Dark. It’s dark out. Cold. Like being tangled in a sheet during a bad dream but without the slick heat. A frantic heart beat, beating so hard that it feels as if the organ is straining to escape from the chest. A dim light flickers up ahead. The cold starts to seep away. She walks forward, reluctant to go to the light but very afraid to stay in the dark.
Steam hisses from somewhere up ahead. Sounds of a building, usually a sub-audible type of hum become crisp and prominent in the night’s stillness.
A new sound.
Click. Click. Click. Click click clickclickclick.
Metal drumming on metal. Like impatient fingers tapping idly away.
A sudden, startling laugh, rough and unapologetic, pierces the dark.
Taylor gasped as she woke, eyes flying open and searching wildly. As her initial panic subsided, she felt blindly for the bedside lamp. It snapped on and the room of the hotel was flooded with yellow light. The next bed over, Doc Halloran stirred in his sleep. Not wanting to wake him, Taylor shut the light off. She slid out from under the blankets and padded softly across the room and opened the curtains in front of a large sliding glass door.
Moonlight spilled silver over her face. Taylor ran her hands through her hair and sat on the floor by the glass door. She could see out onto the balcony. Only a few weeks after the horrific event with Leslie Vernon, Taylor was too afraid to be alone. Doug and Halloran took turns staying with her every other night or so. It was never said aloud, but Taylor knew that even they it thought was good for the three of them to stick together, at least for a little while longer.
The Glen Echo police were looking into the incident. It was a tragic loss for the little community and no one seemed to know how to cope. The police were baffled, especially when they reviewed the footage Taylor, Doug and poor Todd had gotten. One officer had looked at Taylor with accusing eyes once they were done watching the raw videos and asked her why they hadn’t reported Leslie to the police earlier. Taylor snapped at him, yelling that she thought it was a prank, there was no way it could have been real. It took Doc Halloran and the police chief getting between them to diffuse the situation.
Behind her, Taylor could hear Doc Halloran waking up despite her effort to be unobtrusive. She continued to stare out the window hoping he would fall back asleep until she felt him put a hand on her shoulder. “Taylor,” he said gently, “you should try and sleep.”
“I had that nightmare,” she murmured.
Halloran sat on the floor across from her, leaning on the glass door. “The nightmares are normal. They’re awful, I know, but they should pass with time.”
“What if they don’t?” Taylor asked pressingly. “They’re worse than what I think about when I’m awake.”
“What happened in Glen Echo was very traumatic, Taylor. Dreams are one of your mind’s ways of processing emotional damage. The dreams are scary but harmless. You just need to learn how to cope with them.”
Taylor palmed away tears that began to well up. “It’s really hard,” she said. “I can’t stop thinking about it, replaying everything. I could have stopped him, Doc. I had so many chances to stop him. You even warned me—”
Halloran shook his head. “Stop it, Taylor. Blaming yourself is counter-productive. What happened could have been prevented, yes, but it wasn’t your fault. I can’t emphasize that enough. If anything, a lot of what happened was my fault. I could have done more.”
Taylor brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them. “If I’m not to blame, how are you?”
He sighed and his hand unconsciously crept to where Leslie had slashed him with the hand scythe. “I had his whole psychological profile, and his history of mental illness. I could have brought it to the police, or to the judge to have the restraining order lifted. Instead I let my impulsiveness control my actions. I followed him on my own instead of reporting him.”
“I don’t think reporting him would have done any good,” Taylor rested her chin on her knees. “He would have found a different shrink and played them to think he was normal. It would have been their word against yours.”
Halloran fell silent. In the moonlight he looked much older than he actually was. His face had grown haggard over the last few weeks. The lines around his eyes were more prominent and exhaustion dogged every expression he made. Taylor felt a little guilty. She knew that she was a big reason for his and Doug’s lack of sleep lately. She had been waking up almost every night in a panic, scaring the two men awake with shouts and crying.
