Book in my oversized jacket pocket, I make haste to the bathroom around the corner. The jacket is my fiancé’s, and he’d given it to me while he went up to where his father lives to find a good paying job. I miss him like crazy, but I’ve learned to block the pain out. Almost two years of long distance out of our almost four teaches you how, especially when all you can do is divert your attention elsewhere to keep calm and okay. And although I’ve gotten good at it, I can assure you it sucks.
A lady darts out of the outside mall’s restroom around the corner, which is actually quite shady at any other hour without daylight. It’s like an alleyway sort of structure. I was half tempted to force my little brother to come along in case something happens, but what could he do? He just turned fifteen and all he does is play video games throughout the day. I pray that if something would happen to either of us, he’d have picked something up from them.
I push the door open with the jacket’s sleeve, completely aware of the germs and whatnot now infesting it, half not caring, and walk in. The larger, always luxurious stall is shut, and I decide not to take my chances of checking if someone occupies it. Save myself some embarrassment.
I push open the smaller door adjacent of it, hang his jacket on the hook, and... You can guess the rest. I won’t spell it out for you. Once finished, the automatic flusher kicks in and the bowl roars to life. I shrug back into the large jacket, the scent I’ve come to know and love wafting up to me, and mixing in with smells I’d rather not get to know and love. My nose scrunched up as I shimmy out of the stall and over to the sink, the water washing over my hands, again, automatically. Mom would be so proud of this place with is germ-freeness.
A grunt escapes from the large stall as the water shuts off and I begin to reach for the soap. The noise wouldn’t have startled me as much if it were a woman’s.
I freeze, holding my breath as I listen for another sound. Perhaps I’d imagined it and I’m starting to go crazy. After all, this was a woman’s bathroom. Right? I didn’t walk in the wrong one—I think. Maybe I did. Maybe that woman did too! But it isn’t plausible.
Another grunt echoes from behind the door, followed by some shuffling. A cough. It’s a man. It’s defiantly a man. Holy crud...
The bathroom door opens around the corner, pulling me from my trance. My heart pounds inside me and I can feel my head swarming, unable to keep a straight thought moving in one direction. Whatever is wrong with my brain on a good day is way acting up and is making my hands shake. And whatever it is that makes me different than everyone else must be some sort of chemical imbalance in my mind; I don’t think like a normal human being, or at least that’s what I’ve concluded.
But all these scenarios pulsate though my head as I shuffle to the door, gripping the folded holes at the end of the long sleeves and trying not to bite them in anxiety.
“Oof—” I utter as my body collides with another. The woman glares at me, her dark eyes glistening with anger. “S-sorry,” I stutter and try to weave past her.
There’s another manly cough from the stall as I press my back against the wall to brush past her and leave the bathroom. My throat knots as I reach out for the door to pull open, but my fingers never touch the cool metal.
The woman had caught me by the hood, making me choke on my saliva. This is all to strange, all to weird.
“Um.” I peer behind me, my heart in my throat. I wanted to say something smart to her, but I was too afraid. My brain tells me to ask her to let go, but my tongue is tied. So I stand there, wide-eyed and unsure of what’s happening.
The woman, whose pale face faces mine completely, seems like any normal woman, except for sharp features and deathly inhuman grip on my fiancé’s Pierce the Veil hoodie. The last thing I wanted to do was return it to him damaged—and I know that sounds like an unnecessary thought, but my heart aches when I fall short of someone’s expectations. Man, I sound completely pathetic and moronic. I’m a sad, sad human being sometimes.
“What’s your name?” The woman flashes a smile so pretty it makes me stumble. I wish I had a smile like that.
“Um,” I stammer. “Uh, my name...” It’s hard to talk, even harder to swallow.
The woman continues to stare at me, her eyes burning holes in my corneas.
“I’ve got to go.” My voice is barely above a whisper as I try to tug myself away from the strange predicament I’d fallen into, but the woman hangs on.
She sighs, seeming almost bored with my struggling. “What is your name, girl?”
“K—Kyla. Kyla Vonemben.”
Her head cocks to the side slightly, curiosity striking in her eyes.
“Strange name, kid.”
Not letting go of me, she begins to walk back into the body of the bathroom, her brown flats slapping on the gray tile floor. Why is she still holding on?
There’s a voice now coming from inside the stall, muttering to himself. My heart leaps into my throat as the man calls out loud enough to echo off the tiles. “Leave me alone.”
He goes back to muttering. “I won’t go back to the Blood Room, I can’t go back to the Blood Room. No one will find me in the Blood Room, no one will locate the Blood Room.”
“Please—please let me go,” I plead, tugging at the woman’s hand. Her skin is cold is ice, startling me. My brain flickers to one idea, one strange concept not materialized in this world, but I shake it away, finally writing myself off as crazy. I’ve read too many books in the fantasy genre.
I push at her hands as she drags me nearer to the stall. “What are you doing? Hey—hey, let go!”
She shoves the silver stall door and it caves beneath her hand, flying to the ground with a loud clatter. It stops me cold. The crazy idea slivers to the front of my mind once again, and this time I’m less adamant about tucking it away to the crevices of my brain. The man stops muttering at the loud noise and all is quiet except for the ringing in my ears and my heavy breathing. My eyes dare to tear away from the empty half of the stall I can see to snap over to the woman. She’s at complete ease. Is she even breathing?
