Fool Me Twice

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Fool me once, shame on you…

The chilly November wind blew silently through the darkened streets of New York City, rustling the corners of the abandoned newspapers lining the sidewalks as it faded into the shadowy corners of alleys, leaving a haunting whisper of its passing behind. The sky was as bright and clear as any night could aspire for it to be—yet, one couldn’t hope to see even a single trace of a star in its expanse. Be it the entire planet responding with despair to the approaching time of cold and death, or just coincidence, but nights like these came around—thankfully—only once in a blue moon. Though you could never put a finger on what was so disconcerting about it—was it the lighting of the world, having been altered almost imperceptibly to give everything a different, more eerie hue? The premonition of the hard times to come? Or was it all just in your head?--, it was the kind of night that caused ghostly shivers to crawl up your spine for no apparent reason, gave you indescribable feelings that you could equate only to the sense of loneliness and utter isolation, and took you back to the early years of your life, when the darkness was your mortal enemy, and nothing was more terrifying than what could possibly be lying in wait in the unfathomable darkness underneath your bed.

It was for this reason that Ricky Goldstein was profoundly happy to be in the company of good friends that night, albeit a tad overwhelmed. In front of him, the local bar’s doors swung open dramatically, and the instantaneous beat of pop culture music drowned out the screaming silence of the night in one solid wave. Before he even had time to register what was happening, he was pushed and prodded and squeezed through an opening far too small for his current party. The dreary, shadowy feel of the layers of the night was almost too rapidly replaced by noisy laughter, a few well-placed drunken brawls, and the faint scent of cheap perfume, causing him to fall into dizziness for a moment.

That isn’t to say that he minded the change. Quite the opposite was true, really. As he adjusted to the new environment, Ricky’s senses began to come fully online, attempting to make up for the time they had lost in creating an impression of the place for him. As his friends ushered him over to a table near the front, his widened eyes slowly slid over the entire room, sometimes landing on a few objects or people of interest, but mostly absorbing everything with a rather blank gaze.

He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was just off in general with him that night. Something so seemingly insignificant, yet somehow significant, that, despite his best efforts, he just couldn’t shrug it off.

“Aaaye, Ricky! Tell us ‘bout you n’ Serena! As far as I know, you’ve never repeated girly-friends a’fore!” A familiarly gruff voice snapped Ricky out of his trance, and he turned involuntarily to focus his attention on Cray “The Boulder” McCoy as the first round of drinks slid tastefully to each member of their party. Although by far the jokester of the group of coworkers, Cray was one of the ones Ricky would expect to be the most sincere about such matters. Having grown up under the strong hand of a single German lady, he was bluntly honest by nature—setting him apart in a good way, Ricky supposed, from the rest of them.

Before he had time to answer, Johnny piped in, taking a swig of his beverage before he spoke and slamming it down on the counter in playful emphasis. “Yeaaah! What’s so special about this chick, huh?” In contrast to Cray, Ricky could rarely ever stand having Johnny around—he just couldn’t take the guy seriously. It was an especially low self-esteem that caused Johnny’s uncanny, weasel-like appearance to be a mirror for his personality. Though, Ricky supposed, with a sly, secret smile meant only for himself, he wasn’t really one to judge hypocrisy and an abundance of ulterior motives.
Throwing his hands up playfully in mock defense, Ricky flashed his famous 1000-watt smile as he leaned back on his barstool. “Guys, guys… why does there have to be something SPECIAL about her? Maybe I just like her, eh?” he drawled slowly, making sure to slide his gaze over each of the members of his party, searching for any who might be offended by the truth of his second affair with Serena. His gaze was matched only by the same light, joking mannerism that he had purposefully infected his words with, however, and he relaxed.

“Aw, c’mon Ricky, we know you too well for that kinda talk,” Cray boomed out heartily, pounding his cup on the counter for emphasis and spilling most of its contents over his fellow coworkers as a result. However, they seemed too caught up in the latest seed of ever succulent gossip to even cast him a glare. “Spill the detes a’ready!”

