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My best friend was taken from me. By a stupid dress.

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Maureen found this so-gorgeous-you-could-just-die emerald green dress. It was in the style of a 1920's dress – pure satin with broad straps and a cut just above the knee.

Age Rating:

Chapter 1.

This is the story of a dead friendship. And maybe if I can just write all this down, it will somehow make sense. Maybe it will even become real. Ever since Maureen went missing, I've been existing in a hazy state of confusion. I had to quit my job. Hell, I basically had to quit my life. I haven't left my house in weeks, I've cut contact with most of my friends. Everything is so numb, it's like peering through a dusty, old veil. Food is tasteless, sounds are washed out and dry. My memories of her, my best friend, now induce horrid bloody nightmares.

Maureen and I met on the first day of sixth grade. She was the new kid, I saw her standing there with her lunch tray in hands, wide eyed and terrified. I couldn't bear to see a new kid suffer like that, so I waved her over to sit with me and my sisters. Maureen was quiet, reserved even at that young age. She always had her nose in a book and I liked that because well, so did I. We found out we liked a lot of the same books and movies, although we differed tremendously on music. We've been best friends ever since.

She was awkward and pudgy throughout middle school and part of high school, like we all were. But her junior year was when she slimmed down and the acne disappeared. Then she met Kevin, the college guy. He was unattractive, but very charming and intense. I told her he was bad news but young girls are young girls. She started dating him and six months after graduation, we lost touch for a couple years. It wasn't until a year ago that she sent me a message on Facebook, saying she missed me so much and wanted to get some coffee. When she walked into the coffee shop, she had dark bruises on her arms. She said Kevin had been abusing her, basically ever since graduation. She said she wanted to leave him, but he had isolated her from her friends and family. She had nowhere to go. Over the next few months, I helped her move all her things out slowly. Valuables first. When it was all done, she left him without a word and never looked back. I was so proud of Maureen – it's hard for a quiet girl to find her voice in such a loud world, but she did it. She lived with me and my giant family (we're Catholic, if that tells you anything) for a few months and had just recently moved into her own apartment.

I'm digressing, sorry. Anyway, her only sister was getting married so she wanted to get a new dress. I suggested she go to Rarities Boutique. It had just opened and I had found some really beautiful, antique type dresses and jewelry. Maureen found this so-gorgeous-you-could-just-die emerald green dress. It was in the style of a 1920's dress – pure satin with broad straps and a cut just above the knee. She texted me a picture of it and then a few hours later, came to my house. Her waist length chestnut hair had been clipped into a clean bob, just below her ears. I was stunned! She said Kevin never let her cut her hair, so it was time for a change. I told her it looked beautiful, just so different.

Maureen invited me to go to the wedding, but I declined. I had a big project at work and couldn't afford to miss any days. I told her she should come over the day after and tell me about it. She said it went well, she danced with a few guys but wouldn't give them her number. I thought that was great! Maureen was finally coming out of her shell. But, she said she had a nightmare that night and woke up in the dress. She seemed concerned about it, I dismissed her fears, saying she probably was just so tired that she passed out in it and had a weird dream.

The morning after our talk, she called me in hysterics. She had woken up in the dress again, but this time the dream was more intense. She said she was in a dim, decaying warehouse and there were makeshift tables and chairs all around. People sat around drinking homemade hooch and smoking cigars. It sounded just like a speakeasy. Maureen said the dream itself didn't scare her, it was the emotion. She was standing against a corner and watching the people smoke, sing and laugh with disgust. She described it as a cold, bubbling rage. I told her it was nothing to worry about, just a dream, although I couldn't explain why she woke up in the dress. She decided to take it back, but of course the tags were ripped off and it had been worn so they couldn't accept it. Maureen said she donated it to a thrift shop, but the next morning she woke up from the exact same dream, in the dress. But this time, her hair stunk like cigarettes and the taste of whiskey was in her mouth. I have to add that she does drink, but only wine and brandy. I've never seen her drink hard alcohol and I know without a doubt she doesn't smoke.

