Okay, first things first. I’m bringing my story count per week down yet again to, well, one. It was pointed out to me by my husband and also my doctor, that more than one a week is borderline insanity because it means high stress and very little time for anything else. That wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t have to finish editing my first novel and also finish writing yet another novel. That, on top of numerous other life responsibilities… Yeah, you get the picture 🙂 New stories will come out every Monday morning barring unforeseeable events.
Today, we’re changing things up a little bit because Larry offered me a challenge I couldn’t refuse. His challenge was, if he sent me three different pictures, could I find a way to weave them all into the same story? I found that proposition to be both intriguing and a little scary…
Below you will find the result– I’ll let you be the judge of if I should ever take on this madness again!
Photo Credits: Stock Photo, tokkoro.com, Stock Photo
Here is, ‘Perspective’:
The coffin was closed. Of course it was. After what Dylan had done to himself, it couldn’t be any other way.
Kathleen stared at the polished wood and tried to imagine her fiancé lying in there. Not being able to see him almost made it seem like he might still be alive.
She could feel the looks that were being cast her way by those who hadn’t quite known Dylan enough to truly mourn, but well enough to come to his funeral. Refusing to acknowledge those looks, she instead turned her eyes from the coffin to Mr. and Mrs. Grady. Tears were absent from both of their faces, but both had the red eyes and busted blood vessels to prove that the current lack of moisture was the rarer occurrence.
A familiar figure slid into the chair right next to her.
“How you holding up?” asked Graham, her cousin and also closest friend.
“What do you think?” Kathleen answered, still keeping her eyes on her late fiancé’s parents. “The love of my life who seemed to have everything in the world going for him, killed himself. No one knows why. How would you be holding up?”
“There was no note or anything?”
“Any changes in behavior recently?”
Only with that question did Kathleen turn to him.
“A little,” she said.
At first, Kathleen hesitated. It felt like betrayal talking about Dylan’s recently developed oddities. But Graham was a good and caring person. He wouldn’t judge.
Kathleen gave a little shake of her head, forcing back the burning in her eyes, and said, “He was just acting different. Spooked I guess you’d say. He was always looking over his shoulder like he was being followed. Always checking his phone and freaking out when he’d get a message. Pale. Distant. Totally out of character for him.”
“For how long?”
“The last two months I think. Something like that.”
“Yeah. Really weird. Whenever I asked him about it, he’d say it was just stress from work. I’ve seen him stressed before, though. This recent stuff,” she wiped at a stray tear, “was totally different.”
The preacher moved to the front of the room to start the service. Graham gave his cousin a reassuring shoulder squeeze then went to sit with his wife three rows back.
Kathleen took a full week off from work to mourn fully for the man she had lost. When Monday rolled around again, getting dressed and back into the routine of life seemed almost cruel. How could she walk back into the office? How could she face the sympathetic glances? The ones that seemed to convey ‘What am I supposed to say to you?’ or ‘I’m glad it wasn’t me’.
Somehow, she managed to put herself together enough to be publicly seen, and she made it to the station five minutes early for the 7:48 AM train from Greenwich, Connecticut to New York City.
As she stood there on the platform, staring across the tracks at nothing in particular, something shimmered in front of her eyes. Something that started out hazy then came slowly into view. A person. Not just any person. Dylan.
His form became clearer and clearer until it seemed as if he was physically there standing in front of her. He wore his usual light blue hoodie that he had owned since a track meet his senior year of high school. On his back was the same worn, black backpack he always carried with him to work.
Kathleen felt chills spread through her body. Her heart felt like it was going to beat out of her chest. It became harder to breathe as she studied the apparition in front of her.
Dylan didn’t move, didn’t speak. All he did was give his little half smile that had always made her feel warm and happy inside. At that moment, though, all she felt was a mix of surprise and terror.
“Dylan,” she whispered as she took a step toward him.
His mouth began to move like he was speaking, but Kathleen heard no words.
Slowly, she reached her hand out toward him, wanting to feel that he was really there. Right before she touched him, he disappeared.
Kathleen gave a little shriek and placed a hand over her mouth, body shaking violently. She looked around to see if anyone else had seen Dylan, but no one else seemed to have noticed anything. They were all busy. Looking at phones. Reading books or newspapers. No one paid any attention to anyone else on train platforms it seemed.
Overcome with dizziness, she squatted down so she was sitting on her heels, hand still over her mouth. Tears pricked at her eyes, a few of them running down her face.
The train pulled in, and there was a flurry of activity as commuters boarded. Kathleen was barely even aware, and only when the train was about to leave realized that she, too, needed to get on board.
