Prologue

The last thing I remember coherently was arriving at the party. Everything else was a blur. Now I know that I am in Kailey's car. Who is Kailey again? My brain is struggling to remember basic information. Of course, she's my best friend, but why is she here? My party! Why weren't we there? Why were we in this car that I think I might recognize? I had more questions than my groggy brain was able to handle. What happened? I remember drinking and I remember John. How could I forget him? He was the reason I was about to die.

It all started seven months before, with a whisper blowing through the leaves of the trees. I'd been fighting with my best friend all day and it seemed like everything was against me; I couldn't catch a break. When something happens to discourage me, the whole day is shot. I can't do anything productive or even slightly beneficial to my life. These were the kinds of days where I hide from my problems; from everything. I need to numb myself in order to make any logical decision because it is too easy for my emotions to take hold and make me do things I would regret. Which is exactly where it landed me on the night when the whispers blew.

My mother and I have never been particularly close. If I were to say which I was closer with, it'd be my dad. Nothing against my mom, Dad just gets me better than she ever could. Mom and I were just too different. For most of my life, we had been very similar in personality and because of that, we fought more than Mom and I, but we also get along better when we aren't. Our fights also tend to end more explosively. However, we always made up, sometimes neither of us apologized, but we forgave the other anyway. That was because we had an understanding due to how similar we are. I spent most of my time with Dad when I have nothing better to do. We like a lot of the same things and because of that, we have a lot to talk about all the time.

On that fateful night seven months ago, Dad and I had fought once again, causing me to be irritable. Which is why I was grumpy throughout the rest of the day and why I picked a fight with Kailey. She hadn't even been doing anything, I just lashed out for no reason and she fought back. I wished I could take back the fight as soon as it started, but I couldn't pull myself out of it and escalated it until I walked away. I replay that fight over and over again as I walk into my house. My parents were watching TV in the living room as I walked past as fast as possible to avoid another fight.

I was storming into my room again having fought with everyone who was important in my life. I looked over my cave of comfort, the place in which I have lived my entire life. The pastel blue walls clashed with the bright orange of my bed's blanket. The paint was peeling, exposing the disgusting wall behind it that had clearly been neglected for years. Other than the paint, my walls had no decorations. The floors were carpet that was probably tan a few years ago, but was now more than a couple shades darker because of the multitude of things dropped over it. The door I entered through was on the very left of my room and immediately to my right was my dresser. Then to the right of the dresser was my closet in which was more for storage than for my clothes. In the left corner was my metaphorical cave of solitude. It was a giant beanbag that had been perfectly tailored to my body through years of extensive use and abuse. I'd had it since I was much younger - though I'm not sure exactly how old. When I wasn't in bed, I was in that beanbag and I needed no comfort except that.

The beanbag was my obvious choice of seating when I stormed in and plopped down with all of my aggression. I hadn't sat more than five minutes with loud music in my headphones before I got a friend request from someone I didn't know on Instagram. My rationality hadn't quite kicked in yet and I decided to accept it after some minor stalking of his page. He seemed like a normal kind of guy, the kind who you'd see passing by you every day and never notice, but yet there was something about him that was noticeable in a crowd of uniformity. He had short brown hair and underwhelming brown eyes. He had freckles all over his pale skin that implied an Irish background and he seemed about six foot two based on his posted pictures. His name was John Williams, and he claimed that he was only a year older than me. I should've known what was going to come, after all, I could hear the trees outside whistling in the wind, carrying whispers of concern.

Once I accepted, he started messaging me, almost like he was a panther, lying in wait and hovering over my DMs, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. How could I ignore him? He seemed genuinely interested due to the quick message. His first message read: Hi, I couldn't help but notice you when you showed up in my recommended friends. Maybe we have a friend in common?

I won't lie, I was flattered. Even though he hadn't actually said anything to make me think this, I knew he had a thing for me. I had always had an ability to tell when someone liked me and use their affections to manipulate them into doing what I wanted. I was always in control. I wasted no time responding to him. I don't think that I know anyone who is friends with you. They would've mentioned something about you I'm sure considering that you're definitely noteworthy. More than a little flirting, but I didn't care, I was in an irrational state. That coupled with my flirtatious tendencies led to the biggest mistake of my life.

He responded faster than I thought was possible. He was so obviously interested considering no guy ever messages that quickly if they aren't. His DM made it clear I was right. I'm glad you think so. If it isn't because of mutual friends, then clearly the universe wants us to talk to each other. With that in mind, tell me all about yourself.

