Checking Out

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Chapter 18

I awoke in the morning to the smell of meat and coffee, two of my favorite smells in the world. Jason was in the shower, but the coffee was sitting on the bedside table, next to my breakfast. If he always brought me breakfast and caffeine, I'd be willing to date Jason long term, for sure. He came out of the bathroom about the same time I was done eating, thankfully wearing clothes, and clean ones at that. He had changed back into his outfit from our first day on the road, the jeans faded and worn at the knees, and the t-shirt proclaiming “I survived the helpline experience” in large block letters. I could still see some spots on the front where my hair dye had turned the grey shirt dark brown.
“Your turn for the shower,” he said, tossing the towel on the counter and grabbing his own cup of coffee that had been waiting for him, taking a large gulp.
He seemed to be in a good mood this morning, probably from our impromptu make-out session at the laundromat. Whatever worked, I supposed. I took another big gulp of my own warm coffee, and jumped up, grabbing my bag and heading into the bathroom to get my day started.
I drove us to the public library, parking in the same space as the day before, and hoping it was already open. I had forgotten to make note of when the opened when I had been there previously, but we were in luck. They opened at 8 am, and, according to the clock behind the front desk, it was currently about 8:30. There was a different woman behind the desk, and she smiled at us as we walked in.
“Let me know if you need any help,” she said, watching as we headed straight for the computers.
“Thanks,” Jason replied, following me and moving a chair over to sit next to the computer at the end of the row that I was beginning to think of as my computer.
I looked up, but she had gone back to sorting through books. I was glad for the lack of interest, figuring she probably had a few students come here in the summers, maybe to get away from the campus library for a change of scenery. A glance around the room showed us to be the only patrons. I relaxed a bit and grabbed the mouse, starting our search.
We decided to start with Horace. I looked for information about him, and information about the town he lived in, hoping for something to jump out at me. Jason was looking over my shoulder, watching me surf through the internet search results.
“Click on that one,” he said in a hushed voice, pointing at a result about halfway down the screen, from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
I clicked on it and waited a moment, until the web page loaded. Jason shifted in his spot, off to my side, and leaned over to get a closer look.
“Cattle mutilations?” I asked, wondering why he had singled that one out.
“Just a thought,” he replied, and he suddenly looked sheepish for some reason.
I waited for an explanation, my confusion showing in the line on my forehead.
“Well, I just thought that maybe if you're living on meat, and the fresher meat, well, it seemed to make you feel better...”
He died off at the end, and I suddenly got it. He had noticed that I wasn't as hungry lately, after, well, after eating that guy's chest. I should probably see if the police had found the body yet, while we were at it.
“Do you think that works?” I asked, and the excitement in my voice scared me.
It scared Jason too. I could tell, but he kept a relatively straight face.
“Yeah, I do. And maybe that's the so-called cure that Amy wanted us to check out.”
“Oh god, I hope not,” I replied.
Getting rid of the hunger for long stretches would be wonderful, and probably necessary, if I didn't want to start attacking people every week or two, but the thought of eating live animals was disturbing. But apparently not to my stomach, which gurgled a little at the idea, and disturbed me even more.
“Let's keep looking,” Jason said, and the sympathy he showed me just made me depressed.
I continued searching for articles, finding one about Horace's suicide. It described the police finding his body, and had some details about next of kin, but there was no mention of how he died. I frowned and backtracked to the search results, clicking on the next article. More of the same.
“What is it?” Jason asked.
“How did he die? It just says it was a suicide.”
“Does that matter?”
I didn't know why, but I had a feeling it did. Probably because I had been stabbed and not even felt it, healing instantly. Even taking the healing out, because I suspected that had something to do with eating my attacker, the stab wounds definitely wouldn't have killed me. I backtracked again, typing in a new search, specifically for Horace's suicide. The same articles popped up, but there were a few new ones added in. I clicked on the first new one I could see and scanned the page.
“Oh,” I said, sitting back a bit.
I waited for Jason to read it over my shoulder. When I looked back at him, I couldn't decipher his expression. It was sorrow and seriousness, which made sense considering what we were reading, but there was something else in there.
“What?” I asked, frowning at him.
The something else popped up, and he was trying not to smile.
“What?” I repeated, getting annoyed.
“He shot himself in the head.”
“And that's funny?”
