Rose

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CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 4

1

It was raining pretty hard on that Monday morning. The sky was completely overcast, and it was pretty dark. Everyone had umbrellas, and were hurrying to get to the places they needed to get to. Chris parked her car in the parking lot of the library, and hurried up the steps to get out of the rain. She stepped inside, and shook her head, getting the raindrops out of her hair. Chuck was arranging books on the shelf when she came in, and turned to look at her. He was now dressed in a dull-blue button-up shirt, black slacks, and the same dress shoes he always wore.

“Chris, did you get my text?” he asked. The thought of this scared Chris a little. Why would Chuck send her a text? This doesn’t sound good, she thought. She quickly shook her head.

“Am I being fired?” she asked.

“Oh, no,” Chuck said. “I’ve heard from the parents of the children. They love you. You’re too good to be let go.” Chris breathed a sigh of relief.

“Then, what was the text?” she asked.

“I was just texting you to know that you’ll be able to leave at noon now. I think it’s ridiculous that you should have to stay until six after you finished at ten. So, you know, you won’t have to stay and do nothing,” he explained. Chris smiled.

“Thanks, Chuck,” she said. Chuck went to the desk, and got the James and the Giant Peach book, and handed it to her. She took it, and headed into the little room where she would read to the children. She was now to read chapter two to the children. She set her bag down beside the chair, and pulled out a favorite Stephen King novel of hers: Misery. It was a novel about a writer who gets in a car accident, and is saved by a psychopathic fan who forces him to write a book for her. She opened the book, and began reading, waiting for the children to come.

They came after half an hour, and Chris put the Misery novel away, keeping the James and the Giant Peach novel in her lap. The children came flooding in, squealing with excitement. They reminded Chris of her beloved little sister, Erin, and she smiled as they took their seats on the floor.

“Okay, I’ll be continuing on to chapter two of James and the Giant Peach,” she said. The children cheered, and Chris opened the book, and started reading.

The second chapter was set three years after James began living with his aunts. His aunts watch him while he chops wood in the heat. They’re bragging about their own beauty and complimenting on their own eyes, hair, clothing, and other features. While he’s chopping wood, James thinks of other children in the world and he’s envious of their happiness. He’s so overwhelmed by these thoughts that he begins to cry. His aunts begin to yell at him, and he begs them to set aside a day to take him to the beach. They threaten to beat him, and he runs away to a corner in the garden and cries hysterically.

After she finished reading the second chapter, the children gave Chris a good amount of applause. She questioned what books the children wanted to hear, and they requested more books for children, like A Bad Case of Stripes, Goodnight Moon, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See, and Corduroy. Most of these were books she remembered reading in elementary school, and she smiled when she read them aloud to the small children. The children smiled back at her, and politely applauded after she read each book.

After reading, the children left, and Chris returned the book to Chuck. He told her she was free to leave, and gave her the cheque. She thanked him, and headed out. It was still raining pretty hard, and Chris ran to get to her car, and looked out at the world outside, which was made blurry and distorted with the rain coming down on the windshield. She put the key in the ignition, and turned it, then drove off back to her house. She would occasionally look out the window at the world outside, seeing a lot of people running around under their umbrellas. She finally pulled up in her driveway, and ran for cover under the porch roof. She could see Gabby staring at her from inside, looking at her through the window. She headed for the door.

On the doorstep were four boxes. She remembered the mail, and went down to the mailbox and got it. It seemed like mostly Christmas cards, bills, and pamphlets on stores. She hurried back up, opened the door, and dragged the boxes inside. Gabby sat in the foyer on the sofa, looking at her with her arms crossed.

“What?” Chris asked. Gabby shook her head.

“Nothing. I’m just cold,” she said. Chris sighed, and went to the thermostat on the wall, and turned up the heat, then went back to the boxes. They must be Christmas and birthday presents, Chris thought. She reached into her pocket, and pulled out her pocket knife. She had bought it as protection in case she had another chance encounter with the Evil. She took out the blade, and started to slice away at the tape. It cut through smoothly, and she opened the boxes. In the first three were wrapped presents. In the fourth was a few boxes of Christmas tree ornaments and a letter. Chris opened the letter and began reading.

“Dear Chrissy,

I don’t know if you’ve gotten ornaments for your Christmas tree yet, as I know they can be pretty expensive, so I sent some for you. I do hope you’re having a good time in your new home, and I’d like to let you know that we’re coming over to celebrate Christmas and your birthday on Thursday. We all miss you very much, and can’t wait to see you again.

We love you.