Not the subtlest way about going about it, but his message still brought a surprising amount of heat to my cheeks. No matter how many guys hit on me or how often it happened, the beginning stages of flirting always made me feel warm inside. It was my addiction. I responded to him as fast as I could.

We talked all night; I don't think I slept a wink because of him. The flattery and flirting continued and I couldn't bring myself to say goodnight to him. In all my seventeen years, I hadn't met a guy like him. He was seemingly perfect, we meshed on every level and I felt like I had known him for years rather than hours. We liked the same books, movies, and TV shows. There was never a lull in the conversation; both of us seemed to never run out of things to say.

Throughout my high school career, I had been a hot commodity. Every guy always wanted my attention; wanted me. My ego may have gotten a bit out of check in those days. I thought I was above it all and that not only did everyone want me, but everyone should want me. It taught me a lot of things; none of which were good. I wish I could go back and tell myself that it would do me no good to act like this. In fact, it's the very reason I landed myself in this position.

John and I had been talking for six months and dating for four when it started to turn dangerous. John learned that I had told people about him and I. I thought our relationship was serious, despite the little problem of distance. John lives in Colorado while I live in Texas. He didn't want to change states, but I told him that I'd be willing to. To this, he said nothing. I had told people about us because I wanted people to know about us and how happy we were. The only person I didn't tell was Kailey; I knew she wouldn't take it seriously. To her, everything is always good and happy and optimistic. I didn't want to deal with that, I simply wanted someone to be real with me about it. But the fact that I told anyone about us bothered him an unusual amount and I didn't understand why. It was our first fight.

Our first fight also turned out to be our last one. Seeing him like that made me see that he obviously wasn't that serious about me, which hurt, but I was unwilling to give up on him yet. If he cared about me, he wouldn't have acted so completely opposed to telling people about us. However, I didn't care enough to fight. I was pulling away and he knew it which is why he began to push back against my efforts to not care about him. He messaged me in what I assume was a fit of rage.

What's going on with you? I give you anything you want but you still treat me like crap. In what world did he think that was true? He may have given me some things, but never the thing I wanted – his love. Plus, I didn't treat him like crap. I never had. Why would he even accuse me of this? I was so confused and angry. In that moment I no longer felt the need to hold onto his affections.

You rarely give me everything I want. In fact, I don't think that you give me ANYTHING I want. I don't get you and your all-mighty attitude and double standards. I know it was a low blow, but I couldn't bring myself to make nice and make everything better when I have a right to be mad with him. He's the one who didn't even want me to tell people about us because he wasn't sure that he wanted something real with me.

So now I'm the bad guy? You're the one who is clearly uninterested in having a real relationship with me now that I'm all in. How did he dare say that? If he had showed even a bit of interest beyond the internet, I would've jumped all over him and had no regrets. Now that he was acting like this, I had quite a few of those.

You should've been all in ages ago. I've checked out, I'm done. I can't do this anymore; my heart can't take it. I meant it too. I was numb; I was beyond apathetic; I was done with him. As if to further my point, I was entertaining my mind with a movie, something I never would have done before. I was on my beanbag, enjoying the warm wind coming in from the open window in front of me. The wind was rustling the tag on my comforter and was pushing an empty plastic cup towards the edge of my dresser, threatening to push it over. After a moment of contemplation, I realized that if I had to withstand one more moment with him, I knew I'd explode. I no longer wanted him wrapped around my finger.

The buzz of my phone startled me with the promise of an answer from John. You're done when I say you're done. In what world did he honestly think that this would work. I wasn't going to take it back no matter what he did.

Excuse me?

You read that correctly. I know where you live and if you try to break up with me, I will kill everyone you love while you watch in wait. Do we have an understanding? With those three sentences, my world shattered. I could feel the cool ball of absolute and genuine fear drop into my stomach with a splash. I never told him where I lived. I knew better than that. How could he have figured it out? I could barely breathe. All of a sudden, I no longer felt safe in my room with the window wide open. I got up to close it, almost falling down multiple times because my legs were shaking as though it was an earthquake in my room. The world was spinning. I couldn't get my bearings. Logic kicked in at some point but by then I was too far gone. Something about the way he said it made me believe that he truly would do it. I had no option in my response. I had gotten myself into an impossible situation in which there was only one choice.

Of course. I'm going to go to bed now though. He didn't object. I threw my phone as far as I could, not caring what happened to it. I walked out of my room into the hallway, walking as far from my phone as I possibly could as if I could outpace my problems. I held myself together to the best of my ability as I made my way to the front door. As I walked past the living room, which was near the front door, I passed my mother and father who looked up but did not protest my leaving. It was a common occurrence for me and we had an understanding. They hadn't cared where I went for the past two years.

