I felt chills on my spine. I was sweating so bad I thought I might pass out. I couldn’t make out the figure that was approaching me slowly; I was panicking, why had I agreed to this? I wanted to run so bad but I knew I’d have to pay the price either way. I tried to hide behind a dusty cupboard but my insides flipped out as I felt a cold hand grab my shoulder and cover my mouth before I could shriek for help.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Hey Ryder, wait up,” I stopped short in my tracks as soon as I heard Caden; my best friend, call out to me. I flashed him a smile as I waited for him to catch up.
“Whatcha doing?” He asked me, catching his breath as he slowed his pace to match mine.
“Nothing much, just regular activities ya know.” I took out my bag which contained my library books I intended to return to the library today.
“Wanna do something fun?” He requested.
“What do you mean ‘fun’?” I gave him a suspicious look. Caden can be an innocent, sweet boy in front of adults but I knew how he truly was. I would always give him the benefit of doubt before proceeding with anything he tells me. I’m not that gullible, unlike some people I knew who would fall for his gimmicks so easily.
“Oh, you know… the usual stuff, I was thinking about playing a bet game,” He made sure to say the ending in his sweet tone, the tone I absolutely despised.
“Ahah, what’s the catch?” I knew something was fishy, he always does have a catch. No doubt.
“No, there’s no catch, I just got my birthday money so… I was thinking about how to spend it,” As if I asked for proof he pulled out a hundred dollars out of his pocket and waved it in the air.
“So?” I shrugged, big deal… he got money, show-off.
“So?, So? don’t ya get it?” He mocked me.
“No.” I told him, straight-forward.
“I will give you a bet, if you win… you get the money.” He brought the money closer to my face; I began to feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable as I stepped back.
“If I lose?” I didn’t want to hear it but Caden will just keep bugging me to do something else instead.
“Since you’re my friend I’ll have the consequence easy for you, just give me your new Jordan’s… the white one,” I narrowed my eyes at him thinking how much I wanted to punch this guy. I knew he had an eye on my priceless Jordan my dad got me before he died last year. I swore never to be separated from it… ever. I’d never even worn it… too priceless to be damaged.
“Dammit.” I swore; I gotta win this challenge, no matter what the consequences turn out to be.
“Come on Ry, I know you got this… just imagine what you can do with this.” He was provoking me, I knew it… I could say ‘no’ but what if I were to win? I would lose this big opportunity. Mom was already suffering with paying loans and taxes, Jen; my older sister was searching for a chance to pay up her student loans for college. But I won’t be able to do much with just a hundred.
Caden knew me so well as he saw my reason to delay.
“Fine, I’ll offer you a thousand then.” My eyes opened up in astonishment, I knew Caden was from a wealthy family but still… I had an easy way to earn so much cash. I knew at that point, I had to bet my Jordans.
“Deal.” We shook on it.
“What's the task?” I completely forgot to ask what I had to do to earn a thousand dollars.
“Don’t fret, it’s super simple… just go to house number 42 and bring my football from their yard, my brother accidentally kicked it there.”
“That’s it… wait did you say… number 42?” I bit my lips nervously, this was not going the way I’d expected it to go.
“Yes, any problems?” Caden casually asked, of course he didn’t have to worry about anything, it was me who was going in after all.
“Nope,” I knew Caden's strategy, he purposely gave me this bet thinking I’d lose either way. You might be wondering what is so scary about that particular house. No one really knows. People say a witch lived there, she was said to be young or at least disguised as one. Everyone talks about her, she used to be a part of our lovely neighborhood too until people saw that her boyfriend was dead. The last place they had seen her boyfriend was with her, in house… number 42.
Everyone thought she’d killed him, she was house-arrested for that since there was no proof of her committing a crime but the police wanted to assure everyone was safe. I have never seen the owner of the house. I never dared to go investigate myself to see if the rumors were true. I was scared… I guess. I never wished to admit the truth about me being a scaredy-cat.
“But…” I started.
“You’re not going to back out, are you?”
I paused, was it worth the danger… for a measly thousand dollars? Would I put my own life on the line if this ended bad… but if this ended well. Then what? Nobody had seen this mysterious woman for years so maybe… she’s not there?
“No, I’ll do it.” I hoped nothing was waiting for me inside ready to pounce when given the opportunity.
I wished God would hear of my dilemma and help me out.
“Ugh, just leave me alone Cookie.” I shooed my cat away. Cookie yawned as he ran off to the kitchen where there was nothing for him to eat but spoiled milk and dust bunnies.
