This story, along with another one, was written back at the end of January and submitted to a contest. I wanted to wait to post it until I found out the results of the contest. (Neither won, but such is life).
This is a short story that was originally written from a prompt. The prompt was “Do not fashion me a maiden needing to be rescued from a dragon. I am the dragon and I will swallow you whole.” The idea itself is based off some events that actually happened to me, though not nearly to this extreme. It’s about a guy in an internet chat room who essentially becomes a stalker, except it’s from his perspective and he doesn’t realize what he’s doing is creepy or wrong. It was a difficult story for me to write because it was creeping me out the whole way through.
I met this girl. Well, I suppose you could argue the validity of the term “met” when it was online, but that’s beside the point. We were both members of this forum for artists and art appreciators. Now, I’m not an artist, but I certainly do appreciate art, so it seemed like a good place for me.
The forum had a chat room which this girl seemed to practically live in. So one day, probably a few days after I joined, I got curious and went in there just to see what it, and all the people on the forum, were like.
I excitedly introduced myself when I first entered the chat room, which was full of a whole bunch of people at the time.
AlphaGod111: Hi, I’m Derick! It’s really great to be in a place like this with so many other people who like the same things I do!
All the other patrons of the chat room greeted me with friendly hellos, but this girl didn’t seem to be paying attention to me. She was continuing a conversation with someone else in there. Well, I suppose I did interrupt it, but it still seemed a little bit rude that she didn’t acknowledge my presence.
SariffShadowDragon: Yeah, they’re all being a bunch of idiots and everything’s pretty much going to go to hell. It’ll be great.
AvriFey: That’s awesome, I can’t wait.
Catching just the tail end of their conversation intrigued me, so while they weren’t paying any attention to me, I started watching what they were saying more closely. It was a bit difficult, though, because there were so many people in the chat and everyone was participating in their own conversations. Well, actually, those two seemed to be talking by themselves and everyone else was in one large group conversation. It seemed a bit fishy to me.
At one point I decided to just join in and ask them what they were talking about.
AlphaGod111: Hey, what are you two talking about, anyway? Sariff and Avri.
There was this pause and I got this picture in my head of two people in the corner of a room, standing close together and talking quietly, then when I spoke up they turned their heads toward me slowly with glares on their face before answering. That picture amused me.
AvriFey: We’re talking about stories. Sariff’s stories, to be more specific.
AlphaGod111: Oh? Are you a writer, then?
SariffShadowDragon: Yes, I’m a writer. I’ve got a lot of writing posted here on this site, in fact.
AlphaGod111: Oh, cool! What sorts of things do you write?
SariffShadowDragon: I write a lot of dark fantasy and horror stories, mostly. Speculative fiction, in other words.
AlphaGod111: Oh, that’s cool. I’m not really into horror that much, but I’m sure you’re really good!
There was another long pause and I imagined Sariff to be staring at me with narrowed eyes. I’m not quite sure where this picture came from, but it seemed to be the general atmosphere of the conversation, even if it was just through text. After all, sometimes you can pinpoint the way a person’s voice should sound through written words, though it isn’t always easy to learn.
SariffShadowDragon: I don’t really see how you can say that, considering you don’t even know me and haven’t read any of my writing.
AlphaGod111: Well, if your fiction writing is anything like the way you’ve been talking, I think that’s good enough evidence that you’re a great writer!
SariffShadowDragon: Um… okay then.
I did start to frequent the chat room more and see her talking more often. She always ignored me unless I talked to her directly, and then she would respond to me. Otherwise it was as if she seemed completely unaware of my entrance or enduring presence there in the chat room.
But for the most part, this didn’t bother me. I just liked seeing what she had to say. She seemed so eloquent with her words. So smart and insightful. It really was a sight to behold.
SariffShadowDragon: Most good horror is about diving into the human psyche and looking at the uglier parts of the mind that most people don’t see or want to talk about. It’s a journey into one’s self and it lets you confront darker aspects of the world that you might not otherwise get to in other formats of story. It isn’t all just blood and guts and zombies munching on your intestines.
For as much horror and dark stories that she liked, I did finally catch her at a time where she was talking about something much more lighthearted. Apparently she also liked cute shoujo anime about high school romances.
SariffShadowDragon: I pretty much hate most romance stuff. There’s only a couple I like and that’s because they’re top notch stuff, well written, and actually portray realistic relationships and not just that stupid mushy gooey stuff that everyone claims to be romance.
