"Yeah, fuck you then," I said. Not my wittiest comeback, I confess. I made for the stairs with the others. "We stick together. Cathy, Nour, Alicia. I know you're scared. I'm terrified. But we're going to get through this." I spared a last look at Emma and Dani who were coming behind us, at a safe distance.
I shouted out then, yelling 'everyone' at the top of my lungs. I waited until I heard a door.
"Erin?" Sharice's voice. Candice then.
"Erin?! Is everything okay, is there a fire or something!?"
"There's someone in the house! Someone…dangerous!" Nour said. "We'll be right there, stay there!" I made to go up the stairs, walking up, again and again. Only, I realized, I was not moving closer to the top. We seemed to be going on an endless rise, no closer to the edge. I turned on instinct, seeing Dani and Emma gone. Something was at the bottom of the stairs there. It was a masculine figure, wearing black clothes, and the face was a mask.
A mask resembling Ian Saxon. It seemed made of flesh-colored latex, odd and disjointed, stretched over an ill-fitting face of which nothing could be seen, but the very composition seemed like no human face I could imagine.
But it was Ian's face, worn as a disturbing mask, the head cocked. The lips bore his cocky smile which I had once found endearing, what I had once believed had taken my heart. The dark hair, the green eyes, the smooth-shaven, handsome face. Unbidden and unwanted memories returned of Ian's kisses upon my lips, my neck, across my body, of his skin to mine.
My palms were sweating and I saw Alicia frozen there, in equal horror. I stepped forward, down to put myself between them. "You've got one joke," I said. I fixed it with my eyes, my teeth clenched. "And it's not funny."
It simply watched me. I saw the knife in its hand, held aloft as it remained still. It looked at me with Ian's eyes now, forcing me to remember too much of him. I was over this, I said internally. Over it, just over it thanks to the girls with me.
It pointed then at Alicia, before it gestured to me. The meaning was clear to me. Alicia looked at me with wild, terrified eyes. "E-Erin- "
"Quiet," I said. I had hated her, held on to a grudge for years. It was an ugliness in me that I had barely known, a venom I did not know I was capable of. With Hardestadt, I was the heroine of an epic story. Heroines did not hold these grudges. Heroines always forgave people for their mistakes. Heroines looked past to see the good in people. That was who I wanted to be, only to discover more than once that loving and forgiving everyone was beyond me. I had been incensed and cold all at once, even as it seemed so paltry now. Even as it stared at me with the Ian-mask, it gestured and pointed at me.
Not at me, at my stomach. Before it pointed at itself, body language revealing sudden mirth. I had never told Ian. He had never once known I had been pregnant with him as the only candidate. I had not asked his opinion, not asked his permission before I had terminated it. It had been nobody's decision but mine and I had never felt a single ounce of guilt. If this thing wanted to shame me over it, it had another thing coming.
"Fuck you. You don't get anyone," I said. "You don't get me, or anyone else. You don't get my friends."
It shrugged then. Fine, it seemed to say. Have it your way. I spat at it, more impulsively than I should have. The saliva landed on its mask and it simply watched me with eyes that seemed suddenly cold, just as Ian's had when we had argued, whenever I questioned him. He had always made me doubt myself. I had hated how I felt with him. Even if he never put a hand on me in violence, even if I had so often slept with him because I had thought it a way to avoid our problems and to tell myself I was happy, I knew that look.
I would like to say I wasn't that Erin anymore. But I was. The difference was a decade, many relationships with many people and experience. I did not let it buckle me down, glaring furiously in turn. "Dana. Where is she?" It simply shook its head and gestured to the stairs, holding the knife. The meaning was clear: run, rabbit, run.
"Go!" I said as they took off the top of the stairs. I was behind them, keeping my eyes upon t and trying not to blind for I feared the slightest aversion of my gaze would lead to me feeling its grip upon me.
"Come on!" Sharice called. They were all scared, but adrenaline was pumping and we were moving. I realized that despite the noise nobody else was coming out from their rooms. Emma and Dani were not coming despite doubtlessly hearing the voices.
