Deneen tucked her short auburn hair behind her ear. The rain was pooling in her window sill. Fidgeting with the ends of her hair Deneen listened as the thunder crashed ahead. She thought about staying in. The aches in her shoulders and back from the restless nights filled with tossing and turning reminded her just how badly she needed to run out to the store. Easing her raincoat on she called out to her dogs, “Remy… Starry,” she sang out. “Go to your rooms.”
Goosebumps sprang across Deneen’s arm as the tickle of paw prints across the kitchen tile. Wordlessly, Deneen shook her head as she took two cookies from the jar on the fireplace – one of her many conveniently located stashes of treats. Closing the doors on both crates, Deneen gave Remy and Starry their treats before grabbing her purse and heading out to the garage. Digging around in her purse for the keys to her truck she pressed the button on the cool, almost damp wall for the garage door to open. Deneen watched as the door began to lift. As she unlocked her car from the remote, a horrendous sound of metal on metal echoed throughout the garage. Deneen dropped her keys, a short shriek escaped her as the garage door slammed closed. The thunder and rain crashed outside.
Lightning crackled across the sky illuminating the garage door windows. Darkness encased her as the power died. She reached for her cellphone, pulling it carefully from her back pocket. The mostly empty rectangle in the corner caught her attention. Her battery was at 5%. Deneen sighed. Swallowing hard, she bit back her tears. Her hands were shaking as she returned her phone to her pocket. Get a hold of yourself, Deneen thought to her herself. Panic worked itself through Deneen’s body with each step. Her heart pumped harder, picking up speed as she turned back toward the door.
Deneen’s legs had turned to tin. Unless a lost and naive girl was planning on appearing with her canine best friend and sidekick made of straw, Deneen had to calm down enough to go back inside her house. Her hands robotically reached into her purse, pulling out a pack of Marlboros. Sliding a cigarette out, she returned the box. Lighting her cigarette, Deneen gave her lighter a squeeze before tucking it into her front pocket. “Hi Iva,” Deneen pipped out between drags. “Is the power out by you too?” She could hear Iva’s raspy voice reassuring her that the power would be back on momentarily. They hadn’t even lost power over there. “What if,” Deneen’s voice cracked. Dark looming figures began leaning forward from their hiding places in her garage.
Tears began rolling down Deneen’s cheek. A rumble came from the front of the garage. Deneen threw the butt of her cigarette toward it. In her head she could hear herself telling Iva this story over drinks at the bar. Their laughter rising above the music, annoying those girls at the other end. Deneen took a deep breath in. One more cigarette. Then she would go inside, light a candle, and check out the breaker. It was all in her head. Through the darkness Deneen saw Iva’s porcelain skin materialize from the darkness. Deneen continued their conversation doing her best to focus on anything but her own situation.
A small pile of cigarettes later Deneen finally felt her legs loosen up. Deneen laughed to herself, dropping the butt near her feet, if she could see all the cigarettes on her garage floor she would be pissed. Maybe the dark was good for something, she chuckled.
Deneen’s fingertips dragged across the skim coat of her garage wall. Her feet extended with each step, waiting to reach the stairs leading back to her house. A small knock bounced off the wooden stair as Deneen’s sneaker made contact. Her hand slid down the wall, feeling for the handrail. With each step Deneen felt a cold drop of sweat roll further down her back. At least the wall helped to steady her hands. A loud thud filled the garage. Her knee had reached the door. Deneen reached into her pocket for her keys. Other than her lighter and phone there was nothing. Her hand found the top of her bag – wallet, cigarettes, chapstick. No keys. Deneen’s breath quickened. She could feel her chest tightening. She had dropped her keys.
“Iva,” Deneen whimpered. Her friend’s voice filled the room.
“You’re being silly, Deneen. There’s no one here. Just turn the knob and go inside.”
The bitter taste of bile crawled up Deneen’s throat. Trapped in her own garage, waiting for someone to save her. She swallowed hard. Her throat burned. She could wait here until the power came back or she could listen to reason and try the door. Deneen took in a sharp breath through her nose. If the door was locked, she could use her cell phone as a flashlight to get her keys. Realistically she or Iva – whichever – was right. This was just a storm. There would be no need to have to call the police. A piece of hair slid onto Deneen’s face as she nodded, affirming her decision to herself.
The doorknob was cold as her shaking hand wrapped tightly around it. Taking a deep breath in, Deneen held it as her fist twisted to the right. The knob turned and the door popped open. Silence filled the space around her, screaming in her face. A stillness lingered. Neither girl was fidgeting in their crate. The acidic taste of vomit filled Deneen’s mouth. Her abs contracted. Her breath came and left in quick bursts through her nose. Her muscles released. An aftertaste lingered across her tongue and teeth as did the nausea in her stomach. Deneen tried to steady her breathing as she inched forward into the hallway.
