Urban Legends: Finding Paradise by Tim Collins

Welcome to Urban Legends: Author & Artist #SpookyShowcase. This autumn 2019, the strange and unusual is unleashed! Featuring the best authors and artists in the horror landscape, come back each day the month of October for a scare. You can find the master posting schedule here,

Expect dark stories, myths, legends, and creepy creations that will make your spine tingle. Remember, urban legends aren’t true…are they?

Finding Paradise

by Tim Collins

Inspired by urban legend the babysitter and the man upstairs.

“Mimosas to celebrate?” I ask.

It’s unusual, because I rarely drink, and never before happy hour. But today Ava and I have a reason to celebrate – the bank approved the financing for our new yoga studio.

“You lush,” Ave says with a wink.

“I’ll need to see your IDs,” the waiter, sporting more piercings and tattoos than undecorated skin and clothes, requests.

We slide our licenses across the table. I can’t remember the last time I was carded. Ava’s smooth, worry-free skin practically shines, so I’m not shocked when she gets asked.

“Well, I see one of you cares about more than themselves,” waiter-boy says handing Ava her license first before tossing mine on the table.

I analyze my license. “What the hell was that about?”

Ava waves with her perfectly manicured nails. “Lemme see. Give it here.”

After a moment of squinting and face scrunching, her eyes light up. “Aha! Jenna Hargrove isn’t an organ donor.” She waves my license in the air announcing for all at Jamba Joe’s to hear.

I snatch my license from her hand. “That’s because my heart belongs to you and only you.”

She rolls her eyes at me before leaning back into her chair. We sit and watch the steady stream of people pass by as the waiter drops off our drinks.

“Speaking of your heart, what’s up with your psycho ex sending me a friend request on Facebook?” Ava asks, flicking her finger across the rose-gold iPhone’s screen. “I didn’t think P3 allowed patients access to the internet.”

I stare at my organic orange juice and champagne but can’t bring myself to drink. Hell, talking is a challenge whenever he comes up. Piedmont Plains Psychiatric Hospital, or P3 as the locals call it, housed my stalker ex-fiancé until one week ago.

“They released Brendan—” I gulp, swallowing the reality of my words— “last week.”

“What the hell, Dice? Why would they let him out? He almost strangled you to death!” Ava slams her hand on the table, bouncing her blonde pigtails along with my drink. “Why didn’t say anything?”

“It’s not like Hallmark makes a card for the occasion.”

“He’s been gone, what, four years?”

“Five.” I correct her.

“You ever hear from him?”

I tap the side of my glass— the bubbles quit rising five minutes ago. “Nope. Not a peep.”

The lie eats my confidence, but it’s easier to say than the truth. No one know about his letters. They arrived daily the first two year but slowed to one per week after that. His words degraded to the point where I could only read every other word. Nonsensical rants about how he worried his therapist wanted to steal his being or some weird shit like that.

They bothered me enough to move into the cramped space Ava called her apartment.

“You worried he’ll will come looking for you, Dice?” Ava asks. “God, he obsessed over you.”

My sunshine blonde hair and tropical blue eyes to be specific. His words, not mine. It’s why he called me Paradise. The name stuck with my friends and even my family.

“Doubt he’d recognize me. I’m not the one with long blonde hair and blues eyes anymore. You are.” I wink. “Besides I’m loving short hair in this heat.”

My phone chirps. I glance at the screen and stare at the message notification on my phone. It takes me a moment to realize I’m puff breathing through my nose like a dragon.

“Aves, do you recognize this number? 512-555-7983.” The number isn’t in my contacts list, but ever since we started building out the new hot yoga studio, Ava and I periodically get messages from random contractors.

“Nope.” She shrugs. “But I forget my own number most days. Why?”

I slide the phone across the table. “Because some asshole just snapped a picture of us.”

“You think the wack-job is still here?” she asks.

I whip my head around searching for any perp-looking dude, not even sure what or who I’m looking for, but I immediately assume it’s a guy. Maybe I’ll catch someone pointing their cell phone at us or some dude in a trench coat.

My mind launches through a Rolodex of every TV and social media pervert stereotype. Unfortunately, nothing about our surroundings seems out of place. While I don’t know many of the people around us, I recognize several faces. This may a busy cross-section of town, but it’s full of regulars.

“Of all the mornings for me to not put my hair up.” Ava flattens her hair with both hands. “You can see every ounce of humidity in this picture.”

“This doesn’t bother you?”

Ava brushes me off. “Please, girl. You should see all the crazy shit I get from social media. Apparently, the male of the species believes I crave unsolicited dick pics. One guy even tattooed a boat captain on his inner leg and made his penis like a harpoon.”

