“I’ll Be Watching You”: Thriller Short Fiction By Lauren Bishop
Lauren Bishop, author of “I’ll Be Watching You”, received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her work can be found in The Menteur Literary & Arts Magazine and Adelaide Literary Magazine.
In “I’ll Be Watching You”, Alice finds herself in the middle of a stalker’s obsession. She doesn’t know if it’s her online date, an old co-worker, or a shadow in the night. Alice becomes increasingly paranoid as the harassment heightens and she’s determined to uncover who has it out for her.
December 13, 2018
The fire flickered and kissed the blue lit glass. Alice felt its heat through the burnt orange armchair that leaned against the hearth. The ice in her mojito melted, making the mint leaves rise to the rim. Her glass left sweat rings on the round wood table situated next to her manicured feet. It had been one hour since her date, Preston, was supposed to meet her. She checked her text messages for the sixth time, and she still had no reply.
A man in a powder blue buttoned shirt flirted with a red-haired woman at the bar. An older couple whispered over their crunchy dragon rolls. Three friends laughed over yellowtail and martinis. Alice seemed to be the only person alone in the entire restaurant.
The bartender lifted a glass in her direction, asking if she wanted another drink. She waved him off and continued to stare at the entrance, willing Preston to walk through the doors at any moment.
“Do you mind if I join you?” The man sat next to Alice without waiting for her response. He wore a navy blazer with sleeves that stopped above his wrists and Darth Vader cufflinks.
“I was actually just getting ready to leave.” Alice stuffed her cell phone inside of her gold clutch.
“Alice?” The man leaned over and placed his hand on Alice’s knee. “Oh my goodness, it is you!”
Alice looked into his shiny face. Small crow’s feet tugged at his eyeballs. His hair began in the middle of his head and was sprinkled with salt and pepper.
The bartender lifted a glass in her direction, asking if she wanted another drink. She waved him off…
“It’s me, Gregory, from Singer Press.” He saw the glazed look in her eyes. “In Accounting,” he clarified.
“Oh yes, Gregory!” Alice, always polite, had no recognition of ever meeting Gregory at her former job but didn’t have the guts to tell him. “How are you?”
Alice tugged at her skirt and scratched her knee to remove his fingers from her flesh. He didn’t seem to notice.
Gregory went on to tell Alice of his exciting time while on vacation in San Francisco two months prior. He had never been anywhere so vibrant. He said it was his midlife awakening.
Alice smiled and nodded throughout his story while still checking her phone. Preston remained silent and she was ready to go home.
“Gregory, it was so nice catching up, but I really have to be going. I’m late for a meeting.” She tucked her clutch underneath her arm signaling her departure.
“This late?” He scurried out of his seat and almost slipped on the freshly waxed floor. “Are you okay to go out alone? Let me walk you to your car.” He reached for her hand but only caught air.
“I’ll be fine. I promise.” Alice smiled at Gregory and let her ponytail wave goodbye as she walked towards the door.
The cold air smacked Alice in the face and sent makeup streaking tears down her cheeks. When she looked back inside the frosted window of Yoi Sakana, she saw nothing but her own sad reflection telling her to leave.
December 15, 2018
Unknown: Hi Alice.
Unknown: How was your date?
Unknown: Can’t wait to see you again.
December 18, 2018
Alice piled fresh passion fruit, tangerines and pears into her hand basket. Tuesdays were her favorite day to go to the Farmer’s Market. The fruit was fresh and the crowd was almost always nonexistent compared to Saturdays.
There was one other person shopping around. A man in a tall black coat with a fedora pulled low over his eyes. Alice couldn’t tell if he was trying to be incognito or if he was just a cold customer. She kept looking from him to the fruit wondering if he could be her unknown texter.
Her hands shook as she placed her items on the makeshift counter before the cashier. A cold blanket of wind crept under her collar and sent a wave of ice down her body. Her nerves were teetering on the edge of her skin ready to jump at any moment.
Her hands shook as she placed her items on the makeshift counter before the cashier.
