Alex had set the alarm for five o’clock; an hour earlier than usual. This would give him a small jump on some research. He decided to start with the history of the neighborhood.
Floral Park was a fairly quiet town, so any news was big news— which was why he was surprised when he spotted a small paragraph about a devastating house fire in 1932. The inferno had ignited in the bitter cold month of January, the ice and snow fatefully slowing the response time of the fire department. The blaze raged through the south part of the house while the family lay sleeping. A father and his young son were able to get out, but rescuers were unable to reach his wife and daughter, who perished in the flames.
Alex jumped when an abrupt knock at on the door startled him. “Come in.” He swiveled his chair to face the doorway. “What’s up,
“I wanted to talk to you. You know I’m pretty lenient and give you space, but I got a call from the school yesterday. They said you missed math class a couple of times last week. Is there something going on? Are your shots making you sick? Because the doctor said any side-effects, and he...”
“No, everything’s fine. I’m not getting sick or anything. I missed math class because I had a really bad headache again. Not from my meds; it’s like a sinus thing. You said you were getting them, too.”
“I have been, and I think if they persist, we’re both going to the doctor. No more missing class without telling me. Got it?” His mom glared.
“Yes, I got it. I’ll tell you next time. I promise.”
“I’ve got a conference call this morning, so I’ll be home for a few hours. In case anyone feels the need to come home sick.” She narrowed her eyes. “Also, your dad’s driving Wilby straight to school this morning. So if you were counting on him to swing by and pick you up, it’s not happening.”
“It doesn’t matter; I was planning on taking the bus.”
“Okay, watch the time and don’t be late. I won’t be able to stop the call to take you. Have a great day, Bella Mia.”
Alex turned back to the computer screen. It had gone dark, and he could see his reflection. Leaning in, he rubbed his hand over his jawline and chin. Smooth as a baby’s butt. He frowned and went back to his search.
Scouring the internet for more information, he stumbled on the actual article from the front page of the Floral Park Community Review paper. Now this makes more sense. A house fire would have been on the tip of everyone’s tongue in town. As he read the details, Alex stiffened. It was the first of a series of horrors that plagued the small community that year. There was a string of unusual and deadly occurrences beginning with the fateful one in January and rampaging over the next several months until their abrupt ending on October thirty-first. Chills raced up the middle of his back as he looked away from the screen. He must have read it wrong. He had to have. He took a breath and
looked at it again. The address of the fire that spawned the beginning of horror for the once quiet neighborhood was fifty-five Geranium Ave… his house.
Alex stood up and, pushing the chair back, he stepped away from the computer as if the very act would somehow erase the words he had read. Impossible. His house began the terror for the people in town that year. It was the root cause for the avalanche that would follow. This was confusing. He hadn’t felt anything evil or negative. Why wasn’t his know picking up on this? His ability to see the dead, feel the paranormal energy around him, never failed. It had to mean something. Alex didn’t believe in coincidence; he had witnessed too many things. There was always a reason—always.
He glanced at his phone. It was 6:15, and he needed to run. He grabbed his jacket off the doorknob, threw his backpack on his shoulder, and raced to catch the bus. He made it just as the yellow metal carriage was about to pull away. Good thing Gloria liked him. She had been the driver for the high school for about twenty years. Kids would come and go, and she could remember every one of their names. She started watching out for Alex shortly after he started the ninth grade. That was an exceptionally hard year for him. The physical changes started to get more prevalent, and the occasional ignorant comments by some of the other kids really started to get to him. Gloria would distract him with stories about all the odd things she’d seen in her years of driving. Alex welcomed the reprieve from dealing with the inevitable closed minds, and when he started seeing the doctor and getting on track, things settled down. Mostly.
“Morning, Gloria. Thanks for waiting for me.”
“Okay, Alex, get your late self behind the line and in a seat.
Honestly, you’re gonna be late for your own funeral.”
Alex grinned and sat in the empty seat right behind her. “Any news?” Alex knew if there was something new to be heard about things going on in town, Gloria was the go-to.
“You mean anything new since the gruesome death of Mr. Earley yesterday? Nope. That would be enough for now. Don’t you agree?” She peered at him through the rear-view mirror. Gloria was one of the few people in town who knew about Alex’s spidey sense.
“Agreed.” Alex slouched down in his seat, put his ear buds in, and switched on some Arctic Monkeys. It helped him think. He watched the houses whisking by and couldn’t help thinking, who would be next?
He turned his head to glance at the empty seat across from his. Well, empty to everyone else. He nodded to the young girl dressed in a cheerleader’s uniform, and she smiled back. He shivered, but the goosebumps were at a minimum. Heather Johnson had been dead for fifteen years. She was killed in a hit and run on the way to school, and they never caught the driver. Alex suspected that was why she stayed. Never hurting anyone, Heather would ride the bus from her parents’ house to school every day. He tried to help her a few times, but she wasn’t ready to cross over.
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.
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