I lived in a shitty house off campus. The rent was cheap and deservedly so. I guess it was better than nothing. Better than sharing a dorm. Plus, it was kinda cool to have my own place.

The yard was small and bare except for a lot of big bushes. Tall grass, but shit, I never felt like mowing the lawn… especially in the winter. Scott’s Liquors was also within fifty feet of my one-story/one-bedroom house. The school within walking distance. So yeah, I was set.

There was one more week until Christmas break here at Stanwyck State University. I was cruising along to my English degree at what I considered to be a community college masquerading as a four-year school. I’d already turned in my final papers just a few days ago, so I was done with the semester before most of everybody else. One more year, and I’d be done with the school entirely. And honestly, I was gonna miss the place. Yeah, I was a Stanwyck lifer, but the school was fun. People were nice and friendly. Expectations not too ridiculous. And I had my house. My mom and dad lived in town, but still… it was different having my own shitty home. No matter how bad or drafty or hot or messy it got, it was still Jamal Pleasance’s house. All mine.

On this Wednesday night, I was just chillin at home. I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be. I’d already gotten a couple of thirty-packs over at Scott’s. It was too cold to do much else. Even in South Georgia, the weather could still reach a brutal cold this time of year. Especially considering how close we were to the Flint River.

I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time but had a few close friends. They were fellow losers like me. They did their best to keep me from getting too isolated at the house. I gotta say they made college fun. They made Stanwyck State a blast, man.

We’d been watching YouTube videos on the flatscreen and drinking all night. Like any other night really. The kitchen connected to the living room, making those beer runs all the more easier for us.

All of us were twenty-three, a little older than some of the other students on campus (I would say older than most, but Stanwyck State seemed to exclusively target “non-traditional” students for whatever reason. And I mean “non-traditional” as in they could get pretty fucking old). The three of us were pretty handsome if not the prototype for Stanwyck State’s social hierarchy.

There was me, of course. The neurotic crime writer. Like I said, I made good grades that could’ve been great had I tried more. Needless to say, I wasn’t doing anything extracurricular. I liked watching movies and writing… sure, I’d gotten lucky every now and then meeting girls and having drunken hook-ups. But fuck, I was awkward. A guy like me who wasn’t a smooth talker or excessively handsome had no chance on campus. At least, not at Stanwyck State. So my solace came with my writing. And yeah, hanging out with my two friends.

There was Rashad. He currently sat in the recliner. Stoned and drunk. He was a little better with the girls than I was. I thought the fact he looked like Chris Brown helped. Then again, some girls avoided him like the plague because of it. I guess it was a blessing and a curse. But still much more traditionally sexy than a Childish Gambino-look-alike such as I.

Rashad was a failed-rapper-turned-poet. The boy had serious ambitions. I gotta say he had some cool ideas too… when he was fucking motivated. I think his crazyass spent more time playing video games in my living room then writing lines.

Sitting next to me on the couch was the real weirdo of the bunch: Patrick. He was white but woke. And I mean woke as in John-Brown-woke. The guy’d rant and get angry all the time. I think he hated white people. Either way, Patrick had passion. And he was cool if weird as fuck.

Needless to say, he got laid less than me. Strange considering he was unconventionally handsome. Then again, he was always posting his dick pics on Reddit and showing it to girls on-line all the time. A real exhibitionist. He had some Reddit fame as well for some crazy incident where someone tried to kill him earlier this year. Like I said, a real weirdo. Like me. And to an extent, like Rashad. We were three creative outsiders. I guess you could call us hipsters, but that term almost seems too mainstream for us. I likened us to a geekier Rat Pack better.

Around eight, we got tired of watching music videos and movie countdowns. I could just tell by the way everyone was up in their phones. Rashad was basically on his own recliner island at this point, texting and smoking a j.

I too was on my phone. My sixth Miller Lite of the night in my other hand.

Patrick kept rambling on about classic horror movies. The guy came alive at night like a spastic vampire. I could’ve sworn he’d been drinking coffee rather than cheap beer…

Naturally, I tuned him out. Like Rashad and I always did when we got really drunk. My eyes stayed glued to my phone. Glued to Tinder… yeah, I couldn’t help myself. Male companionship only got me so far. Especially when I was hammered.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Patrick put on Dementia 13. An old classic we’d only seen about fifteen times.

