After

By IEatBooksForTea

Mystery / Romance

35 - Sam

I never wanted to revisit this place. Of anywhere that I could have chosen, it would never have been here. Police tape still flutters in the draughty air, ripped shreds of it tied to the door-frame. It's almost like Emily's voice is trapped in this room, bouncing wall to wall, never reaching the door, never escaping. I can almost hear her insistent, persuasive cries of begging whistling in the wind, howling through the cracks. This is where I could have saved her. If I'd just said the right words. If we'd just looked in that diary as soon as we'd found it.

I think these thoughts have always been haunting me. I've just never been awakened to them. Not until now. Not until I returned to their origins. Here.

Wolfie is still whimpering in the corner, like he's crying, like he's missing something. Or someone.

I feel like Tag's going to appear behind me any minute, scaring whatever life I have left in me out. He's probably creepy enough to do that. I don't know what Wolfie saw in him.

But, for now, Tag has abandoned us. I'm not mad at him for abandoning me – or Josh. We hadn't even invited him anyway – whoever the heck he was. But I was furious that he'd just left Wolfie like that. The wolf's wide, black eyes shimmer almost like they're glistening with tears. Whoever Tag was to Wolfie, he was important. And I hate him for it.

"Josh," I say, my voice croaking and listless. "Let's... find the video." I swallow, my throat dry and coarse. I can't look at that wall, that corkboard, anymore. The blood smeared over it, accompanied by the shape of a square where a piece of paper had been stuck next to it. A number assigned by the police obviously, for the case. They'd cleaned up most of their mess. But it still feels like they are here. Their plastic boots squeaking against the concrete as they clinically examine pieces of each of our lives without ever understanding any of it.

I push myself to my feet, from where I hadn't recovered from crouching down next to where Wolfie had been. My joints crack as I move, sounding too ominously like those I'd been crunching beneath my feet on the floors above my head. I rake fingers through my dry, brittle hair, feeling sweat dripping from the ends. But, when I pull my hand back, it's red. Blood. Dribbling across my fingers, sinking into the creases on my hands.

I panic. Squeeze my eyes shut. Count to ten.

Open. Nothing. It was all my imagination.

But it's not all fictional, is it? It's not just Mike who has Emily's blood on his hands. It's on Josh's for leading us all here. It's on Ashley's for encouraging Mike, on Chris' for not stopping her. On mine for not stopping any of them.

I shiver. Josh is stood silent standing, shoulders hunched, by the grated door. He's fidgeting, always shifting, never able to stay still. His mind is always churning, never resting. And so he can't. The wheels are twisting behind his eyes as they try and ignore the room, his lips mouthing silently to words only he knows.

"Come on," I whisper, my body heavy with guilt. It feels like something in this room is clinging on to me, not letting me leave. It sends chills up my spine. It only makes me want to hurry out of it more. But I force my eyes to graze around the room. The six CCTV television screens lined up against one wall. One of them has been violently smashed in by a piece of fallen rubble. So Tag was right. This was the right direction (I'll never admit it out loud though. And definitely not to his face, if I ever have the misfortune of seeing him again.) The video must be here. Somewhere. How the hell the police didn't search it, I don't know. "Let's find this thing and... get out of here."

I push forward, towards the screens, crouching down to find any kind of hard-drive. Whatever is clinging onto me feels stronger here, like it's sucking me in. I swallow, batting at air, trying to push it away. "Josh?" I glance back at him, sending him a meaningful glance. He looks almost like he's in a trance, staring straight at the blood on the corkboard. No, Sam. Don't look at it. Not again. "Where is it? Is it here?"

And then the thing gripping onto me develops a voice. A bark.

Wolfie erupts into barks, lunging across the room and scuffing his paws against the ground.

"Wolfie?" I turn around cautiously, surprised at the wolf's actions. I shake my head and sigh, feeling the pressure of time on me, and I slap the side of my thigh with my palm. "Come on, Wolfie." If Josh can't help me, maybe Wolfie can. Though what skills he could bring to the table, I don't know.

He simply yaps, his claws scraping against the concrete just under the table where Emily was shot. Josh cocks his head as if on command, connecting with Wolfie. I narrow my eyes at the both of them, feeling my chest tightening. Wolfie isn't stupid. There's something there, I know it. Something about that place he's digging.

Cautiously, I take two steps forward, my eyes avoiding the smeared blood – you'd think the police would have the decency to clean it up afterwards – almost gagging at the rotting smell, and peer around Wolfie. He glances up at me with those big, black eyes, and barks at me. "What is it, buddy?" I ask slowly, crouching down at his level. His claws have scuffed, the cold, concrete tiled floor with white lines. But he keeps nudging his nose towards a crack between two of the tiles. My eyes catch it. A glimpse of white, sticking up.

"Good boy," I mutter to Wolfie just as I reach forward and tug on the white shred of paper, pulling it out. Slow and irregular footprints scuff over to me and, for a second, I think Tag's come back. But, with a glance behind my shoulder, I see it's only Josh. His eyes innocently and reluctantly curious.

I let myself breathe before I slowly peel open the piece of paper. It's sharp, folded edges crinkle with age, spreading it open. Writing. Swift, quick writing, like whoever penned this was in a serious rush. I can barely make out the words that have filled the page, the ink faded and blotched.

But there are definitely two words I recognise.

My breath hitches as I read the first, positioned right at the top of the page; Matt.

And the second is even worse. It makes my stomach curdle. As if Wolfie can tell, he shuffles close to me, his paws scuffing against the cold floor. I feel his warm fur press against my side.

I even feel Josh move closer to me, unsure, as he places a hand against my shoulder and whispers, "Don't cry, Sam." As if he even knows what's happening. I doubt he does.

Because there, at the bottom of the letter, is another name. One I thought I'd never hear from again.

Em.


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