The small house sat alone on a dead end road. Paint peeled from the weathered siding and golden weeds sighed against the foundation. A porch sagged in front of a rusty screen door that squeaked and swung when the breeze blew. Blank windows stared out, reflecting the line of fire that was the horizon.
Katelina pulled her little red car off into the weeds and stared at her final destination. This had to be one of the dumbest things she’d ever done – second only to the night she’d picked up Patrick in the bar and taken him home.
“What am I doing?”
She’d gone for food. She’d made a mental list in her head that included ice cream and hot fudge, but then she’d driven right past the store. She supposed it was curiosity and a desire to have the entire disaster over and done with. She desperately needed to move on.
She shut the car off and started to get out, then stopped. Should she really take all of her stuff with her? Her purse, her ID’s – her money? What if someone really was there, waiting to mug her? Wouldn’t that be a stupid thing to do?
“Not any stupider then coming in the first place,” she mumbled as she dug out her phone. She cast about for a suitable hiding place for her purse and finally jammed the thing under the seat.
The evening air was chilly, but it wasn’t yet night. She checked to make sure her doors were locked, then gave her car a final look. It would be okay. Everything would be okay.
She circled the house. There was a back door that hung open and she could see a swath of old, empty kitchen through it. Dead leaves littered the floor and cobwebs hung in profusion. It took her only a second to realize she didn’t want to go inside.
She made her way back to the front of the house and dropped to the ground for want of anything else to do. She could feel the comforting weight of her cell phone in her pocket. A connection to civilization; a lifeline.
Still, the sun was dropping rapidly and soon she’d be lost in darkness. She shivered, whether from chill or anxiety, and Sarah’s words played through her mind, “That’s how people get killed!” The night was getting nearer and those words seemed wiser and wiser with each second. She should have just called the police and stayed home; safe and secure in her contented shoe box of plasterboard and wood.
Something crunched and her head snapped up in response. A lone figure walked slowly towards her from around the house. His hair and clothing were all black, as if he was a part of the night. He was like a shadow wraith formed from her fears, with only his pale face to give him the illusion of reality.
He came to a stop in front of her and gazed down. He was tall and broad shouldered with a slim waist. His long hair fell down his back and seemed to blend into the long sleeved pullover. His mouth remained a tight–lipped line, though his eyes, dark and warm, seemed to be smiling at her.
She scrambled to her feet and brushed uselessly at her clothes. Her eyes hurried to meet his and assure him she was as much in control as he was, though she felt anything but.
When he spoke, it was the same voice she’d heard over the phone, deep and lyrical. “So you came?”
She didn’t trust herself to say more than one word. “Yes.”
“And you are alone?” His tone was matter-of-fact, rather than sinister, which comforted her slightly.
“Yes.” She wadded her hands into useless fists at her side. A vision swam behind her eyes of black garbage bags in a ditch, filled with her own dismembered body parts and she wondered if it was too late to go home. “I’m alone, like you said.”
“Good.” His voice was low and his mouth barely moved, as if he was afraid someone might overhear him. “Follow me.” Then he turned and walked towards the house.
Katelina didn’t move. She stared at the old house and the blank windows stared back at her. She knew that following him wasn’t a good idea. He’d just ascertained that she was alone and now he wanted her to go with him into an empty house that might have anyone or anything hiding inside – waiting, as she had been waiting? No.
He paused at the porch and turned back. “You think I’ll hurt you?” He was smiling very slightly, though the dusky light made it hard to tell whether the expression looked sinister or appealing.
“You might,” she said quietly, part of her afraid to verbally acknowledge the possibility. “I don’t know you – I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Jorick. Does that make you feel better?”
She could sense his amusement and waited for him to laugh. When he didn’t she answered truthfully, “Not really.” His smile was almost a smirk, and in another desperate attempt to control the situation she added quickly, “People know I’m here.” Her heart hammered as she realized that no one really did. She’d told Sarah about the call, but not the location. Great.
Jorick raised his eyebrows in mock surprise and the smile deepened at the corners of his mouth. “Good. I’d hate to think you take such chances, Katelina.”
“Just how do you know my name? And how did you get my work number?”
His smile faded. “If you want to know who killed your lover, you’ll have to follow me inside. If you don’t, then you can leave.” He shrugged as though it was of no consequence either way, then he opened the doors. “It’s your choice.” With those words, he stepped over the threshold and disappeared inside.