“I had to, bro!” Patrick yelled out, his voice fueled by drunken enthusiasm. He became an overexcited Tarantino when you mixed horror with the booze.

But I wasn’t listening to him. Or watching the opening credits for that matter.

I had my eyes on a girl. After swiping on endless women, I finally had a match. Not just a match, but a local twenty-one-year-old. Who went to Stanwyck State. Fucking jackpot!

Hello, Shannon, I thought. Her profile pic alone captivated me. She had big eyes and a big smile. Her quirkiness intrigued me as well. The quick bio mentioned an interest in music. Her wardrobe and style made that clear enough. She was definitely the punk-rock type. Zoe Kravitz with 80s fashion. I liked it… and this was just off one fucking pic.

Right before I could check out Shannon’s other pics, a hand snatched my shoulder. I leaped back like a jump scare had reached out the screen to grab me.

“Hey, man, you watching it!” Patrick’s overexcited deep-voice asked me.

I yanked my arm back. “Naw, bro, we’ve already seen it!” Annoyed, I turned my focus back to what interested me more than this 1963 movie: Shannon.

“Alright, whatever.” Patrick looked back at the flatscreen. “Your loss.”

I scrolled through the rest of Shannon’s pretty pictures. “We’ve already seen it.”

One of Shannon’s pictures stood out in particular. A Halloween pic of her wearing a mannequin mask. A plastic female mannequin mask. Complete with a distorted smile. In the photo, she wore leggings and a cape. Great body, for sure… but that mask was creepy as fuck. More Marilyn Manson than Kiss.

Amidst the movie’s freaky soundtrack, I heard Rashad’s phone vibrate.

I looked over to see Rashad stare at his phone. His concentration rivaled mine. His fingers typed up a reply in frenetic fashion. Like he was an iPhone slave.

My phone then buzzed. Intrigued, I checked my Tinder.

A December miracle had happened. Something I wasn’t familiar with at all: a girl had sent me the first message. Not just one of those awkward or meek girls on here looking for attention either. I mean motherfucking Shannon had messaged me. Sup, sexy? 😉

I kept my composure as best I could. She had to be a spammer… but what if she wasn’t?

Fueled by lust and curiosity, I sent Shannon a reply: Nothin. Just chillin.

“Y’all making me watch this by myself?” a belligerent Patrick asked.

“You done watched this shit a billion times.” I heard Rashad tell him.

Grinning, I faced Patrick. “Yeah, I like it, but you pick the same shit.”

To my surprise, Patrick was immersed in his phone as well. Dude looked like he was typing up a novel.

Oh well. We were Millennials, after all. Not like I didn’t enjoy their company even when we were just sitting around on our phones.

“It’s still a classic, dude,” Patrick replied while texting.

I smirked at the sight. Rashad was over there doing the same. Such intense texters.

A vibration brought me back to my Tinder crush. Shannon had sent another message: Just checking u out. Nice pics, boo

My smile grew bigger. And from there, Shannon and I continued flirting. And no, she never once asked me for a credit card number or my social security digits.

Addicted to this chat, I lost track of Rashad and Patrick. I heard their phones go off in quick succession over the next few minutes. In addition to the steady rhythm of their typing fingers. All of the noises formed one big technology-driven melody.

And all the while, Coppola’s Dementia 13 kept playing in the background. I glanced up once just in time to see a groundskeeper get decapitated. Still a great sequence. I couldn’t watch for too long though… not with Shannon constantly drawing me back in.

We traded compliments and phone numbers. Shannon told me she thought the campus party scene was pretty lame too. Then she added that might change now that she met me. Okay… I was getting excited.

“Yo, Jamal!” Rashad said.

I looked up from my phone to see Rashad walking up to me.

“Hey, I gotta get going,” Rashad told me.

“This early?” Patrick said.

“Yeah, bro,” Rashad said. He flashed us a beaming smile.

We knew what time it was.

“You got a girl?” I asked him.

Still holding his phone, Patrick leaned in closer like a friend leaning in from the backseat. “Yeah, who is she?”

“I ain’t telling y’all, man!” Rashad told us. His phone erupted with another vibration. With the anticipation of a kid on Christmas morning, he checked the text. “She’s fine as fuck though.”

