A knock on the front door shattered the silence, and this time, Brandon’s blood ran cold. The chances of a neighbor hearing what was going on and coming to investigate were slim, considering the distance between each house. It could be a coincidence, but that seemed too far-fetched. Their fears might have been squashed when it was Walter knocking the first time tonight, but this time, everyone was accounted for in Jen and Walter’s room.
The knock sounded again, just as patient and steady as the first time.
Brandon took a deep breath and slowly walked toward the door, even though everything in his body was screaming for him to ignore it.
“Brandon!” Jane’s scream reverberated through the room just as his hand reached for the lock. He turned back to see what was going on when he heard another sound that turned his blood to ice. Whoever was at the door had a key, and before he could move or even react, the door was open and slamming into him, knocking him off balance. He hit the floor hard and looked up to see a figure hovering over him.
“What the… Professor Graham?” It was just too weird, and his head flooded with thoughts and questions, all seeking for an outlet at the same time. Why was he here? Did Walter not turn in his Psyche mid-term? Why would a professor chase them down during Spring break for a missing assignment? How the hell did he even know where they were?
“Good evening, Brandon.” Graham’s voice was smooth and steady as if they were on campus, passing each other on their way to class.
He stood above Brandon wearing black slacks, a grey polo shirt and gloves. Brandon’s eyes didn’t want to see what those gloves were holding, but they did, and it was pointed directly at him.
The questions roiling around inside Brandon’s head increased, but he couldn’t latch onto one of them long enough to actually speak it. He just sat on the floor, his eyes moving from Graham’s eyes to the gun pointed at him and back again, his mouth working but nothing coming out.
“You must have questions. I can see them in your eyes.” Graham’s voice was still smooth and strangely pleasant.
Still, Brandon couldn’t speak.
“Come, come, Brandon. We don’t have all night. I’ve waited quite a while as it is.” His smile made chills run across Brandon’s neck and down his arms.
When he finally did speak, it came out in a croak and seemed like the lamest question he could have asked. “H-How did you get here?”
Graham’s smile widened and he let out a small chuckle. “Oh, you didn’t think your cousin really had a beach house, did you?” Not waiting for a response from Brandon, although he would have been disappointed, Graham twitched the gun in the direction of Walter and Jen’s room. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to see everyone.”
Brandon’s eyes widened but he didn’t move.
“Brandon, please lead the way.” Graham’s voice was still pleasant, but it had an edge to it that wasn’t there before.
It took everything Brandon had to move his leaden body and heft himself off the floor. Feeling helpless, and not knowing what else to do, he walked toward the bedroom, Graham right behind him, pointing the way with his gun.
As they walked, it seemed that the bubble he’d been enveloped in since Graham slammed the door open suddenly burst and the sounds in the house flooded his senses. Jane was still screaming and he could hear Walter now, too.
Jane’s frantic voice was yelling, “Brandon, what’s going on? We need you in here!”
Walter was saying, “Breathe baby, please breathe!”
Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. He saw Jane appear in the bedroom doorway and he watched her eyes register surprise that he was walking toward her and then shock when she took in Graham and the gun. Her hands flew to her mouth to stifle a scream.
“Jane, Jane,” Graham’s voice soothed. “There’s no need for all of that.” Using the gun to, once again, point the way, he said, “We’re all going to have a little chat in the bedroom.”
Jane slowly lowered her hands to her sides and as Brandon came up alongside her, he grabbed the one closest to him and squeezed it. He was scared shitless, but they were in this together, and he needed her to stay strong with him, if that was even possible.
Walter was performing what looked like CPR on Jen and didn’t even look up as they all filed into the room. Brandon and Jane moved over by Walter, but Graham took a stance in front of the door, the gun leveled in the center of the room.
“Walter!” Professor Graham cried. “How are you, my friend? I see you’ve done your job rather well.”
Walter’s head jerked up. “Professor Graham?” He seemed as surprised as both Brandon and Jane had been. “What the fuck is going on?” He looked from Brandon to Graham, not comprehending.
“Walter, such language. There’s no need to lose all sense of propriety.”
The strangeness of Graham chiding Walter for his language hit Brandon like a ton of bricks, and the laugh that burst out of his mouth was a surprise to everyone, including him.
Graham chose to ignore it. “I see you’ve snapped out of your trance… rather rudely, I’d say. I assume that was your doing, Brandon?” Graham was pointing at the red mark still swelling on Walter’s chin.
At first, Brandon was lost, but then the images came flooding back to him – Walter running into the water alone; Walter coming back into the house alone; Walter not talking to anyone; Walter strangling the life out of Jen and then not remembering what the hell he’d done. According to Graham, it was some kind of trance?
“I see you don’t quite believe me. I probably wouldn’t, either, if I was in your position, but here; let me demonstrate.” He turned back to Walter and said in a clear, plain voice, “Forty-two.”
