Today's Macabre Mini is THE GAMES OF MIDNIGHT HOLLOW by yours truly. My story was inspired by the fantastically creepy image below. Quick recap of the rules: I give the writer an image to inspire them. The story must be dark or odd in tone and be no more than 5,000 words long.
Image from Larissa Kulik via Shutterstock
Mirrors never lie.
That had to be the biggest line of rubbish Willow Livingston the Seer had ever heard. The speculum she stared in now reflected nothing but deception and half-truths. More than three centuries old, and her father still controlled her life. Everyone’s lives, if truth were to be told. Another cycle had come and gone, possibly the most gruesome to date. She’d warned him. Times were changing, but as always, Sebastian Livingston refused to heed her warning—dismissed it the same way he dismissed the screaming pleas of his prisoners. Without care.
Only this time, he hadn’t come out unscathed. Losing a leg would have destroyed a weaker man. Papa, on the other hand, had used his tragedy as a symbol of leadership and strength—a show of how he, too, could get his hands dirty right along with the commoners. The residents of Midnight Hollow revered him as a hero rather than the murderous persecutor Willow knew him to be.
Willow swallowed and leaned in close to the tarnished looking glass. Reaching out with her right hand, she tilted her head, touched finger to glass and traced the shape of her pale face. Her hand shook like a quivering white flag begging for mercy, but she managed to complete the circle before dropping her arm to her side with a sigh.
Transfixed with her distorted image, Willow blinked several times before her vision focused on her assistant. Georgie stood behind her wearing a simple white dress. She had a matching scarf tied around the top of her head in a lopsided fashion to hide her thinning tresses. Her bright blue eyes stared at Willow, calculating yet innocent at the same time. Georgie’s piercing gaze reminded Willow of a child with a secret, giddy and eager to spill the forbidden. Except Georgie wasn’t a child, though her mind often drifted in that direction. Other times, she was quite a genius. She fiddled with Willow’s hair, her bent fingers rapidly wrapping the intricate blond braids into a complex pattern befitting someone of Willow’s pedigree. Or so she’d been told. The braids were wound so tight Willow’s head ached as if giants were tap dancing on her scalp.
Willow forced a smile and smoothed the folds of her skirt into place. “Yes, Georgie. I’m sorry, what were you saying?”
Georgie curtsied as if she’d just remembered her station and Willow struggled not to cringe. As much as she liked Georgie personally, she didn’t care to have an assistant—especially one who invaded her space more often than not. When Willow had come of age, all privacy had flown out the window quicker than a colt leaving the starting gate. And she’d been left with nothing but dust and blood. Not to mention the weight of the world on her shoulders. A deep breath helped to muddy the horrid images, but no amount of meditation could erase all she had seen . . . All she had yet to see.
What Willow needed was a friend, but when one saw the future play out like a silent movie, slow motion one moment, rapid-fire snippets the next, fledgling friendships melted away faster than a vampire’s skin in the sun. No one had dared confide in Willow in more decades than she cared to count. Fighting the crippling effects of loneliness was nearly impossible. The edges of Willow’s heart had long ago blackened, no doubt turning as hard as cold charcoal. She rubbed her chest with her fist in an attempt to loosen the tightness that threatened to strangle her sanity, if not her very life.
Georgie cleared her throat, placed her hands on each side of Willow’s waist and spun her around. Willow teetered before stepping down from the wooden stool.
“I was saying we must hurry. The selection board will be assembling at any moment.” Georgie swept her crooked hands down Willow’s arms, inadvertently smoothing the perpetual goose bumps. “The humans are already lining up at the gates,” she said, then clapped her hands and giggled.
Of course they were. Midnight Hollow was the place to be after all. The humans wanted in while all Willow wanted was to get out—wanted it more than she wanted the air she breathed. Willow crossed to the window and threw back the thick brocade drapes. The weighty material barely swayed before settling into place. Intense, natural light illuminated her bedroom and lifted a modicum of the oppressing doom from her heart with its magical effervescence. She squinted into the bright sun as heavy, bass-driven music wafted in from the streets below. The party had begun and Midnight Hollow’s board elect hadn’t yet chosen the lucky one hundred from the masses dressed in clothing styles running the gamut from club and gothic-chic to preppy and fashionably wrinkled.
The permanent residents of the Hollow had organized a carnival befitting kings and queens. The elaborate booths were nothing more than a competition, each one striving to out do the other with sparkling flags and ribbons, gourmet cuisine and top-shelf liquor. Drunk humans were more pliable. The children of Midnight Hollow were awarded that golden nugget of information at a very young age. No doubt the humans would sober quick enough once they realized the festive community beyond the iron gates was nothing more than hell wrapped in a very pretty and tantalizing package.
