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An Infidel Inkling This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Allison Dagger sat blindfolded and drenched in fear and panic. She lay sitting in the passenger seat of her husband's Lexus, with an indigo felt blindfold darkening the world around her so that whether her eyes were open or closed, pitch black was all she could see. Pretty Woman played on the radio, Roy Orbison's harmonized croon wickedly mocking her apprehension as she swam through an ocean of alarm to force her lips to form the question blaring in her mind.
“Where are we going?” she nearly screamed.

She could not see Oliver, her husband, settled in the driver's seat with a smile on his lips, but her other four senses collaborated to alert Allison of his presence. For a moment it seemed that he would remain silent, leaving her question to wither away and die in whatever land it is that unanswered queries go, but he lowered the radio volume slightly, as he was accustomed to do when talking in the car.

“You'll know when we get there”, said Oliver in such a jovial, almost sneering tone that it amplified Allison's disquietude. His statement revealed nothing, except for the fact that he knew something she did not, and was not above taunting her about it, like a child conceals bits of gossip from their peers until they're emerald with envy.

Barring the clamoring radio, the next few seconds were spent in relative silence, and so to occupy her inner auditory, the words she had just heard echoed in Allison's troubled mind. “You'll know when we get there”. Of course she'll know when she gets there, and it seemed idiotic to point that out to her now, as if she were a pestering child that needed to be pacified by reciting parental rhetoric. It seemed so ridiculous to her that if she weren't feeling so helpless she'd laugh. But she was feeling forsaken, and so not a single snicker would be produced.

The song reached its raucous climax as she realized that her hairs were standing on end, and she was shivering uncontrollably in terror. For she had heard the tapes, and they prophesized her death. She began to gasp for air, and her breaths became shorter, and she could only take in as much oxygen as her jumbled body was allowing her to. In an attempt to deepen her breaths, she closed her eyelids tight to a painful point, sat up straight, and recalled what had lead her to this deadly peril.

7 Days Earlier

Allison sauntered down the hall of the Billboard office building, with swift steps and a weighted mind. Her steps propelled her ever closer to her destination of the room across the hall. Room 3 beckoned her as her strides brought her nearer. As she reached the door, she quickly shook her long, blond hair out of her face, took a deep sighing breath and knocked three times on the door. She heard a voice say “Come in”, and turned the doorknob to permit her entrance.

As she opened the door, she at first noticed a cloudy fog of cigarette smoke, a deep, dark fog with the depth of an ocean that you feel you could easily get lost in.

At the other end of the room was according to the lettering on his outside office door, Isaac Brown, private eye. The smoky fog partially lifted to reveal the man in question, his eyes concealed with dark shades. He removed them as Allison made her entrance, and set them on the table drawer where his gun lay silent. Many clients of his would ask him if keeping a firearm was illegal for someone of his profession, and their guess would be correct. While some overzealous lawmakers sought to keep him from owning a weapon, none of these laws would cross Isaac's mind. Not now, anyway, as he choked back the dusk air, his worn face matted, divided in black and white by the venetian blinds' looming silhouette.

A neon light beneath the office's window pane flashed off and on, off and on like the desperate flaps of a hummingbird's wings. The flashing lights acted now for the dual purpose of advertising the Falconite Social Club and illuminating Allison's emerald eyes and bright hair. Just then, Isaac, as a world weary man is often apt to do, made a quick series of observations about his new client.

A blonde-haired, pleasant, good looking woman on the brink of middle age. More stressed than she ought to be. Look of apprehension sweeping across her anxious face. Her eyes moving back and forth in weary tension. He noticed she had the look of a woman who truly is beautiful but isn't used to being told so. Since this was not exactly the politic thing to say to a potential client you've just met, silence ensued.

He then offered for her to sit down, and she took his offer and sank into his wooden desk chair, a place where desperate pleas and dark demands were made. As she sat, she began to feel nervous and she displayed this by tapping her finger on the desk. Sensing her anxiety, Isaac offered her a drink.

“Thank you,” she said softly, accepting a glass bottle Isaac filled for her. As she downed its contents, she began to contemplate how and what to say, as she was so nervous on the way over that she hadn't actually thought about that until now. She put the glass down, looked up and began to speak, but only that articulate phrase of “Well, I- uh,” escaped from her lips.

