Witness Protection by Chloe Riggs

Police officers swarm the streets, their flashing lights illuminating the dark night. Their sirens echo in the unfamiliar empty streets. It isn’t the first time Maeve has heard those signals of danger, but it’s the first time they hit so close to home.

Feeling a sudden chill, Maeve gazes at the open window in the freshly furnished apartment. Taking a deep breath, Maeve gets up from her seat at her new pristine white desk and moves towards the open window. Looking down hesitantly from the third story of her apartment building, her eyes roam over the scene below. 

A local cop car is parked on the side of the road behind a tan minivan. The officer, one that Maeve surprisingly did not already know, made his way to the driver’s window. As though feeling someone’s stare, the officer glances up at the young girl peering out the freshly painted window frame, nodding in a greeting. With her heart beat returning to it’s normal pace, Maeve smiles back at the officer. 

Pulling her head back through the window, Maeve straightens and pulls the window shut. She draws the pre-picked curtains closed, erasing the dancing justice filled lights on her walls. Massaging her stiff shoulders, she drags her slipper clad feet back to the uncomfortable desk chair. Her calloused fingers graze the keypad of the laptop, waking the screen. 

An email from an encrypted email address flashes on the screen. Maeve skims her eyes over it as she shut the computer down, only catching the words “recent sightings…still out there…trust no one.” Closing the lid, Maeve slides the laptop in the drawer with her new identification certificates and cards, some of the only things that actually belong to her in this apartment. It was hard getting used to her name, but it was what needed to be done. 

“Time for bed,” she mumbles to herself, her solemn voice echoing in the eerie silence

Rising from the chair once again, Maeve locks three of the six bolted locks on her door. The top one first, then one of the middle locks, and finally the last deadbolt. Just in case, she slides a wooden chair from the kitchen table under the doorknob. Feeling a little safer, she begins turning off the lights as she makes her way down the hall, completely ignoring her normal bedtime routine. 

What’s the point of looking good when there is no one rolling over in the moonlight to see it? At least, not anymore.

Folding a corner of the white comforter towards the middle of the bed, Maeve slides herself under the sheets. Despite the heater in the corner of the room, the fabric still felt cool to the touch. She turned out the lamp on the bedside table and slid further down the bed, wrapping her arms around the pillow as she turned on her left side. She closes her eyes, determined, willing herself to fall asleep.Flashes of a familiar man dance under her eyelids. 

He’s clad in a tuxedo, something he fought her on not even an hour before. 

“Do I really need to dress like a penguin to go to this thing?” he asked her, while she adjusted his tie.

“It’s not that bad. We just make an appearance and leave,” she reassured him as the pearls on her neck jingled at her movements. Then, looking into his blue eyes, “for me?”

He gazed into her hopeful brown eyes, glazed with the heat of emotions. “Anything for you, princess,” he whispered as he cupped her cheeks and pulled her pink lipstick laced lips to his.

Maeve rolls onto her back, shoving the nightmare out of her mind, but it only makes a new demon appear.

“What are you doing?” she cried out drastically to the man in front of her. She glanced at the knife in his grip, his knuckles turning white. 

“What has to be done,” he replied, before swiftly catching her arm in her attempt to escape.

He pushes her body against the cold surface of the fridge. His face was only an inch from hers, forcing his beer saturated breath to blow across her face. She winced at the proximity, fighting the tears begging to burst.

“You’ve seen too much, princess.” He brought the knife to her neck, grazing her pale skin with the sharp steel. He closed his eyes and turned his head as he pressed harder on the blade. “I loved you,” he whispered. 

A door burst open and the predator loosened its grip on the prey, startled. It was all she needed to wiggle herself out of his hold.

Exhausted, Maeve sits up, fighting the ache in her bones, and turns on the bedside lamp. She opens the drawer in the front of the stand, pulling a red book out of it. She turns to page 176, the page she left on according to her memory. After refocusing her attention on the same paragraph countless times, Maeve finally engages herself in the fictional story. Making it a couple chapters in, Maeve yawns from the sleepless exhaustion weighing on her. She memorizes the page number she’s on and returns the book to its designated drawer, turning off the lamp afterwards. 