Sickened to the point of dizziness, Willow dragged her gaze away from the merriment and turned to her giddy assistant while pulling at the high-collared neckline of the black dress her father had insisted upon. Sweat trickled down the length of her spine like an incessantly leaky faucet.
“I don’t want any part of this,” she said, her voice trembling faster than a goat’s bleat.
“Ach, don’t be ridiculous.” Georgie screwed up her nose, and slapped Willow’s arm as if she had just told the most hilarious joke. “This is tradition, and it's quite an honor.”
Willow unclenched her fists and pasted a smile on her face. What she wouldn’t give for a true confidant. Always having to choose her words with care straddled the line between exhausting and exasperating. “I’m aware. Perhaps this honor could be bestowed upon someone else.” Anyone else, to be precise.
“That’s not how it works, and you very well know it.” Georgie grabbed a tin of white powder and a puffer from the vanity. Lips puckered in determination, she moved in close and dabbed Willow’s brows and cheeks repeatedly, creating a cloudy veil in the process.
Willow coughed and stepped back from the fog, waving her hand in front of her face. “Stop.” As if she weren’t already pale enough from being sequestered to her quarters while other residents her age were permitted to attend university, roam the streets and soak up the sun. Her father insisted she cover her skin with that powdered mask. No one, save Georgie, had seen the true Willow in more than a hundred years. Not even Sebastian Livingston himself. Was she that much of a disappointment? Ach, indeed. She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Tell Papa I am ready.”
Georgie squealed. “I knew you’d do it.” She spun on her heel and flew out of the room, barely managing to pull the door closed behind her.
Finally alone, Willow returned her focus to the mirror, counted to ten, and then twenty. Concentrating on her breathing, she managed to slow her speeding heart rate to a mere gallop while forcing her painted white lips to relax. Once slightly settled, she downed the bitter contents from the chalice Georgie had left sitting on the dresser. The thick liquid slid down her throat and pacified the hunger gnawing at her belly. Turning back to the window, Willow clutched the red and gold drapes in her fists until her knuckles grew as ghostly as her face.
They all knew she’d do it. Willow had only fooled herself into believing she could escape her fate. The gates creaked, bringing her head up with a snap. The humans were getting restless. She pitied them more than she pitied herself. None would ever see beyond the gates again, but at least they’d experienced life outside of Midnight Hollow.
Now, most of those humans would only experience death. The others would wish they’d been so lucky.
Willow turned away from the window at the sound of the church bell. One long toll resonated before utter silence fell. Even the humans had stopped their chattering. If only they’d heed the warning. Little did they know the bell signaled the beginning of the end. But Willow knew. She knew more than any being should be permitted to know. Before she'd made it two steps, the music played again and the crowd’s excitement doubled in volume.
Out of habit more than necessity, Willow opened the top dresser drawer and retrieved a black, crushed-velvet bag. The bag was meant to store and protect the family jewels. She idly caressed her mother’s initials and blinked back tears. Willow treasured the contents and the memories more than any of the diamonds or rubies in her possession. Taking care not to cut herself, she shoved several blade slivers between her woven braids before stowing the bag and leaving the safety of her quarters.
Her socked feet met plush carpet and she wrinkled her toes in defiance. Her father may force her to wear the restricting dress and concealing powder, but he had no control over her choice of footwear, or lack thereof. Since she was not permitted to step outside the walls of this fortress, shoes served no purpose other than discomfort.
The empty hall appeared to stretch endlessly. Willow knew this farce was nothing more than parlor tricks created by strategically placed mirrors. Her father had spared no dime when he’d resurrected the condemned southern plantation into a castle complete with two turrets and an expansive dungeon. On days like this, Willow often wished she were confined to the dungeon. Peering out windows and open doors, but never being able to breech the threshold was a far worse punishment than staring at iron bars and darkened walls.
As she passed mirror after mirror, she avoided her reflection as if it were the plague, instead staring straight ahead with blurred vision and equally blurred purpose. Guards were posted at twenty-foot intervals. Dressed in sleek black armor, the metal clanged when Willow drew close and each one took a step back, pressing against the mirrored walls to put as much distance between the Seer and themselves as they could. Willow could have been insulted. Instead she was grateful. She didn’t want to seeeven less than the guards wanted to know what their futures held. Unfortunately, skin-to-skin contact wasn’t always necessary. Visions came of their own accord and Willow had no power to stop them or the words that would inevitably tumble from her lips.