I had a worse feeling about this as I reached the top of the stairs. It remained there, the rubbery Ian-face still staring at me, the head cocking more as it kept its gaze there. It tapped the knife against its side as I went into the narrow corridor. Candice looked even more frightened than the others, her eyes wide.
"I don't…I don't know…what is this? Erin, what is it?!"
"I wish I knew," I said lamely. I looked at the other rooms, the closed doors telling me nothing. I looked past them down the hallway, seeing it suddenly stretch on, seemingly endlessly. My mouth was dry as I heard the tapping.
It came from one door, then another and then a third. Then all of them. Frenzied, crazed and wild tapping and knocking, desperate pounding like fists were thudding against the doors. Cathy covered her ears, shaking her head as she tried to will it away and believe she could awaken from a deep nightmare.
"Don't," I said. "We need to stick together. Or- "
"Don't say we're going to die," Alicia said. She was shaking, trembling now. None of my anger remained when I saw her, just a scared and desperate woman who didn't deserve this was before me. "Don't. Please."
"Not if I have anything to say about it," I said over the knocking. The sounds ceased and one door suddenly opened with a loud creak. Blood began to pool out of the door, running in a long river to our feet. We backed away as not to let it touch us, my eyes upon the cavernous mouth of the empty doorway.
"Cheap fucking parlor tricks," I said. "You think you're scary?!"
"Erin…don't make it angry…" Sharice said. Her hand was trembling now.
"It's a bully," Nour said. "Whatever else it is, it's a bully. You don't knuckle under to bullies. You stand up to them. Right, Erin? That fixes it?"
"I don't know," I admitted. I saw that empty doorway, open and inviting. So I stepped into the blood, put my feet there. "But I'm not afraid of you. I've seen much worse, whatever you are."
I looked down and saw I stood against only a hard floor, not a drop of red staining my feet. The door was shut again, the hallway darkening. I felt like cold eyes were boring into my back and I had the feeling I had just offended it. Still, because I tend to snark when I'm scared, I put on a wry grin to my face and raised a hand with the middle finger extended.
"That's what I think of your little haunted house act, motherfucker. I've seen Creepypastas with more originality." I was being stupid and I knew it. "You're the monster? Think you've got your own messed up little movie here? We're the final girls."
Despite being terrified, I saw Alicia try a smile. "You…you always did like horror flicks, huh?"
"I like watching them more than living them." A bit of bravado never hurt in a bad situation, I told myself.
Sharice gave a frightened grin. "Isn't the final girl always the v- "
"Yeah, that ship sailed about thirteen years ago," I said. Think, Erin, I told myself. There was a place where it was summoned. There was a place where it could draw power from. I has no idea what it was, but I had a way to stop it. Or at least I wanted to believe that.
The alternative was stuck in a changing house at the whim of something, no way to escape or fight back. There were a million questions I wanted to ask Dana now. I wanted answers for this. I had so rarely been up against anything truly unknown before.
But I wasn't alone. It wasn't coming for us now. Were there rules it had to follow or was it drawing this out, toying with us like a cat might with its prey? I could not take the risk. I had only one way in. I had to take it.
"It's using old…stories," Alicia said. "Isn't it?"
"The hook," I said. "The calls. The clown…" Yes, that was it. It had a sense of humor, maybe even a note of irony to it. It wanted us scared for a reason, whether it be sadistic whim or necessity. But the calls, the messages….
"What if it needs to be close by for that to work?" Nour asked. "What if…"
"The calls are coming from inside the house?" I looked at my phone, trying to think. Maybe it wasn't attacking us now because it couldn't. Maybe it needed a level of fear or discomfort. Maybe it was not invincible, or omnipresent. I remembered the symbol. Emma and Dani had said it would be somewhere here, I just needed to banish it. It had a foothold here.
"It's after me first," I said. No idea why. Just lucky apparently. "It'll have its eyes on me…and that means…" I looked down the hallway. Maybe there was another purpose, to keep me away. Maybe it recognized a threat.
