Dead Friends: Chapter 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry Dan. She just took off.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I got her, I’ll walk her in.”

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

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

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

“Mr. Rogers?”

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

“Yes?” Dan asked.

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

“That’d be me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sure he did. He was nuts.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh really?” Dan said.

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

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

“What’s this?” Tammy asked.

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

“Fine.” Tom said in resignation.

“On a Saturday?” Tammy said.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Friends: Chapter 25

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

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

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Elizabeth,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn. Okay then. I’m sorry.

Dead Friends: Chapter 23

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

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

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Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not really.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure thing.-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah like you know what happened.”

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

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

“That’s bullshit.”

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

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

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

Kind of like what she was doing now.

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

“You need something, honey?”

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

“No, I’m fine.”

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

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

“We weren’t disturbing you were we?”

“It’s okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry about your loss.”

“It’s okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why’d he tell you?”

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

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

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

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

“Like what?”

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

“You ever hear of zombie ants?”

“Your full of it.”

“No, no. I saw it there on Facebook.”

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

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

“Uh huh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wrote on the paper.

Dead man

-how did he come back to life

-why did he come back

Friends

How is he killing them?

Why?

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

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

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

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

“It ain’t no skin off my back.”

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

“Asshole.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe.”

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

“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Friends: Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay. We’ll get through this.”

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

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

“Do you even know what ‘it’ is?”

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

“Sounds like it.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?”

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

“Well, how long was he out there?”

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

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

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

“But he made you that talisman thingy.”

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

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

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

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I…I thought you were gone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone knocked on the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lizzie, are you okay?”

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

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

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

After all, who knew when her friends would return.

Dead Friends: Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Though, if there were multiple attackers…

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

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

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

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

“Hello?”

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

“Yeah, hey who’s number is this?”

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

“That explains it. So what’s up?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine.”

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

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

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

“Yeah, well that was pretty impressive.”

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

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

“Thought you said you were going camping.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she had no way of stopping him…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked so concerned. Was that really for her?

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

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

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

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

Dead Friends: Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am.”

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

“I hate to do this-“

“Oh?”

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

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

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

“I’ll be right back.”

“Okay.”

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

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

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

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

End…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica… The shadow man…

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

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

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

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

Screw this, she needed to know.

She called her friends number.

Dead Friends: Chapter 7

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

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

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

“Lizzie? You okay?”

Lizzie looked over to her friend who had brought her back there. She didn’t want to be back there, but they needed to get her keys and somewhere in there she had dropped them. The police when they went there hadn’t found them. They’d found her phone, but that was it. Well, the phone, and the bodies. They had found both her friend and the old man, but it was with the old man that things got weird. It was then that the cops questions had turned from helping her to questioning her about what happened because according to them, it couldn’t have been the way she had told them.

She went into the hospital three days ago, had been questioned by the police for the last two days both at the hospital and at the motel room she stayed in upon her release. They didn’t believe her story, and as much as she wanted to run away from all of it, she hadn’t. Something kept her here, pulled her, tied to it by something unseen.

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

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

The old man…how could he have attacked her and killed her friend? He’d been dead for a week. The sheriff knew the man and had been at his funeral when they put him in the ground. He’d died of bone cancer barely able to lift his own arm, not able to walk for the last three months when the cancer got bad, so how had he attacked them?

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

Maybe she really was crazy…

“Liz?”

Lizzie looked over at her, blinking away some of the thoughts though many remained. She just had to not get lost in them. Don’t focus on them right? That was easier said than done.

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

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

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

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

“Chuck!”

The color drained in his face as he realized what he just said. Elisabeth was making jerking motions with her head towards Lizzie and while Lizzie couldn’t see her face, she was sure it was more than just the nod she was using to communicate how insensitive he’d just been.

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

It was alright. Lizzie barely even noticed as she had slipped back into her thoughts and looking at the small house in front of her. She hadn’t really looked at it the first time. Sarah had been talking but Lizzie had been on the phone with Richard. Her brother had been having a melt down because his caregiver had a family emergency. Samuel, her brothers normal caregiver had called her and told her what was going on. Samual had called their service and Tommy, the backup, was on his way. She was sure that had been explained to her brother, but he had still called in a frenzy. He had continued on and she had to listen to him rant in that computerized voice as he typed it from his end of the call.

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

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

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

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

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

Now your just reaching. You know that. You just don’t want to go back in there and trying to give yourself reasons to go. Nevermind that you’ve come all the way back out there, you need to go in or else you’ll be running the rest of your life afraid to face anything.

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

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

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

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

Why would he be so worried about someone looking in? It was obvious the overhang was not a part of the original design as the wood was unpainted and it didn’t fit in with the architecture. He had to have built it himself.

“Your uncle was nuts.” She didn’t know who had said it. It was getting hard as Lizzie could no longer tell if it had been Sarah or Elisabeth who said it. They both sounded alike to her.

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

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

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

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

“And you live here because?”

“Hey, I live in town. Sure it’s small, but I grew up here and I like it. I know everyone. But this…” Elisabeth holds her hand up motion towards the house and the surrounding clearing, “This wanting to know no one. He was hiding from someone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that shed wasn’t why she was back there, and she forced her attention away from it as they came into the back yard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I did… I died there.”

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“I thought I had. I don’t know.”

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

At least now she could afford to get a new one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine. We can get out of here.”

“You sure?’

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

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

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

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

“You’re kidding.”

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

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

Where were the mosquitoes. It was fall, but they shouldn’t all be dead yet. There had been plenty in town, and had even been some really big nasty ones larger than she’d ever seen back home. She was here, out in the woods where they should be attacking and feeding on her like a pack of vampires at a feast.

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

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

“Sure.”

“So you get what you needed?”

Lizzie nodded, holding up her keys and her phone.

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

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

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

“I’m not sure.”

“Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m dead.”

Lizzie nodded.

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

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

“Can we get out of here please.”

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

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

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

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

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

Here There Be Dragons: Prologue

The nightmare was getting worse. Each night it was getting stronger and when he closed his eyes, could feel himself slipping farther into the cold dark depths. There were things there, and each time he slept, he feared they were going to come back with him. That when he would open his eyes upon waking, they would be waiting there waiting for him.

It was silly. He knew that. Everyone knew that nightmares weren’t real. That it was things that were trapped in your head. That if you watch a scary movie or play a game that had monsters, you would see them in your dreams. That’s how the monsters came, they worked they’re way into your nightmares.

But he hadn’t been watching any scary movies, and his mom had grounded him from his Xbox. He was stuck spending time with his younger sister when he got home and wasn’t allowed to even play with his friends. The last two weeks had been nothing but playing dolly’s with Emily, spelled with a ‘y’ as she would say so no one would accidentally misspell it with two ‘ee’s’.

Not that he cared enough to spell out her name. He didn’t want to be wasting his time with her. He should be off having fun doing boy things, not staying there with his spoiled brat of a sister.

So he was stuck with her, not watching anything that would cause these nightmares. Well, not unless the nightmares were of him being covered in dolls each crying for him to hold them. Or of him being chased by a really large one that wants to pick him up, cooing to “hold him and dress him and kiss him all over.” Now that was a disturbing thought and he hoped he never would have that dream.

No, the nightmares he had were filled with darkness and in he dark were creatures. He could always hear them scurrying around him, but he wasn’t afraid of these things. They weren’t the ones that terrified him and had him waking up with a wet bed. They were disgusting but he was a boy, he liked disgusting things. No, there was something else in the dark. It was large, and there were times when he knew he could feel its breath upon his neck. It breathe and then snort, and when it did that he would shiver as though an ice pick was wedged at the base of his spine. No matter how hot and warm that snort was and sometimes it felt like a wave of fire washing over him, he always got the chills from it, the unseen thing.