Limbs still shaking, she got on and sat down, wiping at the moisture on her cheeks.
By the time she got to work, she didn’t know whether she was going to puke or pass out, but at least one of them seemed unavoidable.
“Oh honey, bring it in,” said co-worker Mary when Kathleen got to her desk.
Mary wrapped her up in a big hug, then pushed Kathleen away so she could look at her.
“You’re shaking like a leaf? Are you ok?”
“I…” Kathleen didn’t even know what to say. How do you tell someone that you had seen your dead fiancé standing right in front of you?
“And you’re pale as a ghost!”
Kathleen just nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“Can I get you anything? Help with something?”
Kathleen quickly shook her head.
“Well, you let me know if you need anything, ok?” Mary continued.
Mary gave her one last sympathetic look before she took a seat at her own desk, which was facing Kathleen’s.
It took a full hour before Kathleen even powered her computer on. Up to that point, all she could do was stare at the black screen, visions of Dylan standing in front of her dancing across her mind.
Even when the computer was actually on, accomplishing anything was futile. Every time her hand reached for the mouse, all she saw was her hand reaching for the vision that had been in front of her that morning.
Right before lunch, her phone buzzed from its place at the top of her mouse pad where she usually kept it. The screen was facing down. When she flipped it over, she almost screamed, but managed to hold it in.
Dylan’s name flashed across the screen. With trembling fingers, she opened the message.
Death is lonely. Join me.
She stood quickly, knocking the edge of the desk with her knee and disrupting everything on top of it.
Mary gave a startled noise and placed a hand over her heart.
“Kathleen! What’s wrong?” she asked.
Kathleen rapidly shook her head and took a step back from her desk, the phone still clutched in her hand. The words still leaping off the screen at her, making her stomach roll and the panic rise up in her chest.
“I don’t… I don’t feel well,” she stammered, gathering up her purse and jacket. “I’m going to… to head home.”
Without waiting on a response from her co-worker, Kathleen walked quickly for the door, the blood rushing in her ears.
As she stepped off the train in Greenwich, she took about ten steps, then stopped. When the flow of people moving past her eased, she slowly turned.
Dylan was there again. That jacket. That bag. That smile.
With a sob, Kathleen turned and started walking, not daring to look back again.
When she got back to her apartment, she locked the door and drew the safety chain, something she rarely did. Placing her back against the door, she slid to the floor and pulled her knees in tight to her chest.
The phone she hadn’t even remembered was still clutched tightly in her hand began to vibrate, making her jump.
She looked at the screen then threw the device away from her.
Dylan’s name continued to appear across the screen the next two hours as she sat there and watched the phone writhe on the floor with each call. Kathleen thought about smashing the phone with something. Anything. But there was a part of her that was scared to. What if she wasn’t going crazy? What if Dylan really was trying to communicate with her?
She shook her head. She didn’t believe in that kind of thing. Or did she?
The phone vibrated on the floor again.
After watching it for a moment, Kathleen scooted forward and reached for it.
It felt like she barely had any control of her hand as she swiped to answer the call.
“Who is this and what do you want?” she asked, her voice shaking.
All she could hear was heavy breathing.
“Who are you!” she screamed.
Another pause, and then, “Death is lonely. Join me, Kathleen.”
It was unmistakably Dylan’s voice. The one that had been her favorite sound in all of the world for the past two years. Ever since they had met at a marketing seminar in upstate New York.
She threw the phone away from her again and began sobbing.
When she had finished her hysterics and gained enough courage, she turned the phone off.
Trying to sleep that night was nearly impossible. When she did manage to get to sleep, it was restless and full of dreams haunted by Dylan. When she would wake from those dreams, she would torture herself wondering if her mind had come up with them or if Dylan had inserted himself there.
At five in the morning, she turned her phone back on. She had 112 missed calls and twelve more text messages, all with the same message. Death is lonely. Join me.
Something had to give before she lost her mind.
She looked up the number of what had been Dylan’s cellular provider and called them.
“Can you look up an account for me?” she asked the man who answered her call.
“What do you mean look it up?”
“I need to know if it’s inactive or not. My fiancé died, and I’m getting awful calls from his old number. I’m not asking for any information other than to know if the number is still active in his name or not.”
After Kathleen gave Dylan’s name and social security number, the man said he’d look it up.
“That account has been deactivated,” the representative said. “Last week.”
“Was the number given out to someone else?”
“Impossible,” Kathleen whispered.
She hung up just in time to get another of Dylan’s messages. It was the same as the others. She turned her phone off again and pulled the battery out to be safe.
