The echo of her footsteps seemed to chase her, hounding after her like a pack of rabid dogs. Every few steps, Eleanor glanced over her shoulder, her breath hitching in her throat each time. Someone was behind her, she was sure of it. But the streets were completely empty.
It was dark, the Chicago skyline lit only by artificial lights and the thinnest sliver of the old moon, slowly sinking into nothingness.
Ellie could vaguely tell that she must have been sobbing every now and then, the small hiccupping noises in beat with her hurried footsteps.
Get home, she chanted to herself, hands clutched together on her chest.
As her apartment building came into view, the deafening humming in her ears she’d been hearing since running out of Mr. Robertson’s house seemed to only grow louder. There it stood, warm and inviting, promising protection and safety, and all Ellie could think about was whether or not the locks would hold.
Against what? You’re paranoid! You’re alone on the street!
But was she really?
She felt something trickle down her forehead and with the back of her left hand, she wiped at it. The hand came away bloody and for the first time that evening, she wondered if the blood was hers or someone else’s. The thick globs of drying blood that covered her hands looked so out of place against her dark skin, a violent juxtaposition against her complexion.
Without a hint of surprise, she realized that with her hands covered in blood, she would have only spread whatever was on her forehead.
It all seemed distant to her now. Rushing into her employer’s home when he called her, his breath ragged and his words incoherent. Finding him on the floor of his vast library, gargling his last breaths. Ellie's chin quivered as she remembered sinking to her knees next to him, dumbly trying to help when it was clearly too late. He’d told her not to call the ambulance. She did anyway. It never came.
She pushed through the glass doors leading into the foyer and ran to the elevators, all the while expecting a hand to reach out at any moment and stop her. When the doors slid closed in front of her and the foyer was still without a single living person, only bathed in its warm orange lights, Ellie took a lungful of air. A loud wail came with it and she had to fight the urge to clamp her hand over her mouth and hush herself.
Stop it. Get inside. Get the f*ck inside. Then fall apart, she commanded herself.
Peeling her curvy body off the wall where she’d been leaning seemed to take Herculean effort. Her apartment door loomed ahead like the promise of a better future. She fumbled for her keys in her purse—an expensive white Prada number she’d only gotten because Olivia Pope from Scandal had carried it and she’d been dying to treat herself—and marred the fine leather with dark crimson. She couldn’t have cared less.
When the key slipped soundly into the lock and the tumblers undid themselves with an encouraging clink, Ellie let out the breath she had seemed to be holding since entering the place.
There it was, her home. Her big couch, her widescreen TV, her kitchenette. The door to her bedroom was still wide open like she’d left it. Deliriously, the only thing she could think of was getting inside and sinking into a bathtub. But she knew she couldn’t do that. She’d run into the bedroom, put a suitcase together, and keep going. She couldn’t stop. Not now.
When she was about to step in through the door, a strong hand clamped over her mouth and pulled her back violently. She couldn’t even find the breath to scream.