It was always behind him. No matter how much he turned and it didn’t matter that he couldn’t see, he could feel it there. It was either behind him, or hovering over him. He knew it was there.

He couldn’t stop it, and knew this shouldn’t be happening to him. Not him. He should have been able to resist it. He was a dream chaser, he knew how to control his dreams. He had to of, because to fight the nightmares in other children’s dreams, he had to know how to control his own. It was one of the first rules, one of the first things taught to new dream chasers and he wasn’t knew. He had been fighting nightmares since he was ten. He lived the decree, to fight a children’s nightmare, you had to be a child. This nightmare shouldn’t be getting into his own head, it shouldn’t be happening. He could control these things.

But still the nightmare came, and still it grew stronger.

He didn’t want to close his eyes anymore. He didn’t want to sleep, to slip into the dreamscape as he knew the nightmare was always waiting for him. Each night, feeling more real and pulling him farther down the rabbit hole. Was there a bottom, and could he reach it without losing himself?

Last night he had swore to himself that he wouldn’t sleep and had made it until the middle of the night. Then, even with all the energy drinks could no longer hold back the veil he had slipped into sleep.

It started with him falling. Most dreams do, especially when one is fighting it. It’s that slipping into the dream realm sensation and if your not ready for it, you’ll jerk awake with that sense of slipping away. It’s disorientating and is the hardest element for new dream chasers to overcome. He had taken nearly two months before it had not affected him, and hadn’t felt it since… Until last night.

There had been a few false starts. He was sitting at his desk, the desk lamp on and facing him as he had heard that intense light can cause someone sleep deprivation. In movies they used it as a way to torture, as it wouldn’t allow someone to sleep.

His desk lamp must not have been strong enough as he still dream slipped. First time he had knocked his homework to the floor which had woke up his dog sleeping at his feet. The second time, his forehead had slammed into the desk waking him. Third time he guessed his head had hit the desk again, but that time it hadn’t been enough and he was lost to the nightmare.

It had been dark around him, and wet. Not too far away he could hear dripping and he smelled something like old socks. It wasn’t though, it was more, earthy, like dirt, but damp. He thought maybe he was in a cave, a deep one and around him was large creatures that scampered. Large, but not the largest one. He could hear that one in the distance, feel the ground shake as it moved told him it was larger than what he felt around him. The large ones around him he guessed were large, man shaped rats. He didn’t know how he knew it, but he could see them in his head as they moved around him, gnawing on whatever food they had found and brought back to this cavern.

He knew what the food was and if he looked, he wouldn’t see it with his eyes but somehow would see it with his mind. He refused to look. He refused to confirm what he already knew.

The cavern shook, this time hard enough that he nearly fell to the ground. The big thing was close. It wasn’t in the cavern with him, but he knew it wasn’t far away. He could feel the air around him getting hot and hard to breathe. This time the nightmare felt like it could burn him, and knew that it was real. This time, whatever happened in the dreamscape would happen to him.

Of course it would, your not wearing your protective gear. Your in your own nightmare, not fighting in someone else’s.

Which was true, he wasn’t off on some mission protecting some child from their dreams, this was his own nightmare. So why wasn’t this one getting detected? He was as close to home base as you could get but no one was coming to help him. Why?

Did they know and think he could handle it on his own? Or had they abandoned him to his fate? He still went into the office everyday, but had seen how they looked at him lately. Maybe they had turned on him, and left him to fight, to lost his own battles to this thing.

He wished he could believe this wasn’t true, but was unsure of anything except for that hot air growing more intense. He was having to take shallow breaths as anything deep burned his lungs.

What could he do. He was a fighter. He had to do something. He couldn’t let this continue. He was a fighter, a dream chaser sworn to fighting the nightmares. How could he allow himself to be afraid by it. How could he do that and still call himself worthy.

He had told himself that and knew he had to find a way to manifest his sword. Every dream chaser had their signature weapon and it didn’t matter the shape or what it was as in dreams, it was more about what was projected and the confidence it inspired in him.

His weapon of choice was a large, monstrous sword that he has seen in one of his favorite video games. It was easily as long as him with ornate silver that stretch down around his hands. There were carvings along the center of the blade but as he could never make out the fine details in the game, his own blade blurred this part of the weapon.

There was a loud snort from the other chamber and the air grew hotter yet. He knew it was now or never. He closed his eyes, and concentrated, tuning out everything around him. He could see his sword in his mind and he put in the effort to focus on it, to pull it from inside of himself. He had to do this and he knew he could. It was there, he had found it and could see it, now he just needed to bring it forth into the dream.

He felt it’s solid mass in his hands and knew he had done it. A smile touched his lips as he opened his eyes to see it held in front of him. The tip of the blade rose up in a ready position and he knew he was prepared for whatever was coming. The blade hummed with energy and it glowed in the darkness. The creatures that had all been scurrying around him scurried away, the light too much for their dark adjusted eyes.

He was a warrior and he was ready to fight. His stance, his breathing was all that of one who has seen many karate movies. In the real world he might not be much of a problem against someone as he could never pull off what he could in the dreamscape, but in here, his muscles didn’t need to know kung fu as much as his mind did. In there, all those cheesy movies helped make him a better fighter.

The room around him shook again and everything grew bright. Then the heat surrounded him as a blast of fire cascaded down the cave coming straight towards him.

He held his sword high and put forth the energy as a shield formed around him, the sword billowing out in protection. It was something the sword from the game could never do but he had found that dream modifications were sometimes the best way to survive.

The flame surrounded him, but he was not burned. The shield held though he felt it wobble a few times against the constant roar of heat that pushed against it.

Then the fire faded, the light dimming and his sword sensing the danger had passed, reforming into its original shape. Around him, little fires had continued to burn keeping the cavern flickering with their ominous glow. The fire was green and unnatural. He looked at them, trying to determine how they stayed lit, but didn’t see a source to keep them burning. They burned from the rock beneath them, nothing else.

That was when he heard the growl. It filled the room with its presence and he felt that cold shiver again run its icy fingers down his back.

He looked up and there it was. He didn’t know how it had gotten so close to him, but now he saw it’s large extended nose hovering just a few feet over him. Those large orange reptilian eyes squinted at him and watched him. They were angry eyes, hungry eyes and he knew it was ready to devour him. It wanted him, yearned to taste him, to take him and … do what with him?

This was a dream, a nightmare. This monster wanted something from him but it wasn’t like creatures in the real world was it? Would it eat him like a bear would or a crocodile?

It wanted something else… It was teasing him because it needed him. Why? And what did it matter?

He was not going to allow it to get him. He was a dream chaser, a fighter of nightmares. He had conquered scarier beasts than this one and it was time to put this nightmare down.

He had raised his sword high and jumped, attacking, aiming for the soft spot on a dragon right under their mouth as it merged with their neck. He could see as it rose and fell with each dragon breath. It looked like a loose fabric with how it ripples with the hot air beneath it. It was so thin he could almost see the fire building up beneath it in the dragon’s throat.

His blade struck right where he aimed. The dragon didn’t even try to dodge, it stayed there probably too shocked by his bold move to counter it. It didn’t matter. This stupid dream creature would be another for his wall, like the many before he had taken down many.

But his blade didn’t pierce the creatures skin like it should. Instead it shattered. Pieces of it started falling around him. It was like glitter and he was floating again in the darkness of the dream, not on ground and not falling but just there. There was nothing but black, no dragon to see or even the little creatures that had infested the cavern. He wasn’t even sure he was still in the cavern. Everything had changed, and he no longer knew what to fight.

