     It struck just below the eyes. Or it would have, had the shadow man been anything more than shadow. Her hand slipped through him, and then she was slipping through him, her momentum carrying her into him and landing on top of Roland.

     This had been a mistake. She had realized it the moment she didn’t make contact, but as she was flung over the bed, she realized just how much of a mistake it had been.

     Her skin had turned to near ice as he was just so cold. She couldn’t breathe. Her breath was frozen in her lungs. All of her was frozen. She was trapped and even worse, she was in his essence and there she could see… something.

     She didn’t know what it was. Around her there was so much darkness. It was an ether. She knew she wasn’t on earth. It was an ‘other’ place, one where there was no light to cast the shadows. Shadows were not made, they were things, and hid other things.

     She could feel that hate that emanated from that place, from all the creatures that surrounded her there. She couldn’t see them, only feel them, sensing that they were reaching out for her. They wanted her, to take her, torture her how they have been tortured. She was a creature of the light and they hated her for it.

     How did she know that?

     Because she was inside of him. He was from this place, and he felt that way towards her. But that didn’t make sense. If he hated her, all of them so much, then why not just kill her. Why kill her friends?

     Because the shadow man-thing didn’t hate her, it hated man. She was a person, one who lived in night and day. The shadow-man wanted all light to be perished from the world.

     She was the lock that kept them at bay. She didn’t know how that worked.

     Now she was there in the dark place. The things were moving around her. They had noticed her. She could feel them moving towards her. A wave of fear ran through her, but it wasn’t her fear. The shadow man was afraid of these things. It was afraid… of them. It didn’t want it to get her.

     She was not sure what to make of that and she didn’t have the time to find out as she found herself ripped out of him, back in her own world and being hurled across the hotel room. She had the briefest of sensations of no control, the weightlessness as she flew, and then the pain. She hit the wall, and it forced the air out of her lungs. She fell to the floor, and everything hurt. Her insides felt like they had been squished, her arms and legs were sore. She wasn’t sure if she broke anything. It felt like if she hadn’t then she had definitely sprained something, everything.

     Across the room, cutting through the cold and dark was a blood curdling scream that was quickly cut short.

     The room grew deathly still. The only thing Lizzie heard was the repetitive sound of her breathing. Even the hum from the electronics in the room was silent. The darkness felt out of time. She was all alone. She feared what she would find when she stood and looked on the bed.

     She pulled herself up. Each movement took a concerted effort as she fought against the pain.

     When she stood, she turned and saw Roland on the bed, the shadow man was gone. Roland wasn’t breathing. His skin was ash grey, and she knew he wasn’t coming back. She was alone in the room with her dead ex-boyfriend. A man she had made many public threats against his life and bodily harm.

     She was quick putting on her clothes, finding her phone and wallet before grabbing the car keys and getting out of there.

     Outside, the world was dark, the streetlights having burned out in the last half hour. She worked her way through the void as best she could and got into Roland’s car. She felt the tinge of guilt as she drove away. She knew she should call the police. There would be plenty of questions and they would wonder why she just left. She wasn’t sure if she had any answers for them.

     She was empty. Empty of answers, empty of emotions, empty of everything. She was a shell, and even the tears weren’t coming.

     She made her way to the interstate. Within a half hour she was speeding down the road, on her way unsure of where she was going.

End of Part 1

Chapter 21

     The wind had turned cold. There had been a chill earlier, but it hadn’t bothered her so when she left, she hadn’t grabbed her jacket from the counter. It wasn’t winter yet, and the nights had been mild. She was a big girl, she’d grown up there and had lived there all her life, she could handle a little October chill.

     And it hadn’t been that cold when she left. Come on Jess, you’re tougher than this, she thought as she tripped over another root. She’d been walking through the woods for a while now, stumbling through the dark forest trying to find her damned boyfriend. Dennis had gone out there earlier and at this point in her search for him she was sure she was going to kill him if she did find him.

     Damn! Another root she hadn’t seen, and nearly tripped over. She caught herself, she always had been graced with amazing balance but after the years of boxing and martial arts training, her balance only improved. Now she was not only a well toned fighting machine that people often overlooked due to her smaller stature, but she was also as graceful as a butterfly on a spring morning. Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

     She scanned around her with her flashlight. She was still on the path Dennis had taken. He had told her it was the path to the lake though she thought they were much closer to the lake than this. She’d been walking for twenty minutes and still no trace of it.

     Had he lied to her? If so, his ass was grass when she got her hands on him.

     She had just left hung out with Lizzie earlier when Dennis had called and said he had made arrangements for them to go to his dad’s cabin for the weekend. They’d never been up there, and Lizzie had never heard of his dad owning a cabin, which she had thought was strange for how long they’ve been together. She would have thought he’d have said something in all that time. He knew how much she loved rustic cabins. They brought back some of her best memories with her grandpa and fishing trips as a little girl.

     He knew that. She had told him stories about it.

     Then when he picked her up, he had explained that his dad had just bought the cabin. He hadn’t discussed it with any of them, even his mom. So now both his parents were fighting, the big D word, divorce, has been thrown around a few times though Jessica couldn’t imagine it coming to that. Those two were such an amazing couple who normally did everything together.

