Thursday Thriller – Warrior

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Part 1 – Intruder

She could feel his breath on the back of her neck.  She felt the shift in the air as soon as he stepped inside.  She had to think, while she had this tiny, secret moment.  If she failed, she’d be proving all the naysayers right.  The family members who said she had no business living alone, especially somewhere so remote.  That she’d come running back to mommy soon enough.

Should she run?  Somehow try and contact the authorities via her laptop without his noticing?  Then she saw it, the silver letter opener, it’s shiny handle sticking out from under the stack of mail.  She exhaled softly as she slowly moved her hand toward it, until her fingers were wrapped around its handle.  She squared her shoulders, took another deep breath, then, with a guttural cry, jumped from the floor and swung her body toward him in one fell swoop, aiming for his neck.

Later, as the man lay bleeding on her living room floor, she went outside and sat on the porch, remembering the look of fear and surprise in his eyes, and smiled.  She could see the red and blue lights through the trees.

Thursday Thriller – Intruder

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She was born into a world of silence.  She’d never known any different, so she never viewed it as a disadvantage.  She cherished the friends she’d made, the community that had embraced her, the life she built herself.

She spent her days walking the grounds of her secluded estate, dreaming and jotting ideas for future novels in her journal.  When the weather didn’t cooperate, she sat indoors near the window, clicking away at her laptop.  That’s what she was doing when the man entered through the carelessly unlocked back door.  He made as much noise as he pleased entering her home; he knew it didn’t matter.

When he reached her living room, where she sat with her back to him, he stood close enough to see the hairs on the back of her neck, the dots of lint on her well-worn sweatshirt.  He would wait for her  to turn around, to see him, her eyes widening with fear and surprise.  Then, his game would begin.

Read Part 2 – Warrior

Thursday Thriller – Sick

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My children are crying for me.  They’re all cuddled upstairs in bed like three adorable peas in a pod.  All flushed cheeks and runny noses, sweaty foreheads and chapped lips.  So tragically beautiful.

News of my little ones’ health has reached every corner of our state.  Hundreds of people are talking about them, praying for them, missing them.  My children.  My babies.   People fold crisp dollar bills in my trembling hand when I encounter them on the road, they listen, enthralled, as I recount my story, our story, with tears in my eyes.  My table is laden with covered dishes and treats from the neighbors and friends.  Baskets of muffins and fruit, casseroles, pies, tins of homemade cookies.  I’ll pack the food away for now.  I know what my children need.  I know why they cry.

The soup is almost done.  It’s their favorite.  My own recipe.  One I’ll never share with anyone.  I add a little pinch of my most special ingredient before ladling large helpings into three identical, bright yellow bowls.  My babies will be beloved forever.

 

Thursday Thriller – Peace

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“I’m fine!  I don’t want any of your help!” Julie knocked over a glass of wine on the coffee table as she sprung to her feet, nostrils flared.

“Julie, we care about you.  We’re just concerned,” her sister, Heather, implored, extending an arm that Julie quickly shrugged away.

“Let us help.”  Her brother, Tate, stood next to the front door, trying to block her path.  His eyes searched hers for the sister he once knew.  She looked away, pushing past him.

“Please don’t contact me again.  Just. Leave. Me. ALONE!”

When she got home, he was waiting.  The guy everyone warned her about.

“Where were you?” He approached her in a slow, deliberate way that made her shiver.

“My family…they…they…called me…”  She backed away, farther and farther until she was pressed against the wall.

“You really expect me to believe that you were with your family this entire time?”  He never raised his voice, but each word filled Julie with an urgent, desperate terror.

She couldn’t respond with words.  She nodded frantically, swiping at the tears racing down her cheeks.  He was standing right in front of her now, so close that she could see the drops of perspiration forming at his temples.  She focused on his eyes, searching them for the man she loved, as his hands closed around her throat.  His shoulders released as she slid to the floor.

He left her there, in the peace of her dark, quiet apartment.  The phone never rang. She had no visitors.  She’d been left alone.

Thursday Thriller – Descent

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Read Part 1 – Watched

Read Part 2 – Watcher

Read Part 3 – Harmless

Read Part 4 – Caught

She didn’t dance any longer.  She couldn’t.  Not after what Liz had done.   That last, violent confrontation.  A hotel maid had found her hours later, unconscious, in a pool of her own blood.  Liz was long gone.  Marley told the authorities the whole story once she recovered, but it was too late.  Liz seemed to have disappeared.

At first, it was easy to forget.  There was a flurry of activity around her.  The ballet dedicated a performance to her, honoring her onstage at the end with an award and a gorgeous bouquet of white lilies, which used to be her favorite.  She never told anyone that Liz used to send those to her too, always with a hidden, hateful message enclosed.  Friends invited her out, threw parties in her honor, her phone rang day and night.  But seasons change and people are fickle.  Marley had nothing to offer the world any longer, now that the one thing that set her apart was gone.  The attention faded, and she became something she’d never been in her entire life.  Ordinary.

