Jess’s purse thudded to the ground at her feet and her entire body seized up. The eyes didn’t move even as her scream pierced the night.
Run! Run, you idiot! she thought, her heels scuffing against the pavement to turn.
A metal door clanked open nearby, throwing a stretch of eerie green light across the alley.
Jess scuttled behind some garbage bins nearby and hunkered down in the darkness they provided. She peeked out after a couple seconds.
The silhouette of a person closed in over the glow until someone stood at the entrance, a garbage sack thrown over their shoulder. With one single heft, the person hucked the bag into the dumpster where she had seen the eyes. A flurry of screeches rose up out of the bin. The guy kicked the dumpster and shouted, “Frickin’ critters!”
After a moment, the little bandit crawled out of the dumpster and down to the ground. It started lapping at the puddle of reddish liquid (in the new light revealed to be raspberry jam from a cracked jar).
The man vanished back inside and the door creaked shut.
Jess stood up and growled. Dumb raccoons. She picked up her purse and shook the last of the chill from her as she continued her way down the alley toward her apartment.
Jess walked and walked. The sounds of the city seemed miles away, echoing into the sky all around her. Unlike most, Jess had always found the city a safe place. People were everywhere. There was always someone around to help, no matter what. And for the most part, they were all wonderful if not quirky people ready to assist with whatever small task or favor was needed. She’d met a number of people on her walks over the last couple months after moving out there to go to school. Her favorite was an older Asian woman with four cats who loved to sit and read on her fire escape up above Jess’s apartment. Sometimes, Jess would go out on her fire escape and read, too. The cats would come down to visit and chirrup at her for attention.
As Jess came out of her train of thought, she realized that the alley was still very black and it was now impossible to see the other end of it. It was as though the light had been completely blocked off. Frowning, she brought her maglite out again and clicked it on, a shred of her anxiety fading with the dark. Instead, the light showed a large truck blocking off the alley, the brakes still faintly hissing.
Great, she sighed. I’m going to have to find a way around.
Nearby, there was an open door, lit by a faint bulb. It was probably an apartment building. There would be a front entrance. Even if it was a business, she was sure she could negotiate her way out to the street front of St. James. Besides, she’d had enough of dark alleys for one evening.
Jess climbed a couple stairs and entered the apartment complex.
It was very similar to her own building, the old linoleum floors in brown and white checkers, dingy carpeted stairs and a permeation of cigarette smoke that seemed to emanate from the walls. The sound of her shoes ricocheted through the halls as she made her way down them.
It was funny. Usually places like this were so loud. Walls were typically paper thin. You could hear any arguments, squeals of laughter, howls of passion, and trumpets of television without needing to crane an ear to listen. But tonight…this place was silent, too.
As Jess closed in on the front door, she noticed something on the floor near the staircase.
A wallet? Who in their right mind would have dropped their wallet there?
Darlene would have told her to “take the money and run”, a phrase that often came up jokingly while on their shifts at the ice cream shop. But, even with what Jess had been through tonight, she couldn’t bring herself to leave the wallet there. Someone was probably going out of their mind looking for it. It was probably someone who lived there anyway.
She picked it up and opened it to find identification. There was a driver’s licence for Will Hammond. I might as well start knocking on doors.
Since it was at the base of the stairs, the only logical thought was that it belonged to someone on one of the upper floors. She climbed up to the second story. Up here the light was intermittent, several bulbs blown out here and there. Toys littered the hall in front of a couple doors. Jess stepped up to the first door and gave the door a firm knock.
Now more than ever, she listened for the sound of activity. She really just wanted to get home, every bit of her brain fighting with her that this was a silly thing to be doing. But she wanted to be like the city people she admired and idealized. Even if she’d had a shitty night to start, it could end up alright.
No one answered the door.
Jess tried the remaining doors on the first floor, only getting two answers, both from people who would rather not have been disturbed. Neither of them matched the drivers licence photo she’d looked at, so she made up an excuse that she was coming to talk to them about Jehovah. Both shut the doors in her face.
Moving up to the third floor, Jess took a deep breath as she knocked on the first door. As her knuckles struck the wood, the door edged in a little. Someone had left their door unlocked? Maybe they were expecting someone.
As Jess pushed the door further in and muttered a weak “Hello?”, she quickly thought otherwise. A lamp lay on the floor, the light blinking on and off with a faint crackling sound. Heart thrumming now, Jess knew that this was the last place she should be. She should have left the wallet right where she’d found it and gone home. A sick curiosity hugged her though and made her move further into the apartment. What if someone is hurt? Needs an ambulance?
The first room was a living room. The coffee table was flipped and the radio was garbling out some news, the announcer’s voice stern and deep. “Hello?” she called again tiptoeing up toward the two doorways nearby.
In the kitchen, there was a pot steaming away on the stove, the water boiled out of it. Jess quickly turned off the stove top and moved the pan to the sink. Jess rubbed sweat from her brow, the apartment practically sweltering. “Hello?”
She continued to the next room, the door opened only a crack. Against all of her instincts, Jess pushed open the door.
The bloodbath. Not raspberry jam. Not a broken jar.
Jess sank to the floor, her entire body numb as she gazed on the carnage before her. A man lay across the bed, his chest carved open into a cavity. All of the things that were supposed to be inside were gone and all that was left was a gory mess. The longer she stared at it, the more her vision blurred until tears stung the corners of her vision.
Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.
She recognized his face, carved in horror. It was the owner of the wallet, Will.
Jess knew then. She needed to leave. She needed to get home and call the police. First and foremost, she needed to get somewhere safe.
Just as she started to move, she heard something. A rustle from one of the other rooms. Then a creak, like a boot pushing against a squeaky floorboard.
There was someone else here.
Jess remained still. How had they not heard her? She thought she’d been pretty loud but maybe her voice had been softer than she’d imagined. Her nickname in school had always been “Mouse”.
The creaks were coming from the room across from her, what she could only assume was the bathroom.
I need to hide! she thought, glancing around for a place to go. Her eyes settled on the bed. It didn’t have a frame; the box-spring was directly on the floor. There was a wardrobe though. Jess slinked over to it and carefully peeled open a door.
What if the killer isn’t done though? She shivered as she climbed inside the wardrobe. A myriad of suits and sweaters enveloped her, all smelling faintly like dryer sheets.
The door to the bathroom opened. Jess pulled the wardrobe door closed so that she could just peek out. It was too late. She would have to wait until the killer left.
A gangling shape stepped into view. His arms and legs seemed unnaturally long and nimble. He was clothed in black, everything seeming raggedy and somehow too long for his already too long limbs. Over his face he wore a mask which she couldn’t quite make out. All she knew was that it didn’t look like a human face. It almost seemed skeletal.
The killer wasn’t holding any obvious weapons. He pulled on a pair of white gloves, stained by blood, to cover his hands, doing it slowly, methodically making sure each finger was fully stretched.
Jess couldn’t help the tremors racking her body. She didn’t want to be there. And with each thought of how much she didn’t want to be there, she fought back tears. She should have just gone to the stupid movie with Darlene and Brad.
The killer moved out of her line of sight and she heard him walk down the hall. Good. He’s leaving. He’s leaving.
But the footsteps stopped. Jess remembered that she’d pulled the pot off the stove in the kitchen. Crap. Crap, crap, crap!
The footsteps turned around and started back toward the bedroom.
Jess was trapped.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of Backstreet Bloodbath! If you’re enjoying the series, please like, comment, and subscribe. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Part III will be out October 17th at 11 PM.