10

It was after dark when the same van that had taken her to Goldfield, California returned with her to Pasadena, only now it had a muddy underside from the rain, one replaced tire after the old one was accidentally shot in a scene by a rifle and the interior was littered with junk food wrappers and plastic water bottles. Greg took down Penny's two bags and took them in the building for her.

"Thanks, Greg…"

"Don't mention it." He had offered to carry them up to her floor. At first, she politely refused to have him do it, but he insisted. A former stuntman until a bad fall busted his shoulder, Greg was built like a football quarterback and wanted to help her. "Oh, you promised you give Phyllis your number."

"Oh, yeah…" Penny unlocked her door, walked in and found her apartment exactly as she had left it. She found a post-it and scribbled her cell phone number on it. "Here's my phone number for your wife…" Penny gave her number to Greg. His wife, Phyllis, was one of the caterers for the movie. "Tell her that she can stay with me anytime she wants; it's the least I can do for doing my laundry for me."

"Trust me, I know…" Greg looked at her as if she was his sister. "Fake blood is so hard to wash out…"

"Tell me about it…" She took a bottle of cold water from her refrigerator to replenish her fluids and tossed one to Greg to grab out of the air. She was a little tanner, a little more thin, but she was finally home after staying in a bed and breakfast with five of her female co-stars. One of them was Annaleise Van Der Poole, a former Disney Channel actress, while another was Rebecca Constance, a former child star trying to get back into the business. Playing Oliver the Deputy had been Dick Roberts, another former child star, but the rest of the cast were relative unknowns. Out of all of them, Penny had met and befriended Mindy Masterson, the granddaughter of Sixties Western star Dash Riprock, a retired Hollywood celebrity with over three hundred pictures in his career. Mindy had been playing her younger sister, Katie, in the movie.

"I better get going…" Greg thanked her for the water.

Penny gestured him goodbye as she continued drinking. When she stopped, the bottle was three-quarters empty. All she cared about was that she was finally home. She was just so tired! No more screaming. No more running. No more pretending to be afraid of hidden killers and no more shivery cold nights locked up in a jail cell running lines. She had taped the scene falling down the stairs and sliding through colored corn syrup almost fifty times. The stuff was everywhere. By the end, everything was covered in it, and then she had to get cleaned up for fake friend stills and promotional images. To confuse the audience, eight members of the cast including herself had to pose in promotional photos while drenched in fake blood while holding an axe and a fake severed head. Greg stepped out of her apartment just as Leonard and the guys came down from the roof after photographing constellations. He had the tripod and film, Howard had the cameras and Raj had the computer positioning system. Sheldon once more announced he was the group manager to order the guys around and antagonize them into threatening to toss him off the roof.

"Thanks for the phone number…" Stopping before them, Greg looked back before heading down the stairs. Leonard reacted jealously from that statement.

"What?!" He did a double take.

"Penny's back." Sheldon replied.

"I know she's back!"

"Anytime…" Penny leaned out through her door. "Leonard?! I missed you so much!" She reached to kiss him.

"Apparently, not all that much!" Leonard reacted and gestured with green-eyed worry. "Who's Greg?"

"Nobody…" Penny tried to convince him. "I gave him my phone number to give to his wife. She loaned me some of her clothes."

Raj whispered in Howard's ear.

"What happened to your clothes?" Howard relayed the question.

"Nothing!" Penny was not ready for the third degree when all she wanted was to get together with Leonard again. "Leonard, I missed you so much! I told everyone on the movie set that you were one of the smartest men I knew!" She kissed him.

"Leonard?!" Sheldon scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, Penny… You didn't need to lie to them to build Leonard up. You could have told him about your other friends."

"I did…" Penny declared. "I told them about Howard and Raj too…"

Howard and Raj grinned, but Sheldon realized when he'd been insulted and turned to enter his apartment.

"I'm kidding! Sheldon…" Penny took him by the arm to stop him. "I told them about you too."

"Oh…" Sheldon's ego puffed back up to pressure. "You told them about how I was the most brilliantly gifted mind on the planet?"

"O – kay…" Penny was just glad he couldn't understand sarcasm or subterfuge. She turned back to Leonard, Raj and Howard. "Mostly I just told them how crazy he was…" She whispered with a slight nod, but Sheldon must have heard her anyway because he looked away emotionally deflated.

