Heading back to the kitchen was like stepping back into a different dimension. The floor squished beneath Alison’s feet, moving and twitching as she walked.
The kitchen looked different than before. Alison’s eyes widened in surprise. What was this? Reaching the top, she stopped where she was, staring at the back door in front of her. Greg stopped beside her, looking equally shocked. The fridge and stove and several other heavy appliances had been piled against the back door. “Did Mandy do this?” she asked dumbly.
“Either her or something else.”
Alison moved quickly to the living room. The scene was the same there. Broken furniture sat piled against the front door and several windows, blocking their way out. “What’s going on here?” Alison said, trying to keep her voice from shaking. It was hard to hide how nervous she felt.
Alison turned her head in time to catch a wooden projectile to the head. It struck her sharply in the side of her skull, knocking her off her feet and onto the spongy carpet. She wiped a hand over her bleeding temple. What the hell was that? Her eyes moved to the ground, searching for the object that had struck her. Lying beside her was a long piece of wood that had been broken off at one end. A table leg?
In front of her was her book bag. It had fallen off of her shoulder when she fell, the contents spilling out onto the floor. She reached for it. Her fingers had just wrapped around the strap when a liquid black puddle began to surface right by her arm. It formed slowly, filling itself up from an invisible source in the ground and growing noticeably in size.
Alison instantly let go of the bag and scooted back. What was this stuff? She watched as it began to bubble over the surface, the liquid turning itself over on the carpet.
“You okay?” Greg asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Come on,” he urged. “You gotta get out of here. Try and move the stuff blocking the door.”
“Okay.” She climbed to her feet, moving quickly toward the front door and forgetting her bag by the puddle. Bloodied strings of yarn still lay on the floor as she ran over them, the same ones cut down by her earlier. Bending down, she began grasping at the scraps of furniture in front of the door, pushing them out of her way. It was times like these that she really, really wished Greg could move solid objects.
She glanced behind her. The puddle had begun to grow tall like a person. A head formed, followed by arms and legs. It reached for Greg, grasping Greg by the neck. Greg looked as if he were struggling to get a tight enough grip on the thing, his hands slipping and sliding down the creature’s wrists. Was this it? Was this the Soulless? Would Greg be all right against it? They were able to make contact with each other. Greg could only make contact with other spirits. What did that make the Soulless then?
Turning back to the door, Alison wrapped her hands around the leg of a large table top. She pulled at it as hard as she could, dragging it from the front of the door.
When she looked behind her again, the creature was already headed towards her. Greg had disappeared. Where was he? Her eyes darted frantically around the room, trying to locate her friend. The Soulless came closer and Alison tried to move away from it. She ducked to the right, headed back for the kitchen. There had to be a way out of here. Where the hell had Greg gone?
The thing lunged for her and Alison dodged its attack. She watched as its hand slammed into the wall. The creature’s palm sunk into the soft material, burning it as it sank. When it moved its hand again, a large burnt spot was left there. It was going to do that to her, she thought, panicking. It was going to burn her.
It lunged again, and this time, Greg came rushing forward. Greg’s body appeared coming through the kitchen wall, crashing into the Soulless and knocking both of them down to the floor.
Alison hurried back to the front door in the living room. There was still furniture in the way but she had gotten rid of at least half already. She began tugging at a piece of couch. It was pushed so hard into the door that it felt as if it were practically embedded into the wood.
She jumped as Greg’s body went flying right past her, soaring straight through the wall and sending him outside. She felt even more surprise when she saw the burn marks covering his body before he disappeared from sight. But how? Did that mean that the Soulless could hurt Greg? How could something injure a dead man?
Silently, she hoped he’d stay outside and leave her alone to take care of herself. He didn’t have to get hurt for her sake. It’d be stupid of him.
The Soulless came at her. She dodged another swipe from its arms. It reached for her again and again. Alison began running. There was nowhere to go. All of the exits were blocked. She felt herself panicking. It kept coming at her. It chased her toward the upstairs staircase. She ran as fast as she could up the steps, trying to avoid the creature’s burning flesh. Every step it took left charred prints in the carpet. Was it trying to lead her to a dead end? How could it? Everywhere was a dead end in this place.