One by one, the guards tilted their head and muttered a quick “Miss Livingston”, the required acknowledgment since she was technically their superior. Willow tuned those forced whispers out, choosing to focus on the sighs of relief that echoed in the halls when she pinched her lips together and hurried by. She considered squeezing her eyes shut, but that would shut out the present, and the present always had the potential for disaster.
Speaking of … the stuttered sound of her father’s gait had her slowing. Without turning, she waited for him to catch up. His reflection danced around her on all sides, mocking, intimidating. He wore a black turtleneck, black slacks and black shoes polished to a high shine. His tanned skin glowed with life, his slick black hair gleaned with health. Somehow, with one hand wrapped around the handle of a silver cane for support, he still managed to appear larger than life. “Hello, Papa,” Willow said, more out of habit than respect.
Unlike most, Sebastian Livingston was not afraid to touch Willow. He gripped her elbow with long, manicured fingers. “What do you see?”
That question never ceased to surprise her, though it shouldn’t have. He asked the same every time they were within two feet of each other. Willow unclenched her jaw, relaxed her face and turned toward her father. She lifted her chin to meet his eyes. “I see nothing.”
Nothing but death. So many deaths, and the one who deserved to die more than any other stood before her. Not a line marred his face, unless she counted his lips, which were drawn into a line thinner than a strand of hair. Papa wanted his future told and the fact that Willow had never been able to see anything about him had been the catalyst that fractured their already brittle bond.
Sebastian let loose her arm only to pinch her chin between two fingers. “Nothing at all, daughter?”
Willow held his gaze for several seconds before saying, “I see death.”
Sebastian narrowed his deep brown eyes even as his nostrils flared with what was either annoyance or excitement. “Mine?”
Willow was saved from answering by the melodic chiming of the bell. Her father grasped her elbow again and steered her around the corner. “We’ll discuss this later.”
She had no doubt about that. The future—his future—was the only topic Papa ever wanted to discuss. She saw so many deaths, but she'd never seen her mother's. Still, her gut told her he was responsible. She didn't know how, but Willow felt it in the marrow of her bones.
Sebastian Livingston cleared his throat and used the tip of his cane to push the door wide open. He stepped through with a sickening smile on his face, his arms spread wide. “Let the games begin.”
Willow clutched her stomach as dread churned and a vision sparked to life. The death she saw this time was so gruesome she cried out. This vision, this death, was of her own making.
“What do you see?” Sebastian whispered close to her ear. His breath tickled and she briefly wondered how something so warm could come from one with such a cold heart.
She turned her head, stared into eyes that looked so much like hers. “I already told you. I see death.” She didn’t tell him what else see saw. Amidst the blood and the horror and the broken parts lie something else—something that had been just beyond her reach until now.
Willow quickly pulled the slivers of black glass from her braids with both hands and plunged the make-shift weapons into her father's chest. Mouth wide open, eyes like saucers, he stumbled back. Willow advanced, hacking and slicing at his neck, cutting through tendons and muscles. She pulled back and plunged a blade straight into his heart, twisting the sliver, driving it deep enough to come out the other side. Blood gushed from his wounds, the sound more melodic to her ears than the music floating in from the open windows. Guards rushed into the room, but no one made a move to stop her. No one dared touch her.
Whether fear or relief caused their inaction mattered not.
Time slowed as the sands of the hourglass paused in a shocked hush as Willow finished off the one being who had tormented her and so many others for as long as she could remember. From this moment on, Sebastian Livingston was of no consequence. Her life would finally be her own.
Covered in blood, Willow turned and faced the members of the selection board, her breaths sawing out of her as she gasped for air and forced her nerves to calm. Horror-filled eyes studied her, assuredly trying to predict her next move. She pulled off her wig and tossed it to the floor. Her dark hair tumbled to her waist like a velvet cloak. Willow took a seat at the head of the table, folded her hands in her lap like the lady she was taught to be. "Now, where were we?"
Oh, yes, the games would continue, but now they would be played Willow's way. A knowing smile curled her lips. She doubted very much the residents of Midnight Hollow would care for her new rules. The hunters would now become the hunted.
It's Friday! Yesterday was a bit of a beast, so I've deemed today a total FUN DAY!
MARKED BEFORE DAWN, the first book in the Afterlife trilogy is releasing next week. For those who believe in fate, soul mates, finding the one--the only one--meant for you, the tale of Elijah + Avery is one you don't want to miss!
Click on the cover to pre-order.
