EIGHT

It was 8 o’clock in the morning when I woke up. A keen headache peeked. Unable to bear the pain, I pressed my thumb against my forehead as if it is about to stop the pain. Not giving much of my thought to the pain, I stretched my hands out and loosened my muscles and my back. When I stepped out from the bed, I saw my reflection in the mirror and I thought that I needed a shave. I came out of my bedroom. The sun shine peeked sharply into the hallway from the white framed window in the kitchen across the bedroom. I might have left my kitchen windows open last night. Scratching my dizzy head, I reached to the stairs next to me. I climbed up the steps to fetch milk from the fridge which is on the first floor.  Since the kitchen is parting the hall, I could not make enough space for fridge in the ground floor. As I walked through the steps, I could hear the loud squeaking noise as the steps and flooring is made of wood. Due to the winter season the wooden floor remains moist all the time. I brewed a hot cup of coffee. I took my newspaper in the front door and sat on my couch. It was odd, the newspaper appeared bit old. As I skim through I saw the headline that read,

“8 passengers died on their way in bus heading towards Candelaria”.

“That’s Tragic”, I thought to myself.

“The Zone hospital claimed to be closed due to the instability in the building; Authorities say-renovation of the building starts from next month. “

 “The prime minister inaugurates the new bridge layout at Redford. “

“Hmm.”

“A Psycho killer escaped from Presidio mental care hospital, this person has a limp leg; If found please inform”

As I read through these lines a cold shiver ran down my spine. These kind of news creep me out. I immediately closed the newspaper.

I had almost forgot to feed my dog Benji so I called out his name. He came running towards me. His fluffy brown hair danced like waves as he was coming. I patted his head and fed him with his favourite biscuits.

I found Benji from the abandoned streets. He is a very good friend of mine. He has been my only company. He loves to play in the swing because of which, I bought a swing and hung it on the centre of the hall three months back. Ever since I used to play with him in the swing when I reach home from office.

I groomed myself and had my breakfast. I headed to my office, which is at Redford and is 22 km away from my house. I had to catch the Tx-801 bus to reach my office. When I came to the bus stop, the bus had already arrived. I ran ahead and stepped into the bus. Phew, I would have missed the bus. I sat on a comfortable seat near the window. I looked over the open window to see empty roads. Yeah, the place where I stay is not much civilized. It’s all surrounded by the crooked trees, stray dogs and scattered houses. The thing which creeps me out is these crooked trees because they create an illusion like ghostly figures. After an eighty minutes of travel, I Prepared to get down as the bus was nearing my office. I sat for too long because of which I felt numbness in my leg and struggled to step down. The driver signalled at me to get down fast.

I left the bus and saw the big poster that said ”8-eight the fashion fit; Fill your wardrobe with the new collection 2019”. It is an advertisement for a fashion mall. It always grabs my attention. Once I walk past the post, I had to turn left to reach my office. As soon as I reached the office campus entry, I said eight to myself. It’s because I had to bear an 8 hours in the office. I literally count to myself every hour in the office. Sometimes I’m insane to keep count on the ticking seconds. I hate coming to office as I always love to stay at home.

I work in SteakFire, a pork meat production company. My company sells frozen pig meat in plastic containers. I’m working in the Quality control team. My job is just to track the test reports and send it for approval. Pretty much my job deals with maintaining records and submitting them to the authority. There’s not much work I can say. I get damn bored at times. Repeating the same: microbiology test report, nutrition value report and approval documents, but I cannot quit since the company pays me a good amount. I can manage all my expenditures with the given salary.

During weekends I used to head to the lake behind my house and enjoy fishing. I enjoy catching fishes., But the strange thing is near my lake it always stinks because of fishes. So I used to carry a nose mask. I avoid being in crowded places. I don’t really like socializing. Apparently I don’t have any friends as well.

Unusually that day I had lots of work in the office. I didn’t notice the time because I was focused to finish the reports. It was almost 8.30 when I left the office.