Love, Mother”

Chris smiled at this letter she had gotten, and looked in at the ornaments. She had, indeed, gotten a Christmas tree, but she hadn’t gotten any ornaments to put on it yet. It stood, bare, just in the center of the foyer. She took the boxes of ornaments out of the box, and brought them over to the tree. She was about to put on the first ornament when she heard knocking at the door. She looked over at Gabby on the couch, but found that she had disappeared once again, and got up and went to answer it.

Evelyn was outside, dressed in her pink coat, a pair of skinny jeans, and some black sneakers. She had rosy cheeks from the cold, and her blonde hair was soaking wet, but she smiled sweetly.

“Hi Evelyn,” Chris said.

“Hi Chris,” Evelyn said, looking in at Chris’ house. “Nice place.”

“Thank you,” Chris said. “Did you want something?” Evelyn shrugged.

“I thought we could hang out. You know, have a little girl time,” she said. Chris looked back in at the Christmas tree and the boxes of presents.

“I was just about to decorate my Christmas tree,” she said.

“I can help,” Evelyn said. Chris looked back at her, smiled, and nodded, then allowed her to enter. Evelyn removed her coat and laid it neatly on the sofa, revealing her to be wearing a sweater with three diagonal stripes that were black, white, and red. She peeked inside the boxes that had Christmas and birthday presents.

“Are these your Christmas presents?” she asked.

“Some are for Christmas, and some are birthday,” Chris said, picking up one of the boxes of ornaments. Evelyn walked over and picked up another box of ornaments, and began placing them on certain parts of the tree.

“When’s your birthday?” she asked.

“The day after Christmas. You know, Boxing Day,” Chris said, placing the ornaments on the tree. Evelyn nodded in understanding.

“Wow, that’s cool,” she said, looking back at the boxes of presents. “Do you open all of them on Christmas, or save some for your birthday?”

“I open them all on Christmas,” Chris said. Evelyn nodded in understanding.

“Cool,” she said.

2

After they finished decorating the tree, Evelyn and Chris headed out to the department store to go shopping. Evelyn said that they were having a sale on clothes, and it was now or never to go shopping. Chris didn’t want to shop for any clothes; she wanted to save her money. While Evelyn went off to look at the clothes, Chris went off to look at a display of books that were on sale at 50% off. She stole a glance at the clothes as Evelyn went through racks and shelves, and saw that most of the clothes were of very bright and vibrant colors, like bright red, neon green, yellow, and pink. Chris didn’t like vibrant colors; she liked more monochrome, and the only colors she wore were dark and dull, like blood-red, midnight-blue, army-green, and dark-violet. The only bright color she wore was white.

Many of the books in the display were books that were made into recent films, like If I Stay, The Best of Me, Gone Girl, and The Hunger Games. They were mainly books she had no interest in; she loved Stephen King, and only his books. Her eyes shifted from left to right, going down the shelf until her eyes rested at the bottom, where a stack of Stephen King’s Revival sat. She smiled triumphantly, and picked up the first copy, studying the cover design. In big letters were STEPHEN KING in white, and REVIVAL in red, along with a lightning bolt. Chris hurried to the counter, and managed to be second in line. The man in front of her was buying a dark-grey dress shirt, a pair of black dress pants, a black blazer, and a red and green striped tie. Must be a fancy occasion, Chris thought. The man quickly paid for his items, and headed for the exit, and Chris placed the book on the counter.

The woman behind the counter studied her face, looking at the stitching, then her eyes moved to the rose. Chris couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious, and reached up and touched the petals of the rose. The woman looked down and scanned the book, then looked back up at Chris and smiled sweetly.

“Are you a fan of Mr. King, young lady?” she asked. That’s an understatement, Chris thought. Stephen King is my life. Any new book, I have to get and read. Chris smiled back, and nodded.

“I find his books the best. Any new novel her rights, I have to have it,” she said.

“That’s nice. It’s good to see people your age get so enthusiastic about reading,” the woman said. She was about to put the book in a bag, and stopped herself from doing so. “Would you like it gift-wrapped?”

“No, thank you,” Chris said. “I don’t need a bag either.” The woman shrugged, and handed Chris the book.

“That will be five dollars and fifty-three cents,” she said. Chris dug through her bag and pulled out her wallet, then handed the woman one five-dollar bill, and a one-dollar bill. The woman opened the cash register, and pulled out two quarters, a nickel, and two pennies, and handed them to Chris.

“You can keep the change,” Chris said. The woman smiled, and put the coins back, then handed Chris the receipt.

“Thank you, and have a lovely day,” she said. Chris put the book in her bag.

“Thanks. You too,” she said, and headed back to the clothing aisle. Evelyn had an armful of clothes. She looked around, until her eyes landed on Chris, and waved with her free hand.

“There you are. Where were you?” she asked.

“I was just buying a new book,” Chris said, pulling the book out, and holding it up for Evelyn to see. Evelyn nodded in understanding and smiled.