Every emotion crashed over her at the same time. Anger. Fear. Grief. Confusion. She wanted simultaneously to throw her head in a wall and collapse on the floor in a withering mess.
She had to talk to someone about it. It couldn’t be Mr. and Mrs. Grady. Even if she could show them the messages and texts, they’d never believe she had seen him at the train station. If she called the police, they’d also think she was crazy.
Graham. Graham would listen. He never judged.
Within twenty minutes, she was at his house.
“What’s going on?” Graham asked with concern when he opened his door to see his cousin standing there. “You look awful.”
“I think I might be losing my mind,” Kathleen whispered.
“Get in here.” Graham grabbed her arm and pulled her in. “Sit.” He pointed at one of the brown sofas in the living room.
“A friend’s birthday brunch,” he said, sitting on the opposite sofa.
Kathleen studied the items sitting on the coffee table. A black hat. A deck of cards. Mirrors. Other weird odds and ends.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your magic practice,” she said.
“It’s okay. Next show isn’t until next week. Now, tell me what the heck is going on.”
“I don’t even know where to start.”
“How about the beginning.”
“I guess it started at the train station yesterday morning.”
Kathleen filled him in on seeing Dylan twice. The calls. The texts. The cell company saying the number was no longer in service.
“Can I see the texts?” Graham asked when she was done.
“Sure.” Kathleen pulled the phone out and opened her messages, then froze. “They’re gone,” she said, not believing her eyes. “All the messages are gone.” She went to the call log. “The calls are gone, too.” With wide eyes, she looked over at Graham. “I swear they were here before. I know it. He’s been calling and texting non-stop for hours.” She felt like puking as she put her head in her hands. “I must be losing my mind.”
Graham sighed and leaned forward, clasping his hands together.
“I know you. You’re level-headed. Steady. Not crazy. Not prone to run-ins with ghosts. Let me ask you,” he said. “Do you really think you’re losing your mind? Do you think Dylan is communicating with you from the next life? Do you think these things are actually happening?”
Kathleen thought it over and said, “Everything has felt so real. Not like a dream or a hazy hallucination. But it also feel’s off. All of it. Like all of this is a huge, terrible prank. Even if he really had called and texted, though, how can you explain them being gone now?”
“How do I explain it? Kathleen, you’re talking to a practicing magician. I’m going to tell you what the problem is. Perspective.”
Graham grabbed a deck of cards and a few other things Kathleen couldn’t identify off the coffee table and turned so that she couldn’t see what he was doing.
When he turned back around, he said, “Watch closely.”
He lifted his hands in front of him, his right one holding the deck of cards. He slowly released it, and the deck drifted away, coming to a rest mid-way between his two hands. It was sitting there in the air, completely unsupported. Floating. Magic.
“Woah,” Kathleen murmured.
She tried to piece together how he had made that happen.
Graham brought both of his hands together to grab the deck then set everything back on the table.
“Now,” he said, “listen up, because here’s your lesson on perspective. When you saw that magic trick, part of your brain was in awe, right?”
Okay,” he continued, “but you couldn’t completely lose yourself to the magic, could you? The other part of your brain knew it was fake. And that same part of your brain instinctively tried to figure out how I was making the trick happen. Why?”
Kathleen shrugged and said, “I’m not sure.”
“Because you know it’s just an illusion. That’s why you try to figure it out. The things you’re experiencing with Dylan are the same, only your brain hasn’t figured out it’s an illusion yet. A trick. Therefore, it’s not trying to figure out the solution. It’s stuck in a horrified awe. If you can change your perspective to see that everything going on is no more than a trick, you can start figuring out the method behind it.” He pointed at her. “That’s the power of perspective.”
“So someone really is tormenting me.”
“If you’re not being haunted, and you’re not crazy, that is the only logical explanation.”
As Kathleen was leaving Graham’s house, her cousin grabbed her hand and placed something in it. She looked down to see a small magnifying glass.
“What is this for?” she asked.
“To remind you to keep your perspective right,” he said with a small smile. “Don’t do anything crazy. If you feel like you’re in danger, call the police.”
“And say what? I’m seeing visions of my dead fiancé?”
“Something like that.”
That night, Kathleen sat by the window and thought through what Graham had said.
If someone was intentionally harassing her, what was the end game? What was that person trying to accomplish? Just scaring her, or something more sinister than that?
She thought about Dylan’s odd behavior before his death. He had been scared. Paranoid. Always checking his phone. Always turning white when a message came through.
Of course. Someone had done to Dylan what he or she was doing to Kathleen. Had that person intended for Dylan to kill himself? It seemed likely, or else they wouldn’t risk driving his fiance in that same direction.
