Part One of Three
Written By: Anthony J. McGirr Copyright 2013 Kindle Edition


Little Abigail Miller was only seven years of age when she was on her own for the first time. She reached up with the collar of her shirt to wipe the sweat off her brow as she watched the heat lightning spark silently above in the Houston sky. The mid-August air was so sultry she was convinced she was about to boil right out of her skin. It was Abby's first night alone, and she was terrified without the care of her parents. They were abusive and neglectful, but at least she had a safe bedroom for hiding in and she was fed when she got hungry. In her haste to escape, she didn't really take the time to think it through and left without food or water, stuffing only several changes of clothes and her teddy bear, Charles into her backpack. Even if she wanted to, it was now too late to go back. Her life as she knew it was over, not to mention the fact that she had no idea how she got to the bus station in the first place. She only remembered walking aimlessly through the maze of massive skyscrapers with no mission or goal until she happened upon a sign pointing the way. Bus Station: ½ Mile Abby was ignorant to the real world and what it took to survive on her own, but what she knew without a doubt was that buses took you places and in her mind, this was her ticket out. Invigorated with new hope, the little girl made it to the station, only to find it closed and abandoned for the night. The parking lot was empty and it gave her the creeps. Not far off, a loud noise startled Abby enough to make her jump. It sounded much like a car backfiring or even worse, a gun being fired. She couldn't tell. She gripped onto her backpack and held it across her chest, squeezing tight, as if her life counted on it. She didn't feel safe here, sitting on a bench in an abandoned parking lot, far from the warm comfort of her own bed. Danger wasn't too far away in any direction. Just when Abby thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. To her right appeared a man from the shadows of the freeway overpass. He whistled joyfully as he made his way in her direction, a noticeable limp with each step he took with his left leg. He was a black man, wearing a tattered gray suit and holding a plastic grocery bag at his side. He was an older gentleman, sporting patches of hair that were as gray and worn as his suit. “Well, well, well!” he said as he approached. Abby tried to make herself as tiny and invisible as possible, but it was too late. He already spotted her and let out a heavy sigh as he sat on the bench next to her. The man was sweating profusely, the sweat streaking down his face and soaking the collar of his shirt. He smiled at the girl, revealing a few crooked and missing teeth. But there was something about that smile that calmed her. “My name is Benjamin. I was sitting over there under the overpass and I couldn't help but notice you squirming about. Here, have an orange.” he said, reaching into his plastic bag. Benjamin held the orange out to her, but she didn't take it. Her mother always told her never to accept things from strangers. Instead, he set it down on the bench next to her. “You can eat it later,” he said, still smiling. After several minutes of awkward silence had passed between them, Benjamin picked up the orange and began to peel it while he spoke. “It's mighty hot out here tonight. What's a little thing like you doing alone in the big city? This sure ain't a place for pretty girls like you.” “I ran away,” Abby said weakly. He was a nice enough man, but she didn't want to give away too much about herself or why she was out here alone. He wouldn't understand. No one would. “I bet you're hungry. Go ahead and take it,” Ben said, handing her the freshly peeled orange. Abby was apprehensive, but the strong citrus smell teased her stomach. It had been rumbling with intense hunger for most of the day. “Thank you,” she said, finally giving in to her appetite. Abby devoured the orange and when she finished, she glanced up and saw that he had peeled her a second. “You must've been starving,” he said. “I've been walking most of the day. I forgot to pack some food,” she said. The oranges were sweet and delicious, but they only teased her ravenous stomach.

“So, are you going to tell me why you're out there all alone?” Ben asked. “I just need to leave. Start a new life far from here,” she answered. Abby was now sitting crosslegged on the bench, eyes focused intensely forward. She was grateful for the food, but didn't want to tell this man any details. “So you hope to just hop on a bus and ride your way to freedom. Do you have enough money?” “Money?” she asked, glancing up at him. Ben smiled at the girl's innocence. “Yes. You need to pay to take the bus,” he answered. “Are you sure? I take the bus to school every morning and don't have to pay anything.” “Hun, this isn't a school bus. It's been a long time since I've taken a bus anywhere, but last time I did, I remember it being fairly expensive. I don't think you have that kind of change in your backpack,” he said. Abby's expression turned grim. Tears streaked down the little girl's freckled face. The old man sighed. She was a child of privilege, wearing very nice clothing and she was very pretty, but didn't know a thing about the world. Benjamin knew she wouldn't last a full day out here on the streets. “Where do you live?” he asked the girl. Abby wiped the tears from her eyes, trying to remain strong. “I don't know,” she said, her lip trembling. Seeing the fear in her eyes, the man knew he had to do something. He couldn't just leave her here to fend for herself. “I'll tell you what, little one, I'll head back to my place and find you some money. It's a long walk from here, but I'm sure I will be back before the station opens up. I will buy you a ticket to wherever you want to go. In the meantime, I want you to try and rest. Let me show you something,” he said. The old man stood and walked to the edge of the building. Abby curiously watched him, but didn't follow until he waved her over. She took her bag and followed Benjamin. “See that door right there? See the crack under it? That's where the cool air from inside the building escapes out. If you lay down next to that crack, you will stay cool. Use your bag as a pillow and try to get some rest. I'll be right back,” he said. Abby followed Benjamin's direction, laying down at the base of the door. The cold air rushed out just as he said, instantly cooling her hot skin. It wasn't the most comfortable place in the world to sleep, but it would do for now. The old man smiled at Abby, watching as she reacted to the cool relief. “Okay good girl. I'll be right back,” he said, disappearing back the direction he came. For the first time since she arrived at the bus station and found it closed, Abby started to think maybe everything would finally work out in her favor. Nice people like Benjamin would help her get everything she needed. Maybe there would be a few nights like tonight sleeping on the pavement, but that was a small price to pay for escaping hell. Feeling confident and no longer sweltering in the Houston heat, Abby allowed herself to close her eyes and drift off to sleep. * * * * When Abby snapped her eyes open, she hoped to see Benjamin smiling at her with a wad of cash in his hand. Instead, there was a police officer, crouched down with a look of concern in his eyes. This is bad! Really bad, she thought to herself. Standing a few feet behind the officer was the old man. He was staring back at her, his face oozing with guilt for what he had done. “Hi. My name is Officer Carlson,” the cop said. Abby rubbed her eyes, feeling more exhausted than she's ever felt. It was all beginning to take a toll; the lack of real food and barely a wink of sleep. “What's your name?” “I'm Abigail,” she said. “Abigail. That's a pretty name,” he said. He was very young. And cute. “What's your last name?” “Miller,” she answered. Officer Carlson smiled. “Abigail Miller. Beautiful. Can you tell me why you're out here at the bus station in the middle of the night?” he asked. Abby watched him carefully, not sure if even he could be trusted. He appeared