Fortunately for Allison, Isaac shattered the silence. “Look, I don't exactly advertise, so if you're here that means you asked around and someone sent you here. And if you did That, then that means you've got a problem that someone thinks I can solve. So, first what's your name, what's your story?”

Allison took another sip of her drink and now found herself able to formulate the words she wanted to say. “My name's Allison. Allison Dagger. Look, its-well, its probably nothing serious, its just....” She then paused for a second and looked deep in her mind's eye for the exact words she'd been wishing, waiting to tell someone for far too long.

“Its my husband. He's been staying out later and later every night. This has been going on for a few weeks now. Its just not like him. He keeps telling me that he has to work late, only I called Stollmeister and White, you know, the law firm he works at, and they said he wasn't there so, I-”

Here she paused again, afraid to speak another syllable, as if her words would poison the air.

Meanwhile, Isaac viewed the intense display of emotion through time-tinted eyes, knowing each word long before it was spoken.
“Could you just check up on my husband? Figure out where he's been going? I've just been worried sick about where he could be, I mean God only knows where he's been going. I feel kind of crazy just for being here.”

“You shouldn't”, said Isaac. “Trust me, in this line of work, I've heard stories you wouldn't believe. In this world of so many sorry people, it's much better to be safe. Because until you find out where he's been, its like you say. God only knows. Only He's not telling you. I will-for a nominal fee, of course.”

“What kind of money are we talking?”, Chelsea inquired.

“Well, strictly speaking we're not talking. But, around $500 to start with.” After seeing Allison's eyes widen at the cost he quickly added “Its a small price to pay for security.”

Noticing the change in her expression, Isaac was afraid he had lost her for a second, but as she let out a nervous sigh, he knew she was about to crack. They always did in situations like this.

“Well, I guess I can spare the money-”

Isaac chimed in immediately, knowing he had just landed a client. “You're making the right choice, you know. What you don't know can hurt you.”

Allison rummaged through her purse to find her wallet, which she hastily withdrew. She then unfolded it to find the necessary capital, and as she handed it over to Isaac he took another drag from his cigarette.

“Now I'm just going to need a picture of him and where he works.”

She reached into her wallet to supply a photo of her husband, their wedding picture together, in which they were both grinning with wide-eyed delight, not foreseeing that in five short years, such a shadow of doubt would loom over them that she need resort to subterfuge to kindle a light of truth. Isaac observed the picture carefully, taking note of his appearance, and how it may have changed since the photo was taken.

“He works at Stollmeister and White, on Fielding St. Big office building, made of brick, you can't miss it. He should get off around six.”

“Alright, I'll get whatever information I can, and in about a week I should be able to tell you what I know.”

Allison's mind became flooded with ideas of what could happen in just seven days, and her unease began to rise to the surface of her facial expression. “Alright” she said, choking back a torrent of trepidation.




1 Week Later

Allison sat impatiently in a fit of nervous tension as she waited for the package to arrive. Its contents would provide all the answers to the questions her worried mind now held as she absentmindedly toyed with her matted blonde hair, a product of her many sleepless nights. She sat on her polyester sofa, the centerpiece of her lamp-lit living room. The cheery suburban landscape beyond her front window juxtaposed the conflict weighing on her mind, a looming shadow that had presided over her every waking thought for the last seven days.

The tapes. The answers would have to come in the tapes. The tapes should arrive any minute now. They would have to come before Oliver did. She looked over to a picture on her mantelpiece, her and Oliver's wedding photo, the both of them grinning in wide-eyed delight, never dreaming that a short five years later, such uncertainty would arise that she must resort to subterfuge to kindle a light of truth.

The grandfather clock ticked with icy precision, adding to the gargantuan weight of her impatience. Each stroke of the second hand seemed louder than the next, until they echoed in her mind to a deafening degree.

Well, you've waited a week now for answers, you can very well wait a little longer.
But as she heard yet another devilish stroke from the symbol of patience parallel to her, she started to wonder why waiting for an extended period would somehow make continuing to wait any easier. She could come up with nothing.