I went to the nearby grocery store and bought some vegetables and bread to cook dinner. The next day was Sunday, so I ensured I bought sufficient food. Later I lit one cigarette and smoked in as I let all the puff out. I went to the bus stop and I was waiting for the bus. The bus frequency to my area is very less. I usually wait for at least 45 minutes for my bus to come.  There were two people waiting for the bus along with me. After about 20 minutes, they left as their bus came. The bus stop looked abandoned. I waited for nearly an hour, but the bus didn’t arrive. The night was growing dark. All of a sudden a lady seemingly of my age, limping on one leg, came to the bus stop. As I saw her limping, I suddenly remembered the news of the psycho which I read. I thought, I was being absurd. As my clouded thoughts faded, I slowly gazed at her. She looked tensed.   She was trembling in fear. She took her mobile phone and Tapped for many times. I could say she was trying to switch it on. She was wearing a warm red jacket and a matching floral skirt. I could not see her face because of her scarf. When I was momentarily unaware that I was staring at her, she looked at me unexpectedly. I was embarrassed at the moment and I turned my head immediately back. But I could feel that she was trying to approach me.

 “I am Emma”, a weak voice emerged from her.

“Okay,” I raised a huge question mark in my tone.

“I am in need of your help “

“??”

“I belong to the Presidio city. I am a food quality inspector; I came here today for a hospital food review”. “On the way back to my house, I was driving real fast and my car lost its control. I couldn’t stop and my car dashed by a tree. I am injured and my car is in a really bad condition.”

Her leg was bleeding and I understood why she limped. I felt a relief.

 “So, can I stay at your house for just one night”, she added.

“But…?”, I replied hesitantly.

“Please, I will leave tomorrow as early, I won’t be a trouble”.

She was in real trouble and she can barely walk so I had no choice left other than to help her.

I agreed to her request and we both boarded the bus when it arrived. We both sat next to each other. She looked at me and asked “sorry, I didn’t ask your name?”

I looked at her, but failed to reply,

She said “oh, sorry”.

I said,” oh no its nothing I am Ethan, I work in SteakFire, A pork meat company”.

As she nodded, again an awkward silence prevailed between us.

I continued to look out of the window and simply stared at the creepy trees.

When the bus was nearing the destination, I asked her to get ready to depart the bus. Strangely, she was not looking at me even when I said twice to leave the seat. I shook her and when she questioned about my action, I told her that the stop has come and asked her to leave the seat. She exclaimed apologetically and walked down the bus. She explained that she had a bit hearing impairment and at times she could understand what others say just by lip reading.

We have to now walk on the long road to reach my house, I said.

It was pitch dark and it was a no moon day. There was no light source other than the street light which was on the pavement.

As we were nearing the street light, it started flickering and turned off. I can barely see the road.

She was limping and tripped over a rock. She fell down. One of the zips of the bag which she carried got opened and spilled over the things it had. I helped her to stand. After which I kneeled down to collect her things which spilled over and kept those in her bag. I could not see what those things were, But I could say those were her cosmetics. Her bag was too heavy to carry. As she was in a terrible condition I held the bag the rest of the way to my house. I didn’t allow her to carry the bag though she asked for it. I thought I was helping, but she seemed hesitant.

At last, we made way to my house. Without a reason, Benji started barking at Ms. Emma. “Benji, it’s ok”, she is our guest”, I shouted.

Ms. Emma seemed startled. While I was trying to open the main door, I told her that he is my dog Benji and he is not used to strangers.

As I walked in, I kept her bag on the table near the kitchen. I gave her some pain killer tablets from my first aid box. Her plaster had become too wet to use any further, because of the blood, so I fetched her with a new piece of cloth. I tore it from my old bed sheet. She cleaned her wound and replaced the old plaster. Meanwhile, I freshened up and started to prepare dinner for both of us.

She asked if she could use my mobile phone to inform her roommate about her condition. I nodded. She was trying to contact her friend, but there was no tower.

I was busy making the dinner. I made a bean soup and pasta. It was nice hot and steamy we began to eat. To break the silence, I questioned her about the nature of her job. She said that she liked her job. She added that she works in The Zone hospital, but she worried that the management didn’t even care to provide her any travel arrangement for that day. She continued to say that she had to inspect another hospital which is at EI Paso and file the report before Christmas. She said she thought she could buy a Christmas present for her friend in the spare time, but she was unable to go shopping because of the tight deadlines.

