I watched in shock as my body fell limp to the ground. It made no sense. I don’t even remember any pain. But the dirt below my feet was slippery with blood. My blood.
From the ground my own eyes stared up at me, lifeless. And yet here I was, standing above myself, staring helplessly as my murderer cleaned the blood off his blade.
I shook my head, trying to remember how I had gotten here in the woods with this man. But no matter how hard I tried, I could only remember driving in my car. I had been on the phone, talking to Alyssa. We were paired up for a science project earlier that day in school, and our plan was to meet in the park while we discussed topic ideas. After that, everything is a blank.
I spun around, toward the voice that had called my name. But after searching the area, all I could see were the few trees that the faint light from the moon lit up. Beyond that was just darkness.
“Ethan!” There was movement off to my left. Alyssa appeared, sprinting towards me. Wait, no, not me. My body.
“No Alyssa!” I yelled. “Run!” She kept running, having not heard me. So I turned back to the man that had stabbed me, ready to fight him off, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Alyssa reached my body. She looked down in shock, tears rolling down her face. “Ethan?” she asked, uncertain. “Ethan?!” Her voice broke, and her legs gave out beneath her. I felt my own tears rolling down my cheeks as she shook my shoulder, telling me to wake up. “Please,” she begged. “Don’t leave me alone.” Finally her head collapsed onto my chest and her body shook with sobs.
I knelt down beside her, wanting more than anything to comfort her. My hand reached out towards her shoulder, and I sucked in a surprised breath as my palm settled down onto the fabric of her sweater, rather than going through it like I expected.
Alyssa shot up, her eyes wide. She had moved to run but tripped over my body’s leg and fell flat on her face. Still trying to get away, she began to scramble forward on her hands and knees. Then she finally looked behind her and froze.
This time she was looking at me. Ghost me. Not my dead body.
“You can see me?” I asked with relief.
She nodded, her eyes still wide as she looked back and forth between me and the body on the ground.
“I don’t know,” I broke in. “I just have to get you out of here before he comes back.” I rushed forward and pulled her to her feet, surprised once again that I could touch her.
Looking closer, I could see that she was shaking, and all the color had left her face. Shock, I guessed. Her forehead was bleeding slightly from falling, so I gently wiped it away before it dripped into her eye.
“A man,” I started gently. “I don’t actually know who he is, but he has a knife. He killed me.” I paused as that statement sunk in. “Holy shit, he killed me!” This time both of us looked back at my lifeless body. I opened my mouth to say something else, but a rustling to our right had me gripping Alyssa’s hand and running off in the opposite direction.
“Alyssa!” a voice roared.
“Oh my, God.” Alyssa nearly stopped dead in her tracks, but I kept pulling her along.
She looked up at me in fear. “That’s my father’s voice.”
I stumbled. “Your father? You mean your dad is the one chasing us?”
I never got an answer, because at that moment a man leapt out from behind a tree and tackled us to the ground. The air painfully left my lungs as I got an elbow to the stomach. Part of me wondered why I could feel if I were dead, but a bigger part of me kept repeating the same thing in my head; Save Alyssa, save Alyssa, save Alyssa.
A fist came out of the darkness and slammed into my jaw, spinning me around and sending my face to the dirt.
“Dad!” Alyssa cried out in horror. She jumped onto his back and started hitting him on the head, over and over again, with a branch she had picked up from the among the dead leaves on the ground.
I spit the dirt from my mouth and struggled to stand, fighting off the urge to puke before running forward to help Alyssa.
Her dad was screaming as she continued to beat at him, and the stick she held grew bloodied. With a roar, he slammed Alyssa’s back into the tree behind them. I cringed as she grunted in pain, and reached her dad just as he crushed her back into the tree again.
Defeated, she dropped to the ground and struggled to catch her breath while I picked up my own branch and swung it toward’s her father’s face. Upon impact, his legs stopped supporting him and he fell to the ground, clutching his nose and groaning.
I ran over to Alyssa and pulled her up. “C’mon!”
We took off running through the trees, searching for the clearing that led to the park.
“Alyssa,” I panted. “What the hell is wrong with your dad?”
“He has anger issues,” she panted back.
“And you’ve been living with this man?”
“No.” We ran another minute in silence before she continued. “Last I heard, my dad was in prison for killing his best friend.”
I laughed, but nothing about this was funny. “Great, we’re being chased by a convict.”
From somewhere behind us, Alyssa’s dad roared in fury, and I forced my legs to move faster.
We were running so fast through the darkness that we didn’t notice the body on the until we were right on top of it. Unable to stop quick enough, we tripped and fell to the ground in a tangle of limbs.
At the same time, Alyssa’s dad erupted from the bushes and grabbed ahold of his daughter’s leg. She screamed and kicked at him, but he reached for her other leg and began to drag her towards him. This time it was me who jumped onto his back, bashing him over the head in the same spot Alyssa had with the branch. He dropped Alyssa’s legs and she crawled away from his reach. I continued to hit her father until Alyssa shrieked, shocking me long enough that her dad could throw me off his back. I dropped to the dirt with a thud, feeling like every inch of my back was one giant bruise.
He spun around and trapped me beneath the weight of his body. It was so dark that all I could see was the blood pouring from his broken nose, staining his toothy grin red as he circled his hands around my neck and started to squeeze.
