Close Call- A short story
This is a short story that I wrote for one of my classes. It's supposed to be a horror story not the 'slash and gash' style of movies now days. Please enjoy and keep in mind that I would love to hear your comments after you are done. Constructive criticism is what makes us better. :)
Natalie groggily opened her eyes and glanced at the alarm clock on her bedside table. Its glowing face read two o’clock and she sighed as her fuzzy vision inspected the bed opposite hers and found it empty. Anna, her roommate, had gone to a party around ten and she’d promised to be back at twelve. So much for that, Natalie thought and rolled onto her back to look up at the darkened ceiling. Hazy, unintelligent thoughts sluggishly crossed her mind, most pertaining to sleep. She was just about to close her eyes and drift off again when a sudden thought broke through the daze. What had made her wake?
As she pondered this, she became aware of a prickling sensation at the back of her neck. Was it just her imagination, or had she heard the rasp of someone’s breath? A cold fear slowly wrapped its icy fingers around her body and she suddenly found that she was wide awake. More awake than she’d ever been. Her panic stricken ears strained at the silence, waiting for any hint that there was another living, breathing being close by… Silence… It pressed in on her like a suffocating fog that refused to lift. But wait. There it was again: a quiet exhale of breath.
A fresh wave of panic seized her and she rolled until she was in reach of the phone on the little table to her right. Her fingers had barely gripped the little device when yet another thought occurred to her. Could Anna be playing a practical joke for her own amusement? If so, what a cruel joke it was. Natalie had locked the doors and windows herself but that didn’t mean someone hadn’t broken the lock or glass to get in. Anna must have known that. But was it Anna?
Looking at the phone in her hand, Natalie noticed for the first time that she was shaking and her usually olive skinned fingers had gone white from squeezing so hard. It was a small miracle in itself that the little device had not shattered into a million tiny pieces. Forcing herself to relax, and think rationally, she lay there, torn between calling for help and making sure it was Anna and not someone else…
Opening her mouth to call out to Anna, she thought better of it and let the words die on her tongue. If it were not Anna, would she be putting herself in jeopardy by letting that someone know she was awake? Natalie nervously fingered the phone, the idea of using it was becoming more and more appealing by the second. A third rush of breath pricked at her ears and her jittery fingers made the decision for her.
“Hello, 911,” she whispered as loudly as she dared, “There’s someone in my house and I don’t know what to do.” The dispatcher on the other end calmly instructed her to hide and stay put until help could arrive. Natalie quietly sighed in relief and thanked the man on the other end of the line before it went dead. She lay there tensely listening to the almost nonexistent intake and exhale of breath. It seemed to resonate from everywhere, and nowhere at the same time. Its steady rhythm electrified every fiber of her being and turned the passing seconds into everlasting hours. Finally, it all became too much and she slowly eased herself into a sitting position. She had to know.
Stretching across the bed horizontally, she hung her head over the edge and tentatively lifted the bed skirt with trembling fingers. Nothing was under the bed except for the odd sock or two. Realizing the she’d been holding her breath, she softly let out the air that filled her lungs and dropped the skirt to the wood floor. If the intruder were not under the bed where else could they be? As the possibilities came to mind, a shiver ran down her spine. Their apartment was not a small one and there was more than one place where someone could be hiding.
Natalie cautiously set her feet on the cold wood floor and waited for the hand to reach from beneath the bed and grab her ankle like they always did in the movies. Even after she’d checked, the notion seemed all too possible. She slowly stood and began an inspection of the deepest shadows that darkened the room. That’s where the villains always hid, right? Nonetheless, her search yielded no answers and the hushed rasp still whispered at the edge of her hearing, nearly drowned out by the erratic thumping of her heart.
