October 31st: Hallowe’en!
Alone
, by Cutter Slagle

Kimmie gripped the stainless steel knife as if simply holding onto the tool might be enough to save her life. Her cheeks felt heavy and crusty from recently cried tears; her voice was hoarse from yelling. All of those screams for help now flashed through her muddled mind; they’d been nothing more than unanswered pleas.

A squeaking sound echoed throughout the mildew-stained basement. Kimmie gasped, well aware of what was now happening: he was coming for her!

The wooden door rattled even more as it flung open. Kimmie stood on wobbly legs in the dark corner. She raised her weapon of choice. She was alone and alone she would fight for her life.

~ two hours earlier ~

Unpacking was always the worst. It never got any easier; it never became fun. She’d tried different strategies in the past, like making a game out of emptying the boxes or turning the task into a contest. But nothing ever seemed to work. No matter how she’d tried to sugarcoat the situation, Kimmie had always ended up with a mess at the end of the day.

The ugly weather that peaked through the large bay windows of the living room didn’t offer much motivation, either. In the past, Kimmie had chosen warmer places, places that centered on the beach and constant sunshine. But this time Kimmie had decided to brave the Midwest; she’d picked a place that provided all four seasons. And first up: a very chilling, winter weather advisory January.

Kimmie had never experienced a lack of power, not due to a storm, anyway. Yet here she was, alone, and it was only her second night in the three-story home. Stealing a quick peek out of the frost covered window, Kimmie became all too aware of two things: Mother Nature had no plans of easing up on the snow anytime soon, and the fact that night was quickly settling in.

She welcomed the idea of a slight change of pace, however. Kimmie had picked up yesterday’s newspaper while visiting town. From the local sheriff celebrating his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary to high school basketball scores and a new restaurant opening, this place seemed like it could become her home.

She stood up, allowing her knees a little bit of relief. For the first time, Kimmie’s bare feet felt the harsh reality of the cold floor. Her fleece blankets would definitely need to be the next items unpacked, however, finding said boxes would be an event all in its own. But first things first, Kimmie thought with a heavy sigh: light. Without a candle or match, her work would be stalled. And then, of course, there was the obvious problem at hand: darkness. The dark had never been her friend.

Kimmie crossed her thin arms over her chest. Her bulky gray sweater no longer felt warm, and she wished she’d chosen blue jeans that didn’t have the knees ripped out. She twisted side to side, taking in her surroundings while the last bit of daylight still allowed it. Cardboard boxes littered the entire layout, from the narrow hallway, to the tiled kitchen, and back around through the wide, empty living room.

A fragile smile crept onto her face; she almost wanted to reach up and touch it to make sure it was real. The thought of making a fort with all of her packed belongings came to mind, but only because she hadn’t been allowed to participate in such nonsense when she’d been a little girl.

Maybe it was time to meet her new neighbors, or more accurately, neighbor. Kimmie had been glad to find a dead end street that offered nothing more than a half-paved road, an abandoned field, and two homes two hundred feet apart that needed an equal amount of structure and improvement. Seclusion had been exactly what she’d wanted and needed. Until now, that was. Because being alone was one thing, but being alone and in the dark was quite another.

Gliding to the foyer, Kimmie kicked on her furry tan boots. Immediate warmth greeted her and gradually climbed up her body. In one motion she reached out, twisted the deadbolt, and opened the barrier to the cruel outside world. The brisk wind almost felt refreshing, but the blinding whiteness and cumulative snow would only make her journey more difficult.

Kimmie started walking. Her dark curly hair whipped in the windy weather. Though thick with ice, she clung to the metal railing to ensure safety while edging down the steep steps of the porch. Almost instantly, her knuckles turned bone white. She needed gloves; Kimmie definitely wasn’t in the south anymore.

She pivoted right and for a moment thought she was ice skating, another family experience she’d been denied. Wavy tracks stained the street behind her and Kimmie wondered how long her breadcrumb-esque trail would put up a fight against the falling white sky.

