November 10

Intrusion

I was writing a scary story to post for Halloween, and I completely dropped the ball on finishing it up in time.  I’m still working on it, but in the meantime, here’s another of my very rare poems.

It’s quiet in this room

As the world lies asleep

And I sit here awake

But suddenly, a creak.

I wander from the sofa,

Pass into the kitchen

Stop at the hallway

Dare to take a listen.

“Certainly,” I think

“It’s just the house settling”

But then I realize

Someone must be meddling.

“Impossible,” I mumble

“I know I closed the door”

But the evidence is clear

As it swings ajar.

I push the slab closed

Quickly twist the lock

Turn around to walk back in

And encounter quite a shock.

Frightful, you may call it

You’d suspect that was the case

As I certainly did not expect

To be staring a man in the face.

June 10

Terry Hall

Have you ever seen something that wasn’t really there?  Had an experience that you could only reconcile with one other person in the world, and for which everyone else would call you crazy?

 

In college, I was part of a volunteer group that went around the dorms passing out pamphlets about how detrimental prescription drug abuse could be.  There were lots of reports of students abusing Adderall at the time, and it had become enough of a safety concern for the school to organize my little group of unpaid do-gooders.

I honestly wasn’t too committed to the cause, but it counted toward a community service requirement for one of my classes, and it didn’t seem incredibly difficult.

Though there were some co-ed dorms, most were male or female only.  Entry to each building could be gained by waving a student ID card with the proper access in front of a card access proximity scanner mounted by most exterior doors.  Some interior hallways and most elevators and stairwells also had these scanners, but rooms were accessed only by physical keys.

Since we were an official volunteer group with a legitimate need for dorm access, our school IDs were temporarily granted access rights to the dorms.  However, we were still restricted by our sex to which dorms we could access.  Myself and the other girls could only access the female dorms and the female sections of the co-ed dorms, and vice-versa with the guys.

My friend Kelsi and I had been assigned to canvass Terry Hall, the old girls’ dorm on the south side of campus by the unused cafeteria.  The cafeteria had been shut around 5 years prior, at the same time Terry Hall was originally closed down.  There were plans by the school to renovate the dorm and reopen it, but two years later, with renovations never even started, the dorm reopened due to a lack of housing space on campus.  I thought it was an embarrassing reflection of the school’s poor planning capabilities, but it mostly went unmentioned by my peers.

Terry Hall was 40 years old, having most recently been renovated about 21 years before – save for the addition of the card access points right before it reopened.  I had been fortunate enough to be assigned to Richmond Hall during my two semesters living in the dorms, which was not only the newest female dorm on campus, but was also the newest building on campus, period.  Kelsi had never lived in on-campus housing, but one of her friends had lived in Terry Hall, so she was partially familiar with its layout.

We scanned our IDs at the front entrance and were technically supposed to sign a visitor’s log book at the front desk, but we just walked right by it.

“The desk workers don’t care,” Kelsi said.  “They don’t know we don’t live here anyway.”

I nodded and we walked past the desk to the hallway where the first floor residents lived.  There was another card access point there, so we scanned our IDs and continued through.  Neither of us was sure how long it would take to slide the pamphlets under every door, but we decided to take our time with it.  Though we weren’t being supervised, the card access system would have a pretty accurate log of our tour of the building.  If we lied about how much time it took to boost our community service hours and someone was bored enough to check the logs, we’d be obligated to have a chat about academic dishonesty with the Dean of Students.  I’d heard that such visits were also accompanied by a 20-page essay on integrity, due within a week.  Risk-taking wasn’t my game, especially when the alternative was walking around an air conditioned building with one of my best friends for just a bit longer than I otherwise needed to.

“There’s not a lot of people on this floor, huh?” I said as we slid the pamphlets under the last couple of doors in the hall.

“They’re mostly on the upper floors.  This one has a lot of offices and storage space.”

I paused for a second, then said, “Should we take the stairs or the elevator?”

“We could just take the elevator to the top floor, then work our way down with the stairs.  Easier to go down than up.”

“Works for me.”

I scanned my ID and pressed the call button for the elevator.  It took a while to show up, and five or six people poured out of it when the doors finally opened.  Kelsi and I were the only ones waiting to go up, so we entered, and she pressed a button on the panel inside.  The doors closed, and the elevator started ascending.

“Only eight floors?” I said.  “Not too bad.  We can probably get another hour and a half out of this.”

“Easily,” Kelsi said.

The elevator dinged as it hit the 7th floor, and dinged again when it hit 8, but it didn’t stop, and the doors didn’t open.  I shot Kelsi a confused glance, but before I had time to say anything, a “9” lit up on the display above the doors, the elevator stopped, and the doors opened.

“What the…” I trailed off.

I looked down at the button panel and noticed there was a space for a button above the 8, but the button that had been there was removed and the hole was taped over.

Outside, the hallway was lit solely by sunlight that was coming in through the common area windows, and there was a layer of dust that had settled and caked on the floor.

“Whoa, this is so cool!” Kelsi said.  “I didn’t know Terry had an unused floor.”

“Me either, but we should go back down to 8.”

“Come on, we can waste some time and look around first,” Kelsi said.

“Well…” I hesitated.  “Alright, but just a few minutes.”

We exited the elevator and walked toward the common area.  I hear the elevator ding and the doors close behind us, but didn’t really pay it a whole lot of thought.

“I wonder why this floor isn’t being used?” Kelsi asked.

“Beats me.  Maybe they just didn’t need it.”

The main hallway was dark due to going through the center of the building, so we stuck to the outer halls where there were windows.  We tried opening a few doors without any luck, but the fourth one we found, room 911, was already open.  I followed Kelsi in, but she stopped right inside the doorway, as it was too dark.

“Lights don’t work in here,” she said, flipping the switch up and down.

I pulled out my phone and opened the flashlight app.  The tiny LED cut through the darkness, but there wasn’t really a whole lot to see.  There were bed frames with no mattresses, a chest of drawers, and an open, empty closet.  Besides the dust, this probably looked like any other empty room in the building.

“Well, this is cool, but there’s nothing here,” I said, adjusting the strap of the messenger bag on my shoulder.  “We should go back downstairs and finish passing out pamphlets anyway.”

Kelsi nodded.  “Yeah, this is kind of disappointing.”

We made our way back to the elevator, and without really thinking, I pressed the call button.  We waited a few moments, but nothing happened.

“What’s taking it so long?” I said.

Kelsi pressed it again, and five minutes later, we were still standing there.

“Maybe it’s broken?” I suggested.

“I don’t-” Kelsi stopped mid-sentence.  “Oh shit, there’s no card reader.”

I immediately felt dumb.  Of course the elevator wouldn’t come without a proper card scan.

“Well that’s stupid,” I said.  “I guess they didn’t install them on this floor when Terry reopened.”

“How are we supposed to get down?” Kelsi asked.

“We don’t have much of a choice but to try the stairwell.”

Kelsi shrugged and checked her phone.  “We can always call Matt if we need to.”

“Matt will have to call the housing department or something to let us out of here.  We might get in trouble for being up here.”

“Well if that’s the only way out of here, it’s what we’ll have to do.”

I sighed; she was right.

We walked down the outer hallway again and passed by the room we’d gone into earlier.  There was a sign with a picture of the stairwell and an arrow pointing to our left.

“There it is,” I said.

Kelsi approached the door and pushed it with what was obviously more force than should’ve been required.

“Crap,” she said.  We weren’t really surprised that it was locked.  I mean, of course it would’ve been, otherwise students could climb the stairwell and get up here.  The lack of a card reader also wasn’t too surprising.

“I guess I’ll call Matt,” I sighed, pulling my phone out of my back pocket.  I found Matt in my contacts list and pressed his name.  After a few rings, he finally picked up.

“Hello?”

“Hey Matt, it’s Emma.”

“Oh, hey Em.  What’s going on?”

“Well, it’s a long story, but Kelsi and I have a huge favor to ask.”

“What is it?”

“We sort of accidentally got ourselves locked on the ninth floor of Terry Hall.  It’s like…abandoned.  There’s nothing here.  No card readers for us to scan ourselves out.”

Matt laughed on the other end of the line.  “Seriously?  Holy shit, that’s hilarious.”

“Hilarious?  I thought you’d be mad.”

“Did the elevator go there on its own?”

“Well, yeah,” I said.  “I mean, the button for the ninth floor was removed.”

“That’s what I figured.  Believe it or not, this happened a few times when I was working as a front desk assistant there.”

“And they haven’t fixed it yet?”

“Apparently not,” he said.

“Great.  So can you get us out of here?”

“Yeah, let me make a quick call to the administrative coordinator of that dorm.  I still have her number in my phone, so it shouldn’t take long.”

“Thanks Matt, we owe you one.”

“No problem.”

I hung up, sighed a breath of relief, and quickly recapped the phone conversation for Kelsi.  She rolled her eyes and pushed at the stairwell door one final time.

“Lame,” she said.  “What a waste of time.”

We walked back to the outer halls and stopped in the common area lobby near the elevators.  It would be dark in an hour or so, and I hated to think about being stuck there at night.  The sun’s light streaming through the windows was somewhat comforting in that regard, but knowing that it was fading, not so much.

My phone buzzed and I looked down at it.  “Dorm lady is looking for facilities dude.  They should be there soon.”