She spent hours alone in her stuffy apartment, the sickly sweet smell of those dead flowers she couldn’t bring herself to throw out for some reason suffocating her.  Liz Randall.  That name swam in the darkness before her when she closed her eyes.  It had taken her a year.  A year of her slowly descending, retreating, hiding.  But she’d found her.

The door was open.  Liz was confident she would never be found.  Or just stupid.  Marley stepped into the tiny, squalid house, the oppressive heat and the stench of rotting garbage and animal waste bearing down on her.  Liz was sitting in a beat up metal chair, facing the window, her back to the front door.  She turned when she heard Marley’s footsteps.  Her mud brown hair was matted and filthy, a dribble of red sauce, from the pizza she’d just consumed Marley deduced from the greasy box on the kitchen floor, ran down her chubby chin. There was no surprise on her face as Marley approached.   She just closed her tiny, dark eyes as Marley raised the gun, knowing it would all be over soon.

*

Speeding home on a meticulously plotted route, Marley felt lighter than the breeze blowing through her hair.  She was finally free.  Somehow, she knew she would find a way to dance again.

 

 

Thursday Thriller – Caught

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Sorry for the late posting!

Read Part 1 – Watched

Read Part 2 – Watcher

Read Part 3 – Harmless

My tea is cool. I still wrap my hands around the mug, though I draw no warmth from it. It’s Marley’s mug. I remember it. Her lips have touched it. I imagine her, sitting by a frosted window in her old apartment, resting her sore legs and flipping through a magazine, sipping herbal tea. I wonder if my lips are touching the same places as hers.

Our conversation has reached another lull. I know that she will ask me to leave soon. Politely, of course. Dear Marley is always perfectly polite. But I’ll still be outside in the cold. Politely dismissed. I’m tired of being left behind.

Marley yawns dramatically and stretches, probably about to tell me about how exhausted she is and how badly she needs a shower and a nap. I’ve seen her do it before with other unwanted guests. Before she can say anything, I ask her the question.

“Why didn’t you recognize me that night?”

She cocks her head at me, a strange-sounding laugh catches in her throat. She will figure it out soon. Her thoughts are starting down the path, slowly leading her to the truth.

“What do you mean?”

“I waited outside for you for hours. I was freezing. But you treated me like just another…another…fan!” I spit out the last word violently because it offends me.

She knows now. She rises from the couch slowly and begins backing towards the door.

“I’m sorry, Liz…”

“I thought we were friends. We were so close in school…”

“Liz, there are so many people crowded around me after a performance. I probably didn’t see you.  I’m sorry, Liz. I’m so, so sorry,” she repeats.

“Not enough,” I say, standing and stepping closer to her.

“What do you want from me?” She asks, her eyes wide, tears streaming down her disgustingly beautiful face.

“Nothing,” I say honestly. Then I lunge for her.

Read Part 5 – Descent

Thursday Thriller – Harmless

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Read Part 1 – Watched

Read Part 2 – Watcher

The city would welcome her back.  She’d conquered it once; she could do it again.  This was what Marley was thinking as a bellman helped unload her suitcases from the back of a cab.  She was at her favorite New York hotel. She’d run miles and miles away, changing her identity and hiding in the snow, only to learn that she wasn’t safe anywhere.

She was about to head inside the building when she heard a voice in the crowd.  Someone was calling her name.  A woman burst through the mass of people on the street, her cheeks flushed, frizzy hair flying, framing her face in a strange, brown halo.

“Hi, Marley!”  The woman said.  “It’s me, Liz.”

Liz?  Do I know a Liz?  Elizabeth Workman from college?  No, she always went by Beth.

The woman, sensing her confusion, stepped closer.  “Liz Randall.  From high school.  We were in drama together.”

Liz Randall.  She’d barely thought of her in years.  She hadn’t really thought of anyone from high school in years.  The girl who’d followed her around with worshipful eyes at every after-party.  The girl for whom she’d felt such compassion, seeing how she was tossed about and mistreated by the other girls.  But they’d never been friends, had they?  You wouldn’t know it by the way Liz was forcefully pulling her into a hug.

“Liz, it’s nice to see you again.”  They chatted briefly on the street.  Marley gave her the Cliffs Notes update on her life, leaving out the darker parts.  Liz told her about her life back in their hometown, her job at the hospital, her little cottage walking distance from the town square.  They quickly ran out of things to talk about and reached an awkward silence.  Marley shifted her feet uncomfortably as Liz stared her down with those same moony eyes, just like high school, a girl hoping to be invited.

“Would you like to come up?” Marley asked, not believing the words as she said them.  Liz nodded, her eyes brightening as she followed her into the lobby.

They’d have a cup of tea and then she’d say she was exhausted from her travels and needed to rest.  Liz would understand.  Shy, sweet little Liz from high school. She was harmless, right?