Reaching her destination after what seemed like a mile long hike, Kimmie raised a small trembling fist and tapped lightly on the maroon door. No answer. Without hesitation, Kimmie tried knocking again, only louder this time. There was still no answer.

Her own breath almost frightened her as it plumed out like an angry ghost. Kimmie faced the road, debating her next move, and that’s when it struck her: wind to the face. It hit with a vengeance. Almost knocking her down to her feet, Kimmie reached out with flailing arms and in a twisting motion, gripped the chrome door handle for support. To her awe, the door swung open and she tumbled through the entrance and down onto the tile floor.

There was an eeriness about her neighbor’s home. Shadows tainted the surrounding walls. An awkward stiffness filled the hallway, as if Kimmie had interrupted something or someone. She scrambled to her feet and shut the door behind her.

“Hello?” she called out. Kimmie noticed the layout of the house was similar to her own. To her immediate left was a carpeted stairwell. Straight back through the narrow hallway was most likely the kitchen, which was undoubtedly connected to the living room. The closed door to her right was new, though. Perhaps a bedroom?

“Hello?” Kimmie tried again. “Is anyone home?” She saw for the first time that she’d tracked in some of the outside mess and used the cloth mat in front of her to clean it up.

“I’m your neighbor, I…” her words trailed off; she didn’t believe anyone was listening, anyway.
Kimmie decided she’d try the room with the closed door and then she’d go back home. The last thing she wanted to do was snoop through a stranger’s personal space. What a way to begin a new journey, she thought with a crooked smile.
“Is anyone home?” she repeated, turned toward the closed door, and then raised a fist and tapped. “I’m Kimmie Lewis, your new neighbor. I was wondering…” the door fell open, stopping Kimmie mid-sentence.
She’d been correct, the space before her was definitely a bedroom, the master bedroom. Nothing about the design was out of the ordinary. A floor length mirror was to the left, next to a very full, open closet. A basic oak dresser with knickknacks and picture frames resting on the dusty surface sat against one lavender wall, and straight ahead was a queen sized bed. The thick comforter was still in place, as if the bed hadn’t been slept in. On top of the comforter lay a half-naked woman. Twenty-five, maybe? Eyes open, they stared blankly at the ceiling above.

A small moan escaped Kimmie. On instinct, her right hand flew up and covered her mouth. The mystery had been solved. Kimmie’s neighbor hadn’t answered any of the calls because she was dead.

“Oh my God,” Kimmie whispered through the small gap in her fingers. How? Why? Who could have… Too many thoughts and emotions collided, she felt numb. She wasn’t sure if she was going to pass out or puke.

An abrupt stomp from somewhere in the back of the home swiftly put the situation into perspective: whoever had strangled Kimmie’s neighbor was still in the house.

Without thinking, Kimmie dove to the floor and rolled under the bed. A tight and uncomfortable squeeze, Kimmie lay in a pile of mothballs with the heavy mattress pushing down on her. She tried her best not to breathe.

She’d taken cover just in the nick of time. Black boots appeared in the open doorway. Kimmie wanted to scream.

“Weird,” the husky voice came from above. “I thought I closed this door.”

She slammed her eyes shut. If this was it, if this was how it was all going to end, Kimmie didn’t want to see or know anything.

She’d been in this position too many times before: waiting, hiding under the bed, praying for safety or for the gift to be invisible. Anything. She’d always been found, though. First by her stepfather, then by her husband. Most people feared monsters under the bed, but under the bed was where she’d gone to escape her’s.

With every small hair on the back of her neck standing up, she waited to be found yet again. Only this time she couldn’t help but feel she wouldn’t get out alive.

Kimmie finally opened her eyes to a squint, watching as the dark boots moved from the foot of the bed up to the head. She felt burning tears stinging the corners of her eyes. She desperately tried to block out all thoughts and become an emotionless statue, but bits of panic kept creeping in. Had she fully cleaned up her snowy mess from the foyer? Could her traveling tracks still be seen out front? And what if the intruder happened to look under the bed? Would she be able to escape or even defend herself?