     This trip had been as much as a romantic getaway for them as it was an escape from his parents fighting. Though Jessica didn’t know how much his dad paid for it, she thought that whenever his mom did come to give it a chance, she would like it.

     The cabin was clean, much cleaner than she expected after hearing the story of his dad buying it on a whim. She had assumed his dad had gotten it especially cheap which led her to believe it would have been a small shack covered in dust and filled with animal bones. She had expected to walk into a horror film, much like Lizzie had, and was surprised when she had found a well cleaned, nicely furnished rustic cabin home out in the woods.

     Dennis had immediately put their bags in the upper bedroom and then had gone outside to start up the wood stove. Okay, maybe it was a charcoal grill… she hadn’t looked it over too closely but knew he had to work to get the fire started and once it warmed up, he had thrown on steaks he had brought with him.

     He had done it up, that was sure. He had cooked steaks on the grill, lit the fireplace in the main room of the cabin. Then somehow, he had placed and lit half a dozen candles throughout so that when he brought in dinner, they had cozy firelight, that romantic flicker washing over them as they ate.

     If there wasn’t the air hanging over them about his parents fighting, she would have thought he was going to propose to her. He had already asked her to marry him once before, but that had been a shamefully bad attempt and had gone terribly. She knew he felt bad about that and wondered if he was going to do it again now that he had gone all out and created this wonderful setting.

     She felt a tingle inside her. No, that tingle was on her arm. She felt something something dancing along the skin, and found herself back in the woods, ripped out of her memory from earlier to look at her arm, shaking it and quickly stepping away from where she had been.

     She flashed the flashlight in that direction and couldn’t see anything and she still felt that tingling. She looked, it was getting closer to her body, moving up her arm. She moved the light beam to her arm and…

     There was nothing there. She ran her hand along her fingers along her arm, accidentally flashing to light into her own eyes, but couldn’t feel anything where she had felt the tingle. There was nothing there.

     Damn she was really starting to hate the woods. What had ever allowed her to think she would like it out there.

     This wasn’t anything like when she had gone camping with her parents as a kid. Those places had woods, but it was like a controlled wooded area. Small patches of trees easy to walk through and you never got the sense that you were getting lost. No matter which way she walked, she would have found a campsite within ten to fifteen minutes. Now, she had no clue which way she was going. She wasn’t where she had been coming from. Both ways looked the same. It was all the same and it was so dark out there.

     On their drive up she had marveled at how beautiful the moon had been. It had been large in the sky and so bright she was sure that if Dennis had turned off his lights, they’d be able to find their way in that dark brightness.

     Yeah, well, where was that moon now because she couldn’t see a thing. The trees reached so high and all of them joined together to blot out any chance of her seeing the sky above her.

     She was lost. She should call out, yell, and maybe Dennis could hear her. She didn’t want him to know she was freaking out, but she was out there looking for him, why not call out his name?

     “Dennis!” She yelled, not quite at the top of her lungs, not yet, but she still had a booming voice and in the silence of the woods around her, it was loud to her own ears. “Dennis!”

     Why had he even left the cabin? He had set the scene, it was perfect. She thought he was going to come around the table and get down on one knee. They had been sharing a moment, just looking deeply into on another’s eyes.

     Then he had stood up, said he needed to take a walk down to the lake and that he’d be right back and that was it. A half hour later and he still hadn’t returned. It had gotten dark, and he had left without a flashlight. Jessica didn’t know what to do, afraid that if she left to look for him, he would return to find her missing.

     She had started looking through drawers in the kitchen not even realizing she was doing it. She just needed to do something while she waited. It was when she found the flashlight that it occurred to her that she had been searching for it.

     What was up with him? This wasn’t like him, and it made those knots forming in her stomach twist to think about what it meant. What if he hadn’t brought her up there to propose again? What if he brought her up there to break it off? Could she have done something wrong? Something that might have upset him? She couldn’t think of anything. Nothing. They had been happy, or so she thought.

     But he had walked away from her. No real explanation, he just got up and left.

     What the hell!? The path ended abruptly to thorn bushes. She hadn’t been paying attention and walked right into them, and they were tearing into her flesh. As she pulled herself back, she could see the scrapes on her hands as well as something else. There was something white and stringy. It stretched out from the bushes and was all over her arms, clinging to her sweater and hands.

     It took her far longer than it should have to recognize the strands of the spider web. It probably had something to do with all the shifting black things that had kept her from fully comprehending what she had stepped into.

     “Oh God, what the fuck.” She exclaimed as she took another step back, stumbling as she did. Damn another root, they’re frickin’ everywhere, she thought as she bit back another curse.

     She lifted her foot higher and took another step backwards, this time slow so as to not put all her weight when she wasn’t sure of the ground. Her arms still had so much of the white crap, and she kept shaking them, trying to get it off her. Those couldn’t be spiders, she had to keep telling herself that, but she could feel the tickling sensation moving across her arms. Then she felt them getting under her shirt. They were getting everywhere.

     Her foot came down on something raised but it was also soft. She shifted her balance; glad she had kept her calm and had moved slowly. It was easy as she felt the dancing devils getting everywhere.

     She turned as she moved and shined the flashlight down; glad she hadn’t dropped it.