All at once, murmurs traveled rapidly across the party, egging Ricky on, until he finally laughed and leaned forwards as if he were confiding in them a great secret. “Alright, alright, you caught me,” he joked, downing the rest of his beverage and nodding to the bartender to give him a refill. He tried to speak loudly, realizing that it was hard to even hear one’s own thoughts over the intense amount of noise within the tavern. “Truth is? Serena’s WEIRD, simple as that. Like, REALLY weird. A whole ton weirder than the last time we dated, and that’s SAYING something, ‘cause she was weird then too. It’s just, I’ve hit a financially rough spot, if you know what I mean…”

Almost before Ricky had finished his sentence, Cray released a short, loud bark of laughter, smacking his thigh in a combination of amusement and slight disbelief. “So, it’s the same as the first time, is it? Dating the poor lass ‘cause she’s got a load in the bank?” Though the same words could’ve been cast in a more negative light, the man’s carefree tone held no trace of judgment.

“That’s low, even for you, Ricky boy!” piped the man nearest to Ricky on the left, a short, rather unpleasant, though charmingly attractive man by the name of Phillip. Narrowing his eyes, Ricky chose to ignore the man’s comment. While seemingly nonchalant and in good nature, the undertone in Phillip’s voice suggested the year-long unspoken competition the men had found themselves thrown into upon starting to work at the same place, at the same time.

Murmurs of agreement swirled into Ricky’s ears, some more light than others, and he finally began to laugh along with them in order to ease the sense of a blasted emotion he wouldn’t give his conscience the victory of identifying. “I know, I know—“

Johnny interrupted him before he could finish his sentence, imploding his train of thought. “I mean, finding ANOTHER girl with a thick wallet to love and leave would be one thing, but I’ve never known you to use the same girl twice,” the weasel babbled, shoving his drink away in order to rest both his elbows on the countertop and cradle his head in his hands, fixing his gaze on Ricky in annoying expectation.

Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Ricky glanced away from the obvious troublemaker. “Hey, the economy’s down. Finding wealthy, single ladies under the age of 50 is getting harder and harder in this town,” he rebutted quickly, straining to keep his tone light and nonchalant in order to disguise the irritation he was currently feeling. Was there such a lack of discussion topics that they couldn’t just move on?

Obviously, this must have been the case, as his reply provoked an infuriatingly hardy round of laughter from his coworkers, a few even clacking their cups together in the drunken man’s version of a high five. “No need to get worked up about it, bro!” Johnny quipped in his nasally voice as the laughter subsided, either not noticing or choosing to ignore the steam practically radiating from Ricky’s ears as he shot the man a glare, seething silently. “I was just making an observation!”

“How’d you manage to fool her TWICE, anyway?” an educated, logical-minded man by the name of Marley suddenly inquired, drawing Ricky’s ill attentions away from Johnny. Being one of the most steady and stable-minded characters within the office, Ricky had been drawn to Marley from the moment he had taken the job, and had involuntarily found himself looking up to the stoic man—something he would never admit to anyone, as he wasn’t exactly proud of it. Nevertheless, his admiration for Marley did the trick of cooling him down.

Ricky quickly opened his mouth to squeeze in a reply, but shut it just as quickly, leaning back on his stool as he reached up to stroke his goatee in thought. How HAD he fooled Serena twice? Sure, he had made his apology sound as sincere as he possibly could, using the appropriate amounts of flattery and make-up presents to seduce her distrust away. Hell, he had even let a few believable tears slip out as he had begged for her return into his life, claiming that though he had used her for money at the beginning, his feelings had developed into those of love, and he couldn’t possibly live without her. To anyone else, his show would have been believable enough.

But, however crazy and weird the woman was, he had known from first sight that she was anything but stupid. Time and time again, he had seen the deepest of intelligence flashing from the depths of her eerily dark eyes, even at their most maddened, insane state. In fact, he was prone to the belief that it was an over-abundance of genius that had driven Serena to the border of insanity. There was a fine line between those two, they said.