She’d never be driven to the extremes Dylan had been, though. She had the right perspective thanks to Graham. She’d figure out what was going on.
Pulling the magnifying glass from her pocket, she held it up in front of her. Looking through it, the apartment across the street was much larger and in greater focus. She caught details on it that she hadn’t even noticed before.
The power of perspective.
It was time to stop believing in ghost stories and come up with a plan.
The plan was not one to be executed overnight. It took three weeks of planning. So as not to be encumbered by work, Kathleen had decided to use all of her vacation time for the year in one chunk.
She also enlisted Mary’s help. Every morning, Kathleen took her normal train to work, walked into the office, and handed Mary her phone. Though she wasn’t sure why exactly she needed to do it, Mary would carry the phone with her wherever she went in the building until Kathleen would come back at the end of the day to pick it up. Since Kathleen had a strong suspicion whoever was terrorizing her non-stop was also tracking her phone, it seemed a necessary precaution while making her preparations.
Three weeks later, after almost a thousand calls, four hundred text messages, and sightings of Dylan every day at the train platform, she texted whoever it was that was tormenting her.
I cannot live on in this world knowing you long for me on the other side, Dylan. I will come and join you. Tonight. Come and meet me.
She read back through the text before she sent it and decided it was good enough. She’d have to rely on the fact that, whoever the maniac behind everything was, he could track her phone as Kathleen suspected.
She took her time getting to the empty warehouse outside of town. While choosing a warehouse may have been cliché, she felt it was fitting for the situation. If the person sending her those messages wanted to play some kind of game, Kathleen would at least make sure the setting was right.
Only five minutes passed between the times she entered the empty building and when the sensor she had placed above the door sent her a notification that someone else had also entered.
“Did you actually think you’d get me to kill myself?” she said loud enough to be heard. “Images of Dylan. Texts. Phone calls. You thought those would scare me to a literal death?”
Silence met her. Then a low laugh. A harsh and hollow one. After a few more seconds, a man, early-twenties, stepped into the circle of light put out from a single, overhead light.
Kathleen had expected someone familiar or someone sinister looking. The guy in front of her was neither. He was entirely average, from his average dirty blonde hair to his average height and average face.
“If you knew I was coming, why didn’t you bring help?” he asked, his brows raised.
“Who would believe me? You keep wiping all of the calls and messages from my phone.”
“Who are you?” she demanded of him.
“Does it matter?” There was a smirk on his face that Kathleen wanted to slap away.
“You targeted me, and I’m positive you did the same to Dylan. I want to know why. I don’t even know you.”
“Really?” he said, beginning to walk a circle around her. She kept her body turned toward him. “Because we talked just the other day. Remember?”
Kathleen’s brow furrowed as she tried to remember any conversation she would have had with him.
“No,” she said.
“You called about Dylan’s account.”
“You work at the phone company?”
“No, but I intercepted the call you made to them. Do you know how incredibly easy it is to hack a phone? I don’t even have to touch it, and I can do all kinds of things with it. Intercept calls. Track locations. Even access your camera.”
“I used to work with your fiance.”
“So? Don’t tell me he bullied you or something. I won’t buy it. Dylan wasn’t that kind of guy.”
“No. He was the opposite. Nice. A hard worker. Happy. Seemed like a really great person. To me, none of that matters. The person doesn’t matter. The game does.”
“Do you know how many people that used to work at Dylan’s company have killed themselves in the past two years? Four. Enough that the company is under scrutiny for its employee treatment. The funny thing is, the company has nothing to do with it.”
Kathleen felt a wave of dread wash over her as she continued to follow the man’s movements. She had thought he was going to be a cruel prankster. A cyber bully. He was more than that, though. He was a monster.
“You drove four people to their deaths? Using fear alone?” she asked, her voice quavering.
“The mind is a powerful thing. If you play on people’s imaginations and fears just right, it’s amazing what you can drive them to. And I really only drove two of them to self-annihilation. The other two had to have a little help.”
“Dylan?” she breathed out.
“You know, I thought I had him. He had a best friend in college who died in a car accident. Dylan was in the car, too, when it happened. I was really able to use that to get to him. But in the end, even with the gun in his hand, he couldn’t do it. He was muttering about how he could never do that to you or his parents. Not even when I used holograms to reenact the car crash in front of him.” His smirk grew. “In case you hadn’t put the pieces together yet, I’m really good with holograms, too.”
“You killed him?”
“I just helped him pull that trigger. And then when I went through his phone and saw how close you two were, I thought it would be a good time to branch out. Move away from the company and out into the world.”
Kathleen shook her head as the tears began to fall down her face.
