Rorroh

THE END

There was a metallic flavor in Kristin’s mouth. It took her a moment to realize it was her own blood.

Everything was quiet and still, ominously so. There was a soft rain that seemed to be dripping in slow-motion. She was propped up against a streetlamp, the only light as far as the eye could see.

She was dying.

It wasn’t hard to figure out, and it didn’t overcome her with grief or sadness—rather, she understood, and she was almost at peace with it. She felt calm. She felt okay.

Her eyes drifted open and shut, her lids feeling impossibly heavy. She glimpsed him, standing in the rain, staring at her. Only a few feet away. He was still holding the knife.

He started to laugh. The sound was warped and strange to her ears. She tried to keep her eyes open, at least long enough to stare him down with what little defiance she had left. She wasn’t afraid—not anymore—and she wanted him to know that.

She saw his free hand reach up, toward his mask. He grabbed it and, to her surprise, tore it off his face—

“Xander?” she breathed. A new feeling crept in, crawling up her spine: betrayal. It felt stinging and pronounced.

“Yes,” he said. Xander—it was him, all right. Even in her condition, there was no mistaking it. He dropped the mask to the ground and approached her, patting her head like she was a dog. “You probably have a lot of questions. Too bad you’ll never get to ask them.”

She tried to respond, but all that came out was a breathy squeak. What had been a dull, distant pain was beginning to ache. She looked down toward the source of it and saw a gaping wound. The circle of blood was growing bigger through her shirt. She looked back up at Xander with teary, tired eyes. She could feel herself fading, each minute pulling her a little further into the abyss. She was whimpering.

Xander sighed. “Oh, you poor creature. Might as well put you out of your misery.” And with that, he lifted the knife above his head once more.

THE MIDDLE

 

“I’m not making this up!” Kristin said. “I know what I saw!”

“Sure you do,” Greg replied, barely able to suppress an eye roll. “Kris, I’m sorry, but I’m a man of logic. I just can’t buy what you’re selling.”

“Me neither,” Patrice called from the hallway. She popped her head into the room and added with a grin, “The walls here are paper-thin, you guys. It’s insane.”

“This whole house is insane,” Barrett said, absently polishing his glasses. “But I suppose that makes sense, seeing as how homes constructed in this era were considerably more quirky than houses nowadays.”

“Can you please stop being such an absolute dork for two seconds? Because it’s getting old. Seriously.” Patrice leaned against the doorframe, the picture of a punk goddess in her ripped stockings, shorts and muscle tee. She let out a breath as she stretched her limbs, looking thoughtful. “It would be cool, though, Kristin. If what you’re saying is true. I mean, I’m all for a good ghost story.”

“Who isn’t? But ghosts are not something that can be willed into existence by pop culture.” Greg shrugged. “Sorry to break it to you, Kris.”

“But you guys—”

“I’m going to check out the town,” Patrice declared. “Who wants to come?”

“I’ll go.” Greg got to his feet, then offered a hand to Kristin. “I think you should get out of this house for a while. Before the mold—which I just know must be somewhere around here—makes you lose any more of your sanity.”

“Har har,” she replied in an acidy voice. But she stood up anyway and allowed Greg to take her hand.

“I think I’ll stay here,” Barrett said, putting his glasses back on and looking around the room. “There’s a lot of exploration opportunities in this old house, and I want to take as many photos for my blog as I can. I might be able to make this little trip into four or five posts.”

Patrice mimed shooting herself in the head; Greg and Kristin both giggled.

“Make fun all you want, but that blog helped get me into Princeton.”

“Sure it did. Just do us all a favor and keep the mentions of your blog to a minimum on this ‘little trip,’ okay?”

“As you wish.”

“Well then, gang,” Patrice said, smirking as she turned toward Greg and Kristin, “time to head out.” She swaggered down the hallway as the both of them followed after, taking their sweet time in an effort to get some privacy.

Once they were far enough ahead of Barrett and behind Patrice, Kristin leaned into Greg and hissed at him, “I did see something.”

“I know you think you did, Kris.”

“Would you stop saying that? Jesus Christ, you’re my boyfriend. You’re supposed to believe me when I tell you these types of things.”

“And in what part of the official boyfriend handbook does it say that?”

She swatted him. “I’m serious!”

“Kristin, you know I—”

You guys.” It was Patrice—she’d turned around and jogged back to meet up with them, a gleeful look of amusement on her heavily made-up face. “This town is like something off the Hallmark channel. There’s an antique store, a kite store, even a store dedicated to cat art—and I’m talking paintings, figurines, the whole shebang. An inn with a tearoom, too! It’s so fucking dorky, I love it.” She paused, looking between them. “Okay, I’m detecting a note of tension here. Something I said?”

“No, I’m just . . . mad, I guess. That no one believes me.”

“You’re still on that? Let. It. Go. Christ on a crouton.” Patrice sighed dramatically. “I don’t know how you put up with her, Greg. I’d kill myself.”

“Thanks for the support! It’s like my best friend and my boyfriend are conspiring against me,” Kristin huffed, pushing past the two as she trudged toward town. The whole area was cloaked in the ever-present fog their AirBnb host had warned them about, but she could vaguely see through it to the outline of shops. Cute little shops, too, with faded paint and old-timey signs. As she grew closer, she could now see the inn, a sign outside advertising its “authentically British high tea”; the store called Kitty: Cat-Themed Art for Every Feline Lover; a kite store with buckets of candy outside to lure in visiting families traveling with sugar-starved kids, the words “Saltwater Taffy” painted in an appropriate sea green above the door.

There was a small deli tucked a few doors down, two obligatory seafood restaurants and a “fish emporium” as well; a quaint white church, weathered from the fog and sea air, and an old-fashion barber shop that looked on its last legs. All of it was simultaneously charming and unsettling, like a ghost town—trapped entirely in another era.

Kristin shivered.

“Weird, right?” Patrice asked, appearing suddenly at Kristin’s side.

