Authors: Mark Lukens
And he couldn’t let that person catch up to him.
The person from your nightmares,
his mind whispered to him.
Ryan pushed the whispering voice from his thoughts as he turned onto the county road and headed north.
The words slipped through Carol’s lips in a whisper as her eyes popped open in the murky room. And just before her eyes popped open, she could’ve sworn she’d heard a noise in the room with her – it sounded like something was dripping.
No, that was just your imagination, she told herself.
Carol was nearly fifty years old, but she was still in very good shape. Her beauty had faded over the last decade, and she had accepted that; but even though she had always been critical of her appearance throughout her life, she had to admit that she had aged well. Aged gracefully, as some might have said. She didn’t do any wild things to try and hold on to her youth. She tried to eat right and eat in moderation. She exercised a little, mostly walking. She tried to keep busy with her business – renting out rooms in her house. And she always tried to find time for prayer, at least once every few days in her den.
She got to her feet from where she’d been kneeling in the middle of the room, and she glanced down at the rug she’d been kneeling on. There was a secret under that rug. But she didn’t want to think about that right now.
This was her den; but it used to be her husband’s den years ago when he was alive. Back then he called it his study. And this room always brought the memory of her husband back to her.
A few candles burned; she always placed them around the room when she prayed. They were scented candles, but they could never completely mask the smells of the den (study), the smell of wood and furniture cleaner, musty old books, the smell of leather from the couch and chair.
Normally she used this time in here to pray – thirty minutes; almost like meditation. But this time had been different. The peacefulness of her prayers had been interrupted by an overwhelming feeling of not being alone in the den, of someone watching her from the shadows. But she didn’t dare look around as she kept her eyes closed in prayer.
But now she looked around the murky room and there was no one in the room with her. It had just been her imagination.
She blew out the candles and the room was even darker with the blinds and curtains drawn shut over the one window that looked out onto the side yard. After she blew out the last candle, she walked towards the door. As she moved towards the door, a panic began to build inside of her. She walked faster as her heart thudded in her chest, her eyes focused on the closed door that led out to the hall.
The feeling of a presence in the room with her came back with a sudden ferocity. And for a moment she could not only see movement in the shadows out of the corner of her eye, but she could hear the sneaky sounds in the darkness. And she could hear something dripping again – a steady drip.
The panic was white-hot in her mind now as her thoughts turned to pure static. All she could think about was running to the door and getting out of her husband’s study. She grabbed the door handle, struggled with it, tried to turn it. But it wasn’t turning. It was like someone was holding it from the other side of the door.
Oh God! her mind screamed. He’s coming! He’s coming after me!
Finally, the door handle turned, and she yanked the door open so fast that she almost toppled backwards.
She rushed out into the hallway, trying to catch her breath. She slammed the door shut and backed away from it. She turned when she heard a voice from down the hall. “Carol, you okay?”
Carol managed to get a hold of herself as she walked down the hall and out into the living room where the voice had come from. The voice belonged to Victor, one of her two tenants right now. He stood in the living room, his large blue eyes oozing with concern. He was in his early sixties, and he was still in reasonably good health; he took a few pills for high cholesterol and blood pressure, and he had a little bit of a potbelly, but other than that he was as healthy as a horse.
“I’m okay, Victor,” Carol said. She had her breathing back under control and she gave him her normal razor-thin smile that showed no humor.
“It looked like you ran out of your den just now,” Victor said, not letting it go. “Like you were running from something, running like a bat out of hell.”
What a choice of words, she thought as she stared at Victor. “And you shouldn’t be spying on other people.”
Victor looked like he’d been slapped. “I wasn’t spying. I was just … I came down here to get something to drink from the kitchen …” Victor paused, still watching her with those eyes that sometimes seemed to stare right through her. He had been renting a room from her for years and they had gotten to know each other pretty well by now. “Can’t I just be concerned without you jumping down my throat?”
Carol walked past Victor on her way to the kitchen. “Thanks for your concern, I’m fine. I’m going to make some sandwiches for lunch if you want one.”
Victor just stared at Carol as she walked away.
Carol entered the kitchen and began the preparations for lunch. As she grabbed a loaf of bread from the pantry, her mind slipped back to her prayers. She’d seen something during her prayers, a vision of some kind. She’d seen
Not in any great detail, just a shadowy figure really. But she knew it was him, she could feel it; she could sense it with every molecule of her body.
Yes, she thought,
was coming back very soon.
A shudder rippled through her body, tickling over her skin on little spidery legs as she laid out an assortment of meats and cheeses. She worked slowly, her body still slightly numb from both the vision she’d seen and the presence that she’d felt in the den. She was both excited about his return … and terrified.
On the other side of town, the side of town that wasn’t as nice as Carol’s side of town, Amber got ready for work in her small house. After she was dressed and ready to go, she studied herself in the mirror that was attached to the back of her closet door. Her uniform consisted of a pair of white short-shorts and a tight blue, low-cut T-shirt that didn’t leave much to the imagination. Her dark hair was pulled back in a French braid. She had a little make-up on even though she didn’t need it. She grabbed her apron, her purse, and her ticket book and she left her bedroom. She locked her bedroom door, but she knew that it didn’t matter whether she locked it or not.
She walked into the living room and Gary sat in his recliner, sprawled out, a can of beer in his hand. His shirt was off revealing his massive bulk – it used to be muscle years ago but it was quickly turning into a landslide of flab. He watched her walk to the front door.
“You look like a fucking whore, you know that?” he said.
Amber ignored him as she checked to make sure she had her house keys. She had to constantly check her keys in the door because every time Gary would get mad at her (which was often) he would change the locks on the door. She opened the door and walked outside; she slammed the door shut without a word or a glance towards Gary.