He tried to look around but there was nothing and he felt nothing. There was silence and there was dark, that was it. He was lost in a void, unsure where his next breath even came from.

He took short gasps unsure if he was really breathing. It didn’t feel real, none of it felt real which made it worse than the nightmare that had been. For the first time felt true terror as he didn’t know if he was stuck there in the nothingness. Time faded and stretched at the same time. How long would he be trapped there as it already felt too long.

Would he ever wake up, return to his home and see his annoying sister. He had never want to play with her so bad in his life. He actually longed to have a tea party and play with her dollys. How messed up was that?

Then in the distance he heard the growl of the beast, and his body went still, every part of him shaking.

He had woken up in a sweat. That had been last night and he knew it was only going to be worse the next time he allowed himself to sleep. He knew it had to happen soon. He knew he would be called in and sent on a dream chase, and didn’t know how to tell his friends, his family that he couldn’t because he was too afraid of his own nightmares. How would he ever be able to face them.

He sat in his room, staring at the clock and realizing for the first time that there were something’s in the dark that couldn’t be beaten like his trainers had taught him. For the first time he realized that sometimes the nightmares win…

****

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When the Demons Know Your Name

**Formerly Late Night Creature Feature

We all have monsters, creatures buried deep within our souls. The deeply religious call them demons, but I’ve always preferred to think of them as something beyond deities. You see, you don’t need to believe in God to encounter a monster. You just need to live. Eventually, you’ll find them. Walk down a dark alley anywhere and see how long you last.

There are many kinds of monsters. Some are inside us. Some are in the shadows. The world is plagued by them. My dad once told me there are many monsters to fight, but the human ones were the worst.

I wish that were true. See, I’ve seen the other kind. They are not as common. They hide in darker shadows and don’t attack you on a dark street or in an empty parking lot. They’ll wait until you’re home alone, then slip out from the darkness. Some will take your life, others your soul. These reapers are the ones we truly need to fear, but many don’t believe in them.

I do. I’ve seen them…

* * * *

“Mommy! Daddy!” Jason sat up in bed, throwing anything he could grab—his pillow, a few toy cars, and a rock—across the room. The rock hit the far wall with a solid crash, bouncing off it just a few inches from the gap into the darkness.

His closet door was open just an inch, but the thing hiding beyond it lay in wait for him. He heard its breathing, the harsh rasps punctuated by a long growl.

When a door opened, Jason jumped, thinking this was it. The creature would rush across the room and tear him apart like he had seen happen to those other kids. It was there for him, and it was going to get him.

Light ripped through the room, chasing away the darkness. His dad stood in the doorway only a few feet from the closet, but he didn’t even look toward it. He was oblivious to the danger as he shuffled across the room. His eyes were only open to slits, his hair a mess, and he wore a t-shirt and gym shorts.

“Heyya buddy. Bad dream?” his dad asked as he sat on the edge of the bed. Jason already had his legs pulled up to his chest, leaving plenty of room for his dad to sit without the risk of squashing him.

“No, it’s real! It’s in the closet. It was coming out and it wanted to get me!” Jason said in a rush, pointing to the closet.

“Yeah?” His dad stood, the bedsprings creaking.

As he walked to the door, Jason fought the desire to scream out, telling him, No! Don’t do it! Get away from the door and get them out of here. None of them were safe. The creature wanted to kill them all and it wouldn’t stop until it had.

His dad pulled open the door, making an exaggerated action of looking through the contents and studying the clothes hanging there. “Nothing scary in here.”

“It comes out when the lights are off and no one else is here.”

This wasn’t the first time the creature had come. He had been hearing it for the last week, making different noises in the closet. He had called out many times, and each time, his mother came in to check on him. This was the first time his dad had been home since the monster started terrorizing them. It was also the first time the creature actually appeared from the closet, and Jason knew it was their last night. It would get them all.

“How does it get in?” His dad quietly closed the door to the closet so as not to wake anyone else. His mom must still be asleep in the other room, Jason’s screams not loud enough to reach her tonight.

“I don’t know. He just comes to get me.” Jason had meant to say “us”.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“I think you need to stop watching horror films before bed.”

Jason blew out a breath. “I know they’re not real, Dad.”

“Yeah? Then we’re good, right? You know it’s all fake, so you shouldn’t be having these nightmares.”

“Dad?”

“Yeah, bud?”

“It’s not a nightmare. I know the difference. I’ve seen it.”

“Yeah?”

“I saw it earlier. It was the monster from your film. It has those glowing red eyes and long nails. It’s like an evil porcupineman-shaped thing. I saw its long nose come out of the closet, those glowing eyes looking at me.”

Jason wanted to say he had seen more, but didn’t think his dad would believe it had crept back into the closet when he had started throwing things. He knew he would just point out that a big, scary monster, especially like the ones in his films, wouldn’t have hidden away from things thrown at it by an eight-year-old.

“You said it’s from my film? How did you see it? The movie, I mean.”

“It was on cable tonight,” Jason mumbled, playing with the blanket and avoiding his father’s gaze. He knew he wasn’t supposed to watch the creature features, but they were fun. Not only that, but the host was funny and had this thing called the “kill counter”, which showed how many people had been killed during the movie. His dad’s movies never rang too high on the kill counter, but Jason liked them. How cool was it that his dad directed them? “Though they cut out all the good stuff.”

His dad smirked. “The good stuff, eh?”

“Yeah.”

“You remember John Winters? He comes to the parties your mom throws every year.”

“Yeah. The really tall guy.”

“Yeah. Well, he’s the one wearing that costume. He plays the porcupineman, as you call it.”

“I know it’s just a man in a costume, Dad. But the one in my closet is real. I saw him. He was coming out to get me. He wants to eat me. He wants to get all of us.”

“Jason, come on. You just told me it wasn’t real.”

“The one on TV isn’t.”

“Okay, how about this. Tomorrow morning, I take you to the set with me and you can see the costume. It’s not real.”

His dad reached out and ruffled his hair, giving him that bright smile. Most times, it reassured Jason to see it. His dad always exuded confidence with that smile, but now it just let Jason know he was being ignored. He had to get his dad to listen.

“Yes, it is!”

“Just wait until morning, okay?”

Jason looked at the closet. The door was closed. It was quiet now that his dad had come into the room. Maybe it would be okay. The monster had left before, letting them live another night.

Maybe his dad had some superpower that scared away monsters. Maybe his movies weren’t as fake as he liked to say. Maybe it was because his dad truly was some monster slayer, and now that he was in the room, the beast had gotten scared and ran away.

“Okay.”

His dad stood. He bent down to give Jason a kiss on the forehead and a hug before pulling back and looking into his eyes. “Remember, Jason. I’ll show you it’s only a movie. Just remember, it’s only a movie.”

Jason watched him walk to the door and stop for one last look back, his hand lingering over the light switch. “Get some sleep. I’m sure Tammy would love to see you on set tomorrow. We’ll have a fun day of it.”

Jason smiled briefly, thinking of the lead actress in his dad’s film, Tammy Sheep. She was really nice and always had a huge smile for Jason when she saw him.

His dad flipped off the light and closed the door, plunging his room into partial darkness. His Batman nightlight, which his dad had gotten him after they saw the Lego version, lit the room in a faint yellowish glow.

Jason looked at it, then back at the closet. The door was still closed. Should he put something in front of it just in case? He had his toy chest. It was heavy and wouldn’t be easy to move, but he thought he could push it across his room.

No, that wouldn’t work. He remembered he had tried to move it once when his mom was vacuuming, but had to wait for her to help him.

What else did he have that could block the door?

He had himself… He could sit against it, but then how would he sleep? Well, he supposed he could sleep on the floor in front of it.