Hm. He decided to dismiss it as her being utterly blinded by love—because if there was one thing of which he was sure, it was her undying love for him. The deep poems, portraits, paintings, and scars on her wrists were proof enough.

Shuddering involuntarily, he slumped down on his stool a bit. They were MORE than enough, actually. Far more. In fact, they were way too much to handle—which is why he had dumped her and her seemingly endless flow of money in the first place.

“Helloooo? Earth to Ricky!” The sudden, piercing voice snapped Ricky from his thoughts, and he glanced up to see his coworkers staring at him expectantly.

Running a hand through his hair while using the other to take a quick gulp of his second beverage, he glanced away, unable to recall what the question was for a second. “Uh, I don’t know how, actually. I guess she’s just blinded by my supreme sexiness,” he joked after only a moment’s hesitation, flashing his charming, lopsided grin as a flawless cover for the messy incompleteness of his thoughts. Immediately, his coworkers burst out in snickers.

In the midst of all the noise and distracting masses of colors and people, a figure—female, he guessed, as it was petite—caught his eye due to the rapid, hurried pace at which it raced for the door. However, once he turned his head around fully to identify whatever it was, it had faded out into the streets, the door almost mournfully swinging shut behind it.

The disconcertingly cool air the door had shepherded into the tavern somehow weaved its way through the hordes of people and gently pushed against Ricky’s face, and he shook his head roughly, pushing the figure out of his mind. However, the feeling that something was horribly wrong crept into his gut, tearing at his innards like a vicious animal.

It was because of the night, he reasoned as his inner thoughts and feelings drowned out the obnoxiously loud noise of the bar. He had known that coming out anywhere on a night like this would be, for lack of better terms, bad news—his mind was playing tricks on him due to his uneasiness and fatigue. Not even two shots and a bar full of chaos of the highest order could blur reality enough to drown it out. It was the disturbing atmosphere--nothing more, and nothing less--that was messing with his head, and sleep was the only known remedy.

A sudden presence that pressed a tad too close for comfort jarred Ricky from his thoughts. “Hello, handsome…” a voice whispered seductively into his ear. Giving his head a little shake to clear it, he glanced up to locate the source of the husky, feminine voice--and came face-to-face with what was perhaps the largest cleavage he’d ever seen.

His breath hitched in his throat as the undeniably sexy woman laughed lightly, and although he tried to lift his eyes up to meet hers, he just couldn’t tear them away from the sight right before them. It wasn’t that he was even in a perverted mood—in fact, the opposite was true. Cunning, though, the woman was—she had placed herself in a position that would have made a professional hooker feel awkward.

Suddenly, the encouraging, testosterone-fueled hoots and hollers his coworkers were shouting pulled his focus from the woman. By peering through strands of honey-bleached dirty-blonde tresses, Ricky could see them in the background, most of them murmuring secretively to each other, with a few of them actually giving him a standing ovation on what probably seemed like his next, possibly greatest conquest.

“Ohhh, look’at that, guys!”

“Aw, that’s our Ricky!”

“Looks like someone just SCORED!”

“Ohhh, d*mn. She’s a fine catch.”

It didn’t take a genius to figure out what they expected. Over the time he had been working in the office, Ricky had quickly built up an infamous reputation as being the player of the group. He was the all too familiar party type of guy, always ready for a late night spent at a bar or a club with anyone who wanted to tag along—although, it didn’t matter whether anyone did or not, as they wouldn’t see much of him anyway. Most of the time he spent in either of the places was wasted away in the hot, dense, hidden back rooms that were as drenched with pleasure and passion as they were with sweat and condom cases.

The invisible bottom line was, he had never turned down an opportunity to have an encounter with the opposite sex, and he knew they surely didn’t expect him to start then. He himself didn’t really expect to start then, either. Hormones and testosterone were funny things, he guessed—if they were awakened within him, everything else except the intense, suffocating, clawing need to satiate them faded away into the distance of memories and ceased to matter.