“A what?”

“Don’t ask, but I can tell you he named it Captain Ahab.”

“Feels like a missed naming opportunity there—” I stifle a laugh with my hand— “So, did you message him back?”

Ava swallows the last of her mimosa. “Maybe.”

“You hoe!”

“What can I say? I’m a sucker for creativity, but it’s not like I went out with him. I just wanted to know if he tattooed a whale on his ass.”

Our phones simultaneously alert us —mine chirps a solitary ding while Ava’s phone belts out Beyonce’s Single Ladies.

Ava taps her phone screen. “Okay, a message from the bank bothers me.”

I’m almost relieved to see text pop up on my screen when I open the message.

You Bank of America SafePass code is “618479”. This code will expire in 10 minutes. Please do not reply to this message. Call 1-555-BOA-HELP if you have any questions.

Like I said, almost relieved.

“Guess I’ll stop by the bank before I hit the studio,” I sigh. “Meet you there?”

I opt to hoof it to the bank on foot rather than trying to drive. Finding a parking spot might take longer than the walk there and back. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to continually refresh the Bank of America application.

I barely take my eyes off the cash balance in our business account. “No. No. No. Do not change,” I mutter. “We need that money.”

Four years skimping, buying second-hand, and sharing an apartment. The weekly morning meetings at Jamba Joe’s are one of my few splurges.

I push through the glass double doors into the spacious, modern lobby ready to order everyone to step aside, but the only thing standing in my way is two empty leather chairs, four wall-mounted televisions tuned to CNBC, and a vintage popcorn machine.

Within three minutes, Brett, the branch manager, clad in a pinstripe suit jacket and solid blue tie beckons me into his office. He adjusts the jacket twice and tie three times as I explain my situation.

“It’s a phishing scam. I’m impressed you came into a branch rather than calling the number. No one comes into the branch any longer.” His seventies mustache drops with his eyes.

My phone dings, but I ignore it.

“Anyone who knows me knows I hate calling helplines. You spend fifteen minutes with robots who can’t help you before getting passed to a real person who wastes another fifteen minutes before informing you to visit a local branch.” I snag a fruit punch Dum Dum lollipop from the candy dish on his desk, unwrap it, and pop it in my mouth. “I prefer to cut out the middle-man… and robot.”

My phone dings.

A quick glance and I see Ava messaged. I don’t have to read it to know I’m taking too long and she needs something.

“Well, thank you for your help,” I say as I hop up and head for the door. He mumbles an awkward goodbye that may have encompassed asking for my number, but I have no need to complicate my current situation.

I read Ava’s first text as I head back to my car.

Yoga mats a no-show. Towels MIA too. Need you to get towels from Target, then yoga mats from a warehouse in Dallas just off I-35. I know it’s a long drive, but that’s why I love you.  XOXO

From bad to worse. Awesome. Still, I brave text number two.

Landlord called to say someone is stopping by to check out our space today or tomorrow.

Ten steps from my car and my phone chimes again.

I roll my eyes. “Ugh. What now, Ava?”

As I glimpse the picture of me walking into Bank of America, I realize I jinxed myself.

This text is from a different phone number than the first.

Shit. This is much worse.

I jump in my car, fumble to find the door lock, and slouch low. It takes ten lung-filling breaths to steady my shaking body. I dial nine… one… and hover my finger over the one button again. Scanning the horizon of my dashboard, I don’t see anyone staring at my car. Hell, no one is even looking in my direction. Where the hell is everyone? Why is no one paying me attention?

Time for a different approach. I try calling the number that just texted the picture of me entering the bank, but a computer tells me this phone number is unable to accept calls. The same result is likely if I try calling the number that texted me the picture of Ava and me earlier.

A call to Ava sends me to her voicemail.

Finally, I use the police non-emergency police line from which a kind office requests I stop into the station that sits only a few miles beyond Target. I switch my phone to vibrate. If I hear another ding, there’s a good chance I’ll toss my phone in the river.

Despite wanting to drive straight to the police station, I refuse to be ruled by fear, so Target comes first.

I whiz through the store grabbing every thick, white cotton towel I can find for the studio’s locker rooms. Every three steps I peek over my shoulder, alternating left and right. Every 10th step I randomly change directions with my mammoth cart.

What should take five minutes, eats 25 minutes.

My phone remains anchored in my hand as I push the cart to the self-checkout line, but a red-shirted girl wearing the name tag, Tessie, stops me.

“Sorry ma’am, that’s too many items for self-checkout.”

My protests fall on deaf ears as she ushers me to the single open full-service line.