At this point, I was beginning to question this whole situation. I told her I thought Kevin was following her and maybe breaking into her apartment. It sounds unbelievable that a man would break into his ex-girlfriend's apartment to dress her up in her sleep but Kevin is massively unstable. Anything is possible with that level of crazy. I called him, demanding answers but he couldn't give me any. He moved several states away after Maureen moved out and had a new victi-I mean girlfriend. That made my stomach lurch to my throat. If it wasn't him...? Maybe Maureen is just stressed out, I thought. She did just make a major life decision. Maybe living alone is getting to her, I thought.

I told her I would come and stay with her if she could take a few days off work. My boss was very sympathetic and told me to take a whole week off, I could finish the project on my laptop. I slept soundly the first night with her cat Olivia purring lazily on my chest, comforted by the fact that Maureen had left her bedroom door open. A scream as cold and hard as a knife in the eye cut through the air and pulled me from my dream. It was Maureen! I shoved Olivia off me and ran barefoot to her bedroom. I found the door cracked, a sliver of darkness glowered at me. I stood for an instant, rooted in fear of what might be on the other side. The continuing shrieks gnawed at me until I was forced to nudge the door with my toe. Dark outlines of furniture greeted me, the red letters of the digital clock across from me said 1:04. To my left, Maureen sat in the middle of her bed, looking so small. She was holding her hands up and staring at them, the screaming never stopping. They were covered in dark blood. The pale skin of her face was streaked with crimson and the front of her hair was matted down against her forehead. The fear in me snapped sharp like a rubber band, cold terror pooled on my skin and ran down in sheets. I couldn't move and she couldn't stop screaming.

Thankfully, no one called the police. When the fear passed over me, I ran to Maureen and threw my arms around her. I rubbed her back and whispered to her, that everything was okay. We just needed to get her cleaned up. The stink of cigarettes oozed from her making my eyes water. The screams eventually turned softer, becoming hoarse moans. I gently tugged at her arm until she stood up and followed me to the bathroom. I got the water nice and hot and guided her in, green dress and all. Maureen's face was grim and pale, she didn't speak a word when I asked her what happened. I asked if she started her period and she just shook her head. I left her in the shower to inspect the bedroom. The bed was a mess of blood, I'd deal with that later. I checked all the windows in the bedroom, they were locked tightly even though we're on the third floor with no way down. I didn't find any ashes or even a single cigarette butt for that matter. The front door and the patio door were locked as well and besides, I was sleeping on the couch. If she went out, she'd have to walk past me. I'm a light sleeper, it would definitely wake me up.

Maureen's behavior over the next week became...erratic. She was out, every day and most of the night partying while I stayed on her couch, waiting for her. That's not the Maureen I know. The Maureen I know listens to Chopin, not club music. She drinks warm brandy, reads Jane Austen novels and doesn't get smashed on Jack Daniels and inhale cigarettes, one right after the other. But every morning, she still woke up in the dress. The morning was when she seemed to be the most lucid. Maureen would break down into tears, stinking like sweet whiskey. She apologized and hugged me every single morning. She said she didn't know what was wrong with her. But by noon, she was in a sleazy outfit on her way out the door. I begged her to stay, we could watch movies or go get lunch. I reminded her I did take time off work to be there for her. Only a mean cackle escaped her as she stomped out the door.

Her rage increased with each day, worse at night when she came home. She left a few gaping holes in the walls after throwing objects at them. At one point, I suggested she calm down and take a walk. Her face flashed with heat and in a second, she was in my face. She screamed so hard, I felt flecks of spit hit my skin. Her face was misshapen with violence and hate. I realized I no longer recognized my friend and wondered if the face in front of me was even human anymore. Maureen looked so savage, like a delirious animal.

