“That’ll be $16.14,” the cashier at the diner told Mike as the cash register flung open with a cling. Mike had briefly met up with Lexi and her mother on their way to the hospital, and agreed to stop by the Crave Inn on the way to pick up some dinner.

Maggie, the cheerful girl of 16 behind the counter, noticed Mike’s varsity jacket and grinned as she waited for Mike to pay the tab. “Hey, aren’t you Mike Clark, the quarterback?”

“Yeah, I am,” Mike exclaimed, digging through his wallet.

“Good luck tonight,” the girl stated. “I hope you really kick their ass!”

“Thanks, uh, Maggie,” Mike smiled, looking at her shiny silver nameplate as he handed her a twenty. “Keep the change.”

“Thank you,” Maggie cheerfully answered. “Have a good day.”

“Oh, you’re welcome,” Mike concluded, turning to head out the door. However, as he did, the door swung open with a loud thud, sending the bell on the back of the door into a frenzy. Standing there exhausted was Quinton.

“Holy shit, Q-dub, what the fuck?” Mike asked, nearly dropping the brown paper bag full of food.

“Clarky, I gotta talk to you,” Quinton panted, terrified.

“What the hell happened to you today?” Mike questioned, clearly noticing a change in him. “Everybody was looking for you at school. You cut class and missed the pep rally. Tash really flipped out when you weren’t there.”

“Listen man, just shut the fuck up for a minute!” Quinton shouted, drawing the attention of everyone else at the diner. Realizing this, Quinton immediately calmed down and caught his breath before speaking again. “Please man, just talk to me.”

The calmer tone really caught Mike’s eye. Quinton never talked like that unless something was wrong, and by the looks of it, something was very wrong.

“Alright,” Mike sighed. “Let’s go talk.”


Meanwhile, at her house on the end of Elm Street, Tash was working on another artistic masterpiece. Coming straight from memory, this one was sure to be A-plus work. She really worked hard on it, and it showed.

Concentrating intently on her easel, Tash used a variety of colors and brushes which were all scattered about in her room. Reds and yellows, small tip and fat tip, she had her bedroom turned into a figurative art studio. Tash’s room reminded her of when she was a little girl. Starting sometime when she was around seven, she used to paint with watercolors to help get through the many arguments her parents had had. She would paint at all hours of the day, even in the middle of the night, unbeknownst to her mother and father, who would be yelling at each other in the very next room. That’s how Tash dealt with things. Painting was her aphrodisiac. It’s what helped her deal with the problems of life. And through it all, she had found her true calling.

Tash had no idea what Quinton was up to, or why he would deliberately distance himself from her, but she knew something was up. In fact, as she ran through her roller coaster of emotions, many questions had arisen. What if Quinton was just being a dick? What if he was cheating on her? What if? What if? was all she could play in her mind. But then again, there was also that chance that something was really wrong, and that scared her. As long as she’d known Quinton, he had never done anything like this before. Ever.

Sighing, Tash set her brushes down and collapsed on her bed in tears. What the hell was going on? she thought, looking back up at her painting. Unlike her last dark painting, there was no main subject in this one. Instead, there was a vast array of reds, both dark and light, spread about on the matte. She herself had no idea what any of it meant, but in addition to the reds, there were many yellows, oranges, and browns, and that’s the scheme that really set out the background for her. It was almost like she was painting a picture of fire, in its purest and hottest form, and that she was inside the fire somehow, looking out.

Glancing toward the center of the painting, a small figure soon began to take shape, almost in 3-D. Curious, she began to focus her eyes on the very dark shape, and could almost make out the familiar subject...

...When her cell phone rang, and Tash sprang awake on her bed. Confused, she looked back into her painting and saw nothing, and picked up her phone on the fourth ring.

“Hello?” Tash answered, collecting her senses.

“Tash,” Lexi stated somberly. “Apryl’s in the hospital. She had an accident at school today.”

“What?” Tash asked, jaw wide in surprise. “Is she okay?”

“The doctors don’t know,” Lexi quivered into the phone. “She supposedly freaked out in algebra class and took off running down the hall, then ran right into Principal Shaye. They were both knocked out, and neither of them have woke up since.”

“Oh my god,” Tash stated. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay? Do you want me to come down there?”

“No, I’m fine,” Lexi responded, lying. “I’ll meet up with you at the game tonight.”

“Girl, why you goin to that game?” Tash asked. “You should stay there with your family.”

“I have to,” Lexi piped back. “If I don’t, I’ll just sit here and go crazy. Besides, it’s a big night for Mike and I want to be there for him too.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come over? I can be there real quick if you need me,” Tash suggested.

“I’m sure,” Lexi assured her. “I’ll have my cell phone on me all night. If anything changes, my mom is going to call, and I’ll leave.”

“Alright then,” Tash sighed. “I’ll see you tonight?”

“Yes,” Lexi said. “Come sit by the 50-yard line if you can. That’s where we’ll be.”

“Got it,” Tash added. “In the meantime, if you need anything, girl, you call me, you hear?”

“I will,” Lexi cheerfully smiled. “Thank you, Tash.”

“You’re welcome,” Tash concluded. “See ya soon.”

“Bye,” Lexi ended, hanging up her cell phone. What the hell am I doing? She thought. Should I really be going to this game? Or should I stay here with Apryl? It was a difficult decision for her. On one hand, her sister was unconscious, but on the other hand, everybody would expect her to be strong, so she should go. Both ideas plagued her mind until she finally decided that Apryl would want her to be at the game cheering her heart out, so that’s where she would be. Smiling a half-smile, Lexi wiped a few tears from her make-up smeared face and headed back to Apryl’s room.

And that’s when she heard the screaming.

Proceed To Chapter 9
Back To The Lair Of Horror