CHAPTER THREE

John

Fear

Fear of memories

Fear of fear

Fear of red eyes

Glaring there

Fear of guilt

Fear of night

Fear for Pearl

Who lost her right

Fear of leaving

Fear of staying

Fear of losing

Fear of gaining

Fear of letting go

Fear of holding on

Fear of time

As it marches on

Fear of memories

Fear of doubt

Fear that love

Will just run out

-Diana Hawthorne

John began massaging his head as he rolled onto his back with a wince and a moan. Sleeping on Diana's floor had become increasingly difficult as John grew older and took on heavier labor, thanks to his father's booming business. He could have chosen lighter work, and he'd even considered teaching and dentistry. Teaching, because it would allow him to learn and grow while helping others do the same; and dentistry... would bring in a nice paycheck with no hard labor and the ability to work with neat, little tools. Teeth didn't fascinate him in the slightest, but at least he wouldn't be sitting behind a desk all day, and he'd be able to talk to all sorts of different people. Though, with his hands shoved inside their mouths, the patients wouldn't be able to reply much.

But maybe it was better that way, if the patient was a know-it-all or a foul-mouthed punk like the one he worked with.

"You care about her, don't you, John?"

Loud sawing delayed John's response. "Of course I do! That goes without saying, doesn't it?"

Tom whistled. John and Sammy turned to him as he grinned. "What guy wouldn't care?" He whistled again, and John stared at the twenty-three-year-old weasel with the bronze skin and mirrored sunglasses.

You'd better shut up!

"Ignore him," Sammy cautioned, but John continued to glare as Tom added, "I mean, Diana is hot! If I were you, I'd-"

Dropping his saw, John shot to his feet with his fists clenched. "You'd better stop while you're ahead!"

The punk raised his arms in self-defense. "All right, all right! Sheesh, you're touchy!"

"Things are bad enough with your lewd descriptions!"

Tom snickered. "Who said I was going to say anything lewd?"

"You're always talking trash about women, so what else am I supposed to think?"

"All right, John... I won't say another word. I keep forgetting what a 'Boy Scout' you are!"

"Punk" was too nice a word to describe Tom, who'd no idea how close John had been to knocking his lights out. John had never 'belted' anyone, but Tom Benson deserved it about as much as that little, lusty-eyed pain in the butt, Greg Wilson.

The problem was- he couldn't kick anyone into the next millennium without drawing blood, and sadly, a tall, hard working man like himself couldn't tolerate the sight of the red, crimson fluid for even a few moments.

A couple of months ago, he'd ripped his finger open on an old nail while tossing a two by four into the back of his van. When the blood squirted from the wound, he'd nearly lost his lunch on his work boots, and that had put a damper on any dreams of breaking Tom's nose the next time he ogled Diana. She rarely showed up on the jobsites, but when she did, the heads turned.

Punks. They all needed their eyes ripped out and shoved down their stinkin' throats. Not only should they show more respect, but Diana was too unsteady to deal with their advances, anyway.

Not that John would let them advance.

He sat up, finding Diana's bed empty, and groaned as he rolled onto his knees. Yanking his discarded pajama top from the floor, he stood and marched into the hallway, rubbing his eye and hearing nothing but a faint scratching sound coming from his parents' bedroom. No giggles bursting through Diana's pretty lips as she read the Comics with a cup of coffee and a plate of cookies nearby. He couldn't even hear his mother berating her for not choosing a healthy breakfast, so that meant the two women were either in the rec room, or that Diana had gone for one of her morning walks.

Without him.

He gritted his teeth, remembering how she'd run out of the bedroom last night, pale faced and breathless, and later swearing that her mind had been playing tricks on her- that she'd thought she'd seen something in the closet.

No doubt her imagination had gone wild, but why? Why did Greg Wilson's ghost stories seem to be affecting her two years after they'd split up? What in the name of all things sacred had she been hiding from him? Why wouldn't she open up? Had she forgotten that John been her best friend since childhood, or that he'd never shown anything but care for her?

Why did she keep having these episodes? Only last week, he'd watched her eyes widen at the wall just before she'd reached half-hazardly into the oven to retrieve some cookies, and needless to say she'd nearly burnt her hand to a crisp! And she would have, had he not pulled her back in time.

He stomped into his bedroom and tossed the shirt onto his neatly made bed and ran a hand through his hair to constrain the annoying, little spikes that often popped up throughout the course of his day- and night. He squinted across the room. A speck of light on the desk beneath the window revealed the location of his glasses. After he'd retrieved them, he sat on the edge of his bed, facing his dresser, and ripped a Swiss Army knife from one of the drawers.