Greg appeared again, grabbing the Soulless from behind and dragging it back down the steps. Why Greg keep coming back? She felt worried for his safety. They had to get out of there.
Were the windows upstairs clear? Could she jump from the window if it was? She reached the second floor. To her dismay, every window in front of her looked the same as the ones below. Broken dressers and pieces of a bed and mattress were crammed into each window frame. Racing into a bedroom, she began digging at the window closest to her, clawing at wood and broken glass from the blocked frame. She inhaled sharply as a long, protruding nail snagged her hand, the steel tip cutting her deeply from the center of her palm down to her wrist.
“Shit,” she muttered, grasping the cut tightly in her good hand. Blood ran from the large wound. Trying to ignore it, she went back to pulling at the objects blocking her way out.
She felt something as it began wrapping around her arms and ankles. Before she could think, she was ripped backwards. She let out a grunt as she landed roughly on her back. The strings that had wrapped around her were the same bloodied threads that Alison had cut down in the living room. The same threads that had held Emily the night she died.
Alison felt overwhelmed with disbelief as more yarns snaked their way towards her on the carpet. The ones that held her now wrapped tighter and tighter, moving up her arms and legs. She struggled to sit up as she tore at them with her fingers.
She felt terrified. How was this possible? How could this be happening? Her mind went back to what Death had told her before. The unnatural was becoming natural. Was this what he had meant?
She tore fiercely at the threads around her ankles. The Soulless appeared again at the top of the staircase, turning to look at her on the bedroom floor. It came toward her, its liquid limbs moving like jelly as it walked. It left a trail of burned footsteps behind it.
Alison freed her ankles and stumbled to her feet. She stepped back, her body shaking. It was going to kill her. She was going to die just like Emily had. The strings around her arms still crawled up her shoulders, slithering their way to her neck. She ripped at one as she felt it tickle her collar bone.
The creatures stepped closely, moving slowly toward her. Its chin dropped, lowering several inches and separating from the rest of its face in a gaping mouth. A voice resonated from its throat, thick, as if it were chocking on its own words. “You are not Blessed.”
She stared at it. It could talk? Her eyes darted nervously to the left and right of the creature’s body. The room was too small. If she tried to run past it, the Soulless would only have to lift either arm to be able to grab her. She had seen how quickly the thing was capable of moving. It had her trapped in the corner. She couldn’t fight it because its flesh would burn hers. Was this it then? Was it going to kill her?
“You are not Blessed.” It spoke again, taking another step closer. Why was it saying this? What did it want? It could’ve killed her by now if it wanted. What was it waiting for?
She glanced back to the right of it. Should she go for it? The Soulless had slowed down. Maybe it was distracted. If she caught if off guard and ran past it quick enough, it might not have the chance to react and grab her.
“No redemption.” The creature lifted its hands, covering its face. “No chance. No hope. The Blessed must die. You are not Blessed. I kill her. I kill you. Still, never comes back to me. No redemption.”
Alison tried to block out what it was saying. She didn’t know what it was talking about and she didn’t care. She darted forward, running past the Soulless. It looked dazed. It didn’t react right away. She ran past it to the staircase, taking them down two at a time. She reached the bottom. Greg was nowhere in sight. She felt her chest tighten. Where was he? Was he all right?
Something wrapped around her ankles and she tripped, landing on her stomach. Damn it! Turning her head, she found the blood encrusted yarn weaving back up her legs. The creature was moving swiftly down the stairs. Whatever funk it had been in, it had snapped out of it and its focus was clear. It was going to murder her for sure this time.
Alison backed away, using her hands and feet to crawl back a few inches. The thing was too fast. It leapt forward, landing with a crash against her chest. Its tar-like hands wrapped around her neck, crushing her throat tightly.
But it wasn’t hot?
She felt confused. What was going on? It was strangling her but it wasn’t burning her. Something was wrong. The creature’s body charred everything in the room but it didn’t hurt her. Its hands burned Emily and Greg and the walls and the carpet but not her own flesh? How could that be possible?
Still, it was strong and it was strangling her. Not hot, but she needed air. Her throat hurt. It was crushing her. She couldn’t breathe. She’d die this way. Then what? Would they find her with a belt around her neck, hanging from her bedroom ceiling? Would they call it suicide? Would Greg be the only one that knew how she had really died? Where was Greg anyway? Had he died again? Could that even happen to a spirit? Could Greg double die?
