The constant drone of pressure on her head was unrelenting, and deep sleep was impossible. She was not aware of how she looked, having made a point to avoid any connection with the mirror, but she knew P.J. was right. She needed to get some rest. She had suffered with insomnia before, but it was usually only a night or two. She could feel the bags under her eyes, her bones creeping closer to the surface of her pale skin, her unkempt hair. Any curiosity about her appearance was overtaken with an abject terror to see her reflection, to see if the shadow had materialized to something a bit clearer, more real.

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.

Three times, wasn’t it? Olivia must have played that game a dozen times. Bloody Mary never showed. She remembered being slightly disappointed while her best friend Jenny was very obviously relieved. She figured it was morbid fascination back then, but now, she would give anything to be disappointed.

P.J. had mentioned there had been some news about her attacker, and she found herself navigating to the local news site. That morbid fascination again, but mingled with deep, gnawing dread. She opened the website and felt momentarily comforted by the familiar logo, the promo photograph of the morning anchorman, beaming with pride on how he brings “News you can count on.” There was the story, along with an accompanying video clip.

She skipped to the article. It began with the fact that Martin Lorimer had been transferred to a state hospital for observation after several outbursts while in custody made the authorities question his grasp on reality. Then, more of the same facts, same interviews, until the article described his ranting about a “shadow” that “made him do things.”

Things, she thought. You almost killed me. That’s a hell of a thing.

A chill ran down Olivia’s spine as she continued to a quote. Martin Lorimer stated that he “is all better now that it’s gone.”


Olivia lay in bed, awake, but praying she could get some rest without another nightmare about the attack, or about the strange shape in her reflection. She knew it would be fruitless. Too much anxiety and the pressure around her head and eyes was too intense. She felt that her head was being squeezed in a vice. She noticed there were stretches of time where she would be holding her breath, only to draw an inevitable gasp, startling herself.

The pain worsened as the night progressed. The pressure seemed to metastasize to her throat. She felt less in control of her body, more detached.

Perhaps I’m just in the stage between dreaming and sleep, she thought.

But she knew better. She could feel the quickening of the thump of her heart in her chest. She began to sweat. The room began to spin. She was all too familiar with the signs of a panic attack. She prayed the nausea would stay away this time. She didn’t want to have to run to the toilet. She didn’t trust herself not to look. The urge to vomit became too strong. She ran to the bathroom, not pausing to turn on the light. No light, no reflection.

Bloody Mary…

She vomited, then wept as she pressed her cheek into the coolness of the toilet seat.

Bloody Mary…

Her head throbbed. Her throat tightened.

Here comes that morbid fascination, again.

She had to know. She had to see. She rose and felt the wall until her fingers found the light switch. She couldn’t look yet, not just yet. She walked to the bathroom sink, head down, softly weeping.

“There won’t be anything there,” she said aloud. It’s all in your head.

Bloody Mary.

There was a clear shape of a creature on her shoulders and back. Four hands wrapped around her eyes and throat. Translucent, ephemeral. It moved. It breathed. Its back and shoulders expanded and contracted. In one terrifying moment, she saw it open its eyes. Red. Glowing. Looking right into her face’s reflection. She opened her mouth to scream. The clawed hands tightened their grip. She could not make a sound.

Olivia began to flail her arms, spinning her body, desperate to get the thing off of her. There was no connection to anything material, and her panic increased. She ran to the kitchen and wrenched open a drawer. She grabbed a large knife and began slicing into the air. She connected with nothing but her left cheek, the warm line of blood tracing the curve of her face.

There was a knock at the door. Olivia froze, momentarily confused by the sound. The knock came again. She snapped out of her stupor and ran to the door. The hands were closing around her eyes now. Her vision dimmed from the periphery inward. She knew P.J. was on the other side of that door, but her attempt at a scream came out as a faint gurgle.

Those damn locks! Olivia began the tedious process of unlocking the three security deadbolts. To keep me safe, she thought.

One bolt down. P.J. was banging on the door now, calling her name, sensing something was very wrong.

Oh God, he’s right there. Please let me get to him.

Second bolt unlocked. She could not see except for a dreamy recognition of light and shadow. She felt the creature tightening its hold, heaving. The heaviness of the thing was growing more palpable. Last deadbolt.

Don’t go, P.J. Don’t leave me!

Blinded, Olivia threw open the door. She lurched forward, her body finding her friend’s arms. The grip on her throat tightened, cutting off her air. Yet she heard a scream. She felt a warmth near her left hand, which was somewhere near P.J.’s right flank. She was beginning to lose consciousness as she felt the wetness, and the handle of the kitchen knife still clutched in her left hand. P.J. released another gut-wrenching scream as he backed out of Olivia’s embrace. She could hear his body’s weight collapse onto the hallway floor.

Olivia’s vision began to clear and she drew in a deep, rattling breath. The claws loosened their hold on her throat and head. The weight on her shoulders lightened. P.J. sat against the wall, clutching his side. He gave her a look that reminded her of a child who had just been scorned, hurt and confused.

Before Olivia could reach him, the Carlsons, who lived in the apartment next door ran out into the hallway. The woman already speaking into a cell phone, the man running to P.J., Olivia could hear them saying things like, “You’re going to be all right,” “Hold some pressure there,” but she was not fully listening. She leaned against the wall, basking in the feeling of relief from the lack of weight, of pressure. She felt her body slide down the wall, landing crossed-legged on the floor. Even as the Carlsons yelled at her not to move, that the police were on the way, she began to smile.


P.J. arrived home to find the comfort of his place was still there waiting for him. After the attack, he had been suffering from symptoms of PTSD and general anxiety disorder. Medication helped, but he still felt a vulnerability in the outside world, an on-the-edge sensation of never knowing where danger might come from. In his home, he felt safe. He felt surrounded by the familiar.

He turned back to the door, taking care to lock the extra deadbolt he had installed the day before he was released from the hospital. His therapist had advised him to avoid the news and the anxiety it could cause him. There was nothing good being reported these days anyway, only molehills sensationalized into oversized mountains.

Except there was one thing he wanted to check. While in the hospital, he was told of Olivia’s arrest and subsequent transfer to a state facility for observation. He supposed that news was to make him feel better, have closure. It didn’t. Olivia was a pragmatic woman, never known to indulge in the realm of the fantastic. He knew she had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression following her attack by Martin Lorimer. She had become more or less a shut-in. But he never expected to see her panicked like that when she opened her door, wild-eyed and silently screaming.

He found what he was looking for. A short article and video about the transfer of Olivia Gracey, complete with the ad nauseum repetition of the details of the attack, and the speculation of the motive. Taking a deep breath, he pressed play. Here was footage of Olivia, handcuffed, being forced into the back seat of a Honda sedan. It was some time before P.J. realized there was no sound playing. He was transfixed by her face, contorting as if she were wavering between a laugh and a scream. His heart began to beat faster. There was an unusual sensation of a growing heaviness around his shoulders. He felt a pressure at his temples. Sweat began to dampen the back of his shirt. He unmuted the sound to hear Olivia proclaiming as she squirmed against the officer’s grasp, “I’m okay now. It’s gone!”