Kristen pulled her jacket tighter around her shoulders. Again, the hanging emergency light went out as soon she walked up the stairs. The light down the hall cast shadows from the tree that looked like hands grabbing for her. Kristen used her phone to guide her up the stairs so she wouldn’t trip.
“Excuse me, miss?” the quivering voice asked.
“Uh, yes?” Kristen answered. Every instinct told her to keep walking, but she froze mid-step. What was the harm? Maybe the person was going to the same conference and was lost.
“I’m a grad student here.” The awkward man stepped from the shadows. “I’ve seen you around and was wondering if you want to go to the beach with me.”
“No, I’m sorry. I have a boyfriend, and he wouldn’t like it if I went to the beach with a stranger at night.” She started up the stairs to get away from him as fast as she could, but the man grabbed her.
“Take my card.” His hands shook as he drew his card.
Kristen forced a smile while taking it. But her feet couldn’t help her escape quick enough.
“Did you keep the card?” Jackson said, pacing in the kitchen.
“God no! I tossed it as quickly as I could.” Kristen was washing her hands for the third time, but still, they didn’t feel clean.
“Then tell me you at least remember his name. Come on, Kristen, you had to have noticed something.” His hands went through his hair. It was the first thing he did whenever he got stressed about a situation he couldn’t control.
“Of course, I noticed things. He was a gangly, strange man. Very dated thinning brown hair. His clothes looked as though he had just come from the nineties. Jeans held up by a belt, high on his waist, obviously two sizes too big. A shirt that was black and white with zig-zags that were faded.” Kristen felt proud for remembering so much, but Jackson wasn’t. “What? I tossed the card as soon as I could. He gave me the creeps.”
“I know. You did well getting out of there as soon as possible.” Jackson hugged her tight. “What if I gave you a taser?”
“Babe, it only happened once. Yeah, he was a total creep, but still. I don’t need a taser.” Kristen stomped her foot like a five-year-old as the last four words spilled out of her.
“Fine then. Take Tank with you to class.” Jackson petted the giant bullmastiff on his head.
“Sometimes, I think you being a cop makes you blow things out of proportion,” Kristen teased.
“It’s not the cop in me. It’s the marine.” He pulled her in, giving her a long kiss. “But being your lover makes me blow things way out of proportion.”
It was two weeks since her encounter with Mister Creepy, and Kristen avoided the stairs like the plague, just in case. But when she came out of her class after staying late with her teacher, she heard the voice again. This time she didn’t stop. There was no way he was here. Kristen’s class was clear across campus.
Kristen fumbled for her phone in her purse. Damn, being polite in class and not keeping the thing out. She dialed Jackson. The phone seemed to ring forever, but he finally answered. “Babe, he’s here. Where are you?”
“Okay. Please don’t hang up.” Kristen started looking around for someone she knew. She spotted Chris. Thank God! “Chris! Hey!”
Kristen’s stalker quickly turned when he saw Chris walking towards them. Even though Chris was a 6’4, giant black teddy bear, he was still a linebacker and very intimidating.
“Were you talking to that guy?” Chris asked.
“Definitely not.” Kristen looked over her shoulder, and the stalker was nowhere in sight. “Would you mind walking me to my car?”
For the rest of the semester, either Chris walked Kristen to her car or Jackson picked her up. She was still against the idea of carrying a taser. She was afraid she would shock herself. But the stalker continued waiting. It didn’t matter what time she left her class.
Jackson almost went to war with the campus police when they told him they couldn’t do anything.
“You’re telling me that she has to get hurt before you can step in?” Jackson yelled so loud that Kristen could hear him from outside the office.
“This is a college campus,” the police captain told him. He sounded apathetic. “People are allowed to go anywhere they want.”
When the spring semester started, there was no sign of the stalker. Kristen felt her life was beginning to become normal again. It was amazing not having to look over her shoulder, especially since her work was taking its toll. Working at the mall in fear of someone stalking you wasn’t the best situation for someone in customer service. And now, with the biggest chocolate holiday coming, Kristen needed to be on her A-game.
