Feature Short Story
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                        Girl and Afraid
                                                By January Jones


Another night alone, Jill thought as she sat down on the couch, steam from
the microwave meal lightly fogging her glasses.

‘Nothing on, nothing on, nothing on,’ she murmured flicking through the
infomercials, sex-line ads, and reality shows that summed-up free-to-air
television.  Deciding that she wasn’t tired (and even if she was, it would be
too depressing going to bed this early on a Saturday night), Jill chose an old
favorite from her extensive film collection, When a Stranger Calls.  Placing the
DVD into the machine, Jill glanced at the cover, the blurb gleefully promising
‘The first fifteen minutes of this film are the most terrifying moments ever
caught on screen.’  Hurrying back to the couch and wrapping the well-worn
knitted blanket around her, Jill checked the time on her phone; what else did
she use it for other than a replacement for a wristwatch?  Bathed in the soft
glow of the screen Jill nestled into the couch, mesmerized by the opening
sequence she knew so well.

People were often interested in Jill’s fascination with horror films, frequently
asking if watching them alone frightened her.

‘No, not really,’ she would reply with a shy smile.  She always felt awkward
explaining her fixation with horror to other people.

‘Wow, you’re so brave.  I’d never be able to sleep,’ would come the polite
response, a feeble attempt at a compliment.  What Jill wouldn’t say is that she
didn’t have a choice whether she watched horror films (or any film for that
matter) alone.  She watched them alone because she was alone.

Horror films of the slasher/stalker variety were a favorite of Jill’s.  She
claimed it was because they followed certain ‘generic conventions;’ they each
contained a final girl, a terrible place, and a weapon of intimacy.  And in some
sense this was true.  What she didn’t tell anyone is that they excited her.  
Watching Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason (his mother included)
stalk and kill their victims thrilled and captivated Jill.  She would always
remember the first time she watched Halloween.  She was nine and attending
her first sleepover, which she assumed was the result of her mother pestering
Jessica’s into inviting her.  As soon as the film began Jill was transfixed.  
While all the other girls were squealing, or hiding in their sleeping bags, she
couldn’t tear her eyes away from the screen as a six-year-old walked up the
stairs to stab his sister to death.  At that moment Jill knew what it was to be
Michael Myers.

However, it wasn’t only the killers that interested Jill, it was also the girls.  The
final girls. Laurie, Nancy, Alice. Jill watched them, studying their every move.  
Who they were, and what they might have felt.  That was what Jill desperately
wanted to know, how it felt.  What it was like to be watched, wanted, chased,
and then finally, to triumph.  She idolized and worshipped them, especially
Laurie.  To Jill, Laurie was the perfect final girl. She was intelligent, kind, and
handy with a wire hanger: and despite having a familial bond to her stalker,
she could still do whatever it took to protect herself and those around her.

Just as the film was entering its most suspenseful moment – the killer was
about to whisper ‘I want your blood, all over me’ – Jill heard a loud banging
coming from one of the other rooms.  Pausing the film, she decided to go and
see where the noise was coming from.  As she walked down the hall, Jill
switched on every available light; the house revealing an almost suffocating
emptiness.  Eventually she noticed that a window in the dining room had
somehow come unlocked and was now opening and closing in succession
with the winds outside.  Shivering as the breeze caught her bare arms, Jill
locked the window and hurried back to the lounge room.

How odd, she thought, wondering how the window could possibly unlock
itself.  The latches were antique but sturdy and it seemed almost impossible
that the wind could open them, despite its growing strength.

‘I must have forgotten about that one,’ Jill said aloud as she lay back down
on the couch.  Speaking aloud was superfluous, she knew this, but it helped
somehow.  It was coming up to her favorite scene, the babysitter was about to
discover that the calls were coming from ‘inside the house’ and the voice on
the other line did not belong to her practical joke-playing boyfriend, but a
crazed maniac.

Suddenly Jill shot upright, the sound of a drawer opening and quickly
slamming shut in the kitchen startling her.