He pulled himself out of bed and crept across the floor, walking on his tiptoes. For each step he took, he held his breath. He heard his dad in the bathroom, then walking down the hall to their bedroom.

Finally, Jason made it to the door. He planned on sitting down immediately, but thought since he had made it this far, maybe he should listen first.

He slowly leaned forward…

The door clicked open. He hadn’t even touched it yet, but had been close enough to see it open a crack, then a little bit more, hearing the unmistakable growl on the other side.

Jason didn’t hesitate. Remembering how the monster had torn through the walls in his dad’s movie, he knew holding the door closed would never work. He shouldn’t have wasted his time. He should have just snuck out of the room and slept on the couch or on the floor in his parents’ room. Although, with his dad home, he probably wouldn’t have been allowed to sleep in there tonight. Even if he had, the monster would still get them all anyway. It was coming after them. It was going to get him.

At least he could warn his parents. His dad, the monster slayer, probably wouldn’t be able to save him, but he could save his mom. He had to warn them!

“Dad!” he screamed as he dove into his bed, quickly pulling the covers over his head.

* * * *

Jason followed behind his dad as he walked down the hallway. The security guard, a larger, older man, led them through the maze of offices until they reached a door. Jason’s dad unlocked it, then nodded to the guard.

“Thanks for letting us in, Chuck. He just won’t go to sleep until I show him.”

His dad stepped into the room, flicking on the lights to flood the room with the glow of fluorescents. Jason’s breath caught. He had been on his dad’s set a few times, but it was usually with an assistant watching him and they always stayed to the set. Now he saw where the magic was created.

Wardrobe carts, packed with costumes, filled the room. Most were normal clothes, but as the carts went deeper into the room, Jason saw various creatures hanging there. At the end of the room was a full porcupineman costume staring right at them, it’s large size towering over the rest of the wardrobe.

Jason followed his dad into the room, his mouth hanging open. Most of the clothes were just regular stuff, like jeans and jackets, but occasionally there was something really strange. He was sure he saw a costume from the cheesy old movie Flash Gordon. Although, after he walked past it, he guessed it could have just looked like it. It might have just been some knockoff that his dad used in the background of his own movie. Like something a character in the movie was watching on TV.

Anything was possible. After all, it was the movies.

“So, this is where we keep all the monsters,” his dad said, running his fingers along some of the costumes hanging from the rack. He pointed to the porcupineman at the end.

“Wow. Is this where you work?”

His dad chuckled as he bent down, picking his son up. “Yep, this is where daddy works.” His dad looked at the security guard as he approached.

“Jason, your dad here…” Chuck nodded toward Jason’s dad as he joined them, “runs the whole shebang. He makes all those scary horror films that I hear is keeping you up at night.”

Jason’s dad laughed as he lowered him back to the floor. They were near the end of the row now, stepping closer to the darkness of the room. The light just caught the hard surface of the hideous monstrosity before them.

“I’m not afraid of the movies. What I saw was real.” He was certain of it. Jason hadn’t seen all of it, but he’d heard it, and he had seen the claws. They were just like the ones a few feet away from him, and now that he could see them, they were longer than his hand, each one looking sharp enough to tear through flesh and bone.

His dad turned to the guard. “He saw Stickler coming out of his closet.”

Chuck grinned and bent down, looking past his dad to talk directly to Jason.

“So you saw the Stickler, huh? Yeah, he’s a creepy one. I hate to come in here at night on my rounds because he scares the hell outta me.” He looked back at his dad as Chuck straightened, holding his back, which made audible pop. “That’s the current sequel you’re doin’, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s what we’re filming. Hey, did you hear why Celeste has Frankie here…” He nodded to the large monster positioned at the end, “out like this? She’s usually much better about closing up shop.”

“I thought I saw her leaving with that new P.A. just as I was coming onto the lot. Not really sure.”

Jason inched toward the large creature. The light from above cast a shadow over him, but he wanted to see. He needed to see the eyes. In his room, the eyes had been red, but they were always black pits in the movies.

Throughout the room, the lights started to flicker. Jason jumped back to grab his dad’s leg, making Chuck laugh.

“Jason. Come on.” His dad reached out and lifted the large claw of the costume so Jason could look at it. “It’s fake. A piece of silicone and latex.”

Jason reached out and slowly touched the outstretched claw. It was cool and smooth, like plastic. It almost felt like his toys. He recalled playing with a toy knife. It had those same hard edges that looked like they would be sharp, but when he’d stab his friends, it wouldn’t hurt them.

He brought it up to his nose and sniffed it. It stank, the acrid stench smelling almost like one of his dad’s farts. The ones his dad always blamed on random toads hiding in their house.

“It stinks.”

“It’s latex and foam. You would have to talk to the FX guys. They could give you the details. But it’s not alive and it’s not real. Okay?”

Jason looked over the glove, turning it over in his hand and studying its long nails and the fake porcupine quills. They bent as he pushed on them. He couldn’t control the laugh, realizing he was playing with this horrific monster and that it was harmless. Man, what he would give to wear it. Sure, it was much too large for him, but if he had one his own size, he could wear it to school. How would Jimmy like that? He wouldn’t tease Jason anymore. Not after he chased him down wearing this bad boy.

His dad reached over him and tugged on the hanger the costume hung on. Jason watched him, realizing his dad wasn’t trying to get the costume off. With a tug, he pulled the monster’s head away from the body.

The lights flickered around them, then winked off, leaving them in darkness. Only a red glow from the far end of the room illuminated the still shapes of the costumes around them. Jason tightened his grip on his dad’s leg, holding his breath as he tried to look everywhere at once. The glow…

It was the eyes. It had to be. The beast was there and it was going to get them.

“Shoot it!” Jason cried out, pointing at the red glow.

The lights flickered back on, but continued to flash intermittently.

“Jason, cool it.” But Jason kept hold of his leg and wouldn’t look away from the door. Above it was the large EXIT light. “Hey, Chuck, in the morning, give maintenance a call. Get someone in here to get this damn light fixed.”

“I’ll have them get right on it.”

Jason’s dad turned back around to face him, the mask still in his hand. It was black with a long nose and quills sleeked back on the top and around the sides. The eyes were deep pits of darkness, left open for special lenses to be inserted.

Jason couldn’t stop the shiver that ran through him as he took a step back. Even in his father’s hand, the beast looked hungry and ready to tear into him.

“See, it’s fake. The monster is only a creature in the movie. Okay?”

Jason stood there, afraid to move, just staring into where the eyes should be.

“Jason, come on. Touch it. Feel it. It’s silicone and plastic.”

Jason slowly reached out, his heart pounding in his chest. He felt every painful breath as he touched the mask. He ran his finger over it and pushed down on the point of one of the quills, bending it.

“It’s like rubber.”

“That’s kinda what it is. It’s foam rubber.”

Jason moved closer to the mask. “That’s cool.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“Your dad’s pretty cool. He came up with all this,” Chuck said, smiling warmly at Jason.

His dad put the mask back with the costume.

“Thanks, man.” His dad nodded to Chuck before turning back to Jason.

He knew his dad was trying to calm him down, but he just didn’t get it. Jason already knew movie monsters weren’t real. When would his dad listen and believe there was a real one in his closet?

“Hey, buddy, you know what? Tomorrow’s Saturday. Why don’t you come to the set with me and watch us shoot a couple scenes?” He smirked. “I think Tina’s getting killed tomorrow. It should be a lot of fun. You can meet Mike. I’m sure he’ll let you play with some of her intestines.”

“Really?”