She jumped. “You scared me! Ugh.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault the fog conceals anything that isn’t directly in front of you.”

“This place is horrifying,” Greg said, from Kristin’s other side. She turned toward his voice and, though he was right beside her, she had to squint to see him.

“Like something out of a horror movie,” Patrice agreed. With a devious grinned, she nudged Kristin. “Maybe that’s why you’re seeing things, huh, Kris?”

“Shut up.”

“So where should we go first?” Greg asked. “The kite store to stock up on candy? The cat store to contemplate the artistic merits of tabbies?”

“Fuck that,” Patrice said, turning sharply to her right. “Let’s go there!” She was pointing to an old saloon, made to look like something out of an old Western. It looked, like many of the other stores, gloomy and a few months shy of closing up for good, but that didn’t deter Patrice. “Onwards,” she told the group, making a beeline for the entrance.

Kristin and Greg shared a glance and a shrug—a mutual look of “what else is there to do?”—before following her.

Inside, the saloon was even more depressing, the barstools and tables mostly empty, save for a few drunken patrons. There was a small stage at the edge of the room that looked like it hadn’t been used in years, and a sour-faced bartender with an abundance of snowy-white facial hair was cleaning glasses with slow, almost mechanical movements.

“Hey there,” Patrice said to him as she flung herself into a barstool. He gave a nod of acknowledgement but said nothing.

“This town gives me the creeps,” Kristin whispered to Greg. Then added, bitterly: “Though I’m sure you’ll tell me I’m just being paranoid.”

“Nah. It gives me the creeps, too.”

They both sat down next to Patrice, who was too busy grinning as she looked around the room to even notice their apprehension. “This is like, some next-level shit,” she said to them. “I feel like I’ve died and gone to hell’s waiting room.”

“Shhh—he’ll hear you,” Greg said, nodding toward the bartender.

“I’ve heard worse,” the man replied, without taking his eyes off the glass he was cleaning.

“This is some town you’ve got here,” Patrice marveled.

“Yes, it is. Rorroh Point’s been around longer than any of you, and will be here long after you die. It doesn’t change. It just stays. It’s dependable that way.”

There was a pause. Patrice turned to Greg and Kristin and arched her brows.

“So, uh, how long has it been around?” Greg asked.

The man put down his glass suddenly. It quivered against the bar. “Are you making fun of me?”

“What? No, I—”

“You know, around here, we don’t take kindly to out-of-towners making fun of us. That’s rule number one. Okay? You got that?”

“I wasn’t make fun,” Greg said, in a small voice.

“So now you’re denying it?”

“No! I—”

“You’re making excuses. And if there’s one thing I hate more than out-of-towners poking fun at Rorroh Point locals,” the man said, his voice rising, “it’s out-of-towners making goddamn excuses for their behavior. Now get the hell out of my establishment.”

The whole bar had gone silent—even more so than it had been when they first walked in. The other patrons, none of them saying a word, had their eyes locked on Greg, whose face had gone red. He looked a bit, to Kristin, like a little boy who’d just been scolded by his teacher.

He started to say something—gearing up for another “excuse,” most likely—but the man behind the bar leaned forward on his elbows in a menacing fashion and Greg’s mouth abruptly snapped shut.

“Okay, okay,” he said, putting his hands up in surrender. “I’m leaving.”

He mumbled something under his breath as he got off his stool and trudged outside. As he neared the exit, a round of applause sounded—everyone in the bar was clapping and whistling, thrilled to see such a “troublemaker” as Greg get shamed out the door. The bartender puffed up with pride, then resumed washing his glass.

Patrice leaned toward Kristin and, gesturing toward the bartender, whispered in her ear, “I like him!” She was laughing, deeply amused by the whole spectacle. Kristin just felt confused.

“So anyway,” Patrice began, “how long has this town been here?”

Kristin shot her a look, worried that, by asking Greg’s exact question, she too would get yelled at and shamed out the door.

But the bartender answered without complaint: “It wasn’t ‘officially’ founded till the late 1800s, but of course it’d been around long before that. All sorts of settlers came and went, and then, before that, there were the natives . . . I’ll tell you, when I say this town will outlive everyone, I mean it.”

“Don’t most towns outlive us?” Kristin asked. She didn’t realize till after she said it that such a question might qualify as “making fun”; she reminded herself that she had to walk on eggshells during this conversation.

Thankfully, the bartender didn’t opt to kick her out. “Sure, most towns outlive us. But this one’s different. If you ask me, this town will be the last intact thing left standing on earth.” He finished cleaning the glass and put in on a rack with several others, then turned back to the girls. “So can I get you two something to drink?”

“Yes yes yes,” Patrice replied, practically foaming at the mouth. She placed her order, which washed right over Kristin, who was finding it hard to focus. Her mind was occupied by frightening thoughts. So far, their walk to town hadn’t done anything to put her at ease—it had only unsettled her more.

“I don’t want anything,” she said once Patrice finished her order.

“Really?” Patrice wrinkled her nose. “Have you ever heard of letting loose? We’re on vacation, after all. I say live a little.”

“No, you say live a lot, regardless of whether or not we’re on vacation.”

“That’s a bad thing?”

Kristin shrugged. “I’m just not a drinker. Or a smoker, or a partier, or someone who lives off one night stands and Cheetos.”

“I know, you’re like something out of an 80s sitcom.” Patrice grinned. “I’d go so far as to say that you’re the living embodiment of every ‘very special episode’ ever produced.”

“Yes, I know. I’m a puritan prude.” She paused. “I thought last week you said I was the living embodiment of the snooze alarm.”

“Who said you can’t be both? And anyway, I like this analogy better.”

The bartender served up Patrice’s drink and she downed it all in a hurry.

“Oh God,” Kristin said, cringing. “You’re going to be completely drunk by ten o’clock tonight, aren’t you?”

