Joanna pushed the bolt across and leaned against her front door. Perspiration coated her body, making her feel uncomfortable; her clothes a portable sweatbox. She peeled her t-shirt away from her skin and wafted the material.
She didn’t know what was going on anymore, and had progressed past the point of thinking she was crazy, to knowing she was. No reassurances to the contrary could convince her otherwise. People didn’t harbour shadow forms. They just didn’t.
But why weren’t they visible all the time? And why didn’t everyone have them?
It didn’t make any sense.
Needing both a change of clothes and some ointment for her eye, she stood up straight to walk towards the bedroom when someone knocked on the door.
Joanna’s heart leapt into her throat and her blood ran cold. She backed away from the door, heart beating fast. Even this was crazy, because she didn’t know what she was afraid of, but she couldn’t get the notion out of her head that Lincoln had followed her home for some reason.
“Jo, you in there? Wakey, wakey, rise and shine.”
All at once, Joanna’s fears subsided and she relaxed a little. She undid the lock and opened the door.
“Nina, am I glad to see you,” she said, although ‘see’ wasn’t the optimum word as her vision had deteriorated to the point where she couldn’t see anything clearly any more.
“You’ll never guess what I’ve hea – Jo, you look dreadful,” Nina said as she entered the room.
“Well you know how to cheer someone up.” Joanna forced a smile. Nina had been her best friend through university where they shared a room in the halls of residence. They had gelled straight away, having similar interests and styles, and once they started talking, it took a lot to shut them up. “Just give me a minute. I’ve got to get some drops in before my eyeballs explode.”
“You need a hand?”
“No, I’m fine. You just put the kettle on. I’ve only just gotten in myself.” Nina walked across the room, and Joanna locked the door.
“You expecting me to try and make a break for it?” Nina asked.
“No, it’s… It’s a long story.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Just give me a minute.”
Joanna made her way to the bathroom where she kept all her medicines. For the transplanted cornea, she had antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection and steroid eye drops to control inflammation and prevent transplant rejection. And for the Fuchs’ eye, Muro ointment that drew moisture out of the cornea, decreasing swelling, but which burnt like a bitch for a while.
After administering the drops, she waited for her eyes to stop burning, and then still blinking, returned to the living room where Nina sat nursing a cup of tea.
“Yours‘ll be cold by now,” Nina said.
“The way you make a brew, it’s probably better cold. Scaring it with a teabag doesn’t a cup of tea make.”
Nina patted the two-seater settee beside her and Joanna sat down.
“I’ll ignore that. Now are you going to tell me what’s up?”
Joanna gulped her tea, took a moment to gather her thoughts, then told her friend everything that had happened. When she finished, she lowered her head and gazed at the black and white rug on the threadbare carpet to hide her embarrassment.
Nina put her arm around Joanna’s shoulder. “Hey, don’t worry. You’re the sanest person I know.”
Joanna couldn’t help but smile. “That says a lot coming from someone who thought McFly was something you ordered from McDonald’s.”
“Well excuse me. I can’t help it if I’m not into pop rock.”
“Yes, but you didn’t have to go up to the counter and ask for one.” Joanna laughed.
“I wouldn’t have if certain people didn’t ask me to.”
“I couldn’t resist.”
“Hmm. Talk about keeping your friends close but your enemies closer.”
Tears of laughter rolled down Joanna’s cheeks.
“Well I’m glad to see that my former humiliation has cheered you up,” she said in mock indignation. “Now like I said, you’re the sanest person I know.”
“Thanks. I feel a lot better now.” And in a way, she did, laughter the perfect cure for her malaise.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be something perfectly rational.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Great, I’m glad we’ve got that sorted.”
Before Joanna could reply, Nina’s mobile phone rang with a thumping dance tune that had Nina playing at an imaginary mixing desk with her hands before she withdrew the phone from her bag.
“Maxine, what’s up?” She chewed her lip; nodded her head. “No problem. Be there in twenty.” After disconnecting the call, she turned to Joanna. “Sorry babe, got to shoot through. Max wants some help with her wedding plans. God knows why she’s going through with it. That arsehole Ricky sleeps around more than a prostitute.”
“I guess it’s her life, but there’s no way I’d put up with it.”
“Tell me about it. It’s not as if he’s even that good looking.”
“Perhaps she likes slap heads with potbellies.”
Both girls laughed.
“Seriously though Jo, you’ve got nothing to worry about. At least you’re not marrying Ricky. If you ask me, it’s Max who needs her head looked at.”
Joanna laughed again and then stood to walk Nina to the door.
“You get worried about anything, just give me a call,” Nina said before giving Jo a hug.
Joanna watched Nina walk along the hallway and then she shut the door and turned back to face the small room. Talking to Nina had made her feel a whole lot better and with the help of the eye drops, even her eyesight was now improving, which made everything feel less oppressive.
She walked over to the window and looked out. Multiple beams of light radiated from behind a cloud, creating a stroboscopic effect. Down below, she saw the blurred image of Nina exit the building and start walking along the pavement towards her pride and joy, a black Peugeot 206 parked in a space in the parking area.
Two figures walked towards Nina from the corner of the block. Unable to see clearly, Joanna closed her Fuchs’ eye to improve her vision, and opened her mouth in shock when she recognised Lincoln and the nurse from the hospital. The blackness surrounded both figures, as though someone had drawn around them with a black marker pen.
Next minute, she saw the nurse approach Nina, talking as she went.
Panicked, Joanna screamed and banged on the window. The glass shook in the frame and Nina turned and looked back. She didn’t know what was going on, or what the threat was, but before Joanna could shout a warning, the nurse grabbed Nina around the throat.
Joanna’s eyes almost popped out of her head, and she froze. Nina kicked and bucked, but the nurse maintained her hold, then with supernatural strength, she twisted Nina’s head until her neck snapped.
Lincoln approached and took hold of the limp body with his single arm. Joanna saw his lips moving and she mouthed a silent ‘no’ and shook her head in terror as Nina jerked upright, her body encircled by the same evil black corona that surrounded Lincoln and the nurse.
Lincoln released Nina and she stood erect.
Shocked, Joanna fell back from the window, watched as the trio turned to stare up at her. Then without a word between them, they headed towards the apartment block.