The Keeper

the_keeper_rivers_of_grue

Chapter I

She came to after being unconscious for a good couple of minutes. The fall from the upstairs window had been enough to knock her spark out and she awoke with a searing pain in her left leg which suggested it may well be broken, fractured at the very least. Adrenaline kicked in at that point and she summoned the energy to haul herself a few yards but eventually the agony was just too unbearable. Why her? What had she done that was so Godawful that it had warranted being set upon in such a nefarious manner? The answers weren’t coming fast but she was only too aware that her pursuer would be far more forthcoming.

Her name was Analise Dickinson but her close friends called her Ana. Voted most likely to succeed by her classmates, she had a bright future in front of her with a place already secured at Sandworth University, the most prestigious in the entire state. At school she had led the debating team, been twice state champion at 800 m and head girl, and came from a rather well-to-do family who lived in the most moneyed area in town. Boys flocked around her like shit-chomping houseflies and her long, champagne locks and hourglass figure had their pulses quickening with regularity. Right now, none of that mattered a jot as she was about to be voted most likely to be disemboweled and time was running at an ominous premium.

Ana attempted to stand but any pressure she placed on her left leg was proving too excruciating to consider taking the weight. She could discern the sound of footsteps closing in and let out an almighty shriek but to no avail whatsoever. There was nobody within ear shot and, despite the fact that boys generally flocked around her, there wasn’t a single soul around right now to bail her out. She racked her brain for an eleventh hour escape plan but there appeared to be nothing she could do to turn the tables on her huntsman. Grabbing the cell from her pocket to call for help also proved fruitless as her screen had been obliterated in the fall from the third floor window.

Suddenly her discomfort became a whole lot more intense as she felt a shooting pain down her splintered shin and the agony was ratcheted up considerably. Struggling to maintain cognizance, she attempted one final yelp but this manifested itself by way of barely audible rasp. How fitting she considered that her vocal chords should give up the ghost now, when her assailant was no farther than a stone’s throw away. Indeed she could now hear his movements drawing closer and those clunky footsteps becoming more pronounced as they closed on her position.

Debating was never likely to offer a solution here, she had to summon some form of bottled vigor and use every last pinch of strength to remove herself fast as there had been no indication thus far that her antagonist was about to let up his pursuit and the serrated hunting knife he brandished would soon be finding a new fleshy spot in which to nuzzle its teeth. One final surge and she flipped herself onto her front, using her good leg to prop herself up while she regained composure. There was little time and this was confirmed by the sound of her attacker reaching the open doorway and stepping out to finish what he had started.

Remembering what her father had taught her about never looking back, only forward, she began to hobble forth and towards the roadside. She hadn’t considered what she would do on her arrival and passing cars were all too rare around these parts so it wasn’t likely to be easy but the human body is capable of great things when your existence is threatened and she had to press on. The pain had subsided or, more accurately, adrenaline had kicked in thus she forged onward.

Her mind was racing. Why her, what had she done to warrant such a brutal attack? She was always congenial and had been raised to show kindness to others so it wasn’t as if she could’ve ruffled any feathers or given anyone cause to attack her in such a way. Nevertheless, her masked assailant seemed intent on ventilating her and she had been fortunate in escaping his wrath once already. She had been saved by brand spanking double glazed windows; fitted last month, they opened just wide enough for her to wriggle through while her pursuer hacked away at the barricade she had built across the doorway to her boudoir.

Alas, she resided in a converted third floor attic and the drop had been considerable but, had she not taken that leap of faith, she would invariably have been gutted like a swine so it had seemed like the only option available to her at the time. She was nothing if not resourceful and had grabbed a vintage letter-opener from her desk before plunging but that had become lost in the drop and there was no time to reclaim it as her ordeal appeared far from over and, whomever was hunting her, was disinterested in taking five while she regained her composure. He was yards behind her and closing worryingly fast.

She made it to the roadside and, still refusing to glance behind her, kept pushing on. The dense thicket before her was hardly sanctuary but it at least gave her some foliage to act as cover while she attempted to shake his attentions and make her dash. Using the surrounding woodland to steady herself, she pressed on and made her way into the woods. She had played here many times growing up and was familiar with the layout so this would make up for any lack of mobility on her part and she could head down to the creek which housed a large clearing for her to work out her next move.

About twenty feet through the shrubbery her cell began to chime in her pocket. She grabbed it quickly but the screen display was entirely fragmented thus she could not decipher who was calling. “Hello… please… please help me” she blurted but the line was breaking up. She was only too aware that the woods surrounding her abode represented something of a dead zone for signal and wouldn’t play ball the further she traversed so he propped herself against a tree and took a backwards glance to ascertain her attacker’s coordinates.

He was nowhere to be seen but that was less than encouraging given that he had been moving at a greater rate of knots and could be flanking her as she rested. “Brad… Brad is that you?” Through the line interference she could just about make out his voice and he sounded distinctly concerned by the tone in her voice. “What is it Ana, where you at?” was the crux of what he was asking on the other end but the line kept dropping out to stop any concise communication. “I’m at the house. If you can hear then call the police. I’m being chased and I’m hurt. Please help”.

She wasn’t even aware as to whether her SOS had been legible and, at that point, her battery depleted, causing her to scream in frustration. She cursed not charging it earlier when she had planned and had been told time and again not to run it on reserves but hadn’t foreseen the events of the past half hour and could do nothing about it now. She looked around nervously, surveying her surroundings as she knew that her pursuer could well have covered enough ground at this juncture to enable the advantage.

Total silence, not so much as a snapped twig underfoot to offer indication of anything approaching. Her father had also taught her that there was such a thing as too quiet and these words were ringing in her ears at this point. She had to keep pressing on, the creek was no more than 200 yards from her current locale and she had to assume that her superior knowledge of the lay-out would stand her in good stead. Always the optimist, she pushed on past the pain which was returning with a vengeance.

Crisscrossing through the overhanging shrubs she made her way to the side of the estuary and towards the open space before her. She could move past the area and the highway was no more than a few kilometres but the smarting pain in her shin reminded her that this was pie-in-the-sky. She’d never get that far with her current affliction and already felt the bile rising once more in her throat and a groggy feeling washing over her. She ambled on until she reached the clearing and then slumped to the ground, frantically casting her eye around her immediate surroundings.

All the while she felt her grip on consciousness dissipate, passing out seemed an eventuality she could no longer stall and, at the very least, she would not be privy to her fated dissolution. Her eyes began to flicker and heightened audible awareness kicked in as she discerned the swaying night breeze dancing about her, punctuated by the erratic thumping within her chest. For the first time since she had been set upon back at the house she felt at ease, the adrenaline had subsided and, while the pain still persisted, an overwhelming calm began to wash over her. Analise laid back spread-eagled across the ground, sopping flaxen locks sprawled across her face as she slipped from sentience tranquilly.

Chapter II

It had been six weeks since Analise Dickinson had vanished and countless searches had heralded no clues as to her whereabouts. Police had continuously drawn a blank and been left no sign of a struggle or the slightest clue as to what happened that night. It was as though she had simply disappeared and her parents had been in mourning since being told that there was nothing else that could be done at this juncture. The story had gone national; bright, promising and beautiful, all three boxes were ticked making this a fashionable enough headline to capture people’s interest but a lack of any forthcoming details had left officials stumped and other more topical news had taken presidency.

The small rural town of Bexley had been turned upside down by recent developments and the amount of media coverage it had encouraged had brought numerous nationwide news crews in to report on the events of that night. Things were just starting to return to normal once more although strict nightly curfews had been imposed as the paranoid townsfolk weren’t taking any chances. Ordinarily there was nothing unique about this place, short of spawning a couple of bright NBA prospects, there was very little reason for folk to pass through. Several clicks from the beaten track and almost 6 km from the nearest adjoining community, it was already considered something of a ghost town but right now was eerily silent.