Available at Amazon
Read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited
Book Two, JUDGED AT NIGHTFALL, is coming your way in late March! I'm in serious love with these characters. Be prepared for sarcasm, wit, butting heads, and a heavy dose of sexy. Now comes the fun! Feast your eyes on this hot cover...
Click on the cover to pre-order.
Available at Amazon
Read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited
On that note, I'm out of here. Enjoy your day, lovelies.
Until next time,
It's time to get this creepy party rolling! Today's Macabre Mini is THE PATIENT by Brenn VanDeilen. Brenn's story was inspired by the haunting image of the girl below. Quick recap of the rules: I give the writer an image to inspire them. The story must be dark or odd in tone and be no more than 5,000 words long.
Image from Larissa Kulik via Shutterstock
Raindrops fell softly on the metal roof of Molly O’Leary’s quaint woodland cabin. She’d barely noticed the muffled sounds of the rain and the rustling of the leaves as the wind blew through the forest. She was lost deep in thought. She could hardly believe how quickly she and Richard had fallen in love. The past month was a complete whirlwind and she felt both excited and apprehensive at the same time. Maybe this was moving too fast. Maybe they should take a step back and reevaluate the relationship. Richard was not only 20 years her elder, he was also her therapist. It was unethical. Sordid. This love affair would end badly and she knew it. She prepared herself for what needed to be done and headed out the door, cloaked in her hooded rain poncho. Richard had promised her a surprise tonight, but he was the one who was in for a surprise.
The drive to Richard’s house afforded plenty of time to think about how it would be done. She imagined what she would say when the time came. She drew in a long, deep breath and exhaled with a pained sigh before turning the key and killing the engine. She’d made up her mind. Better to end it now then to let the relationship continue to grow. It would only be harder if she allowed herself to fall deeper in love with him. She’d do it quickly. Like ripping a band-aid off to lessen the severity of the pain. Molly exited her car and jogged up the sidewalk to Richard’s front door, wind and rain pelting her face, a feeling of dread haunting her soul.
Dr. Richard Hanson waited at the open door, all 6’ 4” of him. He wore a plain white T-shirt, a pair of ripped jeans and a boyish grin that made Molly weak in her knees. His Caribbean blues eyes danced with excitement. She would miss those eyes. She stared long and hard, searching for a sign that maybe she was wrong. But the more she searched, the more her heart ached, and she knew she’d come to the right decision.
“Looks like we’re in for a big storm tonight. It could get ugly out there.” Richard pulled her close and softly kissed her glossed lips.
It could get ugly in here, she thought as she sucked on his lower lip. God, she would miss this too. There were advantages to dating an older man. They were much better at seducing a woman than the younger men she had toyed with.
Richard released her and gently stroked her cheek with his thumb. His face turned serious and she worried that maybe he would tell her it was over. This made her uneasy. She was a girl who liked things to go according to plan. No surprises. No deviation.
Molly nervously tucked her ginger hair behind her ear and swallowed a golf-ball sized lump in her throat. “You said you had a surprise for me? Am I going to like it?”
Richard grasped her hand and led her through the foyer to the kitchen where an opened bottle of Chianti and two wine glasses awaited them. This hardly seemed like a break up to Molly. What could he possibly have in store for her? He pulled a barstool from the breakfast bar and offered it to her. She sat and watched as he poured the wine, wishing all the while that he’d get on with it.
“So what’s this big surprise? Please? I’m dying to know.” Molly locked eyes with Richard, playfully begging for him to let her in on the secret.
“I know we said that we’d keep what we’ve discussed in your sessions separate from our relationship. But I want to help you overcome some of these phobias. I’ve thought about it quite a bit, and I really do think I can help.” He brought the wine to his lips and took a sip without breaking eye contact. “You trust me, don’t you? You know I’d never do anything to hurt you, right?”
“But I thought you loved me as I am. What? You’re going to try and fix me?” She knew she sounded less than grateful, but frankly, she wasn’t grateful. Offended was more like it. All her life, friends and family had been telling her that her phobias were irrational. But to her, they weren’t. They were very real. Paralyzing at times. And now Richard was the man who thought he could save her from her crazy fears?
“Not fix you, Molly. Help you. And I do love you just as you are. I only wanted to try and take away some of your pain.” His sincerity softened the mood a bit and she managed a small smile.
