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What Lies in Shadows

By John Piernicky All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror

Blurb

For Katherine Brown, life just isn't worth it. Between a loveless marriage, difficult children and an intolerable employer, she has reached the breaking point. After a failed suicide attempt, she clings on to her one remaining hope. But when she is betrayed at work, she goes over the edge and ends up running from prosecution. During her escape, she wrecks her car and wakes up in a strange hospital. Nothing is what it seems and Katherine soon finds that she cannot escape back to her old life. Her descent into the nightmare becomes all too real, where reality itself doesn't apply. And there is something else. Something in the darkness is hunting her, and Katherine must use all of her wits if she is to survive. For what lies in the shadows is much more than fear. It is death itself.

Chapter 1

The water spouting from the bathtub faucet was nearly scalding. The sound of rushing water soothed Katherine as she sat with her wrist bared. She felt the level of the water rise to just the right height and she reached out almost mechanically to turn the flow off. She leaned back and felt the coolness of the porcelain against her neck as she let her mind wander.

Many thoughts rushed by in a blur, overwhelming Katherine. Her boss was angry again, giving her yet another lecture about deadlines, profits and other inane things. Next came her husband, so distant and cold one minute and then angry and volatile the next. They were practically strangers living in the same house now, but it wasn’t always the case. Thirteen years of marriage and two kids later, they had drifted apart and now she almost dreaded coming home each day. Another image of her children came unbidden and as much as she loved them they were always needy, always fighting. And yet more unwanted thoughts popped into her head such as the bills; endless bills that never seemed to get paid off and just piled up. Her mother who was ill and in need of twenty-four hour care now needed to go into a nursing home and Katherine didn’t know how she’d pay for it. Other stressful thoughts, emotions and events swirled around in her head and threatened to drown her. It’s what brought her to this. It’s what made her take the razor in her hand now.

Katherine Brown, thirty-four years old, wife, mother of two and a successful urban engineer was going to end her life today, right now, at this very moment.

She looked down at her wrist, the same one she’d stared at for the longest time. Would it hurt? Would she go to sleep and never wake, painless, like people said? It didn’t matter anymore. It would all be over soon anyway. Mike would take care of the kids, he always did. She was too busy to be a mom, with her career and all. It was Mike who wanted kids in the first place, but she wanted him to be happy so she agreed. It was too late to take those words back, make other decisions. They could have talked earlier, chose different lives but there was no going back.

Her mother, well that was too hard to deal with. She didn’t know what to do about that, but then again she was sick, and the doctors were vague about how much longer she’d last anyways. The cost would be paid, but Katherine didn’t know how.

Then there was her boss. He could go to hell for all Katherine cared. She almost smiled at the thought of her project falling apart in his hands without her to close the deal. She was a bright and promising architect. She’d worked for years to get to her level in the company and she was so close to landing a VP spot, but somehow her boss was always in the way, always holding her back. It was probably because he secretly knew that one day she’d surpass him and would wind up working under her. She’d miss Beth, her friend and co-worker, but she’d understand in some sick sort of way. Heck, Beth even joked with her one time about coming into the office and performing a coup de grace on their boss when she’d just about had enough. Katherine sympathized with her now and wished in her darkest of thoughts that Beth had made good on her fantasy.

The razorblade pressed into her skin, pinched, then burned. It hurt, a lot. She hesitated, trying to acclimate herself to the pain. Her breath shuddered as she fought to gain the courage to do what she felt she had no other choice to do. Stinging hot tears came to the fore, and slid down her cheeks. Her hands started to shake, which made the pain all the worse as the razor wiggled in the wound. She had to do it, she thought. She had to end her misery. This was the only way.

Blood dripped into the water. Thick droplets fell one by one, making scarlet clouds in the bath, a beautiful yet sick display of her life dancing away into the void. Each time she heard the wet plop, she felt like this was the right thing to do, the only option left.

Therapy had been useless. She had been going to see Dr. Darmann in secret from her husband for six months now. She told him she was going to spin class, but her hour was spent trying to fix her problems with a man she didn’t fully trust and never seemed to have all the answers. Every session seemed to push her further to the brink, not away. It was one more thing to add to the pile that brought her to this moment.

One long, deep cut down each arm lengthwise, not across, and it would then just be a matter of waiting for the end. Why then was it so hard to do it? What was stopping her, when she was so close to ending it all? What could be the thing that was in her way, if she had made her peace with this? What the hell could it—

“Mommy?” a small voice called from beyond the bathroom door. It was Jacob, her five year old son. “Mommy? Are you done with your bath yet?”