     Dennis was on the ground. A shape just behind it looked like a person hovering over him. If Jessica had continued back, she would have fallen over the person. The person was looking down, close to Dennis as though she was kissing on his chest and neck. She was moving viciously, and it almost looked like they were making out if it wasn’t for how still Dennis was with his eyes open and lifeless.

     Then the face looked up at her, blood dripping from her mouth and Jessica recognized her though it wasn’t easy. The woman’s face was mangled, her skull looking like it had been crushed, one eye having exploded out of its socket and had dripped, now dried on her cheek. Her teeth were white beneath the blood splatter and caught in a haunting smile as she spoke.

     “Hey Jess, missed me?” Sarah said, her voice on the verge of a cackling laugh as she spoke.

     “Sarah..” The name escaped her own lips, though Jessica didn’t know this alien weak sound.

     In the woods behind Sarah, others emerged, all mangled, blood dripping from wounds. None of these people she recognized, and she found herself looking back at what was her former friend as she stood up from where she had been devouring Jess’s fiancé.

     Jessica wanted to back away and run. She could feel the tingle all over her body, it was electricity in the air and sent sparks to every part of her telling her to run. The dead were there for her, and she needed to escape.

     Spiders. That was what made herself tingle. Come one Jess, they’re covering your body, you were trying to shake them off when you stumbled upon the dead.

     She shown the light back to the bushes behind her, but they were gone.  Behind her was a wide-open clearing, inside of which stood the shadow of a man. She flashed the light to where she saw the shadow, but the light went through him. She had to blink to wonder if she actually saw it, but then a twig snapped, and it brought her spinning back to face the oncoming horror.

     Jess, if you want to run, now you can. You saw where the path went now. Through the clearing the path went on. You can get out of here, escape.

     She looked down at her fiancé, the mangled mess of his neck was exposed, his trachea stretched out to the side. She could see now that his eyes were gone, their sockets rough from where someone must have fought to scoop them out.

     They had done this. Sarah had done this. Sarah.

     Inside her, the flame burned and she knew she wasn’t going to run. She knew it from the moment she had seen Dennis on the ground. She wasn’t a runner. She was a fighter.

     As Sarah came into range, Jessica took a brief step back and then launched forward, using her full weight and all her training to bring the blow perfect to slam into her jaw. It connected and with a satisfying crunch, she thought it t drove Sarah’s face back. Then she realized to late that her fist had broken through Sarah’s jaw, sinking through the brittle bone into her face. It through Jessica’s balance off. She had made a beginner’s error for any fight. She had over committed her weight and with that mistake, she found herself falling forward.

     Within a heart beat she could feel hands on her. Sarah twisted around, and as Jessica fell, she could feel the woman falling with her. Jessica fought to soften her landing, but she could feel Sarah’s hands as they pulled at her. She was trapped, all of them were around her and she knew it, soon they would all be tearing into her.

     She briefly wondered how Sarah would be munching on her with her mouth now a crunched, smashed in pulp of bone and dead flesh. As she hit ground, Jess twisted herself and realized her hand was still in Sarah’s face. The resistance of having her hand stuck prevented her from being able to turn with the fall, allowing the blunt force of the drop slam into her shoulder. The air left her. She winced in pain no matter how hard she tried to push it away and stay focused on getting out of there.

     She rolled naturally from the fall, but her hand held fast. She could feel something soft and wet suctioning on it, like a muscle around her hand was contracting. She tried to pull away but the feeling intensified, nearly crushing her fingers together.

     Jess turned to look, not being able to see to well and not sure where she had dropped the flashlight. What she saw even in the dark light was the shape, what was left of Sarah’s face, around Jessica’s hand. What had been her mouth, had gone inward when she had been hit but was was left of it was now around Jessica’s hand and it was like she was trying to maw on it, using the fractured pieces of her jaw to bite down with teeth that were no longer there.

     “Ugh,” escaped her and she pulled harder on her hand. As she did, she was the spiders that had been crawling on her moving along her arm and up her legs. They danced in her hair and along her skin. She wanted to brush them away, but already Sarah was reaching out, frantically clawing at her, pulling at her clothes.

     Then there the other dead people. They had surrounded her and now we’re dropping down to their knees reaching out their own hands at her. She didn’t know when, but she had somehow become a victim in some zombie film as the dead surrounded her, grunted and reached to tear at her flesh. When had zombies become real? Had she missed the email on that one?

     “Get the fuck off me you mother fucking fuckers!” She wasn’t just talking about the spiders or zombie things; she was talking about all of it. She kicked out and thrashed, trying to keep any of them from getting a good grip on her. When she thought she had worked herself into having room to move, she quickly reached down to push herself up.

     Jess was hoping to check the closest zombie and get it out of her way so she could run back to the cabin. She was stopped when she reached down and felt her hand slip in a puddle of something wet and sticky under her.


     Dennis’s Blood

     Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it.

     She didn’t have time to think about it, just work with it. Maybe it was why these things were having a hard time grabbing hold of her. Now that she realized just how much of it had spread on the ground around her, she noticed how much she was covered in it.