“Thanks, you’re the best, ” I texted back.

“Well?” Kelsi asked.

“Soon.”

There was nowhere to sit that wasn’t covered in dust, so we leaned against the wall by the windows and waited.  Kelsi was doing something on her phone, and in the meantime, without really thinking about it, I began staring off into space and pondering the situation.

Our school had a few urban legends, and some well-known abandoned buildings that students like to break in to explore.  I knew for sure that there was a huge classroom in one of the lecture halls that had been boarded up and closed for a decade, and students loved coming up with and spreading theories on why the school wasn’t using such a valuable space.  There was also the old geology lab, and the astronomy lab – both closed down and abandoned since the semester the new sciences building opened six or seven years ago.

I’d heard many stories of people sneaking in to the labs, the classrooms, and the maintenance tunnels that ran under the campus, but never had I heard a story about the ninth floor of Terry Hall.  It seemed odd that such a prime space for exploring would be left out of campus lore.

I decided to break the silence. “Hey, you ever heard any stories about people exploring up here?”

“No, but it sounds like Matt might know more about that than me, if other people have gotten ‘stuck’ up here before.”

She was right. I pulled my phone back out of my pocket and typed another text to Matt.

“Did many people get caught trying to explore up here on purpose? Seems like a prime location for it.”

I lowered my phone while waiting for a reply. Any minute, the elevator should ding, signaling our rescue, but with each minute that passed, I began to wonder exactly what was required for the facilities people to get up here, and why it was taking so long.

My phone buzzed in my hand. I glanced at the screen, saw that it was a text from Matt, and unlocked it.

“No, not really. I think people were a little too creeped out.”

I arched an eyebrow and typed out a response. “Creeped out by what?”

The screen displayed a notification indicating that Matt was typing a response. A few seconds later, his message popped up. “Wait, you don’t know about 9-9-99?”

I instantly grew very anxious, typing out, “What is that?”

I looked up at Kelsi. “Do you know the significance of 9-9-99?”

“Like nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine?” she said.

“No, like the date.”

“Oh,” she paused and looked up for a second. “No, I can’t think of anything.”

My phone buzzed with Matt’s reply.

“On September 9, 1999, 9 girls, each 19-years old, committed suicide on the 9th floor of Terry Hall in room 909 at 9:09 PM.”

“Holy shit,” I said.

“What?” Kelsi asked. I handed her my phone so she could read the message herself. “Whoa, what the fuck!” Her eyes scanned the screen again. “That’s crazy!”

“How have neither of us ever heard of that? That’s a freaking statewide tragedy.”

She handed my phone back and said, “I dunno, but I really don’t want to…” Kelsi trailed off. “Wait a minute. Room 909?”

“Yeah?”

“What room did we go into earlier?”

“911.  I think 909 was one of the locked ones.”

My phone once again vibrated, but I was no longer anxious to read what Matt had to say. I looked at the text and read it in disbelief three times before Kelsi spoke up.

“What? What’d he say?”

“There’s more,” I said, a bit hesitant to read the text out loud, as if somehow that would make it more real than it already was. “He said ‘Then on October 10, 2000, 10 girls, each identified by their driver’s licenses as weighing 110 pounds, attempted suicide in room 910 at 10:10 PM, but one survived. After she woke up in the hospital a couple days later, she claimed to have no recollection of the event, and completely flipped when they told her she was the sole survivor of some suicide group. People that followed the case closely noted that she’d actually gained a little weight since getting her driver’s license, and her recorded hospital weight was 118 pounds.'”

“Is that it?” Kelsi asked.

“He’s still typing,” I said, glued to the screen despite my horror.

“Fuck, Em, this is some messed up shit…”

Another text came in. This time, I read it out loud immediately. “They doubted that she didn’t remember trying to kill herself, but then she admitted herself to a mental institution out of fear for her own life. From what I heard, she was terrified of having a suicidal split personality.”

Without another thought, I typed out, “Is that why they closed off the 9th floor?”

A few seconds passed, then my phone rang. I wasted no time answering it.

“Hey Em, this is easier than typing all of that crap.”

“Yeah, no problem, Matt. I’m gonna put you on speaker so Kelsi can hear you.”

“Yeah, no prob. So, after the 9-9-99 incident, they closed off room 909, but not the whole floor. Then after the 10-10-2000 incident, they closed off the floor and locked it down. I heard rumors that on November 11, 2001, they had guards posted all around the dorm, but nothing else ever happened. The 9th floor of Terry Hall has been closed ever since, except for the occasional elevator malfunction that lands a few girls up there.”

“How do you know all of this?” Kelsi asked.

“I’ve worked a lot of front desks in my day, including Terry’s. You hear a lot of shit, and have a lot of free time. We found out about this stuff from one of the facilities people and spent days talking about it and looking it up on the Internet. I found some weird occult sites that had a lot of this stuff on it, too. One of them said the girl that survived was ‘doomed to the Earth because of 8 pounds.’ Another said ‘it should’ve been done in 2010.'”

“Did you ever figure out what was up with the fascination on the 9’s and 10’s?” I asked.

“No, we didn’t,” Matt said. “I mean, we talked about it for a few days and then moved on. It wasn’t that big of a deal. That stuff was 11 years ago, didn’t really affect us more than it being fascinating, you know?”

Suddenly, the elevator dinged.

“Finally,” Kelsi said. “I was getting the heebie-jeebies up here.”

“Thanks for the info Matt, looks like our rescue party is here,” I said.

“Alright, later,” he said. “Be safe.”

I looked up and over at the elevator. The doors had opened, and there stood a group of confused-looking girls.

“Uh, what’s going on?” one of them said.

Kelsi sighed. “I take it you guys weren’t coming here to rescue us?”

“Whoa, is this the 9th floor?” another of the girls asked. One of them said something else, but it was around that time when I stopped listening.

I counted, then I double counted. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Nine girls. There were nine girls in the elevator.

But wait, I was just being paranoid, right? After all, it was November, not September. These couldn’t be the spirits of the girls from 9-9-99.

I closed my eyes and told myself to calm down.

My phone buzzed.

It was Matt. “Oh, weird. Today’s 11-11-2011.”

The hairs on the back of my neck raised, and my skin grew warm and tingly.

“Don’t step out of the elevator!” I shouted. “Hold it!”

Kelsi and I ran over and crammed ourselves in. One of the girls pressed the button for the first floor, and then some other floors, but the doors wouldn’t close. We could either stand in a crowded elevator, or we could step out and try to catch it if it went to close. It was like the thing was trapping us up there.

“Why isn’t the elevator moving?” someone mumbled.

It’s okay, I thought.  They obviously didn’t come here on purpose, so that means they didn’t come here to kill themselves.

But didn’t that one girl that survived not remember anything?  If she was telling the truth, then maybe she didn’t go there on purpose either.  It was no doubt some strange occult ritual, especially with the strange fascination with the numbers.  Something weird going on.

“Are there stairs?” a girl in the back asked.

“They’re locked,” Kelsi said.

Nine girls randomly showed up on the 9th floor.  Nine girls on November 11, 2011.  11-11-11.

Wait, there are 11 girls here, I forgot to include Kelsi and myself!

It was the 11’s.  11 girls, 11-11-11, and room 911 was the only one that was unlocked.

Holy shit.

“Kelsi, we have to get out of here, now,” I said.  “Before, 11 PM.  Way before 11 PM.”

I pulled out my phone and hammered out a few messages to Matt as fast as I could.  “Completely freaked out.  Still stuck here, now with more people.”  “Counting us, there’s 11 girls.  On 11-11-11.  Room 911 is the only unlocked door on the floor.”  “Matt, this isn’t a joke.  Please break into this building, knock down the door, do whatever you need to do to get us out.  I’m terrified.”

“Em, what’s gotten into you?”

“11 girls, on 11th day of the 11th month of the 2011th year, room 911 is the only open room.  You heard the stories, Kelsi.  Do you really want to be here at 11 PM?”

Her face started to drain of color.  “But I I love my life, I’m not going to commit suicide in some crazy occult ritual with you and a bunch of girls I don’t know.”

“What if it’s not suicide?  What if it’s more like a sacrifice?”  Kelsi remained silent, so I continued.  “The one girl that survived claimed to not remember anything about trying to kill herself.  Maybe she was hypnotized or something.  All I know is that I don’t want to find out the hard way.”

“Hey, what are you two talking about?” one of the other girls asked.

Kelsi nodded, completely ignoring the other girls.  “Let’s get out of here.”

We got off the elevator and faced the hall.  “We’re going to try to break down the stairwell door.  Come with us if you want to help.”  The girls in the elevator whispered and murmured, but didn’t move.

I walked over to the lobby area and grabbed the back of one of the old, dusty chairs.  It wasn’t particularly heavy, but it wasn’t light.  Perhaps it would make a good battering ram.  Without a word, Kelsi grabbed one too.  I guessed she’d caught on to what I was doing and wanted her own, or a backup.

7:30.  It would be dark soon.

We hurried down the hall with our chairs in town, dragging them behind us and leaving a trail of chair legs next to our footprints in the dust.  The stairwell door was there, waiting for us, practically taunting us.

“What do you want to do, hit it with the chairs?”

“I dunno,” I said.  “Whatever it takes.”