Katelina bit her lip and kicked the foundation, for good measure, cursing silently. She was sure that she’d end up dead before the night was over, thanks to her stupidity. Why hadn’t she stayed home? And why didn’t she just leave now?
She took a deep breath and forced herself to walk onto the porch. Her mind echoed a question, “Are you willing to die for this?” but she ignored it.
Jorick appeared in the doorway holding a candle. The light reflected strangely on his skin and fully illuminated his impassive face. “Are you coming in or not?”
Her heart pounded and a thought, unbidden, appeared in her mind: he was beautiful. His eyes were the color of dark wood, fringed in heavy lashes and framed by thick, dramatic eyebrows that arched ever so slightly. His lips were full and his skin was flawless and pale, like chiseled marble.
Katelina could never explain what happened next. One minute she was standing on the porch, her mind tumbling in confusion. The next, she was inside the sad house with the door closing behind her. The sound of the chirping crickets broke through her uncertainty and slowly the world came into focus. The room was small. Water–stained wallpaper sagged from the walls, a non–descript color. A mass of footprints marked the dust covered floor. There was no furniture, only two grimy windows and a yawning doorway
“This way.” He beckoned to her and ducked through the low doorframe – an elegant shadow cutting through the gloom.
She still felt dazed, but as he drew further away the darkness thickened. She tugged out her cell and flashed the light around, but it was poor imitation of the warm candlelight. Imagined monsters lurked in the shadowy corners and suddenly Jorick seemed more appealing company – he might be a psychopath but he was at least a real person.
She hurried to catch up to him. The next room was as abandoned as the first. The only contents were a large, empty trunk, copious amounts of cobwebs that traced along the stained, peeling walls, and the dirty windows. There was no way that Jorick could live in that house.
They came at last to a padlocked door. Jorick fished through his pocket and produced a key that slid neatly into the lock. The tiny click echoed, its volume magnified by the intense stillness.
“I don’t often entertain company,” he said in lieu of an apology. He swung the door open and started down a set of bare wooden stairs.
Katelina hesitated. She’d seen enough horror movies to know what the basement represented. There was probably a torture chamber down there, and she wasn’t going to walk glibly into it! She imagined Sarah’s eye roll. “That’s just a movie, Katelina! This is real life, not TV.” And the imagined Sarah was probably right. This Jorick, whoever he was, knew Patrick, so chances were he was just squatting in an abandoned house. That was the kind of company he’d kept. Not really dangerous, just… weird.
She clutched the cell, her finger on the emergency button, and forced herself down the stairs. Jorick waited for her at the bottom, and when she reached him he offered her another tight smile, no doubt meant to be soothing. Her eyes snapped from his face to their surroundings. A pile of wooden crates stood nearby and the rest of the basement was lost to thick shadows. If he was staying there where was he sleeping?
Obviously impervious to her inner turmoil, he said slowly, “I believe that now is the time to ask how much you knew – or think you knew – about your lover?”
Lover. She wished he’d quit using that word, though she supposed it was better than fuck buddy. She didn’t know a lot about Patrick. They had a deal limiting how much they shared; how involved they were. It had never sat well with her, but there it was.
“I knew enough,” she answered evasively.
Jorick’s expression was serious. “Do you know where he spent his Friday nights?”
She shrugged. “He said he played poker. Look, I just want to know – ”
He cut her off mid–sentence. “Before we begin, I think you need to be sure that you really want to know. The things you’ll find out… well, at the very least, they’ll change your perception of your lover. At the most they’ll change your perception of the world. Do you understand? You probably won’t believe me at first, not because it’s impossible, but because you won’t want to believe me. Then will come the moment when it all becomes clear for you, when the truth stands out glaringly from the rest of the mess that we call life and reality. Then you may not like it anymore.”
His speech was ridiculously overdramatic, like something from a late night TV drama. But, the serious expression on his face scared her just a little. What kind of secret did Patrick have? Did she want to know? Would it change anything, or make anything better? He’d still be dead, and the police wouldn’t arrest the murderer on her word alone – and probably not on Jorick’s, either. Still…
She surveyed him coolly. There were only a couple of things she could think of that would radically change her opinion of Patrick, and none of them were pretty. But, if Patrick had been a monster of some kind then so be it.
“I think I can handle it.” She crossed her arms over her chest for want of anything to do with her hands.
“Are you sure? I’m not trying to frighten you or mislead you, but it may be a lot to take in at one time.”
Katelina met his gaze head on, her face stubborn. “I’m sure. Go ahead and tell me.”