Like a compulsion, Rashad got to work texting a reply.

Normally, I’d want him here all night… but tonight was gonna be less lonely. At the very least, Shannon was gonna make it less boring.

“Alright, well, be careful,” I said to Rashad.

“Yeah, bro,” Patrick added.

“You sure you can walk straight?” I quipped.

“Yeah, man!” an agitated Rashad responded. As if I was interfering with his concentration on the hook-up.

“She must be at the college,” Patrick said.

“Naw, I ain’t saying,” Rashad said. He sent the text. “I’ll see y’all, man.” He fist bumped each of us before heading toward the front door. “Put on some new Goddamn movies next time too!” he told Patrick.

Chuckling, Patrick held up his hands. “Hey, you can’t go wrong with the classics, bro!”

Rashad laughed. “Find some new classics then!” Right when he opened the door, I heard Rashad’s phone buzz once more.

Like an invading army, cold air swooped in.

Shivering, I looked over to see Rashad responding to another text as he closed the door behind him.

“Maybe she’ll have friends,” Patrick joked. He turned his attention back to his own phone. I’d never seen him this disinterested in watching one of his fav flicks before. Even on his sext-crazed nights. Yet there he was, texting away to somebody, apparently.

My phone vibrated. I looked down to see several of Shannon’s messages awaiting my excited gaze like unopened Christmas gifts. I couldn’t help but smile.

Shannon just kept telling me how hot I was. And how crazy it was she hadn’t seen me around the campus before. I told her I was a bit anti-social… the isolated writer type. I wasn’t exactly ever invited to go out to The Landing or any of the other local bars.

But she didn’t care. She loved horror movies too. And above all, Shannon seemed genuinely interested in me. My talents, my interests. Ditto, I would tell her. I mean shit, she did soundtracks for student films! How sick is that! Of course, we still sexted. And yeah… her body was sweet.

As Dementia 13 reached its wild finale, I noticed Patrick wasn’t saying shit. Hell, I’m not even sure he ever looked up from his phone. He just slouched back on the couch, his green eyes not glued to the flatscreen but to his phone’s screen.

I heard the steady vibrations erupt off his iPhone. And his fingers continued typing. Maybe it was just one of his sexting rampages… or maybe he found a chick too? Was the Rat Pack all gonna get lucky tonight?

For once, I kinda wanted to hear Patrick’s voice just to know he was still alive. “Hey, who you talking to?” I asked.

Patrick smiled at me. “A girl…”

“Whoa…”

“Aw, fuck you, man!” Patrick chuckled.

I gave him a light shove. “Naw, it’s about time you got laid!”

“Ditto, my man!” Patrick polished off his eighth beer in one swig.

What could I say? He was right. We both needed to get some…

I looked back at my phone just in time to see Shannon’s fresh text: I’m coming over 😉 where u at, baby

All kinds of possibilities swirled through my excited mind. I took a sip of my tenth beer. The buzz was hitting me hard. As was the adrenaline rush I got from Shannon.

While I heard Patrick’s frenetic fingers working overtime, I sent Shannon my address. Get here when you can I teased.

She gave me a quick reply: I’m coming over now An emoji blowing a kiss adorned the message.

Holy shit, I thought. This was really happening… even right now, I’m still too embarrassed to tell you the last time I’d gotten laid up to that point.

I finished off my beer. Prepping myself like a football player on Sunday morning, I let out a drunken war cry.

Patrick gave me a weird look. “You alright?”

Alarmed, I looked at my friend. Fuck… what was I gonna do with him?

“What?” Patrick chuckled.

Dramatic music pulled my attention over toward the T.V. Dementia 13‘s end credits stared back at me.

Then Patrick’s loud typing hit me. I looked over to see Patrick send another text. He looked comfy on that couch. And judging by the many empty longnecks resting at his feet, I knew something else: the motherfucker was drunk.

Patrick’s phone vibrated again. I saw his smile get bigger and goofier as he read his latest text.

Damn, Patrick, I thought. I loved having him here ninety-five percent of the time. Especially at night. But this wasn’t one of those lonely nights.

My phone buzzed me back to my tantalizing plans. And there, of course, was another text from Shannon: Otw, sexy. You better be ready. Just me and u

Goddammit, Patrick! Restless, I looked at him.

