We at TBC Media had an idea for a Halloween serial written by staffers one chapter at a time, each writer taking up the story where it left off, pushing the plot forward, with no one knowing exactly how it would end. A new chapter will appear every day on bakersfield.com and in The Californian through Halloween, Oct. 31. Today, we present Chapter Four.
The story so far: Chapter One
Eva wakes up abruptly. Her heart is racing and she’s trying to catch her breath.
She looks over at her nightstand and notices her alarm clock flashing. Maybe the lights went out.
Her mind is foggy. She hugs her pillow tightly, sitting in the middle of her bed, trying to remember what happened last night.
How did I get home? What happened after that terrible fight with Tom near the lake? Where is Tom? Why isn’t he here?
The rain comes down hard outside her window. It’s usually a soothing sound. But oddly, tonight, it sends a shiver down Eva’s spine.
As she throws her pillow to the side of the bed and places her feet on the wooden floor, the right side of her head begins to throb.
She lifts her hand to her head and feels her hair is damp.
Ouch! What is this?
She makes her way around the bed without turning on the nightstand light and trips over something bulky on the floor.
Ignoring the obstacle, she swiftly makes her way to the bathroom.
With a switch of the lights, she realizes the dampness in her hair is blood.
From the looks of it, it’s a deep wound.
How did this happen? I must have fallen or run into something.
She grabs a clean white hand towel from inside the vanity, runs it under warm water and applies pressure on the wound.
When she walks back into her room and turns on the lights, what she sees leaves her frozen.
— Laura Liera, TBC Media
In her panic, Eva doesn't realize the room is not her own.
Where am I and how did I end up here?
Rain drums against the window as Eva peers outside at the darkness. There is nothing in the black emptiness, not a single landmark, to help orient her.
At the foot of the bed is her duffel bag.
This must be what I tripped over.
Where is my phone?
Frustrated, Eva empties the contents onto the floor.
Just the clothes she brought for the weekend — save for a blood-soaked T-shirt.
Eva’s chest tightens, her breath coming in frantic gasps. She realizes the T-shirt is Tom’s, the same shirt he was wearing near the lake.
There was no time to remember the details of their fight; Eva needed to find her boyfriend — or was he her ex now?
“TOM!” She shrieks so loud that it burns her throat. “Tom, where are you?!”
A shadow at the end of the hall catches Eva’s eye.
“Tom?” she says shakily.
Clutching the bloodied shirt, Eva slowly makes her way down the passage outside her room. Her eyes are having trouble adjusting to the dark.
“Tom?” Eva asks once more, her courage failing her.
As she turns the corner, Eva realizes that some questions are better left unanswered.
— By Mark Nessia, TBC Media
Tomorrow: If this isn't Tom, who is it — and what does he want?
And then she sees him.
Standing there in the hallway is Tom. Flooded with relief, she runs to him, her arms reaching around his neck. But Tom just stands there, his arms at his sides — for just a second or two — but long enough for Eva to realize something is different.
“What happened?” Eva whispers, gripping her head. She could feel the blood pounding behind her eyes, a rhythmic pulse that told her she needed help, and fast.
“Come with me back to the bedroom. You need to lie down,” Tom replies, his voice and manner distant.
Tom helps her back to bed and sits down in a chair by the window. Why won't he comfort me? Why is he so remote? And what is that look in his eyes I've never seen before?
"Where are we?" Eva demands.
"Don't you remember what happened last night?" Tom responds, uncertainty — and is that fear? — in his voice.
And then a flash. Eva has a vague memory of that fight with Tom. She can see his face contorted with anger as he screamed at her, the words unclear. A voice inside warn her not to tell him.
"All I remember is waking up in this strange house. Tell me where we are."
"We met down at the lake last night, you fell and hit your head and I brought you to this house. No one was home, so I broke a window to get you inside and called for help, but the storm has made the roads impassable."
There's something about Tom — his monotone, the way he's looking at her — that makes Eva sure there is more to the story. She needs to break through the wall he's put up between them.
"What's wrong with you, Tom? Why aren't you sitting here beside me, comforting me? It's like you're not you," she says, her voice rising in panic.