Natalie slipped through the half closed doorway and into the hall. It was black as pitch and nearly as thick so complete was the darkness that swallowed up even the most obvious details. The only element the shadows did not hinder was sound. The sound that had filled Natalie’s ears ever since she’d first opened her eyes had grown louder if only by a few decibels but it lured her on. It filled her senses, blocking out the feel of the icy wood paneling beneath her bare feet, the weight of her silky blonde hair upon her shoulders and even the ragged sound of her own breathing. As she neared the end of the hall, she pressed herself as close to the rough grain as she could without actually touching it and peered around the corner into the large living room beyond.
The dark forms of sofas and couches clustered conspiratorially around a flat screen TV and sprawled unceremoniously across the cushions of one lay the source of the barrage of sound that had assaulted her. In a tangle of limbs and cushions, Anna’s neck was bent at an awkward angle that happened to accentuate the sound emitting from her throat.
Natalie sighed and shrugged off every form the stealth she had executed not moments ago. She then expressed her anger and relief at not having to be quiet any longer as she practically stomped through the maze of furniture to her roommate’s side.
“Anna,” she called to the sleeping girl, “Wake up. You nearly scared me to death!” Natalie gave her a sharp prod in the center of her forehead and watched, a smile tugging at her lips, as the girl groggily swatted at air and rolled over into a far more comfortable resting position. With her neck at a more natural angle, Anna’s breathing became all but silent and Natalie had to laugh. She’d gotten herself worked up over nothing. Still shaking her head at her silly fear, she threw a blanket over Anna and began making her way back to her room. However, she was accosted in her attempt at going back to bed when the doorbell suddenly announced its presence with its obnoxious clanging toll.
Grumbling to herself, Natalie made her way to the door and peered through the peephole to find a handsome face in a blue uniform illuminated by the dim porch light staring back at her. Oh, that’s right, she thought stupidly as she remembered that she’d called the cops. She quickly pulled back the deadbolt, and chain and opened the door to reveal a tall man with curly brown hair that peeked out from under a police officer’s hat emblazoned with the NYPD insignia. A heavy coat was pulled over the uniform to fend off the frosty chill that promised snow. His mouth was set in a grim line and a little crease between his slender eyebrows seemed to be ever present.
“Ma’am,” he said with a nod, “I’ve come to address an issue with you.” His hands were clasped over his belt buckle and Natalie failed to notice that the guns were missing from the holsters at his hip. He means my license plates, she thought resignedly as she remembered that they’d expired more than a week ago.
“Yes, what is it?” she asked unenthusiastically. The man rubbed his chin and dropped his eyes to the floor.
“Ma’am, you might want to be sitting down when I tell you,” he told her, his stark blue eyes finally meeting her own. A cold dread crept into her mind as she jumped to conclusions, one in particular sticking out in her mind. Who died?
“Come in,” she said, the dread creeping into her voice as she opened the door wide and stepped back. He crossed the threshold and tugged the coat off, handing it to her. The door closed with a soft click as she turned to hang the coat on a peg by the door.
Suddenly, surprisingly strong arms were thrown around her neck and torso and adrenaline shot through her system. They squeezed her thrashing body, cutting off her air and threatening to crush everything within her chest. Panic consumed her every rational thought and her life flashed before her eyes, playing a scene from long ago that she’d tried to forget…
“Mommy!” screamed a little Natalie, frightened tears coursing down her cheeks. Her father had hit her and a red bruise was already forming just beneath her left eye.
“David!” Lily yelled, “Don’t you dare touch her ever again or I swear to God that I will kill you.” He back handed her across the mouth.
“Don’t you tell me what I can’t do!” He shouted close to her face. She held her cheek and glared at the man before her. Daggers filled her stare her mouth was set in a grim line.
“I’m through, David.” She whispered in a shaky voice, “I’m through.” Lily took her little girl and pushed her down the hall toward the door.
“No you’re not.” He grunted and grabbed her from behind with an arm across her chest and the other squeezing her throat. She let out a strangled scream and twisted in his grip, trying in vain to get loose.