The population was 757, hardly what you would call bustling and, at this point, most of them were tucked up inside their havens for the night with only the odd dog walker or inebriated old-timer to punctuate the quietude. “Happy birthday sweetheart” Brad raised his bottle of Becks in honor of his missing girlfriend. “She’ll turn up buddy” was his best buddy Norton’s response. “It just doesn’t feel right. I can still see her face you know? Clear as crystal, as if she were standing in front of us”. Norton considered himself to be a staunch ally and had remained upbeat throughout the past few weeks, even though he no longer shared his friend’s enthusiasm.

“Listen brother. She’ll be back soon enough but right now there’s nothing we can do. If she were here now you know what she’d say right?” Brad pondered momentarily and a wry smile began to stretch across his face “Yeah she’d tell me to chin the fuck up and start the party”. Whilst this should have been of consolation to the lad, it just served to remind him how resplendent she looked when she meant business. Norton could tell by his glazed eyes that he was having another one of his ‘moments’.

The pair had been together since eighth grade and were genuinely besotted with one another, so much so that it made Norton wretch a little. Maybe it was the fact that girls always gravitated towards Brad and he was merely the guy they’d tell their deep dark secrets. They’d pinch his cheeks and he was a one-man snuggle magnet but still a virgin and that wasn’t looking likely to change anytime soon. Not that he minded, he still got to cop a feel from time to time and, besides, he only had eyes for Belinda. He would play the patient game for as long as it took for her to have her heart obliterated by some total douche and, when that happened, Norton’s would be the shoulder she cried on and that was enough for him.

“What about if I were to say it with a pout?” he tried his best to lift his friend’s spirits as was his specialty. “That’d just be scary” Brad interjected, leaving his somber place for a moment to join in. “Start the party boys” he placed one hand on his hip and camped it up, spotting his opportunity to lift him from his doldrums. “and you wonder why you get less than zero pussy” he teased. “Honey. You don’t know what I be getting. Let me tell you this” Norton leaned in closer than Brad would normally allow and whispered into his lobe “I get just plenty. Matter of fact…I’ve got one in me right now”.

“You are one sick puppy my friend” Brad stated the obvious, humoring Norton as he appreciated how hard he was trying to raise a smile and wasn’t ready to hear his rendition of I Am What I Am. “I’m ready. Let’s go back over”. This pleased his friend greatly “Okay sugarplum”. The pair returned to the kitchen, where Eden and Belinda were already knocking back the absinthe shots. “You know that shit is 90% proof right?” blurted Norton, always the statistician. “Look at us. We’re Amazonian. We can handle our liquor” was Eden swift but slurred response.

“You’re already wasted, look at you” remarked Belinda whose sobriety was just as much in question. She prodded Eden who appeared less than resolute in her posture and likely to keel over at any given moment. “This is your chance” Brad whispered to Norton, to which he received back a mouthed fuck you. “You’re playing catch up boys” she stated. “Line me one up then” Norton was the most eager beaver in the warren and sat on the kitchen stool, rolled up his sleeves and prepared to get a bit messy. Belinda willingly took on the role of bartender although most of the spirit ended up on the worktop. “Here” she slid the tumbler over to him and, by the time it reached him it was barely half filled “Get that down your Gregory Peck”.

Brad sidestepped Eden, who was leaning precariously and clearly intoxicated, and strolled through to the lounge where the remainder of the group were huddled watching the horror channel. “Spot on timing. Galaxy of Terror is on in twenty” Vincent called out to Brad as he entered and slouched on an armchair in the corner with his beverage. “How many times have you actually seen that film?” Brad asked. “Seventeen in total. But I’ve watched that space maggot bang Dameia’s barn doors in maybe a hundred times”.

“That’s right. He uses it as sex ed” joked Edgar, who was sprawled out over the prime spot and encroaching on his bosom buddy’s personal space. The two were inseparable, Charles had been a lifelong horror aficionado and Edgar dug that shit too. Edgar’s parents were huge fans of Poe and named him accordingly whereas Vince’s had simply liked the name although he swore he was the reincarnation of Vincent Price. It was rare that you would see one without the other and the topic of conversation always reverted back to horror.

“If I had a space maggot that’s exactly what I’d be doing with it” Vincent proclaimed, to which “Instead you’ve just got a regular maggot” was his comrade’s lightning quick retort. “That’s not what your mother said when I was backing her up with my xenomorph jism”. Always the mom jokes, Edgar had to think on his feet in order to deflect the insult. “That was my grandma bitch” was suitably vile. The pair mocked their skirmish and Brad looked on grinning. Beneath his thin jovial veil he was hurting bad and couldn’t shake Ana from his thoughts.

“Whatcha watching?” inquired Eden who had also made her way in from the kitchen although quite how she made it was anyone’s guess. “Is it porn?” Brad just shrugged and stared back into the neck of his beer bottle while the grappling pair called time on their playful melee and shuffled aside to accommodate the new arrival. “It could be if you keep knocking that paint thinner back” Vince remarked hopefully. “Nah, you’re not looking any more attractive I’m afraid. Just a little fuzzier round the edges” she replied, bursting any faint bubble of aspiration.

She plonked herself between them and looked over at Brad. He was barely even there, despite his facade and her excessive drinking it was clear to her that he was suffering. “I miss her too” she said, remarkably sober for a second. “I just feel in perpetual limbo Eden” he replied. “I know it’s shitty but she’ll be back” she stated. “She’ll be back. She’ll be back. That’s all everyone keeps saying to me” He sat upright in his seat “She’ll be back like she’s fucking Benji. Back from what? From where is she suddenly going to magically reappear?” He stopped himself, fully aware that he was being an asshole and mindful that it was hard to know what to say to him at this point.

The room fell reticent for a moment before Edgar piped up to buck the lull. “You fancy watching some vintage Robert Englund with us Eden?” he asked. “I know that guy. He’s the one with the fingers right?” was her mumbled response. “Er… yeah he’s got ten of them” Vince quipped. “You know what I mean. He’s got the…the thingies. The claws” she mocked up her finest animated hand puppet. “Steel blades my dear. Four on each hand” he informed before Edgar attempted to enlighten her further “although in the remake they included a fifth talon”. Brad just looked at Eden who was already lost and muttered “and you wonder why I’m depressed”.

Brad had the house for the entire weekend as his father was away on business and his mother had died when he was seven. It wasn’t unusual for him to have the place to himself and he was more mature than most so his pops trusted him to be the man of the house in his absence. He had no brothers and his younger sister Amelia generally kept herself to herself so this was a regular occurrence. He hadn’t wanted to be alone on Analise’s birthday and knew she would have been twisting his arm to have a gathering so it just seemed right that they should celebrate her day for her. In fact, Analise was much closer in proximity than any of them realized and, even more dishearteningly, so was her aggressor.

Chapter III

“We gonna go down and join them?” Cole asked. Amelia wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the suggestion. “Do we really have to?” she replied. “Well they have all the alcohol downstairs and I’m sitting here with a can of 7up so, if that sheds any light, I guess it would have to be a yes”. Amelia had a fairly chilled relationship with her brother but despised Eden with an absolute vengeance and had done ever since the pair had first been introduced. “That skanky ho is down there and it’s bad enough that Brad has had a face like a viking longboat for the past month and a half without having to hear about all her conquests. I can hear her from here and already I feel like punching her in the tits so what’s it gonna be like when I have to look at her mangy mug?”