She struggled to put her mind at ease and instead found her liquor cabinet beckoning her. She had been trying to lay off on alcoholic drinks in the for a while, but if ever there had been a time appropriate to break such a commitment, certainly it was now. With a sigh and another quick glance at the clock, she traipsed over to the linoleum cabinet her grandfather had bought her, opened it, and peered over its plentiful contents. After settling on a whiskey for this particular day, she grasped the dark-colored bottle, closed the cabinet, and began to twist the cap off. As she did, she caught a look at her and her husband's third anniversary photo. It was much like the one taken for their wedding, only with the burden of years and two small blonde-haired children accompanying them. She stopped to notice her kids, and how they had grown in the past few years, Cody now with hair a darkened brownish color, and Hayden now with the ability to walk.

She eased her way back into the relative comfort her couch provided while taking another gulp of her alcoholic drink. So immersed was she in her liquor consumption that she actually jumped when she heard a ring at the doorbell. A bit of her drink spilled in her sudden trepidation. With a tentative gait, she stepped closer and closer to her door, opening it in a fearful uncertainty she had acquired over the past week. She quickly took in the outdoor surroundings, but could not find whoever had rung the doorbell. Her periphery lead her to her mailbox, adjoined to the pristine white vinyl siding. She opened it and reached in for its contents, finding an envelope. She offered one curt suspicious glance to any prospective watchers, and when she saw no one, she swiftly re-entered her abode.

With an atavistic urgency, she ripped open the envelope, revealing a CD labeled “Dagger Tapes”. No note, no explanation as to what the tapes meant or what they would convey. She was left with only the compact disc and the frenzied feeling that she must now listen it, to finally find an answer to the question that had been on her mind for so long.

She scrambled up to her second story bedroom for a CD player, coming across a drawer full of unused accoutrements gathered throughout the years, including a cache of untouched jewelry and an abnormally large and sharp letter opener that looked much more like a murder weapon than an instrument for the improvement of letter opening convenience.

When her eyes caught the portable music machine, she briskly inserted the Dagger Tapes, sat on her linen bed, and began to listen.

She at first noticed only static, and her auditory senses were forced to wade through three entire minutes of white noise. Just as she was about to give up on the disc altogether, a faint voice came to her attention, and it soon became loud enough to comprehend the words it spoke. It was her husband's voice.

Through the frequent static chirps, she struggled to discern Oliver's words.

“Okay...so listen....my wife can't hear about this. You hear me? She can't know about this, if she found out... I've been arranging this for a very long time....No, if everything goes right, she'll never see it coming.”

As the disc spun and Allison's nerves jangled at her husband's ominous recording, she heard the front door open.

Jolting in momentary shock, Allison struggled to regain her composure enough to plot a course of action.

“Allison? Baby, I'm home.”, she heard for what must been have been the thousandth time.

Still reeling in disbelief from what she had just heard, Allison clumsily clattered the disc into a drawer. As she did so, she noticed the letter opener, and feeling a looming threat in her spouse's presence, her hand grasped it and stuffed it deep in her right pants pocket. When her timid steps brought her out of her bedroom, she saw Oliver at the foot of the stairs, barring any possible escape route. He looked so immaculately innocent that it seemed impossible that he could have uttered the devious words she had just hearkened. He had a grin on his face and his eyes gleamed in a way that said he was concealing something.

“Where are the kids?” she asked.

“Oh, don't worry about them, I dropped them off at the sitter's before I came here.” Allison very closely examined his face as he explained as he noticed his eyes turning upwards to the left as he thought of what to say. She recalled that she had read somewhere that this is an indication of lying.

“Why are you home so early?” she inquired next.

“The firm figured with all this over time, I deserve a little time off. I'm all free the rest of the day.”

Again his upturned eyes alarmed Allison, who was trying her best to conceal her fear.

Oliver continued “Which gives me an idea. Let's go for a little drive.”

“Where to?”she asked hesitantly.

“Well, that's a surprise. Come on, let's get going.”, he said with an eagerness that bordered on mockery.

As if beyond her control, Allison began to walk down the steps to meet Oliver. She groped for something to say, some way to confront him for what he had said on the tape, but she could find none. He quickly ushered her out into the car. Before she could her brain could process what had just happened in the last twenty minutes, she was sitting in the passenger seat, when Oliver said “Here, put this on,” addressing a blue blindfold. “Is that all really necessary” she weakly argued, but Oliver wasn't hearing it. “If you see where we're driving, then it won't be a surprise, will it? Today is a very special day, and I want everything to go just right, okay?” With urgency blocking any coherent protestations from entering in her mind, her faint voice said “Okay.”