The lights shine off the mirror, but I don’t dare look into them. I just might find something I don’t want my eyes to be opened to.
God, I pray, please, please help me, I beg, hoping my pleas reach through the clouds and to His ears. Please.
“Ernie,” the woman coos as if she’s talking to a baby. “I’ve caught you a little snack.”
“Excuse me?” I croak, my vocal chords tight in my throat. There’s no other word she could have used in that very spot of that exact sentence. And I know words very well—or, at least I like to think I do.
The woman pulls me forward and my knees buckle, hitting the hard ground with two loud bangs, followed by the slaps of my hands. The woman still holds onto my fiancé’s hoodie, the oversized cloth lifted around me. I groan, and, if it wasn’t for the sudden hiss I hear from my left, I would have stood up, but my blood runs cold and my body begins to shake. I snap my head around to take a gander at the man who had no business being in the woman’s bathroom, and shrink away, tears leaping into my eyes.
His dark skin is paled, as if a chunk of his original pigment missing. His blue eyes flash a bright red, spreading from his pupils and working its way to the outer edges of his irises, as his hands move to resemble claws, blood dripping off his sharp nails. Four bloody streaks repeat themselves over and over on his face, as if he’d been scratching at something inside his skull, behind his frontal bone, and, possibly, inside his brain.
Unable to scream, I whimper and quickly lift myself from the ground, running past the woman and out of the bathroom. There’s another hissing sound as my heart jackhammers in my throat and I burst out into the whipping wind, the hot day growing cooler in the dying March sun. However these glorious details mean nothing to me compared to the horror going to the restroom had led me to.
I sprint over to where my brother was waiting with his friend, both of them tapping the screens of their phones.
“Let’s go,” I command, peeking back to the area I’d called shady when the sun disappeared. The woman walks out with a smirk, hiding in the shadow the walls cast. She pulled a hood up over her dark-as-night hair, her murky eyes focused tightly on me. Two men dressed casually in black appear behind her, their eyes hidden with sunglasses and their heads covered in hoods.
“But we were going to go eat in the food—”
“Get up now,” I snap, beginning to walk in the opposite direction of the woman, demanding the two of them to walk faster. I knew we should never have come to the mall today. I mean, I didn’t know something like that would happen, but I should have never said yes. Not today.
A chill races down my back as I peek once more behind me. The sliding glass doors opened and the three of us slipped through, the woman and her goons gaining on us. We need to get home.
A police officer!
“Sir,” I call, sprinting up to him. “There’s a woman and two men following us.”
“Where?” he asks, fully alert.
I turn and point. “Right—”
But they’ve disappeared.
“They were right there behind us, I swear,” I tell the man. “She has dark hair and brown eyes, I think. She held me captive in the bathroom—”
“What?” my brother asked in awe, his eyes filling with concern as he eavesdrops, coming nearer.
I turn to him for a second and ignore his question. “Can you please walk us to my car? We’ve got to get home.”
The man’s lips form a tight line as he nods. “Where are you parked?”
“Okay, let’s go.”
He makes small talk as we make our way to the parking lot at the front of the newly expanded mall, and I can’t help but look over my shoulder every few seconds. I keep my shaking hands in my pockets, fiddling with the unique engagement ring my fiancé had given me. I really wish he were here now. He’d make me feel at least a little bit more at ease.
We say goodbye and our thank you’s to the officer as we get into the car and drive away. Two and a-half songs later, we’re home and sitting in the driveway, the sun almost completely gone.
“What happened?” my brother asks, his friend leaning forward in the back seat to get the four-one-one on whatever it was I’d freaked out about in the mall. I can’t tell them. I want to tell my parents, who I still live with, but maybe it was just a freak accident. Perhaps they’ll forget about me.
But the problem is, I looked in the mirror before I’d ran out. And what I saw sent ice-cold shivers up my spinal chord. It would be a long time before I could look at the world the same again.
Night has fallen and I lay in my bed, half asleep. Once I did close my eyes and let my subconscious take over, nothing but nightmares greeted me and I woke up in cold sweat. I didn’t sit upright like they do in the movies, screaming or suffocating from entanglement with my covers. Instead, my heart is the only thing I can hear and my chest aches because of its rapidity, while my lungs act as if they’ve been holding my breath for hours and is longing for new air. My body sweats and dread trickles down my throat and rests behind my sternum, making it hard to swallow.
I grab my phone, first thing. My dad had these lights we could control with an app and I opened it, sliding the bar to my lamp and listening to my heart calm as it fades quickly on.
A sigh slips between my lips as I sniffle (my allergies have always been bad) and stretch. But as my eyes lift to look around the room, as they always do after a nightmare, there’s that woman staring directly at me, into me. My body goes rigid and my blood turns cold as she smiles, two of her teeth oversized in a strange way, and her body disintegrates into small modes that slip into the moonlight streaming past my open window, a chuckle reverberating between the bones creating my skull.
The Blood Room calls for you, Kyla Vonemben, and the captives hold your names on their tongues. You cannot run from the Blood Room, the Blood Room will always find you, no matter where you travel.
I’m frozen as the sound disappears. She had spoken to me through thought. Thought-speak, like in Animorphs… only I wish that was the book that has come to life before my eyes.
And, if my calculations are correct, there really isn’t a place on this earth I can hide.