strong, like he could lift a car over his head if he had to. His presence made her feel safe, like as long as he was there, nothing in the world could hurt her. She decided to trust him. “I don't know where I live. I ran away from home and got lost,” Abby said. “She told me she had been walking most of the day,” the old man said. Abby shot him a glance of contempt, wishing he would go back to whatever hole he crawled out of. “Abby, what is your father's name?” Officer Carlson asked. “John Miller,” she answered. The officer smiled and touched the girl on the shoulder. “Everything will be okay now. I'll contact your family and...” “No! You can't do that!” she screamed, startling both men. Abby was now on her feet. She grabbed her bag and clutched it again to her chest. She couldn't go back to that house. Her life there was all over. It was time for a fresh start. “Calm down Abby. Everything will be okay! I bet your parents are worried sick about you,” he said, trying to stop her from going into a full panic. When he reached out for her, she instantly stepped backward until the door stopped her. “Don't touch me! Leave me alone!” the girl screamed. “Abby, what's wrong? Tell me what's going on. Please?” said the cop, still crouched. He didn't understand the fear he saw in this little girl's eyes. Something was terribly wrong. “I just can't go back there! I can't! I need a new mommy and daddy!” she yelled. Abby turned to run across the parking lot, but Officer Carlson anticipated her move and quickly grabbed her by the arm. “Please don't run away Abby. I only want to help you,” he said, trying to keep the girl from running. “No you don't! You just want to take me back there! I can't go back!” She tried to wiggle out of Officer Carlson's grasp, but he wouldn't let her go. “Calm down. Let me tell you something, okay? You're not in any trouble or harm. I will go back with you. I will go inside and look around to make sure it's safe. I will not just drop you off and leave. If I don't feel it's completely safe, I will take you with me, understand? You're not alone, Abby.” he said reassuringly. She started to calm a little. He opened his arms as a gesture of trust. Abby hesitantly let herself be embraced, but didn't hug him back. “Good girl,” the officer said. He stood, took Abby by the hand and walked her to the cruiser. He opened the door to the backseat and waved her in. “It's quite comfy back there. I have the air on full blast. You can lay down and take a nap for a bit until I find out where you live,” he said. Abby watched him as he closed the door behind her, then went over to the old man. The two of them talked about something, then shook hands. The old man waved back at Abby before turning and heading back where he came. She couldn't take her eyes off him until he disappeared into the shadows of the overpass. What a strange man, she thought. Abby didn't quite understand why he lied to her or why he decided to call the police. Either way, she felt bad for him. Despite his constant smiling, he seemed rather sad and lonely. Abby waved back, even though she knew he couldn't see her. * * * *

It was about an hour before Officer Carlson pulled the cruiser into her parent's driveway. Abby tried to close her eyes and sleep, but it didn't come. She was deathly afraid of what might happen when she got back. Abby knew for sure she was in for the biggest punishment of her life. The one thing that calmed her was knowing that she could always escape again, this time much more prepared. As Abby occupied her mind with thoughts of her second escape, she felt the car stop and the engine shut off. She sat up to see that they were back at the house. Officer Carlson turned around with a smile, but his smile faded seeing the absolute horror on the girl's face. “I tried calling the house to let your father know we were on our way and he shouldn't worry, but no one answered. I'm sure your parents were sleeping and didn't hear it,” he said.

“I...I don't want to d-do this,” said Abby, digging her fingers into the seat. “Sweetie, I told you that everything is going to be alright. I won't let anything happen to you,” he said. Officer Carlson watched the girl for several more seconds. When it became evident that she wasn't going to relax, he let out a sigh then climbed out of the car. Once he opened Abby's door, he crouched down once more to her level. “Listen, you can sit here for a little bit longer if you want to, but I was hoping you would be a brave little girl and come to the door with me.” She remained sitting, watching as Officer Carlson as he headed for the front door of the house. Abby wanted to run up to him, latch onto his leg, pull him back, anything to stop him from going into that house. Reaching the doorway, Officer Carlson rang the doorbell and waited. He waited patiently for several minutes before ringing it again. When there was no answer, he attempted to knock, but the door opened a crack just as he touched it. He slowly pushed the door open, then gazed into the pitch-black entryway. “Hello? Anyone home?” he called, his voice echoing inside. He reached for his flashlight. “They're dead,” Abby said from behind. She was standing several feet behind him in the front yard, watching grimly. The girl's face lacked any color, as if she were nothing but an apparition. “Who's dead?” he asked. Officer Carlson pulled his gun and held it at his side. “Both of them. It was Maxwell. I told him not to kill them, but he was just defending me,” she said, tears rolling down her face. “Are you telling me that both of your parents are dead?” Abby nodded. Officer Carlson turned on his flashlight and stepped into the house. The scene was more gruesome than he ever imagined. There was a blackish-red stain on nearly every surface of the living room; sprayed on the walls, pooled on the floor and splattered on every piece of furniture. Officer Carlson didn't move at first, the scene too much for his brain to handle. But when his eyes finally caught the bodies of Abby's parents next to each other on the floor, he pulled himself together and called for backup.

2 Five Years Later Abigail had a love-hate relationship with her new family. She loved her new parents, the house, her bedroom. But Eva was a different story. It wasn't something Abby complained about. The positive far outweighed the negative. Living here was a tremendous step up from the all-girls state house where she was staying, waiting to be adopted. She had no privacy and was just another mouth to feed to those who ran it. Not to mention the other girls thought she was weird. Abby was the loner, the one girl that all the others teased for being different. The only real friend in her life was Maxwell. Often, she would escape to her own little closet or to the furthest corner of the yard just to be with him without ridicule. She never understood how she was the only one who could see him. It made her an outcast because she had such a friend. Now that she had been adopted, her only tormentor was Eva. Abby did her best to just ignore her older sister, holing herself up in her room and rarely coming out unless she knew Eva was gone. Luckily they went to two different schools, which made it easier. The only time the two girls had to see each other was during dinner and the weekend. Even now, in the back seat of Martha's oversized Buick, Abby leaned against the back window with her headphones on. She tried her best to ignore the fighting in the front seat, but she couldn't turn her iPod up loud enough. Tomorrow night was Eva's sweet-sixteen party. It wasn't really a big blow-out party like you would expect a wealthy, popular girl to throw, but rather a small, intimate gathering of a few of Eva's closest