Men swarmed the store to buy their last-minute Valentine’s Day gifts. No one was allowed to take a real break, but they could eat in the stockroom. Kristen had spent the last five hours tying bows to boxes of chocolates and chocolate-covered fruit. Her fingers were numb by the time she took her break. A dry turkey sandwich and a sad excuse for a salad was waiting for her.
Her manager stuck his head into the stockroom. “Kristen, could you get on the register? The line is out the door.”
Kristen dragged her heels. What was the point of getting her master’s degree when she was still doing the same job she had at eighteen? At least the men were quick and easy. It was wonderful. They tossed their boxes of chocolates on the counter, followed by their credit cards. Now, if only every day could be like this – wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.
Yelling suddenly broke the smooth pace of the day. A man pushed his way to the front of the line. He wasn’t holding anything, but he was looking directly at Kristen. Kristen couldn’t be bothered by all the commotion. She had to get the line under control if she expected to enjoy her own Valentine’s Day. Besides, dealing with customer disputes wasn’t her job. That’s what the manager was paid to do.
“Come to the beach with me.” The raspy voice snatched her attention.
“Hey buddy, you should have asked her earlier. Get out of the way,” a customer snapped at him.
Kristen started to shake. Without a word to anyone, she darted into the stockroom. Her heart was racing. How did he find her? It had been months since she had seen the stalker, and now he shows up at her work? Why was he such a creepy ass man? She should have taken the taser.
Kristen waited in the stockroom till they closed. Her manager swore up and down he saw the stalker leave. Kristen called Jackson to tell him since her manager was working tonight, he didn’t need to get her.
Everything was fine walking out to the car. There were no shadows to spook Kristen and no person hiding in her backseat. But of course, that nasty little gas light was on. Damn, I should have noticed that earlier.
Kristen pulled up to the gas station. She tried paying with her card, but it seemed like every pump was having issues. Kristen went inside and got an iced coffee with her gas. Got to stay awake just a bit longer, and it’s better to be alert.
While she was pumping her gas, a large truck pulled up beside her. A small woman jumped down from the driver’s seat. She flashed Kristen a smile before going inside. As Kristen turned to place the nozzle back, something hit her on the back of the head. She fell forward, smacking her face on the gas pump. The last thing she remembered was trying to see who had hit her.
“You piece of shit!” Blood spurted from her mouth. Kristen remembered her arms were tied behind her back. No matter how many times she pulled against the ropes, they wouldn’t loosen. “He’s going to find you and kill you!”
The man said nothing and continued sharpening his knife. Every scrape against the whetstone was enough to make her piss herself. The knife was dull when he started the cutting. But his last slice took too much effort, making him curse at the blade. It was the first time she had heard his voice since he had taken her. His voice sounded raspy and horrible.
It was only a matter of time before the cutting would begin again. He shoved a rag soaked in gasoline into her mouth to muffle her screams. Even though she was blindfolded, Kristen could tell two days had passed. The twisted bastard kept her near a window, and when the sun came up, she could feel the warmth on her body.
Why didn’t he just kill her? Kristen had never wanted to die. There were too many things she wanted to do before that happened. Even after the first two days of being tortured, she still did not want to die. But now, every time he would twist the knife slowly into her legs and arms, she wished she would. He would slice her back and her stomach but never cut her face or breasts. He couldn’t touch her breasts. She would feel him get close, almost touching her before he pulled back and lashed out with his knife.
“Why are you doing this?” Kristen did her best not to whimper, but her voice failed her.
How much more could she take? What did she do to this man? She had never been mean to anyone. Never had she been rude or hurtful. Who was he? Kristen had heard the voice before, but it wasn’t until that moment that she even hinted at who this twisted bastard was.
The wet raspy breathing was getting close again. Kristen tried her best to inch the blindfold down to no avail. If she could only see him. Maybe she’d find strength within herself, knowing that he was weak and the only thing stopping her from attacking him were the ropes. His body heat let her know he was close, but when he dragged his knife down the side of her face, she had no doubt he was near.
“Because you didn’t remember me.” Even as his voice escalated from pathetic rasping into something harsher, there was still a hint of hurt.
“If you let me see you, maybe I will,” Kristen said in her sweetest voice, hoping to God it would convince him.
