As We Lie Dying by Jess Watkins.
“Come on, Mads. You’re missing out on all the fun.” Hannah spun my chair around so that I was facing her. She was dressed in a short black dress and high heels that made her tower over me. She was wearing more make up than usual but it was Hannah’s hair that made me gasp.
“Hannah, what the hell happened to your hair?”
Hannah’s straight, blonde hair which had once fallen to her waist now stopped abruptly at her chin in a harsh bob.
Running her fingers through the short length of her hair, she replied, “Adam said it would look better shorter so I cut it.”
My hands clenched into fists and I gritted my teeth. Adam had a lot to answer for. He was Hannah’s new boyfriend and the reason she had gone from a quiet, sweet girl to a loud and sometimes obnoxious party girl. She would do whatever he wanted – if he told her to jump there was no doubt that Hannah would ask ‘how high?’. I didn’t know what she saw in him – Adam was an arrogant douchebag who thought that the world revolved around him and Hannah deserved better. Much better.
“Please come out with us.” Hannah pouted and put her hands on her narrow hips. “You’re missing out on all the fun.”
I arched an eyebrow. Going out and getting drunk was not my idea of fun. I would much rather stay in and feed my obsession of George Clooney by watching a DVD or two . . . or three.
“No thanks.” I turned back around to my desk and picked up my pen in preparation of finishing my worksheet. “You have fun though.” I had given up trying to stop Hannah from throwing her life away – she had once been the best student in our year but now she was failing each module, mainly because she went out partying with Adam and his friends nearly every night.
“Madison,” Hannah moaned. “You always stay in. The guys really want you to come out with us.”
Snorting, I said sarcastically, “Well that changes everything . . .” I looked at Hannah over my shoulder. “There is nothing you can say that will make me change my mind, Han.”
“Fine. Enjoy your evening.” She stomped out of the room and I dropped my head onto the wooden desk. With a sigh I straightened up and got back to work.
Half an hour later I was finished. Smiling to myself, I grabbed my complete box set of ER and went into the living room.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile before.”
Jumping at the voice, I fumbled with the box of DVDs which I fortunately didn’t drop. I turned to see Rob one of Adam’s friends lounging on the sofa. His arms were behind his head, his gangly legs hanging off the edge of the cushions. Rob’s muddy brown eyes were full of amusement as I gaped at him. Running a hand through his messy brown hair he sat up, saying, “You should smile more often. It makes you look even more beautiful.”
I clutched the DVDs to my chest as a blush worked its way across my cheeks.
“What are you doing here, Rob? Why aren’t you with the others?” I didn’t bother to hide my annoyance.
How long had he been here?
“I didn’t want to go out with the others and when Hannah said that you were staying here I thought I’d keep you company.” His lips twisted in a low grin which only served to make him creepier. Rob was average looking and not particularly muscular but at times there was something predatory about him. Adam was the same.
“I don’t want your company. Go home.”
“Are you sure?” Rob asked getting to his feet. He walked over to me, stopping when he was within touching distance. “You must get lonely with Hannah being out most of the time.”
“And whose fault is that?” I snapped. “Ever since you, Adam and the rest of your gang came along she’s turned into a completely different person!”
Surprised at my outburst, Rob replied, “You think we’re in a gang?”
“That’s not what I meant!” Crying out in frustration, I grabbed his arm and shoved Rob towards the door. Tears were stinging my eyes and I didn’t want Rob to be here when they inevitably started falling.
“Just go.” My voice cracked and I yanked the front door open. “Please,” I whispered, focusing on the carpet.
“Madison,” Rob said gently as he closed the door. He brushed strands of dark hair behind my ear before cupping my cheek.
I met his gaze and was unable to stop a sob from escaping. Rob pulled me into his arms and stroked my back muttering soothing words.
“Come on,” he said after a while. He led me over to the sofa and draped a blanket over me. Hearing the ER theme tune I realised that Rob had taken the box set from me and put an episode on. “Do you want anything to eat or drink?”
“Ice cream, please.” I wiped the tears from my cheeks.
“Here you go.” Rob joined me on the sofa and handed me a carton of vanilla ice cream with a spoon already in it.
“Thanks.” My eyes were fixed on the TV as I ate a spoonful and I immediately relaxed when George Clooney appeared on screen.
I must have fallen asleep at one point because when someone tried to prise the ice cream from my hand my eyelids shot open.
“Whazgoinon?” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes.
“You fell asleep,” Rob told me with a smile. He had a hand on my waist and I was leaning against him.
“Ugh, what time is it?” I asked, moving away.
Struggling to my feet, I said, “I should go to bed.”
“Whoa there.” Rob slipped an arm around me when I stumbled. “You okay?
“You look like you’re still half asleep.” He chuckled. “Come on.” Rob lifted me into his arms and carried me into my room.
“I can walk,” I protested sleepily.
“Really?” Rob placed me on my bed and covered me with the duvet. “It’s too late now anyway.”
Burying my face in the pillow I thanked him.
