March, 2010: 3 o’ clock p.m.
“Ms. Taylor, I need you to answer a few questions,” Officer Gale, as he had been introduced to me as, enlightened me…again.
“I know this situation is difficult for you to deal with, but you must listen to me, and tell me everything you can about what happened here.”
“You owe your classmates that.”
My head snapped up from the line of gurneys weighed down by black body bags being carted out the door and pushed into the ambulance beside me. So far, I had counted twelve of them, but more were being brought out as I scowled at Officer Gale.
He was a young man, no older than twenty years old. His hair was light brown and to his chin. He was very tall, perhaps as tall as Clark, and well-muscled, even under his long-sleeved, blue uniform. His jaw was chiseled, but he was caught between boyish and manly good looks. His eyes were light, jade green.
“Owe them?” I barked, rising to my feet. “So this is my fault?!”
“Not at all, Ms. Taylor,” he backtracked frantically, “we want to catch this guy as much as you do. But you need to answer my questions so that we can figure out how to do that!” His words couldn’t soothe me, they only fueled the flames.
“You know whose fault it is? It’s yours,” I growled. “Maybe next time your station gets a threat like this, you’ll listen!”
I think he could tell that I was feeling uncooperative, “Ms. Taylor, we had no way of knowing that something of this magnitude would—”
“Shut up, just shut up!”
“Please, calm down,” he urged.
“No! I want to go home,” I spat childishly.
“We can’t take you home yet. Your boyfriend is being questioned over there. When we finish with these questions, I’ll bring you to him, okay?” he reasoned.
“I don’t want to see him,” I muttered, deflating with each word.
“’Cuz I told him that he was treating Cody badly.”
“Was Cody bullied regularly?” he interrogated.
“Regularly? They beat the crap out of him every chance they got. At least then they had the courtesy to let him stay awake. And before they didn’t do it in front of us.”
“Did anything happen this morning to set Cody off?”
“Marshall broke his nose,” I mumbled.
“Why did he break his nose?”
“He called me and my friends bitches and wouldn’t take it back.” He looked skeptical but stood and turned away from me. He trekked toward Chief Verra where he stood by Marshall, leaning against a police cruiser. They both had cigarettes lit in their mouths. Gale said something and they both looked up to me. Marshall’s eyes were concerned and he took a step toward me. Gale put a hand up to stop him.
I looked away, pulling the wool blanket tighter around me.
“What do you mean she doesn’t want to see me?” Marshall snarled loudly. I cringed into the ambulance and turned toward the school again.
“Paige?” he shouted.
I ignored him.
“Come one, Paige, please look at me,” he pleaded.
Someone yelled something, a door slammed and Marshall didn’t yell anything else. Upon closer inspection, Chief Verra and the cruiser were gone as well. Officer Gale approached me slowly.
“I’m here to bring you home,” he beamed. I acquiesced silently and scoped the schoolyard one more time for Poppy and Clark. They were nowhere to be found. Brianna and Joel had not come back after lunch; someone must have called them, or they had seen the police show up. Disheartened, I followed him to another cruiser. He opened the door for me and as I was about to duck in, someone screeched.
Poppy and Clark were running through the grass toward me. Relief spread through me like a drug, almost paralyzing me with it.
“Oh, thank God,” I cried, wrapping my arms around their necks; it was a difficult ordeal, given Clark’s height, but I made do. Tears were spilling down my face in waterfalls, but despite all of my effort I couldn’t make it stop.
“What happened? Are you okay? Where’s Marshall?” she exclaimed desperately, holding me by my shoulders at arm’s length.
“I…I’m fine,” I whimpered. “I don’t know where Marshall is, they took him away.”
“Is he okay?” she demanded. Her expression was skeptical. She and I both knew that if Marshall had done nothing wrong, he wouldn’t have been taken away. She also knew very well how short a fuse he had.
“He’s fine—kinda pissed off, but he’s fine.”
“What did he do?”
“It’s all…his…FAULT!” I squealed, getting into the backseat of the car.
“Paige,” she groaned.
“I’ll call you later,” I vowed. Gale slammed the door, separating me from the horrific outside world. Clark slapped the window, giving me a small smile. I tried my best to smile back, but it was quite unfeasible.
“Who are they?” Gale asked as he pulled away, studying me through the rearview mirror. “Friends of yours?”
“Ya,” I replied curtly.
“Do they know Cody?”
“They know him. Clark never hurt him, though. He’s too much of a sweetheart.”
We sweltered in the silence for the rest of the ride. We were nearing my home when the rain started coming down. It was odd for there to be thunderstorms in March…incredibly odd, but the sky lit up with lightning and the thunder roared on over the hammer blows of the rain.
“Which house is it?”
“The second house on the right.”
He stopped the car and got out to open my door. As I sauntered up to the front door, he called me back, “Ms. Taylor?”
“What?” I retorted.
“Try to get some sleep. No one wants you to go into shock over this. It’s been a long day,” he advised.
“Okay,” I agreed keeping the stubbornness to a minimum.
“I’m Jared by the way,” he introduced himself. I would have snorted but I was too tired.
