The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, and MTV. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.

The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.


"In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning."
-The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Endless Nights
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery

"I've been having the nightmare again."

James smoothed down his mustache as he contemplated the young woman sitting across the table from him. "Go on," he prompted.

"It took place in the kitchen again, but this time it was you and Mark there, and some bug guy I'd never seen before. I had just sat down to eat when the power cut off, and when it came back up, the bug guy had been taken over. He just stood there as I pounded my fists into him. I picked up knives, forks, and anything else I could get my hands on, but he just shrugged it all off. He just stood there, knowing there was nothing I could do and waiting for me to give up."

"And did you?"

Stacy glared at the doctor as she flicked the ashes from the end of her cigarette. "Of course I didn't," she said, heavy long-suffering filling her voice. "I had just picked up a pan and was smacking him in the mask with it when I woke up. I never give up, Dr. Smythe."

"I think we're all aware of that, Miss Rowe," he said with only the barest trace of a sigh. "So, other than the specific details, the basic, overall structure of the dream remained the same as always?"

She nodded and took a drag, blowing smoke out in an almost perfect series of circles for a few moments. "And your professional opinion is?"

"The same as it's always been, Miss Rowe. Your nightmares are almost entirely straightforward manifestations of your fear regarding the entity you call 'the Goggle Eyes Man', a fear that you have so far been either unable or unwilling to shed despite all evidence that, even if this being had ever existed, he has not reappeared nor will likely ever be able to do so. By your own account, you defeated him and have since taken up safeguards to ensure that he never threatens you again should he ever re-manifest."

"Damn straight."

James was unable to suppress a second sigh. "Miss Rowe," he said sternly, then switched to a more sympathetic tone. "Stacy. How long have you been with us?"

"Five years and a few months," she told him after a few seconds of mental calculation.

"In that time, the incident at Erbie has long become a cold case. It was proven well enough in court that people were attacking each other at the motels, and the jury accepted that you acted in self-defense when you killed Daria Morgendorffer, even though the reasons you gave at the time also landed you here. During your time here, you've never tried to escape, steal anything, go where you weren't supposed to go, or anything else that would garner distrust."

He opened the file folder sitting in front of him and flipped through it as he continued. "The only examples of violence we have on record are from when sedatives were administered to you at any time during the night, a practice we have since ceased in your case with no negative effects. You take all your other medications regularly, you get along with all the other patients and the staff, and the only time I've personally known you to show any kind of bad attitude is during these sessions."

"That's me, model citizen," Stacy said with a shrug and a weary smile. "What's the point?"

Instead of answering, Dr. Smythe reached under the table and produced an object which he set between them on the table. Stacy looked down at the item without any interest.

"Do you know what this is?" he asked.

Stacy sucked on her cigarette until it burned all the way down to the filter. "It's a paintball mask," she said. With a completely nonchalant air, she reached out and stubbed the cherry of her cigarette right in the middle of the mask's viewport.

"And this doesn't bother you?"

She rolled her eyes at him, saying, "No, of course not. And it didn't when the other two doctors showed me paintball masks, either. Or when that idiot orderly you guys ended up firing tried to scare me with one. I could put it on, if you wanted. Or you could put it on yourself. You can even hold it up and make 'booga booga' noises if you feel like it. It won't change anything."

"And that, Miss Rowe, is my point," he told her, a mild note of triumph lightening his voice. "Though you persist in your belief in the Goggle Eyes Man and that belief has caused you to restructure parts of your own life, it obviously does not make you a danger to yourself or to others. So my next question is, why are you still here?"

"Because you and everyone else thinks I'm crazy," she answered without hesitation or ire.

"Irrelevant, in your case. You are obviously capable of functioning socially, and you are not an inherently violent person. That, along with the fact that you were legally acquitted of any responsibility for your actions in Erbie means that if you wanted, you could petition for an overturning of your sentence, and there would be an extremely high chance that you would receive it. You could leave. You could go home to your family and friends. You could have your life back."

Stacy was nodding as he talked. After a few moments of silence, she told him, "Yah, Dr. Wheeler said the same thing about two years ago."

"So I ask you again. Miss Rowe . . . why are you still here?"

She sat, stared down at the table, and said nothing.


The hallways of the psychiatric hospital were dark, quiet, and perfect for wandering aimlessly. As it was a long-term, medium-security facility, there were bars and metal lattices blocking off the windows, but Stacy personally enjoyed the patterns made by the moonlight filtering through them.

