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I can honestly say I owe my life to my friend Tina.  I’m sure a lot of people can say the same thing since she is a doctor (of internal medicine) and is well-known for her incredible bedside manner.  But Tina is special to me.  She saved my life twice in the past week.

The first time was last Wednesday.  After hearing about the horrible tragedy that occurred next door to me, Tina dropped by my house to see how I was doing.  She was concerned because I hadn’t answered any of her phone calls and even my parents had reached out to her because I wasn’t answering theirs either.  Thanks to her persistent knocking, my weakened body was forced to open up the door and when she saw my tormented, sleep-deprived face, she immediately took action.  I spent two nights at the hospital, recovering.  Sleeping.  Thankfully, I didn’t wake up to any unusual sound or voices.  It might’ve been the trazodone I was given (and now had a prescription for), but I think it was Tina’s good vibes.  She wasn’t even my doctor but she had visited me more often than he had.  Tina continues to surprise me.  When we broke up a year ago (OK, when she broke up with me), she had said she wanted to remain friends.  I never believed that she had actually meant it.

“Do you want to hear about Terry?  Gerry’s brother?”  Tina was chopping bell peppers for a salad on the kitchen counter while I was at the range, bringing some penne to a boil.  Tina had stopped by to check up on me and to offer her help with dinner.  It was Friday, one week after JoAnn and Middy went missing and Gerry had been found dead, and I had returned home from the hospital a few hours earlier.

“I guess.”  Tina had become fascinated with what had happened to my neighbors, apparently staying up to date with all the news reports, even those from less reputable sources.  The “Murder, Middy and Mystery” story was flooding all the news stations and I did my best to shun TV and online news sites.  But it was hard to ignore the headline-hungry news vans that were still camped out on my block.

“I read this on that website I told you about.  Someone’s leaking info to them – it’s so tragically bizarre!”

“Terry found his brother’s body in the garage, right?”  My neighbor’s front door and their garage, where Gerry had presumably been murdered, were still cordoned off with crime scene tape.  I had taken a cab from the hospital and when it dropped me off at my house, a police officer parked on my street got out of his car.  He stopped me before I reached my doorway.  He asked me a few questions and I gave him a few simple, vague answers.  I was happy he didn’t seem overly interested to hear from me.

“Yeah, and he is one strange dude.  Did you know that he was in a 90’s alternative band?  They had one minor hit – can’t remember their name – but they sounded like the Toadies.  Remember Possum Kingdom?”

I nodded.  Tina had finished with the peppers and was now cutting up carrots and tomatoes.  I didn’t really want to hear any more about Terry, but I didn’t want to put a damper on Tina’s energy.  She had brought all the food over here and was doing most of the work, and she still had to go back to the hospital for her evening rounds.  The least I could do was let her finish her story.

She continued.  “Of course he had the clichéd downfall – drugs, kicked out of the band, some prison time.  Even spent a year at a mental health facility.”

“Sounds like a winner.”  When Tina took me to the hospital, I had wanted to tell Tina why I had been so distraught.  Tell her how I woke up to the sound of “IS THIS HEAVEN?” over and over.  She never probed for answers from me, and neither did my doctor.  I guess they figured I was just an emotional person, overwhelmed by what had happened next door.  I’m glad I had remained silent.  I didn’t want to be thrown into any mental health facility.  The voices had stopped and it was easy to pretend that they had never happened.

Tina finished with the salad and politely shoved me away so she could drain the pasta.  “It gets creepier.  So Terry discovered the body and called the police.  When the police arrived, they found Terry in the kitchen.  Eating a sandwich.  Apparently he helped himself to whatever food was lying around.  Isn’t that disgusting?”  Tina returned the pasta to the saucepan and sprinkled a little olive oil and pepper flakes over the penne.

“You said he had mental issues.”

“That’s having a little more than issues, I think.”  Tina stirred the pasta around.  “There’s more.  Terry first told the police that the front door to the house was open and he wandered inside and found Gerry.  Then he changed his story – he said he had keys to the house and he went inside because he had to use the bathroom.”

“I think you’re reading too much into things.”

“I never read too much into anything.”  She was right – I was the one who read too much into stuff.  Tina served me a plate full of salad and pasta.  I took a seat at my dining table as she continued.  “He changed his story because he had to use a key to open up the door leading to the garage.”

