Dead Friends: Chapter 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Liz?”

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

“I’m okay. Really.” Lizzie said.

“No, your not.”

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

“You look like shit.”

“Thank you.”

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

“I told you, I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Liz, you can’t blame yourself.”

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

“Can’t I?’

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

“You should go.”

“No.”

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

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

“You’ll die. They all do.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Here.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Something like that. Just read it.”

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

Jessica followed her, the book unread in her hands.

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

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

“Ew, really?”

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

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

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

“At least wipe your mouth.”

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

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

“It’s about Sarah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, please.”

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

“Jess, you can’t do this.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Where did you get that idea?”

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

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

“Did he hit you?”

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

“Your eyes.”

“What about my eyes?”

“Um, I don’t know. It’s just..”

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

“You sure?”

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

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

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

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

“I watched Roland die.”

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

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

“Liz, what are you talking about?”

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

“When did you get so poetic.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Lizz…”

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

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

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

Dead Friends: Chapter 34

She was back in the apartment building, the walls covered in graffiti that changed every time she was there. It was the dream again. The nightmare that always tried to explain something to her that she never quite understood.

Again there was the rustling of the plastic, carried on wind she didn’t feel. It was all the same, and always the same. She didn’t even bother with looking into the plastic room to see the darkness hiding there. It was where the shadow man stayed when he was not tearing apart her life.

She walked right past it, and straight to the apartment door. It was numbered 23. Strange, she didn’t remember the number before. What had been on the door before. She felt like she had looked at it, but thinking about past trips down this hall were blurred into obscurity. She wasn’t sure if she had ever looked at the dark red door or not.

It opened for her when she turned the knob and she walked effortlessly into the room. Inside, the old woman was sitting there in her chair, drinking something that looked like tea. It was steaming, hot and fresh and the old woman was blowing on it before each sip. In the kitchen, Lizzie could hear someone moving around and the clang as though they were putting away pots and pans. Maybe the granddaughter was back there after having just served her grandmother.

The old woman looked up at Lizzie as she entered, a look of shock on her face, but she didn’t spill her tea. No matter how much the old woman’s hands shook either from some illness or the effort of being there, the tea never spilt. Lizzie had a quick thought, wondering if that was the case in the real world, and wasn’t sure if she would ever find out.

“You are here?” She asked and Lizzie didn’t know why she did it, but as she entered the room, she turned and closed the door behind her.

“I guess so.” She said as she turned back to face the woman. There was something different this time and she could feel it. She didn’t have that tension she normally felt when she was there. Sure it was a dream, but even in a dream, your heart can race and you can feel fear. That was how nightmares could kill you, by scaring you to death. This wasn’t like that. This was, calmer, more relaxed. She didn’t feel like she was rushing, and when she closed the door, it wasn’t to keep something from getting to them. It was simply, she realized, out of courtesy.

“You are here, while I believe it is at its weakest. Smart. Maybe now you will come to me…” The woman said, but as she spoke her voice trailed off. Lizzie realized that the woman didn’t mean to say what she had just said. Lizzie didn’t know why, but she suddenly didn’t trust the old woman as much as she had on previous visits. Without all the tension, she could focus on thinking, not being rushed. The woman no longer felt like her savior before being eaten alive. No, now Lizzie felt like she had been running from a bear just to run into a wolf’s den and was standing before the open mouth of the Alpha, staring down its long row of teeth.

Before, she had longed and looked to the old woman as being a way to save her, but why did this old woman care about her. What was she getting out of helping Lizzie?

“You are here, but something is different. You aren’t where you normally are. There is something near you, something just as dark, as dangerous as it is.” The old woman said, squinting as she was studying Lizzie. Lizzie thought about turning around, and running back out of the door. Where would she run? To the darkness down the hall? Where else did she have to go?

“What do you mean?” Lizzie approached the old woman cautiously. The woman in the kitchen was stirring something in a pot. Lizzie didn’t know how she knew it was a woman, but realized that she did and knew who it was. It was the woman she had seen on the street when she had been with Jessica. It had been the one they tried to save. The one who had screamed at her and ran away in terror, but what was she doing there?

That was when Lizzie realized she could smell something too. It was lingering in the room, like that of burnt meat. It didn’t smell right, the meat smelled sour, like it had rotted. It mixed with the fragrance of piss wafting in from the hallway and Lizzie was sure that had this not been a dream, she would be gagging.

