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Walls Around the Heart
Nicole Starleigh Yeager
I had my cell phone turned off because Lauren kept calling me. I wasn't ready to talk to her, yet. So, after a few hours of skee ball, betting games, hoops, claw machines, and simulated Jet Ski racing, I turned it on to check the time and see how many voicemails I'd accumulated. "I'm going to go cash in our tickets," Eric told me. "Wait here, I'll be right back."
"Ok." He walked off with our pile of tickets... I had never scored that many tickets or tokens in an arcade for as long as I could remember. I couldn't help but smile. What a perfect, sweet guy. My phone beeped at me to let me know I had voicemail. The screen read: 11 missed calls.
"Eleven?!? Jeeze." I called into my voicemail box to listen. The first was a number I didn't recognize.
"Keri, it's me." It was Lauren, she must have called me from the hotel room or a pay phone. "I'm sorry about that... back here in the room." Okay, she called me from the hotel room. "I didn't mean to drag you into that fight. But I want you to know that he's wrong. I didn't do it for myself, I swear I didn't. I just didn't want you to have to put up with any more crap and I didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him you don't like him at all anymore. And about before... I thought I was doing the right thing when I was telling you guys that stuff. I was scared that he was going to hurt you, or that you were going to hurt him. I know it's all crazy and I didn't help at all, but I swear it was all with good intentions. I would never hurt you. Please let me know where you are, you ran off and didn't tell anyone where you were going. I left you alone for awhile but we still haven't heard from you. Call me, ok?"
I deleted the message. Ok, I believed her. It was a relief to hear her say those things. I knew she wasn't lying this time. She really was just trying to help...even if it was in some twisted way. It all fit, now. It all made sense now. I smiled. I doubt she'll be trying to help out much more after this.
The next message was from Lauren as well. It was made only a few minutes later, and her voice seemed stricken with fear. "Keri, it's me. Remember how you and Kyle said you saw that message in the mirror? It just happened again. I need to find you, please come back to the hotel, and please don't be with that guy. Keri, he's dangerous and you might be in trouble. Call me and tell me where you are, I need to know! Brett went out looking for Kyle already. He has my cell phone, so call me here at the room, okay? Get away from Eric if you're with him!"
What the heck? I thought. What is going on? A little freaked out, I deleted the message and decided to disregard it. Eric was a sweetheart. Nicest, sweetest guy I ever met. I was pretty convinced that the whole ghost-in-the-water thing was a side effect of the painkillers. It had to be.
Somebody had to be playing a joke in the room... possibly even Kyle. It could very well be something up Kyle's sleeve. Kyle was jealous of Eric. This could all be some cruel joke Kyle was playing.
The next message was from Lauren, also. "I forgot to tell you what the mirror said this time-- 'Eric is evil'-- I am not kidding! It's gotta be the same guy, why else would we be getting these messages! Please call me, I'm going crazy, I don't know where you are, I don't know what these messages mean, but I know Kyle said he doesn't get a good impression from Eric. And I know what you're probably thinking, and no, it's impossible, because I've been the only one here for the past hour and it wasn't there before. So please, call me, ok?"
Okay, now I was started to really freak. She was right, she did know what I had been thinking. If she sounded that scared, I knew she was telling the truth. Kyle wasn't even in the room when it happened to her. And when I saw the first message, the mirror was clear before I washed my face. Kyle never once touched it until after I found it.
Just as I deleted that message, my phone started to ring. I looked at the caller ID: "Lauren Cell". I switched the lines over and answered it.
"Keri, it's Brett, where are you?"
"I'm out on the boardwalk. What the heck is going on?"
"Just listen to me, is Eric with you?"
"Not right now, he went to cash in our tickets."
"Listen. I'm trying to find Kyle. What's the name of the arcade you are at?"
"Um, I don't know, hold on." I stepped outside and glanced up at the name.
"Treasure Pile. Why? Where's Kyle?"
"Just stay there."
"Wait a minute, what's going on?"
"I'm coming to get you. Kyle!! Kyle! There he is! Keri, I'll call you back!"