“I HATE my existence,” I yelled to myself, “Why do I have to suffer for a crime I never would have imagined attempting,” I complained.
I precisely remembered what had caused this whole misinterpretation. I was just leading my own life, visiting Art Museums, celebrating my nieces birthdays… now, I’m accused of murder… of my own boyfriend. Why in the world would I have something against the one I’d loved so much? He had always been there for me, now he’s not.
I was what?… only 18 when the incident happened. Why would a teen be responsible for killing someone she deeply cared about and would give her life in exchange for her loved one?
I remembered the blood I’d seen oozing from Ben; my boyfriend. I knew in my own heart I never meant any harm to anyone. I don’t even harm flies, why would I kill him?
I didn’t know who dispatched him. One second he was alive, his golden eyes attached to my blue eyes as he told me how much he’d love me, the next second he laid on the ground; dead.
I cried so hard as I darted after his murder but neither was I able to catch him or recognize who it was.
The neighbors heard my screams as they came over to investigate, thinking I’d killed him they called the cops. I tried to tell them the truth but they never budged, never asked my side of the story. They assumed I was guilty but with a lack of evidence they had me in house-arrest. I was only allowed to go in public once a month for food.
They said this might last for years to come until I was able to give more, ‘appropriate evidence.’
Are these people so blinded? Were they always punishing the innocent just to punish someone? To prove their capabilities that they can catch criminals; criminals that are actually guilt-free. People who had their whole lives taken from them, families were separated in this brutal process.
Aren’t they taught kindness always goes a long way?
Cookie meowed snapping me back to reality. I smiled at the furry creature that had taken a liking with me, my only friend in this wretched world who understands my pain and sufferings.
“I know you’re hungry, we’ll go shopping tomorrow,” I assured him as he hurried off to chase a rat for his lunch since I’m incapable of feeding him whenever he feels hungry.
I settled down next to a good book; my only book. It was already dusk, I felt as if I’m stuck in a time loop, everyday doing the same things and wishing I could just… die. I’ll be free from being questioned all the time, portrayed as someone I’m not, being looked at as if I’m a monster… I wanted all this to end.
I smiled as I flipped through the chapters, rereading parts I didn’t understand the forty-fifth time I’d read it.
Just when I was going to read the best part I heard a mellow sound coming from the kitchen. It sounded like… footprints?
I placed my book down-side and quietly tiptoed to inspect that I’m not starting to hear things.
I was scared out of my mind, what if it was someone with ill intentions… someone who meant harm to me. I carried a spatula I’d found in one of my living room drawers as I approached the noise. I kept low and discreetive as I searched for the culprit. I saw a movements in front of the cupboard. The figure didn’t seem like a serial killer to me, more like a scaredy-cat sort type.
If I could just keep my uninvited guest quiet then I’ll be able to make them spill out the facts without any uninvited attention.
Without thinking twice I leaped forward and grabbed whoever it was and covered the mouth before it would get me in trouble… again.
I looked at the house, it seemed ordinary to me. Maybe people just made it up to scare kids because it really worked.
“You gonna back out?” Caden ridiculed me.
“No,” I shouted at him, if anything happened to me, it was gonna be his fault.
“Geez, fine.” He waved at me, not wanting to wait for me to enter the house, I regret being so close to.
I saw him take his bike and leave me; alone… with a major obstacle that could be the reason I die soon.
‘Well here goes nothing’ I thought to myself. I needed some mental pep talks before approaching my death. ‘I can do this, mom’ll be so happy if I win… if I lose...’ I slapped my forehead. Pep talks are making this harder.
‘God, help me’ was my last thought before approaching the house. Caden had told me where there was an opening I could use to get in. I noticed the crack behind one of the bushes. It seemed big enough for a big dog, I’ll easily be able to fit in.
I got on all fours and weakly pulled myself inside, I checked myself again. All in one piece. Good.
I searched frantically around the new atmosphere, boy was it freezing inside. I hoped that meant no one was home… unless some witch...
‘Focus Ryder’ I reminded myself uselessly, since I’ll better step up my A game if I wanna make it out alive.
I had almost forgotten my whole mission, just blabbering to myself wasn’t helping my situation. I finally spotted the door to the backyard, if only I could be sure. Just then I felt goosebumps on my skin, I looked at my surroundings, searching for the reason for my sudden uneasiness. Suddenly, I realized, I wasn’t alone.
I felt the shuffle movements around me. I didn’t have a clue who or what was in this house with me. I had to get that ball and get the heck out of this place… fast. The presence of someone got closer, I had to hide before whatever was out there got to me. I noticed a cupboard, the backside had enough room for me to cram in and be camouflaged… at least until that thing goes away.