“You must be quite the bookworm,” she said in a sarcastic tone that vaguely resembled Gabby’s. Chris slipped the book back in her bag.

“Yup, I am,” she said with a smile. Evelyn held up the arm that was covered with layers over layers of clothes.

“Come on, I need your opinion on which outfits to get,” she said, and led the way to the dressing rooms. Chris took a seat in one of the chairs beside a mirror while Evelyn stepped inside a stall, and closed and locked the door. Chris could hear the snap, snap, click, click of hangers hitting each other, and rested her head back against the wall, looking at herself in the mirror. She was starting to get used to seeing the scars and stitch work. She was starting to accept them as a part of herself.

After a moment, Evelyn came out, wearing a white floral maxi dress with pink flowers. It looked very pretty on her, but Chris couldn’t imagine wearing such a thing on herself. She wasn’t a pink person.

“So, what do you think of this one?” Evelyn asked.

“A little summery for winter, don’t you think?” Chris asked. Evelyn giggled.

“I know that, Chrissie. This is for summer time,” she said.

“Well then, I think it’s very pretty. Perfect for you,” Chris said. Evelyn looked her up and down.

“How come you aren’t looking for clothes?” she asked. Chris shrugged.

“Most of the clothes here have bright and vibrant colors. That’s not really my style,” she said.

“Well, okay then. I’m going to try on another outfit,” she said, retreating back into the small room.

After the maxi dress, Evelyn tried on a coffee-colored splicing leather coat with a latte-colored turtleneck and black jeans, a neutral-colored button-up dress, a black cotton dress with the shoulders cut off, a long, red sweater tunic with three white stripes on the upper bodice, and a black tunic that resembled a baseball t-shirt with the number 68 on the front. Out of all these items, Chris said yes to the maxi dress, the button-up dress, and the baseball t-shirt tunic. Evelyn spent about forty-something dollars.

“Where did you get so much money?” Chris asked.

“I have a very successful job as entertainment at this fancy restaurant called Pure Ruby. It’s a very quaint place. They have fancy and delicious food, people come all dressed up, and I sing as entertainment,” Evelyn explained.

“Wow, that sounds like a wonderful job,” Chris said.

“Oh, it is. And you get paid a pretty decent amount of money. I usually get paid at least twenty-five dollars. Somewhere around there,” Evelyn said. She led the way out of the store, and Chris followed her to her car. Evelyn placed the bags in the back, and started the car.

“Do you think I could get a job there?” Chris asked. Evelyn shrugged.

“Maybe,” she said. Chris nodded in understanding, and looked out the window as the world got whipped by. It seemed like a big blur, until Evelyn pulled up in front of Chris’ house. Chris grabbed her bag, and got out.

“I’ll see you later, Evelyn,” she said.

“Yeah,” Evelyn said. Chris closed the door, and watched as Evelyn drove off, then headed up to her house. She could see Gabby in the window, staring at her with that sarcastic smile, and waving. Chris pulled her keys from her pocket, and unlocked the door. The boxes were still there, and Chris took them out to the recycling bin, then headed back inside.

“Did you have fun?” Gabby asked.

“Somewhat,” Chris said, and pulled the Revival book from her bag. “I got a new book.” Gabby stared at it for a moment, then smiled.

“Another Stephen King book, huh? Wow,” she said. Chris smiled and placed the book back in her bag, and stared at the presents under the tree.

“The family is coming on Thursday, since Christmas is on Friday,” she said. Gabby shrugged.

“You would think,” she said.

3

That night, Chris had no dreams, and was awakened by a sound in the night. Even with the window closed, she could hear this sound, clear as day. She opened her eyes, and sat up in bed, and listened. It sounded like a long, screeching, high-pitched howl, as if the creature in the forest were signaling something. She looked over at Gabby, who was sitting up and listening as well. She had a look of horror in her eyes, questioning what this sound could be. Chris knew all too well what this sound was, and got out of bed, went to the window, opened it, and looked out at the forest. The sound was louder, and it sounded nearby, like it was just down below. The sky was overcast, and it was impossible to see outside.

“What is that?” Gabby asked. Chris looked back at her.

“It’s that monster. I know it is,” she said, and quickly shut the window and locked it. She left the bedroom, and headed downstairs, Gabby following close behind. She could still hear the howling, and tried to ignore it, and went into the kitchen, and poured herself a glass a milk. Gabby had taken a seat on the couch. She had her phone with her, and was watching some videos on the internet. Chris took a seat next to her, and stared off at the darkness at the other side of the room, daydreaming, thinking about when this creature would attack, and how she would ever survive it. She closed her eyes against the darkness, and tried to repress this memory.

