“Thomas. Thomas.” Mum’s gentle voice is echoing through my head. I can feel her hand over mine.
I open my eyes to face her. She’s smiling weakly. “What were you doing, Thomas, before you fell?”
Before I fell? I whip my head around my bedroom. I’m lying on the comforting familiarity of my bed. “Thomas, you weren’t here for dinner. We were worried sick about you, you weren’t answering my calls. And then, it’s like you snuck into the house because, a while later, you were lying on the floor of your bedroom. Do you remember how it happened? How you broke your arm? How you cut it?”
I glance to my bandaged arm and back to her. How did I get from The Reaper’s lair back to my bedroom? And how long have I been passed out for Mum to have my arm put in a sling?
“Mum. I didn’t fall in the bedroom,” I say. “I fell to the ground in a chair, after the Grim Reaper took me and tied me to it.”
Mum’s looking at me in utter perplexity. She looks concerned. “Thomas, that’s not possible. That must’ve been a dream. You know what the Reaper does to people and you’re unscathed compared to all his other victims.”
I close my eyes for a second. Could this have been a dream? I’m pondering that.
No. It wasn’t. It can’t have been. “Mum, I’m telling you the truth. It happened. It was too real to be a dream.”
A crease forms in her forehead. “Nightmares always are. That’s what makes them so scary, Thomas.”
“No, Mum. You don’t understand. This happened. He left me a note and told me to meet him. He said he’d kill all of you if I didn’t. And then he knocked me out and brought me somewhere. He tied me to a chair and he made me choose his next victim for Halloween.”
Mum’s eyes widen. “Thomas--”
“You have to believe me. He gave me three choices. He showed me them through a camera. Belle was one of them, and so was Lucy but I couldn’t choose either of them.”
“Thomas,” she snaps. “This isn’t real.”
“It is,” I reply. “I’ll prove it to you.”
I sit upright in the bed and venture into the hallway. I push open the door to Belle’s bedroom as Mum follows me. She’s kneeling on the carpet, pretending her Barbie doll is a doctor in a practice. “Tommy,” she whinges. “We’re in the middle of an operation and you cannot be in theatre with us.”
“Sorry, Doctor Belle. I’ll be two minutes, okay?”
She pouts her lip and releases a sigh. “Fine.”
I enter the room and look at Belle. This is the same position she was sitting in when the Reaper had her on camera. Meaning that the camera must be planted somewhere behind me. I turn around. Belle’s bookshelf is the only thing there. I pull the books one by one from the shelf and shake them by their covers. “Thomas, what are you doing?”
“Mum, there’s a camera somewhere in one of these books, I just need to find it.”
There was no camera to be found. After I ransacked her bookshelf twice, I uprooted the rest of her room in search for it. But, it wasn’t there.
Right now, I’m in the kitchen, having a stern talking to from both Mum and Dad. “Thomas,” Mum says. “It was a dream. You need to let it go.”
“No, Mum. It wasn’t,” I argue.
Dad comes closer to me. “Watch your attitude, Thomas. Apologize to your mother right now and don’t you dare speak to her in that tone of voice again.”
I swear, sometimes, I hate my dad. “Sorry, Mum,” I mumble. “But, I’m telling you the truth.”
“Where’s the note then, Thomas?” Dad asks. “The note you say he left you.”
I hesitate. “When I read it, I shoved it in my back pocket.”
I stand up and reach into the pocket of my school trousers, ready to place my hand on the folded up piece of paper. But, it’s not there. I check again and then pat my other pockets. Nothing. “Okay, I don’t have it. I must’ve lost it, or, or--”
“Okay, Thomas,” Dad says, raising his hand. “I’ve heard enough of this. First, you hatch up some crazy plan to confront this killer. Next, you walk out of the house and don’t tell anyone where you are. Then, you have a dream and refuse to accept it and upturn your sister’s bedroom.”
“Dad,” I snap. “It wasn’t a dream. You have to believe me. He made me choose this year’s victim. And then he cut my arm, took my blood and told me I’d help free his soul or something.”
“Nonsense, Thomas,” he roars.
“It’s not nonsense,” I spit. I head towards the door and slam it closed. If I stay here a moment longer, there’ll definitely be an explosive argument.
“Where are you going?” Mum asks.
I rap on the door to Lucy’s house. “Tommy, what happened to your arm?”
“We need to talk.”
I enter her home and we proceed to her bedroom. “Thomas, I’m sorry about telling your dad. I just--”
“That’s not why I’m here. I found the Reaper.”
Her eyes widen. “What?”
“Well, actually, he found me. Kept me in a dark room. Ended up breaking my arm and cutting it to take my blood. He’s crazy. He said he had darkness he wanted to let out and I could help him with that. And then, he burned the container of our blood.”
“Thomas,” she interjects. “Slow down. What do you mean, he took your blood?”
My breaths are unstable, I’m choking as I relive what he did. “He, he said it’d help him release some of the darkness in his soul and would have me take it on. But, before he did that, he made me choose this year’s victim. I chose Mr Blanchard. He’s going to kill him, and my parents don’t believe me.”
“Thomas,” she gulps. “You chose Mr Blanchard?”
I bow my head. “He gave me three choices. You were one of them, Luc. And so was Belle. I couldn’t let him hurt you or her. But, he’s probably watching us right now.”
“He had you on live stream from his laptop in your bedroom. He must’ve planted a camera. He’s been watching you Luc and it makes me feel sick. I need to find the camera.”
