Arguing with a 911 dispatcher was infuriating. Adopting a level tone, when all Rachel wanted was someone to feel a hint of her panic for the Schizophrenic ex-client skulking outside, was not helpful. Sure, using chaos as a success model tended to backfire, but her heart was racing, pounding for someone to do their goddamned job and catch Alice before she hurt herself or someone else.
With the position of the forward tilted phone beneath the lip of the desk, this made effectively slamming the receiver down in pissy protest impossible. The piece of plastic slid off with a loud scramble, sliding across the Formica desk, and sailing off the edge before bouncing off the tile, all while Rachel cursed a sailor proud and picked it up. All the profanity in the world as unsatisfying as lipping off to Patricia-the-dispatcher who promised to send someone out when a car was available, warning her stay inside.
No fucking kidding. Last thing Rachel was going to do was take a middle of the night jaunt around the Women’s Homeless Shelter she worked at, play bait, and hope for a wicked outcome, complete with a movie-style chase scene and jiggling tit-cam.
Go outside? Was she for real?
The pennies per paycheck couldn’t make up for this nightshift.
During the day Alice was discharged from the facility. When a Paranoid Schizophrenic refuses mental health resources, and trashes a room, plus another guests room, in search of her daughter Jenny – her twenty-two year old daughter who severed contact six years ago, Alice speaking as if Jenny was stolen from her uterus while she slept – intervention was impossible. They didn’t have the facility or manpower to assist with such high need. And when the Police came in the light of day, Alice took off, out of reach of the Shelters services.
If this was the end, Rachel’s twelve hour shift would have run smoothly. All fifteen women and four children were locked up tight in the old converted house, Alice getting inside impossible unless Rachel buzzed her in. However, undeterred by the safety measures, Alice threw a brick through a window, it landing in the front lobby, scattering glass like sparkling snow. Cold air pierced the skin of all socializing in worn leather couches on the chilled night, Alice nowhere in sight by the time police showed up. Thankfully no one was hurt. Once Rachel made sure everyone stayed put, instead of chasing the brick thrower down, the clients pitched in to help clean and taped up the window with a broken down cardboard box, while she called the On Call Manager.
“When did this start?” her boss Vanessa asked of Rachel. “Last I saw Alice she was running a jewellery and 80’s hair band craft hour for other clients.”
“She was medicated then.”
“That was less than two weeks ago,” Vanessa argued.
“I know. Alice always got along with everyone, never a hassle, and made our jobs easier whenever she could. Believe me, she’s one of my fav’s just for cleaning bathrooms, but she missed her doctor’s appointment to get her shot for the month, and I guess, never rescheduled.”
“One shot? She missed one dose of meds and this happens? I’ve seen mental health breaks occur without medication, but her indecipherable outbursts shifted to violent ideation, and then action, too quick. Medication does wonders, but this mental anguish comes with triggers. Something more is driving her break.”
“Don’t know what to tell you, boss. Alice is troubled. By the sounds of it this ties back to her daughter and…”
“She’s back!”
Tasha, another client, had been hovering near the windows on guard, she pacing from one to the other in search of Alice since she smashed in the window. Her alarm set the rest of the house up in arms, they surging to the glass to rubberneck out into the cold.
“Where? I don’t see her,” another complained.
“She went before the building next door.”
“Gotta go,” Rachel told her boss needing to get a handle on the situation.
“Call me if you need me,” Vanessa told her before hanging up.
“Away from the windows everyone.” Rachel came out from behind the desk and moved to close the shutters.
“But she’s out there.”
“The doors are locked. She’s not coming in. And hanging around the windows after she just chucked a brick through one isn’t safe. Everyone upstairs in the parlour or downstairs in kitchen. We’re not standing around searching for her all night.”
The women grumbled, a few even taking shots at Rachel claiming her defenseless if Alice came in after her without them around, but Rachel saw through the tactic and insisted Alice would go away without further drama, and for them to get scarce somewhere else.
