S I X T E E N
Tonight is the night.
The night I’ve been waiting for since Alex left that note in my apartment.
Waiting these few weeks has really taught me that patience is key to a calming life. Also, that staring at a clock did not make time go faster.
Standing on the creaky wooden bridge which we agreed to meet upon, I stare at the dark stream beneath me, entranced by its crisp movements.
I wonder how cold it must be down there? With the seasons changing and all, I wouldn’t be surprised if the water is below freezing at this point.
A breeze sweeps across my non-covered back and I shiver, bringing my white shawl closer around my shoulders hoping it would bring some source of heat.
I know Alex said to dress warm but it’s not my fault that the weather changed all of a sudden. Also, this strapless jumpsuit was too cute to pass up and maybe a little part of me wanted to look good for him, but that’s only a small itty bitty part.
Speaking of Alex, I check my phone for the third time, seeing that he is twenty minutes late. Sighing, a white cloud forms in the air before me, and I place my phone into my small back pocket.
Even though this night is beautiful I can’t help but get the heeby jeebies.
Anything could happen out here while I wait; I could fall over the edge of the bridge and be swept up into the strong current or a coyote could decide I’m the perfect meal for the night and drag me off into the shadows, never to be seen again.
A chill wrecks my body just by thinking about it.
Where could he be?
I rest my forearms onto the wooden railing, making sure to stray from the clumps of bird poop and mold, and gaze back down at the stream. In some ways, life is similar to the course of a river.
It’s unpredictable, yet we know where it’s heading.
It’s beautiful, but we would never want to trade places with it.
It’s calming, and yet still kills people.
We are just flowing aimlessly on a path that we can never get out of and people will gladly peer at us from the sidelines for their own amusement.
I guess in this situation, the onlookers would be my parents. They’ve never really cared about my wellbeing, even when I used to live with them. I’m the second oldest out of my three other siblings, who are all boys. We’re all around the same age as my older brother, Dustin, will be turning thirty in December, and my twin younger brothers, Dylan and Derik, are two years younger than me. They all look like exact replicas of my father while I take after our mother.
She was the only one who gave us an ounce of attention, but, even that, slowly dwindled away. Sure, mother would show her concern every now and then but over the years she became too preoccupied with work and expanding her company, that she ended up turning into our father.
Becoming non-interactive with the life of her children.
Father only talked to us when he deemed it convenient for him, like for interviews or magazines. That was my life up to three years ago before everything went to hell.
Since that day, I haven’t heard a word from my family. Not hearing from my siblings was a shock as I hoped they would keep in contact, but not hearing from my parents wasn’t exactly new.
Even when I was living with them they probably spoke less than ten words to me a day and dinner was always silent as we never ate together. I was the last of my siblings still living with my parents since the twins were off at college and Dustin lived in his own home with his wife Jasmine.
Due to the fact that my father is a top-notch businessman in the city of New York and my mother is a pretty well-known fashion designer we never had time to hang out as a family, and when we did, it usually ended with me losing all sorts of self-esteem as they badgered me about being unsuccessful with my life.
I mean, they weren’t wrong.
I’m working at a cafe with a salary that only allows me to pay for rent and food for the week. If my parents could see me now they would have a stroke.
The sound of crunching gravel brings me back to reality. I swiftly turn my head towards the sound.
“Hello? Alex, is that you?” I question into the dark. I don’t get a reply except for the sound of crunching gravel becoming louder as it gets closer. I squint ahead thinking this will help me see through the inky night. Sadly, it just makes it harder to see. “Whoever’s out there this isn’t funny,” I try to say confidently but even I can hear my voice wobbling, and if I can hear it then the person front of me can definitely hear it just as well.
I need to run. Why aren’t I running? Do my legs not work when the rest of my body is in shock or are they incapable of physical exercise?
If I’m taken then it’s game over for me. No one knows I’m here except for Alex and never in a hundred years would anyone else guess I was all the way out here, this late at night, being a stupid idiot, so might as well stamp my face on a carton of milk and call me missing.
I hear the person coming nearer and I back up slowly across the bridge. Looking down, I stuff my shaky hand into my bag and search for the can of bear mace that Claire gave me on my first date with Alex.
She said using regular mace would be too kind of a punishment if he tried to do anything sneaky.
In my panicked attempt to find the one thing that will save my life, I forget to look up. “Hello,” a familiar male voice says in front of me but I’m too scared to notice who it is. A loud shriek erupts from my throat as I pull out the spray and squirt it into my assailant’s eyes. He screams in pain and stumbles back.
“Andrew?” I ask timidly, still shakily pointing the spray in his direction.
“What the hell was that for! Fuck, this hurts, what did you use on me?” he yells, hunched over, dropping his black bag off his shoulder.
