After

By IEatBooksForTea

Mystery / Romance

20 - Sam

Someone has superglued my eyes to their target. I haven't been able to jerk them away from my computer screen for forty-five minutes. The bright glow from it is giving me a headache, like a throbbing heartbeat inside my skull. Picture after picture, photo after photo, they flick past across my eyes, hovering in my mind like fuzzy memories. Zoom in, zoom in. No messages. Frustration. Move on.

I've been searching through all the photographs posted on this infuriating site for longer than I care to admit. Snapshots of my life, of Chris', Ashley's, Mike's and Matt's. Jess' and even Josh, before he was sentenced.

But nothing is being revealed other than that whoever is taking the photographs is a complete freak. They've mapped out our lives, every moment, every movement. It chills me, more than Josh's fixed gaze on the line of my spine from where he is unmoved on the sofa.

"Do you want some coffee?" He twitches, his jaw slack. My shoulders jerk, my heart almost slamming out of my chest.

"For goodness sake," I breathe out, twisting myself to send him a meaningful glare over my shoulder. "Don't scare me like that."

He rolls one shoulder, his cheek pressing close to his right one. "Sorry," he whispers quietly, his voice hoarse.

For a moment, the room is so silent, I can just about hear the faint scratching of his fingernails against the scar of his forehead. Then; "I want some coffee," he says quietly when he deems it safe.

"Go make some then," I sigh, a hand running down my face as I slump back in front of the computer screen.

There's a creak from the sofa as Josh heaves himself up, his footsteps heavy and unrhythmic as he moves to the door. For a second, my back straightens with goosebumps and chills, expecting him to creep up behind me, as quiet as possible, and then jump scare me by jerking his face out beside mine and shouting, "Boo!"

Though, knowing him and his horror movie obsession, it would probably be more like, "Heeereee's Joshie!"

My lips part, my chest relaxing, as I hear the living room door creak open and then close and I let out a breath of relief. It finally feels like I can breathe. I've been hiding in the dark spaces away from Josh's line of sight for so long. His eyes were a searchlight, looking for me, always looking, but I was always too preoccupied with my blog and pursuing my dream. At least, that was my excuse. I don't think I was ready to see him; the shape of his face in my mind always twisting into that gruesome mask. I swallow, looking down at my white knuckles, the bones rattling inside my fingers.

I don't think I'm even ready now.

Wolfie has squeezed into the space underneath my desk and his heavy body is spilling over my feet, warming them like a hot water bottle. At first, he had been cowering - from my outburst more than anything - but now I think he's realised that it's quite comfortable under there. I wish I could just curl up under a desk and disappear; just for once. One time when nobody needed me, when I was free from obligations.

Wolfie whimpers underneath the desk, his ears twitching as his eyes are closed and he dreams.

"Yeah, buddy," I mumble, directing my attention back to the screen. "I know. Get back to work, Sam."

With a sigh, I readjust my right hand back onto the now warm, clammy mouse, scrolling down to the next photograph. It's been a system for me; look at picture, is somebody's back to the camera? If yes, zoom in, look for a hidden message on the back. Nothing? Move on.

It's been the same process since I began. I've only found one other message since the one that was left outside my window earlier. It was hidden on a picture of me walking into the New York Times building, written perfectly on the back of my jacket. It was then that I had called Chris, though to no avail, and had to sit through that infuriatingly cute voicemail greeting before I could leave my message.

So I now had a notebook beside me, two words written on them; CLUES and MOUNTAIN. They had been pretty standard and not exactly beneficial to solving whatever the heck this weirdo was trying to tell me.

"Okay, Sam," I breathe out, my eyelids drooping. "Next picture."

I scroll down.

This picture must have been taken about a month ago. It's a photo of me heading into a cafe, a place where I'd arranged to meet Chris for a catch up - though, truthfully, I'd used it as a set up for an article I was writing for my blog. Apparently the owner's father was a Native American by origin and told a lot of stories about their myths and legends to customers. Needless to say, it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down.

"Right, Sam," I lecture myself as I zoom into the picture, a thought flicking into my mind - maybe the clues are only hidden on pictures of my back - before my theory is confirmed. There, hidden in the photograph, written once again on my back, is the word FIRE.

"What fire? What the hell has a fire got to do with anything?" I rake my fingernails through my hair, frustration building. Whoever is leaving these clues is just taking me on a wild, goose chase. They're leading me to a dead end, keeping me occupied as they take advantage of me. They laugh at me through their camera lenses. I want to swear at myself for being so stupid.

But I'm too curious, too determined to give up on it now.

My irritation only escalates with the seconds, minutes ticking by, my eyes barely registering the photos anymore. They are now just blurs of colours, of indistinct figures.

I barely hear Josh slump back into the room until the bottom of the coffee cup clinks against the wood of the desk as he sits it beside me. "I said I didn't want any coffee," I groan, not taking my eyes from the screen, my fingers from the keyboard. I've become obsessed.

For a second, I hear Josh hiccup and I swear I'm going to kill that boy for getting into my wine cupboard. But then I glance at him and his head is protruded into his neck and his eyes are wide, afraid I might snap at him again like I had before.

I sigh, guilt setting into my fingertips. I reluctantly reach for the coffee cup, my fingers wrapping around the warm, porcelain handle. With a stretched smile, I lift the cup to my lips, sipping the liquid.

I almost choke, spitting it back out.

"What the hell did you put in this?!" I yelp, my bulging eyes snapping to Josh whose expression is far too smug for his face to handle. "Salt?!

"You always liked things salty," he gurgles a laugh from the back of his throat.

"Ew," I almost whack him across the stomach, though, I hate to admit, my voice is slightly tinged with laughter. "Get out."

He obliges, but doesn't forget to accompany his procession with chuckles.

I roll my eyes, a smile tugging on my lips. Josh knew I was feeling frustrated and tense and he had the exact thing to lighten me – sometimes his ideas aren't so great... but he has the best intentions.

My mind is more relaxed as I search through more photographs, sifting back to a year ago now. Wolfie shuffles at my feet, still deep in sleep. At least he knows how to relax.

It's not long before I find the next two words; MIKE and EVIDENCE.

My throat closes up as I finally connect the dots. This is about Mike's case. This is about evidence for his case...

The next word – COURT – confirms this.

"What about Mike's court case? What evidence are they on about?" I grow tired, my mind pumping too fast for my skull to hold.

But soon, everything just clicks together.

And it all comes down to the last word; VIDEO.

Holy crap.

That's it. That's what Mike needs to get a not guilty verdict.

"Josh?!" I call out, not even caring now if the neighbours hear me. "Josh!"

He pokes his head round the door, his chin resting against the side of it at an odd angle.

"Do you remember? Upon at the lodge, you said you were going to put us on the Internet?!"

Josh lolls his head lazily, his eyes rolling about the place. "Ummmmm, yeah."

"You were... filming."

He nods, looking confused. "Can I finish my coffee now?"

"Yeah yeah," I wave my hand nonchalantly, lost in thought. I don't even care if 'coffee' is a codeword for alcohol. "You go get your coffee."

And as Josh disappears back round the door, his clumping footsteps uneven as they lead him to the kitchen, my thoughts finally, for once, make sense.

The one thing Mike needs to be free is something to prove the Wendigos existed. And those creatures were in the lodge, at the time that Josh had set up the cameras, had been rolling the footage... filming it all!

All Mike needs are those video tapes!


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