CW-The following text contains strong language, as well as references to suicide and death.
The Spring air was crisp, forcing Maddie to wrap her arms close to her body. She lifted her head upon noticing the blinding headlights of the oncoming train.It was too busy for her liking.
She pushed down the desire to escape when passing the crowds.
Her gaze seemed distant when her friend Cassie arrived.“
Hello. Are you there?” The friend waved her freshly manicured hand in front of Maddie’s face.
“Oh, sorry,” she answered, rapidly blinking her heavy eyelids.
The black-haired young woman frowned and gave Maddie a quick embrace.
“You did take your medication, right?”
Maddie almost whispered: “Yes, yes, I did. It’s all good.”
“Okay. Good!” Cassie smiled and pushed her hair away from her face.
It took about twenty minutes for Cassie to stop talking and focus on her phone screen instead.
Maddie stared out of the window, analysing the monstrous silhouettes of trees in a thick forest. She could sense a dull ache at the balls of her feet and looked down at her mud-stained shoes.
The speeding train entered a tunnel, replacing the treetops with a pitch-black wall.
Suddenly, a whisper echoed in Maddie’s ears: “Run.”
With horror, her eyes opened wide, witnessing a dark figure standing right behind her.
Maddie gasped for air and looked behind her, but could only see a middle-aged man in a beige trench coat adjusting his shiny watch. Her eyes traced back at the window, just as the short tunnel ended.
Cassie had noticed Maddie’s odd behaviour. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I… I thought I saw something.”
Her face relaxed. “You must have imagined it.”
“Yeah.” Maddie was still looking around her. She could not hide her anxiety over entering the next tunnel. She took a deep breath when the dark background revealed the reflection of the glass once more.
The muscles in her body started to ease.
One more breath, and everything filled with darkness.
Maddie was convinced she could hear every beat of her heart.
A sound of a crying child distracted the concerned chatter of people around her.
And then the car filled with light, revealing a pattern of dark red splashes on Cassie’s perfectly white coat.
Maddie froze looking at it.
Cassie looked concerned, but she did not say anything. Finally, she lowered her gaze and noticed the crimson marks on her jacket. “Oh,” she muttered, instinctively covering her nose with her hand.
Someone handed her a tissue.
Cassie pressed the paper against her skin, staining it with blood. “Are you okay?”
Maddie nodded and mumbled something under her breath, finally releasing her gaze.
It was near midnight when the two girls made it to the old wooden house on the edge of the peaceful woods. Soft yellow light was escaping from its small windows, illuminating the worn boards of the open porch.
“Finally!” A tall young man walked closer to greet Cassie. “What happened?” he asked upon noticing the trail of blood on her coat.
Cassie kissed him on the cheek and looked back at Maddie. “Just a nosebleed. It happens all the time.”
It did not take long for them to step into the cosy house from the cold night’s air. Two more people welcomed the girls, leading to lots of chatter in the living room.
For a while, Maddie observed the people giggling amongst each other. She believed nobody would notice her absence. So she set aside her drink and wandered upstairs. She knew where the guest bedroom was and closed the door quietly behind her.
She flicked on the light, let her backpack fall to the ground and laid on the squeaky bed.
She did not know whether it had been mere minutes or hours when the light started flickering. But it did wake her from the supposedly light sleep.
She leaned on her elbows to investigate the exposed lamp bulb. It kept flickering, and then it went out.
That is when Maddie noticed a young man in a black hoodie standing in the corner of the room.
Her eyes filled with horror. “Leave!” she shouted, jumping up from the bed and covering her eyes. But the figure was still there when she finally uncovered them.
“You’re not real, you’re not real, you’re not real,” Maddie kept repeating to herself, whilst frantically searching for something in her backpack.
She attempted to swallow something and rushed to the bathroom to drink from the tap. A few cold sips later, she pulled the back of her hand over her mouth. And there he was, looking at her through the reflection of the mirror hanging over the sink.
She knew exactly who it was. Her eyes started stinging and filled with tears.
“They’re right, I am mad.” She shook her head lightly, revealing something close to a smile. “I have completely lost my mind!”
Right as she had said it, Maddie noticed a girl in an orange blouse looking at her. One of Cassie’s friends, Maddie’s used-to-be friend.
She did not say a thing, she just stared at Maddie with a hint of fear in her eyes.
Maddie knew that look too well. There was no use in trying to explain things, so she walked back to the bedroom.
“Why?” Maddie whispered upon closing the door, noticing the now working light.
“You know why.” The familiar sound sent a cold shiver down Maddie’s spine.
“This is not real.” Maddie shook her head, now covering her ears.
He took a few steps closer and lowered his hood.
She let her arms fall to her sides, trying to take in every detail. It had never been this real. His brown hair looked exactly the way she remembered it, but his skin was too pale.
“Can… can I touch you?”
He reached out one of his arms.
She hesitated for a moment, but then carefully placed her fingers on the back of his right hand. The ice-cold touch almost made her jump.
She felt the tears return. There was no point in trying to fight it anymore.
They both stood in silence, looking at each other. Until something from downstairs caught her attention.
“Why did you bring her, she’s crazy! She should be locked up!” a deep voice from downstairs shouted.
Maddie pushed back her hair and started to pace around the room. “Why? Why are you here?”
“This is where it started.”
A sudden knock startled Maddie.