I left the chair behind me and examined the door.  It was metal, I guessed steel, and the hinges were on the other side.  There’s no way we could break the door.  Our only hope was to knock it off the hinges, but was that even possible for us?

I turned the handle and pushed, but it didn’t budge.  Frustrated, I shoved my shoulder into it and put every ounce of my body into pushing.

“Ugh,” I grunted, and without really thinking, lifted my leg and kicked the door right in the center.  My foot bounced off, and I fell back onto the dusty linoleum floor.

“This door isn’t going anywhere, is it?” Kelsi asked.

“I doubt it.”

Kelsi motioned me to the side and lifted her chair up.  I was momentarily shocked with how easily she’d lifted it, and even more amazed when she threw the thing at the door.

But unsurprisingly, the chair fell to the floor with a broken leg, and the door exactly as we’d found it.

“There has to be another way down,” I said.  “Another stairwell, some kind of maintenance passage… something.”

Kelsi’s eyes lit up.  “Wait a minute!”  She reached into her back pocket and pulled out her student ID card.  “This is an old door, so maybe…”  She pushed the card into the slot between the door slab and the frame, right where the handle was.

“What are you doing?”

“This was big a few years before we got here,” she said.  “My sister told me about it.  It’s why there’s metal plates on the doors on the other floors.  You can push the little latch thingy on the inside open with a card.”

“Is it wo-”

Click

“Holy shit,” Kelsi said.  “It worked.”  She pushed the door inward.

I hesitated.  “Should we go back for the other girls?”

“Do you really want to go back and risk something happening with the door?  We’ve got it open, so let’s just go.  We can make maintenance or someone at the front desk hurry the fuck up and send help.”

We ran down the stairs, past other girls, under flickering fluorescent lights, until finally, the first floor.

Freedom.

We’d made it out.  The fear evaporated from my body, and suddenly, anger replaced it.  I stormed up to the front desk.

“Excuse me, we’ve been trapped on the 9th floor for over 45 minutes.  Our friend called for help and said maintenance was supposed to be coming, but no one ever showed up.  What gives?”

The desk worker paused, seemingly analyzing the situation.  “So, were you locked out of your room, or what?” she asked.

“No, like, the elevator brought us to the 9th floor and wouldn’t go back down.  All of the exits were locked.  We had to break out through the stairwell door by pushing the door latch with an ID card.”

The desk worker raised her eyebrow.  “Was the card reader not working?”

“It’s the 9th floor.  You know, unused, unremodeled, top floor of this building?  Sitting up there collecting dust.  No one lives there.”

“Is this a joke?” she asked, a genuine look of confusion on her face.

My anger briefly subsided.  “What do you mean?”

“The 9th floor is remodeled, used, and is full of residents, just like every floor below it.  Are you talking about the 11th floor?”

“Terry Hall only has 9 floors,” Kelsi said.

The desk worker shook her head.  “I promise it has 11.”

“No, it doesn’t, it has 9 floors.  Everyone knows that,” I said.

“Look, I can take you in the elevator and prove it to you if you want.”

“You do that,” Kelsi snapped, obviously annoyed.

The desk worker rolled her eyes, got up, and led us to the elevator.  There, she pressed the button, and we waited for one to appear.  There was a brief ding, followed by a light above the elevator on the left.

“Hey, that’s the one, right?” I said.  “The one that was stuck up there with the girls in it?”

“Yeah,” Kelsi said, “Definitely.”

I instantly felt a little better about leaving them up there.  It looked like somehow, this elevator call had brought their elevator back down.

But the doors opened, and no one was inside.

The desk worker walked in, pointed at the button panel, and motioned us to look for ourselves.

11 floors.

I pulled out my phone to call Matt, just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.  I unlocked it, and found that my texting app was still open to my conversation with him.  From yesterday.  Everything I’d texted him today was gone.

We never found out what happened to the 9 girls we left on the 9th floor.

March 28

Are you afraid of the dark?

There’s a light on down the hallway,

Piercing through the dark,

Its yellow glow creeps in my doorway,

Causing my thoughts to stop.

You see, a light would be so comforting,

Since I’m home alone,

But only if the power had not been out,

From the frightful passing storm.

December 18

Text

Some amount of time ago, I received a text message on my phone from a number I didn’t recognize that plainly said “where are you.” I replied, asking “who is this?” but received no answer.

A week later, the same number texted me again with the same message asking where I was. Confused, I texted back “I don’t know who you are. Who is this?” Once again, my question was not met with a reply.

Six days passed, and I got another message from that number, but it was different. “I know where you are.” I read it a few times before realizing it wreaked of my friend Fred’s idea if a practical joke. He’d probably grabbed a texting app for his phone and gotten a free number to mess with me. Confident that I’d figured out what was going on, I sent a text back that said “And I know where you are.

I figured Fred would try to have a little more fun with me before ignoring me for a while, but like clockwork, the replies stopped until five days later. “I see you,” it said. It was a little distasteful, but I wasn’t one to let a joke easily bother me, so I sent back “Pervert” and figured I wouldn’t hear from him again for a while.

Four days passed this time before a new message came. “that red dress would look better on the floor.”

With that, I’d had enough. “dude, seriously? Stfu or ill text your brother and tell him to kick your ass. Not cool.” I mean, really? Making a joke like that? But then I stopped, looked down, and realized what was happening.

I was wearing a red dress.

But how? How had Fred known? I hadn’t seem him in weeks. Was he spying on me? I racked my brain for answers. I hadn’t left the house all day since the weather was nasty. I literally hadn’t seen or talked to anyone face to face all day. No one short of a creeper spying through a window could’ve known what I was wearing.

I raced around the house drawing all of the curtains that were open. The front and back doors were locked and deadbolted – this I double checked to make sure.

I pulled up Fred’s contact into on my phone and sent a message to him. “have you been texting me for the last few weeks under a different number? This is serious so please tell me the truth.”

A few minutes later, Fred replied. “I broke my phone a couple weeks ago and just got a new one yesterday, so nope.” He could’ve been lying, but I knew he wasn’t. I don’t know how, but I knew it.

I was still on edge three days later when another message came from the number. “the curtains can’t keep me out.”

That was it. I was done. I closed the text and called the police. Told them I was scared, told them to please hurry. I don’t remember much of that day past that moment. The cops showed up and questioned me. I showed them the texts and admitted that I wasn’t comfortable being alone in my house. I think they asked me if I had any friends or family I could stay with for a while, or at least I assume they asked me something along those lines because I remember saying I’d recently moved here from my hometown that was over four hours away.

I do remember the officer pointing out to me that the texts were coming in a day sooner than the last every time, but I was so terrified that I couldn’t think much about it. I couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel for the next week, so I knew I had to stay in the house.

Despite not replying to the last text, two days later I got another one. “You didn’t wash the dress. Thanks. It smells nice.”

I didn’t need a moment to think. I couldn’t find my red dress. It had been missing since at least the day before I’d called the cops. I grabbed my keys, ran to my car, and drove. Didn’t care about work the next day or that it was 9 PM. I just drove straight to my parents’ house in my hometown. I didn’t even call to tell them. If they weren’t home, I’d stay with Fred and his brother.

I got there at 12:30 since I’d sped the whole way. My parents were awake, and they comforted me for an hour or so after I explained everything.

The next day when my phone alerted me of a text, I was scared to look, but not knowing would’ve been far worse.

I followed you

I’m in my parents’ basement right now typing this out. My mom is pacing on the other side of the room while my dad is upstairs with his hunting rifle. As I finished typing half of this up, I got another message.

you are MINE”

I’m so terrified, I don’t know what to do. My dad called the police, and they’re on their way, but I can’t help but think of the danger I’ve put my parents in.

And still, the texts are becoming more frequent.

you can’t run and you can’t hide. I will have you one way or the other.

I have a horrifying feeling that he’s about to make his move.

November 4

Tracks

At 14 years old, there wasn’t a lot for my friends and I to do that didn’t involve the woods near our neighborhood. We were too young to drive, and yet we felt too old to be restricted to playing sports in our parents’ yards. The woods were basically the perfect place for us to hang out, as most of our parents had made them off-limits when we were younger. Being able to freely go there felt like a rite of passage, and we could do basically whatever we wanted there with no one around to tell us otherwise.

Now that I think about it, I guess it wasn’t exactly the best thing for our parents to allow of a bunch of kids that were barely teenagers, though I have never blamed any of them for lack of proper parenting.

The first of us that was allowed to go into the woods was Jerry. His parents gave him that freedom when he turned 13, but no one else was allowed to go yet, so he only went once or twice with his older brother to hunt for rabbits with a pellet gun.

Turning 14 was like a magical age. I don’t know why, but it seemed like once the rest of us hit that age, our parents finally gave in to our begging and let us venture out into places that were previously forbidden. I turned 14 first, then Frank, then Darren, then Melissa, then Jerry. When Melissa’s birthday rolled around and she got permission to go into the woods, we suddenly realized that we’d surmounted the last barrier since Jerry was already allowed. We immediately made plans for the next weekend to go to the woods and explore.

It was exactly like we’d hoped it would be. Nothing but trees for what seemed like miles. Lots of sticks to grab and hit things with. Plenty of leaves blanketing the floor to kick around. The occasional snap of a twig or cry of a small animal to creep us out. It was fantastic.

