She tucked the chopped remnants of her hair behind her ear, shielding her eyes from the fluorescent lamplight. Her irises had long since disappeared within the dilation of her pupils.
With a limp she meandered towards the bus stop. Cold was all she felt on that frigid night, unable to recognize the sensation of tears on her face.
He sat there with a phone in his hand, blasting heavy metal though painted black earbuds. His hair was streaked with colors he didn’t even like. With a flick of his ringed thumb he scrolled through the Facebook feed of his now ex-girlfriend, lamenting in the loss of her love.
The wind distributed the threads hanging from the edges of his hastily ripped jeans, wrapping them around his skinny legs.
He looked up and scowled at the empty street, noting the appearance of a plane near the horizon. It blinked as brightly as the stars on this cloudless twilight.
It was the fourth time in the last hour he had checked and there hadn’t been any changes. Of course there wouldn’t be.
With a sigh to the sky he turned off the device, shoving it back into his pocket without catching even a glimpse of the twisted reflection.
She sat beside him on the bench, scrutinizing his face. She scowled at the stubble that was stabbing through the otherwise clear skin of his chin. The bags under his eyes were also as prominent though she was accustomed to that. Like many nights, his makeup had worn off and worsened his complexion with the uneven streaks of eyeliner.
She waited for his acknowledgment, words painting her lips crimson. Each of his facial movements caught her attention but her persistence was futile.
The last bus of the night appeared in the distance, headlights illuminating the uneven asphalt beneath the slightly deflated tires.
He stood, adjusting the waistband of his jeans beneath his studded black belt. She shot up beside him, lips parted to speak but the words never came. She couldn’t voice her desire to get back together, to be forgiven and forgive him at the same time.
The doors opened before the bus reached him. He showed his bus pass without meeting the driver’s eyes and walked down the carpeted aisle.
Blue-clothed seats lined both sides of the vehicle, mostly devoid of people. A short and stout woman followed him with her judgemental gaze as he picked a seat towards to middle of the left side.
Nobody sat in front of in back of him. The row across from his stood empty.
No other passengers entered the bus.
Nobody moving into the aisle.
He watched the door close at the end of the vehicle before pulling out his earbuds. Music reverberated through his head, drowning his depression in loud, discordant words.
He stayed in the seat closest to the aisle, a habit that was hard to break. She stepped over his bony legs and plopped down beside him, making no sound on the worn leather. She couldn’t even feel the fabric beneath her hands.
Streetlights flashed outside the window, casting shadows across his intertwined hands. He turned towards the window and froze.
The reflection staring back at him was not his own.
A jolt. A skipped beat. A scream.
He fell out of his seat, scrambling backwards across the aisle. The other passengers, especially the short woman towards the front, peered out and shot him disgusted glares, assuming he was high.
Oh how he wished he was.
The face in the reflection turned away from the window. Black eyes were replaced by a gaping, raw hole surrounded by a shock of matter black hair. The exposed neck sported a long slash that revealed the vertebrae.
A burning sensation consumed first his mind then his body. The pain stole his breath away and left him dizzy, unable to comprehend the sight before his eyes.
His dead girlfriend.
Materializing before his eyes. Solidifying the malevolent aura in the surrounding space.
Her eyes bore holes into his, digging straight into his vulnerable mind. Her crimson lips twisted into a grimace, the sweetness of her old smile lost alongside her life.
The life that meant little to her now. She saw him as her final, tangible desire. Memories faded behind the need for revenge instead of forgiveness.
She would avenge the life he had taken from her in order to continue the life they had lived together. The life he had ruined.
She stood, head lolling to one side as if it was too heavy to support despite having no physical weight. Her twisted foot took a step towards him.
Peripheral vision saw only walls, both visible and invisible. The bus faded until just the two remained, trapped in petrified equilibrium punctured by his heartbeat.
