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Part Three

  The high school had the look of a prison, and had Olivia been in better spirits, she would have felt compelled to apologize to the woman the moment the moonlit building rose into view. The second floor had few windows to break up its otherwise unbroken slate-grey surface, and experience had taught her that those windows were the monopoly of the biology and chemistry classrooms. The ground floor had more personality, likely owing to it being the original structure, but it merely elevated the monolith to “homey prison” rather than mere “prison”. The most distinct features at the angle of approach was a set of two docks and two rolling garage doors.

  The woman ceased her approach to scan the width of the school, allowing Olivia to slow down. At once, the exertion caught up with the girl, and she doubled over to catch her breath. “Ow,” she announced as she clutched her side, the sharp pang an unpleasant—though not unanticipated—reminder that gym had never been her favorite class.

  “Are there any unlocked doors?” the woman asked.

  “Why would I know that?” Olivia answered with irritation.

  “I don’t know what you get up to,” she said. Despite the flight through the cornfield, there was hardly a hint of exertion in her voice. She may as well have been snarking from a couch. “It’s not exactly like I found you in the best of company,” she continued, resuming her walk to the school.

  “Hold up,” Olivia snarled as best she could from her position. Painfully, she stood up and jogged after the woman. “Those were hardly friends of mine.”

  She threw her hands up without looking back. “What you do is your business.”

  “Damn right it is,” the girl grumbled. She cast a glance at the cornfield, watching as a gust of wind made the stalks sway in a rolling crest. Her arms prickled with goosebumps, and she instinctively folded her arms across her chest. “Does this guy operate on movie serial killer rules or something?”

  “As in does he kill a lot of people for funsies?”

  Olivia rolled her eyes. “As in… you know… does he punish sex and drugs and all that stuff?”

  The girl thought she heard a huff from her guide. “Not quite.”

  “Then care to maybe explain?” The woman stopped within throwing distance of the garage, dropping her head to the ground. The girl slowed and put her hands on her hips. “Do I actually get a response this time?”

  “The night he came for me,” the woman said quietly, “he started by making an IED out of a microwave and blowing up someone about a mile out of town.” She turned toward the girl. “The town’s fire department showed up and he waited in the smoke-filled house, killing them one-by-one before luring in the paramedics.” She took a slow step toward the girl.

  Olivia took a step back, unsure of what the woman was planning on doing. “Wh-why would he do that?”

  “You saw what he likes to do,” she said. “Dead firefighters have a hard time doing their job.” She took another step forward, met with a reciprocal step back. “Want to know what happened next?”

  “You don’t have—”

  “My dad was used to start our house on fire,” she intoned. “When my mom tried to put him out…” She curled her finger like a hook and jammed it underneath her jaw, pulling back without losing eye contact. “What was left of the police department eventually let it slip that she probably lived long enough to watch her husband of twenty-three years burn alive.”

  Olivia reversed direction, striding toward the garage doors. “Okay, you don’t have to tell me any—”

  The woman caught her arm and yanked her close. “I was dog sitting.”


  “Straight A, honor society Rebecca was three blocks away, dog sitting during the homecoming dance.” Her grip became tighter.

  “Okay,” Olivia said, shirking free of her grasp. She glared while making a show of rubbing her arm, hoping that the second time she did so would result in a change of behavior.

  “He knocked out the power for the neighborhood next,” the wo… Rebecca… said. “Didn’t think anything of it, really. I had spent the night up to that point reading, so I thought it was just…” She shrugged. “Whatever.” Her eyes began to glisten. “My friends left the dance early to keep my company. My best friend’s boyfriend was the first to die.” She placed her index and middle fingers on her sternum. “The ax was buried down to here.”

  Olivia shut her eyes and turned away. “We should get in,” she said quietly before heading toward the garage doors.

  “So, you don’t want to hear this anymore?” Rebecca scoffed. “See, I’m confused considering how much you pushed—”

  “I’m sorry!” the girl shouted, spinning on her heel. The woman looked stunned, her normally unflappable expression wincing at the action. “I didn’t mean to imply his victims in any way deserved what they got, especially your parents, okay?”

  Rebecca swallowed, then looked away. She pawed at her face, the handcuff slapping against her arm. “Yeah, fine.” She sighed, a shaky, quaking thing, and pointed to the garage doors. “Let’s see if that’s open.” She walked past Olivia, the girl sheepishly looking at the ground as she glided by. She turned on her heel and followed.

  The rolling doors appeared to be fairly thin, already moving gently with the mild proddings of night wind. When Rebecca reached the door and pushed against it, the material complained loudly against its track. Both women looked over their shoulder at the cornfield at the sound, hypervigilant for a sign of a shadowy figure emerging from the stalks. Outside of the slight glow of the distant barn, the moon only illuminated the sloping mounds of grass and the rows of corn.