“Bear mace,” I say quietly, feeling slightly embarrassed.
I mean he did just pop up out of nowhere so if anyone is to blame for this predicament it’s him, not me.
He harshly rubs at his eyes and moans. “Was normal mace not up to your standards or something? I knew wearing contacts at night was a bad idea,” he mumbles the last part to himself.
“Well if you didn’t creep up on me you wouldn’t have been put in this situation.” Looking around I realize that we’re completely alone and I shift uncomfortably on my feet. “What are you doing out here anyway?”
Lifting his gaze to mine, I wince. Red splotches encase his watering blue eyes and the surrounding skin.
“I wish I could reciprocate the concern but unfortunately I’m in too much pain to give a damn, so please bear with me,” he says, his voice strained from pain.
I swear if Claire gave me a deadly weapon I’ll drag her into hell with me.
Finally coming to my moral senses I tuck the mace away and jog towards his side. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to-,”
He cuts me off and flails his hand. “It’s fine. Can you just grab my water bottle? I dropped it somewhere around here.”
I nod my head frantically. “Of course. Let me find that for you real quick.”
I’m just giving him false hope. There’s no way I’m going to find it out here, it’s way too dark.
Wait. Slapping my right buttcheek I feel the hardness of my phone.
Why am I so dumb sometimes?
Turning the flash on I sweep the beam over the wooden boards, walking closer to the forest where he was coming from.
Who even comes out here this late at night? Well, me I guess since I am also standing on the same bridge he is, waiting for a man who’s thirty minutes late for our date.
Seeing a dark plastic container off to the side, I quickly walk to it and grab the bottle.
“Found it,” I say and turn around. I’m met with a chest. Slowly tilting my head up I make eye contact with Andrew.
I’ve never seen him at full height before, he’s only been sitting or hunched over in pain. He’s at least six feet, easy!
Snatching the bottle from my hands, he squirts the fluid all over his face and into his eyes.
“Oh that feels so good,” he moans.
I rub my arms in embarrassment. “Sorry, again. I was thinking on impulse and if I knew it was you I never would’ve sprayed you with bear mace.”
That’s a lie. Something about this man rubs me the wrong way and I most definitely would have used it if he was being creepy.
We stay like this in silence for a bit until I decide to break it.
“So, um, what are you doing out here so late?”
He pulls the neck of his shirt up to wipe his face, allowing a sliver of his pale, toned, stomach to show.
“I was just coming back from a run.”
I quirk an eyebrow at him. “You like to run...at night?”
He shrugs. “Yes, it’s very relaxing and therapeutic. Well, until you get maced in the eyes.”
I cock my hands on my hips to his last response. How many times do I have to apologize before he stops rubbing it in my face?
“I haven’t seen you around town lately. I thought you left.” It’s been weeks since I last saw him at the cafe when he mysteriously disappeared. I just assumed he left and was on his merry way to where ever he needed to be.
“I’m not very social, I only leave my hotel if I need food or if I’m running. Also, I’m sorry for departing without giving you an explanation. An emergency came up and I had to rush back to my hotel.”
He’s not staying with any relatives? Then what other reason could there be for him to be here for so long? Not that it’s any of my business, but usually people who visit only stay for a few days, a week max.
“Why are you wearing all black?” I continue questioning him, looking up and down his dark attire.
“What is this, an interrogation? Black absorbs heat, and even though the sun is not out, it helps entrap the warmth I exude when I run.”
“And the backpack?”
He scoffs. “Why don’t I ask why you’re out here? Wearing barely anything, might I add.”
I pull the shawl closer around my body. “I’m meeting someone.”
“You’re meeting someone here?” I nod. “This late at night?” I nod again. “Are you mentally disturbed?”
My eyes narrow. “No, of course I’m not. This person is just really important to me.”
His head tilts slightly. “So where are they?”
I open my mouth but nothing comes out. I can’t think of a reasonable answer to his question. Alex should have been here already, he’s the one who wanted to meet therefore he should’ve been here way earlier than me.
“Mmmm,” Andrew hums, “that’s all I needed to know. Look, I’m not going to let you stay here by yourself. Actually, scratch that, I’m not going to let you stay here at all. Let me walk you to your car. It’s late and you should go home.”
“Go home?” No, I can’t leave now. Alex asked me to be here, he said he would be here. What if I leave and then he shows up?
“Yes, go home,” Andrew repeats. He leans down and picks up his backpack and places his water bottle inside. “If this person is as important as you state they are then I assume they know where you live, right?”
I nod hesitantly. He does have a point.
He shines me a megawatt smile. “Great! Let’s go before you freeze to death.”
I feel the slight pressure of his hand on my back as he leads me away from the bridge.
