After slamming the door to her bedroom, Jen started pacing. She was shivering and the walls felt like they were thumping in time to her heartbeat, closing in on her and retreating with each pounding beat. She knew she should change out of her wet clothes but she felt stuck and the more she thought of reaching for her bag and pulling out dry clothes, the faster she paced.
She’d never known Walter to act like he had on the beach. He was always the happy, carefree one; always finding a joke in whatever was happening, but on the beach, he had stared at her so strangely. He hadn’t even flinched when the sand flew into his face and swirled around his head.
The weight of her thoughts kept pushing her from one end of the bedroom to the other, back and forth in a steady pace as if the monotony would help calm her thoughts.
The bang on the door rattled the room and made her catch her breath. Her head flew around, expecting to see the door flying open and Walter standing in the doorway, but it was closed. Thank God she’d had the presence of mind to turn the lock.
“Go away, Walter. I’m still mad at you.”
She kept her eyes on the door, wondering if he would listen to her and go somewhere else or if his strange behavior would continue. After staring at the door a few more minutes without hearing another sound, her eyes started wandering around the tiny room and stopped on a small shelf she hadn’t noticed when she dropped her bags off earlier.
It looked empty and she was about to look away when she realized there was something on it. She had to tell herself more than once to move forward, but she finally stepped toward the shelf and reached up. It was just high enough that she couldn’t quite get a grip on whatever was up there, so she pushed it with her fingertips until it fell off the shelf and landed on the hardwood floor with a soft thud.
It was a book.
Picking it up, she brushed away dust that had settled on the top of it. The outside was leather and there was an elastic strap wrapped around it, holding it closed. There were no markings on it, so she couldn’t tell exactly what it was, but if she had to venture a guess, she would have said it was a journal of some sort. She turned it back and forth in her hands, weighing the decision of whether or not to open it.
She glanced toward the door, but the only things she could hear were the faint sound of the not-too-distant ocean and the creaks of an old house settling in the night. She knew sleep wasn’t happening any time soon, so she started unwrapping the band as she slowly made her way to the bed.
Sitting down, she opened it to the first page and realized her guess was correct.
It was a journal, and the handwritten words were strewn sporadically across the first page. She flipped a few pages and saw that the words were less and less organized the farther she went. Sometimes the writing was neat and precise and at other times it was large with only a few words on each page. Those stood out the most and she couldn’t help but read them as she turned the pages.
I HATE YOU!!
The more she read, the more horrified she became. She flipped all the way to the end but the last few pages were empty. Not knowing why, she turned back to the very last thing that had been written.
“I have this strange feeling that it will happen today. The water is calling me. It surrounds me in my dreams and I hear it rushing towards me during the day. I can hear it even now as I sit here writing this. I don’t want to die, but he has other plans. There was never any hope for me. What is hope, after all, but a fleeting dream that evaporates in the cold light of reality. His reality…”
Jen was mesmerized by the final words that somehow seemed to fade off the page. She was turning the pages back to start from the beginning when another bang fell on the door, only this time there was more force behind it and she heard wood splintering.
The book fell out of her hands as she jumped to her feet, her heart skittering in her chest. Another bang and the door split from the lock and slammed back against the wall. Her eyes opened wide as she watched Walter race toward her and grab her throat with both hands, lodging a scream on its way out so the only sound that escaped was a pitiful screech.
She flailed her hands, trying to grab onto his arms, scratching and clawing at his vice-like grip as it continued to squeeze tighter and tighter. Not finding escape, she started reaching her hands behind her, on the bed, anywhere she could feel, but there was nothing there. Her eyesight was going black around the edges and the scream she wanted to release through her mouth echoed through the crevices of her brain after finding no release.
Realizing she wasn’t going to force Walter to let her go, she tried one last thing. Her eyes met Walter’s, hoping her plea for mercy was written in her eyes and that it would translate into his. What she saw was Walter, the man she loved, but Walter was no longer behind the eyes that stared back at her with a vacant expression.
Her eyesight was a small pinhole in a pool of black and Jen watched as he tilted his head to the side and squeezed even harder. She felt a single tear fall out of her right eye and slide down her face before her world finally went completely black.
Brandon knew Jane was right. He didn’t want to stay here any longer than necessary at this point, but he knew leaving in the middle of the night wasn’t the best option either. None of them had slept much.
“Babe, I know it’s tough, but let’s try and get a little more sleep and we’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
The look she threw his way spoke volumes. She wanted to leave now.