She slides back into her previous sleeping position, closing her eyes. This time an image of a dancing ballerina fills her vision, the text her eyes skimmed a few minutes ago projecting their story for her. 

The thin ballerina prances on the dimly lit stage, thrusting her delicate leg in the air. She spins with a click of her feet, swiftly moving onto the next move. 

Click. 

She tiptoes to the left side of the stage, preparing herself. A man dances his way to her, spinning on the way. 

Click. 

The ballerina leaps, sprawling her limbs out from her, and creating an image as though she is a beautiful winged creature. The man stands in position underneath her, arms raised. 

Click. Maeve squeezes her eyelids closer together.

Gravity catches up with the ballerina as her form begins to gradually drop. But the man is gone. The lights turn their focus on the flailing ballerina, her eyes now open and staring at the empty stage below her. Her delicate body slams on the ground.

A screeching sound echoes the hollow apartment, the sound of a scooting chair on a laminate floor. Maeve’s eyes pop open. Her hands begin to sting with sweat as she grips the pillow tighter. Her ears perk up, listening. Ignoring the racing heart in her chest, she slowly and silently slides herself into a sitting position, placing her feet on the floor. Her hand hesitates at the lamp, before quickly retracting its initial instinct.

Her bare feet touch the cold floor as she keeps an eye on the bedroom door, displaying a dark hallway. 

One…two…three.

Maeve leaps from the bed, quietly shutting the bedroom door and locking it. She grabs her phone off the nightstand and dials Detective Jones, turning the volume all the way down. She places the phone upside down on the table, eliminating the bright light in the dark room. Despite her beating pulse, she pulls the bat out from underneath her bed, positioning herself in a swinging stance in front of the bedroom door.

Her ears ring at the rubbery footsteps, moving closer to her door. It takes twenty steps to reach her bedroom from the front door. Fighting the instinct to flee through the window behind her, she stays focused on counting. 

Five…six…seven…eight.

“Annabelle?” a vile voice calls out a name she hasn’t heard in years. 

Twelve…thirteen…fourteen.

“I know you’re here, princess.”

Eighteen…nineteen…twenty.

A new shadow presents itself at the foot of the door, blocking the night light in the hall directly in front of her bedroom. Maeve winces at the jingling of the doorknob.

“If you let me in, I promise to not draw this out any longer than it needs to be,” he bargains.

The doorknob stops wiggling. The shadow backs out of view. 

Three footsteps. Not enough to vacate the apartment altogether. 

Maeve holds her position. The door kicks open, damaging its frame as it hangs loosely. A crack of dull lighting shines in the dark room. Maeve bites her quivering lip, wishing for the gut wrenching feeling in her stomach to go away. The door slowly opens, a black figure standing in the doorway. 

He chuckles at her stance, “believe it or not, I really did miss your sense of humor.” 

He slowly steps closer to her, his rough and scarred image coming into view. Maeve stays still, waiting. 

Three more steps.

He walks intentionally, claiming each foot of distance he gains. 

Two. 

He pulls the gun out of the back of his belt, gaining a fraction of Maeve’s attention. 

One. 

Maeve swings the bat with all of her might, faltering when a bruised hand catches the end. Her blood starts to pump and her stance falters. Menacing eyes meet her terrified gaze. Within seconds, everything goes dark. 

Sirens ring out for the second time that night. Flashing blue and red lights flood the apartment building’s walls as heavy footsteps rush up the flight of stairs. When they reach the door with three broken locks, they falter in their steps.They carefully make their way through the doorway, their loaded weapons in hand. The head captain signals to the two officers behind him, ushering them in different directions. When he reaches the broken bedroom door, he eases the door open. Silently cursing, he shakes his head at the figure on the floor that’s covered in bruises and laying in a puddle of blood. He gazes at the deserted eyes that graced him a greeting smile only a few hours earlier. 

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