Jared didn't know who he woke up next to.
As his eyes fluttered open, the pain and confusion settled into his mind and he was so hungover that he couldn't remember the previous night at all. His whole body ached, though. At great length, he turned over to see the person in the bed. She was tall this time, with a pixie cut and pretty well-defined muscles, for a woman. He's noticed his tastes had been changing. Well, if you could even call them that. For years, Jared had just been trying to fill the void, and these women were the only ones desperate enough to provide. Lately though, he'd been very particular about his sleeping mates. They were taller than him, medium to short-length hair, and usually with a nice and firm build. He assumed he just wanted to feel more secure.
Unfortunately, he could not remember a thing about this woman, not even her name. He knew they hated that. He didn't want to sit through the whole 'you don't even care about who I am, you just want my body' thing, so he decided to leave before she woke.
They were in a hotel room, pretty shabby at that, but it was better than nothing. He might've recognized the logo had his brain been functioning properly. Sighing, he got up and gathered his things, which wasn't much, and went for the door.
Since he started this whole...thing, he'd made a promise to himself. Never get attached. If it were up to him, he'd never know their names. And never, ever look back. He let the fuzzy image of the woman deep down into his brain until it was almost nonexistent. Then he left.
It was still dark out, and Jared would have guessed it was around 4 AM, but he had no real way of telling. His phone stopped working a few months ago. As he began to walk away from the hotel, his stomach growled loudly and it felt very painful. It was funny, to him, how back in high school he was so insecure about his weight, but now he was just barely escaping starvation. He normally tried to ignore that pang of hunger, but it had been at least three days since he'd actually eaten something, so he figured he had to. He pulled out his wallet, which should have been covered in cobweb by then. He had twelve dollars and forty-seven cents saved up. Begrudgingly, he took a couple dollars out of his savings and went for the nearby convenient store.
A chill ran down his spine as he walked through the small parking lot, and he got the unshakable feeling that something was watching him, following him. Don't look back, he told himself.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he entered through the automatic doors and saw the employee. He was a teen boy, tall, brunette, piercing blue eyes. He reminded him so greatly of someone that he couldn't quite put his finger on. There was a creepy look to him, something unsettling that made Jared uncomfortable. he started to wonder whether he felt safer outside.
As he navigated the shop, it felt like the employee's eyes never left him. He didn't look back to see, but he could feel them watching his every move. It was odd that he didn't greet him when he entered. He decided to just get it over with quicker, and grabbed a couple bags of sour candy, turning to face the cashier. His heart stopped.
He was blond and had green eyes. Eyes that were glued to his phone. He frantically looked around for the other employee, but there was nothing. There was no way he went to the backroom. He would have heard the door.
"Excuse me?" Jared asked. The teen looked up. "I, uh, wha-what happened to the other guy?"
The cashier raised a brow. "Who?"
"The other cashier. He was here a second ago. Maybe he was your friend-tall, long, dark hair..."
"Sorry, I'm the only one working here right now."
"Oh. Yeah. My mistake." Jared felt his breath catch. He knew what he saw. There was no way it was the same kid. The one from before , he had seen him so vividly, so perfectly, it made no sense. His stomach began to feel sick. He rushed to the bathroom, just barely making it to the toilet before vomiting. His throat burned and his mind was racing.
He knew who it was. Who the cashier was. How hadn't he realized it before?
He cleaned himself up quickly, hesitating at the door. If he opened it, would the first employee be there? Would it be the same one? Or would there be an entirely different one? He didn't want to think about it. Finally, he held his breath and turned the doorknob.
It was dark. And cold. Jared shivered as he stepped out. His eyes involuntarily lept over to the cashier, who...wasn't there. Neither was the counter. Or the shelves. It wasn't even the same store. Or even a store. He was in a hallway. A long, dark hallway that he knew all too well. He tried to back into the bathroom, where there was light, but he was met with a cold concrete wall. Where did the door go? His heart rate sped up, along with his breathing. He felt as if he was going to die.
