Irrational Fears

What Scares You?

There Was a Shooting at the Local Grocery Store

Written By: Amanda Luciano

The Beginning:

Some kids dream of being an astronaut, some kids dream of being a police officer..

I dreamed of working at my local grocery store. I know, seems weird but let me explain.

My mom and I were on our own. She worked a lot to make up for living on one salary and we didn't get a ton of quality time together. I used to love our trips to the grocery store, we would choose new things to cook at home and get different snacks every week.

My mother was very big on me knowing how to cook and feed myself a variety of things, she didn't want me to end up like one of those girls. The kind that can't even cook an egg. I loved to be in the kitchen, I loved preparing food for people even if it was just me and mom.

Anyways, aside from the obvious good feelings I got from being in the grocery store, I also loved the staff at the store we regularly went to. They were always friendly and kind, we always got the "extra coupons" they had at the register and one of the bag boys would always help us to the car with our groceries.

I wanted to give back, be a part of someone elses experience at the grocery store. It may seem small but it was those little daily moments that contributed a lot to my childhood.

When I turned sixteen I applied right away, I still remember walking in to the store that day felt different. I had to make good impression, the manager that interviewed me had seen me in the store many times and was very gracious with me. I had no work experience and was very excited to learn.

I started part-time and over the years that evolved into full-time. My first job as a bagger at the grocery line led me to a prestigious position as a shift supervisor in produce. I really loved this place and among the childhood memories I had grown here, my two best friends now worked with me here at the store. It was like a second home to me.

It was a relatively quiet job, as you can imagine, we didn't frequently have a ton of commotion at the grocery store. Every once in a while there would be a teen trying to purchase alcohol or a child throwing a tantrum but that's really as serious as it got around here.

This weekend we were having a Farmers Market event in our produce section, there were huge discounts on fresh produce and even some local produce vendors in the store to offer in season fruit. We rearranged the setup to show more product and placed handmade banners around the produce section. I put a lot of work into making it look very welcoming and fun.

Now in my time with the store over the last four years I have come to know our regulars. Rey and Liz, my best friends, liked to nickname them by their most memorable traits. For example: my favorite elderly lady, Edna, lived on her own and always spoke of how she wished her son visited more. She always asked me for strawberries from the back, she would say "I want the freshest ones ya got! Right outta the ground if ya can!" They called her strawberries.

Just to give you some insight, there isn't usually any produce stored in the back unless we have no floor space for some reason. It's not a huge store and produce being perishable typically all goes to the floor right away.

I was excited to be working our little Farmers market event with both Rey and Liz as they always made my shifts more enjoyable.

"How much time did you spend on these banners Scar?" Rey looked baffled.

"I wanted them to look nice!" I blushed.

"Rey, you know how artsy our little Scarlet letter is!" Liz laughed.

"You know I hate that nickname." Ever since we had to read that novel in high school they have been affectionately calling me that.

"Quit your pouting, strawberries is here." Rey whispered.

I looked then to the entrance of the store to see Edna entering and surprisingly she was accompanied by a very attractive man.

"Good morning Edna!" I beamed.

"Scarlet dear, meet my son." She put her arm out towards the man beside her. "This is James" She said with the sweetest smile.

He was tall, very tall, maybe six-foot five? He had dirty blonde hair and deep green eyes. Built like a lumberjack with the five o'clock shadow to prove it. "You can call me Jim." He extended a calloused hand.

"Scarlet." I blushed.

"Scar, where do you want the strawberries?" Liz yelled.

"Please, excuse me, enjoy your visit!" I ducked away.

Damn. Edna's son was beautiful. I walked blissfully back over to where Liz and Rey waited.

We continued to set out the different stations with fruits and vegetables until everything was done. I took a step back to snap a photo of the display for our stores Facebook page. My store manager caught me then and we discussed how this might be a great idea to make a monthly event to drive local business. I had only had my back turned for 15 minutes when I heard the scream. I spun around to see Edna falling and a trail of blood leading back to Jim.

I was frozen.

There have been times in my life that I pondered what I might do in a scenario like this and my conclusion was always brave but I couldn't move. My chest tightened and I swear it was silent for an eternity until I realized it was my ears ringing. The horror set in deeper when the ringing faded to screams.

The beautiful man who Edna had entered with now stood over her body, in a pool of her blood. I frantically tried to connect what had hurt her but I only saw blood on Jim’s hands. Like someone hitting the pause button I regained control of my body and began to move. I ducked behind the floral counter on the other side of the market display and began to weigh my options.

I started tearing at my pockets and apron but quickly realized I must have dropped my phone in the excitement. I gently peered around the corner to catch a glimpse of my cell phone, face down near the exit. I took a moment to decide if it would be too dangerous to go after it when I heard the gunshot. More screams. The tears came involuntarily. I needed to do something, there had to be a way to protect these people.

There was a land line behind the meat counter, if I could get over there then I could call 911. I had to be careful and I had to be fast.

I thought it would be possible to move quickly because of the hysteria but all the sudden it was quiet. Too quiet.

I crept to the other side of the counter and began to lean out to have a look when it happened. The electricity went out. The only light spilling in at the entrance and quickly fading. It was impossible to see much. There were a few emergency lights that kicked on in the back of the store but there was barely any visibility. More screaming and another gunshot.

I tried not to occupy the thought that it might be one of my friends, I hadn’t remembered where they had been standing before this hell broke out.

I dropped into a crouch and used the darkness to my advantage, I made my way by memory towards the isles to get to the back of the store. I almost immediately regretted it. As I started moving I could feel liquid under my feet, I had thought there was a lot more distance between Jim and I but the distinct smell of blood told me otherwise. I barely made it to the end cap on the isle before I heard him reloading.

I crawled behind some large stuffed animals that were on display for Valentine's Day and tried to steady myself. I had never been so uncomfortable surrounded by giant stuffed bears. I struggled to see but made out a body dragging itself towards me, it was my manager. As she got closer I reached out to pull her into cover with me but her body was violently ripped upwards.

The sound of flesh ripping. I bet you can’t imagine that sound. It’s as horrible as you think, like the sound of separating chicken breasts multiplied by a hundred. I saw her legs dangling in the air above my head and noticed the gunshot wound in her calf.

Jim wasn’t shooting to kill, he was shooting them to slow them down. I choked back vomit as he tore apart her flesh and delightfully ate it. I needed to get away from this, I quietly gathered my courage and just as I was about to move one of the over sized teddy bears fell over. I was mortified.

Jim dropped the carcass of my manager and began to peer down the aisle I was about to make a break for. I struggled to see his expression but I could hear him breathing heavily. Like he was annoyed his meal had been interrupted.

I held my breath and tried to remain still. As he walked closer I could see more of his blood stained face.

“Scar? Are you there?” I watched Jim’s mouth open but it was Rey’s voice. What the fuck was this guy?

I kept still. It sounded like someone made a break for the door and Jim was instantly moving to get them. As soon as he had turned I booked it down the aisle trying to ignore the gunshots behind me. Now was not the time to break down. I had to make it to that phone.

I cleared the end of the aisle and stepped behind the end cap. I felt a small wave of relief. To my knowledge, the majority of the people in the store had been towards the front for the farmers market event. I let out a deep breath, savoring the small victory of making it to the back of the store.

It was short-lived.

The store roared to life and the lights almost blinded me. I had been so adjusted to the dark that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I blinked violently and rubbed my eyes with my hands. There were body parts littering the floor beneath my feet and as if the sight granted the rest of my senses, I immediately smelled it.

“Scarlet dear, I need some of the fresh strawberries from the back!” It was Edna's voice but I knew it couldn’t be her.

I started to shake, I needed to move and the light made it more difficult. I mustered what courage I could and made a break for it, slipping between the transparent plastic door that led behind the meat counter. I ducked down immediately and was met with a bloated pair of eyes.

The butcher sat on the ground next to me with his intestines pulled through his mouth. I covered my mouth with my hands and backed against the opposite wall. My ability to think clearly was vanishing quickly, I could see the phone just a few feet away.

“Scarlet, dear!” Edna’s voice again.

“Scar, don’t leave strawberries hanging!” Rey’s voice

“Scarlet, my love. Where have you gone?” That was my mother's voice.

I dashed over to the phone hanging on the wall and grabbed it furiously. I quickly dialed 911 and held it to my ear. There was no ringing, no dial tone. Nothing.

I looked down frantically to see the cord hanging in two pieces.

“Scar, what are you doing behind the meat counter?” An amused Rey looked at me.

“Rey, what are you doing? Get down!” I whispered while frantically checking our surroundings.

She smiled then but something was wrong with it. She started to laugh and blood splattered out of her mouth. She was practically hysterical and spewing blood all over the glass casing. I stood in horror watching my best friend have a laughing fit. The power went out again and when the emergency light flicked on Rey was nowhere in sight.