When she said “The Zone, it sounded a bit familiar. But I can’t recollect the memory of it. I gazed at the clock; It was 10.30 when we finished eating. I washed up the plates thoroughly.  

Initially I thought she could sleep in the room which is at first floor, but then I realized that it would be hard for her to walk through the stairs. I decided to sleep in the room which is at first floor and asked her to sleep comfortably in the room which is at the ground floor.

I was trying to sleep, but I couldn’t. I don’t know why it was so uneasy to sleep. At first I thought, it was because of the change in place. I stood up and opened the window. I was staring at the night sky. When I lowered my sight, suddenly my eyes caught the glimpse of Ms. Emma, who appeared to stand near the tree. When I concentrated to look at her, she was looking at me already. That was so scary. She let a creepy grin out. I rubbed my eyes, thinking that what I saw was merely an illusion. When I opened my eyes, she was gone. I tried to bend over the window, to make sure that there’s no problem. Out of nowhere, she suddenly peeked through the window and hold my throat tight; She supported her legs on the window frame; She was completely soaked with blood; Her eyes were melting; Her mouth was wide open with unimaginably sharp teeth; I could not make escape from her grip. I was terrified and numb. All I could sense was the foul scent of her blood. Though I couldn’t make a move, I tried to push her out. “Alas”, I exclaimed, as I woke up from the nightmare. I wiped off the sweat from my forehead. I sighed as a sign of relief. I calmed myself and tried to sleep. For some reason there was a growing suspicion about her; I had an intuition saying that something was not correct. However, due to the long day’s work, I was so tired and eventually dozed off.

Suddenly I woke up to the strange sound of footsteps climbing up the stairs. It was slow and rubbing. I tightly closed my eyes and hoped that nothing should happen. The sound of the footsteps stopped abruptly. I could not say was it happened for real or was it all my imagination.

I felt very thirsty. I never keep water in the fridge so I had to go to the kitchen to fetch water. I slowly went down through the stairs. I entered the kitchen and filled my glass with water.  While I was drinking, I could see her sleeping in the bed clearly at that distant through the slightly opened door. I ignored it and instantly, her bag which, I placed on the table caught my eyes. I was curious to check what was inside the bag. Later I changed my mind and kept it back on the table. While I was about to head back to the first floor, I heard a whining sound. Momently, I thought it could be Benji’s so I rushed to look out of the kitchen window, to see if he is alright. I could not spot him. I guessed he could be on the porch, so I swung open the door and went out to see if he is safe; He was not there either. I heard a loud thud on the door. My heart raced at the sound. When I turned back, the door was closed. I thought it could be because of the wind. I went back inside the house, though I was worried about Benji. I planned to search him tomorrow. He had never left the house like that before. On my way back to the room, I noticed that the handbag was missing from the place where I left it. I peeked a glance to the slightly opened door; she was sleeping innocently. The missing handbag didn’t kindle any sign of doubt at that time because I constantly kept thinking about Benji. I reached up to my room. I laid on my bed, but a thought that I had made a mistake by letting a stranger enter my house, started to scrabble my mind and I was unable to sleep. I was sick of that night. I wanted the night to end immediately. I opened my mobile phone to check the time. It was 11.59 p.m. I sighed heavily and closed my eyes to try to sleep. No matter what I do, the scary thoughts kept pricking my mind. I thought that I could count the seconds, just like the way I pass the time in office.

I woke up and sat on the bed to count the seconds. I started counting 1. 2.. 3.. 4..