At first the nightmares hadn’t been awful. They were disturbing, but not so bad. They had gotten worse once the three of them had left Glen Echo. Doc Halloran had seen the terrible anxiety staying in Glen Echo was causing Taylor and Doug, so he talked with the chief of police and they had gotten leave to return home while the investigation continued. If the police needed anything else from them, which was likely, they would call them. Currently they were spending a few days in a town called Springwood in Ohio, about seven hours away from Glen Echo, Maryland. Even with the distance that had been put between the two towns, Taylor wasn’t sure which was worse— the daytime anxiety in Glen Echo or the night terrors in Springwood. At least they would be going home soon and she was grateful for that.
Taylor suddenly imagined the clicking sound from her dreams, the sound of metal tapping against metal. It made her shudder with unease. She scooted over to where Halloran was sitting and let him put his arms around her in a hug. Taylor could hear his steady heart beat and it was incredibly comforting. Halloran was her rock, a sort of parental figure that she knew she needed while she healed emotionally and mentally.
She began to drift off to sleep, feeling safe enough to do so for the first time in weeks.
Halloran felt a stir of emotion in his chest as he held the dozing Taylor. It was a mix of protectiveness and a confusing breed of affection. He was old enough to be Taylor’s father and he knew that was the way she saw him; a fatherly figure. No matter what sort of feelings he had developed for her, he wouldn’t let his own wants destroy the only sense of solidity she had. It would be immensely unfair of him to tell her how he felt, especially in the after-math of the Vernon Incident.
Even if they both weren’t recovering from intense trauma, he wouldn’t act upon his feelings. Infatuation was a young man’s game and he certainly wasn’t young anymore. Taylor was just so vivid even in her moments of darkness and she didn’t realize it. She brought a lot of hope to him and Doug. Taylor was coping well and it was inspiring to see. The trauma she had experienced was so shocking and she was healing beautifully. Halloran didn’t think she knew just how normal her healing process was. He didn’t want to bring it up and risk having her think that he was downplaying the devastating effect of Leslie Vernon on their lives.
A tiny, childlike whimper came from Taylor and she began to shift unhappily in her sleep. Halloran hugged her tighter. She settled back, head nestled in the crook of his neck and one hand on his chest. Halloran could feel sleep creeping up on him, too. He placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head as his eyes began to slide shut. He hoped his presence would be enough to keep the nightmares away for the next few hours. They both desperately needed some undisturbed rest.
Breakfast in the hotel room. Doug had gone to pick something up from a store nearby. It was ten in the morning and the three of them sat eating silently. Taylor was cross-legged on one of the beds while Doug and Halloran sat in chairs.
“We should start thinking about what we’re gonna do when we get home,” Doug said, breaking the silence.
Taylor looked up, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Doug shrugged his shoulders, “are we gonna see if we can get our internships at the news station back? We had done this documentary for a school project, but obviously we might not be able to use it.”
Doc Halloran nodded. “He has a point. Eventually you two are going to have to return to “real life”, so to speak.” He hooked his fingers in air quotations. The gesture struck Taylor as absurd to see from him but she didn’t comment. Instead she looked at the breakfast sandwich on a croissant Doug had brought her. A month ago she would have been excited that he had remembered that she loved croissants but now it seemed inconsequential. It was hard to even think of returning to “real life” when her favourite foods were tasteless in her mouth.
“Doc,” Doug put his food aside. “I think it’s harder for Taylor, and for me, than you realize. We were friends with him—”
“—I loved him,” Taylor blurted. She kept her eyes down, her face flushing red and not wanting to see the looks on their faces. “I... I love him still, I think. I don’t know. I realized it the night he... the... He cried. He was so happy. I still didn’t know he was serious about killing everyone. I thought he was a strange sort of artist or something, I don’t know. A prank. But I loved him.”
Doug rubbed a hand through his hair. He had suspected a long time ago that Taylor had a crush on Les. When they first started filming it had been kind of funny. Their first solo project and she had been acting like a thirteen year old girl when the camera was off. When everything went crazy, Les actually killing those kids, Doug felt like his heart had been squeezed in a fist. He couldn’t believe his bro, goofy Leslie who loved magic tricks, had actually murdered two teenagers. On the wings of this initial feeling, he hurt for Taylor. He knew how she felt and he had seen the heartbreak and revulsion on her face as the sickly wet noise of Les’ scythe could be heard from the next room.
