PREVIOUS: Can the Police Be Trusted?
I apologize if this has any typos or bad formatting because I’m posting it from my phone. I’m forced to use it because I’m sitting inside a dingy white police interview room that’s shaped like a coffin. Buzzing florescent light stings my retinas and the syrupy, humid air coats my lungs, making it difficult to breathe. I’m alone right now, but I’m pretty sure I’m being watched. There’s a camera on the wall with a hypnotic, blinking red light and a small, dusty mirror on the wall which is probably a two-way. I’m nauseated. My head hurts. I feel like a criminal. Sweat is pooling on my back and my legs are twitching and bouncing with I-need-to-get-the-hell-out-of-here energy. The police told me they have some questions, but I don’t have any answers. All I can tell you is how I got here.
WEDNESDAY. Another day filled with uncertainty and hopelessness. The type of day that has become the norm for me. I was still stressed out about Tina. She was synonymous with logic and level-headedness. What had happened to her? Had the craziness in my life infected her? Maybe it was possible that Tina and I were being haunted by the ghost of a teasing, mischievous seven year old girl. Or maybe we were both experiencing the same delusion, reinforced by fatigue, coincidence and too much interest in a horrible tragedy. Either way, it was clear that we were both losing our minds since we believed we could communicate with Middy’s ghost. I still thought the texts I had received from an unknown number were from Middy, even though she denied it in the last message to me. Middy was a bratty kid when I knew her, so why wouldn’t she be the same, or worse, as a ghost? God, I can’t believe I just wrote that – it’s embarrassing that I’ve started to attribute personality traits to ghosts.
But back to Tina. I had found her last text to me to be extremely troubling. Not only did it sound like Tina was talking to Middy, but it sounded like she was taking the dead girl’s advice. It sounded like Tina was worse off than me. Was taking my meds the only thing keeping me from further collapse?
On Wednesday night, I thought it’d be a brilliant idea to test it out. It was a moronic thing to do, but I was desperate. Tina wasn’t talking to me and I cared about her so much. I think I was even pissed off that Middy’s ghost had told Tina to stay away from me. I’ll admit I’m not thinking clearly anymore. Do you blame me?
So I went to bed without taking my trazodone. I wasn’t that sleepy and I tossed and turned for half an hour before I could get comfortable. As soon as I began to drift off, I was awakened by something that had brushed against my hair. It had felt like fingers.
I sat up in bed and looked around. Nothing. I checked my pillows, thinking it might’ve been a bug or a spider. All clear. I blew it off as a nervous reaction to my stupid experiment. I lay back down and tried to get comfortable again.
A few minutes later, my sheet slid off the bed and onto the floor. Had I kicked it off? I did that in my sleep when I got too hot, but I wasn’t warm and I didn’t recall falling asleep or moving my legs. I wasn’t cold either so I decided to leave it on the floor and try to get back to sleep.
I might have fallen asleep, I don’t know, but the next thing I remember is pain. Icy, burning pain on my ankle. I screamed out and looked down at my foot.
Reaching up from the foot of the bed was a long, bony arm, its skin flaking off like the molted remains of a shedding snake. Its scaly hand and spindly fingers were coiled around my ankle in a death grip.
I couldn’t move my leg. My ankle was throbbing in pain, but I couldn’t even twist my body to break free. All I could do was lift my head and scream.
SHHHHHH. Someone or something had hushed me. I complied only because I was shocked by what I saw next. Dark, stringy hair appeared at the foot of my bed as a head slowly rose into view. Two pitted remains, a pair of rotted-out cavities where eyes had once been, fixated on me. They were followed by a nose, split open and decomposed – I could hear air whistling through the putrid gaps. Then the mouth. The horrible mouth. A festering gash of broken teeth and twisted flesh that resembled the disemboweled remains of highway roadkill. With its head fully into view, a foul, pervasive stench enveloped the room. I could no longer scream. Not only because the horrific sight had sapped the wind out of my lungs, but also because I recognized the face, despite the crooked, wretched features.
It was Tina. Her mouth opened like a vulture about to engulf its prey and she spoke to me.
