The front door stood ajar. It bumped gently against the jamb in rhythm with the evening breeze. The screen remained wide open and was bent precariously around the aluminum frame. Pieces of broken glass from a shattered light bulb above had scattered across the porch, leaving behind a shadowy darkness draped across the front of the small house.
The neighborhood remained quiet; the light blue one-story cottage eerily so. No outside illumination or motion lights flooded the front area. The blooming
climbing vines and perfectly manicured bushes were eclipsed by the darkness.
A small, dark vehicle pulled into the driveway. Waiting a moment before turning
off the engine, a woman pushed open the car door and stepped out. The young
redhead was dressed for the evening, in a sparkly blouse and tight black pants.
Wavering a moment in her spiked sandals, she looked at the house in
curiosity—and then in disappointment. Quickly grabbing a warm jacket from
inside the car and slipping it on, she walked up the driveway.
“Jeanine, where are you?” she whispered and headed to the front door, ignoring the
shattered light bulb on the step crunching under her feet. She knocked on the
door. “Jeanine,” she said, more loudly, leaning closer to the opening. “We
waited for you… you missed a great party.”
The front door pushed open, revealing a darkened interior.
The woman hesitated but seemed to be pulled by an unknown force. She stepped over
the threshold, not bothering to close the door, and moved through the living room. Confused by the darkness, she turned on a lamp sitting on a small table. The room lit up instantly. Everything seemed in place. The oversized beige couches with brightly colored throw pillows, the dark mahogany coffee table with neatly stacked magazines and books precisely centered appeared usual for Jeanine’s house. It was always neat and organized.
“Jeanine?” the woman said again. “Are you here?”
The woman walked around and checked the kitchen and small bedroom, but there wasn’t
any sign of her friend. She eyed a piece of paper on the counter and decided to leave a quick note, scratching out that she had stopped by and asking Jeanine to call her when she got the message.
She suddenly noticed a strange high-pitched whistling noise coming from the other
side of the living room. Curious, the woman moved closer to the sound. The back
sliding door was slightly open. The crack was enough for the wind to invade and
make a strange noise.
Her foot touched something. A tall turquoise vase that had been sitting on a shelf
nearby was now lying on the carpet. It seemed strange to her that it had been
knocked over. She bent down and picked up the vase, replacing it on the shelf.
She retrieved her cell phone from her pocket and tried calling Jeanine again. It
rang numerous times and then went to voicemail where Jeanine’s upbeat voice
said, “Hi, sorry I missed your call but please don’t hang up. Leave a message and I’ll get right back to you.”
The greeting was followed by a quick beep.
“Jeanine, it’s Mandy again and now I’m standing in your living room. Where are you, girl? Everyone was asking about you tonight. Hey, and you left your front door open.
Call me.” She ended the call.
Mandy was about to head back to the front door to leave, but something stopped her—it
didn’t feel right—and instead, she stood at the sliding door staring out into the large backyard where dense rows of pine trees and acacia bushes huddled around the house’s boundary. During the day, the property appeared green and lush, but now it looked gloomy and foreboding.
Mandy flipped on the outside light, but it only lit up the patio areas directly
outside the house, and the extended wooded region still looked dark.
She pulled open the sliding door and the wind whipped through the house. It chilled
her. Goosebumps scuttled up her arms. Worry now set in and she didn’t know what
to do. Redialing Jeanine’s number, Mandy listened to it sound again and in unison heard the faint, far-off ringing of a phone somewhere in the distance.
She stepped outside, trying to decipher where the ringing was coming from. “Jeanine?” she said, noticing that one of the outside chairs had been toppled over and lay precariously on its side.
Moving off the stone patio and pulling her jacket more tightly around her, Mandy
slowly trudged toward the trees, a bit wobbly in her shoes. She turned on the flashlight mode on her cell phone and moved forward.
She dialed Jeanine again. This time, she heard the distinct ringing of the cell
phone coming from the trees—low at first and then it rang louder.
“Jeanine,” she said, with barely a whisper. Her voice sounded oddly distant.
Looking down, she saw where there were crushed weeds and small broken branches as if
someone had walked back and forth recently. Still, she kept moving forward, into the trees, swinging her cell phone back and forth which only illuminated a tiny patch of ground in front of her, creating dense shadows outside its beam.
Her pulse quickened.
Something fluttering on a bush caught her eye. She leaned closer, focusing. As she moved the cell light beam nearer, it revealed a piece of white fabric with a mother-of-pearl button still attached.
It wasn’t the fact that she had seen Jeanine wear that pretty white blouse on so
many occasions, it was the droplets of crimson spattered across the fabric that shoved a spear of fear into her gut.
Thoughts of dread and horror-filled scenarios ran through Mandy’s mind. Urgently, she
pushed the redial button on her phone again.
The sound of Jeanine’s ringtone rang in the darkness. This time it kept ringing and
there was no cheerful message.
Mandy walked further into the dark realm of the trees, still hoping that there was a
logical explanation. Stepping over old branches with loud crunching noises and sidestepping bushes just before reaching the back fence of the property, she managed to make her way to the sound of the ringing phone.
Everything went quiet.
Mandy stood a foot from the phone lying on the ground. It mesmerized her. She slowly
bent down to pick it up. With a startled gasp, she stepped back, dropping the phone as she stared at her hand. It was covered in blood.
In a frenzied panic, Mandy ran past the phone and continued along the low wrought-iron fence. The flashlight feature dimmed and she couldn’t see where she was going. Slowing her pace, she glimpsed something white and moving slightly.
“Jeanine? What’s going on?” She spoke in a strained whisper.
Trying to catch her breath and calm her hammering pulse, Mandy approached. Her cell
phone flashlight surged and shone brightly on the blood-soaked white silk blouse, now shredded from Jeanine’s right shoulder. She reeled back at the sight of her friend.
Mandy couldn’t tear her eyes away from the horror. Her throat constricted as her
breath trapped in her chest. She staggered backwards, taking in the entire scene—unable to turn her focus away.
Her friend’s upper body was impaled on the iron fence penetrating from her back
through her ribs, and her throat was slit open. Her head flopped down, lifeless eyes trained on the ground. Her long brown hair fell forward, some strands sticking to the blood seeping from her chest. Her arms hung at her sides, legs crooked, like a marionette waiting for someone to pull the strings. Blood still dripped from her body, sliding down her arms to her fingertips before collecting on the ground—the wet crimson almost matching her fingernail polish.
The body was shoeless and Jeanine’s feet were dirty and bloody—as if she had been running through the woods barefoot.
It was the sight of Jeanine’s face that made her sob in terror. Caked in grotesque makeup, making her look like a caricature of herself—a hideous broken doll. Red lipstick drawn heavy around her lips, dark purples for blush on her cheeks, and dark blues for eye shadow made her look like a circus clown instead of her friend.
Beside Jeanine’s body, a necklace hung on the fence. It was a small locket that she
always wore, which her mother had given her when she turned sixteen.
Mandy mouthed the word “Jeanine” but no sound escaped her lips. Realizing she still had her cell phone in her hand, she tried to dial 911 but fumbled a few times with the buttons before she heard the words, “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”