6.

The Shadow Crawling in My Head


Things were winding down. The emotional exhaustion of the day had taken its toll on the friends, wearing them out to the point of physical exhaustion. Feeling it safer to stay together, they had moved to the third floor of the dormitories where the rooms each had two beds. Staying in a block of four rooms seemed much more secure than spreading themselves along the second-floor hallway where Gabby had been strangled. And though no one would say it, it was clear none of them were comfortable in such close proximity with a corpse.

Sadie and Brooke were in one room, though Vin seldom left Brooke's side. She had been unconscious for the last three hours and there was a contagious fear that she was bleeding internally and was slipping away, little by little. Dominic and a very nurturing Lex were directly across the hall, next door to Addison and Jayde. Across from them, next to Sadie and Brooke's room, Ellis and Vin had set up. They had nothing besides the clothes on their back and the belongings in their pockets for fear that their second-floor rooms were now home to a sinister slasher--the person who had strangled Gabby and horribly killed Misty. They decided that it was better to leave the rooms--and their belongings in those rooms--alone. The images of the deaths were still fresh--and would forever be embedded--in their minds, but the emergency at hand was a perfect excuse to not dwell on those. Brooke was developing a fever and Dominic clearly had a concussion and couldn't keep anything stomached, whether this was due to the impact of the wreck or from Vin's devastating blows no one knew.

"My mouth..." Lex sat up immediately at the sound of Dominic's voice. Looking over at his lover, he saw Dominic with a wash rag draped over his eyes and his tongue moving behind his lips. Lex knew what was wrong before Dominic said--really, croaked--it.

"My mouth is so dry," he moaned.

Lex knew that all the vomiting he had been doing had quickly dehydrated Dom's body and he desperately needed to be rehydrated. He would only feel worse if he wasn't. So Lex rose from his sitting position on the bed next to Dominic's and reached for his hand. Dominic squeezed in acknowledgement. Lex looked down at him, devastated by how torn and battered he looked. There was dried blood on his lips from where Vin's fists had busted it open, one cheekbone was darkening with a bruise, a large welt on his forehead was rapidly swelling beneath the warm cloth and his eyes were swelling shut. When his truck had hit the tree he had slammed into the steering wheel with the bridge of his nose, immediately causing two shiners and possibly fracturing the bone. Without medical attention he would be in great pain very soon. As it was, he was so dizzy and incoherent due to the concussion that he had trouble standing at all. All Lex could do was comfort him until they figured out some way to get help from thirty miles away--without phones or vehicles.

"Stay still," Lex said softly, "I'll go get you some water."

He let Dominic's hand drop back onto the bed and left the room, shutting the door softly behind him. Sadie and Brooke's door was open, but he knocked out of respect as he approached. Sadie and Vin, hands entwined, looked up as Lex poked his head into the room. "How's she doing?" he asked softly.

"We're not sure," responded Sadie, voice heavy with emotion, "she hasn't woken up. And we don't know how bad she's hurt..."

Vin bit his lip at the words, fighting to hold back his tears.

"I'm going downstairs to get stuff for Dom," he said with a wave toward the door, "you feel like coming? I'm not too eager to go it alone..."

Sadie wiped her eyes with a sniffle and forced a smile. "Yeah, I'll come with you."

As she stood to leave the room, she turned back to Vin. Her sad eyes consoling, she asked, "Are you going to be okay? Do you need anything?"

He shook his head, and said, "I'm just going to use the restroom," standing up. His legs were shaking.

Sadie, turning to Lex, ran a hand through her hair as she asked, "Um, Ellis and the girls are downstairs already, aren't they?"

"I think so," Lex responded, shrugging slightly. He turned and walked to Addy and Jayde's open door--empty, then turned around to see Vin and Ellis' room in the same state of abandonment. He could hear Sadie softly consoling Vin. Lex, beginning to walk down the hall, paused after a few steps to wait for Sadie. As she started following him, he called to Vin.

"Keep an eye on them, 'kay?"

Vin just nodded. He followed Lex and Sadie's lead down the hall but stopped to enter the restroom at the half-point. Lex and Sadie made it to the stairs and began their descent, both keeping a wary eye and ear on their surroundings. Paranoid or just on-edge, they were coiled like a spring ready to jump at the slightest provocation.

"We were using Gatorade as chaser for that Svetka last night, weren't we?" asked Lex, his voice unusually high. He seemed to be trying to keep the silence at bay.

"Yeah," said Sadie. "I'm not sure if there's any left, we drank all the Svetka. We can check, though, because Gatorade's got electrolytes... right? That's why you're asking?" Her words came fast and forced. Both quickened their pace down the stairs, eager to be in the company of others. Safety in numbers, thought Lex.

-

The bathroom faucet was running hot water, the steam billowing up and clinging to the mirror above. Vin stared at himself in said mirror, searching his eyes for answers. This was too much for one day. He felt sick, like someone had shaken his head and bounced his brain off of the insides of his skull until he felt a sense of detachment. Disassociation of the worst kind. The tears rolling from his eyes weren't from grief or worry, but from sheer mental exhaustion.

He turned off the faucet without bothering to stick his hands into the burning water. As the last of it twisted down the drain he saw something white in his hair. It reminded him of snow but as he reached to feel it he realized it was a small white feather. He pulled it from his hair, wondering whether it came from his down parka or one of the down pillows in the bedrooms. It clung to his finger as he pulled it away and though he tried to shake it off, he ultimately had to wipe it off in the damp sink. Those feathers had a tendency to be tenacious--he had always hated them.