“Ten o’clock? Try eight-thirty, at most.” Patrice grabbed Kristin’s hand. “Join me! You know you want to.”

“I legitimately don’t, but I appreciate the offer.” She pushed back her stool and got to her feet.

“Where you off to now, the church? Are you going to pray for my wicked soul?”

“Actually, I’m going to go check on Greg.”

“Just don’t invite him back in here,” the bartender said, as he scrubbed down yet another glass. “He’s banned for life.”

“Good call on that,” Patrice told him, flashing a thumbs up.

Kristin left the bar without another word to either, pushing out the door and into the fog. “Greg?” she called, unable to see much of anything through the dense cloud of white in front of her face.

“Over here,” he called, from somewhere to her left. She walked toward his voice and found him leaning against the saloon, staring at his phone. “I can’t get any reception here. I feel like we’ve entered the Twilight Zone.”

“Yeah, and get this: After you left, Patrice asked the exact same question that got you kicked out, and the weirdo bartender answered it without giving her any shit.”

“What? Jesus Christ, this place is insane.”

“These people are insane, apparently. Oh, and you’re banned for life, by the way.”

“What a shame. You just know I’m going to cry myself to sleep tonight over that one.”

Kristin laughed, despite still feeling wracked with a strange anxiety and dread in the pit of her stomach. She deliberated for a moment whether or not to tell Greg that her lingering fear was, in fact, still lingering—but ultimately decided against it. He’d just tell her the same thing: that it was all in her head, that she hadn’t actually seen anything, that she was making herself nervous for no reason, that everything would be fine. And maybe he was right—she certainly hoped he was.

“Want to walk down to the beach?” he asked.

She nodded, mostly because she didn’t want to return to their creepy AirBnb house just yet. “Okay.”

They held hands as they strolled through the rest of the downtown area, which, Kristin was sure, had to set some record for one of the tiniest downtowns out there. The shops were all quirky to the point of absurdity, like unrealistic stores out of some rom-com that’s set in an almost criminally adorable, cutesy town no one in real life would ever care about.

“I hate this place,” Kristin mumbled.

“I strongly dislike it.”

“At least Barrett’s having fun with the house, taking pictures and everything . . . and Patrice is happy wherever there’s a bar. It’s fun getting the gang back together, too. I don’t know, I guess I just wish we had picked somewhere less . . . weird?”

“Somewhere with Wi-Fi would’ve been nice.”

“Or maybe a Whole Foods.”

Greg stopped suddenly, looking to their right. Kristin tried to see what he was staring at, but couldn’t make out anything through the fog. “What is it?”

He dropped her hand and walked toward whatever it was. A moment later, she could vaguely discern that he was waving her over. She approached, and he put his arm up suddenly, stopping her.

“What? What is it?”

Looking down, she realized she was a step away from walking over a cliff. Her breath caught.

“You’ve gotta admit, though,” he was saying, “this is one hell of a view.”

They were perched high above the beach, right at the ideal spot to watch—as best they could, through the fog—crashing, massive waves hitting against the rocky cliffside and little patch of white-sand heaven.

Her eyes widened. “Wow. It’s beautiful.”

“It sure is.”

She turned to him with a sly grin. “I’ll race you down there.”

“You’re on.”

They both took off running down the nearby pathway, which wound around tight corners and gave way to steep drops, all the way to the beach. Giggling wildly, they each attempted to play dirty, throwing sand at each other or branches in the other’s path.

“You’re going to lose, Kris!” Greg predicted, having to shout over the ocean waves.

She didn’t lose. Instead, she arrived at the beach seconds before he did, and promptly flopped down on the sand. Her chest heaved up and down with tired, deep breaths.

“You cheated,” Greg said, having to lean over with his hands on his knees to catch his breath.

“So did you. Face it, we’re both rotten cheaters.”

“That’s . . . true,” he said, a long space between the words as he attempted to guzzle a huge gasp of sea air.

She propped herself up on her elbows and grinned at him. “Okay, well, as much as I hate this town, I’ll admit this private bit of beach is kind of perfect.”

“Yeah. Too bad Patrice isn’t here.”

“Nah, Patrice hates the beach, remember?”

“Oh right.” He paused. “Why is that?”

“She saw her parents getting busy on a beach once.”

He winced. “Now there’s a question I really regret asking.”

“Barrett hates it too, right?”

“Only because he doesn’t like nature of any kind. He is, after all, Mr. Homebody.”

“A title he’s done an exceptional amount of work to earn, to his credit.” Kristin laid back down, into the sand, and stared toward the clouds. She couldn’t tell if it was the fog or the actual sky, but all she could see was a wide expanse of grayish-white. She closed her eyes, quickly growing tired of the single color, and listened to the waves. Her mind wandered back to what the bartender had said—that when everything was gone, this town would be the last thing standing on earth. In that moment, she could believe it.

“Kris, come over here,” Greg called. “You’ve gotta test the water.”

She rose to her feet, kicked off her shoes, and padded through the sand to the water’s edge. Standing beside Greg, she let the waves roll over her feet, all the way up to her ankles. She closed her eyes again—without really meaning to—and smiled. “Feels great.”

“Yeah. Like a little spot of paradise.”

“Maybe it’s a good thing Barrett and Patrice don’t like beaches. Now we get this place all to ourselves.”

He nodded.

They stood there in silence after that, both of them with their eyes closed. And for a while, it was wonderful—soothing and tranquil. Practically for the first time since they’d arrived in Rorroh Point, Kristin was enjoying herself.

But then she got a prickly feeling at the back of her neck, like someone was watching her. Suddenly she felt self-conscious and unsure of herself. She had no evidence to support the feeling, but she was almost certain that somewhere out there, through the fog, a pair of eyes were staring at her and Greg—and maybe had been for some time.

“We should go,” she said, her own eyes snapping open.

“Really? We just got here.”