Almost every weekend from that point on, you could find us in the woods. We’d usually meet at Jerry’s at a predetermined time, then trek over there with whatever we wanted to bring, if anything. We brought a tarp and nailed it up to some trees for shade and shelter in case the weather got bad. We constructed a makeshift hammock out of some burlap sacks, rope, and a couple of two by fours. Darren wanted to make a swing, but we’d used all of the rope we could find on the hammock, and rope was more expensive than we thought it was, so we abandoned that idea.

Months passed of us hanging out like that basically every chance we got. We’d explored and memorized most every part of the woods up until a wooden fence with a bunch of “NO TRESPASSING” signs on it blocked us from going any farther. We never really got too curious about what was on the other side of the fence, but we did follow it for at least a mile one time and there was no end of it in sight.

By that point, we didn’t know every inch of the woods, but I can pretty much guarantee that any one of us couldn’t get lost there, which had been a legitimate concern in the beginning. We’d become accustomed to certain landmarks, like the pile of rusted metal scraps that someone had likely dumped there a decade ago, or like the tree that had been splintered right down the middle, probably by lightning. There were lots of little things like that that we could recognize and immediately know where we were, at least in relation to the tarp shelter we’d set up.

It was a Saturday afternoon that Melissa showed up with a girl named Jamie. This was surprising to us for at least two reasons: the first was that Melissa was a tomboy, which was lucky for her, since she was the only girl our age in the neighborhood and would have to either hang out with us boys or just be alone. The second reason it was surprising was because Jamie seemed very girlish, and to be hanging out with a tomboy like Melissa didn’t immediately make a lot of sense. However, they both assured us boys that Jamie wanted to go to the woods with us, and that she wasn’t afraid to get a little dirty.

Now, Melissa was pretty, despite the way she dressed, but Jamie was prettier. There was basically no way that a bunch of 14 year old boys were going to turn down a pretty girl’s request to hang out, so that was that, as far as we were concerned.

We headed to the woods as we usually did, only plus one. We found the trail at the edge that we’d gently worn down over the past few months and followed it a couple hundred yards to a clearing. Here, we’d determined that we didn’t want to make the path to our tarp shelter obvious, and that if we didn’t beat the brush around the clearing down too obviously, any explorer would probably just figure the trail ended at the clearing. We’d even set up some stones in a circle and made it look like a campfire site.

Continuing on another hundred or so yards, we arrived at the familiar site of our tarp shelter. It was just as we’d left it, which we’d come to expect. If anyone had ever found it, they’d never touched it or messed with it in any noticeable way. Jamie looked around with a glimmer of genuine curiosity in her eyes. I’d have never pegged her for it judging by her looks, but she obviously liked exploring.

“This is perfect!” she said, giving a nod of approval to Melissa.

“We have a lot of fun out here,” Melissa said.

Jamie examined the hammock and picked a few leaves off of it, admiring the last one before she tossed it on the ground. “So cool.”

I’d noticed that Frank had been eying Jamie the entire time, and not that Darren or Jerry or I weren’t doing the same, but his glances were far less discreet. I kind of wanted to tell him to cut it out because it was a little embarrassing, but it seemed like Jamie hadn’t noticed yet, so I kept my mouth shut.

Jamie’s eyes suddenly lit up, and she excitedly looked around, her gaze finding each of us as she spoke. “You guys want to build a fire and camp out here tonight?”

It wasn’t a new idea. We’d thought about it before, but there were a few reasons we hadn’t done it. The first one was obviously that our parents wouldn’t let us. We could get around it by lying and saying that we were sleeping over at someone’s house for the night, but there were more issues than just that. There were animals in the woods, and though maybe they would leave us alone at night as they did during the day, we weren’t sure, because honestly, we weren’t even sure what kinds of animals called those woods home. Then, there was the issue of the campire.

“We can’t build a fire here,” Jerry said.

“Why not?” Jamie’s eyelids fluttered.

“The smoke will be visible from outside of the woods,” I said. “People will know where we are.”

“So?” Jamie said.

“This is kind of our private place,” Darren explained. “That’s why we had the decoy campsite back at the clearing.”

“What’s the big deal?” Jamie said. “Camping out would be fun. No one would find us.”

It had always been understood among us, though it remained unspoken, that this part of the woods was something we didn’t want to just broadcast to everyone. But on that day, a pretty girl came with us to our hideaway, and that changed.

“Come on guys, she’s right. It would be fun,” Frank said. I knew exactly what was going through his mind. I’d seen him staring at Jamie. He just wanted to find a way to sleep next to, close to, anywhere in the same proximity as her. Maybe he even wanted more than that. Who knows for sure, but I could see as he looked at us desperately, begging with his eyes for us to agree with him, that he had an ulterior motive.

All of that aside though, sleeping in the woods with my friends did sound like fun. I wasn’t so worried about the animals, especially if we had a fire. And I knew Jerry could sneak his brother’s pellet gun out of the house – not that it could do much damage to anything that could actually hurt us, but maybe it could scare such a creature away with a well-aimed shot.

Darren was either thinking along the same lines as Frank or me, as he suddenly spoke up. “Well, I guess.”

Melissa bit her lip. “I can’t. There’s no way I can come up with a good enough excuse. Jamie is my only female friend, and she’s supposed to be staying over at my house. Whose house would I say I’m sleeping at?”

“Just tell your parents we went back to my house to spend the night,” Jamie said. “My parents think I’m over at your house, yours will think we’re over at my house.”

“What if one of them calls the other, though?” Melissa said.

Jamie dug in her pocket, then held out her cell phone. “Mine have no reason to call yours. If they need me, they can just call me.” We didn’t all have cell phones, but I had one. So did Darren and Frank. But not Jerry, and not Melissa.

“I don’t have a cell, though,” Melissa said.

“Call your parents from my phone, give them my number, and tell them if they need you to call you on it. Simple. If they ask to talk to my parents or for my parents’ number or something, make something up. Give the phone to me or one of the guys or something and we’ll impersonate your mom or dad.”

My impression of Jamie that was initially based entirely on her looks was quickly evolving to more adequately match who she actually was. She was this good at planning on how to trick parents? This innocent-looking girl?

Melissa sighed, defeated. “Fine.”

Each one of us took turns calling our parents on our phones and loaning them to others without phones. We all shared the same risk that Melissa shared, but none of our parents questioned what we told them. Mine only asked when I’d be back, then told me to have fun, and that was it. I felt bad for a moment that they trusted me well enough to not press me at all, when I was, in fact, betraying that very trust.

But it was harmless, right? I was only spending the night in the woods with my friends. It was a victimless betrayal.

We’d need supplies, and unfortunately, we didn’t think of that until after we’d already called our parents. No one could go home for blankets or chips or a lighter or anything like that, so instead, we pooled the cash we had on us and gave it to Darren and Jerry, who set off by themselves to the closest gas station to buy at least a lighter and however much food and drinks they could with the $28 we collectively had and the two sets of arms they had to carry it all back.

The rest of us were left with two tasks: to gather firewood and to find something for us to cover ourselves with or sleep on top of or both. Melissa had an idea on how to solve the latter problem, and much to Frank’s dismay, she grabbed his arm and pulled him off with her, saying she needed a “man” to help her carry some stuff. And suddenly, I was left alone with Jamie.

“Well, I guess that means we’re in charge of gathering firewood,” I said.

She nodded and saluted me. “Sir, yes sir!”

I arched an eyebrow at her and laughed. This girl was full of surprises.

“First, we need to clear the leaves away from where we’re going to build the fire,” I said. “The ground needs to be nothing but dirt. No grass – not even if it’s alive.”

“Why not?” Jamie asked.

“If we build the fire on top of leaves or grass, it could catch the entire place on fire,” I said, motioning to the woods around us with my hands. “With all of these dead leaves and stuff, this entire place is a tinderbox. We have to be careful.”

Jamie nodded, seemingly impressed with this wisdom that I had assumed was common sense.

Fortunately, finding an area of dirt wasn’t that hard. When we’d built the hammock, we’d first tried using an old bed sheet instead of the burlap sack. The sheet wasn’t strong enough, of course, so we’d spread it out under the tarp as a sort of “indoors” area for us to relax on. This, however, proved to be a terrible idea, because when it rained, the sheet got soaking wet, and the combination of the tarp and the trees protected it from the sun, so it took forever to dry. We ended up putting the sheet in the clearing instead, and set rocks on top of it. It was better than laying on the ground, and we just had to pick it up and shake it off when it got full of leaves.

That is, until it killed the grass underneath, and the area underneath became dirt, which in combination with the rain muddied the sheet so much that we just avoided it.

Until I remembered that we needed an area that was just dirt. Jamie and I removed the rocks, lifted the filthy sheet, and found exactly the area we were looking for.

SNAP

I turned around and scanned the treeline at the edge of the clearing in search of the source of the noise.

“Melissa? Frank?” I called out.

“Probably just an animal or something,” Jamie said.

I nodded, grabbed the small hand axe we had pilfered from Darren’s dad, and motioned for Jamie to follow me.

“Where are we going?” Jamie asked.

“To look for firewood,” I said.

“Why do we have to leave this area? There’s plenty of trees here.”

“We’ve already used all of the fallen branches here for random stuff,” I said.

“So just use the axe to chop some more down.”