She stopped to look out through one of the windows and saw the main buildings of Cedars of Lawndale off in the distance. After running her fingers across the metal separating her from the glass panes, she went back to her usual nightly stroll.

Doors passed by as she walked, most of them to the rooms of other patients and, in some cases, prisoners. Many of the people at the hospital were violent in one form or another, but there were only a few who were truly considered criminally insane, and in those cases it was still considered possible for them to be treated and cured someday.

Having been in the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital for so long and thanks to her good relationship with the night staff, Stacy knew the stories of virtually every person who came through admissions and thus which doors she should particularly avoid. She had already been jumpy enough when she had first been admitted, and having someone slam violently up against the tiny window set in the doors as she passed hadn't helped matters any.

But years later, even as she passed on the far side of the hall from the true crazies, she felt not only comfortable but comforted. Don't go anywhere alone. It was one of her rules. And though she was so often separated from them by doors and walls and locks, being so close to the other patients allowed her to feel as if maybe she wasn't alone. It made her feel safe. If there ever was a power outage, all she would have to do was run into one of the unlocked rooms to try to wake up the resident inside. Regardless of the response, she would then know what had to be done.

Stacy pondered Dr. Smythe's words as she walked. Was that why she had never tried to get an early release? Why, on the few occasions they had tried to force one on her, she would start acting more and more irrational until they relented and let her stay? Because she didn't want to chance being alone on the outside?

No, she decided. That was ridiculous. Many of her friends had died, but she still had a few others who would be happy to take her in and help her along if she ever left the hospital. If nothing else, her mother and sister would do so in a heartbeat. Marianne had even offered more than once to share an apartment with her. Her mom had been far more subtle in her own suggestions during her visits, but the offer was no less sincere.

So what was it?

Pushing the question aside for the moment, Stacy stepped into the rec room. Unlike the hallways, this room was well lit by the fluorescents overhead.

Several tables dotted the area, completely clean of the various items that kept most of the patients busy during the day. The cabinets that held the various stacks of paper, writing implements, jigsaw puzzles, books, board games, and other such items were all locked save one. Stacy briefly considered digging through it, but dismissed the notion and walked over to the TV area instead.

"Hey, Piper," she called out to the thin man sitting on one of the couches.

Piper turned and looked around, pushing up his thick glasses and fixing his owlish eyes on her. "Oh, hello, Stacy," he said in an erudite English accent. "How can I be of service to you this fine evening?"

"Just coming over to see what's showing. Is there anything good on the Fashion Channel?"

He smirked knowingly at her. "Merely the same empty-headed banter and snappy putdowns as per usual, my dear," he told her. "I believe I have found a movie I have been wanting to see for some time, however, if you wish to join me. Edited for television, I'm afraid, but alas . . . we cannot have everything we want in life."

Stacy graciously accepted his invitation and sat down in the chair next to his couch, making sure to stay at least a full yard away from him at all times.

As it always was at that time of night, the television up in the corner of the room was muted, but the closed captioning could easily be read around the bars of the small cage that surrounded the set. After a short series of ads, the promised movie started, and it turned out to be Die Hard with a Vengeance. Even without the sound, Stacy found herself greatly enjoying the action flick, something she wouldn't have expected to be able to do years ago.

Once Jeremy Irons' character appeared on the screen, Piper clapped his hands happily and immediately started talking about how even though Irons used a German and, briefly, American accent in the movie, he was actually born in England and had many wonderful roles using his regular voice.

Stacy liked Piper, but she knew very well that he was every bit as American as she was. She also knew that his real name was John Hammond and that "Piper" was a personality that he had taken on after his wife had killed their children and then herself right in front of him. Normally he was harmless, but he tended to get very nervous and would swing his arms violently in a wide circle if anyone - especially women - got too physically close to him.

Sometimes, ever so briefly, Stacy would allow herself to wonder if perhaps she was wrong, that the Goggle Eyes Man was just like John's Piper, something she had just made up in order to save herself from the pain of having lost people close to her. Deep in her heart, she knew that couldn't possibly be true, but she still had to let in that smallest of doubts from time to time.

If she didn't, she was afraid that one day she might truly go mad.


As she tightened her grip on the pipe running along the wall, Stacy watched the burn-scarred skin across the back of her hands stretch and shine in the light of an unshaded bulb. She moaned softly to let the man behind her know that he was doing everything right and that she was enjoying herself.