“Goodnight, Paige,” he smiled, getting back into his car and driving off.
“See ya flirty cop,” I bid with a sardonic wave after him.
No one was home. It didn’t come as a surprise that neither of my parents had been notified, or would be home, as they were both workaholics. Their phones were never on, and when they were they didn’t have them on them.
Out of instinct, I locked all the doors once I was inside, and the windows. I was prepared to lock myself in my room, but when I was in my bed, under the blankets, the creaky, old floorboards whined at no specific weight. In spite of knowing this, it petrified me enough to drive me down the stairs, at full speed. I lounged on the couch until my brain relaxed itself enough to fall asleep.
“Oh, Paige,” that voice sang again. “I know you’re in here. I’m gonna find you.”
I couldn’t see anything; everything was just that voice in my head. “Come out, come out wherever you are.”
I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.
The silence sounded like the wind blowing through my ears.
“You’re supposed to say Polo,” he informed me. “Marco?”
There was a sinister laugh from the distance.
Suddenly the voice was directly behind me. “Found you.” Gunshots fired from what seemed to be in my ear. I knew I was screaming, I just couldn’t hear it.
I woke jolting upright on the couch. From the way my throat burned, I knew the screaming that had gone on in my subconscious was not restricted entirely to my imagination. My whole body inflated with the shallow, zealous breaths I couldn’t secrete. The phone rang. It must have been what had woken me. Outside, the sun had gone down, casting the sky in an orange and blue glow.
I wiped the sweat accumulation from my top lip and tried to steady myself while I put the phone to my ear. “H…hello?”
“Hi, baby,” I exhaled noisily. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Are you alright?” he opposed with apprehension lacing every syllable.
“I’m okay, just really shaken up, is all,” I claimed.
“You were mad at me,” he indicted. “What’d I do?”
“What do you think you did, Marshall? It’s the same thing I’ve been telling you all day! You went too far with—”
“Is this still about that little asshole?! He is mentally unbalanced, Paige, people don’t just turn homicidal from being messed up a little bit.”
“You don’t know—” I bit back.
“He tried to kill us,” he interjected. “Are you forgetting that?”
“No, but that shit can really screw people up,” I reminded him.
“He’s a psycho!”
“Goodnight, Marshall,” I hung up. The phone rang again almost instantly after I had hung up on him. “What, Marshall?”
“I’m sorry, baby,” he apologized.
“It’s fine,” I lied.
“No, it’s not, you’re still mad at me,” he grumbled sadly.
“You wanna come over tonight? We can watch a movie?” he offered expectantly.
“Okay, I’ll come by in a little while,” I decided.
“I love you,” he included.
I almost hung up then. Almost. “I love you, too, Marshall. I just wish you would remember that I don’t always love the things you do.”
“I’m sorry,” he whimpered.
“I wish that was enough.” I hung up. He was going to be pissed about that when I got there, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. I briefly debated with myself over whether or not to actually show up. It was a short debate, seeing as Marshall was probably already angry with me, and the silence of my house made it more likely that I would fall asleep again. I really didn’t want to fall asleep.
I shoved a can of mace into my purse and gathered up the courage to leave the safety of my house. My car had been totaled in an accident the previous year, but Marshall only lived a block away so I walked. I turned the corner onto the next block. It must have been late; no one was outside but me. The light from the long since set sun disappeared behind the line of trees.
Across the street, someone was walking in the opposite direction as me, giving me the frontal view of their face. They wore a grey sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. I had to be seeing things, there was no other explanation. People in my town didn’t just walk around after dark in grey sweatshirts with their faces obscured unless they were up to something, and that was rare. The head of the stranger turned toward me, and I was positive that I had to be dreaming.
He wore the same clown mask I had seen only once before.
A gasp stuck in my throat. The mask ended just above his mouth, and with the light from the streetlamp, the sinister smile on his face was easy to be seen. As my face erupted into terror, his smile only got bigger. I couldn’t distinguish between his real teeth and the gruesome needle-like teeth of the mask. One of his hands slid out of the sleeve that had hidden the knife he was holding.
The light sparkled off the portentous blade, shedding a reflection to the black road between us. He stopped walking. I was still going in the opposite direction, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Then, so slowly it was almost painful, he stepped into the road. Desperately, I turned around to take off, but, as only in my horror-movie-inspired world it could, I actually tripped over the uneven sidewalk plots.
I crazily pulled myself to my feet, spilling the contents of my purse, including the mace, onto the ground. Too hysterical to care, I abandoned my possessions in favor of dashing for Marshall’s house. I looked back only once, to make sure he hadn’t gotten too close, but he wasn’t even following me. He was kneeling in my pile of dropped belongings, staring after me, motioning with his knife that he was going to cut my throat.
Needless to say, I didn’t look back anymore after that.
“I’m gonna get ya,” he called after me.
Had this been twenty four hours ago, I would have laughed. Cody Rimida, the harmless math geek threatening me? It just wasn’t done. But today, I knew what he was capable of. He had slaughtered at least twenty of my classmates in cold blood, and was pining after my death. I had to catch my balance once more when turning into Marshall’s driveway, but I didn’t fall again.