I was sobbing involuntarily, I didn’t know how much more of this I could take. I felt like I was the only person left in the store and I just wanted out. I decided to just make a break for the front of the store. I crept back out to the floor and made my way towards the bakery which led straight to the produce. I was just going to duck behind the displays of baked goods until I made it back to the front. Easy enough.

I cleared the baked goods with relative ease and hurried behind one of the carts for the farmers market. A familiar purse lay on the ground with its contents spilled out. It was Edna’s.

I noticed her wallet lay open and a few photos spilling out. Photos of her and a younger gentlemen. Writing on the back of the photo said James and Edna Mother's Day 2016. It was hard to make out much detail in the dark but this was definitely not the Jim that was in the store with us.

I heard a familiar voice then, “Scarlet! Baby, where are you?” It was my mother. No, this wasn’t real. I couldn’t take it. I dropped the contents of Edna’s wallet and booked it, I wasn’t far now from the entrance. I passed the floral counter and could see the exit. Someone emerged from the floral counter, my mother.

“Scarlet, honey, what are you doing?” She smiled. “Mom, we have to get out of here! What is wrong with you?” I screamed. “He will explain everything, sweetheart. Your father will tell you what’s going on.” She turned with open arms.

Jim came around the corner then. I was horrified. He was dragging Liz’s body and chewing on a chunk of her flesh. He carried her by her leg like a doll.

Jim handed a chunk of Liz’s leg to my mother and she laughed and took a bite. My mother was gone. I sprinted towards the door, grabbing my phone from the floor on my way out and landed on my ass outside. It was still bright out, i sprinted towards my car and found that my keys were still in my apron.

I had wanted to look back to see if they were following me when my phone started to ring. The caller ID showed it was my mother. I hesitantly answered it.

“Mom?”

“Scarlet, dear! I am looking for some fresh strawberries.” It was Edna’s voice again. I hung up and drove in silence for a while. I know it probably wasn’t the best choice but I decided on home. I was going to need some things after all.

I pulled into the drive way to see a dark house. My mother’s car was gone. I ran inside and straight to my room and started shoving things in my floral patterned duffel. Phone charger, clothes, the shoe box I had been saving money in.

My phone started to ring again. Mom the caller ID read. I have never been so terrified to see her photo pop up. I ignored it and zipped up my duffel. I scanned the room one more time and reached for the door handle when I heard it.

There was a knock at the door.

I stood frozen in my doorway, the only sound was my heart wildly beating.

“Scarlet, Honey! Can you get the door? It should be your father!”

I started to back away from my door. I had never been a rebellious kid but I was in this moment very glad that I had a bedroom on the first floor. I stood on my bed and slid the window open, slipping outside.

I have been driving ever since, only taking short breaks to get gas or eat. I am starting to get tired but my Mom keeps calling and I am terrified that they will find me.

I don’t know where is safe. I think I am going to try to take a nap in my car. I just needed to get this down. I needed someone to know, I am on my own.


Part One:

My life has always been pretty boring. I live in a small town and nothing super crazy ever happens. I remember the year that the prom queen came out of the closet being the hardest this place has ever been rocked. Pretty fucking boring around here.

My father owns a gas station/mechanic shop combo and ever since I was old enough I have been working the cash register. It is nice enough and it allows me to buy my own video games and comic books. It’s a very laid back gig, unless a family traveling through has a sick kid. I do not treasure mopping up vomit. It has happened at least once a summer in the last couple years.

Last week I was working the closing shift, same as usual. I had the small television behind the counter playing the news as I flipped through the latest issue of Detective Comics. I heard a breaking news update about a shooting and immediately dropped my comic book. This kind of thing never happens here. Ever.

The woman continued to tell a story about a grocery store across town that had been the victim of multiple shootings. The entire shopping center was roped off and they weren’t letting anyone in as it was an active crime scene. The news reporter stood across the street with the sign for the grocery store in the background.

“We know at least 3 are dead and several more injured.” She said matter-of-factly.

I immediately grabbed at my pocket and pulled my cell phone out. My mother had been talking about going over there today for some farmers market thing. I touched on her contact and tried to keep myself calm.

“Hello?”

“Mom! I just saw the news and I was worried you were at that grocery store. Thank God, I was so scared for a minute.”

“I’m fine honey. Gotta go”

Click.

I was so relieved that I didn’t spend any time thinking about why she was being so short with me. I sat there wondering over who might have been hurt there. I knew some girls from my old school had worked there or they used to, we hadn’t really kept in touch. Other than that I struggled to think if anyone I knew would have been anywhere near that.

My best friends all lived on this side of town anyways and weren’t really the Farmers market type. We played a lot of tabletop games and argued about comic books and we loved hanging out at the pizza shop across the street.

My mind started to wander then and I had a customer walk in. I straightened up and turned the volume back down on the T.V.

“Did you hear bout what happened with the shootin?” An older gentleman asked as he browsed the beer selection.

“Yeah, I can’t believe it. I hope they got the guy.”

“In this town? Nobody seen anything this big in a long time, son.”

I had no response for him, he was right. I rang him up and wished him well. I stood at attention at the counter for a few more minutes before reaching for my comic book. Before I could even open it another customer walked in.

A girl. A girl I think i know actually.

“Can I have $30 on pump 4?” She placed the cash on the counter without looking up.

“Sure.” I started to notice how disheveled she looked.

“Everything alright?” I asked hesitantly.

She looked at me then, her eyes were red and her face was streaked with tears. She looked at me for a long moment.

“Connor? Is that you?”

“Yeah, Scarlet right? We had Calculus together.” That’s right. I knew her from school. It had been a few years but she looked just the same.

“Can I ask you a favor without you thinking I’m crazy?” She looked desperate. I was worried at this point, something had obviously happened to this girl.

“Of course, what’s up?”

“Conner, something happened today at the grocery store and I will tell you all about it later but I need a nap. Can you.. Watch me sleep?” She hesitated and then stared at the counter.

“I’m scared.” she whimpered.

“Easy enough. I’m out of here in about 10 minutes.” I tried to sound comforting but honestly I was a little spooked.

“I will go fill up and then wait for you outside.” She tried to crack a smile but it looked forced.

The last couple minutes were easy, I had already cleaned up and counted the drawer down. It is literally never busy here so I always got out on time. I grabbed my stuff and headed for the door. Scarlet had just put the gas cap back on and was getting back in her car.

I crossed the parking lot and looked through her window, she motioned me inside. I opened the door and sat in her passenger seat.

“Can you just keep driving me around for a little while?” She didn’t take her eyes off the steering wheel.

“Sure, I mean you could rest at my apartment for a bit it would probably be more comfortable.” She started audibly sobbing. “Or not, I can just drive you around.”

“He killed Edna and my boss and I don’t know what happened to Rey or Liz and my mom is part of it now and she called him my father! I don’t know what the fuck is happening! I just need some rest so I can figure this out!” The tears were rolling down her cheeks and off her face now.

“Hey, hey.. It’s alright. I will drive. Take as long as you need.” I was horrified. What had happened to her? I got out of the car and waited until she got into the passenger seat to walk around the car.

She was asleep before I finished adjusting the mirrors in her car. I have been driving her around for a few hours now and I just woke her up so I could use the bathroom. I don’t know what is going on but I have a feeling I have gotten myself into something serious. I am hoping to get the full story when I get back to the car but I am starting to get scared, nothing like this ever happens here.


Part Two:

Sorry for the time it took me to update, both Scarlet and I have been ignoring our phones this last week and trying to stay safe. She is driving now as I type this. We take turns at this point between driving and sleeping and keeping each other company.

Let me fill in the blanks for you guys. After my last post I went back to the car and got the full story, She filled me in on exactly what happened at the grocery store and the events that followed. Basically she left there and just kept moving around town.

She kept getting calls and texts from her mom so she ended up turning off her phone. We attempted to stop for some actual rest last week but found out that was a horrible idea. Let me explain..

After Scarlet told me the whole story, shaking and breathless, I told her we should try to get some rest at my apartment. I live alone and we would be safe there. I could even get one of my friends to keep an eye out if she wanted. Keith lived in the same apartment building and I knew he would help out if I asked.

Also he would probably just be ecstatic to see me taking a girl into my apartment but anyways. I convinced Scarlet to take the night to get some real sleep at my apartment and we headed that way.

“Apartment 107” I pointed it out as we pulled up.

“This place looks nice, you said you have a friend that lives here too?” She asked.

“Yeah, Keith. He lives in the same building, I will just swing by his apartment and ask him to keep an eye out for us. Sound good?” I smiled at her. She tried to smile back but her face was a mural of emotions.

I couldn’t blame her at this point. I was scared but optimistic at the time. My apartment buildings are pretty straight forward, I was on the second floor facing the street and Keith was on the first floor positioned diagonal from mine.