A loud bell rang. Not like church bells, wedding bells, funeral bells. It was a school bell. He began to sweat.
Only a single door opened, at the end of the hall. It opened with a creak, and let out no additional light. There was murmuring, like a thousand schoolchildren snickering and gossiping, talking about him. Then someone stepped out.
He tried to adjust his eyes to the darkness to see who it was, but his glasses were probably several prescriptions behind. It was a tall, lanky figure, completely black. It stood still, white eyes locked on Jared's. There was a moment between the two, neither moving nor speaking. Without warning, it began sprinting toward him.
Jared shouted, his flight response kicking in. He ran as far away as he could, turning the corner and almost falling. He could hear the rapid footsteps of the...thing behind him, louder and louder and faster and faster and the only thing going through his head was that thing was not human. He tried to block out the sound, just focus on getting out of there alive, but it grew closer. He felt a shred of hope when he saw the side exit door just a few yards away.
As soon as he reached it, something snatched his hood, yanking him back. He shut his eyes tight, screaming and throwing his arms wildly. He elbowed the thing, each time making a terrible cracking sound. It staggered just long enough for Jared to escape.
He fell face first into the convenient store. He slowly looked up, drenched in sweat and tears. His breathing was ragged. He quickly looked back behind him but was greeted with the closed door to the bathroom.
"Um, sir, is everything alright?" The employee left his station behind the counter and approached him. Jared stared up at him, unable to say anything. At length, he stood up, shaking all over. He took one last look at the employee and ran outside, this time, not looking back.
It's the alcohol, he tried to to convince himself. He was hungover. Maybe a little bit sleep deprived. He must have passed out in the bathroom. But whoever or whatever that employee and that thing were made him uneasy. He took a deep breath and tried to just go about his day, staying far away from that convenient store. At night, he'd just sleep outside.
Miles away, Evan Hansen, the bartender at Twilight Falls got a call. It was odd, since it was nearly midnight. It was a new number, one he'd never seen before. He picked up the phone, bracing himself.
"Evan! Evan-Ev, you have to help me-I'm at home, and nobody came with me, but there's-I'm not alone! Listen-there's something in the house-there's something following me-I don't know what it is-I'm afraid it's going to kill me!" The voice was clearly feminine , and sounded so familiar but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"Who-who is this?"
"It's Zoe. Connor's back."
A focus on Alana. Zoe has a very big problem.
It wasn't the time that woke Alana up, nor the noise outside. It was the sun.
Unexpected and uninvited light flooded the room, irritating her eyes and giving her day a rough start. It was only eight, which, in her eyes, was not an acceptable time to wake up. Normally, though, the sunlight wouldn't be a problem, since she had dark curtains in her bedroom to block it out, but she hadn't slept in her bedroom that night. She had a late shift that night, and by the time she got home she was so tired she passed out on the couch.
Since she had already woken up, she knew there was no falling back to sleep. She remembered vaguely that she had just been dreaming, something pleasant she was sure, but she didn't remember any details. She tried harder to recall but it only gave her a headache. She took some painkillers and dragged herself into her bathroom.
Unfortunately, she had to be at work by 10:30.
It was no surprise that she was a mess. Her hair was all over the place, there were prominent eyebags, and she kind of looked like a zombie. She tried her best to take her hair, which had definitely changed since high school. It was short now, and not in braids anymore. A cute girl had told her once, a few years ago, that she liked her hair short, and she hadn't changed it since. Not that she felt the need to. Eventually, she just gave up and put on a beanie to hide most of the back. She slipped on her pink hoodie, which was starting to get worn, but she didn't care. But when she turned to step out of the bathroom, something besides her reflection moved in her mirror. She froze, and slowly turned back.
She must have been imagining things. She shivered and left the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She decided not to eat anything that morning.
She would have liked more than anything to just go back to sleep, to go back to sleep for several hours, maybe go back to sleep and never wake up, but she had to make money to keep paying her bills and the only way to do that was to have a job.
Before heading out, she took a couple vitamin pills, at least so she wouldn't pass out on the job. She put on her purple tennis shoes, the ones with the faded colors, and stepped outside. She squinted against the summer sun, holding her hand above her glasses so she could see.