Sure, Jason had been on set a few times, but never during a killing scene. Most times, he got stuck hanging out with actors and actresses so he stayed out of the way. He wasn’t sure, but guessed it had more to do with no one to watch him at home, so he had his own version of babysitters…aka actors.

“Yeah. You’re getting old enough now. Just remember. You will have to be quiet and stay out the way. Okay?”

His dad and Chuck stepped away, walking down the aisle. Jason could just barely hear them as he turned, checking out the monster costume. He was finally going to see it tear someone apart. How cool was that?!

“Thanks for letting us in tonight, Chuck,” Jason heard his dad say just as a low growl emanated from the costume.

He quickly stepped back, looking at it. What was that? This wasn’t the real monster. There was no way it could be making noise. It must have some kind of sound effects built into it that he had just triggered. Or maybe his dad had. Maybe he had some remote and was just messing with him.

Jason turned to look at his dad, who was still turned away, talking to Chuck.

“No problem. You pay the bills, right…”

His dad wasn’t paying any attention to him. If he were messing with him, wouldn’t his dad be watching, seeing if he’d react? Was this some kind of elaborate joke on him? Had Chuck rigged everything before he had gotten there?

“After all, it’s your studio. You can come by any time.”

Jason backed away from the costume, watching as the eyes started to glow red. Its shape filled out as it hung there, getting taller. Jason’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t look away, but he also couldn’t say anything. His mouth wasn’t working. He wanted to scream and warn his dad as there was no way this was a joke, this thing was real, but no words escaped him.

“Yeah, but I just don’t like to interrupt in the middle of the night like this.”

When Jason backed into his dad, he looked over his shoulder at him. “Jason!”

“Dad!” His mouth finally formed the words just as the lights went out again. The last thing Jason saw before everything fell away to the red glow of the EXIT light was a lingering claw as the monster slipped behind the wardrobe.

Jason stumbled in the darkness, not able to control himself from jerking back. He tripped on his dad’s leg and felt himself fall. It was an odd sensation of having no control, seeming to be in slow motion. Then he was in the costumes and felt something digging into him.

“Jason, don’t be making a mess. People have to clean that up in the morning. Get out of there.”

He tried to yell, but he couldn’t. The thoughts screamed though him.

Don’t scream at me about the mess. Your monster, the one you told me wasn’t real, yeah, that one! Well he just came to life and is now stalking us! And when you designed it, you made it black with a thousand needles on its back, then gave it large fangs and claws so it could rip you apart! Yes, that thing is alive and we are now all its food, but don’t worry. I’ll try not to make too much of a mess getting away from it!

Jason wanted to scream at his father, but his mouth still struggled to form coherent sounds into words. He got out the occasional “dad”, but his mind still fumbled with the rest. It didn’t help that he had fallen into a heap of clothes that kept tangling around him. The more he tried to unwrap himself, the more it seemed they reached out to grab him. It was like the clothes had found a life of their own and were trying to subdue him.

“It’s just the lights. Come on, bud. You’re not afraid of the dark.”

Jason wanted to cry. Sure, he wasn’t afraid of the dark, but what was in the dark. His dad never realized all the creepy and evil things hiding there. How would he ever get him to understand? He had to keep fighting. He had to get free. The monster was on the loose, and Jason must warn them. They hadn’t seen it. They didn’t know it was coming for them.

And where was the monster? Jason tried to look toward the costumes on the other side, but it was hard in the dim light. From what he could see, it looked like all the clothes around them kept shifting, dancing in the shadows.

There had to be more of the monsters. There were more costumes, right? What if they had all come alive? He had to get free and warn his dad.

He wiggled his way down, feeling his shirt slip up as he did, finally able to free himself from the mess of clothes. He looked up at the shape highlighted in the gloom of the red emergency light, hoping it was his dad.

“The costume came to life, Dad! It’s alive!”

“Jason!” The shape scowled.

That was when Jason saw the Stickler’s glowing red eyes. It was next to them on the other side of the aisle, just beyond the next row of costumes.

“Dad, look!”

Jason pushed on his dad, urging him to turn around. He didn’t turn to where Jason pointed. Instead, his gaze lingered on where the costume should be, but the space was now empty. When the creature’s eyes moved, it must have caught his dad’s attention because he turned, seeing the red orbs slipping into the darkness beyond the other costumes.

“It’s just a trick of the light, Jason. Hey, Chuck, there isn’t anyone in maintenance that would be here this time of night?”

Another low growl emanated from the dark. This time, it was loud enough that they all heard it. Jason watched as his dad stiffened, his eyes focused on where he had seen the red eyes.

“What was that?”

His dad looked at where the costume had been and started taking a step back, keeping his arm protectively in front of Jason.

That’s right. He is the daddy monster in his own right, and anything coming after his little guy is going to have to go through him first.

Jason looked up at him in admiration, remembering when he was younger, before his dad was gone all the time to make movies. His dad would come home from work, throw open the front door, and roar, loudly proclaiming that the daddy monster had arrived and he smelled a little one.

That same man would then be the one to take him to bed later that night and kneel to say their prayers. Then Jason would climb into bed and his dad would lean down to kiss him on the forehead, whispering the daddy promise to him that he would always protect him.

His dad took another step back, this one making Jason move with him. He just barely heard his dad as he whispered, “Where’s the costume?”

A loud roar shook the rack next to them, Jason barely seeing the clothes shifting. That was when he saw the large claw rise above them, the red glow making it look like blood dripped down its long talons. Then the claw came down. Jason felt the warm spray as his dad cried out.

His dad tried to back away quickly, but he had forgotten Jason was behind him. He stumbled and fell back, blood gushing from his chest. Jason felt it soaking him. They landed on the cold cement, his dad holding his arm tightly to his chest. He rolled back and forth on the floor, cursing as the pain coursed through him.

“Wes! Wes! Come in, Wes!” Chuck screamed into his walkie-talkie. Jason looked over at him and saw him backing toward the far door.

“Roger, Chuck. How’s the tour going?” the voice hissed from the radio.

The costumes rustled again. Jason turned back toward them, then started pulling himself away. His dad still lay on the floor, losing a lot of blood. They needed to do something, get him to a doctor.

The red eyes appeared again, staring at him through the clothes. Jason stopped, transfixed by those large red orbs.

“Jason! Run to the door!” his dad screamed. He fought to get back to his knees, blocking Jason’s view of the approaching creature.

“Call 9-1-1, Wes. Now. We need an ambulance here ASAP. Mr. Loomis is hurt.”

“Damn. What the hell is going on down there?!”

Jason’s dad pushed himself the rest of the way up, swaying back and forth. Still, he moved, taking little steps backward. Jason watched him as he rushed to the door, but he couldn’t just leave his dad. He tried to think of anything they could do. What did they do in the movies…

Well, the girl the creature chased usually went into some random cabin and found a flamethrower. Yeah, like they were going to find one of those around…

Wait, this is a film studio.

If it was in the movies, would it be with the wardrobe? Probably not. It would probably be with the special effects equipment.

“I don’t know. You best get the police here, as well.” Chuck yelled into his walkie-talkie with one hand, fumbling to remove his gun with the other. Jason knew Chuck was not some rookie security guard, but didn’t think he had ever seen anything like this before. “Holy shit.”

Jason made it past him and turned to look back for his dad. The Stickler loomed over him. That large snout emitted deep growls each time Jason’s dad took another step back.

“Dad!”

Finally, Chuck got the gun free and pointed it at the creature. “I don’t know who the hell you are or what you think you are doing, but get away from Mr. Loomis…now. Then come out from there and put the costume on the floor.”

Jason backed up until he was in the safety of the hallway, crying, when he heard the scream. It wasn’t even recognizable as his father, but knew it was. Then the sound quieted, turning into a gurgle before stopping. The silence stretched on before he heard something fall to the floor. Jason turned away. He couldn’t watch anymore. He knew what had just happened. His father was dead.