“If you want to go upstairs, I will just be a minute with Keith.” I handed Scarlet the keys.

She openly gasped and grabbed onto my arm. “I would rather stick with you, if that’s alright.” She almost cried.

“I know you're scared, I am going to do everything I can to help. We are in this together.” I brushed the hair from her face.

“Keith is just right over here.” I led her to his porch and knocked on his door.

“It’s Conner!” I yelled.

The door opened a moment later to a curious Keith.

“Hey man, what’s up?” Keith said confused.

“It’s a bit of a story but I was hoping you could keep an eye out for me, Scarlet and I need to get some rest but her father is harassing us. Just want to make sure nobody comes trying to break in my windows.” I was hoping he would buy that explanation. It was the easiest way to tell him it was serious without telling him the whole story.

“Of course, dude. I got your back. Go get some sleep! Nice to see you again Scarlet.” Keith said instantly.

I looked over to Scarlet and she smiled gently, poor thing looked exhausted and I couldn’t fight the urge to take care of her.

“Thanks man.” I put my free hand on his shoulder and turned for the stairs.

My apartment is pretty plain. The living room has a couch, a TV and a measly coffee table. The bedroom is on the right and has a window view to the street behind the complex. I assumed this would be good for keeping an eye on things while we were here. The only bathroom is connected to the bedroom. I showed Scarlet around and told her she could treat it like home, if she wanted a hot shower or to just go to sleep.

“You’re so kind. A shower sounds amazing. Um, can you.. Will you stand outside the door?” She mumbled.

“Sure thing, whatever you need.” I walked over to the wall in front of the bathroom door and planted myself down.

“Connor, you are a lifesaver. Literally.” She smiled and it was the first one that seemed completely happy.

I sat on the floor going over the last several hours and trying to figure out how I was going to help her out. Knowing the full story now and having absolutely no idea what this Jim guy was, I was starting to get frustrated. I couldn’t stay in my apartment with her forever and It’s not like we could keep driving around all day either. I needed a real solution.

I heard a knock at the door that broke my concentration and I jumped up to go get it. Keith was probably being nosey.

A temporary lapse of judgement had me open the door normally. “What’s up?” I said with my eyes half closed. I was a lot more tired than I thought. I looked around to see no one outside the apartment.

“Keith?” I raised my voice. Maybe I was hearing things, It was getting late and I was exhausted. I closed the door and locked the deadbolt and returned to my post outside the bathroom.

“Everything alright out there?” Scarlet yelled through the door.

“Yeah, everything's good!” I yelled back. Everything but how tired I was all of a sudden.

The door opened and steam billowed out. I looked up to see Scarlet covered only by a towel. I could feel my cheeks get hot and was instantly annoyed with myself.

“I left my bag out here.” She laughed as she grabbed it off of the coffee table and returned to the bathroom.

“Thanks for sitting out here, it made me feel safe.” she smiled, lingering a bit in the doorway.

All I could manage was to smile back. I wanted to protect her. She was always a very kind person and my only regret was not getting to know her better. We had some random talks in school and over Facebook but never anything steady.

My eyes were getting heavy and I was having a hard time keeping my head up.

“Let’s get some sleep.” Scarlet was beside me helping me up. I must have dozed off for a moment or two.

“I will take the couch, you let me know if you need anything?” I rubbed my eyes lazily.

“Actually, I was hoping you would stay with me. I don’t want to be alone.” She whispered.

“Whatever makes you more comfortable.” I closed the bedroom door and walked back over to my bed. Arguably my favorite part of my apartment, the bed was the only thing I had spent real money on. It was a queen sized tempur pedic and it was heavenly.

I made sure the window was closed and the curtain was drawn and climbed into bed on my usual side, furthest from the window. Scarlet followed and climbed in slowly. She slowly inched her way towards me until her head was completely burrowed into my chest. I wrapped an arm around her and settled my head. With a smile on my face I drifted off.

Our phones had been off and I hadn’t thought to check the time before we went to sleep but when I opened my eyes it was dark outside. I looked down to see Scarlet still sleeping against my chest and couldn’t help but smile. For a moment everything felt really good. It hadn’t been amazing circumstances that we ended up like this but I couldn’t help but be happy to be here with her.

Something caught my eye at the window and I looked over. I didn’t see anything but then I realized that the window was open. I know I closed it before we laid down, I had been tired but not that tired.

I immediately went rigid.

“Connor, is everything alright?” Scarlet yawned a little and looked up at me, our faces only inches apart. We looked at each other for a long moment. I closed the gap between us and kissed her. I kissed her like it would be the only kiss in the history of the world. Her fingers sliding into my hair slowly, I couldn’t resist it.

And then there was a scream.

We both jumped up. All the doors in the apartment were open and there were strawberries on the floor.

“Grab your stuff” I whispered.

I got up and slid my shoes back on. I could see my keys on the kitchen counter from the bedroom and then more strawberries rolled across the floor.

“These aren’t fresh enough!” it sounded like an older lady.

“That’s Edna.” Scarlet went completely white. Edna had died in the grocery store.

“Follow me.” I grabbed her hand and slowly leaned through the door frame.

No one there but the front door was wide open.

“Scar?” This time it came from behind us.

“Rey!” Scarlet yelped.

We jumped back into the living room, I kept hearing the voices but we couldn’t spot anyone. I grabbed my keys and pulled scarlet out the door.

As we made our way down stairs I noticed that Keith’s door was also open. I thought I saw more strawberries but when we got closer it was blood. That was the last straw, we booked it.

We are headed out-of-town now, I don’t know what other choice we have. I turned on my cell to call the police but the moment I did my mom started calling. The first time I answered the phone it was Keith and I immediately hung up.

I turned my phone back off for a while after that. I turned my phone back on to type this out, I made sure to block my moms number straight away so that I could get through what happened. Ever since we have been on the move.

Nothing else really crazy has happened because we haven’t stopped moving, I don’t know at this point what else to do. Luckily I have a healthy inheritance to keep us moving but I am terrified.

I will update when we get somewhere farther away from here.

I don’t think I will ever be able to eat strawberries again.


Part Three:

Updating from the airport, I will get to how we made it here but let me start where I left off last time.

After the incident at my apartment I began to get just as angry as I was scared. Whatever was after us had done something to Keith and my mom and I wanted answers.

Once we got in the car I peeled out and sped off in no particular direction. After a couple of days of just moving around and not stopping for too long I talked Scarlet into letting me go to the police station. I figured that even if they would be no help in protecting us it still made sense to tell them what had happened. Worst case they would write me off as a crazy person and that would be the end of it.

When we pulled up to the station it was late, well early I guess, about 4 AM. Unsure of how long I might be inside I asked Scarlet to come in with me but she was due for a nap and opted to stay in the locked car as long as I parked right in front of the entrance. I promised to be as quick as possible, kissed her forehead and got out of the car.

I ran my fingers through my damp hair as I walked towards the doors to the station, thank goodness I got a shower in today, I rented a shit motel room just to use the shower and leave. I didn’t need to be trying to convince the police about a monster and smell like a homeless person.

I opened the door and walked in, giving my eyes a moment to adjust to the bright lights. I approached the empty counter and took a look around. It was empty.

There was a small bell on the counter, I waited a few minutes and then rang it. I was almost instantly approached by a female officer carrying a steaming cup of coffee.

“Sorry about that sweetheart, we don’t usually see much action at this hour. How can I help?”

“Um, I don’t know where to start. It’s about the shooting at the grocery store.” I suddenly realized I hadn’t thought out what I would say yet.

“Oh yes, we got him! We had a few tips come in a couple of days ago and booked the guy.” She smiled.

“Oh. I, really?” I stumbled. I guess we had been on the move a couple of days, maybe it was all over and I could just take Scarlet home to live happily ever after.

“Yes sir, disgruntled bag boy. Go figure.” She laughed, taking another sip of coffee.

“I’m sorry, you said it was an employee? I think I need to speak with an officer ma’am.” Her face went a little cold, almost angry.

“The case is closed, darlin. No need.” She spat.

“I have some information about what happened there and what has happened to me and my friend since that might contradict that. Look, can I just speak to someone? I am afraid for my safety. Someone broke into my apartment and they are following me.”

“You can fill out a police report for the break in and I will have someone call you.” She leaned down and grabbed a piece of paper from behind the counter and slid it across to me.

“My phone isn’t working ma’am, should I come back later to talk with someone?” I started to get annoyed. I never thought I would have to fight an officer on getting some help.

“That won’t be necessary. Fill out the report, I will see if anyone is available.” She walked away.

I grabbed the paper and a clipboard and sat down to fill it out. As I started to write only the things I had experienced down I struggled to make it sound as terrifying as it actually was. On paper this sounds like some bad phone calls and a raccoon getting into my strawberries. I included that Keith was involved hoping that the officer would seek him out and hopefully tell me he was fine and I was mistaken by the blood in the doorway to his apartment.

