Alex held Margaret, his firm hand pressing her head to his shoulder. His breath brushed across her ear. “Don’t look, no matter what you hear. That’s how it gets you.”
All the other victims had turned to ice. Alex couldn’t understand why, but the rules didn’t apply to him. None of the deceased were family, so maybe that was his armor. His family history protected him somehow.
They were huddled behind the furnace in the basement while they attempted to construct an escape plan. Although in a frenzy, Alex knew the level of heat from the unit should be enough to throw the beast temporarily off their trail. The foul spirit followed the warmth from the living, which made hiding from its ghostly grips difficult. The tighter he held Margaret, the more he worried about Wilby. His little brother had bolted in the other direction.
Alex was careful not to touch the hot, metal tank as he peered around it. He made the mistake a few years back of carelessly brushing against it while moving some boxes. The scar on his right arm left a permanent reminder. Alex crinkled his nose—the damp walls and seventy-year-old pipes needed more than a little fresh air.
It was dark in every corner except for a sliver of light emanating from the single ground-level window. He hated the basement, and especially the furnace room. It was the part of the below-ground space that wasn’t finished, and he felt like he stepped into a portal to hell every time he was there. He could sense the darkened soul still lurking in the shadows but couldn’t hone in on it. Only the goosebumps standing to attention on his arms confirmed his suspicions. He eased back behind the tank. His plan worked for the moment, but it also limited their options. Now he needed a solid way to find Wilby and escape.
“I think I know how we can get out of the house.” Alex spoke softly. “But you’re gonna have to trust me.”
She nodded her head, her eyes widened with fear. Neither were normally the type to rattle easily, this one had them both off-balance.
“I know you’re really scared right now. So am I. But I also know you can do this. I’m going to lead the creature toward the attic.”
“Alex. No.” Margaret grabbed his t-shirt and gripped tightly.
He softly smiled.
“It will follow me. Then you get the hell out of here and find Wilby. Try my mom’s room first; he used to hide under her bed when he was little. It made him feel safe.
“Luckily, that thing stayed on our heels. I know the darkness is down here with us. My bumps are strong. After I get its attention, I’ll run for the stairs. You give it a minute or two before following. Get Wilby, and then head back down here and out that window.” Alex pointed to the ground window. It was big enough for Wilby and Margaret to fit through. “See the large wrench on the bench? Use it to break the window. My mom has rags over there, too. Line the ledge so you guys don’t get cut.”
“Why don’t we just break one of the windows in the den? They’re larger.”
“No. It would be harder to break through one of the double panes, and it would attract a lot more attention. This way you’ll barely be heard.”
Margaret shook her head. “I can’t leave you.” A tear streamed down her cheek.
“I need you to do this for Wilby.” Alex hesitated. He yearned to kiss her but settled for a pal hug. “Text me when both of you are out.”
“How are you going to get the hell out of the house?”
“Don’t worry, I got a plan.” There was no plan, but he had to tell her something so she would agree. Margaret’s fierce when it comes to protecting the ones she loves.
He pulled away and eased out into the open. A chill ran up his spine—it was close. Alex squinted, trying to distinguish the difference in the shadows. He took a step forward; a blast of cold air startled him, raising the hair on his arms and roiling the butterflies in his stomach. He was headed straight toward the evil spirit.
A low, gravelly hum tainted his ears. Could Margaret hear it? He shook his head. No, he was not about to call out and give up her location. He shifted his eyes toward the right, his heart pounding. The beast lunged forward and reached out with a translucent, icy hand. Alex ducked and swerved. Spinning around, he ran straight for the door, and crossed the threshold before it could stop him. He scrambled up the stairs and made the mistake of turning back. It was a costly move. He tripped, and his body hit the floorboards, scraping his knees. He could feel stinging cuts but chose to ignore it.
A frozen grip seized his leg and a layer of ice spread across the denim like a fungus. Furiously, Alex kicked free and scrambled back to his feet, running for the staircase to the second level. The entrance to the attic was in the hallway. Once he got the spirit there, he could buy Margaret the time she needed.
He reached the top of the staircase, rounded the corner, and reached for the knob. There was no need. The door flew open, slamming it into the wall. Chips of plaster exploded and nicked Alex near his left eye. He didn’t stop. Taking the steep steps two at a time, he ran to the center of the room. He heard the door slam and knew his plan had worked.