girlfriends. At first Jim and Martha were against the idea of letting their young daughter and her friends have the house to themselves overnight, but daddy's little girl knew how to pull all the right strings. Martha still wasn't too happy about it and now the fight had spilled into whether or not Abby was allowed to be there as well. “Take Abby to the hotel with you. I don't want her at my party,” Eva pleaded. “I really think it would be good for the two of you to get to know each other. I know you haven't been exactly happy with us for adopting a girl, but I want you to give this a chance,” said Martha. Neither of them thought Abby could hear their argument, but she heard every word loud and clear. She closed her eyes and pretended to nap. “She has an imaginary friend who she talks to constantly! It would be totally embarrassing to have the little runt there.” “I don't care. This is my compromise. If you want your father and me to leave for the night and let you have this little party, your sister will be there. It's either us or her. Your choice,” her mother fired back. “But dad said...” “I don't care what your father has to say. I'm sick and tired of him letting you do whatever you want just because you beg and plead. You're about to be sixteen, Eva! It's time to grow up and start acting like it!” Eva gave up. She flung herself against her seat and stared out her window, giving the silent treatment. Abby smiled. She didn't exactly want to be at the party, but this was the first time she'd ever witnessed Eva getting put in her place. Abby was beginning to like Martha. She was apparently the glue that held the family together. Jim was a nice man. He smiled a lot and worked hard to take care of his family, but he seemed to have checked out of reality. He wasn't all there, living in this carefree bubble while life whizzed by. His only relief from the madness that was his life were times like right now when he was at work and away from it all. As the Buick pulled into the mall parking lot, the three of them got out and walked towards the entrance. Not a single word was spoken, every second of which Abby was thankful for. It wouldn't be long before Princess Eva begged for every cute dress or pair of shoes her eyes fell upon. Martha made it very clear that they were only here to grab a few things, then head home. The peace wouldn't last long. “So is there some kind of theme for this sleepover you're looking for?” Martha finally asked as they walked through the atrium and into the main part of the mall. There was a store somewhere inside that sold everything you could imagine. “Not really. I guess I'll see when I get in there. Just as long as there's plenty of cake and ice cream,” said Eva. “Abby, you're oddly quiet,” said Martha. She saw that Abby was hanging back, dragging her feet. “That's not the only thing that's odd,” Eva mumbled. “EVA!” Martha snapped. “You are this close to having your party canceled young lady! Now apologize to your sister!” “She's not my sister! Just because you went and brought her home doesn't mean she's my sister! If you want another daughter because I'm not good enough for you anymore, then that's your choice! But leave me out of it!” Eva screamed. She took off and disappeared through the growing crowd of people. Martha called after her, but stopped once she realized she was only making a scene. “I'm so sorry you had to hear that Abby. I'm really sorry.” Abby nodded. She wished she was back home, hiding in her room. * * * *

The food court was the only place where Abby could slip away and be alone. It was a bit too early for lunch so no restaurants were open. Abby sat down at a long table suited for six. A creepy feeling came over her as she was the only one sitting in such a large space. Even though she came here for the peace and quiet, it was just a little too quiet. “So what in the world are we going to do about Eva,” said a voice behind her. Abby turned around to see Maxwell sitting at the table behind her. She smiled. “Funny seeing you here Max. I didn't take you for a mall kinda guy.” Abby replied, grinning widely. Max smiled back, then took a bite out of his corn dog. He grimaced and spit it out into a napkin. Abby laughed. “You're too nice to her, you know. If you don't fight back, she will take advantage of you like she does her parents. Girls like that always end up getting what they want in the end,” he said. “Just hope I don't become like her,” Abby said. “Impossible. You're too much of a sweetheart. And that's your problem. You let people walk all over you. One of these days, Abby, you will fight back.” “That's what I have you for, Max” she said. “Besides, I think I have to find a way to be nice to her. Win her over so my new life here isn't a total miserable hell. If I do that, then I'll have just about everything I've ever wanted.” “After everything that has happened, you deserve to be happy, Abby. I truly believe that.” “Thanks Max,” she said with a little blush. “Do they know that you'll be thirteen in a few weeks?” he asked, stuffing a few fries into his mouth. “If they do, they haven't mentioned it. They're probably too focused on Princess Eva's birthday party. It's so weird though. Don't most girls usually want this big, huge bash? She just wants a little gathering. I think something's up her sleeve,” Abby said. She was now sitting at Max's table and dared herself to sneak a fry from his tray. “Maybe. But if that's true, at least you'll have something to hold over her head,” said Max. “Abby? Who are you talking to honey?” Martha asked, making her way through the maze of empty tables. Abby looked over at her, then back at where Max was sitting and saw that he was gone, tray and all. “Um, no one,” she answered. She had no clue how he did that; appear and disappear at will. “I told you the little freak talks to herself,” said Eva. She was carrying two large bags stuffed with pink and purple decorations and party favors. “Eva! What did I tell you?! One more remark like that and your party is canceled,” Martha snapped. Eva just rolled her eyes. * * * *

Later that evening, Abby decided to go to bed early. She tried to concentrate on the John Grisham novel Jim loaned her. Her mind, though, was too occupied with thoughts of Eva She'd never had a sister before, or any sibling for that matter. The only friend she'd ever had was Max and even he came and went at will. All Abby desperately wanted was a close relationship. Anyone would do, but preferably someone closer to her own age and who wasn't invisible to the rest of the world. She longed for a certain kind of friendship that Maxwell couldn't provide. Abby set the book down on her nightstand and climbed out of bed. She then made her way down the hallway to Eva's room, stopping herself just before she made a fatal mistake. What are you doing, Abby?! Do you realize how stupid this is? Eva hates your guts! Why can't you just leave it alone? It was driving her crazy. Abby didn't want to be the weird loner anymore, so she decided to take a chance against her better judgment. She put on a smile, grit her teeth and knocked on the door. “What the hell do you want?” Eva asked after opening her door a crack. “I just wanted to talk to you, if that's okay?”

