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TREPIDATION: PART FOUR
Author's note: I realized the ending was too simple, so I chose one of the least likely people to have been the killer to actually wind up being the person behind it all... but don't expect the resolution to be so easy to stomach!
When class returned to session the week after the funeral, Toni could notice the fact that Virginia’s nose was now slightly crooked; a fact that pleased her greatly.
Toni wasn’t normally one to judge, but in this case things were different, much different.
Little Miss Medusa had insulted Jane at her funeral. That, in Toni’s book, was unforgivable.
Headlines in the state were broadcasting what had happened.
The world new the incident as “the Artistic Killings.” The dumb name left Toni’s emotions changing from horror at what was happening to disgust as they were left under a stereotype known as the Artistic Killings Survivors.
No one really cared, they were just interested in another horrible news story that could chill them to their core when they had nothing else to think about.
Toni was realizing she had changed a lot since the start of this whole thing.
Before, she was happy, naïve, and her head was in the clouds as she was vain and self-centered. But she had also been weak.
She hated to say that there had been things gained from this experience.
She had real friends, like Eric, Lacey, Mick, and Lynda.
She had the best boyfriend in the world. Her Calin, her life, the only person she had ever really loved, not just an ‘I’m head-cheerleader, you’re the captain of the football team, let’s get together and be the “IT” couple, and accidentally get married in Vegas and spend our lives together’ kind of love, but real love. The love that meant you couldn’t live without this person being in your life.
The student line up was narrowed to Eric, Lacey, Mick, Calin, Toni, and Stephen, since Lynda had left for a city that was about an hour or so away while going the speed limit.
Earlier in the class, they had practiced their welding to try and piece together a metal sculpture. Virginia, Calin, and she had made feeble attempts at forming the sculptures, while Stephen, Lacey, Eric, and Mick had done the task with ease and a surgical precision. However, when there were straight lines, Eric and Lacey seemed to drop out of their skill.
Now, the students were waiting for their teacher to resume class by returning the room to light when they realized something was wrong.
The electricity was down, as demonstrated by Virginia flicking the light switch multiple times in each direction.
“Dang janitors. Alright class, whoever finds the switch that turns the electricity on gets extra credit!”
Stephen got up slowly, while everyone else stared at the woman as though it was a joke.
Stephen didn’t hesitate as he wandered down the hall.
Stephen had climbed the two flights of stairs to the top floor, looking for the switch when he came upon a room.
Entering it, he found Toni and Calin making out on one of the desks; not shocking. Lately they had been getting touchy-feely in a literal sense.
He exited the room, leaving them alone in privacy, and continued his search.
Meanwhile, Lacey had noticed something wrong downstairs.
“Guys, look at this!” she gestured at the doors.
Eric and Mick approached, followed by Virginia as they all stood stumped at the obvious absence of anything problematic or remotely interesting.
“Yep, those are some great floor tiles, Lace,” Mick said sarcastically.
Lacey persisted by pointing toward the cracks that separated the two entry-doors fitted with bulletproof glass.
“Oh my, God,” Eric whispered.
They were locked in. The only unlocked doors in the building had been welded shut.
“The killer’s here! Where’s everyone else!”
The attic (if that was what they called the single room on the third floor of the school) had been left open, and Stephen had been able to find his way inside the empty, dusty room.
The power switch was there.
As he moved toward it, he could have sworn he had heard multiple people screaming his, Calin, and Toni’s names.
He smiled as his hand reached out for the switch.
He felt on odd, almost wet sensation, accompanied by a thin strip of something, they ending of it could only be described as frayed.
The last things he felt as he pulled the switch were triumph, self-pride, and his entire body burning as he flew backward, down the open entry way and staircase, where his scorched body landed at Toni’s feet.
Toni screamed in terror, falling backward, where she was barely caught by Calin, and the rest of them looked at Stephen, Toni’s eyes couldn’t take a second look at the dead boy who had just landed at her feet.
“There’s no one else in the building,” Eric said slowly, almost as though uncertainty was on this very thought.
“Of course there is, child, the killer’s here,” Virginia said matter-of-factly.
“You’re right. But there’s no one else here but the seven... uh, six of us.”
“I don’t understand,” Toni said, confused.