"I could say the same about you," Tom responds.
"What do you mean? I'm the same Eva you've known since first grade, the same Eva you kissed behind the skating rink in junior high, the same Eva you proposed to six months ago."
Tom just stares, searching her face. A full minute of silence, maybe more, passes between them before he nervously clears his throat.
"Just wait with me for the ambulance," he says, his tone placating. "I was outside just now and the weather has cleared. It shouldn't be long."
Eva wants to believe him but every instinct tells her to run from this man who looks like Tom, sounds like Tom but isn't Tom.
"OK, we'll wait for help, but I need to wash up and use the bathroom."
Tom motions to a door across the hall and Eva gets up, unsteady on her feet. She closes the door behind her and immediately feels safe. In the bathroom, she looks at the gash on her head and wonders how long it will be before she passes out again.
She knows she has only minutes before Tom begins knocking on the door.
She looks up and sees a window. It's now or never.
— Charmaine Cleveland, TBC Media
Eva climbs through the small bathroom window and lands with a thud on her side. Despite her dizziness and the searing pain, she scrambles to her feet and starts to run, away from the strange house and this distant, cold version of Tom.
She gets a few houses down the lakeshore before venturing a look behind her. No sign of Tom. Panting, she crouches behind a shrub and wonders where she can go for help. All the houses on this part of the lake are vacation homes and there isn’t a sign of life anywhere. She could break a window and try to get inside, but surely Tom would catch up to her before help arrived.
Tears of frustration and fear cloud her vision and then she remembers a fragment of the night before.
“Meet me at the lake where we all used to hang out,” Tom had told her over the phone.
She hears a rustling in the distance. Is it Tom?
With the sun breaking through the trees, she bolts, tapping reserves of energy she didn’t know she had. But even as she runs for her life, she can’t block out Tom’s voice in her head.
“We can’t go on like this,” she remembers him saying at the lake.
Was he about to break off the engagement?
She stops in front of a boathouse. She thinks she’s been here before but when?
Not questioning it, she runs inside to hide, and what she sees triggers memories that may answer all of her questions.
— Elizabeth Sanchez, TBC Media
She had been here before, Eva realizes as she looks around the boathouse. She remembers being here with a girl years ago. Though she can’t recall exactly who this girl was, she knows she was a friend. The memory, vague as it is, warms Eva despite her pain and fear. Closing her eyes, she teases a little more of the memory out.
The girl was a childhood friend, and the two of them hung out here often, playing with jacks and dolls and talking about boys. About the crush she had on Tom.
Why can’t I remember her name? She was one of my best friends.
It’s probably my throbbing head. First, I can’t remember what happened with Tom and now even my childhood memories are faint.
Eva walks around the boathouse, hoping to triggering something, anything that might explain what’s going on.
She sits on the dock, remembering how she and this girl used to put their feet in the water while they talked here. She looks down to her side and sees letters carved into the wood of the dock in one spot: E+J+T. Did Tom know this “J” girl too?
Her gaze turns to the water, where a flash of memory hits her, but this time it’s not a happy one: She was in the boathouse, distraught and crying.
Something happened here, Eva realizes. Something bad happened to her friend in this boathouse. Eva doesn’t remember if the friend survived whatever happened, but she knows she has to get out of there. The boathouse is no longer a refuge.
Jumping up a little too fast, Eva’s head swims but she doesn’t have time to rest. She’s about to run out of the boathouse when she remembers she’s still on the run from Tom. The memories of her friend had almost made her forget about the need to escape.
She grabs an oar from the boathouse before she leaves and prays she won’t have to use it against Tom or any other menace lurking around this lake.
As she steps back outside, she hears footsteps on fallen leaves.
— Kelly Ardis, TBC Media
Eva turns toward the sound, hoping she’ll have time to duck out of sight, but Tom is there. As her heart races, blood pulses in her head and her fight-or-flight response has veered to the former.
She steadies the oar in her hands as he steps within range.
His lips part as if to say something, but Eva is tired of trying to parse his odd behavior. She raises the oar and swings fast and low, aiming for the knee she knows he injured playing high school football.