Her hands moved in front of her. She had begun beating on the creature’s slippery form. She pushed at it and clawed at its hands around her throat. It wouldn’t let go. It was like it couldn’t feel anything. Nothing she did fazed it. Her hands moved unconsciously behind her. They groped at the carpet. Something brushed against her fingers. Metal? What was it? Her hand grasped it. Swinging it forward, she found herself stabbing the blade of Emily’s athame into the center of the creature’s chest.
She felt its body as it trembled in response. Its grip around her neck loosened. Alison felt her hand pulling the blade out and stabbing it forward again. Blood came out. Red blood? Why would a Soulless monster bleed out red blood? Alison coughed, sucking in breaths of air. She stabbed it again. Blood poured from its body.
It fell forward on top of her. Heavy. Its body was heavy against her. Its hands landed on either side of her, and it pushed itself up a little. Its face hovered just above her own. She stared into its liquid black face. Its face held no features, and yet, for a second, she wondered, did it look human?
“No redemption,” it said, its head lowering. Its arms went weak. “No redemption.” Its body lost its shape. The creature melted almost instantly into a black puddle on top of her. Eventually, even the puddle lost its distinctive thickness and turned into what looked like muddy water.
Alison felt stunned by the sight. She felt overwhelmed by everything that had happened as her mind struggled to make sense of everything. Her clothing was soaked in the dirt water and the carpet around her was wet with it.
She turned her head, finding her open book bag lying beside her. The athame was still tightly grasped in her hand. That was where she had gotten the knife from. When her bag had fallen and she had left it there in her rush to escape. But how was the knife able to kill it? Would it have worked just as well with any knife? Or was it only because Emily, one of the mysterious Blessed, had given it to her?
Or perhaps Death was the reason the knife could kill the Soulless? Was Death also the reason she wasn’t burned by the creature’s fiery touch? Had Death done something to her that night he had appeared in her room and held her face?
It had said, “No redemption.” Why did it keep saying that?
“Greg.” Her mouth uttered the name before she realized what she was doing. She climbed to her feet, her eyes moving frantically around her. “Greg!”
There was no reply. Where did he go? Was he okay? She moved to the front door, making quick work of the remaining furniture stacked in front of it. When she was finished, she unlocked it and pulled it open. “Greg,” She called out once more.
It was still dark out. She couldn’t tell how long she had been there. She grabbed her bag and things and went outside.
She found Greg lying in the grass along the side of the house. He was so transparent, she almost mistook him for a small cloud of fog. She bent down, her hand reaching for his shoulder. Her hand went through his body. She hated it. Why couldn’t she touch him? Emily could. Why couldn’t she? It was frustrating. “Greg,” she said gently. “Are you okay?”
His skin was marred with burnt flesh. It was crazy. The Soulless could do this much damage to a human spirit, even when their body was long dead. She never could’ve imagined something so dangerous could exist.
He twitched. She watched as he slowly lifted his head to look at her. His mouth opened but no words came out. The image of his body began to fade. Then it disappeared.
She felt herself growing scared when he was gone. “Greg?” What had happened to him? “Greg!”
A voice whispered in her ear. It was Greg’s. “Alison. I’m spent. I can’t make myself solid enough so you can see me. I’ll come back when I’m better. I gotta rest. Don’t worry about me. I just gotta rest.”
She nodded. She had no idea if he could see her but she nodded anyway. Greg had explained to her before his thoughts on spiritual energy. He claimed that each spirit only had so much and could use it however they chose. Greg used his to stay visible to her and aware of himself. Others used theirs in completely different ways, sometimes solely to manifest their own anger and resentment into the physical form. He told her he rested at night, going into something like a hibernation period to regenerate this energy as needed. She supposed he was doing that now.
Climbing back to her feet, she gave one last glance at the house before heading to her car. “No redemption.” What an awful thing to think before dying. Even for a monster like that. It was probably a stupid thing to think now, but in a way, she actually felt bad for the heartless demon.
Would Emily be glad? She wondered. Had she done a good thing that night? She had killed Emily’s murderer, but even so, it wouldn’t bring her back. The only thing she could do was hope that wherever Emily was right now, that she wasn’t suffering.