6. Vivienne, Josie, Kirk…and Katrina.

Several voices from multiple places intermingled in the seconds following Vivienne’s bloodcurdling scream.  Amelia could still be heard pleading for answers from the phone now laying on Josie’s floor.  Josie had begun repeating, “Oh, my god…” again and again as she raced out into the hallway and headed for the source of the shriek.  Kirk met up with her and bellowed, “What the hell is going on?”

The only person who seemed unfazed by the commotion was the one who had risen silently from her bed, walked calmly into the kitchen she shared with Josie, bent to pick up the abandoned cordless phone, and – without registering any emotion whatsoever in response to Amelia’s frantic cries on the other end – hit the “end call” button.  Katrina returned the phone to its cradle before shooting a baleful look at the growing scene several apartments away, visible through the door that Josie had left agape in her rush.  With an impatient but nearly inaudible sigh, Katrina pushed their front door closed and wandered back into her dark bedroom, closing that door behind her as well to cut down on the racket.

Aside from Katrina, though, it seemed everyone else on the floor was in complete disarray.  Various neighbours had begun poking their heads out of their flats, if not attracted by the alarming sound from Vivienne then by the melee that followed.

Josie began to bang, hands flat, then with her fists, on Vivienne’s door.  “Vivienne?” she cried.  “My god, Viv, are you okay?  What’s happening?”

Kirk tugged his girlfriend away from the door.  The scream had startled him, too, but he wasn’t about to be given over to histrionics, regardless of how weird Viv had looked earlier.  “Jo, maybe she just had a nightmare.  Christ, do we really need to make a scene like this?”  He glanced around and saw the gathering of people on either side of them in the corridor, and he flushed in embarrassment.

“Did that sound like ‘just a nightmare’ to you?” Josie shot back, pulling free and resuming her campaign against Vivienne’s door.  To Viv she said, “C’mon, girl…just…say something and let us know you’re okay!”

In anticipation of some kind of response – any kind at all – the din died down for a moment.  Even the student spectators fell to a hush.  Long seconds ticked by without a sound, from inside Vivienne’s quarters or from the corridor.  And then:
“Please…don’t.  Just go away.  I don’t want you in here.”

Vivienne’s voice was faint, a little on the hoarse side, but audible.  Josie stepped back but kept her palms on the door, as though she’d be able to offer some kind of support that way.  “We don’t have to come in, Viv,” Josie said plaintively.  “We just want to know if everything’s all right!  You screamed!  I mean…are you hurt?”  She gave Kirk a resentful look over her shoulder.  “Or did you just have a bad dream?”
This time Josie had to press her ear against the door to make out anything Vivienne was saying.  “…a nightmare.  Just a nightmare.”  That was all Josie could hear, but she sighed and turned to confirm that the smug look she’d have expected from Kirk had indeed formed on his face.  Oddly enough, it hadn’t.  Kirk still looked unsettled.  A quick glance around at the other friends, acquaintances and classmates gathered in small clusters nearby showed that they, too, were a bit on edge.  Josie wondered how much worse it would have been had anyone other than she and Kirk had seen the state Vivienne was in only an hour or so ago.
Kirk seemed to forget himself and his frat boy bravado for a moment as he again stepped forward, this time gathering Josie into a hug.  “She’s fine, Jo.  Obviously she doesn’t want us bugging her any more tonight.  Let’s just leave her be.”

Aware that other students were now edging closer to hear the exchange between the two of them, Josie’s voice dropped in volume as she looked directly into Kirk’s eyes.  “You and I both know there’s more to this than a nightmare,” she whispered.

“Maybe so,” Kirk allowed, though his gut was speaking far more forcefully to him than his mouth was to Josie.  “But we can’t do anything more about it tonight.  If she wants to be left alone so she can go back to sleep, that’s what we should do.”

“And tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow…”  Kirk stopped himself before saying that tomorrow wasn’t his problem, that he’d already been done out of a romp in the common room with his girlfriend tonight and wasn’t feeling terribly charitable toward the cause of it.  “Tomorrow you can talk to your den mother, or whatever she’s called, and get her to look in on Viv.  That’s her job.  It’s not yours.”  He turned and looked around at the rubberneckers surrounding them on all sides and raised his voice again.  “Okay, everyone – one of your neighbours had a bad dream.  Big deal.  You’ve all gotten your entertainment for the night.  Nothing to see here.  Move it along.”

“Kirk!” Josie hissed.  “That’s so rude!”