Truthfully, though she was indeed enjoying herself, she had finished several minutes before and was waiting for him to do the same. Jeff was an alright guy for an orderly, but the janitor's closet wasn't exactly her favorite place. It was pretty smelly, for one, and it was extremely cramped thanks to all the cleaning supplies for another. Still, it was one of the best places two people could go if they didn't want to get caught.

And Jeff . . . well, she knew he wasn't cheating on anyone with her, he always brought condoms, and he never tried to rough her up or anything. If he wanted to take his time in a stinky closet, she was willing to oblige every once in a while.

Just like their most current situation, their very first encounter had been by no means romantic. Jeff had been working the night shift for several weeks and the two of them had quickly entered into an easy friendship, joking around whenever they saw each other. One of those jokes had been about how under other circumstances, Jeff would have wooed her like a grand French romantic from an old black-and-white film, and to his surprise she had responded to his advance in a more serious and carnal fashion than he had intended.

Ever since that quickie in one of the restrooms, they had gotten together around three or four times every month for more of the same.

Though their relationship - both as friends and as sexual partners - had lasted for quite some time, it continued to be void of any romantic feelings whatsoever. Jeff definitely cared for her, but neither of them fooled themselves into thinking that he could or would ever actually love her. And for her part, she just saw him as a good friend and, if anything else, a convenience of sorts.

Stacy didn't weep for the circumstances surrounding her lost virginity. She had been of age but had still been a virgin, and she had feared that she might end up being locked away forever without ever having known what sex was like. And once she did know, she had wanted to keep doing it. It was loveless, but it was good. It was a real connection with another sane human being, even if that connection was made entirely over mutual lust.

With a heavy grunt of satisfaction, Jeff completed the ritual, pulled back, and gave her a quick slap on the ass. He carefully removed the condom and folded it up to stick in his pocket for later disposal. Stacy pulled her elastic-waisted pants back into place then stretched her back and legs while Jeff stuck his head out the door.

"All clear," he called back to her. "Same time next week?"

"It's a date," she confirmed with a thumbs-up.

They parted ways immediately, he to find somewhere to stash the evidence of their wrong-doing and she to take a shower.

Though the stalls provided for bathing included privacy screens, Stacy kept hers open, as she always did. Over the years, almost all of the night shift employees and her fellow nocturnal patients had seen her nude at one point or another as a consequence, but it didn't bother her. The memories of one of her high school teachers going into a shower as one person and coming out as someone else bothered her far more than the idea of somebody seeing her unclothed body.

The only person who had been stupid enough to try anything while she had been in the shower had regretted it, though through no effort of her own. The hospital orderlies, even those who weren't Jeff, were quite fond and protective of her.

She rubbed a dollop of shampoo into her short hair and lathered it up, enjoying the feeling as it later sluiced its way down along her neck, shoulders, body, and legs. The long hair had been one of the first things to go when she had first been institutionalized. Since there was no real use for being fashion-conscious in the hospital, she had decided that trying to keep up with her braids had simply been more trouble than it was worth.

Running her hand down her left leg, she gently stroked her fingers across the scars that matched the ones on the backs of her hands and along her forearms. Jeff liked her almost-crewcut and didn't seem to mind the scars terribly, but he never seemed into touching them like she was touching them now. Sometimes she wished he would. The scars themselves had little to no sensation, but she thought . . .

She had no idea what she thought, truthfully. That perhaps a willingness to touch those parts of her would make their relationship mean something more? That perhaps she could feel something for him if he would feel her in just the right way?

She shook her head ruefully. What kind of life could they possible have together, anyway? She was a mental patient. He would lose his job if they went public. They couldn't get married. If she had a child, either he would have to take care of it, assuming he would be allowed, or it would become a ward of the state and get stuck in an orphanage or with a foster family somewhere.

Stacy put her forehead against the wall. Tears slowly dripped down to join the soap and water in the drain as they all swirled away toward oblivion.


Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

The second hand on the clock slowly, haltingly swung its way all the way around the clock's face, heralding the passing of another minute.

Stacy watched the whole process intently but unemotionally. She never grew bored of watching the minute hand slowly creep its way through the hour, nor of watching the hour hand do the same only even more excruciatingly slowly. But neither did it excite or scare her. Like the paintball mask Dr. Smythe had shown her, the movement of the clock was an object that lacked the necessary point of reference.

