#AFST: Greg’s Girls

I never thought it could happen to me.

I knew the statistics. I knew the signs. And I knew the moment I woke up tied to a chair, that the Shadow Hunter had gotten me too. He’d been terrorizing the city, capturing and herding women like cattle. We were supposed to be on high alert. We were supposed to be extra careful, especially at night. And I was. Every night, but last night.

That got-damn Greg! I spat inside my head, wanting to kill myself for even going to his apartment. I don’t know why I let Melinda talk me into that last margarita. If I ever got out of there, I’d offer her and Greg up as bait to whoever the guy was. If I ever got out. Christ, I could really die here. The sobering thought catapulted me into action. I wrestled against the chair and every movement made my naked wrists burn. The duct tape ripped the skin from my arms. I could feel the blood dripping down to my palms, playing ping-pong with my fingers before falling to the floor. I tried not to think about how much blood I’d lost already.

If I concentrated on something else—just one thing—I could save myself. I could get the fuck out of here. But where was I? How long had I been out? Where had he taken me? The last thing I remember was Greg on top of me. His steel-grey eyes peering down. His mouth on mine. Me opening myself up to him willingly. His limbs tumbling between mine. Ready. Agreeing. Pulsing.
And then, nothing. Darkness pressed on my eyelids. In the seconds (or minutes? Maybe hours?) that I’d been awake, my eyes hadn’t readjusted. There was only darkness. Blinding darkness. And a pair of steel-grey eyes I’d never get to see again.

My head felt like it’d been split open. A shooting pain ran down my neck, pummeling my back. A dull, burning pain spread through my abdomen. Panic set in. He raped me? No, no. That wasn’t his M.O. He’d never raped any other woman before. Oh God, get me out of this! Hot tears burned my cheeks as they tumbled down my face. I had to get out of here, even if I died trying. I twisted, turning my wrist around until I felt something pop in my shoulder blade. A wave of excruciating pain slammed into me like a speeding train. 

An agonizing scream leapt out of my mouth before I could stop it. I hung my head, too afraid to move my arm again. Tears splashed onto my bare legs. Then, something beside me rustled like a whisper at midnight. A body? I sat up quickly and held my breath. My heartbeat pulsed through my ears and I could hear the blood shooting through my veins. I heard something again. A moan of agony. Someone was waking up. Someone was here with me!

“Oh thank God,” I breathed, realizing it was the first time I’d heard my voice in a while. It sounded jagged, like I chewed glass. “Please, can you help me?” I whimpered. I heard nothing in response. “I’m Angie. I’ve been kidnapped. Please.” I could barely speak. Relief flooded over me, slowly, like a baptism. Even if they were kidnapped, like me, at least there was someone else here with me.

“I know who you are,” someone mumbled. 

A swollen, evil voice hung in the air like a promise. Something squeaked nearby. A bed? Footsteps padded across the room and before I could make sense of anything I was blinded by a flash of white light. I blinked and blinked, my thoughts screaming with panic, until the room swam into view. Cement walls. Blood. Lots and lots of blood. A hanging body staring at me, slack-jawed and open-mouthed—just inches from my ear. I recoiled so violently that I didn’t even realize my chair was toppling over until I slammed into the cement shoulder-first. There was a sickening crunch and stars popped into my eyes. A nauseating crescendo of pain flashed through my body. I bit down on my lip until the metallic taste of blood stung my tongue. I flailed until finally I was off of my shoulder and that’s when I saw them. 

The eyes that were staring back at me. The girl’s smiling face. I recognized the curve of the lips and the sadness behind the square-framed glasses. The nose that was too big for such a small face, but any smaller, it would have seemed empty. The jet-black hair that was always unruly. It was me a thousand times over. Plastered on the wall. Me at the bank. Me eating a sandwich. Me catching a cab. Me with Greg. Our bodies twisted together like rope. Me. Me. Me.