“C’mon, Jo.  You really think most of these people give a damn?  Once they know they’re not in danger, that there’s no psycho who’s broken in and is attacking random students, their only concern is the spectacle and what they can gossip about in Art History tomorrow morning.  It’ll probably have turned into a story about how Viv’s a screamer and she’s getting laid by some dude from Alpha Beta Phi.”  Kirk’s trademark bad-boy grin finally resurfaced.  “You know firsthand we’re the best there is.”
Josie rolled her eyes but couldn’t stifle a little smile.  “Whatever.”  As the crowds dispersed and people began disappearing back into their own apartments, she turned back to Vivienne’s door with one last plea.  “Viv, if you need anything tonight, just come knocking, okay?  Please?”

They heard nothing.  Kirk shrugged.  “See?  Probably already back to sleep.”  He put an arm around his girlfriend and leaned in close.  “So…since I got totally screwed out of my date night with you…”

“You know that’s not allowed,” Josie protested, anticipating his suggestion, but without much firmness in her voice.

“Aw, come on…we didn’t get caught last time.  And your den mother must either be out partying or she’s a damn heavy sleeper, ‘cos I don’t see her out here wringing her hands like the rest of you.  Come on.  Come on, come on, come on.”  He was teasing her now, and whatever resolve she had was wearing down quickly.  Just not entirely for the reasons Kirk would’ve liked to believe.
“Fine, but we’re not going to make this a regular thing, okay?” she said under her breath as they turned to head toward Josie’s apartment.  “I’d like to be able to still live here next year, thanks.”

“Lord knows why,” Kirk drawled.  “Clearly you’re surrounded by freaks and dumbasses.”

“Oh, shut up,” she replied with a chuckle.  The smile on her lips died, however, almost immediately upon reaching her room at G237.  Kirk, for once, noticed.

“What’s wrong?”

“That’s just…weird.  I thought I left my door open.”

“Maybe your loony roommate closed it.”

“No, she was asleep when I came in to…  Oh, no, poor Amelia!”  Josie put her hands to her face.  “I think I left her on the phone!  She’s probably so freaked out right now…”

Josie turned the doorknob and was relieved to find that she hadn’t locked herself out somehow; clearly she’d misremembered whatever had happened in the seconds following her race to Vivienne’s apartment.

Or had she?

As the couple stepped inside, Kirk flicked the switch to turn on the overhead light in the kitchenette.  The apartment was otherwise completely dark.

Okay, Josie thought, I definitely did not waste time turning out the lights.

Then her gaze fell upon the cradled phone receiver.  She distinctly recalled dropping it before the mad rush.  Upon closer inspection she could see that the ringer was now off – which it never was – and the caller ID light was flashing, indicating that Amelia had called back a half dozen times after…

“You’re creeping me out,” Kirk said from behind her, and she jumped.  He reacted in kind, with a nervous laugh.  “Jesus, Jo, what the hell?”

“Keep your voice down!”  She was hissing again.  Kirk backed away.

“What has gotten into all these crazy bitches?” he muttered to himself, careful not to let Josie hear, for that would surely torpedo the last chance he had to get some tonight.

Josie’s eyes moved to the crack beneath Katrina’s door, just as they had earlier.  Still no light.  But if Katrina had gotten up because of the ruckus, why on earth would she not have come out to see what was going on?  And if she hadn’t gotten up…who had turned off the lights and hung up on Amelia?  What the hell was going on?

She voiced none of this to Kirk, ushering him quickly into her bedroom instead and shutting the door behind them.

“Whoo!” Kirk exclaimed with a laugh.  “So now you want to get all aggressive, eh?  I’m down with that.  Definitely.”  He sat down on the bed and bounced a couple of times.  Maybe focusing on Josie’s hot body would quell the unexplained uneasiness that was lingering deep within him.
As she let Kirk undress her and went through the motions of returning his kisses, Josie’s mind was far away from her impending sexual escapade.  Haunted still by Vivienne’s strange responses at the door and whatever was truly going on behind it, and now completely baffled by whatever had gone on in her own apartment while she was gone, Josie would play along with Kirk tonight, and risk breaking the rules by letting him sleep over, because the truth was that she really and truly did not want to be alone until morning.
Meanwhile, only a wall-width away in her dark bedroom, Katrina heard the enthused whooping of that poor excuse of a “fraternity” brother, the creaking springs, the ghetto Harlequin-esque “oh baby oh yeah” exclamations, and everything else Kirk and Josie were doing.  An expression of pure loathing settled upon her face.  Nighttime was her time, and having it interrupted by copulating college kids displeased her greatly.
Maybe it was time she shut them up, too.

Alpha Delta Phi

5. Damian

The darkness was getting tiresome.

Even for someone who had embraced it, in his choice of clothes and music and lifestyle, Damian had reached his limit with the darkness lately.  Probably, he reasoned, because unlike those choices, this was anything but voluntary.