The old woman seemed to notice Lizzie’s discomfort, and then somehow all the offending smells were gone.

“Sorry about that. Normally I am prepared for you. I have to be, to fight it as long as I do. You caught me off guard. Wasn’t ready.”

“I’ve taken naps during the day before. Why had you not come then?”

“I don’t know. Something is different this time. This time, you found me.”

“Why? How?”

“Maybe your mind is getting used to the connection. Maybe you are starting to seek me out when you sleep. Could be many things. Some things we may never know.” The old woman said as she took a long drink of her cooling tea. It stained her lips when she drank as when she pulled the cup away, they were red from the thick liquid.

“So why am I here? I remember you. I remember dreaming of you, but why?”

“You are cursed. Your family is cursed. I can not say much more. It is weakened during the day as it is a creature of dark, but It is not sleeping and is not powerless. I still can not say too much. You must come find me.”

“How? Where? I don’t know who are you.” Lizzie couldn’t help but keep glancing at the cup. She assumed it was tea, maybe coffee, but neither stained your lips red. What was in that cup?

“I can not tell you that. He is waiting for me too. He will strike then as he had done before.”

“He?”

“He, It. It is whatever it chooses. For your uncle, it often took the shape of a woman to torture him. For you, it molests you as a he.”

“Why?”

“He is a trickster. I tell you this every time and you must remember it. He plays by only rules he designs. You cannot trust what you know of him. He plays with your mind not because he needs to but because he enjoys it. He feeds off the dead, he does not need you to fear him. That he does for his own pleasure. He is old like myself. He get bored. He entertains himself with your suffering, I think.”

“Okay, so how do I stop this? How do I get my life back?” Lizzie said this and took a step forward towards the old woman. She dropped down to one knee and was about to reach out and grasp the woman’s hands in desperation with her plea, but stopped herself as the smell of copper caught her attention. She again looked at the now half empty cup. There were red stains on the rim of the glass. Dark red. It looked like blood.

The old woman smiled as she took another long sip.

The sounds coming from the other room stopped and Lizzie suddenly had the sense that someone was listening to them. Someone or something. Before she had known that the person in the kitchen was that girl Lizzie had seen, the one she knew of as this woman’s granddaughter though she couldn’t remember how she knew that. Now she wasn’t so sure as she saw the old woman tense at the silence in the room.

“I cannot tell you. Not here. You must seek me out, but for now you must go.”

“But how do I find you?”

“Silly girl, look around you. I’m not hard to find.” The woman was laughing, and the red liquid dripped down from the side of her lips. Maybe Lizzie was wrong and this wasn’t a dream as it sure felt like it was quickly becoming a nightmare. At any time she felt like the old woman would stand up and start chasing after her.

Was everyone in her life evil? How had she fallen into such a world of darkness. She didn’t know who to trust. She had thought this woman would help her.

Lizzie hurried out into the hall, escaping the sudden chill she had felt in the room. The goosebumps from her arm had spread throughout her body and she had to control herself from shivering.

Back in the hallway she had the deja by sensation. It wasn’t the same as when she had gone in. She felt like something should be there, something she was afraid of, something that always chased her down the hall. This was when the darkness would be after her, and she thought she could feel a taint of its presence.

No, it wasn’t there. She felt the pull again to the plastic covered room but she ignored it. She just stood there, looking around. Actually she wasn’t sure where to go. This is where the dream would usually end. She would leave the apartment and get chased. Without the chaser, she wasn’t sure what to do.

On the wall across from the apartment was a myriad of graffiti. Whenever she came there she would read what was scrawled there, usually something dark written in large letters covering much of the wall. It was hard not to notice it, but as she looked closer at it, there was more to the graffiti than she had noticed before. There were other sayings that were smaller, some written under the larger dark sayings and some integrated into it.

As she looked, she saw that much of it was written in a beautiful letters, painted in a bright blue. There were poems of the light and of peaceful dreams. Poems about flowers, green grass fields, and a calm river during the morning dawn. Then she noticed it. Hidden small amongst the lovely writings was an address.

The old woman’s words came back to her, “Silly girl, look around you.”

Lizzie started to chant the address to herself, afraid she would forget it as the world around her slipped away.

