After

18 - Jessica

This is illogical. Anyone in their right mind would be able to tell that this is illogical.

"Matt," my slightly strained voice lays it out for him. "Emily is dead."

"That's the whole point," Matt's voice slurs, tipping his wine glass into his mouth, only to be reminded that it is empty. He looks about to throw it across at the wall. "She's a ghost. She's haunting me."

I've been hearing the same ridiculous statements for the past ten minutes, each word accompanied by the slurping of alcohol. At some point, Matt had even helped himself to my glass - not that I was complaining. It hadn't tasted brilliant, anyway. I've always been more of a white wine girl.

I let out an exasperated sigh, my patience running low, falling back against the sofa cushions. "That's ridiculous."

A loud bang crackles the room. I start, my spine zipping up straight. "What was that?" I breathe, feeling a nervous tingling at the ends of my fingertips. No. You're not afraid. Come on, Jess. You're being illogical. I stretch to see around the back of the sofa, my body stupidly clenching up, preparing to see some vase smashed on the floor, some side-table knocked over, Emily standing there with hair jet black and clothes sticky and red. I let out a breath, relieved to see everything exactly as I remembered it - who ever thought I'd ever be happy about that?

"There she goes again," Matt, sighs as if he's used to this, stretching his gangly legs as he pushes himself to his feet. He wobbles, past the sofa, both glasses dangling in his hands. "No, Em," he says sternly, though it's impossible for his words to sound serious when they are tinged with alcohol. "I'm not giving you any wine. You always get cranky when you're drunk."

"Sounds like she's already cranky," I mutter sarcastically under my breath, turning back towards the coffee table, my eyes wide in mocking. This guy is insane.

My eyes catch the corner of one of the newspaper clippings from earlier poking out from under the sofa, where Matt had stashed them in panic. Glancing to make sure Matt is still preoccupied with his wine, I reach down and tug it out, the document sliding with ease.

The weathered, inky newspaper page is crinkled on lines where somebody has folded it. The distinct newspaper texture rubs between my thumbs and forefingers as I peel it open, trying to make as little noise as possible. There, on the creamy page, is an article laying out the details of Emily's case; her murder, how she died, where she died... who killed her. Red ink has seeped through the page where circles have been drawn on specific points on the article. Letters. The first letters of certain words.

"What the-?"

"I got it in the post," Matt's voice behind my ear startles me, almost knocking the crown of my head into his chin. Instinctively, I scrunch the paper up and shove it into my pocket.

"Could you not?" I scoff, swivelling myself to glare at him. He looks highly amused by the warning look on my face, the liquid in his glass sloshes as he chuckles-slash-hiccups.

"I see you like to snoop," he comments bitterly, stumbling his way around the side of the sofa and collapsing onto it. I'm surprised he didn't just roll over the top of it with this state he's in. The sofa would probably crumble in the process.

"Sorry, I-"

"You've changed a lot, Jess," Matt shrugs his shoulders, tipping back another slog of wine. But this time, when the rim of the glass leaves his lips, he looks like he's going to puke it back up.

Grimacing, I shuffle as far away from him on the sofa I can get, praying some of his spew doesn't spray in my direction.

But he seemingly swallows it back down, though, this time, shoving the wine glass onto the coffee table with a clink. "When I last saw you, you were..."

"Yeah, I know," I mutter, trying to look like I'm bored of the story. But in reality, I don't want to be reminded of it; I don't want to go back to that place. I'm scared to. There's too many monsters there - I don't want to face the ones that are inside of me. "I was a mess."

"No," Matt states, lifting his finger pointedly. Though it's less pointing and more drooping. "Well, yeah, you were. But! That's not what I mean." His words are becoming progressively more slurred that I can barely make out what he's saying. He lolls his head back against the back of the sofa cushions, his throat gurgling like he's really going to be sick this time. "Before... you were so... nice."

That slaps me across the face. I was not expecting that.

"What-?"

"You were so nice to Mike," he continues. "And Emily. And everyone."

And then I realise he's not talking about me any more. He's talking about himself.