“What?  That doesn’t make sense.”

Tina joined me at the table with her own plate.  “I know!  Their house is like yours.  There’s a door next to the kitchen that leads to the garage.  But it has two locks.  One normal one – to keep people out of the house – that’s actually broken.  But there’s another lock to keep people inside the house from entering the garage.  That’s the one Terry had to open for the police.  It’s the only way in – the garage door doesn’t even work.”

“So how did he discover the body if the door was–”

“Yeah, he said the door was open when he found Gerry.  He locked it because he didn’t want to disturb the crime scene.  Ridiculous!  He already contaminated half the house!”

Tina was almost done inhaling her meal.  I had barely started on the salad.  “Gerry and Terry.  Parents weren’t too original, were they?”

“One more thing.  Terry told the police that he stopped by Gerry’s house because he was worried.  Gerry was supposed to call him for a ride to LA on Monday and he hadn’t heard anything.  But Terry showed up at his house on Friday – why did he wait four days?”

“Slow to react?”

“Maybe.  But isn’t the whole thing weird?”

I nodded and kept picking at my food.  I wasn’t hungry, but I didn’t want to make Tina feel bad.  Tina excused herself and said she had to rush back to the hospital.  I thanked her for everything, but I didn’t eat anything else.  I put the excess food away and turned on the TV.  Flashing on screen, was a breaking news report: the police had found JoAnn’s car in Target parking lot in Santa Clarita, but still no sign of her or Middy.  I shut the TV back off.  I took my trazodone and went to bed.

The next day, I woke up to persistent knocking at my door.  I thought it was Tina so I went to answer it.

I almost pissed myself when I opened the door.  Standing in my doorway, was a man who looked remarkably like Gerry.  A little bit older and thinner, but otherwise he could easily pass as the deceased man.  He smiled at me, revealing several missing teeth and blackened gums.

“I’m Terry.”  His voice didn’t sound like Gerry’s.  It was soft and monotone.

“Can I help you?”  I silently cursed Tina for telling me the story about Terry.

“I’m Terry.”  He stared at me blankly as if I should know the reason for his appearance.

“Gerry’s brother?”

“Yes.  I’m Terry.”

His robotic demeanor was disconcerting.  “I’m sorry for your loss.  I’m not sure how I can help you.”

“I’m here for you.”

“No, I’m fine.  Thanks.”

“I’m here for you.”

I started to close the door.  “I need to get going.  Again, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Do you hear it?  When you wake up?”

I didn’t shut the door.  Did he mean the voices?  The message: IS THIS HEAVEN?  No, it had to be something else.  I had gotten past all that.  “I don’t know what you mean.”

Terry’s smile faded.  “Yes, you do.  Middy told me.”

My eyes drifted out to the street.  A police cruiser was rolling by and I waved at the car.  “I think you should talk to the police.”

“No.  I’m here for you.  You’re going to–”

I shut the door on Terry.  What was going on?  I didn’t need any more confusion.  Less than a minute later, I received a text on my cell.  From an unknown number.  It read: I’M HERE FOR YOU.  Was it Terry?  How did he get my phone number?  I deleted the message without responding, hoping that he’d think he hadn’t reached me.

I tried to watch college football on TV, believing I could still have a normal Saturday.  But I kept thinking about Terry – his gross mouth and unnerving manner of speaking.  I didn’t receive any more text messages so I should’ve dismissed him.  Instead, I decided to check out the website where Tina had uncovered information about Terry.  Maybe more knowledge would eliminate my apprehension.

I scrolled through the site for the rest of the day.  Reading.  Thinking.  One of their leaks, sent waves of frozen anxiety through me.  It was about a diary recovered out of JoAnn’s car.  I posted the leak here.

JoAnn had heard the same message.  IS THIS HEAVEN?  What did that mean?  Was it really from Gerry?  How about Middy’s voice – did I really hear her say the same thing?  Maybe I was going crazy – like JoAnn.  Maybe I did need a mental health facility.  God, was I turning into Terry?

I took a double dose of my meds Saturday night.  And the same on Sunday.  I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do, but I felt better floating on a drug-induced cloud.