The man took his fruit to the cashier right next to her. He paid for his food and never even glanced her way. The smell of mahogany filled Alice’s nostrils as his coat flapped a few inches away from her when he walked out of the tent and back to his gray Jaguar.
“Ma’am,” the cashier tapped her purple fingernails on the counter, “Do you still want this stuff or not?”
“Sorry,” Alice fumbled around for the twenty dollar bill stuffed inside her coat pocket. “I was just um – here.” Alice didn’t wait for her change. She propped her collar up to her ears to hide her face from the angry wind and from whoever was watching.
December 20, 2018
Unknown: I can’t wait to taste some of your pie.
Unknown: Isn’t that what the pears are for?
December 22, 2018
Snow fell in dancing formation down to the mountains of fluff on the ground. The flakes sparkled against the sunset making them look like tiny diamonds. Alice’s boots crunched on the ground. Her feet sounded like ducks quacking for food. She looked over her shoulder after every step.
When she turned back around, she walked straight into an older gentleman in a navy blazer with Darth Vader cufflinks. She almost dropped the three pies she carried in her pink gloved hands.
“Alice! Nice to see you again.” He helped her to steady herself against her own clumsiness. “What are you doing out in the cold?”
“I’m on my way to my friend’s for a Christmas party.” She pointed to the tall gray building behind him.
“What about you? Aren’t you cold?” She looked at his thin blazer.
“Oh, no, no, no.” He waved her off. “But funny, I’m headed to a party too, but I can’t seem to find the right place. I don’t come downtown too often.”
Alice noticed the shiver in his shoulders.
“What building are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”
“The Astro. I’ve been up and down this block at least four times,” he chuckled.
“That’s where I’m headed.” Alice grabbed his arm. She figured whoever was watching her would go away if they saw her with someone. “Come on.”
They walked together to the gray building whose sign was just a small placard next to a buzzer keypad.
“Just press the number of the apartment you want to go to and they’ll buzz you up,” Alice said. “Which unit are you going to?”
Gregory slapped his palm to his forehead.
“I left the address in my car. I’ll just follow you in and call my granddaughter from inside.”
Alice pressed the button for unit 1022 and her friend Ramona buzzed her up. Gregory thanked her for saving him and told her to have fun. She walked carefully to the elevator to avoid slipping on the marble floor. She saw Gregory punching the keys on his bulky flip phone as the doors closed on his shiny face.
Alice followed the sound of Christmas music to Ramona’s door. Mariah Carey’s voice floated in the air, telling her what she wanted for the special holiday. Mariah Carey was always Ramona’s favorite. Alice could see the white wreath with red cranberries from down the hall.
Ramona’s place was decorated like a winter fantasy. The Christmas tree was decked out with flashing lights, pine cones, gold bows and shiny crystals. White, gold and red stockings hung over the roaring fireplace. Elegant candles flickered from the mantle and the smell of turkey filled the room. There was even fake snow sprinkled on the herringbone wood floor.
Alice was greeted with hugs and kisses. It looked like all of their friends were already there, except for James who was always late. Tina stood in front of the fireplace and held an empty candlestick as her microphone. She tried to belt out Mariah’s high notes but ended up sounding like an injured cat. Laurel stood behind her and mimicked her every move. Everyone laughed while Franklin, Tina’s boyfriend, played on his phone the whole time.
Alice was greeted with hugs and kisses. It looked like all of their friends were already there, except for James who was always late.
He claimed that he made big bucks gaming but it just seemed like an excuse to stay to himself. Alice didn’t understand why Tina still insisted on bringing him around.
Drinks flowed at a constant. Alice drank champagne and shots of vodka. It was like being at an open bar. They played games like charades, Taboo and Uno for hours until Franklin noticed how hungry he was.
While everyone gathered around the table for grace, Alice grabbed her phone to check where James was. He was going to miss all of the food. When she looked at her screen, three new messages from the unknown number taunted her. She snuck off to the bathroom so no one would see what they said.
Unknown: Hi, Alice. How’s the party?
Unknown: Enjoy it while you can.
Unknown: You won’t get away with what you did.
