Part 0, Day 0
“Hello Nick, you're here for Meril?”
“Yes, Ms Collins. Is she ready yet?”
“Hang on, I'll ask her. Why don't you come inside in the mean time?”
Nick smiles and nods at Ms. Collins as he enters the hallway while she closes the door behind him. It's pleasantly cool inside the house. Now that summer has well and truly arrived shade is becoming a precious and most welcome commodity.
The hallway itself is much like the outside of the house simple in its looks, with large white surfaces and few decorations. As Ms. Collins, a still attractive-looking woman despite being well in her forties, excuses herself and ascends the stairs to the second floor to tell Meril that he has arrived, Nick can't help but glance over at the only major decoration in the hallway. It's a large, wood-framed mirror on the wall, which he uses to check his appearance yet again. Before leaving home he looked fine, but he sure doesn't want to have Meril tease him the rest of the day because of a rogue strand of hair or such a silly thing.
His thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a young woman's voice exclaiming his name.
“Nick! There you are!”
Before he has time to turn towards the stairs and focus on the owner of the voice, he hears quick footsteps on the stairs before slender arms embrace his body.
“Why, hello there.” He smiles at Meril who is beaming at him. It still makes him feel very happy to see her like this as he remembers the shy girl of about a year ago who didn't want others to see her eyes and rarely talked with others.
Gently holding her by the shoulders, Nick pushes Meril away from him so that he can take a look at her. She is wearing a white summer dress, not too short or her mother would complain, and stylish but not too revealing. Her medium-length dark hair loosely frames her face. He nods approvingly.
“You're ready to leave?” He asks her.
“You bet I am, I have wanted to watch that movie for weeks now! I hope the others are on time too...”
Smiling again, Nick assures her that it will be fine and that else they'll watch the movie without the others. Smiling back at him, Meril nods.
“Now don't stay too long, Meril. Don't forget that you have school tomorrow.” Ms. Collins says as she makes her way down the stairs. An amused smile plays around her mouth.
“Of course not, mother. You know that Nick will never let that happen to me.” Meril replies, smiling while managing to sound like she's pouting.
They soon arrive safely at the cinema where Nick parks his car. Or well, his father's car, but who was willing to lend his car for the occasion. To Meril's relief they're well on time. As she scans the crowd to find her friends while they make their way towards the entrance it doesn't take long before they find their friends waiting just inside the building.
Sarah is the first to spot the two of them and waves back as she nudges Tom and Jake who are seemingly engrossed in a lively discussion. By the time Nick and Meril reach the three friends Tom and Jake have noticed them too and greet them with their usual enthusiasm.
“Hello Lady Meril, I'm delighted to see that you could make it.” Tom says, while flourishing his imaginary hat.
“Why thank you, Tom. I'm delighted to see that you guys made it as well.” Meril responds, responding to Tom's flourish with a curtsy as Jake tips an imaginary hat and nods at her.
“M'Lady.” He says, which sends Meril into a fit of giggling.
“So, Sarah, do you reckon these two little boys are all prepared to watch this movie? I hope they didn't miss their nap this afternoon.” Nick addresses Sarah.
Sarah grins broadly: “No problems, they're as prepared as they'll ever be.” She assures him.
“Shall we go and head in, then?” Tom asks. “It won't be long before the movie starts.”
The others agree and together they walk further into the cinema. First they pick up something to drink and snack on during the movie, then walk on the plush red carpet to their seats. After having their tickets verified at the door Jake dashes up the stairs which run up alongside the rows of seats to arrive first at the row where the five of them will be seated. Looking back at the others who are making their way up the stairs significantly less speedy, his smug grin turns into a bit of a pout when his apparent victory doesn't get acknowledged. Sarah and Meril are busy talking to each other, and apparently Tom and Nick as well.
“Seats eleven through fifteen are ours on this row.” Tom says.
“No fighting about who is going to seat where now, children.” Sarah says, with a semi-serious expression on her face. “That includes you, Jake.” She says, as she ruffles his short hair.
