*Just a quick disclaimer, this chapter contains mention of a mass shooting. It also doesn’t have the spice I promised everyone online. I am a long-winded mother fucker and ended up having to split it into two chapters. That means the next chapter will be ALL spice. Happy reading!
I need to stop checking my phone, I thought as I pushed open the breakroom door.
Every time I had five seconds to myself, I dashed inside to look at it. I installed my security system yesterday after it got delivered, placing the little sensors on all my windows and setting up the doorbell cameras. It also came with interior cameras, but there was no way in hell they were getting installed. Not when The Faceless Man could use them to keep spying on me.
I couldn’t fucking believe he’d put a camera in my bedroom. Breaking in was bad enough, and even though I shouldn’t have been, I was halfway to forgiving him for it yesterday. I mean, I had asked him to do it. But watching me without my consent crossed the line, and after everything he’d done, I’d be foolish to believe his “Aly, I stopped” bullshit, despite my weird gut reaction telling me I could trust him.
What kind of stalker had that kind of moral fortitude? How was that his line in the sand? Maybe it made me a bad person, but if our roles were reversed and I’d gotten the chance to watch him masturbate, I wouldn’t have stopped. I would have slid a hand into my underwear and joined in on the fun.
Two notifications were waiting for me from the security system when I grabbed my phone from my locker. One showed a tubby little raccoon ambling past my back door, and I saved it to my camera to rewatch it later because even though I knew they were wild animals and carriers of the rabies virus, every time I saw a trash panda, I wanted to pick it up and smoosh it.
The second video was of my weird neighbor Steve from down the street, who ran late at night, even in winter. He was an ultramarathoner and competed in some of the most extreme environments on the planet, so the harsher the conditions, the better, according to him. I knew far too much about the man because he was also chatty as fuck, and he’d cornered me at the last block party my neighborhood threw and talked for a solid hour about his training regiment and how ultramarathons were more about being mentally tough than physically tough. I’d avoided him since. His intensity was unnerving.
That was it. Just two videos. I’d watched a dozen others over the last six hours, and all of them were cars driving past my house. I needed to find some way to turn the camera sensitivity down, or I’d get spammed with notifications during the day as my diurnal neighbors went about their lives.
I kept expecting to come into the breakroom and see The Faceless Man in full masked glory, trying to get back into my house while I was at work, but there was no sign of him. The disturbing thing was I couldn’t tell if I was more relieved or disappointed. On the one hand, a stranger had broken into my house and filmed me. On the other, he was fulfilling the dark fantasy that had haunted both my waking and sleeping self for the past three months.
The reason I longed to believe him when he said he didn’t want to hurt me was because of the potential to play out my mask kink. How many times had I dreamt about putting that muscular body through its paces? I wanted his fingers wrapped around my neck while he fucked me so I could stare at the veins popping out along his forearms as he held me in place. I wanted him behind me, my hands gripping a headboard while he pressed a knife to my throat and told me not to move.
Damn it, I needed to stop getting this turned on at work.
My gaze refocused on my phone.
Don’t do it, I told myself, my finger hovering over my social media app. It was Saturday night, which meant a new video from The Faceless Man. He was punctual to a fault, and I doubted that stalking me would interfere with his posting schedule. So far, I’d managed to hold out, but my willpower was cracking.
“You are a weak, weak woman,” I said as I opened the app and navigated to his profile. Sure enough, there was a new video.
“You don’t have to watch it,” I told myself. But my thumb was already moving of its own volition, and a heartbeat later, a low, drugging melody came from the phone speakers. The Faceless Man was back in one of his usual filming locations, and I let out a heavy breath of relief that it wasn’t more content from my bedroom. He lay on his couch, clad in a black Henley that was pushed to his elbows, revealing tattoos and the corded, veiny forearms I obsessed over. Like usual, he held a knife, toying with it as he stared up at the ceiling while a tortured male voice sang about getting his heart broken.
The scene changed, showing him sitting up in bed against a heavy-duty headboard that looked like it was made to take a pounding. It spoke of vigorous, athletic sex, complete with what looked like hook holes designed to tie people to it. He was shirtless now, big body leaning against his pillows, head turned to the side like he was staring into space.
The scene changed again, to a locale I’d never seen before. He stood in front of a large picture window, still shirtless, his arms lifted overhead as he leaned against the top part of the frame. I hit pause, taking a minute to let the sight of him sink in. His body was a goddamn masterpiece. Pretty privilege was real because looking at him made me want to forgive him for all manner of sins.
