This is the day that confronted Adriana Priest: pale blue skies, clouds like cotton candy, pleasantly cool temperatures underneath a layer of warming sun. She watched this world from where she sat at the top of a slope buttressing an unused highway overpass, and she was afraid. Nearly all of the familiar things of her life, all the artifice that stood between her and the things she was running from, had been stripped away. Now it was just her, and the wide open spaces, and nothing else.
Yesterday, she had been with her friends, the Shriexing group Team Mwerte, in the rented house where they were planning one of the bigger runs of their career. They would be the first Shriexers to expose the one-armed camp slasher called Stumpy. If they pulled this off, no one would every question their credentials. Sponsorships would roll in.
That was yesterday. This morning, seven days following the abduction, the panic attacks had hit. Hard.
The warning signs had been there all week. Adriana had been irritable with her Team Mwerte family, snapping at them over minor irritations. For long stretches, she was uncommunicative and sullen.
On the third day of this, Claire attempted to get to the bottom of what was wrong. Something had happened at the Scissor House; that was obvious. What was it?
Adriana wouldn’t say.
By the fourth day, the tension in the house was thick as Atlantic fog. Adriana locked herself in her room, leaving the rest of the team to plan the Stumpy run themselves. She came out only to snatch furtive bites of food from the kitchen when no one else was around.
By that point, the others were past the point of frustration with her.
Back in her room, she was sick with guilt. She wanted to tell her friends what had happened between her and the two monsters the press had dubbed The Red Mattress Killer. She wanted to – but it wasn’t going to happen. To even contemplate the subject of (THE ABDUCTION) was like floating in the middle of an ocean, not knowing which direction to swim.
So, she dusted off an old trick, forcing the pain into a box, and burying it deep. It was the wrong thing to do. It had always been the wrong thing. It had bit her in the ass before, it was biting her now, and it would bite her again in the future. But it was the only medicine she had.
When she woke on the seventh night, it was 3 a.m., the room was spinning, and sweat covered her like a cold mortuary shroud. She was being irrational, and she knew that. The Red Mattress Killers were not here. They were dead. She knew they were dead, but still her fight or flight instincts were over-firing. She could not fight a memory. She had to flee.
Leaving her sleeping friends behind was sadly easy. Most of her things were already packed, and she only needed to collect her toiletries and a few stray pieces of clothing, and stuff them into her backpack. Her bag, recently dubbed Chibihome by her friends for the little ghost that dwelled within, she slung over her neck and shoulder. That was it. It was all she had.
Leaving the house without being noticed was no problem. Stealthy movement was one of any Shriexer’s basic skills. She left her key in the kitchen without a note, opened the front door, locked it from the inside, and shut it behind her.
Just like that, she abandoned the life she built from scratch to keep herself sane.
She walked throughout the early morning, skirting along the outskirts of thick Michigan woods, across open fields misty with arboreal perfume, and along forgotten roadways jagged with potholes and cracked asphalt. Whenever lights from distant cars appeared in the pre-dawn haze, she slipped silently into whatever shadows were available until they passed, her heart pounding a burning circle in her chest.
That’s the way it went, until the afternoon sun turned the clouds into lanterns.
Now, here she sat, on brown grass, concrete to her left, looking out across a dead highway at a world that was cold and terrifying. And she had no fucking idea what to do next.
Her phone was off, partially to preserve the battery, and partially so she wouldn’t have to see the texts and voicemail messages that were surely pouring in from her team by now. The would be no forgiveness for the way she’d handled this – leaving without a note, ignoring their messages. They would be worried sick. She might have ruined the season for her entire team. But she couldn’t—
She just couldn’t.
So. Where did that leave her?
She couldn’t return to her friends. Going home to her family in New Jersey was… so, so very out of the question.
She’d let her lease lapse back in Misery while she traveled for the season, so she was homeless.
If she wasn’t Shriexing anymore – and that was indeed the implication of her breaking things off with her team – then she had no sponsorships, and that meant no income.
The weather was pleasant and mild now, but it was October, and the cold could arrive at any time. Everything she owned was in the two bags she carried, and none of it was appropriate for life on the streets during winter.
She had money – a couple thousand dollars. That was it. Once that was gone, it was gone.
She buried her face in her hands, and wished she could cry, sob, freak out… anything! But her emotions were locked down hard. Deep inside she could feel things turning caustic. All else was a dead drone.
I am fucked up, she thought. I am so fucked up. I am so fucked.
If she wasn’t a Shriexer, then what was she? Was she anything? Was she anyone?
Those men had taking her life away from her. The Red Mattress Killers. THE ABDUCTION. They had taken everything. She was as dead now as the ghosts she so obsessively made the center of her life, to the exclusion of all else.
Where did that leave her?
She could start walking. If that was all she had, she could put one foot in front of the other, and then do it again, and again, and just… see what happened.
It wasn’t much. But it was one step above giving up. It was something.
She rose, brushing strands of dead grass from the back of her legs, and shouldered her bags. Was Chibi still with her? It would be nice to travel with company.
Which direction? No, she wouldn’t pick one. She’d just go toward the largest bank of clouds. Maybe they covered something amazing.
She didn’t know it, but she was walking straight into the eye of a supernatural tempest that would later be known as The Rust Belt Mega Phenomenon.
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