“Yeah, I know—but I’m cold, I don’t have anything to read, it’s about to get dark, and the others will wonder where we are. We can always come back later.” Forcing a smile, she added, “And hey, that’ll give you a chance to beat me down here.”

“Well, I do want a rematch.” He grinned at her.

They headed back up the pathway, making absent chitchat as they did, placing bets on how many drinks Patrice had drank since they left. As the fog-obscured sun began to set, they wandered back through the downtown area, which was as still and empty and lifeless as ever. Despite this, as they walked, Kristin was overcome by that feeling of being watched once again—and like before, she said nothing, worried Greg would think she was crazy.

When they arrived at the saloon, Greg started to head inside, but Kristin put her hand on his arm and stopped him. “Banned for life, remember?”

He rolled his eyes but trotted back down the steps without complaint, taking a seat on the last one just as Kristin was saying, “This could take a while—you know Patrice and bars. I’ll probably have to drag her away kicking and screaming.”

“I’ll be here,” he promised, saluting her as she ducked inside.

Then she screamed.

A horrible, horrified, distinct scream. Greg startled at the noise, though it took him another moment to register who it came from: Kristin. His surprise gave way to concern as he jumped to his feet and dashed inside the saloon. “Kris—” he started. The word died on his tongue as soon as he saw what was going on.

Patrice was laying on the bar, hastily pulling her top down, one of the bar patrons—his hair messed up but otherwise fully clothed—partially on top of her.

Kristin stood by the entrance, covering her eyes though barely anything was showing, and shaking her head in sanctimonious disapproval. “She was half-naked when I walked in, on the bar with that . . . that man!”

“Oh Jesus.”

“Hey,” the bartender called, coming around from the bar. He pointed to Greg with a jab of his finger. “You’re not allowed to be in here.”

“Oh sure, but she’s allowed to do that?” Greg asked, nodding toward Patrice, who flashed him a grin. “That has to be at least a dozen different health code violations, right there.”

The bartender shrugged. “Never said I was running a hospital—or a church. Now get out.”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Greg muttered, turning around and shuffling off. He mouthed to Kristin on the way out, Be quick. She nodded and slunk off toward Patrice, who was in the process of reapplying her dark-purple lipstick as she sat up on the bar, her legs swinging back and forth like a happy child’s. The man she’d been entangled with sat by her side, making mindless conversation.

Kristin interrupted with a clear of her throat and arch of one brow. “Well? Can we go now?”

“You’re one hell of a buzzkill, you know that?” Patrice stuck her lipstick stick back in the pocket of her shorts and climbed off the bar. She gave a flirty little wave to the guy over her shoulder as they walked out.

Greg was waiting outside, tapping his foot and putting on a big show of impatience. “You nearly gave Kris a heart attack,” he said to Patrice.

“Oh please, I did nothing. She’s just easily scared.”

“I wasn’t scared—I was stunned. The scream just sort of . . . slipped out.” She sighed. “I guess I’m on edge today.”

“Gee, I wonder why,” Patrice said, smirking.

“Yes, I know. I’m paranoid and seeing things and a ‘buzzkill’ or whatever.” She crossed her arms over her chest as they walked, as though to protect herself against their incredulity.

Greg slung his arm around her shoulders. “It’s fine, Kris. We all have moments like that every now and then—you know, paranoia. Thinking we see things out of the corner of our eyes. Feeling on edge. You’re perfectly normal.”

“Yeah, especially because I’m not making it up.”

Greg and Patrice exchanged a look.

“You two are the worst, you know that?” With a huff, Kristin picked up her pace and fast-walked away from them, toward the house. She felt sick to her stomach, and still uneasy—though, thankfully, she no longer felt like she was being watched.

She was, though: by Greg and Patrice, who stared at her as they followed after, about fifteen feet behind. “She’s acting so strangely today,” Greg mused, shaking his head.

“Well, she’s had a weird day. You could be more supportive, you know.”

“Me? What about you?”

“I’m not her boyfriend.”

“Yeah—you’re her best friend.”

Patrice shrugged. “To paraphrase the bartender from the saloon, I never said I was a saint.”

Kristin stopped in her tracks suddenly and spun around to face them, one hand out. “Toss me the house key,” she said to Patrice, who reached into the pocket of her shorts to oblige. Keys in hand, Kristin ran the rest of the way to the front door. As she did, a strong ocean breeze lifted her hair up; the wind was strong enough that it was making a faint whistling noise, which, to Kristin, sounded almost like a sad, desperate, ghostly whisper. Stop it, she told herself as she shoved the key into the lock. You’re acting crazy. Now the wind’s scaring you, too?

She grit her teeth as she turned the knob and pushed open the door . . .

. . . immediately letting loose a terrible scream. Worse than the one from the bar, by far.

Several feet away, Patrice and Greg stopped walking and glanced at each other, as if pausing a moment to decide whether Kristin’s scream was just another false alarm or overreaction. At the same moment, they both seemed to decide to take it seriously, and jogged the rest of the way to the house.

“Kris? What is it?” Greg called.

They got their answer once they arrived at the front door. Barrett was a few feet inside, at the entrance to the living room, laying on the floor in a crumbled heap. His throat was slashed from ear to ear, eyes wide in glassy wonderment, mouth hanging open to reveal blood-stained teeth. His clothing, too, was covered in red, his glasses—which he’d so neatly been polishing just before they’d left—cracked and broken on the floor.

Kristin was sobbing and screaming into her hands, eyes shut tightly, unable to look. Greg was in complete shock, not making a sound. He gaped at the body of his brother with nothing more than stunned horror, while Patrice, standing at his side, repeated “oh my God” over and over again.

For a while, that’s all any of them did.

Then Patrice, waking from her trance, suddenly snapped to and pulled out her cell phone. “I’m calling 911—oh my God, oh my God . . .” She turned away so she didn’t have to look at Barrett’s body, tears filling up her eyes, and attempted to punch in the correct numbers. Come on, Patrice, it’s only three digits, she told herself, as she, in her frenzied state, continually hit the wrong keys.

