Horror Romance Thriller

A sense of dread churned in my stomach, thickening like cream to butter. The office clock’s ticks sounded too slow. I wondered if the battery was dying. 


I jumped up and gasped. 

Sandra laughed. “Jumpy today. Everything okay?” 

I nodded and reached for the papers she held. “A little preoccupied, I guess.” 

“Big date night plans?” Sandra’s cheeks dimpled as she grinned. Romance was her favorite topic of conversation. It made sense. She was young, single, and devoured romance novels at an impressive rate. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat down and read anything. There never seemed to be enough time. 

“Yeah, I guess so.” I glanced at my cell phone. “He wants to have a picnic at Love Lake. He’s such a sap.” 

I thought she’d like that, but she pulled back a bit like someone realizing mid-step they were about to land on something unpleasant. 

“Oh? Is that a good idea?” Her words were softer than normal, and her bright blue eyes narrowed with concern. 

“Why wouldn’t it be?” 

“Didn’t you hear about the murder there last month?”

I shook my head. 

“There was a young couple. Probably making out in a car. Someone killed them. Stabbed him about forty times and left his body in the car. Propped up like ready to drive off. She was found in the woods, about a mile away. All her clothes were gone. I don’t think anyone ever found them, which is so weird.” 

“How was she killed?” 

“Decapitated!” Lumar shouted from his cubicle. “Guy has a thing about making sure people are real dead. Preparing for zombies, maybe.” 

Sandra shook her head, looking disgusted. “Her body was up against a tree, cradling her own head in her arms.” 

Chills danced along my spine and caused my whole body to shudder. The butter thick dread rushed through my throat like a wave, then crashed back down, leaving a burning trail behind it. 

Lumar chimed in with, “Bit cold for a picnic anyhow, ain’t it?” 

I groaned. Everyone listens in on everything in this office. 

“I’ll see if I can convince him to change his mind, but he seems so set on this idea.” 

“Could be the killer.” Lumar shrugged and tossed a balled-up paper towards the trash can. It hit the side and bounced off onto the floor.

“Or he wants to propose!” Sandra’s eyes lit up.

A proposal made sense. This whole week, Andy had been acting off. Nervous and giddy, like he had a secret he couldn’t keep. The thought should be exciting, but I felt confused and terrified. A proposal seemed so big. We’d only known each other for a year. Did I really love him? The words slid off the tongue easily enough, but was it real? No one helped with their vague statements that you know when you know. Does having questions mean he isn’t the one? Is it that simple? It doesn’t seem like anything ever is. 

“You shouldn’t say shit like that.” Lumar’s raspy voice sliced through her thoughts. “You put the idea of proposal in her mind and either you’re ruining his surprise or setting her expectations too high.” 

“Ugh, never get married,” Greg muttered across the room.

“Oh, whatever!” Sandra rolled her eyes. “Andy’s such a sweetheart. I’m so excited for you.”

He is sweet. I smiled. A few weeks ago, I was sick with a cold. It wasn’t even a big deal. A simple cold. Andy made me a batch of homemade chicken noodle soup from scratch, despite never having cooked anything before. He watched cooking videos online to learn. The first couple of efforts weren’t the best, but he kept going until he felt he had it right. Then he delivered it with flowers and cough drops. I felt like a monster for having any uncertainty about him, but it wasn’t really him causing concern. My parents divorced and my sister, who was only a year older than I was, already got divorced. A lot of friends swore they’d never get married. Said they’d never want to. It was an old, outdated custom. I didn’t know of any relationships that were making it. Didn’t know of any that were even really trying. 

Everyone seemed to cheat or not even commit to begin with. If I married him, would I one day come home from work early and find him in bed with my sister? If we had kids, would he fuck the teenage nanny? I couldn’t picture any of that, but did anyone ever really see it coming? Still, I liked the idea of finding one special person, even if people said that didn’t exist anymore.

Walking to my car after work, the air nipped hard. It was way too cold for a picnic. What was Andy thinking? Why the lake? Why tonight? What was he planning?

I listened to podcasts and talk radio while driving to keep up to date with current events. While I normally gravitated towards ones about modern dating, I couldn’t stomach it tonight. Not if I was potentially driving towards a proposal that I couldn’t decide if I was ready for. Besides, I knew what they’d all say by now. Some variations of all men are trash, all women entitled, and no one wants to date anyone anymore. Were things that bad? No one in my life seemed like that. I put on a news station in time to hear, “The Love Lake killer has taken two more victims! The bodies found at Goose Lake. Ten miles south of Love Lake.” 

I shivered and turned up the heat in the car. Why hadn’t I called Andy to change the location? Then again, the odds are low the killer would strike twice in one night at two different lakes. Still, it might be best to say something when I get there. There’s nothing romantic about fearing a killer on the loose. 

