I know he’s found something the moment he gets home. The door slams shut and he races up to me as his bag hits the floor with a dull thunk. I look up and the pages of my book whisper closed. “What is it, Dennis?” I ask, eyebrows creased. Every muscle in my husband’s body is tensed. I jump to my feet and my book tumbles to the floor.
“Kimmy, I’ve spotted him,” he answers, his tone an equal mixture of fear and excitement. His hair seems to stand up on his head as though statically charged, his eyes wide. “In the park. I’ve already sent the pictures to my editor,” he adds, jerking his head significantly toward the bag at his feet.
For a moment my heart hammers so hard in my chest I fear he can hear it, from his position at the neighborhood park, blocks away; I remember what Dennis told me about distance, and how little it matters to him.
And then I remember what he’s told me about what happens when people find out about him. The details are gruesome and better left as I’ve forgotten them, but I know that, while their numbers aren’t many, none of these people survive to spread the word. That’s the point, isn’t it?
My mouth is dry and my thoughts are a whirlwind of broken images; I can’t find the words to voice my fears. I run my hands through my hair and pull. “I—what? Dennis, you mean—”
“Yes. He’ll—” Dennis’ voice cracks. He swallows and then says, “He’ll be coming for me soon. For us.”
The words hang between us and I can feel my eyes filling with tears; his expression softens and he pulls me toward him. I close my eyes, unable to stand the sad, resigned look on his face. His hand grasps at the back of my neck and he holds us there, our eyes closed and foreheads touching.
The gravity of the situation presses in on us from all sides. For a moment I don’t care how many people he has hurt. What good is justice if we’re dead? I imagine myself shoving Dennis away and storming out, slamming the door behind me just as he had, moments that seemed like years ago. Instead I take a deep, shaking breath and pull back.
“What do we do?” I can feel myself shaking.
Dennis sets his jaw and his grip on me tightens. “We run.”
I’m struggling to keep my eyes open as we pull into the parking lot of a small, dingy hotel. The soft yellow glow of fireflies wink at us like so many eyes from all directions as we drag our luggage behind us with heavy, travel-tired limbs. There’s a thick silence that seems to surround us as we trudge up to our room on the second floor.
This small town silence is unnerving; I sigh and it’s too loud in my ears. I can hear the dull thud of our feet on the concrete steps, the buzzing from the lone streetlamp down in the parking lot, and when a car zooms down the two-lane highway, I jump.
Dennis places a reassuring hand at my back, but he doesn’t speak or look at me. His eyes are darting in all directions and his hand is gripping his camera bag so tightly his knuckles are white. I lead us onto the second landing and down an open hallway to our room. I have to throw my weight onto the door to enter; it swings inward with a reluctant un-sticking noise.
We cross the threshold and Dennis immediately flicks the light switch. There’s a slight delay, then the small room is bathed in warm light from a floor lamp in the corner; it casts long, spindly shadows on the walls from the surrounding furniture.
I drop our luggage in the middle of the floor and glance over my shoulder at Dennis. The door closes with a snap and the chain slides through its lock with the scraping sound of metal on metal. Dennis attempts a smile but it falters, and I take his hand and lead him through to the bathroom.
We shower in silence, with the door open and his camera bag perched on the toilet. I want to say something to reassure him—it’ll all be okay, I could say, but I can’t bring myself to say the words. We both know it isn’t true.
The sound of the sheets sliding against our skin seems unnaturally magnified as we crawl into bed with the lamp still on. Dennis doesn’t take his eyes off his bag, which he has moved to the table beside the bed. He is a ball of tension next to me; I turn on the television just to fill the silence. I flip through the channels and settle on one at random, and it’s as I’m pressing the volume button on the remote that Dennis starts and grabs my hand.
I freeze with my finger over the button, my eyes wide. I follow his gaze to where it is fixed on the drawn curtains, through which I can see the faint orange glow from the parking lot streetlamp.
“What is it?” I whisper, barely moving my lips. He just shakes his head and continues to stare at the window. We stare at it, hardly daring to breathe.
“Did you see that?” Dennis hisses, his grip tightening on my hand. “There’s something…” His voice trails off vaguely. I hold my breath and stare hard at the curtains, but—
“I don’t see anything.” My eyes dart back and forth across them, but they just continue to hang there, unmoving, and outside the streetlamp glows on.
“Never mind,” he says, squeezing my hand and turning away from the window. “My mind must be playing tricks on me.”
I squeeze back and turn off the television. “We’re both exhausted. Let’s try to sleep.”
Dennis nods and settles into bed, glancing once more at the curtains. It’s a long time before either of us drift off.
When I wake up a number of hours later, the lamp is off and I know something is wrong. The covers are thrown back, the bedsheets cold. Heart pounding, I scramble across the bed and into the wall, slapping my hand onto the switch and flicking it—once, then several more times as the room remains dark. I run back to the bedside table and feel around for the remote, my fingers skittering across the surface like beetles, and after a few frantic seconds, I find it and thrust my arm in the direction of the television.
The screen flickers to life and I let out the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding as the room is bathed in a cool blue light.
“Dennis?” I call, my eyes darting back and forth across the room, and then, when there is no response, a little louder: “Dennis!”
But there is no sign of him. His shoes are over by the bathroom door where he kicked them off last night, and his camera bag is open at the foot of the bed.
I fall to my knees and pick up the camera with shaking fingers. Where before there were hundreds of pictures, there is now only one: Dennis is staring at the camera, his eyes wide with horror, as behind him a tall, slender, faceless figure looms over him, casting him in shadow.
I choke back a sob and scramble to my feet, the camera dangling at my side. My heart is beating so rapidly I can feel it in my ears. I’m sure he can hear it, wherever he is, wherever he took Dennis.
I throw on my shoes, grab the keys, and wrench open the door. My feet make loud slapping noises on the concrete as I take the stairs two at a time. The shadows seem to move, to follow me as I race across the deserted parking lot—if I can just make it to the car—
There he is.
He slides into view from nowhere. Tall, thin, and faceless, with white, long-fingered hands.
I open my mouth to scream as one of those hands wraps around my throat. I can feel the other digging into my torso and sticky warmth spreads across my middle.
He’s pleased to meet me.
Story by: Amanda Avery
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