Still in the room, Chuck turned to Jason. “Get to the security office! Police are on the way.”

Jason turned and ran like he had never run before. What was he going to do? He had to find the prop room. Where was it? It wasn’t like the rooms were labeled. Most people working on the set knew where everything was, but what about somebody new? How would they ever find anything in the maze of hallways?

He had hoped he’d be far enough away when the gunshots started, but he wasn’t. He heard them. First, it was one, then another. Then a series of them came in rapid succession that ended in a scream, followed by a thud. Jason knew Chuck had just crashed into the wall. He didn’t turn to look. He just kept running.

It was no use looking for the prop room. He was just a kid. What was he going to do anyway? He’d only seen flamethrowers in the movies where it seemed like everyone had them lying around and anyone could figure how to use them. While that may be true of adults, Jason had no clue.

It had just killed his dad. He had tried to warn him, but his dad hadn’t believed him. He was dead.

Jason had to push away the memories of him because he knew going down that rabbit hole was just going to drop him there in the hallway and leave him a crying mess, waiting to be eaten.

I ain’t no crybaby.

Somewhere down the long hallway behind him, he heard an earsplitting howl that shook the walls and brought him to his knees, but he couldn’t stop and didn’t let it slow his momentum. Keep going, keep going, keep going. He knew he had to, but the thing must be getting closer, the hallway allowing it to move more freely.

Damn, just how big is this place.

He wasn’t sure of the answer. The few times he’d been in the building, he’d never gotten the full tour, but he knew his dad had gotten the space really cheap. It was some kind of abandoned warehouse. They had converted it and used a lot of the unfinished areas as sets. The offices, including the security office, were toward the front of the building.

But what if he were going the wrong way? He could end up on one of the sets, which would be perfect. What better area to be chased to by a horror movie monster than a horror movie film set. If the creature didn’t kill him, he felt like his young heart was going to explode. He already felt the wetness down his leg, knowing that he’d wet himself. When had that happened? Must have been when he fell as he ran away.

He saw the door up ahead marked EXIT, but that didn’t seem right. When they got there, he knew they hadn’t come from that way. Near it was a turn in the hallway. He could have sworn that was the direction they had come. So which way should he go?

Exit… Go for the exit. Get out of here.

Jason wasn’t sure why he didn’t listen to himself as he turned down the hallway, running into something tall and hard. Grunting, he bounced back, landing on the floor with a thump, his tailbone screaming in pain.

“What’s going on?” a deep voice asked.

He looked up to see a tall, dark-skinned man standing over him. Jason could barely stammer a response. He had no idea how he looked, vaguely remembering his father’s blood on him.

“Creature… Alive… Killed them,” he gasped.

“Get in there,” the man ordered, nodding to a room.

Jason saw the security uniform and guessed this must be Wes, the man Chuck had contacted on the radio. Jason looked past him, seeing a brightly lit room, a bank of security monitors sitting there. The monster was on one of them. No wonder Wes had already been coming down the hallway. When it neared the camera, it’s massive shape reared up to look at it. No, it was looking at him. Jason didn’t know how, but he knew it was. It wanted him. Then, with a swipe of its large claw, the camera signal went dead.

Jason ran into the room and looked back, waiting for the security guard to join him. He didn’t. He just stood there, looking scared in the dim light from the room. With a hard swallow, the man looked back at him. “Shut the door.”

Jason did, then locked it.

He waited, his heart pounding in his ears. Then he heard the gunshots and more screaming. Jason didn’t know what was worse—the sounds of those screams, or the silence when they stopped.

* * * *

When they found me the next morning, I was sitting in a ball by the door. They had to coax me away from the door just to get it open. I was the only one left. The creature had spared me…for reasons I only discovered later.

My father and the two security guards were both found, their bodies badly mutilated. Of course, I didn’t find that out until years later, but I had a decent idea of what had happened to them. I’d seen parts of it, which would haunt my nightmares for the rest of my days.

See, monsters are real. They don’t need to be something we create on the movie screens because they are in the world all around us. I just recently saw a new horror film that featured a terrifying clown who eats children. It didn’t take long before clowns were seen everywhere. Then the neighbor kid came up missing. I’m not blaming the movie. The movie didn’t take the kid.

Yes, I still watch horror films, although I often laugh at much of their ridiculousness. After all, those monsters aren’t real.

I just keep telling myself that it’s only a movie. Right now, you’re telling yourself it’s only a story…

But is it?

Dead Friends: Chapter 5

The next time she woke up, her head felt heavy, her mouth felt like it was full of cotton and her wrists, she could feel, had something soft and tight fastened around them. Restraints. She vaguely knew why though as she rolled her head trying to lift it and look around. It was from something early, how much she didn’t know. Her mind, her thinking was muddled as she tried to piece it all together.

Her eyes cleared more and more. The room around her was dark, but not completely. She could vaguely make out shapes. As some of the fog swimming in her head cleared she was able to make out that there was a clock on the fall wall. It was hard to focus on the hands and she wished like hell they had a damned digital clock because really, how often did people read from round clocks with minutes and hours spinning around a little dot. It seemed so archaic to have to think about what the time read. It took her longer than she thought it should, really having to concentrate on the numbers and which hand was on the five and which one was on the three.

3:20

No, that was wrong. The five was twenty-five not twenty. It was twenty five after three. So it was in the middle of the night. Either that or someone had hidden the sun while she was sleeping. With lingering thoughts of that shadow man in the woods, the idea that the sun was gone sent a shiver down her spine and a bone deep chill no heat could warm.
She looked to the window and realized she hadn’t really looked at any part of her room before. The memories of her last stint with consciousness were becoming less hazy, but there was something keeping her from remembering. It probably had something to do with the IV drip that was running into her arm and the drugs, but she didn’t think she would fully remember everything from before. It was too much like a dream and dreams only faded over time.

Slowly she scanned the room, judging quickly when she turned too fast. She was obviously in a hospital room, and in a bed that kept her head elevated. She thought they were called gurney’s, but not sure if that was just something out of a tv show, or it they were actually called that. To her left there was a C shaped stand that was positioned on wheels and stretched over the top so that she could eat when served. Currently it was positioned behind the tall metal IV stand. Next to that was some kind of a machine that had scraggly lines and numbers that changed every so often. It was past these machines she could look out the window.

She couldn’t see the ground outside, but she did see the top of a street light. It shown bright in the dark sky, but past it she could just make out the lightly clouded sky and the stars. They shined bright and she took comfort in seeing them because if the stars were out, then it wasn’t a sun hidden day.

Had she really been afraid of that? To her surprise, she actually had been. Though if the sun was gone, wouldn’t she still be able to see the stars during the day. She’d seen a solar eclipse once, and once the sun was darkened, the stars were able to be seen during the day so it was possible.

She pushed the thought down and took her time to study the cabinet that was in the corner, past the window and next to the little bench that was on the far wall. Why was she so drawn to it. It was a standard wooden cabinet, though taller than anything she had ever seen before. This one was tall enough to stand from the floor to the ceiling and she couldn’t help but wonder how they got it into the room as it looked like it extended into the panel tiles. What was in it, what did they need to hide that was so large?

Above the bench and suspended from he wall was the large tv. She debated about turning it on, not really sure what she would watch at three in the morning, but it would be noise in what was too quite of a room. Since she’d been up, she’d not even heard the signs of breathing from outside the room, or much else for that matter. The only thing she heard was the occasional, rhythmic beep from the machine. The television stayed off as she saw that the remote was on the desk across the room, and she wasn’t sure about standing with the IV still attached to her arm.