Inside the house. Maybe not a room. Not downstairs…it could fool my crystal, but maybe that was because I had not been in the right proximity. There was one other potential area here, I thought. One place. "The attic," I said. "You guys with me?"
None of us knew what to do otherwise. Strength in numbers. We stuck together. I started down the hallway, the endless dark tunnel, looking back and forth as we moved. I could hear the footsteps, could hear it searching for us in turn. We quieted ourselves, moving quicker.
It might have been watching us now. If it did, it was searching slow. I heard the footsteps, always so close, and I worried for Emma and Dani again. We were a group now, large and vulnerable. The smart thing would have been to run and ditch them. But I suppose I couldn't be accused of being smart then.
The footsteps grew louder and I saw it. I put myself before them as it emerged from down the hallway, watching me again. The mask was blank now, faceless without even any eyes. Just pure gray latex, its body swathed in dark clothes. The knife was in its hands as I stepped out.
"Want me?" I said. I grinned. "Come and get me."
It walked down the hall, towards me. The hall seemed to shift with it and it clicked in my head. "It's not invincible," I said. "The building's changing as it moves, but it can't change it completely. The attic," I said. I turned down the hall. "Come on!"
It walked towards us again. I turned my head as we rushed down as one. To my relief, I saw the hallway shift with it. It could not maintain this strange warping without moving. I shared a look with Candice and Sharice. "You two are the most athletic. It wants me, so…" I explained quickly to all of them in a whisper. They nodded and we split suddenly, me with Alicia, Nour and Cathy, Candice and Sharice taking off down the other way.
As I expected, it moved at me, suddenly shifting with surprising speed. It turned down where my friends had passed, the hallway shifting to accommodate it. I saw the attic before us, seemingly pulled from its power now. "Candice, Sharice!" I shouted their names. They were running as it followed them and I waited, looking to Nour, Alicia and Cathy. "Up, into the attic! Look for any symbol anywhere, on the walls or the ground or wherever! We've got a head start!"
"Right!" I heard Cathy manage. Adrenaline was a hell of a drug, and they moved up to the attic. I waited as I heard Sharice and Candice. They had doubled back and I smiled in relief, seeing it still following, still stalking. I raised my right hand and extended a middle finger. I like to imagine it was offended before I hurried my friends up the ladder.
It stared at me and I back at it. Was it playing with me? Had I actually outsmarted it? It pointed at me again and I shook my head. "Not afraid. Whatever you are. I'm not. No matter what you've done." It was a lie. I was still as scared as I had been in my whole life. "But I've beaten worse than you. I'll beat you."
I went for the ladder then. It was walking slow, and I figured I had time. Instead I felt the knife slice into my leg. It had moved so much faster now. I cried out, a yelp of shock and pain as I felt hands close on me. Nour and Sharice yanked me up, pulling me into the attic, Candice and Alicia yanking up the ladder, shutting it. The attic was almost pitch black before my eyes adjusted.
"Let me see," Nour said. She examined my leg. "Not too bad. But you're bleeding." She tore her shirt, wrapping it best she could. Alicia tore her own.
"Least I can do," she whispered. I tried a look of gratitude before we gazed around. To my shock, the attic seemed larger than before, almost a vast cavern. I tried to repress it, telling myself anything was possible. I looked about us and I saw them.
All of them, the girls, and the boys. They were bound to the walls, unconscious and encased in a strange, translucent substance. Above them, suddenly clear to my eyes even in the darkness, I could see a strange symbol on the wall next about them.
"What're they…doing with this?" Alicia asked.
"I don't know…it could be draining their energy, their lives…going off on fear," I said. I looked at them, all scared, just as I was, but endeavoring to go on. I heard the footsteps again, the pounding on the walls as I saw everyone around us, trapped within what appeared to be glass. Their eyes were closed, all of them silent.
"What is this?" Alicia whispered. I shook my head.
"I don't know," I scanned the walls. This thing had been busy. Had it set up this tableau just for us? I looked from face to face, not seeing Dana in each of those. I saw Jane, Leslie, the young men and women from before, bodies wrapped tight, as if this thing was a spider storing them for later.