Ah! She was so analytical and logical about all the things she talked about. It really was quite refreshing to see such a point of view. But still, her fascination with dark things, her more depressing stories, they kind of made me worry about her.
To me, it felt as if she were putting up these defenses to keep people away from her, but with all her writing and dark fascinations, she was actually crying out for help. Maybe her defenses were a test, to see who could break through them and get to know who she really was, and anyone who could do that would be worthy of being her true friend.
Well, I decided to take up that challenge. I would get to know her and I would get her to tell me what was wrong, and then I could be there for her and comfort her, and maybe I could even help her through it. It broke my heart so much to see her feeling like she needed to act this way around people. I wouldn’t let that scare me away, though.
One day when I came into the chat room, I found Sariff talking to her friend. They seemed to be talking about something particularly personal, and so I jumped at the chance to figure out what was going on in an attempt to learn a bit more about Sariff.
SariffShadowDragon: It’s just… I can barely sleep anymore and I don’t know what to do. I can barely function and it’s really taking a toll on everything.
AvriFey: That really, really sucks. I’m so sorry. *hugs tight and wraps in blankets* Maybe you just need to take some time to relax?
SariffShadowDragon: *Sighs* I don’t know, maybe. I hardly feel like I can, though. It’s like if I close my eyes, I’ll just slip back into sleep and those awful nightmares right then and there.
AlphaGod111: Hey, what’s going on? Are you having nightmares, Sariff?
SariffShadowDragon: Clearly. That’s exactly what I just said.
AlphaGod111: Oh no! Is there anything I can do for you? I’m here for you, just tell me and I’ll help!
SariffShadowDragon: Help with what, exactly?
AlphaGod111: Anything you need! Do you wanna talk about it? Nightmares are scary.
AvriFey: She already talked about it with me, you know. That’s exactly what we were doing when you came in.
AlphaGod111: Yeah, but I thought she might want someone else to talk about it with.
AvriFey: Oh my god. She doesn’t even know you. Why don’t you just lay off, buddy?
AlphaGod111: Hey, I’m talking to her. I think she should speak for herself. She doesn’t need you to talk for her.
AvriFey: Well at the moment she’s super upset and not in the mood to deal with you so clearly she does.
AlphaGod111: Would you stop that! She’s an individual, let her speak for herself!
SariffShadowDragon: Avri’s right. Stop talking, or you will regret it.
A cold chill went down my spine when I saw those words on the screen. Regret it? What was she going to do, send an assassin to my house or something? That idea was rather laughable, and in fact I found myself laughing out loud at the notion.
AlphaGod111: Look, I’m just trying to help you. You don’t have to be so hostile all the time, you know. There are some men you can trust.
SariffShadowDragon: What does trusting men have to do with any of this?
AlphaGod111: Well, I just had this feeling that you didn’t trust men in general. You always seem more hostile toward men than you do other girls. I just wanted you to know that I would never hurt you and I’m here for you if you ever need anything.
SariffShadowDragon: Oh my god, I can’t take this anymore.
Sariff logged out of the chat room then. I just stared at the screen, not quite sure what to say at that point. Her friend said something rather profane before she left too, and I was all alone in the chat room. While that definitely had not gone well, I felt like I had gleaned a bit more information about Sariff.
She was having nightmares, and based on her reaction to what I said, she definitely had trust issues with men. Now that I was in this deep, I knew I couldn’t back out. I wanted to make her see that she could trust me. That I would never hurt her like other men must have done to her in the past. I wasn’t going to stop at anything.
I think she was avoiding me for a while after that. She was almost never in the chat room, at least not when I was online. The few times I did see her in there, she left pretty much immediately after I logged in with the excuse that she was just getting ready to go anyway. Her friend Avri always followed shortly after.
It took about a week or so, perhaps longer, before she finally stopped leaving anytime I showed up. But during that time, I was going around finding out as much about her as I could. I glazed over her user profile, reading all the information she had written on it, however little it was. Most of what she had seemed to be quotes or song lyrics, which in and of itself was telling me something about her.
Some of the quotes and lyrics sounded very whimsical, yet at the same time sad. Others sounded downright depressing and hopeless. To me it sounded like, at least from these things she had on her profile, she felt trapped and despairing, that she wanted to run away from things or people that were hurting her but there was no way to do so. The longer I thought about it, the more my heart began to ache, wanting to help her.