Another five minutes trickle by as I debate the need for a bag of therapy peanut butter M&Ms.

I reach for the sharing-size orange-red bag when my phone vibrates. My stomach clenches, and I fight through shallow breaths. Sweat beads on my forehead as I focus on the white number-one in the orange circle on my messaging icon.

Another vibration changes the one to a two.

“Ma’am.” Tessie waves me to the register.

Tessie, the overenthusiastic employee-of-the-month candidate, is now co-starring front and center in my latest text message picture, immortalized on my phone.

My trembling hand prevents me from moving to the next text.

I close my eyes, exhale, and count to five. A moment of clarity allows me to swipe to the next picture. I fully expect to see me standing at the register, but instead, I see my ex ex-fiancé’s new Facebook profile picture.

My bloodied, dismembered head on the lit-up dashboard of his truck.

The overhead music in Target hits another volume level. I can barely hear myself think.

“O-M-G. I love this song!” Tessie squeals. “But I can never remember the name.”

I can’t take my eyes off the picture as I answer her. “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.”

The towels no longer matter. Tessie hollering as I sprint out the exit doors with my phone in one hand and a bag of M&Ms in the other doesn’t matter. Only getting to the police station matters.

I ignore two stops signs in the Target parking lot — one eye on the road, one eye in the rearview mirror. I fumble my phone onto the hands-free mount.

“Call Ava!” I scream.

The phone tolls.

“Pick up. Pick up! PICK UP!”

I blow through a red light. If a cop pulls me over, all the better.

“You’ve reached Ava. After the beep, you know what to do.”


I swallow what feels like two pounds of wet sand. “Aves, honey, call me like right the fuck now.”

I rush into the reception area. Clean. Plenty of wood-bench seating. And enough police officers in my line of sight to grant me a sense of calm for the first time since I ordered my drink this morning. Our town may be small, but it’s busy, and virtually nothing goes unsolved.

Officer Lutz greets me with a warm smile and firm handshake. He reminds me of my dad. The gray in his beard says older, mature, but the dyed black hair says he’s not ready to accept that yet.

I show him each picture, and he calls over a squirrely little man. Within minutes the tech guru displays all of my photos on a large screen. Officer Lutz instructs me to walk him step-by-step through what I was doing when I received each text.

“Wait!” I yell. “Can you make that picture bigger? Actually, make them all bigger.”

Within second, the little man enlarges every shot.

“There!” I point to a man in a wide brim hate and dark sunglasses a few tables away from Ava and me at Jamba Joe’s. “That’s Brendan! I think.” The man’s dark beard throws me off. Brendan didn’t have one, but five years offers plenty of time to grow one.

I scan the bank photo. “That’s him. And there he is in Target.”

“Are you sure?” Officer Lutz asks.

“Pretty sure, but it’s impossible to say with the hat, sunglasses, and beard. Brendan didn’t have a beard when we were together.”

“Frankly, we’re more about this Facebook profile picture.”

A dismembered head. Sense of calm disintegrating. I want to forget that one.

Lutz immediately orders a copy of Brendan’s file. “And if he is following you, then I really think it is time to consider a restraining order.”

“Already have—” My phone vibrates. “He wouldn’t.” I hold my breath.

He didn’t. Ava’s name pops up on my phone.

Heading to the studio to set up. Stop freaking out about the towels & mats. Everything will be fine.

Dammit, she thinks I’m upset about her other text.

After going over my story one more time with Officer Lutz, a patrol car escorts me to our soon-to-be yoga studio. Upon seeing Ava’s beat-up black four-door Jeep Wrangler parked in her spot, I tell the officer thank you and head inside. He informs me he’ll cruise the plaza’s parking lot and look for anything unusual.

“Ava?” My voice bounces off the mirrored walls of the empty studio. Panic reverberating around me like a warm blanket. “Aves, where are you, babe?”

“That’s right. Corner of Congress. Please hurry,” a man says.

I whip around to identify the unfamiliar male voice. Tall, older, well-dressed man. Not bad looking for a guy probably in his 50s although his beard is showing a little gray. And fit too. He has yoga client potential written all over him.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

“Your landlord arranged for me to stop by. I’m Dr. Aday,” he says, before setting down his black medical bag to free up a hand to offer a greeting. A nearly empty Jamba Joe’s smoothie occupies his other hand.  “I’m thinking of opening a new office in the space next door. The landlord suggested I look at your space since the two are practically the same size, but yours is built out.”

“With the way my day is going, it’s probably a fitness studio,” I scoff.

“Fitness. Heavens, no,” he laughs. “My friend in Dallas who sells yoga mats said he can’t keep up with the demand. People would literally kill for those things right now. Not for me. No, I’m opening an advocacy center for individuals on the organ donor waitlist.”

