001 / summertime

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SUMMERTIME
touched by angels, though i fall out of grace

IT'S 2AM and you can feel his cold, ghostly hands on your face. You can't move, stuck staring into his glassy eyes, hovering mere inches above you. He smiles, teeth stained bright yellow from blood spilled long ago. You know it's fake, a trick your mind conjured up in the late hours as revenge for not getting enough sleep, but that doesn't make it feel any less real. You can still smell the metal, still remember how soft his shirt was when you cradled his dying body, feel the warmth seeping out of his skin. His breath stinks like rotten meat, nose hairs burning as if you're really there. Back in the room where your old life ended and your new one began.

"We could have done great things together." His voice is hoarse, gravelly, distorted. He's not real, you have to remind yourself.

Just another delusion created by your own twisted imagination, a way to cope with the fear that always sits at the base of your spine.

"You were gonna kill me." It's the only thing you can think of saying, words that come tumbling out from between clenched teeth and a dry throat. It sounds ridiculous, like a child throwing a tantrum. But you need him to leave, to stop haunting you and take his hands off your face so you can close your eyes and pretend this isn't happening.

He laughs, but it comes out more like wheezing and gurgles. "Yes." He looks down at you, a grin growing on his cracked lips. Blood dribbles between his teeth and down the sides of his mouth. "I would have killed you. And I would have enjoyed it."

You squeeze your eyes shut. And when you open them again, you feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. There are no ghosts here, you remind yourself. Just a sad bedroom and an uneasy feeling in your gut. You've just imagined things. No ghosts, no monster in your closet, no man hiding under your bed.

Nothing except the painful memory of a man who died trying to kill you.

You spend the next few nights drowning yourself in work. You write about the two girls who met their unfortunate end by the hands of Ghostface, coffee after coffee, from sunrise to sunset you stare at the computer on your desk at work and type away. Murder victims. Dumb life hacks. Recipes for good and filling dinners you're never gonna make. One day at a time.

Danny drops a packet on your desk, snapping his fingers in front of your face to make you look away from the screen. He gives you a disappointed look when you push it off your keyboard and go back to writing, grabbing onto the top of the cubicle walls and leaning over them to stare at the coffee cups on your desk. "Jesus. Even I don't drink that much coffee."

"Is there something you need, Danny?" you're quick to try and brush him off, wanting nothing more than to be able to disassociate at your desk alone until you can finally leave. Maybe get a nap in, to dream of only a dark void instead of the blue wallpaper and the soaked hardwood floors of your old home.

The corner of his mouth twitches upwards, laugh lines already visible on his skin. "Yeah. Two things, actually. For you to proofread my article about that Pesha girl, and we have to get that video interview of her parents tonight. Boss's orders."

You sigh and lean further back into your chair, letting out a frustrated groan. It's been months since you started working with Danny, the best damn reporter you've ever had the pleasure of meeting, yet all he does is give you a migraine. It's like a constant reminder to stay sane. He watches you carefully, waiting for you to respond. When you remain silent, he leans forward, tapping his knuckles on the top of your monitor with impatience. "Well?"

"Okay," you say, standing up from your seat and reaching behind you to grab your coat and purse, teeth grinding together.

There's a strange sense of relief that floods through you when you walk outside and see the sun shining brightly overhead. The air feels fresh, and for a moment, you forget how blood smells, you forget how horrific grief really is, and you forget how badly your stomach hurts when you think of how good life used to be.

For a moment, everything is perfect. Then reality sets back in, the world goes back to its usual cruel ways, and you realize what kind of job you've signed yourself up for.

Pesha's parents live a few miles away from your apartment complex in the unnerving town of Central Creek. Where most of the murders happened. You've never visited, not even once, but you hear people talk about it whenever they mention Pesha. They've got a small house in a quiet neighborhood, and they have nice cars parked in their driveway, the sort of cars you'd want if you lived anywhere else. Their lives are a stark contrast to yours.

Danny looks parks his truck a few cars down, switching off all the lights and fiddling with the camera around his neck. "Ready?"

As I'll ever be, you think. But you're lying, because the nervousness that was settled in your gut as you push open the passenger door and step out onto the concrete builds and builds-there's a sickening crack, and then you're waking up in your bedroom again.

Staring at the ceiling with dazed eyes. Your body aches, pain radiating throughout every bone, muscles, nerves. It takes longer than normal to get to your feet, limbs heavy and uncooperative. So you stand and take in the sight of yourself in the bathroom mirror. Horrible. There's something off about your reflection, something that makes you want to run away and hide under the bed.

Cold air brushes over your arms, raising the hair on the back of your neck. In a weak attempt to pretend nothing is wrong, you close your eyes. And then you feel the arms. Wrapping around your shoulders and the heavy weight on your back. Warm liquid drips over your hair, burning the skin underneath. It smells so bad you almost cry. Emotion suspended in time, everything seems frozen. Like a photo taken at a bad angle.

"You can't keep this a secret forever."

It comes in whispers, the words barely audible in the silence of the room. There is no wind to blow the words, no sound but the sound of the rain hammering against the windows and the thunder roaring in the distance.

"I can try." with that, he's gone. When you finally open your eyes, the bathroom is empty.

But the stench remains.

TROYERN. Danny JohnsonWhere stories live. Discover now