You never thought your life would come down to this, a choice between your heart and your life. Your heart is pounding in your chest like it’s trying to make up for years of beats that it may never know, and every breath has an amazing taste, as if the air itself had a flavor. You can hear the waves of the lake, though it’s at least five miles outside of town, or is it the blood in your ears that you’re hearing, each crash of the waves matching the samba beat of your faltering heart. This must be your body accepting the inevitable suddenness that goes hand in hand with death, your body acknowledging the impending doom that is staring at you from the locked portal of your front door. You might be wondering how you came to be in this moment between the light of life and the darkness of everlasting silence in death. Since you’re going to die anyway, why not remember the series of events that led you so far into this world of bitter fear and the horrifying, heart-stopping realization of your imminent demise.
It was only a few months ago that your life seemed perfectly normal, the trivial worries of everyday life hardly more than a simple nuisance that rarely tickled your mind with it’s normalcy and humdrum of living the so-called American Dream. You had a simple daytime job as the owner of the local coffee and pie shop, serving energy in a cup, hot, steamy, and full of whipped cream and cinnamon alongside a heaping slice of pie and ice cream. You had the life of the everyday working class; a quiet job that brought in a fair amount of money for a small town out in the county just west of a small, rarely used highway set in the woods, a small but spacious house that was perfect for you, a girlfriend who only just moved in with you not long after you started dating. You thought it funny that when you had first met, it was actually in that coffee shop. She had just arrived in town and was staying in the minuscule hotel the town had for no apparent reason. She said she was moving into the Henderson’s house that had been up for sale for the past four months. Harry, the previous owner, had passed away last summer and, being the only inhabitant, the town was sure the house was either going to sell to a small family from the city or sit in disrepair until it was condemned and torn down. Funny how things turned out.
After you first saw her in your shop, you started talking about what would make someone like her move to a small town of less than two hundred like yours. It was an honest question. She was tall, with long, toned legs, looking evermore longer in the modest heels she wore all the time. Even in her chic wardrobe, mostly consisting of expensive looking cashmere sweaters over freshly pressed button up shirts, the tasteful, knee-high skirts and strangely simple hats, many of them light-gray fedoras, she stuck out from the rest of the town like a wolf in a flock of sheep. You thought she must have been some editor for a popular publishing company or a corporate CEO looking for an out-in-the-county vacation home. Well, you were half right. She was a writer, and she specialized mostly in murder-mystery with horror undertones. Some of the short stories she had shared with you, after only a week or two of dating and a considerable amount of convincing, were so vivid and horrifying that the praise you gave her more often than not was, although creeped out, that she should write scripts for horror movies.
Upon retrospect, the signs of what was happening in your little town were everywhere for you to see, but, being blind in the first stages of puppy love, you neglected to pay attention to the blatant truth and horror of your choices. You and your girlfriend dated not more than a month before taking the big step of moving in together. Even though she had already bought the old Henderson’s house in full, amazingly without a bank loan, the two of you decided to move in together, living in your quaint little house just outside the major part of town. She decided to keep the Henderson’s house, which was just two blocks south of the town square at the beginning of the small neighborhood your town sported. You both thought it would be nice to have a home closer to the goings-on for those few events the town held, such as the annual chili contest and the month-long cinnamon event held every spring.
It all sounded so practical at the time. Besides, with your job at the coffee shop and her writing career, it worked out. Since you worked days, and she wrote more productively at night, sleeping much of the mornings away, you could both go to the house in town for a weekend and pretend to go on a mini vacation. It was right about the end of the second month that things started seeming strange, especially for your little town. Your girlfriend was in the middle of one of her books and, for the first time since you’ve known her, she had hit a writer’s block. She told you countless times that she almost never hits a block when she’s in the middle of a project, and thought is was likely caused by the move and the sudden relationship you two had found. You were even surprised that before you, she had been single for nearly seven years, her last boyfriend, of a four year relationship, had died in a car crash. Despite hearing this, you figured she just needed some time alone in her own world to focus on her work. So with only a little arguing, countless kisses and “I love you’s”, she agreed to your suggestion of spending a week or two at the house in town to immerse herself in her work.