When I sat straight, I saw the bag was resting on the corner of the room. I was shocked. I hesitated at first, but then took it. Strangely the bag was not heavier when I lifted it. I noticed the 3 zips of the bag. I opened the zips one by one. I opened the first zip; there was cosmetics. I opened the second zip; I There was nothing except some crushed bus tickets; I neatly opened them. I was puzzled by looking at those tickets; The starting point was Presidio; I wondered that how could she have these tickets, when she claimed that she came by car. I kept the tickets aside and opened the third zip; I found a plain white handkerchief; and a wallet. I opened the wallet; There was a photo of her posing with some man; I checked the racks of the wallet; There was only a five-dollar note. I continued to dig inside the 3rd zip hoping to find her ID Card; As she is a food quality inspector, I thought that she might have kept her ID card somewhere in the bag. But there was no sign of ID card instead there was newspaper with red marks; The red marks were blood. When I took the newspaper out, a sharp knife fell down on the bed. I was shocked in horror. I couldn’t imagine the reason behind all this act which she had showcased.

I completely lost my mind at the sight of the knife and I felt I was a stupid and naive to be deceived by this stranger. I could not help but tremble in fear. I slowly proceeded towards the door; and closed my door tight. While I was heading back to my bed; I heard the whining of my dog; I was sure that the sound came from the hall; My thoughts ran crazily; I was afraid that he might be in danger because of her. I had to save my dog. I slowly opened the door knob. I was careful enough to not to make any noise. As I was proceeding to the stairs, I heard the squeaking noise of the swing. I was so scared and I could not help thinking that it might be her who is swinging. I went down; one step at a time; I saw her swinging and holding my dog’s neck with her hand. I was unable to move, when she saw me. I felt like I was frozen in fear.

“Oh, It’s you, I just cannot sleep, So I came out to play with Benji”, She said.

I was too nervous to even reply her back. Once she loosened the grip on Benji, he rushed away from her and hid behind me in fear. I decided to walk as quickly as possible in to the room along with Benji. I took Benji and started heading towards the room. I was alarmed at her voice from behind; it stopped me to proceed;

“Oh, Wait, I could not find my bag, can you help me finding it?

I did not even dare to turn back to take a look at her, I sacredly climbed up the stairs. She chased me all the way to the first floor.  I ran into my room and tried to shut my door, but she pushed really hard against the other side of the door. Unexpectedly, she injected me with a syringe on my left thigh. Instantly I felt like my leg was paralyzed; I cannot with withhold the door. I fell crumbled on the floor. She opened the door and walked past me to collect her bag and her scattered belongings. She was humming as she was placing her stuffs in the bag. Meanwhile, I was trying to stand up; I decided to run out of the room; As she was not looking at me, I planned to use the chance to escape from her; I barely managed to stand up; All of a sudden she stopped humming when she held her knife.

“Time to end the game”, She said.

I tried to run with my numb leg; I reached the main door and tried to open it but it was already locked.

“There’s no use in hiding or running”, Its over”. She said those words laughing at me while standing on the first floor pathway.

My heart beat was racing; At the moment, I heard a loud thump at the back gate of my house; I immediately limped towards the back gate; A man was standing at the back gate. I opened the clasp of the back gate and let him in; I thought he came to help me. Moreover, I have no other idea to escape. As he entered, he held me tight and hit me with a bat. I got fainted.

When I opened my eyes back, I felt a strong pain in my head. I was tied to my bed; My hands and legs were tied with sharp wires. I tried to detangle the wires. The more I tried, the more I got hurt by the wires. I didn’t see Benji either in a while. I was worried about him;

“What do you want from me?”

“Is this the way you pay back for someone who helped you?”

“You are a psycho, Where’s my Benji”. I shouted without any help.

The man and the creepy lady came to the room where they tied me.

“Oh! you are awake”, Ms. Emma exclaimed.

“Now it’s time to play”, said the man.

“The rule of the game is simple. Now the time is 1.52 a.m., before it strikes 2a.m, if you detangle yourself and escape the trap, we will let you go free, else we will kill you in the most painful way”.

I tried to detangle. I was bleeding heavily because of the sharp wire. Subconsciously my mind was counting the remaining seconds. I lost my hope of survival. All I could do was counting the seconds. At the sixth minute unexpectedly the man took the knife from her bag and approached me. I closed my eyes real tight, but nothing had happened. I managed to peek a look at him. Instead of killing me, he poked her deeply with the knife. I wide opened my eyes in utter shock.