I was interrupted by an officer. “You’re Nathan's kid.” He extended a hand my way.

“Yeah, that’s right. Thanks for seeing me.”

“What seems to be the issue kid?” He didn’t seem as annoyed as the lady at the counter but he also didn’t seem to be in the mood to shoot the shit. I handed him my police report and told him that this started when I started helping Scarlet.

“Wait a second, did you say Scarlet? This Scarlet?” He ripped a photo off the wall and handed it to me. It was a missing person poster and it had Scarlets face right in the middle of it.

“Her parents are worried sick.” He looked at me with a mixture of concern and anger.

“Her parents?” I said confused.

“Yeah, her father was just down here yesterday looking for more information. You know where she is?” He stepped forward. I immediately felt wrong.

“I saw her a couple days ago but I don’t know where she is now.” I lied. Her dad had died when she was little, something was wrong here. The officer stepped towards me and put a threatening hand on my shoulder.

“Shouldn’t lie to the police kid.” He stepped forward.

“Look, officer, I don’t know what is going on here but I was concerned about what happened at the grocery store and maybe I shouldn’t have come..”

“I’m sorry about your mom, kid. It was just some loser bag boy with mommy issues. Don’t over think it.” He squeezed my shoulder too tight and I leaned away out of instinct.

“What about my mom?” I stepped back rubbing my shoulder.

“Maggie! You better call someone to pick this kid up. He is having some sort of break down.” He shouted over his shoulder and stepped between me and the exit.

“I’m not having a breakdown, I told her that my phone hasn’t been working. What are you talking about?” I asked annoyed now by the attitude on this cop. He clearly wasn’t taking anything seriously.

“Shes dead. Got shot by the bag boy.” He said matter-of-factly.

I pushed past him and headed towards the door, I had enough of this and now I had more questions than answers. Despite the officer yelling after me I kept on walking right out the door. I almost got knocked over by a woman coming in as I was leaving, I was too frustrated to say anything to her.

I emerged from the station just as the sky started to brighten, no sun yet but it was on its way.

I immediately stopped dead in my tracks.

The car was gone.

Scarlet.

I frantically ran towards the street and started scanning the surrounding area. I couldn’t see anything but a couple other cars in the small parking lot. It was such an odd hour that there weren’t many people out, if any.

I started to panic, trying to catch my breath I told myself she had probably needed to use the restroom or something. I will just wait a few minutes.

“Looking for someone?” A small voice from behind me called.

I turned to see a woman standing there, she looked familiar, I had seen her somewhere before. She looked exhausted and I swear her eyes were completely black.

“I’m fine miss, thanks.” I said shortly, turning away from her.

“I know you, don’t I? You went to school with my Scarlet?”

I immediately spun around. “You’re Scarlet’s mom?” The longer I looked at her the larger her eyes seemed and she began to smile.

“Where is she Connor?” she hunched over.

Fuck.

I started to back up and heard the sound of screeching tires.

“Get in!” Scarlet screamed. I turned to see her behind me, half pulled onto the curb.

I jumped backwards and threw the door open. Scarlet started moving before I was all the way in. I slammed the door shut and turned just in time to see a man join Scarlet’s mother in the parking lot.

“That’s Jim. What the fuck happened in there?” She asked breathlessly.

“I, I don’t know. There's something wrong in there.” I was surprised to feel the tears falling from my eyes. “They told me my mom is dead and they arrested some bag boy for the shooting at the store.” I lost control then. I have never cried like that in my entire life but the thought of mother actually being dead tore a hole in me.

Scarlet put a hand on my leg and squeezed lightly. “We are going to figure this out.” She looked over at me and forced a smile. “Together.” She took my hand then.

I grabbed my phone and called Keith. I needed to know if he was safe, I brought him into this. I only got voicemail. I figured it was an odd hour anyways. He would call me back. I was sure of it. I started to relax a bit in my seat and zone out a minute to the soft lull of the radio.

“Scarlet honey, We miss you!” I shot up in terror. Scarlet swerved a bit at the sound of her mother's voice. It took us a minute to realize it was coming from the radio. I immediately changed the station but her mother's voice was coming through no matter what station I put it on. I shut off the radio quickly.

“Get us to the airport.” I said sternly.

And so now we are here. At the airport, waiting to board a flight across the country. We chose a place that neither of us have family from. We need a few days to try to do some research and figure this out. I haven’t been able to find out anything about my mom and I am unsure how much I believe she is actually dead.

For now, we are okay and we are getting the hell out of here. I will update when we find out more.


Part Four:

We have just settled into a motel for the night, we are safe at the moment. Scarlet is asleep next to me as I write this. We had a long day, I want to start by thanking you guys for your concern. I will get to explaining what has happened since the last update.

When we got to the airport we quickly decided we needed to go somewhere that we didn't know anyone as I mentioned last time. I purchased two tickets for the soonest flight to the destination that we chose, which I will keep secret for obvious reasons.

We thankfully didn’t have a long wait until boarding, there was a relatively empty flight leaving within the hour and seeing as how we didn’t have much of anything on us it was a quick trip through security. I wrote the last update while we waited to board the plane.

“That’s us.” Scarlet nudged my shoulder. “Nosleep can wait a little longer.”

“It just feels better to tell people who believe us, maybe someone will know something about this.”

Scarlet put her hands on my cheeks and leaned in. “Hey, we will figure this out. I am terrified and just as anxious to be safe. Together, remember?” She smiled and then leaned in to deliver a soft kiss.

“Together.” I smiled weakly. I was exhausted and ready for some sense of calm.

We boarded the plane and took our seats near the middle, Scarlet sat at the window seat and I sat in the middle chair. I felt myself dozing a bit, I hadn’t slept in I couldn’t remember how long and I was giving in easily.

My eyelids seemed to guide me and before I could help it I gave in to the weight. I settled in as the flight attendant finished her safety demonstration.

“I feel like this is all my fault” Scarlet whispered.

I slipped away then and was only woken by the turbulence as we landed.

I groggily raised my head and was met with the pain of falling asleep with your neck in an odd position. With a groan I raised a hand to massage my sore neck.

“Morning sleepy head.” Scarlet forced a smile, her eyes were dark and she looked exhausted. It was then that I realized she never got to sleep because of the police station incident.

“Did you sleep at all?” I asked.

“No, I figured we would maintain the one at a time sleeping pattern until we were safe and you looked so happy.” She yawned.

“Let’s get you somewhere comfortable.” I kissed her forehead and relaxed a bit as the plane made its way to the terminal.

“Scarlet?”

“Connor?” She looked at me with a mix of concern and anticipation.

“As I was falling asleep I heard you say something, that you thought this was all your fault. What did you mean by that?” I was nervous for the answer.

“You caught that huh? It’s a bit of a long story.” She rubbed her eyes. “ Can I tell you over some Lunch? I am almost more hungry than I am tired.”

“Deal.” My mind was immediately clouded with the possibility of what she meant. I feared that I may have waited too long to question her but I was so caught up in helping that I hadn’t considered the possibility that she hadn’t told me everything.

Now I am across the country running from god knows what with her and she may have some information that would have changed my mind.

“Hey, relax Connor. Together, remember?” She took my hand and I began to smooth my expression.

Maybe I was over thinking it. It had been a fairly traumatic 24 hours and the lack of basic necessity was starting to fuck with me.

“Let’s get you something to eat.” I smiled and led her out of the terminal.

We grabbed a cab and asked the driver about the layout of town and where a nice place for some food and a motel might be. He took us downtown and dropped us off in front of a little cafe.

“Thanks man.” I placed some cash in his hand and climbed out of the car.

“This looks nice” Scarlet seemed to perk up.

“Shall we?” I extended an arm to her and she linked her arm around mine.

The cafe was set up more like a coffee shop, vaulted ceilings and wooden tables. There was a counter to walk up to or you could sit and be served. It had just begun to rain outside and the street facing wall was all glass so we had a clear view of the street corner.

We settled into a booth against the wall and were almost instantly greeted by a waitress, purple hair and a nose ring and the largest smile I had seen in days.

I looked at Scarlet. “I’ll have a cheeseburger please!” She beamed.

She must have been hungry to look that elated, either that or she really loved cheeseburgers which only made me more attracted to her.

“I’ll have the same.” I handed the menu on the table back to the waitress.

I took a drink of water and then looked across the table expectantly.

“I guess I have to start awhile back for all of this to make sense.” She laughed nervously.

The tension immediately left her as she began to explain.

“It has always been my mom and me. Dad died when I was little, at least that’s what my mom told me. She never took me to a grave, she never explained how, he had just died and she never wanted to talk about it.”