“I do trust you. I just don’t like people thinking I’m crazy and that I need to be fixed.” Molly gulped down half her glass of wine. “How bad could it be?”, she wondered aloud. There was her fear of flying and her fear of heights, but with the storm headed their way, surely he wasn’t planning to take her flying or to the tops of any tall buildings. Then there was the claustrophobia and the coulrophobia. Would he lock her in a tiny closet with a deranged clown? Molly’s list of phobias was a mile long and checking them off one by one in her mind made her think that maybe she really was a bit crazy.
Molly tossed back the last drop of wine and sat her glass back on the counter top. She pushed the base of the wine glass with her finger tips until the glass clinked with the bottle of Chianti. “I’ll be needing some more of that if we’re going to do this.”
“Relax. It’s nothing all that bad. And we can have a safe word if you like. You’ll see. You’re strong. You can do this. I know you can. And this will make us stronger.” Richard poured the wine to the very rim of the glass and then pushed it back to her. He leaned in for a long, slow kiss and she once again questioned if she’d made the right decision.
He’d thrown a wrench in her plans, but she was good with it. She could improvise. This could work out well. She could receive some great professional help, have some amazing sex, and then finish it just as she’d planned. It was for the best. She had to protect her heart at all cost.
Two bottles of Chianti were gone and so were Molly’s inhibitions. She’d left them on the kitchen floor with her clothes. After throwing some words around, they agreed that Mercy would be their safe word. Richard had blindfolded her and led her to this balmy room. Salt air permeated her nostrils and her skin prickled with anticipation while her mind waged a war between fear and excitement. She’d never been in this room before. At least she didn’t think so. But oddly, she wasn’t afraid. Maybe it was because she knew he was still with her. She had never trusted a man the way she trusted Richard.
“Are you okay, Molly? Do you feel safe?” His voice, steady and calm, reassured her that she was in no danger.
“Yes, Richard. I’m okay. But what is this? Yes, I’m afraid of the dark, but seriously. You should’ve used a thicker scarf. I mean, I can’t really see anything, but I can see that it’s light in here. And why am I naked? I don’t have a fear of being naked. You, better than anyone, should know that.”
“Oh, I know that. It’s pretty warm in this room and I didn’t want you to get hot. Besides, I think you’ll enjoy the fact that you’re naked. I know I do. Are you ready?” He inched closer with each word and he whispered the last sentence into her ear, his lips brushing lightly against her ear lobe.
Molly’s entire body shivered violently causing her to lose her balance and stumble forward. He reached out and steadied her, his touch sending molten lava through her veins. She felt like a volcano on the verge of erupting. Why was she so aroused? Was it his voice and touch making her feel as though she were on the receiving end of some amazingly erotic foreplay or was she turned on by the mystery of what he had in store for her? Either way, she hadn’t felt so alive in ages. Maybe ever.
“You have quite a list of phobias, Molly. I’ve randomly chosen a few to work through tonight, and once you’ve conquered those, we can work on the others. Are you ready?”
“Yes. But you’ll stop if I say the safe word, right? Promise?”
“Yes. I promise. Trust me.”
Richard held her face and kissed her lips. His hands slowly moved down her neck and over her bare breasts. Molly quivered with delight as he continued across her belly to the tops of her thighs and then outward to each wrist, causing goose bumps to form all over her skin. He pulled her wrists upward and together and then bound them with what felt like silk scarves.
Merinthobia. The fear of being bound or tied up. Molly instantly regretted agreeing to this. She pulled her wrists apart to no avail and resisted as he tied the knots firmly. She began to hyperventilate and panic rushed through her veins extinguishing the lava that had been there just seconds before. He held her wrists gently between them and pulled her close enough that she could feel his breath on her forehead.
“Please, Richard. No. I’ve changed my mind.” she pleaded, her voice shaking and weak.
“Shhh. It’s okay. You’ll see. I promise I won’t hurt you.” He lightly kissed her forehead and then moved downward to her trembling lips. He pulled her lower lip into his mouth, gently stroking it with his tongue. He finished with a playful bite causing Molly to involuntarily moan.
So this was his plan? Inflict a bit of terror and reward with passion? Molly wasn’t sure this would work. At the moment, pleasure kept fear at bay, but how long would that last? She desperately wanted this experiment to end, but she couldn’t dismiss the fact that a dark part of her soul enjoyed this.
“Are you ready for more? All you have to do is ask. We can stop right now if you want. Just say the word.” Richard teased her senses, brushing his lips across her skin as he spoke the words.
“Yes, Richard. Please, I want more.” Her body betrayed her mind and passion won. Yes, she wanted more. But how much more? What was the limit? What would be her breaking point? Could this really work?