Explaining all of this didn’t matter to Patricia, the 911 dispatcher, Rachel hoping the city’s finest would stand guard at her side all night. Yeah right. According to Miss Unflappable, a police car would be circling the block in search of Alice, and Rachel was to call back if anything else occurred or if Alice was spotted around the property. Since that was the point of Rachel calling, her frustration levels throbbed in her temples wishing she could get out of the Shelter and search her down herself, if it was only safe.
Tranquilizer dart anyone?
Mental instability in an otherwise functioning 40-something woman was heartbreaking. To be within Alice’s mind, to truly believe someone had stolen her baby straight from her body, would be terrifying. Rachel felt horrible. Nevertheless, allowing Alice to circle the Shelter for a weak spot in hopes of gaining access to whomever she believed had her Jenny was something Rachel couldn’t gift her. She needed help. Help Rachel or the police couldn’t provide, but at least the police could transport her to the hospital.
An hour later, while Rachel swept up wayward shards of glass from the edge of the carpet, shining bits glittering stubbornly in the crevice between the carpet and the old floorboards, she peeked out the window, squinting into the darkness in search of movement of someone intent on getting inside. She spotted a police car in the adjacent parking lot of a closed mom and pop shop, relief easing her shoulders, and left the chilled pane to grab the dust pan and do anything else to keep her mind from the brick crashing through the window.
Quiet fell as hours passed and guests headed to bed after their caffeine and adrenaline wore off. Rachel reset to default mode to complete her overnight tasks as she would any other shift.
Still unsatisfied with the lingering glass in the carpets, especially with small children in the Shelter, Rachel fought with the vacuums tool extensions. Figuring the rest of the carpets needed a good vacuuming anyway, she fumbled around, pushing the heavy beast across the carpets over the entrance tile.
To the left of the entrance was a hallway to offices, darkened in disuse for the night until they returned in the morning. In the cusp of the threshold, Rachel found herself the subject of a heavy glare by a set of red-rimmed green eyes crowded by dark bangs, shadowing the non-blinking set spearing into her.
Heart pumping in her throat, aching in the cords of her neck, an involuntary gasp escaped, Rachel’s fingers gripping onto the vacuum as if she possessed superhuman strength and could wield it as a weapon. Alice took a step out of the shadowed doorway. How long had she been standing there without Rachel noticing? She had been by this spot a few times and didn’t see her. The front door was still locked. How did she get in?
Fumbling to turn off the vacuum, as Rachel’s eyes were glued to the woman staring her down like a wild animal sizing up her prey, Rachel finally hit the right button and the Shelter fell into jagged silence Rachel struggled to fill.
“Alice,” Rachel’s voice managed in a trembling whisper. Hopes her tone alone would assuage the rage clear in Alice’s gaze, the opposite occurred, triggering something deeper inside the woman as her nostrils flared in anger.
“It’s okay, Alice. We can talk about this.” Last thing Rachel wanted to do was have chat, but she needed to get through to her client without scaring her off before flagging in the cops.
Before she got the chance, Police officers started banging on the glass side-door entrance in front of her, spooking the addle-brained ex-client, causing a possessed-like growl. Thinking she was going to attack, Rachel tripped over the vacuum to get out of the way, and by the time she opened the door for the police, Alice took off in a sprint across the lobby, straight to a set of stairs leading to the Shelter floor where nineteen guests slept ignorant of the danger.
Getting out of the way of the jacked dudes with guns was a no-brainer. They may have drawn only tasers, but Rachel guessed Alice was out of range too fast for them to hit the trigger, because they didn’t shoot, just bellowed after her to stop. Heavy leather pounded the steps as Rachel stood frozen in the empty lobby as those boots bounded along the corridor over her head, beating the floors in rhythm with Rachel’s blood pressure as she covered her mouth with her hands as if to stop from screaming after them.
