Chapter 6 The Intruder
It was about two p.m. when Alathea unlocked the door of her house. Her stomach shifted uncomfortably as she thought of the unexpected turn of events. She had been approached by an undercover detective, asked questions, and it made her sick to think it was because of Stanley O’Neil. 'You asked for it,' her personal negotiator pointed out. 'You brought a couple of his secrets to light. Now he’s trying to do the same to you.'
“Then he’s making a huge mistake.” She responded out-loud. “Shucks, I really am going crazy.”
The house was too quiet. The only sound to be heard was her own, unsteady breaths. Anxiously, she peeked into the living room, and found a piece of yellow note paper with a message in her sister's delicate handwriting. 'Alathea, I don't know when you'll be coming home. Ron and I went to visit the in-laws. We should be back this evening. I would say join us, but I don't think Harold has forgiven you for finding out about his ex-wife, then talking about it yet. I'll let you know. Love, Sarah.'
The silence unnerved her. She went to the kitchen and grabbed a few snacks and bottled water, then ran upstairs to her room and closed the door behind her.
She sat at her desk which was situated right next to her door and pulled out her art tools and pencils. She closed her eyes and tried to picture the fractals surrounding Tom. It was hilarious how a number of them kept shattering when he opened his mouth. That complete, befuddled expression on his face when she accused him of the lie was priceless. It didn’t match his perfect face, which made it all the more funny. He had such a confident swagger about him that was appealing, but the arrogance and the darkness unnerved her. Something was wrong, though she wasn’t sure if it was with him or if there was a certain situation that was causing the problem. Opening her eyes, she began to draw.
She lost track of time as the images in her mind came out on paper. She tried and failed to stop smiling as she drew his face. She grimaced as she drew the fractals. They were unpleasant, and revealed many things about his character she didn’t like.
It was too bad.
As she soon as she finished, she pushed herself off her chair, dropped to her knees, and withdrew a small chest from under her bed. Inside were a number of similar sketches of the fractals and people she encountered the last few years. Most were rather unpleasant reflections of the human nature, but there were some that never failed to make her smile. Her favorite was the fractals betraying Sarah’s reaction when Ron called her with an invitation to the Florence Hotel on their anniversary. Such floral patterns! Such a rosy blush on her sister’s cheeks! Shaking her head, Alathea added Tom’s portrait to her collection.
A sudden creak resounded from the hallway. She shoved the chest back under her bed, not wanting her siblings to see. After a moment, a little suspicion clawed her mind. Usually Ron and Sarah would be chattering about something, or they would call her to see if she was home. That being said, Ron had the most irritating habit of scaring her out of her wits when he had the chance. There was another loud creak from an old floorboard just outside of her room. Pushing aside the unneeded trepidation inside her flighty heart, she stood and crossed her arms expectantly.
Her door opened.
A hand shrouded in a black, leather glove appeared on the wooden stile, much like a predatory spider creeping on its web. An unbidden shudder slipped down Alathea’s spine, followed a soundless scream as she found herself gazing at the most shocking and inconceivable intruder, a ghoulish man with his head upside down, though firmly set on his shoulders.
Before she could comprehend this horrific oddity, the man raised what appeared to be a bulky flashlight. With one click, he switched it on.
Penetrating, white light that felt like a slap in the face infiltrated the room. She tried to raise her hand to buffer its brightness, but her limbs only twitched in response. A horrible shudder tore through her body, followed by a sensation of senselessness, as if she was hovering in midair. In reality, she was collapsing to the floor.
A low, gutteral chuckle emanated from the intruder as he switched it off. For no apparent reason, Alathea’s body jerked into response. “What the...” the stranger muttered as she struggled to her feet. He turned the light back on, and like before, she experienced the feeling of no longer being in contact with her body. She flopped to the floor a second time.
Though he kept the light on her face, her mental bonds broke just as he kneeled next to her and placed the tip of a black bottle to her mouth. She grabbed it. “No you don’t!” Slurring curses of every kind, he wrestled it out of her grasp. In return, she lunged at him and forced him drop the bottle. She clawed at his head, which she now realized was a rubber mask, and tried to rip it off his face. Calling her a number of horrible names, he slammed her to floor and wrapped his fingers around her throat. She jabbed her knee into his gut with the force her adrenaline surged muscles would muster. He grunted in pain, but did not release his hold. Alathea’s vision tunneled and disappeared, and a moment later, she lost consciousness.
She was not sure how long she was out, but when she woke she was lying awkwardly on her bed, covered in cold sweat. Her door was wide open, and Ron's slightly chubby, cheesy face was peeking in. Black locks that grew past his eyes seemed to augment his roundness, though technically he was only slightly overweight. "Hey there! How's our patient? Sleeping the day away?" He asked jokingly. His grin faltered when he saw her panicked, sickly countenance. "What's the matter?"