He was too busy texting to notice my stern stare.

I kept my glare on him for a moment. For what seemed like an eternity.

Oblivious, he finished his novel and sent it.

“Patrick,” I finally said, not even trying to hide my agitation.

With a goofy grin plastered on his face, Patrick looked at me. “Yeah, what’s up?”

I waved at the T.V. By now, the screen was back to YouTube’s homepage. “The movie’s over.”

Patrick glanced at it. “Oh yeah.”

Trying to be the great best friend I usually was, I nodded. “Well, if you don’t mind. I think I might need some alone time-”

Quicker than Sinatra following after a dame, Patrick leaped off the couch. “Oh shit! I gotcha!”

“Yeah,” I said with a smile.

“I’m not trying to cockblock, dude.” Staggering to the door, he knocked over a few of his empty longnecks. “Shit, my bad!”

With drunken clumsiness, he stooped down and started putting the bottles on a coffee table. “Sorry, man…”

“Naw, you’re fine,” I reassured him. I helped him pick up the longnecks. God, he needed the help. His drunken grasp kept dropping almost every bottle.

“Fuck, my bad, bro!” Patrick went on, his voice weak and slow with intoxicated glory.

“I got it.”

Standing back up, Patrick retrieved the car keys from his pocket.

I’m not the biggest fan of “bros before hoes.” But this was one of my best friends. If he was this smashed, I couldn’t let him leave on a suicide mission. Bros before whatever the Hell Shannon was, I figured.

I stood and grabbed Patrick’s shoulder. “Hey, if you wanna just like stay in the bedroom, we’ll figure it out-”

Dismissive, Patrick waved his hands. “Naw, man! I ain’t gonna do that to you!” He took his phone out of his pocket.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, bro, don’t worry about it.”

For once, Patrick broke away from me and stumbled over toward the door. The man was eager to leave… Jesus, I usually could never get him to leave. It was like he co-owned the house without ever paying. Not that I minded since he was my boy. Like a security blanket on those lonely nights when I was here by myself.

I gave Patrick a sly smile. “You got a girl too?”

Chuckling, Patrick stopped at the door and faced me. “Yeah, I-”

His phone vibrated, interrupting him. Full of drunken vigor, he read the text.

“That’s awesome, man!” I said. I patted Patrick on the back.

“Yeah, bro, getting laid,” an enthusiastic Patrick said. He responded to the text message.

Easily, the fastest I’d ever seen him reply to a text. The motherfucker didn’t respond to me for hours sometimes.

“The American Dream,” I said. With that, I opened the door and led Patrick out onto the front porch.

Shivering, I jammed my hands in my jacket pockets. I felt my phone vibrate again. Sorry, Shannon. Bros before Tinder dreamgirls.

“I’ll text you tomorrow,” Patrick told me. He walked down the porch stairs in slow, cautious steps. At least, he wasn’t being too reckless.

“Alright, bro,” I said to him. “Just be careful.”

Stopping a few feet away from me, the confident Patrick faced me. His omnipresent shit-eating grin well on display. “Yeah, man.”

“Call me if you need anything. If you need help, whatever-”

“I gotcha, dude.”

“Alright.” Pulling my jacket in tighter, I gazed around the yard. Yeah, it was a small property… but it was dark. Then again, there wasn’t many street lights out here. And Scott’s Liquors had closed up an hour ago. A couple of my neighbors had their Christmas lights and decorations on. Just a few smiling snowmen and a jolly Saint Nick. But that was about it.

Combined with the desolation, the heavy wind made me feel like I was in a graveyard. Only I wasn’t. I was home.

I heard Patrick get to work on another text. “Damn, it’s cold…” he said.

I grinned at him. “Yeah, well. Be safe, bro.” Eager to escape the freezing weather, I started to head back inside.

“Hey, Jamal!” I heard Patrick’s drunken yell.

Stopping in the doorway, I turned and faced him.

Patrick gave me a sly finger gun gesture. “Good luck, my man!”

I smirked. “You too, bro.”

With that, I went back inside and closed the door. Maybe I was leaving Patrick in the cold, but he had a damn car. And a girl. He’d be just fine. Just like Rashad. And hopefully, just like me.

Inside, the house was quiet. No music or movies were on. No loud drunks were talking or texting. If my yard was a cemetery, this felt like a funeral home. And damn if I didn’t feel like a hermit in here.