Right until I glanced down and noticed that he’d added a caption to one of his videos for the first time ever. It read: When she’s mad at you.
Oh, hell no. This mother fucker better not be referencing me right now. I hit unpause, and the video lasted a few more seconds before it looped back to the beginning. My eyes narrowed as I listened to the lyrics, filled with regret and remorse for past actions. Was this his way of saying sorry to me? He’d have to do a hell of a lot better than this.
I scanned through the comments. People were losing it.
Who hurt you like this???
Give me a name and address, and I’ll take care of it.
No. I refuse to believe anyone could be mad at him.
Ladies, we ride at dawn.
When I say I would forgive this man for literally anything.
“Ha,” I said humorlessly. “You say that now, but just wait until he murders me and comes after you next.”
I jerked my head up, relieved to see I was still alone in the room. I really needed to stop talking to myself so much.
I dropped my gaze back to my phone and read a few more comments defending his non-existent honor before my anger got the better of me, and I typed, When she has good reason to be mad at you, did you mean to say?
I had barely hit enter when my phone pinged. He’d already seen and liked my comment. Oh, fuck. He never liked comments. Would people notice?
Another notification popped up.
User the.faceless.man has started following you.
I nearly dropped my phone. No, he didn’t.
Another chime came through. Someone, not him, had responded to my comment.
UM, MA’AM, HE LIKED YOUR COMMENT???
Someone else wrote, OMG, SHE IS THE ONLY PERSON HE FOLLOWS.
I reared back from my phone as the responses started pouring in. Uh-oh. What had I done? And what had he just done to me by singling me out like this? My phone started pinging so fast it sounded like the beginning of an EDM song.
Forgive him, you monster.
Are you dating him???
So this is what jealous rage feels like.
What is he like in real life?
How’s it feel to be the most hated woman on the internet right now?
If you don’t want him, I’ll take him.
I quickly exited the app and muted it through my settings. Nope. Not dealing with this shitshow right now. I still had the second half of my shift to get through, and tonight was already bad enough because we currently had both a rape victim and her attacker in the hospital after he’d gotten caught in the act. The woman’s family found out he was here, and we were having a hell of a time keeping them from killing him. Not that I could blame them. It was good that I wasn’t the woman’s nurse because, despite all my training and the ethics agreements I’d signed, I’d be tempted to slip her husband the man’s room number. Only the thought of going to jail might stop me, but I’d learned so much about myself in the past twenty-four hours that I wondered if even that would be enough.
Jesus Christ. Was I more like The Faceless Man than I realized? Between contemplating whether or not to act as an accomplice to homicide and choosing to go the vigilante justice route instead of reporting my newfound stalker to the police, I was heading down a dark path. Maybe it was time to take a few weeks off work and clear my head. I hadn’t taken so much as a sick day in…two years? No, that couldn’t be right.
I frowned, thinking back. Holy shit, it was. The last time I missed a shift was thanks to that bout of food poisoning from a local deli that had since, unsurprisingly, closed down.
Two fucking years of trauma nursing without a vacation. Yikes. Yeah, I needed to fix that. No wonder my head was so messed up lately.
Well, that was also partly thanks to The Faceless Man. Was he watching me even now through the hospital security cameras? Probably not, but just in case he was, I flipped the one in the corner of the breakroom the bird.
My phone chimed with a text message.
I pulled it up to see an unknown number and a single word: Rude.
I nearly choked. He’d hacked into the hospital cameras. How good did someone have to be to pull that off? And how obsessed did someone have to be to go this far?
And why, for the love of god, did that thought make me feel special instead of freaked out?
I shouldn’t have responded. I really shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t stop myself from typing, Are you watching me right now?
Maaaybe, he said, followed by a wink emoji.
I ground my teeth together, trying to ignore the fact that, for a stalker, he seemed more cute than creepy in our exchanges so far.
You are breaking sooo many laws, I wrote back.
And you don’t even know the half of what I’m up to, he replied.
Listen, you, UGH, I don’t even know what to call you!
How about boo? he wrote back. You know, because of the – this was followed by three little ghost emojis meant to represent his mask.
Damn it, I was not going to smile right now. Not when he could see me do it. It was bad enough that he’d made me laugh yesterday. Curse Dad for passing his dark sense of humor on to me. The urge to laugh always overwhelmed me at the absolute worst moments.