“So, if I wake up in a tub full of ice with a kidney missing, you’re the man to call.”

“Or the man to accuse.”


“Kidding!” He chuckles. “But organs are in short supply—” he sets down his empty smoothie cup and picks up his bag— “but seeing how you’re being so kind, I’ll cut you a deal. Do you have a history of kidney failure in your family?”

“Yeah, mine was a joke.” I shift my weight from right to left trying to look for the officer outside driving by.

“Cancer or heart disease perhaps? Simply asking out of professional curiosity.”

I flinch as my phone vibrates, and he stops talking as if he said something wrong.

My caller ID flashes CEDAR LAKES PD.

“Excuse me, I have to take this,” I say, turning around. “Hello.”

“Ms. Tasker, it’s Officer Lutz. I wanted to let you know we received a call from someone describing Brendan.”

“What should I do?” I rub my hand on the back of my neck doing the best to fight the onset of a stress headache.

A small click reverberates around the room followed by a wave of light.

“You can come back to the station or go to a friend’s house. I’m having Officer Jenkins check it out now.”

“Where was he spotted?” I ask.

“Um, hang on.”

I can hear paper shuffling through the phone.

“Starbucks on corner Fifth and Congress.”

“Shit. That’s only two blocks from here.” I stare at the floor thinking about the best place to wait out the storm. “Thank you, Officer Lutz.”

I say my goodbyes, scroll to Ava’s number on my phone, and turn around expecting to be alone.                                                             

“I’m sorry, I thought you left, um—” I snap a few times— “I forgot your name.”

“Aday. Dr. Jamison Aday. If now isn’t a good time, then maybe later?”

“Not so much. This guy has been following me, and, oh, never mind, you don’t want to hear my problems.”

“Nonsense. I’m a doctor,” he says, stepping closer and lowering the volume of his voice. “A therapist.”

“I know a few folks who could use your help.” I force a laugh.

He holds up his phone. “Say cheese.”

A flash temporarily blinds me. I hear a few taps on his smartphone screen, then my phone buzzes. “Already trying to help.”

“So, you’re my hero?” I try to muster a smile as I glance at the picture on my phone. It’s like looking into a mirror.

“Hero? I’m not sure I’d go that far.” Dr. Jamison says as he unzips his medical bag.

I inch closer to Aday making my way towards the door. “Well, I can’t thank you enough for warning me.”

“Warning you? Oh, Heavens no. I just wish you’d gone to Dallas like the text said.”

My blood freezes.

“But product is product,” he says as he withdraws a silver instrument with streaks of red dripping from its razor-sharp tip. In a single motion, I see a glistening flash through the air. A blinding pain snatches my senses of sight and smell.

Warm liquid cascades across my chest. I crumble to my knees, unable to create more than a gurgling sound from my throat. My fingers flinch uncontrollably. One hand finds my throat and tries to stem the bleeding. I steady the other long enough to hit dial on my phone.

Dr. Aday’s medical bag blares the Single Ladies ringtone.

He bows his head. “Brendan may have been obsessed with you, but it’s your friend that is paradise. If she’s that beautiful on the outside, can you imagine how beautiful those organs on her inside must be. And she’s a giver. A donor, unlike you.”

I fight through the searing pain and find the strength to stand and stagger to the women’s locker room door. My strength weakens with every pump of my heart pushing blood out of my body through the gash in my neck.

He follows me with purpose, carefully avoiding putting a foot in my blood splatters. Aday puts Ava’s phone to his ear and does his best impersonation of her.

“Hello, police? My business partner’s crazy ex has us trapped in the locker room in our yoga studio. Please send help! I think he wants to kill us!”

I throw my shoulder into the door and tumble into the woman’s locker room. I manage to click the lock on the door and scoot on my ass until my back finds the wall. With both hands, I apply pressure to my neck.

If only I had a towel.

My eyes flutter, the scene becomes something from an early 1920s movie — complete with a stop-motion stuttering film reel. A crumpled mass of clothes stars center of my vision.

Ava? I think it because I can’t speak it.

On the floor, in her own lake of blood, lies Ava. I crawl five feet to her side and pull myself closer. Sitting in the shower, with wrists releasing every ounce of fluid from his body, is Brendan; hat, shades, and beard just like in the pictures.

Unable to hold my head up, I collapse left and land on Ava’s chest, or what used to be her chest. It’s gone. Everything from inside her body from the neck to her waist is missing. I feel the color drain from my face as I flop to the floor.

On the ceiling above me, written in blood are the words:


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