She looked down at the table then. “It wasn’t that I was unhappy, I just felt like I was missing something. I imagine the same as every little girl without a dad does. In some attempt to make sure I came out okay my mother had enrolled me in private school, private christian school. I liked it fine enough and everyone was nice to me but not my mom. They all treated her like she had done something wrong and she always got dirty looks.” Scarlet sighed and took a deep breath.

“Very abruptly my mother pulled me out of the private school and put me into a public school.”

“I remember that, you came in the middle of the school year.” I interjected.

“Yeah.” She shrugged. “My mother had told me that it was because of money but she worked the same two jobs before and after that. I didn’t push it because she seemed embarrassed when I asked and I never wanted my mother to feel like she wasn’t doing enough. So I just let it go..” She trailed off.

“What does that have to do with where we are now?” my voice a mixture of hesitation and confusion.

“I’m getting there, be patient.” She smirked.

“One night in high school I was at the library downtown and I ran into an old friend from my private school. After some small talk, I told her that I still had no idea why I had to leave there as my mom never explained it to me. She laughed at me and told me that she overheard her mother talking about how my mom had been a witch and that she didn’t belong there.”

The rain picked up and started pattering on the glass.

“I had thought originally that her mom had meant bitch, that my mom was a bitch and maybe she was bullied or pressured into taking me out of the private school.” Her expression seemed to get angry then.

“I knew she had been working two jobs a long time and I had always heard her talk about the office she worked in during the day and the hospital she worked in overnight but never any names of places. I never really much cared where she worked, just that she was taken care of and that the time we had together was great.” She shook her head.

“The thing is, my friend from private school had not been mistaken when she said witch. My mother had indeed been involved in something. One night I mistakenly came across a book in her room full of what I can only imagine was spells. I had been looking for money she left me for a field trip and stumbled upon it.” She put her head in her hands.

“And then I did something really stupid.” She looked at me through her hands.

“I lit the candles around the book and I opened it up, I didn’t much understand it but in some fit of complete thoughtlessness I started to chant the words on the page. I danced around and put my hands in the air and thought of my father and after several minutes of absolutely nothing happening I blew out the candle and closed the book and hurried out of my mother's room. I instantly felt like someone was watching me and wanted to get out of there.”

“I stayed away from my mother's room after that. That summer I got the job at the grocery store and was home a lot less to feel the atmosphere change there. My mother seemed different as well but I chalked it up to not spending so much time together anymore.” She started rubbing her temples and we were interrupted by sweet cheeseburgers.

“Can I get you two anything else?” The waitress beamed.

“No, thank you.” I nodded.

Scarlet started eating before the waitress had even walked away. Through bites of her cheeseburger she looked at me “Connor, I think that book might have had real spells and I am wondering if I brought my father back.” I have never seen someone look so horrified with a burger in their hands.

“Do you remember at all what it said? Anything that might give us a clue what to look for?”

“I don’t, it was awhile ago and I have done my best to forget it.” She looked defeated.

We finished our food in mostly silence after that. I had a million things running through my head but at least this gave us some semblance of an idea where to start.

I paid the bill and we began to make our way out of the cafe, bracing ourselves for the rain. The motel our cab driver recommended was just down the street and we had decided to just walk before the rain started.

I thanked the waitress and we stepped out into the rain. We moved quickly down the street until we reached a little inn a couple blocks down.

Once we got settled into the room I started to write and Scarlet passed out. She did mention that her grandmother might be able to help us but she hadn’t spoken to her in such a long time she wasn’t sure how to get ahold of her.

We decided to figure it out tomorrow, I just wanted to update you guys on what we are working off of now. I guess I will try to keep myself up with some shitty motel televi…

Hold on. The hotel room phone is ringing.

“Hello?”

“Scarlet! COME HOME BABY!”


Part Five:

I dropped the phone and jerked up.

“What’s wrong” Scarlet leaned up rubbing her eyes awake.

It didn’t take more than a moment for her to hear the strained voice coming from the other side of the phone. Her eyes got wide and she started to shake, a tear striping her cheek.

“We have to go! Connor, snap out of it!” She yelled.

We grabbed our stuff and ran out of the room and into the rain, we needed a new plan. For awhile we just kept moving, we went on foot for about thirty minutes before either of us thought to call a car. When we got into the car, I immediately asked the driver about renting a car or a cheap place to buy at this point.

“Depends on where you are trying to go, The train might be cheaper!” He laughed.

“Can you take us to the train station then?” I asked more quickly than I could think it over but at this point I was hoping a crowded place might give us a moment to regroup.

“Sure thing sir, you should still be able to catch a train out tonight if you are in a hurry.” the man smiled into the rear view mirror.

I hadn’t bothered to ask his name, I was in survival mode trying to figure out how I was going to get us safe.

“Where you guys headed?” The cabbie asked.

“To see my grandmother.” Scarlet spoke up.

I looked at her for a long moment, trying to find some answers in her expression but she looked exactly like I felt, I could only imagine the wild look on my own face.

When we got to the train station, we immediately took a seat on a bench in the middle of the lobby. I wasn’t sure what the plan was but I was confident in a train, something that would be moving constantly and we could both sleep.

“I am going to try to call my grandmother, hopefully the number I have still works.” Scarlet walked across the way to the pay phone bank and dialed away. I took a moment to try to focus on my breathing, we had such a quiet morning and now all the sudden we were back on the run.

I leaned forward and put my head in my hands for a moment, slowly rubbing my temples trying to will away the headache I had developed.

“I got a hold of her and you will never believe it..” Scarlet trailed off.

“She believed me when I told her what was going on. She didn’t even sound alarmed.” She said quietly, sitting back down beside me.

She rested her head on my shoulder. “I think we should be careful about how we approach her, I told her I wanted to meet her in the morning for coffee. I figure somewhere public is our best bet.” She looked up at me. “What do you think?”

“I think that’s a good idea, at this point, we need answers and It’s not like we are going to sneak back into your Mother's house.” I forced a laugh.

“She is only a couple hours from here, let’s check out tickets.”

Despite me having plenty of money, Scarlet was still interested in getting a good deal. Something about having to always take care of herself on limited means she said she couldn’t ignore. We opted for the last train out as it was significantly less money and settled back down at the bench in the middle of the lobby.

I decided with the couple hours we had to wait we should get smart, there was a shopping center around the corner where we could pick up some burner phones and I could withdraw a good amount of cash. We gave ourself a strict schedule to follow in order to make it back in time for boarding and made our way down the street.

The first stop was a Walmart supercenter, we grabbed some phones and dumped ours. We also grabbed some food and clothes, a hunting knife (just in case), and some other necessities. Once we were done there we headed across the way to the bank in that shopping center, I had a withdrawal limit as a safety precaution so I just took out as much as I could which I hoped would be plenty to keep us moving until we could figure this out.

“Alright, we have about twenty minutes to get back. Was there anything else you needed?” It was only a five minute walk if that to get back to the station and I wanted to avoid having to stop in the next town we got to.

“I’m good.” Scarlet smiled, covering her mouth full of animal crackers. I leaned over and kissed her forehead before starting off towards the train station.

“I never imagined I would end up getting so close to you like this, I mean, I never imagined anything like this would happen either…” She trailed off.

“Whenever I try to sleep I still see him tearing apart my manager from the store. I feel like I will never sleep soundly again.” She looked down at her feet.

“I have always been on my own and I feel so terribly now because I have this amazing person with me that I have dragged into this mess.” She stopped walking and started to choke back tears.

“Connor, I think I should do the rest of this on my own. I don’t want you to get.” I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her in for hug before she could finish.

“I don’t care how it started, we will figure it out together and put an end to this. A kid snooping in their parents room or thinking about the dad they never had is not a crime. We will get to the bottom of this.” I pulled back so I could look her in the eyes.

“Let’s not miss our train, we both need the rest.” I let go and took her by the hand to continue or walk back to the station.

We made it back with time to spare and boarded the train no problem. I had never been on a train before so I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable it was. I was sure we would be able to catch a good nap before we made it to the town her grandmother lived in. We dropped our bags and settled in, Scarlet took a small blanket out from her bag and got comfortable with her head rested on my shoulder.

I let myself relax as the train began to move. I focused my eyes on the passing landscape, even though it was dark.

My head jerked up as the train came to a stop, not our stop but a stop along the way. I adjusted a bit and leaned my head over Scarlet’s only to catch a glimpse of a man standing out in the train yard, he wasn’t very close but he seemed to be looking right at me.

I was momentarily distracted by the last call for this stop and a young couple sat down across the way from us. I smiled politely and gave a short nod before I rested my head back down.

The next time I woke up we were moving, the view was beautiful. I hadn’t expected to see much but I think I was more excited at the chance to rest, despite the uncomfortable position I was in I was grateful to get some sleep. I looked on as the landscape passed by for a quiet moment.