“Daddy,” Natalie screamed, “Daddy, stop it!” she ran to his side and tugged on his shirt in an effort to pull him away but he only swatted her aside. But it was enough. Lily drove an elbow into his stomach and pushed off the ground letting her head collide with his chin. He cursed and fell back, allowing her to grab her sobbing little girl and bolt toward the only escape. The last Natalie saw of her father was his angry face as the front door slammed shut behind them.
Dizziness had begun to overtake her when she realized what she needed to do. Relaxing all her muscles, she became a dead weight in the man’s arms and nearly dropped through his grip, but not quite. She then pushed off the wooden floor as hard as she could and propelled the back of her head up into his chin. His head snapped back with a satisfying crack and his hold loosened just enough for her to squirm free and bolt toward the kitchen. I need a weapon, was the only thought surging through her head until she heard the heavy footfalls of his feet pounding after her and even that was swept away by the adrenaline madly pumping through her body. It lent her speed and she tore through the kitchen, tipping chairs and stools into the path behind her. The man grunted and fell, tangled in the mess of misplaced furniture. She didn’t look back but kept running around the corner where she skidded to a halt.
The intersection before her offered four definite places to go and hide: the labyrinth of furniture where she’d began, the hallway of doors that led to her room, a door to the backyard, and a stair case leading down into the basement. Her reaction was instantaneous and she dashed out the backdoor and into the yard. The long grass whipped at her ankles as she rounded the house and descended another flight of stairs set in the concrete paneling in the garage. Without missing a beat, Natalie lifted the pot of the small shrub resting by the door and retrieved a tarnished key from the dirt. She fumbled clumsily at the lock. Her hands were shaking so hard, but she finally managed to turn the key and get through. She then forced herself to quietly close and the lock the barrier. Now was a time for silence.
Her heart hammered wildly in her ears and she hoped he couldn’t hear it, wherever he was lurking. She crept through the basement, skirting things she’d moved only hours ago in her cleaning spree that she hadn’t quite finished. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she peered up out of the blackness surrounding her just in time to glimpse a shadow hastily crossing the ‘intersection’ to reach the wide open back door. She released the breath she’d been holding as he barreled through it without a moment’s hesitation. She quietly raced up the stairs and closed the door, the audible click of the lock resounding through the deathly silence of the house. She let herself sag against it for a second, relief filling her tired body at this small victory.
One more door, she thought resolutely and slipped across the ‘intersection’ to the living room. The maze stretched before her in a dark expanse, the front door clearly in view when it suddenly crashed open. Natalie jumped back into the intersection and pressed herself against the wall. The man stood silhouetted against the light from the porch, his shoulders heaving in anger. He marched across the threshold and closed the door behind him for the second time that night. Only this time, he slid the dead bolt into place with a resounding click that seemed to echo about the house and down into its foundation, like a judge’s gavel.
Natalie closed her eyes and winced. The reassuring locks that had once provided safety had quite suddenly become the bars to her cell. A cage with the cat inside along with the little bird… or mouse. Natalie’s demeanor changed as she realized what she had gotten herself into. It was a game now. A game of cat and mouse and all her skills would have to be brought to bear if she wanted even the slightest chance at escape.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to decide what she had working for her. She definitely had the advantage of knowing her surroundings, but if it came down to one-on-one contact she had virtually nothing. Hiding was her best bet and she would have to use it wisely.
The creak of a floor board announced the man’s movements loud and clear and Natalie silently tip toed down the hall. She eased open a door at the very end of the corridor, and peeked inside to ensure the space still had its messy scattering of easels, paints, and canvas rolls. Having a messy roommate did have its advantages. She left the door ajar and crossed the hall to the tidy little bathroom. She took up position just behind the neon shower curtain and waited for the telltale strike of the man’s boots on the wooden floor.