After killing her, he used the sharp wires to cut her corpse into pieces; the place was messed up with a pool of her blood.  He looked at me; he gave a smile and fled away. Somehow I felt relief that I was not killed; due to the relief and the drowsiness, I dozed off without trying to detangle the sharp wires.

I woke up to the noise of Benji’s barking. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. Benji came running towards me and laid near my bed. Surprisingly, my hands were not tied and there was no wound or blood in my hand; I looked for the pieces of her body, but the place was completely clean with no sign of either of them. It was so clean that for a moment I thought “was it all just a dream, it all felt so real”. I really couldn’t jump to any conclusion. Soon after that I got up from the bed, I realized that I had stepped on something sharp. I bent down to check it.

“That’s a knife, That’s my kitchen knife”.

The knife was bathed in blood. I took it in my hand and when I looked up straight, I saw my own reflection holding the knife in the mirror.

When I stared at my own reflection in the mirror holding the knife, Fragments of my memory popped up.

I was thrilled to realize that I have actually killed the lady. Tears ran down my face.

“What had happened before? I could see it clearly now”.

My memory revealed that, when I entered her room, she was sleeping on the bed. I raised my knife and poked her several times. I slit her corpse into several pieces. I went to the lake and dug a pit. I came back to the room and collected the pieces of her body in a vessel. I buried the vessel along with all her belongings. I came back to the room and I was blacked out.

I had come back to my senses only after seeing my reflection in the mirror. I looked at the knife. I jumped to the corner of the room, throwing the knife to the other corner. I was so scared. I shrugged and fell down on the floor. I was trembling and holding my ears with my palm because of the ugly truth that came to the light. I sobbed because I have killed a person. It was all because of my hallucination. The lady was no threat. I was too scared that I had allowed a stranger to stay at my house. My abnormal fear had created such a mirage. I closed my eyes and prayed the god to forgive me. After all that, I felt like the knife was staring at me. The more I saw it, the more painful it was. Moments later, I stood up and reached for the knife. I closed my eyes. I could not control my tears. I went near the lake and buried the knife as well. I came back to my room and collapsed on the bed.

It was 8 o’clock in the morning when I woke up. A keen headache peeked. Unable to bear the pain, I pressed my thumb against my forehead as if it is about to stop the pain. Not giving much of my thought to the pain, I stretched my hands out and loosened my muscles and my back. I came out of my bedroom. The sunshine peeked sharply into the hallway from the white framed window in the kitchen across the bedroom. I might have left my kitchen windows open last night. Scratching my dizzy head, I reached to the stairs next to me. I climbed up the steps to fetch milk from the fridge which is on the first floor. I brewed a hot cup of coffee. I took my newspaper in the front door and sat on my couch. It was odd; the newspaper appeared bit old; It was dated 08.08.2008. As I skimmed through the newspaper, I saw the headline that read,

“8 passengers died on their way in the bus heading towards Candelaria”.

“That’s Tragic”, I thought to myself.

“The Zone hospital claimed to be closed due to the instability in the building; Authorities say-renovation of the building starts from next month. “

“The prime minister inaugurates the new bridge layout at Redford. “

“Hmm.”

“A Psycho killer escaped from presidio mental car hospital, this person has limp leg; If found please inform.”

As I read through these lines a cold shiver ran down my spine. These kind of news creep me out.

“Oh there’s a photograph of the psycho killer”, I exclaimed.

I wondered, as the man in the picture resembled exactly like me.

“May be that’s why I have a limped leg and I have trouble with walking, just like him, I will try to be cautious of him” I said to myself.

I had almost forgot to feed my dog Benji so I called out his name. He came running towards me. His fluffy brown hair danced like waves as he was coming. I patted his head and fed him with his favourite biscuits.

“It’s Sunday; Maybe I will enjoy fishing today”.

I went to the lake with a fishing rod and a big bucket, but I forgot to bring the nose cover. It stank a lot, but was the foul really because of fishes? I doubted.

The day later I headed to the office. On my way to the office, I stared at the big poster that said ”8-eight the fashion fit; Fill your wardrobe with the new collection 2019”.

There was another poster next to it; It was a missing person poster. The poster described the identity of the missing person; The person’s name was Emma; It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t recollect any memory of it.