No Andrew. No Rhonda. No Edward. Not even Kate and Eve usually. By the time Friday had arrived, Wil's new determination to live a full and happy life in Rhonda's memory had fallen like so much ash in the wake of a brilliant fire.
Wil's roommates had been pouring themselves into their classes since Monday, using them like Wil used the new song she was composing in an effort to get away from the realities that surrounded them. Kate was actually completing assignments as they were given rather than leaving them for the last second, and Eve had worked ahead in many of her courses, completing much of the syllabus given out at the beginning of term. Wil watched them work as she ate supper with them, the three women huddled around trays in the living room barely speaking a word.
The exception had been Wednesday, when Jeremy came over and the four of them held a candlelight vigil for Rhonda. Since none of them could travel to her funeral out in Missouri, they came together that night instead, sharing memories, jokes, and tears late into the night. When Jeremy finally left, he gave each of them a hug and promised to stay in touch, but Wil doubted he would. Andrew's friends, those that had come to know and accept Wil only because of her association to him, had been the first she had lost touch with after his death. There was simply nothing left to talk about without that shared link.
After supper each night, when Eve and Kate both excused themselves to work feverishly on their course work, Wil slipped out the door for a walk in the failing light. It helped to clear her head, and was her one time that she allowed herself to really think. She spoke aloud on the walks, quietly so no one thought she was crazy, talking to herself to sound things out and try to make sense of them. Sometimes she spoke to Andrew, reassuring him that she loved him and reassuring herself that it was really all right to let him go. It may not have been the best way to move on, but it gave her peace of mind.
She spoke to Edward too, or rather, at him, since he was not returning her calls and had not been in their rehearsal room when Wil had stopped in both Tuesday and Thursday after her composition class. The disappointed she felt at his sudden lack in her life was bitter, and her "conversations" with him were often more blunt, muttering and cursing under her breath.
Friday was a rare clear night, stars scattered across the sky surrounding a quarter moon. It was warmer than usual too, a little above freezing, allowing Wil to wear a lighter jacket as she wandered around the Dartmouth campus. Others seemed to have the same idea she did, and often she crossed paths with people out enjoying the night. More than a few were drinking, and she usually dodged them, wondering what it would be like to be so carefree in college. She's never been that sort, even in high school.
Like every night, she kept to familiar parts of campus, but otherwise wandered with little direction or aim. There were pockets of campus she avoided, typically those closest to the bars and most likely to gain her unwanted attention, but she smiled and nodded to enough people that the campus felt alive. She turned down a street, away from a pack of frat boys shouting and shoving their way down the sidewalk, and kept her attention on them as their rough voices faded away…just in case.
When she could no longer hear them, she paused, looking around for the first time in a while. In the absence of their voices, the street was oddly quiet for that particular Friday night. The street lights buzzed overhead, but otherwise she could not hear anything – no voices, no footsteps, no signs of life beyond her own soft breathing.
It was an eerie sensation after the general hum of the campus that night. Wil stuck her hands in her pockets, closing one fist around the keys to her apartment, rattling them around nervously. She picked up her pace until she was almost jogging rather than taking a leisurely, thoughtful stroll.
A hushed whimper of sound made her pause as she passed an alleyway between two buildings. Turning, she squinted down the alley, trying futilely to see through the darkness. She held her breath, straining in hopes of hearing the sound again.
She was not disappointed; a pained moan echoed from the darkness. Wil's breath caught in her throat, and she glanced up and down the street, her hand closing tighter on her keys. Briefly, she thought of running, but whoever it was moaned again, a long, low sound that chilled her.
"Hello?" she called out, reaching into her purse. Her hand found the pocket flashlight she always carried and she pulled it out quickly. There was silence for a moment, then a soft growl. She felt her heart begin to race, and as she flicked on the flashlight, she wondered if she would have been better served pulling out a can of mace. If only she had a can of mace. Or a knife, a knife would be good. She transferred the flashlight to the other hand and pulled out her keys, slipping a key between her fingers and making a fist. It might not be much, but if she punched someone, it would certainly hurt.