     They had also fallen in it. His blood was what keeping her alive as their hands were just as slick as hers. Just she was a fighter and used to reacting quickly, using her weight and her body as a weapon. Even in the dark she had balance and her inner perception. As she moved, she looked inside to find that center and pushed in to find that calm that came to her when the outer rage burned.

     She found her balance, twisted, and turned spinning as she stood so they couldn’t grab her and then she was up standing. There was a large man on his knees in front of her. She didn’t even slow her momentum as she shifted her weight, accounting for the slippery ground and brought her knee up to connect with his face. It found its home and his head rocked back and the force of the blow propelled him out of her way.

     Then she was running and found herself past him. She was on the path, she knew it was the right one and if she continued to run, she would find herself back at the cabin, safe and able to call for help. All she had to do was keep running. The flashlight was gone, but the moon had re-emerged. The path was lit in the moonlight bright enough for her to see and she knew if she went back, she wouldn’t trip on a single root.

     Yet she stopped in the path and turned back around to face the dead.

     Jessica was not a runner. She hadn’t run since she was a child and had runaway that first time. That time when he had hurt her mom. She ran then, and her mom had been put into the hospital. Jessica had ran, and ran, and ran until she found a place to run too.

     She had only been a teenager when she had found the gym, the small one that was almost hidden in its neighborhood. It was an old building and looked like the gym had been there for a long time though Jessica hadn’t remembered ever seeing it before.

     She had stepped into the building crying, unsure of why she was going in. She hadn’t ever been in any gym other than the one at her school and that was for P.E. and cheerleading practice.

     Inside it wreaked of sweat, old and new, and while the building seemed abandoned on the outside, inside was a bustle of activity. Upon walking in the door, she was attacked by the noise of clattering weights as they crashed down, and the loud thump from the back of the room as people dropped down barbells. To her left was a line of treadmills currently being used by a couple of old women as they walked, focused on some far destination as though they would ever get there.

     She didn’t know what to do, she hadn’t known why she had gone in there. She just stood there in the doorway unsure of what to do. She just kept watching in her mind as her dad struck her mom, throwing her against the wall.

     “Can I help you?”

     She blinked herself out of her trance and turned to see an older man stand behind the counter. He wasn’t old, old, but she’d guess he was easily over 50. A woman who came in behind her and walked past, tossed down a card on the counter as she addressed the man as “Stone.”

     “Hey Rachel,” Stone said to the passerby, keeping his eyes on this crying teenager who had just appeared from outside. “You competing in Strongman this weekend?”

     “Not sure. Might have to work.”

     “Okay, just let me know and I’ll need your entry fee by Friday.”

     Jessica watched as the woman strode across the gym to where there stood a boxing ring in the back corner. A man already stood in the ring stretching. Without pausing the woman tossed her gym bag aside and climbed into the ring.

     “You ready to get your ass kicked?” She asked.

     The man in head gear and boxing gloves nodded. She gave him a clap on the back and then jumped down to where her bag had landed and started taking out her own boxing equipment.

     “Hey kid! Can I help you.”

     With a sniff and a wipe at drying tears, Jessica turned from the spectacle in the back.

     “Do you teach people how to fight?”

     “We do. We offer classes. Boxing, Tai Kwan Do, other forms of self defense. You should have your parents come sign you up.”

     “What if it’s my dad I need to defend myself from?”

     She saw something cross the man’s face, a cracking of stone she thought as the man had looked as hard as nails. Then he looked down to study the floor and then up to look outside the window. He looked anywhere except to look back at the kid crying before him.

     Jessica knew when she wasn’t wanted. It came from growing up and knowing that you were never wanted around. Stone might have felt this way, but it was being better than her dad would have been. He would have flat out yelled at her, telling her to get her lazy, ugly ass out of there.

     She went to leave. Stone called out to her before she could do more than set her hand on the door.

     “Are you a runner or a fighter?”

     Jessica turned back to look at him.

     “I don’t want him hitting her.”

     “Are you a runner or a fighter?”

     “I don’t know.” Her tears returned.

     “Go out that door and you’re a runner. You’ll what, runaway in a year or so, end up on the streets. Maybe end up in foster care when they find you if you’re lucky. If you’re not lucky, you’ll actually get away, maybe make it to some big city and end up doing what to survive? Have you thought about that?”

     Her hand dropped away from the door. She felt sick to her stomach. He couldn’t be right, could he? She wasn’t going to abandon her mom, was she?

     She turned back to him, finding a resolve forming inside her that she never knew was there.

     “I’m a fighter.”

     “Are you sure, because it looks like you ran here.”

     “He hurts my mom. I want him to stop.”

     “Then call the police.” Stone locked eyes with her and Jessica steps closer to his counter.

     “Cops don’t care. They’ve come and never do anything.”

     “I can call them. I’ve got friends.”

     Jessica looked past him as Rachel was climbing back into the ring. She was in full fighting gear now and she had a dangerous air around her. She was electrified with a grace and moved with a confidence.

     “There’s other ways to fight.”

     “Yeah, Yeah, there are.” Stone looked back to the ring. “Wait until she’s done with her lesson then talk to her. Tell her I’ll pay for your lessons.”

     “What do you mean.”

     “I mean your going to become a fighter.”

     And she had. Years of boxing, followed by various forms of kickboxing and karate turned her into on hell of a fighter.