Intellectually, she understood what the doctors had been trying to do when they had first tried showing her the mask. Between Piper's defensive arm-swinging when anyone got too close, Karen's compulsive slapping of her own wrist when she thought she was saying something bad, Abdul's aversion to fish or anything shaped like fish, and so many other examples, she knew well enough about triggered responses in traumatized patients.

And she had certainly been traumatized, of that she had no doubt. Nervous one moment and sluggish the next, she had undergone rapid shifts in mood and energy for many months after the incident. Every once in a while she would still get flashes, in fact, but she had learned to keep them under control so she wouldn't accidentally attack someone, lose focus while doing something important, or simply curl up into a ball and start crying for no apparent reason. She knew she would probably have to keep that control going for the rest of her life.

But despite her occasional purposeful doubt, she knew that the Goggle Eyes Man was real. She knew what he could and couldn't do. She knew what to watch for, and she had her rules to follow if he ever reappeared. The mask was just a thing, not the monster himself. It was only when the monster himself was around that the thing took on a new meaning and was to be feared.

As the second hand completed yet another run, she wondered if perhaps thinking that way was what actually made her crazy. Piper had gone completely nuts after a relatively mundane incident involving only three other people. She had seen a truly supernatural event occur and had witnessed more and more gruesome deaths. If anyone had a right to an irrational fear of masks, it should have been her.

And yet Smythe was right. She wasn't afraid of them. She watched the clock run out the minutes, and at no point did it ever slip back to a previous minute, nor did she expect it to do so. She wasn't afraid of anything in the outside world. She was afraid of the Goggle Eyes Man coming back, but she knew that in itself wasn't enough to keep her from leaving.

But there was definitely something she feared that much. She could feel that fear eating at her, burrowing its way through her skin until it settled along her spine and sent chills coursing through her brain. No matter how she picked at it, however, it always just felt like fear, primal and unfocused. She wasn't able to figure out where it was coming from, and yet still it gnawed at her.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.


"Hey, Sparks."

"Hey, Stace! What's up?"

"Not much. How's your night going?"

The security officer chuckled. "Boring as usual. The most exciting thing so far has been Doakes' little gas problem earlier."

"Too much cheese," the heavy-set Doakes grunted from the other side of the small security station. He didn't bother looking over as he munched on a handful of chips and continued staring blearily at the camera feeds.

"So, what can I do for you, m'lady?" Sparks asked brightly.

"I was just hoping to get into the gym, if you don't mind," said Stacy. "Staring at the wall finally got boring, so I thought I'd do something productive for a little bit."

"well, I would, but . . . rubber arms!" he said apologetically, flopping his arms about loosely as proof. She turned her head and smirked patiently at him until he laughed and stood up. "Oh, alright, Stace, but only 'cause you're so pretty! Hold the fort for a minute, Doakesy?"

The other man said nothing, which Sparks seemed to take as an answer. He stepped out of the station and motioned for Stacy to follow him. As they walked along the dimly lit halls, they made small talk.

Sparks, unlike his partner, was always good for a conversation. He was a bit of a brain, but Stacy had long since grown out of her childish dislike of intelligent people, and he had a slightly off-kilter personality that almost always managed to bring a smile to her face anyway. She often thought that he seemed less suited for security and more for public relations, acting, or possibly stand up comedy.

He was definitely the nicest of the guards she had met. Most of the rest more closely resembled Fred Doakes' mass of indifference and flabby flesh. Not that she thought they were bad people or anything . . . they simply tended to take their jobs a little too seriously in her opinion.

When they reached their destination, Sparks unlocked the wide double doors and held one of them open for her. "Oh, Edie is up and on a rampage tonight, by the way," he told her. "We've already caught her shouting at the sprinkler system, so if she starts banging on the door, just wave at the cameras and we'll come pick her up, okay?"

"Oh, she's not going to be locked down again, is she?" Stacy asked sadly.

He shrugged expansively. "Can't say for sure, since she hasn't actually bothered or hurt anyone yet. But she's got that wily look in her eye, y'know?"

"Ugh, unfortunately. Thanks, Sparks."

"No prob. Have fun!"

With a final wave goodbye, he shut the door and locked it. Alone once again, Stacy grabbed one of the exercise mats from the stack, laid it out on the floor, and started a short routine of stretches.

The hospital's gym was a decently large room with a full assortment of exercise machines built both for regular exercise as well as physical therapy. More than a few of the patients that Stacy had seen come through Hamilton had had physical disabilities that either accompanied or were directly linked to their mental problems, and the hospital was well equipped to handle most of them. She was often impressed with how well the equipment was kept, and it was one of the reasons she had started visiting the gym almost every night.