No screams, no efforts to calm a scattered mind, no recitation of Miranda rights or the Mental Health Act, nothing. Anticipation was a killer once those boots went unheard for a few dragging seconds. Only her clenching-in-fear thighs kept Rachel rooted on the carpeted lobby as her curiosity nearly had her chasing after the police and demanding answers on what was going on.
Light boot steps descended the stairs, relieving her from the demand, but the police had a problem. Alice disappeared. They vowed to search the entire building, and did, conclusion being that Alice gave them the slip.
“A window in the room with the TV upstairs was open, so we’re pretty sure she took off through there.”
“You think she jumped down from the second floor?” Rachel didn’t buy it.
“There’s an overhang with columns onto the front porch, so it’s possible.”
“Possible…but you don’t know for sure.”
The cops gave her a hard stare, one harder than the other as the younger officer looked to his superior. “If we knew for sure, we’d say so.”
“What now?” She looked between the men. “Are you going to search outside?”
The elder of the two made the decision. “We’ll do a circle, but we’ll be in the car…”
“The car?” She interrupted. “You were in the car when Alice appeared next to me. Anything could have happened before you got in here. What if I couldn’t get to the door?”
A shift in their carriage told Rachel their patience with her insinuating they lacked ability to do their jobs was running out. Tough shit. They were too slow and they knew it.
“You got an extra key?” The younger officer offered a solution.
After finding a master key and testing it to be sure it worked, the men did as they said they would, circled the facility, and got nice and cozy in the heat of their squad car.
By this time, a few ladies came down to check out the commotion. Last thing Rachel needed was to worry them further, so when they asked to go outside for a late smoke, she told them they could if they stayed right in front of the entrance doors and only took a few minutes.
“You that scared?” Tina asked her since standing there to smoke was against smoking laws. “We can handle ourselves if Alice comes back.”
“I’m sure you could take on a pack of rabid howler monkeys. I don’t need you to handle Alice. It’s covered.”
“Hey,” Laura called from the threshold outside, “5-0’s over there.”
Tina looked back at Rachel. “You trust the Popo?” She gave a throaty laugh. “You’re better off sending me out there.”
“Maybe, but Alice wouldn’t be, now would she?”
Tina rolled her eyes and turned for the door.
“You think if I flash them, they’ll arrest me?” Rachel heard Laura ask Tina.
“What if they do? I hear you’re into cuffs.”
“Be good!” Rachel yelled after them.
As the past dictated, the ladies would stay out all night unless dragged in by their ponytails, so Rachel went out for them, they grumbling when asked to get inside and get to bed. She looked to the cops bored in their car across the lot. Not even a wave exchanged as Rachel followed the ladies inside.
Alone again, Rachel returned to her duties, seated at the front desk computer doing everything possible to take her mind off the crazed look in Alice’s eyes and the cops still standing watch outside. If Alice could sneak passed them once, she could do it again. This notion stuck in her brain as she was a slave to hypersensitivity regarding every sound the old house produced. Rachel head ached at the tug of war between concentrating on her work and staying vigilant to her surroundings. Where she last saw Alice was situated at Rachel’s back. Refraining from turning around to check, double-check, and triple-check the mouth of the hallway to the offices was impossible, and her neck cramped in result.
Mind-numbing paperwork stole hours like seconds and four in the morning came sooner than Rachel thought possible. Grabbing her late night dinner, she steeled herself to make the trek down that hallway of offices, down to the basement where the guest’s dining room played host to the only microwave in the facility. Turning the lights on as she went, she prayed Alice was nowhere in sight along the way. Making it the long, low-ceiling space, she stuck her Tupperware of pasta in, closed the door, and hit the buttons for three minutes of heating time. The loud buttons pierced the quiet until she pressed ‘start’ and the hum of modern technology brought comfort.
Rumours were the eighty year old converted Victorian the facility now inhabited was haunted. Women dressed in white in empty rooms, footsteps walking down uninhabited halls, the sound of talking between disembodied voices, the eerie sense of being watched when workers were single staffed and on nights mostly alone. Some workers refused to travel to the kitchen during the night as it reached beyond the room Rachel heated up her food, underground until the roof became earth and the damp chilled the bone, keeping hold of holiday decorations until needed.