Katherine dropped the razor in the water. Her wrist was bleeding, but not much. She honestly thought she had cut deeper than what she saw. The water was slightly pink in a small area above her navel. She looked up at the clock on the wall and saw that it was seven forty-five. She had been in the bath for a half and hour. She didn’t realize she’d been sitting there that long.

“Mommy, are you there?” Jacob called again.

“Mommy’s fine honey, I’m almost done.” Katherine said as she sat up. “Did you eat your breakfast yet?”

“Yeah, daddy made me oatmeal and some juice. Now I have to potty and brush my teeth.”

“Okay, well I’ll be out in a minute Jacob. Go get dressed for school and tell your daddy and sister that they need to hurry up or you’ll be late again.”

Katherine heard him scurry away. She loved Jacob. He was a sweet little boy, with his sandy brown hair and ice blue eyes, but he could be very needy. She always had to dodge his attention, his constant questions and the “look, Mommies”. She got angry with him most times. She had spanked him on more than one occasion and a couple of times went a little too rough for some of the things Jacob did. It was just frustrating to her that telling a child the same thing over and over never seemed to stop them from making the same stupid decisions. He wasn’t a naughty boy, but for some reason he just never learned his lesson. She didn’t know if it was somehow her fault, something in his genes that came from her side or what.

She never seemed to be able to get close with him, never bonded with her son like a mother should. Jacob didn’t seem to realize this though. He adored her and would follow her around the house like a puppy. Sometimes just that would set Katherine off and she would end up screaming at him to go away, and he’d end up crying and running to Mike. She felt guilty about it, to be sure, but there was only so much love she could take from Jacob. Sometimes it was too much.

She sighed and looked down at the razor in the bottom of the tub. She couldn’t do this now, she was too distracted and she’d lost her nerve. She used her nails to pick the razor up off the tub floor and put it back in her shaver.

She stood up and let the hot water drip down her body. The air was much colder than the hot bath and she shivered as her skin made goose bumps. Grabbing a towel, she quickly dried herself off and did a quick grooming routine to get ready. She put on her favorite grey suit jacket and skirt with the purple blouse that had matching heels. She could do her makeup in the car on the way to work, like it matters, she thought.

Katherine put a bandage on her cut to hide the wound. She could always lie if anyone ever noticed, which she doubted would happen but you never knew. She slipped on her heels and pinned her blonde hair up in her classic business style. She grabbed her purse, a black faux crocodile pattern handbag with dark stained wooden handgrips, and headed out into the kitchen where her husband Mike and her two children sat at the table. Her daughter Cassie, twelve going on thirty sat with her headphone ear buds in, listening to her music on her mp3 player which was always too loud. Katherine had constantly yelled at her for it, which only seemed to make her daughter do it all the more.

Cassie was again wearing that outfit that Katherine couldn’t stand. The jean shorts that were entirely too short and tight with the rips in them and the hot pink tank top that was mostly backless save for some straps that crisscrossed. Her hair was naturally blonde like Katherine’s but she streaked it with black and red and wore dark makeup on her lips and eyes and painted her fingernails black.

It was a highly inappropriate outfit, but Katherine had given up fighting with her daughter over her wardrobe. No matter how many times she’d ordered her daughter to change, she always came back wearing something even trashier, just for spite. Katherine had received calls from the school on more than one occasion about Cassie’s improper and lewd outfits. There had been meetings in the Assistant Principal’s office and Cassie had even been sent home several times, forcing Katherine to leave work to pick up her daughter and take her home. This of course led to problems at work and the situation would always escalate from there.

Katherine turned towards her son to distract herself from a confrontation. “Jacob, go brush your teeth honey. Mommy’s done in the bathroom,” Katherine said, and she watched him amble his way from where she’d just come.

Mike looked up from the newspaper he was reading. He was dressed in his policeman’s uniform which was cleanly pressed and neat, thanks to Katherine, but Mike had a haggard look on his face that bespoke of a man who was burned out. Though he shaved, he still had some stubble and he had dark circles under his eyes. His thick, dark hair was cut in that militaristic-style that was popular amongst the police. He had been a policeman for almost twenty years and it showed. She met his eyes and quickly looked away, the discomfort shared between them for only a brief moment.

“Are you gonna make it for Cassie’s game tonight?” Mike grumbled. “Because you know I have to work late tonight; we’re doing security detail at that teeny-bopper band concert and I won’t be able to take Cassie and Jacob, so you’ll be available right? I don’t want a repeat of last month you know.”