“Talk to me about what? I'm busy doing homework. I need to get it done today if I want to have my party tomorrow night.” “It will be really quick. I promise.” Eva opened her door wider and stepped aside. “It better be quick.” Abby slipped in and didn't know if she should sit on the bed or remain standing, so she stood there awkwardly. “I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. For everything. I know you didn't like me coming here and it's been a hard transition for you. I'm not here to cause any trouble. I know your mom wants me to be at the party and I promise you I will stay out of the way. I will hide myself in my room the whole night. Basically, whatever it takes to not cause any trouble for you. And maybe even make a friend if you're willing,” said Abby. Eva raised her eyebrows and gave a half-smile. “I know why my mom and dad picked you out of the bunch. Look at you. You're gorgeous, with your dark hair and blue eyes and freckles. I told them if they wanted to adopt, I was okay with it if they brought me home a little brother, but instead they picked you. They said they fell in love with you the moment they saw you. You were sweet and kind...the daughter they never had. “So if you have any thoughts in that pretty little head of yours of being my friend, you might as well push them away. It ain't gonna happen. They may think you're a little darling, but I know the truth about you. You're a weird little freak! You're twelve for crying out loud and still have imaginary friends! I don't really care what you do with your spare time. And yes, you will stay out of my way tomorrow night or else things will only get tougher for you around here. Got it?” Eva snapped. All Abby could do was nod her head in defeat. She knew she should have listened to her inner voice. Now she regretted it. But she had to try right? There was a huge chance of failure, but even the small chance of success was worth it. Eva whipped her bedroom door open and pushed Abby as she walked by. Slamming the door shut, Eva let out a cackle, proving that she was more witch than teenage girl.

3 Abigail determined that she would waste the day in her room. Three-day weekends off from school were nice, but they seriously threw off your schedule. She was beginning to run out of things to do. Originally, she had planned to help Martha decorate for the party, but changed her mind after last night. There would be no goodwill to gain from it. Staring up at the ceiling, she was startled by a knock on her door. Abby sighed. She didn't want to deal with anymore family garbage and considered yelling at them to go away, but what would that prove? She tossed back the covers and climbed out of bed for the first time that day. Her body felt stiff and sore. “Hang on,” she said when the knock came again. “Abby, it's Jim. Or dad. Or Jim. Whatever you want to call me.” Abby smiled. When she opened her door, there he stood, holding out to her a purple flower. She gasped. “Wow,” she managed to say, dumbfounded. “Listen, Abby, I know I've been a little withdrawn lately, but I just want you to know that you are special to me and Martha. I heard Eva has been giving you a hard time. I was wondering if you'd be willing to go out to lunch with me? Just the two of us. I want to get to know you better,” Jim said with a pleading smile. “I would love to!” Abby said, taking the flower. “Awesome! Go get ready!” They decided to eat at Abby's favorite restaurant, The Green Chili. She ordered the same meal every time: Tex-Mex, a dish consisting of enchiladas with Mexican rice. Jim got a plate of nachos with extra

jalapenos on the side. He's a beast, Abby thought, stifling in a giggle. She never enjoyed foods that were too spicy. How could anyone enjoy the flavor if their mouth was on fire? “This is nothing. You should see me on taco nights. Martha will bring home a bag of habaneros and I'll chuck those puppies down one right after the other! She always joked that I had an iron stomach,” said Jim, laughing. “I just can't imagine! One time I ate a spicy pepper on accident and just about puked! I have no tolerance for that kind of thing,” she said. “So, Abby, not to change the subject, but tell me a little about yourself. What are some of the things you're passionate about?” he asked. Abby looked off into the distance and thought for a second. “To be honest, I've never had much of a chance to figure those things out. Living in that girls dorm, there was no room for creative inspiration or individuality. It was a waste of time to them. Every minute of your day was planned by headmasters who didn't care what you wanted to do or who you were. No one really wanted you to be an individual that I could see anyway. It was all about the popular girls and trying to be like them so you could fit in.” “That's life in general. The world is filled with followers. Even those who appear to be leaders on the outside, are just following the trendsetters. On and on it goes. Then there are people like you who are their own person. The reality is, most of those girls were jealous of you,” Jim said. He took a sip of his soda and watched Abby as she took in his words. “You seem to be quite intelligent and sensible for a twelve-year-old.” “That state house had its uses. They were strict about the things they found important, like reading and writing. Reading novels was the only escape I had. I found myself reading above the level set for the rest of the class. My imagination was something they couldn't take away from me. Not my parents, not them, no one,” said Abby. “I like to read war books and political satire. But I admit that I have a guilty pleasure for some romance,” he said, winking. Abby giggled. “I didn't take you for the sappy romantic type. But the political stuff certainly fits,” said Abby. “Yeah, well, I was certainly more romantic in my younger days. When you spend every single day with the same woman, things change. People change. Circumstances change. Martha is not the same woman I married. It's hard to keep track of her,” Jim said. He was staring down at his half-eaten plate of nachos. Abby found it a little odd that Jim was sharing these details about his marriage. She'd known that things were a tad off between them. But Abby had always been mistaken for someone much older than twelve. It was the way she spoke and carried herself. Always sitting in the dark corner allowed Abby an amazing perspective on life. She learned a valuable lesson: life is better if you just stop and listen. It was how she managed to distinguish herself from the rest of the crowd where folks were always talking above one another. “Why don't you go back to the old days when you romanced her and won her heart? Maybe it's true that over time you have drifted apart, but you need to pull her back in. The thing about fire is it can be restarted once it goes out,” she said. Even Abby was amazed at her insight, but Jim was blown away. “I know. It's time for some things to change,” he finally said. “Well, the two of you are leaving tonight right? I won't be tagging along, even if Eva doesn't want me at the party. This is the perfect chance. Surprise her. I read a book once where a guy tried to win over his girlfriend with flower pedals scattered all over the room and candles and...” “Whoa there. I appreciate the help, but I think this conversation is getting a little too racy to be having with my twelve-year-old daughter,” Jim said. Abby wished she could cover her head with a paper sack to hide the intense blushing. “What does a girl your age know about romance anyway?” Jim asked, laughing He twirled his finger in the air as he said romance for emphasis. “I read a lot of books, remember? I also admit to being into a little cheesy romance stuff myself, but some of it is still over my head,” Abby said, her cheeks on fire. She's never talked about this sort of