Was it doing just that? Releasing them to hunt them down, or drawing energy from its victims with only us safe for now? I heard Candice scream out a warning and I threw myself on pure instinct. The knife cut my shoulder and I yelped in pain, rolling to see it there. It was wearing the black clothes, with heavy boots, having appeared from nowhere.
I could only hear the breathing, raspy and heavy, hungry and desperate. The mask was now a representation of Ian's face again, the eyes now bloodshot and boring down at me. It stepped forward, raising the knife.
Alicia swung a chair into its back and it stumbled as the chair splintered. Candice seized a leg and swung it at the thing's head. It snapped back, the knife still held in its hand as Nour helped me up.
"You're hurt- "
"I'm okay!" I said. Sharice helped us both as we backed away, trying to spread out as it looked between us. I saw the attic door had opened. The thing was sizing each of us up, its body language expressing little but irritation now. It grasped the knife tighter, looking at Alicia who was a milk-white, trembling but determined. It raised the knife and I simply acted.
I ran forward and slammed my shoulder into it. It was like running into a wall, my shoulder hurting, but with all my weight, it stumbled back at the attic window. It swayed as I staggered back, catching itself.
The knife whistled past my shoulder, burying in its forehead. The head flew back, hitting the glass and I saw Emma behind me. Her eyes were blazing gold, lips pulled back from her fangs. Dani was beside her, the two having leaped through the attic door with the preternatural grace, speed and silence one expects from a vampire. Dani sprang forward and smashed into our attacker, thrusting her palm to the hilt of her wife's knife. It went further into the head, not a drop of blood emerging. It fell back, smashing through the window, falling into the cold.
"Guys…you're okay?!" I said
"That won't stop it long, we know that!" Emma said. "Find the focal point!" She was standing there, all of us resisting the urge to look down from the window, to see the body there. The second one of us looked away, it would be gone and he back on the attack.
We looked quick. The attic was cluttered with old junk, probably some here from when I had been at the house. Emma and Dani were with us, upturning furniture, looking. Then it clickedto me. The old stories, the 'twists.'
I ran near the window, Nour calling my name. "Here, I said." Nour moved to my side, seeing an old phone. It had long been unplugged, unworking. But it was on a hunch I lifted it. On the small platform it had rested on, I saw the symbol there, identical to the piece of paper, carved into the wood.
I heard them cry out, felt the presence behind me. It was angry now, the rage rolling off it. I turned to face it, evading the swing. Emma and Dani were far away, the knife raised. I seized the stand and swung, not at the thing, but at the wall. It shattered on the spot, exploding into shards. I was bleeding, expecting to feel the knife in my back.
Nothing happened. I waited a moment. I head everyone's labored breaths. I turned slowly, seeing empty space there. I wavered on my legs, collapsing to my knees as I gasped in and out. Emma was by my side. She held to me, hugging me as the others came over, Dani by them.
Everything was silent. The attic was empty, the people held suspended there suddenly gone. What was more, it appeared to be an attic again, the strange dimensions and sizes at an end. Was it over? I dared to hope.
Seconds passed. Minutes. None of us moved, exhausted and afraid even now. We waited a long time until at last we managed to exchange looks, smiling at one another in relief.
When the sun began to rise, we went downstairs, seeing no sign of blood, or anything. Emma and Dani checked quietly, confirming everyone was in their beds, nobody still awake there. At last I got to Dana's room.
I opened the door, finding it unlocked, Emma and Alicia at my side as we looked in. The room was empty, as if nobody had ever been there. There was no hint that anyone had ever lived there that night. There was no body, either. None of the girls were missing there.
I had questions with no answers. Nour treated my injuries and we settled by the common room, all of us thinking how close we had come to death. Emma and Dani healed themselves with several blood packs, all of us quiet before we were able to realize what had happened. Cathy almost cried, Nour in a state of shock. I gave Candice a weak smile.
"So…that's what you do, huh?"
"Pretty messed up, huh?" I asked.
"You're like a superhero," Sharice said. She laughed weakly. "…I don't know what the hell just happened. We might have all died…if not for you guys, though. Thank you."