The loud thud forcefully pulled Kimmie from her reverie. She couldn’t look away, and when she turned to face the commotion, she found herself staring eye to eye with the victim. Kimmie found herself hypnotized by the other woman’s eyes. She almost let out a cry.

Black gloves that matched the black boots appeared out of nowhere and hastily picked up the body. Kimmie placed both hands over her mouth and pressed her forehead to the ground. She only opened her eyes and slid out from her hiding space after hearing what sounded like the back door being closed.
In one elongated motion, Kimmie made her move. She fled the bedroom, flew through the neighbor’s foyer and front door, and slipped and slid until she was safely home. She let out a deep sigh, but she didn’t rest long.

Her legs felt like anchors as she moved toward the back of her home. She was going too fast. Her feet came together like magnets and she tripped over an empty box, causing her to fall hard. She ripped the sleeve of her sweater, scraped her elbow, and started to bleed. But she didn’t care; she didn’t let her wound slow her down. Kimmie picked herself up and darted toward the back of the house.
It felt like minutes, but she reached the back entrance and threw the deadbolt in place. Then, with a weak and unsteady hand, she lifted the blinds that blocked the window and peeked out. Kimmie was given a perfect view of her neighbor’s backyard, but she saw nothing. No body, no killer – only white nothingness.

She took another deep breath and let the blinds dip back into their original setting. She eased back into the kitchen and grabbed the phone that sat on the granite countertop. Kimmie pressed a button and shoved the cordless piece to her ear. The phone was still dead, but she’d had to make certain.
Her cell immediately popped into her mind. Her leather purse was on the counter, too, but after digging through it, she came up empty handed. She could feel hope slipping away.

As if on cue, her smoky memory kicked in and she recalled placing the device in its charger in the front living room. She quickly escaped the kitchen, dodged the empty box that had stalled her before, and entered the room she had been unpacking a little while ago. Her cell phone almost seemed to glow, as if she’d found the hidden treasure.

She picked up the phone, silently prayed the tool had had time to charge before the storm, hit a button, and jammed the device to her ear. The phone never turned on. Like everything else around her, it was dead.

“Damn!” she screamed through gritted teeth. Hope was no longer fading; it had completely vacated her body. She gave in to her fear and started to sob.

A solid wave of nausea hit her gut and she made it to the kitchen sink just in time to lose the breakfast she had consumed earlier that morning. Kimmie ran the cold water, washed away her vomit, and splashed the coolness against her warm cheeks. Then, she reached to her left for a towel and began drying her face. She’d just replaced the towel, when she heard the front door squeak open.
Kimmie felt her eyes shoot up. Once again, she lost her breath. Her heart skipped a beat, reminding her that she’d been so concerned with locking the back door that she’d forgotten to lock the front one.
As soon as the door opened it closed. Dead silence spread throughout the interior of the first floor. Kimmie tiptoed back through the kitchen and faced the front entrance. A pile of water and slush greeted her, but nothing else. She walked toward the front door and glanced out the side window. Her tiny footsteps were still present, but now there was a new pair, a bigger pair. The tracks had clearly been made by a man wearing boots.

Kimmie angled back around and searched intently for the man who had followed her home. He wasn’t anywhere visible, not to her, anyway. But even though she couldn’t see anyone, Kimmie still knew that she was no longer alone.

He was upstairs! The ceiling fan above her started to rattle, making an annoying clanging sound; he was searching the first bedroom. Sweat appeared at her forehead and began inching down the side of her face. Kimmie knew she didn’t have much time. He’d find the entire floor empty and then would return back down the stairs, back to where she was. If she listened closely, she thought she could already hear him coming. She had to move! Now!