"Penny, I missed you so much…" Leonard wanted to be with her again. "These last few weeks have been just hell. Maybe we could…" He grinned wanting to get back you being intimate with her.

"Not tonight, sweetie…." Penny yawned tiredly. "I just want to sleep tonight, but I promise, tomorrow we'll do something spectacular…"

"But you haven't told us about the movie?" Howard wanted details. "Were there any famous people in it? What did you do? Who did you meet? Were there any nude scenes?"

Both Penny and Leonard looked at him disgusted.

"There is only one question Penny is answering before we all leave her alone…" Sheldon raised his voice to take charge of the occasion much like every other moment in his life he seized from other people when he wasn't the source of attention. "Penny…" He looked into her tired blue eyes. "Who was the killer?"

The guys waited with baited breath to finally get the answer they wanted.

"I'm sorry, guys." She tiredly yawned. "But my contract has a silence waver. I can't discuss the ending with anyone."

"But we'll never tell." Sheldon had to know. "Was it Oliver the Deputy or Emily the Housewife?"

"A middle-aged woman ripping someone's head off with her bare hands?" Howard questioned his logic.

"I'm sorry, Sheldon…" Penny tiredly unlocked her door. "I can't."

"Blink once for Oliver or twice for Emily!"

"Sheldon…" Penny yawned as she opened her door while dragging her suitcase behind her. "You'll just have to wait till next year for when it appears on Cable."

"Straight to Cable?" Leonard asked.

"Yeah…" She pressed through to her apartment.

"But I can't wait that long!" Sheldon had to know the ending. "Who killed all those people?"

"Good night, Sheldon!" Penny closed her door behind her and locked it. Sheldon was rapping on her door trying to learn the identity of the Goldfield Killer, but Penny was sure she could sleep through the noise. He couldn't keep pounding for that long. Leaving her suitcases by the door, she yawned tiredly, turned her lights off and wandered right to her bedroom. The air in the apartment was kind of dead, a bit dusty, but she cracked the window in her room to deal with it and then dropped herself in her clothes on to her bed to sleep. She'd wake and change clothes later. As her tired mind drifted away, she found herself back in the old Goldfield High School gymnasium, the last scene of the movie, but because she had learned to ignore the cameras, they didn't appear in her dream. She was not just in the movie once more; she was once again reliving the role. She was Lisa the heroine again, but instead of her cast mates, the guys somehow got cast in the movie roles. She was simultaneously through the looking glass and down the proverbial rabbit hole. Leonard was Nick her boyfriend and Raj was Jesse, his brother with the criminal record. Howard played Oliver the Deputy with a tiny tin star to his chest while Sheldon was somehow cast in drag and long dress and all as Emily the widowed housewife. It was Scene Forty-Two where the paranoia had reached a fevered pitch and the accusations had run out. Everyone else was dead except for the brothers, Fred and George, who had stolen Nick's car to leave town with Mikey to rescue him. The killer was one of the last five survivors in the gym.

"I ain't going down to be plugged off like my husband was." In Penny's dream, Sheldon played Emily the fifty-year old housewife in this hallucinated farce. Despite how ridiculous he looked in a dress, he held his shotgun on the others and backed toward the gym locker rooms.

"Emily…" Howard tried to stop her. "You're not being rational!"

"I'm rational enough." Sheldon threatened to shoot the others. "This town was picked off one by one over fifty years by four killers, and I'm ending it here. The body count stops here. My husband will be avenged."

"How do we know you're not the killer?" Leonard asked.

"Because like you both said…." Sheldon backed up. "Only a man would be strong enough to kill all those people." He fired once to warn them then jumped through the doors and stuck a wooden broom handle through the door handles to stop them. As Leonard, Raj and Howard moved to break through, Sheldon headed into the old coach's office and broke the pipe to the gas heater then turned the microwave oven on for two minutes to give himself enough time to get out before it set off the gas, but in his haste, he hit an extra button, making it twenty minutes. A hot microwave and a loose gas pipe should surely blow up the school with everyone in it after he was gone. Running out into the hall, he chained the outside doors into the gym hall as an added precaution.

"Emily, come back!" Howard, Raj and Leonard pounded at the doors to the locker room to get through, but they wouldn't open.

"Why don't the other gym doors open?" Penny screamed.

"We wielded them shut in 1989 to fortify the school against the killer!" Howard revealed to her.

"What good was that?" Raj yelled. "He still picked everyone off!"

