I heard the door to the master bedroom down the hallway shaking like it was holding back a caged rhino. The sound of my dad wailing against the door drowned out some more disjointed statements from my mom and what sounded like the faint whispering of a man. I wanted to scream at my dad to shut the fuck up so I could hear what the man who I assumed was Scott whispered into the door, but didn’t get that chance.
The racket coming from the direction of my dad’s door came to a head and I heard my dad’s feet stomp down the hallway and fly down the stairs. I listened to my dad tearing about the first floor of the house over the sound of my heaving breathing and my mother making eerie statements.
“Can’t watch you go,” my mother said just outside of the door.
“Fuck,” I heard the single word burst out of my dad’s mouth from the first floor before I heard him run back up the stairs.
“Katherine,” my dad’s voice boomed through the door followed by ragged breaths.
“What the fuck just happened?” I asked.
“He got out the backdoor.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see him. He shoved a cabinet against the outside of my bedroom door. I had to break down the door with a golf club.”
I didn’t respond.
“Can you open the door? It’s okay, it’s just me and your mom out here.”
I turned the lock and opened the door to reveal my dad standing shirtless in the hallway with my mom wallowing behind him.
He looked upon me with sweat beading down his face.
“He slipped out into the woods out back, but Buddy is following him. You can come out if you want.”
I thought about it silently for a moment. I stared at my sweating dad and my raving derelict mother who was fidgeting about behind him.
“No, that’s okay. I’m just going to stay in here for the rest of the night.”
I started to shut the door, but noticed something in my dad’s hand… a crumpled piece of paper.
“What’s that?” I asked with my eyes on his hand.
“Oh, uh, just something I found. Just some trash.”
“Can I see it?”
“Sure,” my dad answered in a tone that made it clear he was reluctant to give me the paper.
I wrung out the lined notebook paper that had been crumpled into a ball in my dad’s hand. A quick glance revealed it was a note, scribbled in tragically sloppy hand writing with an eyeliner pencil Scott must have snagged from my mom’s bathroom.
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful…
It cut off there. Scott was probably in the midst of writing his note when my dad made it out of his bedroom and he had to dart away, leaving me with just those seven words that would haunt me for years.
My mom had gotten better. The key indicator to me was she was regularly unearthing memories from long before she disappeared into a fog of dementia and she seemed to be able to communicate in a way that didn’t make it seems as if she was a dyslexic reading cue cards.
The night when Scott appeared in my parents’ house and then escaped into the night was almost three years ago and I had had effectively scrubbed away a lot of what happened. It was like a movie you only saw once a long time ago, I remembered the plot, but not the details.
A big part of why it felt like another life was because I had moved on to a completely different life after the in-house incident with Scott. After the incident, I heard about a unique opportunity that could jettison me and my mom far from LA and provide safety. A giant out-of-commission psychiatric hospital in Washington State tucked into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains had been reopened as an outpatient living facility for those living with mental disabilities and their family members. In an effort to promote support for mental illness, the facility was offering very generous rates for those who would like to come live in the community.
It was a fantastic deal. I shared a little, two-bedroom bungalow with my mom. My dad paid the yearly bill and I worked part-time at the facility refurbishing the grounds and buildings that had yet to be remodeled. Only about a quarter of the facility was livable when we made our trek up North and they needed people like me to take care of their ill loved ones and do the remodeling of the rest of the facility in their spare time.
This living situation might sound creepy, especially for someone who had spent a chunk of their life sleeping with a stranger, but it made sense to me. I was no longer really interested in participating in the real world of offices and rented apartments. Scott had tracked me down in two major metropolitans and beaten the expensive home security system in my parents’ McMansion anyway. This opportunity would allow me to shave some of my personal guilt about my mother away by helping her, give me some income and allow me to live in a secluded place with tight security.
Besides, the facility could not have been more beautiful. Classic and sprawling, the massive facility cut into a forest of thick evergreens and was remodeled by interior design students from a local college as part of an internship program. Overflowing with classic architecture, mood lighting, exposed brick and flowing ivy, the place actually looked like something out of a European fairy tale romance.
My days turned into a nice little routine. I would wake up around 10:30, make some coffee for my mom and I and we would sit on our porch facing a lush courtyard with a colossal fountain that looked like it belonged on a street corner in Rome. We would usually sit for an hour or so discussing the past – my mom’s life even before she met my dad, my childhood – until the last drops in our coffee mugs were long cold. I then went to work on the facilities for the afternoon and when done would spend the night cooking a nice dinner in the bungalow with my mom and we would watch TV or movies until we went to sleep.
