I wasn’t so scared now that the night had faded away. No more whispers had shown up to chase me. No boogie monsters appeared to attack me. Inside my hotel room, I was starting to feel normal and safe. I glanced at the clock. It was eight AM.
Experiencing a rush of uneasy calm, I padded across the carpet and perched on the edge of the bed, pulling my knees to my chest as I wondered what to do next.
I certainly felt less crazy. I couldn’t just sit here inside my hotel room. I had to do something. I jumped from the bed and pulled my parents’ photo from beneath the mattress. Hurrying through the living room, I reached the kitchen counter and folded up my letter, stuffing my most treasured positions into my bra. The holes in my jean pockets had seemed to have grown during the night. I would trust them no longer.
Moving into the living room, I reached the window and pulled back the heavy drapery, flooding the suite with bright sunlight. I instantly felt better when the darkness was chased away. I scanned the landscape and searched busy city streets. People were starting their day, going about their business. Maybe I should do the same. My stomach rumbled like a growling animal and sent me rifling through the kitchen. Finding every cabinet bare and dusty, I was about to give up when I discovered a single bag of popcorn inside the microwave. As the kernels exploded, the smell of hot butter filled my nose, and the moment the timer went off I was ripping into the paper bag and stuffing my face.
Plopping down at the table, my mind began to wander back to my mother’s letter. She had spoken of strange things happening to me and I wondered if she meant that I might start hearing voices.
Did she hear them, too? Was schizophrenia genetic?
With a firm shake of my head, I abandoned that line of thinking. It would lead to too many questions that could never be answered. It was just too painful to think about my parents. They were gone and nothing could change that. I’d follow my mother’s advice and buy a very safe-looking house and lock it down like a fortress. I’d stay indoors when the sun went down. Both of these ideas suddenly had a great deal of appeal.
In the meantime, while I waited on the real estate agent to show up, I’d go shopping.
Rich, rich, rich! I was filthy rich.
I latched on to this bliss-rendering thought and headed out the door of my hotel suite.
Outside in the sultry breeze, I spotted my car wedged against a tree. I smiled just seeing it.
If only I could have driven this to school. The snobby witches who ruled my high school would have fainted in the parking lot at the sight of it. Immediately, I brushed the memories of their pouty little faces out of my mind. Hadn’t they tormented me enough? Didn’t I swear that I would never think of their bittersweet existence again?
Sighing remorsefully, I passed around the rear end of the car, heading for the driver’s side door. My eyes were drawn to a small dent on the rear bumper that was accompanied by streaks of black paint.
I crouched down and took my t-shirt to the paint streaks, wiping most of it clean until only the dent remained. I sat back on my heels, frowning.
I’d have to call Ruby. I’d have to tell her about the motorcycle incident. That was going to be embarrassing. Worse, it was like admitting to a crime. For a moment, I wondered if I could be arrested. Did I just do something that constituted a hit-and-run? Maybe I could just…I could hire a private investigator to find the bike owner and give him like…an apology letter and a million dollars.
And then I started wondering if that was illegal. I rubbed my face. This must be why lawyers exist in the first place.
I decided to deal with that later and drove a ways to the nearest mall—well, it was more like an oversized shopping center—and parked in the lot, turning off the ignition. As soon as I slipped outside, I felt a cold sweat spread across my forehead and I jumped back into the safety of the car, trying to control a sudden wave of hysteria. I steadied myself over the course of a few minutes, grinding my teeth a little harshly, and finally stepped back into the blinding sun.
If my mother knew I was going to start hearing these whispers, well, I wasn’t going to fear them. I was going to do as she told me. At least, I was going to try.
I bit my lip to ward off the onslaught of nerves flowing through my body and made my way to the mall entrance. As I neared the edge of the parking lot, the voices began to surround me, to taunt me, like the hisses of snakes. The volume seemed to rise and fall with the movement.
I was shaking now. This was loony-bin stuff.
I stopped in my tracks and searched for the source of the whispers. Every muscle in my body was rigid and I felt myself shrinking smaller and smaller, as if I was disappearing into an icy tunnel.
My feet felt heavy, but I forced them to move forward. As the sliding glass doors opened before me, revealing a bustle of mall activity, the volume whooshed down upon me like a bird swooping on its prey.
I covered my ears to block out the sound. Panic still rising, I whirled and made a run for it, darting my eyes around the lot, expecting to see some kind of monster reveal himself at any moment. Suddenly, the dark spaces between the parked cars looked like snake holes.
As I neared my Audi, an eerie silence returned. I slowed to a jog and then stopped at the rear bumper of my convertible and spun around panting to face the mall.
I stretched my ears towards the silence. My eyes twitched to a group of black crows pecking softly against the concrete, chipping away at a handful of old French fries spilling from a crumpled bag.
A quick succession of ticking sounds caused me to draw a sharp breath, only to exhale when I realized the ticking was coming from a car, devoid of its owner, the engine cooling in the heat.
I swallowed and clenched my fists at my side. I briefly considered marching back to the mall. I wasn’t scared of stupid words. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, right? I shook myself. It took another ten seconds for me to chicken out. I slipped inside the car, peeling out of the lot.
This time I didn’t hit any motorcycles, so that was an improvement.