On the adjacent wall there were other pictures, too. A different woman. Fiery red hair, a perfect smile and a demeanor so sweet that she almost made me forget where I was. But then, there was Greg. His mouth pressed to hers. Their emotions melting together easily like a hot knife to butter. Love. Lust. All captured with a flick of a camera. I recognized her face. Autumn. The Shadow Hunter’s first victim. I didn’t have to look around anymore to know where I was and who I was with. I opened my mouth to speak, to scream, but nothing came out.

Out of nowhere a door clanged shut. A mousy woman stumbled in. Her eyes locked onto mine. There was no recognition or remorse behind them. It like she was seeing right through me. Greg’s ex-wife. She was always so quiet; so reserved—hiding behind huge, unflattering dresses and cheap, costume jewelry. I used to joke that it was no wonder Greg came to me. The girl who had it all. Form-fitting dresses and real diamond studs fastened in my ears. I was the fun friend. The one who stayed with Greg while he and Becca were fighting. The one who bought all the flowers that were delivered to her job. The one that signed his name on all her anniversary cards when he’d forgotten. 

I was also the one he slept with. The one who let Greg in. The one who ruined it for them. She was killing all of us, Greg’s girls, one by one. I never thought it could happen to me, the girl who had it all. And now I was going to lose it all. 

“I’m sorry,” Greg whimpered, his mouth bloody and broken. His one working eye swiveled over to me. “I swear to God, Ang, I’m sorry.” 

His wife stormed over, irritation, sorrow and rage in each step. “Oh, shut the fuck up,” she ordered, whipping a gun out of nowhere. The steel flashed in the overhead lights.

“I love you, Ang,” Greg wailed above the sound of the hammer cocking. “Ang!”

I squeezed myself into a ball, anticipating, waiting for the explosion. The image of Greg’s horrified eyes burned into my skull.

And that was the last thing I remembered.

Run >>

#AFST: Run

The first thing I noticed about him was his eyes. They were grey, or green. Or something. They weren’t normal, that was for sure. They were glowing. 

Right there, in the middle of everything, was this boy and his glowing eyes.

This was all Cassie’s fault. If she had stopped on the way to the formal, like I’d asked her to, so I could get my medication, I wouldn’t have had to interrupt my otherwise perfect night with insanely scrumptious Mark Washington to sneak off to the top floor to pee every three minutes.

But now, here I was with this crazy, hunched over kid with glowing eyes. I was going to kill Cassie—and my mother for this damned weak bladder.

“Don’t look,” he warned. To be so huge, his voice came out soft, scared even, like he was embarrassed. What did he have to be embarrassed about? I was the one with pissy socks. They squished when I stepped forward. Warmth spread around my toes. God, I hated Cassie.

The moonlight slipped through the window. The wind whipped the tree branches outside. Shadows danced around us. I just needed to get to the bathroom to change or, at least, air out before I went back downstairs. I didn’t care that he was on some intergalactic crack that made his eyes glow. I just needed the women’s restroom and Ashy Larry here was in the way.

“I mean it,” he whimpered again. There was more authority in his voice this time, but the request was still the same, sincere. “Please, just give me…” He grunted. I heard something pop. He grimaced. I knew the face of pain all too well. Years of rehabilitation and hours of therapy flashed through my mind. When he threw his head back, the cracks became louder, and I finally recognized the sound. 

Bones. His bones were cracking. Fracturing. Breaking. 

His fingers flexed, his shoulders tensed, and his face held the same sorrowful look of pain. The kind of pain that hurts so bad that your whole body pauses—collapsing all at once, surrendering, until it is over. But for him, it wasn’t over. I realized that when I heard another series of crunches. He fell to his knees. Whatever this was, was just beginning.

A fearful voice called out to me. “Please, run away…” Another series of pops. His back flexed unnaturally, and his suit ripped to shreds. I glanced around. My mind was ready to heed the request…

“Run!” he demanded. His eyes tore through me, switching between endless pools of black and that freaky, glowing green, or grey, or whatever. 

…But my legs wouldn’t move.

And then, everything happened all at once.