I wasn’t completely alone with my mother. I had made a friend. Carson was a security guide at the facility who seemed to be the only other person on the entire campus who was under the age of 40. He was a mountain of a man who had at least 10 inches and 100 pounds on me, but held it all softly. He was like a giant teddy bear complete with ears that stuck out to the side and a permanent smile.
My friendship with Carson started when he brushed past me one day on campus and I noticed the distinct smell of weed upon him. It took a while, but I eventually slid into a comfortable conversation with him in line in the cafeteria. Before you knew it, we were ducking off into the jogging trails carved into the woods to vape just about every day.
It was the first time I had formed a true relationship of any kind with someone in the past three years and even though I was still apprehensive, it could not have felt better. The fact Carson was objectively a gentle soul made it really easy as well. One time we had planned to meet out in the jogging trails to vape in the afternoon and I got there a little earlier than anticipated to find Carson knelt down, cradling a mouse which had been maimed by a bird. I stayed off in the distance and listened to the man who looked like an offensive lineman speak soft comforting words to the tiny animal before he tucked it into his pocket once he heard me walking in his direction.
It was these kinds of things that always made me feel safe with Carson. The fact we were smoking in what in my humble opinion was the creepiest area of the entire campus was an absolute testament to how much I trusted him. Some people may have been terrified of the long abandoned mental hospital rooms which still had the chairs where people were strapped down and lobotomized may have scared the bulk of people, but the jogging trails were much more frightening to me.
The jogging trails were sawdust floored paths that weaved through the woods which surrounded the facility like the veins in your arms. Shaded by the towering evergreens above, the trails were dark even on the sunniest of days and sprawled for acres in a shadowy maze that seemed to have no right or reason whatsoever. The trails were such a twisted labyrinth, it was actually suggested by facility staff numerous times they be closed off and at the very least not be allowed to be used if you were by yourself. They were so long Carson actually said they could be reached by a short walk through the woods by his house a few miles away.
It was on those shadowy paths I would get my first true therapy. Carson and I would walk the trails together vaping and soothing our brains and I would talk about my life while excluding the details about Scott and he would tell me about his horrific, but enthralling life growing up in foster homes in the rural forests of Washington state. It seemed like whenever I was tempted to divulge my own dark secrets to him, he would tell me a new story that lowered the bar for how bad people can be to children and I would have to tuck my own problems back into an entitled folder.
I had formed a deep, deep bond with Carson, but I wasn’t sure what the exact emotion tied to that was. Love? I don’t know. I had an utter fondness for him and I could tell he did for me, but I also wasn’t sure what emotion he was attaching to me. It had been more than a year that we had been having our vapes and talks but he had never made even the slightest of moves. It was charming, but also unattractive at the same time. If he truly had feelings for me, he was not going about the right way.
One rainy afternoon it appeared Carson was maybe going to make a move. I ran through the torrential rain to the safe cover of the tall trees which roofed the jogging trails where Carson and I had planned our usual vape session. He told me to meet him there a little later than usual because he had to head to town to pick up some supplies for the office, but his true intention for our delayed meeting was immediately clear when I stepped into the near darkness of the forest and noticed candlelight.
Perched just a few handfuls of yards into the trails were two polyester folding camping chairs and a little wooden table lined with a few candles that added the scent of gardenias to the dense aroma of herbal evergreens and wet foliage. Waiting for me in one of the chairs and wearing the biggest smile I have ever seen in my life was Carson.
The first thing Carson did was present me a copper mug filled to the brim with an ice cold Moscow mule. Alcohol was the absolute number one forbidden piece of the contraband on the facility, so this was an extra special treat and a show of excellent memory by Carson. I had once mentioned about a year ago that Moscow mules were one of the top things I missed from my LA life and that copper mugs were an absolute must.
The drink hit me hard seeing as how I hadn’t had a sip of alcohol in years. It was like being 16 again – lush drunk and giddy.
“Let’s go somewhere,” the words clumsily tumbled out of my drunken mouth after I downed the last drops of my first drink.
I knew the exact problem Carson was doing the math on in his head. Employees of the facility and residents were not supposed to interact outside of the grounds – especially residents who had been plied with banned substances. Also, the only town within reasonable driving distance had a population of only 2,000 who all seemed to work at the facility and knew each other. This left Carson with one option so I wasn’t the least bit surprised when he responded to me with this question.
“Want to just go to my house?”
Our operation seemed like something out of a spy movie. I piled into the very back of Carson’s Explorer, covered myself with a sleeping bag and we drove out of the facility after a quick check in with the front gate guard.
I burst out into childish laughter as soon as we were far enough away from the entrance to where I could emerge from the cover of the sleeping bag and climb up into the passenger’s seat next to Carson. I actually hadn’t ridden in a car since I arrived at the facility so the experience kind of actually felt like riding on a roller coaster as Carson commanded the vehicle on the winding road that meandered upon the hill above the facility.