Not like you could if you wanted to. You know you’re still restrained. You won’t be going anywhere until the doctor comes back and you can get your hands freed. She thought it to herself, that inner voice speaking to her, and it was right. There was no way she could do anything.

To the right of the desk was another cabinet. This one wasn’t as high, but it was wider. Past it to her right was a light blue curtain that looked like it ran on a track around her bed. It must be there for her privacy when she needed to change, though she would have preferred just to have a door on her room.

Which was what truly frustrated her about the room, or more adequately described as a large cubby hole put off to the side. She had no door. She had no fourth wall. Where the wall on her right side should be was one long curtain. It ran the length of where the fourth wall should be. It didn’t’ stretch fully to the floor, so under it, she could see the slight glow from the hallway beyond.

Behind the bed to her right was more gadgets hooked up to her. I mean, Christ, with how much crap connected to me, you would think they needed to jumpstart me like a car. I’m not on life support, so what the hell is all this garbage.

Her head was clearing. She hadn’t realized it at first, but it felt like forever since she could start to remember things. They were distorted, and none of them made sense. It was like a dream that wasn’t a dream, or something that was real that should have been a dream. That just about summed up her whole day, but in that sense it was a nightmare, one that wouldn’t go away.

Had there been something about one of her nurses being a snake that was going to poison her? Oh god, she hoped she hadn’t actually hit her doctor, though it did explain the restraints.

She slammed her head back into her pillow trying to hide from the empty room, so embarrassed that she never wanted to see another living soul. She had, hadn’t she? She had hit her doctor and who knows who else. She was pretty sure she had been thrashing around for awhile. Anyone could have been caught with a loose fist.

Someone should have gone ahead and hit me back. I deserved it. But of course, none of them had hit her back, not physically. She wasn’t sure what kind of sedative they had given her, but it had done the job.

They had been asking her questions though, before she had freaked out. She was pretty sure she had mentioned Roland, but what else had she said. Another wave of embarrassment hit her. Had they called him? Great, what would he be thinking? He already thought of her as an emotional flake who found any reason to go nuts. What would he think if the doctor had mentioned something about her episode. Of course he would never come visit her, but the story would be all amongst their friends by the time she got home. It would be years before she would ever live it down.

What if she had told them about her brother? That…Now that would be worse. There would be no way he could get there to visit her, and he would be trapped in Madison worrying about her. She would need to call him and let him know she was okay.

She should call him now, just in case they had called.

But it was three in the morning. Well, now it was getting closer to four. Where had the last twenty minutes gone too? Even if they had called him and he had stayed up late fretting about her, he would be asleep. Worry only lasted for so long before exhaustion took its toll.

Where was her phone?

She looked around the little room and didn’t see it. Maybe it was with her clothes, wherever those were… She wasn’t sure. Maybe that was the purpose to one of the cabinets across the room. Probably…though she wished they would have left her phone out and over there by her so she could use it.

She lied back in the bed.

What was she going to do. She was up now and didn’t feel tired at all. The bed was getting uncomfortable and she wished she could at least lower the back portion and turn on her side. The restraints made any movement impossible. She was going to lie on her back wether she liked it or not.

“Hello.” She said into the dark room. Her voice was timid and cracked. She hadn’t realized just how thirsty she was, her cotton mouth getting the better of her. She had to swallow down saliva a few times, though there was not much to work with before she tried again, this time a little louder into the quiet.

“Hello. Anyone out there?”

She waited. She didn’t hear any kind of a response and she had a sudden, scary thought. What if she was alone? What if no one was out there manning the nurses station? What if she wasn’t even near a nurse’s station? Would she just have to lie there until someone finally checked in on her?

The thought of spending the next few hours lying in the bed, waiting for someone to finally pull back the curtain and slip into her little space was torturous. Could she really last that long; no tv, no internet, no phone that could do both.

She continued to listen. The only sounds she heard was her breathing which grew louder the more anxious she became, and the machine that kept a constant beep next to her.

How did they ever expect anyone to sleep in there with that damn machine beeping at her all night? Yeah, well, people didn’t go to hospitals to sleep, they went there to get better. If she wanted to sleep, she should dig herself a grave. Wasn’t that the old adage. She didn’t think she had it right but her mind was still working through the haze of the meds.

The sedatives.

The drugs. They had drugged her. How could they drug her and knock her out like that?

Wasn’t there supposed to be one of those call buttons at the ready? Something she could use to page for the nurses? There was something on the side of her bed. It was a small box connected by a cord that ran below the bed. It had a few buttons on it, but she couldn’t say for sure what any of them were as the pictures on each button had been worn off by use.

Though she could just start pressing buttons at random, if she could reach it. She tried to grab at it, but the restraint was just tight enough that she couldn’t grasp the dangling box.

“Ugh” The cry escaped her in frustration as she slammed herself back onto the bed. “Hello!”

“Hello!” she called again, this time louder as she grew more confident in her voice. She was still so thirsty, but her throat didn’t feel as restricted before.

Being awake must be helping, she thought as she lifted her head again, cocking it to hear better. She thought she heard the sound of a chair creaking out in the hallway. Was she by the nursing station? Could they hear her after all? Maybe that last time had been loud enough?

There it was again, another creak. Then the definite sound of someone shift their weight as to stand. There was someone out there and they were getting up.

Lizzie listened intently as she heard the release of the chair, recognizing it as the sound of the chair rising to its unseated state. Then came the soft steps and slight squeak of a person wearing well worn tennis shoes, but the person was walking away from her. The footsteps were getting quieter. They were leaving her, were they going to go tell someone she was awake. Why wouldn’t they just call someone, and then come in to check on her?

“Heeellooo!” She said again, this time exaggerating as she spoke, trying to put as much strength as she could, expelling the air from her lungs in force as it formed the word. She reminded herself of Josh Gad when he sung “Hello” in his opening number for the Book of Mormon. She had never seen the musical, but the soundtrack was in heavy rotation on her phone. The off beat humor of it matched her own twisted jokes and found that it more often than not filtered in to her everyday.

The footsteps were returning. She could hear them getting closer, and then saw as the light under the curtains showed them. They reached the edge, and just as Lizzie was expecting a huge pulling back of curtains reveal, a quant woman slipped in and disappeared as the curtain closed again behind her.

“Hello Lizzie, how are you feeling?” The nurse said as she was illuminated with a faint light. Lizzie could see that she was standing by a light switch on the wall and what must have been a dimmer as she brought up the light gradually. Lizzie recognized the woman as one of the ones from earlier, the one who…had Lizzie really thought this woman had turned into a snake?

“I’m okay.” she said, not really sure if she actually was, but didn’t feel herself hurting too much. Other than a slight headache and the fuzziness around her thoughts, she felt fine. She didn’t even feel the soreness she would have expected for all the falling she had gone through, or any of the scrapes she had gotten running through the woods.

“That’s good. I’m Elisabeth. I’ll be your nurse tonight. Can I get you anything?”

“Water?”

“Sure. I’ll refill your cup.” She spoke softly and if there was any resentment from before, it didn’t show. The woman moved gently, and was smooth as she glided over to the little table next to the bed. Lizzie hadn’t noticed the water bottle next to her bed, but watched as she grabbed it and took it to the sink across the room. She filled it then turned back towards Lizzie, “I bet you’d like some ice.”

“Just the water is fine.”

Elisabeth had already started towards the hallway but stopped and turned to the bed. She was quick to bring the water, tilting the cup so Lizzie could drink from the straw.