Her thoughts were interrupted by three soft, weak knocks at the front door, and she opened her eyes. She wondered who would be out and about at this time of night. She stood up and looked at the time on the stove; it was eleven past two, still very early, and a horrifying thought popped into her head. Oh God, that monster’s found me, she thought. It seemed very likely, and she hurried into the kitchen, and got a butcher knife, then headed slowly to the front door, and listened. No more knocks came, but Chris could feel a presence behind the door. Her grip on the handle of the knife tightened, and she slowly reached for the door handle, inch by inch, and swung open the front door, staying behind it as it opened. When she heard no footsteps enter, she looked around the door.

Lying down on the doorsteps, bloody, beaten, and unconscious, was Edith Carpenter. She had three slashes on her left cheek, four large, deep gashes on her chest, and bruises on her stomach, arms, cheek, and chin. Chris looked down at her bloody and beaten body, and looked up at the outside world. She could still hear the howling, and also what sounded like muffled screams. She quickly grabbed Edith from under the arms, and pulled her inside, then quickly shut and locked the door. Gabby had come in and was just staring at Edith.

“Who is this?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” Chris said, and hurried upstairs, back to the master bedroom, and into the bathroom. She got the first aid kit and a towel, and went back downstairs and got a plastic container filled with soapy water, then went back to Edith. She removed her torn shirt, and wet the towel in the soapy water, and started cleaning the gashes and slashes, wiping the blood away. After that, she took out the needle and thread, and went to work, stitching up the gashes on Edith’s chest and abdomen. There was still blood leaking out, and Chris would wipe it away with the towel. The gashes were deep, but not deep enough to do damage to the organs, which were, thankfully, protected by the bones. After she finished with the gashes, Chris started stitching up the slashes on Edith’s cheek, which were no deeper than the slashes that Chris had before they were stitched up. After stitching up the gashes and slashes, she laid gauze pads over the stitched-up gashes and wrapped gauze around Edith’s torso to keep the pads in place, then taped a smaller pad of gauze over the slashes on Edith’s cheek.

“So, what now?” Gabby asked. Chris grabbed the spool of thread, and re-threaded the needle, then began stitching up Edith’s green, white, and black shirt, which was still stained with blood. Once the tears were stitched up, she went to the laundry room and put the shirt inside to get the blood stains out, then went back to Edith.

4

Edith’s eyes weakly fluttered open, seeing a ceiling above her. She looked around at her surroundings, and saw that she was in a medium-sized bedroom with white, unpainted walls. Beside the bed was a nightstand with a digital alarm clock, the time reading fifteen minutes to eight in neon-green numbers. Across the room was a dresser with photographs and a door. To her left was another door. Edith sat up in bed, and felt a small ache in her chest, and looked down at herself. She was wearing an oversized dark-grey t-shirt. At the foot of her bed was her shirt, stitched up. She lifted the shirt to find that she was wearing bandages. She got out of the bed, and changed out of the t-shirt, and back into her shirt, and headed for the door next to the dresser.

Outside the door, she heard talking from a familiar voice. A soft and melodious voice that sounded sweet and innocent. Edith walked around the corner, and looked over a landing. Down below was a figure dressed in a grey jacket with the hood up, a dark-grey shirt, black leather pants, and a pair of black boots with wedge heels. From beneath the hood, Edith could see cherry-blonde hair and a flower. Is that Rosy? she wondered. She looked closer, and saw Rosy’s pretty little pale face with the stitches, and sneered.

“I’m not sure how she’s going to react to find out it was me who saved her life,” Rosy said to really no one in particular. Who is she talking to? Edith wondered. “Well, she could or could not. She doesn’t really like me.” Edith wondered if Rosy was talking about her, but mostly wondered who on earth she was talking to. She wasn’t on the phone; her hands were folded in her lap. “Maybe you’re right, Gabby.”

“Y-you,” Edith said in a slightly loud whisper. Rosy looked up at her, and raised a hand politely.

“Good morning. I hope you slept well,” she said in her soft voice. Edith walked down the stairs, never taking her eyes off of Rosy.

“Of all the people’s houses I could’ve gone to for help, it had to be yours,” she said as she got to the bottom of the stairs.

5

Chris shrugged as Edith reached the last step. She knew it; Edith wasn’t happy at all that it was her who saved her. Even though she had done so much to help, like stitching up the gashes and her shirt, lending her one of her shirts, and letting her sleep in her bed, she still hated her guts. Chris sighed silently.

“Do you know what did that to you?” she asked. Edith blew raspberry at her in a mocking way.

“Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you’re an even bigger freak than I thought. Talking to yourself. You weirdo,” she said. Chris stood up and approached Edith. Edith crossed her arms.