  “Maybe we should be quieter,” Olivia finally choked.

  “It wasn’t intentional,” Rebecca said, tossing her gaze to the ground. Finding a handle, she knelt by its side.

  “I didn’t say it was.”

  Rebecca lifted and the garage door lifted with a rattle of protest. Dim light spilled into the night from the gap. A whiff of oil, faintly noticeable before, was now overpowering the otherwise clean night air. Despite her efforts, the woman found that the door stopped barely six inches off the ground, the left track apparently jammed. “Shit,” the woman hissed.

  “Here,” Olivia offered. She knelt and put her hands underneath the door and lifted. The additional effort did very little, other than send out another rattle.

  Rebecca gestured with her head. “Try the other side. I think it’s blocked over there.”

  Olivia nodded and moved. When she threw her weight behind it, the door budged, although not nearly as high as she may have hoped. “I think I can squeeze under that,” she announced quietly.

  A light haloed around them, and both froze. “You’re not doing anything,” a man announced from behind them. “Okay, really slowly, you’re going let the door drop and turn around.”

  They exchanged glances—Olivia worried, Rebecca annoyed—before complying with the request. It was hard to see just who had leveled the flashlight at them, but Olivia guessed it was a security guard.

  “This isn’t what it looks like,” Rebecca announced, keeping her handcuffed wrist behind her back.

  Olivia’s eyes finally adjusted enough so that she could make out the figure’s detail despite being backlit. He was young and clean-shaven, though hardly professional what with the unlit cigarette pinned between his fingers. She did not recognize him; chances are, he was strictly the night watchman. “It looks like a couple of punks trying to break into the school,” he said, taking a step forward. “I take it I’m wrong?”

  “You don’t understand,” Olivia said, taking a step forward.

  “You need to stay put, missy,” the security guard snapped.

  “He—” she began, annoyance prickling the hairs on the back of her neck, but Rebecca took a small step in front of her, apparently physically stopping the argument from spilling out.

  The woman shut her eyes and inhaled slowly. “Look across the cornfield.” The man did not budge. “We’ll be here when you get back.” After a couple of seconds to consider the demand, the security guard turned to look. “You see that glow and the smoke?”

  “The kids are having a bonfire at the old barn,” he said before turning back. “So?”

  Rebecca shook her head. “Not a bonfire. An accident. We went for help.”

  “Don’t you have cell phones?” the guard asked.

  “Have you ever gotten a signal in a cornfield?” Olivia asked before Rebecca could respond.

  The security guard took a moment to think about this. “And the cars?”

  “It was a very big accident,” Rebecca said, coming across far more ominously than she had intended.

  Another pause. Finally, the flashlight clicked and went dim. The security guard put the unlit cigarette in his mouth and withdrew his cellphone from his pocket. “Okay,” he said with pursed lips. He shoved the flashlight into his pocket so that he could remove the cigarette with his freehand. “Tell you what, I’ll call it in from here. Then you two fuck off, okay?”

  Neither responded to this.

  “Okay,” the guard said, checking his phone. He looked up at them, his face skeptical and more than a little accusatory. He shoved the phone back in his pocket. “You two follow me to my office,” he demanded before setting off. “Nothing funny, got it?” The two women kept their distance but maintained a steady pace. Evidently, this wasn’t enough; the security guard, nearing the corner of the building, turned toward them impatiently and snarled, “Keep up!”

  “Rent-a-cops,” Olivia muttered.
“Tell me about it,” Rebecca agreed.

  The guard led them to a door propped open with what appeared to be a chunk of concrete. He opened the door and gestured for the others to enter. “While we’re young,” he said, watching the two with an intensity that ticked from due diligence into unnerving. Once inside, Olivia leaned against the wall as the woman took a seat on the stairwell, handcuffed hand buried in her jacket pocket.

  “Where is your office?” Rebecca asked, watching him as he kicked the concrete into the building.

  He eyed her as he pulled the door shut. Olivia felt queasy watching the two interact, as though they were moments from screaming ‘fascist’ and ‘bitch’ at each other. “First floor. By administration.” He released the door bar and wedged the concrete chunk into the corner. He stepped toward Rebecca. “I’m guessing you’re already really familiar with that spot.”

  Olivia cleared her throat. “We don’t go here,” she half-lied. The guard eyed her. “We were invited by Chet, uh…” She trailed off. “I, uh, don’t think I ever got his last name.” The man sauntered forward, sucking on his tooth in disbelief.

  “That so?”

  Olivia nodded. Quietly, Rebecca pushed herself off the stairs and moved toward the concrete chunk. Panicked at the realization that she was inadvertently running a distraction for her cohort, she cleared her throat. “Yeah, the star of the basketball team really wanted in my pants or something.” He started to turn his head to check on Rebecca’s previous position. “I brought my girl to keep me safe, you know?” Her comment had the desired effect, drawing his attention back.

