Abby stood in front of the mirror. Quickly she glossed her lips and ran a brush through her hair. She knew her shirt was low cut, but with any luck it wasn’t too over the top. Elijah was an odd bird. He really had no idea the amount of talent he had and he could be quite oblivious to the world around him and to people in particular. It was something of a miracle that he’d figured things out at all. She startled at the loud knocking. “JUST A MINUTE!” She called out while putting in her second earring. Catching a glance of herself in the mirror, satisfied at her appearance, she left her bedroom behind. This was it, the moment that all her risk taking and planning had been leading up to and she couldn’t be happier.
“I was beginning to think…” she spoke as she opened the door but stopped short as she realized what Elijah held in his hand. A knife, crusted in something black… ‘A sick joke?’ she told herself. She laughed nervously. “Very funny Eli. Come on in.” She stepped back and allowed him to enter, closing the door behind him. “You don’t need to drive home the point anymore. Seriously, the book is good – so good in fact, that I’ve got some amazing news.”
“I have some news too.” Eli said softly. His tone, the stiff way he moved, how he hadn’t yet stopped staring at her all set her on edge. Had he blinked at all since entering?
“Eli,” she said, moving towards her dining room table to retrieve her surprise – sure that it would stop this stupid act in it’s tracks. “You’re creeping me out. Knock it off and take a look at this okay?” She turned away and picked up an envelope that read ‘US Air.’ A moment later she felt Eli seize her shoulder hard. He spun her around, the knife’s point too close to her body to be anything but a threat. Eli wasn’t playing a game.
“I like you Abby.” He whispered.
“Elijah… just take it easy.” She tried to soothe him. She wasn’t sure what had him wound up this tightly, but she knew better than to startle a man with a knife so near her face.
“I’m a nice man.” He spoke as if he needed her to believe that it was true.
“Of course you are…” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“I just can’ t live that way anymore. I won’t go back to being poor.”
Abby let out a little chuckle full of nerves and a touch of joy. “You’re not going to be poor. You’re great. Didn’t I tell you that you are?”
“It wasn’t me.” He said softly. “It’s not my story.”
Her eyes looked down and away from his, locking on the knife while she spoke. “What do you mean it’s not yours?”
“It wants you now Abby.”
“It?” she said, forehead creasing as she barely shook her head from side to side in confusion.
She laughed nervously. “You think…”
“I have to do it Abby, or it won’t give me another story – and I WON’T let that happen. I can’t!” She felt the split of her skin where her neck met her shoulder. At first there was just the knowledge of the cut, but oddly no sensation after the immediate sharp pain. Perhaps the wound wasn’t bad? Her hand flew up to cover it as she scrambled away from Elijah, almost falling over the coffee table as she went backwards.
“It was me Elijah!” She screamed at him, desperation in her voice. He just shook his head and followed her slowly across the room, her red blood dripping off the knife. “The radio…” she continued to explain, gripping her wound that was bleeding far worse than she feared it would. “I paid them to put it into their apartment. Asked them to turn it up loud so you would over-hear the stupid thing playing another writer’s pitch. I thought if I could get your confidence up by giving you something from the slush pile, that maybe you’d snap out of it.”
“You’re lying.” He seethed through clenched teeth.
Abby began to cry as she entered her bedroom, knowing that the window was her only means of escape if she couldn’t get him to stop. “No. I wish I was. I shouldn’t have done it. I thought that you’d write the book and you’d go on to be a success. I thought you were coming over tonight because you knew, because you finally realized how much I cared about you all along.”
“You can call your neighbors!” Eli shook his head slowly, his face a mask of frustration and confusion. Abby prayed she was getting through to him. “Ask them. Ask them and they’ll tell you. Just let me call an ambulance and we-“
Eli cried out rushing forward, knocking her to the ground.
Abby screamed, “NO!” just as the door to her apartment exploded inward. The chaos of police officers commanding Eli to drop his weapon changed quickly into a hail of gunfire, as Eli turned his aggression onto them. Still holding her wound with one hand, Abby curled into a fetal position and clenched her eyes shut, praying for nothing more than survival and for it all to come to an end.
And then, blessedly, it did. In a blur she was rushed out of her room, down to an ambulance and off to a hospital – dropping the two airline tickets to Acapulco as she went.
—- TWO WEEKS LATER —-
Abby placed the last of her books into a box marked ‘living room.’ While the physical wound Elijah had given her was well on its way to being healed, she still couldn’t sleep in the apartment without dreaming of him. Between that and being fired from her Agency, it all seemed to indicate that maybe it was time for her to move on. A knock at the door stopped her from going out to the kitchen for a snack. Looking through the peephole she spotted Officer Ramsey holding a box. She smiled and unfastened the latches and greeted him.
“I didn’t expect to see you again.”
“Well, I told you in the hospital that I’d come by once we had things all wrapped up and…”
“It’s done then, it’s over?”
He shrugged. “As much as it can be. I know you’ve got a long road ahead of you. How are you holding up?”
“I just… I can’t stay here.”
