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

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Chapter 2.

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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