Read Part 4  –  Caught

Thursday Thriller – Watcher

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Read Part 1 – Watched

Marley and I were friends in high school.  She was a star.  The lead in every play.  A perfect, graceful dancer.  Popular, yet gracious and kind to everyone.  After each school play, she invited the entire cast back to her house for an after-party, including those of us on the crew, like me.   Once, she even let me see her room.  It smelled like her, sweet and airy, like rosewater.  There was a stack of laundry sitting in a basket on the floor and I slipped one of her shirts in my pocket when she wasn’t looking.  Sometimes, I wore it to school, under my clothes.  It was special and secret, like our friendship.

Everyone else just ignored me, but not Marley.  She spoke to me every time she saw me in the halls, even if she was with her popular friends, the pretty girls who looked down their noses at me.

“Hi Liz,” she would say, offering me her usual sunny smile.  “Have a great day!”

“You too!”  I’d beam back at her.

When I found out she was performing in New York, I drove 12 hours to see her dance.  I stood outside the theater in the frigid cold for over two hours, waiting for her to come out.

“Hi everyone!”  She greeted the fans with a wave and the same bright smile, stopping to sign a few programs.

“Hi Marley!”  I shouted.  She turned to me.  This is it,  I thought to myself.  The moment she would tell them to move the barrier that stood between us, that I was her friend.  She’d invite me out for coffee where we’d catch up and laugh about old times.  There was no recognition in her eyes.  She smiled at me blandly, the same way she’d smiled at everyone else, scribbling her name on my program before she was whisked away to a waiting car. I didn’t want her pathetic autograph.

The crowd dispersed.  People stared at me strangely as I tossed my signed program in the trash and stormed off.  That was the moment I decided she would pay.

I’m watching her now.  She thinks she’s safe, moving so far away, changing her name.  But I’ve found her.  I’ll always find her.  The music ends.  She looks up, right into the camera lens, slowly stepping closer.  Her hand covers the monitor and the screen goes black.

Read Part 3 – Harmless

Thursday Thriller – Watched

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She danced alone now, in the once-dark basement she’d transformed into a palatial studio flooded with light.  Her home, a gray fortress barely visible through the blinding snow, was simultaneously a refuge and a prison.

She had a life back in New York.  How she loved the freedom of being onstage, the music of the orchestra swelling in her ears, spinning wildly until the other dancers around her were just a blur.

It started with a few strange, anonymous messages, ardent expressions of devotion.  She ignored them.  The person that had written them was clearly obsessive, but likely harmless, she’d reasoned.  Then came the phone calls and messages threatening her with violence in unspeakable, torturous ways.  Demands for attention.  Pictures of her, at lunch with friends, hailing cabs, walking to rehearsals, were sent to her phone with the frightening caption, I see you.  

Then came the final straw, when she realized her home was bugged.  That someone was watching, listening, every moment she thought she was alone. She never slept there again.

Maybe one day she’d turn the basement into a real dance studio, start teaching classes, holding recitals.  But for now, just being able to dance was enough.  She closed her eyes and leaped into the air once again, not noticing the tiny dot above the doorway.

Someone watched her still.

Read Part 2 Watcher

Thursday Thriller – Reunion

 

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Read Part 1 – Wallflower

Read Part 2 – Smoke

Read Part 3 – Fury 

Present Day

As I watch Cat and Charles, I think back to my escape from that burning house.  The violent pain in my leg, which I limped on painfully through the woods until I reached the main road.  Hitching to Alma’s house and grabbing the rest of my saved cash.  Starting over.

I keep drinking, thinking I need the liquid courage, but it only weakens my resolve.  I’m going to go home. I finally conclude.  Why am I even here?  I ask myself.  What’s done is done.  I have a good, if dull, life now.  Everyone’s moved on and it’s time I did too.

In the parking lot, I’m trying to decide if I’m good to drive or if I need to call someone, when a pair of powerful hands grabs me from behind.

I wake up in the trunk of a moving car.  My mouth is taped.  I’m not afraid, just angry and humiliated.  I’d been so foolish, thinking I was going to out all of them to the community, ruin their lives, make them suffer the way I had.

The car stops, and the trunk opens shortly after.  Cat’s face is the first one I see.  Meredith, Tommy, Laura, and Charles surround her.  Cat’s crying softly.  A gun gleams in the moonlight from Tommy’s hand.

“I never meant for any of this to happen, Casey.  I’m sorry.”  Cat tells me through her tears.  I look at her, making eye contact, and I nod.  I forgive her.  I forgive them all.  Why not?  I never really existed anyway.  None of it matters.  No one will look for me when I’m gone.

Charles looks at the ground as Meredith leans into the trunk, her lips snarled.  “You should have stayed away.  We won’t let you ruin everything we’ve all worked for.”

Tommy steps closer, until the gun is almost pressed against my temple.  I close my eyes, wanting it to be over, when I hear a scream.

“No!” Cat yells, knocking the gun from Tommy’s hand.  It goes off, grazing Meredith’s shoulder.  During the ensuing confusion, Cat pulls me from the trunk and we race deep into the woods as more gunshots sound in the distance.  I look at Cat, adrenaline churning through my veins, and, even though I have every reason not to, I smile.  No matter what happens, we are Cat-n-Casey once again.