“Please tell me what did that. This is…” But she never got to continue, because Edith gave her a good kick to the stomach, and Chris went down, wheezing and gasping for air. Then, she heard Edith chuckle, and looked up at her.

“In my right mind, there’s no one else here, right?” she asked. Chris looked over at Gabby, who was staring at her in shock. Edith didn’t seem to notice her, and simply shook her head. Edith smiled. “Then that means there’s no one here to save you.” She then kicked Chris again, in the chin, and sent her to her back. She started kicking Chris hard in the stomach, and Chris started coughing up blood, feeling it trickle down her cheeks and chin. Her stomach was aching. Edith then grabbed her by the collar, and lifted her up, then started repeatedly punching Chris in the face.

“Fight back…fight back…don’t allow yourself to be beaten by this bitch…” These voices came out of nowhere. They didn’t sound like Gabby. But, she knew they were right. She couldn’t just allow herself to be beaten. She realized that now. She had the strength to fight back, but never realized it. Edith raised a fist to punch Chris again, and Chris caught it with a hand. She supported herself with her left leg, and used her right leg to sweep Edith’s legs. Edith fell hard, and Chris got back up, and started kicking Edith in the stomach, to give her a taste of her own medicine. Edith grabbed Chris’ foot, and twisted it, causing Chris to fall. Edith punched Chris right in the nose, and Chris could feel blood flowing down her lips and chin. Edith got up, and grabbed the vase on the coffee table, and raised it, ready to smash it over Chris’ head.

“STOP!” Chris screamed out. Edith paused, but kept the vase over her head. Chris couldn’t stop the tears from coming, and allowed them to stream down her face, and looked up at Edith with a mind filled with disappointment, sorrow, and anguish. She looked up at Edith, who still had the vase raised over her head, and staring down at her with a look that said “How pathetic.” She opened her mouth to say something, and a soft sob came out.

“I save your life, and this is how you repay me? What have I done to you and Janny to deserve to be treated like this?” she asked, still sobbing. The look on Edith’s face softened a bit. However, she still didn’t seem pleased. “The first time I met the two of you, you just immediately took an instant dislike to me, even though I didn’t do anything. And, I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why I’m being treated like this.” Chris tried vainly to wipe the tears away. She heard a shatter, and found the vase, broken into little shards, by Edith’s feet.

“You’re just pathetic, Rosy,” she said.

“My name is Chris. Not Rosy. Chris,” Chris said, wiping the blood coming from her nose with her hand. Edith scoffed, and exited the house, without another word. Chris allowed the sobs to come out, and looked back at Gabby, who was staring at her with a look of concern and sympathy, and came up and knelt beside her.

“Why didn’t you help me? You never help me,” Chris said. Gabby looked at her with those blue eyes, and sighed silently.

“Because I couldn’t,” she said.

“Why?” Chris asked. Gabby didn’t answer, but simply stared at the floor. Chris looked at her, and suddenly remembered something someone told her some time ago. It’s all in your head. She remembered that time in her old school, where the monster was apparently fake, and she now realized that Gabby, too, was just a figment of her imagination. Chris suddenly shot up, grabbed her bag from the sofa, and ran from the house, ignoring Gabby’s calls telling her to wait. She ran to the park, saw Toby’s house, and sat behind the tree, out of sight. The tears were now flowing down her cheeks. Chris dug around in her bag, and found a little package of Kleenex, and used one to wipe away the tears and blood.

“I must look a sight,” she said under her breath. She pulled a compact mirror from her bag, and studied her face. There were bruises on her forehead, cheeks, and nose. I look like I was mugged, she thought. She heard a dog whimper beside her and looked up in surprise. It was Sid, with his big blue eyes. “Hey Sid.” Chris reached up and scratched Sid behind his ears, and Sid smiled in the way most dogs do. Chris got up, and checked the time on her phone, then started her walk to the library, refusing to go back and get her car.

“Hey Chris,” a familiar voice called. Chris looked up and saw Toby coming toward her. He had on black jeans and grey Vans sneakers, a dark-grey hoodie, and black gloves. He had a smile on his face.

“Hi Toby,” Chris said, waving politely. She could tell he saw the bruises from the look on his face.

“What happened?” he asked. Chris put a hand to her face.

“I got beat up again,” she said.

“Do you wanna come inside to get those iced?” he asked. Chris shook her head.

“I can’t. I have to get to my job,” she said. Toby looked down the road that would lead back to Chris’ house, mainly looking at the forest that rested behind it.

“I can walk you there,” he said. Chris shoved her hands in her jacket pockets.