Never before had the notion of ghosts bothered Rachel. Not only did she not experience any of the reported sightings or sensed what some described, she wasn’t entirely sure she believed in ghosts at all. The incident with Alice had her so jumpy her mind mulled over those stories and made her edgy, her eyes scanning every inch of the room, even under the table, her ears open and grasping for a hint of sound to indicate another presence.
When the pop machine in the corner at her back let out a loud buzz of electricity and shuddered before its fluorescent light settled into a rhythmic hum, she spazzed out and nearly wet herself. If she wasn’t at risk for high blood pressure before, this night definitely made up for it. Minutes after the scary pop machine called her out for being an idiot, her heart refused to calm down, the tempo uneven, her veins jumping and squeezing her blood erratically in spiky pains through her appendages. She rubbed her arms to settle them, but her breathing came too fast for her to make progress.
A curse left Rachel’s lips as her hand shot to her chest, slapped in place at the sound of the microwave finishing its work, and sounding off her perfect excuse to flee the basement two steps at a time as the bottom of the Tupperware burned her fingertips. As soon as she got behind the desk, a sense of safety washed over her like a kid hiding under their blanket, their stuffies saving them from the scariest of monsters.
“Paperwork,” Stacy reminded herself aloud, turning on the radio behind the desk, keeping it low just in case.
The task and background music was the only thing keeping her head out of presuming the worst. She focused on the droning notes in front of her as she forked steaming spiraled noodles into her mouth, chewing over the next line of her notations. If she could turn her ears off, this would be the night. After what seemed like a perfectly good distraction, Rachel found her hearing stretching its super-sensitive range above the song on the radio, picking up every creak and moan the old house let out as the breezy snowfall outside battered its faded siding.
“Ignore it, ignore it, ignore it,” Rachel chanted in hopes to persuade herself into doing just so, chewing over another mouthful of pasta.
A recognizable creak sounded behind Rachel, unmistakably the small swinging door to access the area behind the desk. Spinning in her seat, Rachel only made it halfway as her ballerina flat slid and lost purchase on the tiles beneath them. The food between her teeth sucked back into her throat as Rachel set eyes on Alice’s form again, this time less than five feet away and closing.
With a step, Alice closed the space as her reedy arms raised and took up the rest of her steps for her, equipped with something Rachel had no chance of seeing until Alice brought it down, crashing into her jaw. Pain. Blinding pain spider-veined through her skull and down her neck and spine as her body collapsed against the desk still in her chair, the chair rolling away beneath her, spilling her to the floor.
Breath came in quick choking gasps as food clogged her breathing tube. One eye caught sight of the next hit as Alice screamed “My Jenny!” and batted Rachel’s skull with what she realized was a fallen tree branch, frozen from the snow. Blood blinded her left eye, the other spotted in dancing darkness as Rachel vomited a stream of food, she tensing against the raking inhale that burned her lungs when oxygen found a pathway through.
Now she understood why mental health patients were previously categorized as possessed. Learning about it in a classroom was nothing compared to experiencing the madness up close. Clinically insane was one thing, but the Alice Rachel knew was nowhere in those vengeful eyes. All Alice knew was Rachel had something of hers, or was protecting someone else who did, and in this case, since it was a child, Alice’s motherly instincts developed a personality all its own and was willing to kill to get her daughter back.
Murderous retribution was in those green eyes. Reality hit that Alice was going to kill her. Not just put her down to search the house and get her Jenny, but kill her, as in right now.
Another cry for the whereabouts of her child rang out. Alice punctuated this shriek by bringing down the branch into Rachel’s rib cage. In panic-stricken fog, unable to block the blow, Rachel felt everything in Alice’s swing. Anger, sorrow, confusion, intense need to fight for the one she loved, all misdirected. For Alice every emotion was real and justifiable, this evident in the blood spilling from Rachel’s eyes, nose, and ears.