That couldn’t have been the wind, Jill thought, wiping her now damp hands
on the old grey sweat-pants she always wore.  Pausing the film, she peered
cautiously over at the kitchen.  Not seeing anything untoward, she got up
from the couch and crept in the direction of the sound, her pulse quickening
in opposition to her reluctant pace.  Turning the light on without hesitation, Jill
was relieved to see the kitchen was as empty as she left it.  Almost
immediately, however, Jill noticed that something was, in fact, very out of
place.  Directly on top of the granite bench top lay a long, sharp kitchen knife;
the kind used for carving meat.  Jill’s heartbeat quickened as she tried to
remember whether she had used this knife whilst preparing her dinner.  
Immediately recalling the bland Weight Watchers meal that was sitting half
eaten in the lounge room, she realized she hadn’t.

Grasping the knife by its smooth black handle, careful to point the sharp
blade away from her body, Jill slid to the ground, her back against the
cupboards.  With the kitchen lights still turned on she focused her attention
carefully on the sounds of the house.  Jill couldn’t hear anything except the
winds outside and the gentle buzz of the television on pause.  After what
seemed like an hour, Jill decided that her imagination had gotten the better of
her and perhaps she had mistakenly left the knife out after all.  Rising slowly,
but keeping the knife poised in front of her, Jill gently opened the drawer and
placed the it back inside; the chinking of the blades giving her a sense of
reassurance.

Before returning to her film, Jill made her way down the dark hallway and into
the bathroom to wash the dried sweat off her hands and forehead.  Fear
smelt, Jill thought, but it was not as pungent as sadness.  Letting the hallway
light illuminate the bathroom, Jill turned on the brass tap and let it run over
her long, bony fingers; ‘piano-hands’ her mother called them.  Splashing the
cool water over her face Jill began to relax.  She groped for the hand towel
but to no avail, ‘where was everything tonight?’ she thought.  Fumbling for the
light switch Jill screamed when she saw the mirror.  With water streaming from
her face, her eyes gradually refocused and read the message scrawled on
her mirror,

‘I’m watching you,’ it taunted.

Grabbing the hand towel from the floor, she rubbed frantically at the crimson
message until all that remained was a dull red smudge.  Jill ran out of the
bathroom and into the kitchen, turning on every light she passed.  Scrambling
through the drawer her hand found what it was searching for and her ice-cold
fingers curled tightly around the handle.  With the knife in her hand Jill made
her way hurriedly into the lounge room and climbed onto the couch.

‘There is someone in here, there is someone watching me’ she repeated
over and over, her heart almost bursting out of her chest with each beat.  
She wondered if this was someone’s idea of a sick joke?  But dismissed it
quickly, who would bother?  Somewhat rationally she contemplated what to do
next.  Should she call the police, or run next door?  Would her neighbors
even be home?  Would anyone hear her if she screamed for help?  Gripping
the knife so tightly her knuckles hurt, she let out a choked sob.  What should
she do?  The sound of her phone ringing startled and broke her trail of
concentration.  Grabbing it swiftly, tears now muddying her face, she
screamed,

‘Who are you and what do you want?’

‘Jill dear, is that you? What’s wrong darling?’  Her mother’s impatient voice
rang down the other end.

‘Oh, hi mom.  No, nothing wrong just got a little scared.  I’m going to bed now.’

‘Another night in hey?’  Her mother chuckled in the gently mocking tone she
knew her daughter hated, ‘okay dear just calling to check, I’ll be home soon.’  
Jill dropped the knife onto the glass coffee table and lent back against the
couch.  The silver light of the television poured over her as she stared in
numb envy at the heroine’s fear-twisted face.

Mechanically she got up from the couch, letting the blanket fall neatly on the
carpet as she made her way back into the kitchen.  Placing the knife where
she had first put it, on the bench top, she slowly made her way towards the
dining room and expertly unfastened the lock; leaving the window banging
relentlessly.  Lastly, she followed the narrow hallway to the bathroom,
carefully wiping clean the shiny oval mirror before opening the drawer and
clasping the never worn red lipstick, aptly named ‘Bloody Valentine.’

Purposefully she began rewriting her message.

The night is not yet over, she thought, smiling at her reflection through the
perfectly scrolled ruby writing.