He sat quietly on Vivienne’s bed, curtains closed tightly in spite of it being well past wintry dusk by now, and with one hand he fiddled with the pull-string on the nightstand lamp.  A couple of hours earlier the silence had been deafening, with most of the students who lived on the floor out at class or grabbing burgers for dinner on campus, but now he could hear the bustle of daily homecoming.  He cocked his head to one side, keeping himself at the ready for the moment when he heard Vivienne’s footfalls at the top of the stairs, her signature jingle of her keys as they jostled against the chain he’d given to her months ago.

Things weren’t supposed to have gone this way.

His long term memory had improved of late; within the confines of his brain, the more recent events, though, were as cloaked in fog as he imagined Carfax Abbey had been in Stoker’s imagination.  Or was that a real place used for a supposedly fictional story?  Huh.  Maybe the long term memories were suffering, too.  Most things do when you’re starving.

One moment, the one he most wanted to forget in his more immediate history, was the one he couldn’t block out completely no matter how hard he tried.  It was fragmented – a flurry of hands, lips, bare skin, the passionate tangle of limbs, the smell of Vivienne’s shampoo, the hot pulse of lips against throat, clean sweat, her hands, her eyes, her purr – but it was there.  Especially the climactic moment.  Utter bliss, pleasure coursing through every vein, right before the flash of teeth and the taste of copper.

Damian sighed.  He ran a pale hand through his dark hair and let the pull-string clink freely against the base of the lamp.  Remembering the last truly pure carnal experience with Viv was torture.  Nothing had been pure since.  Except this darkness.

The footfalls were approaching.  He stood up, moving silently to his favourite nook in the corner of her bedroom, a spot she never seemed to check.  He’d been spending a lot of time there lately, and even when she was mere feet away, she didn’t seem to notice…or if she did, she didn’t acknowledge him.  He found it hard to believe she couldn’t know there was someone so nearby – anyone, but especially him – but mind games apparently went with this new territory between them.

And now the keys.  The “click-click-snap” as the door unlocked.  The blinding moment as hallway light bathed every corner of the room except the one he inhabited.  In the instant before Vivienne closed the door behind her, locking them in together, he noticed for the first time a growing collection of scarves draped haphazardly over the back of her desk chair.  It took great effort not to snigger to himself, at himself, but surely she would have heard that.  And then she’d be forced to admit that she knew he was there.  Or maybe not.

Once his eyes had readjusted to the blackness, he settled in and watched her.  As she set her belongings down and began to remove her clothes, he couldn’t help but think she was doing it as though for an audience.  Each article was slipped off her body so slowly, so deliberately…  Who undresses that way when they’re alone?  Ah, Miss Vivienne, he thought, there is so much I still don’t know about you, and so much I could’ve stood to know a few short months ago.

Naked, she paused, glancing around the room, surveying the land.  He was certain he saw her eyes glint in the dark as they paused on his space in the corner, but after the briefest moment she carried on.  He stifled a sigh as she covered her curves in that awful flannel get-up she’d never worn on their nights together.  Into bed she slid, sitting upright, looking unnerved.  Yeah.  She knew he was near.

It wasn’t long before she was deep into some fantasy or another, and he watched every rise and fall of her breasts as though he was a veteran voyeur.  Each time her breath quickened, so did his.  He had just begun to contemplate closing the gap between them and ravaging her when she suddenly gasped, and something made her leap from her bed and open her door, looking around as though expecting to see an enemy out there, instead of realizing her greatest weakness was already inside.  He smirked.  Here’s hoping there are neighbours roaming the halls, Viv, he thought, because otherwise this little show of yours is going to waste.

After a moment she returned to the bed, and once again he could feel the erotic energy in the room ratcheting up.  If only he could see what she saw behind those pretty eyelids of hers; it was something he’d come to lament often lately.  His eyes fixed on her hands, watching them as they moved over her body the way his were meant to do.  Little sounds were escaping her parted lips, and it was beginning to drive him mad.  The way she gripped a wrist in her hand, the pale flash of all too little skin, bruises visible to him even in the shadows…  He wanted to be the one to leave them there now.  It seemed only fair.  And he was hungry, so very hungry, for her.

Without a sound he rose and stalked to her bedside.  He wanted her.  But he wanted something more than just physical pleasure right now.  He wanted the upper hand.

One impossibly smooth move and the string was pulled, her lamp – dim as it was – chasing away the darkness in her room.  All was revealed, including him, so close he could almost taste her.

“Sleeping without me again?” he whispered.

The satisfaction he gained from her look of shock was topped only by the delicious scream that followed.

4. Vivienne

If she had ever been more grateful to reside in one of the solo student apartments than she was now, Vivienne couldn’t remember an example.  In her first year she had happily shared a suite on campus with Amelia and another friend; dating Damian had changed all of that.  And not for the reasons most people assumed it had.