With her warm-up finished, she stepped over to the dumbbell sets and grabbed two of the lighter weights to start off with. The muscles in her arms flexed and released smoothly as she moved through her routine, visible testament to the work she had put into them. She never intended to be one of those huge body-building women by any means, but being physically fit and capable made her feel safe. If she ever had to punch somebody that was wearing a mask, she wanted to make sure they would feel it.

After she had upped the weight she was working with three times, she squared the dumbbells away and moved out into an empty area of the gym to do a set of quick sprints. Just as important if not more important than being able to strike her opponent effectively was being able to run away.

She took a short break to get some water from the fountain in the corner, then put in some time on the leg press machine before deciding to follow up with a few rounds on the punching bag.

Since many of the patients at Hamilton had violence issues, the bag was one of the most used pieces of equipment in the gym. It allowed them to release their aggression in a relatively sane and safe manner, and Stacy had to agree that it worked. She hammered the bag with a quick succession of jabs and kicks, feeling a cathartic high as she leaned heavily into it.

As her body worked and sweated, she let her mind wander. Despite her best efforts, it unfortunately wandered back to Dr. Smythe's question.

To hell with him, anyway, she thought, giving the bag a particularly hard punch to the "gut". He doesn't know what he's talking about.

But she knew that he did, which made the question even more frustrating and difficult to ignore. She also knew that she had to give him something, or he would eventually try to force her out like the previous doctors had attempted. Several obvious answers floated to the surface of her mind. She was afraid if she left, the Goggle Eyes Man might come back. She was afraid that he might hurt someone close to her. She was afraid she wouldn't be able to fit in anymore on the outside. She was afraid that there was uranium in the water and that there were aliens coming to take her skin.

All of them sounded hollow, even to her. Smythe knew about her rules, knew the precautions she would invariably take to protect herself and everyone around her if her boogeyman came back. He also knew how much she'd grown to care about several of the people at the hospital over the years, so he'd probably try to convince her that leaving would therefore be the best thing she could do to protect them. And she certainly couldn't pass as being even more maladjusted than she really was. She simply wasn't that good of a liar.

He just didn't understand how hard it was for her out there. She had spent so many years of her life trying to become the person she had wanted to be, and in only a few years inside, she was actually accomplishing that goal. In a way she would never have expected, to be sure, but still.

At the hospital, she was finally free of all the pressure. She didn't have to worry about her grades, or whether her blouse matched her skirt, or if that cute boy over there would carry her books, or saying the wrong thing in front of her friends, or if she would ever find the right guy, or if she would get into a decent college, or if she would find a good job, or if her mother loved her as much as she loved Marianne, or if she was really as stupid as everyone thought her to be, or if her entire life was nothing but one huge failure from which she would never recover, or - or - or -

Stacy let out a full-throated scream of rage as she slammed her fists into the punching bag over and over and over again. The scarred skin on her knuckles was starting to peel from the repeated impacts and she couldn't be entirely certain that she hadn't broken any of her fingers, but she continued to wail away, cursing at the top of her lungs.

Unable to contain herself, she turned and threw her shoulder into the bag. The elastic moorings stretched a short way then tossed her back a couple of feet. Snarling at the affront, she jumped up and planted both of her feet in the center of the bag before falling to the floor, where she started slamming the bottom of her fist on the mat. Tears rolled down her face as she let out so many years of pent up frustration.

As she laid there, she heard the gym doors burst open.

"Stace!" Sparks called out to her as he ran up. "Are you okay? What's happening?"

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" she screamed, swiping her hand angrily at him in a dismissive gesture. "Just . . . just leave me alone!"

"Now, you know I can't do that, Miss Rowe," he said, sounding sympathetic but much more professional than before. "If you can just tell me what the problem is, I might be able to help."

Stacy gritted her teeth and curled her hands into fists as she tried desperately to regain control. A thin whine escaped her and it felt like her head was going to explode, but gradually she began to calm down a little.

"I just . . . I need a few minutes, Sparks!" she yelled. Anger still coursed through her body, but she somehow managed to not sound completely hysterical. "Please, just give me a few minutes . . . "

"Okay," he said, seeming to relax a bit at her request. "Just stay where you are, get it all out. I'll be here if you need me."

