Chapter 11: Second Night

John dreamed of the mansion. He was standing outside, shivering in the dark as he stared up at its decayed face.

Why did you abandon me? it seemed to say, its voice composed of groaning timbers and howling wind. Why did you run?

The lights of Hallowdale were reflected dimly in the dirty windows like smoldering eyes. The house’s great shadow reached down the hill, spreading black fingers through the village.

Come back to me…come back to me…

Something on the hill began wailing. John couldn’t tell if it was the wind funneling through the cracks or something more sentient.

…come back to me…come back to me…

The wailing grew louder, turned into a shrill scream. John’s insides squirmed at the sound, that child’s voice crying out in pain and fear. In the doorway of the mansion, something moved: a human figure, small, just an outline of faded ink. Something darker moved behind it, drew a slender, glinting object across its neck. The screaming abruptly ceased.

Come back to me, Darling.

John sat straight up, awake. He was on the floor in Tom’s house, breathing hard—no, not breathing at all. He sucked air into his lungs and forced it back out. Glancing at Anna asleep on the bed, he could barely make out a lump under the covers. He looked the other way, out toward the rest of the house. There was no door separating their room from the living area, so he had a clear view obstructed by nothing but darkness. Then he realized some of that darkness was more solid than the rest.

Something was kneeling in the doorway.

It was just a shadow, but as soon as John saw it the shape gathered itself up, rose spiraling like a pillar of black cloud. It was indistinct, its edges bleeding into the surrounding gloom. It laughed. At least, John thought it laughed. High-pitched, almost musical, not altogether pleasant. John really couldn’t tell if he’d actually heard anything. The sound, if there even was a sound, came from everywhere and nowhere at once.

The shadow dissolved, clinging to the floor as it drifted through the house. In its wake John felt a cold emptiness, and without knowing why, he stood to follow. The shadow slipped under the front door. A moment later, the door swung open. John was assaulted by a blast of icy air, but outside he saw the shadow reforming itself, rising, reaching for the stars. He watched the ripples of its form flow through hypnotic curves. Something solid seemed to be forming, always on the verge of coalescing. Maybe if he just got a little closer he could see—

A hand appeared to his right, grabbing his shoulder before he could pass the threshold. John tore his gaze from the shadow and found Tom at his side. The man’s eyes bulged from his face and his teeth were gritted. The hand that held John was white and trembling; the other hand gripped the first by the wrist.

“Don’t,” hissed Tom. His voice was choked.

A snarl drew John’s attention back outside. The shadow was gone, and the night seemed darker.

Tom’s hand withdrew. “You have to get on that truck tomorrow,” he said. His face threatened tears, but his voice lacked emotion of any sort. “No matter what, get away from here and never come back.” Tom’s head snapped toward the door, and his face went slack. His eyes glistened, and the corners of his mouth twitched upward. “Don’t follow me. Just get yourself out.” He stepped outside, and was soon lost in the darkness.

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