"What? I don't --"
He hung up too quickly. I didn't realize that my hand was shaking until I went to put my phone in my pocket. I decided it was better to hold on to it for now. What in the hell was going on around here?
"We did pretty good," Eric said from behind me as I jumped and let out a small yelp.
"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. Man, I keep on doing that."
Breathing heavily, trying to calm my heart rate, I looked at his eyes. With eyes so innocent, how could he be someone I should worry about?
"This is for you." He handed me a big, pink, floppy stuffed dog.
"Thank... Thank you," I stammered, then cleared my throat. Suddenly I couldn't think of anything else but the messages on the mirror and the girl in the water.
My phone rang again and I just looked at it.
"Aren't you going to answer it?" Eric asked. "Here, I'll hold the dog."
"Yeah, thanks," I said, nervously, picking up Brett's call. "He- Hello?"
"Keri, don't leave the arcade," said a different voice, out of breath.
"Yeah. Stay where you are. We're coming to get you, all right?"
"No, don't say anything. Don't let him know you're scared."
"Kyle, I'm not."
"We're on our way. Treasure Pile, right?"
"No, I'm fine!"
"Don't say anything about this to him. We don't know what he'll do."
"If you get in trouble, call us. Call somebody. Us, call us."
The line went dead. He'd hung up on me.
"Bye," I sighed as I hung up the phone. Great. Just great. What am I supposed to do? Should I be scared of Eric or not?
"What was that about?" Eric asked, his voice slightly stern. Or was I imagining that?
"Um, it was Kyle. He was, um, apologizing for this afternoon."
"So... is that good or bad?"
"Uh, I don't know."
He sighed as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.
"Listen, I need to make a call. Just wait here a minute while I step outside for better service, okay? My cell phone doesn't work that great indoors."
"Sure." I took the stuffed dog from him, still clenching my cell phone.
As he walked away, I was wary. I didn't let a single person walk by me without searching their face for something out of place. My mind was racing with every horror movie I had ever seen. Was the girl in the water real? What did the messages on the mirror mean? Did she really say what I thought she was saying? Stay away from him, hide on the boardwalk?
What was going on? Did that mean she was watching me, right that minute? I shivered at the thought.
I realized that I wished Kyle were there, to protect me, to make me feel safe like he always did.
I saw Eric, out of the corner of my eye, on his cell
phone just outside the arcade. I could not take my eyes away from him as I
moved slowly towards him. There was a pillar directly in my view. I walked
up and hid behind it, trying to tune out all the other noises to listen to
what he was
It was tough, but I caught words like, "The girl" and "tomorrow." I wished I could have heard the full sentences, but I was putting two and two together and realizing that I was probably in trouble.
Eric hung up his phone and walked back into the arcade,
right past me. I
He turned around. "There you are," he said. "You ready
to do some
"Um, o--okay." I rubbed my head. "Actually, you know, I think I'm going to go back and lie down. Maybe we can get together tomorrow before you leave?"
"When are you leaving?" he asked.
"We're staying until Monday. The hotel gave us an extra night stay after what happened." I smiled. Just keep smiling, he'll never know what you're thinking. How offended would he be if I were to accuse him of... being shady? He's been nothing but nice to me.
"Sweet. Want me to walk you back?"
"No, you don't have to. I have to... figure out what I am going to say to Kyle when I get back and I need to be alone to think about it."
"All right. Can I call you?"
"Yeah. See you later."
I turned away, slowly, and headed back up the boardwalk. I felt him watching me as I walked away from him. I couldn't seem to shake the feeling, even as I was way out of his eyesight. I was squeezing the stuffed animal against my abdomen, nervously. What was he talking about on the phone? Who was he talking to? There was no way I was staying at the arcade with him. The girl in the water kept surfacing in my mind as well. Stay away from Eric? What was it about this guy that I should know?
Where was Kyle? I wanted to talk to that girl, the ghost in the water. What am I, crazy? A ghost? Do I really think I am going to hold a conversation with a ghost?