Begrudgingly, I called my brother Tom. He was a senior at Miskatonic University at the time, about to complete his Bachelor in Abnormal Psychology. I relayed all the events from the past 6 days and pleaded for his help.

“You know I'm not a psychologist, Penny. I can't diagnose anyone.” He was breathing hard on the other end.

“I know but can't you give us just a little advice here?” I sighed. “Come see her tonight. I'll try to make sure she's here. What's all that huffing for?” I asked.

“I'm trying to make it to my next class in time. Fine, I'll be there at 8.” Thank god he agreed! “Just remember, I can only make suggestions.”

I called Maureen's cell right after and she finally picked up after several rings. She seemed to perk up when I mentioned Tom and to my surprise – Maureen showed up at eight. Tom was already there when she walked through the door and as soon as she saw him, she was all over him. As far as I know, Maureen has never had feelings for my brother. Familial feelings, perhaps. She came with us on almost all of our vacations and was always at my house. She's a part of our family, but at the moment she had forgotten. She was more like a bitch in heat.

Tom managed to ask her a few questions, mostly about if she thought her behavior had changed and why. Maureen shifted his attention to her hand on his thigh. That's when I suggested she go freshen up for dinner, we could go out somewhere nice. She bounded to the bedroom and shut the door, giddy like a lovesick teenager. I rolled my eyes and turned to Tom.

“What's the prognosis, Doctor?”

“Number one, I'm not a doctor,” he reminded me with mock sternness. “Number two it's diagnosis, not a prognosis. Since I'm not a psychiatrist, I can't give you either.” He strolled into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.

“If I had to guess, I'd say she's suffering from Histrionic Personality Disorder.” his slim hands measured out the grounds from a tub. “She'd be at the right age for it to manifest.”

“Yes, but what about the dress? Why does she keep waking up in it?”

“Well,” he paused for a moment and then shrugged. “It's possible she's developed some kind of fantasy about the dress. You said this all started after a wedding? She did just leave an abusive relationship. Maybe this is how she's dealing with her negative emotions.”

“Yes...” I agreed hesitantly. “There's something I kind of left out. One night, she woke me up, screaming. She was covered in blood, but she couldn't have gotten out.” Tom's eyes got wide at that.

“This changes things, Penny.” the coffee emerged into the pot with a low, sick-sounding gurgle. “I have to report her.”

“No! Please, you can't do that. No one was hurt. She'd never hurt anyone!”

“No one we know of.” he replied coolly. “She's not in her right mind right now. We don't know what she's capable of.”

“Yeah but...please. Don't do this. There has to be another way.” The desperation seeping out of my voice must have been enough.

“Okay.” He laid a warm hand on my shoulder and leaned against the counter.

“I won't report her. Yet. We'll stop by a store on the way back and get a nanny cam. When we get back, I'll keep her busy. You set up the camera in the bedroom so she can't see it. I want to see what she does.”

Dinner passed by with Maureen playing footsie with Tom under the table and trying to sneak her hands on his legs. But I must admit, he took it well. He never lost his neutral facial expression or the dullness in his voice. He's going to make a great psychologist, I thought to myself smiling. We got the camera without a problem, Maureen was very willing to stay in the car with Tom while I ran in. Keeping her busy at the apartment was no trouble either. I set the camera up on a tall dresser, directly across from her bed, hiding between nick knacks. I just hoped she wouldn't see it.

I went home that night. I'd be going back to work soon and a break from Maureen was well deserved. Tom called me the next morning, entirely too early. He told me he was at Maureen's apartment and the door was wide open. Panic stabbed me in the chest and the sleepiness fled from me. I told him I would be there as quick as I could.