He whimpered at first, like he was just a hurt puppy, abandoned. My heart, despite its pounding, broke for him. I knew what kind of pain he was in. Before I knew it, my hand was reaching toward him. I didn’t know what I was thinking. To be honest, I probably wasn’t even in my right mind, because I should have been running. Running and not looking back. When you look back, that’s when you die. I’ve seen my fair share of horror movies to know that. But once my foot left the ground to take a hesitant step toward him, I realized my horrible mistake. 

A growl unleashed from his soul. He threw his head back. I watched hair sprout from his skin like grass seeking the sun after a pulverizing winter. Long teeth jutted down from his gums like ice picks and his legs curved inward and then back out, like a dog’s. His nose transformed from a button to a snout. He huffed out and then in, like he hadn’t ever breathed before. At the back of his head, two ears sprouted up and flicked in my direction. 

My feet were cemented to the ground. My knees knocked against each other. Fear wasn’t the right word to describe how I felt. I was more than scared. His yellow eyes slid over to me, he turned with the moon at his back and let out a hellish growl. 

And finally, my legs got the hint.

<< Greg’s Girls

To Tell the Truth Part 1 >>

#AFST: To Tell the Truth #1

This is a story in four parts.

one.

Something smelled fishy.

Not in the clichéd ‘something doesn’t feel right’ sense. But something literally smelled fishy in the girl’s locker room. The stench was foul and permeating, like it was coming up from the cracks in the floor tile. An eerie silence danced mockingly around me while I towel-dried my hair. It was egging me on, pushing me to find out what the hell that smell was.

The girls—excuse me— “young ladies” (as Headmistress Baylor would have said) that attended Sojourner Truth Prep weren’t the most hygienic. That much was obvious from the stench that seemed to be spewing from the vents. I pushed my feet into shower shoes and crossed the room towards the showers. The flip-flop sound that my shoes made echoed hauntingly against the walls—reminding me every few seconds that I was alone.

Gingerly, I pulled back each shower curtain, jumping back as if a masked murderer was behind one of them, patiently waiting for me to discover his hiding place. 

“Get it together, Reed.” I willed myself. I backed away from the stench and serial-killer-free shower stalls and walked through the double doors towards the bathrooms. 

As soon as I pushed the doors open, the smell caught me by the throat. I inhaled, tasting the stomach acid that spewed into my mouth. My eyes welled up and my breathing became shallow. My heart almost slowed to a stop.

I inched through the bathroom, catching my ghastly reflection in the long rectangular mirror that ran the length of the room. My face was turning green.

I finally reached the last stall—the one that had been shut and marked ‘out of order’ for weeks on end. I figured I’d flush whatever leftover bodily fluids were steaming in the bowl and sprint out of there, but when I opened that stall door I realized the cause of the odor was way too big to flush.

Emily Santis—the star pupil of Truth Prep— stared at me with dead eyes that were wide open and horrified. Her long, dark hair was a bloody mangled mess, matted to her heart shaped face. Duct tape was slapped angrily over her mouth. Her hands were bound. Her thighs were forcefully married; her feet and legs hoisted in the air, bound as well, and tied to the coat handle of the door. Her usually glowing olive skin was indistinguishable. Instead, her body was a myriad of black and blue bruises. Her eyes, usually gentle and full of life, were red and poked out of her sunken skull, staring at me as if begging me to do something.

But I just stood there, unable to move.

Unable to think.

Unable to breathe.

With my hand still tight on the door handle, Emily’s body slumped downwards from my pull and the stench of her dead body slapped me hard in the face.

I got the fuck out of there.

<< Run

Part Two >>

#AFST: To Tell the Truth #2

This is a story in four parts.
<<Part 1.

two.

Emily Santis’ funeral was awful. It was probably the most heartbreaking thing I’d ever been to. The crying, the wailing, and the mourning was non-stop and I, Reed Coolidge, the most invisible person at Sojourner Truth Prep before all this, was in the thick of it all.

I was sandwiched between solemn-faced James Lane, Emily’s once upon a time boyfriend, and sobbing Rachel Coates, Emily’s best friend and sidekick. 