Out of the corner of her eye, something moved. It was shadowy, but very big. She turned around, her heart beating faster. Something grabbed her shoulder. She shouted and stepped away, turning to face whatever it was, but there was nothing there. She took a deep breath and retreated into her car, making sure to check the back seat.
Now, just because Alana had to have a job didn't mean she tried very hard at it. She had a workplace full of jumpy morning people, and she felt she really stuck out. While the others would happily stroll on about their day, easily going about their assignments, she struggled to keep awake, carrying items with heavy limbs and a heavy heart. She walked just like a zombie, and a few of her coworkers would often point that out, to which she'd respond with something sarcastic. At lunch break, she always slept through most of it, moving only to get a small microwavable bowl of macaroni and cheese. She didn't feel like eating it, or eating anything really, but her stomach was aching awfully from skipping breakfast that morning.
Much to her concern, Zoe hadn't messaged her all day. Sure, she had a job and her own life, but she usually at least had a 'good morning' or 'hows work.' Zoe hadn't been active at all. Not that day, not the day before, and not the day before that. Maybe she got a new phone.
She left work early, claiming she was sick, which wasn't entirely a lie. For the last several several months she'd been feeling terrible, and she badly needed rest. She slumped over to her car, hesitating before starting to drive. She considered just sleeping there, but she decided not to and drive back home.
When she arrived, the laptop in her bedroom was on, and it illuminated the dark room. She groaned, going over to turn it off before freezing.
It was the Connor Project.
She hadn't been on that page in years, especially not even on that laptop. There was no way it could be gotten on there unless...someone else did it. It seemed like an awful idea for a prank, and the only one she could imagine it being was Zoe, which wasn't all too unbelievable as she had a spare house key.
"Zoe? Are you here? This isn't funny, you jerk." She called, not sure where to.
What responded was not Zoe. It might have been human, just a whisper that came from her laptop.
Hey, getting better every day.
It was Connor's voice. Alana screamed, shoving the laptop off of the desk. The screen shattered. She yelled at it, tears in her eyes, heart rate increasing. The voice was gone. She sunk to the floor, the tears rolling down her face and softly cried. She still wanted to sleep, but what suddenly seemed a bit more appealing was the bottle of painkillers on her nightstand.
Only a few blocks away, Zoe was getting ready to meet her new client. She had a very different job than the other three, one that didn't exactly require leaving her house. She talked to people, teenagers mainly, who had problems. Problems they couldn't solve on their own. She was someone they could talk to, someone who would understand what they were feeling and help them get through it. In other words, a therapist.
This particular client was a 14-year old girl name Bethany Myle. Her older brpther, whom she was supposedly very close to, committed suicide a month ago. Zoe was feeling nervous about this. She didn't know how to approach it, which was ironic in the given situation, but she liked to think she wasn't close to Connor, well, at least during the few years before he offed himself. But who was she to assume that Bethany was close to her brother? What if she wasn't mourning with the rest of the family? What if she told him to kill himself? It made her anxious just thinking about it.
The doorbell rung, and her breathing and heart rate sped up. She stopped herself, doing a quick slow-breathing exercise she had learned about in middle school. Then she answered the door.
Bethany's mother stood at the doorstep, and Bethany was not far behind her. Her mother smiled sadly at Zoe.
"Ms. Myle, thank you for bringing Bethany. I'm sure I can help her through whatever is going on."
Ms. Myle thanked her and left quickly, saying she had to meet up with someone.
Bethany was a small girl, quite pale, and had dull gray eyes. She avoided eye contact with Zoe as they sat down.
"I don't wanna make you feel like you have to talk right now," Zoe said, "Do you want a snack and something to drink?" Bethany shrugged, eyes still glued to the floor.
Zoe walked over to the kitchen, looking for something to give her. She finally settled on tortilla chips, pouring them into a large bowl. She grabbed a few juice boxes and carried it all into the living room.
Bethany was gone.