Ricky held his breath and forced his body to remain rigid as he felt the woman shift even closer, sucking in his desires as her hand began to softly play with his earlobe and trail down his neck, barely disguising her want. “What do you say to us…going somewhere a bit more private…?” she whispered huskily, dropping her head in a deliberately slow manner until her lips just scarcely touched and gently caressed the sensitive skin of his ear.

Glancing from her deep, blue eyes, confident and glazed over with passion and desire, to the rowdy, occasionally garish actions of encouragement his coworkers were aiming at him, and back again, Ricky suddenly felt sick. All at once, he was just NOT in the mood. The aching intuit of there being something wrong was growing in his chest by the second, and at that moment in time, he wanted nothing more than to be anywhere but in that bar.

Riding on his feelings and instincts, Ricky shot up from his barstool, changing positions so rapidly that he sent the woman flying backwards off of him. With a short scream, she hit the wooden floor, her eyes squeezed shut in expectation of pain as she twisted to the side subconsciously to avoid damage to her head.

Although he felt a flash of guilt and sympathy for the woman, Ricky didn’t feel like he had any time to spare, and quickly turned to resume his motions of yanking his coat from the stool. Glancing up to meet the eyes of his coworkers and dish out a snappy explanation for his departure, he paused momentarily as he took in how silent they had all become, his mouth drying out as he noticed their wary stares. They must have thought he was some sort of psychotic person who had forgotten their meds by that point—or, at least, that was what their looks implied. However, it was too late to reverse the course of his actions. “Uh, I’m not feeling too hot, guys. I’ve gotta go,” he called to them over his shoulder as he briskly turned to leave, needing to be free of the awkward situation desperately. He wasn’t sure, though, if they heard him over the noise of the bar. Whether they did or didn’t, they offered no reply that he could hear.

Oh well. He pushed them out of his mind as he shoved and side-stepped through the crowd, keeping his sights zeroed in on the exit.



A wild, furious scream tore from Serena’s throat as she bolted into hers and Ricky’s home, slicing through the silence with the despair and anguish laced throughout it. Tearing her reddened gaze across the room in a desperate search for something on which to release her rage, she rushed to the nearest lamp and threw it against the wall, screaming again as she compared the one hundred broken pieces that fell to the floor to the broken pieces of her heart.

How dare he?! HOW DARE HE!!

Feverishly sliding her eyes over the room once again, Serena ran to the coffee table, overturning it and kicking it repeatedly as if it was Ricky himself. “How DARE he!?!” she screamed at the top of her lungs to no one in particular, not even noticing the tears that were streaming down her face. “How DARE he break his promise?! How dare he fool me again!? How dare he do this to me?!”

As her tormented screams faded away into broken sobs, she grabbed the glass cups that had previously been on the coffee table off the floor, taking one in each hand, and smashed them against the nearest wall, wailing as the shards of glass sliced her skin. Both ignoring and craving the pain, she crushed the broken glasses against the wall again and again, over and over, utterly blinded by her immeasurable wrath.

Somewhere in the depths of her mind, Serena realized that she was falling into a meltdown. She was just barely aware that she was losing all rationality and logic at a rapidly increasing pace. However, she was too wrapped up in fury and heartbreak to care enough to try to stop herself. Not that she would have been able to, anyway.

After all, insanity WAS a wonderful escape.

When the glasses were too broken to smash any longer, she sunk slowly to the ground, burying her bloody hands in the scattered shards as she let her hair cover her tear-stained face. For a moment, she remained perfectly still, not a single thought passing through her mind. Silence hung in the room like a puppet hangs from a string, broken only by her breathy sobs.

Suddenly, Serena blinked fiercely and glanced around, her brow furrowing as her eyes registered and comprehended the mess she had made. No, no, no. That would not do; it would not do at all. Following the trail of shattered glass, her gaze came to rest on the fascinatingly crimson blood that was welling from the cuts on her hands and dripping down to create a pool on the floor.