I am NOT calling you boo, I said. I’ll stick with ‘asshole’ TYVM. And don’t you have anything better to do than spy on me at work?
Not really, he said. Insomnia is kicking my ass this week.
I blinked, feeling bad for him for a second before I checked myself. He deserved insomnia. It was the least of the punishment he’d earned with his batshit behavior.
I saw your comment on my video, he added. Looks like everyone else did, too. You’re real popular right now. He tacked on a laughing emoji. I assumed just to needle me.
I swiped back into my app and cringed. So far, there were over a hundred responses, and people were out for blood tonight.
I blame you for this, I told him.
You’re the one who left the comment, Aly.
Oh, no. You’re not pinning this on me. I made a bad choice by leaving it, but it would have gone unnoticed without your interference. You knew damn well what would happen when you liked it and followed me.
I have no regrets about publicly claiming you.
Oh, god. No, vagina, do not quiver at that.
Damn it, not you, too, ovaries.
Conscious that I was still being watched, I went completely still and fought the urge to squirm. It was oddly reassuring when he put it that way. Here was a digital record that tied me to him, so if he did wind up murdering me, there would be a hundred thousand witnesses online who could point to him and say, “The boyfriend did it,” even though he wasn’t technically my boyfriend. They didn’t know that, though. For all intents and purposes, he’d just insinuated he was. Was this his way of showing me he didn’t pose a threat?
I shook my head. No, I was not going to be softened by this. He’d filmed me. He was watching me even now. He could have lied about how much he saw the other night. Hell, he might have even recorded me. There could already be a video of me fucking myself with a vibrator on a revenge porn site. I didn’t know this man, and I’d be an idiot to trust him.
I still don’t forgive you, I said.
I’m not asking you to yet, he responded. Meaning he would later?
I lifted my head and stared at the camera, my thoughts churning like an angry tide. I needed to end this. Tell him to fuck off to space. So why couldn’t I bring myself to do it? Was some deranged part of me actually enjoying this?
My torment must have shown on my face because he texted me.
Just tell me to stop, Aly, and I will.
My thumbs hovered over the screen. I needed to do this. It was the healthy thing. The right thing. Sure, the idea of a man breaking into my house to fuck me was an appealing fantasy, but it was just a fantasy. Real life had shown me there was only one logical conclusion to this madness, and that was my eventual assault or murder.
I managed to type the letter S before my pager went off. I looked down, and all thoughts of The Faceless Man fled from my mind.
Ambulances were pulling up with multiple gunshot victims. There’d been a mass shooting at a nightclub.
I threw my phone into my locker, slammed it shut, and raced into the hall. Brinley lurched out of the bathroom while I was passing it, and we nearly collided. I slowed down just enough to steady her before we took off running together toward the ambulance bay.
“On your left!” Tanya yelled, sprinting past us.
“Jesus, she’s fast,” Brinley wheezed as we hauled ass after her.
“She’s a cardio queen,” I told her. “Does three marathons a year.”
“How bad is this going to be?” Brinley asked.
I sent her a sideways look. “The truth?”
“As bad as it gets,” I said.
Twenty hours later, I stumbled out of the hospital. Nearly the entire nursing staff was called in to help with the shooting, and many of my co-workers showed up before we even got to their numbers. When tragedy struck, we knew to come here.
We’d only taken a fraction of the victims. The rest had gone to other ERs and trauma units across the city. Six people were dead, another fifteen had been shot, and forty more got wounded during the stampede to the exits.
According to one of the cops collecting witness statements, the shooter had been killed by a heroic bartender. She’d popped up from behind the bar not long after he opened fire, hit him with a baseball bat, and kept hitting him until his head looked like a pulped pumpkin.
She’d saved a lot of lives, but we had at least three people who might still succumb to their injuries. Sadly, this wasn’t even the worst mass shooting I’d seen. Last year, a man had gone to his ex-wife’s place of employment and killed eight people and injured fifty more before a SWAT sniper took him out.
I managed to sleep an hour or two here and there between rushing from one room to another, but it wasn’t enough to combat the fact that I’d been awake for almost forty hours now. This was why I left Fred with so much food and water. My vet kept telling me not to open feed him, that he was starting to get chubby, but I’d rather Fred be a little overweight than starving every time I got stuck at work like this.