“What’s your beef with her anyway?” inquired April. April was Cole’s girlfriend and Amelia’s best friend also, and she was feeling suicidal about the prospect of spending another minute in her poky box room while it all went off downstairs. “She’s a bitch, I could smell her bullshit from a mile off and it’s bad enough I’ve got to share a house with her while dad’s away, let alone make conversation with the slut” Amelia barked. with unmasked vitriol. “Wow, you really hate her” Cole interjected. “Yeah I really hate her. Now can we just move on as I just threw up a little in my throat thinking about that whore”.

“Fine. You two stay here and flick each other’s nipples but I’m going down” he stood up and made his way to the door. “What about me?” April asked, clearly wanting to join him. “Well come then” Cole snapped. She looked over at Amelia who was writhing in her denims at the notion of being subjected to Eden’s inebriated verbal diarrhea. “I’ll be there in a few” she reluctantly agreed and Cole exited. “You can go if you want. I’m fine up here” Amelia suggested. “You are my cross to bear” April responded “but I love ya”. She nuzzled in to her friend before continuing “Seriously though. They’ve got all the booze down there. What’s up with that?”

“Not all of it” Amelia enlightened her, eyebrows animated. She climbed off the bed and ran into her father’s chambers to retrieve a sweetener. When she returned, she was clutching a bottle of black rum and a bag of medical marijuana. This pleased April no end. “You sly motherfucker. Pray tell” she asked. “I know where he keeps his stash. More to the point, he doesn’t mind me hitting it as long as my grades don’t dip. He’s cool my pops”. She flung the hash at April “Roll us one up then”. Amelia was rather skilled with her hands but knew exactly when to play the dumb card. Besides, she couldn’t roll like April. “I’m actually your bitch” her put-upon buddy remarked. “Yes actually you are” was her retort.

“So how’s he been? Your brother”. Amelia hadn’t spoken much about what had occurred with Analise and had had a tendency to bottle ever since her mother passed. She was five and her young mind was still wiring at the time so learned to invert her anguish as dad too was culpable of keeping shit to himself and she was the only girl in a predominantly male household. “He’s taking it bad April. We don’t discuss it much but I know my brother and he is not in a good place. She was actually kind of cool you know”. “Was?” April interrupted. “No wonder he can’t talk to you about it. You make it sound like she’s actually dead”. Amelia shrugged “I think she is to be honest”.

Amelia was a staunch existentialist and far more cynical than her older brother. As far as she was concerned the body was a fickle piece of machinery and this had been proven by the fact that her mom’s accident transpired when she was only thirty-two. “Six weeks and nothing. You know how it works” she said. “Plus, and don’t breathe a word about this to anyone as Brad doesn’t want me telling a soul, but he spoke to her on his cell the night she vanished and she was in distress”. April immediately stopped rolling and looked her straight in the whites of her eyes. “You’re shitting me” was all she could muster. “I shit you never. She was being chased or something like that anyway. He said he could barely hear her but he knows she was in trouble”.

“Do the police know about this?” was April’s obvious next poser. “Course they do and it’s been plastered all over the news but you didn’t know and I think he’s hoping that’s the general form”. April never cared for the news and had a personal bugbear against all media types so generally remained blinkered to current affairs. “I’m shocked Amelia. It also doesn’t sound good for her” she agreed. “No she’s worm food. Not meaning to sound harsh but she’s been had. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was in the bottom of that creek you know”.

“But they already dredged that up didn’t they?” April may have been oblivious to the news but she wasn’t a total hermit crab. “Yeah and they didn’t find anything but you’ve seen the size of that thing. There’s no way they can be sure”. Nationwide cuts to the forces had hit their town hard and there wasn’t enough manpower to cover every inch of such a wide expanse. “Can we change the subject as I suddenly feel more than a little freaked?” April grabbed the bag of drugs and continued with her three-skin masterpiece. “Sorry but you did ask” Amelia reminded her. “Starting to wish I hadn’t”.

“So please tell me we’re not staying up here all night like a pair of trolls” was April’s next plea. “What do you want. We’ve got alcohol, hash and each other. Sounds like a no-brainer to me” said Amelia. “No offense dearest but you just depressed the shit out of me and I kind of fancy watching B-Movies with the masters of horror downstairs”. April knew she was flogging a dead nag so decided to meet her halfway “Tell you what. As you clearly have ants in your vadge crease, we’ll head down in say… thirty minutes. Give that ropy moose a chance to pass out. She invariably does by midnight you know”. “Thank you” April replied sarcastically and grabbed both Amelia’s hands in hers before continuing “You are a good lady. You know that?” This caused a smirk. “I’m the best bitch and don’t you forget it” she said in her best trollop dialect.

April held her freshly prepared joint aloft proudly. “So tell me I’m not a wizard”. Amelia had a response lined up for her “You’re a regular Harriet Potter now light that fool and let’s get blazed” she ordered. “You know what? That’s the only smart thing you’ve said all night” April replied and sauntered over to open the window. Amelia followed her over and gestured with her lighter. April lit up and puffed hard while the cherry consolidated its orange glow. “I can see the creek from here” she said, exhaling with a faint splutter and passing the joint to Amelia. “She could be out there right now, doesn’t that freak you out a little” she continued. “I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep since it happened” April replied with sobriety. She blew a smoke ring outside and flicked her ash over the window ledge.

Downstairs the movie was about to commence. “Alright everyone zip it. It’s time for us all to bask in one of the most glorious science fiction movies of all time” Edgar announced. This cleared the room as neither Brad or Cole shared his enthusiasm while, true to form, Eden was comatose and slumped against Vincent, who had no intention of leaving the main event anyway. “Enjoy your space maggots boys” quipped Brad, who had perked up since Cole had joined them. Although he was two years his senior, the pair got along famously and Brad had already decided that he could mope no longer, not tonight, it wasn’t what Analise would have wanted. “Do I detect a hint of sarcasm?” asked Vince. “Twas a tough call guys. It sounds truly the spectacle really” was his typically sardonic response.

Edgar glanced over at his associate who was attempting to position himself correctly to grab a quick eyeful down Eden’s open top. “You know if this were a horror movie right now we’d be FUBAR right? We’d truly be surplus to requirements” he remarked. “Speak for yourself” Vince replied “I’ve watched enough low-rent horror in my time to know how to avoid all the pitfalls”. Edgar chortled “You’re right of course. The Frog Brothers have got nothing on us”. Vince decided it was time to test his buddy’s knowledge “Right then, quick twenty pointer. Who was the first merc to get iced in Aliens?” was his poser. “That’s easy it was Dietrich” Edgar responded smugly. “Wrong. It was Frost you newb. Dietrich got incubated so technically she wasn’t dead. Shame on you”. Edgar hung his head in shame. By his deductions he was 140 points behind now and Vince’s lead was beginning to look unassailable.

In the kitchen Belinda and Norton had pretty much run out of small talk and secretly she felt a great sense of relief that Brad and Cole had come to join them. She really wasn’t into him, sure he was kindhearted, generous and warm but he also posed no form of a challenge and that was a TKO as far as she was concerned. She had been infatuated with Brad for years but never plucked up the courage to tell him how she felt and, considering she was tight with Analise, had decided not to act on her impulses. She liked to think of herself as morally astute and could appreciate that the pair were meant to be together thus left well alone.

“Norton man, you’re looking punished” Cole pointed out that all color had drained from his face and been replaced by an almost fluorescent tinge of green. “I’m good” Norton replied without a whiff of conviction but the mouthful of acidic bile slinking up his esophagus suggested otherwise. “Brad, look at your boy there. Think you may have to prescribe him an Evian” Cole joked. Norton was fully aware that he was going down faster than Bill Clinton’s zipper at one of his public addresses but didn’t appreciate being mocked in front of Belinda. As far as he was concerned he’d been making headway and objected to Cole’s over familiarity. Who was this bag of dicks anyways? “I’m in my prime son” he retorted in his best alpha.