“It’s simple,” explained Lacey, “Eric’s suggesting that the killer is one of us.”
Toni was terrified, in a state of pure trepidation when the paranoia set in.
She declined Calin’s touch, ignored everyone else’s words of encouragement that they would be fine.
And then she left, slowly, quietly.
Calin followed her, trying to calm her, and Toni looked over her shoulder as suspicion set in, and she began to run.
She sprinted, her platinum tresses flying behind her as she did, and dove into a prop room, which connected to the theatre, locking the door behind her.
“Toni, sweetie, this isn’t the way to solve anything. They were all alone when they died! You have to come out and stay with everyone! The killer can’t attack while we’re all together!”
“Oh yeah? How long until the killer decides to change their tactics, run off, have us look for them? Huh? Then they’ll get us alone! I’m staying here!”
She heard a sigh, and heard footsteps as Calin, the only man she’d ever loved, walked away.
But what if he didn’t really love her?
What if he was the killer?
Toni did the only thing she felt was reasonable. She called the only person left that she could trust. The only person who couldn’t possibly be the killer.
Taking out her cell phone, she saw her phone was dying. Despite this, Toni hit the green phone icon, bringing up the dial screen.
Pressing the 6, she punched the green icon a second time, and after a few rings, the call’s receiver picked up.
“Please don’t speak. I need to tell you something and I don’t have much time. We’re locked in the school. One of us is the killer, and they got to Stephen. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I have to ask this of you anyway. You’re the only one who can help us. And we need you. Now.”
Lacey and Eric tried in vain to convince Mitch and Virginia to stay after Toni and Calin had run off, which left the two alone as the other two strayed away from the group.
“What do you think is going to happen to us?” Lacey asked him as they sat on the lone bench in the commons, hand in hand.
“Well…do you have your phone?”
“Uh…I guess, yeah.”
She handed him her phone, and Eric skimmed through the numbers until he found DiRozio’s private number.
Lacey realized what he was going to do, and moved away from him so she wouldn’t eavesdrop as they spoke.
“This is Madox DiRozio,” the officer said.
“Officer DiRozio? Thank God. This is Eric Browning. Stephen Curtis is dead. Lacey, Toni, Calin, Miss Medusa, and I are locked inside the school; the doors are welded shut. We need help, really, really badly. There’s no one else inside the building. One of us is the killer, and against Lacey and my advice, the others split up! We don’t know what to do!”
“Hold on. Can you repeat what you just said?”
“Eric,” Lacey butted in.
“Hold on, Lacey. Officer DiRozio, we need help. Calin’s dead and we’re locked inside the school!”
“I’m on my way.”
“Thank you,” Eric said into the receiver, and turned his attention to Lacey. “Yes?”
“I hear screaming!”
Toni shrieked as she backed up into the prop room, which was suddenly so dark she couldn’t see where she was going.
She hadn’t had time to see the intruder; she was too busy crawling away from the shrapnel created by the door, followed by two pairs of footsteps.
She felt as though she was surrounded as she heard a pair of footsteps on one end and saw the glint of an ax on the side the door had come crashing in from. The shroud of darkness hid both people.
She got up, backing away from both of them, and tripped, falling backward, she felt her hand painfully land on something.
Her eyes allowed her to see the general shape of the device, which was a nail gun.
She reached out, taking it in her hand as she kicked her legs, propelling her slowly in reverse as she used her elbows to help her maintain balance and move at a faster pace.
One of the figures pursued, but she couldn’t tell which, and she lifted the nail gun up, pulling the trigger in desperate terror.
The nail hit its target, and the figure fell with a scream.
Toni listened intently for the other pursuer, but the footsteps had disappeared.
The lights turned on, and Toni turned her head to the left to see Eric and Lacey by a door and a light switch. Slowly, she turned her head back toward the body.
The lifeless body of Virginia Medusa lay on its side, a nail protruding from both sides of her chest.
There was no ax in sight.
“I can’t believe I killed her,” Toni whispered, the five remaining people gathered together in the commons.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Lacey attempted.
“Hey, Eric, can I talk to you?” Mick said, and Eric nodded, the two moving further down the spacious area, and Mick began to speak.