And now I can feel myself rummaging through her drawer. She takes my hand gently. “Thomas, there’s no camera there. I’ve just been through my desk and organised it. I would’ve spotted it.”
“No, there has to be. My parents think it was a nightmare, Luc. But, it was too real.”
“Thomas, maybe they’re right.”
“No,” I cry. “Please don’t tell me you think I’m crazy too.”
She pulls me closer to her and wraps her arms around me. “I don’t think you’re crazy, Thomas.”
As I cry into her, I can feel her swallowing as she comforts me. “Shhhhh, it’s going to be okay.”
As I’m hyperventilating into her jumper, I can feel my muscles starting to tense. They’re tightening. My heart rate is increasing and sweat is starting to roll down my face. It’s starting again. The burning. The blazing hot burning in my face. Just like during his ritual at the fire. I’m panting for air. “Thomas,” Lucy says. “Thomas, what’s wrong?”
My eyes closed, I sink to her bedroom floor. “Thomas,” she screams. She crouches down and I’m aware she’s shaking me. But, I can’t respond. My eyes are closed as a series of haunting visions present themselves with vivid clarity in my mind.
I can see him, Alex. He’s in a landscape of darkness, down on his knees. “Alex,” I call.
He hasn’t lifted his head. I don’t think he heard me. “Alex,” I shout, louder this time. Still no response. It’s like I’m here, I can see him, but I’m not present. He can’t see me. And now, the Reaper is coming into sight. He’s wearing the same mask. I still can’t identify his face. And he’s got a large knife in his hand. He’s stalking towards Alex, who’s still cowering on the floor. “Please, please, don’t do this.”
I can’t move. I can’t come to his aid. I’m back in the chair again, and I’m helpless to stop what’s coming. “Stop,” I shout. “Don’t hurt him. Kill me, not him.”
The Reaper raises the knife above Alex’s doubled over body and plunges the blade downwards. “No,” I cry. I force my eyes closed. I can’t watch this anymore. I can hear the blade penetrating his skin over and over. The splatters of blood spraying out. His cries for his life. For mercy. That’s a sound I’ll never be able to forget.
I open my eyes and he’s standing before me. The knife in his hand, he brings it to my arm. The cut is no longer there. But, he’s going to make a new one. He slowly draws it across my skin and my blood flows out.
Now, the fire. The burning. The tube of blood on the flame. The thick beads of sweat. The searing pain in my flesh. It’s returned.
“Look what you did, Thomas.” It’s his voice. With the pain subsiding, I open my eyes and look down to the slump on the floor. The blade plunged into his back, Mr Blanchard is lying on the floor in a pool of his blood. I’m sitting beside him now. The chair gone. The Reaper gone. I look up and jerk backwards suddenly. The Reaper’s not gone. He’s looking straight at me through a fragmented mirror. He’s wearing the dark mask. I’m wearing it. And I have Mr Blanchard’s blood all over my hands and shirt.
I hear a female voice screaming my name. I whip my head upwards and snap back into my surroundings. I’m still lying on the floor of Lucy’s bedroom. “Thomas, what just happened to you?”
I try ease my palpitating heartbeats as sweat continues to drip from my pores. “I don’t know, Luc,” I weep. “He killed Alex, and then Mr Blanchard, he--he--”
Lucy jerks me upright from my jumper. “Thomas, shhhh. It’s okay. You’re with me now. You’re safe.”
“No, no, no,” I sob. “Luc, he’s using my body a some kind of a host. He’s living in me. I’m connected to him.
Whatever happened during that ritual with the fire and the blood, he’s become part of me. I’m scared, Luc. I don’t know what to do.”
Lucy’s now looking at me with tears in her eyes. There’s terror all over her face. She looks just like how I feel.
I slip inside the house and tip toe into the hall. The only light on is in the kitchen. Belle must be in bed. It’s probably just my parents in there now. I don’t want to go in and face them right now. But, I’m really thirsty and need some water. So, I make my way to the door and push it open. Mum is sitting at the table with two men I don’t recognize. Dad’s propped against the wall, his expression vacant. “Mum? What’s going on?”
She looks down. “Thomas, these two gentlemen are from Castlerock Psychiatric Home. They’ve come to help you.”
“Mum,” I say. “I don’t need that kind of help. I’m not crazy.”
“No,” she says. “But you’re struggling. My phone conversation with Lucy proved that. I rang her a while after you stormed out and she told me about your episode.”
“Mum, please. You have to believe me. What I said about the Reaper is true.”
Mum is suppressing her tears, as am I. I dart my head to Dad. “Dad, please tell them I don’t need help.”
“Thomas,” Mum whispers. “We called them.”
“What? Mum, please.”
“They’re going to bring you to their hospital for a while. You’re going to have some therapy sessions and have medication to help you get better.”
“Mum, I’m not sick. Please.”
Dad nods his head at the two men and they rise from the table. They’re approaching me. “I’m not going anywhere.”
One of them places their hand to me and I shrug them off. “Please, Mum, Dad. Don’t do this to me.”
Dad gives me a quick look. “Take him and make sure he gets better.”
They tighten their grasp on me and a sense of panic kicks in. They’re going to take me away from my family. My friends. My life. Everything. “Mum, don’t do this to me. Please.”
“I’m sorry, Thomas,” she weeps. “This is for your own good.”
She reaches out for me, and Dad places a firm hand on her shoulder. “Honey, leave it,” he whispers.
The two men are now ushering me out onto the pathway, Mum and Dad standing in the doorway. Dad is looking down and Mum is watching on with tears in her eyes, as they widen the barrier of separation between us.