And then the weird sense of dull unreality set in and continued until Taylor dispelled it by challenging them to go with her to try and save the kids.
Doc Halloran stood up, face pale. Taylor still had her head down and couldn’t see the expression on his face but Doug caught it. “Taylor,” Doc said, fighting hard to keep his voice level and normal, “maybe you should look into getting psychiatric treatment. You must be struggling terribly with guilt and confusion, especially if your feelings towards Leslie were that... complicated.”
Taylor finally looked up but only Doug saw Halloran’s stricken expression snap into one of kindly concern. “Can you help me?” her voice was quiet but firm. Not needy at all. “You’re a doctor.”
“I can try,” Halloran’s control over his emotions was impressive. Doug was curious about the doctor’s reaction to Taylor’s confession. It seemed out of character for him. Not that they had known each other for long.
Doc Halloran muttered something and darted out of the hotel room. Taylor frowned, taken aback. “Is he okay?” she asked, suddenly worried, “Did I offend him?”
Doug shrugged. He stood, stretched and patted Taylor’s shoulder. “You finish eating, Tay. Go shower and get ready if you want. I’ll go see what’s up with him. Later we should call the station about our internships.”
She nodded. Doug smiled reassuringly at her. “Are you gonna be okay alone for a bit?”
Doug left the hotel room. He turned a corner and began walking towards the elevators. Everyone was off, which was understandable. He had always thought that Doc Halloran was better grounded than he and Taylor were, but with this sudden flight from the hotel room, Doug wasn’t so sure anymore.
He found Doc Halloran sitting with his head in his hands at a table in the hotel’s restaurant. He slid into the bench seat across from him. “You okay?”
“No, Doug,” he replied tersely. “I’m not okay.” He dropped his hands and frowned at the younger man. “Is Taylor alone?”
“She said she’d be okay,” Doug said defensively. “It’s not like I abandoned her, Doc. She’s just in the room.”
Halloran sighed, his shoulders slumping. “I’m trying very hard to be strong for her, Doug. And for you. But it’s hard. If I’m the only solid thing in your lives, what else can I do?”
“I don’t need you to be strong for me,” Doug told him. “I’m coping better than Taylor is, I think. I can’t wait to get home and to start working again. I want to see my mom and brother. But I know how you feel. I don’t want to leave Taylor and she doesn’t seem ready to go home yet.”
Halloran studied Doug’s face. He could see the honesty in Doug’s face. The plain, earnest caring the young man brought with him was extraordinary. Halloran was impressed with how true of friends Taylor had. Todd, poor guy, had sacrificed himself with the half hearted hope of getting away but also with the true intention to give his friends a fighting chance of survival. Doug had even stood up to Leslie. Yes, Doug had accidentally smashed him in the head with a shovel, but he had also put himself between Leslie and Taylor, face to face with the killer and took a hard hit.
“Doc,” Doug started cautiously, “What are your feelings towards Tay?”
Doc Halloran waved away a waiter who had finally scurried over. His face had gone pale again but his eyes were steely. “I’ve developed some romantic feelings,” he said flatly. “I am not planning on acting upon them.”
Doug shook his head and held up his hands in a way that said ‘whoa there’. “I’m not criticising. At all. What you choose to do with those feelings is none of my business. I just told Taylor I’d make sure you were okay. Don’t worry,” he added quickly, seeing a protest rising to Halloran’s mouth, “I’m not gonna say anything to her, man. Just... be careful with her, okay?”
In the hotel room Taylor was laying on a bed with her eyes closed. She was tired, despite having slept fairly well. She always slept better when Doc Halloran or Doug was there. Last night it had only been Halloran and herself. Doug had gone back to Glen Echo early the morning before to pick up their van. The police said they could take it, since they had taken all DNA samples, finger prints and such that they could find. It wasn’t like the police needed more physical evidence to prove Leslie had done it, especially since they had the body.
It was creepy to think that somewhere in Glen Echo; Leslie’s body was sitting on a slab in a freezer. Everything that made Leslie unique was gone. Only the shell that housed his essence was left and it was cold and dead. The thought hurt and relieved her at the same time. The Leslie she had fallen in love with was wiped from the planet. The flip side of the coin was the Leslie that had killed so many was as equally buried.