Had I brought that thing here? Was it after me? Was Dana victim or perpetrator? Had I been a harbinger of doom, or an unlikely savior? I didn't know. I couldn't know. I put my hands to my head and breathed in and out.
The snows had ended. There was no sign of a blizzard now, no sign of anything but a fresh, tiny snowfall outside. A beautiful day in Cambridge. As the day went on, I had Dana's number looked up. I called, trying to reach her home.
Emma took the call for me. I was still shaken, she could see. She answered the phone, speaking to someone as we listened. At last she hung up and looked at me. "That was her," she said.
"And?" Alicia asked. Emma frowned.
"She…said she'd been home for days. Since an issue at the sorority. I spoke to her mother and her sister there. They confirmed. They said she had been there the entire time."
I didn't say anything. I looked at the paper with the symbol in my hands. I took a picture before I ripped it up, threw it in the fire, and I watched it burn.
Nobody remembered everything. We didn't say anything about it after. We went around Cambridge to enjoy ourselves, trying to act like nothing had happened. We were still friends, Emma and Dani being accepted. I got a lot of questions about things, admittedly. There was no point in hiding it now, even if I left out a lot of details. I could understanding clinging to normalcy after trauma. It was kind of my thing.
At night, we all slept close to one another in the common room, Emma and Dani keeping guard. Nothing happened. Not that night, not any of the others. We were safe, nothing coming for us. I breathed a sigh of relief at that, all of us sat together.
"Fucked up weekend, huh?" Candice smiled weakly. "Sorry...I set this up…"
"Not your fault," Sharice said. "I'm just glad…we're all ok." I had done a search to see if any young women were missing to identify the body in Dana's bed. I'd had no luck, nothing at all.
When I felt good enough to get back to my room, Alicia asked to come with me. I'd said yes, seeing her walking with me there. "Hey," she said quietly.
"Hey," I said. I leaned on the wall.
"You….tell your husband yet?" Alicia asked. I hadn't spoken with Hardestadt. I felt a pang of guilt there. I didn't want to worry him, I wanted a bit of normalcy left, even after that insanity. The questions could come later. I shook my head.
"I'm about to call him," I said. "Alicia…"
"Erin. I'm saying it one more time. I'm sorry. But I can't keep apologizing for something ten years ago," she said. "If you accept it, that means a lot. But if you don't…I'm done saying it. So we can go on with our lives."
An ultimatum. Part of me wanted to be outraged, but the rest of me understood. So I smiled at her. I thought of all of it from ten years ago. Some of it was part of me, part of many experiences that had helped to shape me. Bad memories, I thought. A relationship that had been toxic, full of gaslighting and emotional cruelty, ending with a friend's betrayal. Ten years ago. When we had barely been anything but dumb kids. People made mistakes. People sometimes can't take them back. So the question was who I wanted to be.
So I extended my hand and she took it. I looked at her, not just seeing Ian, but seeing the friend who had tried to be there for me before that. Memories, yes. Life is more than memories. Life is experiences, life is creating new memories. Sometimes it takes coming close to death to make you remember that. "I forgive you," I said.
"Thank you. For saving me. For helping to save all of us," she said. She took my hand. "I'm sorry."
"That was one more time," I said. "Alicia…I'm sorry, too. Holding that over you for ten years. About Ian and everything. I've left him behind. I want to leave my anger there, too. And I'd like you and everyone to meet my husband one day." I trusted him, I thought. Hardestadt Delac was my husband, my partner for as long as I lived. I trusted him beyond anything. I had no need to fear anything with him.
But I trusted her now, too. I trusted all of them. Alicia smiled again at me, a look of relief in her eyes. "Thanks," she said. "I knew," she said.
"You knew?" I asked.
"I saw you go to the clinic," she said. "I didn't mean to, Erin. But I saw you going there. After with everything…it wasn't hard to figure out. The others knew?"
"You…never said anything," I said quietly. I looked her in the eye. "Ever."
"It wasn't my place," she said. "That's all. It was your call. Ian tried to get me to talk to you once. I think he thought he could win you back. I didn't…" she shook her head. "I'm not saying it because I want you to praise me. I just want the air cleared."