Katherine sighed and then groaned. “God Mike, can’t you ever just let things go? That was one time! I really don’t want to get into this with you, I really don’t. I am already late enough as it is without you harassing me and adding to all the shit I have to deal with on a daily basis or have you forgotten?”

Last month had been a fluke. The client she had been working with pushed up her deadline and she’d had to cut corners and work double-overtime just to get the project done. She’d forgotten to pick up her children, who sat waiting for over an hour and a half before the school called Mike who was on duty to get the kids. Katherine had missed ten calls because she was too busy to answer and had left her cell on vibrate in her purse in her desk. Mike had caught hell at work for having to leave “for an emergency” and he and Katherine had spent a week sleeping apart over the whole ordeal. It wasn’t her fault, she told herself, but she knew that it was deep down. She was just too focused on her job to care about her family, and things had slipped her mind. She tried to apologize but Mike was furious. He got like that, she knew. He’d fume and stare at her with such venom before finally blowing his top and screaming at her. Then after fighting for at least an hour, she’d break down and cry and retreat to the bathroom. He’d batter at the door while she remained locked away, trying to block out his shouting and cursing. Eventually he’d go away and then the silence would ensue. Thick, uncomfortable silence that would last until they both would forget about the incident. Well, Katherine would forget but Mike would always hold that grudge, waiting for the next time he wanted to fight.

“Hey now, look Kat”, Mike said. “I got just as much going on as you, so don’t pin all that martyr crap on me. It’s not as if I took the boss’s big pet project because I want some fancy promotion and am killing myself to do whatever it takes to get it! Hell, some days I think you would do just about anything, if it got you away from me and the kids!”

“Don’t do that, don’t you dare do that Mike, that’s not fair!” Katherine blurted, her face reddening with anger. “I work my ass off to make a good life for you, me and the kids so don’t you sit there and pass judgment on things that you don’t know about. I cook, clean and get the kids to practice and home from school more than you ever do and all I ever hear out of you is your complaining and always with the ‘what about me’ bologna. I’m sick of it!”

“Would you two STOP FIGHTING?” Cassie screamed. “Every day it’s the same thing, I wish you two would just get a divorce or something, god! I hate you!” She shoved herself away from the table and stormed off.

Cassie. Now there was a handful of a girl, all piss and vinegar. Katherine watched as her firstborn child stomped and grumbled under her breath, something about all of the things she wished would happen to her parents. Katherine often would wind up drinking a bit too much wine after she and her daughter would fight. Cassie was one of those “tween-age” girls that thought she knew everything, needed no one and God forbid you ever tell her otherwise. Cassie. The one thing that Katherine thought would bring her marriage closer and stronger in those early years but it ended up doing the opposite.

She wasn’t exactly a bad child, just strong willed and extremely quick to anger. Katherine had spent the better part of her teenage years being Cassie, and now it seemed to haunt her. It was like looking back in time and seeing a younger version of herself, but with all the bad parts of her husband Mike as well. Quite simply, Cassie represented all of what she hated about herself and her husband all rolled into one human being. Katherine loved her once upon a time, now it seemed to have faded so much she just couldn’t stand her own flesh and blood. She wished it was otherwise, but try as she might, she couldn’t get past the way she looked, talked and brooded like Mike.

Mike threw his hands up and huffed out an exasperated breath. “She gets that from you, you know. Always with the drama and overreacting, it’s like looking at you when you were her age.”

Katherine fumed, but didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of taking the bait. She decided that now was not the time for this, so she turned and walked away. She knew that the fight wasn’t over, but she sure as hell wasn’t about to get into full blown battle with her husband right now. She had too much on her plate today as it was. She didn’t need the added aggravation that Mike was bringing and looked like he wanted. It was a small victory for herself, she knew. Katherine had done that over the years, walked away from the argument. Sometimes it went well, other times it didn’t. It was all in the timing she had learned. Leave too early and he’d follow her until she was backed into a corner. Leave too late and he’d make her pay for it later.

He had never hit her. Not yet anyways. He had come close, a number of times but he never did it. She always expected him to when he got to the point where he would raise his hand. She could see it in his eyes and in the way the muscles of his jaw bunched. He’d grit his teeth, growl something unintelligible and would slam his fist into a wall, a door and one time a window. He went to the emergency room that time, and he had lied to the doctors saying he tripped while carrying tools and went through the window. Katherine had lied for him too, too scared at what the consequences would be if she didn’t.

As she stomped away, she grabbed her car keys off the credenza and made sure her cell phone was in her purse. She didn’t even make the effort to say goodbye to her husband or her kids. She simply rushed out of the door, slamming it behind her as she made her way to her car and a silence that she welcomed so desperately.

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