I fought to get my hands and legs free so that I could hit him, kick him, do something, but I was trapped. With difficulty, I turned my head and saw Alyssa sitting on the ground, looking down at the body before her with a blank expression on her face.
“Alyssa?” I tried to say, but all that came out was a strangled sort of noise from my throat.
Alyssa’s gaze slowly raised and reached mine.
“Ethan.” Her voice trembled. “I’m dead.”
I took a closer look at the body on the ground and began jerking my legs fast enough that Alyssa’s dad tumbled off of me and knocked himself out on a stump that stuck out of the ground. My entire body shook as I recognized the long blonde hair, now covered in blood, that belonged to the girl that lay dead before me. Alyssa. Her eyes stared up at the night sky, unblinking.
“No. No, no, no.” I forced myself to glimpse up at the living, moving Alyssa. “You can’t be dead.”
Looking over my shoulder, her face expressionless, she said flatly, “We’re all dead.” I followed her gaze and gasped. Her father’s body lay motionless on the ground five feet from where we sat in a pool of his own blood. His hand still clutched the knife that stuck out of his chest, right where his heart would be.
I shook my head, not believing what my eyes were seeing. Beside me, the man that had tried to choke me began to wake. I looked back at Alyssa, my brow furrowed in confusion.
“We’re all dead,” she repeated.
And suddenly, I remembered everything.
Alyssa and I met at the park and sat down on the grass near the woods as the sun went down. I couldn’t stop blushing whenever her leg bumped against mine. All I wanted to do was reach out and take her hand in mine. But I didn’t. She barely even knew me. But I knew her.
She was the girl with the long blonde hair, blue eyes, and perfect smile. The one who was nice to everyone and had a never ending list of friends. Seeing her in the mornings as I walked to class kept me looking forward to going to school, each and every day. We were in four classes together, but it wouldn’t be a shock if she didn’t notice I existed.
I was the boy who was described by others as the loner. My dark hair never fell right, the only clothes I owned were getting too small for me and had been torn in several places. I was too shy to make any friends, and other kids loved making up rumors about me. No one looked at me. No one talked to me. Not even the teachers. I was the boy who would go through high school completely unnoticed.
But then we were assigned partners in Biology, and the teacher placed me with Alyssa. I had expected her to ignore me; it’s what everyone else did. But when the teacher randomly picked both of our names from a hat, as soon as he read “Alyssa Manning and Ethan Gesing”, she turned around in her seat and smiled at me from across the room.
After class Alyssa walked over to my desk where I sat, putting my papers and pen back into my backpack.
“H-hi,” I replied, then cursed myself for stuttering.
“Are you busy this evening? I thought we could start discussing our project together.”
I did a full 360 from my desk, looking for a camera, or waiting for Alyssa’s friends to pop up and start laughing at me, but the classroom had emptied out. It was just me and her. I focused my attention back onto Alyssa and her sweet smile.
“Yeah, sure. When and where do you wanna meet?”
We made plans to meet at the park across town just before sunset, and as soon as school let out, I rushed home and spent the next few hours trying to make myself presentable. My mom had to keep reminding me I wasn’t going out on a date; I was going to work on homework.
When I arrived, Alyssa was already waiting for me in the park, and I had to force myself not to run to her. We ended up sitting together on the grass near the woods that surrounded our town.
Everything was going perfectly. We decided on our topic, split the workload, and talked about ourselves a bit. I even made her laugh. Then the sun disappeared behind the trees, and we rose to leave.
As we walked away from the woods, still laughing about something I’d said, we never would have noticed the man running towards us if it hadn’t been for his heavy breathing.
We stopped walking, and I remember hoping that this guy was just on an evening jog. But he was wearing jeans and a jacket, and he kept running straight for us. Alyssa looked at me, unsure. With my heart pounding, I took her hand in mine and turned, heading for the woods and away from the man.
It wasn’t long until he caught us.
Alyssa has always been clumsy. As we ran, she tripped over her own feet and I fell with her. Her hand left mine and I rolled onto the mud and dirt a few feet away from her. Then the man was there, standing over her. Before she even had time to scream, he had pulled a large kitchen knife from his jacket. Alyssa’s eyes met mine, just as the knife entered her heart. She screamed. I screamed. But when her cries of pain fell silent and her eyes stared at nothing, I continued to yell until my throat felt raw.
The man took the blade from Alyssa’s chest and faced me. I stumbled up and ran deeper into the woods, unable to run fast as sobs rocked my body and fear took over. Leaves crunched on the ground behind me with every step the man took, and I made the mistake of turning my head to see how far off he was.
The air was knocked from my lungs as soon as I hit the dirt. And by the time I could open my eyes and take a breath, the man stood over me. I screamed, and his hand grabbed me by my collar, lifting me to my feet. He held me there, his face inches from mine.
“She belongs to me,” he hissed. Then he thrust the blade into my chest, right where my heart beat frantically. I doubled over in pain, crying out.
When he pulled the knife out, my body dropped to the ground.
And now I was back to the present, here with Alyssa—both her ghost and her body—as well as her dad with his lifeless body.
My eyes met Alyssa’s, fear filling her eyes.
“We’re all dead,” I agreed, my voice breaking. “Dead.”