Tom sat outside, sitting on the low stone steps leading up. He said he didn't want to go in alone, it could be dangerous. Great, I thought. “She's probably on a murder spree as we speak.” I replied. The door still stood open and gave way to the empty home. Olivia laid curled up on top of the couch. I picked her up and pressed my face into her soft fur. I praised her, declaring her a Good Kitty for not running outside. Maureen's bed was empty. No blood on the sheets, no note. Simply empty. Olivia was content to be set down on the bed to groom herself. I checked the closet and found the dress to be missing too. Tom took down the camera and plugged it up to Maureen's desktop. I entered the password and a cheerful chime let us know it was the right one.

The video...it still makes my heart pound a little faster and my skin a little colder. This is the part where I have convince myself that this is real. That this really happened. Technology doesn't misspeak.

Maureen tossed and turned most of the night, the fast forwarding made it look as if it was happening a hundred times as fast. We watched until we noticed a small dark shape on the corner on the screen. “Wait, what's that? Press play.” I ordered.

I heard myself suck in a gulp of air, but I felt so far away from my body right then. It was the green dress, slithering across the carpet. It crept and crept, sliding up the side of the bed like a snake. It parked right next to Maureen's sleeping face and then wormed its' way between her lips. Her eyes fluttered in the light of the nightlight and she swatted at it in futility. It worked its' way further into her mouth, Maureen was now choking and heaving, laying on her back. The ends of the dress disappeared into her and she lay motionless. Tears welled in my eyes for the sweet, intelligent girl I met in sixth grade. An agonizing two minutes passed as we watched Maureen lay in stillness. I would have thought she were dead if I hadn't already seen her absence. When she finally moved, her body jerked rigidly. She sat up straight and stared in the direction of the camera for a few moments, stark naked. Maureen stood up and sauntered out of the view of the camera.

Tom called the police while I sobbed on the patio with a cup of coffee for company. They showed up very quickly and we filed a missing persons report. Tom advised them she could be mentally ill, possibly dangerous but to be careful with her. Her mind may be fragile right now. We gave them the memory stick inside the camera and urged them to watch with an open mind. No one has seen or heard from her in the weeks she's been missing. I don't know where she would have gone. I don't know anything anymore, except that that was not my friend. Maureen McCalkin died the day she found that dress.

I decided to take the advice given here and try to find out the history of the dress. It's not like I had anything better to do in the mean time. Thankfully I have inheritance money from a few years ago still stashed away, so getting another job isn't a huge priority right now. My mental health is more important. Tom and I hadn't really spoken since Maureen went missing. I knew he was avoiding me and I wish he wouldn't, but I understood. First I went to the boutique and asked where they acquired the dress. The bored teenaged girl eyed me suspiciously.

“Why do you want to know? We don't usually give out that kind of information.”

I've never been a very good liar so I cant believe I pulled this out of my ass. “I'm an independent collector,” I replied. “1920's fashion especially. I just want to know if they have anything else they'd like to sell since your racks seem to be lacking,”

I looked down at her nametag “Chelsea.” I added.

She sighed and pulled out a large journal. I inwardly high-fived myself as she flipped through the pages.

“Hmm, okay. It looks like it came from an Elsa Whitmore.” She wrote the number and address down and gave me a nasty look as she wished me a good afternoon.

I called Elsa first and when she didn't answer, I drove by. A greasy man was outside, shoveling out his car from the snow. I approached and asked him about the dress. He said it belonged to his mother, she had bought it at an estate sale but she passed away not long ago. I gave him my condolences and he gave me the address from the estate sale. “Old people write everything down,” he told me as he passed the information to me.

The following day, I ventured to the next lead. The house was a sprawling mansion on the eastern, preppy side of town. I parked on the street, parking in the driveway felt a bit presumptuous. I lifted the iron knocker, which was freezing from the cold winter temperature. A handsome man in his forties greeted me amicably and invited me in. He was just about to have some tea, he said.

“Ah, so you're a collector too? My wife is too. Well, ex-wife now.” He said, pouring the steaming water into the turquoise colored mugs.