Greg started to cry—soft sniffles that gave way to big, loud, ugly sobs. Kristin, inconsolable, wandered back out of the house and promptly collapsed on the little white porch, right beside Patrice’s feet. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” Patrice was saying. “I’m calling 911. It’s gonna be okay, I swear . . .”

She finally got the numbers right and hit the dial button, but the call quickly flickered and failed. She stared at her phone in disbelief.

“It’s no use,” Kristin said between sobs. “Th-th-there’s no cell reception here.”

Fuck this town!” Patrice shouted, her own tears welling up and sliding down her cheeks. “I’ll get the landline.” She turned around, back toward the house, and only then realized that to get the landline, she’d have to walk inside—and around Barrett’s body. She felt her stomach churn at the idea.

Greg was stooped by Barrett’s side, trying in vain to rouse him as he clung to the hope that his brother might still be alive. “Buddy, it’s going to be all right—we’re going to call an ambulance, okay? Hang in there, Barrett, you’ll get through this . . . please, please don’t go . . .”

He was shaking Barrett’s body, gently at first and then harder when he didn’t respond; over and over, back and forth, he shook his shoulder.

“He’s not going to wake up, Greg,” Patrice said. Her voice sounded dark and flat, void of any emotion. “He’s dead.”

“No he’s not!” Greg let out another terrible sob.

Patrice reluctantly stepped forward and did an awkward dance around Barrett’s corpse and the hysterical Greg, darting into the living room. Furniture was overturned and there were smears of blood everywhere—including on the phone, which was cloaked by a distinct bloody handprint. She ignored the blood and grabbed it, punching in 911 with anxious, fast fingers.

She pressed the phone to her ear and waited for a ring—but there was no sound, nothing. Angrily, she hung up and tried again.

Kristin suddenly appeared, storming into the living room and accidentally walking through a pool of Barrett’s blood in the process. Her shoe became covered in the stuff, tracking it through the rest of the living room; she didn’t seem to notice. “I told you, I told you!” she was screaming, both at Patrice and Greg. “I told you I saw someone!” She had to pause here, to catch her breath and continue crying. She put her head in her hands and collapsed again, this time onto the floor—the filthy, bloody floor. Patrice watched her out of the corner of her eye, feeling a strong flash of pity and annoyance.

“Shut up and let me dial this,” she said, attempting, for the third time on the landline, to call 911. She pressed it to her ear, waiting for that familiar, wonderful ring—but again, there was nothing. The house was eerily silent save for Greg and Kristin’s sobs.

“I can’t get it to ring,” she said, letting the phone fall out of her hand. “I think . . . I think there’s something wrong—the phone must’ve been messed with or something.”

The other two didn’t respond—couldn’t respond.

Then the front door slammed shut.

All of their heads whipped toward it at once, and the sobbing, for that brief moment, stopped. It was deathly quiet.

Patrice approached the door in slow, deliberate movements, skirting around Barrett’s body as carefully as she could. When she arrived, she tried to open it, but realized right away that she couldn’t. “Something’s blocking it, I think—the knob won’t even turn . . .” She looked over her shoulder at Greg, still sitting on the floor by his brother. “We’re trapped.”

Kristin wiped at her face and tried to pull herself together, walking over to the door in equally slow, hesitant steps. She took a turn at trying to open it, but, like Patrice, was unable to.

“Oh God,” she said, stumbling back. “I can’t be stuck in this house with . . . with . . .” Unable to say his name, her eyes drifted toward Barrett, who Greg was now clutching in his arms and crying against.

There was a loud bang at the opposite side of the house, and all of them looked toward the noise as they had done with the door. It was silent a moment. Then, footsteps—distant, coming from where the bang had, soft though distinct.

“Holy shit,” Patrice whispered. “We’re not alone.”

“We have to hide.” This from Kristin, who was finally looking alive. Thank God, Patrice thought as she nodded in agreement.

They both instinctively looked toward Greg, the weakest link among them, who was so torn up by his brother that he didn’t even seem to register the footsteps or what they represented.

“Greg, we have to hide—now,” Kristin told him, grabbing his arm and attempting to pull him away from Barrett.

“I’m not leaving him,” he sobbed.

“He’s dead!” Patrice hissed. “Look at him, Greg! There’s not an ounce of life left in him.”

“Don’t say that!”

“We’ll bring him with us, then,” Kristin said. When Patrice shot her a bewildered look, she explained, “Greg’s not going to come otherwise, and all of us need to hide right fucking now.”

That much was true—the footsteps were growing closer. Patrice swallowed and gave a less-than-confident nod, which was all the confirmation Kristin needed. She immediately got to work trying to drag Barrett’s body into the closest available room, which happened to be one of the bedrooms; as she grabbed his legs, Greg grabbed around his torso, and the two carried and dragged him into the chosen bedroom. Patrice ran ahead of them and shut the door as soon as they were inside, locking them in.

The room was drab and dark, and none of them dared turned on a light. There was a twin bed and an old chest, a closet and a dresser. Patrice started assessing it for places to hide, zeroing in on the closet—which, upon closer inspection, only had room for two, if that.

“I’m so scared,” Kristin whispered, leaning against the bed frame.

“We’re all scared, okay?” Patrice snapped. She turned to the room’s sole window, which was large enough to crawl out of. It was dark outside, the sun having now fully set. She wondered if it would really be any safer there than in the bedroom, which at least had a lock and a closet.

“Push the chest in front of the door,” she told Kristin.

“Why? You locked it.”

“Just in case.”

Kristin obliged, dragging and shoving the chest across the room and in front of the door.

“We need a weapon,” Patrice decided with a nod. “Yeah, that’s exactly what we need.”

She started searching the room, turning it upside down in hopes of finding something suitable, but it was sparsely-decorated and largely empty. “Check the dresser drawers,” she told Kristin, who did as told but came up dry.