Jason shook his own, unshot head, “no, but if he was like you, and only a wound to the head would kill him...”
Oh for Christ's sake. I slapped Jason's arm and turned back to the computer.
“I'm not a zombie,” I grumbled, going back to the search engine.
I could hear him snickering behind me, trying to keep it quiet in the hushed library. He put his arms around me for a brief hug.
“Sorry,” he said, obviously not really that sorry at all.
“Whatever,” I muttered, “let's look for something else.”
We changed the search to focus on stabbings in the general area of our hometown, coming back with a disturbingly large number of results.
“How are supposed to narrow this down?” I asked, getting frustrated.
“Here, let me drive,” Jason replied, getting up.
We swapped seats, and I leaned over to watch as he narrowed the search to stabbings of teenage girls.
“It's what you all had in common,” he said, by way of explanation.
It made sense, so I let him look through the articles. After a while, we started to figure out the pattern, or rather the path that the stabbings were taking. There were a pretty high number of stabbed teenage girls for the past few weeks, and they seemed to be headed south, moving inland.
“It looks like we need to head to North Carolina,” I said, pointing to the mention of the latest body, a 16 year old girl discovered in Asheville just one night before.
A picture accompanied the article, and she bore a striking resemblance to Marci, from her dark curly hair to her large brown eyes. Her name was Danae Williams, and I spent a crazy moment wondering at the pronunciation. Was it like Dana with an e thrown in, or was the emphasis on the last syllable? My coping mechanisms were starting to get absurd. I pushed the image of Marci's lifeless body out of my head and told Jason to print out the article. We still had to check out of the motel, and Asheville was probably about two days away, which meant the killer could have moved on by the time we got there. I was sick of being one step behind everything. So far we had been chasing ghosts. I was ready to catch up to Amy and get some answers.
Jason grabbed the printout as I closed all of the windows on the desktop, wishing for a way to erase our searches from existence. Unfortunately, all I could do was erase the browser history and assume no one would be looking any deeper than that. If they figured out we had been at this specific computer in this specific library, well, it was already too late for us anyway.
We headed out, waving goodbye to the librarian, who barely took notice, and got back in the car. Just as I shut my door, I heard the roar of a motorcycle drive off from somewhere behind me. I whipped around, looking out the back window, but it was already gone. Jason looked at me like I was crazy.
“What?” he asked, also looking around, alarmed at my sudden reaction.
“Nothing,” I replied, reigning in my paranoia, “sorry.”
He looked around one more time, then shrugged. He was learning to let a lot of my weird behavior fall by the wayside. Probably a smart way to keep himself from going a little bit crazy. I shook my head, to clear away pointless thoughts of bikers stalking me, and started the engine, ready to get out of this town we had already stayed in for too long.
We packed up quickly, mostly in silence, used to the routine by now. It helped that we still just had as much as we could carry on our backs, neither of us having the inclination to add to our load, just in case we had to ditch the car again. Souvenir shopping wasn't high on our list of priorities, and it would just remind us that we weren't really on a vacation. Neither of us were deluded enough to take up that kind of normalcy.
I checked us out, giving our keycard to another Assistant Manager, this one named Bruce, but just as friendly as Allison had been, and we headed out, Jason navigating and me behind the wheel once again. As we passed by the crappier motel a little ways down the road, I couldn't help but notice the motorcycle was gone from out front. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but I didn't hear any loud engines following us, so I decided to let it go for a while.
I was lost in my own thoughts about what I would say to Amy when – if – we finally found her, when I noticed that Jason was being awfully quiet, himself. Usually, if he was in a good mood, like we both had been all day, he would chatter with me pretty much nonstop. I glanced over at him, and he was lying with his head halfway out the open window, the small amount of hair he still had rustling in the breeze. He looked over at me, and smiled, putting his arm out to ride the wind as it flew around the car. I was struck with a feeling of utter calm, as incongruous as it was while driving to investigate the scene of a teenage girl's murder. Jason just kept smiling, and I was soon matching his grin with one of my own. He reached out with his hand that wasn't surfing the currents, and grabbed my free hand, my other one busy keeping us from crashing into a tree. He squeezed my hand, holding onto it, and I let him. We drove down the road in the most comfortable silence we had shared yet. Just the idea that we could find this calm in the middle of all of the craziness gave me hope. It would do, for now.

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