Lauren saw a message in the mirror. I'm not crazy. I'm not the only one. It is real. Something is going on, and it's not one of Kyle's jokes. I need to get to the bottom of it, now, before something totally off-the-wall happens.
I dialled Lauren's cell number. Brett picked up. "What's wrong, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, you guys are freaking me out," I said, nervously, looking around me to see if anyone was watching. I didn't want to look stupid on the boardwalk.
"Where are you?"
"I'm headed back to the hotel."
"You left? Is he with you?"
"No, he's..." There was a man with a clean shaven head and face, long khaki pants, a light blue button-down shirt, and sunglasses leaning against the railing by the beach side of the boardwalk. He was watching me. I wasn't sure at first, but his head moved after me, even as I stared at him as I walked by. He nodded and smiled a creepy little sly smile.
"The green ones, wear the green ones."
"The green ones match better."
"What are you...? What are you talking about?"
Kyle's voice came on the phone. "Is someone following you?"
"I... I think so."
"Is it Eric?"
"Who is it?"
"I don't know."
"Where are you?"
"I don't know." I was starting to panic.
"Keri, calm down. Can you see the Ferris Wheel from where you are?"
I looked around. "Yeah." I looked back over my shoulder... he was gone.
I turned around and scanned the boardwalk. He was nowhere. "Oh, no."
"He's gone, I lost him. I can't see him, I don't know where he went!" Hysteria. Somebody bumped into me and I dropped the dog. I turned to get it but it was kicked away, so I turned and kept going.
I grew more and more nervous by the minute. "Th... the...the green ones..."
I was afraid he still might be lurking around somewhere within earshot.
"Listen, go to the Ferris Wheel, we'll meet you there, okay? Keep moving."
"Okay," I said, as I turned and started walking, more briskly this time.
"We'll be there waiting for you. Okay?"
I hung up my phone and clenched it in my fist. I looked down when it double beeped. My battery was running out. Oh, no, not now! Not now. I picked up my pace and wove in and out of the crowd. I kept my eye on the Ferris Wheel. It didn't seem to be getting any closer.
Paranoia was setting in. I looked over my shoulder. A double-take revealed that the man from the railing was walking behind me, head held high, posture straight, about twenty-five or thirty feet back. I tried to pretend I didn't see him.
As nonchalantly as possibly, I looked around. There was another, same dress, same sunglasses, same clean cut, off to my left, leaning against a sausage sandwich stand. He was watching me as well.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him stand up and start to walk after me. My heart started pounding in my ears.
Two strange men, both following me. What could I do? I wanted Kyle. Keep walking, I told myself. Could I scream? No, they'd probably disappear, and then people would think I was crazy.
Are they really following me? Or am I just paranoid? I looked back... I caught them passing some sort of signals to each other. Yep. They were following me.
I looked up. I had lost the Ferris Wheel. Where could it have gone? I stopped and frantically searched around... there, I had walked right past the pier it was on. I would have to back track, right into the men who were following me, unless...
I spotted a large group of people, all migrating the same direction as I wanted to go, coming toward me from the other end of the boardwalk. I looked back... the men had disappeared. Before they could jump out and surprise me, I sort of scurried over to the crowd and forced my way into the middle. I let them guide me down the pier. The mob began to dwindle as people stopped off at different attractions, food stands, games and shops.
The Ferris wheel was straight ahead. It wasn't as large as an amusement park Ferris Wheel. Where were Kyle and Brett? They were supposed to be there, waiting for me! Where were they???
My phone beeped again. "Oh, shut up!" I said, and turned it off to hopefully save some juice. I looked around. I couldn't see either of them. I looked behind me. "Oh, no."
There were three of them, now, all clean-shaven, all dressed alike. They were no more than forty feet back. I could see them intermittently through the passing vacationers.
I looked around again for Kyle and Brett. I couldn't
see them. But I did see a hiding place... I headed over, quickly, to the
base of the Ferris Wheel. I sneaked behind it so the ride operator
wouldn't see me. There was a lot of machinery - an engine, it looked like
- that I could hide behind. I found that I could not get too close to the
machine, it was very hot. I stood, peering around the side, watching the
direction I had come
A few moments had passed and they still weren't in
view. They should have caught up to me by now, I thought. Where are they?