Without even thinking, she started running. She slithered away from the stairwell to meet the basement door. Kimmie didn’t know where to go or what to do. On instinct, she grabbed a knife from the recently unpacked kitchen utensils that were lying on the square island behind her. Holding tightly onto the tool, she threw open the door to the basement, shut it behind her, and then started her journey down into darkness.

She moved lightly and with ease, but the wooden stairs beneath her feet still creaked. Her tears came quicker now. They landed on her cold cheeks and stayed in place, as if they’d been glued there. When Kimmie hit the landing, she pivoted and placed herself up against the far wall. The stone surface was freezing and sent chills throughout her entire body. Facing the door, she slowly slid down and sat on the mildew-stained floor. She lowered her head and began to cry.

Kimmie didn’t stay down long. The basement door twisted open and the intruder’s weight hit the stairs. He’d found her, but more importantly, he’d trapped her. And then his voice rang out, and Kimmie could have sworn her ears had started to bleed. Kimmie tried to block out the nails-down-a-chalkboard-like sound, but the task was useless. He was taunting her and she couldn’t escape.

“Hello?” the man’s voice was a hushed whisper. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Gradually rising, Kimmie finally stood tall. She held onto the kitchen knife even tighter now, so tight that the handle dug into her bare skin and started to hurt. There was only one thing left to do. She was alone and alone she would fight for her life. She was as ready as she was ever going to be.
But then something happened, something strange that caused Kimmie’s head to pound even more. With her knife pointed outward and ready to defend, the man in front of her began walking. He wasn’t walking down, though, he was walking up; he was climbing. Kimmie dared to release a smile as she realized her intruder was leaving the basement.

The door opened and then shut again; Kimmie allowed herself to bask in the moment of safety for a few seconds. She threw the knife down and let her face fall into the sweaty palms of her hands. She let out a fragile moan and then knew that it was time to go.

Kimmie frantically waited a few more moments, but nothing happened. There was only silence. She wondered if this was just an evil trick to get her out of hiding. But she couldn’t wait any longer. Hiding in the damp dark wasn’t doing her any good. She found the stairs and started up them.

She reached her destination and then raised a shaking hand and turned the knob of the door. Kimmie eased it open. No one grabbed her; no one stood waiting to kill her. She darted into the kitchen and began thinking about her next move.

Suddenly, she had it! Her dead cell phone was lying on the counter where’d she’d placed it right before she’d gotten sick. In one quick movement, she snatched the phone and ran for the back door. She flung it open and didn’t bother shutting it once she was outside. As fast as her legs would carry her, she headed toward the detached garage. Kimmie sprinted through the door, barely stopping short of colliding with her dark blue Honda.

The garage was murky and smelled of burnt coal. As if she were blind, she felt around with her hands until she gasped hold of the passenger’s side door. She lifted the handle, opened the barrier, and dove in. Kimmie slammed the auto lock button, and then allowed herself a moment to breathe.

She lifted her right hand to the ceiling and switched on the overhead light. She started digging through the useless clutter that was stacked in the glove box. Seconds later, her hands emerged with a thin cord; it was the car charger to her phone! Clasping the device felt as comforting as holding onto a semi automatic.

Kimmie plugged one end of the charger into the car’s cigarette lighter and the other into the bottom of her phone. She turned the phone on and watched wide eyed as the tool sprang to life. Tears filled the corners of her eyes once again, but this time it was tears of joy. Wasting no more time, she stabbed in 9-1-1 and waited.

“9-1-1,” the operator stated. “What is your emergency?”

“Yes, hello! My n-n-name is Kimmie Lewis. He murdered my neighbor! He’s going to murder me! Please! You have to help me!”

“Okay, Kimmie, I’ll help you. Please, calm down. What is your location?”

Kimmie rattled off her new address. “Please! You’ve got to send someone. Now!”

“I’m sending help, Kimmie. But you have to understand that it may take a while for someone to arrive. The roads are getting worse and —”

“Please,” Kimmie begged, all too aware of the quiver in her lip. “I don’t want to die. Not now, not like this!”