Ever since I ran across Emily’s body, the administration treated me like some kind of hero. At the funeral, Headmistress Baylor even rewarded me for my ‘act of bravery.’ How unnecessary and tasteless. A girl was dead. Someone murdered her and stuffed her into a bathroom stall, and I was getting rewarded for following my nose? Give me a break. 

I wanted to sprint out of there, but Rachel gripped my hand every time the thought filtered in my mind. Emily’s stepfather, a tall, brooding dark-skinned man said a few words about his step-daughter; her accomplishments, and what she’d planned to accomplish if she were still alive today. Emily’s mother, however, a small, Vietnamese woman, was too distraught to say much of anything. She clung to her husband, her eyes downcast and swollen.

When Emily’s class picture was hung in the gym, above the basketball hoops, Rachel let out a strangled cry. The sports teams, out of respect, rose for Emily Santis. The swim team, especially. There was a silly rumor that she was part mermaid because she swam so quickly. She was their star. I locked eyes with Rose Gallagher, my best friend and Emily’s teammate. Her lips turned downward, and a cry trembled on her lips. Rose never cried.

That’s when I knew I had to get out of there. I excused myself from the bleachers when the band was on the upswing of the school song. I was supposed to sing the solo, but I knew everyone would be too emotional to see me come or go. I walked out of the gymnasium doors and I didn’t get far before I collapsed to the floor and curled in a ball, the weight of Emily’s death finally bringing me to my knees.

Emily was the kind of girl that was everyone’s best friend. She was beautiful; the kind of ridiculous, over-the-top beauty that only occurred once in every six million babies. She wasn’t a snob, either. Emily was humble for a girl who could be an international super model. She was sweet, always smiling and knew everyone’s name. To Emily, there were no cliques. She had her core group of friends, sure. But she wasn’t the type of girl to have three classes with you since second grade and not know who you were. She treated everyone fairly and even though we all knew she was the best, we never felt intimidated by her. She reigned quietly and politely over the school.

Emily was brilliant, fast and talented. She was one of a kind. But I still didn’t get it. Who would want to kill a girl like Emily Santis? Well, that was the easy part—anyone who wanted to be brilliant, fast, and talented just like her.

And that made every girl at Truth suspect #1.

>> three

#AFST: To Tell the Truth #3

This is a story in three parts.
<<Part 2

three

The news of Emily’s gruesome death was inescapable. It was all anyone talked about. My grandmother even called me from Mississippi because she saw the story on the news. She wanted to know if I knew the ‘girl who got killed in the bathroom’ as if she had stumbled upon her own death. 

I told her I didn’t. She said it was a shame, and that I should be ‘careful up in the city’. I promised her I would, but for some strange reason, my gut told me that Emily wouldn’t be the last girl to be strung up like a cow ready for slaughter in the bathroom stall of my high school.

In all the years since Sojourner Truth Prep opened (since the late eighties) only one other incident ever occurred here. About fifteen years ago, a girl drowned. Some say it was her own fault—she wasn’t that good of a swimmer. And she was in the pool area after hours, which was absolutely forbidden unless one was on the swim team. But others say she was pushed. There was no one around to determine which was which. She had her own memorial ceremony, and just like Emily’s, her picture was hung in the gymnasium. It was a small memorial and easily overlooked, unlike Emily’s. She wasn’t the star. She wasn’t Emily. But there was one thing the two shared; they both died in the walls of the supposed safest prep school on this side of North America. And if they died here, then there was no place safe anymore.


In the thick of night, I heard Rose stir across the room. We both hadn’t been able to sleep for a while. Ever since Emily died, Headmistress Baylor instituted a curfew, something that hadn’t been done in years. We had to be in bed by nine. Not just behind closed doors, either. I mean lamps extinguished, and covers-to-our-necks, kind of bed.

It was inconvenient, sure. But I understood why it was necessary. The school board didn’t want another blemish on the record. They had to assure the parents that precautions were being taken to prevent another disaster from occurring here. Plus, the school board didn’t want to lose any more money. People were pulling their children out of school. It was all about politics—never safety.