Richard scooped Molly into his arms and positioned her gently onto a chair. He placed his hands on her knees and slid them upward and inward prying her thighs apart. He stroked her inner thighs with his fingertips causing Molly to shiver and moan. Her muscles relaxed and she surrendered to his touch, anxiously awaiting his next move.
“Are you comfortable? Do you feel safe?” Richard’s warm breath caressed her thighs as he moved his hands to her ankles. She knew where this was going and she felt ashamed to be enjoying it.
“Yes. I feel safe. But please don’t tie them tightly. Please.”
“Relax. You’ll be fine. Here, have another sip of wine.”
Molly felt the glass touch her lips and she willingly parted her lips and let the sweetness of the wine fill her mouth. She needed this. Just a little more should do it. She’d gone this far. Let him bind my ankles, she thought, the reward will be worth it. Molly continued to drink until she had emptied the glass. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Richard wrapped the silk scarf around Molly’s ankles, loosely at first, but tighter as he went. When she protested, he calmed her with his velvety voice. “You’ll be fine. You can do this.” When he’d finished, he kissed her once more on the forehead. “Be right back.”
Molly heard footsteps as Richard walked away from her. What was he doing? Where was he going? Her heart raced and panic pushed away any feeling of arousal she’d had.
“Richard? Where are you going? Don’t leave me here alone! Richard? Untie me!”
“Molly. You’ll be okay. I’m just going to get more wine. You drank it all and I’m thirsty. I’ll be right back. Trust me.”
And then all went dark and she heard the door close and then a click. What was that? He locked the door? Why did he turn out the lights? Why did he lock the door? And what was that pounding noise?
As the pounding intensified, She realized it was her heart, beating so hard and fast it would surely explode through her chest. She frantically gasped for air, but the invisible elephant sitting on her chest wouldn’t allow her to breathe. She writhed in the chair, desperately twisting her wrists and pulling at her ankles in an attempt to break free. Think, think, THINK.
Why did she drink so much wine? It had gone to her head and she couldn’t make sense of her thoughts. She felt physically ill. She was nauseous and her head spun like an out of control merry-go-round. Maniacal carousel horses danced in her head, laughing at her weakness. Molly wept. Sweat formed on her brow and rolled down her face converging with her tears, forming a river of defeat.
Safe word. Say the safe word. She tried without success to cry out. Mercy. She formed the word with her mouth, but no sound came. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t move a muscle. She’d been drugged. There would be no mercy for Molly.
Water slapped gently against Molly’s cheek waking her from her drug-induced sleep. She peeled her eyes open trying to adjust to the darkness of the room that had become her torture chamber. She no longer wore a blindfold, but it didn’t matter. Her eyes were useless. Salt air assaulted her nose aiding to clear the cobwebs from her brain. Where was she?
Water. She was floating in water. Salt water. And not floating. Suspended. She was hanging from a rope, wearing a harness, submerged in salt water. Thalassophobia. Fear of the ocean. At least she was no longer bound. She instinctively began to tread water.
“Someone’s awake. Did you have a good nap sweetie?” She could barely make out Richard’s silhouette standing at the edge of the frigid water.
“You drugged me.”
“It was just a mild sedative. I knew there was no way you would willingly get into the water. How do you feel?”
Molly wanted to scream and cry. She wanted to beg, scream mercy, but she refused. She was pissed and she would never let him win. She would never let him see her vulnerabilities ever again. If she could just make it through this next test, she would tell him she was done for tonight. And then she could get back to her plan and be done with him.
“I’m cold, Richard. What is this place? Where am I?”
“This, my dear, is the crown jewel of my home. You know how much I love the sea. I’ve been waiting to show you because I didn’t want to scare you away. This is my salt water aquarium. It fills the length of the room. 20,000 gallons in total. Can you imagine? 20,000 gallons!”
“I’d like to imagine, but I can’t see it. I can’t see anything. It’s so dark. Will you turn on the light so I can see?” Her body shook from the coldness of the water causing her voice to stutter and quiver. She treaded water faster trying to warm her body. She didn’t want to see his freaking tank. She wanted to see him. See his eyes so she could evaluate his intentions. Was he out of his mind? Some sort of psychopath? Or did he really think he was helping her?
“I thought you’d never ask! You’re going to love it! It’s so colorful and eclectic. I’ve had sea life flown in from all over the world.” Richard’s voice boomed in the large room and she wondered if he’d missed his calling as an announcer at Sea World. He was obviously proud of his collection of fish. She would be sure to compliment him in hopes he would release her from this aquatic hell.