“You need to do two things for me, Kimmie. Are you listening?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Okay, good,” the operator praised. “First, I need you to be close to the front entrance of your house. Are you there now?”

“No,” Kimmie said. “I’m in my car, in the garage.” She quickly explained about her cell phone.

“That’s fine,” the other woman said. “You need to barricade yourself in a room, a room that is close to the front entrance of the home. You don’t want to miss the officer when he arrives.”

“But… I can’t. What if —”

“Kimmie, you have to listen to me. Do what I say and you’ll be fine. I promise,” the operator said. “You’ll get through this. I’ll get you through this.”

Kimmie did what she was told. She flipped the phone shut and then turned off the overhead light. She had to make a run for it, back into the house, back behind a locked door. But she couldn’t, not yet. She was too cold. Her entire body felt as if it had been dipped in ice. She wrapped her arms around her body, as if hugging herself could keep her warm.

That’s when she heard it, the small scratching noise — it was coming from the backseat. Kimmie didn’t bother turning around; she didn’t have the strength to do so. She slowly reached out with her right hand, found the cold door handle, and pulled. Nothing happened. The door didn’t budge. She was trapped in the car!

The noise grew louder. Kimmie knew this was it! She had to get out of the car, otherwise she’d — no, she couldn’t think like that. She wouldn’t. She’d come too far.

She pushed with everything she had, even throwing her frail body completely against the hard door. Kimmie abruptly discovered her problem: the door was still locked from earlier. She smashed down onto the button, threw open the door, jumped out and slammed the door shut behind her.

A swift glance to the backseat showed Kimmie that no one was hiding in the car. It had been her fear, her imagination, her mind playing one last and cruel trick on her. She fled the garage and never looked back.

Her feet were moving again. Kimmie found herself flying almost, first through the back door and then to the front of the house. But survival was close; she could almost taste the sweetness of it. A lone suburban sat at the curb, its red and blue flashing lights broke through the side window.
Kimmie reacted. She tore open the front door and raced down the steps of the porch. She didn’t even consider falling on the ice. She’d made it… again. She was a lifer. Her bony body seemed to blend in with the wind as she came closer to her safety net.

She jerked the passenger door to the suburban open. “Thank God!” she hollered and climbed into the police vehicle. She closed the door and heard the lock fall into place. “You saved me!”

“Miss,” he started, “it’s alright. Everything will be okay.”

She recognized his voice. Her sight traveled to the steering wheel where his hands rested in tight, black gloves. And finally, she took in his feet: black boots. His face was recognizable, too. He was from the paper, Kimmie decided.

“No,” Kimmie whispered, staring at him blankly. “It’s you.”

“Nosy neighbor,” he said with a slight shake of his head. “This didn’t have to happen.”

“But, I…” she tried the handle of the door, already knowing the gesture would be useless. The officer had a firm hold on the auto lock.
“Here’s the thing, I’m the Sheriff of this town. How do you think it would have looked for me and my family when your neighbor rattled off the details of our very private affair? Huh? I wanted to end things and she wanted to tell. I would have been run out of my own home.”

Kimmie didn’t speak, she couldn’t. She’d spent her whole day running, her whole life running, and now it was all over. She’d lost.

“I’m sorry. I really am sorry,” he said, lunging for her neck.

She didn’t even try to squirm away. The fight in her was gone. She was alone, again. And again, no one was coming to help her.

The pressure around Kimmie’s neck increased until her world went black.

*

With a degree in English and a minor in creative writing, Cutter Slagle knew he always wanted to be a writer. He’s previously had 14 short stories and five poems published in various print anthologies and online magazines. He’s actively seeking representation for his debut novel, Bad Actress. His first e-book, A Motive for Murder, will be available on Amazon.com at the end of this year. For all of the latest updates on Cutter’s writing, make sure to follow him on twitter @cuttTHROAT10 and on Instragram @cutt10.


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