The image from the news of the animal attack flashed through her mind, and her hands shook as she raised the light to shine it down the alley. She held her breath, half prepared to come face to face with some fierce dog or wolf or bear – did bears come this far into the city? Would a flashlight and a key hurt a bear?
Her weak light found a shape, and instead of a growling bear, the light played off of someone's back. It was a woman, she thought, though it was hard to tell with so little light. She had matted and tangled hair, maybe brown, maybe blonde so dirty it looked darker, and wore nothing but a long sleeved t-shirt and jeans; no coat or wrap. The figure was rocking slightly, hunched over something that Wil couldn't make out. Perhaps it was the animal that was growling, and she had managed to hurt it and subdue it somehow. The animal growled again, and Wil stood frozen in place, uncertain what to do and unable to move. A part of her wanted to step forward and help, but some deep rooted fear warned her to stay away, to turn and run, to get away as quickly as she could.
As she watched, still torn with indecision, the figured dropped whatever it was she was holding and turned to look down the alley at her. The tiny beam of the flashlight shone directly in the woman's face for a moment, and Wil's breath was taken away as she registered three facts all at once.
The first was that the face was covered in blood. It was smeared over her lips and cheeks, splatters spotted as high as her forehead. What she'd thought was dirt in her hair was actually blood as well, strands of hair falling into the light looking like a terrible dye job to a deep rust red. As Wil watched, her lips turned up in a grin, and her tongue flicked out to lick her lips.
The second thing she noticed was the woman's eyes that stared back at her, seemingly unaffected by the light that shone directly into them. They were a bright and concentrated red, standing out among the darker red horror of her face somehow. There was something instinctual, something fierce and sharp and hungry in them that chilled Wil to her core.
It was the third thing, however, that caused Wil to let the flashlight drop from her grasp, clattering to the pavement. The terrifying vision in front of her was Rhonda.
Wil staggered forward a step, her mouth opening and closing while she struggled to find words, any words, to match with the terrifying scene before her. In the back of her mind, a voice screamed that she should call the police, an ambulance, anything for her friend who was so obviously hurt, but instead she stood dumbly in the street. She closed her eyes a moment, rubbing them. When she opened her eyes again, Rhonda was standing directly in front of her, so close to Wil that she was certain the blood on her friend's face would also be on her own.
Rhonda placed her hands on Wil's shoulders, and her vice grip was painfully tight. Wil searched her face for wounds to produce so much blood, but she could find none; they must be in her hair. Head wounds bled worse than most, right?
It was hard to think with Rhonda's bloodstained face barely inches from her own, her terrifying red eyes piercing into her own.
Somehow, Rhonda found the strength to give Wil a grin, though it didn't reach her crazed red eyes. She leaned forward as though to whisper in Wil's ear, perhaps to beg for help, to say how much she'd missed her friend and reveal the secret of where she'd been. Wil tried to take a step back to avoid the gore her friend was covered in, but she couldn't move.
She choked out the word, and Rhonda froze. She pulled her head back quickly, staring at Wil for a moment curiously. She tilted her head to one side, then the other, studying her friend with a quizzical look on her face. Her lips parted in a gasp, and then she was gone.
A light breeze was the only indication that anyone had been there the second before, moving through Wil's hair and caressing her cheek before dying down. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, looking around frantically to try to find Rhonda, but there was no sign of the woman aside from the blood red handprints on Wil's jacket and the dull ache in her shoulders.
"Rhonda?" she called out this time, spinning around to search the street behind her. "Rhonda!"
Briefly, she thought she may have imagined it, but the proof on her shoulders spoke differently. Thank God for that; she may have thought she was going crazy.
Bending down, Wil picked up her flashlight from where it lay on the ground, shining its light down the sidewalk. She turned it back toward the alley and saw the bundle Rhonda had discarded. Curiosity got the better of her even as her frays nerves screamed for her to run away, and she stepped cautiously into the alley. Her feet kicked at bottles and trash as she made her way through the narrow, dark space between the buildings, the dim light leading her way. As she approached the dark lump on the ground, it began to take shape, but it wasn't until she was standing over it that any details were clear enough for her to piece together. She turned the light down on it and cried out.
