A scream shattered the silence.
The sound sent a lightning bolt through Gwynn. Despite the ill feeling in his stomach, the pressure on his chest, the strangling feeling in his throat, he surged forward. He reached the door and yanked on the knob. It refused to turn. He used both hands. He yelled at it, kicked it, and swore—the swearing giving way to a strangled sob.
“Somebody help me.” He cried. His classmates just gawked in mute silence. “At least use your cell phones to call for help.” Someone might have made a move for a phone. Meanwhile, his head worked on getting into the house.
“Sophia!” He kept calling her name, waiting between to listen for any reply. Nothing came.
Gwynn stalked the perimeter of the house. A door at the back refused his attempts at entry as much as the front. He found a large rock and moved to the front of the house. He hurled it with all his might at the front window, rewarded with a resounding crash. Gwynn pulled off his coat and found the night had lost all its warmth. He wrapped it around his arm and punched away at the remaining shards of window. When he had widened the gap enough, he crawled into the house.
Though his stupefied classmates were just a wall away, they might as well have been in another world. The house creaked and groaned—a beast awakening from slumber. After ten years of silence, the Cameron house hungered again. Gwynn crouched on the floor, allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom. He found himself in the front sitting room. The paint on the walls the color of aged blood. A heavy blanket of dust covered the cracking leather furniture. The dark wood floors showed recent movement in the trails of dust.
Gwynn’s insides were a town–destroying twister. Sharp pain stabbed up the length of his right arm. An invisible line had hooked into his core and dragged him upstairs.
Sophia will be there, some alien instinct told him.
He moved cautiously. Deserted for years, the Cameron house could be a death trap of rotted boards. Last thing Gwynn needed now was to go through a floor and break something.
Gwynn shifted toward the door that led to the main entrance hall where Sophia had entered. Beyond the door sounded a sporadic, heavy, Thump, Thump. He edged the door open and peered into the hall. A chill ran up his spine and the taste of bile filled the back of his throat.
A body hung in the hall, swinging back and forth, hitting the stair railing. Gwynn looked down the hall and again to the door. Nothing moved. He eased out and moved toward the body. A rope extended from the second floor banister and wrapped around the body’s neck.
“Not Sophia. Please, please not Sophia.”
He got closer. Not only was the body not Sophia, it wasn’t even a person. Someone had created a life–sized doll out of a clothes stuffed with newspaper. Being closer to the door, he noticed a bucket suspended above it. He didn’t want to know what the bucket contained. The full extent of the plan became clear. Eric had intended for Gwynn to come in the house all along. He’d been counting on it. Someone, maybe the two or three members of the football team who were missing from the coffee shop gathering, had come ahead and prepared to scare Gwynn. But Sophia had come in first. Did one of the football team’s pranks scare her? Maybe they were keeping her quiet, hoping to get a shot at their intended target.
Above him, something sighed and a floorboard creaked. At the second floor landing, a dark mass darted to the left—fluid and fast. Gwynn blinked several times, trying to focus on what he’d seen. From the direction where it fled floorboards groaned. He tried to convince himself it was one of the football team.
He started up the stairs. They gave a loud moan with each step. The third gave way, his leg crashing through the wood. Gwynn eased it free. Bloody scrapes covered his leg and his pants were garbage. The dim light made it difficult to see any embedded slivers in his leg. It stung like hell. He grit his teeth and moved up the remaining steps—a slow and tedious endeavor as he tested each step before putting his weight on it. Above, the sound of something heavy dragging across the floor joined the noises of complaining floorboards.
Gasping, Gwynn reached the top of the stairs. His feet slipped. A dark liquid covered the ground. He bent down and dipped a finger into it. It was tacky and smelled metallic. His stomach lurched and acid burned his throat. His right arm screamed. Gwynn crept left where the shadow had disappeared. In one of the rooms, a set of steps led upward into the attic. The dark liquid that he tried to convince himself wasn’t blood, trailed upward.
From the bottom of the steps, the attic lay in complete darkness. Gwynn couldn’t see any movement and the noises had ceased.
If he turned around now, he could go wait outside with the others for the police. They would be able to help Sophia. The police would punish the football team for the prank. It made sense. If the football team didn’t have Sophia, wouldn’t it be dangerous? Why should he throw away his life? Would anyone have risked themselves for him? If no one cared or respected him, why should he do it for them? What about Jaimie? She had no one else.