“Oh, yes. My sisters and I just love fashion. And that dress was simply beautiful.” I said, taking the mug. I was getting good at this lying thing.

“My wife bought that dress.” he motioned for me to have a seat at the white marble-top dining table. “She won it in an auction from Berkton Antique museum a few years ago. You've probably been there, being an avid fashion collector and all.”

“Oh, I'm new to this area,” I lied again. “I moved out here to be closer to my sister.”

“It's just a few counties over. You and your sister could take a day trip.” He winked. “That dress belonged to the Speakeasy serial killer, so it's a piece of history.”

He raised the mug to his lips and my stomach dropped into my ankles.

“Serial killer?” I asked, feeling faint.

“Oh yes. Berkton had a lot of speakeasies during prohibition and it's own female serial killer to go with them. Are you feeling okay?”

I nodded and explained I'm just very sensitive. He said he'd spare me the gory details and gave me his business card.

“You show this to Bill at Sunset Wolf hotel and he'll give you a good deal on a room, in case you want to stay the night in Berkton.” I thanked him and left.

It was mid-afternoon when I walked outside, but the gray clouds were pregnant with more snow. I got in my car and stared blankly at the steering wheel, trying to digest what I just heard. If it truly did belong to a serial killer, what does that mean for Maureen? The coppery taste of fear flooded the back of my throat. I opened my car door just in time to splatter vomit on the pavement. 'It's a good thing I haven't had lunch yet,' I thought miserably. I called Tom on the way home, but no answer came. Reluctantly, I merged onto the interstate. As much as I hated intruding on his space, we needed to talk.

I knocked on the door to his dorm and hoped he would be there. A shirtless Tom answered the door. “What do you want?” He asked through the crack in the door.

“I want to talk. Can't a sister come visit her big brother every once in a while?”

He sighed and opened the door to let me in. “What do you want to talk about?” he asked, pulling a shirt over his head.

“It's about the dress. I found out a litt-”

“I don't want to talk about the dress.” he snapped. “The police are working hard to find Maureen and we should just stay out of their way.”

Tom walked over the window and turned his back to me.

“Okay, am I going crazy or am I the only one who watched that tape?”

I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms across my chest, feeling the anger rising.

“Look, I just don't think it's a good idea to bring it up. You obviously can't handle it.” He turned and matched my stance. 'Deep breath,' I told myself.

“We owe it to Maureen. Even Mom said she's like a daughter to her! She's a part of this family! Maureen isn't just missing, Tom. She's possessed. Can't you see that?”

Tom was silent for several moments after turning back to the window. I sat down in the computer chair and waited patiently for his rebuttal.

“Yes. I can see that,” he admitted after some time.

“But you have to understand, I'm going to be a psychologist. I've been trained look at things from a rational angle. I know what I saw on that tape but I also know the logic I've been taught.”

Defeated, he sat down on the bed in front of me and asked what I'd learned.

Before I left his dorm, he agreed to accompany me to Berkton on the weekend. He walked me out to my car, the soft snow falling soundlessly around us. We hugged briefly and he sprinted back to the warm safety we'd left behind. Olivia and Minecraft kept me busy while I waited impatiently for the weekend to arrive. When it finally did, I picked Tom up and we set out to Berkton. It was a long drive, but thankfully the weather had let up for now. We skipped the Sunset Wolf and went straight to the museum, which was not what I was expecting. It was in a strip mall, squished between a Hot Topic and a pet store. We went inside, fighting off the cold winds. It was warm inside and the curator greeted us cheerfully.

“You'll have to excuse our arrangements. Our real museum is quite striking, it's an old plantation house in the historic district. It's under renovation right now.” she beamed at us and asked if we'd like a tour.

“Actually, we came to learn the history of a certain dress,” Tom answered.

“It's always so nice when a man takes an interest in fashion!” Crimson crept up Tom's neck and ears.

“Which dress was that?” “It was green,” I said, smiling at Tom's discomfort.

