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By Chris Bedell
Lexi could’ve killed Georgina.
And she wasn’t being dramatic. Her back hairs couldn’t help rising while she barreled down the street. Because she loved visiting a house across the street from a sanitarium. And her opinion wasn’t because most of the sanitarium’s white exterior was replaced by a penny color due to erosion, or the metal gate creaking while the wind swooshed. Bad things just didn’t happen to Lexi Brady. In fact, she had never even experienced a pet dying—her 15-year-old Yellow Lab still wagged her tail and ran around Lexi’s property as if she were an eight-week-old puppy.
But Lexi couldn’t think about her puppy—regardless of how adorable Sasha might’ve been. She just pulled into Georgina’s driveway, and needed to turn her car off and ring Georgina’s doorbell. Sweat wouldn’t tumble down Lexi’s face from being 20 minutes later from the possibility of Georgina being angry. It wouldn’t. Lexi was privy to how Georgina was always at least ten minutes later to everything. It was just no amount of blinking changed how the sanitarium was still across the street. And if Lexi was inside, then she wouldn’t have to think about the sanitarium. Although Lexi had to be honest with herself. She probably wouldn’t have been so freaked about the sanitarium if her English teacher hadn’t assigned the Joyce Carol Oates story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” for the weekend (which Lexi already finished yesterday during her free period).
So, Lexi took the key out of the ignition, turned the clunky sound of her ignition off, locked her car, and walked up the front steps before ringing the doorbell.
The door opened, and a girl with pastel blue hair stood in front of Lexi.
Georgina giggled. “Did you get lost?”
“Then why are you late?” Georgina asked.
Lexi would let Georgina’s comment slide. One moment of hypocrisy wouldn’t destroy Lexi’s world. It wasn’t like a doctor diagnosed her with cancer.
“I can’t help thinking about how you live across the street from a mental institution,” Lexi said.
“The sanitarium was closed in 1929.”
Lexi shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Not even a billion dollars would make me live in your house.”
Lexi drew in a breath. Her comment might’ve been true, but she couldn’t argue with Georgina. This evening was supposed to Lexi’s reprieve from homework and extra-curricular activities since it was Saturday night. And that meant letting Georgina think she was sorry even though her opinion about the house wouldn’t change. Not even if someone put a gun to her head and made her say living near a mental institution increased property values.
Lexi bit her lip. “It’s nothing personal; you know I value your friendship.”
“I’m just wish you hadn’t dismissed the idea of throwing a party.” Georgina twirled a strand of her hair.
“The SAT’s are in one week.”
“I’m not sure why that’s related to partying tonight. Besides, you’re 17 years old, and deserve fun.”
“I wanted a low-key evening.”
“Whatever you say,” Georgina said.
Lexi rolled her eyes. “Are you going to invite me in?”
Georgina laughed in an even higher pitch, raspy tone. “Sometimes I swear I see people standing by the sanitarium windows.”
Lexi crossed her arms. “How can that be? You said it yourself. The sanitarium has been closed for almost 90 years, which means there’s a good chance that nobody would be alive.”
“That’s my point. Maybe they aren’t alive.”
Lexi snorted, and the noise was pig-like. “Don’t tell me you believe in ghosts?”
“Anything is possible.”
Lexi didn’t bother disapproving. Because she’d given up on grounding Georgina in reality ages ago. Georgina visited a psychic at least once a month no matter how many times Lexi chastised her.
“Anyway, please let me in,” Lexie said.
“I really am sorry about before. I just can’t help my feelings,” Lexi said a few minutes later while her and Georgina sat on the living room couch.
“Just don’t mention the sanitarium part to my father,” Georgina said. “He loves this place.”
“How much did the house cost?” Lexi grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bowl on the mahogany table in front of her and Georgina. A crunching noise echoed while the popcorn’s buttery flavor lingered on her tongue. There was nothing more refreshing to Lexi then a good snack. Popcorn wasn’t only an opportunity to gorge on junk food. Popcorn reminded Lexi of summers before high school. Summers when her mother took her to the movie once again before her mother had a job as president of a hedge fund. And Lexi almost scoffed at the brief moment of nostalgia. Growing up shouldn’t have meant abandoning childhood comforts.
Georgina slurped her cola yet didn’t speak. Then, she grabbed a larger handful of popcorn than Lexi had.
Lexi frowned. “Did you hear my question?”
“I’m sorry. Could you repeat yourself?”
“How much did the house cost?”
Some people might’ve disapproved of Lexi’s question, but those individuals didn’t matter. Boundaries weren’t always necessary. Because Lexi went to the pharmacy last spring, and bought a pregnancy test for Georgina when her “scare” happened. Although Lexi couldn’t believe Georgina never answered the question about how someone spotting her wasn’t an issue. Someone could’ve assumed Lexi had the possible pregnancy debacle, not Georgina, begging the question if Georgina had more sinister intentions for the drugstore errand. Lexi’s lips twitched. No. She couldn’t think harsh thoughts about her friend. For all her faults, Georgina stood by Lexi five years ago when her father’s infidelity became town gossip, and Lexi’s parents almost got divorced.
