Certain that I was alone for the moment, I opened my eyes. High stained windows. An old baptistry tank. A faceless religious statue.
A church, I realized. I was in a church, lying on a front wooden pew. Going by the debris littering the floor and the cracks and dents in the walls, it had long ago been abandoned. Tilting my head just a little, I noticed the altar on the dais. It wasn’t covered in dust. It was smooth and polished, and surrounded by ceremonial candles.
Getting a brief look at my wrist, I winced. It was swollen and grotesquely bruised. Definitely broken. On the upside, my watch was on my other wrist—apart from a little friction burn courtesy of the airbag, it was unhurt—and it was working just fine. On the downside, I’d need to use one of my tingling fingers to press the SOS button on the side.
Calling Blake would be a bad idea, considering Ricky had to be here somewhere. If he realized that I’d contacted Blake and that people would soon be here, Ricky would kill me fast and be on his way. That wasn’t going to happen. No, it was best to use the SOS button.
Moving my uninjured hand as close to the other as possible, I managed to lift my index finger—fuck, that hurt—and then I pushed hard on the button. I clenched my teeth to bite back a cry of pain as I kept my finger pressed there, silently counting to five. With that done, I let out a shaky breath. Blake would receive the alert. He’d know I needed him. He’d come.
Just in case he thought about calling me in a blind panic, I quickly put the watch on silent mode with a single tap to the menu bar at the top of the screen. The fact that he hadn’t already called meant he wasn’t concerned about me yet, so I couldn’t have been unconscious too long, right? Oh shit, it also meant that Rossi hadn’t been able to reach him. It wasn’t yet dark outside, but it was certainly dull—though that could simply be thanks to the shit weather—so I truly couldn’t even guess how long he’d been out there all alone.
Praying—no, the irony of that didn’t escape me, considering where I was—that Rossi was okay, I stiffly sat upright. The world spun. Damn. It was an absolute marvel that I didn’t vomit. I felt something crusty agitating the side of my face and, guessing it was ribbons of dry blood, rubbed at it gently. Sure enough, my fingers came away with reddish brown specks. Great.
Catching something in my peripheral vision, I glanced to my right. My heart stopped. Then it was pounding like a drum. Someone was sat at the end of the pew, covered from head to toe in a scraggly black cloak like a leper from olden times. Their head was bowed as if in prayer, and they weren’t moving. Not even a tiny bit. And I knew as sure as I knew my own name that this was the source of the rank smell. I was looking at a dead body.
Cringing, I scrambled further down the pew and slapped a hand over my mouth—maybe to stop a scream, maybe to fight the urge to throw up. Maybe both. I would have run my ass off if my legs weren’t like jelly.
Chest heaving, I panted. Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God.
My gaze darted around, taking in everything. My chest tightened as I saw that, oh no, there were more of them. Behind me were rows upon rows of pews separated only by a single aisle. Hooded bodies were sporadically placed on the wooden benches. Some were even seated together.
Inside my head, I screamed. My ribs suddenly felt as tight as the wet jeans clinging to my skin. Out, I had to get out.
“You should see how wide your eyes are.”
My gaze snapped to the altar as Ricky came strolling onto the podium, the image of amusement.
“Shit, you look close to hyperventilating. Okay, I’ll admit, this place is eerie.” He glanced at the bodies. “Sometimes, I half-expect them to start moving around. Don’t worry, Kensey. They can’t hurt you. They’re very much dead. But there’ll be no burial for them. They need to repent their sins. Need to witness as others are punished.” His nostrils flared. “Soon, they’ll witness you being punished. Then you’ll join them in repenting.”
My skin tightened and prickled, like something was crawling over me. He’d always been creepy, but now? Now there was something spine-chilling about him. Who could honestly look at a bunch of dead people and smile? I shivered again, feeling as cold on the inside as I did on the outside.
He sighed. “I was really hoping the crash would kill you.”
Yeah, and I was betting that he hadn’t planned to take me anywhere. If he had, he’d have brought rope to tie me up before dumping me in his truck. I swallowed. “Why not just kill me at the crash site and drive away?”
“If it was your fate to die there, the crash would’ve done the job,” he said simply. “But maybe it’s better this way. Murder by car collision is so … impersonal.”
Resisting the urge to snarl, I asked, “Where’s your friend?”
Ricky squinted just a little. “He’ll be here soon. My mother found my letters, did she?”
“No. A cop did.” I licked my dry lips. “Your mom’s worried about you.”
He shook his head, incredulous. “You know, I could shoot someone’s face off right in front of her, and she’d stick by me. She would. I’d love her if she wasn’t such a lying bitch, telling me that my father’s dead. Me and you both know that isn’t true, don’t we?”
I didn’t answer, refusing to tell him what he wanted to hear.
He snickered. “Well, at least you didn’t say ‘yes’ and act submissive. I wouldn’t have bought it.”
“Why did you write the story?” I asked. Not because I cared, but because I needed to delay whatever he meant to do. Blake would come for me. I needed to do my part and stay alive until he got here.
Ricky’s face set into a childlike, petulant frown. “I was supposed to leave you alone. I didn’t want to. Dad would rave about the stories you wrote for him. Yeah, well, I can write stories too, if I want.”
Oh Jesus, he sounded like a kid struggling with sibling rivalry. And listening to a grown man talk that way made the knot in my stomach tighten. “You can also do a good job of vandalizing apartments and cars, can’t you?”
He pursed his lips, gaze unfocused. “Yeah, I don’t remember all that very well. I was mad and not really thinking.” He shrugged, as if it didn’t matter. But to him, it didn’t. Not much did. Not even the corpses around us.
Supremely conscious of the body sitting not far from me, I was tempted to glimpse at it. I resisted. God, I wished I’d never looked in the first place. But it was too late to un-see it. I knew I’d never get that image out of my head. Never.
A cruel smirk split his lips. “Would you like to see under the hoods of our parishioners? You might recognize one or two of them. It’ll add to the fun.”
Terror gripped my insides. Who could he mean? My mother … I hadn’t spoken to her in over two days. No, he couldn’t have—
A car engine.
Ricky grinned. “Ah, here he is.”
Every muscle in my body went tight. Please be Blake. Please be Blake. Please be Blake. But it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t, because the footsteps that soon began heading our way were even and leisurely—a person who was in no rush at all. The tread was nothing like Blake’s.
My panicked breaths sawed in and out of me. Dammit, I needed to get the fuck out of this place. There was a chance that Blake wouldn’t reach me in time. No fucking way was I going to die here. No way would I be propped on a pew, covered in a black cloak. But I didn’t know how the hell I was going to save myself.