Tears began to burn the corners of her eyes for a new reason. Glaring at her bloodied hands until they began to shake and her vision began to blur, Serena shakily stood to her feet. Turning dazedly around, she attempted to locate something with which to clean her mess—she couldn’t just leave it there, as that would be the most horrific of crimes. Thoughts forced themselves in her mind without her command—the kind of thoughts that she had spent most of her life trying to shut out.

She couldn’t handle the fact that there was a mess at all, honestly; cleanliness was beautiful, and messes were ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. She was a mess. She was ugly. She had to clean her mess up, quickly, quickly, quickly, so she could be beautiful. So she could be loved. No one loved messes. They were unspeakable crimes, and she couldn’t believe she had not only endorsed one being made, but had made it herself.

Ricky. Serena let out a vicious snarl as she found a washrag in the kitchen sink, turning to dart back to where the blood and glass dwelled as soon as she grabbed it. It was Ricky’s fault, she decided, her fallen mind understanding only that all blame should fall to him. His fault, and his ALONE, she convinced herself. Both messes were—the mess she was on the inside, and the mess mirroring it that she had just created.

That was unacceptable. How could he? How dare he?

In fact…now that she thought about it, he himself was a mess as a whole. He caused too many to not be, certainly. Maybe he wasn’t as big a mess as she was—no, she was the biggest mess of all. But, like her, a mess.

And messes…were for cleaning up.

An insane, deviously maniacal smile began to spread slowly across Serena’s face as she scraped ever last shard of glass into her hand. The perfect plan had just taken root in her mind; for the good of the world, she would carry it out. God must want her to, she reasoned in sick joy, or else it never would have occurred to her in the first place. Yes, yes.

A delighted, gleeful laugh bubbled from within her chest, and she began to skip around the room in ecstasy, now having even more of a reason to clean.

Though, that mess wouldn’t be the most interesting mess she’d be cleaning up before the night faded into the rising morning sun. Of that much, she was now sure.



The chilly, eerie night air washed over Ricky as he stepped out into the streets, bathing him in a way that felt a little too…alive. Almost as if he was walking into invisible, shadowy arms. Shuddering at the accompanying image that popped in his mind, Ricky shook his head fiercely to clear it, thrusting his hands into his pockets as he began to step hurriedly down the sidewalk. What was WITH him, he wondered? Did he have a screw loose suddenly, or something? Because his current behavior wasn’t at all what it usually was—yet, though he was aware of that, he couldn’t fix it, either. He just felt off.

The dim, murky pools of light the streetlights shed onto the pavement did nothing to battle the inky finality of the darkness. Though, the mere heaviness of the dark wasn’t the only thing that set him on edge. The further he walked past the darkened buildings and houses, away from the light and distraction he had found fleetingly in the bar, he grew more and more aware of the profoundly dense silence surrounding him. It wasn’t anything like the usual silence one should experience on an evening stroll; rather, it seemed sinister and foreboding, leaving an ominous ringing in his ears and a clattering in his chest.

As he came to the street corner where he had to make a crossing, a sudden gravelly sound in the distance caused him to jump a foot in the air, his nerves burning and his heart racing in panic and adrenaline. Whipping his head in the direction it came from, his entire body fell slack with relief when he saw it was only a car. Phew. He decided to let it pass by before attempting to cross the street, just to be on the safe side.

As the car crawled closer, slowing down for the turn it would have to make, Ricky could just make out the high-pitched lyrics the car’s radio was playing. “Love me, love me, say that ya love me…” Ugh, Justin Bieber. He shook his head in disgust and contempt. What respectable citizen listened to that crap, anyway?!

To his befuddlement, the car slowed so far down that Ricky thought it was actually going to stop dead in the middle of the street. Squinting, he tried to peer into the shaded windows in order to get a look at the driver, but he couldn’t for the life of him make out a single shape. And for some reason, that gave him a bad feeling.

