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I woke up that Saturday morning to an unexpected breeze, cool and pleasant, against my cheek. I kept a fan on myself while I slept during the warmer seasons, but the fan was packed deep in my closet during the heart of winter.
I wiped my eyes and looked towards the source of the breeze. A yellow blur blocked some of the blinding light that broke through the sheer curtains. As my vision regained clarity, the yellow blur morphed into a lovely flower with six large, yellow petals.
Before college, I would have been terrified of waking up to a strange flower on my chest, but maturity left me more curious than scared. After meeting my best friend, Chelsea, a female sleight-of-hand magician, I had grown more willing to accept the unexpected. The flower was part of some intricate trick she would surprise me with later in the week. It was the only explanation that made sense, therefore I assumed it to be the correct one.
I made it through high school without uttering the ‘love’ word to any of my boyfriends, as my friends were so hasty to brag about doing. When it came to romance, it wasn’t something I let take over my life. My reputation around campus as an ice queen wasn’t entirely accurate, but it didn’t bother me. It helped me avoid the dating scene and keep focus on my G.P.A. My plan was set, and I was the only one responsible for executing it.
I was not a prude, but I was a realist. No spontaneous college guy would waste random romantic gestures on the control freak. Even if there was interest, a warm fire or a heated blanket were more romantic than any flower this far north. Winter wasn’t for color, it was for comfort. Still, it was a pretty flower.
The flower seemed healthy, but I could smell nothing. My nose was ice cold, and a fresh gust of air made me very aware of the liquid that was dripping from it. The breeze was coming from the window, open about an inch. I closed the window and touched my nose. My hands, warm from being tucked under my pillow, recoiled from the touch of my cold nose. It was no wonder I couldn’t smell the flower.
I set the flower on my nightstand, hoping a long hot shower would clear my head and warm up my nose enough to smell it. I saw a notification for a few unanswered texts from Chelsea, but I needed to wake up first.
Chelsea was the sober sorority sister of Phi Sigma Sigma, and my best friend. She had never touched a drop of alcohol in her life and never planned to, though she had a sense of humor about it. “Why?” was a question she heard often and used as a way to challenge her ability to think quick. She claimed various rules of various religions at first before moving on to secret societies cult tenants forcing her to keep clean for her Master. For the past month, she has used that question as a study aid for her Death and Society class. She would claim that the victims of Insert Serial Killer’s Name Here were drunk and that she didn’t want to make herself an easy target. After recounting some of the more gruesome details from memory, even the most practiced partiers would spend more time eyeing their drinks and fellow party guests with suspicion than imbibing. She was passing the class with flying colors.
Chelsea was a sleight-of-hand magician, and Penn and Teller were her idols. Neither had ever taken a drink of alcohol, and neither ever would, for no reason other than they didn’t want to. She liked the idea and spent her time practicing sleight-of-hand by herself while other kids her age practiced the handsy stuff on each other. I was the control freak, she was the perfectionist, and both of us avoided deep relationships in lieu of our own personal interests and hobbies. We were best friends a week into English 301.
Chelsea was the designated driver, cock blocker and general care taker when the Phi Sigma Six went to parties. She asked for three things as payment: gas money, permission to perform magic tricks for the guys who struck out with us, and allowance to film any embarrassing shit we did (with a clause that none of it ended up on YouTube). I never got drunk enough to go viral, but New Year’s Eve was the one night of the year I caged the control freak completely. That Saturday was January 1st. I assumed Chelsea was the reason I woke up with a cracked window and a strange flower instead of a cracking headache and a strange frat boy. None of the normal signs of a hangover dragged me down and silently praised Chelsea for whichever of her magic tricks had prevented the normal symptoms. I remembered nothing.
The hot shower was fantastic. The hair on my legs was longer than I expected considering I had shaved prior to party the night before. An ex-boyfriend used to swear that his facial hair always seemed to grow in thicker and quicker after a night of heavy drinking. Not caring much about the cause, I recycled the diagnosis and slathered conditioner on my legs. After I washed and conditioned my hair, I turned the shower head to pulse and stood under the water, enjoying the sensation of water massaging the back of my neck while my hair draped over my face like a hot towel. One of the perks of a private dorm room: no roommate, no sharing the hot water.