Despite herself, Stacy almost laughed at that. She easily recognized the code for "Don't move until you've chilled the fuck out, you dangerous lunatic. I'll be here to restrain you if you try anything."

She covered her head with her arms and curled up where she was laying. The rage she felt was slowly replaced by abject misery, leaving her feeling completely drained even as understanding started to dawn on her. There were several things she was afraid of, the Goggle Eyes Man among them. But more than anything else about that horrible monster, she realized that she was afraid that he had been right.

He had told her that she was full of hate, hate that she had kept bottled up for so many years. It had been the very reason that he had picked her as his potential host. She had denied that at the time and had continued to deny it even after she had released a part of that hate in order to finally defeat him.

She was hiding. Not from the Goggle Eyes Man. Not from what he might do. She was hiding from herself, from what she was afraid she might do.

And she simply could not keep hiding anymore.


"Ah, Miss Rowe, I'd heard you were wanting to speak wi-"

She cut him off with a look. "I'm ready," she said in an even, steady voice. "It's time for me to leave."

Dr. Smythe broke into a wide smile. "Miss Rowe, I think that's the most sensible thing I've ever heard you say."


Consciousness came slowly, but the sound of rapid knocking simply would not leave her alone. With a groggy swear hissing dully between her lips, Stacy grabbed a robe and slipped it on before opening the door.

She almost immediately shut it when bright light hit her eyes, causing her to throw up her arm as if to ward it away. Though she was fairly certain it was just in her head, she swore she could actually feel the beams of sunlight streaming through the window across the hall burning their way through her skin.

"What the hell, Mark?" she blearily complained at the orderly standing outside her room. "What time is it?"

"Um . . . one in the afternoon," he told her, sounding almost apologetic.

"One in the-? Mark, you do know that I'm not leaving until eight tonight, right?"

"Yes. But. You've got visitors, and I was told to send you to the front."

Stacy stopped midway through wiping the sleep away from her eyes as her head almost immediately began to clear. Visions of a hundred different kinds of disaster started to dance in her head.

"Who?" she asked. "My mom? My sister?"

"Your sister, yah, and some guy and a girl I haven't seen before."

A frown creased Stacy's brow. Marianne had showed up with her new husband a couple of times, but Mark had met him then. She couldn't think of anyone else her sister might bring to see her, so the alarms sounding in her head continued to buzz loudly.

"Jesus. Okay, thanks. I'll be up there in a second."

Mark nodded and turned on his heel as she stepped back into her room and breathed a heavy sigh. After taking a moment to get the plethora of cowlicks in her short hair to behave somewhat reasonably, she grabbed a couple of cigarettes from her stash and stumbled sleepily through the far-too-bright hallways until she reached the visitor's area.

Marianne was sitting at one of the tables, looking as radiant as usual in a dark blue women's business suit. Stacy unsuccessfully tried to suppress a yawn as she crossed the room, then looked up to see two somewhat familiar faces also sitting there.

"What's the emergency?" she asked without preamble as she approached them. "Where's mom? Is everything alright?"

"Everything's . . . fine," Marianne said somewhat uncertainly, cutting her eyes across to the other two people. "Mom's fine, she's at home and looking forward to seeing you tonight. This is-"

"Mack and . . . Jennifer, yah," Stacy cut in, having to give the blonde girl's name a few moments thought. She sat down, pulled an ashtray and lighter over to herself, and lit one of her cigarettes. "We used to go to school together. So what's going on?"

Marianne unexpectedly reached over, grabbed hold of Stacy's free hand, and squeezed it tightly. "I think I'm going to go see about getting a drink of water, sis. Just, listen to what they have to say, okay? I think . . . "

She pulled her hand back as tears formed in her eyes. Without another word, she quickly stood up and walked over to talk to one of the security officers. Stacy watched her go, then turned back to the other two with a heavy scowl.

Mack put his hands up defensively when he saw the look on her face. "Stacy, look, I'm sorry we brought your sister into this, but they wouldn't let us see you without her."

"What is 'this'?"

"We need your help," Jennifer replied, her raspy voice laced with obvious agitation.

Stacy took a puff on her cigarette and fixed them with a steely eye. "With what?" she asked, her patience beginning to wear paper thin.

Mack and Jennifer glanced at each other, then Mack leaned forward and licked his lips nervously before answering as quietly as possible, as if he didn't want to be overheard.

"We need you to tell us everything you know about the man with the goggle eyes."

END

Roland 'Jim' Lowery
esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com

September 25, 2010