CHAPTER ONE: Stalker
He woke up and felt the gag in his mouth. He is all wet and tied up in a wooden chair possibly nailed on the floor. He couldn’t tell if its blood, sweat or water dripping down his face. He could vaguely see despite the liquid in his eyes, that he’s inside a room illuminated by a single bedroom lamp lying on the floor. He noticed the bloodied bedsheet and his clothes scattered everywhere. Still looking down, he realized there is a huge knife stuck in his abdomen.
Michael’s vision spun and he eventually passed out.
A month earlier.
Michael woke up to the blaring sound of his alarm clock. It’s 4:00AM.
He got up and took his pack of cigarette with him to the balcony. The scenic view of the city never ceased to amaze him. He took out a stick and lighted it. He inhaled a great deal and puffed the smoke unto the night sky.
Looking back at his bedroom, he saw his bed in disarray. He can see a woman’s body formed under his sheets. Joanne, he thought to himself.
He met Joanne in one of his talks earlier today. She’s 20 and is quite a looker. They hit it off nicely after a good deal of discussion regarding sales. They hopped from one cafe to another and ended up in his hotel room.
He smirked as he put away his cigarette butt on the ashtray.
Michael took a shower and prepared his favorite white shirt and gray coat from the closet. He tiptoed across his bedroom, afraid he might wake her. He grabbed his wallet and bag and left the room.
Before leaving the hotel, Michael dropped by the Concierge and gave instructions for Joanne. He gave both the bell boy and the front desk officer a good amount of tip along with his advanced payment for Joanne’s breakfast and cab fare while tinkering his mobile phone.
He decided to proceed to the Smoking Lounge while he waited for his ride. Halfway on his first stick, his phone vibrated, notifying him that his ride has arrived. Michael hurriedly rushed outside to greet his driver and throw his bag at the compartment. Little did he know, he was being watched from the 7th floor balcony by none other than Joanne.
Three weeks have passed and Michael has totally forgotten about Joanne. He just finished his last seminar for the month and is now looking forward to a quiet vacation out of town. Michael hurriedly rushed to his hotel room to pack when the doorman told him his guest has arrived. Bewildered, he asked who the guest was, but the doorman was clueless. On his way to the concierge, the receptionist smiled and approached him. She told him that his girlfriend had to leave for an emergency but promised to meet him at NAIA Airport when he get back in Manila.
Michael is now really confused. He headed to the elevator and nervously pressed his floor.
When he got to his room, his eyes immediately caught the heart-shaped set of rose petals on his bed. He called up his secretary, Rose, on his phone and asked her who else knew where he is currently staying. Rose replied that aside from management and the two of them, no one else should have an idea.
He packed his bag and double checked his plane ticket. He took the elevator and paid checked out. The receptionist giggled and said that his girlfriend is very romantic, setting the meeting place at the airport. He tried to fake up a smile and left.
He grabbed his phone and booked a ride. As usual, he hurried and greeted his driver after throwing his luggage at the compartment.
“Off to the airport, buddy”, he said to the driver.
The driver nodded and exited the vallet parking.
He checked in on Rose and said that he is two hours early to the airport. Rose confirmed the VIP section for him.
At the airport, Michael just finished checking in his luggage and headed to the VIP Lounge. He ordered his coffee and prepared his laptop and found that its battery is almost empty. He looked around and found that there is an available socket under the table to his right. He rose and went to talk to the lady occupying that table.
“Miss, can we share the table? I need some juice for my laptop”, he tried his very best to sound polite.
“Sure thing”, quipped the girl.
An hour on the table and the girl finally spoke to him.
“I know you. You are the filmmaker on the news, right?” the girl’s face brightened up.
The two talked for about an hour. The PA announced something and the girl had to grab her stuff and leave. Michael found out that the girl’s name is Clarisse, a vlogger from Cebu. He checked her out on YouTube and found out her videos are really creepy. And void of any artistic value.
Disappointed, he closed his browser and noticed a folder on his desktop he can’t remember he created.
It is labelled as “JTM”
Curious, he double clicked on it. The video starts with him and a girl. They were on a cafe. Michael remembers the girl but can’t recall any camera on her at that time. He noticed the video editing was very poor. As if there were no editing at all. The next scene jumps to his hotel room from before. He sees himself walking toward the girl on the bathtub as she played with rose petals. They looked happy. The next one shows them kissing each other. His back was facing the camera as he undressed the girl. What surprised Michael was that he caught how the girl knowingly winked at the camera. The scene after that was so steamy that he had to close the lid of his macbook to stop it from playing. He looked around the room if people happened to see what was on his screen. He then got up and left.
Aboard the plane back to Manila, Michael was fighting the urge to continue watching the video out of curiosity. He dreaded the painful forty minute flight. He switched on his phone and placed it on Airplane Mode and turned on his Spotify. He fumbled at his pocket for his earphones that he didn’t notice the 35 new email notification badge on his email app.
Arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, he booked his ride on his phone and waited at the Mabuhay Lounge. He noticed Clarisse at the corner puffing cigarette. What threw him off was that she’s beside a woman he recognized.
It was Joanne.
TO BE CONTINUED