“Why you...” Jake starts, then lurches towards her and tickles her sides until she has to bat him away after which she has to regain her breath.
“Hush, children, and take your seats.” Nick says warningly. As the others look up at his suddenly so serious voice and note his broad grin, the impression of them looking up at their dad is so strong that they all end up choking on laughter before they shuffle down the row towards their seats. Fits of giggling persist until the very beginning of the movie. Some elbowing and muffled giggling later all is quiet and the movie's intro starts in earnest.
Two hours later they're making their way out of the cinema. Outside the sun is already lowering in the sky, giving everything a warm golden glow. A slight breeze is picking up, making it very pleasant to hang around outside for a while. As they do so they discuss the movie they just watched. They all agree that for a fantasy-style movie it wasn't bad at all, even if it was rather cliché at some points.
“Was it what you expected of it, Meril?” Sarah asks.
Meril thinks for a moment before responding: “Yeah, I think it was. I knew they wouldn't follow the book to the letter, but they did a good job of converting it, I suppose.”
“Oh?” Sarah looks questioningly at Meril. “Wasn't it you who convinced us all that we absolutely had to go see this movie because it was going to be the best movie ever? What happened to that?” Meril ever so slightly blushes while she fidgets with her dress.
“I don't think it's a bad movie, I really liked it. It's just...”
“That you are as critical as ever. One of your many charms.” Jake interjects.
“Are you okay with Jake stealing away your girlfriend, Nick?” Tom asks, with a big grin on his face.
Nick gently punches Tom against his shoulder while pretending to glare threateningly at Jake.
“If the boys are quite done playing, I'd like to go home.” Sarah says. “I promised my father I'd help him with one of his projects.”
Meril quickly looks at her watch before saying: “I should be going home soon if I want to arrive in time for dinner.”
“Alright, we'll see each other at school tomorrow, then. Sarah, make sure you keep the boys safe.”
“Yes, Sir.” Sarah says as she salutes at him.
“Very cute. Now take care.” Nick smiles in an amused fashion before he and Meril start making their way towards the parking lot.
Before they have taken more than a dozen steps a sudden scream stops them in their tracks and they turn around towards the direction of the scream. Sarah and the others also heard it and are looking at a woman who stands some distance away, clutching her handbag. She is looking at a nearby man as though she's looking at a dangerous viper which is ready to strike.
In just that short glance Nick notices the predatory stance of the man, and can imagine the dangerous gleam in his eyes akin to that of a predator ready to take down a fat prey animal. Then the man steps forward towards the woman while seemingly unaware of anything else in his environment. The woman screams again and turns in order to run away, but the heels she's wearing cause her to trip and fall. Within seconds the man is on top of her, his hands going every which way over her body as her screams reach a piercing crescendo.
It's that first piercing scream which seems to draw the onlookers out of their state of frozen disbelief and pushes them into action. Within moments Nick, Sarah, Jake, Tom and various other people have come to the woman's aid and pull the man off her. While Nick and Tom together with a few other strong men hold down the man who keeps fighting back as though possessed, Sarah, Jake and others help the poor woman up into a sitting position and try to comfort her.
The woman clutches at her blouse which has been torn half-open by the violence to reveal a white lace bra and a creamy expanse of bosom. Jake swallows and tries to look away as Sarah and another woman help put her clothes back into something more decent before someone rushes over with a blanket he fetched from somewhere and she is wrapped into it. She draws the blanket tightly around her as sobs course through her body.
Sarah allows the woman to rest against her until she begins to calm down. Despite the calming words by her and others she seems to have gone into shock.
“Will... will she be okay?” Jake asks, feeling rather helpless in this situation.
Sarah looks down at the adult woman, quite a few years older than she is, and notices that despite the red, puffy eyes and runny nose she is really quite pretty. It was quite clear what the man's intentions were. Part of her mind wonders whether she would be in the same state if such a thing happened to her. Pushing that uncomfortable thought away she tries to sound self-assured when she responds that the woman will be fine.
