Being alone was bad enough, but being alone on a Saturday night was always worse. They used to go to movies together, or out to dinner, but now he was all alone. It was oppressively hot outside, and the thunderstorms had been building all day. He could feel the electricity in the air as a storm finally broke, and the rain began to fall amidst the wind, thunder, and lightning.
The dark had never bothered Rich Grayson, so when the power went out that stormy summer evening he chalked it up to a tree blown down onto some power-lines. He just pulled out his old camping-lantern and picked out an old book from the shelf, planning to read until the power was restored. Before settling into his old leather chair in the living room, he peered out the rain-soaked windows at the houses around the neighborhood. The widows were all dark, and the streetlights were out. He longed for company that would never return, and so he would have to try to find contentment in the pages of his book.
As Rich settled into his chair to read, he checked the time on his cell phone. It was after nine o’clock already, so he planned to read for an hour or two and then go to bed. He had read a few chapters of his novel when the cell phone he had placed on the end table vibrated. Rich picked it up, and saw that he had a new text message.
“Don’t open the door,” it said.
Rich read it a second time, confused, and then someone pounded on the front door. His heart jumped, his eyes left the phone, and he gazed across the room through the dark to where the noise had come from.
His phone buzzed again with a second text that said, “Don’t open it.” Rich looked at the name of the contact who had sent the text. It said, “Debbie.”
“What the hell?” he asked out loud. Debbie was Rich’s late wife. She had died over five months ago in an apparent robbery. She had been at a friend’s apartment in the city for a party and never returned home. It seemed by all accounts that she had been forced to go to an ATM and drain their savings, max out the cash advances on their credit cards, and then she had been killed. Her body had been dumped in a nearby river, and had been found several miles downstream weeks later. It had been so badly decomposed that identification had been nearly impossible at first. It wasn’t until dental records had been checked that the body had been changed from “Jane Doe” to “Debbie Grayson.” Her assailant had never been found, and none of the belongings she had with her that night had ever been recovered.
Rich typed a response into his phone. “Debbie?”
“Yes Rich, it’s me,” came the reply.
His heart skipped, and he hardly dared to hope. Could it be that Debbie was trying to contact him from beyond the grave? The possibility seemed too marvelous to imagine. The pounding resumed on the front door, frustrating Rich’s train of thought. This time, a voice called out over the roaring rain and thunder.
“Rich, are you home? It’s me, Brad,” the voice called through the wind and rain. “You have to let me in!”
Brad was Rich’s next door neighbor, and he sounded terrified and rushed.
The phone buzzed again. “He’ll kill you,” the newest text said. The words spun in Rich’s mind. Why would Brad kill him? Debbie’s warning rang like an alarm in his skull.
“What do you want?” Rich yelled, not leaving his seat. His heart rate had increased and his palms were growing sweaty in the humid air. He chalked it up to the air conditioner not running with the power outage, and took a deep breath trying to calm himself.
“Let me in, Rich, Hurry. She’s trying to kill me!” Brad yelled through the door.
“He’s lying Rich. Brad is the one that killed me, and now he’s here to kill you.” The buzzing made Rich jump. Having read the message he dropped the phone on the floor, and his breathing became rapid and shallow.
“What the hell, what the hell?” Rich asked aloud to the dark. Brad kept pounding and the phone kept buzzing. Rich stood over it watching the texts come through, and listening to his neighbor yell at the door as his heart rate increased.
“We had an affair Rich, I’m sorry. I ended things. I threatened to tell his wife, Samantha. He killed me and threw my body in the river.”
“Rich, let me in!”
“He’s afraid you’ll find out he stole the money. He’s here to kill you and frame you for my death. He’ll make your murder look like a suicide.”
“Rich, she already killed Samantha!”
“He’s lying Rich.”
“Who?” Rich yelled at the door. “Who killed Samantha?”
“Debbie. It’s Debbie, Rich.”