“You don’t have to do that,” she said. Toby placed a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m just worried that that monster will jump out at any time. Didn’t you hear? Three teenagers were found murdered last night. They were all thin, wrinkled, and basically desiccated,” he explained. Chris looked down at the ground in shock. She hadn’t heard that three people were murdered, but had a good idea on who (or, in this case, what) did it.

“Okay,” she said. Toby smiled.

“Okay, let’s go to the library,” he said. They started their trek there. Chris noticed Toby looking around, and guessed he was keeping his guard up, wondering when the monster would jump out. She could understand that; she heard its horrific howl last night, and it could come out at any time. He finally looked back at her.

“So, what exactly happened that you have those bruises?” he asked.

“Same as last time. I got beat up,” Chris said. Toby huffed.

“You don’t have the best luck. I’m sorry about that,” he said.

“Thanks,” Chris said.

“So, how’s the job?” Toby asked.

“It’s good. It’s a really good-paying job,” Chris said. “Do you have a job?”

“Not yet. I’m still looking,” Toby said.

“Oh,” Chris said. She reached into her bag and pulled out the Revival book. “I got the book.”

“I had a feeling you were gonna get it. You seemed excited about it when I showed it to you,” Toby said. Chris smiled.

“I really like reading his books,” she said. Toby nodded in understanding.

“So, do you have any other hobbies besides reading?” he asked. Chris thought it over. What other hobbies do I have? she wondered. All she really did was read. She didn’t have a talent for drawing. She had gotten a low D in Performing Arts in sophomore year, and wasn’t the best actress. She couldn’t write worth shit. Then, a thought popped into her head.

“I like to play music and sing,” she said.

“You sing and play music?” he asked. Chris nodded. “What instruments do you play?”

“I mostly play piano and guitar, but I also can play the piccolo and the violin,” Chris said.

“That’s cool,” Toby said.

“Thanks,” Chris said. Toby pointed up, and Chris looked to see what he was pointing at. It was the library.

“There’s the library,” he said, and followed Chris up the steps. “By the way, who beat you up?”

“Edith. Even though I saved her life. I found her on my doorstep with four gashes on her chest,” Chris said. Toby shook his head in displeasure.

“Those girls are bitches,” he said.

“I know,” Chris said. She and Toby entered the library, where Chuck was dusting the shelves. He turned to them, smiled, and waved. Chris smiled and waved back, and adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder.

“Good morning, Chris,” Chuck said. “Who’s this young man?”

“This is my friend, Toby,” Chris said. Toby held out a hand, a little reluctantly, to Chuck, and Chuck took it and shook it in a proper greeting fashion.

“I’m Toby Rhodes, sir,” he said.

“Hello Toby. I’m Charles Dalton. But, you can call me Chuck,” Chuck said. Chuck went over to the counter, reached over, and got the James and the Giant Peach book, and handed it to Chris. “All right Chris, go ahead and go in there. The children will be here in about half an hour.” Chris nodded, took the book, and headed into the small room, closed the door behind her, and sat down in the armchair. She wondered if Toby would be out there when she finished reading to the children. Probably not. He’ll probably be leaving right now, she thought. She looked up at the small window that was in the door, trying to see if she could see him, but saw nothing. She reached into her bag and pulled out Revival, then opened it, and began reading.

6

Toby had watched Chris disappear behind the door, and turned back to Chuck, who was going back to dusting the bookshelves. Chuck was a very tall man with neat dark hair and dressed very professionally for someone who works at the library. He seemed intimidating, but not too intimidating to talk to. Toby had trouble talking to people. He was always shy, but Chris was the first person who seemed to understand what he went through.

“What does she do in there before the children come?” he asked Chuck.

“I don’t know. Read. Text. Or maybe she just sits in there and waits,” Chuck said. Toby looked back at the door that Chris disappeared behind, walked up, and looked in through the window. She was sitting in there, reading the Revival book. At some points, she would look down at the rose. Toby could never understand why people would bully her because of a flower, especially a flower as beautiful as this one. Toby then headed over to a section of bookshelves, and selected a Stephen King novel titled Pet Sematary. On the back was a text that read THE SCARIEST BOOK STEPHEN KING HAS EVER WRITTEN. He took a seat at a table, opened the book, and began reading.

7

The children came after a little while. Every time Chris read while waiting for the children to come, it seemed like a few minutes passed instead of half an hour. She could hear the excited squealing of the children, and watched as they entered the little room. She put the Revival book back into her bag, and picked up the James and the Giant Peach book that sat in her lap. She smiled sweetly at the children, and a few of them smiled back. She announced that they were now going to be hearing Chapter Three, and opened the book.

