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.

 

 

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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

Covert

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“Duck,” Layla commands as we turn down Adam’s street.

I’m crouched in the tiny space in front of the passenger seat, my cheek pressed to the dash.

“OMG, he’s just sitting there in his living room, like, reading a book or something,”  Layla says as though she’s disappointed.

“I told you he wasn’t cheating on me!”

“I just didn’t think it was possible for one guy to be that…that…perfect.”

I did, I think to myself as we drive away.

 

The prompt for the six sentence story challenge this week is duck.

 

 

Thursday Thriller -Plot Twist

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The woman who opened the door wasn’t Donna.  I mean it was but it wasn’t.  The Donna I knew and loved only wore makeup on extremely special occasions, wore her naturally curly hair loose and wild, and favored ripped jeans with loose, flowy tops.  This Donna had hair that was blown straight and hung sleekly to her waist,  was stylishly dressed in a form-fitting white shift dress, makeup perfectly applied.  She looked like the girls who used to make fun of us back in school.

“Are you going to a funeral?”  I joked as she stepped aside to let me in.  The air in her warm apartment smelled sweet, like fresh baked goods.  My stomach rumbled.  She must have stopped at our favorite bakery this morning.

She cocked her head at me strangely, like a puppy that had just been chastised.  “Why would you ask me that, Stef?”  Her expression was deathly serious, until a loud ping sounded from the kitchen.  A noise so foreign in this place, it made me jump.

“My cookies are ready!”  Donna exclaimed.  I watched in a mixture of horror and amazement as she donned an apron, slid an oven mitt over her hand and pulled a tray of golden chocolate chip cookies from the oven.  “You have to try one after they cool!”

“Come on, Donna, knock it off.  We’ve got work to do.” I held up my laptop.  We were co-writing a  YA mystery novel about a series of disappearances at a fictional all-girls’ college in upstate New York.

I sat on the floor in front the coffee table, leaning back against the worn, dark brown couch, my usual spot, and opened my laptop to get started.  “About that,” Donna began, sitting primly on the sofa instead of on the carpet next to me.  “I think we should change the direction of the book.”

“Change the direction?”  I was ready to pull my hair out in frustration.  First some silly practical joke and now this?  “Donna, we’ve been working on this for a year!  We’ve already missed a deadline.  They need our first draft Monday.”

“I know.  And I don’t want to change too much, we can still use the college as a backdrop, but why not make it a romance?!  All the girls on a quest to find their future husbands!”

“Husbands?  These are 18-year-old girls?!”

“Becoming a wife is the greatest achievement any woman can hope for!”

“Donna!  Enough already.  This from the woman who called me a sell-out on my wedding day?”

“I’m so sorry about that, Stef.  I understand now.  I understand everything.  Chet has helped me.”

“Chet?”  Chet was Donna’s college ex-boyfriend.  He’d been crazy about her, but it was clear from the time they met that their pairing would end in disaster.  Donna broke things off with him senior year.  He didn’t take it well.  She ended up having to file a restraining order.  As far as I knew, she hadn’t spoken to him in years.

“Yes, Chet.  He can help you too.  Like he helped me.”

I heard a noise coming from the back of the apartment.  A feeling of cold dread spread through my middle.  I wanted to run, but I felt stuck, unwilling to leave my friend in such a vulnerable state.  My eyes slowly widened as Chet stumbled from the dark hallway, his hair mussed, his expression wild and menacing.  He held a vial of a red, suspicious-looking liquid.

I stood quickly.  “What have you done to her?!”  I screamed my throat raw, hot tears spilling down my cheeks.  He said nothing, just stood there, grimacing.  I raced for the front door but Donna grabbed my arm and twisted it.  I cried out in pain as something heavy smashed into the back of my head.

*

I woke up after I don’t know how long.  My head hurt a little, but it wasn’t so bad.  I turned to Donna, who was still sitting on the couch, and grinned.  “I think a romance novel sounds like a great idea!”

She clapped her hands in delight.  “This is going to be so much fun!”

Read Part 2 – Weapon

 

 

Thursday Thriller – Stalked

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He let himself into her new apartment, shutting the door softly behind him.  He’d found her once again.  He imagined her expression as she awoke in terror, suddenly aware of his presence, not knowing how long he’d been there, how he got in, if he’d been there before.

He loved knowing that every footstep closing in behind her in a dark parking lot was his.  He loved that he was every bump in the night.  He loved that he was what she dreamed about.  He loved that no matter how far she ran, she couldn’t escape him.

He loved making her jump.

As he stepped into the hallway, he felt a tiny prick in the back of his neck, just a pinch really, and all was dark.

He roused to find himself restrained, her standing over him with a twisted smile.

“What now?” He asked, the tremor in his voice betraying him.

“Now,”she stepped closer, something shiny gleaming from her hand.  “The fun begins.”

The Friend Zone Isn’t a Bad Place to Be

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So, this week the hashtag #yesallwomen has taken over the world. I’m sure you’ve heard of it already, but in a nutshell, a deranged gunman went on a violent shooting spree in Santa Barbara, CA several days ago before turning the gun on himself. In a video that he posted before the shooting, he talked about how frustrated he was with constant rejections from the opposite sex, stating that he would soon seek his revenge. Two of his victims included members of a sorority house where he’d been rejected multiple times. After the shooting, some guy on twitter started the hashtag #notallmen, basically to assure the world that not all men are creepy, deranged stalkers who are going to open fire at the first woman who tells them no. In a counterattack, #yesallwomen was launched.  Obviously all men are NOT creepy stalkers, most intelligent women know that.  However, ALL women have been made to feel unsafe by a man at some point in their lives, which, for reasons that still escape me, men just don’t seem to understand.

