16 May 2005
Trivia night had wrapped up around 10, and Mark had spent the next fifteen minutes staring into space and rocking in his chair. Matteson and Lori left as soon as it was over. Mark overheard Matteson tell her he had something to do in the morning and would just be dropping her off. Beth leaned over and tapped on his shoulder.
"Hey," she said. "What's on your mind?"
"I'm just...sorry, I'm just concerned," he answered.
"Look, we get it," Bob said. "She seems obsessive about him. Like, beyond what you would expect."
"I've been afraid to mention it, you know, but...something really does seem off about them," Beth said, softly.
"And she's changed a lot since meeting him," Bob added. "And not all of it for the better."
"Has she said anything? To anyone?" Mark asked. The other two shook their heads. "She promised she would talk to one of us, months ago. Said she was going through a rough patch, swore it wasn't his fault, but..."
"It hasn't gotten better." They all sat in silence for a moment, then Mark slapped his hands down onto the table and stood up.
"I have to try again."
"Mark, wait-" Beth began.
"No! There's something wrong and I think it has to do with him. We can't keep sitting by and watching it happen!"
"Just...just be careful, okay? It's going to be difficult to handle this well," Bob said.
"Are you sure we can't just go, all together, and do this tomorrow?" Beth asked. Mark shook his head and grabbed his jacket, then tossed some cash on the table.
"If that doesn't cover me I'll pay you back tomorrow, alright?" The others reluctantly nodded, then watched as Mark vanished out the door.
Mark arrived at Lori's apartment a few minutes later, checking the parking lot to verify Matteson's car was gone. When he knocked on the door, it fell open, and he jumped back. He waited a moment, then poked his head in to look around. Everything looked normal, and he thought he could hear the shower running. He stepped inside and closed the door, making sure it latched this time.
"Lori?" he called out.
"Matteson? Is that you?" he heard back.
"I'll be right out, just wait there!" He went to answer, but decided instead to just wait for her. He took a deep breath, started muttering to himself what he would say, and began pacing around her living room. As he focused on what he was saying, he lost track of where he swung his hands, and accidentally knocked over a glass of pop. He swore softly to himself and dove down to pick up the glass, then looked around for a paper towel. When he didn't see a roll out, he decided to check the broom closet. He opened the door to the broom closet and froze.
There were no cleaning supplies in the closet. Instead, he was faced with dozen of pictures of John Matteson. Most looked recent, but some looked like they had been printed off a website somewhere or pulled out of wherever his childhood pictures were kept. A small altar consisting of a bowl and supported by three women's faces, was set up on a low shelf, with a bag of incense on one side and some ashes in the bowl. The pictures of Matteson were surrounded and interspersed with moon and death imagery.
"You're not supposed to be in there!" he heard Lori yell, and suddenly realized the sound of the shower had stopped. He stepped back from the door and faced her. She was wearing one towel over her body, and had another one coiled up on her head, her legs still dripping water on the carpet. "Mark?!"
"Lori, I was trying to clean up a spill, and-"
"What are you doing here?!"
"We're all concerned, okay? Something about this, this...thing you have with Matteson didn't seem healthy! And this? THIS?" he yelled, pointing at the closet. "This is proof! Lori, something is terribly wrong here!"
"Get OUT!" she screamed. Her eyes flashed white and Mark stumbled backward. Before he could say anything else, she was at his side, holding his arm so tight he screamed and felt his hand growing numb. She threw him, and he crashed into the wall next to the door. When he looked back, she was floating a few inches off the ground, her hair out in all directions and the towel from her head crumpled on the floor. She started to move toward him, and he threw the door open and ran out on all fours, only able to push himself to his feet and run once he was in the hallway. Other doors were opening, but he didn't wait to see who was watching him. He jumped into his car and started the engine, his heart racing, his breath quick and shallow. He punched the gas and tore out of the parking lot down the street, trying to piece together what he'd seen. He barely registered it when the radio station cut to static.
"You won't ruin this for me, Mark!" a strange woman's voice called out from the radio. He screamed and glanced over, only to see the radio still reading 101.1. He felt his entire body go cold.
"Who are you? What do you want?" He cried.
"No one gets in my way ever again!" A bolt of electricity sparked from the radio and shocked his hand, causing him to yank his hands away. The wheel turned sharply, and as Mark reached out to correct it the car spun sideways. The rear wheel caught a pothole at high speed and the car flipped onto its roof, sliding about twenty feet. Mark only briefly heard the sound of the truck's horn as his car landed directly in front of it.
Lori was kneeling in front of the altar, a bit of incense burning. She sat perfectly still, her eyes open and fixed straight ahead and glazed over. Suddenly, she took a deep breath, and fell backwards. She stood, cracked her knuckles, and blinked a couple times until her eyes were back to normal. She heard a knock on the door and, making sure her towel was fixed, she went to answer.
"Hey, is everything alright?" It was one of her neighbors, she recognized him from the hallway. "We heard a lot of noise, and then this guy-"
"Everything is fine now, thanks," she said with a smile. "It was just a misunderstanding."
"Are...are you sure?"
"Yes. Thank you, and sorry for all the noise. Good night." With that she closed the door, then walked back to her altar, and resumed kneeling. "Very soon," she whispered, looking up at the pictures, "all of this will be sorted out for good."
29 March 2005
There was a knock on the door to Lori's apartment. She glanced from around the door to her broom closet, then closed it. After checking that the latch was secure, she opened the front door to find Mark Hendricks.
"Lori! Are you okay?"
"You missed trivia night again. Last week you said you were sick but this week no one could even get a hold of you and we've been a team for two years and you've never missed a night and we were all concerned." She sighed and leaned on the doorframe.
"I'm sorry, Mark. I was hanging out with Matteson and I guess I forgot."
"And forgot to answer your phone?"
"Is this really about trivia?" He opened his mouth as if to speak, then stopped and exhaled hard through the nose as he looked at her.
"Look, can I at least come in? If we have to do this I don't want it to be in the hallway." She stepped aside and dramatically waved her hand to point him in. He walked past her and turned to the living room, where he sat down on the couch. She closed the door and made her way to the recliner.
"What's going on with you?"
"With me? Nothing. But there's clearly something going on with you."
"What do you mean?"
"Look it's, these past two weeks, you've been acting really weird. Blowing people off, forgetting names. You've seemed a bit more...tense, as well. Now I don't know if it's this guy or some other thing in your life that happened around the same time, but the timing-"
"Are you accusing Matteson of something?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
"I don't know, okay?" he nearly yelled, slapping his hands on his thighs. "Whatever it is, I'm not trying to judge anyone. I just want you to talk to me. Or Beth. Or anyone, just...something is wrong, we can all tell. And we care about you. Whatever is going on, we want to be there for you." She leaned back in her seat and stared off toward the window for a moment.
"Okay. Thank you. I've been under a lot of stress lately. It will pass, I promise, and this new thing with Matteson has been helping. Just...have some patience with me? I'll explain when I'm ready." Mark leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and rubbing his hands together. Finally, he turned his head up to face her.
"You promise you'll talk to one of us?"
"I promise." He sat up, took a deep breath, and then nodded.
"Okay. Just try not to be too much of a stranger during this time?" She nodded and smiled, and he stood. "Alright. Thanks. Look, I gotta go help Bob with something. Should we expect you at Beth's tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I'll be there." He nodded, then walked out of the apartment. As soon as she heard the door close, she groaned and laid the recliner back.