“We all know that Lacey, you, and I couldn’t have done it. So that leaves Toni and Calin. One of them is the killer.”
“How do you know that we couldn’t have killed them? How do I know that you couldn’t have killed them?” Eric asked.
“You two weren’t anywhere near Jane. That stuff written in her book that scared her into getting up onto the ledge. And…well, I was with Jane when Ethan died. So the three of us are innocent. Who knows about them, though…I mean, one could have wandered off while the other was sleeping.”
“I guess that makes sense…”
“Oh my, God!” Eric turned to see why Mick had made the sudden exclamation, and saw the reason as clear as day.
The killer had revealed them self by not being there to be revealed.
Toni and Lacey sat staring at Eric and Mick in confusion, caused by the apparent horror on their faces.
Calin was gone.
The four had searched the hallways room by room until they had been brought down to the basement.
They now stood at the doorway of the woodshop classroom.
“Shall we?” Eric asked, his nerves smoothing the question over so that it sounded like a statement instead.
Taking a deep breath, Eric entered the doorway to the darkness and the lingering scent of sawdust. He tried to flip the light switch, but what happened was clearly nothing. No flash, no illumination, just blackness. Someone had cut off the wiring to the room.
He heard the door click shut behind him, and glanced at the shapes of Mick, Lacey, and Toni.
Then he heard the chainsaw.
Lacey screamed, and he ducked. He could feel the wind shear directly above his scalp, and rolled under a table, dodging the saw yet again as the table was cut down its center.
He heard a struggle, screams from both of the girls, each, and was suddenly aware that Lacey was next to him on the floor.
“Toni!!!” Lacey screamed as she saw the other girl’s form duck under the chain saw, and Eric pushed Lacey toward the door, grabbing Toni’s hand, he saw that she had a hold of someone else’s, most likely Mick’s, and the four people broke out in full sprint toward the door, down the blindingly contrastingly bright corridor, and up the stairs that lay at the end of it, leaving the chainsaw behind them as they entered the commons.
Toni took a deep breath, turning toward Lacey and Eric.
Toni let go of Mick’s hand in surprise as Lacey let out a bloodcurdling scream.
What happened next chilled Toni to the core.
A soft thump hit the floor next to her. Forcing herself to look, she shrieked in something more than fear, terror, or horror. She screamed in trepidation.
Mick was nowhere in sight.
But his bloody hand and forearm lay next to her on the floor.
“What are we going to do? Mick could be alive down there!” Lacey interrogated desperately.
“I don’t know, okay. I don’t know what to do. Calin has him down there. Where are we, anyway?” Eric replied, the intrigued in response to their wandering aimlessly around the school.
“The roof,” Toni informed, opening the door in front of them so that they were standing on the roof, three stories up from the ground. They had somehow entered the attic without stumbling upon Stephen’s body.
The three stood, looking over the edge in silence.
“I didn’t do it,” they heard from behind them.
Eric turned toward Calin, shocked to find the boy had no weapon.
“Toni, you know I couldn’t have done it. I didn’t do it!” Calin took a single step toward her.
“Yes, Calin, you did. Nothing you say can change that,” Toni retorted.
“No, Toni, please!”
Calin took another step toward her, but Eric tackled him.
“Stay away from her!” he screamed.
Toni turned and fled toward the door.
Lacey made to follow, but was stopped by Calin and Eric rolling in front of the doorway. Calin managed to use his legs to kick Eric off of him, and Lacey flung herself toward him, attaching herself to his back as she choked him with her arms, wrapped tightly around his neck, distracting him from Eric, who had been flung through the open doorway and down the stairs, now lying motionless at the bottom of the stairwell.
Calin finally resorted to kicking his legs up so that he fell onto his back, crushing Lacey against the cement of the roof.
Calin looked at the unconscious girl’s body for a single moment before he took off toward the door, flying down the stairs to find Toni waiting for him, the room oddly dark.
“I was thinking as I ran. You’re right. I know you couldn’t have done it.”
“Oh, thank God,” Calin whispered, moving toward her, pushing her up against the wall with the electricity switch.
He moved his lips to hers, closing his eyes, and the world slowed down around them. There were no killings. No other people on this earth. Just them. Toni drew away momentarily, and whispered, “My only sin was loving you.”