Carson’s house was an algae-crusted eye sore made of dark wood hidden down a dark road that cut off of the highway. The house was centered in a small clearing of mossy ash trees whose bases were spotlighted by the headlights of Carson’s SUV when we pulled into his muddy driveway right next to a ratty early-90s Honda CRV.
I should have been scared, but the double shot of vodka in the Moscow mule was giving me confidence and the promise of more and Carson’s romantic gestures were drowning my fears. I followed Carson out of the car and up the steep stairs that led to the front door of his rustic home.
The second Moscow mule I sipped on as I sat on a worn couch put me at ease with the dated eeriness of Carson’s living room. The soundtrack of soft rock music helped as well along with the hulking body of Carson stretched out next to me onto the couch.
Our house party started out exceptionally well. It could not have felt more refreshing to be just somewhere else than the facility. Even though I loved my life, the stagnation of the place had started to wear on me.
The only thing bugging me was I noticed we had been listening to the same song now for nearly an hour when Carson got up to make our third round of drinks.
I wasn’t sure what song it was, but it sounded like what I recognized vaguely as Pearl Jam. I had no idea what the lyrics were, but I kind of recognized the chorus and I could tell by the urgency of the music and the lead singer’s voice the song was coming to an end.
After the final chorus the song had a painfully intense moment when the lead singer broke his usual cadence and sang some tragic final words I didn’t remember until I heard them trickling out of the speakers that were connected to a laptop in the corner of the room.
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life,
I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky,
But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?
Once I heard the words sung through the speakers, I instantly recognized that first line from Scott’s note he wasn’t able to finish back at my parents’ house.
“Carson? Why is this song on repeat?” The question shot off my tongue rapid fire in the direction of the kitchen where Carson was making our drinks.
“Uh, yeah, sorry. That’s my roommate’s computer, I forgot it was on. He’s obsessed with that song for some reason,” Carson answered back from the kitchen.
My entire body tensed.
Carson went on before I could ask another question.
“You know, you can probably turn that off, I’m pretty sure he’s upstairs asleep.”
My body’s pulse of tension glued me to the couch as Carson finished.
“I’ll go check.”
I heard Carson’s massive form trudge up the stairs in a run and then I heard a crash and a hideous scream.
Fighting my body’s tightened instincts I flew off of the couch and towards the front door. I made it there in a few leaping steps and threw a look over my shoulder as I opened the rickety wooden thing and saw a faint glimpse of Scott tearing out of the kitchen.
I burst out the front door, rumbled down the steps of the front porch and felt a downpour of rain fall upon me once I started sprinting away from the house. I could hear furious feet pounding after me when I ran through the driveway in the direction of the dark woods.
One memory stuck out in my head as I pumped my arms and legs as fast as I could in the night – Carson had mentioned the jogging trails that surrounded the facility were a short distance from the woods around his house. I wasn’t exactly sure what direction from the house the trails would be, but I figured continuing my strides in a straight line towards the trees would be my only really shot no matter where they were. I just put my head down and pressed on with the sound of Scott’s feet still behind me.
After ripping through a few shrubs and branches about 20 yards into the forest, I discovered I had played my cards right. I found myself sprinting down the soggy wood ships of the jogging paths with the sound of heavy rain beating down upon the dark canopy of the tops of the trees above me. I took no time to check if Scott was still trailing me, just kept sprinting into the blue near darkness, hoping the path I was on would lead me towards the facility.
I could only maintain my speed for a few more minutes. I soon found myself trudging through the soggy wood shavings at a much slower pace with my mouth heaving out labored breaths. Unable to move much further without vomiting and with no sounds of footsteps still trailing me, I slowed to a brisk walking pace and shot a look over behind my shoulder.
There was nothing there. Just the tumbling of heavy raindrops working their way down from the leaves of the trees above.
Without any threat in sight, I came to a complete stop to catch my breath for a moment and assess the situation. I may not have been able to see Scott, but he could have been anywhere, and regardless, I was far from out of the woods (literally), even if he had given up on me and returned to his home. I knew first hand just how big of a maze the jogging trails were and I was at the very far end of them, a few miles from the safety of the facility at best. On top of that, there was a more than good chance Scott was still pursuing me in the dark, twisting arteries of the trails and it was only a matter of time until the unpredictable paths the trails led us on crossed us in the dark.
I pressed on as swiftly as my body would let me, maintaining a steady jog while my chest heaved and my heart raced. My brain was being tested as well. The two drinks had faded from my brain and left me in a hazy fog of mental fatigue. Combine that with the fact there was only a little tickle of moonlight that pushed its way through the canopy of trees to give me just a hue of light on my journey and the whole thing felt like I was running through some endless nightmare in my own head.