Rob stroked my hair, saying, “You’re welcome. Sleep well, Madison.” His lips grazed my cheek and the next thing I knew I was asleep.
A knock roused me from my sleep and I reluctantly opened my eyes. Sunlight was streaming through the windows and a glance at the clock on my wooden bedside table told me why. It was eleven o’clock. Groaning I forced myself out of bed when there was another rap on the door.
“Oh.” I had opened the door to be confronted by Rob. “What are you doing here?”
“Good morning to you too.” He beamed as I blinked blearily at him. “I bought you breakfast,” Rob told me, shaking a brown paper bag at me. “Can I come in?”
“Umm I suppose so.” Rob stepped inside and closed the door behind him. “I’m going to have a quick shower. Make yourself at home.”
After the quickest shower ever, I dressed in jeans and a hoodie. Rob was in the kitchen leaning against the counter.
“Here you go,” he said, handing me the brown bag I’d seen him carrying earlier.
I peered inside. There were three croissants.
“Thanks. How did you know?”
Rob shrugged. “Hannah told me that you love France.”
It was true. I did. I always went on holiday there and was planning on living in France when I graduated.
“She said that your parents retired there.”
I was about to take a bite of one of the croissants but paused. “Yeah they did.”
“I’m sorry they died.”
“It’s okay. It was a while ago now.” My parents had had me late in life. They had always called me Madison the Miracle.
“Do you have any plans for today?” Rob asked.
Shrugging, I finished off the first croissant and started on another, saying in between bites, “I need to go over some coursework.”
“Would that be the coursework that you finished two weeks ago?” He grinned. Strangely this time I didn’t find it as creepy.
“Umm no . . .”
“Come out with me,” Rob said, trailing a finger down my arm. For a second his muddy brown eyes looked black. When I hesitated, he asked, “What are you so worried about?”
I licked the crumbs from my lips and placed the bag with the last remaining croissant on the side. “Why should I go somewhere with you? I don’t even know you.” I scowled, crossing my arms.
Rob reached out and took my hand. Caressing my fingers, he said, “Don’t you want to get to know me?”
“Ouch. That’s harsh. What is it you’re scared of?” Rob tilted his head to the side. “I’m not like Adam.”
“Well that’s good to know,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Madison, look at me.”
Reluctantly doing as he said, I asked, “What?”
“Why not give me a chance? What have you got to lose?” Rob smiled, holding my hand tightly. “If you don’t want to see me again afterwards then I’ll leave you alone. I promise.”
I stared down at our joined hands surprised that I hadn’t pulled away. “Okay.”
“No way! You really did that?” I gaped at Rob who was holding the door to my building open.
Chuckling, he followed me inside, saying, “I did.”
“But what did she say?”
“She asked what the bucket was for,” Rob replied with a smile.
I laughed so hard that I doubled over, unable to breathe. “Oh . . . my . . . God! That’s the . . . funniest thing I’ve . . . ever heard!” I wheezed. We reached the door to my flat and I withdrew my key.
“What do you think then?” Rob placed a hand on the door and leaning close enough that his warm breath tickled my cheeks.
“About what?” I asked, finding my eyes drawn to Rob’s lips. Why had I thought he was average looking? He was actually quite attractive and having spent practically the whole day with Rob, I now knew that he was nothing like Adam.
“Do you want to see me again?”
Meeting his eyes, I said, “I would like that.”
“You had fun then?” he asked, his tone playful.
“Surprisingly yes I did.”
Rob took my hands in his and asked with a grin, “So you’ll come to the Halloween party tomorrow?”
Hannah had been raving about Adam’s Halloween party for weeks. I hadn’t been planning on going though.
Sensing my wariness, Rob said, “Come on, it’ll be fun. If you don’t like it I’ll bring you home.”
I bit my lip and after a while sighed. “Okay.”
“Don’t forget to wear a costume,” he reminded me, pressing a quick kiss to my jaw. “See you tomorrow.”
“I’m so glad you decided to come!” Hannah squealed as we ascended the steps to the huge house in front of us. The garden was covered in fake spider webs and skeletons were sat haphazardly in the long grass.
I tugged at the bottom of my short dress, wishing that I hadn’t let Hannah talk me into wearing the angel costume. Hannah herself was dressed as the devil in a red top and miniskirt with horns, a tail and a pitchfork. Knocking on the front door, Hannah flashed me a grin. I adjusted my halo, the feathers on my wings brushing my arms.
The door opened with a groan to reveal an empty hallway.
“Come on.” Hannah giggled, grabbing my hand and yanking me inside.
There didn’t appear to be anyone around and the house was silent as Hannah skipped down the corridor dragging me along after her.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” I asked, swatting aside plastic spiders and cobwebs.
Suddenly my hand was torn from Hannah’s and I was pulled into another room.
“Good evening, Madison,” Rob greeted me.
His face was painted white and he was wearing a cape and fangs.
“Hey.” I gazed around the mostly empty room and spotted a bed. “Where are we?”
“This is my room.”
“And why am I in here?” I asked.