“She just got a big shock, that is all. With some rest she should be fine. More importantly, how is that guy doing?” Sarah asks, as she looks over at where the other group is alternating between people to hold down the attacker.
“They are holding him down, but I am not sure what is wrong with the guy.... I hope the police comes soon.” Jake responds, still feeling uncertain about the situation.
“I heard some say that he escaped from a mental hospital. Wouldn't surprise me. I have never seen anyone be so... savage and uncontrolled.” A woman sitting near Sarah on the ground says.
Sarah nods, feeling numb as the reality of this situation still seems to elude her. So far she's quite content with leaving this feeling persist that everything right now is a mere dream. Or nightmare.
Nick stretches his back and shoulders. Despite being in a good physical condition, holding down that attacker with the help of a few others was a huge struggle. He never knew that a single man could put up such a fight. When he grabbed the man's shoulder to pull him off the poor woman, it felt like trying to pull a mass of concrete using his bare hands. Concrete that had been poured over with gasoline and lit on fire, that is. The man's skin had felt feverish to the touch, almost burning.
Even after that the man didn't relent, but kept fighting like a trapped tiger. Nick gingerly touches a few bruises on his torso where the man's punches had made contact. He'd be paying for his heroic – or foolish – actions tomorrow and probably for a few days after that.
Focusing on the struggling men in front of him on the ground he can tell that the attacker is finally tiring, though the mad glint remains in his eyes. The six men holding him down, four at each limb, two for his torso, are having a markedly easier time than he had moments before. Walking over to one of the other men who were first to manhandle the attacker onto the ground, he raises his hand in a tired greeting gesture, which the other, an older man in his early forties but still with the build of someone who likes to exercise, responds to with a friendly nod.
“I assume that the police has been notified already?” Nick asks, to which the other nods in confirmation.
“Right away when it started happening. Some people with cellphones all asked for police assistance. It shouldn't be long now.” The man answers, before extending his hand. “The name is John. John Baeric.”
“Nick Kimly.” Nick responds, as he returns the man's strong handshake.
Looking around, he spots Tom nearby and motions him over. Tom, too, looks worn after the earlier experience.
“Tom, meet John. John, this is Tom.” Nick introduces the two to each other. “If you'll excuse me, I have to see how my girlfriend is doing now. Tom, I'll talk to you in a moment, okay?”
Tom nods before turning towards John. Sharing experiences after such a traumatic event is a good thing, Nick thinks to himself as he scours the crowd for a sign of Meril. After a moment of panic when he can't see her and his imagination conjures up her getting kidnapped by another one of those crazy men, he finally spots the black hair above the white dress. Meril is standing off to the side, clear off the crowd and looking extremely lost. Nick feels his heart breaking as he looks at her face. Of all the things he would have wanted to save her from witnessing... no time to think about that now.
As Meril spots him coming towards her it's as though she is a shipwrecked sailor who finally spots land after drifting on the ocean for days. Walking somewhat uncertain on her sandals she extends her arms towards him when he's close. Closing his arms around her body in an embrace she embraces him back so strongly that he imagines he can feel his ribs crack. With a grimace he ignores the pain from the bruises.
Softly stroking Meril's hair, she buries her face into his chest and starts crying uncontrollably. Nick doesn't say anything as he continues to stroke her soft hair and looks across the crowd to where Sarah and Jake are still sitting with the woman who was attacked. In the distance he can hear police sirens rapidly coming closer. He finds himself wondering how much time truly has passed since that first scream.
Sarah tries to focus on the woman's condition just in case she needs more help or gets a panic attack. Of the others who assisted earlier some have left by now. With the situation relatively under control she doesn't blame them. If she hadn't taken charge of this woman she might have left already as well. Looking over at Jake, she notes him staring off into the distance.
“Are you okay, Jake? You seem a bit out of it.” She asks him, trying to keep the worry out of her voice.
At first Jake doesn't respond, then he suddenly seems to snap out of it and looks at her.
“W... what? Oh, I'm fine, just... you know.” Jake says, to which Sarah nods sympathetically.