     It took time but eventually her dad stopped hitting her mom.

     She was a fighter. She had made that decision. She didn’t run away. She wasn’t going to run now. If she ran to the cabin what would happen. Dennis was dead, killed by these dead things. If she let them go, who else would die by their hands. What if they didn’t follow her. They could go to town or one of the other neighboring communities. What if they got into these residential areas and went on a feeding frenzy? How would she live with herself if other people died and she would have been able to stop it?

     She stood on the path and watched as the dead things worked themselves to where they were standing. Jessica wasn’t sure what they were, if they were zombies or ghouls or whatever the correct term was. She knew they could be fast. They had been lashing at her, viciously grabbing at her before.

     She had to be faster. They had to be stopped. They killed Dennis; they could kill others. She changed that, repeating it in her head. Then she came at them.

     The big one was closest. She struck him first with a round house kick that was timed to keep her moving. Her foot had connected with his already broken face, and it crumpled more of his skull. The momentum of the blow sent him into a nearby tree with a satisfying ‘crack.’

     Two more had been behind him. These two were smaller and looked like they had been much younger when they died. These two seemed different from Sarah and the larger man. They weren’t moving fast to get to her, and they looked more at each other than at her. Their hands held each other’s, had these two been lovers?

     Jessica wasn’t going to waste time thinking about it. They were dead, their feelings didn’t matter. They were killers and she was going to put them down.

     Her fist flew forward, her weight behind the blow as it slammed into his face. He staggered back and like expected, the girl had reached out for her. Jessica grabbed it and twisted, launching the girl over back and sending her to the ground. Jessica followed it up with a kick down, slamming the girl hard in the chest. Jessica didn’t hold back as she would with a living opponent and brought down her weight and she heard the satisfying crunch as ribs broke.

     Then she spun around in time to see that the man, and Sarah were both coming for her. Sarah’s face was a mess, nearly unrecognizable, but Jessica knew those eyes though the fury in them was foreign.

     In most fights, Jessica would have considered the man to be the bigger threat and have attacked him while blocking Sarah. Something screamed at her that if she did that, she was dead. The man had no life left in his eyes, this wasn’t a fight of passion with him, but Sarah was a beast who had gone rabid. Turning away from her would be a costly mistake.

     Her adrenaline was flowing. She could see herself as she moved, and it made her think of an action movie. She wasn’t quite like Jackie Chan and now fights were always so choreographed with chairs and ladders all around him so he could use them as weapons. No, this was bare knuckle. This was a classic Van Damme film. She was a master, a brawler, and she saw it all as she was on the attack for her remaining opponents.

     Jessica approached them almost with a strut of confidence, and when Sarah reached forward, Jessica grabbed it. She pulled and used the force to twist and spin into the man. The blow knocked him off his feet and freed Jessica to continue to spin and driving a powerful blow again into Sarah’s already weakened head. There was more crunching as the blow connected and the center of Sarah’s face crushed inward.

     If she had been in an action film before, she had just crossed over into the absurd, cheesiness of a bad horror film. One of those films that went over the top with the gore, because as she hit Sarah her fist sunk deeper into her face than Jessica thought it should. Her fist going until she felt the thickness of the back of Sarah’s skull.

     What had been Sarah’s brain, the grey matter that had made her a walking corpse was all over Jessica’s hand and it was like a jello mold around her fist. It suctioned around her hand as she tried to pull it back, sucking at it. Sarah wasn’t fighting her and her body had gone limp, but the skull wouldn’t release her. As the body fell to the ground, Jessica was trapped and going with it. She fell, and only had a moment to realize she was going to land next to next to Dennis.

     I’m going to marry him… She had come out there to find her fiancé because he had been acting so weird, but they were supposed to be planning the best day of their lives for a future together. There was still a lot to do, they hadn’t even been able to lock down a date yet, but she still could see it in her mind.

     It was going to be in the church she had gone to while growing up. It was a beautiful church that loomed grandly in her memories. The cathedral rose high, the bell tower rising higher and ringing those wedding bells announcing that it was her day. Their day really as they were joining their lives together.

     She would have a purple dress, having already decided that she would never be satisfied with traditional white. Tradition was for those who invited her family, a mother, and a father. Her mother would be there, she would be giving Jessica away, but her father…

     He would never be allowed within a hundred feet of the ceremony. Jessica had the restraining order and had taught him more than once what happened when he broke it. He broke it, she broke bones. Not just one, but multiple. She enjoyed hearing him scream.

     So no father to ruin the day, It was going to be filled with only things that would make her happy. Dennis. He made her happiest of all, and as her mother walked her down the aisle, he would be there, standing in front of Father Abraham. He would be in a suit, his friends behind him, his older brother standing as his best man behind him. Tony, the brother, would have the rings hidden away, his irresponsible self, doing something right this time.

     She would walk the aisle and once next to him, he would take her hand, and hold that hand until they were married. She would never let him go.

     And as she fell, she thought of him, how she loved him, and was never going to let him go. Not in her heart…

     She landed hard, no hands available to steady or catch herself. Her balance was off by her hand being stuck so she had no way to prepare, to tuck and roll with the motion. No, all of her weight and the momentum of her punch came down on her and she crashed into the unforgiving earth with the air expelling in a rush from her lungs.