In a reaction of self-preservation, Rachel kicked out a long leg as Alice tried to jump on top of her. If this happened, she knew she was done for. The kick was administered without remorse for the torment Alice endured. At this point, survival outweighed her compassion for a struggling client. In her state of mind, Alice wouldn’t think twice about taking her out, and Rachel blocked the part of her trying to remind her of the wonderful woman Alice was when stable.
The kick caught Alice’s knee cap, striking her leg and bending it backwards unnaturally, sending her to the floor. Seeing an opportunity, furiously grasping for the branch as Alice’s snow-slicked fingers loosened around it, Rachel struggled against the urge to projectile vomit when she sat up. Unfortunately, her client found her strength before Rachel could out-muscle her, she losing that battle to the passion of a deranged mother. Broken leg or not, this hindrance was of no consequence to Alice as she rose from the ground.
Still without a weapon, Rachel shouldered Alice into the wall with a burst of energy and nothing but dead weight behind it, giving her a chance to make it to her feet. Every breath hitched with stabbing agony as Rachel’s lungs expanded and shifted a few broken ribs. Raising the branch again, Alice brought it down on Rachel’s shoulder. Flailing hands blocked only a portion of the blow, the rest another streak of blinding pain also cutting her ear.
The cry that escaped Rachel’s lips reached no one. Clients were tucked in safely behind thick, fireproof doors on an upper floor, the police nowhere to be found.
Fine. No one else was going to save her. Nothing above an electrifying taser or a pop of a bullet was about to stop Alice from her mission of ending the target of her obsession this night. The next time Alice took a swing, Rachel was ready and dodged out of the way with a twist of striking pain in her chest, shoving Alice into the desk.
Finally, the branch dropped with a thud on the tile.
Grabbing for it greedily, Rachel now had a weapon, but nowhere to run. Intimidation was useless, and Alice’s position blocked the only exit from behind the desk area, so instead of looking for an escape route, Rachel settled on putting Alice down. Not a second’s hesitation passed as she whacked Alice across the back of the head while she was still gathering her wits from being shoved into the desk. This rattled the woman. The second hit had her face down on the ground. Blood turned her mousey hair to black ink. This detail did not register for Rachel. After a night of edginess, her adrenaline gushed from the outlet of unrepressed energy, and did so by white-knuckling the branch and bringing it down on Alice again and again.
Blind fury fuelled Rachel, or was that tears? Blurry sight obscured Alice from view and now the hysterical cries became Rachel’s, she forcing herself to stop as Alice ceased to struggle. No way would she check for a pulse or let go of her weapon. Without turning her back on Alice, Rachel walked backwards floating on a wave of adrenaline as blood pooled around the hapless woman, tears streaming through splattered blood on Rachel’s cheeks as she unlocked the door and searched for the police. At the sight of her, they came running.
Her legs no longer held her weight. Streaks of blood painted the door at her back as they ran up on her with questions. Words found no answers, her voice unreachable. Pain in her jaw painting a good picture of a messed up face without aid of a mirror, as did the shock on the younger officer’s face as he checked her over and then used his walkie to call for an ambulance.
The older policeman’s questions stopped when it was clear Rachel wouldn’t be answering them, he taking off to search the area and leaving his partner with her.
Visions of Alice’s battered head affixed in front of her eyes, replacing the worried cast of the officer squatted in front of her on the cold cement. Getting her outside was a blessing. The facility felt like a trap and the cool air on her skin chilled her enough to pull her out of the sunken despair of what she did.
“No one’s there.”
She heard wrong. She must have heard wrong. “Desk,” Rachel mumbled in a garbled voice as blood drooled down her chin.
The scream of ambulance sirens crept closer until lights pierced her eyes and bounced off the snow. The younger officer shook his head as the older cop kept asking him questions, but Rachel knew what they were saying. How? How did Alice get up and walk away from that? An image of the blood seeping from Alice’s body swam in front of her, wrenching her stomach until she vomited all over herself, narrowly missing the officer as he reactively jumped back. Her ribs screamed from the strain as sirens clouded her mind, the world around her slipping away into blackness as her brain shut down before the EMS got to her.