****

Lizzie woke up on the floor of the barn and shivered from the chill. She saw her breath as it left her mouth, the mist swirling around her face. She hadn’t remembered it being this cold before, and now it seeped into her. Her jeans felt wet beneath her and she wasn’t sure of them really being moist or if it was due to the cold floor beneath her.

Slowly she stood, using the door behind her to guide her up while she wrapped her arms around her. Her head felt heavy, her thinking slow as the realm of dreams struggled to keep hold.

She was still chanting the address. She realized it, and moved faster, looking around her frantic until she came across the pad of paper on a side workbench near the back of the room. She hurried towards it and wrote down the address.

“Wha la!” She exclaimed, happy with herself that she had finally remembered something important from the dream. Then her happiness evaporated as she remembered the woman, laughing at her, blood covering her teeth and lips as Lizzie had rushed to flee the apartment. Was this really the woman she would hope to have some answers for her? She was relying on her to be her salvation.

What was the woman’s motivation for helping her? Why was so willing to get involved with the darkness. She had to have a reason. Everyone had an angle. She wasn’t going to just, lift this curse from her out of the goodness of her heart.

Could she trust this woman? Lizzie wasn’t sure of the answer.

She looked up from the pad of paper and at the curtain she was now, much closer to, having rushed over to the paper.

It wasn’t a curtain. It wasn’t anything. It was pur darkness. No matter how many lights were in the barn, the back half was lost to it.

She was much closer to it than she now felt comfortable. It was, unsettling. How had she not noticed before that there was nothing. Not nothing in the way that the room was empty, but the room was completely gone. This wasn’t right, and she suddenly worried that she was going to get pulled into it.

It was drawing her closer to it. It wanted her to be a part of it. It was why the paper had been so close to it. The darkness had moved it. She sensed that her uncle would never have been so close to it. All the workbenches were empty this close to it. It had been the one to move to the pad of paper.

Lizzie, that’s insane. Your losing it again. Take a deep breath. It’s just a curtain. You’ll see. But, it might not be a bad idea to go back into the cabin.

Lizzie stepped away from it and back to the door. Her feet felt heavy, her body slow to leave the darkness behind.

“It’s where the shadow man is from” said another voice inside her head. This one different, a stronger voice that felt like it was more than her own thoughts. She didn’t know why, but she trusted it and believed it. This is the darkness she had felt when she had tried to stop it. Somehow this was the darkness from the time before the light was formed in this world.

She opened the door to the barn, wanting to hurry back to the cabin, when she stopped. It was snowing outside. It was the first fall snow but there was already enough of it to coat the ground in a layer of white.

It seemed to early for snow as it hadn’t been that cold before today. Now the temperature had significantly dropped and there was snow.

She looked to the couple of dead people walking around the house. They grew bored, she could tell, and while they hated her for what she had done, they also tried to keep themselves busy. Elisabeth and Josh were currently walking, hand in hand. She noticed that her dead friends didn’t leave footprints in the snow. That was interesting as the undead things had definitely felt real enough to kick her ass.

So the dead didn’t leave foot prints… Well, if they didn’t, then whose footprints did she see walking around her house, up to the back door and then continuing on?

Someone else was there…

Dead Friends: Chapter 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh God, I don’t know what to do.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I’m not going to starve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 26

Lizzie looked at the piece of paper in her hand. It had multiple spots across it from dried tears and she realized there were a few spots that held fresh tears. Her own that she hadn’t realized had fallen as she had read the note. She wished there was more written, but as it was, the page was filled front and back with the words spread to the edges. Some were even hard to read as they came so close to where it had been ripped from a spiral notebook and still held the remnants of the binding.

She folded it back the way it had been, trifolded as though it was a letter getting ready to be sent and put the paper back in the envelope addressed to her. Her uncle had never been around, but she scrambled for memories and barely caught them, thinking of times when he had been there. There was something, she barely remembered it, but as she struggled, she thought it was there. A few memories actually. She thought she had one of him and his wife as they had come to dinner and she had ran between his legs, laughing, only to have him chase her through their house.

There was another memory, one of her as a baby. She often had always had this one, but so many times thought it was more of a dream than a memory. Maybe it was, but it was still a fun dream. She was crawling, still a baby. She was in her grandmothers house and crawling as she though newly discovering some mythical ancient land. There was this large object, at the time she barely knew what it was, but in hindsight recognized it as a flowery fabric covered couch that her grandmother used to have that had become her parents couch for awhile. 