He let out a deep sigh and settled back against the headboard. Their eyes held, however, not so much a battle of wills, but a resignation of commitment and love, each realizing the other’s argument had validity. Brandon opened his mouth to speak when he heard the crashing door from the next room. Instead of what he was going to say, he exclaimed, “What the hell?”
Without a word, Jane was on her feet running toward their bedroom door, Brandon not far behind.
Walking into the other bedroom was like stepping into an alternate universe, one where his good friend Walter strangled his girlfriend after a tiny squabble. He wasn’t sure if the ringing in his ears was shock and he didn’t take the time to figure it out. His world had narrowed to one thing and one thing only. He had to stop Walter.
He knew Jane was screaming for Walter to let Jen go, but it was all so far away. Seeing that her screams hadn’t even phased him, Brandon knew what had to be done and before he could think or try and talk himself out of it, he ran up to Walter and punched him as hard as he could. His punch landed somewhere on Walter’s cheek and his head snapped to one side, but his hold on Jen didn’t budge. Despite the throbbing that was already starting in his knuckles, Brandon did it again and this one connected squarely with Walter’s chin.
Walter’s eyes rolled in his head and his grip finally loosened on Jen. Brandon threw his weight into Walter and they both went hurling toward the bed.
“Walter, what the hell is wrong with you, man?” Brandon knew he was yelling, but all the sound still seemed to be coming through a filter. He was holding Walter by both shoulders, ready to throw another punch if his friend showed any signs of continued violence.
But Walter looked dazed. He shook his head and grabbed at his face, working his jaw. He finally met Brandon’s eyes and said the one thing Brandon wasn’t expecting.
“What’s going on? Why’d you hit me?”
“Are you fucking serious?” Not knowing what to think of his friend, he decided that was the least of his worries.
He looked over at Jane who was now holding Jen, rocking back and forth and crying. He shoved his friend away and scrambled over to Jen.
“Did you feel for a pulse? Is she breathing?”
“I don’t know. God, Brandon, is she okay?” Jane didn’t seem to be doing any better than he felt. Only knowing what he’d seen in movies and television, he placed his hand on Jen’s already purpling throat and was shocked when he felt the thump-thump of her pulse against his fingers. He leaned down next to her mouth and felt small breaths coming in and out.
“She’s breathing?” Jane asked in a small, tight voice.
Finally, he looked back at Walter who was still crumbled on the floor next to the bed. He still looked dazed and confused, which pissed Brandon off.
“Walter, you’d better explain. ‘Cause right now, I’m ready to call the cops and turn you in. I don’t care how long we’ve been friends.”
Walter finally met Brandon’s eyes and then his eyes slid down to Jen. “Brandon…” His voice came out in a strangled croak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I… I don’t know, Brandon.”
“That’s not good enough, Walter. God, do you see what you’ve done? Look at her!”
Walter looked from Brandon to Jen, the confusion never leaving his face. If anything, it intensified.
“What do you mean, Brandon? Do you mean…” He paused, his gaze finally landing on Jen and holding. “I did that?”
Brandon stared at his friend, not really sure what to say. He couldn’t even believe he was playing stupid at this point, having been caught in the act. “Walter, come off it, dude. This isn’t something you can make light of.”
Walter finally sat up and stared Brandon full in the face.
“Brandon, I swear to God, I don’t remember anything. The last thing I remember was running into the ocean. Please, you have to believe me! I didn’t do this… or… fuck… I guess I did, but it wasn’t me. I… I don’t know, man.” It’s like he couldn’t keep his hands still. He ran them through his hair, grabbed at his face, but his eyes held a pleading truth that Brandon had a hard time denying.
But he also couldn’t deny that it was Walter who had almost strangled the life out of Jen.
What the hell was going on?
First the shadow on the beach, then Walter’s weird behavior and Jane’s dream. Now this.
He was silent for a few minutes, listening to Jane trying to wake Jen up with her tear-clogged voice.
Finally, he stood up and started to leave the room.
“Brandon, where are you going?” Jane’s panicked voice called out.
“I’m going to get my phone. I don’t know about you, but this is too far outside my depth. And it’s gone too far.”
He left the room with Walter still dazed by the bed and Jane cradling Jen in her arms. He went into the next room and found his phone lying on the bedside table. When he clicked the button on the side to wake it up, the first thing he noticed was the top left corner. “NO SERVICE” didn’t so much stare at him as it hit him in the gut like a freight train.
Not willing to believe it, he tried to dial anyway. He punched in 9-1-1 and hit the green phone button to send the call but when he put the phone to his ear, it was silent.
The call wasn’t going to go through.