The small house sat alone on a dead end road. Paint peeled from the weathered siding and golden weeds sighed against the foundation. A small 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 Patrick up in the bar and taken him home.
“What am I doing?”
She recalled going to get 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, to end this chapter in her life. She desperately needed to move on.
She shut the car off and started to get out, but 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 were 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?”
“Yes.” Her tone was weak despite her efforts at dominance. “I came.”
“I trust you are alone?” He stared her full in the face as if expecting to find the truth there rather than their surroundings.
“Yes, I’m alone,” she answered reluctantly. She wadded her hands into useless fists to try and release her tension. A vision swam before 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 feared someone might overhear him. “Follow me.” He turned his back to her 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?” His tight smile stayed firmly in place and his dark eyes shone.
She could sense his amusement and waited for him to laugh, but 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 truthfully no one did. She hadn’t even told Sarah the location of the proposed meeting.
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.”
She could feel him studying her through the gloom, silently dissecting her and it was time that he was dissected. “How do you know my name?”
His smile faded. “Enough of this. 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 to him either way, then he opened the doors. He paused and looked over his shoulder at her. “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 a dull fear began to bite at her insides; the unreasonable fear of the dark. Jorick was disappearing and she realized that the light was leaving with him. The thought of being left alone in the gathering blackness was more terrifying than the thought of what might be waiting for her elsewhere, and she hurried to catch up. She could try to understand what she was doing later.
The next room was as empty and lonely as the first. The only contents were a large, empty trunk and copious amounts of cobwebs that traced along the stained, peeling walls, and the dark, dirty windows. Between this and the kitchen, there was no way that Jorick could live in this house.
They came to a heavy, padlocked door. Jonick 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 refused to go further. How was it that the house seemed condemned, yet had locked doors? Why would anyone who owned an abandoned house – for abandoned it surely was – keep the basement padlocked? She wasn’t past thinking that her “host” regularly butchered girls down there. On the other hand, any room in the house would do to kill her in. Perhaps her worries were just ingrained superstitions from too many horror movies. Maybe he lived in the basement because the house was in such bad shape. Maybe he was just too poor to move. Maybe he was just squatting here. After all, if he was someone that Patrick knew…
But, she’d come this far. Besides, she had her cell phone. She could always call 9–1–1 if she needed to. With this in mind, she took a deep breath and started down the stairs.
Jorick waited for her at the bottom.. When she reached him she glanced from the faint smile on his lips to their surroundings. A pile of wooden crates stood nearby, but the rest of the basement was lost to thick shadows. Obviously he didn’t live down here, either. The realization did nothing for her confidence and her hand slipped into her pocket, ready to snatch out the phone.
He surveyed her and then his words came slow and deliberate, with no emotion attached. “I believe that now is the time to ask how much you knew – or think you knew – about your lover?”
She stared straight into Jorick’s face, despite the strange discomfort it gave her, and digested his question. She knew a lot about Patrick, but she was sure she didn’t know everything. They had a deal about how much they discussed; how much they shared. And why did this matter, anyway? All she wanted was the name of the killer.
“I knew enough.”
Jorick smirked lightly. “Enough? Do you know where he spent his Friday nights?”
She shrugged. “He played poker.”
“I see this will not be easy.” Jorick sighed, almost sadly. “No, he didn’t play poker on Friday nights.”
“Look, I just want to know . . .” but he cut her off mid–sentence.
“Before we begin, I think you need to be sure that you really want to know.”
“Of course I do!” she snapped. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here waiting to have my throat slit!” The words slipped out unintentionally, but she decided it was just as well. She suspected he was stalling for time; waiting for someone else to show up and grab her from behind.
He cocked his head inquiringly. “Are you sure? 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 seemed ridiculously overdramatic, though his tone was serious. It sounded like a lot of exaggerated bull to her. Still, a small part of her was scared. What secret did Patrick have that could do all of that if revealed? Did she want to know? Would it change anything, or make anything better? He would still be dead, and she would still have no way to get the police to arrest the perpetrator – she doubted that Jorick’s word would be enough to convict anyone. Yet she’d come this far, hadn’t she?
She steadied herself and 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. No matter what, this man, this stranger, would not see her shock. He would not be privy to her inner emotions. She would remain in complete control.
“I think I can handle it,” she answered flatly and crossed her arms over her chest for want of anything to do with her hands.
He shook his head. “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.” He watched her carefully, as though trying to discern her true feelings from the mask she’d made of her face.
Katelina met his gaze head on, her face stubborn. “I’m sure. Go ahead and tell me.