1 Hour Later

Allison opened her eyes, seeing only the darkness of her blindfold, her sight matching the uncertainty that enveloped her being. After going over her life in the past week, she cringed in knowing silence, her punctured mindset now allowing her to clearly see how dire her straits were. Feral notions leaped through her thoughts, asking herself what her near future would bring. Where is was he bringing her? Why? With her legs shaking tremulously and the crescendo of her worry reaching its climax, the car lurched to a stop.

“We're here,” she heard her spouse say. Once again aware of her ability to hear, she used it to attempt to figure out her surroundings. She could hear the gentle chirping of birds and other natural sounds. There was no scent of exhaust fumes, nor any revving of auto engines. In fact, she could hear no evidence of other people's presence. There was only her and her husband, who she had reason to be wary of. She tried to think of how she could get out of this situation, but she felt there would be no avail when Oliver opened the passenger door and grabbed her wrist. “Just follow me.”

“Where are we, why are we here?” said Allison, trying not to sound as helpless as she felt.

“You'll find out in a second, just come this way.” With her vision obscured, she could not make out where 'this way' was, but she was lead by her wrist somewhere. With her free arm, she made an attempt to lift her blindfold, but Oliver grasped her other wrist, saying “Hey, no peeking yet.”

Now beyond restraint, Allison said “Please, Oliver, just tell me where we are!”

“You'll know soon enough, just trust me. Okay? Just a little bit farther...”

Her heart sunk as she realized she must be being lead to her death. There was no other explanation she could come up with as the birds soft croon juxtaposed her panic. A sensible plan of escape eluded her, as she was not as strong as her husband, and not as fast. Screaming would do her no good if no one was around. She imagined how he planned to do it. What the headline would read. What would happen to the children in deed's aftermath. As her arm resignedly descended she felt the letter opener on her pocket.

She heard a door open. Passing the threshold, she silently prayed that she could reach the deadly sharp instrument residing in her right pocket with only her left hand free. Judging from her close proximity and the vertical alignment of her and Oliver, they were walking through an extremely narrow hallway. Her left hand could reach out to touch the wall on either side. Her body was weightless, numb, being held up by Oliver and thin air. She tried taking a few breaths to collect herself, but these efforts were fruitless, and so pulverizing was her terror that she could not feel herself walking or crossing her left arm to her right pocket to try to reach the engraved instrument. She could not feel, but in a way her mind could sense her left hand fumbling around for the piercing object, her fingers aching with desperation. The hallway seemed endless as she finally got a grasp of her objective, and raised it from her pocket into the open air. Propelling herself forward with only adrenaline, she broke free of Oliver's tight grip, coiled her right arm around his neck, and as she heard the nascent note of a desperate pleading sound, it was soon cut short and lost forever. She tightened her grip as she raised her left hand over her head and behind her back and plunged the letter opener deep into Oliver's jugular vein.

With a spray of blood and a wheezing noise, he fell limply to the floor. Allison breathed heavily, feeling the warmth of his blood. She dropped the instrument of death, and it jangled metallic on the floor boards. Now with both hands free, she removed the blindfold to reveal the blood-soaked scene she had created. Though she could feel it on her as he bled, her imagination could not prepare her for the rubicund billow at her husband's throat. She let out a faint shriek, but soon remembered that it was for the sake of her life. She sighed deeply, finally letting free all of the tension she had accumulated from the past month, all of her uncertainty confirmed in one climactic clash.

Looking through the narrow hall, she sensed familiarity. The dark blue wallpaper silhouetted by a dim light above her recalled another time, a place she knew.

Her old home.

Eyes wide with confusion, she now heard a murmur coming from the door in front of her. She looked down at her blood-covered clothes, then at the lifeless man on the floor, and finally the brown tinted door, beckoning her forward. Without looking away from the door, she stooped down to place the letter opener in her hand. She did her best to hold it in a threatening manner, and no longer being able to stand the faint voices, she kicked the door with all the strength she could summon, causing it to gape open so wide it hit the wall behind it in a cacophonous thud.

She looked forward, in shock, seeing no one, only a gaudy rainbow-colored banner hanging from the ceiling which read:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLISON!

Horror enraptured her as she remembered what day it was, and her friends, family and children sprang forth, all shouting “Surprise!”




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