Suddenly Amelia called out from the stairwell. “Brad” she sounded frantic and he darted out to see what all the commotion was about. Edgar and Vince tutted as he chose the spot right in their peripheral vision, obscuring their movie. “What is it sis…what’s going on?” he replied. “I think you’d better come up here now” she said and he was at the foot of the stairs before she could finish her sentence “April just saw something over by the creek and I think you need to hear this”. He made it up the staircase in three strides and headed towards his sister’s room. Downstairs Vince was fumbling for the remote. “Fuck sake. You realize we just missed a kill?” he snarled. “Some folk have no idea about priorities do they?” was Edgar’s reply. “No idea” Vince pumped his buddy’s fist and they returned to their movie.

Chapter IV

In the handful of seconds between Brad reaching the top of his staircase and bursting into Amelia’s boudoir, his mind was in a thousand different places. He was under no illusion that any news would be less than concerting judging by the mortification on his sister’s face but still kept the faith that this new enlightenment would bring him closer to finding his heart’s twin. When he entered the room, April was still stood over by the window but she didn’t turn to face him. Instead, she gazed out, mesmerized by what she was convinced she had seen.

“What is it April?” Brad asked excitedly. “It was Analise” she replied stony-faced and still with her back turned. He darted to the window to join her “Where? Where is she?” he inquired. “She was over there by the creek, in the clearing”. His eyes flitted left and right in a desperate attempt at sharing her vision “I can’t see her. Am I looking in the right place? What the fuck?” He was frantic but April remained almost nonchalant as though she had seen an apparition in those misted distant recesses and fallen under its spell. Eventually she turned to him “She wasn’t wearing any clothes Brad” she stated. “What do you mean no clothes?” Brad quizzed, knowing full well what that suggested but entirely discombobulated.

“She was dancing” April continued. “Dancing?” Brad’s crumpled frown said it all. “I saw it too, fleetingly” Amelia interjected “She was moving around, in and out of the mist. I only caught the end of it but it was definitely her”. He had heard enough and started striding towards the door briskly “We’ve got to go over there” he suggested. Cole had now rejoined them, curious to find out what the ruckus was about. “I’ll come with you buddy” he offered. “Me too” said Amelia while April continued to look forlorn and had no intention of offering her assistance.

Amelia checked on her friend’s status before leaving “You alright?” she asked. “She was covered in blood Amelia. Head to toe in blood”. Much as Amelia wished to offer encouraging words the truth was that she had seen it too, albeit less clearly. “Look, I’ll be back in ten alright. Do me a favor and lay off the hash while I’m gone. Don’t think that’s the best thing for you right now”. April’s forced smile was transparent, underscored by a distinct feeling on unease which was gripping her tightly. “I don’t think you should be going over there” April admitted. “My brother needs me” Amelia replied, giving her a reassuring squeeze “I’ll be ten minutes alright”.

April glanced back outside and considered what she had seen. While it was evidently Analise, the tattoo across her shoulder blades attested to that, there was something disconcerting about her demeanor. She had moved almost ethereally through the reeds by the quayside and, what April hadn’t divulged, was that she had turned and looked up at her, wearing a smile which was deficient of warmth and instead felt chilly and disconnected. That image haunted her now and she could still see those dead eyes glaring wildly from a distance as though she had been standing right before her.

“Why don’t you just call 911?” Vincent asked as Brad prepared himself to take a jaunt down to the quayside. “I have to see this for myself” Brad replied. Edgar leaned across Eden’s comatose shell and whispered into his friend’s ear “Classic horror no-no bro”. The others were all congregated in the living room now and despite Norton’s lack of sobriety, he was all set for the upcoming expedition. Belinda slumped on an armchair in the corner and wasn’t about to make the trip while Edgar and Vince were still hanging out for Sid Haig’s single line of dialogue and nothing would tear them away from their own undertaking. “Y’all ready?” Brad inquired. “All set” Norton replied hurriedly so as to beat Cole to the punch. As far as he was concerned he was still Brad’s head alpha and that jumped-up twat was not about to shit in his cereal.

Just as Amelia was grabbing her jacket Brad stopped her in her tracks “I want you staying here sis” he ordered. “No stay here and make sure the twins of evil don’t burn the place down while we’re gone”. He gestured over to Vince and Edgar “I’ll be back in ten minutes I promise”. Amelia sighed but respected his wishes. She shut the door behind the departing trio and watched from the net curtains as they walked off down to the trail. It sucked being the youngest but she was fully aware how protective Brad was when it come to his sibling. Eden still hadn’t risen from her perpetual slumber and Vince still had designs on copping a feel but had restrained thus far on account of the recent dramatics.

Outside Cole and Norton were struggling to keep up with Brad, who was fiercely focused on finding Analise and bringing her back safely. “You don’t like me much do you” Cole asked. “Not really” Norton’s admitted frankly. “Bummer for me” Cole chipped in and that was as far as their communications stretched. Norton turned his attentions back to Brad who was at least ten yards in front and gaining momentum “Slow down man, you’re killing me. It’s like speed walking with Forrest Gump”. This actually amused Cole who was about to come out with his best rendition of “she died on a Saturday” but instantly thought better of it.

“I’ve gotta find her” Brad informed them sternly “I can feel that she’s close”. Norton had now caught up and rested his hand on his friend’s shoulder before assuring him “we’ll find her”. It took a good ten minutes for them to reach the creek and, when they arrived, the thick veil of mist had begun to lift. Nevertheless there was no visual on Analise. Brad looked back at April who was still at his window and pointing to an area by the thicket a little farther along. “It’s fucking cold here” Cole remarked and when Brad looked around he was indeed standing in the exact point she was signposting. “Never mind that. Come here quick” said Norton who was shining his flashlight at a patch of ground near his feet. Brad about-turned and strode over to join him. “What?” he asked before aligning his sight to the stream of illumination coming from Norton’s torch.

It was faint footsteps, bloody prints, about the same size as Analise’s dainty feet. “It’s her. Where do they lead?” he asked impatiently. Norton shone his light around their immediate proximity and there was no trace of any other prints. “I have no idea Brad. Can’t see any others, just these” he reported defeated. “Analise!” Brad hollered and then again once over. He could feel her presence in some way, as though she was watching him from afar but, rather than this invigorating him, it just made him feel all the more hopeless. He would do anything to have her back and felt as though he was within touching distance while, in the same moment, feeling farther from her than ever.

Cole had begun to wander along the quayside and was almost out of earshot at this point. He felt as though he was being drawn towards the dense overhanging thicket and made his way from the clearing. They hadn’t noticed his departure as yet and were too wrapped up in trying to ascertain the source of the mysterious footprints to discern his movements. He pushed aside the thorns encircling the entrance and waded in. Back at the house April was reeling at having seen her boyfriend wandering off from the others. She called out to Brad but the distance was too far and her plea fell lifelessly to the ground a few hundred yards from their position.

Amelia had heard her panicked tones and rushed up to see if she was okay, fearing primarily for her brother’s safekeeping. When she reached the room April was rigorously shaking her cell phone in intense frustration and cussing like a trucker. “You’ll never get a signal down there, it’s a dead zone” April informed her “now what’s going on? You see something?” She raced to the window and exhaled the moment she discerned Brad looking decidedly bemused but, at least, safe. “Cole’s gone” she said glumly. “What do you mean he’s gone?” Amelia quizzed. April was convinced that her ill-feeling was nothing to do with the copious amounts of hash she’d consumed “He’s gone into the woods. I have a really sick feeling in my stomach right now”.