“Reed.” Rose’s voice cracked the silence in our small room. “Are you up?”

“Of course.” I flipped over in bed and faced the window, watching the moon dip behind the clouds. I wondered where Emily was now. I knew where her body was. But where was her soul? 

“I haven’t been able to sleep in weeks.”

“I know,” I answered, shaking the thought out of my head. “We’ve never gone to bed this early.”

“Professor Dunham thinks I’m doing hard drugs because I’m always falling asleep in his class.”

Professor Dunham was a notoriously boring lecturer and coupled with the subject matter—Religious Studies—his class made for the ultimate snooze fest. 

“People sleep all the time in his class.”

“Not like how I sleep.”

She was right. Rose was a wild sleeper. She would wake up on the floor, sheets and covers askew, multiple nights, with no recollection of how she got there. I could only imagine how she slept in a lecture hall. 

“Well, when you put it that way, he definitely thinks you’re a meth addict,” I joked.

“I’m a little classier than meth. I was going to go with ‘shrooms or something a little lighter, sheesh. Doesn’t that stuff make your teeth black?”

“Who knows, Rose.” I shrugged. 

When the conversation died, the silence amplified. A gust of wind rustled past the window. Branches from the old oak tree scratched against the glass. Somewhere, a group of crickets were making a beautiful song. And just a few miles down the road, Emily’s body was decomposing under the unforgiving Earth. She’d never see the moon again. She’d never hear a beautiful night again. Death is cruel. 

“What do you think’s going to happen?”

“With what?”

I knew what Rose was getting at. It was a conversation we had been avoiding for some time now. It had been only a few weeks since I found Emily, and the rumors around school were flying like bats. Some say that James killed Emily because she broke up with him just a few days before. Others say that it was someone from the swim team. There were tons of girls that wanted the top spot. 

And other people—most people—thought it was me. 

“Do you think the police will come?” I could tell Rose was biting her fingernails. She always did when she was hesitant. I knew she wanted to ask what happened when I discovered Emily’s body. I hadn’t shared the details with anyone. They were too gruesome to repeat. I wanted to shake the sight of her dead, bruised body out of my mind, not relive it for the entertainment of others, even if it was for my best friend.

“Probably,” I answered dryly. I didn’t want to discuss it. For weeks I didn’t want to discuss anything really. I knew that the Santis family would want answers. They would want someone to blame. I knew they were out for blood, and it didn’t matter whose it was. 

“Do you think—”

 “Rose.” I knew what she was going to ask. I couldn’t believe that Rose, of all people, would let the gossip get to her. I didn’t kill Emily. I didn’t owe anyone an explanation. Well, maybe the police.

“I mean, they’ll question everyone, right? Not just you.”

“Are you insinuating that I killed Emily?”

“God, no! Reed!” Her sheets crumpled when she bolted up. “I’d never think that.”

“Then what’s with all the questions? I want to know who did it just as much as anyone else. I’m scared, too.” 

Why was I defending myself? Rose should know that I would never do anything like that, especially considering my past.

“It’s just…” I heard her spit a fingernail into the darkness. “You were there, ya know. You saw her.”

“It wasn’t like I wanted to. I walked in and she was just…dead.” I choked back a sob that bubbled in my throat. I shut out the sight of her beaten body. I clamped my nostrils down so I couldn’t smell the vile, fishy odor that was radiating off her. The smell seemed to follow me everywhere…like a shadow. “She was just lying there dead.”

“The pool was closed, Reed. What were you even doing in there?” A sliver of moonlight washed over Rose’s face. Her eyes were dark, but wide, like she was afraid. Of what? Of me?

The branches whipped around in the wind and as quickly as the light came, it left. But I saw her expression. I saw the fear in her eyes. It implanted itself in my brain, just like Emily’s dead body. My own best friend thought I was a murderer. I pulled the covers over my head, wishing that I could melt into nothing. 

“It’s just that no one knows what happened to her…” 

I was about to scream that I didn’t know either, and that I didn’t want to talk about Emily or anything else anymore. I could feel my blood rising when she added, “…no one but you.”