Moving over to the bed, Rob gestured for me to follow. “You don’t want to go out there,” he said almost bitterly as he sat down and retrieved a bottle and two glasses from the floor.
Rob gazed at me, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Here.” He handed me one of the glasses and filled it with amber liquid.
I took a sip and flinched at the strong taste.
Turning the drink in his hand, Rob said, “I shouldn’t have asked you to come.”
“What do you mean?” I asked hurt.
With a sigh, he placed a hand on my knee. “I know you don’t like Adam. You’re right not to. He’s . . . he’s not a good person. I’m not either.”
“What are you talking about, Rob?” Was he drunk? “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not enough,” he muttered, wiping the white face paint off. Draining the glass he set it down on the wooden floorboards and took my face in his hands. “I’ve made a stupid mistake, Madison. Can you forgive me?” He was definitely drunk.
“Of course I do. You should have some water. Let’s go to the kitchen.” I stood up but Rob’s hands went to my hips and he pulled me back down.
“No,” Rob said gripping me tightly. “You can’t go out there.”
“Why not?” I asked warily. He was starting to worry me. Had I been wrong? Was Rob just as insufferable as Adam? “Rob, you’re hurting me.”
A piercing scream echoed through the house and the blood drained from his face.
“Rob,” I whispered, aware that I was trembling. “That sounded like . . .” I trailed off unable to say my best friend’s name.
“We have to get you out of here.” He propelled me towards the window which he hurriedly slid open. “Leave now.”
“What about Hannah?” There was no way I was going without her.
Rob’s brown eyes were wide. “There’s no time. Madison, GO!”
“Where is she going, brother?”
Spinning around, I gasped at the sight of Adam standing in the doorway. He was dressed in a skeleton costume and was grinning manically. Were Rob and Adam brothers?
“Where’s Hannah?” I demanded, stepping towards him.
Rob’s hand grabbed my wrist and he yanked me backwards against his chest.
“Please don’t do this, Adam. She doesn’t need to be involved.”
Snarling, Adam cried, “Yes she does. It has to be tonight. You know that, little brother. You swore to resurrect him just like I did.”
“We can find someone else,” Rob protested.
“Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for her.” Adam looked me up and down with an expression that could have curdled milk. “She’s nothing. She’s a human.”
The way he said it made it sound like Adam wasn’t human himself. I glanced at Rob to find him glaring at his brother.
“Please,” he begged.
“You disgust me,” Adam spat.
That was when he launched himself across the room at us. Rob managed to knock him aside and I ran towards the door. Someone yanked on my leg and I went flying. My head was smashed against something solid and I was knocked unconscious.
I was laying on something hard and cold and my arms and legs were tied together. Opening my eyes I winced at the pain in my head.
“Look, she’s awake.”
The voice came from my left. Hannah was restrained in a similar fashion to me on a huge stone, Adam hovering beside her. He lowered his mouth to Hannah’s ear.
“Who shall I kill first? Hmm?”
Hannah’s whimper bounced around the cavern and tears rolled down her already tearstained cheeks.
“Please don’t hurt us. I love you.”
Torches flickered in their brackets on the stone walls and there was a strange symbol drawn on the ground.
“Love,” Adam spat pulling a long, shiny knife from his waistband. “It’s not love, you fool. I made you think you were in love with me. It was a lie.”
“No,” Hannah moaned, heartbroken.
“Yes, my sweet, but don’t worry; your deaths are not in vain. They will bring our brother back to life and then we will wreak havoc on this world.” There was a third brother?
Without warning, Adam plunged the knife into Hannah’s stomach and screams filled the air.
“No! Hannah!” I tugged against the ropes that bound my wrists and legs together but only served to cut myself. “Hannah,” I sobbed. Her breathing was shallow and her blood was dripping on the ground.
“Now it’s your turn,” Adam told me gleefully. His skin was turning black and his teeth were pointed. Maybe he really wasn’t human.
I resumed my attempt to escape as he descended on me.
“Why are you doing this?”
“I told you.” He took my chin forcefully in his hand and squeezed. “Your sacrifices will save my brother. He was killed by a witch but this will bring him back and then we will all be together again. A family.”
The knife tore through my dress and skin and blood swelled from the wound. Crying out in pain, I watched as a figure darted into the room and barrelled Adam over. I could hear them fighting but didn’t turn to see what was happening. My gaze was fixed on Hannah whose eyes rolled backwards as her chest stilled.
Oh God. This couldn’t be happening. It had to be a nightmare. It had to.
“Madison.” Rob was stood over me, clutching his chest. A thick, black liquid ran trails down his neck and he was pale. “I’m so sorry.” He tore the cape from his back and pressed it to my belly to stop the bleeding. “Stay with me. An ambulance is on its way. Just stay here with me.”
“I’m not sure I have a choice,” I murmured.
I was cold. So cold. The room was growing darker and Rob wasn’t in focus.
“Madison. Look at me, Madison.” Rob’s hand was on my cheek and then his lips were on mine. “Stay with me. Please.”
The darkness enveloped me as I breathed my last breath.
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