Cole was submerged deep in the foliage now and was beginning to question his decision to wander off unbeknownst to Brad and Norton. Yet, for all his consternation, something still drew him forward. Snapping branches around him were leaving him distressed and jumpy and, otherwise, there was a still surrounding him which was far less than calming. As he cast his eyes around something caught the edge of his peripheral vision, a couple of dozen yards forward and partially obstructed by shadow. It looked like a figure, standing there looking directly at him, but he couldn’t be sure as it appeared to be moving slowly backwards out of his line of sight. One thing was damned sure and that was that it wasn’t Analise’s slight frame he could see.

“Where’s Cole got to?” asked Brad, spinning around to survey his surroundings. “Dunno. He was here a minute ago. You didn’t see where he went?” said Norton in reply, not that he cared particularly. Brad shrugged “No but we should go find him”. Remembering April’s distant vantage, he glanced behind him but she was no longer at the window. “Well he could only have gone this way” Norton pointed towards the thicket “Let’s get him quick and get back to the house. This place is making me feel nauseous”. Brad nodded in agreement and they made their way over to the opening which Cole had entered earlier.

“Cole!” Brad called out to no avail. Something clearly wasn’t right here. Then, after a few elongated seconds of quiet, Norton spotted him standing in a catatonic state deeper in the wood. “Found him” he reported “over here”. Brad followed Norton over but Cole was trance-like and unaware of their presence. “Cole! Cole! Fuck sake. Cole!” Brad tried to divert his attention from whatever it was that had him mesmerized. “Hey cloth ears” said Norton, as he grabbed Cole’s shoulder and turned him around. He wasn’t expecting a warm reception as there was no love lost between them but he was shocked to see the vacancy in his face. Then Cole finally broke his self-imposed vow of silence “we have to get out of here. Now”.

Chapter V

“This is excruciating. I can’t handle this” Amelia had been pacing impatiently for the past five minutes “I’ve got to go and find out what’s going on”. Belinda had now joined her and April in her bedroom and was struggling to keep both girls calm. “Give it another five minutes. They’re all big boys, they can look after themselves” she stated. “You didn’t see what we did Belinda. I’m telling you something isn’t right” Amelia replied. “So what did you see?” Belinda inquired. April snapped out of her self-induced coma at that point “We saw Analise” she said in a less than hopeful tone. “That’s good right? It means she’s alive. Are you sure it was her?”

April and Amelia glanced at each other. “Yeah it was definitely her. But she wasn’t wearing any clothes and she looked different” Amelia piped up. “No shit” April added. “What do you mean different. Listen, you’ve got to explain this better sugar. I’ve had a skinful and right now there’s not a lot that you’re saying that’s making a whole lot of sense” said Belinda, who felt distinctly like she hadn’t been given the whole low down of events. “She was covered in blood” April blurted much to Amelia’s bemusement. “Then we have to call the police then. Like yesterday” Belinda replied.

“No” Amelia snapped “Brad doesn’t want to call them. We wait for them to come back and then work out what to do next”. This made no sense to Belinda. “Why not take a walk down there?” she suggested. Brad had been adamant that he didn’t want his sister coming to the creek and Amelia was caught in two minds. Part of her respected her brother’s wishes but the other, more dominant part, was feeling hopeless stuck here while none of them had the slightest inkling what was going on. “Vince and Ed are downstairs. We just get them to come with” said April, who appeared to be having a turn around. “That’s if you can tear them away from their movie” Belinda remarked.

Downstairs, Vincent and Edgar were wide-eyed. Vince was considering how a film can just keep getting better with age, totally unaware of the dramatics that were currently playing out in Amelia’s room. Edgar, on the other hand, had taken a breather and was submerged in Angry Birds on his smart phone. “That is sacrilege my friend” Vince quipped “Poe would hang his head in shame if he knew you were missing the movie to fling birds around with an oversized catapult”. Edgar chuckled “Right. ‘Cos a great literary mind like that would have been tight with Roger Corman if he was still around” he replied sarcastically. “Don’t knock Galaxy of Terror dude. Just don’t. I expect that from the other lame-brains but not from you”.

With that, the three girls made their way downstairs, provoking a weary tut from Vincent as they once again chose the spot right in front of the television to congregate. “You guys are needed” Belinda informed the pair. This grabbed Vincent’s attention while Edgar was too busy working out how the hell to make his last bird count as he’d just overshot the last two. “Ed!” April hollered. This got his attention. “Nobody calls me Ed” he retorted. “Shut your face hole for a second and listen” April barked. Belinda, who was the calmest of the three and easily the best spokesperson at this point, then explained calmly. “We think Analise is down at the creek”. Amelia interrupted “She is”. Belinda continued “alright she is down there. The guys have been gone for twenty minutes and we haven’t heard anything. Amelia is freaking. We need you two to come with us”.

“Why didn’t you just say?” said Vince, jumping out of his seat while Edgar pocketed his smart phone and prepared to join him. “One thing” he stopped for second “what about sleeping beauty here?”. Belinda pondered for a second. “Hopefully she’ll choke on her own puke and die horribly” April muttered under her breath from behind her. “That’s not cool. Listen, she’s dead to the world. We let her sleep it off. Everyone agreed?” Belinda suggested. Vince looked down at the insentient teen. Her face was pressed against a pillow and a small pool of saliva had formed at the side of her open mouth. “She’s had it bro. Look at her. Unless you’re into date rape I’d say you’re on a loser” Edgar joked. “Fuck off bozo” was Vincent’s swift reply. “Not the time guys” April bellowed. “Right then. Let’s do this” said Edgar, grabbing his coat and heading towards the door with Vincent in tow. “Finally” muttered April contemptuously.

They headed off from the house in two groups. The girls were busy conferring over what to do when they got there while Vincent and Edgar lagged a few yards behind and were applying their vast knowledge of horror to inform their actions. “First thing. We stick together” said Vince. “Duh! You do know who you’re talking to right?” was the immediate response. “Just checking. We split up, we die horribly” Vince continued. “So if this were a slasher flick who would bite the bullet first then?” Edgar quizzed “it would be Eden right?”

Vincent nodded “Nope. Come on now. You should know the biggest slut never goes first. She gets it later and gets it bad. The killer would pick off any nondescripts first”. Edgar was sure he knew who fitted the bill “you mean Norton” he asked. “You’re kidding right. Norton is clearly a virgin so he is granted immunity through the opening rounds” Vince replied. “Well if that’s the case then it looks like you’ll be the last one standing” Edgar teased, knowing full well that he too possessed a cherry which remained intact “of course if that includes masturbation then you’re in dire straits dude”.

“Can you hear them two?” asked Belinda. “Ordinarily I try my level best at blocking them out” April replied. “Who invited them anyway?” Amelia joined in, attempting to forget the feeling of dread which she had felt since she was back at the house. “You can blame your brother for that one” informed Belinda. This only served to remind Amelia that her brother was still nowhere to be seen. They could all see the creek clearly now from their position on the brow of the hill. It appeared eerily quiet, no sign of any one of the boys. This was most unlike Brad, who knew how distraught his little sister had been and wouldn’t simply leave her hanging like this without good reason.

“What do you think has happened to them?” Amelia asked. “Probably got lost in the wood” Belinda replied. “Not Brad. We used to play in that forest every day growing up. He knows it back to front”. Suddenly Vince called out from behind “Any of you see that?” April looked around. “See what?” she said. “There’s somebody down there. Just saw movement at twelve o’clock” He pointed directly in front of them at the entrance way to the thicket. Aside from a few swaying branches there didn’t appear to be any movement. “Where are we supposed to be looking?” quizzed Amelia. “There. Right in front of us. Somebody’s down there” he continued. “That’s got to be them” Belinda stated. They all picked up the pace.