>> four

#AFST: To Tell the Truth #4

This is a story in four parts.
<< Part 3.

four.

“Are you sure?”

This was the third time Detective Morales asked me if I consented to being questioned without a parent or guardian present. I heard that when you asked for a lawyer, then that meant you were guilty. I had nothing to hide from the police; plus, my parent or guardian was dead. I had no one to sit beside me to hold my hand and tell me that everything was going to be okay. My grandmother was too old to make the trek to Washington. I usually always had Rose. And even she was gone now. 

“I’m sure, sir,” I answered, grating the palms of my sweaty hands against the underside of the metal table. “Am I in some kind of trouble?”

“No.” He shifted in his seat, bringing his small notepad towards him. He twirled a ballpoint pen between his fingers. He’d been biting the cap of it since I arrived. What did he have to be nervous about? I was the one holed up in an interrogation room. “I just have to ask you a few questions about your whereabouts on the night of August 17th.”

The day Emily died.

“I was at school.”

“What were you doing between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.?”

I discovered Emily’s body at 8:15 p.m. A whole two hours after the pool was supposed to be closed. 

“I was swimming,” I admitted. My heart stomped around in my chest. I hoped I wouldn’t have to answer how I got inside the pool. I wouldn’t want anyone to know how. The pool was my haven. It was my safe place when things got too crazy in my mind. Swimming calmed me down. 

“Were you alone?”

I nodded.

“And what time did you stop swimming?”

“Around eight, I guess.” Guess. That wasn’t the correct word to use. “Eight,” I repeated, more confident than before. 

Detective Morales nodded and wrote an 8 on his notepad. He circled it twice. “And what did you do after that?”

“I, um, took a shower.” I brought my fingers to my mouth, picking at the skin on my nails. Stop, I told myself. He’s going to think you’re lying. I sat on my hands.

“And then what?” He implored.

“I blow-dried my hair in the locker room. But I kept smelling something.” 

“You kept…smelling something?” He repeated. His beady eyes danced between mine. He sounded as if everything that was coming out of my mouth was a lie. 

“Yeah, fishy. It smelled fishy. I smelled it when I walked in and I just thought a girl, ya know, forgot to flush or something.” My cheeks burned.

“And you went looking for the odor?”

“Right.” I nodded. “It was foul.” I felt my lunch creeping up my throat ready to project across the room at the memory. “I walked into the bathrooms and checked all the toilets. There was nothing in any of them, except, when I got to the one marked ‘Out of Order’.” I could remember the sound of my shoes against the tile. I could feel the door handle in my hand. I remembered the way my breathing slowed. It was all too familiar. Before I knew it, tears popped into my eyes. “It was Emily.”

“What were you doing at the pool, Miss Coolidge?”

The detective’s face was distorted through my tears. “Swimming, sir. I was just swimming.”

“Are you aware that your school’s pool closes at six p.m. on weekdays?”

“Yeah, I know,” I answered knowing what his next question would be and what my response would have to be. I would have to tell him the truth. I would have to tell him why I needed the pool to keep me sane. I would have to tell him something I hadn’t told anyone for a very long time.

“Then why were you there?”

“Because…” I tried my best to keep my composure, but my shoulders shook from trying to keep the tears back. My nose stung. My eyes burned. “I kept hearing her scream.”

The detective’s eyes grew wide. He had to understand that I needed the pool. I needed to swim whenever I heard her. If I didn’t, there was no telling what I was capable of. 

“Emily?” He asked, his pen upright, ready to take down my answer.

“No, sir. Mine.”

<< Start over?

Pushing 30 Playlist

Pushing30_Ebook-AmazonPushing 30 is about three friends in a fictional city, coming to terms with turning 30. They engage in silly antics, and even fall in love. I wanted to express the feeling of light, airy, and fun in this playlist.

Pushing 30, to me, feels like summertime in the 90’s. I hope this playlist feels like that for you too!

Pre-order PUSHING 30

Listen to the playlist below! Or click this link.