There’s something terrifying about being alone with your thoughts.
For Lizzie Stevenson, even five minutes is too long--that’s why she’s always chasing that next distraction.
But when a home invader ties her to a chair, Lizzie finds herself stuck between a rock and a crazy space, forced to confront a surprising darkness lurking in her past.
***The following story contains adult themes. Virgin eyes, beware! (I’m looking at you, mom.)***
The darkness wasn’t so bad. It was a black void, absent any light, a dizzying plunge into terrifying, absolute nothingness.
But even that paled in comparison to the silence.
It enveloped Lizzie, wrapping around her head like a winter blanket soaked in water. The weight was crushing.
Then came the thoughts, banging against her skull as if they were baseball bats wielded by some doped-up player in the middle of a roid rage.
You’re a failure.
He left because you’re broken.
No one loves you. No one likes you.
You’ll never finish that degree.
He left because you’re fat.
That bitch. That fucking slut.
You’re not even out of your twenties and you’ve already peaked.
Why do you drink so much? Because you’re a fucking alcoholic, that’s why, and honestly you’re okay with that, never mind the consequences.
You’re a fucking coward.
Why did you let him leave you?
Can your parents possibly think less of you? Yes, definitely. They only ever liked you because he was with you.
The darkness wasn’t so bad but the silence was a fucking cunt.
Lizzie Stevenson jolted violently as she awoke. Her head jerked forward and her feathery cinnamon hair splayed across her face in a mess. She drew sharp breaths in through her nose, attempting to pull her breath back from the panic attack that clawed at her tightened chest.
The first thing Lizzie noticed was the ticking of a vintage Mickey Mouse clock hanging on the wall of her apartment a few feet away.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The second thing Lizzie noticed was that her arms and legs were securely tied to the chair she was sitting on. A few extra lengths of rope crossed her chest, tying her to the back of the chair.
Lizzie’s cry was muffled by the gag in her mouth.
A muted exclamation came from the kitchen.
Lizzie craned her neck and saw someone pulling a can of soda from the fridge. It was a man. Maybe a little younger than her--no, maybe older? His dark eyes were wide with excitement, a smooth face split in what looked almost to be a manic grin. He wore a dark green hooded blazer--
--seaweed green, Lizzie thought randomly--
--a black t-shirt and dark jeans. And black leather boots with heavy soles. Doc Martens?
The ropes bit at her wrists. Lizzie twisted her legs, pulling at the bindings on her ankles, unconsciously pulling her knees together. The tightness in her chest grew warm.
Lizzie’s focus was pulled back to the intruder’s face as he approached her--
--Tick. Tick. Tick--
Pale. Narrow. Black hair swept effortlessly back. And those dark eyes. As he got closer, she could tell that they were brown, but they were the darkest shade of brown she had ever seen.
As the intruder sat down in front of her, crossing his legs and popping the top of the soda, Lizzie became acutely aware of the gag that he had no doubt shoved into her mouth. A feeling a helplessness gripped her.
And then there was that particularly not unpleasant tingle.
Fuck you, Lizzie.
The intruder’s eyes sparkled and the manic grin expanded as if he could hear her thoughts.
Lizzie gulped, attempting to stamp down the tingle. She tried to speak but was again muffled by the gag.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The intruder was unfazed.
“Hello, Lizzie,” he said.
The tingle swam back, a spreading warmth accompanied by a twitch.
Goddammit, you fucking cunt.
His voice was warm and welcoming and infinitely nourishing, as if it was the only voice she would ever need to hear for the rest of her life. At the same time, he spoke with exacting precision, his words carrying an edge that threatened to cut as efficiently as they could comfort.
Two words and you’re already wet. You’re a worthless bag of shit.
Lizzie tried to speak again, but her mouth was otherwise occupied.
The intruder sipped his soda.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Let’s make a deal, Lizzie,” he said. “Gag comes off, you answer a question, and we both go on with our lives.”
He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, inches from Lizzie’s face. She could smell him and that only served to set the tingle on fire. Her eyes watered and she realized it must look like she was silently begging him to take the gag out.
Take it out. And shove something else in.
“How does that sound?”
Lizzie swallowed hard and her head jerked in an abrupt nod. The intruder leaned back in his chair and considered Lizzie with a pensive--
--fucking hard throbbing--
Electricity pricked its way across Lizzie’s skin, starting from her wetness and traveling across her bound extremities until a chill crept up her spine, causing an involuntary twitch to seize her body.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The intruder reached around Lizzie’s head and untied the gag. As he pulled it away, his fingers brushed her cheek.