After I brushed my hair and teeth, I returned to my bed to check my missed messages when three loud, rapid knocks pounded at my door. After the third knock, a sheet of paper slid through the gap at the bottom of my door. This was how the sorority passed along warnings about secret dorm inspections or frivolous gossip we didn’t trust texting. It was quick and anonymous. No one ever knew who was knocking. For secretive note passing, those three knocks were obnoxious in volume and left a feeling of creeping dread clinging to each and every goose bump that ran up my spine. That cold cape of unease never stayed with me until the end. Much later, I realized what was so unsettling about the situation:
One, my door was the only one that had been knocked on.
Two, I had heard no footsteps approaching (or leaving, for that matter), even though the floors in our building creaked if somebody so much as coughed.
I left the note on the floor, as if to punish it for ruining my calm. I checked that the padlock was in the locked position (a useless, but helpful symbol of safety) before I picked up my phone to check the text messages from Chelsea. The knocking returned most of the pre-shower tension. My subconscious would expect more knocking for hours just to avoid surprise if it happened again. The stress made it impossible to relax.
I paced around the room as I checked my phone. First I caught up on e-mails, the last of which was also from Chelsea. It contained an image that failed to download no matter how many times I touched the retry button. I let it be and scrolled through the text messages instead. These were the last few messages on my phone.
Me: see u in 5, doll! (Dec. 31, 2014 08:29 p.m.)
Chelsea: Who is that guy? Why is he trying to give you a flower? Can I do a trick on him or does he have potential? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:42 p.m.)
Me: says his name is ray! never seen him before, but Ana thinks he’s cute so no tricks yet! (Dec. 31, 2014 09:44 p.m.)
Chelsea: Do his eyes look strange to you, or are you too drunk to notice? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:45 p.m.)
Chelsea: Brit? Where the hell did you go? (Dec. 31, 2014 09:59 p.m.)
Chelsea: Hello? Are you in the bathroom? You need to practice so you aren’t puking drunk after one Angry Orchard! Just tell me if you find a ride or not. This party is L-A-M-E! (Dec. 31, 2014 10:49 p.m.)
Chelsea: Brit, seriously, where are you? I can’t find Melody or Sara. Ray keeps looking at me and his eyes are seriously fucked up. I’m getting creeped out. (Jan. 01, 2015 01:11 a.m.)
Chelsea: Holy fvk BRt I jus foudn melody, shes passd out or smthng. Wher are u?!?!?!?! (Jan. 01, 2015 01:42 a.m.)
Chelsea: BRIT! ANSWR ME!!! (Jan. 01, 2015 01:56 a.m.)
Chelsea:sixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenotsixlovelypetalsdoesshelovemeordoesshenot (Jan. 01, 2015 4:03 a.m.)
By the time I read the last message, the chills in my back had returned ten-fold. My frantic pacing caused my thighs to ache. I made a mental note to call Melody later and make sure she was feeling better, but I needed to see Chelsea.
Chelsea didn’t just lose her cool. Ever. Getting us safely back to our rooms, passed out or otherwise, was what Chelsea did. She didn’t freak out over it, especially not to the point of it silencing her inner grammar Nazi. She had grown used to me shortening a couple of words and not using capital letters, but anything beyond that meant repercussions.
More terrifying than those three knocks were the last three text messages.
The first, broken and misspelled, like a drunk text sent to an ex booty call. She would have ignored me for a weekend on principle had I sent it to her.
The second, all capital letters with exclamation points for emphasis. That would have earned me a public conversation where she yelled at me just so my ears and shame could be uncomfortable as her eyes had been reading it.
And the third message. One long string of lower case letters. Gibberish at first, but after reading it back a few times it repeats the same message six times. ‘Six lovely petals. Does she love me or does she not.’ I had no idea what the fuck that was supposed to mean, or why Chelsea would have sent it.
My phone beeped and I had a fear spasm, as if I’d run into an invisible wall. A small arrow appeared at the top of my cell phone screen signifying a successful download. I forced myself to stand still and calm down before I opened it. The morning was spiraling into some sort of hell thanks to my inner control freak. I hoped a cricket chirping wouldn’t cause me to piss myself at the rate I was going.
The download was the image Chelsea had sent me, called NYE15-6Petals. I don’t know how long I sat with my thumb hovering over that text, unsure whether or not I had the guts left to open that image. I had to talk myself into thinking that it was some elaborate prank on Chelsea’s part to get back at me for disappearing on her last night. It took me longer to open it than I’m comfortable admitting.