Brandon was staring at Graham in disbelief. What a crock of shit, he thought. He felt Jane’s hand squeezing his and he looked at her, but she was staring at Walter.
Brandon looked over and watched as Walter’s entire demeanor changed. A shadow floated across his eyes and he turned back to Jen. Looking down at her with an empty expression riding his face, he slowly reached his hand out to feel for a pulse. He must have felt something, but instead of continuing CPR, Brandon watched in growing horror as his best friend’s hands wrapped slowly around her neck and began to squeeze.
“Walter, stop!” Jane screamed.
Brandon let out a grunt of anger and lurched forward only to be stopped by Graham’s voice.
“The deed is done, son, and you’ve helped quite enough tonight.”
The explosion of the gun reverberated through the room. Brandon stared at Graham, the realization slowly dawning that the gun was pointing in his direction. He didn’t feel himself fall, but suddenly he was looking at Graham’s shoes rather than his face. He heard Jane yelling from far away and then his world faded to black.
Jane was horrified. She knew she was screaming, but the only thing she could hear was the gun exploding over and over again, even though she knew Graham had only shot once. She realized she had fallen next to Brandon, but reality was slipping beyond her reach. She didn’t want to know that her reality had turned deadly. First Jen and now Brandon… Why was this happening to them?
In her shock, it took a few minutes to realize that a soothing voice was speaking into her ear and strong arms were wrapped around her. For one crazy second, she thought it was Brandon.
“Jane, Jane. I know this is hard, but it will all be over soon. I didn’t want it to start this way for us, but there was no other way. Soon, we will be alone; just you and me.”
Jane’s horror was palpable as she realized that it wasn’t Brandon holding her, but it increased to a terrifying degree when she realized what Graham was actually saying. He was on his knees in front of her, holding her, rocking her like she was a child, for God’s sake!
All the heat left her body but she refused to give him the satisfaction of shivering. She was surprised at how fast her tears dried up as she took every ounce of strength and hatred she could muster and shoved her hands into him. “Get your filthy hands off of me, you sick fuck!”
She didn’t push him very far, but she felt better now that she was back in the present, her thoughts clearer than they were a minute ago.
Graham didn’t seem fazed by her outburst. He pulled her back to him, holding her harder this time, both hands wrapped around her upper arms as he continued speaking to her in a smooth, steady voice.
“I know this is hard, but it will be over soon. I promise. Just stay with me, honey.” He pronounced the last few words by giving her a small, sharp shake.
She was working up a plan to escape that involved kicking, biting, scratching… really anything to get away from the maniac who had her in his grip, but before she could begin, her eyes were caught by movement off to her left. She glanced over in time to watch Walter pick up the discarded gun next to Graham, hold it to the side of his head and pull the trigger.
It took everything Jane had not to scream her fucking head off as blood and other things splashed across her face. The hands that had been holding her slowly released their grip, and she heard a thud, but she refused to look. Her ears were ringing, and she yelled, “Oh my God, Walter. Oh my God!” She was still staring at Walter, avoiding the mess in front of her like her life depended on it. She would not look. She would. Not. Look! The tears that had dried up just a few seconds ago started to well up again.
Walter’s eyes were dazed and she thought she’d lost him to shock, but he said, “We need help, Jane. Like right now!”
“Walter!” Jane cried again. Realizing that they both probably needed simple questions, she started with, “Are you okay?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“I don’t know. Slight pulse, maybe.” He went to run his hands through his hair, realized he was still holding the gun and dropped it quickly on the carpet. He looked up at her, stunned but still here. “I don’t know what happened. One second I was gone and then… it must have been the gun. Fuck, is Brandon…?” The question died before it began, but Jane didn’t want to ask it either. So much for simple questions, she thought.
“I don’t think the phones work.” She finally managed to pull herself to her feet, keeping her eyes focused on Walter. They both needed to keep the shock at bay so they could get help. “I’ll run to the next house. You stay here and do what you can for them.” The last words were shaky as the tears that threatened came ever closer to bursting out of her. She held them at bay, but just barely, by telling herself she could cry later.
She was walking toward the door when Walter’s voice stopped her.
“Be careful,” he said.
It was such a strange thing for him to say after the night they’d just had. Not knowing how to respond, she just nodded her head once and walked out of the bedroom.
A blast of cool, pre-dawn air hit her as she raced out the front door and for one second, she felt like she’d been bathed in fresh hope. Everything was going to be okay. It just had to be.
I have to give credit where credit is due and I’m not sure this would have happened if I hadn’t read Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge for this week – a vacation. It reminded me of the story I started last year and never finished. So, I decided to pull it out, dust it off and finally give it an ending. If you haven’t read the whole thing and want to, I re-posted it this week, starting on Sunday. I was way over the word count at 2,023 words (even more so if you consider the whole thing). This is the longest story I’ve written to date and I’m pretty happy with it. I hope you enjoyed it as well!