Really, it wasn’t any big shock. It seemed like a lot of girls in their teens and twenties felt this way. Maybe her family didn’t understand her, which with the way she talked about things was a great possibility. Most people who are that intelligent are misunderstood by their family. Maybe she was even being abused by someone. Or maybe she was hurting herself. The thought of that made my heart begin to bleed. I had to help her!
At some point I even started dreaming about her. I dreamed that there was some huge demon made of pure darkness hurting her, and she was screaming for help. So I ran to her, telling her that I would save her, and with a heavenly light from my palms, I smote the demon and pulled Sariff out of the darkness. It was so vivid in my mind that I couldn’t forget it. It just further solidified my resolve to help her, no matter how much she pushed away.
Once she finally stopped avoiding me in the chat room, I found my chance to act. I came in one day when there were an exceptional number of people around. Sariff was talking to Avri, ignoring everyone else’s conversations, which was normal. It was just like the first day I logged into the chat room.
At this point, I had sort of created a picture of a real room in my head. It was like a nice, well-furnished lounge. Everyone was sitting in the center of the room on couches, talking loudly. Meanwhile, Sariff and Avri were sitting in the corner of the room talking in hushed voices. Despite their quiet whispers, what they said was so interesting I couldn’t help but take notice of them.
So while I mingled with the normal crowd in the center of the room, I was straining my ear to hear what the two of them were saying in the corner. And at some point I felt I could approach them and join in on their conversation. That was when someone else came into the room and approached them directly with a loud hello and a wave of his hand.
DracoNebulas: Hey, guys! What’s up?
SariffShadowDragon: Oh, hey, Drake. Same as usual.
AvriFey: Sariff was just telling me about her new story.
DracoNebulas: Oh? Count me in.
AlphaGod111: Yeah, I’d like to hear about it, too!
Well, this was an interesting turn of events. Here was a man talking to them and Sariff didn’t seem to have a problem with him at all. Then again, she talked to him as if she knew him, so maybe they had been friends for a while? I don’t know, I didn’t remember seeing him around the chat room before now.
But here they were, talking normally. Sariff didn’t seem to talk stiffly or cautiously around him like she seemed to do with me. Seeing that, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit envious of this Drake guy. Maybe I’d have to have a talk with him sometime when the other two weren’t around.
I noticed something else when the four of us were talking. Anytime I asked a question, Sariff would ignore me. But if Drake asked or said something, she would respond right away. Were they, like, dating or something? That was another distinct possibility. Well, they never said anything particularly romantic to each other, but maybe they were just keeping it casual while in public. Eventually I became bold and decided to ask Drake about himself even while the other two were still there.
AlphaGod111: So, Drake? I haven’t seen you around here before. Are you new to the site?
DracoNebulas: Nah, I just haven’t been on for a while. I’ve been busy with stuff, but Sariff convinced me to come back on, and I must admit I have missed this place.
AlphaGod111: Oh, so you’ve known Sariff a while? Are you two old friends or something?
DracoNebula: Yes, I suppose you could say that. We’ve known each other for several years now.
AlphaGod111: Interesting! Are you two dating?
SariffShadowDragon: Seriously? Just because I have a friend who is of the opposite gender of me does not make us romantic partners. I’m tired of people always assuming stuff like that, it’s really stupid and annoying.
AlphaGod111: Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude or cause any offense! I was just curious, is all…
DracoNebula: Oh, don’t worry about it. Sariff’s just kind of touchy on that issue. Well, it is pretty annoying when people do assume stuff like that, but really, there’s no harm done.
Well! Drake seemed a bit more level-headed than Sariff. At least he was more forgiving than she was. I had this feeling, though, that their relationship was one of him agreeing with everything she said because she was intimidating, and he was the one who apologized for her when she refused to see anything wrong with her own actions.
Poor fellow! I can understand his plight, though. With a girl like Sariff, it would be hard to say anything against her opinion, not only because of her aggressive nature, but also out of not wanting to hurt her when she seemed to be so sensitive and fragile.
I asked Drake if it’d be okay that we talk more and he said that’d be fine, so I went and sent him a personal message. The two girls showed no signs of leaving anytime soon so I figured it’d be better to do it like this instead.