“From the 1920's. I heard it belonged to a serial killer.” “Oh, yes! Marion Amento, Berkton's most famous would be serial killer. It went for a very good price.” she shuffled over to the greeting table and opened a black binder, showing us various pictures of the dress in a display case.

“Would be?” Tom asked.

“Yes, the woman committed suicide before she was ever caught. The police had been chasing her for years. When they arrived at her apartment, she was slumped over in her morning oatmeal. It was loaded with rat poison, she'd been dead for a week. What a scene that must've been!”

Our next stop was the local library. We sat down at the computers and scoured local history books and old newspapers for a Marion Amento. Tom found her in the headline of a newspaper from 1926. My skin prickled when I saw her picture. Her pin curled hair came just under her ears. Just like Maureen's.

“Look here,” He handed the paper to me.

“I found her. It said she killed twelve people from the year 1921 to 1926. She became known as the Speakeasy Slaughterer in 1923 and her murders were always really bloody. Let's see...blah blah, possibly abused by one of her many boyfriends. Okay, here. It says that when they found her body, they also found a little boy hiding in the closet.” He pointed at the passage. I squinted at the print.

“Roy Amento, age five is being taken in by his widowed aunt” I recited.

“He could still be alive.” Tom said, laying the newspaper back in its' dusty box.

“He would be ancient.” I replied. “But it's worth a shot.”

We looked Roy Amento up in the yellow pages and found four leads. I called three with no luck. The fourth call rang two times and a husky woman's voice answered.

“Yes, I'm looking for Roy Amento. Was his mother named Marion? I need to ask him a few questions.” Silence.

“Why? That bitch is dead and buried.” I knew I had the right house.

“You won't go bothering my father, he's very feeble. Now, if you ple-” a creaky old man's voice in the background echoed “Who's that? Let me talk.” The woman's voice was muffled and there was a lot of shuffling as the phone was passed.

“Hello?” “Hi. My name is Penny and I have to ask you a few questions about your mom.”

“Oh, that old twat?” he asked humorously. “Come on by in the morning, 1955 Locust Grove. I fall asleep when I'm on the phone too long. Bring some breakfast with you too.” Click.

Bill at the Sunset Wolf laughed heartily when we gave him the card and told us he hadn't seen old Harry Maston since college. He told us old stories while we smiled and nodded, anxious to go to our room. He showed us to a suite and must have assumed we were a couple because it only had one Queen bed. I slept on the bed, leaving Tom on the recliner. My phone buzzed and drew me from my sleep.

“'Ello?” I murmured.

“Penny! It's Katherine. Maureen's been found. She's here at Angel of Mercy hospital.”

I sat up “Katherine!” It was Maureen's mother. “I'm out of town right now, but we'll be back tomorrow night. Is she okay?”

“I won't lie to you. She's not doing well.” I could hear her voice growing thick with tears.

“Her left foot is being amputated from frostbite and...” she stopped to sob, I told her gently it was okay, she didn't need to tell me if she didn't want to. I hung up, more exhausted than I was when I woke up. I laid back down to stare at the ceiling until the sun came up.

We left the hotel that morning and stopped at McDonald's. I got a few types of breakfast food, I wasn't sure what they would want. The house they lived in was in a nice suburb, on the outskirt of town. We ascended the wooden porch steps and Tom knocked loudly. A woman with frizzy salt and pepper hair answered. She motioned for us to come in. An elderly man sat on the couch, next to the door. His head was as bald as a pumpkin and marked with age spots. He smiled widely at us, exposing his pink gums.

“You made it! You're much prettier than I imagined.”

“Thank you,” I said politely and introduced ourselves.

“Gloria, my daughter.” he said.

She looked at us with contempt and folded her arms.

“Come, have a seat you two young'uns.” I handed him the bag of food and let him select his own breakfast. Tom and I took a seat on the couch across from him. Gloria still stood by the door like a prison guard,

“We didn't know what you wanted, so we just got a few things.”