Lizzie looked at that approaching straw protruding from the water cup and was filled with a strong sense of dread. A deja vu washed over her and a rasping voice whispered in her ear that it was poison. That was impossible but she couldn’t shake the feeling as it mixed with the hazy memory of this woman with a serphant’s face. She had to close her eyes to push away the memory and allowed herself to drink.

The water may not have been ice cold, but it was still cool, soothing her throat as it made its way to her empty stomach. She could feel as it moved inside her, the touch of it on her insides alighting herself. It seemed to flow through and back up, and she could feel as her head felt lighter, her brain waking up a little more and some of that haziness chipping away.

“No, no, not too much.” Elisabeth said softly as she pulled the cup back. She eased it away and Lizzie felt the little drips that leaked from the corners of her mouth, running down her chin.

She was alive. Why was it that with everything that had happened, it wasn’t until that drink of water that she truly feel like she had survived it. She was safe now, she was in a hospital and everything was going to be okay.

“Thank you,” and she was grateful as she didn’t think water could ever taste that good. Well, it hadn’t tasted good, as she had cottonmouth, but water had never been so refreshing as it had been now.

“That’s good. You seem to be feeling better.”

“I guess so.”

“Good. Do you know where you are?”

“No, not really.”

“That makes sense. From your chart, you were unconscious when the EMT’s brought you in and you’ve only been awake a few times.”

“I have? I don’t remember too much and it feels more like it was all a dream.”

“Yeah, the sedatives can do that.”

“So where am I?”

“You’re at Aurora Healthcare in Wautoma, the Christmas tree capital of the world.”

“Okay, and why am I here?.. and why am I in these handcuff thingies?”

“Um, well, you were brought in earlier today sometime in the afternoon. They were originally going to keep in you the ER, but they brought you up here to intensive care when you weren’t waking up. Hope you have good insurance, eh?” The woman said that last part, with the strong “A” that mixed many northern Wisconsin accents with Canadian. It was interesting with how the accent wasn’t always there when the nurse talked, but then it occasionally slipped in. Most the time, Lizzie would have guessed she was from farther south but still in the Midwest. It was hard to tell, as culture became more centered around televisions, accents seemed to fade.

“No, not really. College student.”

“Oh crap. Yeah, well, at least staying in intensive care won’t be as bad as those student loan payments. And if you don’t like your major, you can always take up boxing.”

“Sure. So I did attack the doctor…and you? I had hoped I’d dreamed that.”

“You swung, but it was a swing and a miss.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Part of the job. So is there something I can get for you? There’s no one else on the ward, so you have it all to yourself, but I still need to keep watch in case an emergency comes in.”

“Can you open the curtain and let the some light in. I don’t want to be in the dark right now.”

“Sure.”

The nurse went to one side and grabbed the edge and worked the curtain back. She was halfway when it looked like the curiosity got the better of her as she turned to ask, “Do you mind me asking, what happened to you?”

“I’m not sure. My best friend and I were at a house, my uncle’s house that I inherited…which I guess makes it my house now.”

“I guess so,” Elisabeth said as she finished pulling back the curtain.

Lizzie could now see the nurse station across the little hallway, though all she could see of it from her angle was the counter and on that a rack holder with a single file in it. That must be her file with who knew what kind of records. Had they pulled her whole history? Was there information about the broken arm she had at the age of fifteen, or the tonsils she had removed when she was ten?

Elisabeth walked back over to her and to Lizzie’s surprise, pulled up the reclining chair that had been next to her bed.

“We went there, and then, there was this strange naked man in the kitchen. He attacked us…well, he attacked Sarah.”

“Wow, did she get away okay?”

“No, I think he killed her. I barely got away. I don’t know how, but I ended up here.”

“Yeah, you need to talk to the cops.”

“I know,” though up until just minutes ago she had forgotten why she needed them. How could she have forgotten Sarah?

Those dead eyes looking at her, watching her as she ran away to leave her there.

“I can call the sheriff’s office. I’m not sure anyone’s there this time of night, but I’d think someone would be available.”

“Thank you. Do you know if they called my brother?”

“I don’t think so. Do you want me to call him?”

Lizzie hadn’t realized how much that had been worrying her until the sudden release of tears, glad that they hadn’t. The nurse was quickly to scramble for the Kleenex.

Lizzie tried to wipe them away herself but was stopped by the wrist restraints. She laughed as she looked at them. It was the tired laugh of the frustrated and it brought more crying. She was laughing and crying and in her head rolled a hurricane of emotions. Her parents were dead, her best friend was dead, her other friends were miles away and busy back in Stevens Point and Madison, leaving the only person who really knew her to be her brother.

There was no way she could unload all this on him. It would only make him worry about something he could do nothing about or even get to her to comfort her. It wouldn’t even do to talk to him over the phone and hear that robotic voice of his machine talking back to her. Was there anything less helpful than to hear a computer generated voice even if it was her brothers words typed by stylus on his keypad?

Elisabeth dabbed at Lizzie’s cheeks and Lizzie looked into her kind eyes. This woman who barely even knew her seemed to genuinely be concerned for her. How could Lizzie have ever thought of this woman as a snake?

“Thank you.”

“No problem. I take it you don’t want to talk to your brother.”

“It’s not that. I do, its just…its complicated.” Lizzie didn’t know what else to say, and the nurse seemed to understand. She stood there, and they both just looked at each other, one knowing the other wanted to say more, and that when she was ready, the nurse would listen.

Lizzie let out a long sigh, and looked down, catching sight again of the ungodly large clasps around her wrists.

“Do you think you can do something about this?” Lizzie asks, looking up again and catching Elisabeth’s eye.

“You promise you’re not going to slug me again?”

“No, but I’ll dance a jig if you do.”

The nurse didn’t know what to make of it, and Lizzie wasn’t sure what she had meant by that as well. She ended up cocking an unsure eyebrow at the nurse in what had to look like a mix between a puppy dog pleading for forgiveness and a an older sister who was ready to drag you into something naughty that would definitely get you in trouble. The look would have probably been more convincing had Lizzie not had the streaks of fresh tears and the red puffy eyes of the recently crying.

“Yeah, forget I said that,” she said, “but I’ll still appreciate it if you’d take these off me.”

“Just, please, no hitting. I’d have to do more paperwork.”

Elisabeth was quick with the straps and like that, Lizzie was free, her arms lifting into the air happy to be loose.

She stretched, then yawned. The early morning was starting to catch up to her and she was beginning to think she might actually be able to get some rest.

“Here,” the nurse said, brining over the plastic cup and Lizzie was grateful to be able to hold it herself as she brought the straw to her mouth. She took a long drink, felt as the cool water hit her stomach, and then realized something else. She was hungry. Very hungry, which was announced to Elisabeth as well as the roar that erupted from Lizzie could have scared an bear to run for safety.

“You know, the cafeteria is closed, but I might be able to have someone bring you up a jello.”

“Yeah,” Lizzie nodded in relief.

“And then I’ll call the sheriff, okay?”

Lizzie nodded as she lied back on the bed. She was spent. By the time Elisabeth had left the room and pulled the curtain closed behind her, Lizzie was already caught in the first nightmare. The cackling voice surrounding her as maggots swarmed over her. She was twisting and turning in her sleep violently shaking the bed, but there was no waking. Not until the nightmares were ready to let her slip back into reality. It would be awhile, as they enjoyed playing with the new toy, and the maggots grew in size and their mouths exposed long vampire like fangs.

She wanted to scream. She wanted to wake up, but she was trapped and the nightmare had only just begun. She just wanted it all to end. End it, end it now she pleaded in her mind.

And the cackling voice ended with the shadow man as it chased her all throughout her dreams.

“Tik-a-tee, tik-a-tet… your death does not come yet…”

She slipped further into the darkness.