“No, I can’t. We need dead branches. Live wood is moist on the inside and is impossible to burn in campfires.”

Jamie nodded thoughtfully and said, “Oh.” With that, we headed away from the tarp shelter and toward the center of the woods. I knew we’d gathered some branches a while back when we’d tried to make a lean-to, and we’d basically scavenged up everything in the area for it, only to abandon it in favor of just using a tarp. We could just use the branches from the lean-to, but there was a problem with that; I had no idea where it was. We’d built that thing our second or third trip into the woods before we knew them very well, and not once since then had we run across it. To be honest, I’m not sure how we ever made it out of the woods that time, since I knew every single path now, and none of the paths went by the lean-to.

It was strange, because we’d obviously used the branches in this area, so the lean-to should’ve been nearby, but I never thought too much of it. For all I knew, some stranger had stumbled upon it and used it for his own fire. Or maybe Jerry’s brother had found it while hunting and knocked it down as a mean joke, thus making it less noticeable by my quick scans of the area.

Regardless, I knew that once we passed the splintered tree, there would be wood we could use. The path there was pretty simple, but it was a five minute walk at a decent pace. Carrying back branches would be annoying, and over multiple trips, time-consuming.

“How far do we have to walk?” Jamie suddenly asked, interrupting my thoughts.

“Not too much farther,” I said.

CRACK

I snapped my head in the direction of the noise. “Guys? Hello?”

“Probably another animal,” Jamie said. I shrugged and we continued walking, arriving at the splintered tree a couple minutes later.

There wasn’t really a path, per se, as that would imply an obvious beaten trail of some sort, but there was an area that had less brush and less obstacles to walk over or around, and at this point, that area split off in two directions. I knew the left trail ended at the fence, and I knew the right trail circled back somehow and would eventually lead you to the faux campsite we’d set up closer to the entrance we used to get into the woods. The harder trail was the one on the right, because it wasn’t as clear, and it also was easier to get lost on if you weren’t familiar with the layout of the woods.

“You take the left trail,” I said. “It’ll lead you to a fence. Gather the dead branches you can and bring them back to this area, and I will go down the right trail and do the same until we’ve gathered enough wood here for the fire.”

She didn’t look at all hesitant as she nodded. “Okay.”

“I say make three trips, then wait here so we can meet up and bring what we’ve gathered back.”

Jamie nodded once more.

“Stay on the trail and you won’t get lost,” I said. “As long as you turn around and backtrace as soon as you find the fence, it’s basically impossible for you to lose your way.”

We parted ways then and did as I’d instructed. There were plenty of dead tree branches to be found, and by the time I’d brought back my second pile of branches to the fork, still only my branches were there. My trail did have more trees though, so perhaps I’d given Jamie the less fair trail after all. I shrugged and went back to gather my final bundle. I figured if she hadn’t brought anything back by the time I returned, I’d set off down the left trail to help her out. If she was having that hard of a time, we could just both go down the right trail together and pick up what I hadn’t already gathered. It was a shame, because I figured us splitting up would’ve worked out faster, but in the end, I brought my third batch of branches back, and Jamie still hadn’t added to the pile.

I set off down the left trail, beginning to wonder if maybe she got lost, as I started to notice obvious firewood candidates laying strewn about the sides of the trail. But I kept on, as I was certain Jamie was not dumb enough to lose her way on this very simple trail. It did not branch out, did not fork or become unclear at any point unless you left the trail once you got to the fence.

Sure enough, she hadn’t lost her way, as I shortly thereafter found her walking toward me with a bundle of branches in her arms.

“Hey!” she said.

“Hey. What’s up?”

“Sorry, I got sidetracked.”

“By what?” I asked.

“Well, you didn’t tell me about the railroad tracks. I got curious and wanted to explore.”

I arched an eyebrow at her. “Railroad tracks?”

“Yeah, the ones down by the fence.”

“There’s no railroad tracks that run through these woods,” I said.

“I literally just came from checking them out,” Jamie said. “I will drop these branches right here and take you back there if you don’t believe me.”

What in the world could she be talking about? I knew this area well. I’d been here many times with the group and a couple of times by myself. Maybe, at some area of these woods, far, far away, there were railroad tracks, but not here. Not by the fence.

“Yeah, sure. Let’s go,” I said, hoping she would just laugh at me and say she was messing with me. But she immediately released her hold on the branches, dropping them as she stood, and turned back around while waving me over to her, all in one swift, fluid motion.

I followed her over the familiar trail, across areas that were etched into my mind like street name signs on the intersections of roads I’d traveled my entire life. We were getting close to the fence, and as it came into view, I literally felt a chill go down my spine as the train tracks also became clearly visible.

“What the hell…”

“See? I told you!” she said.

Words failed me at that moment. The tracks were real, they were obviously unused, and they were clearly decades and decades old. Weeds and vines had grown over the tracks in many places, and the resulting takeover of this manmade thing by nature was beautiful, almost artistic in a way. Man had tried to take this strip of land from nature, and nature was reclaiming it.

But it didn’t make any sense. These tracks shouldn’t be able to be “reclaimed” by nature, as they shouldn’t be here at all. I’d been to this area. I’d explored along the fence. Many times, even.

“Are you seriously trying to tell me that you’ve never seen these tracks before?” Jamie asked.

“It’s not that,” I said, with what must’ve been the most unusual look of bewilderment on my face. “I’ve been here before. Like, many times. To this exact spot. These train tracks were not here, and Melissa or anyone else can confirm that.”

Jamie looked at me for a second as if she was trying to decide whether or not she believed me.

“I’m not messing with you,” I said. “This is really screwing with my head.”

CRACK

Once again, I was drawn to look toward a sound that did not have a clear source. But now I knew something was wrong. I was no longer in the mindset of ignoring things that didn’t seem right.

“Who’s there?” I said.

“It’s probably just-”

“No,” I interrupted. “It’s not an animal.” The words came out so forcefully and confidently that I believed them even more than I expected to.

“Who’s there?” I called out again. After a few moments, I spoke up again. “I know someone is there. Stop following us and come out.”

I said those words knowing what they meant, but saying that seemed to make them real, and suddenly, I realized that we were almost certainly being followed. In the middle of the woods. With no one around for what could be miles.

“Jerry, Darren, Melissa, Frank – if it’s one of you guys, cut it out and show yourself.”

The woods weren’t very thick in this area. You could maybe conceal yourself easily at night, but during the day, all you could do is hide behind a tree or duck down behind one of shrubs or bushes. I thought for a moment that maybe I was wrong; maybe no one was there because it would be so hard to hide, but I had a strange and unsettling feeling, and this feeling was sending a chill down my spine and making it so that my confidence in the fact that we were being followed was quickly turning into the resulting fear of a person that knew he was being followed. I held the axe tightly at my side.

“I said SHOW YOURSELF!” I shouted. I had meant for it to sound frustrated. I hoped that it was just one of my friends playing a joke, and that frustrated me, because this joke wasn’t very funny at all, but when the words escaped my lips, they sounded only angry.

Before I could get a response though, I felt the ground beneath me begin to shake.

“What the…” I said.

“What is this?” Jamie said, suddenly grabbing onto my shoulder.

“Earthquake?” I said. But there were no earthquakes here. That was silly. Something was making the earth rumble though, and I couldn’t figure out what. It would have to be pretty big though.

And that’s when it hit me.

“No…that’s impossible,” I said.

“What’s impossible?” Jamie asked.

“A train,” I said. “A train would make the earth rumble like this.”

“But these tracks haven’t been used in years.” Jamie’s face showed an obvious concern.

WHOO, WHOO

“Get away from the tracks!” I yelled, yanking at Jamie’s arm and pulling her back toward the trail. Whether I’d seen the tracks before or not, that was a real train whistle, and standing anywhere nearby sounded like a terrible idea.

The earth shook harder as the train slowly came into view.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me…” Jamie said.

My thoughts were a mess. This was impossible. There weren’t supposed to be tracks here, much less an active train. Was there even a train that passed through town that could go through this woods? I couldn’t think of one, but I could barely think at all.

The train chugged toward us, and as it zoomed past, the resulting wind rushed over my body and Jamie’s, and we stood in awe at what we were witnessing.

It was a short train, or maybe it was long and the time just seemed to pass quickly as we watched it. It continued on down the tracks and slowly disappeared into the distance, hidden by the trees.

Jamie didn’t say a word, and I wanted to, because there were so many things to say, but I kept my mouth shut.

Until I looked down at the tracks.

They were no longer covered in growth. In fact, they looked new. The rails were shining even without an abundance of sun, and the creosote that treated the wood underneath permeated the air and filled my nose.

“What in the world is going on?” I said.

She remained silent for a moment before responding. “What happened to the fence?”

I looked up to discern what she meant, and was met with yet another unbelievable sight. The fence was dilapidated and falling apart. It had never been new since I’d known of it, but it wasn’t in disrepair. But now, parts of it were completely gone, and other parts were hanging on a single nail, just waiting to fall to the ground.

I was shaking now. There was nothing about this situation that didn’t terrify me.

“Jamie, let’s get out of here.”

She didn’t argue or provide any resistance as I grabbed her hand and pulled her back down the trail. I didn’t let go as we raced down the trail back to the beaten path, back past the splintered tree, back to where our tarp shelter was.

Or should’ve been.

