NO STRINGS ATTACHED

no-string“Please come over? I swear I’m so freaked out right now… I don’t want to be alone.” She cupped the phone handset like it was her life’s blood. She wriggled lower into her bed covers so she was hidden up to her neck.

“C’mon, you’re not that scared of a dream. What’s really going on?” her friend Sarah yawned. She had been sleeping soundly before Madison’s ring tone (Bukowski) rudely shook her awake.

“It wasn’t a dream. That’s what I keep trying to tell you. I’ve seen this same guy in, like, six different dreams. Each time, he’s disposing of a woman’s body. I swear, Sarah, he looked around like he knew I was watching him. It was so creepy–and so real. I don’t think it was a dream at all. What if he can follow my trail? What if it was like a two-way mirror? Sarah, what if he can find me?”

Madison sounded like she was about to have the mother of all anxiety attacks, her friend surmised. “Okay, tell me exactly what happened in this one. Spare no detail. Just close your eyes and tell me the dream,” Sarah instructed. She was out of her bed now, pulling on leggings and a tunic sweatshirt in the dark as she hugged the cell phone between her face and shoulder. She had dropped her phone three separate times doing the same stunt and now the glass was all cracked and crazed; she held it together with a screen protector so she could stop cutting up her fingers.

“Not until you’re here. I’m afraid to conjure his image at all, Sarah. I’m worried he might see me, somehow. It’s almost like there is an invisible tether between the two of us. I think he knows the tether is there, but he hasn’t found it yet. Every time I think of him, every time I dream about him, I think it gets him closer. I’m afraid, Sarah.”

Sarah jumped into her Sanuk flats, placed a scribbled note on her pillow for Mike, and grabbed her bag and car keys. “Okay, I’m walking out the door. I’ll be there in five,” her friend promised.

“Thank you, Sarah. I’m sorry to get you up in the middle of the night. Please tell Mike I’m sorry I woke him.”

“Are you kidding me? Nothing wakes that man once he hits REM sleep. Crap, he slept through the earthquake.”

“Okay, well anyway, I’m really sorry, but I really appreciate this, Sarah.”

“Forget about it,” she tried with her best New Jersey accent. “I’m in the car now so I gotta hang up. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.” She changed her tone to one of untimely cheerfulness and added, “think about baskets of Pit Bull puppies.” She disconnected the call and hit the gas.

They were stretched sideways across Madison’s queen bed. Madison glanced at the alarm clock as she passed the joint back to Sarah. It was 2:35 in the morning. They both were supposed to be at work tomorrow, although Madison was contemplating the use of a sick day. She couldn’t face all of those kids with no sleep. The smoke was calming her anxiety attack, though. She no longer felt like her heart was beating too fast. She sighed.

“Ready?”

“Oh my God, I’ll never be ready for this,” Madison answered quietly.

“Come on, close your eyes and, you know, fly, float, or whatever it is you do; let go. I’m right here.” Sarah soothed.

“Okay.” Madison’s eyes closed. “The first time I saw him he was pulling clothing and crap out of a big, dusty trunk in what looked like an attic space, and I’m pretty sure there was a body wrapped in cellophane, laid next to that trunk. I just didn’t know what I was seeing at the time.  The next time I saw him he was in, like… I guess it could have been attic space too, but it was long and narrow and had sharply-angled drywall floor-to-ceiling on one side. There was a bank of mullioned windows all across the other side that looked out upon the roofs and penthouses of neighboring buildings; it was eerily pretty. The moon was full and it cast strong white light upon him—and that’s why I saw the plastic-wrapped… thing. He was laying the parcel down in front of the windows.” She squeezed her eyes tighter. “I saw hair… brown; I saw polished nails… a hand had broken free of the plastic casing. I think she was wearing acrylics.” She felt her friend grab her hand and squeeze it gently.

“Tell me what happened this time, Madison. What did you see?”

