This story is by Tabatha Robinson and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I was sitting at my desk in the basement finishing up my last page when “Mom’s Cell” flashed up on my cell and my Linkin Park ringtone started singing, “One Step Closer.” The last time I heard from my Mom was on my birthday in October. She texted me at 3:30 in the morning to tell me that she would call me later.
To be fair, she didn’t specify how much later. Though I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer, in the end, curiosity won.
“Hi! How are you?” said an upbeat voice. But, the cheerfulness sounded false, and the voice sounded young.
Hmmm, not my Mom.
“I’m fine, how are you?” I replied hesitantly.
“I’m good! What are you doing?” the fake cheery voice responded.
“Who is this?” I replied.
They hung up. “Just a prank call,” I said to myself. It was weird that they showed up as a contact, especially that one.
I got back to work. It was getting late and I wanted to finish writing the final installment of my McKenna Matthews, Nightshade Saga Series. This was the fifteenth and final book. I had started writing it as an escape–from my reality, from my life. I needed it 20 years ago. But, now, it was time to move on.
I read through the final page again. Rubbing my eyes, I decided to shut down for the evening. As I was pushing in my desk chair, my phone lit up and Linkin Park was singing “just liiike beeefore, everything you say to me…”
I hit speaker phone. “Hello.”
“I’m out in the yard, looking at your house right now,” said the creepy voice.
“Who is this?” I demanded, getting angry.
They hung up. The tiredness I had felt earlier vanished, replaced with unease.
I looked out my basement window but there are no street lights surrounding my mountain home and no neighbors can be seen through all the trees. Night had taken over.
I went up the steps to the front door. It was locked. I went back downstairs to check the backdoor. I eyed the vertical blinds covering the glass doors. Did I want to pull them back and see what was on the other side?
I quickly shoved the blinds aside. Darkness.
I was being paranoid. Someone was messing with me. Still, I searched the basement before going upstairs. It was empty.
My fiancé was on a hunting trip and would be returning tomorrow. The house was quiet. The seclusion and privacy I usually cherished wasn’t comforting on this night.
I went upstairs into the kitchen and poured a glass of red wine. I faintly heard “just liiike beeefore, everything you say to me, takes me one step closer to the edge, and I’m about to break…” eerily floating up from the basement. My heart started racing.
“Stop,” I chided myself. “This chick is not going to get to me.” I’m not sure how I knew it wasn’t a guy.
The comfort of the lights on throughout my home helped me get my nerves under control. I ran downstairs to get my cell from my desk.
I had a missed call from “Mom’s Cell.” I grabbed the phone and went back upstairs. The phone beeped with a new voicemail. My finger hesitated over the trash icon. Instead, I hit play.
“I’m getting cold out here,” said the creepy voice. “I hope these pepper plants you planted Saturday don’t freeze. That would be a shame.”
I clutched the phone so hard my knuckles turned white, and my fingers started to hurt.
My stomach turned. The last time I felt this scared was long ago. My mind flashed back briefly before I locked the memory back in its box.
“Mom’s Cell” flashed up on my cell. I answered before Chester Bennington could get the first note out.
“I don’t know who you are but I am done. Stop calling,” I said.
I blocked “Mom’s Cell.”
I looked out the window, but it was impossible to see anything in the darkness. I could only see my reflection staring back at me, standing in an empty house.
I sat on the couch. It was soft and familiar, providing my body false comfort. Everything was still. I was tired from working long hours. As my adrenaline rush slowed, my eyes got heavy.
I jolted awake, my heart racing. The phone, still in my hand, “…and I’m about to break…” sang out of it. Only a few minutes had passed.
“I know I blocked it,” I whispered.
The call stopped but a few minutes later, my phone lit up again.
“Who is this?” I said angrily, expecting to hear the creepy voice.
But, it wasn’t the same. The fake cheeriness was gone, replaced by anger and menace.
“You killed her.”
A memory, locked away for so many years, roared free in my mind.
“And now, I’m coming for you.” Dread spread through my body.
“But, it can’t be her,” I said to myself. “Impossible…”
The lights went out. It was pitch dark. In my head I screamed, but my mouth had gone dry and it came out more as a croak. I shakily felt along the wall and tried the light switch. Nothing. I put my back to the wall and focused on slowing down my breathing.
I was frozen except for the tears rolling down my face.
I could hear footsteps on the hardwood floor. They were getting closer.
My breath was quick and shallow. My arms and legs felt like there were spiders crawling on them.
“Please,” I whispered. Freezing cold air wrapped around me. “I’m so sorry, it was an accident. I shouldn’t have looked at my cell. My mom blamed herself. It sent her over the edge.” I struggled to get the words out. I was nearly hyperventilating.
“What you did tonight was no accident,” said the voice menacingly.
Confusion briefly cut through my fear. “What?”
“I’ve stayed with you 20 years, book after book, for fifteen books!” said the voice. “And then you killed her!”
My mind clicked. “McKenna?” I asked, looking around, trying to see anything. “You’re angry because I killed McKenna in my book?”
“She was based on me wasn’t she? I was your muse. Because I died, she exists!” shouted the voice.
The lights came on. I was staring into a pale face. My dead best friend. Her face was unchanged since the night of the accident. Marks from the crash covered her as if it happened two minutes ago and not twenty years ago. She wore the same clothes.
We were going to a party, blaring Linkin Park, driving down a dark, tree-lined road. It happened so quickly. My cell rang. I looked down. It was seconds. But, I didn’t know the road. I looked up in time to see a sharp turn. I was going too fast. I turned the wheel too hard. I slammed on the breaks but I had no control. We slammed to a stop when we hit a tree on the passenger side. My best friend’s head was smashed into the side window. Blood ran down her face.
The same way it was running down her face now.
“Jen?” But, this was not my friend. This was something else. There was something dark and crazy in her eyes.
The lights went out. Freezing cold hands shoved me to the floor and everything went black.
I opened my eyes, squinting at the sunlight. I sat up and put my hand to my head. It was pounding. Why am I on the living room floor? Trying to think about last night, I could remember finishing work and pouring a glass of wine. After that, it gets foggy.
I went in the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I had dark circles under my eyes and I was pale. My body was sore all over. Did I fall down the stairs?
I was missing something important. I looked around the house but nothing was out of place. I went back to the bathroom and took a hot shower. Feeling a bit better, I made some coffee and took it to my office.
No matter what happened last night, I needed to finish the final book. It was time to move on. After waking up my laptop, I sat there reading and re-reading the last pages. My editor agreed with me that having McKenna die is how it should end. No other ending felt right. Sometimes, the hero dies.
But, I couldn’t shake a bad feeling about it.
I heard a truck backing into the driveway. My fiancé was home. Resolved, I emailed the final version to my editor.
As I shutdown my computer, my cellphone lit up. Without thinking, I quickly silenced it before the ringtone could play. Fear clenched my stomach and goosebumps covered my arms.
“Mom’s Cell,” lit up the screen.