“What happened?” She asked hoarsely.
“How long was I...what happened? Did you see him?” She stumbled off her bed.
“The...man! He was right here!”
“What are you talking about?”
“There was a...” She gasped. Hovering in the center of her room was a fractal she never wanted to see. It was similar to one from a laughing teenage boy playing a violent video game, a curvy fractal of fun wrapped in jagged wickedness.
She caught a glimpse of Ron’s irritated and mournful look as she pushed passed him, but she didn’t pay any attention to it. She glanced to her left, to Ron and Sarah's room. The window was open. Without another thought, she marched towards it and leaned far over the windowsill. Dark clouds were beginning to overshadow the sky, creating a gloomy aura. She listened for any stealthy trod, or scuffling among the rough shingles, but she heard nothing but a car driving by on the street below. Undeterred, though still very anxious, she hesitantly lifted her knee to climb up.
"What are you doing?" Ron grabbed her arms and pulled her back.
"There's someone out there!" She slapped his hands off. "There was someone just here!"
"What's going on?" Sarah lumbered into the room.
"Someone broke in." Alathea stated, trying and failing to keep her voice steady. "He was going to kill me!"
"Alathea, calm down!" Sarah stepped forward and placed both her hands on her sister's shoulders. "You're having a panic attack. Breathe!"
"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" Alathea screeched. “THERE IS A MURDERER!”
They stared at her and didn’t respond. She became aware that she was hyperventilating, and would probably black out again within a few minutes. She managed to slow her breathing and ask a little more calmly. “Can we at least just check around the house to make sure?”
"Both the front and the back doors were locked." Ron stated. “It’s highly unlikely anybody would’ve broken in.”
Alathea jerked her thumb towards the window. "The window is open."
He poked his head out. "It would be hard for a person to climb up."
"Let's go outside and look." Sarah said practically.
Ron shook his head. "You two go downstairs and make some tea. I'll go out and look."
"Take a weapon or something!" Alathea cried out.
He gave her an annoyed look as he opened up a drawer from his business desk and pulled out a gun. He loaded it expertly, locked it, then shoved it in his pocket. "I'll yell if there's anything wrong. Stand by." He said it like he was talking about the weather.
Ron came back fifteen minutes later, just as Sarah finished making the three of them chamomile tea. "It’s starting to rain." He muttered. He glanced at Alathea who was lying on the couch, her eyes closed. "Feeling better?" He asked.
She opened her eyes. "Did you find anything?"
He shook his head. "No ladder, and the doors were locked. You were sleeping. I’m pretty sure it was just a dream." He accepted the cup of tea from his wife. "Thanks."
Alathea shook her head. “It wasn’t a dream. There was somebody here, and he was going to kill me.”
Sarah looked at her curiously. “You’re not relying on your fractals, are you?”
“Not just the fractals, no. It really happened. He tried to strangle me.” She paused. “I did see the bloodlust fractal.”
“The bloodlust fractal?”
“Yeah, remember when we were babysitting our neighbor’s kid, and he was playing that stupid video game?”
“Your fractals will probably tell you whatever you want, because they are from your own mind.” Ron said. “They’re just hallucinations.”
“I told you before, I don’t believe that.”
Knowing where this disagreement was going to lead, Sarah changed the topic. “How was your date today?”
“Interesting...not very good. But that’s not important now. There is a murderer on the loose, and he was here. Why do people I’ve never met want to kill me?” She flung her arms out in question and spilled her tea. “Ouch!”
Sarah grabbed a dish towel and some ice. "Not everyone is out to kill you, Alathea.”
“I can name a few.” Ron muttered under his breath.
“Ron!” She snapped.
“Just a fact.” He sipped his tea.
Alathea rolled her eyes. “I think it would be a good idea to call the police.”
“Why? You don’t have any evidence. There’s no dead body. You look perfectly fine.”
“I know what I saw!”
“Did you take your pills?” Sarah asked desperately.
Alathea almost growled her response. “The...don’t...work. I don’t need them.”
“She can’t help it, Sarah.” Ron said knowingly. “If she wants to go down the path of utter madness and denial, who are we stop her?”
“Will you shut up!”
“It’s exactly the way you’re going, Alathea, and the only way you’re going to get better is if you start thinking of things differently. You....”
“Thank you, Doctor, but there is a huge difference between imagination and reality, like you pretending to be a psychiatrist!”
“Oh, stop!” Sarah cut in. “Alathea!”
Muttering unintelligibly, she stood and announced, “I’m going to my room. If I don’t come down, don’t bother me.”