“Okay. I was sort of floating, I guess, over someone’s backyard. It’s a pricey neighborhood. Um… there’s a built-in swimming pool and pretty landscaping with stone, Birds of Paradise, and Malibu lights.  There’s a sliding glass door from a master bedroom; it’s open. There’s gauzy, white tab drapes stirring in a slight breeze. Then I see him. He has a cocktail in one hand and he is standing at the edge of the pool. He’s kind of handsome, in a scarred and rugged way. Nice body, too. He seems so relaxed… so normal. Now I see the woman…” Madison was back inside her dream, even as an urgent voice inside her head begged her to stay away. “A really pretty woman in a white, one-piece swimsuit just passed briefly in front of the slider and curtains. She’s fussing around her bedroom, readying herself for him.

“He just heard her close a dresser drawer. He’s turned away from the still water to watch her brush her hair into a high ponytail. His free hand is traveling to the small of his back where he’s reaching for something… uhhh!” Her quick intake of breath whispered as it escaped her. At the exact moment of Madison’s exclamation of horror, the killer suddenly looked all about the backyard. “Oh, no! He heard me!” At that, the killer looked up into the air. “Oh my God, did he just hear that, too?” Now the killer drew a bead on just one spot in the air above him, and a slow, wicked smile seeped across his face. Madison quickly imagined herself reeling in an invisible tow rope before the killer reached for it—for her. This was too slow! She imagined she held a knife as wicked as the one the killer sported, sheathed at his belt in back; she sliced through that tether, quick and mighty. Her eyes popped open.

“What the hell? What was that?” Sarah’s arms and legs had sprouted gooseflesh.

“I swear he heard me. He looked around when I caught my breath. And when I asked aloud if he heard that, he zeroed in on the air above him; Sarah, I swear he looked right at me.”

“Wh… what did he do when he saw you?” her friend was now trembling.

“He smiled. He just smiled.”

“What did you do?”

“I tried to reel in the tow rope. I think I was too slow. I imagined myself with his knife, and I cut the cord. But, Sarah, I think I was too slow. He saw me, I just know it.”

“Jesus, Madison.” Sarah was no stranger to her friend’s weird psychic bouts—she’d known her since the fourth grade. “Do you think he can follow your… string?”

“I don’t know. I was hoping that by following his string, I might get some details that would tell me who he is, or where he is, or who his victims are. I’m just not getting very much and I’m worried he’s learning more about me with each try.”

“What do you mean? He may know what you look like, but he has no idea where in the world you are, right?”

“I don’t know. It was the way he smiled, like he knew something.” She turned around to see what was behind her; her eyes surveyed the wall. She saw nothing tell-tale on her vanity, nothing identifying on the wall about the mirror, either. And then she saw it, in the mirror: Palm Dessert Pre-school Calendar 2013. There stood Sarah and Madison with their class; their names listed below… pretty much everything a serial killer needs to find his next victim. Madison turned back slowly to her longtime friend. “Sarah, do you think he could see the calendar?” Madison’s voice took on a husky quality.

“No, I don’t. This is silly; he could be in Belize for all we know.” She held her friend’s stare. “You know I’m right.”

“Okay. But you’re going to stay here for the rest of the night, aren’t you?” Madison’s bottom lip actually quivered.

“Of course, Sweetie. I have my overnight bag and everything. We’ll go in to work together, okay? That is, if we can get some sleep now.”

Madison checked her wristwatch; the lunch period would end in about ten minutes and after that, story time. The day was so pretty it had the power to chase away the black clouds of her nightmare from the night before. Invisibly tethered to a serial killer? Sometimes even she didn’t know where she got such goofy ideas; she looked over at her best friend, smiled, and shook her head at her own silliness. Sarah seemed to understand exactly what Madison was thinking, and smiled back.

Look up!

Madison’s head jerked up at the command. Wait! That command issued from inside your head! Her mind screamed just a fraction of an instant too late. Her eyes locked onto the same dead eyes of the killer from her dreams. He stared at her from across the playground; he lifted something he had draped over the palm of one hand, something she couldn’t see… something invisible. With his other hand, he mimicked an invisible pair of scissors and sliced right through that invisible string.

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