A snap of brush from the outside of the path just in front of me sent my reflexes into a panic. I stopped just before I crashed into a deer. I screamed in the poor things face and it galloped away into the night, leaving me stiff and wide eyed in the jogging path.
I used the opportunity to catch my breath for a moment, but it was a mistake. I heard the splashing of footsteps come up from behind me on the path.
Without a look, I took off again going forward, but soon had to dart to the right when the path made a Y.
It was another poor choice. The path I had chosen was steeply uphill and I quickly lost steam.
Behind me, I could hear the splashing footsteps gaining on me, but there wasn’t anything I could do, the grade ahead of me was a challenge and it would be a few more yards before I crested the slope. The math taking place in my head told me the steps behind me would soon be upon me…
But then they stopped.
I started to whip my head around to check on what may or may not have been behind me, but had to stop. There was a figure ahead of me, just past the top of the crest of the path. It was hard to make it out, but it was tall, dressed in white and stepping up to me at a steady pace.
It was Scott.
I started to backpedal, but it was too late, Scott had the higher ground and was just a few yards away from me. I saw his dark eyes grow wide when he laid them upon me and started picking up his pace.
“No. No. No. No,” I cried out into the wet night, but I knew it was helpless.
I tripped backwards down the slippery slope of the path and fell hard upon my backside. I looked up helpless as Scott strolled up to me.
Scott stepped down to stand over me, his lip quivered and his body shivered, cold.
He had something to say. His mouth started to open.
Before I could close my eyes or scream, Scott was engulfed and taken out of sight.
I scrambled up to my feet and saw what I quickly recognized as Carson wrestling with Scott in the brush next to the trail. I could hear both men yelling out incoherent curses until the much larger Carson fully gained control and pinned Scott on his back.
Carson started to pummel my frail stalker, but a flash of silver in the night caught my eye…
Scott had wrestled a gun out of pocket.
“He’s got a…”
I didn’t have to finish my warning. Carson twisted the barrel of the gun away from his face and towards Scott before what sounded to me like a bomb going off shook the woods and I turned away from the image of blood erupting from Scott’s face.
“He tried to shoot me. You saw it. You saw it,” Carson turned and yelled at me from a face covered in bloody scratches through a mouth that could barely breathe.
At first, I couldn’t get anything out. My jaw just quivered as Carson stepped away from Scott’s lifeless body and he came up to me and wrapped me in a hug.
It took a few moments, but I would eventually get some words out that I cried into Carson’s chest.
The past few months had been the most restful of my life since before I knew about Scott. Knowing he was officially dead and gone allowed for me to start returning to normal. I had started a full-time desk job at the facility, started quietly dating Carson and was planning on bringing up getting an apartment in town together so we could date officially since I would no longer be a resident of the facility.
In a major step forward, I had agreed to go on a road trip with Carson across the mountains and over to central Washington where he said the spring was warm and beautiful. I was sitting in his car waiting for him to finish his shift and enjoying the lush scenery out the passenger side window when I saw something that pulled at my heartstrings. A female deer stepped out of the cover of the forest by the jogging trails and out into a golden field behind the facility.
I had no way of being 100 percent sure, but it sure looked like the deer I ran into the night when Scott was chasing me. The deer wasn’t alone though, two spring fawns eventually trailed it out of the woods and I had to reach for my phone. A quick snap of my phone and the moment was saved forever.
I decided to share the moment with Carson and immediately sent the picture to his phone. I jumped a little bit when a digital chime shot out from the cup holder next to my seat.
I snatched up his phone and saw a little notification that explained his phone was out of memory. He would have to delete some files to receive my picture.
Carson had a Windows Phone or something, so I wasn’t exactly sure to work it, but after a little bit of playing around with it, I ended up on an album where I was presented with a screen of endless tile previews of photos and videos.
Figuring I would help him out and let him receive my amazing photo at the same time, I started scrolling through to find random photos and videos I was sure he could easily part ways with. I started with the oldest and scrolled my all the way back to a few years ago, around when I had just moved up to the facility.
The first handful of photos and videos I deleted were easy to spot – accidental photos of black taken within a pocket or quick videos taken but then aborted before they went anywhere. However, one of those quickly-aborted videos started to raise the little hairs on the back of my neck.
One of the quick little videos took place in the night, a few years ago, in a locale I knew very well. It was just a few seconds, but the little strip of grass behind my bedroom in the bungalow where I stayed was unmistakable.
The next video I pulled up would be much more terrifying. It was almost complexly dark, but you could just barely make out what was going on…shot through the tiny little gaps in the blinds of my bedroom window, you could see my body tucked up in a sea of blankets, sleeping away in the night.