Georgina shrugged. “Good question; I’m not sure.”
“We should pick a movie to watch,” I said before grabbing the remote control and turning the TV on.
“Lighten up. It’s only a little after eight.”
“I still can’t believe your parents trust you to be home alone for the weekend.”
Lexi’s comment wasn’t bizarre—even if being Georgina’s best friend meant believing the best in her. Georgina was the same girl who ditched on senior skip day the last two years even though she had only been a freshman and sophomore. And her C average couldn’t be forgotten. How her parents didn’t criticize her 2.0 GPA was unfathomable to Lexi. It wasn’t like Georgina could get into an Ivy League with that GPA. Unless the universe granted her a favor, and she aced her SAT’s, wrote a killer college essay next fall, or had a miraculous professional accomplishment. Because Lexi wasn’t stupid. A chance existed that one of those things could happen—albeit a slim chance. Georgina’s 2.0 GPA was proof enough. Every quarter, she was always in danger of failing, yet survived.
“It’s not a big deal, Lexi.” Georgina belched while a drop of cola stuck to her lips. Then, she grabbed a tissue from the Kleenex box, and wiped her mouth.
“Maybe not to you…”
“I’m sure my parents have a high opinion of me.”
“Anyway, let’s hope nobody from the sanitarium visits us.”
Georgina elbowed me. “Why would you say that?”
“I’m making conversation.”
Tree branches outside the living room window shook after a gust of wind howled. In fact, the wind was loud enough to rattle against the house, and make Lexi think someone was talking outside.
Georgina pursed her lips. “I know, but you always complain about the universe being out to get you, yet you have no qualms about putting negativity out in the universe.”
“Now who’s being dramatic?” Lexi asked.
“I’m serious. Don’t mention someone escaping from the mental institution again.”
Lexi almost laughed. Perhaps Georgina’s bravado needed strengthening. Wincing revealed Georgina’s close proximity to the sanitarium might’ve upset her. But maybe, just maybe, Lexi should’ve been more empathetic. She would’ve thrown a tantrum if someone didn’t give her empathy.
“Okay. Okay. Anyway, I’m in the mood for a horror film.” Lexi squinted before pointing at the TV. “Look! It says A Nightmare on Elm Street is playing at 8:30 P.M.”
“Are you kidding?” Georgina asked.
“Nope.” Yeah. Lexi’s opinion wasn’t a mistake. Further morbid thoughts wouldn’t make her mind continue dwelling on the mental institution or the Joyce Carol Oates short story from English class. If anything, she needed something even more demented to distract her. Like when someone had too many problems yet gained comfort from someone else’s turmoil. And that was exactly what A Nightmare on Elm Street would accomplish for Lexi. Because a man with a charred body killing people in their dreams—with his scissor hands—was demented.
“Thank God I’m not your mother.”
“We could watch something on Netflix. Perhaps another re-watch of Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars.”
“We’ve seen those shows a thousand times,” Lexi said.
“Fine. Do you have a suggestion?”
Lexi pouted at her. “Yes. I told you I want to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street—the 2010 version, not the 1980’s version.”
Georgina grimaced. “No thanks. There are enough problems in the world without worrying about a man sneaking into your dreams and murdering you.”
Lexi shifted her weight on the couch, making herself more comfortable. “You know the movie is fiction, right?”
“That’s not my point.”
Something pounded against the front door. But nothing bad had to occur for fear to fill Lexi. She hadn’t expected any visitors; her parents hadn’t texted her SOS or demanded she return home in addition to how Georgina’s doorbell still worked.
Georgina sucked in a breath. “Fine. You win, but just this once. I’m picking the movie or television show next time.”
The knocking sound returned. Except it wasn’t just three knocks this time. It was six. And Lexi and Georgina exchanged a glance.
Georgina forced laughter. “Wow. So, the knock was real?”
“I’m sure the person will leave.”
“You’re right. There’s no reason to answer the front door. Someone could be trying to sell us something. Because how many times can you keep saying no to the same person? Someone knocked on my front door just last week, trying to sell some weight loss powder. I mean, going to a psychic is one thing, yet I’m not going to buy some mysterious powder.”
Amusement would’ve filled Lexi in any other situation. She never once considered Lexi had a boundary between eccentric and too-eccentric behavior. However, Lexi was too preoccupied with hoping the knocking sound wouldn’t return. Because she so wanted her and Georgina to make the evening news.
The knocking resumed, and the person knocked nine times, begging the possibility of the person not taking a hint.
“You don’t think the person needs help, do you?” Lexi asked.
Lexi would’ve been lying she hadn’t mentioned the possibility of somebody needing assistance hadn’t crossed her mind. That would’ve been a reason not to leave Georgina’s front door. Making an excuse for someone (in this case the stranger) was easier than assuming the worst. Being paraded all over the evening news still wasn’t on Lexi’s list of top ten favorite activities.
“The person can call 911 if he or she needs help.” Georgina leaned forward and grabbed another handful of popcorn. “It’s not like someone was shot in front of us and we’re walking away. Plus, your movie is starting soon.”