"What are we missing here?" Leonard and Penny huddled together as Raj and Howard stood apart from each other. Who was the killer? Who did it? Someone here had killed seventeen people over one night; someone strong enough to break arms and get away with almost twenty-five bullets in them… someone practically superhuman like that guy with the hockey mask at the summer camp in the Northeast. "What are we missing?!"

"It has to be one of you three." Deputy Howard looked at them. "Every new killer had been corrupted by the one before them; Luther by Damien, Damien by either Alice or Daniel… all the way back to Terence in 1953."

"How do we know you weren't corrupted by Luther?" Raj backed away from Leonard and Howard.

"Because each new killer was at the death scene of the previous killer." Leonard's analytical mind recalled the years of police files. "We were in the car when we hit Luther!"

"It's one of you three!" Howard realized. "You're the only ones we never cleared!"

"Jesse!" Penny screamed at Raj. "You've got the criminal record!"

"No!" Raj refused to be branded because of something from his past. "Denise McAllister was an accident! It always was! I loved her!" He smelled the gas entering the gym and started hitting the doors to break through. The broom handle on the outside wouldn't budge. "And besides, I was with you guys when Ron, Horace and Hector were killed! I never killed anyone!"

"Wait a second…" Howard had a revelation while trying to finger the broom out of the way through the opening in the doors. "Lisa was alone with Miss Rutgers when she was killed. She was missing when Clayton and Ron were killed."

"I was hiding!"

"Katie and Hector were killed in the back hallway!" Leonard protected her. "She couldn't have got past anyone while we were on guard in the main hall."

"She cut through the gym." Raj briefly stopped trying to pound through the door to side with Howard. "You found them open after Mr. Tucker was murdered!"

"And how would she have gotten to him?"

"The back stairs." Howard and Leonard were putting it all together. "She slipped up, took the bite out of his neck before decapitating him and then tossed his body off the top balcony before slipping back down the back way to be with us when we found him." They turned from pounding and glanced at her looking innocent. "She was also behind us when we left Teddy and Jimmy in security. She ripped them apart right under our noses then rushed to catch up with us."

"Lisa couldn't have killed two guys all by herself." Leonard refused to believe it. "She can barely run with the cast on her…" He looked to her broken leg. The cast on her left leg wasn't there. Her pants leg was still ripped to accompany it, but her leg was bare and uncovered underneath. She looked up to him embarrassingly.

"Lisa?" He looked at her. Penny leaned her head left and cracked her neck muscles dementedly. She sighed under breath as Howard and Raj pounded their shoulders to the doors. Refusing to belief it, Leonard backed from his girlfriend. As her character, Penny had murdered and ripped apart over seventeen people?

"It was just so much fun to see each of you breaking down and going nuts trying to guess who was doing it." She grinned and surrendered to her dark site. "And the whole time, it was me… with these two hands… and no one ever thought the blood on me might be from someone else…"

"No, Lisa…" Leonard felt his heart being crushed. "Not you…" Working together, Howard and Raj finally smashed through the broom in the doors to the locker room and discovered the doors to the corridor chained from the outside. Sheldon had locked them in his selfish escape. It suddenly made sense. When Luther ran out in front of their car, he was trying to kill himself to stop the killings, but something… the infection that had affected him this past year had been passed on to Penny. His blood had splashed on to her in the accident; it had got into her mouth and had changed her, forcing her to embrace her dark side.

"Imagine to my surprise to discover I was getting stronger and faster…" Penny played the character of Lisa, a heroine who also turned out the main antagonist. "I was suddenly doing things no one else could do…"

Gas was still filling the school locker room. No one noticed or heard the microwave running unattended.

"So what if I had to kill a few people…." She smiled happily content. "It was such a rush. A rush I couldn't stop."

"You could fight it." Leonard tried to appeal to her. "Luther tried to fight it!"

"Now, why would I want to do that?" She grinned psychotically. "You should have guessed the truth when I said I'd do anything to get out of this town. Imagine how powerful I could get let loose in a city without anyone knowing what I was doing?" She rushed Leonard and tried to pin him down, but as Nick's brother, Jesse, Raj came to the rescue and pummeled her to the ground. His body landed on her trying to hit her, but she caught his arm and held it. She was strong. Too strong, she cracked his right arm backward as she slammed him to the wall. Leonard jumped on Penny's back and she elbowed him to the chest, knocking him to his back. Whatever was in her made her unstoppable. Whatever it was made her possessed. She reared her mouth open and tried taking a bite out of Raj's shoulder. Howard slid a football trophy across to use as a weapon. Raj grabbed it in his left hand and pushed it down her throat.