I glanced out a living room window and saw Patrick still texting in my yard. Oh well. At least he wouldn’t get a D.U.I. on the front lawn. Nor would he get a texting-while-driving ticket when he wasn’t, you know, driving. Hopefully, his girl would pick his drunkass up.

A ferocious vibration brought me back to the task at hand. Shannon!

She’d sent me several more texts. Shannon said she was running late, but she’d be here. Real soon 😉

My body surging with excitement, I scanned the living room. The place was a fucking mess. Thanks a lot, guys…

In less than ten minutes, I had the room clean. Well, clean enough. The bottles and cans overpopulated the garbage can, a fresh blanket covered my stained couch. I jammed all my stray clothes in the closet. I also dug through my avalanche of hangers to find my best tee-shirt and cargo pants.

Rushing more than a girl on prom night, I changed into this fresh outfit. In a race against time, I put on deodorant. Cologne. Freshened up my hair. I brushed my teeth for good measure. I looked nice. Yeah, I was awkward as shit and an alienated writer, but I could be hot when I tried.

All the while, Shannon kept sending me texts here and there. Last I heard she was a couple of blocks away. I told her I could pick her up, but she said she lived on campus and enjoyed the walk. She was a night owl like me, I suppose. Damn… maybe we really were made for each other?

In the living room, I put on a 2000s indie rock playlist. Something neutral for the Stanwyck State crowd. The Strokes, Foster The People, etc.

Anxious, I went back to our text messages. Me and Shannon’s first conversations. Our love for horror movies. Her interest in my crime stories.

And yeah, okay, I looked at our sexts too. Those big boobs would grab anyone, man. But most of all she just looked natural. Not like a stick figure or fakeass IG model. I mean don’t get me wrong, she looked hot. Just not generic. Like she didn’t give a shit what others thought of her. Average weight, pretty face. Not only was it awesome, but at least it quashed my fears she was a catfishing seventy-year-old woman or scammer.

Before I could go through some of the other pics, a new message from Shannon graced my screen: I’m here

The anticipation overwhelmed me. I trembled like a kid about to get on their first roller coaster.

I looked over at the front door when another vibration drew my attention. Shannon’s latest message: Come outside. Her grinning Bitmoji arrived right after it.

The weather may have been frightful, but Shannon’s cuteness warmed me up enough to face the cold.

I threw on my hoodie and stepped out into the cool December air. The chilling wind battered me like rain. Shivering, I closed the door.

I couldn’t see shit in the darkness. All my neighbors had turned off their lights for the night. Their Christmas lights and decorations were off too… no one left those on all night until well after the semester was over.

Clutching my phone, I could see my breath in the air. It was too cold to even talk.

My hands frozen to my phone, I typed my next text to Shannon at an ultra-slow pace. Where are you?

Eager to meet this mysterious Tinder beauty, I walked into my front yard. Or better yet, I stumbled around in my drunken stupor. I realized I had no chance in this darkness. I turned on my iPhone’s flashlight for help.

Through the small light, I saw nothing on my lawn. Like a cautious explorer, I walked toward the backyard. I took slow, steady steps. I didn’t wanna fall in front of Shannon… if she was even back here.

“Shannon,” I said aloud.

Folding my arms in a weak attempt to stay warm, I sent her another text: Hey, are you out here?

I felt my foot scrunch something in the high grass. A beam of light erupted right beneath me.

Startled, I looked down at a glowing iPhone screen. Only something was covering most of the screen… like water or dirt. What the fuck…

I picked it up, nervous. A thick substance stuck to my hand like paint. Red paint.

To my horror, I saw blood all over the screen. Normally I’d drop it in an instant. But in the cold, the blood felt like water quickly freezing. The iPhone felt glued to my trembling hand.

Not only that but my nervous eyes recognized the iPhone’s home screen. A picture of me and Patrick and Rashad. One of our bromance photos. And one of Patrick’s favs.

Scared, I glanced around the yard but saw nothing. I wiped some of the blood off Patrick’s phone where I saw he had a few notifications. Maybe I was being nosy, but I had to know what happened to my friend. His blood was literally on my hands for God’s sakes.

And there were so many text messages. All to this one girl he’d been talking to.