As her tongue entered his mouth, so did something…frayed.
Calin’s eyes snapped open as Toni pulled the switch.
Eric and Lacey moved down the stairs, leaving the attic behind them.
“Is it bad of me to say that I’m almost glad this happened?” Eric said. “I’m glad because I finally have you.”
Lacey smiled at him in spite of everything that had happened, kissing him softly as they walked.
When they reached the commons, they realized something was wrong.
The doors…the hinges had been shot out of it. It lay at their feet.
Someone had broken in.
Smiling at Eric, Lacey whispered, “DiRozio!”
“Hello?” Eric called.
Lacey pointed toward the gym, and the two walked over to the entryway.
DiRozio turned toward them, smiling.
“Thank God I found you two. Where are the others…”
Lacey screamed as a nail flew through the man’s face.
DiRozio dropped, lifeless, to the ground, revealing Virginia behind him, holding the nail gun.
“My aim’s better than the blonde’s,” she explained, “And my cover’s better than your friend’s.”
Virginia took aim, firing a nail at Lacey, who flinched, her palms out in front of her. But the nail never hit her.
Instead, Lynda came, shockingly, out of nowhere, flinging herself in front of Lacey, allowing the nail to cleave into her stomach, and dropping to the floor with a gasp.
“You saved me some trouble,” Virginia explained to Lynda as the girl tried to find air, and Lacey bent over her, her jacket in her hand, using it to try to stop the blood flow.
Virginia took aim at Eric, moving forward, and Eric flinched, closing his eyes as he heard a shot.
But it was the wrong sound.
This shot sounded like a gun.
Eric opened his eyes to see Mick, his arm still bleeding, holding a gun.
Virginia was on the ground, lifeless.
Eric sighed in relief, moving over to help his friend up.
“Come on,” he said, “We have to get you and Lynda to the hospital.”
Eric, Lacey, and an arm-reattached Mick were in the hospital, room 180, visiting Lynda.
“So, they say my surgery was successful, that I am stable, and that I will be under surveillance for the next few days of my recovery here at the hospital,” Lynda explained, smiling.
“I’m so glad,” Lacey retorted, “I can’t believe you actually answered Toni’s call. It was suicide.”
“I couldn’t just let my friends die, though, right?” Lynda grinned.
The other three smiled at her.
Lynda’s nurse entered the room, kindly informing the three that Lynda needed to rest for a while.
“Well, then. We’ll wait in the lobby,” Eric said, and Lacey nodded.
Mick put a large box on the bedside table, telling Lynda, “I got you this. But please, don’t open it until I get back, okay?”
Lynda grinned, nodding at him, and the three friends left, the door shut with the distinct sound of opera from the other side of the door.
The three walked slowly down the hallway.
“You know what bugs me,” Eric began.
“What?” Lacey intrigued.
“Medusa couldn’t weld. So, naturally, the accomplice had to of. But Calin couldn’t weld either.
“I was never able to do lines so straight, and neither could you,” he told Lacey, who blushed, slightly embarrassed.
“So you’re saying Calin didn’t do it? Oh, poor Toni. It broke her heart. To never know he was innocent…” Lacey shook her head.
“So who could weld?” Mick asked.
“Well, there was Stephen, and…”
Eric’s eyes got wide, and Lacey followed his eyesight to Mick, who smiled wickedly with a remote in hand.
“All Medusa wanted to do was put them out of their pain. Jacobs was a drunk. Nina felt empty. So did Natalie, and Nathan was burdened with looking out for her. The list goes on and on. Now, the only one who feels pain is Lynda. Lynda, the girl who lost her best friend. Lynda, who is alone and defenseless.”
Tears filled Lacey’s eyes as she stared at the body of the boy she had grown up with, but he was gone. There was now only the accomplice.
“It’s not over until the fat lady sings!” Mick laughed hysterically, pressing the single button on the remote.
“It’s a bomb,” Lacey whispered, turning heel and running toward room 180, directly opposite her at the end of the hall.
With Eric at her heels, they were shouting and screaming as they ran.
The door flew toward them, and as Eric tackled Lacey, they could see the numbers 180 engraved in the wood.