I took the elevator up to the third floor of the parking garage, tugging my heavy winter coat tight when the doors opened, and an arctic wind rushed in. A glance to my right stopped me in my tracks. It was snowing again, coming down in big, fat flakes that the wind blew sideways. Great. Hopefully, the roads weren’t too bad.
I was tempted to turn around and go sleep in one of the bunk rooms reserved for long-shift work, but if I did that, I’d probably only get another hour or two before someone woke me up looking for help. Saying no in those situations was a problem for me, and I knew myself well enough to know that I needed to go home to avoid self-sabotaging, even if that meant taking a taxi or car service.
I just needed to get a few things out of my car first, and then I’d go back inside and order an Uber. It was stupid of me to think I could drive right now. The last thing anyone needed was for me to fall asleep at the wheel and cause another emergency.
I looked away from the snow and ambled toward the corner of the parking garage, where I’d left my car.
It was running when I got to it.
I stopped fifteen feet away, staring in confusion. I didn’t have an automatic starter that might explain this. Was I so tired I was hallucinating? I glanced around, looking for someone else so I could ask if they were seeing what I was, but there was no one around. It was three in the morning, and this level was the employee lot. Everyone else was hunkered inside the hospital, trying to save lives.
I blinked several times in quick succession. Nope. Not hallucinating. My goddamn car was running. I couldn’t have left it on – the keys were in my bag – so what the fuck was happening?
My groggy brain finally started to wake up. Was this somehow his doing?
I grabbed my mace from my purse and walked parallel to the car, looking around for anyone waiting to ambush me. The garage was brightly lit, and I didn’t see another soul, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I kept my finger on the spray button until the driver’s side came into view. Someone was sitting in the driver’s seat. A large someone. Wearing a hoodie that hid their face.
No. No fucking way.
Without warning, they turned, and I jumped back, hitting the car behind me. The Faceless Man stared at me out of my window. Jesus Christ. Well, I was wide awake now. And not in the mood to be messed with. The gal of this man to pull a stunt like this after the night and day and night I’d had.
He raised a hand and waved at me, then held up a finger like he was asking me to wait before it disappeared, and he looked down. My phone beeped in my purse. I kept my eyes trained on him while I dug around for it.
It took me a long time to read his text because I kept looking down at the phone and back up just as quickly to scan my surroundings. I didn’t trust him not to have an accomplice somewhere nearby, waiting for me to be distracted so they could catch me off guard.
I thought I’d give you a ride home. The weather is shit, and you must be exhausted. It’s not safe for you to drive right now.
I glared daggers at him and twirled a finger, indicating he should roll the window down.
He turned away to type again.
Don’t mace me.
“You are in no position to give me orders right now,” I called out. He cracked my window the barest slice to hear me better. “There are forty cops inside that hospital, and I know most of them by first name. One phone call, and you’re fucked.”
He turned and started typing.
“Seriously? You’re not going to speak to me?”
He shook his head and kept going.
I must know him well enough to recognize his voice if he was going to such an extreme. Who was he? One of the cops I’d just threatened him with? I could think of several who might be about his size, and it would explain how easily he’d found me if he’d used government equipment to do it.
I’m just giving you a ride. I saw what you went through, saw how dead on your feet you were as you started to pack your things, and I thought I should come.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and seriously considered calling 911. “Why would you think that?”
You didn’t tell me to stop, Aly.
I dropped my hand and glared at him. “Because I was interrupted by a goddamn tragedy.”
Say it now, then, he typed, then raised his head to look at me through those soul-sucking black eye holes.
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
Say it, Aly, I thought. Say it, goddamn it. Just fucking tell him to stop like the mentally healthy-ish, rational person you used to be before his videos took over your social media feed.
I tried to force the words out and felt like I was choking. Fuck. I couldn’t do it. What the hell did that say about me? What did it mean? Was I actually into this?
It’s the exhaustion, I tried to tell myself, but the lie fell flat. The ugly truth was that I’d felt more alive in the past few days than I had in years. Sure, I’d spent half that time terrified, but at this point, fear was preferable to numbness. Until he broke into my house, I’d been living in a world of grays, going about my life like a robot. Work, gym, home, repeat. The brief flashes of feeling that bled through the haze all revolved around this man and his videos.
I let my gaze roam over his mask, and even though he looked out at me from a frozen plastic façade, I swear it looked like the corners of the lips had tipped up in the slight hint of a grin.