Cassie opened the door without waiting for an answer. “I wanted to check on how you’re doing,” she explained.
“I’m fine,” Maddie responded, while rubbing her red eyes.
“It’s okay, I know it’s hard for you.” Cassie’s face casted a hint of a frown when she stepped closer to hug Maddie. “We’re going for a short walk. You should come.”
“I think I’d like to be alone for a bit.”
“Are you sure?”
Maddie nodded for a response.
It seemed that Cassie was struggling to choose her words. Eventually, she muttered: “Try to get some sleep.”
Maddie nodded once more, until her friend finally left.
It did not take long for the house to fall completely quiet. Maddie was staring at the floorboards, thinking of some distant memory.
“You’re dead,” she whispered. “You’re gone.” Maddie widened her gaze to see if he was still in the room.
“It’s easier for me to reach you in here,” he said.
“You’re not real!” Maddie shouted. “You left me!”
“I didn’t.” His tone was calm yet filled with sorrow.
“Yes, you did!” Maddie whimpered, stepping closer to the man.
“It was her.” His tone was cold, piercing right through Maddie.
It took her a few moments to understand the weight of those words. “Cass?” Maddie raised her eyebrows in disbelief. She felt her legs become unstable, forcing her to find a seat on the edge of the bed. “You’re saying Cassie pushed you?”
“Why would she do that?”
“You should leave,” he said with a hint of urgency in his voice.
Maddie stared at his light green eyes, as if trying to find the missing answers from there.
“It’s not safe in here,” he said softly, leaning closer to her.
The sound of Maddie’s fluttering heartbeat filled the entire room. Despite the situation, she was enchanted by his presence.
He did not say anything for a while, staring right back into her dark eyes.
“Is that why you didn’t leave a note?” she asked, once again realising what he had told her.
“Madison …” He furrowed his brows. “You need to go.”
“You’re right. I need to tell the police.”
Suddenly, Maddie got up, grabbed her bag, and rushed down the stairs.
She could see the others come back already. But instead of leaving, she froze. Her legs were too heavy for her to lift them.
Cassie yelled from distance, swinging her arms: “Maddie!”
“You shouldn’t have come here,” the green-eyed man said, an edge of pain echoing in his voice.
Maddie looked at him, pouting her mouth slightly.
“You changed your mind!” Cassie’s voice sounded cheerful.
A feeling of certain numbness washed over Maddie’s body. “It was you!” she shouted.
Cassie frowned, stopping only a few meters from Maddie. “You need to get some rest.”
“You pushed him!” Maddie pointed her finger directly at Cassie.
A man standing behind Cassie could not contain his thoughts any longer. “She’s fucking insane!” He stared Maddie with disgust.
But Maddie noticed nothing but Cassie, and her blood-soaked coat.
Cassie tucked a piece of long hair behind her ear. “I tried to stop him! I tried.”
“Tell me the truth!”
“This is the truth!”
“He told me it was you!”
Cassie shook her head out of anger. “He’s dead! And he was a mess because you broke up with him!”
Maddie grimaced her face. “He wouldn’t do it.”
“But he did do it! He’s gone and you need to move on!”
Maddie stared at the ground before her legs could slowly drag her body away from the house.
“Where are you going?” Cassie asked with her body still shaking from the emotions.
The tall man put his hand on Cassie’s shoulder. “Just let her go.”
“What if she does something to herself?”
“It’s not your responsibility.”
Maddie did not hear any of it anymore. Instead, she could feel a thick fog of memories starting to slowly suffocate every part of her brain. Her feet picked up a pace, until she was running.
She passed the woods, almost tripping over fallen branches, until reaching the clearing. Her feet stopped near the edge of a cliff.
She felt the cool wind stroke her fingertips. He was standing right next to her.
“You didn’t want her to tell me,” Maddie released the words into the air, and swallowed loudly. “That it’s my fault.”
“No. She’s lying.” His voice was breaking. “You know me.”
Maddie looked at him. She could see him as clear as ever, standing right there in the sparkle of the moonlight.
They stood in silence. Maddie lowered her gaze once more. And that is when she remembered something.
“Maddie, please step away!” shouted Cassie.
Maddie looked at him, before turning around to see Cassie.
“You said you were trying to stop him,” said Maddie, staring at the dark-haired girl. “But you told everyone you found him the next day, that you had no idea.”
Cassie did not say a word.
“How do you explain that?”
Cassie looked at the woods and back into Maddie’s piercing eyes. “Maddie, you’re not thinking straight!”
“Tell me the truth!” Maddie screamed from the top of her lungs.
Cassie’s eyes filled with tears. “I tried to talk to him.”
“Why did you do it?” Maddie’s eyes were bewildered.
“Stop!” Cassie yelled. “It’s over! Stop it!” She grabbed Maddie by her arms.
It took a blink of an eye.
A figure of a tall man with two other people emerged from the woods.
But Cassie could not let go. And Maddie could not run.
They got too close to the edge of the cliff.
A terrifying scream filled the calm night, piercing through everything and everyone.
Her hands were trying to reach for something, anything. But her body was already moving through the air.
A bone-chilling thud echoed in the wind.
A woman’s fragile body began to stain the rocks underneath her bright red.
“You should have left,” a voice whispered.
With what seemed like a faint smile on her lips, Maddie finally closed her eyes.