An unearthly shrill scream filled the gym and resonated off the dusty basketball goals and overhead rafters. It sounded as if the dead were rising from their graves. Leonard grabbed Raj and pulled him into the boy's locker room outside the gym. Penny rolled on to her back and pulled the gold-plated lead weight out of her gullet. Her eyes flared as they slammed the doors against her. Howard pushed another broom handle through the doors; this one had a steel handle. He watched Leonard and Raj fighting with the chained doors to the corridor.

"Pulls the pins out of the hinges!" He yelled. Overcome by some vampiric lust for fresh blood, Penny pounded the steel doors keeping her from her boyfriend and his friends.

"That's not going to hold her for long!" Raj held his broken arm under his left.

"Nicky!" Penny pounded at the doors. Her eyes were glowing red. "I promise I'll kill you last!" She hit the doors hard and the hinges bent as cracks split through the masonry. Howard saw the doors bending at her pounding. The cracks were growing deeper and longer.

"Holy crap!" He watched the damage she was doing. Her psychotic screaming drowned out the pounding they were doing at the hinges. She was determined to get to them. She was going to leave them like all the others, bludgeoned, ripped apart and barely recognizable as human beings - just bloody masses of bones and tissue just to sustain her bloody addiction to slaughter. He saw her demonic visage in the windows of the door peeking through at her. She smashed through one of the windows trying to reach the broom barring her, but she couldn't reach it. She pounded her shoulder into the steel doors again. Between the pounding, Howard and Raj heard another noise beyond her pounding and psychotic screaming. They heard ripping fabric. Why was she getting taller? Penny had to bow down a bit to see through the door where the broom was she was trying to reach. Was she forcing herself into a level more powerful than those before her?

"Holy crap!" Raj watched her head slowly rising up out of the range of the windows.

"Holy crap!" Howard and Leonard watched what used to be a t-shirt on Penny turn into a very small tank top. The smell of gas was getting worse. They popped the pin on the bottom hinge, and pulled the door out to make their escape, but it wouldn't pull free the rest of the way. The metal arm across the door wouldn't let it come any more. Leonard crawled under it first, and Raj looked back just as a huge arm finally pounded the door behind them, and a huge hand five feet across grabbed Howard by the leg. She had to be gigantic! Hitting the floor hard, Howard was dragged back into the gym to find Penny waiting for him. Her height exceeded his worst nightmares. Her head was against the steel rafters as her hand lifted him more then twenty feet off the orange paneled floor, held him over her open maw of a mouth then dropped him into her gullet in less than a minute. Their escape close, Leonard began pulling Raj by his one good arm under the door. Penny's telephone pole-sized fingers next grabbed at his right leg and started pulling him and Leonard back through to her beyond the locker room and into the gym. Raj kicked at her and felt his leg come out of its socket. He was the rope between Leonard and the giant female psychopath. Leonard had his feet trying to pull Raj to safety and the whole time the smell of gas was still filling the school. The microwave was getting hotter and hotter.

The damage to the inner doors of the locker room came down, and several cinderblocks came down on Penny's wrist. Forced to let go of Raj, she realized how much the gym had come around to enclose her as her raging metabolism had forced her to take up more space. She wasn't sure how big she'd become, she just knew she needed to feed, and there was only one thing she wanted, human flesh, a lot of it, and there was one last way to get it. Her face contorted into a psychotic grimace, she reared her arm back to smash through the wall just as the gas in the school filled enough of the school, permeated the microwave and hit an active spark of electricity.

The explosion drove Penny out into the real world. She woke up again to a pitch-black apartment. Her alarm clock said it was after midnight. Filming that scene had involved latex, red eye contacts, latex balloons in her clothes that were inflated and then a miniature version of the gymnasium set at one twentieth the actual size and the whole time she had to act like a cross between Linda Blair in "The Exorcist" and her worst nightmare while shooting thirteen shots of a close-up of herself chewing up and swallowing a tiny figure of the deputy made out of chicken and turkey. Vowing to never again do another low-budget horror movie, she sighed and turned on her side in bed.

"How the hell am I going to keep the guys from seeing this movie…." She asked herself.

END