"Andy these books better be off the table by the time I count to ten!"
"Yes, Mom," I said. I stacked my books in a pile before gathering them into my arms. The kitchen table was always decorated with a book or two, much to my mother's dismay. As was the couch. And the bottom of the stairs. And the windowsill that overlooked the backyard.
"I expect your homework to be done before dinner," she said. She pushed her bangs out of her face with her forearm, kneading dough on the counter with one floury hand. "And no reading."
"Of course, your Royal Highness Mother." I swooped one arm in a dramatic bow. The books teetered dangerously.
"Get out of here." She flicked a pinch of flour in my direction.
Hugging my books to my chest, I hurried to my room. I knew my mother secretly loved my reading. I could be getting into more dangerous things, I would tell her. At worst, I would probably need a pair of glasses long before my hair started coming out grey. That usually made her laugh.
I always kept a book on nightstand. At that moment, it was the fifth in the Harry Potter series. I ran my fingers over the smooth cover, taking in the design. Slipping the bookmark out of place, I realized I only had a few chapters left. Of this read, at least. My mother didn't seem to understand that I could read a book multiple times without ever getting bored. She debated that, as I had already read it, I knew the ending. Not exactly a vivid page turner. But I didn't read books over again for their adventure; that was what the first read was for. When I read books a second time, I could pick out details I had skimmed, the foreshadowing that had gone over my head, or create an even deeper bond with a character. The possibilities were endless. And I had read that book more times than I would ever be willing at admit.
"Neither can live while the other survives . . ." So calmly stated, but so daunting at the same time. My eyes danced over the page, soaking in every word. In a book I could get lost. The good kind of lost. A lost where there was no school, no homework, no dramatic life choices.
The lights flickered so fast the first time I thought that I had blinked. But, as I turned the page, they flickered again.
That's when someone screamed.
"Mom!" I tossed my book aside and rushed out of my room, sliding to a stop in the hallway. I heard voices, voices I didn't recognize. Something heavy hit the floor and I flinched, inching forward as quietly as I could.
"Mom?" I called out hesitantly, only to hear silence. An unearthing, shuddering silence. My pulse was racing, my heart going to burst from my chest.
The lights flickered again, faster.
Something was wrong.
Heavy footsteps pounded against the wood floor. I had to move. I slammed my bedroom door shut behind me, locking it with shaking hands. Something smashed against it and the hinges rattle. I jumped, my scream catching in my throat, and dashed for the closet. I closed the door, submerging myself in complete darkness.
"Andy." It was a man's I didn't recognize. His voice was low, almost like a growl. The doorknob to my bedroom shook. "Open the door."
Ragged breathing was the only thing that broke the silence. My breathing. I tried to stay calm. I couldn't think.
There was the pop, like someone had set off a firecracker, and the door slammed against the wall. There was the unmistakable shatter of glass and the clunking of upturned furniture. The ripping of my sheets. A clatter as the shower curtain was yanked from the wall. The hollow thud of my books hitting the floor.
And then everything stopped.
"Andy," the voice said softly. "Where are you?"
The closet door creaked open slowly. A sliver of light stretched across the carpet.
"Come on, little girl." The voice was barely above a whisper. "I don't bite hard."
I screamed as fingers closed around my ankle.