However, in contrast to the fears that had begun to spring up within him, the car rounded the street corner and began to pick up speed once more, cruising steadily into the blackness. Shushing his irrational suspicions in irritation, Ricky crossed the street quickly, muttering to himself about going crazy the entire way. Fortunately, most of his journey was over at that point—he only had another block to walk before he could fall into bed and sleep away the night, forgetting any of this ever happened.

Not ever having been one for patience, he picked up his pace significantly, almost running towards his house as he tried to not think about the darkness of every single other house on his street. The most he saw was a light in one of the upstairs windows of a random house—and it was only eleven o’clock at night, for Pete’s sake! Why did no one have their lights on?

Finally, Ricky turned the corner at Roseland lane, sighing in relief as he did so. His house was the largest one in the entire neighborhood—he would have bought no less, of course—and was located on the end of the lane, standing proud and tall for the other houses to turn their envious eyes to look up to. At first, he had courteously tried to ignore his neighbors’ obvious jealousy of his living quarters, not wanting to seem like a rich snob, but recently it had become so prevalent that he didn’t see the use of stepping around it anymore. Not that he minded—he loved it, all of it.

It was good to be home.

The first thing Ricky noticed as he neared his house was that it, as most of the other houses had been, was dark. Completely, utterly drowned in the blackness of the night, without a single light in any of the windows to clue an onlooker in that anything living could be found inside. Snapping his gaze to the driveway, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion as he noted his and Serena’s car was parked there. But, if she was home, why then were the lights out?

Ricky supposed she could be sleeping, but it was highly unlike her to not leave at least the porch lamps on for him, if not the lights in one or two of the rooms as well. In fact, he had never known her to drench the entire house in darkness at any time, even when she ran errands in the daytime. Unpleasant things make their home in the dark, she always said…

Slowly, as if to not startle him, an intense feeling of foreboding flooded into Ricky, slowing his steps as it ensnared his heart in its violent grip. Suddenly feeling rather dizzy, he shook his head and blinked fiercely, running his fingers through his hair as he continued to step forward, determined to ignore what he perceived as his mind falling to insanity. However, when he reached the front steps, he stopped dead, his eyes widening in further confusion.

The front door was ajar.

Never, ever would Serena leave the door open. Not in her right mind. Being as mentally unstable as she was, she feared many things, ranging from silly and stupidly impossible to dark and torturous—and robbers and rapists were two of the things she feared most. She had only once been careless enough to even so much as not lock the door, and that had been in the midst of a terrible breakdown he never wanted to remember.

A thousand thoughts and courses of actions threatened to crash into him all at once, but he cut them all off. Ricky knew himself well enough to know that if he stood there for even a moment longer, he would never be able to gain the courage to go into the house. Ergo, he mustered all of the anger he felt at the night gone wrong, all of the irritation he had suppressed at every little annoyance in his day, and darted through the door before he could change his mind.

Daring to unscrew his eyes and relax his muscles, Ricky released the breath he hadn’t even realized he had been holding, quickly beginning to take in his surroundings. He was met only by the same suffocating, irksome darkness and silence that had been haunting him all night. Shivering as apprehension made the hair on the back of his neck stand up, he tried to decide what to do. Every fiber of his being told him to run back out into the streets and come back the next day when warm sunlight had washed the creepiness away, but at the same time, he realized what he SHOULD do was put his irrational fears to rest by giving the house a look-through.

Before Ricky could complete his train of thought, a faint sound reached his ears. Scrunching his face in concentration, he leaned in the direction he thought it was coming from, struggling to make out what it was. It sounded like some sort of melody.

After a moment, the sound grew a bit louder, and he took a few careful steps forward to hear it even better. It was Serena’s voice, he decided—she was singing.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

The familiar words caused a small, wry smile to twist the corners of Ricky’s mouth. Of course Serena would be singing that song—for some misplaced reason, it was her very favorite, despite his efforts to introduce her to more modern beats.