Let me sleep with you.
She lifted her hand off my ankle as she began to slither onto my bed. Free from her grip, I felt movement returning into my body. I kicked myself away from her and flung myself backwards. My panicked force sent my back into my bed’s cushioned headboard and I bounced away from it. My body tumbled uncontrollably to the floor and my forehead struck the edge of my nightstand. I dropped to the floor and spun onto my back. My head was pounding with blinding pain and I couldn’t see anything. The world became fuzzy. As I started to drift into unconsciousness, I thought I heard Tina’s voice again.
The floor is fine with me.
THURSDAY. I woke up with an awful headache. Light was pouring in through my window, but I didn’t know what time it was. I tried to focus my eyes on my surroundings, but I was dizzy. It felt like bugs were digging tunnels inside my brain. Worse, I hadn’t woken up on my own accord. I had heard a voice, a woman’s voice, whisper a message into my ears. It was the message I hadn’t heard in two weeks.
IS THIS HEAVEN?
I lifted my head and saw scratches on my legs and chest as if I had been attacked by a rabid cat. Images began flooding back into me. The skeletal fingers wrapped around my ankle. Tina’s decaying face. I managed to scramble up to my feet and drag myself to the bathroom because I had to throw up.
In the bathroom mirror, I noticed that half of my face was covered in dried blood. A wicked cut was etched along my forehead and I did the best to clean myself up. I needed medical attention, but I also wanted to contact Tina. What did seeing her last night mean? Was she in danger? Dead? Or was my mind fragmenting into a tangled mess of stretched out neurons that had been pulled apart by paranoia and confusion?
I texted Tina. I need to hear from you. Tell me you’re OK. I ‘m worried. Something awful happened last night.
I waited a few minutes for a response. I didn’t receive one. My head really hurt, so I decided to go to the hospital where Tina worked.
At the hospital, a doctor stitched up the cut on my forehead. He said the wound had dried up a bit and it would probably leave a scar. I didn’t care. I was worried about Tina. I asked him if he had seen her. He said no, but she might be at her office down the street. I kept asking everyone I saw if they had seen her as I underwent a variety of tests and a CT scan to check for a concussion. No one had seen her. I was sent home with some Tylenol and told to rest since I was diagnosed with a mild concussion. Of course I didn’t comply and I went to the nearby office that Tina shared with two other doctors.
Tina wasn’t at her office. Her colleague, a frizzy-haired woman named Deidre, said she had called in sick. She has never called in sick. Before Deidre could ask me how I was doing, I took off and sped over to Tina’s condo. I tried calling her on the way. No response. I left a voicemail saying that I was looking for her and desperately needed to see her.
When I got to Tina’s condo, I didn’t see her car in her parking spot. I still knocked on her door. No answer. Where was she? I texted her again. I’m at your place. Where are you? I wandered around her building, hoping to hear from her or run into someone who knew where she was. Neither of those things happened. I called Tina’s parents up in the San Francisco Bay Area. They hadn’t heard from her and I tried to downplay my concern so they wouldn’t worry.
Reluctantly, I went back home. The sun was setting and I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I was exhausted and my head was beginning to throb again. I didn’t know what was going on, but I feared the worst. Something bad must have happened to Tina. Was that why I had heard the voice again? Had I woken up to Tina’s voice?
I started looking online to see if anything had happened that might explain Tina’s disappearance. I scanned more stories about “Murder, Middy and Mystery” and visited the website with the leaks. I found another disturbing piece and posted it here.
Was everyone going crazy? Was everyone associated with this tragedy doomed to psychosis and death? I wanted answers, but my eyes began to blur from tears. I needed sleep and I didn’t want a repeat of the previous night. I shunned the Tylenol and took a double dose of my trazodone.
FRIDAY. I woke up late, close to 2 PM. I had slept almost fifteen hours. Physically, I felt better. Mentally, I was a train wreck. I checked my phone – still no reply from Tina. I rechecked the hospital, her office, her condo – nothing. I contacted as many friends and acquaintances of hers as I could, but no one had recently heard from her. I could no longer hide my concern, and I contemplated telling her parents and contacting the police. Before I lost all hope, I decided to send one more text to Tina.