The knocking returned, except this time the person knocked twelve times, consisting of three knocks in each set.
Georgina exhaled a breath. “We might have to answer the front door.”
“Yeah. I think you’re right.”
“But if the person is a stranger, we aren’t letting them inside in addition to how if the person is a cop, then the individual has had to show us a badge.”
More knocking echoed through the air, and the person banged his or her first against the door sixteen times. Lexi and Georgina rose before walking through the living room and towards the front door.
“Wait! Maybe you can see through the peephole,” Lexi said.
“That’s a great idea, except my front door doesn’t have one.”
Georgina opened the door right as the knocking resumed, and a man with stubble on his cheeks and neck stood before us. He also sported a white gown in addition to how the full moon provided extra lightning, accentuating his gold tooth on the top, right side of his mouth. And Lexi couldn’t forget about the man’s pale skin. Because she never once considered how someone’s skin could be so light. Almost as if the man resembled a ghost.
“It’s a lovely evening tonight,” said the man.
Georgina crossed her arms. “What do you want?”
Go, Georgina. Because Lexi wasn’t an idiot. Not everyone would’ve been so bold. It wasn’t like Georgina was mean. No gash, or wound existed on the man’s forehead, neck, or arms. Besides, the man knocked one too many times.
He winked. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you respect? Because I’ve had a hard-enough life with being put in a wooden cage and being scalded to death.”
“Just tell us what you want,” Georgina said.
The grin on his face expanded. “I was wondering if I could use your telephone.”
“Do you need medical or police assistance?” Georgina demanded.
“Well, not technically,” the man stuttered.
“Then we can’t help you.” Georgina closed the door, yet the man extended his hand, preventing it from shutting.
The man groaned. “Closing the door in someone’s face is rude.”
“I’m sorry, but my mother told me never to talk to strangers,” Georgina said.
“A pretty girl like you shouldn’t listen to your mother. Because I’m sure you can think for yourself,” he said.
Lexi’s gaze narrowed. “Who do you want to call?”
Asking the question wouldn’t make the guy leave any faster, yet Lexi had to ask about who the man wanted to call. Whatever it was, it had to have been important enough to bang on the door so many times that Georgina should’ve called the police. If he told the truth to her a Georgina that was.
Georgina tilted her head. “I’ll be right back, Lexi. But don’t worry; everything will be okay.”
This moment was another time when Lexi could’ve killed Georgina. Because she so needed to Georgina to leave her alone with the man.
The man beamed his eyes. “Nervous about being alone?”
One. Two. Three. Four…Counting to ten, would give Lexi a moment to breathe. Flinching in private was one thing, yet fear was weakness. Because wild animals weren’t the only beings that exploited opportunities to kill.
Footsteps pounded against the ground, growing louder with each passing moment. Georgina now stood next Lexi. But it wasn’t Georgina’s presence that made Lexi sigh in relief. Georgina’s fingers remained on the trigger of a metal handgun.
The man chuckled. “Would you really shoot me? I just want to spend tonight with two pretty girls.”
Georgina screamed. “Leave!”
“Go ahead. Shoot me. I dare you,” the man said.
Sweat dripped down Lexi’s face. Sure. Self-defense might’ve been understandable. Firing a gun would still make for a messy evening, though. Besides, Lexi didn’t even know how Georgina got a gun, and prayed that the gun must’ve belonged to Georgina’s mother or father and had a legitimate permit. Because Lexi couldn’t think of her friend as seedy.
“Don’t tempt me,” Georgina said, her fingers still on the trigger.
“You’ll have to shoot me if you want me gone,” said the man.
Lexi yelled at Georgina. “Just do it already!”
“Fine.” Georgina was about to press the trigger when the man raised his hand.
“Stop,” he said. “I’ve had my fun, but I’m too kind to make you two beautiful girls shoot me. Even if the wound would’ve healed instantly.”
The man became opaque until he vanished from sight.
“I’ve never been more thankful for knowing the combination to my father’s safe because I don’t know what we would’ve done without the gun. Anyway, here’s your tea.” Georgina handed Lexi a mug sometime later while Lexi sat on the living room couch.
“Thanks,” Lexi mumbled.
“So much for thinking A Nightmare on Elm Street would be our biggest problem tonight.” Lexi sipped her tea before putting it on the table.
“I’ll just say it if you won’t. Do you think that man was a ghost from the closed sanitarium? Is that why he hinted shooting him wouldn’t matter?” Georgina asked. “I mean, he mentioned being in a wooden cage and scalded to death, which could be inhumane practices that made the sanitarium close.”
“I don’t know.” Lexi grabbed her iPhone from her pocket and went on Twitter. One of the headlines on her Twitter newsfeed was: REMEBERING THE LAST PATIENT OF THE TOWN’S SANITARIUM, and was from the town newspaper. She clicked on the article and shook her head after reading the piece.
“Something wrong? I mean, besides the obvious.”
Lexi put her iPhone down on the couch. “The man we saw earlier tonight was the last patient from the sanitarium. His death made the sanitarium close ninety years ago. There’s even a picture.”
“What are you saying?”
“We saw a ghost tonight,” Lexi stuttered.