On the third night, very early in the morning, you get a call on your phone. It’s your girlfriend. She said she’s made a huge breakthrough, that a flood of inspiration has struck her and she’s writing like mad now. Trying to mask your exhaustion–you’ve been working harder than usual because Jenny had just quit to go to college, and you’ve been having trouble sleeping without your girlfriend next to you–you congratulate her on her progress, tell her you love her, and that you hope she comes home soon. The next day, however, your usual routine life in your town is upended by a horrifying tale. Johnathan, the sixty-something year old owner of the town’s bakery, was found dead in his home with his wife. Though this wouldn’t normally have been such a shock to your small town, since Johnathan was diagnosed with heart disease and his wife Carol wasn’t in the greatest of health either, the shocking piece of information was that they didn’t die of natural causes or failing health. They were murdered in their beds, their throats slit in their sleep. And on top of that, on their nightstand, a single sheet of paper written in exquisite calligraphy using a dip pen was two words. Be careful.
In any major city, such a murder would be found in a short ten minute story on the local news. In a small country town like yours, such a thing will be the topic of conversation for months if not years. The town sheriff tried to calm everyone down by saying the whole department will be devoting all of their hours to finding out what happened. Unfortunately, the next day, there’s more to worry about. A hiker that had passed through town just a week ago was found down by the lake. He was strangled with his own mountain climbing ropes and hung from a tree. Pinned to his bag, a single sheet of paper, with just two words. Be careful.
At this news, you immediately called up your girlfriend to tell her she needs to come home right away. You’re afraid for her safety and want to make sure she’s okay. When she doesn’t pick up the first four times you call her, you begin to really freak out and rush over to the house in town to make sure she’s not the next victim in these strange murders, supposedly the beginnings of a serial killer. When you get to the house, the door is unlocked and you rush in, your heart plummeting and the taste of bile sitting on your tongue. As you burst into the office room, shouting her name, she jumps out of her chair screaming, falling to the floor, and her CD player shatters on the floor. She looks at you, horror at first, then angry annoyance painted on her face. Removing her headphones, she starts to shout at you for coming in like a banshee screaming at the top of your lungs, but before she can really get started, you rush to her and swoop her up in your arms, crushing her to your chest and smothering her with a deep, relieved kiss.
Pulling back, she looks at you as if you were speaking in tongues, and it’s only once you’ve explained what’s been going on that she begins to look ashamed and apologetic. Apparently, she’s been working nonstop since last night, her open laptop on the desk showing her story in mid-sentence, cell phone sitting next to it. She spoke a million miles a minute, apologizing for her not picking up and explained that with her headphones she couldn’t hear the phone ring and was two engrossed with the inspiration for her book that she forgot several times to check her messages. And with her sudden spurt of writing, she hasn’t bothered breaking the moment by leaving the house.
It takes maybe an hour before you finally give in and let her get back to writing. However, you make sure that she will lock the door and keep her phone handy. When you leave, you can’t help but feel there is something wrong, but instead of worrying further, you just put it away and tell yourself it’s only your imagination and head back to your house. That feeling of unease followed you all the way home, but it’s only a few minutes after walking in the door that you receive a message from your girlfriend. She’s on a roll, pages flying by, and she’s just checking in so you don’t worry. That night, curling up around her pillow, that feeling creeps back into your mind and you can’t stop thinking something is horribly wrong. You’ve already messaged her before climbing into bed and got a response just minutes later about her eating at the computer and planning on going to sleep soon, and she hopes you’ll be okay for another day or two without her. The next day, things get even worse, and your resolve breaks.
The sheriff, his wife, and his deputy were found at the station, a body part from each found in every room of the station. There’s talk of calling in the ranger or one of the closer cities to send help, but the phones are down. Your friend Jessie sent his son to take the highway and see if he can get help, but he wasn’t gone a half an hour before coming back to report theres a couple of rock slides effectively blocking the highway and anyone from driving either direction. Everyone is in a fit, panic spreads quickly, and you ignore your girlfriend’s arguing about needing to write. With the situation as it is now, you’re surprised she still isn’t affected by the events over the past couple of days.