Alice logged into her dating app and searched for Preston’s profile. His bright smile lit up the screen. He was still inactive since the night before they were supposed to meet. She might’ve photo-shopped her pictures on her profile to thin out her nose and waist but she was going to come clean on their date if he mentioned anything. Alice couldn’t believe he would be that upset over photos and resort to scaring her through creepy texts. After all, everyone photo-shopped their pictures.
Alice: Preston, I’m sorry about the pictures, really. You can stop now.
Her text never delivered. She tried to resend it several times but it wouldn’t go through. A big red exclamation mark stared back at her from the phone’s screen. Alice felt moths crash around in her stomach. They churned around in circles and made her nauseous.
“Hey, Alice? Are you okay in there?” Ramona knocked on the bathroom door.
“I’ll be right out,” Alice yelled.
When Alice came out of the bathroom, she saw Ramona still outside the door, waiting for her. Ramona leaned into the wall with her foot propped up for extra support. Her charcoal hair shone even in the dark hallway.
“Too much to drink?” Ramona smiled and nudged Alice in her arm.
Alice laughed nervously.
“Well, your friend Gregory is here. Said you invited him?” Ramona’s left eyebrow reached for the curls that hung from her face.
“What? No, I didn’t invite anyone,” Alice said.
Ramona laughed. “It’s okay if you did. He seems nice enough. Old, but nice.”
Alice followed Ramona back into the living area to find Gregory on the couch with champagne in his hand.
“What are you doing here? I thought you had a party to go to.” Alice felt the temperature rise. Heat prickled her arm hairs and tugged the sweat out of her pores.
“I was heading out and thought I’d say goodbye before I left.” Gregory sipped his champagne. “It was really nice of you to help me find the place. My granddaughter was quite happy to see me.”
“I think you should go.” Alice pointed her shaking finger to the front door.
Gregory looked shocked. His eyes drooped down into his glass.
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” he said.
“Alice, are you sure you’re okay?” Ramona asked.
“I never told him to come here!” Alice looked to every face in the room. Her eyes were the size of the golden bulbs that hung from the tree.
“Okay, let’s go,” Ramona said. She led Gregory to the front door with her hand on his back. He opened his mouth to interject but Ramona closed the door in his face before he could take a breath. Within fifteen minutes, Ramona did a full sweep and kicked everyone out. She gave them just enough time to pack their food to-go.
“Alice, what is going on?”
“Could I stay here tonight? Turns out I’m not feeling well after all.” Alice hugged her stomach for good measure.
She led Gregory to the front door with her hand on his back. He opened his mouth to interject but Ramona closed the door in his face before he could take a breath. Within fifteen minutes, Ramona did a full sweep and kicked everyone out.
She thought about walking alone under the stars while the wind whispered in her ears and a shadow followed her to her car. There would be no footsteps, no sounds. But the shadow would know where she was and she didn’t know what it would do. She couldn’t go outside.
“Are you going to tell me why you’re acting weird? First, you’re hiding in the bathroom then you freaked out on that guy for no reason.” Ramona sat next to Alice on the plush cream sofa.
“I just need some rest. You were right, I drank too much.” Alice left Ramona alone in the living room and closed herself inside the guest bedroom.
Alice changed into the spare pajamas that lived in the second drawer of the dresser. They’re what all of Ramona’s forgetful guests slept in. They smelled of burnt hair and cocoa butter. Alice wondered if Ramona bothered to wash them after the last person rolled around in them.
Alice tossed and turned but couldn’t fall asleep. She tried to listen to meditation rain on her phone, but it only made her think of being chased and falling in puddles. She tried to count sheep but gave up when she reached the sixth hundred one. Alice stared up at the ceiling of the dark room so long that her vision adjusted to see the Halloween-esque shadows that fell onto the walls from all of Ramona’s trinkets.
Unknown: Can’t sleep?
Unknown: Maybe you should turn on the TV.
Unknown: No? Just come out then.
Unknown: You have to leave sometime, Alice.
Unknown: I’ll be waiting.
Alice threw her phone across the room. She turned on the television and the local news blared through the speakers. The headline story was about a missing person who hadn’t been seen in almost two weeks. A picture flashed on the screen of a man with wavy close cut hair and a perfect smile. It was Preston.