Lizzie gasped as the gag fell from her mouth.
He sat back down, crossing his legs again. “What are you so afraid of, Lizzie?”
Lizzie’s insides were twisting. She could talk, although her body was demanding the other thing. She closed her eyes and worked her jaw, sore from the gag. Finally: “Who are you and what the fuck are you doing in my apartment?”
No reaction, no missed beat: “My name is Peter and I’m here asking you what you’re so afraid of, Lizzie.”
Never getting fucked again? Never feeling like you’re being split in two--
“Your boyfriend dumped you. It didn’t go well. Not that those things ever do. But you check his Instagram every day. Not to mention the new girl’s Instagram--” he leaned forward conspiratorially--“the fucking tits on that one! Honestly, he should enjoy it while it lasts because she’s grade-A fuckmeat that’s just gonna move onto the next thick dick that crosses her path, am I right?”
Lizzie blinked. His words were a cold shower to her repressed libido. Who the fuck was this guy and how did he know?
As if he could read her mind: “Again, my name is Peter,” he repeated, leaning back and dropping the melodrama, “and I’m here asking you what you’re so afraid of, Lizzie.”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
“How about this? Fun World. You have an annual pass and go there once or twice after work every week. That’s on top of weekend visits,” Peter said. “Your patronage of this park is like clockwork.”
Lizzie didn’t understand why she had to defend her recreational activities to a home invader. “I have an annual pass. It’s a great value. A good way to kill a few hours.”
Peter leaned in, eyes sparkling. “Reading a book is a good way to kill a few hours and infinitely more affordable, not to mention a great way to expand those mental horizons. Spending more time at a theme park than one of its minimum wage hot dog slingers is a tacit--albeit desperate--exercise in avoiding something else altogether.”
Peter’s impossibly dark eyes penetrated Lizzie.
“Something that terrifies you,” he said quietly. “So again: what are you afraid of?”
“I’m not afraid of anything!” Lizzie snapped.
“Ha!” Peter bounced to his feet so quickly his chair clattered to the floor behind him. “Everyone’s afraid of something. Everyone has that little voice inside their head pointing out all their failures. Maybe you’re afraid you were never good enough for your boyfriend, or anyone else for that matter. Maybe you’re afraid you won’t lose those few extra pounds. Or maybe you’re just afraid of the Big One.”
Peter grabbed Lizzie’s wrists and leaned in close, uncomfortable nose-to-nose. “The inevitable. The endless sleep. The darkness that comes for all of us. Tell me, Lizzie, are you so insufferably boring that you’re just afraid of death?”
Lizzie had no idea what was happening, but it was safe to say that all the sexual energy had evaporated. That tends to happen when someone calls you insufferably boring.
Peter clicked his teeth and pulled away. “No … not death.”
He turned to the table and picked up a smartphone. Lizzie recognized her case. Peter tapped in a sequence of numbers and unlocked the device.
“Last I counted,” Peter said as he scrolled the device, “you were able to keep upwards of thirteen utterly random conversations going on social media. Concurrently. With complete strangers.”
Peter selected a thread and held the phone in front of Lizzie’s face. She couldn’t get her eyes to focus on the blue text bubbles.
“Why?” he asked with a half-shrug. “There’s absolutely nothing of importance in any of this--” he scrolled the thread of messages across the screen, “--no value, no purpose other than to keep your fingers busy--”
Peter paused and looked up, dark eyes glazed. The corner of his mouth quirked up.
“Oh. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Peter put the phone back on the table, picked up the fallen chair and placed it back in front of Lizzie. He sat down.
“You’re afraid of the quiet, aren’t you, Lizzie Stevenson?”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Fun World. Creeping on the boyfriend and his new fuck buddy. The endless scroll of social media.” Peter casually tossed a thumb over his shoulder at a day planner sitting on the kitchen counter. “A calendar so full it’s a wonder how you don’t have an assistant managing it all for you.”
Lizzie searched his eyes for some kind of plausible explanation for the home and psychological invasion, but there was nothing there. It was like the man was playing a role and he was wearing this ‘Peter’ character as a mask.