"Hey," I feel some kind of sympathy seep in through my skin, and I brave myself to shuffle closer to him despite the high risk of being splattered by bile. I reach out to rest my palm against his wrist when another bang is propelled from behind me.

"Oh my go-" I swivel around in anger, not even caring if I believe Matt's rambling words or not anymore. "I'm not macking on your man, Em! You've got him all to yourself!"

Matt coughs beside me, reaching out to tug at my wrist, but before he can reach, I've already jumped to me feet and swivel around to face wherever the bang had come from.

"Does this make you happy?!" I demand. "Stealing away his life?! Not letting him move on?! I mean, look at him!" I swing my arm in his direction. Matt's mouth looks like it's shrivelled up as he blinks up at me, frozen. I'm surprised he can even keep his back straight.

"You're ruining his life! Making him bitter and angry and-" My words break with a sob and I'm not talking about Matt anymore. It's about me. It's always been about me. I've always let my monsters creep up on me, cling onto my shoulders, weigh me down. Matt is me - he's frustrated and revengeful, and I am all those things and more. I've never truly moved on from that night because I've never let myself - it has all been building inside of me, flooding me with murky, gunky, unclear water. And I can't breathe. My throat is closed and water is flooding into my mouth and I can't breathe.

"I'm sorry," I croak, aggressively swiping away the tears under my eyes. And without daring to look at Matt, I mutter, with as much strength as I can muster, "I have to go."

And I hurry to the door, grabbing for the handle. And just before I twist and pull, in the reflection in the door windows, I catch a glimpse of the figure behind me, one with a hollow, bloody hole for an eye.

I stumble through the doorway, wiping ferociously underneath my eyes, frustrated at them for crying. I'm not weak. I'm not. I'm not-

Where I expect the stairwell to be stands a stalk still Tag.

"What the hell?!" I blurt out, staggering backwards, my heel catching on the threshold. I yelp just as I'm falling backwards into Matt's apartment. My hands grab desperately for the door frame, the door handle, anything. They miss. I tumble towards the ground just as Tag lunges forward, catching me around the waist.

My breath catches, my gaze staring in shock at the ridge of his nose, inches from mine. I hadn't realised his skin was so smooth. The voice I have honed and perfected over the years for my job notes for me to ask him later what moisturiser he uses.

Tag shrugs nonchalantly, in response to an entirely different question I hadn't even thought to ask; "Reflexes?" Carefully, he sets me back on my feet and only removes his arms when he's confident I won't topple over. I shiver once he does, not knowing if it's because I suddenly feel cold, or because I want to shake away all feelings of him from my body. It feels like his arms are still around my waist, ghostly circling it. I flinch.

"Where," I finally spit out, once I've regained my composure, a stray tear following a familiar track down my cheek. I aggressively swipe it away, "The hell have you been?!"

Tag casually stuffs his hands in the same old jeans and I finally notice he doesn't have that infuriating notepad and pen with him. "I had some... errands to do."

I huff, very tempted to cross my arms over my chest like a child. Instead, I opt for narrowing my eyes at him suspiciously, before reaching into my pocket, passing the scrunched up newspaper and dragging out my cell phone. Just as I stab the power button, my hands trembling despite myself, Tag peers past me into Matt's apartment and inhales, "What the heck did you do to him?"

"What?" I retort, breathing in as I look up from the 17 missed calls from Greg notification on my cell phone screen to follow Tag's gaze. "You mean getting drunk? Trust me, he did that to himsel-"

The sudden sight of Matt collapsed over the coffee table, drowning in a pillow of bile and blood, slices off my words.

"Oh my-" I rush forward into the flat, not even caring about the state of the sofa now as I scurry past it and fall to my knees next to him.

"Call 911!" I cry, glancing towards Tag... who has been replaced by an empty space of air. I swear underneath my breath. "When does that guy stop disappearing?" I mutter despite my panic, as if Matt could hear me, just as I press two fingers against his wet, sticky neck and jab the three digit number into my cell phone.


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