Tess woke with a gasp, her eyes wide and searching.


She glanced around the interior of her Subaru, shuffling through the chaos of scattered memory and a throbbing head. Dizzy and disoriented, she drew in a shaky breath. Sweat rolled down the side of her face as the heat of the afternoon sun filled the car’s interior.


Reaching for a memory that hung just outside her grasp, Tess tugged on it until it came at her like a fist to the chest.


A man—Hank Wade?—had forced her off the narrow road, sending her into the small metal guardrail at the edge of the cliff.


“Oh, God,” she whispered as the image of Hank’s face, his features twisted with angry determination, materialized in her mind’s eye. He’d pulled alongside her and pinned her with dark, vengeful eyes seconds before forcing her off the road.


She knew he’d been angry with her, furious even, but this was unbelievable, insane.


When she’d hired Hank to do her landscaping, he seemed professional and capable, with an impressive portfolio of his previous jobs. But after only a few days of working, he began asking her out. Not once or twice, but every single day, growing angrier with each refusal.


“Why the hell not?” he’d snap, his eyes narrowing with disgust. “Think you’re too good for me because you live in this upper-class neighborhood?”


Somehow, her politeness only made him angrier. He’d curse and stomp away, but by the end of the following work day, he’d ask again.

No excuse Tess gave was acceptable, not even the fact she had a boyfriend. That one actually made Hank throw his head back and laugh.

She was stressed, even frightened. Her stomach would clench and sour every time Hank came to work on the yard. She couldn’t keep avoiding him or paying him to harass her. She had no choice but to fire him.

He hadn’t taken it well, of course, standing on her porch, spewing a string of profanity.


“I’m calling the police if you don’t leave,” she warned, closing the door between them, her cell slipping from her sweaty palm twice.


“You’ll regret this, bitch!” he’d spat before jumping into his truck and running over the freshly planted rose bushes that lined the driveway.

That was two days ago.


With trembling fingers, Tess unlocked her seatbelt and reached for the door handle, but froze at the sound of metal scraping against metal as the car shifted forward, dipping at a slight angle. Dear God, she was actually teetering on the edge of the cliff. She opened her mouth to scream, but terror strangled her voice when she caught sight of Hank through the side-view mirror, his hand resting on the trunk of her car.

A frantic glance around revealed they were alone, not a single car in either direction of the winding mountain road.


Tess swallowed excessively, fighting off another wave of nausea as her hand moved over the tiny bump of her stomach, already protective of the life growing inside.


“My reputation took a hit because of you.”


She started at the sound of Hank’s deep voice.


“The games women play disgust me. You tease and flirt, then you reject us without feeling, like we’re insignificant nothings.”


She never flirted with him, she wanted to yell, but swallowed the words. Whether he intended to scare her or kill her, arguing wasn’t going to help.


Hank lifted one corner of his mouth into a wicked half smile. “You like games so much, how’s this one working for you?”


Tess sat still, too terrified to speak or move, shivering despite the heat. But when Hank began rocking the car, her voice ripped through her throat.


“Stop!” she screamed, gripping the steering wheel so tight it hurt. “Please, Hank! Stop!”


“Beg me some more,” he sneered, still rocking the car. “I think I like this game.”


“Don’t do this,” she begged, hot tears spilling down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, just please stop.”


His mirthless, bitter laugh dissolved into a smoker’s wheezing cough. “Are you ready to toss that boyfriend and give me a try?”


David. Will he ever meet his baby? He didn’t even know Tess was pregnant. She was on her way to meet him for lunch, to tell him.

When Hank released the car to light a cigarette, Tess forced herself to focus, to think. Every monster had a weakness. What was Hank’s?


When he first started working for her, he’d talked about his niece and nephews with pride and a fierce protectiveness.


Kids. He likes kids.


“I’m pregnant, Hank,” she said, raising her voice so he could hear her. It made her sick to share such intimate information with him, but she had no choice.


The car stopped moving.


Tess watched Hank’s expression shift from a mocking sneer to the wide-eyed horror of waking from a nightmare; a Jekyll and Hyde transformation. His eyes darted around as if searching for the truth.

When the car suddenly lurched forward, Tess pressed her back deep into the seat while applying pointless pressure to the brake, her palms pushing against the steering wheel.


“Hank!” she screamed.


Hank jerked as if he’d been slapped, then dropped his cigarette and lunged for the car door, yanking it open. He grabbed Tess by the arm and pulled her out, throwing her safely to the ground before the bottom of the door hit a rock and slammed into him, pinning him against the doorframe.


As the car inched forward, Hank’s feet shuffled helplessly in the loose dirt, unable to gain traction.


Tessa’s world shifted into slow motion as she watched Hank, his mouth open in shock and disbelief, disappear with the car over the edge of the cliff.


She closed her eyes and whispered without menace, “Game over.”



  October 2017

Produced from 100% Everything

Literary Juice

Linda Juliano