Molly listened as his footsteps faded to her left, echoing with each step. She wished he had chosen the small closet with the deranged clown instead of this. At least she could’ve throat-punched the clown, maybe kneed him in the balls, and then kicked the door down. Yeah, she was a bad ass in her mind, but in reality, she was a scared, terrified little girl floating in the ocean. She couldn’t wait for the horrors of tonight to end. When it was all said and done, Richard would never mess with her again.
A flicker of light momentarily lit the water beneath her. She could vaguely make out the movement in the water. Her heart leapt into her throat threatening to suffocate her. Get it together, Molly. You can do this. She closed her eyes and tried to go to her happy place. That’s what all her prior therapists had told her to do when she felt panicked.
Another flicker and the tank was fully illuminated bringing to life a smorgasbord of saltwater fish. They swam in brightly-colored schools all around her. She treaded water more frantically in an attempt to push the water and the fish away from her. She hadn’t noticed Richard’s return.
“Still doing okay?” The aquarium lights danced off the water producing just enough light for her to see him more clearly. He looked calm. He seemed sincere. Was he not a sadistic madman hell-bent on torturing her? Could he really think he was helping her? Either way, she needed to get the hell out of this water.
“I’m good. I’m tired though and I’d like to be done for tonight. You’ve really helped me. See? I’m in this water and I’m not freaking out. And I stayed pretty calm when you had me blindfolded and bound. Don’t you think so? Didn’t I do good?”
“You’ve done great, honey! I’m so proud. Just one more thing and then you can be done. I know you can do it. I believe in you.” The enthusiasm in his voice made her want to puke. He was one sick cookie. She wondered if he’d ever tried these techniques with his other patients.
Richard bent down and reached inside a metal bucket sitting at his feet. He scooped up a handful of slimy fish guts and tossed it into the water directly beside her. The stench of rotten fish filled the air and Molly gagged, filling her throat with bile.
“It’ll just take a few seconds. He’ll get the scent pretty quickly and then he’ll come to greet you.” His words made her feel like she was the audience of a freak show at the circus.
“Meet who? Please let me out of here. I think I’m done.” She tried her best to steady and calm her voice. The last thing she wanted was for him to detect fear.
“Clyde. He’s my favorite. He’s a squid!”
Teuthiphobia. Fear of squid. She couldn’t believe he’d even remembered. She only mentioned it briefly and it wasn’t true. She’d fed him this and a handful of other phobias to add to her real phobias to keep him interested. Bring on the squid you crazy son of a bitch. Now the ball was back in her court and she would slam it down his throat.
“No! Please, Richard! Let me out of here!” Molly tried her best to sound frightened and terrified. That’s what he wanted, wasn’t it? Did it make him feel like more of a man? Whatever it took to get her out of this water and out of this house.
“You’re doing great, baby. He’s almost there. He just wants to say hello. You’re going to feel so much better when this is done. Trust me!”
Molly cringed as Clyde’s slimy tentacle wound it’s way up her calf. She hadn’t been expecting this and now that he was here, she decided that she didn’t care one tiny bit for Clyde. His grip tightened as he climbed further up her leg. She’d had enough.
“Mercy! Mercy! Get this thing off of me!” Molly frantically kicked her leg but Clyde wasn’t letting go.
“So fast? I thought you’d last longer than that.” Richard reached into his back pocket and pulled out a large hunting knife, shrouded in its sheath. “A promise is a promise though. And you’ve said the safe word, so I’ll rescue you from Clyde. Or rather, you can rescue yourself.”
“What do you mean? What is that?”
“It’s a knife. I’ll toss it out to you and you can cut yourself free and swim over here to safety. Then you’ll see that you’re in charge of your fears. You have the ability to end them.
“But I can’t swim!”
“I already thought of that. That harness you’re wearing is also a life vest, so you’ll just have to paddle.”
Molly shook her head in agreement and held her arms out, ready to catch the knife. Richard tossed it and to her amazement, she caught it easily. She pulled the knife from its sheath and began sawing back and forth at the rope. Clyde held firmly to her leg and she felt his little suction cups sucking away. She would have hickies from hell.
After a few seconds the knife cut through the rope and Molly swam with all her strength to the side of the aquarium, dragging Clyde behind her. Richard knelt at the edge offering his hand and she willingly grabbed it. He yanked her from the water and both Molly and Clyde flopped onto the deck.
Fueled by adrenaline and anger, Molly screamed obscenities while hacking away violently at Clyde’s tentacle. Richard stood frozen in horror, unable to process the scene before him.
“Stop! What are you doing? He wasn’t hurting you! Stop!”