December 31, 2018
Alice sunk into the big green cushions of her parents’ couch. Her legs were covered by the fuzzy blue blanket that was made specifically for movie watching. She looked like a tiny bird huddled in an ocean wave. She was on her second cup of hot cocoa that warmed her fingers and tickled her nose.
The movie, Elf, played on the curved television. Buddy covered his spaghetti in syrup and stuffed his face. Alice didn’t care that Christmas was over. She could sit there and watch four more Christmas movies.
It had been a week since she received a text from her stalker, but she wasn’t ready to be alone. She had already bitten her fingernails down to her cuticles. The skin around her nubs was frayed and raw. With Preston missing, she had no idea who was watching her and why.
“You should go out tonight. It’s New Year’s Eve,” Marie said.
“I’d rather stay in and watch movies with you guys.” Alice smiled. The pictures on the wall could look at her and tell it was fake.
“Your mother is right. You haven’t left the house all week,” Sam said.
“Did you get dumped again?” Alex laughed at his own joke.
“Leave your sister alone, Alexander. She doesn’t have to go anywhere if she doesn’t want to.” Marie turned to Alice. “But are you sure? I know Ramona must be throwing some type of get-together.”
Ramona was having a party at a new bar that opened downtown, Starlight Lounge. Alice hadn’t responded to any of the reminders.
“She obviously wasn’t invited, Mom.”
Alice threw a pillow at Alex’s head.
“We’re meeting your Uncle Thomas at Topgolf tonight,” Marie’s face beamed with excitement.
“No one’s going to be here?” Alice jumped up and almost spilled her hot cocoa.
“Except for you.” Alex threw the pillow back at Alice and walked out of the room.
“Where are you going?” Alice asked.
“Out,” Alex shouted over his shoulder.
Alice’s childhood home could fit three other houses inside. There were five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, two living spaces and even a theater room. The backyard went on and on until it reached the lake. With all that space, Alice’s parents didn’t have a private entrance gate like almost everyone else in the neighborhood. There was no way she was going to stay behind in such a big house by herself. It screamed, “Come and get me!”
Alice hadn’t planned on needing party clothes when she decided to hideout at her parents’ house. All she packed with her were old jeans and sweats. Marie was a little bit more robust than she was, but her clothes would just have to do. She chose a black velvet pantsuit that had hidden colors like green and purple. She paired the pantsuit with Chelsea boots and a long gray necklace. It was an outfit she would’ve never picked out for herself. It was perfect.
Alice convinced Alex to drop her off at the bar on his way to his bad decisions.
Alice hadn’t planned on needing party clothes when she decided to hideout at her parents’ house.
Starlight Lounge looked just as anyone would imagine. The walls were dark and shiny. Blinking lights hung from the ceiling like the night sky. All of the tables had glitter underneath the glass and each chair was lined with rhinestones.
There were people everywhere. Dancing bodies wiggled all over like the inflatable balloon man in front of used car lots. Alice shimmied her way through the crowd and spotted Ramona’s shiny hair waving her over. She was happy to see that her friend reserved a special booth that wrapped around in a half circle against the back wall.
“You made it,” Ramona shouted over the music.
The table was littered with empty shot glasses and spilled champagne. Wet napkins were on the floor covered with pretzel crumbs.
It was as if everyone was waiting for her to arrive to be the table watcher because as soon as she sat down everyone dispersed. Ramona, Tina, Laurel and James made their way to the dance floor while Franklin made residence at the bar.
Song after song, Alice stayed put on the couch. She thought she blended into the scenery until a waitress appeared. She carried a tray with one mojito in the center. The waitress sat the glass in front of Alice.
“I didn’t order this.” Alice tried to give the drink back but the waitress pushed it back into her hand.
“Someone sent it over for you. Enjoy.”
Unknown: You finally decided to come back out?
Unknown: Did you miss me?
Alice: Who is this?!
Unknown: You don’t like the mojito?
Alice slammed the drink onto the floor and shards of glass shattered everywhere. She paced back and forth crying into her palms. She felt someone hug her and rub her shoulders. She looked up through teary eyes to see Gregory’s shiny face next to her own.