There I asked Drake what his connection to Sariff was. How long he had known her, things like that. Here he seemed to lose his cool a bit and got defensive, asking me why it was any of my business and, for that matter, what my connection to her was and how long I had known her. And I admitted that I hadn’t known her long and that I didn’t think she liked me much, even. To which he pointed out that if she didn’t like me, I should leave her alone.
The way he said it seemed like a threat to me. I told him as much, and for him to back off if it were a threat. I only wanted to make sure Sariff was okay because she seemed to be in a bad place. And now, talking to Drake alone like this, I was starting to wonder whether he was the best person to be around her even.
He let spill a multitude of expletives before deleting our private message and blocking me. Well, I assumed he blocked me. I couldn’t go to his profile any longer and it was as if he had completely disappeared. Surely he hadn’t deleted his account. No, he must have blocked me.
That was only the start of it. A little while after that, I went into the chat room and Sariff seemed to be talking to someone who wasn’t there. I asked her what was going on, because it was really weird and kind of spooky.
SariffShadowDragon: Nothing, nothing at all. Just taking care of some business.
AlphaGod111: Uh, hey, I wanted to talk to you about something! Do you got a minute?
SariffShadowDragon: No, actually, I don’t. Not for you.
AlphaGod111: What’s that supposed to mean? Why do you hate me so much? What did I ever do to you to make you think so little of me?
SariffShadowDragon: Plenty. On top of insulting my friend, you act like you’re some sort of protective older brother to me despite the fact that you literally know nothing about me. And guess what? I don’t want you to know anything about me, and I don’t want to get to know you either.
AlphaGod111: Look, I’m just worried about you, and I wanted to help you. That’s all.
SariffShadowDragon: Again, you know nothing about me, and that fact alone means you don’t have the right to be worried about me.
I was preparing a rebuttal but then she signed out of the chat room. I decided to send her a private message, but when I left the chat to go to her profile, I couldn’t find it. On top of that, I couldn’t find anything she had posted around the site like I could before. She had gone and blocked me, too!
Things had gotten out of hand, and I wasn’t sure what to do anymore. After that blow, I just felt this stabbing pain in my heart that was telling me that I needed to help her now more than ever. I’ll bet it was Drake. He blocked me and he convinced her to do the same. He didn’t want me anywhere near her because that was just the type of guy he was.
There wasn’t anything I could do about it though, was there? I didn’t know of any other way to contact her, and if I was blocked it was as if I no longer existed to her, and she no longer existed to me. But that was wrong! She did still exist. I couldn’t stop thinking about her in the coming days after she blocked me. I kept searching her name hoping to find results but nothing came up.
I had more dreams about her too. Nightmares, really, about that demon coming back and snatching her away from me. It had these horrible blood-red eyes and looked like some ferocious dragon, with claws and fangs and wide stretching wings. It threw me back against a wall and flew away with her, and I was powerless to stop it. I had no idea how to find her, how to save her.
But I devised a plan on how I could contact her again, as well as making sure she didn’t block me immediately. I would create an alternate site account with a different name, a different persona. I wouldn’t be Derick anymore. I would create a whole new image for myself. She would never know it was me, and maybe she’d more readily accept me as well.
I set up a new account, and I decided this new persona of mine would be named Osmond. It meant divine protector, and it seemed fitting to me. Now all I had to do was make contact with her and not let her catch onto the fact that it was me. That would ruin everything. Maybe, though, if I succeeded in gaining her trust and friendship, I could tell her the truth eventually. She might even find the whole thing funny in the future.
KnightofChivalry: Hello! I’m Osmond, it’s a pleasure to meet you all!
Unsurprisingly, this first visit to the chat room on this new account was pretty much exactly like my first visit there on my old account. Everyone there greeted me except for Sariff and her friends, who were, again, sitting in the corner talking quietly amongst themselves. And, just as before, I was struck with just how interesting their conversations were. How intelligent Sariff sounded in what she said and how she said it. Or maybe that was just from not seeing her for so long.
I didn’t impose myself on her. I contented myself for the time being with just watching her talk in the chat room and reading the things she had posted on the site. While everything she had written was beautifully done, it still had that edge of sadness or depressing hopelessness that I couldn’t stand seeing in her. More than a few times I nearly went to her to ask her if everything was alright, but I stopped myself, not wanting to blow my cover. I had to wait a little longer.