Making a split second judgment, he decided the singing had to be coming from their bedroom, and at once charged down the short hallway, turning at the end and passing quickly through the kitchen in determination. He was already forming what he would say in his mind, how he would demand an explanation…

“You make me happy when skies are gray…”

He felt as if the eyes of every family portrait in the common room were upon him as he passed through. Still stepping lightly for some reason, he reached the bottom of the spiral staircase, and didn’t waste a second in beginning to climb it, taking two stairs at a time in his hurry.

“You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you…”

At long last reaching the top of the staircase, Ricky clutched at his chest for a moment and heaved in slight exhaustion, feeling out of breath as he used the banister to pull himself up to the landing. However, there was no time to waste on resting. Fixing his eyes on the bedroom door, located at the end of the dim hallway that stretched tauntingly before him, he began walking steadily towards it, now just wanting to get whatever this was over with. As he approached the room in question, he noticed that the door was ajar, and a muted light was peeking through the crack, its fingers just barely reaching the hallway.

“Please don’t take my…sunshine away…”

Serena’s voice faded into silence at the same time Ricky reached the door. For a moment, he merely stared at the dark wood, helplessly feeling the courage and anger flush out of his system all at once. However, there was no REASON for him to be scared. It was completely illogical. This was HIS home, and HIS girlfriend. What was there to fear? It was just the weirdness of the night messing with him, having caused one of those random, occasional flashbacks into a childlike perception, where nightmares could be found in every fleeting shadow. And probably his over-tiredness and the drinks he’d had, had something to do with it as well, he reasoned. It was nothing more.

Steeling himself by this logic, Ricky sucked in a reassuring breath of air and swung the door open rather heroically, stepping almost aggressively into the bedroom in one fluid motion. Heart rate rising, his eyes instantly darted around to find—

Nothing. He found nothing. Serena wasn’t in the room.

Cautiously, Ricky took a few more steps into the room, the hand that had been gripping the doorknob with white knuckles falling limp at his side. The faint glow of the small lamp seemed to grow dimmer by the second, flickering a bit here and there as if it took an enormous amount of effort for it to give off any light at all, but it was just bright enough to view the expanse of the room clearly, eliminating the messy, devilish shadows concealing dark things better left unnamed and unseen. He slid his gaze carefully over every object, missing nothing: King-sized bed, worn and torn slippers, side table with Serena’s current readings, double-door dresser, exercise bike, fireplace, brand new leather couch. Everything was there, exactly as it should be.

However, Ricky couldn’t shake the feeling that there was still something off about the room. The hairs on the back of his neck were raised as high as a terrified alley cat’s, making a physical proclamation of his uneasiness, as if he subconsciously sensed something was wrong. It was the most irritating feeling he had ever experienced—knowing and seeing with his own eyes that everything was fine, yet feeling as if it was not.

Sighing deeply, he forced himself to relax a little, letting his guard down as he began to wander aimlessly around the room. The old floor creaked under him with each step, sending shivers shooting up his spine in misgiving. He had clearly heard Serena’s voice coming from this room—so, where was she now? And if she wasn’t sleeping, why was the house darkened?

Oh, well, it’s not like he should have expected any differently. His eyes came to rest on the books on Serena’s bedside table—gothic horror stories, collections of the most violent and disturbing poems of all time by artists like Edgar Allan Poe, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” all lay out in plain sight, causing Ricky to roll his eyes involuntarily. Serena was crazy, legitimately crazy. For all he knew, she could have jumped out the window, or learned the art of ventriloquism due to one of the insane impulses she often got.

She would come around eventually. She always did. And if not, the bank account was still registered under his name.

Turning to face the opposite side of the room, Ricky gave up on all his trepidations with a single snort and allowed his feet to drag him slowly across the floor, heading towards the adjoining bathroom. Exhaustion swept over his body, effectively replacing the fear and adrenaline rush. Sleep was the best thing he could do for himself, he reasoned. Maybe in the morning, if fate was feeling generous, he’d forget about this night as a whole. Jumping as he felt a vibration on his leg, he cantankerously pulled his phone from his pocket, and saw he had a few new text messages. Lovely.

