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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?”
You don’t need to. in her apartment. There was no noise from inside the paper wrapping. “You get some sleep. Sarah shoved her door shut with her foot.do not tell anybody. “I don’t think so. He was kind of cute. Darkness prowls abroad. then picked up the package and rattled it. groceries. she took the package and sat down on the couch. The contents of this package won’t matter to you. Cat tsked. Sarah peeled it off and slid her finger under the flap of the envelope. The envelope contained only a note. and Sarah tucked the package under her arm.as you value your life. She yawned and brought the paper closer to her face. all right?” came Cat’s voice as the elevator closed. Remember this: darkness prowls abroad. jacket. Sarah had to blink the blurriness from her eyes before she could read it. Knock twice.Sarah shook her head. setting the package down on the couch beside her. and a shiver of dread ran up her spine. Cliché. Choppy sentences. Don’t be late. though: I am your friend. Passive voice.” Sarah laughed at her. don’t unwrap it. putting her purse down to hold up the box. and shoes. Sarah found herself mentally marking up the paper. it wasn’t very well thought out. the tape felt like cloth under Sarah’s fingers. “Too bad. not wanting to have to get up to turn on a light. “See you. She shook out the envelope. You will be met by an agent who will further inform you of the nature of this mission. this time more carefully. and the light is fading. as if to make a point. and most importantly. “As you value your life” ran through Sarah’s head. in the third paragraph. Sarah .” she said. Her name and address were written in green ink.” she called over her shoulder. All you need to do is this: bring this package to 1137 Hartley at eleven o’clock tonight. But they matter quite a lot to us. in neat handwriting. picking up her purse. Upstairs. The “anybody” was underscored heavily. I want the best for you. She had to laugh as she read it again. looking it over. Her name and address were written on a heavy envelope attached to the front. and the light is fading? Whatever sort of joke this was. I call dibs if he comes back. Even her fifth-graders wrote better thriller plots than this. Shedding bag. The elevator dinged. But that can only happen if you follow my instructions precisely. You don’t know who I am. Know this. her eyes drawing checkmarks with a red pen. The package was wrapped in brown paper. Sarah.
and paced the kitchen floor as she waited. grabbing her cell phone out of her purse. She picked up the box again.” Sarah shut her eyes in relief at the familiar voice. She flipped it open.I didn’t mean to call you. and as it fluttered to the couch she caught a glimpse of more writing on the back. Her hands shaking. thought this was a hasty scrawl. I. Sarah glanced at the screen. Sarah was shaking so badly now that she nearly dropped the phone. Do you value your life. her tone grew serious. Still no ringing. The words were written in black. Something was wrong here.” . and she stared at it in horror. though. It sat by itself on the couch. like it had been written in a hurry. with the same results. or your life and theirs will be forfeit. “Sarah? Are you there?” “Yeah…” Sarah forced herself to speak calmly. Even though she didn’t believe it. She flipped the paper over. forcing out a laugh. reaching for the cord. staring at it. “Sarah! Change your mind about your weekend. Sarah hesitated. your friends? Cat. Cat. Do not tell anybody extended only to the police. she jumped off the couch and grabbed for the phone.” she said.” “Who did you mean to call. Suddenly alert. But something like this last—she hesitated. Still a dull buzz. Nothing. dialing 911 as she went across the room to shut the blinds. “Sorry. and saw with horror that the whole display was a grey block. “Yeah.dropped the note to cover another yawn. Sarah pulled the phone back. Apparently. she put the handset back in its cradle and went into the kitchen. weighing it in her hand. to her. “No. then? You expected someone else to have my phone?” Cat’s voice was teasing and bewildered. and I will be powerless to stop what will happen. The front side had seemed fake. When she got no answer from Sarah. dialing a third time. She shook it. She put the phone to her ear. expecting the same drone she’d been hearing. hmm? I don’t get off until midnight. She grabbed her home phone again and dialed Cat’s cell number. but there’ll probably be somewhere that’s open. wondering how much a bomb weighed. in the same hand as the rest. She hung up and dialed again. what she saw robbed her momentarily of her breath. downstairs? Your students? Then you must do as I say. checking her signal level. I’m here. then dropped it as she realized what she was thinking. She heard only a buzz. But Cat picked up immediately.
“Nothing. She’d go early. and then a much-needed nap and a shower before whatever this thing would turn out to be. then rubbed her face with both hands. There was nothing else she could do.” Cat’s voice sounded confused. I just realized I forgot. I-” She took a deep breath. . Never mind. “Sorry. Your life and theirs will be forfeit. leave the box. “I need to run out and pick some stuff up later. Cat?” “Yeah?” Sarah felt suddenly as if she were being watched.” Sarah panicked. “Bye then. She couldn’t do it. She could feel the beginnings of a headache behind her eyes. and then get the hell out of there before anything could happen. She couldn’t tell Cat. Quarter to six.” she lied again. I’m fine. “Sorry. “Hey.“Are you sure you’re all right?” “Yeah. She wasn’t even sure she knew where Hartley was.” “Mmhm. After a moment. She glanced at the clock. she added.” she lied.” “Okay. She’d have time enough for dinner. Good night.” She hung up quickly. I guess. she decided.
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