     The thing that was Sarah somehow landed on top of her and she immediately felt hands pulling at her. She knew it wouldn’t be long before the things around her pulled themselves close and were biting into her, and really, what did it matter anymore.

     She was looking into the dead eyes of Dennis as he was less than a foot away from her. Those dead eyes that killed her soul and twisted the knife buried in her chest. She wanted tears to flow but the cold had already dried them away.

     She felt the stabbing pain as teeth ripped into her leg. Then more as something landed on top of her and tore a chunk out of her back. More hands grabbed at her; they were pulling in all different directions. If she wanted, she could turn over, or try to, she wasn’t sure she could do it, and use her hands to fight at them as they made their way onto her. She had done it once; she could probably do it again.

     But she didn’t. Instead, she reached out her hand, extending to where Dennis was. His was covered in blood as was hers. Still, hers slipped into his like they were meant to always be holding each other.

     Blood was filling her lungs. The pain was shooting through her thoughts making everything around her impossible to focus on, but she fought it. As she gasped, wheezing towards her last breath, she coughed out “I love you.”

     His hand slipped out of hers. She felt it but had to blink away the tears to see why. The pain had dulled as the world grew colder. Through her blurry vision, she watched as Dennis was moving. He was a shape coming towards her.

     She couldn’t help herself, but she smiled as she coughed up another lung full of blood.

     “Den-“ she couldn’t get it out as her chest spasmed. It didn’t matter. She used her outstretched arm to pull herself towards him though she could see he was nearly to her. She thought maybe they they would get their one last kiss. She hadn’t realized just how much to yearned to feel those lips again.

     His lips neared her own and she could see the blood splattering his own lips. He had a large toothy smile, and she tried to force herself to return it through the pain. His mouth opened wide, and she had a brief second to mentally question why he was opening his mouth so wide when he was going to kiss her and why did it look like his mouth was full of spiders.

     Then his mouth closed over her own, and her scream was cut short as he bit off her own lips. The little bit that had remained of her mind, that had stayed focused on Dennis was ripped away as insanity took her moments before she was lost to the eternal night.

Chapter 20

Anthropophobia is the fear of people. Often it is a social fear, or something thought of as an intense shyness. It can manifest itself in being afraid of meeting new people, or even looking them in the eye. It can be an intense awkwardness around a group. There are many ways that people can experience this intense fear.

     Lizzie had always been timid, to the point that she had once thought that she may be on the autistic spectrum. She never told her parents this, but she hated being around people and had other issues that sometimes made her wonder about her own mental health. But then she had met Sarah and being around people was okay. Parties were now her thing, and she’d be there right with her posse, Jessica and Sarah. They were their own clic as none of the fraternities would have them as a group, and they were too much their own sisters to leave one another. So, they were their own force to be reckoned with.

     Though, when she was alone, she never went up to people… It was too much work, and she would often stay in her room, devouring books, and Netflix. If she didn’t need to speak or hang out with someone, she simply wouldn’t.  

Jessica and Sarah, they were the ones to be the life of the party and when they weren’t around, Lizzie found a corner and watched the world pass her by. Some guys would come up to her, but they would often get bored, not able to pull her from her shell. Then with a sip of their beer, they would make their way to other game who would show more interest. Thankfully Sarah and Jessica would not let her stay alone for too long. When she got in her corner, at parties or in life, one of them would always find her and pull her back into the world around them.

     But she had never been afraid of people around her, she just didn’t know what to say. Whenever someone tried talking to her without her friends, her mind would just go blank. It was like, she tried to find something to talk about, and the only thing in the mental file of words that would shake its way out would be, “Hello.” After that, there was just nothing there. 

     So, when the crowd had swarmed in around her, so many people asking her if she was alright, the anvil hit her like a hammer blow. She couldn’t breathe, her eyes were dry, but tears tried to flood them anyway, her skin crawled with the sensation that things were crawling all over her, and the slightest touch made her jump. Her eyes tried to look everywhere at once and that just made the feeling of the world twisting around her even worse.

     “I need to get out of here.” She heard herself gasping but didn’t recognize her voice. It sounded strangled and alien to her own ears.

     “We should call an ambulance.”

     “What’s wrong with her?”

     “She looks like she’s on drugs.”

     “I have a cousin who does heroin, she looks like that sometimes.

     “What’s wrong with her?”

     “We really should call someone. We can’t have people collapsing in our bathrooms and not-“

     The voices just kept assaulting her. The lights were too bright. Everything was too much.

     What was this, why was this happening to her? Why were these things always happening to her?

     The weight intensified on her chest, her breath coming out in shorter gasps. She thought she was going to collapse again, there on the floor as she tried to make her way to the door.

     A voice spoke to her softly in her ear. It broke through the noise, tearing through the cacophony and releasing some of the pain in her chest. A different kind of tear, that of relief, escaped her as she heard it.

     “It’s going to be okay. Just breathe. I’ve got you. It’s all going to be okay. Let’s just get out of here.” Roland said and now she did collapse. She fell into his arms and let him guide her to the exit.

Roland… Sarah and Jessica had helped her find him, and back when they were together, he had been her comfort. She hadn’t realized just how much she had relied on him to be her shield in the ocean of people. Roland, her protector, her gunslinger taking on the dark forces outside.