When I arrived at the lake, I saw Andy standing next to an inviting bonfire. Orange sparks burst and flames danced hypnotically. A smile spread across my face at the sight of his goofy grin. All the tension spiking through my body melted into soothing warmth. He wore a bright orange beanie, and brown curls popped out around the bottom. I loved his curly hair and his enormous nose. He felt embarrassed by it, but I really loved how it looked. 

I ran towards him and noticed a small piece of yellow caution tape blow past with the wind. “Did you hear about the murders here?” 

“Uh, what?” 

“Sandra told me and I heard about it again in the car.” 

“Oh, whoa. That’s awful.” 

“We should be careful.”

He wrapped his arms around me and kissed my forehead. “I’ve got some bear spray in my backpack.” 

“The killer stabbed a guy 40 times and cut off a women’s head. I’m not sure bear spray is enough.” 

“Do you want to leave?” 

“Maybe, but what’s happening? I’ve been trying to figure out the surprise all day and I can’t take the suspense anymore.” Looking around for clues, I only saw the fire, a picnic basket, and thermoses. 

“Well, it’s not really a surprise.” He laughed. “I told you it was a picnic.” 

I searched his eyes for a hint. 

“Oh! You really don’t know?” He looked surprised. Then grinned. “You forgot our anniversary is today?” 

“Anniversary?” My cheeks burned.

“Remember last year on this day we met doing that 5k around the lake?” 

How did I not put that together? We hadn’t known each other before the 5k. For the first mile, all I noticed was he wore a bright pink, glitter covered tutu and stayed at my pace. I’d later find out the tutu was to match his family team. At first, it annoyed me he stayed right by me. I enjoyed running on my own and having a little space. Then, I got competitive. At mile two, he said something like “this is really close. What do you say we up the stakes and gamble on some hot chocolate? Loser buys.” I agreed to his terms. We didn’t talk or anything. Winning had all my focus, but he stayed right at my side. With the finish line in sight, I charged forward to finish strong, and he fell back. I crossed the finish and waited so I could accuse him of letting me win. I hadn’t even collected my medal yet. He shrugged and told me some things were more important than winning. 

“I hope it’s that protein cocoa you made me.” 

“Of course. Only the best for my girl.” 

The day of the 5k had been cold too, though not as cold. We walked around the lake and talked for hours. I don’t know how my legs managed that. 

He handed me a thermos of hot cocoa. It tasted as delicious as I remembered.

“Almond milk and cinnamon?” I asked. 

“I’d never forget.” 

I stared into the flames and basked in their warm embrace. “This is so sweet.” 

“The hot chocolate?” 

“You, you goof. I can’t believe I forgot it was our anniversary.” 

“I should have asked if you even wanted to do anything, but I didn’t want to sound like I was trying to get out of it. I’m happy I met you. It’s cliche, but it’s been the best year with you.” 

“I’m sorry I acted so weird a little while ago. Sandra thought you were proposing and I guess it kind of got in my head. It’s silly.” 


“Well, it’s only been a year. Way too soon, right?” 

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure.” He looked down and kicked something with his foot. “Is it just not being ready though or … I guess I’m a little concerned how relieved you sound.” 

I took a deep breath and held my hands up to the flames. “I think I’m a little scared.” 


“I love you. I want this to last. But sometimes it seems like no one lasts.” 

He nodded and stood silently for a moment. “I think missing out is scarier. Not trying all I can.”

My heart pattered, stomach clenched, and moisture collected in my eyes. “I don’t want to lose you. That is scarier.” 

He smiled. “I can’t promise things will always be great or ultimately succeed, but I can promise you I’ll always communicate and try. I’ll always work on this. No disappearing acts.”

My breathing slowed. I nodded my head in agreement. He was right. “You didn’t–” 

“Did you hear that?” 


“Shh! Listen.” 

At first, all I heard was an occasional snap from the fire, but then I heard a rustling of leaves. Was that a groan? 

Andy grabbed a large stick and stood in front of me protectively. “Get the bear spray!” 

I dropped to the ground and rummaged through his backpack. I froze when my hand found a little black box. 


I dropped it back in the bag and grabbed the bear spray. “Let’s just go.” 

“What about the fire? Maybe it’s a raccoon or something?” 

“What if it’s not?” 

He stayed silent a moment before saying, “Look, it’s easy to get scared when hearing all these awful stories. Chances are nothing is going to happen. Let’s try to at least eat. I made your favorite.” 

I glanced around. Nothing. Maybe it was an animal. Entirely possible. “By make my favorite, do you mean going to that deli with the amazing pickles and getting cheesesteaks?” 

“Yup! Even got extra pickles.” 

“I love you.” 

He laughed. “I love you too.”

I nervously unwrapped the cheesesteak. The drool-inducing scent caused my stomach to growl violently. The flavors of beef, melted cheese, and sauteed peppers overwhelmed my mouth with delight. I noticed Andy watching me with that loving twinkle in his eyes. I could do this every day for the rest of my life easily. Minus the fear of being murdered, of course. I thought about the ring box I felt in his bag. The dread didn’t resurface. Actually, being with Andy and tuning out all the noise, everything felt easier. 