thing with anyone, much less a man. That's the thing about growing up as an orphan no one really understood. The things you didn't pick up from school, outside of the ABCs and 123s, you had to learn for yourself. You didn't get taught the things that parents generally teach their kids. “Kids these days are growing up way too fast. Eva became boy-crazy about your age and hasn't stopped since. I wish I could just chase away all the boys with a shotgun. You have my permission to just be a kid. I won't force you to grow up too quickly,” he said. “Don't worry. I'm not so interested in boys just yet. I can't even make myself a nice friend much less have a boyfriend,” she said. “Well, that's different. What attracts a boy and what attracts a friend are two different things. You're beautiful. Boys will fight over you. But girls, they will hate you because of your beauty. To them, you're weird because you don't flaunt it. You try to hide yourself and care less about what's important to them,” he said. Abby glanced down at her plate, a feeling of shyness coming over her. “You seem to know me, as if I've always been your daughter.” “That's my gift. I see people. I look into your eyes and see the pain you try to hide. You feel this intense guilt and you're afraid to get close to anyone. Why is that?” Abby's mouth hung slightly ajar in a shocked expression. Who was this man that he knew everything about her just from one glance? As the shock began to fade and the pressure to answer became to great, the feeling was replaced with frustration. Abby didn't want to explain herself to him or to anyone. Not yet. She worked painstakingly hard building these titanic-sized walls and he crushed them down in less than a minute. He's your dad. Open up to him. He took you out today so he can know more about you. No. I can't trust him. I can't trust anyone. This way I won't get hurt. Yes you can Abby. He's a good man with a big heart. Can't you see he cares about you? Her mind was reeling, going back and forth about how to answer the question. Or even if she should. There was a reason why she never let herself get too close to anyone. Last night with Eva was the perfect example. She vowed never again. It was just too painful. “Can we just not talk about it? Not yet anyway,” Abby said. She was afraid to look at Jim and see if he was hurt. But he wasn't. Jim was wearing a kind smile that told her that he understood. “Of course.” Jim waved the waiter over and asked for the bill. “Listen, I understand it can be scary trusting someone new. You don't really know me. But if it's one thing I'm good at, it's listening. Anytime you want to share your story, I'm here for you. No questions asked. We can even make this a regular thing, just you and me. And little by little, I hope to earn your trust and you'll start to think of me as your dad. I understand it will take time and patience and I have a lot of it. So whenever you're ready, I'll be here,” he said. “Thank you,” she managed to say, relieved that the pressure was off. “Okay. Now let's go pick up Eva's birthday gift.” * * * *

“What in the hell is wrong with you dad?” Eva screamed as she flew down the stairs with all of hell's fury behind her. She was wearing her pink bathrobe and a towel wrapped around her dirty-blonde hair. “What do you mean?” Jim asked. Abby stood by the door, her hand gripping the handle. She didn't dare walk any further into the house. Eva had that look in her eyes of being very unstable and ready to snap. All she wanted was to escape to her bedroom and hide the rest of the day. “It's my birthday and you take her out? What kind of father are you?” Eva whined, her fists clenched. “A pretty damn good father considering what I just bought you for your birthday,” said Jim. He glanced back at Abby and winked. “She helped me pick it out.” Eva looked over at Abby, then back at Jim, not sure what to think. “What's going on out here? What's with all the screaming?” Martha called from the kitchen.

“It's okay mom. I'm just freaking out for nothing,” said Eva. She stuffed her hands into her robe pockets and walked up to her father with a curious grin on her face. “What did you get me?” she asked. Abby wanted to roll her eyes, but didn't want to provoke the beast. Jim reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a set of keys to the brand-new Corvette that sat in the driveway. Eva screamed at the top of her lungs, jumping up and down. She reached out to take the keys, but Jim pulled them away. “Nuh-uh. You and I need to have a little talk first. I'm not going to just give these keys to you and let you go, not after the way you've been acting lately. I'm putting my foot down right now. If you want privileges to this car, you will bring in straight-As, you will be respectful to your mother and me, and you will treat your little sister better. And yes, Abby is your little sister regardless of whether you like it or not. “Can you imagine coming to a new house after all she's been through and being treated the way you have treated her? She watched her parents get killed right in front of her! And it was Abby who suggested I get you a car. I was going to keep the money and save it towards college. She wants to be in your life, Eva! Let her in. You will not act like the spoiled little brat you have been and you will stop sleeping around with boys. You got it?!” “Dad, I don't...” “Do you understand? I'm not as clueless as you think I am. Things are about to change around here.” “Yes daddy,” Eva said. Her countenance changed from excitement to extreme hurt. Abby didn't know if his words had any impact or if she was playing the “wounded daughter” card to gain sympathy. Either way, she was glad it was said and even Martha leaned against the wall, completely floored by what just happened. “I'm gonna go finish getting ready for my party. Abby, would you like to help me with my hair?” “Me?” “Yes, you, goofball. Come on,” said Eva. Abby didn't move, prompting Eva to take her by the arm and pull her towards the stairs. “I-I don't know anything about...” “Then I'll teach you.” As she was drug up the stairs, a million thoughts when through Abby's mind. It was great that Eva finally wanted to bond with her, but at what cost? Was this just a show for her father to get the expensive new car? She could care less about learning how to do her hair and learning to look like a real-life Barbie doll. But if this is what it took to finally make a friend, she would indulge. Even if it was all just a ploy.

4 “I did want to tell you that I felt bad after kicking you out of my room last night. Even before my dad said anything. I guess, I've just been a jealous snot and for that, I'm truly sorry,” Eva said. Abby sat on the stool, staring into the mirror and watching in awe as her hair was being transformed. She was always the ultimate tomboy and didn't care so much about this sort of thing. But now, as she watched Eva do her magic, the girly part of her emerged with utter fascination. “It's okay. I can understand,” Abby said. She thought of Max's words, to fight back against her oppressor, but for once being nice was actually working. “So, what do you think?” She stood from the stool and leaned closer to the mirror, amazed. “Wow! It's really good. I've never had my hair done up like this,” Abby said. Her longish, dark hair was up in a bun that made her look ten years older and more distinguished. “Okay, now watch me do my makeup carefully. With some practice, it won't be too long before you

get it down,” said Eva. * * * *

For the first time in a very long time, Abby was happy. She and Eva stood in the living room, dressed beautifully. She never knew dressing up could be so much fun, much less how it changed her look. Abby always heard she was pretty. Now, she couldn't stop looking at herself in the mirror, her blue eyes glowing radiantly; her facial features perfectly accentuated by the right amount of blush. It was much more than looking well-to-do for the party. Seeing the interactions between Jim and Martha as they were preparing to leave left an impression on their girls. Jim surprised his wife with a bouquet of roses and dressed up in an expensive suit. Both Abby and Eva had grins plastered to their faces as Jim twirled Martha around the living room. Abigail was now finally part of a happy family. It was all she ever wanted and never thought she'd have. Abby was finally beginning to relax and feel at home. Tonight will mark the beginning of it all. The beginning of being a loved daughter and sister, of peace, protection, safety and being able to let the walls she's built up come tumbling down. Once Jim and Martha finally left the house, both Eva and Abby put the finishing touches on the decorations and made sure the food was out. A large chocolate cake sat in the middle of the dinner table, frosted in pink with the words “Happy Sweet Sixteen Eva” on the top, with sixteen candles poking out the top. The living room had pink balloons, streamers, banners and every other decoration and party favor you could imagine tucked in every corner. Princess Eva was ready to receive her guests. * * * *