The messages were filthy. Patrick moved fast. And yes, he’d sent her a collection of his dick pics. As impressive as it was, my eyes gravitated to her sexts as well. They were the same ones I’d gotten from Shannon. There was Shannon’s hot body. Her big boobs.

This girl’s phone number was all too familiar.

The uncomfortable cold I felt turning into discomforting fear, I looked back at my phone. At my cherished contact: Shannon.

My heart sank. My spirit shattered by overwhelming terror. I already knew the answer, but still, I looked back at Patrick’s phone. The phone numbers were identical. Him and Shannon had been talking all night.

Frantic, I scrolled down to the end of their conversation.

Panic collided into my fear.

I read where Patrick had told her my address. He said he might be too drunk to drive.

Then the last text Shannon sent Patrick gave me chills. Even in the cold. I’ll meet you there, boo

My phone buzzed with life, scaring the shit out of me! I jumped back, dropping Patrick’s iPhone.

A new text from Shannon greeted me.

Nervous, I stole another look around the yard. I didn’t see anything. Then again, it was too dark to see much besides the large bushes.

I went to Shannon’s latest text. A video message.

My deep, heavy breathing hit the cold air. Full of dread, I mashed play.

The screen filled with a close-up of Patrick’s horrified face. There he was lying on the ground. A large cut on his head leaking blood.

“No!” I heard him cry out.

Then a frenzy of stabs hit his face. Fast hits. But not fast enough for me to not see that gloved hand holding a long hunting knife.

Filled with sadness and horror, I watched the murder play on.

Blood erupted over the camera. Patrick’s screams and cries became drowned out by all the flowing blood. His face nothing more than flayed flesh.

Redness splashed all across the high grass. My lawn was now red and green for the holidays.

“Patrick,” I said in a terrified whimper. Fuck… I felt tears slide down my face. The tears so painful in the cold.

On the video, the murderer sunk the knife straight into Patrick’s eye. The kill shot.

“Oh God…” I said.

Patrick’s head hit the ground. His face nothing but red slices. The knife handle stuck out of his eyeball like a victory flag.

Saddened, I tried to wipe away the tears. Almost impossible in the cold. Especially when more tears kept pouring from my eyes.

The video ended with the killer turning the camera to face her. And judging by her unique mask, I knew the killer was Shannon. The grinning mannequin mask just looked right into the camera. Like Shannon was singling me out.

And then with the quickness of an apparition, the video ended. I was back in my text messages.

During the torture I felt watching that disturbing video, I hadn’t noticed Shannon’s latest text: Do you see me? Her winking Bitmoji soon followed.

In a panic, I staggered back. Amidst the tears and terror, I felt woozy and disoriented.

Like I hit a pitfall trap, I stumbled into one of the bushes.

Floundering like a helpless animal, I felt all along the shrubbery. Then I made contact with cold skin. Fresh blood. Another bright light erupted near my hand.

Screaming, I leaped off the bush. My horrified eyes stared on at the grisly sight.

Positioned like an art exhibit, Rashad’s corpse was sprawled out on the bush. Deep stab wounds were all over his chest. Ferocious stab wounds. I could see organs peeking out like hidden items in a ripped package. Rashad’s insides were now on the outside.

More tears slid down my face. Deep breaths flowed from my mouth like chimney smoke. I felt even colder. Like the red stains drenching my clothes were starting to give me hypothermia.

Rashad’s phone was still glowing near his dead hand. He had a few missed calls. All of them from a saved contact: Hotass Weird Tinder Girl. I didn’t even have to check the number to know who she was…

My eyes drifted over to one of the other bushes. Patrick’s corpse also sprawled across it. His face hacked beyond belief. In this weather, both he and Rashad would resemble frozen cadavers at some point. Like frozen yard ornaments for my house…

“No!” I yelled. “Oh fuck!”

My phone came to life with another vibration. Terrified, I checked it.

A new message from Shannon: I see u

I heard harsh footsteps stomping the tall grass behind me. Thick drops echoed toward me.

Frightened, I whirled around.

Hurtling out of the darkness like a javelin, the long knife jabbed straight into my abdomen.

Cringing in pain, I cried out. I saw the gloved hand let go of the weapon.

I clutched the knife’s handle and felt all the blood ooze through my fingertips. Like cold spring water, it iced me to the bone.