Nothing was like it should’ve been. The tarp was gone. The hammock was rotten and muddied on the ground. The dirt area that we’d uncovered to build the fire was overgrown with grass. In fact, the whole area was overgrown.

We stopped there for only a bit, took all of this in, and kept running. My friends weren’t there. I hoped they were safe, but waiting there for them wasn’t an option. We ran back past the fake campsite, through the trails, and darted out of the woods as fast as I could run while holding onto Jamie.

It wasn’t far to my house, so we ran there first. Melissa’s was not far, and I’d have to bring Jamie there. We’d have to make up a story about canceling the sleepover, but it could work, hopefully without them ever finding out that we’d lied in the first place.

I went to open the back door to my parents’ house, but it was locked. I found that to be pretty weird, since they never locked the back door, but weirder things have happened. Just 10 or 15 minutes before, actually.

I knocked and waited for my mom. She was also faster at answering doors than my dad, after all.

The wave of confusion that passed over me when my mom finally did open the door is difficult to describe. There she was, my mom that I knew and loved, but she looked…different. Her hair had grayed a little and was much shorter. There were wrinkles on her face that hadn’t been there before, and the look she displayed when she saw me probably nearly matched the one I had.

“W…Warren?” she stammered.

“Yeah mom, it’s me.” I didn’t know what else to say.

She reached a hand forward and cautiously touched my face. “Is it really you?”

I nodded. “You look different, mom.”

Her warm hand didn’t falter as she began to cry.

“Mom, what’s the matter?”

Jamie just stood there, not understanding what was wrong. After all, she had no idea what my mom normally looked like.

“Son,” she forced through tears. “Where have you been for the past 10 years?”

September 9

The Hallway

When I moved into my first rental house, I remember the feeling of being terrified at every strange noise that found its way to my ears. The ice maker in the freezer, the A/C kicking on, the house settling – it all made me nervous the first night I slept there. I was expecting it the second night, so it wasn’t as bad, and by the third night, it was all commonplace. I spent another 362 days in that house sleeping soundly without a worry in the world.

Then my lease ended, and my landlord decided to let his deadbeat brother live in the house for free, so I had to find another place to rent, since I had planned on keeping my lease for three years before buying my own house.

I ended up looking across town from where my first rental house was located. Both areas were good as far as safety and proximity to grocery stores and restaurants, but I’d gotten a new job, and across town would be closer to my new office, even if not by much. The houses I could find for rent were mostly around the same price I had been paying at my old place, until I came across one that was two thirds the price of anything else in the vicinity. The listing was simple, had plenty of pictures, and seemed very honest about the house’s shortcomings: a burner on the stove didn’t work and would likely not be repaired, the water in the guest bathroom didn’t get any warmer than room temperature, and the lighting in the hallway did not work due to some sort of electrical issue that was beyond a simple light bulb or light fixture change. The listing cited these things as the reason for the low rent, but other than that, the house seemed perfect for me. I called about it, got the owner to give me a tour, and I was sold. I signed the lease the following Monday.

My first night in the house was almost exactly what I expected. There were strange noises – some of which I identified pretty easily, and others that threw me for a loop. I continued unpacking the next day, and as I was doing so, I came across the source of one of the noises I couldn’t recognize. It was an egg timer of some sort that appeared to be partially broken and had been going off – no bells, only a slight vibration – for God-only-knows how long. It seemed rather odd, but I’d seen much odder things that had been left behind in apartments and dorm rooms back when I was in college, so I turned it off, tossed it in the garbage, and continued unpacking, resigning myself to think nothing more of it.

That night, I gave up unpacking and decided to go to bed early. I’d acquired a lot more junk than I’d realized, and sorting through it all was more of a hassle than it had been the last time I moved. The important things were out of boxes, and that was what mattered the most.

The first night I was there, I didn’t have my bed moved yet, so I slept on the sofa in the living room, but by the second night, I had my bedroom furniture in my new bedroom.

The issues with the house had yet to bother me. I’d likely never have to deal with the lack of hot water in the guest bathroom, and I never cooked enough things at the same time to use every range on the stove, but that night, I absentmindedly went to turn the hall light on while walking to my bedroom, and of course, nothing happened. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I’d probably need to get a lamp so I didn’t stub my toe or trip and fall in the middle of the night when I got up to use the bathroom or get water or whatever.

I know the hallway was empty when I went to bed. I hadn’t put any boxes there or unpacked anything there because, well, it was a hallway, and that’s not normally where I kept any of my things.

That’s why it was so weird when I woke up and found a roll of toilet paper on the floor in the hallway. I reasoned it out in my head and eventually came to the conclusion that it had fallen out of a box and rolled down the hall when I’d gone to bed. It was a pretty logical conclusion, except for the fact that I knew I’d put all of the toilet paper in the bathroom, and I knew the hall was empty when I’d shut the bedroom door the night before. But I had been tired, and I’d misplaced things before or forgotten that I moved things around, so I was willing to accept what was most logical and continue about my business.

Again on the third night, I flipped the switch in the hallway only to immediately remember that it was a pointless action. I shrugged without flipping the switch back and went to bed.

I began hearing strange noises at some point after midnight. I’d randomly woken up, or perhaps been woken up by the noises, and it was all I could concentrate on. I could pick out the sounds of the appliances, but the most prominent one was a bizzarre whirring noise that sounded almost familiar, but was too muffled to be completely discerned by my ears. I sat up in bed, aware that perhaps I was hearing something from outside, but I was too curious to not investigate.

Upon opening my bedroom door, I halfway expected to find something else lying on the floor, but it was as I had left it – empty. I tiptoed down the hall and followed the sound of the whirring, but as I rounded the corner into the living room, the noise ceased. I looked around anyway, but found nothing worth noting. Feeling slightly defeated, I turned around and headed back to my bedroom, but stopped cold as I reached the hallway.

Right on the floor where the toilet paper had been the morning before was my electric razor.

It instantly clicked in my head that the whirring I had heard was coming from this razor, but how? How had it gotten here? And how had it been turned on? Furthermore, it wasn’t even plugged in.

My mind raced. Logical scenario after logical scenario played out, but the only logical thing that made sense was that I was going crazy or that someone was in my house messing with me. I was pretty sure it wasn’t the former, and before I started to think that my house was haunted or something ridiculous like that, I was going to entertain the idea that maybe I wasn’t alone.

I knew the living room was empty since I’d just come from there, so I went back to the living room and dug through one of the only few boxes left that I’d yet to unpack. I knew I had a hammer in there somewhere. It didn’t have much reach, but it was better than nothing and would hurt like hell to be hit with.

My eyes finally rested on the wooden handle of the tool, and I pulled it up out of the box. Clutching it tightly with one hand, I held it up and beside my head, prepared to strike anyone or anything that might be in the house. I went back to the hall, ignoring the razor on the floor. My bedroom was the door at the end, but there was a closet to the left and a guest bedroom to the right. I briefly considered the terrifying possibility that someone could have been hiding in one of those places, but it didn’t make sense. I always locked my doors. The windows were all locked. The only way someone could’ve gotten in is if they had a key, which, the more I thought about, the more I realized was entirely possible. Who knows if the locks had been changed after the last tenants had moved out, or if they’d been changed ever.

My stomach did a flip.

I realized my grip on the hammer had become sweaty, but ignored it. The closet would be the easiest to check, so I approached it without making a sound, gently reached out for the knob with my free hand, and quickly opened the door. The vacuum I’d put in there yesterday was the only thing to be found.

I nervously turned around to the guest bedroom. The door was already slightly ajar, but I had left it like that. I pushed it back a little with my foot, saw nothing in the room, and pushed a little more until the entire room came into view. There was nothing in the room at all, just as I’d left it, but I entered anyway, making sure to keep an eye on the hall. The closet in the room was open already, so I just quickly scanned it, and then went back in the hall.

Frustration began setting in as I realized I would never be getting any sleep if this went on. I was still a bit frightened, but for just a second, I almost hoped that I when I opened my bedroom door that there was an intruder there so I could beat the shit out of him, call the police, and then get some sleep.

But when I opened my bedroom door, there was no one there. My sheets and bedspread were pulled back from when I’d gotten out of bed, my slippers were untouched on the floor, and my closet door – though I did open it and look inside – was closed.

Nothing about this added up. If there was no one in the rooms down the hall, then for someone to have been in the house and leave the razor in the hall, they would’ve had to pass by me in the living room. I wasn’t the most observant person in the world, but there was no way that I wouldn’t notice a person sneaking around the same room that I was in.

At that point, though, I was willing to accept that maybe I was wrong; that maybe someone could’ve snuck past me. So, keeping an eye on where I’d come from to ensure that no one could sneak past me to a place I’d already checked, I began canvassing the rest of the house. Yet, room after room, closet after closet, even cabinet after cabinet, there was no one there. I traded the hammer for my old baseball bat, checked the doors and windows, and rechecked the entire house along the way. Still nothing.

I didn’t know what to do. I could lock my bedroom door and slide the dresser in front of it, then hope to get some sleep. But I doubted that would happen. I was spiked with adrenaline; my body was ready to fend off an attacker to protect my property, not rest.

What else can I do, though? I thought. There wasn’t an inch of the house I hadn’t checked, and I was going to be exhausted at work in the morning if I didn’t get some more sleep. Rather than expending energy walking around the house looking for something that isn’t there, I might as well lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.

