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Sarah inhaled deeply. It was an odd scent, but it was familiar: to her it smelled like home, and after a hectic week, home was where she wanted to be. She dialed her PIN and sighed, hanging up the phone and waiting for the door latch to click open. Attempting to hold onto her keys, purse, and plastic grocery store bag, she pulled the door open and darted inside before it could close on her. Her keys, much to her embarrassment, went skittering across the floor to land at the foot of the front desk. One of the handles of the plastic bag also chose that moment to rip. A jar of peanut butter went rolling in the opposite direction; three cans- two of soup, one of tomato sauce- made lazy circles on the fauxmarble floor of the lobby. Sarah stopped dead. She glared for a minute at the rolling cans, then sat abruptly down in one of the uncomfortable lobby chairs and began to laugh uncontrollably. The attendant, Cat, stifled a laugh of her own and came out from behind the desk, bending to pick up Sarah’s keys. “Come on. Come on, get up. You get those,” she continued, nodding towards the containers still rolling across the floor, “and I’ll handle these, okay?” “Oh, don’t, Cat,” said Sarah, biting her lip. “Sorry, I’ve got it. No, stop—oh, all right.” Cat had knelt next to the broken bag and was putting back the food that hadn’t rolled away. Sarah gave up and went across the room after the peanut butter. When she returned, Cat was deftly knotting the handle of the broken bag back together. She held it open for Sarah to put in the rest of the groceries, then handed it back to her along with her keys. “Thanks,” Sarah told her gratefully. “Sorry. I’m just—I’m tired.” Cat studied the other woman’s expression. “What’s going on?” she asked gently. “You look washed out.” “I feel washed out,” Sarah answered. “I plan on sleeping until at least noon tomorrow.” “No fun weekend plans?” Sarah held up her bag. “Little House On The Prairie tests to grade.” “Ay. Have fun.” Cat turned and headed back towards the desk, and Sarah waved and began walking towards the elevators “Oh, hey!” Cat called, spinning on her heel in the middle of the lobby. “You’ve got a package, Sarah, hold on a sec. No-” Sarah had started towards her from the elevators. “I’ll bring it over there, you stay put.” Sarah lost sight of her as she ducked behind the desk for a moment. Suddenly a hand shot up from behind the counter, holding a brown box, and Cat’s voice called out, “Got it!” She reappeared and jogged over to Sarah, handing the package to her. “Some guy dropped it off earlier- blonde, with a green jacket and sunglasses. Didn’t say a word, but it’s your name on the front. You know him?”
in neat handwriting. Passive voice. it wasn’t very well thought out. and shoes. But they matter quite a lot to us.” she said. her eyes drawing checkmarks with a red pen. Sarah found herself mentally marking up the paper. and most importantly. The “anybody” was underscored heavily. Her name and address were written on a heavy envelope attached to the front. I call dibs if he comes back.do not tell anybody. Sarah peeled it off and slid her finger under the flap of the envelope. jacket. She had to laugh as she read it again. setting the package down on the couch beside her. picking up her purse. The package was wrapped in brown paper. don’t unwrap it. this time more carefully. groceries. all right?” came Cat’s voice as the elevator closed. You don’t know who I am. The elevator dinged. You don’t need to.Sarah shook her head. I want the best for you. “You get some sleep. There was no noise from inside the paper wrapping. “I don’t think so. Sarah had to blink the blurriness from her eyes before she could read it. The envelope contained only a note. The contents of this package won’t matter to you. Cat tsked. Remember this: darkness prowls abroad. and the light is fading? Whatever sort of joke this was. though: I am your friend. “As you value your life” ran through Sarah’s head. She shook out the envelope. looking it over. Upstairs. she took the package and sat down on the couch. Even her fifth-graders wrote better thriller plots than this. She yawned and brought the paper closer to her face. But that can only happen if you follow my instructions precisely. You will be met by an agent who will further inform you of the nature of this mission. and a shiver of dread ran up her spine.as you value your life. and the light is fading.” Sarah laughed at her. Her name and address were written in green ink. Sarah. Knock twice. He was kind of cute. Sarah shoved her door shut with her foot. not wanting to have to get up to turn on a light. and Sarah tucked the package under her arm. putting her purse down to hold up the box. Darkness prowls abroad. “See you.” she called over her shoulder. Sarah . as if to make a point. Choppy sentences. in the third paragraph. in her apartment. All you need to do is this: bring this package to 1137 Hartley at eleven o’clock tonight. Shedding bag. Don’t be late. the tape felt like cloth under Sarah’s fingers. “Too bad. Know this. Cliché. then picked up the package and rattled it.
and paced the kitchen floor as she waited. with the same results. She hung up and dialed again. Sarah was shaking so badly now that she nearly dropped the phone. and she stared at it in horror. downstairs? Your students? Then you must do as I say. wondering how much a bomb weighed. Sarah glanced at the screen. grabbing her cell phone out of her purse. checking her signal level. But something like this last—she hesitated. “No.I didn’t mean to call you. “Sarah? Are you there?” “Yeah…” Sarah forced herself to speak calmly. she put the handset back in its cradle and went into the kitchen. though. Nothing. She shook it. Apparently.dropped the note to cover another yawn. hmm? I don’t get off until midnight. to her. reaching for the cord. The words were written in black. When she got no answer from Sarah. but there’ll probably be somewhere that’s open. Do not tell anybody extended only to the police. and as it fluttered to the couch she caught a glimpse of more writing on the back. Still a dull buzz. “Yeah. like it had been written in a hurry. The front side had seemed fake. then dropped it as she realized what she was thinking. It sat by itself on the couch.” she said. Her hands shaking.” Sarah shut her eyes in relief at the familiar voice. “Sorry. forcing out a laugh. Do you value your life. “Sarah! Change your mind about your weekend. Sarah pulled the phone back. But Cat picked up immediately. staring at it. I. Even though she didn’t believe it. Sarah hesitated. then? You expected someone else to have my phone?” Cat’s voice was teasing and bewildered. Still no ringing. her tone grew serious. She flipped it open. dialing 911 as she went across the room to shut the blinds. what she saw robbed her momentarily of her breath. Suddenly alert. and saw with horror that the whole display was a grey block.” . dialing a third time. or your life and theirs will be forfeit. and I will be powerless to stop what will happen. thought this was a hasty scrawl. in the same hand as the rest.” “Who did you mean to call. Something was wrong here. She heard only a buzz. she jumped off the couch and grabbed for the phone. She picked up the box again. weighing it in her hand. I’m here. your friends? Cat. Cat. She grabbed her home phone again and dialed Cat’s cell number. She flipped the paper over. She put the phone to her ear. expecting the same drone she’d been hearing.
She couldn’t tell Cat.“Are you sure you’re all right?” “Yeah. Quarter to six. She’d have time enough for dinner. After a moment. “Hey. “Sorry.” she lied. Cat?” “Yeah?” Sarah felt suddenly as if she were being watched. I-” She took a deep breath. leave the box. Never mind. Your life and theirs will be forfeit. and then a much-needed nap and a shower before whatever this thing would turn out to be. she added. then rubbed her face with both hands. “Sorry. She wasn’t even sure she knew where Hartley was.” She hung up quickly. She could feel the beginnings of a headache behind her eyes. I’m fine. She’d go early. I just realized I forgot. She glanced at the clock.” she lied again. and then get the hell out of there before anything could happen. There was nothing else she could do.” Cat’s voice sounded confused. She couldn’t do it. Good night. I guess. . “Nothing.” “Mmhm. “I need to run out and pick some stuff up later. she decided. “Bye then.” “Okay.” Sarah panicked.
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