THREE

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A scratching noise downstairs slithered into her deep, dreamless sleep.

The first thing Lynn noticed upon regaining consciousness was that she was in bed, lying still beneath layers of thin bedsheets. Her muscles screamed to be stretched, her legs tingled as her body remained frozen over the soft mattress. As her eyes snapped open to receive the punishing glare of the sun, she glanced around the simple room in confusion.

She didn't remember having gone to bed.

Lifting a hand to bring comfort to her pained eyes, Lynn tried to glimpse at her memories of the previous night. But her mind was against the idea, and it showed its irritation by sending piercing needles to her temples. She vaguely recalled walking upstairs in search of an available room, but everything was fuzzy.

Did she see anyone up there?

No, replied a voice in her head.

The room was locked from inside, leaving her no choice but to claim the bed she was lying on now. Relief flooded within her as she pushed through her headache and found the answers she sought. She had turned around upon realizing the third floor was off limits, walked into that room and told Dana she was too tired to party.

Closing her eyes again, she forced her body to respond and bent her knees beneath the bedsheets. Her exhaustion was but a ghost of the past, her excitement a long-forgotten hero that resurfaced to take down the monsters lurking in her mind.

She yawned and stretched her swollen muscles, reaching behind her head to touch the sage-green, stuccoed wall. A blow of cold air licked her bare arms, sending an unpleasant shiver along her spine that forced her to seek shelter under the blankets. Five more minutes, she thought while pulling her knees to her chest.

The scraping noise which had woken her from her slumber kept ringing from a room downstairs.

Focusing on it, Lynn's first thought was almost disturbing. It sounded like nails grazing the wooden floor, drawing shapeless forms on its surface.

Her second thought was more of a realization; one that made her freeze. Because the noise didn't come from downstairs.

It came from under her bed.

A familiar sense of alarm pierced her heart, causing Lynn to grip the sheets between her fists. So tight was she holding on to them that her knuckles turned white like chalk, and her nails dug into her palms painfully.

Whatever was making the scraping seemed to notice her uneasiness and basked into it, for those nails travelled to caress the slatted base underneath the mattress.

Her heart danced to the rhythm of a clock in the distance, hard enough to echo in her head. But she tried to soothe her galloping anxiety, to take the wheel and park apprehension somewhere in the back of her mind so her usual confidence stopped straining and was finally allowed to drive.

Forcing her body to sit up, Lynn swallowed the lump in her throat and paused.

The scraping stopped, as if her reaction was unexpected.

It's probably Mark pulling a prank on you, she told herself. And it made sense, because the man was the biggest prankster she had ever met.

"Congratulations, you've won Idiot of the Year. And that's five years in a row," Lynn spoke in a clear voice, indirectly admitting he had managed to scare her. "Now, can you pick up what's left of your dignity and stop crawling under my bed like a cockroach?"

Irritation dripped from her voice as she cursed him under her breath; she should have expected it. Normally, Lynn was difficult to catch off guard, so most of his attempts at making her jump had been fruitless in the past. But for some reason, it had worked that morning.

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