“I have something.”

It was Greg who said this, much to the girls’ surprise. They turned and saw him holding out a Swiss Army knife. “It was Barrett’s,” he said. His voice was quiet and sounded hoarse from crying. “He wasn’t an outdoorsman, God knows, but he always kept it in his pocket. ‘Just in case,’ he’d say.” He cleared his throat. “It’s not much, but . . .”

Kristin took it from him, holding it to her chest like a prized heirloom. “Thank you, Greg.”

He nodded, glancing back toward his brother’s slumped corpse with a wistful look on his face.

Patrice walked to the door, leaning over the chest so she could press her ear against it.

“Hear anything?” Kristin whispered.

“It’s hard to tell—the floorboards creaking, I think . . . footsteps.”

Kristin chewed at her thumb nail thoughtfully. “He can’t get to us here, right? I mean, the door’s locked . . .”

“I don’t know.”

No one said anything for a while after that. Soon, they were all unmistakably able to hear the sound of the floorboards groaning as the noise grew louder and closer. Kristin started to shake.

There was a brief moment of utter silence when the footsteps stopped—right outside their room.

Then, to their horror, the doorknob twitched. Whoever it was was trying to get in.

Kristin covered her mouth to hold back a loud sob, or scream—she wasn’t sure which. The knob twitched again as the person on the other side struggled to open the door. Feeling the resistance, he must’ve realized it was locked, because he quickly changed tactics: pounding on the door in loud, angry smacks, which seemed to echo through the room like thumping music. Kristin couldn’t hold herself back any longer and screamed, as hard and long as she could; Patrice’s eyes were glued to the door and had gone wide with fear.

The pounding and slapping against the door continued for a while, before the person then began swinging something at the door—a baseball bat? Whatever it was, he used the item to hit the door a dozen or so times in the row, and it seemed like the weak, old little door was on the verge of snapping in half.

“We have to get out of this house,” Patrice hissed. She grabbed a small vase off the dresser and hurled it at the window with all her strength, shattering the glass. “Move,” she told Kristin, ushering her toward the windowsill. Greg stumbled to his feet, his face colorless, as starkly white as a piece of paper.

“You go first,” Kristin said to Patrice. She was shaking so badly she probably wouldn’t have even been able to lift herself up if she tried.

Patrice climbed out quickly, without issue, though she slightly cut her hand on a piece of jagged glass—she was so wracked with fear and adrenaline that she barely noticed. “Your turn,” she told Kristin.

But Kristin still didn’t feel ready, and beckoned Greg to go ahead. He approached the window—and as he did, stepped on a piece of broken glass. The pain hit him instantly, unlike with Patrice, and he buckled over as he let out a scream.

“Greg!” Kristin cried, watching as blood streamed from the bottom of his foot. “Oh God, Greg, are you okay?”

Behind them, the door was breaking and seemingly about to come straight off its hinges; Patrice could see they didn’t have much more time.

“You both have to come now,” she begged.

Kristin nodded, urging Greg onwards. He was, by some miracle, able to crawl out the window, moaning in pain all the while. Kristin followed after, just as the door was caving in behind them. The three of them all took off toward town, the path lit only by a series of streetlamps.

“Just follow the lights,” Patrice advised. “Do you still have the Swiss Army knife, Kris?”

“Right here.” Kristin slipped it into Patrice’s hand, saying, “You should probably take it—I won’t know what to do with it.”

Greg was using Kristin as a crutch of sorts, hobbling toward town on his good foot as the other one left a trail of blood behind them. Patrice tried to stay by their side, but eventually they slowed to such a crawl that she was forced to run ahead; between the darkness and the fog, Kristin almost instantly lost sight of her.

“Greg, we have to hurry,” Kristin said, her voice pleading. She kept sneaking glances over her shoulder, terrified she’d see the madman right on their heels—but seeing much of anything beside the fog and clouded glow of the streetlamps was impossible.

“I . . . can’t . . . move any faster,” he said, though, for her benefit, he tried to set his wounded foot down and see if he could walk on it—he couldn’t. The pain was unbearable.

Kristin could swear she heard footsteps just behind them. She tried to pick up the pace, but as soon as she did, Greg teetered and started to fall.

“You have to go on without me,” he said, his hand digging into her arm for support.

“What? No, I could never.”

“If you stay with me”—he paused, wincing in pain—”then we’ll both die. You have to go, Kristin, please.”

“I said I’m not leaving you. Now stop talking like that and just focus on walking. We’ll survive this—you have to believe that we will.” The two limped onwards, trying to inch their way toward wherever Patrice was, but it became increasingly difficult—Kristin started to grow tired from holding Greg up, and Greg was becoming weaker and less able to walk on only his one foot.

“We have to stop,” he told her.

“We can’t, it’s not safe—” She glanced over her shoulder, and this time, she could faintly make out a human shape. It was just an outline, ill-defined and mostly hidden by the fog and dark, but the streetlamps were enough to glimpse it. Her breath caught in her throat.

“What? What do you see?” Greg asked, his voice a tired wheeze.

“Uh, it’s—it’s nothing. I don’t see anything. Come on, let’s walk a little faster . . .”

“I can’t. I told you.” He pulled away from her suddenly, stopping in the middle of the road.

“What are you doing? We have to keep moving!”

You do. I’m slowing you down too much—we won’t make it like this.”

She started to cry again. “Don’t say that, Greg!”

“I’m staying here. But I want you to go catch up with Patrice, okay?”

“I can’t—”

He put his hands on her shoulders, silencing her. “Kristin. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“Greg . . .”

“Please go. Leave me here.”

“At least let me walk you to the side of the road,” she said, the words barely audible through her tears. “You’ll be safer there; he won’t notice you.”

Greg nodded and she led him to the side of the path, propping him up against a streetlamp. He moaned in pain, then went quiet.

She allowed herself one last, long look at him before hurrying away, telling herself not to look back.