“No bother. I love sausage biscuits.” he said, waving his wrinkled hand. He pulled his teeth out of a glass cup on the table beside him and popped them into his mouth.

“Why are you here?” Gloria asked flatly. Silence rang out to answer her. I looked at Tom for help.

“I um...I'm doing a project for class,” Tom explained. “I'm going to be a psychologist.” Gloria rolled her eyes.

“Dad, if you need me I'll be right outside.” she pulled out a deflated pack of cigarettes and stepped outside before giving us another hateful look.

Between chews, Roy looked to me and asked, “What's the real reason you're here?”

“How did you know I was lying?” asked Tom.

“Boy, I am ninety four years old. I raised five children. I know a lie when I see one.” he smiled.

“Well, the truth is...” I stared at my feet. “You wouldn't believe us if we told you the truth. Just tell us about Marion first.”

He nodded, the skin of his neck wobbling. “I reckon you already know she was a murderer? I remember the day she died like yesterday. She tried to get me to eat that oatmeal, you know. I wouldn't because it smelt so funny. I screamed when she tried to hold me down, to force feed me. I was only five but I bit her right on the hand. She smacked me and I jumped down off the table and ran into the pantry. She just laughed like a maniac and blocked the door with a chair, saying I'd die anyway before anyone found me.

"Then the police came a week later. Luckily I had plenty to eat. She was a mean old thing and her boyfriends even meaner.”

He unbuttoned his plaid shirt to show his white, hairless belly. Small, distorted cigarette burns covered his ancient flesh.

“That's what they'd do to me. Do you know how she killed her victims?”

we shook our heads no. The newspaper didn't say.

“See, the 20's was the woman's revolution. Ladies started wearing dresses that made them look like boys and chopped their hair short like 'em too. Women was more into speakeasies than men. Men would have to compete with a gaggle of ladies to get a seat. Marion would wait until a girl, all by herself got staggering drunk and offer to walk her home. She'd take her somewhere secluded and slit her ear to ear.” He drew a smile on his saggy neck with his thumb.

“She didn't get much attention, lots of ladies were killing off their men at the time. Newspapers were chock full of 'em. Some say she was into black magic and made herself immortal. Me? I don't know if I believe that. She was too mean, even for the devil hisself. Now, why are you here?”

“This...”I sighed. The truth was so weird. “My friend. She bought one of your mother's dresses.”

I explained how Maureen's behavior shifted, about the dreams and how the dress went inside her. “She's missing now. Well, actually,” I nudged Tom on the arm with my elbow. “She's been found. Katherine said she's in bad shape.” Tom was quiet, his face a puzzle.

Roy nodded slowly and we sat in silence for a few moments. Until the prison warden came back in. Gloria glared at us, but must have decided we weren't a threat because she disappeared into the bedroom.

“Perhaps she did put a hex on herself then.” Roy said.

“I don't know how to get rid of her. Maybe an exorcism, like in the pictures. You a catholic?” he asked.

“We both are. Born and raised.” Tom answered.

“Hmm. Maybe you need to be calling your priest. Or you could do it yourself. God is in us all. You just be careful now, girlie. She's the meanest thing that ever lived. She'd kill you in an instant.” I felt the warmth flee from my face and hands.

With that, he balled up the empty wrapper and called for Gloria to see us out.

“You remember what I said now about being careful.” Roy pointed a shaky finger at us. “I like you kids. Maybe you can even live to be as old as I am. Don't know why you'd want to though.” He flashed a toothy grin and said goodbye.

We made good time back to our hometown, but the ride was somber. Tom sat looking out the window for most of it. He asked me if I was going to the hospital to see Maureen. Yes, I said. I needed to be there for Katherine. Tom didn't like the idea of me going alone after what Roy said, so he agreed to go with me.