Tonight, as she had done most nights prior for the past weeks, she’d returned directly from her obligations – in this case her meeting at the diner with Amelia, which hadn’t gone especially well – and had set about her new nightly routine.  Undress.  Toss laundry on an ever-growing heap in the corner of her bedroom.  Enter the bathroom and lock the door behind her, even though the main door had already been secured, so there was realistically no reason to think anyone would be able to walk in on her as she showered…but that was another issue entirely.  Turn on the hottest water imaginable.  Avoid looking at self in mirror until it had fogged up enough to obscure her image, at which point, if she squinted, she could almost convince herself that it was a normal, healthy face with calm, sane eyes looking back at her.  Almost.  Survive scalding shower.  Towel off as though punishing self for reasons unknown, scrubbing her reddened skin until it felt as though a layer would come off.  Dress in neck-high flannel nightgown that was hanging at the ready on the back of the door.  Avoid the mirror again as the haze cleared.  Switch off the light, walk purposefully toward the bed, and get in for the night.  No messing about.  No homework.  No reading.  Just darkness.

If she’d still had roommates, she would have a lot to explain.  Mercifully, she was alone.

In a manner of speaking, anyway.

Her post-breakup habits had included staying up all night – not intentionally, really, but that was just how Vivienne’s internal clock had dictated she ought to…what?  Mourn the fact that she’d dumped her boyfriend? – and only barely escaping a complete meltdown by stealing an hour or so of sleep just before dawn.  Needless to say, her morning classes were suffering.  But, she reasoned, nothing was suffering more than she was.

Tonight’s events played out in their routine manner right down to the letter.  Precise, that is, until the whole “stay in bed for the night” element.  That bit took an unsettling turn, and she would later be furious with herself that there had been witnesses.

Vivienne had gotten herself under the covers and sat up straight, pillows stacked behind her, intending to stare straight ahead into the blackness of her room for hours once again.  She mentally ran through the conversation she’d had with Amelia, regretting the dramatic show of her bruises, wishing she could have a do-over of today – or, hell, of the last however many weeks and months – but rather than getting angry and feeling it impossible to rest (which was her intended goal of thinking about stressful subjects in bed), she felt herself becoming strangely…sleepy.  Her brain switched gears the way a television’s channels change, flicking from one image to the next, getting her further away from Amelia’s concern and much closer to someone else: Damian.

WIthout realizing it, her eyes closed, allowing the slideshow in her mind to progress all the more vividly.  Still photos turned into movie clips, more elaborate and sensual than she would’ve liked to allow.  Damian in her bed.  The way his lips felt.  The thrilling chill that always went through her body when they pressed together, skin to skin.  The way she could see his eyes – and everything behind them – even in the dark of this room.  Completely unaware she was doing so, Vivienne began to rub at her wrists, as though replacing his touch with her own.  Her breath had quickened, her eyes shut tightly now, her head tilting back against the pillows as she unconsciously licked her lips.

Just as her hand moved its way up to the neck of her nightgown, she was jolted back to the here and now by a sound.  Her eyes flew open, and every muscle in her body tightened.  She had heard, as clear as day, a moan.  Was it her own?  It hadn’t sounded like her voice; it was too…guttural.  Too primal.  Too Damian.

Alarmed at her temporary loss of control over her fantasies, she immediately threw back her covers and stood next to her bed.  The only light in the room was coming from the tiny gap underneath her door, obnoxious fluorescence seeping in from the hallway.  Instinctively Vivienne took the few steps toward it, sliding and twisting the three locks open without needing to see them, opening the door and peering out as though she would find answers outside of the shadows.  She felt as though she wasn’t alone.  She was certain she would see the familiar tall, dark silhouette of her ex disappearing around a corner.

She didn’t.

She saw, in fact, absolutely nothing.  Nothing, despite the fact that her floormate Josie and that boyfriend of hers were mere feet away.  As far as Vivienne could see, she was indeed alone.

After a moment of nervous surveillance, Viv slipped back into the dark, shutting her door with emphasis and re-latching every lock.  She nearly tripped over the unwieldy mass of worn clothes on her way back to her bed; her lapse into fantasy land had rattled her.  What unnerved her more than the thought that she’d just heard Damian – which she knew should’ve been impossible, like so many other things that had happened lately – was the notion that such a primitive sound had come from her own throat.

Certain she was now keyed up enough to stay awake for the rest of the night, she resumed her position, pillows and blankets just as they’d been a few minutes earlier.  But it wasn’t long before she was grudgingly tugged back into that twilight of thoughts and memories, this time so vivid they appeared in the form of scents and taste – copper and salt, a strangely intoxicating mix that set her pulse racing once more.

So deeply into her trance had she fallen that Vivienne was the only person on the building’s floor who didn’t hear her scream pierce the night.


