He was coming.
My heart pounded as I ran through the darkened hallway. I could hear him behind me, and if he caught me, I’d die.
My hands were slick with blood, but I didn’t think it was mine. My sides hurt from running, and my feet were cold, but I wasn’t injured. Not yet. If he caught me though, I’d be worse than injured. I’d be dead.
Had he killed someone else? It certainly seemed possible.
I passed a mirror, and my reflection caught my eye. I missed a step. Something was wrong. I stopped and went over to examine myself in the mirror. This couldn’t be me. I was a grown-up, but the girl in the looking glass wasn’t a grown-up. She was tall, but not as tall as I knew I’d be someday. The ash blonde hair and china-blue eyes were the same, but the face was too round, too young. The hair too long.
If I knew I was older, did that mean he hadn’t killed me?
“Get back here, you little brat!”
Ice flooded my veins. He was close, and he was angry. He’d been angry for almost a year now. Every day, even if it was a good day, he found something to be angry about.
“Don’t you go hiding now! That’ll just make this worse!”
He was right. Hiding just made him madder, but I was scared of what he’d do if he found me. I’d been protected before, but never again.
I looked down at my hands, at the blood soaking my clothes. It was her blood. He’d hurt her. Killed her. She was gone, and no one would protect me anymore.
But I didn’t need someone else to protect me. I was an adult. I could protect myself. Besides, this wasn’t real. It was a dream.
The surrounding trees began to sway, bending low, reaching for me with their branches. I pushed them away, thin needles like razors that sliced my skin, mixing her blood with mine. I barely registered the pain. Pines. The smell of pines filled my nose. My chest tightened, and it was hard to breathe. I needed to get away.
I started running again, rocks cutting into my bare feet, bruising them, but I couldn’t care about that. Not when I could hear him behind me, breaking things. I slammed the door behind me and then looked around, trying to find something I could put in front of it.
But it was glass. Even if I did manage to block it, he could just break through.
But I couldn’t just wait here, unprotected either. I had to do something.
I spotted a rock. Not like a little stone or even some medium-sized flowerbed edging rock. This was huge. The kind of thing people put in their yards with their house numbers on them.
I went over to where it lay and put my hands on it. It was rough, like sandstone, but at least my hands wouldn’t slip. The blood was tacky now, clinging to the rock as I braced my feet and pushed.
A blow shook the door, and my muscles screamed as I put more force into it. I needed to get this in front of the door. He was going to get inside. I couldn’t make it easy for him.
Crying. Someone was crying.
No, a kid. I was sure it was a kid.
He was screaming now. Not words. Just sound. So loud that people had to hear him.
No, wait, there were words. Bad words. Words that I wasn’t allowed to repeat.
The rock didn’t move, and the glass cracked. Fear dumped even more adrenaline into my body, and I could taste it in the back of my mouth. I was going to be sick.
I dropped to my knees and buried my face in my hands. The smell of blood filled my nose. It was sharp and metallic and made my stomach hurt.
I made a pained sound, and my eyes started watering.
This was more than just an upset stomach. It felt like fire was inside me, and I was being pulled apart. I retched, and it just made things worse. My head hurt, and I felt like I was going to pass out.
How could I pass out in a dream?
This had to be a dream. If it wasn’t, it would be too horrible to consider.
The crying got worse. Why wouldn’t someone shut him up? Why was he crying when I was the one hurting?
The glass cracked, and a dog started barking far away.
I screamed, and someone else screamed, and the dog barked, and the kid cried, and the door broke and–
I jerked awake, another scream dying in my throat. My heart was racing, my breathing ragged, and I leaned over to turn on the bedside light. Soft white light flooded the room, and I looked away to give my eyes a moment to adjust.
“Just a dream.” I said the words out loud, as if that would make it all just magically disappear.
I shivered, the sweat on my body rapidly drying now that I was awake. My breathing and pulse were beginning to return to normal too. If this had been just a normal nightmare, I’d get up, maybe get some water, then climb back in bed.
I’d had these sorts of nightmares before.
Falling off a bridge. Spiders. Monkeys. Spider monkeys. Not actual spider monkeys but a creature that looked like a cross between a spider and a monkey.
Typical monsters that nightmares are made of.
This hadn’t been one of those nightmares, the ones that were easy to shake off because they were ridiculous in the light of day, which meant that I wasn’t going to be getting back to sleep anytime soon, if at all. I knew myself well enough to know that it’d be pointless to try.
I leaned back against my pillows and stared up at the ceiling. I needed to figure out what to do now. I had hours before I had to be anywhere, and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate enough to read. I could’ve watched some TV, but the walls here were pretty thin, and I didn’t want to bother anyone else. Besides, if I couldn’t sleep, I could at least find something worthwhile to do.
I got out of bed and turned on my overhead light before turning off the lamp. I wasn’t quite ready to be in the dark again. By the time I stepped outside, however, I was comfortable enough to appreciate the stars speckled across the rich, deep blue sky. I was too close to the city for it to be completely pitch black, so that helped too.
I’d already stretched, so once I hit the cool early morning air, I didn’t have to stand around before jogging a few feet. I was just glad that it was May and not January.
I started off down the path, gradually moving from jogging to running. I wasn’t doing a flat-out sprint, but I was moving at a pretty good clip when I turned onto the sidewalk and made my way deeper into the city.
Virginia and Indiana weren’t really that similar in weather or terrain, but I had the strangest feeling of déjà vu as I ran. My nightmares – the really bad ones – did that to me sometimes. Made me feel like I was a kid again. It made sense that I’d feel that now. I’d loved to run as a kid too, and I’d been good at it. I’d actually done track in high school and made it to state a couple times.
One of the main reasons I’d always loved running was that it emptied my mind. I didn’t have to think about anything but putting one foot in front of the other. Some people liked music when they ran, but I didn’t. I preferred to hear what was going on around me. Birds. Traffic. People. Some of it was because I liked those sounds, but I knew that most of it was because I always wanted to be aware of my surroundings, even while my head was empty.
I’d made it a couple miles when I realized where I was. The hotel was nice enough, not too high end, but not too tacky either. It was perfect for businesses, especially ones who had guests staying for more than a few nights, and that was exactly why I’d ended up here, even if it hadn’t been a conscious decision.
I headed inside without second-guessing myself. If I wasn’t wanted, I’d go back, maybe go to the weight room until breakfast. But if I was wanted…well, that would be vastly more fun.
I waved at the man at the front desk, and he wiggled his fingers at me. I’d seen Hal a couple times over the last few weeks, and as long as he didn’t get any complaints about me, he had no problem letting me walk right past. Unless someone high up found out about my clandestine visits, no one was going to say anything, and I didn’t intend for anyone to find out. If it looked like that would happen, I had no problem walking away.
Right now, however, I intended to wipe my mind of everything that had been in it tonight. Give myself something better to think about. More enjoyable anyway.
I knocked on the door twice and then waited.