I noticed that there seemed to be a man standing outside. He was a bit off a ways but the part that threw me off was that he showed up every minute or so, in the same position. Never closer, never farther away. I rubbed at my eyes thinking I must just be seeing things but he was still there.

Everyone else in the cab seemed to be sleeping or reading and not paying attention to the outside. I must have been moving more than I thought because Scarlet woke up then.

“Good morning” She yawned widely.

“Scarlet do you see that, that man outside the train?” I pointed as he passed again.

She looked on for a few minutes in silence. “Connor, that looks like your friend. The friend from your apartment.”

I squinted my eyes hard and then almost fell out of my seat. It was Keith and he was following us.

“How is he doing th..” Scarlet cut off as an announcement filled the cabin. Our stop was next, she looked over at me with concern on her face.

We will figure something out, when we are moving we seem to be okay. We just have to find a way to keep moving until we meet your grandmother in a few hours, shouldn’t be too difficult.

Scarlet nodded her head and started stretching her arms. Sleeping sitting up is never comfortable. The train slowed to a stop and we gathered our stuff to get off. I looked back one more time through the cab just as we stepped out to see Keith’s bloodied face standing right outside the train window.

I took Scarlet by the arm and started to run.

We cleared the train station and took off. I just kept moving, kept taking turns towards lights. We hit a wall of sound as we presumably broke into some sort of arts district that was full of people, music playing loudly.

We settled against a brick wall to try to catch our breath for a moment.

“We should get a car.” I panted.

“Who is going to be open this late?” Scarlet gasped.

“Let’s see if we can find out.” I pointed to a bank of payphones across the street, a beaten phone book hanging from one of them.

We crossed the street and grabbed the phone book, scarlet held the light of her phone over the page as we scanned looking for a rental place that was twenty-four hours.

“Looks like there might be one at the airport, let me give them a call.” Scarlet dropped a few coins into the machine and started to dial.

I turned toward the street and began to scan the area, I started to feel uneasy like someone was watching us. There were a lot of people around so it was entirely possible that someone was in fact watching us but I’m not talking about the people watching kind.

I felt hunted.

“They’re open and they have a compact car we can pick up right now, we just have to get down there.” Scarlet hung the phone up on the receiver.

“Alright, perfect. Let’s get a ride down there and get moving.” We still had a bit of a drive to get to her grandmother, the train didn’t stop in her exact area but we were only an hour or so out anyways so I wasn’t too worried about it.

The area was crawling with Ubers so I decided to just order one thinking it would be the fastest way out of here at the moment.

“Two minutes away, that was quick.” I had reservations about uber before because just anyone could be driving but this was the quickest way to get moving and I wasn’t going to fight that.

Ring, Ring, Ring

We both paused and looked back at the payphone bank.

Ring, RIng, Ring

My expression a mix of confusion and horror.

Ring, Ring, Ring

“Maybe the rental place needed some more information?” Scarlet reached for the payphone that was ringing back.

Ring, Ring….

“Hello?”

“Where ya headed Scar!” Scarlets expression went completely blank. She was sheet white and looked like she might pass out. She hung up the phone and quick and basically jumped into my arms.

The moment she did the entire payphone bank started ringing at the same time. We turned toward the street to start moving but got interupted.

“Connor?” A young girl called my name from the driver's seat of her ford focus.

“Yes, are you..” I trailed off looking down at the screen of my phone. “Jessica?”

“Yes sir!” She smiled.

We jumped in the back of her car shoving our bags in on our laps and locked the door behind us. I know that ringing payphones can’t follow us but I am pretty sure that something else is.

“Would you like any music?”

“Either way is fine with me.” I stared out the window as we began to make our way towards the airport.

When we arrived it was surprisingly full of people, I don’t know what I had been thinking it makes sense for people to fly early in the morning but with it still being dark outside I had expected an empty airport for some reason.

We made our way to the rental car counter and got setup. We had only been inside for about thirty or so minutes but as we came outside to load up the car the sun was already rising.

We threw our bags in the back and got moving. I felt better having a car of our own to move around in. We set off towards Scarlet’s grandmother in silence.

It felt like there was nothing new to say about what was going on so Scarlet entertained me with stories about growing up, I did my best to just listen but I was looking for clues in everything she told me.

“It was my fifth or sixth birthday and my mom actually ordered some disney characters to show up and hang out at my party! I was the talk of the first grade.” She laughed. “I never had much family so my mom always tried to do special stuff on my birthday. I think that was my last party at our old house, actually it must have been because that was the last year I saw her friends.” She looked out the window then and continued on.

“I guess they would be the closest I ever came to aunts and uncles, I don’t quite remember their names but their faces are pretty clear. They were always around when I was little but after we moved I never saw them again and the one time I asked about them my mother got upset so I kind of just forgot about it.”

This one stuck out to me, mostly because her mother's reaction but I didn’t know what to ask or say. She was very young when it happened and she seemed to offer all the information she had already.

We pulled up to the coffee shop that we were supposed to meet her grandmother at after a couple hours of driving around, being in a new place made that relatively easy.

We walked inside the shop, ordered some coffee and sat down to wait. Maybe an entire minute after sitting down at a table in the corner of the shop an older lady walked in and slammed the door behind her. Looking frantically around the coffee shop she rushed up to us.

“Scarlet, you aren’t safe here. We need to leave.”

I looked at Scarlet and we silently agreed to get moving. As we got up to follow her grandmother outside the barista called out to us.

“Scarlet?” The barista yelled.

“Yes?” Scarlet turned towards the counter.

“Your mother is on the phone?” She looked confused.

“Run.” Her grandmother said.


Part Six:

We jumped into the rental car and started moving. I just kept taking turns not sure where to head.

“Somebody want to tell me where I’m going?” I asked a little too loudly, I blame the adrenaline.

“Grandma, what the fuck is going on?”

“Head north, I have a safe place we can talk.” Grandma said calmly.

We drove in near silence, the only words spoken were directions to our safe place. As we moved outside of town and were surrounded by trees I started to calm down. I actually was feeling safer, maybe that was dangerous.

We wound through some dirt roads, lined with trees to make it to a small cabin.

“We should be alright for awhile here. Come inside, we have a lot to talk about.” Scarlet's grandmother held an extended hand towards the cabin.

I looked at Scarlet who I could tell was hesitant, we had wanted to meet her grandma somewhere public to get a good feel for where she stood on this whole thing. I wrapped my arm around her and gave a quick nod.

When we walked into the cabin it was a lot more inhabited than I had expected. There was already a fire started in the fireplace and it smelled like someone had been baking not long ago.

It was a pretty basic, open floor plan. The living room and kitchen were open to each other in the initial space inside the doorway and the only other rooms were the bathroom, the bedroom and a small closet. I know for sure because she let us look around before we got to talking.

After using the restroom briefly to throw some cold water on my face I headed back out to the living room and took a seat on the sofa next to Scarlet. She took my hand and squeezed lightly the same way she had when trying to reassure me before that we would figure things out.

“I hate to be blunt Grandma but how do we know we can trust you?” I blurted out. I was tired of waiting and we hadn’t made nearly as much progress as I wanted on what the fuck was going on.

“Would me saying yes really grant me your trust young man?”

“Probably not but some explanation of what is going on here might. Scarlet said you had no reaction to hearing about her mother and this man chasing us across the country, care to elaborate?” I legitimately had no fucks left to have any sort of etiquette and thought I was probably past trying to impress Scarlet's family.

“I had planned to offer refreshments first but I guess I will just get to it then, mister?”

“Connor is fine. I didn’t catch your name either, do you prefer grandma?” I chuckled.

“Rose is fine.” She smirked.

“Scarlet’s mother gave me a lot of trouble growing up, she was wild and constantly getting into trouble. Lily, her mother, was a too curious for her own good. I have never by any means been a religious woman and had vowed to remain open minded for my children but Lily found her way into some pretty obscure things.” She paused.

“Would you mind if I put on some tea?” Rose asked.

“Not at all grandma.” Scarlet piped up. I nodded along with her.

“Can I get you two anything?” She asked over her shoulder as she walked towards the stove.

“Just some water for me, please. Connor?”

“Water sounds fine.” I started to relax a bit, an entire twenty minutes without the sound of a fucking phone ringing. Maybe we would be alright for a minute.

Rose returned a few minutes later with a small mug of tea and some water.

“I have been out of the loop so long, this is a lot of excitement for me, I had never thought I would see you again.” Rose looked at Scarlet.

“Grandma, tell us what happened.”

“Lily never spent much time with kids her age, I remember the first time I met James, he was attending the community college and Lily was very impressed with him. She would go on and on about how smart he was and about how she wanted to be as educated. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, I figured if he was encouraging her to go to college I couldn’t be too upset about it.”

“Even if I had tried to keep her from seeing him she would have found a way.” Rose trailed off.