In Chapter Three, James was crying in the corner of the garden, when he met an old man from behind the bushes. The man calls for James to come closer, and, once James is closer to him, the man reveals a small white paper bag filled with tiny green things. The green things resembled crystals, were about the size of a grain of rice, and were moving. The man said that these things were very powerful and magical, and says they’re crocodile tongues when James asks what they are. The old man gives them to James and says they’re his after the confusing and brief explanation.

After reading Chapter Three, Chris put the bookmark back in the book. The children applauded, and Chris smiled brightly. A child raised their hand, and asked why Chris had stitches on her face. Chris shook her head, not sure how to explain this without scaring them, and simply said they didn’t want to know, then asked what book they wanted to hear next.

“I wanna hear Coraline,” a child in the back said, and the other children agreed on it. Chris got up and exited the room, and got Coraline from the shelf, then went back inside the room. She opened the book, and showed the children the picture at the beginning of the chapter, of Coraline standing in an open doorway, and her shadow being a giant dancing rat, then began reading. In the first chapter, Coraline and her family had moved into the house, and Coraline would explore the grounds. Then, on the day it rained, she explored the flat, finding the oak door, and seeing it opened onto a brick wall. In the night, she found a small, black figure that disappeared in the doorway, but still found the bricks. After she finished the first chapter, the children requested she read more. She read Chapter Two, then Three, Four, Five, and Six, until it was time for them to leave.

Chris put the Coraline book back on the shelf, and went to return the James and the Giant Peach book to Chuck. She was surprised to find Toby sitting at a table, reading Pet Sematary, a favorite book of hers. He closed the book and put it back on the shelf, then waved politely. Chris gave the book back to Chuck, then waved back to Toby.

“Finished already?” Toby asked.

“Yeah, my only job is reading to the children,” Chris said. “You’re still here.” Toby nodded.

“Yeah,” he said. Chris looked back at the bookshelf where he put the Stephen King book back.

“You were reading Pet Sematary,” she said.

“Yeah, I figured I’d give those kind of books a try,” Toby said. Chris smiled.

“That’s good,” she said. Toby looked up at the clock on the wall.

“Are you hungry? My grandma is probably making lunch, if you want to come over,” he said. Chris looked away, and scratched where the rose came out, then looked back at Toby.

“Sure,” she said. Toby smiled and led the way back to his house.

8

Isabelle greeted Chris warmly when they got to Toby’s house. She was now wearing a light-blue turtleneck sweater and dark-blue slacks. Her hair was in a low ponytail. She was, indeed, making lunch: toasted ham and cheese sandwiches with chips. Toby’s grandfather was still sitting in his armchair, reading a newspaper. Isabelle asked if Chris was joining them for lunch, and Toby replied that she was. Both took their seats at the table.

“I never got your grandfather’s name,” Chris said.

“It’s Isaac,” Toby said. Isabelle set the plates of food in front of them, and took a seat at the bar in the kitchen, reading a magazine. Toby ate the food with relish. Chris ate, and looked around at the house a second time. The kitchen was painted a dull shade of blue, and the countertops were granite. Across from the table was a china cabinet, filled with plates, teacups, and teapots with floral designs on them. The floor was a tan-colored tile. Toby poked her in the shoulder.

“So, how did the job go today?” he asked. Chris shrugged.

“It was good. Usually after I finish reading the chapter from James and the Giant Peach, they have me read from storybooks, but, today, they had me read from Coraline. A good six chapters,” she said, finishing off her sandwich. Isaac looked up from his newspaper, and looked back at the two of them.

“You read to the children?” he asked. Chris looked back at him, and nodded. “That’s wonderful. It’s about time they got another person to do that. Sometimes, they would call me in to do it. Other times, Chuck would do it himself. Oh, how the children loved my stories.” Isaac was smiling as he said this.

“When I was younger, I was an actress. But, those years are done,” Isabelle said. Chris turned to look at her.

“You were in movies?” she asked.

“Yes, in older movies though. Ones you’re probably not familiar with. After I finished college, I became an actress. Oh, I remember this one time in college, six people were killed. Four girls and two boys. The boys were found with their necks broken. One of the girls had their throats slit. It was horrible. That happened sometime in the fifties,” Isabelle explained.

“That sounds horrible,” Chris said.

“Another thing that happened was the disappearance of two girls. Mariah Ellis and Celia…Celia something. Bless me, I can’t remember. That was so long ago. Anyway, nobody knows what happened to them. They were never found,” Isabelle said.

“I remember seeing something about that in History class,” Chris said.

“I learned about that from grandma,” Toby said, finishing off his chips, and taking his paper plate into the kitchen, and throwing it in the rubbish bin. Chris finished off her chips, and did the same, then headed for the door.

“I’m going home,” she said. Toby came up to her.

“I’ll walk you home,” he said. Chris smirked a little.

“You’re really worried about that monster,” she said.