On Monday, Tina called me.  She asked if I was going to see my parents up in the San Francisco Bay Area for Thanksgiving.  Before I could answer her, she said that she had the next three days off at the hospital and wanted to know if I wanted to carpool.  Her parents lived up north too.  She said we could leave my place around seven that night, spend Tuesday or Wednesday together in the city, spend Turkey Day with our families, then meet up on Friday to drive back down because that’s when she had to be back at work.  When I finally got a chance to say yes, I was ecstatic.  I forced myself not to read too much into anything, but the thought of hanging out with Tina and having some carefree fun made all my crazy thoughts vanish.  I called my parents and told them I was coming up for Thanksgiving, contradicting the phone call I had with them when I was at the hospital.  At that time, I had told them I was fine and needed to be left alone.  This time, I told them I couldn’t wait to see them.

That evening, around six-thirty, as I was packing some clothes to take with me, I heard a noise from the side of my house.  It sounded like my trashcan had been toppled over.  It might have been a cat getting into the garbage, but one of the things I remembered before my hospital stay, during my paranoid haze of insomnia, was that a couple of neighborhood kids had gone into my backyard to try and look at the house next door.  They had knocked over my trashcan, trying to use it to look over the wooden fence that separated our two properties.  Had they returned?

I turned on the light that illuminated most of my backyard and stepped outside to investigate.  I brought my phone along with me, just in case it turned out be something other than I thought.  Like Terry.

When I reached the side of my house, where the light struggled to reach, I saw that my trashcan had indeed been turned over.  I didn’t see anyone, but why did I feel so uneasy?  A light breeze hit my face, and the air smelled rotten.  I had probably taken a good whiff of the garbage.  Garbage that trickled away from the spilled open lid like

Guts from a dead body.

I needed to get a hold of myself.  As I reached down to pick up the trashcan, something flashed over my head.  I looked up and saw something dart along the top of the fence before jumping into my neighbor’s back yard.  It had to be a cat.  I had made a big deal out of nothing.  I picked up the trashcan, and started to collect the spilled items when I heard a laugh.  Actually a giggle.

The nervous giggle of a little girl.

Could it be Middy?  Was she alive?  There had been hundreds of sightings of Middy, fueled by rabid interest in all the cute and funny videos her father had put online, but none of them had been credible.  Could she have come home?  Or was it something else?

I called out, unsure if I really wanted to hear a response.  “Middy?  Is that you?  Middy?”

Nothing but silence.  I wasn’t sure if I could trust my mind.  I needed to get out of the darkness.  As I turned back to the house, wary and befuddled, my phone chimed.  It was a text from Tina: Just pulled into your driveway.

I texted back: Come inside. I left the door unlocked.

She texted: U left the door wide open?

Had the wind blown it open?  It wasn’t that strong.  I texted: No.  Strange.

Where are you?

Backyard going inside now.

No come to the front.


Just do it.  Something’s not right.

Let me get my bag out of my room.

No!  Come to the front!!

I’ve never gone wrong listening to Tina.  I spun around and went back to the side of the house to use the gate to reach the front of the house.  Before I could unlatch the gate, I heard Tina shout from the driveway.  “Oh, my God!”

I flung open the gate and stumbled out to my driveway.  I saw Tina’s Prius, but she wasn’t inside.  I scanned the neighborhood – deserted.  Maybe everyone was inside, watching the one news item I actually wanted to hear: the Ferguson grand jury decision.  I received a text message.  From an unknown number.  It read:  SHE’S IN THE GARAGE.  WITH ME.  Oh, shit!  Had psycho Terry taken her?

I looked at my neighbor’s house.  A light had been turned on, inside the garage.  I called the police.  Told them there was an intruder at my next door neighbor’s house and that my friend was in trouble.  I was told to remain on the line and to keep a safe distance – police were only a few minutes away.  Instead, I hung up and ran next door.  The front door was open; the police tape had been torn away.  Tina had helped me so many times, I needed to help her!  I couldn’t wait for the police!  Cautiously, I stepped inside and called out to Tina.