Where did they go? After a few more minutes of nothing, I thought it
foolish to hide any longer. Besides, I might hurt myself back there. I
climbed out from
I heard the ride attendant yell at me, but didn't
bother trying to listen.
"Hey, calm down, it's just me," Kyle said, slowly releasing my hand.
"Oh, god," I said, shaking. "Ohhh god!" Relief rolled over me in a huge, warm wave. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so glad to see Kyle. My knees went weak and just as I was about to collapse, Kyle caught me with his arms around my waist.
"Jeeze, you're really shaking," he said as my heart felt as though it were trying to escape through my throat, freezing over for a split second and warming up again.
Brett walked up beside me. "You all right? Where is he?"
"There were three," I answered, standing on my own, crossing my arms and running my hands up and down my upper arms, as if I were cold and trying to get warm. I couldn't help the goose bumps that had popped up on my skin.
"Three what?" Kyle asked. "Who?"
"They... they all had sunglasses, and shaved heads and faces, and they had long pants, like dress pants, and button shirts..."
"Where'd they come from?"
"I don't know, I just... I saw the one guy when I was talking to you and then he started following me, and then there was another one who started a little bit later, and then I looked back again and there were three of them, and my battery was dying on my phone..."
"It's okay," Kyle said, realizing I was getting hysterical. "Come on. You're with us now. Let's go back to the hotel."
We started walking back, with me in the middle. I told them about the girl I saw in the water on the empty pier, and how she talked to me. I told them what I heard in Eric's phone conversation. "Do you believe me? About the girl, I mean?"
Kyle shrugged. "Not sure what to believe at this point."
"You want to go home?" Brett asked.
"Yeah," I answered, still paranoid and looking over my shoulder. "But we can't."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because, if this whole thing is real, and not my imagination, then I think the girl in the water is the same ghost that's leaving messages on the mirror. I think her death had something to do with Eric. I didn't want to believe any of it, but right now I'm too freaked out. After that phone conversation and those guys following me... We have to go to the police."
"There's nothing we can tell them. We should just go home," Brett said. "Forget about all of this."
I was looking around constantly. "And what if they follow us home?"
"Okay, we can call the police as soon as we get back to the room," Brett said.
Oh, no. I thought as I looked over my shoulder... Oh, please, no! I hooked my arms through Kyle and Brett's and started walking faster, pulling them with me.
"Are they behind us?" Kyle said as they quickened their pace to match mine.
I couldn't speak, I just nodded.
"Get on the Sky Lift," Brett said, pulling Kyle and me off to the right. We joined a crowd of people, cut through them and ran for the ride. Somehow I didn't feel safe getting up in one of those little ski-lift-like chairs with those three characters following us.
Brett took six dollars out of his pocket and paid the man. "You two get the first car," he said.
"They see us," I said to Kyle.
"Just get on," he said, pushing me to the little yellow square in the boarding area.
Kyle and I got into the first car and were lifted up into the air. I didn't like the idea of being suspended from a rather ancient-looking cable.
"Brett, hurry up!" I called down, watching the three close in on the ride gate as our car moved higher and higher. They had quickened their pace.
"Brett, they're coming!" I called to him.
His car finally came around, but it seemed so slow. I sighed as he got in, pulled down the safety bar and was lifted into the air.
"No," Kyle said. "Dammit!"
"They're going to cut us off at the other end."
Sure enough, looking down, I saw them running up the boardwalk to the other end. I looked at Kyle. "What now?"
He was looking around, trying to think of something. I heard Brett yelling and turned around to look at him.
"Did you see that?" he screamed at us. "We're trapped!"
I gripped Kyle's arm and bit my quivering lip. "Please, God, please get us out of this!"
"Look!" Kyle said, pointing straight ahead.
I couldn't figure out what he was pointing at, all I could see were the roof tops of a few shops coming up beneath us.