I stepped out my front door and a warm breeze met me in a calming embrace, almost causing me to forget my problems. It didn't last and I immediately remembered what was happening. I could walk to Kailey's, but I quickly realize that she has no idea what's going on. I couldn't tell her. How could I? She'd never understand and he might kill her for knowing. I could not put her at risk like that. He was a crazed animal pacing around, waiting for the opportunity to lash out.

The realization caused me to break down. I fell onto the hard pavement, barely feeling the gravel force its way into my skin. My tears quickly turned into sobs. There on the pavement I was nothing. I felt how insignificant I was and what a horrible decision I had made all those months ago. How could I let this happen? Though carelessness was completely in character, this kind of recklessness was unlike me. I always took calculated risks. This was far from calculated. The sobs were choking me at this point and I could only taste the saltiness of the tears streaming down my cheeks. I slowly calmed myself down and could finally feel the throbbing of my sore knees that were scraped up when I fell. I was lucky that it was close to midnight. If it had been any earlier, I'm sure I would've been greeted by the stares of unconcerned passerbys. Which considering that it was the middle of summer, the walkers would've been in abundance. I readjusted and sat numbly, looking at the road in front of me, paying no thought to the forest behind me.

When I felt eyes on the back of my neck, I whipped around. I was met with nothing but the dark summer night. For the first time in my life, it wasn't I who had a guy around my finger, it was John who had me wrapped around his. I hated that, but I had no choice. I decided that even if she has no idea what's going on, I still had to go to Kailey's. Being around her would probably ease some of the paranoia. At least that was what I was banking on.

I sat on my knees next to the street. I was on the precipice of a full panic attack, having just had my world shaking. That's when I saw the figure on the other side of the street. The man looked taller than me, even from a distance. I couldn't make out any solid features since the light post behind him made him nothing but a silhouette. However, there was no denying, he was looking right at me. Something about the man made me certain that I had to get out of this situation as fast as I could. So, despite my shaky knees, I got up and started moving towards Kailey's house. She would ease my fears, I was sure of it.

When I started moving, the man did too. He mirrors my moves almost exactly, watching me the entire time. When I start jogging, so does he. When I slow down, he does too. My heart starts pounding, going double the normal pace. It made my head feel heavy and my movements seem too slow. I knew I could never outrun the figure. My athletic skills were subpar at best. That left outsmarting as the only option. I couldn't lead him right to Kailey's house, that would be a death wish.

At the first opportunity I had, I ran right as fast as I could. It led me straight into the woods. If I hadn't lived there all my life, I surely would've been screwed. Luckily for me however, I know this forest inside and out. I know exactly how to get to Kailey's house from here. My feet lead me ahead, moving without thinking, bringing me where I need to go on instinct. I was running as if my life depends on it – and it certainly felt like it did.

When I look back, the figure wasn't following anymore. Relief almost makes me collapse onto the floor, but reason takes ahold of me. I still had to get to her house and I wasn't safe until I did. Thankfully, it didn't take long to arrive at her house which was backing the forest. I run up to her front door and knock frantically until she opens the door and ushers me in. This time, I really did collapse in her entrance way. I was sobbing. I am still terrified and I know that this isn't the last time I interact with the figure.

Despite his threat, I didn't hear from John again for a week. He messaged me on the morning of my birthday wishing me a happy birthday. For a week, I had been avoiding my problems, hoping that maybe he forgot about little old me, but apparently, he didn't forget. Maybe it was wishful thinking. I responded with a thank you and that was the end of the conversation.

His silence was unnerving. He had always had something to say and rarely left me alone to my thoughts. I couldn't help but think that he was planning something. Something I wouldn't like at all. This feeling followed me throughout the entire day, even when I was texting my friends the location for the party tonight. A party that I didn't particularly feel like having, but my mother insisted.

As I was about to text Kailey, there was a knock on the front door. I set the phone down and went to open the door without a care in the world as to who was behind the slab of wood. I opened it quickly and sharply inhaled. I didn't know the face standing in front of me, but I knew him somehow. I knew exactly who he was without him saying his name. He had the same brown hair and eyes, but the features were much older than his pictures. This was John Williams at my front door. He had a psychopathic look in his eyes, the one that screams that someone is not quite right in the head. As soon as I'd accepted the situation that had presented itself, he pushed his way into my house. He looked around without my permission, clearly not caring whether or not my family was home. Luckily for him and unluckily for me, they weren't home, and he seemed to know that. After he was satisfied, he motioned to follow him into my room. He knew where my room was without me leading him, which concerned me, but not as much as the situation I was in right then. I followed him.