The weight of sorrow and fear on his chest made it almost impossible to breathe. In short gasps the breaths came, billowing out in front of him as her soulless eyes sucked the warmth from the atmosphere.
The other passengers felt the sudden drop in temperature too, shivering and pushing up their windows. From the front the bus driver muttered, “Blasted AC,” and fiddled loudly with the various switches and buttons on the dashboard.
The sound of another human voice was enough to break her hold on him. He felt himself instantly pulled back into the world around him. Twisting he scrambled off to the side, reaching up for the seat closest to him and pulled himself to an unsteady stance. His knees shook, threatening to give in to the weight of her malevolence.
She watched him stumble towards the front, screaming “Stop the bus! Let me out, please!” at the driver.
The stout woman with the square jaw curtaining a double chin cast another judgemental gaze towards him before sticking out her heeled foot as he passed. In slow motion he hit the floor, hands shooting out to cushion the fall. His parted lips released a scream as a loud crack thundered from his wrist. As he lay on his side, moaning, the woman muttered, “ Serves a druggie like you right.” Then, with a curled lip, “You make me sick.”
That comment was the last she would ever make.
Hayley disappeared from her spot in the aisle, leaving no trace to suggest she had ever existed. The air warmed a few degrees, a change that made little difference to Scott but evoked contented sighs from the sparse other passengers.
He had just managed to sit up, relying solely on his left arm to support him, when the woman turned to him again, her head moving in a quick, jerky manner. He averted his gaze until she murmured “Scott…”
In Hayley’s voice.
While wearing Hayley’s face.
The woman’s beady eyes had been replaced by Hayley’s wide black ones, pupils as overly enlarged as they’d been when the car hit her. Her lips were split and caked with dried blood that left streaks down her double chin. Hayley’s sharp cheekbones jutted out from beneath the woman’s jowls.
“I loved you, Scott. I want to be with you again, Scott. She’ll pay for hurting you Scott. Just like you’ll pay for hurting me.” The last venomous words were emphasized by a loud snap as the woman’s head spun backwards, severing the spinal cord before she could utter a sound of her own.
She slumped backwards in her seat, limp and lifeless as her features reverted back to normal. His eyes remained glued to the fresh corpse as his brain struggled to comprehend the last few seconds.
The realization hit.
He screamed, his shrieks melding together with those of those other passengers. The three remaining riders shot up from their seats, sprinting towards the front of the bus.
The driver slammed his palm on the door button while simultaneously slamming on the brakes.
Scott had barely managed to stand when the tall man seated in the back barrelled past him, knocking his back to the ground. He swallowed another scream before pulling himself back up and following the stragglers.
Cold night air felt welcome on his burning body. The bus driver and the few riders scattered, each throwing a glance back towards Scott. They didn’t dare to confront him for fear of being the next victim.
Guilt followed him as he ran towards his home, desperate to escape the murder scene before the body was discovered and he was inevitable blamed.
His thoughts had disappeared in a futile attempt to shield himself from the horrendous reality of what had occurred. He ran on pure instinct, memories flashing through his mind.
He saw Hayley before the accident, exuberant and full of life. She brought out the best in him, gave him a reason to get up in the morning.
Only then she changed. She became jealous, obsessive even. They fought more and more until he considered breaking things off.
He had stormed off after a particularly heated argument. She had followed him.
His foot touched the curb of the sidewalk across from her house, forsaking the gelid asphalt for the safety of new cement. Music blasted through the earbuds she’d bought him for Christmas.
He didn’t hear the screech of tires or her cry for help. He saw the flash of headlights, felt the rumble of the engine sending vibrations through the ground. His body turned around but his mind lingered elsewhere. Far from the nightmares playing out before his eyes.
Her body, limp and fragile, sent flying, skidding across the ground like a mere plastic bag on the wind. Blood pooling around her from the hole in the back of her neck as the car, perhaps black perhaps blue, screeched away down the street.