And that’s when it hit me. The ceiling. Did the house have an attic? I hadn’t even noticed. I clutched the bat and began jogging through the kitchen and the living room looking up for an attic entrance on the ceiling. Finally, I found it, right where I should’ve expected it.

It was in the hallway.

The rope to pull the door down was missing, but it looked like someone had attached a handle to pull down on. I was pretty tall, but still not tall enough to reach it, and, at eight feet in the air, I didn’t see how anyone – short of a professional basketball player – would’ve been able to reach it without stepping on something.

I went back in the living room and grabbed the hammer I had been using for self-defense earlier. It had a claw on the end to grab the handle on the attic door and gave me an extra foot of reach. It would do the trick perfectly.

Wait, I thought. If I really think someone is up in the attic, I need to call the police. I thought it over for a few minutes. What would I tell the police? I’d found a razor and a roll of toilet paper in my hall, so I’d logically come to the conclusion that there was an intruder in my house? I could go into detail, and they’d probably come out to look either way, but…

No, I would look in the attic first. The police had better things to do than investigate why my bathroom supplies had seemingly sprouted legs.

I put the claw of the hammer up in the air and grabbed the handle with it. Then, letting it dangle there, I switched to my non-dominant hand, grabbed the hammer with it, and got a tight grip on the bat with my dominant hand.

I was probably crazy, but I wanted the whole ordeal to be over with, so out of tiredness or sheer stupidity, I pulled the hammer. The attic door swung down, and I was halfway prepared for a person to fall on me, but there was nothing there but the ladder folded on top of the door. I realized that, compared to my last rental house, the spring mechanism that let the door down and up was much quieter, but it still made considerable noise. I should’ve been able to hear it if someone had pulled it down or let it up, but I was not ready to discount the idea at all.

I put the hammer down on the floor next to the razor, then reached up and pulled the ladder down. My heart was pounding harder and harder. I wished for a moment that the light in the hallway worked, but all that would do is illuminate me, not the attic. There was a flashlight back in one of the boxes in the living room, but I also knew that the batteries were almost dead in it. My smart phone had a light on it, but it wasn’t the most ideal thing to carry up in the attic, nor was it a very powerful light.

To make matters worse, if there was someone in the attic, they knew I was coming because I’d let the door and the ladder down, and they also knew exactly where I’d be coming from since there was probably only one way in the attic, but I had no idea what I was going into. There could’ve been nine guys up there throwing a very quiet party, or there could’ve been no one.

I reconsidered calling the police. It was daunting, and, despite my pride as a man, I was scared. There was no denying that, and there was also no shame in it. Or at least, that was the logic running through my head. I put a hand on one of the rungs and was about to begin my climb, but a chill ran down my spine and I just couldn’t do it. I grabbed the ladder, lifted at the bottom, folded it back onto the door, and let the door rise back to the ceiling.

I wasn’t crazy. Things in my house were moving, and there was a strong possibility that whoever was doing it was in my attic. No way I was going up there.

Keeping my eye on the attic door, I went back to the living room and started dragging stuff to the hallway: a couple of cube-shaped ottomans, a bar stool, and an end table. I carefully began arranging them under the attic door. First, the end table, then the bar stool on top of it, then the ottomans one on top of the other on top of the chair. I stacked a few thick books on top of that until they were firmly pressing up against the attic door. If someone was up there and tried to push the door down, it would be pretty damn hard. It wasn’t fool-proof, but it would do until the police got there.

I called them, explained the situation and how silly I felt, and the dispatcher told me I would be better safe than sorry, and she sent a patrol car out to the house. I thought it would’ve felt like hours, but the knock came at my door so fast that it made me jump from the sofa.

The officer came in with my profuse apologies about the whole situation, and I led him over to my homemade attic-blockade. He chuckled a bit at my creation and helped me dismantle it. I watched as he went through the steps of releasing the attic door and producing the ladder. He grabbed a rung with one hand, then pulled out his gun with the other.

I probably could’ve handled the situation if I had one of those, I thought. It was a mental attempt to try to salvage some of my manhood.

The officer continued up the ladder, stopping halfway up to pull a flashlight out of his belt. Relying only on his feet for balance, he climbed up, now with the added guidance of the bright beam of light cast by the tiny flashlight. He climbed up into the attic at the top of the stairs and shone the light around in all directions, stopping as he came to the area of the house that was behind me. I couldn’t see his face at that moment, but when he looked down, I knew something was wrong.

“Holy shit, man,” he said.

“What’s wrong?”

“You’ve got to see this.”

“Is it safe?”

“Probably safer up here with me and my gun than it is down there with you and your baseball bat.”

He had a fair point. I climbed the stairs, much less fearful now to not only have the protection of a firearm, but also just the simple security of not being alone.

At the top of the stairs, the officer extended his hand and helped me up. I stood next to him and turned to face what he’d been looking at.

Timers. Kitchen timers. There had to be dozens of them. Plates, utensils, some plastic cups, a few articles of clothing – all neatly placed right there in front of us.

“What the hell…” I trailed off. The timers were just like the one I’d found in my kitchen. Upon further inspection, I also noticed a box of tissues and a bar of soap that I could easily identify as the ones that I thought were currently in my bathroom. Someone had obviously brought them up there, and it wasn’t me. But whoever it was, well, they were nowhere to be found. The officer and I scanned the entire attic, then went over the house again for good measure.

How those things got moved around, I’ll never know. I know a person did it. I am sure of that. But how they got in the house, how they snuck around while I was sleeping, while I was even in the same room…that frightens me and keeps me awake at night sometimes to this day.

I broke the lease and moved out of that house the next day.

February 7

Sarah, Part 2

“When we were 12, I made a friend named Beth.”

“I don’t remember anyone named Beth.”

She ignored me and continued.  “Beth was 4 years older than me.  She was tall, slender, straight brown hair, sparkling hazel eyes – everything I wanted to be when I became her age.  She treated me as if was her best friend – maybe her only friend – but I always thought that was impossible, because certainly if her beauty didn’t initially attract others, then her gentle personality would.”

Sarah threw her glass back and finished off the last few sips of her mojito.

“One day, about a week after I met her, I decided to introduce her to you.  I was really proud to have made such a mature friend, and I was smiling the entire walk over to your house, but something seemed off with Beth.  When I knocked on your front door, your mom answered and told me you weren’t home.  I thanked her and told her I had just stopped by with Beth to introduce her to you.”

Sarah clasped her hands and glanced over to the couch.

“Your mom looked at me, smiled, and asked who Beth was.  I gestured next to me and told her that Beth was right there, but your mom seemed unsure of how to reply.  She asked if Beth was an imaginary friend, which confused me.  I was too old for that sort of thing, and Beth was right next to me, so why would your mom ask me that?”

Sarah averted her eyes from the couch and looked back at me.

“Your mom couldn’t see Beth.  In fact, I was the only one that could see her, and it drove me over the edge.  I thought I was crazy.  It was too much for a 12 year old mind, and that’s why we left town.  But Beth followed me.  No matter where I went, Beth followed me.  I screamed at her daily, telling her to leave me alone, but she would only give me a look of pity reserved for those that are truly in despair.  Eventually, by the time I was 14, I gave up on trying to make her go away, and instead, I made peace with her.”

“So what was Beth?  A ghost?”  I tried my best not to sound like I didn’t believe her.

“More or less.  A spirit without rest.  She still won’t tell me exactly why she’s around.”

A chill ran down my spine as gooseflesh crawled across my skin.  “Still?

Sarah nodded and looked back over to the couch.  “She’s sitting right there.”

February 6

Sarah, Part 1

When I was a child of about 10 years, I had a friend named Sarah that would tell me scary stories.  Back then, they were obviously fabricated tales of ghosts, zombies, swamp monsters – basically the most stereotypical things that a 10 year old could make up on the spot.  She very rarely legitimately scared me, but there were a few times that she succeeded in making me question every noise that I heard at night while lying in my bed trying to fall asleep.

Sarah moved when I was 12, which really crushed me.  She was my best friend, and by that time, I kind of had feelings for her, but I had to stomp those under the rubber heels of my sneakers to keep from crying myself to sleep every night the week after she moved.

We kept in touch via letters at first, then via email.  By the time instant messaging became popular, we rarely had anything to talk about anymore, so our relationship started to die off.  The last I’d heard from her was 11 years ago when we were 15.

That is, until last month.

Sarah suddenly appeared on the doorstep of my house on January 3rd.  She was more beautiful than I remembered, but her eyes were troubled.  She didn’t say a word to me before I made that assessment, but I’ve always been good at reading people.  Even when we were younger, I could thumb through Sarah’s emotions like the brightly colored, glossy pages of a magazine.  The headlines stuck out to me, but I could go deeper if I wanted to.

She tried to hide it as she greeted me and foolishly asked if I remembered her.  Of course I remembered her.  Though many years had passed and she’d grown into a beautiful woman, I could still see the girl I used to know beneath the light makeup on her face and the artificially straight hair that flowed down the sides of her face like silk.

She had found my address on some people-finding website and came by to tell me that she had moved back into town.  Even though I had long since given up on her, my heart fluttered as I received the news; more so when she asked if I was busy on Friday.  She wanted to get together for drinks, and I gladly accepted the offer.