"We're going out tonight for your birthday, get changed quickly and come with me. It'll be fun, I promise." He was beaming, obviously proud of himself. Then he was confused as to why I wasn't returning the warmth. For fear of my life, I tried my best to match his expression, which seemed to satisfy him for the moment. He told me where I was going and gave me a dress code before walking out to give me some privacy, which surprised me.

I complied with his request and got ready, though I didn't care about my appearance at all. On the way out of my house, I glanced at myself in the mirror and saw my expression. I looked like a deer who was caught in the headlights with no idea what to do. I guess that meant that I was meant to get metaphorically run over in the time to come. I was wearing a pair of tight jeans and shirt and my red hair was in a loose bun. He made me leave my phone at home, but luckily while changing I sent the address of where he was taking me. The text was to Kailey. I knew it was a risk, but it was worth trying even if she'd probably forget to check until it was too late. She was always late. I hoped that she would not be too late this time.

When we arrived at the location, he made me get out first before following. The speakers were deafening. The entire scene was sensory overload. I could smell the weed coming from everyone around me; I could basically taste it. Everyone was pressing around us as John led me to the center of the dance floor. The lights were pulsating in a way that would have normally required an epilepsy warning in all different colors. At some point I lost John and was in the middle of this crowd that was throbbing and twisting to the music like a group of drones whose only purpose was to dance as chaotically as possible. I couldn't see anything properly, everything seemed to go through some kind of party filter and I couldn't grab onto anything tangible. Then John came back, but he had two drinks in his hand. He handed one to me and drank the other himself. He watched me very closely as I drank his offering of alcohol. Something about the way he watched me made me feel exposed beyond what I thought was possible. I needed to get out of here. I needed Kailey to arrive and save me already. There was no way that I could escape by myself and continue to keep up this charade of compliance.

I already felt the world blurring, but this time it felt different. It felt like more than a typical party haze. It made all of my fears feel irrelevant. I wanted to party and not have a care in the world. All of a sudden, I no longer cared if Kailey showed up in time or not. In fact, I could barely even remember who she was. That's when I should've known that something was very wrong.

Then out of nowhere, I saw Kailey out of the corner of my eye. I yelled to try and get her attention. "Kailey!" I was so happy she was here. But why was I again? I couldn't remember. I follow the exclamation with a question. "Isn't this cool?!" It was so cool. Everything meshed together to form a blob of mindless people and I was one of them. I was having a blast! Nothing could possibly kill this high! Though I was beginning to feel a bit drowsy, which upset me. How dare my body ruin my fun? I look at Kailey and it's clear that she does not think that this is super cool. It's fine, I can show her why it's cool and then she'll be convinced. Kailey is staring at the man behind me. Who is he again? I don't think it matters. Why would it? It seemed to matter to Kailey though. What a buzzkill.

"Can we go somewhere quieter?" She yells above the crowd as she shakes her head in response to my earlier question.

"Sure! Let's go outside!" I respond, not caring about what was going on. Wow, I really was getting very tired. I could barely put one foot in front of the other as I walk away from the man I was dancing with. What man? I think his name was John, but I can't remember.

"What is this?" She asks me when we get outside. Why did it matter to her? We were having fun. She adds onto her question before I have a chance to respond. "It doesn't matter, were leaving. This isn't safe for either of us and you aren't driving either, come with me." Such a buzz kill. She always had been. She was just jealous of me. Why else would she try to get me to leave the party. It was my birthday; I should've been able to decide what we did. I wanted to say all this, yet my mouth wouldn't comply and she shoved me into a car; her car I assumed. Then I passed out.

I wake up at a stoplight. Kailey looks like she's bored. Why would she be bored again? It doesn't matter I decide. I was paralyzed, unable to say anything or move at all. My eyes could not stay open, yet I was completely aware. I was aware as I saw light flash behind my eyes and Kailey's panicked noise that made it clear that something had gone horribly wrong. I realized that I was not going to make it, for real this time. I didn't want anything to happen to the people I love because of my dumb mistake. I prayed that someone would find out about John and his plot before he moved on to the next girl. I only hoped that this could be enough as I remembered his warning to me from a week ago. That was the last thing that I ever remember as the oncoming car rushed forward and my whole vision went dark.

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