3. Kirk and Damian



Kirk waited until his girlfriend was around the corner and out of sight before sighing and rolling his eyes.  This had not been the way he’d envisioned their evening; it was rare enough to have the same night free coming up on finals, but to have the common room of her floor all to themselves?  Too good to be true, he thought sourly, smacking the vending machine when the cans of soda he’d ordered didn’t dispense quickly enough.

He ambled back down the hall and returned to his spot in front of the shared television, setting the snacks down on the coffee table with a thump.  Cursing the fact that yet another commercial break was gouging his time, he let his mind wander to what he’d just seen moments earlier: little miss va-va-Vivienne in the flesh, looking far less stellar than her usual self.  Still, he thought, Viv at her worst was ten times hotter than most of the chicks on campus, and that was saying something.  He still couldn’t believe that douchebag of a goth freak had dumped such a fine piece of tail…or was it she who’d dumped him?  He wasn’t one to keep up on the gossip, and Josie’s ramblings about the split when it happened had only served to make him wonder if he ought to trade up, now that the path was clear.

Still…there’d been something decidedly disconcerting about her appearance tonight, and it was less about Kirk’s infatuation with her than he’d have wanted to admit to himself.  She looked scary…and worse yet, she looked scared.  Kirk wondered if perhaps he shouldn’t have listened more carefully to the details Josie had dished out weeks earlier.  Maybe then he’d know if the goth freak, Damian Whatshisname, was the reason behind Vivienne’s eerily blank expression.  He’d only met the guy once himself, and hadn’t thought much of it at the time.  Not until now.

It had been in this same common room, Kirk realized, where he’d gotten his first – and ostensibly his last – look at the dude who’d taken every U of T’s dream girl off the market.  Kirk had been waiting for Josie to return from her apartment that night, and hadn’t even realized there was anyone else in the room with him until a deep voice from the darkest back corner startled him.

“So lame,” the voice said, making Kirk twist around on the sofa to see who it was.  He could scarcely make out a silhouette, let alone a face.

“What’s lame?”  Kirk felt his frat boy temper start to rise almost immediately once the surprise had worn off.  Was this faceless idiot calling him names because he was whipped enough to wait for his girl to “freshen up” or whatever it was she did when she left him there?

He heard a long, drawn-out sigh, and sensed the space between the two of them closing slightly, even though he still couldn’t see a damn thing.  The voice spoke again.  “This show.  Another insipid show about supernatural romance.  Humanity is losing brain cells by the billion every time they switch on a cable network, you know.”  A low chuckle from the shadows made Kirk shudder in spite of himself.  “They don’t call it the boob tube for nothing.”

“Huh.  Really.”  Kirk was less put off by the umbrella insult than he was creeped out by whoever was keeping him company.  “I thought they called it that because of all the great T&A they get to show.  You’re missing out, dude.”

Without a sound, the dark figure moved closer, much closer, standing directly behind Kirk’s spot on the sofa impossibly quickly.  Bathed in the strobe-like blue glow of the television, his face was finally, ethereally visible.  Maybe a trick of the light, but to Kirk it appeared that the man had jet black hair, and even blacker eyes, in stark contrast to his very white complexion.

“I might have less of a problem with the infatuation with all things ‘creature of the night’ in the media if they weren’t so inaccurate,” the fellow said.  As hard as he tried, Kirk couldn’t get a read on how old this guy was, and he sure as hell didn’t recognize him from around campus.

“Have we met?” Kirk asked, shifting on the sofa slightly to regain some of the distance they’d had between them.  The guy shook his head.

“Damian,” he said, his proffered hand catching the same eerie blue hue that lit his face.

Kirk reached up and shook the hand.  “Damian, huh?  Like the kid from ‘The Omen.’  Nice.”  The handshake lasted longer than Kirk would have liked – which was to say at all – and he pulled his arm back as quickly as he could without being openly hostile.

“Yes, just like ‘The Omen.’  Very clever.  I’ve never heard that one before.”  Damian’s voice was dripping with sarcasm.  Kirk was surprised at his own inability to get angry again or come up with a snide comeback.  Before he could say anything at all, though, Damian backed into the shadows again, his outline only barely visible, a reflection of blue lighting up his eyes like two neon pinpricks.  “Nice to have made your acquaintance, Kirk.  I’ll leave you to your…entertaining show.  Vivienne must be wondering why I’ve not come calling yet.”

“Oh, wait…you’re Viv’s boyfriend?”  Kirk tried not to sound incredulous.  But it didn’t matter.  Without even seeing how, the goth freak had managed to leave the room without so much as blocking out the light in the doorway.  Kirk waited for a moment, looked around cautiously to ensure he was definitely alone this time, before muttering to himself, “What a creepy bastard.”  He rubbed his hands together, only peripherally aware of how much colder his right one was than his left.

As soon as Josie had rejoined him in her cute sorority sister pajamas, the meeting with Damian was all but forgotten, and the twosome spent the rest of the evening making out while their usual date night show about vampires and fairies and werewolves droned on in front of them.