“Your mother and James started to spend a lot of time together, she started bringing home books and staying up all hours of the night reading. I was doing laundry one day when I noticed something stuffed under her bed. Candles, a few books I couldn’t make out the language of and some plants.”

“When I asked about the things I found Lily screamed at me and insisted on getting a lock for her door. No amount of explaining my concern for what she was spending her time with would console her fit. I started to pay more attention after that, I even called off work one day so that I could stay up all night and try to figure out what she was doing. At first I felt silly but then I heard chanting, it was low but I crept up to her door and could hear more than one voice chanting something.”

“I opened the door to find her there with James, her palm bleeding and a fabric circle on the floor. That was the day I lost it. I told her she would not be seeing him anymore and I took all the books I could fit in my arms and hid them.” She shook her head slowly.

“I’m not proud of it but I was not allowing her to start some weird ritual shit in my house. Maybe if i had asked more questions or tried to understand where she was coming from I would have been able to stop it.” Rose looked down for a long moment.

“I started watching her actions very closely. She fought me initially but after just a week or so she began spending more time at home and less time arguing. I thought we were finally get past this. It was only a few weeks later that she ran away. I reported it to the police, I went to the community college asking about James but I couldn’t get any answers.”

“The police never came up with much, I got little updates for the first few months but slowly stopped hearing from them at all. I had given up but comforted myself in believing she was alive just gone.” A few tears fell down Rose’s face.

“I didn’t see Lily again until you had already been born.” Rose reached a hand out and took Scarlets.

“I have learned to live without you but never wanted to.” Rose began to cry.

“Maybe we should take a break.” I rubbed Scarlet on the back.

“No, there is no time for that.” Rose raised her voice a bit. “Let me finish and you will understand why.

“Alright.” I nodded and looked to Scarlet, her eyes were glassy. I kissed her forehead and leaned back into the sofa.

“You were about two years old when your mother came home. She said she had been looking for me but had difficulty finding me safely, I had moved out of town to be closer to my sister.” She wiped the tears from her face.

“Lily explained that she had been wrapped up in James’ clan” Rose provided air quotes around the word clan.

“He had showed her many beautiful things and showed her a life she could have with him, if she wanted to join his family. He had told her that she did not have the gift but that there was a way to get it for her.” Rose looked nervously at Scarlet.

“If she were to sacrifice her first child.” Scarlet’s mouth dropped open and she tensed up. I wrapped an arm around her and held her close.

“Hold on now.” Rose noticed the change in posture.

“James had told her that he could give her a child that possessed ‘the gift’ and she would have to sacrifice the child to take it from them but when she had you she knew she could not do it. Lily came to me because she needed help getting away.” Scarlet relaxed a bit at that.

“So my father is not dead.”

Rose shook her head. “No but I wouldn’t necessarily call him alive either.”

“I helped Lily find a small town across the country that she would be able to lay low in. I paid for her moving expenses and got her set up before she got her job there. She kept in touch until James found me.” Rose’s expression went grim.

“James found you and your mother because of me.”

“Grandma..” Scarlet started.

“No, no. Let me finish sweetheart.” She shook her head.

“Luckily he didn’t have enough information to locate you two but it became very clear that I could no longer keep in contact. I started noticing people watching me and while I wasn’t scared for myself, I certainly had no intention of letting them get to you.”

“Things had been pretty quiet around here, I lived in the city and taught an art class and was generally doing well. I continued to be followed but no one ever tried to hurt me so I just kept living my life. That was until a few weeks ago..”

“I got a call from your mother that James had found her and she needed to get out of there. I had always kept this little place in case of emergency. I was careful to make sure I wasn’t followed and came straight out here and waited. You and your mother were supposed to be out on the next flight but I haven’t been able to get a hold of her since she called. I feared the worst..”

I found myself drifting a bit, I had been tired but I was fighting heavy eyelids at this point.

“Excuse me ladies.” I stood and stumbled a bit. I was having trouble finding my feet.

“I think something is.. “ I looked up to see Rose smiling.

“Connor, what’s wrong?” Scarlet tried to balance me but the room was spinning.

“Poor old grandma.” Rose began to cackle.

“Grandma?” Scarlet looked confused.

Rose’s face began to droop and slack, her skin twisting.

“Scarlet.” I reached out but fell hard.

“Scarlet baby! Mommy missed you!” The familiar sound of her mother's voice accompanied by a scream were the last things I heard.

I woke up in the dark, in the same spot I fell and a puddle of drool.

It didn’t take long to realize I was alone in the cabin. I got up slowly and looked around to see a few broken glasses on the floor and the door wide open. My keys were still in my pocket and miraculously the rental was still parked out front.

I don’t know what to think, somehow the person we were talking to was not Scarlet’s grandmother. Rose was gone and now I could only assume that Scarlet’s mother found her. I can’t just walk away, I need to find Scarlet and end this.

Looks like I need to go back home to where this all started.


Part Seven:

Everything seemed to have stopped. I didn’t feel uneasy, i didn’t feel like anyone was watching, it all just stopped.

I wanted to be prepared in going home to get Scarlet but I also wanted to take advantage of having no eyes on me.

Once I got out of the cabin, I made my way back towards town. My plan was to try to do some research before I dropped the rental car and hopped on a plane. I was too anxious to spend too much time investigating but too nervous about fucking this up to just go straight away.

After a little bit of looking I found a library and headed there immediately. I didn’t know what I would be looking for but I needed to try. I sat down at a computer station and started to search. I tried searching Scarlet’s last name and witchcraft, nothing. I tried searching coven with her moms name, nothing. The only info coming up was information on being Wiccan.

Then I searched the shooting at the grocery store with the exact name of the store and our city, nothing. There is not a single report of it ever happening. Maybe there had been no reporting on it, we were kind of from a small town but honestly gun violence gets attention these days.

I started searching the history of the town that Scarlet was born in but didn’t come up with anything more than some “World’s best Strawberries” bullshit. I was getting nowhere and honestly I didn’t know what I was looking for, I needed information that I couldn’t get from here.

I logged out of the library computer and grabbed my bag. As I walked out, I smiled and nodded to the librarian, she smiled back and gave a small wave in my direction.

As I walked towards the parking lot I realized I didn’t have my keys, i double checked my pockets and my bag but realized I must have left them on the computer desk. I turned around to head back in but got hit directly to the throat.

I had little time to comprehend before I felt my skull crush into concrete. I could taste the metallic bitterness of blood in my mouth and hot breath on my face. I opened my eyes to see a rugged man only inches away.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to take care of you.” He spat.

James.

“I just wanted to go home with my family but daddy has to do the dirty work.” He laughed like he had rocks in his throat.

I heard a scream from across the parking lot, the librarian, shit.

“I called the police!” She shouted from behind the entry door to the library.

I would have thought she was bluffing but I could already hear sirens among the ringing in my ears. Just as quick as he slammed into me, he was gone. Like he vanished, there was no running away or anything, just completely gone.

I know the only reason the police believed me was because the bruising around my neck already and the hysterical librarian.

“Let the paramedics check your head out kid, got a pretty nasty bump there. You might need to go into the hospital if that’s a concussion.” He put a hand on my shoulder which gave me an uncomfortable flash back to my last police encounter.

“I’m fine, just a headache.”

The paramedic came anyway and had me follow a little flashlight and answer questions about who the president was and what year it is. After he was done he recommended I come with them to the hospital anyways but I declined. I didn’t have time for a detour to the hospital. They spent another ten minutes trying to talk me into it to which I explained I had a flight to catch and that I needed to leave.

I got back in the rental and started to move. I started making my way towards the airport and noticed a police officer behind me, I wanted to believe it was out of concern but unfortunately the last couple weeks had me feeling some type of way.

I drove the rest of the way carefully to the place I rented the car from. The police cruiser parked a few spaces away from me but didn’t exit his vehicle. I grabbed my stuff and went inside.

“I’ll take who's next in line.” A young man raised his arm and waved me over. I recognized him from when we picked up the car.

“Ending your trip early?” He smiled and started to type away at his computer.

“My girlfriend had to go home unexpectedly so I am just taking care of our stuff and getting back there myself.” I tried to be friendly.

“Oh thats no good! Did she ever make it out here at all?” He seemed like a nice guy and I imagine he just had seen a lot of customers in the last 24 hours.

“Yeah, she was with me yesterday when we picked up the car. She just had a family emergency.” I nodded at him thinking that would be the trigger that would jog his memory.

“That’s weird I remember you coming in here alone.” He trailed off. He didn’t say another word the entire exchange.

He must have been tired or something, it had been late both times I had been here so I couldn’t blame him.

Once he was done with the transaction I thanked him and turned for the door. I noticed there were twice the security guards as when I came in as I made my way out. Just as I cleared the doors I recognized one of them looked like a clean shaven version of James.

My body shook hard and I just put my head down and kept walking. I got to the shuttle and boarded quickly to get over to the airport. It was pretty late so there weren’t many people on the bus, just a young couple and an older gentleman in the back.