  The security guard grunted. “Chet’s a fuckup,” he said. “And he plays football. Not basketball.” His posture and face softened ever so slightly as his eyes flitted over her features. This did nothing to make Olivia feel any less uncomfortable.

  “Yeah. Sorry. Sports. Total, uh…” She internally winced before getting out the rest of her distracting sentence: “Boy thing, am I right?”

  He sniffed in amusement.

  “Can we get moving?” Rebecca said, startling the guard out of his too-close analysis.

  “Sure,” he said. He pointed to the interior door. “Through there,” he directed before leading the way. Rebecca followed, both hands in her pockets.

  Olivia looked back at the corner; the piece of concrete was gone.

  The three walked in silence through the school’s hallways, dimly lit by a single track of fluorescent lighting to save on energy. Olivia kept her eyes on the floor for the most part. When she did look up, it was at Rebecca. The woman was peering into every room they passed, focused on the tiny windows for, presumably, signs of movement.

  They rounded a corner, and the security guard came up short. “Oh, what the fuck?” he growled as the others slowed to a stop. Down the hall, a single plastic trashcan had been moved to the middle of the path. Streams of ghostly smoke curled out of the top. “Goddamn it!”

  The sight made Olivia sick, the omen working exactly as intended.

  “We need to leave,” Rebecca said, grabbing Olivia by the elbow.

  “Hold the fuck up!” the guard snapped, whirling and grabbing Rebecca by her other arm. The movement was unexpected and with a pull, she released Olivia as he yanked her back. “What are you getting at here?” he yelled in her face. He threw her against the nearest set of lockers. Rebecca, glaring, threw herself off the wall of metal only to be caught and shoved back.

  “Stop it!” Olivia shouted, running toward the struggle. The guard kicked out, catching the girl in the stomach. She fell, coughing for air as adrenaline and an unknowable, chaotic dread ate at her gut.

  “You stay down!” he ordered as he fought against Rebecca. He pinned one hand against the lockers, then the other. It was the clang of the cuffs on the metal that first alerted him to something unusual. He looked at the irons and gave a nasty smile. “Well, that’s hard to explain.”

  Rebecca kept her eyes locked onto his. “We need to leave.”

  “That’s not going to happen,” he said. “I think I’m going to really enjoy being a hero.”

  Olivia looked up at the scene and noticed the grey chunk of concrete poking ever-so-slightly out of Rebecca’s pocket.

  “I don’t know what you two were planning, but thanks for being so bad at it,” he said, the laugh in his voice threatening and low.

  “He’ll kill us all,” Rebecca said.

  The guard squinted, his face slackening from the bizarre statement. “What the hell are you—”

  He hadn’t noticed Olivia get up and dart forward. He did, however, see the girl’s hand dart into Rebecca’s pocket. The guard released the woman’s wrist in order to turn toward the girl. Before he could utter a word, the girl slammed the jagged concrete in a wide swing against his jaw. He released his hold and staggered backward, allowing the woman to get off the wall, grab Olivia, and run.

  They charged down the hallway, back toward the side door, only to come up short when the loud pop of a gunshot threw them to the floor. They turned their heads to look up at the bleeding security guard, small revolver in hand, shambling toward them.

  “Not standard issue, but I think observe and report is a little out of question, now,” he said. “Get up.” They did not comply. “I said GET UP!” he screamed, flecks of bloody spit spattering his gun hand.

  Slowly, the two rose, hands up. Rebecca cleared her throat. “We…”

  “You are going to shut the fuck up until the cops get here, YOU HEAR ME?” Rounding the corner, a shadow strode soundlessly. The sight made both women take a step backward with wide eyes. “STAY STILL!” The imposing figure dramatically let his ax drop into view, nearly dragging on the ground. The theatricality of it all implied a malevolent humor.

  “Behind you!” Olivia shouted, pointing.

  “What are you, six?” He readjusted his aim, the shape growing closer.

  “Get ready to run,” Rebecca said, hunkering down to make escape faster.


  The shape closed distance impossibly fast, swinging the ax upward. The weapon swept up between the guard’s legs, shattering his pelvis and slicing up to his bellybutton as a shocked and agonized scream pierced the halls. Despite the damage, he did not collapse due to the firefighter’s strength keeping him propped upright. The killer briefly brought the ax downward before hefting upward, bisecting the man with a vicious, physically inconceivable move. As the two pieces fell away, barely any blood splattered the ground, the weapon having cauterized its terrible path.

  Olivia and Rebecca did not stay to watch. The second the ax struck, they fled.

  The girl turned toward the exit, but the woman snagged her by the collar and dragged her down the other hall. “The phone’s our best shot.”

  Although she didn’t agree, the squelchy thump of two halves of a body hitting the floor prevented any argument from taking place.

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