Tom cries out as his knee buckles and he crumples to the ground. Not wanting to do lasting damage, Eva bolts to his left, heading toward the path leading to the row of houses along the lake shore. Maybe she can hole up in one and call for help.
She makes it about halfway down the road when she sees the house in the middle of the row illuminated in the morning light. This isn’t just some vacation home — it’s her home!
Eva runs across the yard to the back of the house. She knows her parents keep a spare key in the false bottom of a birdhouse.
As she turns the doorknob, she hears her mother’s voice and the sound fills her with relief.
Mom can help me make sense of this, she thinks. I’m safe. I’m home.
All the confusion of the night overwhelms Eva and she rushes to embrace her mother.
Her mother slowly raises her arms, then places her hands on Eva’s shoulders moving her back slightly so they can make eye contact.
Not seeing the strange look in her mother’s eyes, Eva unleashes a torrent of words: “Mom, I’m so confused. I came out here with Tom and we argued then I hurt my head but I don’t remember how. Then I was in some house and Tom was there but I don’t think he’s —”
Eva’s words stop in her throat as she turns to see what her mother is looking at: Tom in the doorway.
“Mom, that’s not Tom! Something’s wrong.”
The response chills her to the bone: “That is Tom. But, dear, I’m not your mother. I’m Eva’s.”
Tom stares out the window in the hospital waiting room, where he’s practically taken up residence for the past week. He notices work crews still clearing debris and fallen trees from the storm that devastated their once-scenic town.
He’s only left for a quick bite or shower since he and Eva’s mother brought Jenny in. She’d had a concussion but the real reason the doctor won’t allow him to see her is concern over her fragile emotional state.
How did we get here? Growing up, it was always the three of us: Eva, Jenny and me, the boy they made room for in their tight bond of friendship. We were inseparable.
But then Eva’s death last summer changed everything. I’ve been lost in grief, too preoccupied to notice, until it was too late, that Jenny was losing her grip on reality. Looking back, it’s obvious. Jenny never had much of a family of her own, so Eva’s parents took her in and she seemed to become an even bigger part of our lives.
But there was something more troubling going on. Jenny began to act like Eva, dress like Eva, sound like Eva. She began using expressions only Eva used.
And then Jenny said she was in love with me.
I had to tell her I could never feel that way about her. I thought going to the spot at the lake where the three of us grew up together would cushion the blow. But we just went around in circles, talking for an hour or more in the car, the rain starting softly and then coming down in sheets.
I told her I couldn’t go on like that and she just ran. She was nearly at the lake when I caught up to her but her wrist slipped my grasp and she fell on a jagged rock, splitting her head open. I carried her up to the nearest house and had to do the best I could until help came. It was the longest night of my life.
I wonder if she’ll understand any of this. I wonder if she even knows she’s Jenny.
“Tom, I’m Dr. Forney,” comes a voice from over his shoulder. “Jenny is asking for you. I think it’s time for her to see a familiar face.”
Tom follows the doctor down the long passage, wondering what he’ll say to his old friend, doubting any words from him will alleviate the pain she’s in.
He walks through the door and there she is, smaller, heartbreakingly frail, propped up by pillows on the hospital bed. She smiles and it’s that Jenny smile he realizes now he hasn’t seen in a year.
“Tom, I don’t know what to say,” Jenny says after the doctor leaves the room.
“Whatever you’re going through, whatever you need from me, I hope you know I’m always there for you,” Tom manages, emotion making his voice hoarse.
“You and Eva — you’re the only people I’ve ever really loved,” Jenny says, a distant look in her eyes. “When she died, I … I … just shut down. I don’t know where I went, to be honest. I never made a conscious decision to become Eva. I think, though, that I needed to keep her close to me. Maybe that was my twisted way of never letting her go.”
“None of us are the same after Eva’s death,” Tom says, taking Jenny’s hand. “I’ve lost the girl I wanted to marry. I can’t lose my closest friend, too, Jenny.”
“You won’t lose me, Tom. Because after what happened, I know that I can’t lose myself ever again.”
— TBC Media