Chapter 18: Downstairs

When John regained consciousness, he thought he was in his own bed in his apartment in the city. Anna was under the blankets next to him, whispering something. John rolled over to take her in his arms…

But his hands closed over empty air, and his head throbbed as it moved against unforgiving stone. He opened his eyes and panicked; I’m blind! I hit my head and now I’m blind!

The darkness was paralyzing. He staggered upright and held his hands out, trying to get his bearings. His feet scuffed along a damp floor—somehow, he’d lost one of his shoes—encountering little things that rattled as they were kicked aside. The longer he wandered, the more he worried he’d never find his way out. Something rose in his throat. Would anyone hear me if I screamed?

Then he remembered wasn’t alone. Alexander was here somewhere.

A noise came from the darkness: a rustle of cloth and a soft tap on the floor. John’s heart raced, and he groped about madly. His hands encountered something. It wasn’t stone, it wasn’t wood. It was smooth, soft, and cold.


John’s scream was smothered as his throat constricted. Invisible fingers wrapped around his own, clasped his hand in a caressing grip.

“Alexander, is that you!” John demanded.

There was a horrible pause, then a painful groan. From somewhere else, Alexander replied, “No.”

John cried as the hand gave him a tug. He tried to pull free, but the phantom grip was too strong, unyielding and cold as iron. His scrabbled against floor, sending bits of unidentifiable debris rattling into the corners. “Help me! Alexander, help me! Make it let go!”

Behind him, John heard Alexander stumbling through the darkness. “Where are you?”

John tripped over what felt like a large, rectangular stone. He fell, but his arm was held aloft by the phantom hand, which continued to pull upward. John was dragged up and over the lip of the stone, then he hit another one. It was like…stairs.

He managed to regain his footing as his hand was planted roughly against something round and metal: a doorknob. Without thinking, he turned it.

The door swung in and admitted the brilliant crimson light of the dying sun. Blinking in shock, John looked down at his hand. The memory of that icy grip remained, but there was no one, nothing.

“I found the way out,” he called dumbly to Alexander, still staring at his shaking fingers. What was that?

Alexander limped into view, squinting at the exit. “Thank heavens. Come on, let’s get out—”

He spun suddenly, peering intently into the darkness of the cellar.

“What is it?” asked John.

“I’m not sure,” came the uncertain reply, “but I have a guess. Get out, but leave the door open. I’ll follow shortly.” When John hesitated, he barked, “Now!”

John scampered out, and Alexander focused on the shadows. Something was moving, making a sound like heavy drapery being dragged across the floor. A shadow seemed to form on a far wall, darker than everything else, vaguely human-shaped.

Alexander felt the urge to run again, but he mastered himself. This is what I prepared for. I’ll not be a coward again. He reached into his coat and produced a foot-long rod of sharpened silver before advancing.

“You came for me. After all these years.”

The shadow in front of him dissolved, nothing but a trick of the inadequate light from the open door, and Alexander’s fingers froze around the handle of his weapon. His arm trembled as he willed it to move, but he couldn’t. Not with that thing standing behind him. Not with that hand stroking his cheek.

Without turning to face his new companion—his feet were stuck fast to the floor—Alexander hissed, “Your wiles won’t work on me, Stasha. I don’t—”

“Shhh,” whispered the soft female voice. “I know you don’t love me anymore. That’s alright. I found someone who does.”

A bolt shot through Alexander’s body as his mind made the connection; he wanted to struggle, but his limbs were numb. His soul was screaming, but his body had already surrendered. “You hid yourself better this time,” he murmured through parched lips, praying the death cries of his spirit would reach John before it was too late—but he knew it was already too late. She had her prey, had him from the moment she wrapped her arms around him, just as she now embraced Alexander. Her pale hands crept around his waist and up his chest, careful to avoid the crucifix that hung glistening around his neck. “Am I to be turned?” he asked.

“I wish I could,” she answered sadly. Her breath danced chill and dry across his shoulder. “But I already have a husband.”

Alexander gasped as two needles pierced the nape of his neck. Pointed fingernails began to grip his chest, to dig into the flesh and make their way agonizingly toward his heart. With her other hand she gripped his jaw and began to pull, twisting his head around until the vertebrae beneath his skull threatened to snap.

Beneath his screams, Alexander thought, At least I get to see her face one more time. His cries were silenced as his windpipe was twisted and choked off. His head neared the hundred-eighty degree mark. For a quarter second, he saw dark ripples of hair parting over a forehead as white and beautiful as a full moon. Then, with a sickening crunch, his head came loose.

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