Thinking back to that weird meeting unnerved Kirk now, and he couldn’t help but wonder how or why the event had disappeared almost entirely from his memory until this very moment.  Stranger still was the realization – the certainty, even – that Kirk hadn’t introduced himself, but the goth freak had still addressed him by name.

Kirk shifted forward on the couch, about to rise and head to Josie’s room to tell her about it, when he heard the scream his girlfriend was hearing at the very same moment.  Not knowing who it was or where it was coming from, Kirk sprang to his feet and knocked the cans off the table in his haste to find out.  This time he didn’t bother to look over his shoulder to see if anyone was there.

2. Amelia and Josie

Dusk had long since fallen by the time Josie saw her floormate return from her day on campus, and while on most days she would have stopped Vivienne to ask playfully what must’ve kept her later than usual, there was plenty about Viv’s demeanour – her posture, her eerily blank expression, her paleness broken only by two pink slaps of cold to her cheeks – that made Josie hold her tongue.  Instead she simply offered a quick, “Hey, Viv,” as her friend hurried past, head down.  Vivienne muttered something that may or may not have been in reply, and after a moment of fumbling with her apartment keys she vanished from view.  Her door slammed and its echo reminded Josie of the sound a prison cell’s bars made in the movies.

Josie stared at the closed door for a long moment before shaking her head and continuing down the hallway toward the vending machine.  Kirk was waiting for her back in the common room, and the commercial break was probably nearly finished, so there was no time to give any further thought to how weirdly distant Vivienne had been lately.  Coins in hand, Josie was counting out the correct change when she suddenly felt arms grab her from behind, and she shrieked in fear.  The coins scattered everywhere, some rolling beneath the machine.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Kirk’s voice said, his amusement evident without her needing to see his face.  “What’s got you so wound up, babe?  Den mother giving you a hard time about boyfriends on the floor or something?”

She angrily wrenched herself free of his grasp and turned to face him.  “Jackass,” she hissed.  “Don’t sneak up on me like that.  You made me drop my money.”

“Aw, honey,” Kirk cooed, still obviously pleased with himself for freaking her out.  “I’ll get it back for you.”  He stooped down to collect the quarters.  “You know, maybe they go a little too hardcore on those campus safety drills you girls get.  Think about how hard it is to get me up here, and I’m actually allowed to be here -”

“Until eleven,” Josie interrupted, still irritated, though now she was mad at herself for being so jumpy, too.

“- yes, fine, until eleven.  So think about how much harder it’d be for some random psycho to get access to anything past the lobby, let alone how he’d get up here and make it his mission to stake out girls as they go for a late night snack…”

Kirk’s words trailed off as he and Josie heard the creak of a door open not far from where they stood.  Josie didn’t have to look to know it was coming from Vivienne’s room, but she followed Kirk’s gaze nonetheless, and shivered at what she saw.

Vivienne had poked her head out into the hallway, only her upper body visible in the overhead lights, her apartment clearly in full dark behind her.  Her nightgown’s high, ruffled collar was only barely whiter than her skin.  She was glancing nervously from one end of the corridor to the other, and Josie couldn’t help but think she looked like a rabbit who knew it was being hunted by a wolf.

Despite their eyes meeting for a brief moment, Vivienne seemed not to take notice of Kirk or Josie whatsoever, and instead, once she had apparently determined there was nothing to see out there, she simply slipped back into the blackness and once again pulled her door closed so hard Josie half expected the frame to crack.   The sound made Josie jump, and this time Kirk put an arm around her protectively.

“What the hell was that?” Kirk asked in a low voice.  They listened as what sounded like five separate locks clicked ominously, sealing the pale figure inside her refuge.  “That wasn’t…  Damn!  Was that va-va-Vivienne?”

Under normal circumstances her boyfriend’s use of Viv’s nickname, given to her by a group of fellow male students in their freshman year because of her good looks and her choice of cropped tanks and very flattering pajama bottoms whenever she joined them in the common room, would’ve annoyed Josie.  Tonight, though, it seemed fitting to mention the moniker, considering how comparatively unrecognizable Vivienne was.

“Neck-high flannel?” Kirk was saying, pulling Josie back to the present.  “What a tragedy.  That douchebag who dumped her must’ve done some number on her self-esteem…”

“Shut up, Kirk,” Josie said, with no real hostility in her voice.  “Just…get our drinks and go back to the common room.”

“And where do you think you’re going?  There’s still half an hour left of the show…and everyone else has gone to bed…”  Kirk slid a hand up Josie’s arm and smiled wickedly, but Josie shooed him away.

“I have a phone call to make.  I’ll be there in a minute.”  Josie met Kirk’s wheedling look with one of defiance.  “Go.  You can tell me what I’ve missed when I get back.”