Some time soon after I had created my new identity, something amazing happened. Sariff and her friends were talking about meeting up together at this bookstore coffee shop. More amazing still, it wasn’t that far away from me, only about an hour and a half drive from where I lived. I knew right then that I had to go there too. I had to meet Sariff in person. And Drake, too, to make sure he wasn’t the kind of guy I suspected him to be; that being a bad person for her to be around.
KnightofChivalry: Hey, that sounds like a lot of fun! I’d love to join you guys if that’s okay.
SariffShadowDragon: I mean, I guess it’s okay. If you live close, we can’t stop you from coming. It is a public place after all.
KnightofChivalry: Awesome! Just tell me the name of the bookstore so I can look it up and find directions.
They gave me the bookstore’s website and I started looking into it. On the date of the gathering I saw that there was an author coming to talk and do a book signing. I had never heard the author’s name before, but I figured that must have been the reason they decided to go there at that time, even though they hadn’t made mention of it.
Interested, I started reading up on the author. Lahela Gable. She hadn’t had many books published before, but the few she did have were rather successful in their own way. Reading about the books she had published, it just struck me as something Sariff would probably love, so that was without a doubt the reason they were going there.
The night before the day of the meet up, I had another dream about her. I was catching up with the dragon who stole her away, and soon I would slay it and rescue her and bring her back into the light. All I had to do was traverse the dragon’s large caverns, fight off its traps, and figure out a strategy to destroy it. While I felt this excitement growing within me, I also had this strange sense of dread hanging over my throughout the entire cavern. What could it have been?
I left the house early that morning so I could get there at a decent time and find the others. It was around then that I realized I didn’t know what anyone looked like and wondered how I was supposed to find them. Perhaps I’d just have to go the route of asking around for people who looked promising.
The author’s talk still had a little time before it started. I’d most likely be able to locate the others so long as I went to that. While I waited, I went to the coffee shop and got a hot drink. There was this girl standing behind me who was really short, but she had this coolness about her that got me wondering.
I stepped aside from the counter, but kept my eye on the girl as she ordered. She really was short, could even be mistaken to be in her early teens if not younger, but the way she dressed and held herself told me she was at least close to being an adult.
Just as she was walking away with her drink, I stopped her with a word. “E-excuse me, um, this might seem like a weird question, but-”
She turned to me then with a cool look in her eyes, seeming to stare through me before saying, “Oh, are you here for the signing? Don’t worry, it’s going to start in a few minutes. I just have to have something to drink when I’m speaking. I get nervous, otherwise.”
“O-oh, yes, of course,” I said, feeling heat rise to my face. So this girl was the author? She looked a bit different from the picture I saw of her online, but then again that picture didn’t feature her with short blue hair.
She went off to where she was going to be speaking and signing in the back of the bookstore, and I just stood there awkwardly sipping my drink. At that point I wasn’t quite sure what I should be doing, or where I should be looking for the others. Eventually I made up my mind and wandered back to where Ms. Gable was going to talk.
When she started her talk, she seemed rather nervous at first, as if she had a fear of public speaking. I always found that notion strange that people who can write so eloquently have such a hard time speaking their words. Well, at some point she got over herself and began speaking better, though I noticed she kept looking down at a paper and I assumed she had written out what she wanted to say.
There weren’t too many people there, but it was a decent sized crowd. Enough to make some money off of getting books signed and sold. Though it really wasn’t the type of thing I’d normally read, I decided I’d buy one of her books. If this was Sariff’s favorite author, maybe we could talk about the book together.
I stood in line with a book, wanting to get it signed while I could. As I stepped up to the table and set the book down, she gave me this odd look, scribbling her signature across the title page and handing it to me. Then she said in a low voice, low enough so only I could hear, “You seem to be looking for something. Are you here to meet someone?”
I hesitated for a moment, taken back by her question, then I nodded my head. She smirked a bit and tilted her head toward a back room I hadn’t seen before. Her mysterious nature intrigued and rather terrified me, but I took my book and headed to the back room. As I peered inside, it seemed to be a private sitting room, and there were several people all gathered around, sipping drinks and eating little pastries from the coffee shop.
As I stepped in, I asked whether they were from the online forum, and they all gave a nod and a warm smile, a couple of them waving. My heart set at ease, I walked in, waving. “It’s me, Der-Osmond.” I caught myself at the last moment, remembering that I had recreated myself as someone new. They wouldn’t accept Derick, but they would Osmond.