Molly stopped, but it was done. Clyde slid back into the water, oozing blood, minus one leg. A cloud of black ink appeared and he was gone.
“Are you out of your mind? Why did you do that? My God, Molly! What is wrong with you?”
“What is wrong with me? What is wrong with you?” Molly struggled to her feet, naked and dripping wet. Richard turned his back in disgust and walked to the door. She decided the time was now.
The rehearsed speech, the exact how was all out the window. It was time to improvise. Molly grabbed the metal bucket filled with fish guts and swung with all her might at the back of Richard’s head. Metal met bone and he stumbled and swayed before falling limp to the floor. She dropped to the floor beside him and cradled his head, stroking his blood-soaked hair.
“Oh, Richard. You’ll be okay. I’m going to help you. Trust me.”
Detective Jones scrolled through the pictures on Dr. Richard Hanson’s phone, horrified by what he saw. They were all there. All four of the dead women were right there on Dr. Hanson’s phone. Once they’d figure out that the four women had all been patients of the doctor, it was easy enough to find him. But the detective didn’t expect to find him like this.
A uniformed officer poked his head into the bedroom and cleared his throat. “There’s an FBI Agent here to see you, detective.”
“Send him in.”
“Her.” Agent Wells pushed past the officer and approached the detective. She grabbed her badge from her wallet and flipped it open. “I’m agent Lisa Wells. I’m chasing a serial killer and my investigation has led me here.”
“Well, there he is. He doesn’t look too threatening right now, but that’s him.” Jones motioned over to the bed.
Richard’s dead body lay in a pool of blood on his bed. His arms and legs were splayed and bound to the bed posts with silk scarves. He was blindfolded and naked and the word Mercy was painted in what surely was his own blood on the wall above his head. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
Agent Wells moved in for a closer look. “What the hell is that hanging out of his mouth?”
“We believe that to be a squid tentacle. We followed a blood trail and it led us to a room at the back of the house. He’s got a huge salt water aquarium back there. There’s a squid in it that’s missing a leg. Poor little fella. Looks like a crime of passion.”
“Well, he’s not who I’m looking for.”
Detective Jones passed the Dr.’s phone over to Agent Wells. “They’re all there. All four of the dead girls are right there on the phone. He was their therapist. We’re sure he’s our guy.”
Agent Wells flipped through the pictures on his phone. She paused when she reached the last picture and blew it up to see the face better. She showed the picture to Detective Jones.
“I’m looking for her. Is she one of your dead girls?”
“Never seen her. I thought you said you were looking for a serial killer.” Jones studied the picture, minimizing it back to it’s original size. A young woman with red hair was hanging in mid air, her naked body suspended above the doctor’s aquarium.
“I did. I’m looking for that woman. She’s had several names now. Donna Quincy, Joanna Long, Georgie Mason. Her latest alias is Molly O’Leary. Wanted for the deaths of at least 5 doctors in 3 different states. I guess we can add this guy to her list.”
Molly placed the last of her belongings into her trunk and slammed the lid closed. She would miss this cabin, but it was time to move on. Dr. Hanson had been of no help to her and she needed to find a new therapist as soon as possible. What would it be this time? Phobias again? Or maybe she’d been abused as a child. Worse. Maybe she’d been kidnapped and held as a sex slave for two years. She’d have plenty of time to come up with her new identity while she drove to her next destination. She just had to figure out where she was going.
Of all her doctors, Richard had been her favorite. She’d thought about letting him live. Right up to last night. But then he had to go and get all freaky on her. His had been the most gruesome murder of all and she liked it. It made her feel more powerful than she’d ever felt.
She loved hearing Richard beg for his life. The fear in his eyes as she plunged Clyde’s severed tentacle into his mouth made her squeal with delight. And then blindfolding him so he couldn’t see what was coming. That was the best. She sat in silence for an hour while he cried, writhing in his bed trying to escape his bindings, Clyde’s leg hanging from his mouth. She loved seeing him helpless like that. Finally, when he lay still, exhausted from his fight, she went to him. She took great pleasure in slitting his throat. She watched intently, mesmerized by the sight of the blood flowing in a scarlet river down his neck and onto the sheets.
She cranked the radio volume and backed down her driveway. Jolene played on the radio giving Molly the inspiration she needed. She adjusted the rear view mirror down so that she could see herself. “Well, hello, Jolene. How does Tennessee sound? I hear it’s beautiful in the Fall.”
Jolene threw the gear shift into drive and headed East. Tennessee seemed like a good place to hunt for a new doctor.
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