As he pushed out a blade and gingerly 'scooped' the dirt from under his nail, he recalled when Diana's odd behavior had begun...

Hearing a gasp, he sat up and squinted at his alarm clock, which told him it was three in the morning. Straining to listen, he reached for his glasses, and shook his head as quiet weeping crossed the darkened hallway.

It had been a few years since he'd made a middle-of-the-night trek to comfort Diana, and he wasn't too thrilled about having to do it now. He'd worked his butt off, digging holes for fence posts, and his stomach felt like he'd swallowed lead- no wonder, after eating Allison Jones' sickeningly salty cookies at the church hayride. He'd been tempted to ask her if she'd used salt in place of sugar, but she'd been so bright eyed and upbeat that he'd hated to spoil her mood-and God knows that if you insult a flighty, flirty girl like her, you're bound to be wearing your drink.

In one move, he shoved away the blankets and reached for his blue robe on the end of the bed. When he stood outside of Diana's door, he listened for a moment. What had Greg done to her? He couldn't think of anything she'd be crying over, unless it involved Greg, or simply the fact that she still missed Crystal.

Knocking lightly on the door, he quietly said her name. No answer, so he slowly pushed the door open. A petite form trembled beneath the floral bedspread, dark locks that covered the pillow illuminated under the Garfield light on the nightstand.

Tying his robe, he shuffled over and sat on the bed, facing the window and staring up the stars. At times, God felt as far away as the heavenly host, and John wasn't sure why or how to fill this growing void inside of him. Sometimes he ignored it, but other times- it just seemed that no matter how hard he worked or read the Bible or resisted old temptations that somehow he'd missed the mark. If he wasn't sure what to think about his own soul, how could he properly help Diana?

Placing a hand on her quivering shoulder, he whispered her name, but she began to cry harder. It was very rare for Diana to cry like this, so he knew that whatever was troubling her was troubling her very deeply.

"Talk to me, Diana..."

"Can't a single tear slide down my cheeks without you hearing it?" she asked breathlessly.

He pulled on her shoulder so that she would flip onto her back. When she turned, her tears glimmering under the small amount of light in the room, John wiped her cheek with the back of his hand. "No," he whispered. "I guess not."

She sat up suddenly, wrapping her arms around his neck, and laid her head against his chest. He returned her embrace, feeling the slight dampness of her hair from her earlier shower.

Anger stewed inside of him, but he kept a lid on it so she wouldn't notice. It was Greg he was angry with, not Diana. "What happened?"

She didn't respond. Patience was not always one of his virtues. "Tell me! Is it Greg?"

When she sobbed harder, he knew it was. "Why didn't you tell me earlier? What did he do?"

Diana's sobs were growing louder, so he broke away from her to close her door. If his parents butted in, Diana would completely close up and leave him wondering and worrying all night long.

When he sat on the bed again, he probed, "Did he come on to you?"

She just stared with her head down.

"Come on," he said. "I promise... I won't do anything. Just tell me the truth." He knew it would be hard to keep that promise, but as long as Greg hadn't done anything worthy of a thorough beating, he would keep it.

Maybe Greg was the one he should be targeting now. Maybe an introduction to his hammer would finally burst the dam!

But he couldn't introduce Greggy-Boy to his hammer without drawing blood. Not that he should do it anyway, he sighed as he pushed the blade back in place. For someone who'd always hated horror movies, he'd plenty of violent thoughts.

He sat there for a few moments, rubbing his head and wondering for the thousandth time in the past few years how he could get Diana to tell the truth. How... how could their relationship proceed without complete honesty?

He swallowed and drew in a deep breath, but felt those annoying tears pricking the backs of his eyes.

"It's OK to cry, Son," his father said as he knelt next to him. "I know this isn't easy, and no one would think less of you for crying."

Enough of that, he decided, and found his feet. Even as he shrugged his shoulders to loosen the muscles, his jaws stiffened, and he frowned at the shelf above his dresser.

After a beat, he scooted the red and white striped model of Marblehead Lighthouse from the center of the Oak ledge to the end, where it belonged. This was at least the fifth time it had been moved. He'd asked his mother and Diana if they'd been dusting in his room, but both denied being in here.

"Why would I dust your room, Ken?" Diana had rolled her eyes. "I don't even dust my own!"

So he'd noticed.

John rarely dusted, either, but neatness... neatness was an absolute must if he wanted to be on time to work and live a halfway decent life. That was why he'd designated a place for everything, and made sure everything was in its place before turning out the lights every night. He'd just finished smoothing out his blue bedspread when Diana had barreled into the hallway last night.