I know this is the right thing to do. It’s late, it’s chilly, and there is a killer on the loose. If I stayed out any longer I don’t know what would’ve happened to me, and for that, I’m glad I bumped into Andrew.
Then why does this whole situation feel so wrong?
"So,” his soft voice interrupts my thoughts, “how far away did you park?”
“Not far. I parked in this small clearing up ahead.” Hopefully I’m going in the right direction. Geographical directions are not in my forte of skills.
“Good. Good.” I hear him mumble.
I make a slight noise in agreement.
We keep to the silence, only allowing the snaps of branches and plants beneath our feet to fill the void between us.
I spot Ken in the distance and internally do a little happy dance. Now I just have to go home and take a warm bath to wash this whole night off of me.
“Well, this is me,” I chuckle, pointing my thumb towards the huge heap of metal. It slowly dies though, realizing he’s not going to laugh at my comment. He continues with me to the driver’s side of the door, where we both stand just looking at one another.
This is awkward.
I rub my arms, trying to find warmth as a strong breeze crashes into us.
“Where did you leave your car? You didn’t say anything about it on the way here.” I ask while rummaging around my bag for my keys.
“I ran,” he says and rests his hand upon the door frame of Ken, blocking me from being able to get in.
I dangle the keys from my fingers and pretend not to notice what he’s doing.
“Wow, you ran all the way from town? You, sir, are insane. Hopefully, you’ll make it home safe and sound without much trouble?” Please take the hint and walk away.
If anything, he leans closer until we’re almost nose to nose.
I gulp and he smirks seeing this.
“You’re gorgeous,” he whispers, his cold breath fanning my face as he brushes my curls off my shoulder.
No, this doesn’t feel right. Not at all.
“Andrew, it’s late, and I would really like to go home right now, so if you could...,” I nod my head towards his hand still placed on my door, wanting him to move it.
His dark brows furrow, like he doesn’t understand what I’m asking, but I can see the amusement dancing in his icy gaze. “Use your words, Dani. I’m quite terrible at reading between the lines.”
I sigh in annoyance. Should’ve known this guy was an ass.
“Can you please-” a soft whizz sings through the air before an arrow embeds itself into Andrew’s hand. “Holy shit!” I scream.
His eyes grow wide in shock. He opens his mouth, probably to scream, but all that comes out is a low, guttural groan. He falls to his knees, making me wince at the harsh sound it creates when they smash into the forest floor. His hand is still stuck to my door which is now colored with blood but this should be the last thing I’m worried about at the moment.
We have to go. Someone’s in the forest with us and if we don’t leave now, we’ll most likely end up dead.
This thought kicks me into gear and I pull at the wood in his hand. “Andrew, get up! Help me get this arrow out, we can’t stay here!”
He doesn’t move.
I feel my cheeks become warm with tears. “Andrew, please help me, we need to leave.” I continue tugging at the arrow even though he doesn’t respond.
My fingers are slick with his blood but I don’t stop pulling until I completely yank out the sharpened piece of wood.
Screaming, I leap away as Andrew’s body falls forward, an arrow buried deep between his shoulder blades.
Seeing this, my body does the one thing it knows it should do in this situation.
Without much thought, my legs turn me away from his body and forces me to run in the opposite direction.
He’s dead. That’s why he wasn’t responding, someone killed him, and of course, I was too busy trying to save him to notice.
More tears rush into my eyes making it harder to see the ground in front of me. I trip over roots, only barely catching myself before hitting the ground. The sounds of leaves crunching behind me push me to run faster.
They’re teasing me. They could’ve killed me when I was trying to save Andrew, but they didn’t, they just watched. Even now, all they’d have to do was cock an arrow back and shoot it in my direction and I’d probably go down like a sack of potatoes.
I know I’m going to die here. It’s just a matter of time before my killer gets tired of playing cat and mouse.
There’s so much I haven’t gotten to do yet. I haven’t apologized to Claire for freaking out on her. I haven’t repaid Belle for taking me in when she didn’t have to. And I haven’t told my parents I love them despite everything they’ve done.
Now none of them will ever know my thoughts and the only one I can blame for this is myself.
I feel a sharp sting tingling through the side of my neck. I blink, trying to comprehend what’s happening but quickly the trees become blurry.
My legs feel sluggish and they can barely move to place one foot in front of the other.
What’s happening to me?
I rub the surface of the burning area and a sharp needle-like material scrapes across my fingers.
The edges of my vision darken and the last thing I feel is my body crashing onto the forest floor.
Yea....so that happened 😂😂
Sorry for the cliffhanger, not really, but it was necessary.
Until next time...
Hope you enjoyed your time in Joker’s Basement