From the Archives: The Pact
I've been hard at work on the sequel to What She Lost, but I'm always thinking ahead to future writing projects. From the moment I started writing, I knew I wanted to one day tackle a Sci-Fi thriller. Some of my favorite books (Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, The Last Day by Glenn Kleier) have been from that genre. I've had a manuscript on the back burner for many years that I recently dusted off to review whenever I needed a break from my current work in progress. For fun, to close out a year that has often felt like a Sci-Fi, end-of-the-world thriller, I thought I'd publish the first chapter to this story. I always love to hear your thoughts, so if you want to know more, let me know! Who knows, this may be my next work in progress, so stay tuned!
Elisabeth knew something was wrong. She sensed it the minute she pushed open her front door and felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. She felt, in the air around her, the electrically-charged stillness that comes before a summer storm. Outside, the wind stirred the treetops, the sound of her neighbor's sprinkler came from the other side of the fence, and a dog barked somewhere down the street, but the silence that greeted her as she stepped into her foyer was absolute and ominous. Someone, or something, was waiting.
Glancing around her front hall cautiously, Elisabeth gently eased the door closed. Everything was the same as she had left it: the clock on the wall steadily ticked away the minutes, the framed school pictures of the boys sat on the table next to the vase of fresh cut flowers, the dish that held everything from extra coins and gum to Band-Aids and spare shoelaces appeared undisturbed. The quiet of the house around her assured her that she was alone.
Then the phone rang.
Elisabeth jumped at the sound and dropped the bag of groceries in her arms. Cursing, she bent down to pick it up and felt her hand touch something wet. Glancing into the brown paper bag, she saw that the carton of eggs she'd purchased had opened and two eggs had fallen out, their shells cracked, their yellow insides spilling onto the other groceries. Swearing under her breath once more, she stood and held the bag away from her body. "Relax," she whispered as she wiped her hand on her yoga pants. "You're being silly." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, centering herself, using the techniques she had learned in therapy. She focused on the floor beneath her feet, counted her breaths, waited as her heart settled back into its normal rhythm in her chest.
As her equilibrium returned, Elisabeth became aware of the fact that the phone was still ringing. It was the landline in the kitchen. She felt no rush to answer it. The landline only rang when a telemarketer or wrong number called. Anyone who knew her called her on her iPhone. Blowing a strand of hair out of her eyes, she walked into the kitchen and set her groceries, purse, and keys on the counter. Reaching for her water bottle, she pressed it to her hot cheek. Sweat stood out on her forehead from her recent jog and she felt sticky from the late summer heat. I need a shower, she thought as she took a long swallow of the cool water. Finally, she headed toward the desk where the phone sat, but just as she reached to answer it, it stopped.
“Hmph,” she muttered.
In the silence that followed, the house felt very big and very lonely. Ruby, their old golden retriever, hadn’t even stirred when she’d entered. Elisabeth suspected Ruby was going deaf. Glancing into the living room, she saw Ruby curled up, asleep, on the large plaid dog bed in the corner. Her paws twitched as though she were dreaming of her younger days when she was able to run without the pain of arthritis. Elisabeth sighed and looked at the clock on the stove; she still had an hour before she had to pick up the boys. If she took a fast shower, she could make it to the sitter’s in half that time. And she missed the boys desperately. She wanted to hear their laughter and see their smiles. She wanted to wrap them in her arms.
She wanted to see Brady, too, but she knew that was impossible. His presence lingered, filling every corner of her home. She could still smell his aftershave and cologne. She could still hear him humming while he brewed their coffee each morning, or singing while he shaved in the shower. She still expected to see him lying on his side of the bed, napping as he often did in the late afternoon while he waited for her to come home from work. They had made so many wonderful memories in this home, but now she felt like a stranger trespassing in another person’s rooms. Sometimes, when she entered their bedroom, her mind wasn’t focused on Brady. It was happening more often now . . . she was thinking about what to make for dinner or what time she had to be at work or finding time to help the boys with their homework. But some days, like today, the silence reminded her too much of his absence.
She sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Brady’s untouched pillow, the blanket still drawn up. On most of their mornings together, they'd wakened to find their blanket lying on the floor and the top sheet tangled in their limbs. Now, she either didn’t sleep in the bed, choosing instead to fall asleep before the TV on the large sofa in the living room, or she took a sleeping pill that put her in an almost comatose state where she didn’t move all night. The unmade side of the bed made her heart ache, and she felt tears prick the back of her eyelids. She wondered if they would ever stop.
Reaching for Brady’s pillow, she pressed it to her chest and closed her eyes, resting her head against the pillowcase. It was warm from the sunlight coming through the window, but she wanted to believe it was warm because he had just been lying there. “I miss you, Brady,” she whispered. She thought about all the things they’d shared together. And she thought about everything she hadn’t shared with him.
The phone rang again.
It scared her so much she actually jumped. She glared at the nightstand where the dated telephone, usually silent and collecting dust, sounded a warning toll. Annoyed, she reached for it and checked the caller ID. Port Huron, OH. She frowned. She didn’t know anyone in Port Huron, OH. She didn’t even know where that was. It was probably one of the many political recordings she had been letting go to voicemail lately. Her instinct was to ignore the call and get in the shower, but for some reason she pressed the talk button and raised the receiver to her ear.
“Hello?” She said.
There was silence on the other end.
She waited, expecting a recorded voice to start talking at any minute. Part of her wanted the satisfaction of hanging up on the computerized voice. Part of her wanted to rip the cord from the wall so the phone couldn't disturb her anymore. When nothing happened, she grew impatient. Perhaps this was a prank call?
“Hello?” She said again, louder, irritated.
A soft male voice spoke from the other end of the line.
Elisabeth froze. She recognized the voice. Even though it had been years since she’d heard it, it was as familiar to her as her own. It was a voice she would never forget.
“Elisabeth, is that you? Are you there? It’s me.”
She started panting, actually panting, her breath constricting in her throat. She gripped the receiver to her ear, closing her eyes.
She hadn't been called Elsie in so long. The name brought back a flood of memories.
"Elsie, he’s here. He came today.”
No, she thought desperately. No, I don’t believe it.
“You know what that means, right?” The voice asked, and Elisabeth nodded even though she knew the person on the other end of the line couldn’t see her. She knew very well what that meant, yet she tried to deny it. She tried to ignore the feeling of ice that ran through her blood. A name surfaced in her head, a name she had tried to forget, a name that had haunted her all these years.
"He's coming to you next, Elsie. Be prepared."
Slowly, Elisabeth hung up the phone. She sat for a few moments staring blindly out the window, lost in her thoughts, her memories. Then the panic took hold and she began to tremble. Kayla had warned them this would happen all those years ago. She had told them it was inevitable, but still Elisabeth had chosen not to believe, to forget. And now the time had come, just like she'd said.
"No," Elisabeth whispered. No, no, no . . .
Her heart thumped painfully against her ribcage. She looked wildly around the room, unsure what to do, her fists clenched in her lap. Then her eyes rested on the framed picture of Jordan on the nightstand. His dark blue eyes stared back at her from the other side of the glass. She thought about Kayla. She thought of her boys. Of Jordan.
That's when she began to run.