Roland, whom she clung to now to save her.


     Outside, the cool night air struck her like a physical blow, a hammer that slammed into her and forcing away the fog of what had just happened. Her strength returned and before they had reached the end of the block, she could walk on her own, though she found herself staying in the warmth of his arms.

     “We still have that hotel room we paid for. I didn’t want to bring it up earlier, but I don’t think we should be driving back this late,” he said. She felt his words rumble through him, the vibration a comfort to her, continuing to calm her frayed nerves.



     She pulled her head away long enough that he looked down at her and they were locked into each other’s eyes. It had been so long since she had lost herself in those eyes. They were the ocean on a clear day, and she could always sink into them when he did this.

     Then she pulled his head down to meet hers and her aching lips found his. They kissed, and as she felt the warmth flood through her, emanating from her, she kissed him harder.

     From there she didn’t remember getting to the hotel room, the memories lost in a haze of continual lustful kisses. She needed him. He was warmth, and he was her comfort. She needed to wrap herself up in him and allow him to get inside her. She desired to feel every part of him and for them to become one.

     They were in the room. He had his arms around her and pulled her into him. She kissed him again while running her hands under his shirt, down his back. She let her fingernails drag on his skin, knowing how it drove him wild. The reaction was immediate, the lump in his pants expanding. She ran her fingers gently over it and could feel the rock-hard member itching to bust loose from its constraints.

     She ran her fingers along his member, following the curvature. Roland tensed against her touch, and she looked into his eyes to see them closed, himself lost in a moan of pleasure. It brought a smile to her and awoke a hunger deep inside.

     How long had it been since she’d felt him? Too long.

     Thoughts of death, the crowd at the coffee shop, all of it faded as she gave in to the desire. Her hands shook with anticipation. She needed him. She needed this.

     She carefully eased the zipper down, being careful not do damage the cream filled candy inside. She was a child that craved the sugar rush and wanted to suck on the hardness until the creamy goodness filled her, its warmth burning away the cold inside her.

     His member was free, and she eased it out. Then she broke free from their latest kiss, another entanglement of tongues and lowered herself to her knees. He was shaking with excitement, and she had the brief worry she was going to give him a heart attack if she waited to long. He wanted and needed her just as badly as she needed him.

     She took him in, tasting the sweat of excitement that trickled from him. The moment she wrapped her lips around it, his body shuddered. She continued, playing with his shaft, running her tongue up and down the different parts, many times lingering on the enlarged head and eye. Then she would take it all in again and viciously stroke with her hands while taking him in and out. He let out another moan, this one much deeper and she could feel his legs shake.

     She had to wonder if it had been as long for him as it had been for her. But then what about Natalie. No, she wasn’t going to think about-

     “Ah!” He let out a small gasp and she knew she had allowed herself to get distracted. Her teeth… He tried to pull away just a little from her, but she wasn’t going to let him get away that easily. She needed this too badly.

     As he was still unsteady, she pushed on him, and he fell back, the bed waiting for him. He thumped down on it, and was already back pedaling to the head, his smile growing as he watched her climb him.

     That’s it, those pants are coming off. She reached forward and undid the button and then the belt. Then she viciously tore at pulling off the blue jeans, shaking them back and forth like a dog playing with a toy until they came free. The pants flew across the room as she focused on the next target, his boxer shorts.

     It didn’t take long and then she was again working on his shaft, stroking it, sucking on it, sending waves of passion through Roland as he arched his back. He was lost to the passion, concern for her lost in the moment.

     Then with one last flick of her tongue across the eye of his member she looked up and him. Then like a stalking cat, purring as she moved, she swayed back and forth, and she worked her way up the bed. She kept her body low, letting the small swell of her breast rub across his already excited erection. Small kisses ran along his stomach and then to his erect nipples. She took a short moment to suck on each on, giving each a little nibble before moving to his chest and then finally her lips high enough to reach his own.

     “Are you sure.” He gasped breaking away from her kiss. His body trembling with excitement and anticipation. His eyes were questioning, and it fought with every other part of his body that demanded he have her then and now.

     She nodded at him, the hunger in her eyes, demanding that she have him. Every other thought of the last few weeks was gone from her mind and all she was focused on was this moment.

     “Then I think your overdressed.”

     The corner of her mouth went up as she pulled back until she was sitting on his exposed member, though she made an effort not to put all her weight down. Then she rocked back and forth, gently gyrating as she crossed her arms and pulled her shirt over her head.

     The totem hung there between her now exposed breasts and she tried to ignore it as she reached behind her, thrusting out her breasts as she undid the clasps of her bra. As soon as they were released, his hands immediately had them, kneading them, and rubbing her nipples and the flesh beneath. She inhaled deeply, waves of her own pleasure flooding her senses and what had she been thinking about before? His fingers flicked at her nipple and then she felt his fingers rubbing them between. Her breath caught and her back arched.

     Something had been happening over the course of the last few weeks, but as she felt his hands and the moisture between her legs intensifying. It was there, nagging at her but she didn’t even have to try to push it out of her mind.