The picture proved that Chelsea was not responsible for the flower. It was a picture of the six of us, the Phi Sigma Six. From left to right, we were Melody, Sara, Jolene, Anastasia, Chelsea, and me. All of us had yellow flowers behind our ears, and each one of those yellow bastards had six petals. I glanced at the flower on my night stand for a moment. Perhaps it was the fear, or seeing that all six of us had received one, but it no longer seemed beautiful or special. I sure as hell didn’t have the urge to smell it anymore.
Unable to keep still, I began pacing again. I glanced at the piece of paper on the floor. I wanted to look at that piece of paper about as much as I wanted to smell the flower, though I knew I would eventually look.
I had to look. To take control.
I looked back to the picture. Six of us smiling, unsure of the shenanigans the night still held. My eyes moved past our flower framed faces to the mirror behind us. In it, I saw the man who had taken the picture. He held Chelsea’s phone level with his chin. The flash in the mirror left little of his face recognizable and made his hand look thin, almost skeletal. His eyes, unaffected by the flash, were completely visible.
Chelsea had been right about Ray. His eyes were as disturbing as Chelsea’s texts described. Something was wrong with them. They whole of each eye looked black. Most people would have assumed the man wore contacts, but the blackness looked like deep, empty holes; the irises floated against the blackness like the rims of buckets floating at the bottom of the well. All six of us had red eye from the flash, but Ray’s eyes were matte. The flash didn’t just not touch them, it seemed to actively avoid them.
It could have been bad Photoshop. I wish I could say that, at any point, I had believed it was bad Photoshop.
Whether it was the growing fear in my gut or a trick from staring at the screen too long, I saw the eyes move, those pale irises staring right at me, and let out a high pitched shriek as I shoved the phone deep within the depths of my pillow pile. I was done with cryptic texts and strange images.
I couldn’t stop pacing. Again, I wanted to convince myself that Chelsea was trying out a new, albeit disturbing, magic trick on me. She had a tendency to surprise me with small pieces of tricks instead of running me through the patter and show of it all.
This was the finale of a good trick. It would explain the black, hollow eyes that light avoided, how the texts set up finding the picture, how the picture seemed to download on its own when I finished the texts. It all made sense if I could accept that Chelsea, as a magician, had secrets that she just couldn’t share. Once I saw the trick pieced together, it would all make sense.
Any other truth would break me.
At some point I had stopped pacing and had picked up the piece of paper. I was staring at the blank back side of it as I left my thoughts. Confused emotions made me dizzy while fear and reason, the angel and a devil on my shoulder, fought for control of my hands; fought for control of that precious, terrifying sheet of paper. The devil on my shoulder cooed that turning it over would reveal the secret and give me the answer Chelsea could not. The angel, meek but loud, screamed that turning it over meant I could never not turn it over.
I had always thought that my controlling nature made me a rational person, if a bit distant, but I was learning that fear turns a person’s every trait into a weapon. I was as naïve and stupid as any horror movie character I had yelled at over the years, because I could not let myself remain naïve and stupid.
I had to know. To take control.
I turned the piece of paper over.
5 CONFIRMED DEAD, 1 STILL MISSING AFTER SERIAL KILLER STRIKES CAMPUS NEW YEARS EVE PARTY
By Neil Palmer
January 3rd, 2015 – It has been three days since the Acacia Fraternity New Year’s Eve Party ended and two more students have been tragically added to the list of deceased. The bodies of Anastasia Higgins and Chelsea Fogg were found in their respective dorm rooms this morning, despite campus being under 24-hour surveillance and closed to all non-police and federal authorities as of January 1st.
The rooms of all six sorority sisters have been secured and are under observation. Melody Simmons and Sarah Rowland were found on the morning of January 1st by pledges assigned to aid them after the New Year’s Eve party. Jolene Robert’s body appeared in her bed the next day. There were no signs of forced entry and no reports of suspicious activity from officers on duty.
Ms. Higgins and Ms. Fogg each had strange yellow flowers on their chests, as with the previous victims. Two of the petals on Ms. Fogg’s flower had been removed, leaving four petals. One petal had been removed from of Ms. Higgins’, leaving five. Though the flower has not yet been identified, the picture below, pulled this morning off of Ms. Fogg’s phone, show that each flower has six petals. Authorities suspect that whoever was responsible for the flowers may have information and urge anybody with information to call 911 or the provided anonymous tip line as quickly as possible.
