The moonless sky looked murkier than ever, freckled with stars. The atmosphere was abuzz with dreams of what 2009 had in store for everyone. After ushering in the New Year in style, Lorelei called out a cheerful goodbye, but her besties, who were still partying hard and well on their way to brutal hangovers, barely noticed. Sober seldom mixed well with drunk, and Lorelei had chosen mocktails all night, despite her friends’ attempts to get her sloshed.

She walked with short, quick steps to the nearest sidewalk. As she shivered, she rubbed her palms and blew some hot air into them. Alabama’s winter wasn’t being kind to her.

Glancing at her watch, she frantically looked around; there wasn’t a single soul in sight. It was almost two o’clock. No wonder!

An eerie silence pervaded the air as the nearby street light flickered, casting a glow on her pale face. Her chestnut eyes shuttled left and right, hoping to find a cab.

Pushing back her auburn hair, she gazed at the deserted street, humming her favorite song. Just then, a phone call interrupted her short-lived melody. Lorelei glanced at the caller ID and shook her head. It was her mom. Bracing herself for the worst, she picked it up.

“Are you fuckin’ out of your mind, Lori?” Her mom fumed, not letting Lorelei utter a word. “A serial killer is on the loose in town and you left me a message saying you’re partying with your friends. You better come home now!”

“Calm the hell down, Mom!” Lorelei snapped. “Stop being such a drama queen. It’s not like I’m gonna fucking die or something. I’ll be home in thirty minutes.”

“Language, Lori! I’m your mother. So don’t talk to me the way you talk to those bitches.”

“Mom, they’re my friends. Shut up!”

“No, I can’t. Not when my daughter is out all alone in the dead of the night. Tell me the truth. You’re seeing someone, aren’t you?”

“For Chrissake, stop assuming stuff, Mom. I’m just waiting for a cab.”

“You’re dumb, just like your crazy old man. Now, I feel worried that you’ll leave me too. Hope you come home safe!”

After assuring her mom that she’ll be safe for the zillionth time, Lorelei hung up the call with a sigh. She was sick and tired of her mom’s overprotective nature. Ever since her dad left them for another woman when Lorelei was hardly five, they both had to fend for themselves. Though their life hadn’t been a bed of roses, Lorelei grew up and worked her ass off to make ends meet.

Her mom’s worries weren’t invalid, though. The rampant serial killings had sent shockwaves across the town. So far, seven lives had succumbed to the killer’s cold-blooded fantasies, most of them being women. The modus operandi was a precise cut on the jugular vein. The victims were left to bleed to death. Despite the top cops being assigned to crack this case, all their investigations hit a dead end. The people neither knew the reason behind the killings nor had the slightest clue about the killer’s identity.

There were rumors that the killer was an ex-Marine who escaped from the psychiatric facility a year back. At the same time, an urban legend floated around that the killings were carried out by a satanic cult. With every passing day, new conspiracy theories surfaced on the internet. A vengeful ghost, a mafia hit job, and so on and so forth. However, all these speculations had no solid backing.

The killer was out there, but the case was as cold as the bitter winter snow. Yet Lorelei never had to worry about any of this. She considered herself a strong, independent woman capable of handling things on her own. No matter what she did, she was a perfectionist. She wasn’t afraid, or at least that’s what she thought. But sometimes, even the strongest of minds get anxious.

Lorelei broke out in a cold sweat as her hair stood on end and her heart pounded. She bit her bottom lip and clutched her handbag. Hardly a car was passing by on the street, much to her chagrin.

Just as she was about to give up hope, something bright blinded her. She covered her eyes with her right hand. As the glare dimmed, Lorelei noticed the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.

A black SUV pulled up right in front of her. The windows went down to reveal a rugged-looking man, presumably in his late forties. His puffy, bloodshot eyes pierced straight into hers, while his long, disheveled gray hair peeked out from under the beanie he was wearing. He stroked his unkempt beard as his lips parted into a sinister grin, exposing his decayed teeth.

“Happy New Year!” he croaked in a hoarse voice and spat gum on the ground.

“Happy New Year,” she echoed his wish and craned her neck, resuming her search for a cab.

“Looks like you’re waiting for a ride.” The man furrowed his brows. “Wanna hop on?”

“Err…thanks, but no thanks. To be honest, I’ve gotta travel really far—North Courtland. I don’t wanna bother you.” She turned away, avoiding his gaze.

“Guess what? That’s on my way home.” The man stuck his head out the car window. He reeked of cigarettes and body odor. “I don’t mind dropping you off. If I were you, I wouldn’t be waiting over here. It’s way too late!”

The stranger’s polite gesture made Lorelei’s race. But she couldn’t say no, owing to her desperation. Flashing a faint smile, she slid into the backseat as the man stared at her through the rear-view mirror.

Within seconds, her slender fingers rifled inside her handbag, reaching for the Swiss Army knife. After all, eight was her lucky number.