Checking Out

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Chapter 20

The second time I awoke, it was morning. The sunlight could be seen as a bright glow around the outer edges of the orange curtains. I turned away from Jason's still sleeping form and looked at the clock. Almost 7, still early enough to pretend I would be able to get more sleep. I lay there, listening to Jason's steady breathing, staring up at the dim ceiling. Today we would visit the crime scene of another dead girl. If there were any clues to be found about Amy or the killer, we would find them. I'd make sure of that.
I didn't know how long I laid there, listening to Jason's breathing and thinking about possible outcomes of the day's search. In my good dreams, we would find out who the killer was and turn him into the cops, somehow clearing our names in the process, and return home in time for dinner tomorrow. In my bad, we wouldn't find anything. In my worst nightmare, we would find the killer, be attacked, and something horrible would happen to Jason. I didn't know what I would do if that happened. Maybe turn myself in. I had no idea if they even thought we were guilty, but I wouldn't care if I got Jason killed. I briefly thought about leaving him behind, something I hadn't managed to do so far, and knew I wouldn't be able to do today. He would just find me anyway, he knew where we were going just as well as I did.
Jason's breathing finally changed, signaling that he was waking up. He groaned and stretched his arms above his head, smacking them into the headboard.
“Ow,” he muttered, opening his eyes and glancing around, finally settling his gaze on me, “morning sunshine.”
“Morning,” I replied, and knew I had a fond smile on my face, but didn't really care.
He rolled over on his side and pushed some stray hairs out of my face.
“So this is it.”
“I guess so,” I replied, not needing clarification.
If we didn't find anything today, we could keep following the stabbings, but it would be the beginning of the end for me, hope-wise.
“So, do you want to grab the first shower?” he asked, his hand stroking my cheek.
I leaned into it for a moment before nodding, forcing myself to get up, out of the cocoon of warmth I had been hiding in. It was time to face the day.
I hopped in the tiny shower, putting in a little extra effort to avoid banging my elbows on the walls, and when I was finished, I felt a little more awake and relaxed. The air conditioner might have been problematic, but the hot water worked like a charm. I dried myself off and did some contortionism to get my clothes on in the tiny confines of the bathroom. When I stepped out, a billow of steam followed me.
“The shower works great,” I told Jason, who was waiting, his own clothes in his hands.
“Hey, that's something,” he replied, passing by me and stepping into the small space, even smaller around his taller form, “if I have to spend one more hour in this room, I'm gonna gouge my eyes out.”
He shut the door, and I hear him bang into the wall with an “ow” before the shower came on again. I moved over to the mirror, grabbing my brush from my bag to tame my short hair, which was actually more work since Jason cut it all off. I was continually surprised at how normal I looked every day, expecting the pale and wide-eyed face from my first look at myself after waking up stabbed in the gut.
I rubbed my stomach, a habit that had stuck with me even after the stitches disappeared. The brush pulled through my tangled hair slowly, and the strands looked even darker than normal when wet from the shower. I was starting to get used to my new look, and I considered that maybe I'd keep it around once this was all over. Jason would never keep his short hair around, though. He sometimes rubbed his head and frowned when he thought I wasn't looking.
By the time Jason was finished with his own extra long, extra hot shower, I was packed up and ready to go, wanting to grab some breakfast and coffee before we officially got on the road. He packed up his own bag, not taking very long, since we never had very much to pack up to begin with, and joined me in the short trek to where we had parked the car the night before, a little crooked, mostly due to my tiredness.
I checked us out, surprised to see the same guy on duty at the front desk, but glad he just took the key and waved me on, and we were on the road in time to get some breakfast at a drive-thru. I ate my fill in sausage, Jason taking some of my discarded biscuits and popping them into his mouth. As we got closer to Asheville, the mood in the car became more tense. By the time we crossed the sign marking the edge of town, I felt like I had been strung as taught as a guitar string, waiting to be plucked. My hands were clenched tightly on the steering wheel, and I could see out of the corner of my eye that Jason was sitting up just as straight as I was.