It was another person, a man with chestnut hair, face down and wearing a suede coat that had a huge tear down the back of it. Against her better judgment, hands shaking so bad the light danced around on the man's back, she bent down and grabbed him by the shoulder. He must have been 6 feet tall, and he had the build of a football player; she had to set down the flashlight to roll him onto his back.
"Are you all right?" Her voice came out as a hoarse whisper, her throat tight and dry as she picked the flashlight up again. Holding the light in her left hand, she reached out with her right, stopping short when the light found his face. His green eyes stared sightlessly up at her, dull and empty. His face was ashen and pale, his mouth open in a soundless cry for help. The tear on the back of his jacket was nothing compared to the gouge taken out of his neck, and although there was barely a trickle of blood around the wound, it was splattered all over the rest of him.
Wil opened her mouth to scream, and the world around her went black.
It would have been the perfect relief if the blackness had been an end to the nightmare. Shapes danced in front of her eyes, though, and slowly she started to come aware again. There was a sensation of motion, and the shapes grew more red, taking on a vibrant quality with splotches and splashes everywhere. Walls seemed to form around her, and suddenly she was in the alley again, laying on the cold concrete. She pushed herself to her hands and knees and found herself face to face with the young man she'd found earlier, his eyes still staring at her with frightening stillness. They seemed to pierce into her, accusing her of letting him down, of not arriving sooner so that she might have saved his life. She scrambled backward, away from his cold gaze, and bumped into something behind her.
She spun around and pushed herself to a sitting position all in one motion. When she looked down, her heart stopped, and she stared in shock at Kate's lifeless face covered in nearly-iridescent blood. Wil cried out, leaping to her feet and finally getting her first look at the alley in full.
There were bodies everywhere, so many she could no longer see the concrete below. Blood was everywhere, on the bodies, on the walls, flowing and dripping from each and every one of them. In a sort of frenzy, Wil started wading through the bodies, choking out gasps and sobs as each face looked up at her. Beside Kate was Eve, and next to them Jeremy and Kate's boyfriend Max, as well as the latest man Eve had brought around. Making her way down the alley, Wil passed people she recognized from her classes, from the coffee shop down the road, and from the hospital. The alley seemed to go on forever, and with it, a sea of death and blood that was made up of everyone Wil knew.
A sound caught her attention up ahead, and she looked up to see one body moving among the lying masses. She called out, racing forward, stumbling over arms and legs and slipping in the river of blood that seemed to flow down the alley. A voice whispered her name, and she fell to her knees, finding Uncle Chuck among them all. His throat was gouged open like all the rest, but the blood was still warm, and it stuck to her fingers as she pressed them against the wound and tried to hold it all in.
"No," she moaned, "no!" Her uncle's lips moved and his eyes lit upon something behind her, a soundless warning. Wil followed his gaze.
Rhonda stood over her, her hair red from the blood that soaked into it, her face and lips smeared with it. Her lips parted in a smile, revealing pearl white teeth that seemed to glint wickedly, and she reached down for Wil slowly.
Wil hit the floor with a scream. She struggled for a moment, kicking and flailing, until she realized she was not being held down by her ghoulish friend; instead, the comforter from her bed was wrapped around her, pinning one arm against her side and twisting around her waist. Taking a deep breath, Wil lay on her bedroom floor for a moment staring at the ceiling. She waited for her heart to slow before carefully unwinding herself from the covers and sitting up.
God, her head hurt. Terrifying images came back to her, and she looked down quickly, finding herself not in a bloodstained jacket, but instead wearing an old tee and boy shorts, typical nighttime outfit. "What the hell?" she whispered, reaching up to touch her left shoulder. She grimaced as she pressed a tender spot.
She stood up, pulling her sweat-soaked top off and tossing it onto the floor with her blanket. On both of her shoulders were matching bruises that curved from front to back. Running a hand through her hair, she also found a sizable goose egg starting to form near her right ear, and she gasped in pain as her fingers ran over it.
Going to her closet, she pulled out a green sweat shirt and pulled it over her head. Glancing down, she made sure the bruises on her shoulders were concealed, then opened her door and stepped out into the hallway. When she glanced at the coat rack, she saw her jacket from the night before hanging as it always did, perfectly clean.
A dream. Just a dream.