Rich’s head spun. It was all impossible. He screamed, “Debbie’s dead!” Rich ran to the door. He reached for the lock, but stopped himself. “She’s dead, how could she kill anyone?” he hollered at the dark.
“She’s not Rich. We thought she was, but she’s not. I just found her with a knife over Samantha’s dead body. I managed to get away and barricade her in the bedroom, but she could get out. I just need to call the police. My cell phone is in the bedroom with her. Please, let me in!”
From the other side of the room, the phone buzzed. Rich stood his ground by the door, ignoring the phone.
“But they found her body,” Rich said.
“They found a body. They could only identify it by the dental records, remember? You told me that. Remember, Debbie was a dental -“
“Hygienist,” Rich said, finishing Brad’s sentence along with him.
“She had access to the records, Rich. She could’ve switched her own for anyone’s. Please, Rich, Samantha could still be alive up there. I need help! Let me in and we can talk.”
Across the room, the phone buzzed again. This time Rich turned and looked at it lying on the floor. The lantern on the table faded and went out as the battery died, and the room was shrouded in complete darkness.
“What are you doing?” Brad asked through he door, rattling the handle. “Why did you turn the light off?”
“The battery in the lantern died,” Rich said as the phone buzzed a third time, lighting it up on the floor. Rich quickly crossed the room and picked it up to read the three texts that had come through. He scrolled down, reading them quickly.
“He’s lying, Rich, Samantha is fine.”
“You know I’d never hurt you. He killed me. He’ll kill you too.”
“Get the gun. You’re not safe right now.”
“What are you doing? Are you going to let me in?” Brad asked, yelling through the door and continuing to try the handle.
“Just a minute,” Rich answered. He set the phone on the end table and hurried down the hallway to the bedroom, groping his way in the dark, and pulled open the drawer of the nightstand. The 9mm Glock 19 was right where he always left it. He lifted it from the drawer and racked the slide, chambering a round. He heard the phone buzz back in the living room.
Rich walked back down the hallway, wishing he’d brought the phone for the built in flashlight. “You still out there, Brad?” he asked, yelling so he could be heard through the door.
“Yes, still here, Rich. Please, let me in now!”
Rich walked back to the cell phone and checked the message. “Good, Rich, but don’t let him in,” the message read.
“I need you to answer a question for me first, Brad,” Rich called out, making his way back over to the door carrying the phone with him.
“Are you serious, Rich? This really isn’t the time – come on, let me in.”
“Answer my question and I’ll call the police for you. Did you and Debbie have an affair?”
“What? Are you for real right now?”
“Answer me! Did you have an affair with Debbie, Brad?”
There was a long silence on the other side of the door and the phone buzzed, but Rich didn’t look at it.
“Why are you asking me this?” Brad asked through the door.
“I need to know, Brad. I need to know why she would kill Samantha – why she would try to kill you,” Rich said.
Another long silence was interrupted by second buzz. This time Rich glanced at the two new texts on his phone.
“If he was actually scared he wouldn’t still be standing out there, would he?”
“You’re going to have to kill him, Rich. The police will never get here in time.”
This time, Rich texted back again. He typed, “How are you texting me if you’re dead?” and hit the send button. Brad finally spoke, and at the same time the phone buzzed again.
“Yes, we had an affair, Rich. But I ended it,” Brad said. “Debbie wasn’t happy about it. She begged me to reconsider – to leave Samantha and run away with her.”
“I’m draining the phone battery for energy, Rich. It was full earlier, but it’s almost gone now. I used the lantern battery at first,” the text read.
Rich looked at the battery and sure enough it was under 5% remaining, the indicator bar glowing red. His insides burned with rage and confusion. He tried to remember what the battery had been at when he checked the time on the phone earlier, but he hadn’t bothered to really look and he couldn’t remember. Why was this all happening? An affair? How could she? How could they? She couldn’t be alive, could she? She wouldn’t have stayed away all this time. They had been in love. Could Brad have killed her, stolen their money, and dumped her body in the river? A thousand thoughts swirled in Rich’s head simultaneously. The heat of the night caused droplets of sweat to run from his brow down the sides of his face. He wiped them on his sleeve. The grip of the pistol was slippery in the palm of his hand.