Tina please respond. I love you.
Seconds trickled past like days. Then my phone chimed.
Would’ve rather have heard you say that, but I guess a text is fine.
Finally! I rapidly typed back: You’re alive! I was so worried!
You thought I was dead? What’s wrong with you?
Where are you? Can I call you? Got a lot to talk about!
I’m in Burbank. Let’s talk later. I’m meeting someone.
Someone Middy says I should talk to.
Middy? How are you talking with her?
Middy says you need to be careful. He’s trying to trick you.
What? Who’s tricking me?
The man who wakes everyone up.
You mean the voice? What’s going on?
I’ll have more answers later. After I meet this woman.
Who? Tell me now.
She’s going to explain a lot. About the boy who died out here.
Reread you own Reddit post from last nite. The case in Burbank? BTW, you should change your Reddit login, I cracked it easily. Almost changed some of the things you wrote about me.
Tina – we’ve got to talk! I’m going to call you.
I won’t answer. I’m busy with Middy.
Are you talking with her ghost? Isn’t Middy dead?
What’s wrong with you? Middy says to watch the news tomorrow.
Tina! Come on! Answer me!
Talk to you later. Middy says Good Day!
No response. I called her and it went straight to voice mail. I spent the rest of the day in stunned contemplation. I didn’t do much. I called back a few of her friends to alleviate their concerns. I reread my earlier posts. I tried to check the website with the leaks, but their server was down. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if Tina really was all right. The entire world had gone insane. I made myself laugh hysterically for a long time, picturing Tina driving around Burbank with Middy’s ghost riding shotgun. The rules of the Universe, the rules governing my life had all come unglued.
I took another double-dose of my meds and went to sleep.
SATURDAY. I woke up in the afternoon. Still in a daze, I lugged my body from the bed to the living room couch. I mindlessly turned on the TV and tried to watch a college football game. I looked back at my messages with Tina.
Middy says to watch the news tomorrow.
What the hell did that mean? Was another horrible event going to happen? I flipped the TV station to CNN.
There was some horrible news. A tragedy in an Al-Qaeda hostage rescue. More police protests in New York. A typhoon in the Philippines. Was I supposed to see this? Was this supposed to put things into perspective?
I flipped back to the football game. It was lopsided and I was about to turn it off when the game was interrupted by a breaking news report. JoAnn was in police custody. She had been located in a campground in the Los Padres National Forest, about forty miles north of where her car was found. Middy was not with her.
My eyes were glued to the screen as they showed a video of JoAnn being guided by police. It was taken in the morning and it looked like they were escorting her down a dirt road that led away from the campground. She was walking on her own, but her legs were unsteady. Her hair was a rat’s nest. Her face was weather-beaten and gaunt, her cheeks sunken as if she hadn’t eaten much in weeks. The camera moved in closer. JoAnn could barely keep her head upright, but when she spotted the camera, a deviant smile formed on her face. She stared directly at the camera, and before the police could place her into the backseat of a waiting cruiser, she screamed out a name.
I hit pause on the remote. What did she say? I hit rewind and replayed video. I replayed it as many times as I could.
I had heard it clearly. I just didn’t want to believe it.
JoAnn had shouted out my name.
I shut the TV off. Was this what Middy wanted me to see?
I received a text on my phone. From an unknown number.
LOOK OUT UR WINDOW.
Middy? I got up from the couch and looked out my living room window. Three police cars were lining my street. Two officers were walking up my driveway.
My phone chimed.
I WOULD RUN IF I WAS U.
But I didn’t run. I opened the door to the police.
And now I’m here. Sitting in the interview room. Waiting. If I tell the police everything I know, I’m going to be placed in the mental health facility. But if I don’t, will they know that I’m hiding something? Is that a better option? I don’t know what to do. My head hurts. It feels like something is crawling around inside again. I should’ve brought my meds. Maybe I should try
Go to go. The door is opening.