I pointed the mace at the cracked window. “Just because I’ve gone stupid enough that I can’t say it right now doesn’t mean I’m getting in the car with the man who broke into my house and filmed me without my consent.”
I hoped the parking garage cameras were recording all of this, and he hadn’t found some way to freeze or loop them. If someone did jump out and manage to overpower me, it’d be the only visual evidence of what had happened to my dumb ass.
He typed something else out, and I was already over this communication style.
Just speak! I wanted to yell.
My phone pinged, and I did the same glance up, glance down dance I’d been doing the past five minutes as I read it.
Look in the passenger seat, he said. You’ll have all the power.
“If someone is waiting to jump me over there, I’m going to murder both of you,” I told him. “I’m not feeling very friendly toward men tonight.”
He nodded like he expected no less and motioned at me to get on with it.
I ground my teeth and cautiously rounded the bumper toward the other side of the car. He must have sensed my reluctance to get too close because he leaned over and pushed the passenger door open. My gun and a wicked-looking knife sat next to each other on the seat. He leaned back, pointed to them, and then at me.
Another frigid gust of wind tore through the parking garage with a howl, and a full-body shiver wracked my body. I might be wearing a heavy coat, but my scrub pants were thin, and I’d been so out of it when I stumbled out of the hospital that I hadn’t thought to pull on gloves.
I stepped toward the open door and the warmth pouring out of it, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He made no move to lunge at me, merely leaned back and slowly raised his gloved hands to show he was unarmed. I dove forward and scooped up the gun, then leaped back again and quickly checked to see if it was still loaded. It was.
Its weight in my hand felt like a security blanket. He didn’t have a weapon on him that I could see, and at this distance, I could easily shoot him before he could reach for one. I did have all the power, and it felt good to have the upper hand with him for once.
This was the part where I should order him out of my car and call the cops, but I was starting to crash again as the initial adrenaline of this encounter faded away, and I was so cold that my teeth were chattering. I didn’t want to take an Uber and have to find a ride for my next shift or take another car service back. I didn’t want to call the cops either. There was no rational explanation for my reticence about involving them – I worked with them daily and knew they’d have my back – but something was stopping me.
Maybe it was that I’d met a lot of bad men in my line of work. Murderers, rapists, gang members, drug dealers, burglars, pedophiles, you name it. My gut instincts had been honed over the years, and I had developed almost a sixth sense for recognizing danger. Those instincts were silent right now. It was only my mind telling me to involve the police. And not for nothing, but Fred liked him. Fred didn’t like anyone. He hissed or ran and hid. That was his MO with anyone who came over. The fact that he’d actually played with The Faceless Man still blew my mind.
My gut told me to get in the car and see where this went. It wasn’t like I’d be helpless if I climbed into the passenger seat. I’d have a gun and a knife, and I could hold them both on him while he drove. The second he took a wrong turn or tried to hurt me, blamo. Being a nurse meant I knew right where to aim to do the most damage possible.
And, God help me, I was curious. On some level, I wanted to see how this played out. Despite the potentially catastrophic consequences. Despite the fact that no rational person would do it. Fine. I wasn’t rational. It was time to accept that about myself. Sometime in the past year or two, I’d waded into darkness, and now I was swan-diving into the deep end. I was a sex-craved, sleep-deprived animal more interested in a kinky fuck than safety and comfort.
It was oddly freeing to finally admit that. Now that I’d stopped fighting myself, I could look back at the past few days and see what I’d been trying to ignore: I wanted this. I’d been lonely as fuck my entire adult life. The men I met on dating apps or social media didn’t seem to mind when I flaked on them or forgot to text them back for weeks on end. They just moved on to someone else, like Tyler had.
My entire life was devoted to caring for others. I wanted someone to take care of me for once. I wanted someone to want me. No, need me. I wanted a man so obsessed that he hacked into cameras to watch me when he couldn’t sleep. I wanted him to monitor my location data, order me a home security system so no one else could break into my house, and threaten to murder anyone who hurt me.
I didn’t want him morally grey. I wanted someone with a soul as black as night. Someone who would burn the world down for me and not lose a single minute of sleep over it.
The faceless man lowered his hands and beckoned me inside the car.
I dragged in a fortifying breath of frigid air.
Then, I got inside and shut the door behind me, sealing my fate.
Copyright © 2023 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.