She had made it to the edge and was about to go into a forbidden zone, not that she cared as she was an explorer off on adventure. Though when she had reached it, she had sat up for a moment to look back at her mom and dad sitting at the kitchen table, talking to her grandmother. None of them were paying attention to her as her mother held her grandmothers hand and were looking at each other. This was her chance, and she wasn’t sure if she really realized it or not, but in this dream memory, she knew she had to take it. She turned back around and got in the crawl position to make her escape around the corner.

That was when a pair of large hands grabbed her from under her arms and pulled her up. She saw his smiling face, his happy eyes, and heard that deep laugh as he exclaimed, “Caught ya.”

Was the memory real? Were any of them? Memories of her uncle always felt so surreal that she was never sure. So much time had passed since she had seen him.

She put the envelop on the kitchen table and stood there, looking at the rest of the garbage on it. This was her house now, it was her refuge. She was going to have to clean it, and she didn’t have much else to do. There were also things she might find when she did. It didn’t sound like her uncle had many of the answers she was hoping for, but maybe there had been things he had overlooked. He had all those years to research it, and he had found the talisman so he had learned some things.

That table, that damned dining room table, so full of junk. It was as good as a place to start as any, but did she have any garbage bags. When was garbage pick up, she should call the city and find out. He had said all the utilities were paid, which surprised her as she was surprised he was even on city lines. With how remote the house was, she would have expected to have a generator or something, though she supposed there had to be one for the winter. She would have to check the barn for that as well.

She looked over at the kitchen, the door was closed as it always was. That swing back door haunted her and she felt cold every time she looked at it. Just anyone could sneak in there and hide in waiting and she wouldn’t know it until she went in. It was how Sarah had died, next it would be her turn as she was now all alone.

She had to go in there to find garbage bags, mad at  herself for not bringing any with her. That seemed like something she should have thought of at the convenience store. With how much garbage was scattered throughout the house, her uncle may not have any. 

“Hey bitch!” Sarah screamed from outside. Lizzie closed her eyes, took a deep breath and counted backwards from ten. Sarah had been quite for the last hour or so. They all had been, but now as Lizzie looked at the kitchen door, it was like she had been able to read her mind to know Lizzie was thinking about her.

Lizzie walked away from the yelling dead and stepped into the kitchen, taking deep breaths as she did. No one was in there. The house still that disturbing quiet that she didn’t think she would ever be able to get used to. She would have to do something about that, maybe find her uncle’s laptop and stream music or something. 

The kitchen was easily the cleanest room of the house. Part of that was probably from the cleaners, but the little bit she should remember from the last time she was the, it had been pretty clean then too. He had taken care of this room, no papers scattered about, but just a place that was kept well maintained so the food cooked there would be edible and not send anyone to the hospital for food poisoning. Though, thinking of what her uncle was going through, that may have had more to do with it than actually caring for the room itself. A trip to the hospital could spawn countless of new dead surrounding the house.

You had gone to the hospital and no one had died…

But there had been people who had died. They just hadn’t died while they were there. The shadow man had waited. Had waited and like her uncle had said in his note, had toyed with her until the right time to take their lives. How had the shadow man known when that would be? He couldn’t have. He just had to have been very patient. 

She should lock that thought away, as she felt knowing he was extremely patient was good to remember. Though she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what he was patiently waiting for. It involved her, or her bloodline, that was obvious.

She stepped all the way into the little room and noticed for the first time the little slant to the room and how much of it looked newer than the rest of the house. This was an addition. Her uncle had mentioned something about the changes he had done to the house in his note. This room must be added on. She thought about that as she continued to looked around, letting the door go and whoosh shut behind her.

The house felt disturbing and alone again, that feeling of dread she had felt outside returning. It was deep in the pit of her stomach, and she looked back at the door to the rest of the house, wanting deeply to rush back to the otherside.

This was an addition, so maybe what made her feel calm and safe there, didn’t apply to the kitchen. The dead man had been in the kitchen, not the rest of the house. He hadn’t been able to…, but yet the dead outside couldn’t get in there. 

“So whatever protected the house, didn’t protect the kitchen, but something else did.” She said it out loud, letting her thoughts out in the quiet place. They seemed louder than they should have. She definitely needed to start listening to music or something or else she was going to do a lot of talking to herself. 