Taylor could feel herself slipping into sleep. How long had it been since Doug and Doc Halloran had left? She wasn’t sure. They would be coming back soon, she reasoned. She could have a quick nap. They’d wake her up before she was deep enough to dream.
She didn’t know where the dreams were coming from. Doc kept telling her it was her subconscious rehashing the trauma Leslie caused. She was only skeptical because she didn’t recognize anything from her dreams. The room she kept going to and the laugh she kept hearing where unfamiliar. The laugh definitely wasn’t Leslie’s or anyone she had encountered in her life that would have been considered an aggressor, like a childhood bully. The hissing steam she often heard only reminded her of the hot water boiler in her parents’ house when she was a kid. Had something happened to her as a kid she had forgotten about?
Taylor suddenly sat up. She looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. It was one in the afternoon. She jumped to her feet. Doug and Halloran had been gone for hours. They had left her there! Panic rose in Taylor’s body, tensing her muscles as she prepared to flee. A sliver of rationality wedged itself into her panicked mind. She talked herself away from the urge to run through the hotel halls calling for her friends. They must have come in while she was sleeping and figured they’d let her rest. God knows they were all exhausted.
Picking up the key card from the bedside table, Taylor left the hotel room. She might as well go see if the guys were around somewhere. More likely than not, they were at the hotel restaurant drinking coffee. There wasn’t much else to do in Springwood.
When Taylor got to the elevators, there was an “out of order” sign on them and an arrow pointing to the stairwell. Odd. It must have broken recently. Taylor stepped into the stairwell and started down the stairs. Their hotel room was on the second floor so there wouldn’t be far to go.
Taylor suddenly came upon an unexpected set of stairs. They led to a dingy looking landing which had only one unmarked door. She looked behind her, thinking she must have missed something. This had to be a service stairwell for staff. The door was dirty and beaten up. It was obviously not for guests to be using.
A shriek tore from Taylor’s throat. Behind her the stair case she had descended was gone. There was only a wall. She pounded on it with her fists, shouting. It was useless.
She pressed her forehead against the wall, panting. Think, Tay, it was Leslie’s voice in her head, which made her feel better and worse simultaneously, there has to be a logical explanation.
“It’s a dream,” Taylor breathed. Feeling calmer, she reaches for the doorknob. It swung open before she could touch it. More stairs greeted her.
The laughter from her last dream floated up from where the stairs disappeared. Taylor couldn’t see what was at the bottom. The stairwell either turned or the lights had given out. Only a dream, Tay, Leslie’s voice said. Taylor could feel herself being drawn to the stairs. She took one step down and then another.
Soon Taylor was half way down before she realized it. The laughter rang out again, louder. It sent a shiver down her spine.
Click. Click click. Click click click clickclickclick.
Taylor couldn’t stop walking. It was like she was watching the dream and not dreaming it. She found herself peering through darkness. Her feet touched metal and every footstep rang out. Soft light began to flicker from somewhere in the room and she suddenly felt terribly hot.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Laughter again, only closer. Taylor spun, trying to source it. “Who are you?” She called out.
She turned once more, eyes widening and mouth dropping.
“Leslie,” she gasped.
He grinned and swung at her with his right hand. His fingers glittered with metal.
Doug got a solid smack from Taylor’s flailing hand. He grunted but ignored the stinging pain. He caught her wrist and called her name again. Taylor shook him off and continued to kick and scream.
Doc Halloran stepped around Doug and grabbed bold of both of Taylor’s hands. He locked his fingers between hers and pushed down, forcing her to lie back on the bed. Her screaming stopped as she took a breath. Halloran took the opportunity to lean forward quickly and say “Taylor!” forcefully.
Her eyes flew open, pupils searching wildly. She finally focused on Halloran and burst into tears. He dropped her hands and pulled her into a hug. “It was him,” Taylor sobbed, “Oh God, it was him. It was Leslie.”
“Shh,” Halloran hushed her, “It was a dream, Taylor, you were dreaming.”
Doug draped his arms over her shaking shoulders too. “Tay, it’s alright. We’re here now.”