Chapter 6- Into the Darkness
I was face to face with a dark hallway. I could barely see more than five feet in front of me. The light from the headlights flashed behind me again, and I jumped, stepping cautiously further into the dark.
It smelled, not old like an old person, but definitely musty. Like someone’s basement had flooded a while ago and no one ever came back to clean it up. But there was something else. It had a weird gut feeling attached to it that I couldn’t place. My nose twitched and squirmed against it, like I couldn’t control its hesitance, warning me without telling me what was wrong.
The lights from the headlights flared yet again, momentarily illuminating the long expanse of empty hall that opened up in front of me, and I scurried a few feet more into the darkness. I turned slowly, hesitant to put my back to wherever the hall led. I was facing the door.
The lights had come back a third time and were now resting on the front of the house. The cloudy glass on the door was giving it a foggy, sort of ghost-like appearance and I wanted nothing to do with it. But that smell just kept crashing into my thoughts. I knew I had nowhere to go but into the hall, but that smell was definitely not a welcoming one.
Or was it? I took another step back when I heard a car door close. It seemed…familiar. I could hear the footsteps echoing across the yard, and I reached for a wall when my heartbeat started to hum in my chest.
I had backed up so far into the darkness now that I couldn’t see the light any more. I couldn’t even see it around the corner I had just rounded. It was like the darkness had swallowed me up. I was cool with that, for the time being, at least. If something weird was going on with this house, maybe it was trying to help me. Maybe the smell was to frighten intruders. Every time I breathed in, my skin got that creepy-crawly sort of vibe. But that was it. I certainly wasn’t going to rob the house of anything; I don’t think anyone has lived here in years. And for some reason, I felt like that whatever was behind that smell wasn’t going to hurt me.
The footsteps heading across the deck made me freeze mid-breath. They were coming towards the door, but I didn’t move. My heart jumped into my throat, and I was snapped back to the present.
I hadn’t intentionally hurt anyone. I didn’t mean for anything to go wrong.
My palms began to sweat. But still I didn’t move. The door opened.
I heard it creak. It was a drawn out, slow, sickening sound.
I took a step back. The hinges were groaning, protesting, screaming. My face scrunched and my shoulders rose with the tingling screech. I took another step back. Faster this time.
It was like the creaking door was practically shouting out a warning. I clenched my hands, barely breathing, as I continued my nearly-silent attempt at retreating.
The door bumped against its frame a moment later and the creaking stopped. I think I heard an exhale of relief from somewhere ahead of me. I inwardly groaned. I couldn’t count on the scraping of the rusted hinges to tell me where they were, now.
My jaw cracked under the pressure from my clenched teeth, forcing my face to scrunch against the loud pop it made that practically echoed down the hallway away from me.
I heard a startled intake of breath in response.
There was suddenly a web of cloth beneath my feet as I tripped over my shoelaces, and I almost came crashing down. Arms flapping in big circles; legs making big, deliberate steps to avoid the stumbling clatter; eyes really wide, and mouth and neck stretched thin in a recoil.
Once I had regained my balance, I listened, swallowing. I stepped back again, hoping my shoe made no sound. Maybe they hadn’t heard me. I felt myself cringing in case they had. It was so quiet in here; the rubber sole was, thankfully, hushed by the carpet. But they were bound to have heard me. I’d almost fallen on my face. No one can do that without a little noise.
But I didn’t hear anything. Not even the footsteps anymore.
The footsteps were obviously trying to be as quiet as I was, but as I continued backing deeper into the twists of the hall, it was like there was an echo around me. Or speakers—surround sound. This hall was ridiculously long—like a maze.
There was no way the walls of the maze could be thin enough for me to hear the footsteps now. I was too far from them. But in that instant, it was like the speakers had been cranked to high. I heard them now as clear as if they were in front of me. As if they were walking on an aged wood floor. But I still couldn’t hear mine. Just like before, I felt like I’d been swallowed up, consumed by the darkness of the maze. It was like I wasn’t really here. Like they were chasing a ghost.
So maybe they hadn’t heard me before.
Catching my breath, I had this sudden urge to glance behind me into the nothingness. I swore I could’ve felt someone behind me. It hadn’t been a brush of fabric against me that made me look. It hadn’t even been the sound of someone breathing. I just couldn’t get the feeling that someone was watching me from behind out of my head.
The footsteps ahead of me abruptly quickened, and I jerked in surprise, almost losing my footing again.
They’re going to find me, I thought, heart racing. Any second now, they’re going to collide with something they can’t see and will probably shoot me.
I didn’t want to forget about whatever was behind me, though. I knew I could be walking right into something even more dangerous. I’d just run into this house without thinking. Well, I’d put more thought into hiding in this place than anywhere else I ever had, at least. And now karma was going to be a bitch. I’d thought something through, and now karma was going to bite me in the ass.
I’m so grateful.
There was only more blackness, but when I looked back, I was sure I could see something. A shape.
I felt a hand on my ankle. I tried to yank my foot away—stifling my squealing mouth with both my hands, pulling with as little noise as I could. Biting my hand to keep from screaming when the hand tightened.
The footsteps were coming closer. My eyes scrunched closed. I tried to get leverage by leaning away. Heaving at my captured leg with my hands.
Closer. The footsteps had rounded the corner that was only a few feet in front of me.
I didn’t want to touch the hand, but my heart was constricting my throat with its wrenching throbs. I wasn’t going to escape this time. I needed to get away. I had to get away.
Suddenly, the hand let go and I was falling. I was tumbling through thick, cold air in cartwheels. The hole—a darkness brighter than the darkness I was falling through—zoomed past my vision each time I was right-side up. I spun a total of six times before the breath whooshed out of me when I landed in a crumpled heap, a poof of something settling over me like sawdust.