He gave me directions in clipped tones, “turn right at the light”, “stay on this road”, “turn left here”, until finally we were at our destination, an old abandoned warehouse on the sketchier side of town, where old abandoned warehouses were prospering. I pulled the car to a halt right outside of the front doors. We were the only car in sight, though my sad rusted out taurus looking like it fit in nicely with its surroundings.
I got out, thankful for the slight breeze that kept the temperature from being unbearable, and heard Jason shut his door after I softly closed mine. I took my time looking down the street at the row upon row of disused trash dumpsters and looming buildings, most of them missing their windows, probably from years of rock throwing kids.
“How did they even find her?” I asked as Jason walked up beside me.
“One of the articles said some kids found her, I'm guessing on a dare,” he replied, looking doubtfully toward the building we had parked in front of.
“Maybe the smell,” I said, and even now I could smell a tangy scent, that was most likely blood, carried on the warm wind.
Jason looked at me oddly, “I don't smell anything.”
Another thing to add to my list of weirdness that I had picked up.
I shrugged and turned toward him, “let's do this.”
We had stupidly not stopped to pick up a flashlight on our drive, so I was hoping the broken windows towards the top of the front wall would let in enough light for us to be able to see inside. There was yellow police tape across the front door in a big X, and Jason tore it down, pushing the door open with a loud creak. The room inside was dim, but I could see all the way to the back wall, past the hulking shapes of broken down equipment that had probably once been held here before being shipped to whomever needed it for their businesses.
I entered the building first, followed closely by Jason, who was walking in my footsteps, a warm weight at my back. I could feel his breaths go past the top of my head, but I let him stay that close to me. He wasn't the only one who was freaked to be going inside this place. The police tape shone brighter than anything else, probably because it was the only new thing in here, and I walked towards where it was strung up between what looked like old tractors, toward the center of the massive room.
Our footsteps sounded loud in the silence, which was devoid of even the sounds of traffic from this far out of the flow of cars. When I reached the tape, I could see where they had made an outline of a body on the ground, the cement stained dark with blood, the source of what I had smelled earlier. It was stronger now, but not entirely unpleasant, much to my disgust at myself. Jason finally stepped away from his spot an inch behind my back, leaning down to inspect the ground.
“This is probably blood,” he said, reaching a hand out, but not quite touching it.
“It is,” I replied, ignoring his questioning glance up at me.
I leaned over next to him, and the smell filled my nostrils, making my stomach jump once before settling back down to its usual ache. The only thing left of Danae Williams was a thin layer of her blood, where she had lost most of it on this grimy floor. Marci's face flashed in my mind again, this time blended with the photo of Danae that had accompanied the article about her murder. I needed to find out who was doing this, if not for myself, then for the two friends I had lost, as well as who-knew-how-many other girls who had suffered that same fate.
Jason shook his head, as if to clear away his own bad thoughts, and looked over at me, “there's nothing here, Trish.”
“You shouldn't be here,” a loud voice echoed in the quiet room, making us both jump up and whip around toward its source.
“Hey, I found her,” Jason said, aiming for levity, but falling short.
Sure enough, the object of our search was standing in front of the door we had just entered through, a less-than-friendly expression on her face. If looks could shoot you in the head, I'd have been dead.
“Why are you here?” she asked, pushing her bright red hair out of her eyes, the strands standing out like a beacon in the dim room.
“Why are you here?” I asked back, wondering if she would reply with the age old “I asked you first”.
“I'm looking for someone,” she said instead, taking her eyes off of us to inspect the room.
I was feeling exceptionally bold, or exceptionally stupid, which explained the next words out of my mouth, “Let me guess, David?”
Amy cut her gaze back to me sharply.
“What the hell do you know about it?” she asked.
Jason pulled the missing persons flyer out of his pocket, where I hadn't even seen him place it before we came in. He held it up for her to inspect.