He was alone with the dark soul and nowhere to go.
Stepping under the hot rain, he tilted back his head and let the water wash away the memories that suffocated his mind. Learning to let go of the death of an innocent was harder than anything he’d ever done. It wasn’t working.
Jolted by the picture of Tom’s dead body lying in his living-room, Alex huddled by the wall of the shower. Looking down at his trembling hands, the pruned tips of his fingers beckoned for him to get out. He had lost track of time. Soaping down, he quickly rinsed and shut down the tranquility. Reaching for the towel that he had thrown on the lid of the toilet, he briskly dried his body and wrapped up. A chill tickled the back of his neck and he shuddered. From the corner of his eye, the flash of a bright light poked his temple with the same precision as an ice pick. Alex grabbed the side of his head and squeezed. Tilting his chin down, he momentarily lost his balance. The vision beside him spiraled with a kaleidoscope of luminous shades of green. Slowly, the ribbon of color etched out to form an opening in the center. The eye of the storm.
Alex squinted, straining to focus on the anomaly. Reaching out, he caught a glimpse of the goosebumps mapping their way over the skin of his forearm. He recoiled his hand to his side. What the hell am I doing? Stepping away, he pressed his back against the door and faced his unwanted guest. In the heart of the calm, stood a little girl. Her chestnut braid caressed down the front of her long white nightgown, masking portions of the pale blue lace trim. Soft brown eyes held the weight of sadness. Both arms stretched out, fully extended, her small hands trying to wriggle closer to him. The child’s mouth mimicked the mechanics of conversation, but only silence escaped her pale, pink lips.
“Who are you?” Alex whispered.
The little girl’s words fell silent.
“I can’t hear you. Can you understand me? If you can, nod your head.”
The child nodded yes.
“Are you lost?” Alex inched closer.
Placing her arms by her side, she nodded again.
“Are you in danger?”
Her head turned away.
Alex’s shoulder’s stiffened Not a yes, but not a no either.
“Are you trying to find someone?”
The girl’s mouth moved, her lips forming a long trail of silent sentences.
“Whoa. Stop. I still can’t hear you.” Alex furrowed his brow.
The little girl put her hands up, covering her face.
“Hey, it’s okay. I’ll figure something out, hold on.”
Alex sized up the room looking for anything to aide in their communication. Staring at the half-fogged mirror, his eyes widened. Hastily, he turned the shower back on and twisted the knob until it rested solely on the hot water. Within moments the air thickened and a veil of steam covered the reflective glass. With his pointer finger, he laid out the alphabet across the balmy surface. Turning back toward the child, she was smiling.
“You understand?” Alex pointed to the letters.
Clapping her hands, she nodded yes.
“Okay. I’ll ask you a question and then starting with A, I’ll point to the letters. You nod to let me know if it’s the right one. Good?”
Rapidly, she agreed.
“Let’s start with something simple. What’s your name?”
Alex pointed to the letters one at a time until he hit H. The girl drew up a hand to indicate stop.
“Okay great. Now let’s go to the vowels. A?”
She nodded yes.
Once again, he started pointing. When he reached V, she jumped up.
“Let’s see we have, H—a—v… huh. I’m not sure, let’s keep going. It’s probably another vowel. How about, I?”
She adamantly shook her head no.
“E?” Alex outlined the letters on the bottom corner of the mirror.
The clapped once again
“H—A—V—E… Haven? Is that it? Are you Haven?”
The girl grinned and patted both hands on her chest.
“Nice to meet you, Haven. I’m Alex.”
The little girl pointed to her eye.
“Something’s wrong with your eyes?”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. First pointing to her eyes again, she then pointed to him.
“Eye? Eye—or wait, I? Haven is it I?” Alex tapped the letter in the alphabet string.
She replied with a nod and pointed to Alex again.
“Hmm. What are you trying to say? I, me, I, Alex, I’m Alex! Haven, you already know who I am?”
Haven shook her head in agreement.
“Did you know me before you died? How do you know me?” Alex fired the questions like bullets.
Without warning, Haven’s face dropped, and her body stiffened. Snapping her gaze to peer over her shoulder, she turned back to Alex. Wide eyes and gape mouth—she was screaming.
“Haven. What’s wrong? Haven!”
Before the last syllable escaped his breath, she was gone.