“Oh, hey,” one of the girls said with a nod of her head. They all went around telling me who they were from the forum; Sariff’s friends Avri and Drake were there, but Sariff herself was mysteriously absent. I asked where she was and Drake chuckled.
“Oh, I dunno, but she should be here soon. Give it a few minutes, why don’t ya? She stepped out because she had some business to attend to.”
I sat down and sipped what remained of my drink, though it had gone lukewarm by now. The others were talking amongst themselves and I was just sitting there as a silent observer. It felt as if we were back in the online chat room, except here we were actually really together in person. It was really strange, but also really cool.
I watched Avri and Drake particularly closely. Drake was just the sort of guy I imagined him to be: moderately tall with dark hair that looked “cool”, and dressed in a lot of dark colors which I assumed was also supposed to make him look “cool”. The more I looked at him, the longer I listened to him talk, the more irritating he became. The thought of him being one of Sariff’s closer friends is actually what irritated me.
I’m not sure how long we were there, but at one point Avri turned and said, “Oh, hey, here she comes. Hey, Sariff.”
I turned my head toward the door and my heart pounded against my ribcage. I was right the first time I saw her after all. In walked Lahela Gable, flipping her navy blue locks out of her eyes. The author they came to listen to was Sariff.
“Hey,” she said, giving a small wave. “It looks like we’re finished up here. No one else came over, but that’s fine with me. I’m pretty tired now.”
She glanced toward me with her striking eyes and I sat up a little straighter, giving her a small wave. “H-hey, Sariff. It’s me, O-osmond!”
She gave me a once over and made a small noise that almost sounded like disgust, then she nodded her head. “Somehow I had a feeling it was you when I ran across you in the coffee shop. Yes, hello.”
I chuckled a bit nervously. I had been so wrong. She was no different in person than she had been online. If anything, she was a little bit scarier. It was funny, though. She didn’t look anything like I imagined her to. For one, I didn’t imagine her being so short. Yet in other ways she seemed exactly as I imagined. The way she held herself, the confident air about her. Seeing her in person was, to say the least, an amazing opportunity.
“Well, I’m starving,” she said, after Avri gave her half a large cookie. “Don’t know about you guys, but this stuff isn’t exactly what I would call a nice meal. If anyone wants to join us, we’re going out for pizza to the place down the road.”
Of course I accepted the invitation. This was my chance to get close to Sariff – I mean Lahela – and get to know her better. In total, our group numbered around eight people. The other four besides Avri and Drake I only sort of knew by their usernames from the forum, but I never talked to them before.
We all sat at a large table together, talking amongst ourselves. At this point I was dying to ask Lahela about so many different things. But it didn’t seem like the time or place to do it, not with everyone else here with us, especially Drake who I felt kept eying me suspiciously. I was not fond of his presence here either.
I scribbled on a napkin and passed it over to Lahela, asking if we could maybe talk one on one before she left. When she read it, she glanced at me, giving me a slight scowl, then she gave a single nod of her head before going back to conversing with the others.
The other members of our group began trickling out little by little until it was only myself, Lahela, Avri, and Drake. I couldn’t help but glower in Drake’s direction, but I had to keep up appearances and not come across as antagonistic or cause a scene of some sort. Lahela said something to Avri and Avri went off to the bathroom. Lahela then leaned over to Drake and said something to him. He frowned and looked like he was going to protest, then he gave me a hard look and let out a heavy sigh before sliding out of his seat and going up to the main counter.
“You wanted to talk to me?” Lahela asked now that we were alone, her eyes narrowed. “Better talk quick. Avri’s just going to the bathroom, and Drake went up to pay. We’re all driving together.”
“Oh, uh, yeah. Right.” I was stumbling over my words out of nervousness, but I had to say something quick. “I-I just… um. I guess I was hoping that maybe the two of us could… could become better friends? Ever since that first time I saw you in the chat room, I’ve always thought you were so cool and intelligent and, uh… yeah.”
Lahela raised an eyebrow at me. “You wanted to talk to me privately about that?”
“N-no, there’s more to it than just that-”
“Oh, no, don’t tell me you’re in love with me or some crap like that.” She was scowling and looking quite ferocious. I let out a nervous laugh and shook my head.
“No, no, nothing like that. Just friends. You know, you can be friends with people of the opposite gender without it being anything romantic, right?”