“Monster!” she spat out.
“You know, you two are a lot alike. I’d say you’re stronger, though. You’re the first person who realized that maybe there was actually more to it than being haunted. Kudos. But that means you’re going to need a little help, too. Just like Dylan.”
The man reached behind him and pulled a gun from his waistband. A shot of intense fear streaked through Kathleen at the sight. She took a step back, feeling as if her legs were going to give out on her. All she had to do was make it a few steps.
Although every instinct told her to turn and run, she kept her movements slow so the man wouldn’t dart for her. She needed him to stay in that circle of light.
When she had backed up against the wall, she felt behind her for the hook she knew was close by, dizzy with relief when her hand brushed across it. Slowly, she began to unravel the rope around it. Because she was outside the circle of light, it was harder for him to see what she was up to.
Once the rope was undone far enough, the weight overhead took over and the rest of the rope flew from the hook.
The man heard the commotion above him and looked up too late to avoid the pallets that were falling from the ceiling. Dozens of them had been intricately suspended so that the one rope on the wall would send them all crashing down. Kathleen had worked for hours figuring out how to get them to fall just right. Over and over she had hoisted the pallets and sent them crashing down, trying to discover the sweet spot. All that work had paid off.
The pallets slammed into the man, causing him to fall. Even so, he somehow managed to keep the gun in hand.
Without waiting to see whether he would be able to get back up again, Kathleen turned and ran for the metal staircase against the far wall. On the way, she flicked a row of switches on the wall, turning on the overwhelmingly bright overhead lights
She stopped halfway up the stairs to see how the monster was doing after his collision with the pallets. Blood ran down his face and arms, and his steps faltered as he got to his feet, but he was still mobile. He looked around and, when he spotted her on the stairs, he took slow steps that direction, pointing the gun at her.
“Come on, now, let’s make this quick,” he said. “Just a little staged suicide and you can be back with your fiancé again. I may have been behind those calls and texts, but I’m sure he really does want to see you again.”
Ignoring him, Kathleen darted the rest of the way up the steps.
At the top, there was a landing that led to a kind of cat walk that stretched over the empty room below. Kathleen ran across it, but was stopped by a dead end on the other side. There were only two ways down. Falling, or going back down the stairs. The same stairs the monster was already climbing up.
When he managed to get to the top, the blood was starting to ooze faster out of a gash in his head. It crept down his forehead and would have entered his eye if he didn’t brush it away, turning his hand a slick red. Even with the blood gone, though, he had to put his other hand up to his eyes to shield them from the bright lights.
“You’re trapped,” he said, breathing hard. “And you’ve set this all up perfectly for me. Sometimes it’s hard to get the angle of the gun just right to look like it was self-inflicted. But a fall? That’ll be easy enough and convincing.” He wiped away the dripping blood again. “Now, are you going to jump yourself, or am I going to have to push you?”
“Give it your best shot,” Kathleen hissed at him.
Her heart was pounding in her chest, her muscles so tight they felt like they would snap at any moment. The tension along with the heat from the lights had sweat pouring from every pore in her body. Her shirt clung to her body, suffocating her.
“Suit yourself,” the man said.
Gathering himself up and taking a deep breath, he used what energy he had to begin a slow run. He was charging her, most likely to slam his body weight into her and in that way overwhelm her. Kathleen was ready.
When he was only about two yards away, his foot went straight through the catwalk and his body followed. He gave a short kind of scream, and then was silenced as his body hit the cement floor thirty feet below.
Shaking uncontrollably and breathing hard, Kathleen took a few steps forward and looked down at the part of the catwalk that seemed so real, especially under the blinding lights, but that was actually only air.
She looked over the edge at the body on the floor and the blood that was beginning to pool around it.
“Looks like I’m pretty good at holograms, too,” she muttered, her eyes squinting up at the machine overhead that was projecting the image.
It had taken her most of the three weeks of preparation to figure out how to manage a hologram and get one set up that would replicate the cat walk. In the end, it had been well worth the time.
Sitting down on the cool metal grate of the walk, she pulled out her phone and dialed 911.
“I was just attacked,” she said, not having to fake the shaking fear and adrenaline in her voice.
She gave the address of the warehouse and the dispatcher assured her that help was on the way.
Once the call was done, Kathleen pulled up the app that was connected to the three cameras she had placed in inconspicuous places around the warehouse. She ran her finger along the play bar of the footage and smiled grimly at the clear video and sound. Yes, everything had been captured quite nicely.
“That’s for you Dylan,” she whispered quietly.
Then, her strength utterly spent, she laid down and waited for help to arrive.