He tripped over a loose chunk of cement at the edge of the sidewalk and fell, throwing his knees forward and torso back to protect his arms. He skidded to a stop then quickly picked himself back up, ignoring the blood streaming down to his ankles.
He didn’t know where to go but kept running regardless. Feet pounding roughly on the pavement, breaths escaping in short gasps he didn’t dare look behind him for fear of what he might see.
She heard the whisper of the wind in the dying leaves above her head but could not feel the cold night air. Her eyes followed his shrinking back, keeping the side of the bus in her peripheral.
Why was he running away, Why was he abandoning her again?
Anger gathered around her, clinging to her raw, intangible skin. She felt it in her very soul, the residual sensation of an elevated pulse and shaky limbs consuming her. It propelled her forward at an inhuman speed until she stood directly in front of him.
She watched as his eyes widened and he froze, pushing against the force of his own momentum to bring himself to a stop only a centimeter away from her.
In his head he heard her voice.
“You’re mine Scott.”
Her lips never moved.
“Keep your promises, Scott.”
Each time she repeated his name it felt like jab to the heart.
“I want us to be together Scott.”
His ears rand. The world around him spun on its axis.
“Come back home with me Scott.”
The edges of the world around him went black. Colors faded into monochrome. He felt his heartbeat slow as she siphoned the life out of him.
Vanished. His vision reverted to normal. The ringing in his ears stopped.
He could breathe again, huge, cold breaths of the most refreshing air he had ever taken.
“Scott is that you?” the voice that filled his ears was so familiar and comforting it brought tears to the corners of his eyes. He turned to see the blue Honda Civic with the dent on the driver’s side from the one and only time he had ever borrowed it. Seated behind the wheel was the only friend who he’d kept in contact with after middle school.
“Kevin you have to help me.” he said, stumbling out into the street. “It’s Hayley she–”
“Woah, how drunk are you?” Judgement melted into concern and his face softened as he said, “Hayley died a week ago.”
“I know.” His hand fumbled with the handle on the back door. “Just — Just take me home. Please.” He seated himself directly behind his friend, leaning sideways to meet his eyes in the rearview mirror. He felt nauseous and dizzy and his pale reflection hid none of it.
“Alright…” Kevin raised a bushy black eyebrow but started the engine without further protest. His hair was spiked so high it brushed against the ceiling despite his short stature. On any other night, Scott would have found this immensely amusing.
“You really shouldn’t drink so much,” Kevin said.
“I’m not drunk.” Scott kept his eyes on the scenery passing by his window. His legs shook uncontrollably despite his best attempts to clamp his hands over his knees.
“Okay…” Kevin didn’t question the subject further but it was clear from the pity in his blue eyes that he didn’t believe Scott at all.
The rest of the ride passed in silence.
Scott’s mind shot through a hundred possibilities as Hayley’s words repeated in his head over and over again.
“Come back home with me Scott.”
He thought of his mother and his little sister, sitting peacefully at the dinner table. Their faces melded with Hayley’s, eyes turning black and skin tearing away, leaking inky blood.
The small, humble home came into view ahead of them. Before Kevin could even bring the car to a full stop, Scott had already pushed open the door. His foot touched the curb and he took off running, ignoring Kevin’s warning.
The rumble of the car engine as his only escape drove away was the last thing he heard as he crashed through the front door.
Freshly changed bulbs bathed the short entryway in a warm yellow glow. The atmosphere contrasted the fear that pulsed in time with his heartbeat.
His mud caked shoes left a trail as he sprinted towards the living room.
On the couch the say, his sister on the right, leaning on the armrest, his mother on the left in almost the same position, watching television.
With Hayley between them.
Three heads turned to look at him as he stood frozen in the doorway.
Hayley’s grin said it all.
Before hi mother could utter a single word he screamed “Get away from them!” and ran towards the couch. He leapt onto the supple red leather, passing harmlessly through the air Hayley had just vacated. His sister’s wide childlike eyes followed him as he frantically scanned the room.