“What was it they said? It was okay to talk to yourself as long as you don’t talk back?” She said as she walked to the other side of the little island  counter in the center of the room. “Sure that was it.” She said in response to herself, letting out a little cackle at her own inner joke. 

She looked back to the door to the house again. Her eyes always kept coming back to it. With it closed, she would never know if another surprise waited for her out here. She doubted she would ever have issues in the house. The note made it sound very safe and she believed it. The kitchen didn’t feel like the rest of the house. She couldn’t rely on the same protection.

What was she going to do about the door.

She walked over to it and studied its hinges. The door swung both ways, but as she studied the hinges she wasn’t sure how the things worked. She understood how regular hinges did, but these were different and were alien to her. Regular hinges she could take a butter knife to and work the pin free to remove the door. The double hinges weren’t like that and she couldn’t see any access to the pin. 

How could she get the door off? She would probably have to remove the whole hinge, using a screw driver to remove the hinges from the wall. Though, that seemed like it would be a project and she wasn’t ready to start modifying to house just yet. Instead she looked around for something heavy and found a block of kitchen knives, the base being made out of wood. She grabbed it and used it to prop open the door.

“Wa-la!” She said as she stepped back to admire her handy work.

“Proud of yourself in there?” She heard the voice, and turned to see who said it. She recognized it, but hadn’t heard it in a while. He had never been one to say much to her. She didn’t see anyone standing behind her, she was still alone in the room.

Chuck had to be outside, which made sense since he couldn’t come into the warded house, but still felt disconcerting that he would know she was in there. Could he somehow see inside? She was never sure what their deathly abilities were as they always seemed to be able to do more than what they let on.

“I am, a little.” She walked over the back door and opened the interior wooden one. She forgot that the screen door was still broken from its frame. It would probably always be broken as she was afraid to go out there to fix it, and afraid to call a handyman to the house. What if the man came to the house and was killed. She couldn’t call anyone to the house. Any time she did, she would be putting their lives in danger.

Chuck was standing at the door, and she looked down at him, nervous as there was no visible barrier between them. She thought he couldn’t get in to attack her, but it was hard to imagine something unseen keeping him away.

“You okay?” She said to him. They hadn’t really talked much since his death. He had always blamed her for it, and his anger had been obvious. Then when Josh had come along, Chuck’s role seemed to have become the protector for the other dead as Josh had been angry with all of them. What was his role now? As he was the first to talk to her since the talisman, had he become the peacemaker?

The anger she saw that darkened all of them since their time in the other realm was present on him too. No, he would attack her is he could, just like the rest of them. They all blamed her, as they should, but she hadn’t known what the talisman would do. She was sorry, but how do you apologize for sending someone to hell for nothing they had done.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

She looked back at the door she had just propped open and back to Chuck.

“Why not?”

“Not the door. You shouldn’t have done that us.”

“I didn’t know.”

“You shouldn’t have done that to us.” he repeated, his eyes digging into her own.

“I know. I didn’t know what it would do, I just wanted peace.”

“Peace! Peace! How do you get to want peace!” He screamed at her, his anger blazing as he rushed at her. She jumped, slamming her back into the refrigerator and feeling it rock. 

It took a moment to calm her breathing. Any second, she expected to feel his hands on her throat, his teeth tearing into her flesh, and his…

She pushed the thoughts out of her mind as she looked back to where Chuck had been. He wasn’t there, but was on the ground a few yards back. His eyes were wide as he looked around in shock. 

Slowly he stood, looked back to the door, and then ran towards it, again lunging after her. This time she watched, not worried about him getting in to her, and she saw as he hit the threshold, and with a white flash of light, he was thrown back across the yard.

This time when he got up, he kept his eyes locked on her, and she saw that fire burning hotter. He was slower to make his way to the back door, not lunging for it. He walked casually, his hands opening and closing into fists.

He reached the threshold and stopped there, studying the frame before looking back to her. Then he nodded, and stepped away from where she could see him. He didn’t say a word, didn’t make any threats, just studied the house and the frame until he was gone.

She didn’t know why, but that scared her more than if he had made the threats. 

She looked at the path leading back to the barn. The letter had said she’d need to go there. She didn’t feel safe doing it, not yet. Instead she studied it from a distance. It wasn’t anything special. It just looked like a barn, maybe a little smaller than some she’d seen used for farm equipment, and it definitely needed some paint. Still from a distance it looked sturdy enough.

She turned away as she closed the back door and left the kitchen.

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.