He made sure to turn off the lights as he exited the restroom. Old habits die hard. Brooke had changed his bathroom habits entirely since she hit puberty. The instant she began obsessing over her self-image, it was a blow to their parents' bank account. They had already enrolled Vin in seasonal sports and forked out tons of money for his equipment and memorabilia and twice a year bought him and his father plane tickets out of Alaska and to Seattle to watch the Seahawks play. Vin, while frustrated that his home state didn't have any professional league sports teams (with the exception of hockey, which he would eagerly embrace once he hit high school), was glad that he didn't have to root for the 'home team'. It seemed like every season he had a new favorite NFL team, new NBA favorite and new MLB team to obsess over. Brooke was of course not interested in any of these affairs and chose to instead be content with her Alaskan life.

Until puberty. It started with cheap lip glosses and nail polishes and quickly ascended to jewelry and expensive 'authentic' make up, clothes, etc. She started screaming at him every time she walked into the bathroom to see the toilet seat up or the lights left on. Apparently the labels on her favorite eye shadows explicitly stated 'keep out of direct light'.

It wasn't until Sadie started coming around that Vin really made an effort to leave the toilet seat down and turn off the lights. She had been a little bit goofy looking during middle school but had a charm and a definite cuteness that Vin loved. He never really grew out of that kindergarten 'I'm mean to you because I have a crush on you' phase, but she seemed in tune to his vibes. Then in their sophomore year her bosom had exploded into maturity, seemingly overnight, and she started getting attention from all the boys. She had plenty of boyfriends and a never-ending queue of flirters and oglers, but she seemed to be herself around Vin. Didn't put on that man-eater overconfident facade she had picked up from Brooke. With Vin she had always been real.

Under any other circumstances he would be over the moon about her kiss and their proximity. Thinking like that was completely inappropriate at a time like this. Nothing would be the same after this. Whatever had grown between them since dawn would either be placed on the back burner or thrown into its flames depending on how this whole thing turned out. Escape was on his mind. Safety was on his mind. But at the forefront of every thought was Brooke.

He used his shirt sleeve to pat his face dry as he approached her room. Dominic's door was open, just as Lex had left it, but he only saw Dominic inside. Lex and Sadie apparently hadn't returned, but not a lot of time had passed since they had left.

His stomach dropped the instant he entered Brooke's room. He could feel the difference in the air, the feeling that something was wrong. He hesitated in the threshold, terrified of going inside and seeing his worst nightmare come true, but his heart leaping into his throat persuaded him to enter. He had to see. Had to know...

Brooke's mouth was open. This was the first sign that something was wrong. It had been shut tight before he had left. His vision was shaky and his heart was drowning out all other sound, so he couldn't immediately tell if she was breathing or not. But every fraction of a second that he didn't see her chest rise made his heart louder and louder until it beat against his eardrums like a hammer.

Devastated and disbelieving, he dove to her side, putting a hand on her chest and the other on her arm, hoping--praying--for some sign of life. Nothing came. She didn't move.

His tears were silent, rolling down his face. His eyes found her hair and traced her features, from her brows to her chin, her perfect complexion, the beauty she always exhibited taking her twin's breath away even in death. He was shaking and his face was contorted in silent pain, this excruciating blow taking the breath right out of him. He didn't know what to do in that moment, so he hugged her. Stood over her and wrapped his arms behind her neck, cradling his little sister's head, sobbing quietly in her ear, stroking her hair one last time. He had always been so proud of her, had felt so blessed to have the prom queen as his little sister. The heartbreaker all the boys mooned after, the girl who was earning her law degree and would undoubtedly rock the world with her charm one day. But this was all gone, her future evaporated just like that. He knew she couldn't feel a thing but was still worried that he'd hurt his little sister with his squeezing arms.

Pulling away, trembling, he gently set her head back on the pillow. His tears had fallen on her cheek and with despair weighing his arm down he wiped the moisture away. Whimpering. He just happened to catch a glimpse of white in her mouth as he lifted his head. Stuck in one corner of her lips, a feather. Another--this one really just a white filament from a feather--was just on the inside of her nostril. His breath caught. The down pillow she had her head propped up with was on the floor.

It all clicked in his mind at once and he felt as though the thought alone would kill him. The pillow, pressed over Brooke's face, her lungs trying desperately to pull in air, the feathers clinging to her face...

Vin spun around, ready to bolt from the room when the movement in the closet caught his eye, and he knew that it wasn't the thought that would ultimately kill him. His eyes met the killer's for a split second... a second that felt like infinity. His voice, raw from sobbing, seemed to materialize for one final exclamation. His eyes were wide, his jaw slack.

"No fucking way--"

The flat end of the splitting maul found his skull, right above the ear, the impact shattering that side of the skull, the force sending him flying sideways and falling on top of his sister, the blood splatter dripping off the walls.

The killer wiped the blood off of their face with a steady hand, immediately regretting the use of a down pillow to suffocate the Brooke bitch. The killer pulled their hand away, the white feathers coming free in the blood. Those feathers stuck to fucking everything.


Death Count: Casualties--Gabby, Misty, Brooke, Vin.