The rest of the week was a blur of work and personal matters.  The only thing I can actually remember happening that week was when the water heater in my attic started leaking, and I had to go up there armed with a couple of pipe wrenches, some gloves, and a troubleshooting manual that I had googled for.  I ended up having to call a professional, because apparently even though I can usually fix my car with that exact method (different tools, of course), that ability does to transfer over to home appliances.

Sarah showed up at my house with half a bottle of cheap red wine on Friday at around 7.  I had apparently misunderstood her when she said “get together for drinks,” as I thought she had wanted to go out, but an evening at home was fine with me.  Bars are too noisy to be conducive to good conversation anyway.  Not to mention that an ex of mine worked at one of the better bars, and though it never failed that I’d run into her when going out with friends, I really didn’t want to run into her while I was with Sarah.

We finished the bottle of wine quickly and dove into my own stash of liquor.  I had a nice, warm buzz, and so did she, but the conversation was flowing more quickly than the alcohol.

I normally don’t like to brag, but for the skills I lack in home repair, I certainly make up for them in the culinary arts.  Cooking, baking, even mixing drinks – they all come completely naturally to me.  I plucked some mint leaves from the plant I kept around for just such occasions and made Sarah a mojito, and for myself, I mixed a simple rum and Coke.

Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was just for the sake of nostalgia, but once we’d caught up on how our lives currently were, we started reminiscing about the old days, and that’s when Sarah brought up the stories she used to tell me.

“You remember how we used to ride our bikes into the woods and I’d try to scare you with creepy stories?”

“Of course.  Those are some of my fondest memories.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t say this.”

“Come on, you can’t bring up something like that and then not tell me what you were gonna say.”

Sarah considered that for a second, and I’m sure that sober, her decision would’ve been different, but the alcohol chose to do the speaking for her.

“I didn’t make those stories up.”

I laughed.  “Oh, right, right.”

“No, I’m serious.”

“You honestly expect me to believe that you’ve seen apparitions and the undead?  I’m not that drunk.”

Sarah leaned forward.  I could smell the booze on her breath as she spoke, but the words hit me harder than the minty rum.

“I have a new story to tell you.”

Her eyes pierced and locked on me, seemingly disallowing me to say anything other than “Let’s hear it.”

I hesitated, but relented.  “Okay, sure.”

“This story is true.”

“If you say so.”

Her glare grew more determined.

“I’m serious.  I need you to believe me.”

There was a dire, genuine look in her eyes.  I could suddenly feel the pressure weighing down on her.

“Yeah…okay.”  What else could I say?

Sarah cleared her throat and put her glass down.  For a moment, it seemed as though she was free from the grasp of the alcohol flowing through her.  Whereas just a moment ago, she smelled of liquor, now she reeked of sobriety.

“Years ago, there was a boy that lived in this city.  He liked to explore the woods with his friend, but he was much braver than his friend, who was often scared of the woods, even though she pretended not to be.  One day, she decided that to beat her fear of the woods, so was going to venture into them at midnight armed with a flashlight only for emergencies, determined to spend an hour there exploring alone in the dark.”

“She walked around for 10 minutes, weaving in and out of the trees, under branches and spider webs, and stepping over areas of thick brush until she came upon a clearing that she had never seen before.  She and her friend had been all over these woods, so to find something new was very uncommon.”

I said nothing as I sat there, listening to her tale, not having yet to suspend my disbelief.

“In the center of the clearing, the ground was turned up.  It smelled of earth and appeared to have been disturbed recently, maybe even earlier that day.  The girl became curious as to why the ground had been disturbed in this place, so she grabbed a rock and started pushing the dirt away.  For 15 minutes, she pulled the dirt away, eventually ditching the rock and clawing at the moist soil with her hands.”

Sarah lifted her mojito from the table and held it out in front of her, watching one of the mint leaves swirl in the wake she’d created by moving the glass.

“There was a human corpse buried there.  The innocent little girl had unearthed the resting place of some unfortunate soul.  As she realized what she’d uncovered, she fell back onto the ground and pushed herself back in sheer fright and utter disgust.  She ran home and told her parents, only to drag her dad back into the woods and find that the corpse had vanished, and the earth was completely undisturbed.”

Sarah looked me in the eyes and said, “Was that story believable enough?”

“The beginning definitely was.  For a moment, I thought you were talking about us.”

“I was.”

“Huh?”

“The little girl was me.  I found a corpse in woods we were 9.”

I gulped, unable to escape the fervent, austere look in her eyes.

“Every story that I told you when we were little happened to me after I found the corpse.  At the time, I thought they were dreams.  Or rather, maybe I convinced myself they were dreams.”  She took a sip of her drink and stared up at me.

“When my family moved a couple years later, it was because I was terrified of this place.  Do you remember how I was acting before the move?  How scared I was?”

“Only vaguely.  I do remember feeling like something was wrong, though.”

“I don’t know how I was able to tell you those stories and convince myself they weren’t real, but they were.  The event that pushed me over the edge, though…that’s when my parents knew we had to get out of here.”

“What happened?”

“You really want to hear?”

“I think you’re obligated to tell me at this point.”

She sighed, staring back down at her glass.  I could tell she was scared of this story, and again, if not with the liquid courage in her hand, I’m pretty sure she would’ve remained silent.

“Okay, this is what happened…”

November 2

Chain, the Last Link

to all of my friends and family, please read

By Kayla Thomas on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 10:13pm

there is currently an unfortunate series of events in my life and in the lives of julie jefferies, steve matthews, stephanie walters, kayla jones, corey peters, joe willis, and tony mcfelter.  there is a strong possibility that all of us may turn up dead today, tomorrow, or any time soon.

i want to explain, but i feel that if I do, no one will take this seriously, because the events are so bizarre and unbelievable.  what we fear is that the same thing that happened to chad, troy, michael, harper, beth, penny, miranda, and probably to jess and brent, will also happen to us.  we have all met and discussed this, and its unanimous that we are all feel threatened and are terrified.

so I write this, hoping and praying that its over, but that if we have to die too, that it ends with us. please dont try to get caught up in this.  we are fearful that this chain will start over if someone else gets involved, and thats why we’re not seeking help from anyone.  the murderer seems to have access to all of our digital communications, and can probably also see this.

i love you all, and in case this really is it, then farewell.

take care,

kayla

Like · Comment · Share

Steve Matthews Reposted this on my wall.  Here’s to hoping for the best, though.
February 2 at 10:22pm · Like

Julie Jefferies love you too kaykay :'(
February 2 at 10:25pm · Like

Mary Thomas Can’t believe this wasn’t a joke.  Rest in peace my baby, we all miss you.
February 4 at 4:23pm · Like

November 2

Chain, No. 7

February 2, 2011, 11:30AM

Julie Jefferies: hey kaykay, um…did you see the local news this morning?  or read the newspaper?

Kayla Thomas: no, why?

Julie Jefferies: harper and michael…well… 🙁

Kayla Thomas: oh god, no…not them too.

Julie Jefferies: they were found today. 🙁 the worst part is they thought harper mightve committed suicide since he found miranda dead yesterday, but i know he wouldnt have killed himself.

Kayla Thomas: jules…why is everyone being killed?  this is so scary.

Julie Jefferies: be careful kaykay, everyone that went to that party is either dead or missing. :

Kayla Thomas: that doesn’t explain penny though.  she didnt go to the party.

Julie Jefferies: she didnt?

Kayla Thomas: nope.  she was on the list of attending people in the facebook event, but she talked to troy or something that day and ended up not going.

Julie Jefferies: who else was on that list?

Kayla Thomas: troy, mike, harper, miranda, penny, beth, chad, brent, jess, steve, tony, joe, corey, kayla j, steph, you and me

Julie Jefferies: holy crap, 6 of those people are dead and 2 are missing.  something has happened to like half of the people that were attending the party…

————————————

2:40PM

Harper Knight: I need you to meet me at Troy’s apartment.

Kayla Thomas: who is this?

Harper Knight: It’s me, your friend Harper.  I can’t wait to see you.

Kayla Thomas: harper is dead you insensitive jerk

Harper Knight: Nonsense.  If I was dead, I couldn’t be texting you.  So, I’ll see you at Troy’s apartment at 3:41.

————————————

Kayla Thomas: are you sure that harper is dead?  hes texting me

Julie Jefferies: positive.  its in the paper and i saw it on the news earlier

Kayla Thomas: i think whoever killed him has his phone and is trying to lure me to troys apartment

Julie Jefferies: julie please don’t go

————————————

Chad Berry: You cannot escape me.

————————————

Kayla Thomas: holy shit, i just got a text from chad

Julie Jefferies: omg kaykay, so did i. i thought he was dead?

————————————

Steve Matthews: Hey guys, mass text: I just got a text from Chad.  Whoever has his phone and sent it out, it’s not fucking funny.  The dude just died a week ago, come on.

————————————

Kayla Thomas: me and julie both got the text

Steve Matthews: Corey and Steph did too.

Steve Matthews: Add Joe and the other Kayla to that list.

Kayla Thomas: please don’t say tony.  please please please dont say tony

Steve Matthews: Why?

Kayla Thomas: hes the only other person that was on the attending list for troys party that isn’t either dead or missing.

Steve Matthews: Well, then you’re not going to like hearing who else just told me they got the text.