     She quickly reached down to fumble with the button on her pants. It released and another pair of hands assisted her in getting the zipper down. Then she moved herself off him, pushing down her pants as she did and then kicking them off as she now lied there on the bed. As she had done her part, Roland had done his, moving with her, first out of her way and then guiding on top of her. It was like a dance that had been performed, each working in time with the other and moving in a rhythm. They moved in time to a music of their own making, and they were well rehearsed to make these actions look like a well choreographed sequence.

     The dance ended and he was on top of her, now his mouth on her breasts, his tongue sending new sensations of pleasure while his fingers searched below. Then they found their target and she couldn’t restrain the gasp of pleasure that escaped her. He worked magic, both hands and tongue creating their own orchestra of ecstasy.

     Then his hands pulled away and his lips found hers. A second later and he found his way inside of her. The rest of the night fell away. She needed this, oh God how she needed this.

Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Okay. We’ll get through this.”

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

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

     “Do you even know what ‘it’ is?”

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

     “Sounds like it.”

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

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

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

     They looked happy. She had been like them once. The weight on her chest made her doubt she would ever be like that again.

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


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

     “Well, how long was he out there?”

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

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

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

     “But he made you that talisman thingy.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

     It was a large room. Larger than it needed to be and larger than bathrooms in other coffee shops, retail stores and restaurants. It offered more privacy as only one person could be in the room at a time. It gave her plenty of space. It was warm and comfortable, reassuring. It helped bite back the unease she had been feeling that everything was wrong.

     She washed her hands, looked in the mirror, and the room no longer so large. In fact, it had suddenly become quite crowded.

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

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

     She didn’t have time to think anything more of it as she felt something wrap around her. Then she was spun around and pushed so that her head slammed against the mirror.

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

     “I…I thought you were gone.”

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

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

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

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

     “Oh, no! Keep those peepers open. You wouldn’t want to make me have to cut those off, would you?” Sarah hissed as she leaned in close to Lizzie’s ear. She got close, her lips near enough to kiss Lizzie’s ear if she chose to and Lizzie could help but flash back to remembering the smiling man that had killed her. Sarah was looking at her in the eye though the reflection as she whispered, “Look at me. See what you did. You did this to us. I should have known it was about you. It is always about you. You did this.”

Lizzie tried to breath or hold back the tears that were streaming as she stared at what had been her best friend. She was different now. Her skin was ashen, which made the red lips vibrant, and as bright as the blood seeping from her eyes and dripping from her scalp. There were patches of her hair missing, and what was left was clumped together.

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

     Now death permeated from them, their stench filling her nostrils when there was no way she should be able to smell anything. She never had before. Now, they were… more real, but how when she couldn’t even see them if not looking through the mirror.

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

     Someone knocked on the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Lizzie, are you okay?”

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

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

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

     After all, who knew when her friends would return.

Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Though, if there were multiple attackers…

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

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

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


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

     “Yeah, hey who’s number is this?”

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

     “That explains it. So, what’s up?”

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

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

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

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

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

     “I’m fine.”

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

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

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

     “Yeah, well that was pretty impressive.”

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

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

     “Thought you said you were going camping.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     And she had no way of stopping him…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     He looked so concerned. Was that really for her?

     “Hey big boy. Where have you been?” She said and the words sounded strange to her.

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

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

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

Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “I am.”

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

     “I hate to do this-“


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

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

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

     “I’ll be right back.”


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

     No, this is the last thing I should be doing. I don’t want to be with him. That ship had already sailed. He had sunk it. HE had sunk it…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Jessica… The shadow man…

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

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

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

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

     Screw this, she needed to know.

     She called her friend’s number.

Chapter 16

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

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

     “I don’t know. I just didn’t.”

     “And you couldn’t take someone else?”

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

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

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

     Get your mind off of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “What the hell is that?” Josh asked.

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

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

     What the hell?

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

     “Earth to Liz. Lizzie anyone home?”

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

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


     “Really? So, what do you say?”

     “About what?”

     “You weren’t listening.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “I told you-“

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

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

     “But who were you going to take?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Now she had no one.

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

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

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

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


     “What’s your favorite Ed Sheeran song?”

     “I like all of them.”

     “Sure, but you gotta have a favorite.”

     “I do.”

     “What is it?”

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


     “Yeah, why?”

     “Just not sure I know that one.”

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

     “Please, please stop.”

     “Hey now, I can sing,” she said.

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

     “Fine, like you can do any better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Really? Why is that your favorite?”


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

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

     “How can I not love the A-Team?”

     “You’re stalling.”

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

     “Yeah, you do.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

     “What do you mean?”

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

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

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

     “There’s also a movie.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Sorry about that?”

     “About what?”

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

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

     “Who’s we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Got plans.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “It isn’t a date.”

     “He’s picking you up?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “You’re Eddie huh.”

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

     “You are a dreamer.”

     Lizzie threw a carrot at her.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

     “You dumb bitch!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Well, at least he wasn’t dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Who the hell is this girl?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Get out of there you little twat.”

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

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


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

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

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

     “Did you see her eyes?” Sarah asked.

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

     “I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No why?”

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



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

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

“I didn’t see. What happened?”

“Her eyes were red.” Lizzie said.

“Like blood shot?”

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

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

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

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

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

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