We found Katherine sitting in the waiting room alone, head in her hands. I called to her and she burst from her seat to hug us both.

“Where's Leah?” Leah is Maureen's sister.

“She left after Maureen slapped her.” I could see fresh tears pooling in her green eyes.

“That...thing in there. It's not my baby.”

“What do you mean? Start from the beginning, Kat.” I touched her arm and we sat down.

“Well,” she started, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.

“They found her under the Third street bridge. She was living with a community of homeless people. Her arms...they're covered in track marks and cigarette burns. She's just got released from surgery because....” she started sobbing. Tom rubbed her back and softly urged her to continue.

“Maureen was eating squirrels. Just...twisting their heads off and eating them whole. Her stomach was full of fur. It was blocking off her digestive system. And the worst of it is she's shaved her head and shaved the fingerprints off her fingers. They suspect her of two murders.”

Katherine descended into thick, shuddering sobs.

“Do they have any evidence?” Tom asked. Kat wiped her eyes with her hands and shook her head. She looked so old, so tired. I offered to get her something from the cafeteria.

“No, I should be getting home. I need some rest. Please, go in there and see for yourself. She's not my Maury.”

Tom walked Katherine to her car and I sat in the waiting room, wondering. If I called Father Dixon, would he help us? Our church frowns upon exorcisms, if we did manage to gather up 'evidence' of her possession they would say it's all psychological. They would say she needs therapy and medication, not holy water. Tom came back, looking like a ghost. He asked if I was ready. Without a word, I stood up and we walked together to room 104.

Inside, Maureen there motionless, staring at the TV. A sob escaped me when I fully saw her – she looked like she'd aged thirty years. She was bald, save for some light peach fuzz. Even her eyebrows were gone. Her arms were covered with long black streaks and small festered burns. Maureen was petite to begin with, but the pounds had just melted off her. I could see the shape of her skull behind her face. She smiled joyfully when she saw us.

“So good of you to join us. We were just viewing this...what do you call it? Television. You are so lucky to be living in the future.” I couldn't speak a word. My throat had gone completely dry.

“Cat got your tongue, doll?”

“We know who you are, Marion.” Tom's voice sounded strong and sure, very unlike what I was feeling.

“Do you now? Does that make you feel like a big bimbo? I know you've always wanted to get between Maureen's gams.” Tom blushed fiercely.

“This sow is mine.” the thing said defiantly.

“Please,” I begged her. “Maureen is a nice girl. You can't do this to her.”

“You think I care about this bird?” She raised a hand and showed me a long, dirty fingernail. I watched in horror as she plunged it into her forearm and thick blood seeped out from the wound. She twisted it and pulled up a strip of white skin. It was all I could do to keep from melting into a puddle.

“You see? I no more care about this body than I care about yours. If I still had a foot, I'd stand right up and come wring your neck.”

She used her teeth to sever the skin and spat it out onto the floor. Blood painted her lips and teeth. “Nurse!” Tom shouted down the hallway. Maureen cackled and hooted like a wild animal. A nurse in purple scrubs rushed in with a syringe and told us it was time to go.

“What do we do now?” Tom asked when we slipped into my car. “I don-don't know!” Fresh sobs surfaced and shook my shoulders. Tom put his arm around me and we sat there for a long time like that.

If anyone has ANY ideas on where to go from here, PLEASE PLEASE comment. I'm so lost. I just want my friend back. I want my life back. Marion has taken it from me. I haven't been back to the hospital since we went on Sunday. Tom has been staying with me because I've been having the worst nightmares. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I often wonder if it's Marion trying to get to me. I'm almost always in a speakeasy and she's just staring at me with hate burning in her eyes. The feeling in the dream is one of...extreme fear. It's like what I imagine a zebra feels as it's being chased along the Serengeti by a lion. It might not be her at all, my mental state is quite fragile right now. I don't know what to do. Please help.

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