She walked out into the afternoon light which was still warm, but she knew the colder weather would be coming soon enough. She saw her friend’s car driving down the street towards her house. Thank God Michelle wasn’t running late, she didn’t feel like waiting out in front of her house any longer than she needed to today. She didn’t want Gary staggering out onto the front steps and hurl more slurred insults at her.
She wished she could afford her own car.
She wished she could move from this house. From this town. From this state.
Michelle’s car pulled up next to the cracked sidewalk and Amber got in the passenger side and they drove to Charlie’s Pub.
In a different area of Edrington, closer to the edge of town, closer to the woods, Walter left his small but tidy home and got into his car.
Walter had been visited by the man in his dreams lately, but he couldn’t make out the man entirely because he seemed to stay in the shadows of the dreams, in the darkness where something dripped. Walter had a feeling that his dream visitor was injured somehow; no, he was more than just injured, he was mutilated. Even though Walter couldn’t see the man, he could hear the man’s voice from the darkness very clearly. The voice seemed slurred just the slightest bit, not from alcohol or drugs, but from an injury to the man’s mouth.
“You need to dig it up, Walter,” the dream-man had said to him.
“I want to help you,” Walter whispered back.
“This will help very much. You need to go to the place in the woods and dig it up.”
“Whatever you need me to do.”
Walter drove away from his neighborhood and out onto Winter Road. He followed the road that twisted up into the mountains and through the dense woods until he came to a smaller road that led even deeper into the woods.
He found the spot.
He parked his car at the side of the road. It was still early in the afternoon, still plenty of time, he didn’t think it would take him too long to hike into the woods, dig it up, and bring it back with him. He grabbed his pick and shovel from the trunk of his car and then he hurried into the woods.
He had seen the spot in the woods in his dreams – it was right in front of a massive oak tree that had been struck by lightning some time ago. But the tree had survived the lightning strike somehow and another part of the tree had grown out from the twisted remains of the trunk.
When he got to the tree, he used the pick to break up the dirt and any roots in an area five feet in front of the base of the trunk. He didn’t want to bury the pick too deep in the ground and possibly damage what lay buried beneath. He used the shovel and took his time digging up the dirt.
Then his shovel struck something hard under the dirt. He dug around the object carefully, scooping out small shovelfuls of dirt. After a few minutes of unearthing, he could see the object.
It was some kind of suitcase, but a little smaller than an average suitcase.
He tossed the shovel to the side and dropped down to his knees and used his hands to push the dirt out of the way. After a few moments of excavation, he pulled the case free from the dirt. He wiped away the dirt and cleaned it up as best he could – he would clean it better when he got it back home. The dark brown suitcase seemed to be made from a hard shell, but it wasn’t deteriorated at all after being buried. Two thick leather straps were folded over the suitcase, and each strap was held in place with a small padlock locking the latches shut.
Walter wasn’t supposed to try and open the suitcase; the dream-man had been very specific about that.
His job was just to deliver it, that’s all.
He would follow instructions, because to disobey could be dangerous.
Walter didn’t even bother filling the hole back in. It wasn’t very deep; the suitcase had only been buried a few feet down. He grabbed his pick and shovel; he carried these in one hand and the suitcase in his other hand as he walked back through the woods to his car.
After a three and a half hours of driving north on the county road, Ryan finally saw a sign declaring that Edrington was only a few more miles up the road. As he got near the limits of the town, the woods gave way to homes and then to plazas, businesses, restaurants, and banks. He stopped at a red light and looked around at the intersection. On one corner of the intersection was a shopping center with a supermarket, a dollar store, some kind of boutique clothing shop, a dentist’s office, and a Chinese restaurant. Across the street was another shopping center with another supermarket. Next to the supermarket were more small businesses. They all seemed to be newer construction.
The traffic light turned green and Ryan drove deeper into the center of Edrington; he passed Tenth Street, Ninth Street, Eighth Street. Quaint small-town businesses lined both sides of the main street – it seemed like the townspeople of Edrington wanted to keep the small-town feel downtown and keep the newer businesses and plazas on the outskirts of town.
As he drove Ryan glanced down at the passenger seat where the small, folded-up piece of paper from his wallet sat. He didn’t need to open the paper and look at the address; he’d memorized it. The address wasn’t hard for him to remember, it was the only clue he had to a life he couldn’t remember.
Ryan slowed down and turned left onto Fourth Street. He drove down the wide street that was shaded by massive trees. The houses on this street were large and old, set far back from the roads on meticulously manicured lawns.
Ryan slowed his car down.
There it was – the same address that was scrawled on the paper. 246 Fourth Street.
The house looked like a large Victorian, three stories high with a stately front porch that ran the length of the front of the house. The roof of the front porch was supported by four wooden pillars that had been painted a bright white. The house looked to be nearly a hundred years old but it had been updated with vinyl siding and new windows. The house was surrounded by neat landscaping. In the middle of the vast front lawn was a Room For Rent sign.
Ryan pulled up into the gravel driveway and he could hear his tires crunching over the tiny rocks. A little farther up, the driveway turned to concrete. There were two cars parked next to each other underneath an awning constructed of wood and trimmed in white, just like the pillars on the front porch. Gigantic trees loomed behind the house in the backyard. Ryan parked behind the other two cars, and he sat in his car for a moment with the motor rumbling as he stared at the house.
What was he supposed to do here at this house? Meet someone? Get something from someone? He didn’t know. He didn’t know what to even say to whoever answered the door. Would they recognize him? Would they ask him for information that he may not have because of his lost memory?
But he couldn’t sit here all day. He still felt the constant urgency coursing through him, humming like live electricity just under his skin. He felt like he needed to find these answers before it was too late. Like time was running out.