“Yeah, I heard you guys were in Vermillion,” was her reply, completely dismissing the flyer.
Jason looked confused again, “um, heard how?”
“I have my sources,” she said, walking toward us.
“Does your source happen to drive a motorcycle?” I asked, taking a stab in the dark.
Now she did look surprised. Score one for team Trish.
“No matter,” she said, recovering quickly, “he told me that you were back to normal, so obviously Horace's so-called cure didn't work.”
“Horace is dead,” Jason said, and we scored another point.
It was starting to look like Amy was as out of the loop as us at this point.
“That's not possible,” she replied after pulling herself back together, “at the very worst, he'd...”
The look she gave me as she trailed off was worrisome.
“He'd what?”
“It doesn't matter. You, hon, are obviously lying. He can't die. I've seen my brother stabbed before, and it didn't even phase him.”
“Yeah, well, you obviously didn't stab him in the head.”
Her expression changed from smug to angry in the span of a second. I looked past her as I saw movement at the door. A boy walked in, who looked about my age, but with a touch of the plague thrown in. He was pale, with dark circles under his eyes, and he needed to gain about 30 pounds just to be considered underweight. He also looked vaguely familiar. Amy turned around when she saw where we were looking, and rushed over to him.
“What do you want?” he asked, his voice stronger than I would have expected.
“That's David,” Jason muttered to me, and sure enough, I could finally place the face from the poster and articles, though he looked like he had been through a war or something.
I glanced over at Jase, who was watching the scene unfold with interest, “what the hell happened to him?”
“And will it happen to you?” he added, with a deep frown.
That was a sobering thought. We were sans cure, and it looked like Amy's brother hadn't gotten any closer.
David looked up, focusing on us for the first time since he came in.
“You made it,” he said, and I assumed it was directed at me.
“Made it?”
“It worked.”
I looked at Jason in confusion, but he was just as lost as I was. Amy stepped away from her brother after he waved her off.
“David was the one who helped you after you got stabbed,” she said, and that was one question down.
“I saved you,” he added, smiling weakly at me.
“Are you sure about that?”
His smile dropped, and I could see that he understood.
Amy walked over to where we were standing, looking down at the stain on the floor in disgust. She turned back to David.
“See,” she said, gesturing to me, “you can do some good. You can be normal.”
“Do I look normal?” David practically shouted at her, “I did what you said. I found him, and all he could show me was how to do that.”
He gestured at me, and I started to feel like an outsider in an argument they had been having for the last year.
“But you're doing better,” she replied, a pleading note in her voice, “you're surviving and you're not hurting anyone.”
“Yeah, well, he showed me how to survive on animals. But that's all it is, Amy, surviving. I'm so tired. Of all of it. I'm done.”
“Don't say that!” she shouted back at him, “we'll figure it out. I didn't do all this just to have you give up!”
“Do all what?” Jason asked, and when Amy turned to look at him, I started to get a bad feeling in my gut.
Her eyes were practically blazing.
“Tell him, Amy. Explain it to him, because god knows I don't understand,” David said, his soft voice carrying just as well as his shouts in the empty warehouse, “I don't understand how it came to this.”
And suddenly I understood. I took a step back, not being able to stop the dawning horror on my face.
“You did it,” I said, and she turned her defiance to me, “you drugged me or something, and that's why I can't remember. You killed them. You killed them all.”
“I helped him!” she shouted, and the sound was almost painful as it bounced off the walls, “he wanted to give up, and I gave him a reason to keep going!”
“By killing people?” David replied, looking more resigned than anything else.
“I did what had to be done. I took care of you, just like I always have.”
“I didn't ask for your help,” he replied, stepping closer to us, but very slowly, and I started to get the impression that he was just as afraid of her as I was.
“If I hadn't helped you, you would have wasted away, David,” she replied, ignoring Jason and I for the moment.
I tried to signal to him to follow me as I backed away, but his attention was solely on the drama playing out before us.
