The sound of the TV is a low murmur in the dim living room. As advertisements flicker insistently you note how much less frightening a horror movie is when spliced with girls testing shampoo. You feel the buzz first and then hear the sound that always accompanies a text message on your phone. Touching the screen you see it’s Sarah with her well timed *Ready?* Rolling your eyes you type back, *Been ready. Always waiting on you.* Standing up with a stretch you flick off the TV, move through your house of old wood floors that creak, grab a sweatshirt and decide to wait on the front porch. The night air was full of fall with just the edges of crispness on it. High up the moon peeks through low rolling clouds. You turn your phone in your hand and then text, *On the porch. Everyone else is already out. Hurry up would you.* As you tug on the sweatshirt stolen from Sarah you notice at the time and half sigh, the original plan was 7:30 and it was already 8:00, the place was going to be jammed with obnoxious teenagers.
As if on cue a red Honda flashes into the driveway going a fraction too fast for the neighborhood. The back passenger door flies open and you hear, “Come on!” and a laughing, “I blame Sarah!” Okay, maybe the teenagers weren’t the only ones who could be obnoxious. Nic was up front so you slide in next to Tess and Mikael in the back.
“What’s up, kids? I thought we decided on 7:30?”
Tess is still laughing about something and scoots enough to let you snap your seatbelt; the warm side of her arm is now pressed to you.
“It was all Sarah, drives like a demon but forgets twenty things on the way out the door.”
“Shut up! See if I give any of you a ride again,” replies the spirited red-head you had the pleasure of calling a friend. For years you two had been inseparable. She was the one who held you when your heart was demolished senior year in high school. You were the one who held her hair back after that party in college and you were at her house so much her parents helped raise you. It was only six months after you moved to this area for a job that she too came this way. In fact, the plan was to be roommates again as soon as your lease was up.
You lean back for the ride; it would be a little harrowing as drives with Sarah always were. The general banter and laughter of the group fades in and out as you watch the sky; something didn’t feel quite right but you weren’t sure what exactly it was.
The parking lot was full of cars. The oddly compelling press for the “Tower of Fears” had done its job. Your small band of friends climbs out and Tess gasps, “It’s flippin’ huge! Are you kidding me? How did they even get that built?” Nic shifts and runs a hand through his hair, “You know these things, they can build stuff overnight now.” His argument is not convincing though and there is suddenly an air of anxiousness around as you stare up at the seemingly endless tower.
“They say all your fears are in the maze somewhere,” says Sarah in her best Vincent Price imitation.
“Well, if we are going to climb that thing before midnight we better start,” you say and take the lead with a bravado you aren’t sure you truly feel.
The wait in line goes faster than you expected. Suddenly your group is up; you hand over your tickets and walk into the first floor which appears to be a brick maze. A shadow moves in the corner and your gut says this was not the best idea. You feel a hand slip into yours, “Are you coming, darlin’?” Shaking the general haze you glance at Sarah’s freckled face and nod letting her tug you behind the group.
Mikael nearly lost it on a floor with spider webs; cussing like a sailor and he reveals a phobia no one knew about. Tess leads him through with his eyes closed. At some point near the middle of the climb there is a floor so dark everyone gets turned around. Your phone buzzes and you tug it out of your jacket pocket. Hadn’t you worn a sweatshirt? Someone screams and then people dissolve in fits of giggles above you. Creepy aliens wheeze in your ear as you read, *I think I am on the floor above you. Tired. Meet you at the end?* It was Sarah. Wait. When had you let go of her hand? It must have been several floors ago but you can’t remember. Wasn’t she just behind you? *Okay, but please be careful.*
It strikes you that might have been a strange thing to say but you shake it off again. How tall was this thing anyway? Hooking back up with the others you climb the floors, navigate the maze and make it to the top. There appears to be a line to get down and people are milling about discussing the structure or how they weren’t really scared. “Sarah!” you call out getting a few odd looks from people near you. Ignoring them you push through a few groups looking for that familiar shock of hair. Nothing. Figures. Opening your phone you start text her. For some reason the thread from the night was gone, what the hell? Maybe you had deleted it by accident. You flip to contacts but her name isn’t there either, okay, now something feels weird. There is no way you took her name out of your contacts; it had been in there for years.
Catching up with Nic you tug at his sleeve, “Hey, did you guys see, Sarah yet? She was going to meet us at the top.” He tips his head, brown eyes registering your face and some confusion, “Who?”
“Nic, you know, Sarah, our friend, the girl who drove us?”
Tess turns at the note of irritation in your voice, “What are you talking about, I drove us, hon.”
You glance at Mikael, “Okay, real funny, where is Sarah, guys?”
But they aren’t laughing; there isn’t a single thing in their eyes that betrays the trick. Suddenly you can’t breathe. “Sarah, our friend Sarah, my friend Sarah. She has freckles. I was practically part of her family, ” you were babbling, you knew you were babbling.
“Drugs?” you hear a voice ask with slight concern.
“No, never, not in all the time we have been friends. Low blood sugar maybe?”
They thought you were crazy. But you know. Sarah who had always made you stronger.
“Sarah? SARAH!” you hear yourself screaming out. There were people all around you. Voices full of calming, placating words.
The fear grips your heart,
presses at your stomach,
churns up your dinner,
toys with your mind,
this is your dark secret,
this is your biggest fear,
and you know the tower has stolen her.
Everything has changed.
No one will ever believe you.