My fist slammed repeatedly into the door. I knew Cody wouldn’t be behind me, but I looked behind me between each round of knocks. Where the hell was he? Glimpsing behind me one last time, Cody was standing at the corner across the street with something dark in his one hand and the knife in his other, poised as if to slit his own throat, but the message was clear.
“Marshall, open the door! Let me in! Hurry up! Open the door!” I shrieked.
The door flew open, but it wasn’t Marshall standing at the door. It was another man in the clown mask, frowning down at me. Although my throat burned from all the screaming I had already cried, I screeched so loud it could have woken the dead. Staggering backward, tripped over a loose floorboard on his wooden porch, sprawling out on my back and pulling myself back further with my elbows.
The mask fluttered to the ground disclosing Marshall’s alarmed face. The mask had not been on his face at all, it had been in his hand when he opened the door. The godforsaken piece of vinyl and plastic fell, dejectedly to the living room carpet behind him. He knelt down to help me up, while also trying to console me. It would have worked, if I had not remembered that we were still standing outside with a masked murderer standing across the street.
“Get inside,” I ordered. “Get inside!”
“Paige, what’s going on?” he pleaded.
“Just get inside!” I repeated, pushing him through the doorway and slamming the door behind us with my foot without a backward glance. He locked it, thankfully, and hugged me. I hadn’t realized I was crying until he begged me not to.
“Please tell me what’s going on now,” he urged.
“He…he followed me! He had a knife!” I stammered between the sobs that shook my whole body. Had he not been holding me up, I probably would have collapsed.
“Just relax, baby, he’s not getting in here,” he assured me.
“You don’t know that,” I moaned.
“Yes, I do,” he clarified. “Come on, we’ll lock the doors.” There weren’t many entrances to the house, but there were a lot of windows, which I locked as well, despite the strange looks I was getting from Marshall. When we were confident that no one would be getting into the house, we reconvened on the couch.
“Where’d you get that thing?” I grumbled.
“It was hanging in my closet when I got home this morning.”
“He was in your house.”
“But not anymore. And now the doors are locked. He’s not getting in again, I promise. Now, please relax. We’ll watch a movie.”
“How about Transformers? It’ll get your mind off of everything, and I can see Megan Fox,” he joked.
I half-laughed. “Okay.”
He popped in the DVD and sat down in the corner of the couch with his legs spread. I seated myself between his legs, leaning against his chest. His arms were wound around me. For the first time all day, I felt safe.
My biggest motive for coming here turned out to be for not, since Marshall’s company did a very poor job of keeping me awake. The opening credits had only begun to fade in when I was overwhelmed again in a nightmare revolving entirely around that pitiable excuse for a human being.
“Oh, Paige,” came that singing greeting again.
Paralyzed with fear, I was rigid. Everything was dark again, but every sound was loud and clear. The loathsome thump of his black combat boots against the floor echoed continuously through the obscurity. There was a scream from the girl who had been killed in the cafeteria as her death was relived in my mind.
“Ready or not, here I come,” he vowed. The unmistakable resonance of his boots drew closer. “I’m gonna get ya,” he recalled.
“Marshall, too,” he added.
“And Brianna,” he echoed.
“And it’s all…your…fault!”
He laughed loudly, manically. “And then I’m gonna get you. But I’m gonna make sure you’re last. That way you’ll see exactly what you’ve done!”
“You won’t get them,” I finally spoke.
Just like last time, the voice was in my ear, “Too late.”
The image of the clown mask flashed behind my eyelids.
My eyes flew open and adjusted quickly to the light of the television. My arms were wrapped around Marshall’s chest so hard I thought I had to be choking the life out of him. The credits were rolling on the movie that as far as I had seen had just started. A blanket had been thrown over us. I was freezing.
“What’d I miss?” I mumbled sleepily stretching. The back of my shirt was wet, either from sweating after that nightmare or from Marshall’s drool. So help me if it was the latter…
Marshall had to be sleeping. He didn’t answer. I looked up at him and nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw that he was wearing that stupid mask. The blanket was pulled up to his chin, but I could see his mouth was set in an emotionless line. His arms weren’t wound around me anymore.
“Marshall, that’s not funny, you know I hate that stupid thing,” I protested, sitting bolt upright.
He didn’t respond.
“Marshall, wake up.”
He didn’t move so I shook him slightly. His arm fell from his side and dangled over the edge of the couch. The arm pulled off the blanket, throwing it to the ground and exposing the angry red line in his neck.
The line was drenched in red and parted to divulge the broken blood vessels and torn flesh. His head was tilted back at an unnatural point. I tore off the mask and jumped to my feet. His eyes were wide open in shock, the once beautiful blue now faded to a blind grey. The skin of his face was already grey with the settlement of his blood. He had been dead for a while. Bile rose into my throat.
Rigor mortis had yet to set in, but he was cold.
A note was taped to his forehead:
Maybe next time you won’t drop your purse.
On the table behind him the key ring with the picture of me and Clark from last summer was in the open drawer. All the keys I had been given to my car, my house, and to my friends’ houses, excluding Marshall’s were gone.
The front door was still open.