“I’m sorry, Rich,” Brad said.
“I’m almost out of power. I love you.”
“I never meant to hurt you. I would never have left you.”
“It was a stupid mistake. Please let me make up for it.”
The phone vibrated as each text came through and Rich watched the power drop to 2%.
“When did you end the affair, Brad?” Rich asked his neighbor through the door.
“Rich, please. Please, you have to let me in.” Now Brad’s voice sounded desperate as he rattled the door handle.
“When Brad?” Rich yelled, the anger rising in his voice.
The phone buzzed with a final text that read, “Please forgive me, Rich. Don’t let him kill you, too. I love you!” Rich just had time to read it before his phone battery died and the screen went dark along with the room.
“I don’t remember exactly,” Brad said.
“You know damn well when it was!”
“Rich, please, she’ll kill me. What does it matter?”
“It matters to me!”
“Okay, okay. It was shortly before she disappeared.”
“You mean before you killed her,” Rich said as he unlocked the door and ripped it open.
Brad was silhouetted by a flash of lightning. He had just enough time to see the gun in Rich’s hand before he felt the round tear through his throat and heard the sound of the gunshot. He fell to the ground, clutching the wound in his neck.
“Why did you kill her?” Rich yelled over the thunder, tears beginning to roll down his cheeks.
Brad looked up with wide eyes that seemed to look past Rich into the darkness of the house. He tried to speak, but only a horrible gurgling noise along with a foam of spit and blood escaped his lips. He shook his hands back and forth in the air, and Rich raised the gun again.
“Nothing to say, Brad? Fine. Then this one’s for Debbie,” he said, and he pulled the trigger again sending a round through Brad’s head between the eyes. The body slumped motionless on the front steps. Rich looked down, his heart echoing the rumble of the thunder. He stood shaking from the adrenaline coursing through his veins, trying to calm himself.
“Thank you, Rich,” whispered a female voice close to his ear. “I never could have done it myself.” A shiver ran down Rich’s spine at the recognition of who it belonged to. The realization of his mistake was immediate, his heart stopped and his blood froze.
“Why, Debbie?” he asked.
“Because I can.”
Rich Grayson tried to turn and raise the gun, but before he could he felt the sting of cold steel as it entered his back, passed through his heart, and exited his chest. As the lighting flashed again, he looked down and saw the tip of the knife glisten through the smear of his own blood on the blade. His breath rushed from his lungs and he dropped the gun at the threshold of the open door. Rich crashed to his knees and collapsed on his side. He looked up and saw the outline of his wife standing over him. Another flash of lightning showed the wicked smile on her face.
Debbie stepped over her husband’s prone body and kicked the gun away. She walked over to the lifeless form of their neighbor and knelt at his side, careful to avoid the growing pool of blood.
“Oh Brad, if only you had agreed to leave your wife. If only you hadn’t ended things. Look at what you’ve caused. I tried to make it so we could be together, but you had to show up and complicate things.” Then she turned back towards her husband, who was bleeding out just inside the door. “And dear, Rich,” she said. “Dear, stupid, naive Rich – you should know that the dead can’t text. Everyone knows that – this isn’t the movies. The dead can’t text … but they can kill.”
Lightning flashed illuminating the horrid scene, and the thunder quickly followed echoing down the quiet street. Debbie stood and watched Rich take his last shallow breath before turning and walking back down the front steps. She was sorry to lose Brad, but some things just weren’t meant to be. If she couldn’t have him, no one could. It wouldn’t be too long before the power company found where she had severed the line serving the neighborhood. Before morning someone would probably find the bodies. She planned to be long gone by then, though. Thankfully for her, no one would ever suspect a dead woman. Now, she just needed a new last name. But then, the dead girl’s she had dumped in the river had worked so far…