The angry look on her face was only growing worse by the second. “You know, if you want to be my friend, you could just talk to me like a normal human being rather then sidestepping around the issue. You don’t make friends with people by pushing yourself into their lives.”
I was starting to sweat and my stomach started tying into knots. “Do you feel like I’ve been doing that?”
“Well, if you’re going to ask the question I think you’re going to ask, then yes, you definitely are.” She took a sip of her drink as she said this, keeping her eyes averted from mine. I frowned at her.
“What question is that?”
“You want to get to know me better, you want to be better friends with me. Now that we’ve met in person, though, you’re hoping we can actually become better friends in ‘real life’, not just on the forum. Isn’t that right?” She looked up at me finally, and her eyes had this iciness about them that sent a shiver down my spine.
“W-well, I mean… if it were possible, it would make me happy. Not like I have a whole lot of friends, and if you live close by it’d be cool if we could hang out sometimes. It’d be easier to get to know you in person than through a computer screen, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Maybe.” She scratched the corner of her mouth with her thumb, a thoughtful look on her face. “But what happens if I tell you I don’t live close by? I’m a traveling author, after all. For all you know, I could live in a completely different state. I might be on a book tour right now.”
“I doubt that,” I said. “I mean, no offense, but you were at a small venue in a small bookstore. I don’t think that would be a stop for a large book tour. I have a feeling you’re just trying to mislead me.”
“And why would I do a thing like that?” she asked, her voice quiet, somewhat dark and mysterious. I had to stop and think before answering her.
“Because… because you don’t trust me?”
“Perhaps.” She sipped her drink, even though there was almost nothing but ice left in her cup. I frowned at her.
“You just don’t trust men in general. It’s like I said before. So why are you friends with Drake?” I realized my mistake as soon as those words came out of my mouth. Saying that totally blew my cover, and yet Lahela didn’t look the least bit phased by what I had said.
“It’s not that I don’t trust men, but even if that were the case, I’ve been friends with Drake for a while, so it really isn’t any of your business. I just don’t trust you, Derick.”
I stiffened and nearly choked. “Uh, what are you talking about? I’m Osmond-”
“Oh, don’t give me that crap. I’ve known it was you for a long time. Making a fake account like that? You really are a creep, you know that.” She stood up, still scowling at me. “You know, I’m not sure why I didn’t just block you again right away when I figured it out. I guess you could call it morbid curiosity. But you’ve crossed a line with this.”
“Ah- wait!” I stood and grabbed her by the arm, keeping her from leaving. “You can’t go yet, I’m not done talking to you!”
She turned her head slowly, her eyes narrowed and her voice low and menacing. “Let go of me, right now, or you will regret it.”
I glanced across the room and saw that Avri and Drake were standing near the door waiting for her. Drake had this look on his face and I could tell he was ready to come over here at any moment to pull Lahela away. I clenched my teeth but released her arm, letting out a shaky sigh. “Look, Lahela. I just… I really like you and I want to be your friend, but I see you hurting, I see it through your writing and just the way you talk and everything, and I want to help you. I want to protect you.”
“Protect me from what, exactly?” She turned on me, and I swore I saw fires flickering in her eyes. “The only thing I need protecting from around here, as far as I’m concerned, is you. Funny, I knew authors had to deal with stalkers sometimes, but I never knew I’d have to deal with one as myself.”
“Ah! I’m not a stalker! Just, if you listened to me for a second-”
She held her hand up and I stopped talking. “No, I’m done listening to you, Derick. Don’t think your tricks can fool me. You’re not exactly subtle in what you’re trying to do, you know. But I am glad I met you in person. It made me realize you are exactly the type of person I thought you were.”
I grappled for something else to say to her, but words were failing me. It was too late anyway. Lahela walked away and rejoined Avri and Drake, and the three of them left the restaurant together, leaving me alone at the table.
I had really blown it this time. I drove back home in a listless state of mind, not quite sure what to do with myself after that. The only thing I had to show for this excursion was Rachel’s book. Looking at it gave me this sense of dread, though. The cover was so dark, depicting some terrible monster going after a girl who looked terrified. It reminded me of those dreams I had about her. But I failed. I failed to slay the dragon and rescue her from its grasp. Now she would be stuck in the dark cave forever.