“`

When she caught up to Patrice, she was a sobbing, hysterical mess, her cheeks streaked with tears and eyes puffy from crying. “Greg, he . . . I left him! He told me to leave him and I did!” Her whole body was shaking.

Patrice—who had just arrived at the inn when Kristin appeared—was too distracted by her own jumble of emotions to offer up much support. Instead, she said, matter-of-factly, “We’re going inside this inn, we’re going to tell them what happened, we’re going to ask them to call the police. They’ll protect us.”

Kristin nodded, wiped at her face, and the two girls trotted up the steps. Patrice went for the door, but found it locked. “Why can’t anything be easy?” she muttered, then started banging on the door—which made Kristin jump, reminding her of the way the madman had banged on the door of the bedroom.

“Help!” Patrice called. “Please, we need help! It’s urgent! Open the door!”

After what felt like hours of pounding (with Kristin eventually joining in), the old-lady floral curtains of a nearby window parted and a grim-faced woman stared out at them from behind the glass.

“Oh, thank God,” Patrice said. “Listen, there’s a murderer coming after us—he killed our friend and he’s going to do the same to us. You’ve gotta let us in, he’s going to get here any minute!”

The woman’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Are you making fun of me?”

What?”

“Having a good laugh at an old woman’s expense? Trying to ‘get one over’? Making up some elaborate story to see if I’ll fall for it? Is that it?”

“No! Jesus Christ, our friend is dead!”

“And Greg might be, too,” Kristin whimpered.

“You out-of-towners think you’re real clever, don’t you? Don’t you now? Or maybe you think us Rorroh Point locals are just a little too naïve. Well, I’ve got news for you, I know a rat when I see one.”

“No, we’re not making this up! You have to—”

The woman slammed the curtains shut without another word. Patrice continued to call after her, “I thought this was an inn—don’t you make your money off us rotten ‘out-of-towners’? Open the fucking door! We’ll pay you!” She slammed into the door, as if that would be enough to get inside—and when it didn’t work, she slammed into it some more, till the unlucky side of her body bearing the brunt of it started to bruise.

“Patrice, stop—we have to go elsewhere,” Kristin pled. “She’s not going to let us in.”

Patrice gave a heavy, tired nod, realizing Kristin was right. “But where else should we go, then? This is an inn—they should’ve been the most welcoming.” Then something occurred to her. “We have to go to the saloon. The bartender loves me—he’ll let us in for sure.” Before Kristin could respond, Patrice was pulling her down the steps and across the street, toward the saloon.

It was open, though empty save for the bartender and a single, lowly customer; Patrice rushed over and told the bartender everything that had happened in a rush, the words spilling out so quickly they were barely coherent.

But he, thankfully, understood. “I’ll close up the place and we can hide here.” He looked over to the customer. “Okay with you?”

The man rose his glass in tipsy solidarity.

Then the bartender’s gaze shifted toward Kristin, and his expression darkened. “Not you, though. Only Patrice.”

Kristin felt a wave of nausea that felt like seasickness, mixed with a dash of lightheadedness. “What?”

“You can’t stay here.”

“Don’t kick her out,” Patrice begged. “Please, I’ll do anything! She’s my best friend—you can’t just make her leave! There’s a murderer outside—”

“Only you, Patrice,” the bartender repeated. “I’ve made up my mind.”

Patrice ruefully turned to Kristin. “We’ll leave together,” she said. “We’ll find somewhere else to stay, with each other . . . it’ll be okay.”

Kristin shook her head. “No—you should stay. I’ll go.”

“Kris, no, you can’t do that. You’ll die out there if you’re by yourself.”

“I’ll go door to door. There’s gotta be someone else willing to take me in, right?” She smiled, but there were tears in her eyes.

“Don’t, please!” Patrice started to cry—full-on, messy tears. “I won’t be able to live with myself if you go.”

“Well, I can’t stay here, and you can. You should.” Kristin nodded, certain this was the right thing to do, even though the prospect of heading out alone was terrifying. She wondered, had Greg felt like this, when he told her to leave him? Did he feel as frightened as she did now?

“You’re . . . you’re sure about this?”

Kristin nodded.

“Oh God, Kris . . .” Patrice leaned forward and hugged her suddenly, desperately. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her breath warm against Kristin’s neck. Then, pulling away, she turned to the bartender. “Can you at least call the police before sending her away?”

He shook his head. “We don’t have a phone. We’re old-fashion here in Rorroh Point—lots of places don’t have phones, computers . . .”

Patrice turned back to Kristin. Her face was scrunched up in outrage, and sadness, and hurt and frustration. “I’m so sorry,” she said again, choking on her sobs.

“I’ll be all right,” Kristin told her. She managed another tepid smile.

“Take this, at least,” Patrice said, handing her the Swiss Army knife. “Go for the face. Make him hurt, okay?”

Kristin nodded.

And with that, she ducked out of the saloon, the sound of Patrice’s crying growing distant behind her. A moment after she left, she heard the bartender walk to the door and lock it. Patrice, at the very least, was safe.

Now the only one left was Kristin.

The downtown area of Rorroh Point was silent and dark. The streetlamps had a creepy effect, looking like giant, blurry fireflies in the fog. She couldn’t see the stores very well, but she had a basic idea of them from her earlier walk—which now felt like a lifetime ago. She thought back to the shops she had seen and pondered which seemed the most hospitable.

It was while she was pondering this, huddled outside the saloon, that she felt something in her hair. It took her a moment to realize it was a hand.

She screamed.

The hand clamped down tightly and yanked her head back by her hair, pulling her against the person’s body; the assailant then lifted up his other hand, high into the air, and she spotted the glint of a shiny object. She soon realized it was a knife.

As she let out another scream, the man thrust the knife downwards, stabbing her abdomen. She cried out yet again, thrashing wildly to get away from him. His grip on her hair slipped, and she was able to get free—but, instead of running away, she spun around and slashed the Swiss Army knife across his face.