He'd find out what that was about after he showered, he decided as he chucked the knife back onto the dresser top and headed into the hallway.

When he reached into the closet near the bathroom, something thumped, and the floor shook. John peeked around the around the corner toward his parents' room, wondering if he should check. The dead silence was a bit unnerving, and usually his parents were up by now, but... maybe they wanted some 'alone time'...

Don't go there, John.

As he reached for the bathroom door knob, he thought he heard something like a howl, and paused. After listening for a moment, he opened the door and stepped inside. No sooner had he draped the towel over the rack than he heard it- a scream so high pitched that he imagined the resonance shattering the windows.

He lunged across the small room, reaching for the warbled window and sliding the pane upwards. Waving arms drew him directly toward Diana, who stood atop the clubhouse near the skylight.

"Di, what's wrong?" he yelled, his heart throbbing with the realization that this question was far too commonplace. "What is it?"

"Help me!" she shrieked, pointing downwards and sending chills up his spine as he considered climbing out the window. She'd never burst into hysterics like this before. "There's - something in there!" she went on. "I'm afraid to jump down, there's more at the gate!"

"What are you talking about?"

He heard a moan.

"Help me, please!" she pleaded and sank to her knees to peek through the skylight into the loft.

More moans sounded from around the house, where the gate was located, so he shot away from the window, into the hall, and flew down the stairs in two, huge leaps, rattling the house when he hit the bottom; and then he flew down the second set of stairs to the rec room. Passing his father's locked gun cabinet, he grabbed his old baseball bat from the corner near the front window, since all his tools were presently locked inside his van, and ran toward the back door. Afraid of blood or not, he might have to draw some.

He passed the deck and whizzed toward the clubhouse, hearing growls and snarls that seemed to be erupting all around him. As he scanned the swimming pool area and reached for the clubhouse doorknob, Di jumped up and screamed, "John, be careful! Don't open the door!"

"What?" he jerked his head up and found tears streaking from her wild, golden eyes, her hair badly disheveled, and her blouse torn enough to reveal the cup of her bra.

Hearing what seemed to be multiple fists assaulting the wooden gate, he reached for her, his head pounding from the force of the adrenalin coursing through his veins. "Are you hurt?" He cursed. If anyone had-

"Don't go in there!" she screamed. "Don't!"

He thought he heard wood splintering and released a string of swear words. He'd left his cell phone inside the house, so calling for help was out of the question. Where were his parents? How could they remain oblivious to all this commotion?

The door in front of him jumped. He hopped back. Moans and growls mingled with thumps that rattled off like a machine gun, and Diana leaned over the roof so that her curls invaded her face. She pointed at the balcony that he and his father had constructed for a small child.

Her voice wavered and cracked with hysteria. "Get up here! Get up here now!"

"Climb down on the balcony and let's get inside. I heard the gate splintering!"

"I'm not getting down! Those are zombies!"

"What are you talking about?"

"Zombies!" she shouted as she pounded her thigh with her fist. "I've watched enough horror films with Rebekah to know!"

"Impossible, Diana, now-"

Diana straightened and spun. "Johhhnn!"

He followed her pointed finger.

Slowly limping toward them was a man dressed in a torn, blood soaked dress shirt, his tie flapping in the wind, and his teeth bared. The gaping, crimson wound in his cheek hit John in the stomach. He wretched, dropping the bat and leaning over with his hands on his thighs.

An alarm began to squawk from in front of the house, and John cursed the fact that someone had apparently broken into his van. So not only was there a mad man locked in the clubhouse and one limping toward them, but his tools were being stolen in the midst of the mayhem.

"Please!" Diana sobbed. "Get up here before he bites you!"

Despite the sweat beading on his forehead and the rolling of his stomach, he smirked. He could still see Di as the little girl with spiral pigtails, pointing at the 'ghosts' walking the streets during Trick or Treat. "They're real, Don," she'd said.

Now she was insisting that zombies were real.

Not funny.

"John, please!"

He heard the balcony creek, and looked up to find her kneeling there with her arms outstretched as her gaze shot between him and the approaching fiend. Her sobs racked her shoulders. "Please," she cried, and managed to grip his shoulder. "Get up here, now, friggin NOW!"

"Di," he rasped, his stomach beginning to settle. "Get back up, and I'll-"

The door flew open, barely missing him as he jumped back. Diana screeched and withdrew her hand, and a pale-faced, milky-eyed horror stared back him. He recognized the graying-blonde hair and the light green pantsuit.

"Mom?" He blinked, wiping his forehead and squinting, and the woman snarled...just before she charged.