“Alice, what’s wrong,” he asked.
Gregory smiled and his crow’s feet looked like daggers shooting out of his sockets.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” Alice’s voice cracked.
Gregory looked like he wanted to frown but his skin was pulled so tight, he looked like a plastic doll instead.
“You’ve been stalking me! How did you get my number? What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he laughed.
Alice tried to step past him but he blocked her path.
“Get away from me!”
Ramona and Laurel must have heard Alice’s screams, because they both appeared and stepped between her and Gregory.
“Is everything okay over here?” Laurel asked.
“You’re that guy from the Christmas party,” Ramona said. “Do we need to call the cops?” Ramona turned to Alice.
“I was just saying ‘Hi,’” Gregory said. “I thought we were friends.” Gregory looked to all of their glaring faces with a hurt smile frozen in place.
Alice pulled out her phone and began to dial 9-1-1.
“I’ll leave. No need to get the police involved.” Gregory shook his head. “Something’s wrong with you,” he whispered to Alice before he walked away.
“Are you okay,” Ramona asked.
“I’m going to go get some fresh air.” Alice maneuvered through the dancing crowd out of the back door. The cold wind felt worse than belly flopping in a pool from fifty feet in the air. When she relaxed into the brick wall she heard the heavy door slam.
“Nice outfit,” Franklin said. He looked at her Chelsea boots and chuckled.
“I’m not in the mood, Franklin,” Alice crossed her arms. “Run out of video games?”
“I see you weren’t in the mood for a mojito either.” Franklin ignored her teasing. “That was always your favorite drink.”
The cold air suddenly turned warm. Alice felt like she swallowed a burning candle. Her lungs closed up and she felt the tickle of sweat run down her back.
“Don’t look so shocked,” Franklin grabbed Alice’s arm and pulled her into his chest. “I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t figure it out.”
The grip on Alice’s arm was like a pit bull that locked its jaws. Her feet were stuck between Franklin’s boots and the brick wall. There was nowhere for her to go.
“I’m sick of you putting ideas into Tina’s head,” he growled. “Ever since you started running your mouth, she’s been different. What is it? You want me, huh?” Franklin grabbed Alice’s face and licked her ear. “Is this what you want?”
Alice cried and tried to turn her face away from his, but he kept a firm hand on her chin.
“You jealous bitch,” Franklin hissed. “You take away Tina, I take away Preston.”
Preston’s name sent Alice into hysteria. Franklin covered her nose and mouth with his large fingers. He pinned her down until she stopped making noise.
“What did you do to Preston,” Alice asked.
“Doesn’t matter. He’s long gone,” Franklin laughed.
Alice spat in his face. He punched her in the stomach. She doubled over and almost fell to the ground.
“This isn’t some fairytale, Alice. This isn’t wonderland! You don’t get to do whatever you want when you feel like it! You’re going to pay one way or another.”
While Franklin chastised her, Alice found a piece of glass from the mojito she threw to the ground, stuck to the leg of her velvet pants. She clutched it so tight that her palm began to bleed. Franklin grabbed Alice by her hair and pulled her up to look him in the eye. Her scalp felt the flames of his tight grip.
Alice jammed the piece of glass into Franklin’s windpipe. He gasped for air and fell next to the graffiti filled dumpster. His arms flailed about like a dying bird. Each breath turned into a gurgle. The blood from his neck spilled over onto the snow, staining it red.
Alice ran back into the bar and fell on the sticky tile. She managed small fast breaths like a fish out of water. Her vision blurred as she placed her bloodied hand in front of her face. Her fingers shook uncontrollably.
She felt herself levitate off of the ground. The back door got smaller and smaller as she floated away. Her body parted the Red sea of party goers as she was placed in the back of an ambulance. She heard ‘Alice’ being called from far away. It sounded like it was under water, like Ariel the mermaid was singing her name.
Ramona’s face was the last thing she saw before she shut her eyes.
February 14, 2019
Unknown: Happy Valentine’s Day, Alice 🙂
Unknown: Did you miss me?
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