A few seconds later, the sound she’d been waiting for made its appearance. It slowly moved down the hall and faded as it apparently entered the art room. Now was her chance. Abandoning her hiding place, Natalie padded as silently as a cat up the hall toward the intersection and crept stealthily down the stairs.
Somewhere in the chaos at her bare feet, was an item she sought. Her hands slid over every surface until they finally found the handle of the old bat she’d used as a teenager throughout her years of softball. When she’d gone off to college, she’d wanted to leave it home so she would have less junk to deal with but her mother had insisted that she take it. At the time, she’d grumbled and put up an argument, but now she silently thanked her mother. She disentangled it from the pile and examined it, testing its familiar weight in her hands. It was made of a sturdy white ash and her confidence grew in the knowledge that she could use it.
She gripped the bat tightly and ascended the stairwell, ready to come off swinging if the need arose. It didn’t. The landing was empty and the hushed silence of the house was as dead as before. Where would I hide if I were a killer, she wondered, and immediately came up with the answer. A hallway with many rooms was an ideal place for someone like that. With this thought in mind, she backed herself into the kitchen keeping her eyes on the hallway until she felt it was safe to look away.
She rounded the last of the corner and pure horror and adrenaline shot through her system. There he was, wielding a knife that was about as long as his forearm. Natalie gasped and swung the bat as hard as she could, experience allowing her to connect with his hand and the knife sending the weapon flying. She swung again, her eyes wild but he was more nimble now and jumped out of her range just in time. Sheer terror kept her swinging but she was very much unprepared when he actually caught hold of the bat and ripped it from her grasp. She was sent careening into the table where her head collided with the corner. Everything spiraled downward from there.
Her head began to spin as she grasped at the table leg and slid to the floor. Something warm and wet ran down the side of her face, and her vision began to tilt. Everything began to spin out of control and she watched as if in slow motion as the man lifted the bat, her bat, far above his head. His blue eyes shone with a depraved light of their own as he brought it down across her immobile body. Natalie numbly registered the blow and something in her head began screaming at her to move. To run. Just like she and her mother had done on that night so long ago. But she could only watch in a paralyzed stupor as he lifted the bat once more to strike her with blow after blow. Only it wasn’t his face anymore. Her father laughed as he brought the bat down upon her body. Her eyes drifted shut in defeat and faintly she heard the sound of sirens before everything went dark.
Natalie Brightman looked out the window of her apartment. The manicured lawn was positively glowing and all the birds in the neighborhood simply had to tell of its magnificence. She smiled and grimaced as she heaved herself out of the down filled cushions, much to the disapproval of her mother. She smiled and told her she was just fine and was only going on a short walk. She still wasn’t completely healed from that night just over three months ago and the soreness in her limbs declared it.
Natalie had woken to the sound of her EKG beeping obnoxiously. But she didn’t mind it much for the time being considering that she might not have even had a pulse to be measured were it not for a very lucky phone call. Her mother was by her side within seconds and she smiled weakly reassuring her that she was in fact ok despite what she might look like. Anna snoozed in one of the hard waiting seats, a chain of drool dripping down her chin. As it had turned out, she’d slept through the whole thing and only became aware of the situation when the paramedics were wheeling Natalie’s broken body away on a gurney. The cops had arrived just in time to save her and apprehend the man known as Marcus Orson. As it just so happened, she’d been targeted as victim in one of his serial killing games. Now he was safely behind bars and that was all that mattered.
Natalie frowned in remembrance of the terror she’d felt and made her way to the front door to pick up the newspaper which had just been thrown by the passing paper boy. Just another daily routine to try to get her life back together. She stooped and picked it up, groaning at her stiffness. A second later, her eye landed on the article before her and she froze. There on the front page was the face of Marcus, her would be killer. But the most distressing part was the headline. She dropped the paper as if it were on fire and simply left it on the door step as she hurried inside. The birds had stopped singing and the bright sunshine seemed to lose some of its luster. The title? ESCAPED KILLER ON THE LOOSE AGAIN.