Back at the house something broke Eden’s slumber. She rubbed her eyes and tried to sit up but came over instantly queasy and slumped back on the couch. “Yo?” she groaned. “Where’s everyone at?” No response although it sounded like there was somebody shuffling around upstairs. “Fucking assholes” she snarled, thinking better than to attempt to move to a vertical position. She glanced at the screen and was greeted by the sight of alien tentacles wrapping themselves around a hapless victim’s face and crushing it to smithereens. “Nice” she said to herself, feeling the bile rising up her throat as she did.

The sound recommenced and sounded like it was coming from Amelia’s room. Eden was only too aware how much Amelia hated her guts thus didn’t even bother calling out. Instead she reached for her cell and proceeded to tap in Belinda’s number. Nothing, signal down. She tried Brad’s, then Norton’s. Still nothing, they all went straight to answering machine. “Fuck sake” she mumbled to herself. Eventually she summoned up the energy to move from her seat and wandered to the kitchen, propping herself up against the wall as she traveled. Again, total no-show.

Eden considered pouring herself another shot but thought better of it and made her way over to the refrigerator to grab a bottle of water instead. As she opened it the audio from above her position became louder. Thump. “You’re not helping my headache” she called out. Thump. Thump. Questioning whether the pounding she could hear was coming from inside her own head, she took a seat on the stool by the worktop and placed her head in her hands. “I’m never drinking again after tonight” she grumbled to herself, knowing that to be a complete mistruth as she said the same thing every time she drank without fail. Eden was not the kind of girl to do anything in halves. That bottle of Absinthe would be full until it was empty in her eyes and it appeared there was still plenty left.

The noise was becoming more pronounced now and was concentrated in one place, directly above her position. Thump. Thump. This time curiosity got the better of Eden and she shifted her weight to her legs once more and made her way lopsidedly back to the staircase. “Hey. Who’s up there?” she hollered. “It’s me Analise. I want to see you” came a reply. Realizing it was indeed Analise, Eden’s sobriety returned instantaneously and she bolted up the stairs a little too fast, causing her head to spin as she once again felt the vomit rising in her throat. Thump. The audio was coming from Amelia’s room as she had suspected.

She took a moment to recompose herself and then headed along the landing, reaching for the door handle. “Analise?” She pushed the door open, entirely unprepared for the sight which greeted her. It was Analise but she wasn’t aware of Eden’s presence. She was entirely naked, painted in blood top to bottom and banging her head against the wall. Eden burst into tears, relieved that her friend was alive but horrified at everything else regarding the current scenario. “Sweetie?” she strode over cautiously and placed her hand on Analise’s shoulder, turning the girl around to face her. The next sound to leave Eden’s lips was a blood-coagulating shriek.

Chapter VI

Edgar stopped dead in his tracks. “Did you hear that?” he asked. “Hear what?” Vince replied, somewhat sidetracked by the commotion going on in front of him. “I swear I just heard a scream” Edgar continued. “Don’t worry about that, we’ve got more pressing matters at hand”. Vince pointed at April and Amelia who had spotted the bloody footprints in the meadow and were inconsolable at this point. “Brad? BRAD?” his little sister was frantic, convinced that something bad had happened to him. April wasn’t faring much better, pining for Cole who was also nowhere to be seen. “Oh my God, Oh my God” Amelia was beginning to have a panic attack and it was up to Belinda to try and calm the situation down.

“Will both of you just try and chill out for a moment” Her choice of words was perhaps not the best. “Calm down? It’s my fucking brother out here” she roared, furious at Belinda’s careless remark. “I know that. Listen, they’re fine. They’ve just lost track of time. Knowing them, they’re just playing a trick on us or something” she continued. “I don’t think so” April interjected “Not really the time for pranks is it?” Edgar stepped up to the girls, deciding against informing them of what he had just heard and well aware that he needed to step in before chaos ensued. “Look, there’s five of us right? We should stick together, scout the woods, if we still haven’t found them then, by the time we get back to the house, they’ll probably be back there” he suggested.

Vince shuffled over and whispered into his ear “Dude, I’m with them on this one. Something fucked up is happening”. Edgar glared at his friend “Don’t you think I’m aware of that. I just heard a fucking scream” His attempts to keep his voice low-key failed as Amelia picked up on his muffled response. “What did you just say?” she asked abruptly. “Nothing” Edgar sheepishly retorted. “Don’t give me that shit Edgar. I heard what you said. You said you heard a scream” she snarled. Edgar attempted to back track “It might not have been that” he suggested nervously. Vince just rolled his eyes, knowing his friend’s size ten was taking up residence in his mouth about now.

“I’m going to find him” she barked. “Hold on, I’m coming with you” April added. “Look, we’re all going. There’s no point us getting lost too” Edgar ordered, any last remnants of alcohol fast draining from his system leaving him feeling pretty freaked out too. “I saw Cole go this way” April pointed to the thicket entrance and the five teens cautiously made their way over in a huddle. “Let me go first. I’m the only one with a flashlight” Vince offered. He wasn’t known for his camaraderie but did like to think of himself as cool-headed in a crisis although he too had a twisted feeling in his gut right now.

None of them exactly relished entering the woods, something clearly wasn’t right and, despite Edgar and Vince’s enthusiasm for horror films, it was something the pair enjoyed far more from the safety of the couch. It had been a full hour since any of them had heard from Brad and the others and bloody footprints in the marshland didn’t make for the most encouraging of omens. Nevertheless they plundered forth, led from the front by Vince, and all closely in tow. There was an eerie silence as they proceeded into the thicket, a calm which was not destined to continue.

“Does anybody else feel that?” asked Vince as he separated the overhanging branches and purged forth. “Feel what?” Amelia replied quizzically. “It’s probably not the best time to tell you this but I just had a feeling like somebody walked over my grave or something” he continued. “That’s the same way I felt when I saw Analise from the window” April interjected “something really isn’t right, I can tell.” She gripped onto Amelia’s arm for dear life and this was reciprocated in turn. “What if something has happened to them April?” she asked glumly, at which point Edgar did his level best to lighten the mood. “Listen. The guys are fine, trust me. You’re all getting way ahead of yourselves.” He wasn’t convinced he even believed that anymore.

The dense wood was shrouded in quietus, precious little in the way of encouragement outside of a few swaying trees and the breaking of fallen twigs underfoot. Belinda, in particular, was feeling notably queasy. The excessive alcohol certainly hadn’t helped her state of mind but she held a distinct dislike of dark places and was beginning to regret her valiant offer to join this expedition. As a young girl she had wandered away from her parents on a camping trip and been mauled by a stray dog, leaving a three-inch scar along her lip and the instance had always stayed with her. Right now, it was playing on her mind so she grabbed the asthma pump from her pocket and took a couple of deep inhalations.

“I didn’t know you were asthmatic” Edgar stated. “I’m not. At least not anymore. Not really. I just have my moments” she replied. “Guess this constitutes as a moment then?” She looked at Edgar solemnly “Yeah. you could kinda say that.” He relished seeing her at her most vulnerable as Edgar had tried on numerous occasions to impress her and to absolutely no avail. “Here” he offered his arm “Hold onto me.” She held on as he suggested and he played it as cool as he knew how, despite his mind racing and formulating a plan to get into her panties. This evidently wasn’t the time nor place for hook-ups but, considering his record for striking out with the ladies, it would do just fine in the interim.