“Oh, baby, you know what you’re missing,” he replied, licking his lips and smirking.  Josie rolled her eyes and simply pointed at the vending machine.  Kirk sighed and said, “Fine, whatever.  Don’t take forever, all right?”

Josie didn’t respond.  She left Kirk there gathering the remaining coins and heard the sound of soda cans rattling about as she made her way into her own apartment.  Unlike Vivienne, Josie shared her accommodations with a friend and fellow student, so she made an extra effort to be quiet when she saw no light coming from beneath Katrina’s bedroom door.

Fumbling with the student directory for a moment, Josie managed to find the number she sought.  She grabbed the cordless phone from its cradle on the wall and dialed, hoping not everyone had decided to make this as early a night as Vivienne and Kat apparently had.

It took only one ring for the call to be picked up.  “Hello?”

Josie cleared her throat.  “Hi…Amelia?  This is Josie, from Russian Civ…?”

Amelia paused for a moment, then sounded slightly disappointed.  “Oh.  Hi.”

“I’m…  Okay, I know this probably sounds weird, but you might remember that I live down the hall from Vivienne, too, and…”

“That’s right.”  Amelia’s voice perked up with interest.  “Yeah, sorry.  I saw the phone number and just assumed it was Viv calling, at first glance.”  Another pause.  “Is something wrong?”

“Well…I don’t know.  I mean…yeah, I think there is, but I know you’re her closest friend, and I thought I should call and tell you…if you don’t already know…  It’s just that we just saw her a few minutes ago, and…”

A terrible sound pierced the otherwise quiet floor, and Josie suddenly felt as though she’d been jolted by a thousand volts of electricity.  She dropped the phone just as she had the coins.  Frozen in place, feeling torn between running toward the bloodcurdling scream that had come from the direction of Vivienne’s apartment and locking herself in, Josie couldn’t hear anything at all now, not even Amelia’s desperate cries emanating from the receiver.

“Hello?  Oh, god…Josie?  Was that Viv who just screamed?  Josie!  Tell me what’s going on!  Oh, god…oh, god…”

1. Amelia and Vivienne

The cuffs of her jeans were still caked with snow as Vivienne shuffled into the diner, shoulders hunched against the bitter cold. Even in the short hike from the university, her eyes had teared up as the wind snapped around her, which made spotting Amelia at their usual table difficult. She stood inside the door and blinked repeatedly, trying to clear her vision, when she heard her best friend’s voice like a beacon in the fog.

“Viv! What the hell are you doing?”

Following the sound and the familiar maze of tables and booths, Viv made her exhausted and half-blind way to her seat in the corner, facing Amelia. She tried to ignore the feeling of icy wetness creeping up the legs of her pants as she thawed. “Sorry I’m late,” she said flatly. Her own voice still managed to surprise her these days.

Amelia, too, narrowed her eyes. “You sound like hell.”

A mirthless laugh barked from Viv’s throat. “Gee. Thanks.”

“And you look it, too. Again. Still.” Amelia reached across the table as though to help remove her friend’s gloves and scarf amidst the relative warmth of their hangout, but Viv shrank away, her pale and watery eyes shooting a look of mistrust.

“I’m still cold,” Viv grumbled, crossing her arms across her chest. “I’m always cold.”

Amelia sighed and sat back heavily in her seat. She waved over the server, who happened to be one of their classmates in Victorian Lit 302, and said, “Could we please get some hot tea, Kelly? That great blood orange stuff we tried last time? Viv’s gotta defrost or…something.” She looked at Vivienne and felt the same wave of concern and mild fear she’d felt the last several times they’d gotten together. Then Viv spoke up and said aloud the words Amelia had been thinking.

“Don’t think tea’s going to help much.”

Kelly, notepad in hand, hesitated, pen mid-stroke. “Uh…so you don’t want any…?”

Amelia patted Kelly’s arm. “Yes. She does. We both do. Thanks.”

Before managing a courteous smile, Kelly cast the same look of worry at Viv’s appearance, but said nothing and hurried off to put in the order. Their waitress’s expression didn’t go unnoticed.

“I thought the point of coming to places like this was to avoid being judged on how you look,” Viv mumbled grumpily.

“Yeah…as in, you can wear yoga pants and skip the makeup. When you come in here looking like the undead? People have a harder time ignoring that.” Amelia’s voice softened and she leaned forward, watching as the pink in Vivienne’s cheeks drained once again, put there only by the winter winds outside. “You look… I’m sorry, hon, I am, but you look wretched. Still not sleeping?”

Vivienne’s chin nestled itself into the knot of her scarf, her head tilted downward, but she raised her eyes to meet the worried stare of her friend. Pale skin, cold blue eyes, and dark circles that looked like a Hollywood makeup trick… The combined effect chilled Amelia to the bone for no reason she could ascertain.

