It had been five days since the incident. Eric hadn't spoken more than three words since then.
What was there to say? Sixty-seven people were dead, most of them people he knew. He’d gone to the hospital, been asked dozens of questions by almost as many people. His body was sore and covered in cuts and bruises, and at some point he’d sprained his ankle. From what happened to the others who were present that night, he’d been profoundly lucky to be in the condition that he was. He didn’t feel lucky, though. Had he been lucky, his friends would be alive, along with the rest of everyone who died, and he wouldn’t be lying on top of his bed, staring two-thousand yards past the ceiling. He absent-mindedly fingered the ring in his hand. It had been his best friend Riley’s class ring. Eric never bothered to order one for himself, not seeing the point in it. But now, Riley was gone, and Eric never wanted to let that ring go.
He thought about Tobias and Sherry. He’d just gone to a concert with them the month before. He knew that the three of them laughed and moshed, and had a wonderful time, but when he tried to picture it, all he could see were their bodies lying on stage-right of the school auditorium.
It wasn’t much different when he pictured Oliver, who had been hanging from the noose on the other side of the stage. Eric had been sitting close enough to see him jerk four times after his neck snapped, before going still and swaying gently. For a few moments, Eric felt chilled at just how real his performance seemed, before he saw Tobias and Sherry stab themselves.
He realized something was dreadfully wrong right when the first screams started.
He remembered getting up, and feeling a fist connecting with the back of his head. He couldn't tell who it belonged to, because as he stepped forward and instinctively clutched where the blow had landed, he was distracted by the strangled sounds coming from Riley, next to him. Someone had their hands wrapped around his throat, but Eric didn't know who. He screamed at them to stop, to let Riley go, but they didn't listen. Riley choked out a few more noises before his airway was constricted completely, and Eric didn't know what to do as he watched his friend thrash, fighting as hard as he could for a breath of air.
It was as he turned his head and was about to scream for someone to help, when Eric saw the figure standing on stage, right in front of Oliver. The tall person in the rags, whose actor Eric was attempting to deduce since he first saw them in Act I. Whoever it was, they had looked at Eric. He thought they did, anyway. The figure’s head turned to face Eric, and he felt eyes that he could not see. He froze, and his panic was gradually overtaken by a primal fear, creeping into his mind, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, and, through it all, he heard a voice from somewhere in the back of his mind whisper something to him. He couldn't remember what, but he knew it was something important. Something he needed to do. Something he needed to stop doing.
He needed to stop strangling Riley.
He couldn't stop strangling Riley.
He couldn't remember anything that happened after that point, up until the following day, when he was sobbing into his father’s shoulder. He smelled like smoke, but couldn't remember any fire.
It started to come back to him
He noticed the fire on-stage around the time he had finished grappling with Rachael, leaving her on the ground minus an eye and two fingers. The flames found the curtains and engulfed them, rapidly surrounding the stage and causing the alarm to blare out over the hysteria of the audience. Eric saw the fire, and considered finding an exit, but dropped this consideration when he saw the figure in rags again. He still felt eyes locked with his. Who were they? He couldn't figure it out, and that enraged and terrified him more than anything else that transpired that night. More than the sight of all those dead on-stage. More than the sounds of people screaming in pain, panic, and fury. Surrounded by fire and corpses, That person, that thing, stared past the crowd and into Eric.
He shrieked and took a swing at whoever was unfortunate enough to be next to him at that moment.
He would have kept this up had the man in the gray suit not gotten him into a nelson and forced him out the nearest exit.
Eric awoke from his nightmare in a brief panic, before he realized he was safe. He wasn't holding the ring anymore, but it didn't take much searching for him to find it at the side of his bed. He reached down to grab it, but as soon as he did so, he felt it again. The primal fear from five days ago flared up in his mind, and he was barely able to suppress a shout when he thought he saw the person in rags staring at him through his bedroom window.
His heart pounding in his chest, Eric dropped the ring, and realized the person at his window was his grey-suited rescuer. The man said nothing, but, oddly enough, for the first time in days, Eric felt comforted. They stared at each other for a minute more, before the man walked away, and Eric drifted off back to sleep.
The ring was gone by the time he woke up the next morning. Eric didn't mind too much.