“Brad?” Amelia hollered with a hint more desperation in her voice than previously. She was fast becoming inconsolable and had long since feared the worst. Her eyes hadn’t deceived her earlier, that bloody figure masquerading in the reeds was so palpable, so utterly disconcerting that her ordinarily glass half full approach was severely hamstrung by this point by an overwhelming feeling of dread. She held onto April for dear life, knowing her friend was just as discombobulated after sharing her undesirable vision. They cautiously proceeded behind Vince with the other pair straggling a few feet back but keeping the convoy in motion.

Abruptly Vince halted and turned to face his friends. “What the fuck man? I’m outta here” he proclaimed. “What?” Amelia snapped with urgency “What did you see?” Vince looked as white as a ghost; all the color was draining from his face and he appeared genuinely distressed. Amelia asked again in a softer tone “Tell me what you saw Vince.” She had a good idea as to the answer to her poser but was hopeful that he had seen no such thing. “I think I just saw Eden.” Edgar piped up from the rear to challenge “Tell me you haven’t just necked a load of magic mushrooms. Call me cynical bro but I’m fairly assured she didn’t pass us on the way down here and I’m also certain she’s still wasted.” Despite his pointing out of the obvious, he still couldn’t shake the sound of that God awful scream. “It was dude. It was Eden” Vince confirmed.

Belinda took another inhalation of her pump “We’ve should go after her right?” she suggested. “You’re not understanding me. She looked like death reheated.” He was going to have to clarify as they were all aware that she had seen better days. “Absinthe will do that to you” Edgar reminded him. “Will it? Will it encourage you to strip naked and douse yourself head to toe in blood? Make your eyes disappear from your skull?” Edgar attempted to make light “I’m sure if you drink enough of it.” Vince glanced over at April and Amelia. They had never looked so forlorn and his claim had clearly resonated. “You two saw the same thing didn’t you?” he asked. Amelia nodded. “Okay, I’m suggesting we go back right now and call the police” he continued.

“What about my brother?” Amelia said panic-stricken. “Sweetheart listen. I’ve watched a fair few horror movies in my time and, if there’s one thing, one solitary fucking detail that I’ve learned, it is that in scenarios such as these you don’t press on.” There was an unspoken understanding between them over what he had just been made privy to but Amelia wasn’t going back without first tracking down her sibling. “I’m off. Who’s with?” He offered the flash light and April retrieved it from his shaking hands. “Maybe he’s right. Maybe we should go back” Belinda whispered to Edgar and this was music to his ears as bravado couldn’t disguise the smell of his slackening sphincter for much longer.

“You two going to be all right?” he inquired, knowing full well that two inebriated and high teenage girls on the verge of combustion in a dark forest alone was never going to be a recipe for them being all right. Their lack of any reply to his poser spoke volumes and he awkwardly shuffled away, latched onto Belinda, with Vince a hair breadth behind. “We’ll call the police okay” Belinda offered a token gesture which also fell on deaf ears. April and Amelia were the youngest of the group and neither were equipped for this in any way, shape or form but they took the reigns and carried on forward into the undergrowth.

As the others vacated the thicket, they began to debate their actions. “Do you think we did the right thing them alone?” Vince asked. “Make your mind up will you. A few seconds ago you couldn’t wait to see the back of the place” Edgar replied sardonically. “Tell you what” Belinda interrupted “You two hold hands and pull each other’s dick strings and I’ll go call this in.” Edgar sensed that this meant no alcohol-fueled hanky panky was to be on the cards and she shook free from his hold, commencing to walk ahead on her own. He glared at Vince with the look of a thousand sharpened knives. “Thanks dick” he muttered. “What? You…you actually…you actually think you was gonna get some don’t you?” Vince retorted. “She was putty in my hands, a few more minutes and I would’ve been all up in her crawlspace.” Vince almost choked on his laughter “You sad little man. You really believe that don’t you?”

Back in the woods April and Amelia had reached the clearing where, unbeknownst to them, Analise had found her slumber. “Brad?” she called again opportunistically. This time there was a response. “I’m over here, come find me” was the rejoinder but, despite it evidently coming from her brother’s tongue, it was delivered with none of his humanity. “Where are you?” she cried, voice breaking and mascara streaming down her cheeks in rivulets. “I’m over here, come find me” This time it was Eden’s voice they heard and it was coming from an entirely different direction. Two more times the same audio rang out but in Cole and Norton’s slightly gruffer tones. The girls were conjoined in sheer bemusement as the air was suddenly alive with something truly ominous. The look of terror across their faces escalated as they discerned one final spoken line, from Analise no less, coming from directly behind them. They both felt an icy chill on the back of their necks as the words were delivered “I’m right here, turn around and take a look.”

Prologue

“Something feels supremely fucked up here” Vince remarked the moment they reentered the house. “You feeling that too?” Edgar asked. “I know right? I’ve got a real grim feeling about this” Vincent replied, looking around cautiously. “You two are supposed to be keeping me safe. So why then does it feel like it’s gonna end up being the other way round?” said Belinda, already aware that Eden wasn’t where they had left her a few minutes back. “Where is she at? Eden!” Vincent called. No reply. “I’ll check upstairs, one of you call the police” Belinda suggested, heading off to locate their inebriated friend. “Line’s dead” Edgar tried again to get a ringtone but the phone had indeed been cut off. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Vincent. “Vince. I’ve known you my whole life. And I can say with hand on heart that I have no clue whatsoever what’s running through your head right now.” Vince strode over to the television and turned it back on. “Last twenty minutes of Galaxy of Terror. You in?”

Edgar didn’t require much coaxing and fled to the kitchen to retrieve a couple more cold brews from the fridge. “You read my mind son” Vince complimented his friend, cracking open his Budweiser and pulling over the foot stool. “You seem a lot more relaxed now dude. A few minutes ago you were starting to ovulate. I thought I’d lost you there you know” Edgar explained. “It is a bit messed up though. You think they’re all in on the joke?” said Victor. “That still doesn’t explain Ana does it? What do you reckon has really happened there?” Edgar asked. “I think she’s dead. What other explanation could there be? We live in a small town Vince, not the kind of place she could keep her head down” No sooner had Vincent reclined his seat than Belinda called out from upstairs.

“Fuck sake” Edgar groaned. “Go on then. Putty in your hands you said. Time to prove it son. She’s holding out for a hero” Vincent chirped. “The alcohol’s starting to wear off. So you really think she’s been killed then?” Edgar changed the subject. “Yeah I think she’s had it. Six weeks and no body. I’ve seen enough horror movies to know full well she hasn’t eloped” Vince hardly finished his statement and Belinda appeared between the banisters looking perturbed. “What is it?” Edgar inquired. “She must’ve gone home” she replied. “In her state. I don’t think so. You saw her, she was passed out. Ain’t no fucking way she was going anywhere. Have you checked the bathroom, maybe she’s throwing up her guts?” Vince suggested. “I’ve checked everywhere. She’s gone” Belinda explained glumly.

Vince sat up in his chair “Well we’ve got no line going out. It’s totally dead” He tried one more time “see…nothing.” Belinda made her way down to join them “We should get out of here, don’t cha think? Something doesn’t feel right. Tell me you’re not feeling that” she said. “She’s got a point Ed” Victor reasoned “my spider sense is tingling.” Edgar rationalized his friend’s consternation “That’s testosterone. It’ll pass” he quipped. “Are you incapable of taking anything seriously?” she barked “at which point can we expect the penny to drop for you two?” Both lads looked at one another, knowing full well what was running through the other’s mind. “So what do you think we should do?” asked Edgar. “Something” Belinda replied “we can’t just sit here and wait for everyone to come back.”