(In the middle of the page was the picture that Chelsea had emailed me, displaying the six of us smiling with those fucking flowers behind our ears. I wouldn’t let myself look at Ray’s face again. I forced myself to read on, despite tears blurring my vision.)
Britney Davidson is the last member of the Phi Sigma Six who remains unaccounted for. If criminal profiler theories that this is the work of a serial killer can be trusted, Ms. Davidson represents one more potential victim. Finding her is paramount to both saving her life and catching the person responsible for the deaths of her five sisters.
If anybody has any information regarding the whereabouts of Britney Davidson, please call the aforementioned numbers.
A service for the Phi Sigma Six will be held as soon as the campus is re-opened to the staff and students. Until then, free grief counseling and student support is being offered at the local YMCA.
Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families of all six young women and anyone else whose lives they have touched.
There was a picture of me on the bottom of the page, and some phone numbers.
I let the paper fall to the floor as my breath caught in my chest. My sisters were dead. My best friend was dead. The grief I felt for them, and the fear I should have felt knowing that I was next, both punctuated by the date at the top of the page.
It was January 3rd. I had been lost for three days, which meant that I had lost three days.
Somehow, I had ended up back in my own bed, the same as my sorority sisters. I hoped nobody had stuffed a piece of paper underneath any of their doors. I hoped that they had gone peacefully in their sleep. I hoped they had been ignorant to the fear coursing through me knowing that I was next.
Three knocks, much louder than the first, crumbled my nerves. The chills running up my spine grew hot with adrenaline. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t help myself from whimpering in short, ugly bursts. I turned towards my bed, ready to leap for the phone under my pillows and call 911.
I couldn’t take the first step. What I saw stopped the chills, the tears, the whimper, my breathing and time itself, for all I knew.
The window was cracked about an inch. The yellow flower with the six pretty petals was no longer on my night table. The yellow flower sat on my chest in a perfect spot to obstruct my vision if I were to open my eyes. Not a single petal had been removed.
The room had become claustrophobic and surrealistic in a hurry. I wasn’t sure if the version of me, who I thought of as the ‘real’ me, was asleep or dead. I wasn’t sure if I was a ghost, a dream, or having an out of body experience.
I had been vulnerable to whatever monster was responsible for the death of my friends the entire time, and I had been ignorant of that until I read that damn article. In trying to grasp control, I had broken the illusion and lost all of it. As vulnerable as the ‘real’ me lying in bed was, the part of me stuck staring at her would be the part that suffered.
I envied her, the ‘real’ me lying in that bed, relaxed and oblivious. She hadn’t spent the morning pacing around her room, slowly losing her mind. She hadn’t learned that her best friends had died. She had no idea that she would never be waking up, if she wasn’t already dead.
The door behind me creaked as it opened. My entire body felt as cold as my nose had been. The adrenaline was gone, no longer warming my limbs. Something more than fear froze me in place. All I felt was cold.
I would not move. I could not move.
Each shallow exhale turned into a thick cloud of fog in front of my face. My eyes were wide open and drying out in the intense cold. The room itself seemed to turn gray the colder I got. I heard a hiss behind me and a large cloud fog flew past my head, overtaking one of my own small breath clouds.
I could not react to whatever was behind me. Rather it was out of fear or something the thing behind me had done to me, I would never know. My bladder let loose to punctuate my lack of body control. The fresh piss felt like ice water as it flowed down my leg. It didn’t even take a cricket chirping.
A yellow blur slowly crept over my shoulder from my left peripheral. As my vision regained clarity, the yellow blur morphed into an ugly flower with one large, decayed yellow petal. My entire body was ice cold, but this time I could smell it; something like nail polish remover and moldy bread and sweet rot.
Holding the stem of the flower was a pale hand that looked thin and skeletal at first. I was wrong. The hand wasn’t skeletal; it was a skeleton’s hand.
A voice behind me spoke, a deep whisper louder than any of the knocks.
“Six lovely petals. Does she love me or does she not?”
I looked at my body one last time and offered a silent apology. I was going to be the reason we died, and I could do nothing to stop it.
I was powerless.
Powerless to resist the second skeleton hand as it grabbed my wrist and raised my hand to the flower.
Powerless to stop my fingers from pinching that last yellow petal and plucking it off.
Powerless to stop myself from saying “I love you not.”
I woke up that Saturday morning to an unexpected breeze, cool and pleasant, against my cheek. Somewhere within the whoosh of the wind blowing through my window, I swear I heard a deep whisper.
Credit To – Rob E. Nichols
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