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 swung and squeaked in the breeze. Blank windows stared out, reflecting the line of fire that was the horizon.
Katelina pulled her little red car off the road 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’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 but stopped short of getting out. Should she 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. Through an open back door she could see a swath of old empty kitchen. Dead leaves littered the floor and cobwebs hung in profusion. It only took her a second to decide she didn’t want to go inside.
With nothing else to do, she made her way back to the front of the house and dropped to the ground.
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; 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 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 matter-of-fact tone seemed polite, almost friendly, as if he was trying to assure her he wasn’t a villain.
Despite his effort, 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. Maye she should lie and say she had a friend somewhere? But what if that blew the deal?
“Yes.” She took a steadying breath and prepared to gauge his reaction. “I’m alone, like you said.”
“Good.” She noticed that he spoke low, and that his mouth barely moved, as if he was afraid someone might overhear him. “Follow me.” Then he turned and walked towards the house.
Katelina stared at the old house and the blank windows stared back at her. Though he hadn’t cackled like a villain, she still wasn’t sure about him. He knew 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?
He paused at the porch and turned back. “You think I’ll hurt you?” In the dusky light she wasn’t sure if his half smile was sinister or appealing.
“You might,” she said quietly, half afraid to voice the possibility, as though saying it might make it happen. “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.” She realized in a rush of heart hammering fear 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.”
“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. Thanks to her stupidity, she was sure she’d end up dead before the night was over. Why hadn’t she stayed home? And why didn’t she leave now?
Because I want to know.
Her mind echoed a question, “Are you willing to die for this?” but she ignored it. Maybe she could get this Jorick guy to come back outside? He seemed reasonable, and maybe if she pointed out how sinister it appeared… The only thing she could do was try.
She took a deep breath and forced herself onto the porch. He appeared in the doorway holding a candle. The light gleamed on his skin and turned his impassive face to marble. “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; perfect.
Katelina couldn’t explain what happened next. One minute she stood on the porch, her mind tumbling in confusion. The next, she was inside the sad house, the door closing behind her.
The sound of the chirping crickets cut through her uncertainty and slowly the world came into focus. She looked around the small room quickly. 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 a 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 at least he was 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 and copious amounts of cobwebs that traced along the stained peeling walls and the dirty windows. There was no way Jorick could live in that house.
So what is he doing here?
When they came at last to a padlocked door, Jorick fished a key from his pocket that slid neatly into the lock. The tiny click echoed, magnified by the heavy stillness.
“I don’t often entertain company,” he said in lieu of an apology as he swung the door open and headed down a set of 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.” 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 Patrick had 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 a nearby pile of wooden crates. The rest of the basement was lost to thick shadows with no discernable furniture. If he was staying there where was he sleeping? Where was his bedroll and all the flotsam and jetsam that squatters piled up?
Apparently impervious to her 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. As to what she knew about Patrick, she didn’t know much. 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 and dared him to argue.
“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.”