Case in point, on the radio the other day, the hosts were talking about a situation one of the female DJs had experienced at work where a romantic suitor persisted in making advances toward her.  She’d told him MANY times she wasn’t interested.  He’d even been spoken to by some of the higher-ups at the company.  So, one of the male co-hosts asked how do you know where the line is, because the stalker may have just thought he was being “romantically persistent.”  Are you kidding me!  When someone has reported you to Human Resources, I think that’s a pretty definitive sign.  But, just in case there are some other clueless guys out there who don’t know what the mysterious line is, here are some hints:

1.  It bears mentioning again – IF SHE’S REPORTED YOU TO HUMAN RESOURCES.  Pretty definitive.

2.  You have to block her car in its parking spot in order to get her to talk to you.  This actually happened to me.  I was coming out of a restaurant alone and I heard a guy yelling something crass across the parking lot at me.  I was very young and ignored it, having gotten used to this kind of idiotic behavior.  I got into the car to leave, and  saw a car pull up behind mine, completely blocking me in.  I was terrified.  I smiled at him, afraid of what he would do if I wasn’t nice to him, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do.   I don’t even remember what he said to me, I just remember that fear.  Was he planning to grab me and throw me into the car?  Was he going to try and grope me or assault me in some other way?  I did my standard routine – I have a boyfriend, fake name, fake phone number, whatever I needed to say to get him to leave, which he finally did.  I sped out of the parking lot like it was on fire, heart racing.  Guys, this is not okay.  When a girl ignores you, it’s not because she’s mean, it’s because she’s afraid.  Don’t use crude, nasty pickup lines, especially don’t screech them across a crowded parking lot, and for goodness sakes, if she wants to leave, let her leave.

3.  She needs more personal space.  If you’re talking to a girl and you’re trying to get closer and she keeps backing away, don’t grab her arm and try and pull her closer (happened to me) or keep approaching her (ditto).  STOP.  Respect her space.  It will put her at ease, and it’s just  good manners.

4.  She’s stopped taking your calls.  Something else that’s happened to me and a lot of other women I’m sure.  You break up with a guy, or you go on a few dates and it doesn’t go well, you stop calling the guy back, and he just doesn’t get the hint, filling up your voice mail with persistent messages, maybe even randomly dropping in at your home or place of work.  Take the hint.  I had a guy look up my parents’ phone number years after we’d broken up trying to reach me when he couldn’t find my phone number or address online.  Thankfully, my parents had moved or he may have shown up at their house as well since we’d been there during our (very brief) relationship.  He also showed up other places he knew I frequented, thankfully each time he missed me or someone warned me when I was on the way.  Even up to a few years ago, my heart still stopped momentarily when there was a knock at my door and I wasn’t expecting anyone.  It’s not okay to make a woman live in fear in her own home.  Line crossed.

So, a guy might ask, what do you do if you like a girl and want to pursue her romantically?  Here’s the thing – I don’t like being “pursued,” it makes me feel hunted, like a terrified deer with a big shotgun pointed at it.  I find the whole concept creepy, off-putting and old-fashioned.  It’s not romantic at all. I cringe as everyone else swoons when the male lead of a romantic comedy keeps following a woman around like a wounded puppy dog after she’s turned him down, begging for another chance.  Of course, in the movie, the woman always gives in and the couple lives happily ever after.  Ick.  I think this is part of the problem; the reason why some guys are confused.  If a guy asks a girl out and she says no, I think that should be the end of it.   Don’t keep asking, don’t call her house, or show up at her work, just let it go, it’s not the end of the world.  Everyone gets rejected sometimes.

I think the best relationships start as friendships.  Be patient.  If she’s a work colleague, neighbor, or a friend of a friend, stay in her orbit, but don’t crowd her.  Be friendly.  If she turns you down, don’t let your wounded pride prompt you to lash out.  Don’t call her names, or threaten her, or tell her she should be grateful you’re even talking to her.  Any potential for a future relationship blooming from your friendship will be ruined.  Don’t be gross.  No unwanted touching, no sexual comments, no leering.  It’s just plain disrespectful and it makes women feel extremely uncomfortable.  It’s kind of sad now that I think about it, but one of the reasons I fell in love with my husband is because he was the first man I dated that truly made me feel safe.  He looked at me like I was someone, an equal, not like some kind of walking, talking slab of meat.  It’s tragic that it took me until the age of 26 to meet a guy like that.  For some women, I’m sure it took even longer, which is just terrible.

Yes, guys, you may end up getting friend-zoned if you follow my advice, and you know what, that’s okay too.  Women don’t owe you anything besides what we all owe each other as human beings, which is kindness and respect.  She has the right not to be interested in you romantically.  It happens.  Move on.  Learn from it, and be better the next time.  I’m a true believer that there’s someone out there for everyone.  Wasting so much time fixating on girls that aren’t interested in you could cause the right one to pass you by.