Ramsey nodded. “I can understand that.”
“Can I… would it be okay now that things are wrapped up, that I ask a few questions?” She looked back towards the kitchen, remembering suddenly that she had wanted to refresh her cup of coffee. “I can offer you a cup of coffee, if you like?”
“Sure.” He said. “To both the coffee and the questions.”
Abby pulled down a second mug and poured two cups of coffee. “How did you know?”
“About him being here?”
Abby nodded in response, picking up her cup and taking a sip.
“Parents of the young man who lived in an apartment across from his… they called us to do a wellness check on their son. Said they hadn’t heard from him as expected and they were concerned. We got the super to open the door and that’s when we found them. I’ll spare you the details, best you remember those two how you knew them.”
“Anyway, one of my guys found some blood on his door handle. Gave us reason to worry that the person living there might have been injured too. At first I was sure we’d find him inside, dead just like the others. The place was trashed. Papers all over the place and blood there too. We’d learn later, after all the tests, that it belonged to his neighbors. The papers on the floor were apparently notes about a book he’d been working on?”
She wet her lips and replied simply. “Yea.”
“Well, the bloody clothing… the writing on all those papers which read like confession after confession to the murder of his neighbors and what seemed to be notes about harming you… it was more than enough to send some black and whites over to your place. I’m just glad they made it in time.” He took a drink of his coffee.
“Me too.” She watched him over the rim of her cup as she took another sip. “Did you ever find out what made him snap on his neighbors?”
The officer shook his head. “No. Sadly there’s never a good reason for why someone does something like this… near as we can tell from his notes though, he thought they played their music too loud. Speaking of which…” He turned back to the box he’d carried in with him. “Your radio, it’s been released from evidence.”
“I feel like I caused this whole thing. I don’t even know that I want it back – it’s not like it was important to me.”
“Look, I don’t think what you did was the most ethical thing in the world… but this guy was unstable. The truth was he would have probably snapped on someone eventually. You, nor this radio, made him a monster by trying to slip him some stolen story ideas. He did that all on his own. Besides, don’t you think you have enough to work through without taking the blame for something he did?”
Abby sighed. “You’re right.” She looked down into her cup. “Just the same… would you put it on the curb for me?”
Officer Ramsey smiled in a fatherly sort of way, his soft round face seeming to radiate pity and reassurance. “Sure thing, hon.” Picking up the box he turned towards the door again, “Thanks for the coffee. Call me if you need anything else, okay?”
With that, Ramsey left. Abby watched through her window as he paused in the rain at the dumpster in the alley beside her building. There he pulled an old fashioned wooden radio out of his cardboard box and tossed it into the dumpster.
“What the…” Racing down the stairs and outside into the storm she went screaming after the tail lights of Ramsey’s car, “WAIT! WAIT! OFFICER RAMSEY!” luckily he heard her.
“Are you okay? Is something wrong?” He asked as he climbed out of squad car.
“That radio!” She called out over the storm. Ramsey watched as she went to the dumpster and pulled out the antique radio. “Where did you find this?”
“It was the only one we found in the apartment.” Ramsey furrowed his brow. “Are you saying it’s not yours?”
“Mine was a silver cassette player – got it at a resale shop for the kids because they didn’t have anything that could play cassettes. Like I said, the story pitch was from the 80s – the moron sent it in on a cassette tape.”
Ramsey shook his head no. “Our tech guy says that old thing was modified to not just pick up radio but to also play MP3s, so we just assumed…”
Ramsey looked torn for a moment, as if he might come forward to take the radio or perhaps just run from it. Maybe he couldn’t be sure which was the right course of action. Abby was suffering from the same indecision as she took in each detail of a radio which had been described in the manuscript he’d delivered to her shortly before his mental break. Finally Ramsey seemed to settle on saying, “I think you should get rid of that radio Miss.”
“But you said…”
“Just get rid of it, okay?”
The two of them stood there, in the rain staring at each other. Both wondering if the other was foolish enough to believe anything other than the fact that Elijah had been been a mentally damaged individual who had been told a horror story at the wrong moment in his life. Both were unable to let go of the possibility that maybe, just maybe, something darker had occurred in that apartment on the night in which that young couple had been killed. Were there darker things in the world than the inclinations of a mere mortal man who was sick and unsatisfied with the things which they could possess or was that evil enough for all of them? Had Elijah’s words and actions been stolen from another author whose work should never have been condemned for all eternity to the slush pile or had something unholy played some part in all their lives, taking advantage of the fears which Eli was running so desperately from?
In the case of those poor dead kids, the truth didn’t matter. Demons speaking through a radio or acting through the hands of a man – they were still dead and there was no one left alive to pay a price for that. All they could do now was decide what they were willing to believe and what they’d do about it.
Abby nodded to Ramsey in agreement and took the radio back to the trash.
There she gently placed it among all the other discarded things and backed away.
No use in taking chances that she might anger something far more powerful than herself.
In the end, through Eli, she’d seen enough demons for this and the next dozen lifetimes to come.