“That’s what everyone says. You hid from what you did. So did I. Up until that call that afternoon. I couldn’t hide anymore.”
I shuddered as he reached up, pulling the mask on over his head, shielding his face. Every living breathing nightmare roared to life before me. White face. Dark empty eyes. Wide, red grotesque smile.
“All of you went about your lives,” he said, his voice different behind the mask. Deeper. Scarier. “Almost all of you.”
“I don’t understand.” My hands were starting to go numb. “You waited four years to do what? Take revenge for Penn? You didn’t even know him.”
“It’s not for Penn.” He came around the side of the door, inching closer. My muscles tensed as I drew back. “It’s never been for him.”
“What?” I couldn’t take my eyes away from the mask.
His head tilted to the side, so eerily familiar. “I’ve got to clean this mess up.”
“Oh my God,” I whispered. He was more than just crazy. He’d taken a trip into insanity land and there was no coming back. “How did you pass the psych exams to become an officer?”
He reacted so fast that I barely saw him move. His fist snapped out, catching me along the temple, knocking me over. I landed cheek first against the soiled sheets, pain radiating across my face and down my throat.
“Does that answer your question?” he asked, straightening.
Blood leaked out of my mouth as I squeezed my eyes shut. My head swam like I’d been dunked underwater.
“Too bad I don’t have as much time to spend with you as I did the others.” His hand smoothed down my arm, forcing my eyes wide. He pulled back, slipping gloves on. ‘“I wanted them to experience what he did.”
“You want all of us . . . to die.”
“Something like that.” He gripped my arm, dragging me across the bed. “It’s necessary at this point.”
I kicked out, but he caught my leg with his other hand. He yanked hard, dragging me right off the bed. My back hit the floor, knocking the air out of me. Stunned, I stared up at him as he towered over me, the horrible clown mask in my face. I knew I was covered in bruises, but it’s not like that was going to matter by the end of the night.
I knew he was going to kill me. There would be no weeks of me being missing and experiencing God knows what at his hands. But through the pain and the fear, I knew I had to keep him talking if I had any hope of figuring a way out of this, because I didn’t want to die, not like this, in a house that once held good memories but had been perverted into madness.
He placed me on my feet, keeping a hand on me as he turned to the closet door. Sore muscles in my back tensed as he opened it. My gaze tracked up to the bar that had been readjusted higher—too high for someone to reach on their own—and stopped on the belt hanging from it.
Oh God, my legs shook. My memory flashed back to the tree outside of Jensen’s house, to the two legs swaying back and forth. Was he going to make me hang myself?
Shaw guided me forward, but I couldn’t go in there. There was no way in hell. “Why Linds?” I asked, trying to stall.
“She got in the way.” The pressure on my back increased, tipping me forward. “So, in a way, that’s your fault.”
That didn’t hurt like he intended it to. What happened to Linds wasn’t my fault. It was Shaw’s fault. But panic was clawing at me. Every part of my body shook. He reached for the belt.
“Wait!” I shouted.
“Why . . . why the mask?”
For a moment, I imagined he was smiling behind the mask. “I was scared of clowns as a kid.”
Whoa. That just took this to a whole new level of crazy. “You’re a killer.”
“I didn’t kill them. I’m not a murderer.”
I gaped at him.
“They put the rope around their necks. Not me,” he explained, and a new kind of horror surfaced. “They made that choice. Just like you will.”
My gaze bounced to the thick belt. “They . . . you made them hang themselves?”
“After a while, they begged for it.”
The smugness in his voice made my skin crawl. From what I’d known, the bodies had borne marks of torture, and while I’d known how Brock had died, now I knew how the rest had. The things he had to have done to them to make them cave would haunt me.
Another well placed shove had me stumbling forward. I was almost in the closet when I turned toward Shaw. Suddenly, I thought of all those afternoons spent with Jensen. I’d taken those classes to defend myself and, dammit, I was not going to go down without a fight.
And I sure as hell wasn’t letting him put that belt around my neck.
Like Jensen had instructed the first time we practiced together, I pretended to be weak. I swayed on my feet, and the hand on my back moved to grab for my arm, but in those tiny seconds, I brought my leg up and slammed my heel into his foot. I knew it wasn’t pain that caused him to jerk back. It was surprise, but that was enough.
Using everything in me, I brought my knee up, connecting with his groin. It wasn’t the first time I got him there, but hopefully, it would be the last.
Shaw doubled over, gasping for air.
I spun around, practically leaping forward. Throwing the door open with my elbow, I pushed through and hit the hallway running.
The sound of his voice was too close, and a second later, his body connected with mine. My waist hit the banister and I doubled over. The railing shuddered under my weight. Wood creaked and groaned, and my heart dropped into my stomach. It was going to give, and I would fall to the foyer below.
Shaw grabbed ahold of my arm and I twisted violently, slamming my shoulder into his chest. He rocked into the banister, and this time wood splintered. The cracking reverberated through the house. Half of the railing snapped, falling down to the foyer below. It landed with a heavy, broken thud.
His hand grasped my arm, but I kept pulling until his hold slipped. He teetered on the edge, his arms out wide and that damn mask . . . the smiling clown face. He reached for me as he started to tip backward. His fingers grazed my arm.
A heartbeat passed and my eyes locked with the dark holes.
“You think this is over?” he asked.
I stepped back out of his reach. “Yes.”
And he . . . he went right over, disappearing into the darkness that seemed to reach up, wrap its arms around him, and pull him down.
A thick, wet thud echoed in the otherwise silent house.
Breathing heavy, I crept toward the edge, twisting my wrists in the handcuffs, and peered down below. In the sliver of moonlight slicing across the floor, I saw Shaw. He lay with one leg twisted under him, his neck resting at an unnatural angle. The clown mask was still secured on his face, smiling up at me.
He didn’t move again.
Everything was a blur as I climbed down the dusty stairs, careful not to misstep and lose my balance. Without my hands to break my fall, I’d be on that floor like Shaw.
I didn’t want to look at him, but I had to as I reached the landing. Moving slowly to his side, I stood and waited, watching his chest. Minutes had to have passed, and when I didn’t see it move, I let out a ragged breath of relief.
As I backed away, I kept an eye on him anyway. All I could think about was all those horror films where the bad guy seemed to come back to life. But Shaw didn’t get up. With the exception of my footsteps and the distant scurry of mice, the house was silent.
Running out of the house and to a neighbor’s zapped me of all my strength. The adrenaline faded once I convinced them I wasn’t an escaped criminal. While I waited for the police, sitting on the couch inside an older couple’s house, all the aches and pains started to blossom across my body. The only part of me that didn’t hurt was my hands, but I couldn’t feel them anyway.
“Would you . . . like something to drink?” the older woman asked.
I huddled down under the blanket she’d draped over my shoulders. “No . . . no, thank you.”
Things were a heady mess after that.
The police showed up. I gave my statement as they found keys to unlock the cuffs. My wrists were bleeding and rubbed raw, but I hadn’t even noticed. I told them about Shaw and some officers disappeared back out the front door. Trooper Ritter showed up, and there were EMTs. When one of them helped me stand up, my legs gave out and the world went fuzzy.