Her breakers were further down the hall and around two corners. Deneen stopped in her tracks. Turning her head, Deneen looked blindly to the left. Her contractor stood tall in front of her, tanned from the summer sun. His white ribbed tank top rising up exposing his sharp hip bone surrounded by muscle. Deneen watched as he worked on her new wall. His laugh cut through the air forcing Deneen’s eyes away from his happy trail. The image dissolved into the blackness. Which side of the wall was the box on?
Deneen winced, pulling her hand away from her face. She grabbed her pinky with her free hand. The ragged edge of her nail rubbed against her palm. Warm, sticky liquid squished between her palm and the tip of her finger. Deneen turned her body, deciding the breakers were on the side of the room closer to her, where her washer and dryer were. She took two shortened steps willing her eye to adjust to the darkness.
The sensation of the tumbling dryer vibrated across her backside. Hot Contractor had picked her up mid-cycle for a different sort of tumble. Flashes of his bare chest and hairline filled the blackened hallway. Deneen continued to shuffle forward, lost between her memories and terror. A scream echoed in her memory, chased away by a giggle. Hot Contractor’s grip tightened around her as he flipped the switches. He was holding her, bracing himself against the wall. The room, save themselves and the electric, was empty. In their passion her shoulder had killed the power. Deneen choked on her thoughts. The breakers weren’t in with the laundry.
A muffled cry escaped Deneen as she turned around. Unsure of how far she had come, Deneen began shuffling in the opposite direction. Silently cursing herself for buying blackout curtains she tried to visualize the space around her. The wall was to her left now. Pictures of her family home in Italy lined the wall. The hills of her little town formed before her. Aged stone, lightly crumbled, stacked to keep people from falling over the hillside. The earthy smell of her grandmother’s home; hope filled her lungs swirling with notes of freshly made wine riding shotgun with the oxygen around Deneen’s veins. Pain surged throughout her wrist. A snap crackled against her ears. The rest of Deneen’s body stumbled into the door frame. Falling to her knees, Deneen howled in pain. Minutes passed. Deneen strained her ears for any response from Starry or Remy.
The pit in Deneen’s stomach pulled her closer to the ground. Laying there, tears rolling down her cheeks onto the floor. Her wrist throbbing, Deneen kicked the ground releasing a guttural wail. No one had listened to her, and now her dogs were dead. Her grip tightened on her injured wrist. The girls, murdered in their rooms. Her sweet little angels. “There’s no one in your house, De.” “No one’s following you, Neen.” Her personal favorite, “Deneen, have you been keeping up on your meds?”
Obviously she had been right. Her dogs had been murdered. Now her wrist was shattered. Someone was picking her off like a hunted doe in the woods. Letting go, the blinding pain released throughout her hand and arm. Using her good hand, Deneen reached her toward her back pocket. Her cellphone was sticking out. Deneen’s heart dropped as she looked at the screen. The battery read 2%. She and her phone would be dead before a call to the police went through.
Deneen opened a group text, one that had seven or eight people in it. She assumed one of them would call for help. Laying the phone on the floor in front of her, Deneen typed her message as quickly as she could, “Someone in house. Dogs dead. Phone dying. Call 911” Deneen held her breath as she pressed send. Delivered, in small grey print, appeared under her message. Her battery dropped to 1%. She thought about closing all of her apps, but what good would any of it do now?
For a few minutes Deneen sat listening for the sound of a text, of sirens outside, the breathing of an intruder. Anything to confirm she was still alive. Deneen sighed, a small whimper followed. She had to get up. She was not going to be murdered in her hallway. Slowly, Deneen dragged herself forward. Getting up onto her knees, using her left arm for support, she crawled forward.
It was better, she imagined, to stay low to the ground. The tips of her fingers grazed something textured. Without her sight she couldn’t place it. As she inched forward, careful to not let her hand move, the smell of potpourri stung her nostrils. Why is it on the floor, Deneen thought to herself. Her fingers now encased around the homemade concoction. Squeezing it lightly she heard the dried flowers crunch under the pressure. “The intruder,” she gasped softly, “must’ve swiped it off the mantel before,” her voice caught in her throat. Her dogs, now dead, lay on the other side of the room in front of her. Assuming of course that the pouch of potpourri hadn’t fallen and slid too far away.
Incensed with anger at whomever killed her dogs, her friends for not believing her – for never believing her – and leaving her in this nightmare. As the rage filled Deneen, the tears filled and spilled from her eye sockets. Taking a sharp breath in Deneen tried once more to get a bearing on her surroundings. With her left arm extended Deneen slowly searched for the wall. She exhaled as she found it, unaware that she had even been holding it. Slowly, she stood up. Deneen took a moment. A smile began spreading across her face when she heard it. The slow sound of heaving breaths. Deneen let out a piercing sound as she bolted.
Pain pulled at Deneen’s toes. The ground left her feet. Her stomach slid up into her throat. As Deneen sailed through the air, she heard the howls of Remy and Starry, stifled suddenly by the crunching of bone. Deneen’s world went black. Her neck, like her phone, was shattered and beyond repair.