Samantha was the first girl to arrive, bringing with her an overnight bag and a gift. She was quite tall, nearly six-feet and that was without high heels. Abby thought she was quite stunning in her long red dress and red hair fixed up in the same kind of bun as hers. She and Eva embraced, then Abby was introduced as “my little sister,” which made her feel giddy inside. She felt very short when Sam hugged her and had to bend all the way down to her level. Macie was the next to arrive. Her and Eva were very similar in size and appearance. If you didn't know any better, you'd think they were siblings. They both had dirty-blonde hair and similar facial features, the only difference was Macie's hazel-green eyes instead of Eva's brown. Abby later found out the two of them have been best friends since kindergarten, the kind of longtime friendship she always longed for. “How many girls are you expecting?” Abby asked. The other two girls were socializing over a bowel of pretzels “Maybe one or two more. A lot of my friends couldn't make it tonight,” she answered. Or you probably just don't have that many friends, Abby thought, then shook out the negative thought. “Okay, so a smaller gathering then? I was thinking the house would be packed,” she said. Eva looked at her and grinned, but it wasn't a happy grin. About half an hour after the first guests arrived, Alexa finally made it. She was holding an arm-full of gifts with her right hand and carrying an overnight bag in her left. Eva took the gifts and gave Alexa a giant hug, squeezing tight, beyond excited to see her. The two of them have also been friends a very long time, but haven't seen each other in awhile. Alexa moved just last summer to Kingwood with her mom after her parents divorced, the two girls only communicating by phone since. “It's so good to see you! You're gorgeous!” Eva said. “Thank you! You look radiant yourself! And who is this little beauty?” “I'm Abby,” she said.

“Nice to meet you Abby! I've heard a lot about you!” said Alexa. She took Abby's hand and shook it. “Only good stuff I hope,” she said. Eva and Alexa laughed, then huddled together as they emerged into the living room with the other girls. They were now all sitting together on the wrap-around couch, chatting and snacking. Abby started to feel like an outsider, realizing she had nothing in common with these girls. They were all much older than her and only seemed to care about things she had no interest in: boys, clothes and sex. The moment Macie started bragging about how good her boyfriend was in bed, Abby had enough and slipped away to her room without rousing any suspicion. She let out a sigh of relief once her door was closed. She was free. Pulling off her dress, Abby changed into her pajamas before settling behind her desk. She flipped open her journal to the first free page. Tonight didn't go entirely as planned, but it was a decent beginning. Abby determined that tonight's entry would have a much brighter tone than the others before it. Day one of my new life...

5 “We should play a prank on Abby,” Eva said. It was after eleven and the gathering was beginning to wind down. There was only so much they could talk about, despite being a group of teenage girls. The party felt like it needed a fun activity to keep it on track. “What kind of prank?” Macie asked. All the girls were leaning in, anxiously awaiting details. “You're not going to hurt her, are you?” Alexa asked with a look of concern spread across her face. “She's just a sweet little thing.” “No, no, no. And she's not as sweet as she looks. Don't let her convince you otherwise. Trust me, she deserves what she's about to get,” said Eva with a sly grin on her face. “Fine. As long as no one gets hurt,” said Alexa. “Do ya'll remember when we used to play Bloody Mary? We'll get Abby to play with us. We can tell her it's her initiation into the group. I'll hide under the sink and the three of you tell her the rules of the game and lock her in. After she says Bloody Mary three times, I'll reach out and grab her by the ankles,” Eva said. “You are an evil genius!” said Samantha, beyond excited. She always enjoyed a good prank and this was good stuff. “The cabinets in my parent's bathroom slide open and closed, so that would be the best place to do it. Give me five minutes to get in position, then go get Abby and bring her in,” said Eva. “Where is Abby? She just disappeared on us.” said Alexa. “The little freak probably just locked herself in her room,” Eva answered. When the other girls left the couch and headed for the stairs, Alexa remained sitting with her arms crossed. “What's wrong, Alexa?” Macie asked, having noticed that the crew was missing a member. “This is wrong. She's just a little girl and we're going to terrorize her for nothing.” “It's just a little prank Alexa. No one is going to get hurt. She probably wants us to include her in things. This is no different than what we used to do,” said Sam. “In fact, if you're so concerned, why don't you come upstairs and make sure nothing bad happens?” Macie tossed in. “Fine, I'll come along, but I will stop things if they go too far. I still don't think an innocent little girl deserves to be teased like,” she said.

“Innocent? She's far from innocent Alexa. Trust me when I say she deserves this. She's a rotten little runt and playing a little prank on her won't hurt. So come on,” Eva said. She adjusted the tiara on her head, reminding the group that it was her birthday and she was queen for the night. Alexa caved in and joined the group. The three girls silently stalked the hall outside Abby's bedroom as Eva squeezed herself into the cabinet beneath the sink. Fitting inside worked out better in her mind than it did in real life, as the cabinet was smaller than anticipated. Still, she just barely fit inside and was able to slide the door closed. Five minutes felt like an eternity squeezed in a small space, but it was going to be so worth it. Macie kept her eyes glued to her phone, ticking off every minute. Once five minutes came, she closed her phone and slid it into her pocket, then nodded at Sam to do the dirty deed of knocking on Abby's door. Shaking her head, Sam pointed at Alexa who stared daggers at both girls. Macie let out a sigh before creeping up to the door. * * * *

Abby nearly dropped her book at the sound of someone knocking at her door. She didn't expect anyone to come looking for her. All she wanted was to be left alone for the rest of the night, but she decided to see what they wanted anyway. She set her book down and answered the door. She was shocked to see three of the girls standing there with awkward smiles on their faces. For a brief moment, she forgot that she had already dressed down into her pajamas. “Hi,” Abby finally said, breaking the silence. “Hi Abby. Are you doing okay? We were wondering where you went,” Macie said. “We're about to eat some cake and thought you should join us,” added Samantha. “Umm, are you sure? I'm not dressed up anymore, as you can see,” said Abby. “Nah, we're all girls here. No one cares.” said Macie. “But there's one thing you have to do first. It's sort of a right of passage when it comes to sleepovers. Eva told us this was your first one, right?” "Right," Abby replied. A right of passage? She was curious and yet her invisible guard went up. Something was up, but she wasn't sure just yet. “What is it?” she asked. “A game we've all played when we were younger is called Bloody Mary. It's a game where we test each others courage as an initiation. Reputations rose and fell based upon how you react,” said Sam “You go into the bathroom alone, close the door with all the lights off and say Bloody Mary three times in the mirror. Mary was supposedly this old witch who was hunted down by the townspeople and murdered with a piece of broken mirror. Her throat was slashed and she was stabbed multiple times. Just before she died, she cast a spell, saying that whoever called upon her name in front of a mirror, she would show up and do the same to them,” Macie said. “It's pretty wicked,” Sam chimed in. “So I'm supposed to lock myself in the bathroom and be scared of some witch coming out and killing me,” Abby said. It was her attempt to let the girls know that she wasn't scared in the least, but they insisted that she do it anyway. “Where's Eva?” she asked, finding it odd that she was missing from the group. “She's downstairs cutting the cake and putting it on plates. She doesn't have to play since it's her birthday. And she's done it like a million times. But once you do it dear Abby, you're part of the sisterhood,” Macie said. Abby nodded. “Okay, let's do it,” she said. When she turned towards the common bathroom, Samantha grabbed her by the arm and turned her around. “It must be done in an unfamiliar bathroom. It makes it more...creepy,” she said. Abby followed them into her parent's bedroom, but stopped just short of walking into the bathroom. She wasn't exactly scared, as dead women who jumped out of the mirror to kill little kids didn't exist. She just had