No, I wasn’t going to let her slip away so easily! I would find her again, no matter what it took! Though she had blocked me yet again, I refused to give up hope. I thought there was a chance I could find her some other way, maybe even find out where she lived. I looked up her real name since she was an author, though it didn’t give me much information as far as her personal life. She did live in my state, so I had been right on that account, but I didn’t know in what town.
She had a blog and I began following it not only to keep up with her writing, but to see if I could meet up with her at some other event, or figure out some other sites she might be on that I could contact her. She had a social media page for being an author, but when I looked up her name as far as for a personal account, I didn’t find anything at all.
Still, that wouldn’t stop me. I looked at all the people who had followed her page, to see if any of them looked like some of her friends. If they were, maybe I could get to her through them. It seemed impossible that she wouldn’t have a personal page if she had a professional one. And if she had a personal page, there was a possibility I could find out at least what city she lived in, and from there I could look her up in the phone book and find her address. Or maybe I could track her through some other means. I’ve heard of a lot of ways to track people down.
But even as I was doing all of this, I kept feeling like… like there was someone watching me? Whenever I turned my head, I swore I had seen someone standing just behind me, but they disappeared as soon as I looked. If it had happened only once or twice, it wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but it kept on happening throughout the day. Throughout the week, in fact.
And there was a voice. I thought I heard a whisper in my ear every once in a while. At first I couldn’t make out what it was saying, but finally I heard it distinctly: You’ll regret it.
I glanced around the room, breathing heavily. “Is someone there?”
In response, I heard a loud burst of static. I spun around back to my computer and saw that it was freaking out, looking all glitchy and making the pictures I had been viewing look strange and distorted. The noise was growing louder and louder and started to sound like a terrible monstrous roar. And then something like a face appeared on the screen and the garbled noise snarled at me.
“You’ll regret it.”
I ducked down beneath my desk and ripped the power cord for my computer out of the wall. I still heard the roaring static and saw the glow of the screen within the dark room. It continued to grow louder and louder until I was forced to run from the room entirely, heart slamming against my ribs.
This wasn’t real, it couldn’t be real. How could any of this be happening? It was insane. It was like something out of a nightmare, so why did it feel like it was happening?
I stumbled into my bedroom, feeling as if my lungs were being constricted. I could still hear the sound of white noise from the other room, now sounding garbled and even more unnerving than before. I went to turn on my light but the switch didn’t seem to be there. I made my way through the dark to my bedside lamp and turned it on, but no light appeared.
And then I saw a small speck of light. A red glow coming from the bedside table. I looked down to see the book I had gotten from the book signing and saw that the eyes of the monster on the cover were glowing and getting brighter. I grabbed the book and threw it against the wall, unsure what else I could do.
“You’ll regret it.”
I swung around, and there I saw Lahela standing in front of me, and I nearly screamed in surprise. “Wh-what are you doing here? How did you get into my house? Lahela, what’s going on?”
“My name’s not Lahela,” she growled. Something cold wrapped around my wrists and pulled my arms above my head with such force that they were nearly dislocated. “It’s Sariff.”
I felt more things slithering around my ankles, yanking me up off my feet and holding me still, squeezing around me. I let out a sharp cry as I felt my bones begin to crack.
“S-stop this! Stop, it hurts!”
“I’ve seen the kinds of things you’ve been dreaming about,” she said, her voice sending a wave of chills through the room. “It’s ridiculous and pathetic. You really think I’m like that? You really think you’re like that? I’m not the one having this nightmare, Derick. This is all yours.”
A pair of blood red eyes opened behind her and I saw the outline of a huge dragon, its mouth opening wide. Its fangs were dripping with something and I smelled a rotten odor that I soon realized was blood and decay. Sariff took a step toward me, seeming to grow taller with each heavy breath I made.
“I’m not some maiden in distress needing to be saved. The truth is, I’m the monster that everyone fears.”
And then she and the dragon seemed to merge and become one being so only the dragon was left. It opened its jaws wider as it moved its head toward me, dripping something hot and wet onto my face. Her voice began speaking through the dragon as I watched its teeth come down upon me.
“I will swallow you whole.”
I jolted up so fast that I fell over, hitting my head hard on the floor. With a hiss of pain I pressed my hands to my head and glanced around. I was back in my living room, sitting in front of my computer desk. The computer was on, and it looked normal. Everything looked normal. There was no dragon or dark tendrils binding me. But I heard that voice in the back of my head.
“You’ll regret it.”