“Yeah, I am. According to grandpa, it could start its big hunt any day now,” he said. Chris put her hood back up.

“Okay,” she said. She said goodbye to Isabelle and Isaac, and headed home.

9

In the late evening, Chris had gotten changed into her pajamas, and was in the secret room behind the bookshelf, reading Lisey’s Story, another favorite Stephen King book of hers. As she read, she imagined the loving relationship between Lisey and Scott. It was a very nice novel, aside from the parts of the horrible mental illness in Scott’s family and the insane fan that stalks and terrorizes Lisey. After she finished the chapter, she placed the book back on the shelf and headed to bed. Gabby was lying in bed, watching videos on her phone. Chris wasn’t sure how she could be fake, but chose not to question it.

“Going to bed now?” Gabby asked, looking up from her phone. Chris looked at her, and nodded. She climbed into bed, and laid her head down on the pillow, and stared up at the ceiling. Gabby turned off her phone, and put it under her pillow, and laid down as well. Outside, it was starting to rain, and the pitter-patter of the raindrops hitting the window lulling her to sleep.

When she awakened, she was in the forest again, surrounded by nothing but darkness and mist, and the rain falling. She looked down at the ground to find puddles everywhere. This time, she wasn’t in her sneakers, just her socks. Her feet were wet and cold, and, all around her, there were the sounds of screeching howls and muffled screams. Chris put her hands to her ears, and tried to block out the sounds. She started to run, looking for a way to escape the forest. Everywhere she ran, there was simply more darkness and more howls. As she ran, she tripped over something. She looked back, and found a thin, desiccated corpse, eyes and mouth open wide. Chris gasped in horror, and turned to get up and keep running, and, instead, was face to face with Hex, the Evil of the Forest. And she shot up in bed, panting hard and sweating.

These dreams were horrifying, and she didn’t know why she kept having them. She looked over at Gabby, who was sound asleep on her side of the bed. You seem so real, Chris thought. She got out of bed, and exited the bedroom. The house was silent, the only sound coming from the raindrops hitting the house. She headed downstairs, and into the kitchen. She started making coffee, and took a seat at the kitchen table. The thought of the desiccated corpse returned to her, all thin and wrinkled. Like the soul was stolen from the body, she thought. And that was probably what happened. The individual had the soul taken from it.

The coffee maker beeped, and the coffee started dripping down. Chris listened to the drip, drip, drip of the coffee dripping down. She looked toward the living room, and saw only darkness. She thought she could see figures moving in the darkness. It’s all in your head. The teacher’s voice came back, and Chris believed it. Why is it only in my head? How could it be nothing but my imagination? she wondered. She got up from the table, grabbed a mug from the cupboard, and poured the finished coffee into it. The smell was relaxing, and Chris drank it with relish, then went and took a seat on the couch in the living room.

She remembered back at home in London, after she had gotten home from work, she would spend a little time with her family before heading off to work. She remembered her father, with his messy dark hair that was fading to grey and his dark-brown eyes. She remembered her mother, with her curled auburn hair and hazel eyes. She remembered Erin, with her wavy red hair and green eyes. They’re coming on Thursday. I know they are, she thought. She sipped her coffee, and leaned back on the couch, daydreaming about spending time with her parents when they came. She had bought presents for her family before she moved to Redwood Hills, but left them back with her family. They’ll probably bring those presents with them, she thought. Outside, she heard the same screeching howls from the night before, and shivered at the thought of running into that monster.

10

The next morning, Chris was still awake, still sitting on the couch, and holding the empty mug in her hands. Gabby came down after a moment, yawning. Chris smiled grimly at her, then got up and headed for the front door, grabbing her coat from the closet, and slipping it on. She walked outside, and found it still raining a little. The newspaper was on her porch, and she picked it up, went back inside, closed and locked the door, and took a seat on the sofa in the foyer. On the coffee table were the unopened Christmas cards and bills. She set the newspaper down on the sofa next to her, and began opening the Christmas cards. One was from her mother and father. One was from her little sister. The other three were from grandparents and aunts and uncles, and had money inside. Chris smiled, and set the cards back down, then opened the newspaper.

LOCAL FAMILY FOUND KILLED IN THEIR HOME

That’s what was on the front page. Chris went and found the story, and was shocked to find that the family murdered was Chuck, his wife, and their teenage son. Chuck and his wife were found stabbed and with their throats slit, while the son was a desiccated corpse. Below the story of their murders was a text that said the library would be closed until someone would step in to run it. Chris sighed in horror and despair. Oh, that poor family. Poor Chuck, she thought. She closed and folded the newspaper, then leaned back on the couch. She didn’t know what she would do about another job, but worried more that this horrifying creature would possibly begin its hunt tonight.

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