"What? Look at what?"
"We can get off there."
"Right there, those rooftops."
"What, jump? Are you crazy?"
"You got a better idea?"
"Well - no..."
He turned around. "Brett! Follow us!"
He lifted up the safety bar. The first roof was under us now. I turned around, Brett had lifted his, too. He seemed to know what Kyle was thinking. Kyle was waiting for the next roof, which was much closer to us then the first one.
"Land on your feet," he told me. "Then it won't hurt as much."
As much? As much? Oh, God, please don't let me break any bones, please! Please give me the courage to do this! "I can't do it! I can't jump!"
"You have to! Do you know what's waiting for us at the other end?"
"I can't jump!"
"You're gonna jump!"
"You have to!" He grabbed my hand firmly in his and got
ready. I knew he wasn't letting go of my hand. If I didn't jump, he would
pull me off. If
I jumped before he did to avoid a facial landing. I closed my eyes for the split second that we fell. As we hit the roof I could hear several startled screams from inside the store. I had pinched a nerve in my foot on landing and could barely stand up again. I clenched my foot in pain as Brett landed next to me and rolled into a summersault.
"Let's go, now! They already know we're not on the ride any more and they're probably on their way back!" Kyle said, as if commanding a troop. I hobbled to my feet and we walked over to the edge. Kyle found a generator at the side of the building in the little alley between the two shops.
He jumped down first, then me, then Brett. People were watching us, asking us if we were all right. We didn't answer. We looked around for our followers and headed straight for the hotel.
Amazingly, I still had my phone in my hand.
Back at the hotel, Lauren was frantic. Someone had broken into the room while she was in the lobby getting ice. The room was a complete mess; drawers dumped, pictures knocked off the wall, lamps on the floor... everything was everywhere.
"It was crazy, I got off the elevator and came up the hall, and I could hear all this noise coming from the room, so I thought you guys came back. But when I got closer, I realized the doorknob was hanging loose and that whoever was in there was just, like, throwing things around. I tip-toed back to the elevator and went down to the lobby. Security checked it out, but there was no one here."
"No one saw anything?" Kyle asked.
"The people next door said they heard a lot of
commotion going on over here and actually called down to the front desk
about it while I was down there getting ice. So, they don't think we're
crazy or anything. The police
"But I didn't..." I started, then trailed off in thought. Had I given him the new room number?
"You didn't what?" Kyle asked.
I thought for a minute. Did I? Or didn't I? Then it hit me. "Oh, no."
"What? You didn't what?"
"Eric asked me what new room they gave us. I told him. I told him. How could I be so stupid?"
"It's all right, they're going to be watching our room, now," Lauren said. "So, it won't happen again."
"We have to go to the police," I said. "Let them handle it."
"With what?" Kyle asked. "A ghost story and a bit of paranoia?"
"He's right," Brett said. "You don't have anything solid. They'll laugh in your face."
I collapsed on the bed and realized I needed another pain pill. But, since I really wasn't sure if I saw what I thought I saw, I decided to skip it and deal with the pain so I could have a clear mind if it happened again.
"So, what are we supposed to do?"
Everyone was quiet. Nobody knew what to do. We didn't even really know what was going on. We just knew that Eric was becoming a very shady character, and that, for some reason, this ghost thinks he's evil. We knew that Kyle didn't trust him, and Lauren had started to feel the same way.
I rolled over and plugged my phone into the charger. I turned it on to let it recharge.
"Has he said anything to you that stuck out, like threw up a red flag, or something?" Kyle asked me.
I sat and thought for a minute, going over the conversations in the arcade.
"Aside from the phone call? No."
"We have to get him to slip up and say something. The man is hiding something serious, and we need to get him to talk about it. That is something we can go to the police with," Brett said.
Whoa. "Wait, wait," I said, suddenly remembering that we had had a conversation on the pier before going back to the boardwalk.
"What?" Lauren asked.
"Wait... he freaked..."
"What are you talking about?" Kyle asked. "Start from the beginning, so we'll understand."