an overwhelming feeling that something else was up and hoped they meant what they said about being part of the sisterhood. “Do I need to be in there a certain amount of time?” she asked. “Kinda, but not really. Just take your time doing it. Don't say the name really fast or anything. Then you have to wait about thirty seconds before you can come out. Make sure you lock the door once you're in there too,” said Samantha. Abby took a deep breath, then stepped inside. The tile was cold on Abby's bare feet. Every part of her being told her not to close the bathroom door, but she had to. It was the only way to be a part of them. But did she really want to be a part of that group? The idea of it was nice at first, but now, she wasn't so sure it was something she wanted. She nearly turned around and ran back for the safety of her room, but gathered herself together and closed the bathroom door. It's only a little humiliation at worst, Abby. If you want to have a happy life here, then get over yourself. Locking yourself in your bedroom won't help you, she told herself, now leaning against the cabinet. She couldn't see a thing in there, not even her reflection in the giant mirror that spanned the whole space of the wall. “Bloody Mary.” Abby imagined the other girls outside the door snickering. “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.” Then she started to count. 1...2...3...4...5... Suddenly, a hand reached out from the depths of hell and grabbed onto her ankle. Abby screamed at the top of her lungs and jerked herself away from the mirror, her hands out in front of her to hopefully keep Bloody Mary from slashing her throat. As she fought to get away from the mirror, kicking with all her might at the hands that grabbed at her, she walked right into the edge of the bathtub and lost her balance, pitching backward. Her head smacked hard against the rock-solid tiles, knocking her out cold. Abby collapsed into the tub; a trickle of blood flowed across the side of her face, down her neck and pooled beneath her. Eva started laughing hysterically, unaware of her sister's fate, until she heard a rumbling sound erupt from just a few feet away. She started to work herself out of the small cavern, but stopped when she heard an angry growl that started out as a hushed tone, then grew tremendously loud, the walls around her shaking. Everything on the counter spilled onto the ground below. Then, out of thin air, the form of a man appeared, blacker than the dark space around him. It was as if he stepped out of a different realm and into their reality. In one quick suddenly movement, he reached down and yanked Eva out of the cabinet, uncaring of the maneuvering she still had to do to get out safely. She yelped out in agony as she felt a few bones snapping in the process. Outside the bathroom, the girls were giggling at the odd noises they heard, thinking Eva was doing a great job playing the part of Bloody Mary. They continued to laugh until there was a loud crack coming from the bathroom door. Something was slamming against it so hard the wood itself was splintering around the edges where it was connected to the way. It hit again a second and third time. Finally on the fourth shot, the bathroom door gave in and flew backward towards the girls, who jumped back out of the way. Landing on the door was Eva's broken and bloodied body. The three remaining girls screamed and all at once turned and tripped over each other as they tried to run. Running through the bedroom door and into the hallway, Macie fell to the ground, tripping over Samantha. She quickly rolled over onto her back just in time to see a large man stepping out of the dark abyss that was Jim and Martha's bathroom. She screamed, then rolled onto her stomach and attempted to climb back up onto her feet, but before she could stand, he grabbed her ankles and pulled her away from the door. Macie attempted to grab handfuls of the carpet, but couldn't even dig her nails in to stop herself from being dragged. He drug her across the floor to the only window in the whole room, then grabbed onto her by the shoulders and lifted her into the air. She started to cry, begging the man to let her go, but he slammed her against the wall. “What did you do to Abby?!” the man snarled. “What did you do to her?!” He angrily pulled her

away from the wall, then slammed her body against it a second time. “Answer me!” “W-we were j-j-just playing a j-joke. We d-d-didn't-t mean any...” “A joke? A JOKE?! My sweet, darling Abby is laying in a pool of her own blood!” With one swift move, the angry man pulled Macie away from the wall for the third time, then tossed her through the second-story window. She screamed the whole way down until she landed on the ground with a violent "thump." He turned his attention towards the sound of two girls screaming as loud as they could in the living room. Then suddenly, there was silence, followed by a voice: There's a man who came out of the bathroom. He's trying to kill us! We think he killed Eva and Abby and he took Macie. Please hurry! The address is 9784 Yosemite Lane. Oh God I think I hear him coming! When the man emerged from the top of the stairs, he stared out at the empty living room filled with party decorations. Slowly, he descended the stairs, trying not to make any noise, but he was a tall, large-framed man and with each step, the stair buckled under his weight and squeaked. Once he reached the bottom, he stopped and watched patiently, his eyes scanning every inch. He knew they were there somewhere, hiding and waiting for him to give up and look for them elsewhere. The man then started to creep into the kitchen, stopping only to look behind the couch and to toss the coffee table to the side, spilling all the food onto the ground. Once he was in the kitchen, he found the knife rack and pulled out the large butcher knife. The metal made a nice sound as it exited the wooden holder it was in. He held the knife to his side as he continued to eye the living space, hoping someone would move just an inch. He stalked back the way he came silent and deadly, not knowing if either girl had any idea where he was. Then, out of nowhere, the closet door nearest to the front door swung open and out came Samantha, rushing towards him with a metal baseball bat held high above her head. She'd played softball for many years, and felt she could take him on. She let out a piercing scream as she charged. But when she brought the bat down towards his head, the man dodged out of the way, moving quicker than any person she'd ever seen. He then thrust the blade of the knife deep into Samantha's gut and watched as her eyes widened in horror at what happened, all confidence draining from her face. She thought she would be the hero and save the day as she wrapped her hands around the bat. If only she had stayed hidden in the closet a little longer, she'd be fine. Scared, but fine. When the man pulled the knife from her stomach, Samantha fell to her knees and placed both hands over the wound, still in shock. He grabbed her by the hair to keep her upright, then kneeled down so they were face-to-face. The look on his face was one of great anger as he glanced down at the blood pouring between the girl's fingers, then stared back into her eyes. “Poor Samantha. I watched you as you and that other girl planned to play this trick on my dearest Abigail. I should have stopped her from going into that bathroom and if I had, none of this would have happened. But girls just want to have fun, right? Right? Why are you such a horrible person that you have to pick on girls much smaller than you?” “Isn't that what you're doing? You horrible monster!” Samantha screamed, then spit in his face. The angry grimace on the man's face turned into a grin as he then thrust the knife into her a second time. Samantha let out a sickening guttural sound. When he pulled the blade out, he tossed her aside and left her to die on the rug in the entrance way. “Three down. One to go,” he said as he stood to his feet and wiped the blood off his knife onto his black pants. “I let you down Abby! I let you down!” he howled, tearing apart the house. He proceeded to toss over cabinets, throwing chairs and tables, breaking mirrors, tossing the bowls full of chips and other foods, all with no sign of movement from Alexa. Out of breath, Maxwell collapsed to his knees and stabbed the knife into the floor. Tears streaming from his eyes, he wiped his face with Samantha's blood and continued to howl in pure agony. The fury within grew to the point where it could grow no more and instead transformed into sorrow. Wiping

