“What are the photos for?”
Dazed and confused, Professor Sandra Johnson stared at the camera in Timmy's hand. His expression was tender.
"You're waking up. Don't be afraid, Miss Johnson. I used a mild dose in the injection. It’s wearing off already."
He knotted her limp frame to a kitchen chair and stood back.
"Timmy? What's going on?" Her speech was slurry, but her mind began to clear.
"I hate to keep you waiting, but I can't release you until after dark,” Timmy said, snapping several photos of her. “There's only one neighbor way out here, Mrs. Ellsworth. She wouldn't like it if she saw me carrying a bloody corpse to the car. She caught me once with a body on my shoulder. I'd wrapped it in plastic. When I stopped to chat with her, she didn't notice the drops of blood. Just sprayed them away with her garden hose."
Sandra struggled to grasp the meaning of his chilling words. Surely, she was hallucinating. She had experienced hallucinations before her recovery, but that was long ago.
"Since then, I've always waited until after dark to do my liberating," Timmy continued. "I've traveled the celestial frequencies, riding on cosmic waves. I've connected with Higher Cosmic Light Energies and traveled to the fourth dimension. Words can't describe it. You'll see for yourself."
His eyes filled with gleeful anticipation.
What had she been thinking to accept a ride with him when the storm broke during her walk from campus? She’d broken her cardinal rule of safety, but Timmy was one of her astronomy students. How could she have guessed that madness lurked behind his shy, unassuming eyes?
She briefly recalled the needle he had jabbed into her arm. What drug?
“What are the photos for?” She asked again.
“My collection. You’ll be the prettiest one. And you’re going to love the higher plane you will soon be on.”
"You're talking about soul travel? Astral travel?"
"Yes, Miss Johnson. And I’m choosing to liberate others to join me there."
"But you don't mean you kill people."
"The shell of the body must be discarded so the souls are permanently free to become one with the cosmos. That's not killing. It’s liberating. You’ll see."
He picked up a set of keys. "Don't worry. I'll be back after class to set you free. I know you're afraid, but you'll thank me, really. Now don't bother to scream. Mrs. Ellsworth turns up her hearing aids to watch TV, but she turns up the volume too. Poor dear. I'd liberate her too, but she has too many physical defects."
He paused to stroke her cheek before leaving.
Left alone, Sandra screamed for Mrs. Ellsworth until her throat was raw. At one point, she saw the old woman pass by the kitchen window. Her heart leaped with hope.
"Timmy dear, I've brought you something," a tremulous voice called. “I baked two cakes, one for the church sale and one for you.”
"Mrs. Ellsworth! Please help!" Sandra shouted with all her might, but after a moment of knocking at the door the woman left, unhearing.
Sandra renewed her struggle to free herself, but the strong cords held. Somewhere a clock ticked away what could be her final hours. Then she heard it. The sound of the car pulling up the gravel drive. Tears of frustration streamed down her face.
"I'm back Miss Johnson," Timmy called cheerfully, entering the door. "It's dark enough. We'll move to the shower, so I can wash the blood away after you're free."
She slumped, unable to muster a plan. Then a knock at the door fired hope once more.
"Timmy, I saw your lights. I've baked you cake."
"Just a minute, Mrs. Ellsworth."
Timmy shoved a gag into Sandra's mouth, taped it in place, and dragged her chair into a small living room, closing the door.
While he exchanged pleasantries with the neighbor, Sandra scanned the room. Without hesitating, she bounced and scraped her chair toward a large window.
"You'll have to excuse me," Timmy was saying.
"It's your favorite carrot cake, dear. I brought it over this afternoon, but you were out."
Now near to the window, Sandra bit her lip and hurled herself, chair and all, against the glass. The pane cracked but did not shatter.
"You'll have to leave now, Mrs. Ellsworth," Timmy insisted.
"Why yes, let's have a piece now."
One more lunge at the splintering window and Sandra crashed through, tumbling down a grassy slope and into a thick stand of trees. The seat of the chair separated from the back, allowing her to slip free of the rope.
Before she could think what to do next, she heard Timmy's voice calling, "Don't think you can run away, Miss Johnson. We're miles from town."
Run! Her mind screamed. She stood up and fled into a more thickly wooded area of the slope, ignoring the thorns that slashed her legs.
Timmy called out, "Here I come, ready or not."
My God. He’s playing a game with me, her mind registered horror as she struggled to get through a tangle of vines.
A wand of yellow light moved from side to side, making the darkness even blacker by contrast.
Run! He’s insane. Running was impossible in the bristling undergrowth.
Slamming blindly into the trunk of an ancient live oak, Sandra stepped around it and caught her breath. Through the deepening twilight, she could see the bank of a rain-swollen creek. Water rushed over the rocks, muffling the sound of her ragged breath. Where to now? Could she climb down and hide in the rapidly moving water? She had never learned to swim.
Too late. The flashlight’s wand moved beside her hiding place. She could hear Timmy mumbling to himself.
Empowered by the tonic of desperation, Sandra saw her chance and took it. She lunged at him, shoving him forward. A startled Timmy toppled into the rushing current.
She heard the splash, turned, and ran up the slope for the neighbor's house.
"Mrs. Ellsworth!" she yelled repeatedly, pounding on the door. "Call the police!" No answer. She was ready to smash a window when the door finally opened. Heaving with relief, she gasped for breath.
"Oh dear," the old lady said, with an oddly disturbed expression. "I've always warned Timmy to be more cautious about the ones he chooses for liberation. They mustn’t escape. I'm going to have to help him out."
From the pocket of her gingham apron Mrs. Ellsworth pulled a gun.
“Escape? Give me that, you old bat!” Sandra grabbed the handgun before she had time to register what the old lady intended.
She warned him to be more cautious about the ones he chooses for liberation? Help him out! They mustn’t escape?”
Mrs. Ellsworth was as crazy at Timmy!!
“Oh no you don’t!” The woman had a surprisingly steely grip on the weapon.
Sandra kicked at her with all her adrenalin-charged strength, effectively knocking Mrs. Ellsworth backward through the open door where she landed on her back with a groan.
A desperate run for Timmy’s car. The driver’s side unlocked. Sandra found the keys inside.
Peeling out of the gravel drive, she floor-boarded the gas pedal and headed for the state police on Highway 59. Who would believe her? A nice old church lady and a university student. Both psychotic! Would the police check her own erratic medical history? Perhaps arrest her for assault? Even murder if Timmy had drowned?
What if they find the drug still in her system and think she was hallucinating? Her word against Mrs. Ellsworth’s. What evidence did she have?
Then she remembered.
The photo collection.