“Oh, I’m sleeping, all right. I’m sleeping plenty.” Her tone was hollow.

Amelia chewed her lip. “So…the dreams are still…”

“Nightmares, Amelia. Call them what they are.”

Taken aback by the sudden, angry cutoff, Amelia felt herself floundering in search of an apology. This was so unlike Viv, and the past month had been hell on their friendship, but she wasn’t about to spend less time with her closest companion at a time when the girl clearly needed help.

Before Amelia could find words, Vivienne continued in that same harsh voice. “And yeah, you could say they’re still happening. We’re up to one show nightly now!” Viv raised her gloved hands and waved them in a mocking circus-barker’s gesture. She offered a big, toothy smile, too, but there was no humour in it, and her eyes remained as lifeless as they’d been since all of this began.

“Look…” Amelia halted her words just as their tea appeared on the table between them, and she gave a quick smile to Kelly. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” Kelly replied. “Flag me down if you need anything else, okay?”

Vivienne sat motionless, eyes still fixed in the general direction of her best friend but not really looking at anything. It was unlike her to be so impolite to anyone, let alone a server they actually knew, but then again, “it’s so unlike her” was becoming an oft-used phrase lately.

Amelia offered an apologetic, embarrassed little shrug to Kelly, who seemed to be silently questioning in return – “What on earth is wrong with her?” – but that was the extent of the exchange. As soon as Kelly was out of earshot again, Amelia spoke.

“Okay, Viv? You’re kind of freaking me out with that look you’re giving me.”

Vivienne crossed her arms more tightly across her chest and let her eyes lower again. Her lids were so heavy. If she wasn’t careful, they’d close, and she’d fall asleep, and lord only knew what would happen if she had one of her episodes out in public.

Amelia tried again. “You broke up with him nearly two months ago. Two months, Viv. I’ve never seen you take so long to get past whatever stage of grief you’re in, and he’s not even dead. When was the last time you ate something, anyway?”

“The Kübler-Ross thing is a sham,” Vivienne snarled.

“Okay, whatever,” Amelia said impatiently. “You’re deliberately missing my point.”

“I’m tired, Amelia. I am exhausted. You’d be pissed off about pop psychology too if you hadn’t had a dreamless sleep in weeks.”

“I get that, but…you know they’re only nightmares. You’ve had nightmares all your life. What’s so different about these ones? Just because they’re about him, that’s reason enough to start walking around like a zombie? You seemed like you were dealing just fine when the two of you broke up, and then a couple of weeks later you have some dream…”

“Nightmare!” Vivienne near-hollered, startling the patrons around them. Amelia saw Kelly nearly drop a tray of food across the diner as she turned to see where this sudden voice of rage had originated.

“Yes, right, I’m sorry,” Amelia said, whispering now to underscore the point that nobody else needed to overhear them. “Nightmares. Okay. But having nightmares about your ex-boyfriend appearing in your bedroom while you sleep just doesn’t sound…that bad.”

As Vivienne raised her head and unfolded her arms, placing her hands flat on the table, and fixed her best friend with the steeliest look imaginable, Amelia immediately regretted her choice of words. She was glad she hadn’t added a quip about reading too many young adult novels as a way to escape the gloom of a relationship’s demise.

“If it were that simple, I’d think I was making too big a deal of it, too,” Vivienne seethed. “But it’s not. I dream about…him…doing things. Us, doing things to each other.”

Amelia blinked a few times. “Oh…kay?” She shook her head, still not understanding the big issue. If there was one, that is, aside from her friend going crazy from lack of proper sleep. “So you’re having sex dreams about Damian. And you feel…what? Guilty? You miss him? Regret breaking things off? I just don’t…”

With a sudden and violent jerk of her arm, Vivienne knocked her teacup off its saucer, breaking the cheap china and sending a dark red pool of liquid all over the table’s surface. She didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she yanked the sleeve of her leather jacket up just far enough to expose the skin of her wrist where her gloves stopped. “No, you don’t,” she hissed. “So have a look.”

Amelia stared for a moment as the image of perfect, finger-shaped bruises burned itself into her mind. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“And yes, there are plenty more where those came from. But since you seem to care so much about what our fellow diners think, I won’t embarrass you by showing you where those ones are.” Vivienne tugged her sleeve back down and slid over to the edge of the booth’s seat. “I wish I could just write this all off as ‘sex dreams’ about an unresolved ex, Amelia, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. You’ll just have to take my word for it.”

Amelia was left to sit and watch, speechless, as Vivienne stalked out of the diner, the cheerful little bell ringing over the door in stark comparison to the mood that was left in her wake.

What Amelia couldn’t see was the mix of expressions on her friend’s face, which would have confused her at best, and, at worst, terrified her.