My heavy breathing intensifying, I fell down to one knee. I looked up in horror.

And there stood Shannon. She wore her Halloween outfit. The leggings, the cape. The mannequin mask’s unforgiving smile.

More blood trickled through my drenched hand. The cold wind and sharp pain paralyzed me to that very spot. I couldn’t move. All I could do was stare at the killer. At her mercy.

Taunting me, Shannon leaned down right in front of me. So close I thought the mask’s plastic mouth was gonna rip out a chunk of my flesh.

Inches away from my lips, she came to a stoic stop.

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even say a word. Or scream.

Shannon lifted up the bottom of the mask.

I looked on at her red lips, shocked.

Then she gave me a tender kiss.

“I’ll see you later, beautiful,” she reassured me in a soft tone. A pretty voice that disguised sadistic pleasure.

A smile crossed her lips. She was just having fun. Just toying with me.

With that, Shannon put the mask back on and stood up like a victorious general.

Still clutching my wound, I yelled out in pain. I wanted to call her a cunt, a bitch, twat. I wanted to call her all of it… but I couldn’t. I quivered in the cold. My drunken state now imbued with the pain of getting fucking stabbed.

Behind uneasy eyes, I watched Shannon reach into her hoodie pocket. My tears weren’t going away. Both my tears of pain and of sadness over seeing what was left of my best friends. My only friends.

With the indifference of a socialite tossing a dollar to a bum, Shannon threw her phone right in front of me.

The off-brand piece of shit splashed through the blood-stained weeds. Like a spotlight, its glowing screen further illuminated my nasty wound.

Shielding my eyes from the bright screen, I turned away and let out a tormented yell.

But when I looked back, Shannon was gone. Like a ghost, she’d vanished into the cold December night.

In a pathetic search, I shined my iPhone all around the yard. I wouldn’t ever find shit. Not at this point. Shannon was long gone. And in her final taunt, she’d left me her fucking burner phone.

Right now, I couldn’t even crawl to warmth. And when I tried, I just fell over like a helpless toddler. Lying in the blood-soaked grass, my frigid fingers moved at a literal glacier pace. But after an eternity, I finally managed to type in 911. I called the police.

Moments later, I was taken to the hospital. Thank God for living in a small town. If the ambulances hadn’t come sooner, I might have died out there with my boys. Then again, maybe I should’ve. Maybe I didn’t deserve to be the lucky one…

The police recovered the burner phone Shannon left on my lawn. No real personal info was on it other than all her texts. Oh yeah, and her Tinder account. Outside of my friends and I, it turned out she’d talked to a shitload of guys on there. Several of them had been murdered over the last few months. And in her phone’s gallery were dozens of pics and videos of her killing each and every one of them. All while wearing that fucking mask. The bitch had been trapping us all along. She was the match from Hell.

Once I recovered in the hospital, I did my best to get back to a normal life. Well, about as normal as I could given the circumstances. I moved out of that house. No way I could stay there. Not with the memories of me, Patrick, and Rashad’s epic nights. I could never look at that small yard the same way either. The high grass and bushes were a graveyard for those memories.

I ended up graduating from Stanwyck State a year later. I’m living with my folks now. Working part-time in a soulless internet job. The large scar forever on my abdomen. The scars of losing my best friends forever lodged deep in my mind.

God knows, I think about our time together every day. And late at night, I cry thinking about my weirdo friends. Everyone else can always re-live those college memories with their old friends and buddies. But I can’t. And I never will.

I plan on moving out soon. I need to move out. Not as a way to escape the pain and memories. That’ll never go away. But just out of fear.

You see, the police never caught Shannon. She’s still out there somewhere. I don’t know. Maybe her name wasn’t even Shannon. Maybe those pictures weren’t even her. Who knows… maybe she’s back on Tinder. Or some other dating app. I try to avoid those things now… and when I do indulge, it’s only when I’m at my loneliest and most vulnerable. But even being as careful as I am, there’s still that lingering fear in the back of my mind.

“I’ll see you later, beautiful.” The sincerity of her soft voice has always stuck with me. Shannon’s gentle, confident voice. Like the call of a psychopathic siren. Rather than a farewell, Shannon’s words felt like a promise. And Shannon seemed like the type who always kept her promise.