I tried to calm my bouncing leg as we neared the airport. I stood from my seat and grabbed my bag as we came to a stop.

“In a hurry?” The driver laughed.

I forced a chuckle “Just want to get home.”

As the doors to the shuttle opened I moved forward to exit. The driver stood and threw his arm out in front of me.

“Are you sure about that Connor?” The man started laughing uncontrollably.

I shoved him back and got off the bus.

The safe feeling was definitely gone and now it felt like a race to get on a plane before somebody killed me.

As I power walked my way through the airport I wondered to myself how James was affecting this many people. How was he influencing so many? What the fuck was I going to do to beat this when I got home?

As I got to the empty counter the representative started looking for the next flight to my hometown.

“The next flight out is boarding right now, if you don’t have any bags to check you could make it.”

“I’ll take it, thank you.” I swiped my card

I barely paid attention to the girl at the counter but for some reason she looked familiar, almost like I had seen her recently but I didn’t have time to spend on it. As I grabbed my bag and started to walk away I heard her answer a call.

“Is there a Scarlet here?” She called out.

I looked back out of instinct.

“Your mother is calling.” She shouted to an empty lobby.

That's it.

She was the barista from the coffee shop.

“Fuck this.” I started running.

I cleared security and made it to the gate just in time, surprisingly nobody stopped me from sprinting through. I breathlessly handed my boarding pass to the flight attendant at the gate and got on.

I made it. Now I just had to make it through this flight and I could get to Scarlet. That’s all that matters anymore.

I settled into my seat and focused on my breathing.

I closed the window screen and rested my head against it, might as well get some rest before whatever hell breaks loose at home. I was out before the flight attendants did their safety talk.

“Sir.” My shoulder was shaking.

“Sir, we have arrived.” A young woman looked at me with concern.

I wiped the drool off of my chin. “Sorry, thank you.” I got up and made my way off the empty plane.

I must have been out hard because It looked like they were already cleaning up the plane. I got out of the airport and grabbed a cab back to my apartment, I figured I would regroup there before I went looking for Scarlet. I wasn’t even sure where to start.

The only thing I was sure of was that I was moving in the right direction because my phone hasn’t stopped ringing since I turned it back on.


Part Eight:

Sorry that it has taken me so long to post this, it has been hard to find the motivation to write this out for you guys. I guess I should start from when I got back home.

I took a night to attempt to get some sleep, although it was not very successful I felt better that I had. I prepared myself with as much as I could, I had purchased a gun when I moved into my own place as well as some pepper spray, didn’t know how that was going to help fight the blair witch gang but I was desperate.

When I was ready I got my things together and made my way over to Scarlet’s house, it took me a little while to find but I knew I had the place when I saw all the cars on the lawn. I felt really alone at that moment, approaching this house full of god-knows-what to rescue the girl I had miraculously fallen in love with in the last several weeks.

I must have been on another level of “fuck it” because I did not take pause in marching my happy ass in there. I was getting Scarlet and we were leaving together. No questions.

I was pumping myself up the whole way, the walk from where I parked my car around the corner to the front door felt like an entire week. When I reached the door I shifted the shotgun into one hand to knock and then realized how fucking stupid that would be. Glad in times of crisis my manners are still in tact though.

I reached for the handle and pushed the door open. It was silent inside.

I walked through the threshold and down the short hallway, it spat me out right into the living room with a clear view of the kitchen. A scan of the area revealed nothing. The house was filthy, there was trash and clothes everywhere, like a tornado of teenagers had destroyed the place. If I hadn’t known any better I might think that there was some sort of crazy party in this house the night before.

I took my time getting down the hallway, opening one door at a time. When I reached Scarlet’s mom’s room I noticed it looked like an entire corner of the room had been torn out, it was bare and I could see the imprints on the carpet from where furniture must have stood before. There was fresh blood on the exposed carpet.

My stomach lurched and I slammed the door shut. I froze for a moment, waiting to hear if someone was coming to get me.

Nothing.

I opened the last door in the hallway to enter Scarlet’s room. It surprised me, she had been so quiet in the beginning, she opened up slowly but this room was so loud. There were posters everywhere, paintings, comic books, movies and pop figures. There were notebooks everywhere with visible writing and a guitar positioned against the wall in the corner opposite her bed.

It made me smile for a moment before I remembered why I was here. I walked into her room and sat down on her bed feeling defeated. It seemed like no one was there and I wanted so badly to leave here with her, get away from here and start something real with her.

She made me want more than that goddamn gas station and this dead end place, I had to find her. I leaned forward and put my head in my hands, I didn’t know where else to look and I had no one to call for help.

I noticed as I was looking at the floor that there was a train ticket, our train tickets, here in her room. I picked them up and examined them. On one side very hastily written was an address, well a sort of address, where we live it was enough of a description of a certain place outside of town that it might as well have been an address.

I stood up instantly, sliding the tickets into my pocket and making my way out of her room, I could only hope at this point that she was still safe. If the story we heard from her fake grandmother was true they didn’t have much interest in keeping her alive.

I made my way back up the hall and opened the front door, as I did I heard something behind me. Something like a whimper, something almost too soft to hear. I backed up and looked down the hallway, Scarlet’s mom’s room was open. I know I had slammed that door closed. I slowly started moving towards it, I put a finger to the cracked open door and gave it a slight push, aiming my gun at the entry.

It looked the same at first but as I scanned the room I noticed a foot just sticking out past the bed on the far side.

“Scarlet?” I half yelled.

I crossed the room in two steps and knelt to see the body.

I say the body because that’s what it was. A body.

It was not Scarlet.

It was my mother.

And it looked like someone had ripped out her insides on the floor of this bedroom. I threw up right next her body and tried not to examine her too closely but as I got out of there I found myself wondering if those were intestines or an umbilical chord.

I cried and screamed the entire way to the new location. Whoever this fuck stick was he killed my mother and he took Scarlet and I had enough.

I pulled up to the old barn that Scarlet had described on the train ticket and jumped out of the car. I was still screaming as I approached the place.

“JAMES! LET’S FUCKING SETTLE THIS.” I was half running towards the opening. In a fit of adrenaline I shot off a round into the sky to get my point across.

I felt indestructible, I was either getting her out of there or dying because there was no other way for me. It is a feeling I have never had before and sadly I don’t know if I will ever have again.

To my surprise, James waltzed right out, like a surprised father greeting his daughter's prom date.

“Connor, why so angry? You’ll scare the neighbors.” He laughed with arms extended. There was no one around for miles.

“Hard to begin with an answer for that, I saw what you did to my mother and that’s enough to crack your skull open with the barrel of my shotgun.” The smile dropped off of his face.

“Where is she?” I spat.

“You will have to be more specific Connor, I keep a lot of company.” He smirked.

“Scarlet!” I screamed. Spit flying from my mouth. I could feel my face get hot and red. I was breathing heavy and started to take steps towards him.

“Relax, lover boy. She’s not here.”

“What did you do with her?”

“I didn’t do anything. This is a bit of a family matter Connor. Rude of you to get involved.”

“Tell me where to find her.” I aimed the barrel for his head.

“That won’t hurt me Connor, you’re wasting time.”

“WHERE IS SHE!” I screamed, my finger hugging the trigger.

“She and her mother have run off and I can guarantee you that our family will find her first so I will offer you a deal.” He walked closer and grabbed the barrel of the gun, pulling it towards the ground.

“Join us or walk away. There is no in between. You stay and I will explain everything, you will be stronger than you have ever been. You walk away and the phone calls will stop, the following you, the voices. Even the strawberries.” He smiled.

“Edna was a sweetheart.” He cackled.

“Fuck that, you explain first or I will find her myself.” I was in too deep to join this piece of shit and after what I had seen today my mind couldn’t be further from that.

“What if I told you that you had a little sister? What if her safety came from this? Would that be enough for you to give up?” His expression twisted into something evil.

“I’m not buying your bullshit. I’ll find her myself.” I started to back away to leave.

“Believe what you must Connor but I can guarantee you that my people will find her first.” He yelled.

I got back to my car and headed back towards town. I thought that there must have been another clue that she would leave me. Something to help me find her.

I haven’t found anything yet but I can’t give up. The image of my mother's body and James’ claims of my sisters existence haunt me but I keep moving. My initial ideas as to where she might be were all wrong so I have decided to try to back track. I have been looking into where I might actually find Rose. I think she will have all the answers that i need.

In the meantime, I just keep moving.

I had been feeling especially defeated last night, a week is a long time to look for someone and not find them. Time moves especially slow when someone you love is missing.

I had almost forgotten about my phone, it hadn’t gone off for 7 days and I hadn’t bothered to use it much.

This morning I got a call.

It was Scarlet.

“I’m safe for now.”

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