A couple weeks go by, help from the nearest metropolitan has arrived and they’ve left since. The killings have stopped, and though life is drastically different in your little town and the gossip is going be centered on the murders for years to come, people are starting to relax a bit and go back to their daily lives. Your girlfriend is the only one still surly because she’s hit a huge road block in her story again, at the end no doubt, and is complaining about not getting any work done. Despite your encouragement, and your patience, you started to feel cold towards her since all she does is complain about her story while the city police are still investigating the murders, but they have let slip the overall thought of not catching the person since they were meticulous about leaving no signs behind. Even the notes with the words “Be Careful” were practically typed with the neatness of the calligraphy and done with ink available in any office in any major city on paper found at nearly any super market. There’s obviously little hope of catching the murderer without new evidence and the town sees the last visit from the investigators within a month after the first death.
Things weren’t so good at home anymore. You and your girlfriend were arguing almost everyday, her writer’s block being the source of much of her irritation, and you have the overall feeling that things are going to reach the point were you two break up. After one of your bigger fights one day, your girlfriend having retreated to the bedroom to attempt to get some space from you, your friend Jessie called you up and invited you over for a drink later that afternoon. Thinking about how your morning was spent arguing with your girlfriend, you are more than up for a drink at your friend’s house.
Before you head over to Jessie’s, you decide to head into town and run a few errands and see if the mail has arrived yet. The hours pass by faster than you thought when, just finishing the last of your running, you check your watch and see that it’s after four o’clock already. On your way to his house, you get a message on your phone. It’s your girlfriend. She says she’s sorry for how things have been and that the story has just been stressing her out, but she has good news. Her writer’s block is over. She’s got a great idea for the story’s ending, but she’s out right now and will see you when you get home. Despite her apology, and the sincerity you sense in it, you still decide to go to your friend’s for that drink.
Once you get to Jessie’s, something causes that weird feeling you had back when the murders were happening. You’re not sure why it would happen now, but you’re suddenly jumpy. The feeling is so strong you actually thought you saw your girlfriend’s car just drive around the corner, but you still just shake the feeling off. Walking up to the door, you knock, and that’s when your stomach falls. The door swung in just a little, it wasn’t even latched. Cautiously, you step inside, calling out for Jessie, or even his wife and son. Dead quiet answers you. You weren’t sure what possessed you to go further in, but you start looking for Jessie. His truck was in the driveway, and the house seemed like he was home. Checking the kitchen, you don’t see anything amiss, even the dishes have been washed. The slight smell of bleach wafts to your nose and the hairs on your neck stand at attention.
Walking down the hallway towards Jessie’s bedroom, you crack the door as quietly as you can, and you nearly choke on vomit as is tries rush out of your mouth. The bed is a blood bath. Despite the feeling of being very close to passing out and throwing up, you can just barely tell that the mess of torn flesh and cloth on the bed is comprised of Jessie’s oil stained hat, his wife’s spring flower dress and at the foot, you can see his son’s boots. Trying desperately to hold your stomach’s contents down, you glance at the nightstand. There’s a single sheet of paper lying on it, and you can read the words from the doorway you’re still standing in. “Be careful.”
You rush out of that house faster than you ever ran in your life and gun your truck down the road. You head to the one place you feel safe to any degree. Your home. One thought creeps into your mind, and you suddenly think of your girlfriend. Is she safe, you think. What if the killer came back? What if he was watching you and might come for you and your girlfriend? Speeding even more, you fly back to your home, praying that everything will be okay. Once you make sure your girlfriend is okay, you’ll call the police and report what happened at Jessie’s.
Bursting through the door, you plan to check the whole house, make sure your girlfriend is okay, make sure the house is empty and you two are safe. But before you can even cross the living room floor to the hallway that leads to the rest of the house, you stop in your tracks. You just realized, when you were coming up the walkway to your front door, your footsteps weren’t the only ones you heard, and in your haste, you forgot to shut the door. The door slams behind you, making you jump, and you spin around to see your girlfriend, her back to you, locking the door. Relief floods through you like the Hoover Dam just broke, but something cuts your relief short as you see her continue to stand there, hand still on the dead-bolt. Without turning around to face you, she looks at you over her shoulder, her expression lined in disdain and mild anger.
“I did think of an ending. But there’s a slight problem,” she tells you. She still hasn’t turned to face you, speaking over her shoulder, dressed in jeans, her hiking boots, and a fitted flannel shirt. Finally turning to face you, she leans back against the front door, crossing her arms, face never changing expressions.
“I told you to be careful….”