Shoving the door to the pitch-black master bathroom open numbly, Ricky shuffled inside, stumbling on his pants leg as he pushed the door shut behind him. Immediately, he fumbled for the light switch, cursing under his breath at the viscous darkness that surrounded him. Though he was irritated, however, the strange smell that was filling the room did not escape his notice.

Finally, Ricky’s hand grasped the light switch and clicked it, showering the room in sudden clarity. After sighing and selecting the first unread text message on his phone, he glanced at the ceiling-to-floor mirror—and dropped his phone as his body went rigid in horror, not even noticing as it shattered on the floor.

In the reflection, Serena was standing a few feet behind him, an insane, bloodcurdling grin twisting her features to the point where he almost didn’t recognize her. Her impossibly wide eyes were lit with a light that only those who knew how it felt to completely snap, to lose all rational ties to reality and forsake ever having them, could possibly possess. Blood was splattered nauseatingly across the front of her black dress—the same black dress he had seen out of the corner of his eye earlier that night, retreating from the bar. Out of his peripheral vision, as he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the petrifying malice of her face, he saw something unmistakably metallic glint in her hand.

Before he could move, before he could make sense of any of the million overwhelming thoughts and emotions and questions crashing into his mind, before he could even BREATHE, Serena’s figure shot forward, and he could do nothing but watch his reflection in utter shock and horror as she embedded a knife deep into his back.

Waves of astonishment and disbelief washed over Ricky as the roaring pain cutting through his body filled his ears like a violent wind, covering all of his senses. Almost in slow motion, he watched in the mirror as he fell first to his knees, and then to his side on the ground, unable to stop himself. He didn’t have control over his own body anymore.

The colors and brightness of the room began to dull and darken as the viciously sharp, unimaginable pain began to fade as quickly as it had pounded into him, though it still racked his body mercilessly. The only colored things that his mind still registered were the crimson of Serena’s lips and the matching crimson of the river of blood that was pouring steadily from his chest. In awe and growing dread, he watched his life source flow from his body in sheer fascination, his human feeling of invincibility beginning to fade. A part of him knew what had happened, knew that he was dying—and the other, now smaller part was still reeling in shock, unable to comprehend, unable to believe.

…No…he couldn’t…he couldn’t have been stabbed…by Serena…it had to be a dream…

If nothing else, though, Ricky trusted the pain. It was a humbling kind of pain, so keen and so deep that words would never be able to describe it. Nothing short of a fatal blow could have hurt that much.

As he choked on the blood that began to flow into and clog his throat, Ricky shifted his dimming gaze to Serena’s reflection in the mirror, watching as she stepped lightly over to where he lay and kneeled down behind him, keeping her maddened eyes fixated on his reflection’s own. The delirious grin that was far too wide never once left her face. Slowly, she leaned down, closer and closer, until her hideously red lips just barely touched his ear. “Fool me twice, shame on me…” she whispered in a broken, crazed, venomous tone, obviously far too gone to control any of the wild feelings rushing through her, as they were all betrayed by her voice.

Ricky watched through clouded eyes as, in seemingly slow motion, Serena shakily pulled herself up, tore the knife from his chest, and buried it deep within her own in one fluid movement, her grin never leaving her face and her eyes never once leaving his. Instantaneously, her chest was drowned in a terrible river of red, and blood dripped from her lips, her life fading quickly. The unthinkably horrifying way the light was swept from her eyes burned an instant hole in his failing mind.

As her body toppled and fell onto his, he was pulled forcefully back into darkness, succumbing to the emptiness he had always harbored in his soul.

The last connection to the realm of the living he was granted, that followed him into the silent, unfeeling void he was sucked into, was Serena’s voice. Her last words echoed all around him, gradually growing fainter until he could hear nothing at all.


“Fool me twice…shame on me…”





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