No response.  The air in the house was stale and foul.  The house was fairly dark, but I was able to use my phone as a light and it helped that the house was laid out just like mine.  I crept towards the door that led to the garage.  As I moved closer, the stench grew ranker.  The door was closed, but I could see light trickling out from the gaps and cracks.  More police tape was scattered on the ground.  I tried to open the door, but it was locked.  I pounded on the wood, calling out to Tina.  Still no response and the light inside turned off.  I heard a click as if the door had been unlocked.  I paused, uncertain of my next step.  Should I go inside?  Or was that a stupid mistake?  It was my fault that Tina was in this situation.  I had to act.

I turned the knob and opened the door.  The garage was darker than the rest of the house.  But I still detected movement, near the ceiling.  It looked like something was floating in the air.  Was it a piece of clothing?  Maybe a dress?  A little girl’s dress?

Something charged out at me from the darkness.  I jammed a hollow scream back down my throat when I realized it was Tina.  She threw her hands against me and in a winded, frightened voice said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here!”

We ran back outside.  As we reached Tina’s Prius, a police car arrived.  Tina managed to compose herself enough to talk to the two police officers who had stepped out of the cruiser.

“I thought I saw the little girl – Middy!  Standing in the doorway to the house.  I got out of my car and ran to her.  I went inside and over to the garage where a light was on.  Inside the garage is a crazy shrine!  Photos of Middy everywhere!  Her clothes hanging from the ceiling – it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen!”

One of the police officers left to go inside my neighbor’s house, while the other continued listening to Tina.  She continued, but at a slower pace.  “I was about to leave when I heard someone else in the house – I think it was just my friend here, but I was experiencing palpitations and the rush of adrenaline wasn’t letting me think straight.  In a panic, I closed the door to the garage and locked it.  He started pounding against the door, but I still wasn’t sure that it was him.  So I picked up a camera stand – I think – off the floor to use as a weapon, and I turned off the light and unlocked the door.  I backed up and waited to see who came inside.  I ran to him, relieved, when I finally recognized him!  I regret intruding on the property, but I really thought I saw the little girl.”

Tina turned towards me as the officer stepped away.  “I really thought I saw her!  She was smiling and twirling around!”  I reached out and embraced Tina as another police car arrived.  I tried to lead Tina back to my house but she stopped me.  She calmly ordered the newly arrived officers to check my house.  I tried to explain to her that my house was fine, but Tina said that seeing my door open was what initially spooked her.  I gave the police the go ahead.

A few minutes later, another police vehicle arrived.  The officers in that car rushed out and went inside my house.  Tina and I both looked at each other – now what was going on?

The police officers exited my house.  Two of them were escorting a smiling, handcuffed man.  It was Terry.  He had been inside my house.  One of the officers walked over to me asking if I was the owner of the house.  I nodded.

“You’re very lucky.  We found him hiding in your bedroom.  He had a knife.  We’ve been looking for a reason to bring this guy in and now we’ve got him.”

Terry locked eyes with me as the cops led him to one of the cruisers.  His meth-scarred mouth opened and his dreary words repeated several times before they pushed him into the back of the car.

“You’re going to die.  You’re going to die.”

Tina had save my life for the second time.

Five hours later, Tina and I were on the road.  I didn’t think she’d still want to go up to the Bay Area with me after all that had occurred, but she said that leaving the area would be best for both us.  I was exhausted.  Tina looked like she was still overdosed on adrenaline so she drove.  We didn’t talk about Terry or the perverse shrine the police said he had made in my neighbor’s garage.  Or how the police found no sign of Middy.  We didn’t talk about anything.  The silence was comforting.

I swallowed a pill of my medicine dry and as I started to fall asleep, my phone chimed.

It was another text message from an unknown number.  I had forgotten all about the messages that I had attributed to Terry.  But it couldn’t be from him – he was in custody.

The message read: WHY DID U LEAVE?

Maybe I was making another mistake, but I decided to text back.  Who are you?


I typed again: Who are you?

The response: U DON’T KNOW?

My whole body began to shake.  I didn’t respond to the text and I deleted all messages.  I turned off my phone and tossed it to the floor.  Tina asked me what was wrong.  I shook my head and folded my arms across my chest to try and stop my body from shaking.  As the sound of a little girl giggling replayed in my head, I asked Tina if she could pick up the pace.

NEXT: A Devil in the Classroom?