“You’re afraid that if you slow down, it might get a little too quiet,” Peter continued. “And if it gets too quiet, then maybe you’ll have to actually deal with that thing inside you. That emptiness. That blackness. Is that what you’re afraid of, Lizzie Stevenson?”
Fuck this shit.
“You’re a fucking lunatic.”
Peter shrugged dismissively. “There are worse things.”
“What the actual hell do you want from me?”
“I want you tell me what you’re afraid of, Lizzie,” Peter said again, as calm and patient as the first time he asked.
“And then what?”
“And then you let it go.”
It was as if Peter had heard it a million times and was immune. Or maybe it was just because Lizzie was tied up and he wasn’t.
“I’m offering you freedom, Lizzie,” he said, that warm voice welcoming her into some unseen abyss, nourishing her and filling her with-- “I chose you, Lizzie. I chose you--of all the insipid, brainless boring people in this city, you were the only one who mattered.”
Peter smiled. “I chose you, Lizzie Stevenson, to show the door to. You still have to choose to walk through it. Now tell me--”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
“--what are you afraid of?”
Lizzie glanced at the shitty Mickey Mouse clock. This had been fun, at least for a little bit, but the time was up. Her shoulder’s slumped in defeat.
“… you’re not wrong.”
If Peter was surprised or satisfied or horny, he didn’t show it.
“… I’m afraid of sitting still,” Lizzie said softly. “I’m afraid of the quiet.”
She looked up and met Peter’s eyes.
“I am afraid of the darkness inside me.”
Peter shook his head compassionately. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Lizzie.”
“No, no,” she said, head rolling back and forth before slumping forward. “No--no. No.”
Peter’s hand rested on her thigh but she couldn’t feel it. He whispered: “You have to let it go. The fear. The anger. The loneliness. None of it matters. And once you let it go--”
“You don’t understand,” Lizzie said, keeping her head down to avoid Peter’s gaze.
A chuckle. “You cannot possibly comprehend the depths of my understanding,” Peter said softly.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
“… it started a little over a year ago,” Lizzie finally said without looking up. Her shoulders quivered. “I was interning at Kelltech Labs. Doctor Jason Kell was an alum at my school--”
The first indication of genuine annoyance from Peter. “I’ve been over all of this already. Jason Edward Kell. Renowned Alzheimer’s researcher. And you, the bright young intern--”
She couldn’t avoid it any longer. This mysterious home invader in the Doc Martens who had clearly done his homework--this asshole somehow knew the exact right buttons to mash.
How could he have been so right and yet so completely wrong?
It’s time to end this.
“Stop crying,” Peter was saying in his bullshit hypnotic tone. “You need to accept the darkness and embrace the meaningless of it all--”
The ropes binding Lizzie’s left hand fell to the floor and Peter scooted back in his chair in surprise.
Lizzie wasn’t sobbing. Her body was convulsing, muscles rippling and contorting under her flesh. Her right wrist bulged and strained at the rope, threads snapping and unraveling from pressure.
Finger bones cracked and twisted, lengthening as her nails darkened, hardened, and curved to a point.
When her right wrist broke free of the final strands, Peter shot to his feet and backed up. His eyes were wide but not with fear.
Peter was excited.
Lizzie Stevenson was far from insufferably boring.
Bones kept cracking and shifting as the violent transformation continued. Lizzie tore at the ropes straining across her chest and as the bindings on her ankles snapped. She rose up from the buckling chair. Her shoulders rippled as they gained an unseemly mass. They rolled backwards as she slowly straightened to her full height, head canted to avoid the apartment ceiling.
Peter looked up at Lizzie’s face. It was broader, flatter, but he could still see her features. That cinnamon hair cascaded all the way down her body, underneath her stretched and tearing clothes.
Peter’s mind raced, piecing together the missing bits of information that led to an abrupt end to Lizzie’s promising internship at the biotech company.
Something had gone terribly wrong.
Or at least, that was one way to look at it.
“You … are …” Peter searched for the right word. “… fascinating.”
Lizzie’s chest heaved as the convulsions of the transformation subsided. Peter cautiously approached her, raising a hand up to her head.
“… I knew there was darkness in you, but this … my dear, Lizzie, the things we’re going to do together--”
Lizzie bared fangs and growled a violent warning. When she spoke, it came out low and raspy, but without hesitation.
“How’s this for letting go?”
Lizzie smashed a bowling-ball sized fist into Peter’s face.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.