away the tears, Maxwell thought he saw movement from the corner of his eye. Quickly he stood and yanked the knife from the floor. Indeed, Alexa was hiding behind the blinds that covered the window that overlooked the backyard. It was a large bay window that had plenty of room for someone to huddle themselves on and stay nicely hidden. From inside the house, you couldn't tell it was a bay window, which made it the perfect hiding spot...unless you moved and disturbed the blinds. Knowing her cover was blown, Alexa stepped down from the window and attempted to run for the front door, but she stopped dead in her tracks at the sight of Samantha's body laying across the way out. Before she even had the chance to think what to do or where to go, Maxwell took hold of her and tossed her over back of the couch. Alexa rolled over it and landed on the ground, but quickly regrouped and was back on her feet. She sprinted into the kitchen and pulled the second-largest knife from the holder and turned to face the monster that was chasing her. He stopped just short of entering the kitchen, seeing that the girl had a weapon in her shaky hands and held it out, ready to strike if he got any closer. “Should I have mercy on you Alexa? Hmm? You could've prevented all this from happening. But you didn't. You avoided doing the right thing,” Max said, inching closer. “Apparently so could you. What happened was an accident, pure and simple. We had no intention on hurting Abby. Where in the hell did you come from, anyway?” “You wouldn't believe me even if I told you!” Max snapped back. “Don't come any closer!” “Max! Stop it!” came a yell from the top of the stairs. He turned back to see a bloodied Abby descending the stairs. “Abby?” Max instantly dropped his knife and ran to meet Abby. “What have you done?” she cried. Max could see the tears pouring down her cheeks and suddenly felt ashamed. “They hurt you! I was only...” “Do you realize what you've done, Max? You did it again! Y-you ruined my l-life!” “Abby, I love you so much! You're the only person I care about! I only wanted to protect you from...” “You didn't have to kill them! You just don't get it! You can't kill whoever you want here! I will never forgive you for what you've done! I want you to go back and never, ever return!” said Abby, wiping the tears and drying blood from her face. “Please Abby. Don't do that to me. Without you, I have nothing. I have nothing!” “And because of you, I now have nothing. My life was starting to look up and you just ruined everything for the second time. Go back and never return,” Abby commanded. Max's countenance fell as he lowered his head in shame. He then glanced up at Abby and stared into her eyes before stepping out of her realm and back into his. Maxwell blinked out of existence as if he had never been there in the first place. Alexa was frozen in place. She held the knife out, her body shaking wildly, hoping she was just stuck in a bad nightmare and would wake up any second. But when Abby walked up to her, Alexa allowed the knife to be pulled from her grasp. She had a million different questions to ask, but her brain was still trying to fathom everything that just happened. “I tried to tell everyone he was real,” Abby finally said. “Who...what...” “You should probably call the police. And Eva's parents. I don't have much time left,” Abby said. She turned and left Alexa standing alone in the kitchen. * * * *

Officer Carlson couldn't believe his eyes. He didn't know if the dispatcher had her information right

when it first came through the radio. But as he patrolled the neighborhood on the lookout, it didn't take him very long to find her. Abby was a few years older and taller than the last time he saw her, but he knew it was her. Except this time, it was much worse. Abby walked absently down the sidewalk, wearing pajamas and an overstuffed backpack on her back. When Officer Carlson pulled up alongside of the girl, he was shocked to see her face was covered in dried blood. It also appeared to have run down her neck and stained her pajama top. “Abby?” he called out. She kept walking, staring forward, but recognized his voice. “Hi Officer Carlson. It's been a few years,” she said. “Abby, please hold on where you are,” he said. Officer Carlson parked his car and jumped out as fast as he could. “What in the heck happened to you?” “Just let me run away Officer Carlson. Please?! I need to go away on my own. Everywhere I go, I bring death and misery with me. Let me disappear. I'll run far, far away from here,” she said. “I can't just let you run away. I need you to come with me. I need to get you to a hospital,” he said, grabbing her by the shoulders so he could get a good look at her. He saw the injury to the back of her head; the deep gash that he hoped was no longer bleeding. “I told him to go away. It won't happen again, I promise. Just let me go.” “I'm sorry, but that's just not an option at this point.” Abby listened and allowed herself to be led into the backseat of the cruiser, tears pouring down her cheeks. Lightning sparked in the night sky above, bright enough for her to catch a glimpse of her own reflection in the window. Maybe I'm Bloody Mary after all, Abby thought as the cruiser began to move. To Be Continued...

Author's Note: I wanted to give a personal, heart-felt thank you to all who have purchased Abby! I sincerely hope that you enjoyed my story and will continue to follow Abby's journey. I also wanted to give a quick thank-you to all who have helped me get this story out there. I couldn't have done it without you! There is so much work that goes into making a story successful and one of the ways YOU can help (yes, YOU dear reader!) is by promoting this story to your family and friends and leaving reviews on Amazon! Reviews and word-of-mouth is the lifeblood of new authors who hope to get their work in the hands of many people. I thank you as well for your support and (hopefully positive) reviews! Sincerely, Anthony J. McGirr

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