“I want you to get better. I want us to be a family again.”
“Why did you come back here?” he asked, changing the topic abruptly.
“I knew you would be here,” she replied, taking a step toward us, “you always come back.”
I would have given anything for a 5 second head start and a cellphone. I needed to call the police, or anyone, for help. Now that I knew Amy was the killer, I wished in vain for a way to keep her from hurting anyone else.
“Horace told me we couldn't die,” David said, taking another slow step forward, “I'll always be around. Isn't that enough for you?”
“Horace is dead,” Jason interjected, and at that moment I could have hit him for calling attention to himself.
David stopped walking forward abruptly.
“What? How?”
“He shot himself in the head,” I said, trying to draw their attention to me and off of my friend, who was much more breakable.
David's reaction was startling. His face broke into a huge smile, and he looked like he had been given the answer to the meaning of life. Amy's reaction, on the other hand, was just the opposite. She growled and pulled a knife out of the back of her pants, grabbing Jason and holding him in front of her, the knife to his throat.
I sucked in a breath and stopped my backwards movement. Jason looked startled, and finally grasped how seriously screwed up Amy was in the head. I would have thought he would have understood when she admitted to killing his friends, but I guess it took something a little more immediate to show him this wasn't just a game.
“Don't,” Amy said, and at first I thought she was telling me to stay back, but she was looking at her brother, who was still smiling.
“Come on Amy, don't do this,” he said, the smile finally dropping from his face as she dug the knife in, causing a thin line of blood to bead up.
The smell hit us at the same time, and David and I both took audible breaths. Oh god, I never wanted my friend to smell like food. Jason was looking around wildly between us, but holding himself as still as possible, trying to leverage his throat away from the knife blade.
“Why not?” she asked, her voice challenging, “what's one more life if it keeps you from doing something crazy.”
“If you do this, it's done,” he replied.
I admired his attempt, but I didn't think it would make a difference. She had decided that Jason's life would keep her brother alive, her logic sound in her own muddled mind.
“Please,” I said, barely above a whisper.
The last week was going through my head, all of the little things Jason had done for me, then all of the things before that. I had never heard of someone else's life flashing before your eyes, but it was happening all the same. I hated not being in control of the situation. I was helpless to do anything for him, so I just stayed where I was, turning to David.
“Please,” I said again.
He looked at me for a moment, and I could see the thoughts flying through his head. Ways for us to get out of the standoff in one piece. Amazingly enough, turning into this, whatever it was that we had turned into, hadn't broken his mind. It had broken his sister's. It made me think of Jason again, and how long it would be before he ended up in the same situation. I hoped he was better than that.
I also hoped he wouldn't get stabbed in the throat.
“Okay,” David finally said, holding his hands up in front of him, a gesture of defeat, “let him go and I'll stay with you.”
Amy let the knife inch away from Jason's neck, and I let out the breath I had been holding.
“You'll stay with me?” she asked, her eyes still feverish, but hopeful, “you promise?”
“I promise,” David replied, “let's just leave. We can just walk out of here.”
“They'll follow us,” Amy said, the knife back on Jason's throat, “they'll call the police.”
“No we won't,” I said, desperately, “I swear.”
“They won't, Amy,” David added, his hands still up, taking a step forward, “let's just go.”
“Okay,” Amy replied, and before I could even start to feel relieved, she reached down and stabbed Jason in the stomach.
He doubled over and she pulled the knife out, stabbing him again. She let him go, and he fell to the ground. I ran toward them, but she held the knife out at me.
“No,” she said, and I could see David stop as well, out of the corner of my eye, “you're not following us. You're forgetting you ever knew us. I'll be watching you.”
“Come on, Amy,” David said, backing towards the door, “come on, let's just leave.”