Then I heard a whooshing noise like a knife slicing through air. 

“Is someone there?”

In answer to my question, a figure stepped out of the woods. The figure wore all black, including a black ski mask. A long glistening knife was gripped tightly in the figure’s hand. 

The absolute nerve of this monster to wait until I have my delicious cheesesteak in hand. I couldn’t help that being my first thought. Thoughts are not controllable. Immediately after it, my heart pounded and my legs shook. I grabbed the bear spray with one hand and called the police with my cellphone in the other hand. 

Andy stood up and shouted, “We’re armed, and we’re calling the cops! Stay back.” 

The figure tilted its head, perhaps confused. Andy grabbed a long branch and poured gasoline on one end. He must have brought the can to start up the bonfire. Then he set the end on fire. He bravely marched towards the figure waving the flame. The figure hesitated a moment, then turned and bolted towards the woods. Andy chased after it. What was he doing? I stood to run after them, but then the dispatch officer spoke into the phone and I stayed to give them the information. 

My throat closed and I could barely breathe. My heart beat so quickly and with such force, I worried I might pass out. I kept alternating between talking to the officer and screaming Andy’s name. What was he doing? He could die. He could trip and burn the entire forest down? I felt like I could vomit. Andy, you better make it out of those fucking woods in one piece, because I can’t lose you. I put the police on speaker phone. I grabbed the bear spray and ran in the direction Andy took off in. 

The woods were dark, so I turned the flashlight app on and used my phone to look around. I didn’t see a flame torch swinging around wildly. Was that good or bad? I crept quickly, spinning around for fear of being approached in any direction. Andy, where are you? 

I heard a twig snap and shoved my body against a tree trunk. Then tried to hide the light against my thigh. I heard heavy breathing. What if Andy is right next to me and we’re both thinking the other is the killer? Would the killer really stand there breathing heavily? Wouldn’t they act? I took a deep breath and prepared the bear spray. Then, slowly peer around the tree. I locked eyes with the person in the black ski mask, screamed and sprayed. I kept spraying as the person stumbled back, grabbing at their eyes and also screaming. Then the killer abruptly snapped to the side and fell. It took me a few moments to realize Andy had whacked the figure across the head with a tree branch. 

“Great teamwork,” Andy said and held up his hand for a high five.


“We’ve got to tie the hands. Quick help me.” 

“Do you have rope?” 

Andy pulled a long wire from the masked killer’s pocket. I helped him push the killer over to better wrap their hands together. Andy is excellent with knots. He tied the knot tightly and then tied the legs together. 

“The police are on their way. Should we leave the killer here?” 

“Of course not. We’ve both seen enough horror movies to know the slasher won’t be there when they come around. We’ll have to drag this guy with us.” 

I nodded, but a voice in my head said to run as far from this situation as possible. I didn’t want to be touching a killer. Andy took one side, and I took the other. We slowly dragged the unmoving, dead weight body of the killer. The entire time I braced for the jump scare of this person jolting awake. Instead, I saw blue and red flashing lights and heard the wailing of sirens. Police officers ran down to greet us and take the killer off our hands. They yelled at Andy for his stupidity, and a part of me wanted to as well. A part of me also admired him for being so brave. Mostly all I felt was happy he was still alive. 

My stomach rumbled, and I glanced towards the fire and cheesesteaks. Three raccoons stood watching the scene with large chubby cheeked mouthfuls of our cheesesteaks. Seeing the sandwiches clutched in their little gray hands, I couldn’t help but laugh. When Andy noticed, he laughed too. The police eyed us suspiciously and reminded us not to go anywhere yet. 

I threw my arms around Andy’s neck and pulled him in for an aggressive kiss. I felt his lips smiling against mine. Once again, my thoughts returned to the small box in his backpack. There’s no longer a question. I’d definitely say yes.  

February 16, 2024 21:36

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Danny G
04:49 Feb 19, 2024

Totally did not expect that ending based on what I've read of yours in the past. Honestly, that is a twist itself. Lol. A really great story. I feel like you captured contrasting feelings between trying and failing and not trying and not knowing between them both. That and the talking in the office felt really authentic.


Annalisa D.
04:54 Feb 19, 2024

Thank you! I really appreciate that. I'm glad that came across well and I loved writing the office scene.


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Eric D.
04:36 Feb 17, 2024

This story was really cute, and it was a much needed relief from the dark stories I've read, I was rooting for the both of them. The chemistry felt so real, even the descriptions and how she reminisced about the sweet things he did for her. It had funny moments too and great dialogue between the minor characters too.


Annalisa D.
04:50 Feb 17, 2024

Thank you! I'm so happy you thought so. ☺️ That's great feedback!


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