I took a deep breath. "He was asking me about the break-in. And I called the .... attacker (or whatever) a 'he' cause that's how I always generalize people when I don't know who they are. And he freaked."
"What do you mean, freaked? How?" Lauren asked.
"He, like, got really nervous, and was like, 'How do you know it was a he?' and he was so... he was nervous."
We all stared at each other.
"It was Eric," Kyle said.
"We don't know that for sure," Brett said. "It's very possible, but we don't know that for sure."
"And how could he get back here before we did?" I asked.
"Well, can we take that to the police?" Lauren asked.
"We need a little more than that," Kyle said.
"How are we supposed to get more than that?" I asked.
They all just looked at me.
"Oh, no. Uh-uh. Not after the crap you guys put me
through today with all those freaky voice mails and stuff. You're all
freaking me out, and now
"We'll be close by," Brett said.
"Keri, there's no other way. Unless you wanna be
running from this guy for the rest of your life, or, at least, until he
catches up with you..." Kyle
"Wait, what if we invite him to come out with all of us?" Lauren said.
"I like that idea," I said, quickly. "I really like that idea."
"We'll have to work it out so you two are alone, at least for a little while. We won't be far away, of course," Kyle said.
"And we'll have to get him drunk," Brett said.
"The club," Lauren said. "Secrets, we wanted to go there, anyway, right? Keri, call him and invite him out with us tonight."
I just looked at all of them. I took a deep breath. "You're going to be close by, right?" I could do this. I really could.
"Yeah. Nothing will happen to you," Kyle promised.
"We're doing this tonight?"
"It has to be tonight. We can't put it off any more,"
Brett said. "We go to the club where there's going to be plenty of people,
get a table in the corner and order some drinks. After he's downed quite a
few, me and Lauren will go out to the dance floor, and Kyle, you'll say
you're going out to meet some girls. That'll give Keri time to talk to
Eric and get something
"Do we have a tape recorder?" I asked.
"No, but we can buy one at the pharmacy where we got your pills. I saw them there," he said.
"What do you think?" Lauren asked me. "Can you do it?"
"I don't know. How... what am I supposed to say? How am I supposed to get him to say something? What do we even want him to say? What if he really didn't do anything and we're trying to accuse him of all this?"
"We'll just have to hope that something comes out, and that you catch it on the tape," Kyle said. "We just need something to go to the police with."
"But, are you guys absolutely certain that there's something going on with him? I mean, really? We could be doing all this for nothing. We could be getting all freaked out for nothing. I mean, Eric is a really sweet, sincere guy. I just can't picture him... a criminal," I said.
"Well, from now on, don't go anywhere by yourself," Lauren said to me.
"Brett, why don't you and me go and pick up one of those tape recorders."
"You need money?" I asked.
"Nope," Brett said. "I got it."
"I'm waiting in the car, too. And you better not get caught," Lauren said.
"Oh, no you don't," I said. "We can't go to the police with a stolen tape recorder. Are you crazy?"
"She's right," Kyle said. "That is a pretty stupid move."
"There's a twenty in my wallet, just take that. It shouldn't be any more than that," I said.
"And if it is," Kyle said, reaching into his own wallet, "Here's another twenty. Don't forget tapes and batteries. Try to get one with the microphone extension, so we can rig it to her purse strap for better reception."
Lauren grabbed the money from my wallet and took the keys to my car.
"We'll be back. If you go anywhere, call us and let us know."
"You got it," I said. "Be careful."
After they left, Kyle and I looked around at the ransacked room. "What a mess," he said.
"I suppose we should clean it up. I sure as hell don't want to stay in a room that looks like this." I started picking my clothes up from the floor.
"You think they're gonna give us another room?"
"I don't want another room. It'd be a pain to move everything again. I mean, look, it looks like we just finally got the rest of our stuff this afternoon." Over in the corner, on the small table, the rest of our belongings were placed neatly.
"Yeah, they brought all that down this morning when you's were sleeping, I was watching television."
"Oh. See? I don't want to move again, let's just clean it up."
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