She looked down at Jason and nodded, as if assuring herself that we wouldn't follow, then she backed away toward the door, still holding the knife out in front of her. I could her Jason breathing raggedly on the floor, and as soon as she was far enough away, I ran over to him, dropping to my knees next to his prone body. There was a slowly spreading puddle of blood next to him, and I almost physically felt myself push the smell away. I knew I had to help him, but the pull of the blood was overpowering. I tried breathing through my mouth, and it helped a little. I heard the door slam shut in the back of my mind, but my attention was wholly on my friend, who was slowly dying on the dirty floor, his blood covering the layer of blood that was already there, turning the dark brown stain darker.
“It'll be okay, Jase,” I said, but he didn't reply, his eyes shut and his breathing getting worse, “you can't leave now, you can't make me fall for you, then leave me all alone.”
My wish for a phone grew stronger as I tried to decide what to do. I couldn't leave him here, I would have to find a way to get him to a hospital. I put my arms under his legs and arms, straining to pick him up off the dirty floor. I managed to stand back up, holding him to my chest, and I stumbled towards the door, almost dropping to my knees again as I kicked it open. I slowly made my way to the car, having to put him down again when I got to the passenger side. I opened the door and pulled him up by his armpits, apologizing to him when he groaned as the cut separated even more, blood soaking the front of his destroyed shirt. Once I had him settled in the seat, I slammed the door closed and ran around to the driver's side, starting the car with a roar and peeling out into the street.
We had passed a hospital sign on the way in, and I prayed under my breath to remember the way back correctly. Luck finally turned back in my favor when I spotted a different sign with a large “H” printed on it. I followed the signs, speeding the entire way, whipping around a row of cars at one point, not even hearing the honking of horns that followed me.
It felt like it had been forever when I finally reached the hospital. I pulled to a stop behind a parked ambulance, outside of the emergency room, yelling for help as I got out of the car, managing to put it in park despite my haste. I saw a commotion from inside the automatic doors, and two orderlies ran out, pushing a wheelchair in front of them. Only being able to stand by and watch, I waited as they loaded Jason up on the wheelchair, wheeling him inside. I followed them in, trying to go with them past a swinging door that was marked “personnel only”, but I was stopped by a hand on my shoulder.
“Miss, we need to know what happened,” an older woman wearing a nurse's uniform said.
“He was stabbed,” I replied, straining to see through the swinging door as she kept her hand firmly on my shoulder.
“Okay, miss, we'll need you to fill out some paperwork,” she said, leading me over to a nearby desk, where another nurse was looking on in concern.
I noticed my surroundings for the first time, and realized that my hands were shaking and everyone in the waiting room was watching me with undisguised interest. Looking down at myself, I saw that the entire front of my shirt was covered in Jason's blood, and I had a flashback to how this all started, seeing spots for a moment before getting ahold of myself.
I nodded and took the clipboard and pen from her, looking in vain toward the swinging door one last time.
“I need to move my car,” I said to the nurse.
She looked at me with concern, “don't worry about it, we can have someone do that for you.”
“No, no, it's okay, I should call his parents too. Is there a payphone I can use when I get back?”
“Around the corner,” the nurse replied, gesturing towards the hallway behind me, “are you sure you don't want to just sit for a bit?”
“I need to be doing something,” I replied, and she seemed to accept that answer.
She took the notepad back from me, “I'll have these for you when you come back in,” she said.
I nodded and headed back out the doors to my car, that was still sitting there, idling. I walked around to the driver's side, forcing myself to take it at a normal pace, and got in, shutting the door and glancing back, to see the nurse watching me from her spot by the desk.
I backed up and pulled out toward the parking lot, heading down the first row I came to. There were a thousand thoughts rushing through my head, but when I looked in my rearview mirror and saw two officers in full police uniforms walk into the building, the thoughts narrowed down to one. Amy was gone, and Jason was dying.
I turned at the end of the row, and it was a straight shot to the exit. After hesitating for a moment, letting a car pass by me going the other way, I did the hardest thing I'd ever had to do in my almost 17 years on earth.
I drove away.

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