“You did see me. Every time you would leave your class. But you never said anything.” His anger lashed out on her leg. The knife cut deeper than before.
“I’m so sorry!” She wailed. The cut was more of a shock than it was painful. It hurt worse when he would saw into her flesh. “There must have been so many people in the halls.”
“No, I stopped you. By in the stairs, by the administrator’s building. But you wanted nothing to do with me.” Again his knife struck her, but she made no sound. “I asked you if…”
“You asked me if I would go with you to the beach.” It clicked.
Kristen knew who this freak was. Freak was an understatement. “But I couldn’t go with you. It was night, and I had class in the morning.”
“No! You said you had to meet with your boyfriend, and you dropped my card to the ground when you thought I wouldn’t see.” He twisted the point of the knife into a fresh wound. “But I had to have you. You’re perfect.”
The prick from the knife abruptly stopped. Kristen could hear his chair shove off away from her. The crinkle from the cheap aluminum blinds let her know the stalker was on her left. Kristen’s hands quickly went to work. She almost broke her wrists while she twisted and grabbed for the long piece of rope that the stalker had inadvertently left dangling from the knot. She worked her fingers till she found where the knot ended. If the stalker hadn’t sounded so spooked, Kristen never would have been brave enough to try to escape.
The sound of tires charging up the gravel drive gave her hope. Her three days in hell were about to end. Kristen could feel her fingers bleed as she dug at the rope. How much longer would she be in this piss-ridden room? When the ropes gave way, she ripped off the blindfold and untied her legs. When she looked down, she finally saw what he had done to her. It didn’t take much to bruise her skin, but this was absurd.
Everywhere she looked, Kristen saw tiny cuts on her legs. She could see they were becoming infected. She tried to stand, but her legs wouldn’t work. What did she expect after they’d been tied together for three days? Kristen dragged herself to the door. She pressed her ear against it, but she didn’t hear anything. She took a deep breath and pulled herself up to the knob. Why wasn’t Jackson here yet? Wasn’t that his truck that pulled up? If not, why did the stalker run?
“Where are you going?” The stalker yanked her up by her hair.
“Jackson! JACKSON, I’M IN HERE!” Kristen used whatever vigor she had left to attack her stalker.
She smashed her elbow right under his jaw. It knocked him back, and he stumbled, hitting his head against the window. It shattered, and Kristen, along with the stalker, fell through the opening. She tried grabbing for his leg, but he ran off. Kristen couldn’t get off the ground. She could hear the sounds of footsteps plowing through the overgrown grass. But there were more than two. The heavy breathing was at ground level. As Kristen’s eyes closed, a big, wet nose poked her in the eye.
“Tank,” Kristen’s breath was getting short. “Tank, where’s Jackson?”
Kristen fell through the window out into the bright morning sunlight. After spending the past couple of days trapped indoors behind a blindfold, the daylight was too much for her eyes to take. Where is he? She tried examining her surroundings, but the sudden onslaught of light only sent shards of pain into her head. She squeezed her eyes shut.
Okay, Kristen. Think! You can’t see, and both your legs are useless. He couldn’t have fallen too far out the window. C’mon. Think. THINK! What was that?
It was the sound of footsteps. And they were coming fast. Move, damn it! Move! But she couldn’t. Her hands clawing the ground, her legs weak and throbbing, Kristen could barely get her muscles to cooperate. She wasn’t going to let him kill her like a dog. She wasn’t going to die lying on the ground. She managed to find the cabin, slither up the wall and get herself into a semi-sitting position. The footsteps were closer now, and he would be upon her soon. Fine, asshole. She held her chin up high. Do it!
And there he was. No longer was he the icy, methodical maniac who had taken her. This time, he was driven by pure emotion. He jammed something, cold and wet, into her neck before lovingly licking at her face. Kristen exhaled. Her body went numb. “This is not over,” she thought.
Her arms shot up and wrapped around him, bringing him in tight. She could feel his hot breath on her face and the muscles in his thick neck bulging against her arms. She could feel his soft fur as the tears began streaming from her face.
“Tank,” Kristen sobbed. “Tank…”