Sophia might not even be alive.
Gwynn shook his head. No, that couldn’t be true. Not because he still nursed a nine year old crush, but because she had protected him. No matter how this had started, she had stepped in to take his place. Even if this was foolish, even dangerous, he had to see it through. He refused to live everyday seeing a coward in the mirror.
And as much as he tried, he couldn’t deny something up there wanted him.
Taking a hesitant step at a time, Gwynn ascended the steps and let his head breach the attic. The musty gloom made it almost impossible to see. He inched the rest of the way until he put his feet on the floor. He reached up, testing the height of the ceiling. To his left, the thing that had been tugging him called. One hesitant footstep after another took him deeper. The smell of rot assaulted him. His nose recoiled and he swallowed down a ball of sick. But he couldn’t stop. The presence in the far corner of the room beckoned.
Approaching the source, he noticed a faint glow. He faced a tall, floor length mirror. The glass showed not his reflection, but instead a swirling maelstrom thrashing beneath the surface of the glass. Gwynn reached out to touch it.
Something smashed into his mid section, sending him sprawling 20 feet in the opposite direction. Gwynn hit the ground hard and gasped as something snapped in his chest. Every inhalation stabbed his chest, and the ragged breaths filled with sloppy wet. Something stood in front of the mirror, obscuring the hazy glow.
The thing stood at the height of a man and had a similar build. Its eyes revealed the creature’s inhuman nature; yellow eyes, glowing, feline and starved. The thing growled low, and then stuttered in what seemed a laugh.
“More…fresh…good.” The voice rasped; like bones being ground together.
Death stood before him. He stretched out his right arm, reaching for anything he might grab hold of to defend himself. He couldn’t tear his eyes from the monster that seemed to enjoy letting its prey panic. His hand pressed up against something. In the dim light, he couldn’t make out the details, but a deeper instinct sensed familiarity in it. He pushed harder. It tore.
Like an electrocution, a jolt of fiery white rushed through his veins and flooded his senses. Something old and primal rose within him and took control. No longer hesitant, he twisted his arm so that it tore and then pushed into whatever he held.
Gwynn howled in sudden agony with the sensation of a thousand knives carving the flesh of his arm. Even as that pain consumed him, a sensation of strength poured from his heart to his extremities. His muscles flexed and expanded, his vision adjusted to the darkness, making the attic bright as a midday afternoon.
Now the details of the thing across the room were clear. While it had a body shaped like a man, it had a disfigured face. Its jaw had elongated to accommodate a mouth full of long razor teeth. Grey, rotted flesh hung limp from its bones. Gwynn understood he should feel terrified. Here was all the monsters he had ever been told didn’t exist come to life. Instead, adrenaline pumped a joyful high through his system. He laughed. He wanted to fight. He wanted to sink a blade deep into this monster’s heart. He just had to wrest his arm free of whatever still pinned it.
The creature’s face contorted with intense anger, and maybe an element of fear. When the beast spoke, it said one word. “Anunnaki.”
The beast charged.
Gwynn pulled at his arm, demanded it be free. Whatever held it tried to draw him deeper, like fighting the pull of quicksand. The creature was on him, swinging its arm to take off his head. With a final heave, Gwynn freed his arm and rolled under the monster’s swing.
Too slow. The beast’s foot landed in his back. Something popped inside Gwynn and stole his breath. The swirling mass in the mirror lay within his reach. It called to him. Tugged at him. Taunted him. Anger rose from his guts like black sick. He opened his mouth and screamed, slamming his right fist into the mirror.
The mirror exploded outward. Shards of glass bit into Gwynn’s skin. A gale wind ripped through the attic. Some of the older wood gave way and smashed outward into the night. A white–hot light popped like a flash bulb. Gwynn lifted into the air and flew at an opposing wall. He slammed into it and fell to the floor in a messy heap.
The night air rushed in through the gashes in the attic roof. The breeze felt comforting, sobering, against his flushed skin. He took a painful look around the remains of the attic. He couldn’t see the creature. In the corner across from him, he saw a form crumpled on the floor. Sophia.
He tried to crawl toward her. Pain hit him like a fist in his stomach.
“Sophia.” He croaked. She didn’t move. His vision blurred and dimmed. Gwynn collapsed to the floor. Bright flashes of red and blue from outside shone through the holes in the roof. “Help’s here Sophia. Everything…going to be—”
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