“What’s wrong Scott?” his mother’s voice trembled. She looked down as his arms as though trying to see through the dark fabric of his jacket. “You didn’t –” She couldn’t bear to finish the sentence.
“It’s Hayley.” he said, still searching. His eyes squinted at each of the shadows, searching the obscurity for her pale flesh or crimson grin.
“But Hayley’s –”
“Dead, I know.” Nothing. His hair fell in front of his eyes. “Only she’s back. Not alive, just back.”
His phone buzzed violently in his pocket. The ringtone blasted through earbuds he forgot he’d been wearing. He had closed his hand around the cord when he heard it among the chimes.
“I’m here, Scott.”
He yanked the device from his pocket, eyes instantly fixed on the screen. Her face took up every pixel on the screen. The strands of black hair plastered across her grey forehead looked almost real enough to touch.
“You will be mine Scott.” This time the voice came from beside him. He turned towards his sister, pleas dying on his lips as he saw Hayley’s face merge with ehrs as she’d done earlier with the woman on the bus.
He shook his head, afraid that his sister would share the same fate. His mouth opened and closed repeatedly but the words to stop her never came.
Hayley laughed, a maniacal howl that echoed around them, bouncing off the white walls and mahogany floors. The sound sent a chill down his spine.
He closed his eyes against the pain of reality.
“We’ll always be together Scott.” This time the voice came from his mother’s mouth. He couldn’t bear to look. “Just like we were meant to be.”
“Mommy?” his sister’s voice was small and shaky in comparison to Hayley’s booming confidence. He felt small, shivering hands closing around his wrist. “Scott what’s going on?” The words escaped as hardly more than a whisper.
He couldn’t look meet her eyes. The fear in his own was something he wanted to keep to himself. “Go to your room,” was all he could utter while trying to keep his voice steady. His mind had already come to terms with what was going to happen yet his body refused to cooperate.
He felt the pressure around his arm release and heard her soft footsteps disappear from the room, followed by the light creak of the stairs.
He still did not open his eyes.
Hayley’s presence sucked the warmth from the room but he did not shiver.
Seconds ticked by in silence. His broken wrist throbbed painfully. Thoughts had abandoned him.
With a deep breath he opened his eyes. The living room was the same as always: bookshelves lining the back wall filled with magazines, encyclopedias, and DVDs; the maple China cabinet wedged in the middle displaying the finest dishes amongst the small collection of porcelain figures; the flat screen television behind him with the gaming consoles nobody ever used.
And yet everything had changed. It felt as though the warmth had not been sucked out of only the air but also everything in the room. The welcoming atmosphere had been replaced by a coldness commonly found in the morgues.
He didn’t look at his possessed mother as he sighed and said, “Do with me what you want.” Inside he had grown colder than Hayley’s decaying corpse.
She pounced on him, still wearing his mother’s body, and knocked him to the ground. The back of his head narrowly missed the edge of the glass coffee table as he smashed into the floor.
He didn’t even possess the energy to flinch.
She straddled his legs and pinned his arms down to keep him from getting up. He lacked the will to resist anyways. His body and mind had already resigned to paying the price it took to protect his family.
Ultimately he was fulfilling the final promise he’d made to his late father.
“You’ll love me forever, right Scott? Just like you promised?” For a moment Hayley almost seemed like her innocent old self, before she became increasingly jealous of anyone who laid eyes on him. “We’ll be together forever. Won’t that be simply wonderful?” A flash of childlike glee. Then completely serious, “Forgive me Scott, I’m only doing what is necessary, for us.”
She looked sad.
Her hands lifted from his as her legs tightened their grip. She hesitantly reached for his throat, slowly wrapping her fingers around the hot, vulnerable flesh. He couldn’t fight without hurting his mother. His hands remained limp at his side as black spots appeared and consumed his vision.
The last thing he felt were hot tears on his face.
But did they belong to his mother or Hayley?