I put my hands on her shoulders and I smiled at her. "Thank you," I said it earnestly.
"Your husband…I'd like to meet him…he must be a great guy…do you…" she tried. "Ian," she said. "Do you want to know what happened to him? We weren't together…after all that. But I did hear about him"
I considered it for a moment. Would it give me catharsis to know misfortune had befallen him? Would it upset me to know he had just gone on his merry way, succeeded in life as so many bastards were wont to do? Would it give me any closure, any peace? How would he have reacted knowing I had ended the pregnancy?
"No," I said. I shook my head. "Maybe one day. Right now, I don't care about him. He's not part of my life." All I hoped was he hadn't hurt anyone. That was it. If he had succeeded or failed, he was my past, a mistake, something else I had overcome. "That's all there is to it."
She just hugged me in response. I held her tight before we separated. I went to rejoin the others for drinks soon enough. And then I called my husband.
Hardestadt was waiting at the airport. Emma and Dani were at my side when we exited the gate. I ran to him, throwing my arms around his neck. We kissed and he almost lifted me up, pulling me against him. I put my hands behind his head, pulling it to mine, our teeth almost clacking together when I got clumsy.
"Get a room, you two," Emma said. We separated, Hardestadt looking at me.
"You're okay? I had my sisters check the place immediately. There was no sign of anything there, but I asked them to just monitor it just in case," he looked worried. "I was…"
"I know, honey. We're fine. Everyone was okay. And who'd believe it, besides us? I had Emma and Dani," I gestured to them before Hardestadt and I kissed again, so passionately we started to receive some looks. "I'm okay," I said. Hell, I barely felt afraid anymore. That was the strange thing…this had almost become rote to me, as terrifying as it was. I was used to it, expected it. Now it was done and I went on. We had all said goodbye, my friends and I. They were coping as best they could and I made clear they could find me and my husband if they needed to. I had even offered to host them in Florida soon.
Everyone lives. Not what you often see in horror films. But this was my life. "Honey," I said.
"Erin?" He asked.
"I took a picture of its symbol…nobody knows more than you on that, so…" I took my phone. I showed him. He looked at it, his brow furrowing. He frowned.
"Is it something bad?" I asked. "Something…really bad? It doesn't…follow people home, does it?"
"Erin," he said quietly. "I've never seen this before."
"Huh? Never?" I asked.
"Never. I don't know what it is," he admitted. Another unanswered question, another terrifying little mystery in what we call the Teraverse. I deleted it from my phone, better safe than sorry. "I can check…"
"Okay," I said. I took his hand. We drove home, Emma and Dani staying with us. I had some new scars, Nyx immediately running to me and fussing over where I had been injured. I scooped up my little green rat and began to cuddle him as he licked my face. "Nyx! Ohhh, I missed you, honey! Were you a good boy, yes you were, yes you were!" I laughed as he kissed me. "You were okay with me gone, honey?"
"Nothing…eventful. You're taking this pretty lightly, Erin," Hardestadt said. I laughed nervously.
"Yeah, well…life goes on?" I asked. "Just…stick close to me for a few days?"
"Not going anywhere," he said. Emma grinned and squeezed my shoulder, Dani giggling.
"The lifethreatening hijinks aside, we had a nice time?" She tried. Hardestadt shook his head.
"I can't leave you alone, can I?" He brushed a hand over my face, looking at me.
"Don't get too clingy," I said. I looked into his eyes, seeing his handsome face. My husband, I thought happily. My Hardestadt Delac, just as I was his Erin. "But a nice dinner might help?"
"Done," he said. "Maybe I'll bake a pie after?"
"Talking my language," I said. I grinned at him, seeing him return it. My heart leaped as we looked at one another. My life has changed, no doubt about that. It isn't normal by any stretch of the imagination. It's scary, insane, topsy-turvy and bizarre all at once. You could even call it a horror story if you want
But if it is, I'm the one who wins and goes home at the end. If life is a scary story?
I'm the final girl.