She began by glancing from the downstairs window and her intelligence was far less than encouraging. “Guys?” she said calmly “tell me what you make of this.” Both Vince and Edgar’s jaws dropped in unison as they looked outside. “Now that is supremely fucked up” was Edgar’s eventual retort. Outside were all six of their friends including Analise, but none of them appeared particularly welcoming. She was at the front performing a pirouette, her naked body sheathed from head to toe in blood. Cole and Norton both had their heads to the ground, while Amelia, April and Eden were staring right at the window with tainted red smiles which bled down their chests. At the same precise moment, all six became aware of their onlookers and raised their left arms in a synchronized gesture towards their remaining affiliates.

“They’re headed this way. Lock the door Vince” Edgar cried, while Belinda stood firmly planted to her spot and fixated by Analise’s ghostly masquerade. “It’s locked. Let’s get upstairs quick” Vince suggested. “And cut off all available exits. I don’t think so” replied Edgar. “Well what’s your idea then?” Vince asked. “I say we stay right here together. Make sure they don’t get in.” With that, Belinda broke free of her cathartic state and informed both boys “it’s too late” calmly. “What the fuck do you mean?” Vince ran back to the window to get a better view of the group outside but they were nowhere to be seen “Ed. Get the back door. Quickly” His friend wasted no time in facilitating his request and galloped through to the kitchen to secure the door. No sooner had he arrived there, than he let out a chilling scream.

Both Belinda and Vince stopped dead in their tracks. “What the actual fuck?” Vince cried, to which Belinda’s rapid response was “Upstairs. Now.” He agreed to her terms and the pair bundled up the staircase; Belinda heading straight to Amelia’s room while Vince stood gaunt at the top looking down to receive intelligence. It was deathly quiet downstairs and all that he could discern was the faint audio of their late-night B-movie as its credits rolled. Otherwise… silence. Edgar’s screaming had subsided but was still echoing in Vince’s ears as it hadn’t sounded the slightest bit human. It had been more like the condemned shriek of a soul dead inside. Yet, as much as chivalry wasn’t high on Vince’s list of responses right now, he couldn’t help but hang there a second longer doused in dread.

In that moment, he suddenly wished he hadn’t. Edgar approached the edge of his peripheral vision at the foot of the stairs and the godawful shriek reconvened; only this time the visual accompaniment rattled him to his very core. Analise was dancing daintily behind the boy with both palms covering his face. As the scream intensified, she parted them to reveal no features whatsoever. His face was a blank canvas of death; no eyes or nose, just a wide-open mouth which appeared endless in depth. The others had now joined them and began to push past, reaching out with blackened fingertips as they commenced their malevolent ascent. “Get in here now Vince!” Belinda pleaded from the doorway but he wasn’t going anywhere. Instead she was forced to watch on as fourteen lunging hands muffled his final breath in cruel unison.

His entire body appeared to capitulate all at once and he fell to the floor in an almighty mass of gore and shattered bone fragments. Belinda turned away in disgust before their attentions could turn to her and secured herself inside, blubbering in utter disarray as she did. Frantically, she dragged the bedstead across to barricade the entrance and hurled everything she could get her hands on into her makeshift rearguard. She contemplated vacating via the upstairs window but the drop was too steep and would invariably lead to broken bones. Outside the coarse scream continued and had now been joined by a chorus of guttural gargles and the like. “Leave me the fuck alone” she pleaded, pinned to the wall and inconsolable. The very instance that the words left her lips silence was finally granted.

For a few moments Belinda stood comatose as the air began to return to her lungs. Eventually, she moved from her spot, sliding cautiously along the wall until pressed tight against the door. There was absolutely no way on Earth she was about to take down her fortifications so she remained alert while waiting for a single signal from outside. None were forthcoming. She sobbed into her hand, tears streaming down both cheeks, as she attempted to make sense of what had just transpired. The skinful of alcohol she had consumed earlier was no excuse as she had sobered up the very moment she watched Vince’s body break down before her very eyes. The only consolation she could possibly draw was the fact that she appeared safe for now and the hell playing out at the other side of the door looked like it had reached its end. Now she just had to wait it out until help came.

Any new-found contentment was swiftly shattered as she began to feel moisture around her sneakers. Belinda looked down with a start and her teary eyes widened as she noticed the blood gushing into her sanctuary at ground level. It didn’t move like regular fluid and instead coursed with far greater purpose as it passed straight by her and began pooling on the rug in the very center of the room. Her first instinct was to clear ground level and she hopped onto the bedstead and watched as gallons of dark claret journeyed past her. Once in the middle it began to coagulate; forming chunks of cruor which reunited with one another as it continued its augmentation. It persisted seeping in through the bottom of the door frame as the pool started to take shape no more than a yard from her horrified face.

Suddenly dozens of bloody tendrils shot up from the gore-sodden rug and attached themselves to the ceiling above her. Then the screaming reconvened as eight life-sized shapes commenced reconstruction. This time the cries were far more tortured; as though denoting the agony of all of her friends in harsh synchronicity. Bones began to form, ventricles weaving through each joint as raw flesh started grouping around the marrow. Belinda needed no more convincing that her safe haven had been compromised and hysterically grabbed the bed frame and hauled it away from the door. A quick status check behind her proved costly as each mound of limbs had now taken shape, resembling each of her fallen friends in turn, only minus their epidermises. They appeared hoisted up like puppets beneath a carousel of crimson and, as each harness was pulled taut, their postures straightened until they all reached an upright position, staring at her through the hollow sockets in their freshly reformed skulls.

Belinda managed to gain herself a slender exit way and slid through to the hallway, collective scream ringing in her ears as she did. After using both walls to make it to the top stair, she lost any vague footing and commenced to clutter down each step on her headlong descent. She hit the floorboards hard enough to knock herself out momentarily but the adrenaline surged back through her with the first subconscious imagining of whatever was trailing her. Several broken ribs and a protruding shinbone slowed her movements considerably but he used any remaining endurance to drag her splintered body through the lounge, towards the dead bolted front door. Again she glanced back and through the haze she discerned the blood beginning to trickle down the steps with the same malevolence as previously. Once at the doorway she desperately clawed for grip hold to lever herself up but any remaining upper body strength was compromised by the agonizing pain shooting up her right side.

Then the screaming subsided once again and she was granted disenchanting quietude a second time. “We’re here for you Belinda. We’re all here for you” It was Analise’s voice “turn around and we’ll show you we care.” She daren’t take that advice as she wasn’t prepared to catch sight of the horror in her fickle state of consciousness. “What do you want from me?” she sobbed. “We want you to meet The Keeper. He pulls our strings Belinda and he’ll pull yours too if you allow him.” A second plea commenced; this time in Brad’s gruffer voice “Turn around for your surprise” he taunted playfully, at which point a communal “Yes Belinda. Turn around for your surprise” rang out in the tongue of all her friends “Don’t be afraid. We can play together. Come and meet The Keeper Belinda” Her already-faltering resistance slackened a final time and she turned to face her masters of ceremony.

All at once, dozens of bloody tendrils lurched towards her face, gripping her cheeks tight enough to shatter several of her teeth in the process. Two larger flailing crimson lances punctured both of her eyeballs, pushing them back in their cavities where they instantly provoked rapid hemorrhaging. With a sickening implosion of cranial fluid the feelers collapsed her cranium from the inside and her lower body fell away like saw dust beneath her. Her shell’s ruination may have been swift but the misery of active thought didn’t leave her as her vital fluid seeped through the boards and into the clay beneath, and carried on descending. Her screams traveled the Earth’s core until which time as they reached an insular clearing deep underground. Belinda was reunited with her friends in the dank deciding death bunker, each of them still privy to their torment, and there The Keeper enjoyed his new complete set of fresh blood puppets for the very first time.

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Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014

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