I felt my heart had stopped beating when someone grabbed my shoulder and covered my mouth before I had time to recollect what had happened. I wanted so bad to scream out of the top of my lungs but I’d lost my voice for a second.
I tried to use force against my capturer, it seemed that I was stronger than it as I removed the hand from my mouth and grabbed its hands before facing it with bravery.
“Let me go,” I was surprised by the voice, I had expected a monster… some kind of witch or something but all I saw was a girl. She seemed my age; about 20ish with the beautifulest blue eyes, it reminded me of the beach, the peaceful waters with fish flying up splashing me with water, I remembered dad had taken me fishing, it was our last fishing trip together before he left me. Her eyes reminded me of such a good memory. Her blond hair was tied in a tight ponytail, her face seemed flushed with embarrassment.
“Hello, can you let me go?” Her voice was like the tinkling of bells on Christmas morning, I had been afraid for nothing. Maybe the rumors were false. She didn’t seem like a murder to me.
“Hello?” This time she actually proved she wasn’t some pretty girl but a fighter as she kicked my shin with her leg with as much force as possible for her.
“Ow, what’s that for?” I knew the answer but I wanted to hear her calming voice again.
“One, you’re trespassing in my property, two… you’re in my house without my permission and three, you dared to touch me?” The last came out like a question but I didn’t mind.
“Look I’m sorry, I know this feels like I’m a bad guy but I mean no harm to you … or your family?” I looked around expecting to see others come in but nobody came. “Are you alone?” I wondered as I looked at her face change from angry to worried and nervousness.
I was sick of people misusing me some toy they used and threw. Some random guy in my house, questioning me?
I rubbed my hands where he held me so tightly, I was afraid it would break. He seemed like a good guy, but is he? I noticed his brown hair for the first time, it sure was messy. I figured it might have been a huge misunderstanding that invited him here.
“Are you alone?” he whispered softly, not wanting to provoke me to kick him again I guess.
What do I say? I am alone, so what?
“Excuse me, why are you in my house?” I totally forgot the whole reason for my outburst; a stranger, in my house? He dreamily looked in my direction, I nervously stepped back which snapped him back to the real world.
“I- I needed to get something, my friend’s football is in your yard,” He tried to explain to me. I wasn’t buying it. What a liar, there is no football in my yard.
“There is no football here, now leave,” I ordered him in my sternist voice.
“Wait, mind if I take a look?” I glazed over his brown eyes, it reminded me of Ben’s. His eyes reminded me of all those good times I’d had before all this mess.
“Hello?” He shook me.
“Yes, you can look.” I blurted out as I nodded at him.
He hesitated to leave my side, I realized it was dark in the kitchen so I turned on the lights. He smiled weakly and left for the yard. I followed him, just be careful not to trust him so easily by judging his dreamy eyes.
“What's your name? He asked, looking behind an oak tree.
“Lindsay, what’s yours?”
“Ryder.” There was a long pause, none of us wanted to speak up. I decided to… like always.
“So, how old are you?” He seems around my age, I guessed around 19ish.
“I’m turning 21 this month, you?”
“I just turned 20,” Dang, I thought he was younger than me. Guess looks mislead me.
“Sweet.” He smiled for real this time. “You’re right, there is no ball here, looks like a misunderstanding,” I heard him cuss under his breath as his expression stated that he was extremely mad at someone. I hoped it wasn't me.
“I better go, sorry to disturb you,” he kept his distance from me, giving me the benefit of doubt, I assumed.
“It’s ok,” I dryly replied.
He wavered for a bit, not knowing what to say.
“I was just curious, did you really…?” He broke off in the end. “Kill your boyfriend?” He finished, unevenly.
“Not you too, why does everyone think I’m guilty?” I wailed, putting my hands on my forehead in annoyance.
“No, I didn’t say you’re guilty, I just asked… out of curiosity,” He seemed to be speaking the truth. Should I tell him my side of the story, would he believe me… or think I’m making it all up, like the authorities thought.
“Sit down, I’ll tell you everything,” I told him shyly as he sat on the step stool outside, I sat down on the bench. He smiled, walked up to me and sat next to me on the bench, crossing his legs. His eyes twinkling with pleasure that could have made my heart miss a beat.
“Go ahead, I believe you,” He took my hand, the hand that could have killed someone… that can kill him and clasped it his own.
I didn’t know where to begin, his face illuminated my darkest fears. I felt free for once, I knew hope will always find its way to me.
He was my hope.
My wish had finally come true...