Sprigs of consciousness were granted when the pain medication wore off, but Rachel didn’t realize, until this occurred a handful of times, that her arms were strapped down. When she struggled, a nurse explained she was being detained until further questioning from the police regarding the events that occurred, stating Alice had been found safe and sound, but in need of medical care.
With a push of a button from the nurse, blackness resumed.
Moans hit her ears before her eyes found the strength to open. The medication weighed that of lead within her entire body. Sharp pains in her left arm, chest, and head had her twitching to free herself from the hurt, but it persisted and would pierce her again. Lids fluttered in front of the blurred form over her, a nurse changing some dressing or maybe stitching up a wound.
How long had she been unconscious? A flurry of questions battered her mind, all scattered from Alice’s condition, to the house of ladies she abruptly left, to her boss and what she would find when they were called back to the Shelter, to her husband and parents and if they’d been contacted, and as the twitches of pain persisted, to her own condition and how badly she faired.
Trying to move her arm, she was unable, and remembered the nurse telling her she was being detained. Detained for what? She was the one attacked.
When the haze cleared in one eye, the other still refused to open and felt as if something had been put over it, maybe a bandage. With clear sight, she recognized the person hovering over her. In place of the nurse was Alice. She not only stood over Rachel, but was straddling her waist atop the hospital bed, her weight causing pain in her broken ribs.
Registering Alice’s expression, Rachel was surprised to find her happy, elated, the antithesis of the rage and determination of a mad woman back at the Shelter with eyes ablaze with delight. Thinking only of how happy Alice was, Rachel tried to smile back at her, regretting it as pain shot through her jaw and into her temples. Attempting to talk, another hit of pain registered. This time she felt metal work scrape her tongue as if her jaw had been wired shut.
Could she have had surgery and not even realized?
A giggle from Alice reminded Rachel she had a body straddling her. This only struck her as something to fear when Alice reached out to Rachel’s head, dug her fingers beneath her flesh wound as Rachel could do nothing but moan, unable to spread her teeth to scream for help. Alice finally pulled back fingers swathed in blood, and then Rachel watched in disgust through tears as she watched the woman put her blood-soaked fingers into her mouth and suck on them.
Another chilling giggle escaped the woman. “Jenny is within me now.”
All Rachel could do was moan and thrash her limbs, amounting in nothing beneath Alice’s weight, arms unable to protect herself as they were strapped down out of reach of the nurse call button. This was when Rachel noticed her arm. Where once she had an IV feeding her pain medication, now was a patch of blood. No. A patch of exposed muscle, the skin ripped away as blood seeped from the wound and coloured the bleached white hospital sheets.
As Alice reached out to Rachel’s head injury, pain sliced, and Alice enjoyed another sampling of blood, the gore still in her teeth, grotesque evidence of Alice having eaten her way through Rachel’s arm and was now feasting on her face. The woman continued to stick her fingers into the head wound until she leaned forward to use her teeth. Thrashing as hard as she could, Alice didn’t manage more than a lick before backing off.
Rubbing her belly, Alice painted her shirt in streaks of red and licked the crimson from her lips, her head falling back in ecstasy. “I feel you in me, Jenny.” The reverence in which this was said would be near heartbreaking if she wasn’t talking about Rachel’s body parts in place of a fetus.
Fighting against the restraints and trying to buck Alice off resulted in a fruitless energy drain; she fully trapped by Alice’s mercy.
Again, Alice leaned forward to try and get a better sample. Using her hands, she gripped Rachel’s head to keep her still and stop her from thrashing around. When sharp teeth scraped bone, pain racked Rachel so puissant the last thing she saw before passing out was Alice’s loitering frame eclipsing the ceiling, leaning back, and chewing with red stained teeth with a look of compete satisfaction.
The End


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