“Maybe you could go over to where Tom is? You guys might want to catch up on things.” Sarah suggests, to which Jake nods. As he gets up and walks over to where Tom is talking with a man Sarah follows him for a moment until her gaze falls upon the still struggling figure of the attacker. She decides that some things simply can not be understood.
The woman is still sobbing a little bit as she leans against Sarah's chest, though she seems to be calming down now. As Sarah brushes the hair out of her face again, the woman pushes her head against Sarah's hand. Momentarily surprised at this sudden response from someone who until a moment ago had been completely passive, Sarah responds by stroking the side of the woman's face with the backs of her fingers and telling her that she's safe now. After a few moments the woman sighs deeply, to then stop sobbing. As the last tears find their way down her face, onto the blanket, her breathing has slowed down to a slow, regular tempo.
Sarah smiles at the others who are still gathered around. They all share a few big sighs of relief, followed by more when they hear police sirens approaching in the distance.
“Does anyone have something to drink? I think she may be thirsty now.” Sarah asks the others.
One of the women fumbles for a moment in a nearby bag and extracts a carton of fruit juice. After putting the attached straw into the carton she hands it to Sarah who thanks her. The woman leaning against Sarah still has her eyes closed and her breathing is so shallow that it almost seems like she's asleep.
“Would you like something to drink?” Sarah asks her, gently nudging her shoulder. Upon hearing her voice, the woman's eyes pop open and she slowly focuses on the carton held in front of her. “Ye... yes, I would like to drink something.” She croaks, before extending a well-manicured hand out from underneath the blanket towards the carton before giving up on trying to grasp it due to her hand shaking too badly. Sarah moves the carton's straw to within reach of her mouth, after which she greedily starts sucking on it.
“Slowly now, or you'll choke yourself.” The woman who handed Sarah the carton earlier warns.
Drinking more slowly, it doesn't take long before the woman has emptied the carton and sinks back against Sarah with a relieved sigh. Only then does she seem to become aware of her situation.
“I... what happened? That man... I...” She stumbles over her words.
“You're all safe now. That horrible man has been dealt with. The police are on their way. Everything is fine now.” The woman of the carton says. “My name is Kathlyn, by the way. What is yours?”
“I'm Marie.” The woman says, still shaky. “Marie Eshlin.”
“Hello Marie,” Sarah says, “My name is Sarah. Just take it easy right now. Everything is alright.”
“I hope I'm not too heavy... how long was I... out?” Marie asks, upon which Sarah smiles.
“No, not heavy at all. It's only been a few minutes. Look, there's the police already.”
After the police arrives the usual procedure starts. Secure the suspect, keep the crowds at bay, ensure the victims are safe and out of danger. Shortly after the arrival of the police an ambulance also arrives with the paramedics taking care of Marie.
As Marie is helped up on her feet Sarah supports her together with Kathlyn.
“Thanks so much, both of you... and everyone else. I don't know what would...” Marie swallows heavily.
“It's alright, Marie. You just take care of yourself, okay?” Kathlyn says.
“Take care now.” Sarah says and gives her a gentle hug before two paramedics take her to the back of the ambulance. Marie looks back once more and Kathlyn and Sarah wave at her whilst smiling. Then it's all suddenly over.
Looking at the police cars except for one and the ambulance leaving with two police officers remaining to gather evidence, Sarah turns towards Kathlyn who looks back at her. Kathlyn is also a few years older than Sarah. Maybe later thirties. She has a very nice open face and warm smile, though.
“Thank you for everything, Kathlyn. If you and the others hadn't been there, I'm not sure I could have managed it.” Sarah says, her voice trembling with sudden emotion.
“You did just fine, Sarah. I saw how you acted right at the beginning. You were absolutely wonderful. If I ever get into trouble, I'd want you to be there. That's for sure.” Kathlyn says, smiling warmly at her. Suddenly Sarah feels hot tears in the corners of her eyes.
“Thank you.” She manages to say, before the older woman embraces her and Sarah lets out all of the shock and pain of the past event.
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