It wasn’t till after she’d done so that she realized he was wearing an elaborate mask—she hadn’t even touched him.

So she swiped quickly at his chest instead, and this time, she succeeded in cutting him. It was little more than a superficial scrape, but it was better than nothing, and it distracted him long enough for her to turn around and make a run for it.

As she tore down the street, she searched through the fog for any store or home with its lights on, but it was almost impossible to even see the outlines of the buildings. It was just as impossible to try to spot the madman over her shoulder—the fog was so thick that even if he was a few steps behind her, she wouldn’t have been able to tell.

She ran for quite some time, until an unbelievably heavy, tired feeling started to take hold of her. She didn’t realize it, but the knife wound he’d given her was gushing blood. Though she didn’t feel pain, she did feel exhaustion, the loss of blood taking its toll. Eventually, she got so weak that she collapsed, having to crawl to a nearby streetlamp and prop herself against it—like I propped Greg up, she thought distantly. She wondered what had become of him . . .

Her eyes started to shut. She felt so, so tired—maybe, if she could just go to sleep for a little while, she’d wake up stronger. Strong enough to outrun him, even.

Yes, she decided, that was exactly what she needed: sleep.

THE BEGINNING

 

“We should take a trip somewhere,” Kristin said. She and her four closest friends—Greg, her boyfriend of six years and friend of ten; Barrett, Greg’s brother who was younger by one year and more mature by a dozen; and Patrice, her very best friend since fourth grade—were all sitting around their old clubhouse, reminiscing and drinking beer. “We don’t see each other enough. And anyway, we’re twenty-two—that’s the age to have fun, right? We all could use a little more fun in our lives.” Quickly, she added, “Except you, Patrice—you could use a little less fun.”

“I’m twenty-one, not twenty-two,” Barrett corrected. “And for your information, I have plenty of fun. For instance, this week, on my blog—”

“No one wants to hear it,” Patrice cut in. “In fact, I’d rather hear a graphic description of stomach surgery than anything more about your blog.”

He shrugged and said, in an I’m-too-good-for-this voice, “Suit yourself.”

Kristin’s brother popped in suddenly, bearing more bottles of beers. He was younger than her by two years, and as such was always trying to endear himself to the cool older kids that were Kristin’s group of friends. When they were kids, he’d bring Oreos, chocolate bars, and other little gifts to their clubhouse, in hopes they’d let him stay. Now that they were adults, he still did the same, but the gifts had matured to beers and bottles of tequila. “I couldn’t help overhearing,” he said with a grin. “You guys want to take a trip?”

“Well, it was one idea,” Kristin said. She looked around the group. “What do you guys think?”

They gave murmurs of approval and nods of their head.

“All right then. Looks like we’re doing this.”

“Well, if I may make a recommendation,” her brother began, “I’d suggest going to Rorroh Point. There’s a nice house there available on AirBnb. And it’s the coolest little town, right by the beach.”

“Ohhh, is that the town you’re constantly visiting?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I’ve told you a bit about it before. Really foggy, but charming as fuck, and that ocean—you can’t beat it. Look up ‘seaside town’ in the dictionary and there’s a picture of Rorroh Point. It’s idyllic.”

“Sounds like paradise,” Kristin said. She smiled. “Thanks for the suggestion, Xander!”

He smiled back. “Don’t mention it. Just let me know if you decide to go—I might have to drop in for a visit.”

“`

A few weeks later, Kristin, Greg, Patrice and Barrett jumped in Kristin’s car and headed down to Rorroh Point.

“This is exciting,” Kristin said. “I can’t believe I’ve never been to this town before.”

“Well, if Xander recommended it, it must be good,” Greg reasoned.

“I just hope it’s not one of those boring little towns where nothing ever happens,” Patrice said.

“It most likely is,” Barrett replied. “But I suppose you never know. Perhaps something thrilling will happen.”

“I can only hope.”

“`

Rorroh Point was not nearly as impressive as Kristin had thought it would be. For one thing, according to the owner of their Airbnb home, the town had a dense fog that was “always there, all day, every day”; for another, she’d seen towns made from Legos that were bigger than Rorroh.

The Airbnb house itself was old and musty, and as basic as basic can be. While Barrett found its odd floor plan and retro touches delightful, the rest of the group couldn’t hide their underwhelmed feelings.

As they each spread out and picked bedrooms, Kristin tried telling herself it would grow on her. Greg agreed, kissing the top of her head as he said, “Don’t worry—the house is totally and completely fine.”

“I know . . . but I wanted better than fine. This is the first trip we’ve taken as a group since high school.”

“And it will be better than fine. We’re not here for the house, right? We’re here for the town, and for the company. The house is just a roof to keep out the rain. Oh, and by the way, I heard it’s going to rain.”

“Oh great—there’s nothing better than rain when you’re planning on heading to the beach.”

He chuckled. “It’ll be fine, Kris. I promise.”

It was as she started to unpack her bags that she realized she’d left her purse in the car. Sighing, she rose to her feet and left her temporary bedroom, heading back out to the car.

She grabbed her purse, spun around and hoofed it back inside just as quickly—there was a weird, creepy energy about the outside, and the whole town, that she couldn’t quite explain.

It was as she was stepped inside that she caught sight of a figure in her peripheral vision, darting out a side door. She paused mid-step. “Greg?” she called. She’d barely seen the person, but it looked like a man, tall and slim and dressed in black.

“In here,” Greg called. She followed his voice and found him and Barrett hanging around Barrett’s room.

“Where’s Patrice?” she asked.

“Bathroom, right next door.”

Patrice rapped her knuckles against the connected wall as if to punctuate this.

Kristin looked back over her shoulder, brow furrowing in confusion. If they were all right here . . .

There was a leaden feeling in her stomach suddenly, hard and heavy like an anchor, and a bitter taste in her mouth. “You guys,” she said slowly, “I think I just saw a ghost.”