Death and all His Friends

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Monsters in the basement.

“I don’t even remember a basement.” Raith told me calmly as I almost went into cardiac arrest.

“No. There has to be.” I whispered. I had never been surer of anything in my entire life. I finally understood what Raith meant when he said he just had a feeling. I was sure Lucas and Jess were in the basement. They had to be, because that’s where they found Megan.

I stood up quickly, so quickly the blood rushed to my head and I felt dizzy.

The adrenalin started pumping, along with sickening fear that had burrowed its way deep into my chest.

“Come on.” I said to Raith as I walked past him and opened the door.

The long hallway stretched out in front of me and I was worried sick that we had wasted too much time exploring this house.

I charged forward, filling my mind with thoughts of determination and atonement. I wasn’t going to lose another sister. Not again. Not ever.

Raith trailed behind me, silent as a ghost.

I was glad he didn’t speak. This was my battle to fight. He was just here for the ride.

We reached the staircase and I stomped down the stairs, my head a blur of images and half-forgotten conversations.

“No! I want new ballet shoes!”

“…my name is Mr. Red.”

“I hate you!”

“Don’t cry sweetie, the police will find Megan.”

“If only I’d…”

“He shot himself.”

“…where’s her body?”

“…found some blood and a few teeth in the basement…”

“She was kept in the basement...”

“She died in the basement…”

We were on the first floor and I walked across the carpet in a dream. My body moved without me even realising, my limbs and hands acting on their own. It was like I was watching the whole scene from outside of my body, as if I were the spectator of a twisted play.

I walked into the sitting room, my eyes barely taking in the dull green wallpaper and dusty old couches. For some reason, I knew exactly where I needed to go. My feet brought me to a small corner adjacent to a large bookcase full of leather bound novels. In front of me on the wall was a long, floor length tapestry. It was a massive thing, spanning a metre in width and depicting a soaring eagle in delicate gold and red silk.

I reached out a hand and pulled it down. The soft material fell away easily, revealing a hidden wooden doorway with a small brass handle.

Raith suddenly grabbed my arm before I could open the door.

“What?” I cried, turning to face him.

Didn’t he know we were running out of time? Didn’t he know that if I didn’t find Jess soon, I would lose her forever?

“Tegan…” Raith trailed off and stared at me, looking conflicted.

What?” I snapped. “We don’t have time for this!”

“Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen on the other side of that door.” Raith said quickly. “But if Lucas and your sister are in there, you need to grab Jess and run. Get out of here and run back to that old church.”

“I’m not going to just run away. I’m going to kill that son of a bitch!” I shouted.

Raith grimaced.

“Don’t be stupid. You know you can’t do anything to hurt him. The most important thing is to get Jess out of here. Run to the church okay?”

“What about that Requiem guy? What if he attacks us at the church again?” I argued, feeling a faint ache run across my shoulders.

Raith frowned and after a split second, put his hand in his pocket and pulled out something silver.

“If he appears, give him this.” Raith said, pressing the object into my palm. It was cold and smooth to the touch.

I looked down at it uncertainly.

It was Scara’s ring.

“How the hell is this going to protect me?” I demanded, staring at the tiny little root of all my misery.

“Requiem will be able to read the memories attached to the ring, including the one I added just now.” Raith said softly.

I continued to stare at the little object. For something so small, it was surprisingly heavy.

“What memory did you attach to it just now?” I asked.

Raith didn’t falter.

“The ring will remember the decision I’ve made at this very moment. The path I have chosen should satisfy Requiem. All this will end as long as I stop Lucas.”

I didn’t ask what decision he was talking about. There was no time for that.

Instead, I slipped the ring securely into my pocket and opened the door.

It was dark at first, but it was the stench that made me hesitate.

It smelt like rotting meat and faeces. I stumbled against the intensity of the smell, holding a hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t choke.

I stared into the darkness, feeling the weight of uncertainty knot in my stomach like a mass of cold stones.

Slowly, the lights flickered on; pale fluorescent lights that cast the steps before me in an artificial white glare.

I shut my eyes against the blinding white, the back of my eyelids flashing blue from the afterimage of the light.

Then I opened them again, feeling my heart rate increase as I saw the path before me.

I couldn’t see anything but old stone steps, leading down into the grey brick basement. The steps were misshapen and slightly crumbling, with small nooks and crannies that looked like they were the result of years of wear and tear.

There were small brown specks on the stone, like something had been spilt but never cleaned up.

“After you.” I heard Raith mutter behind me.

His voice made it suddenly seem real and I began to wonder whether he was as scared as I felt.

“Thanks for being such a gentleman.” I replied, my attempt at dry humour falling short by the way my voice cracked.

I flinched at my obvious sign of weakness.

Jess needed me to stay strong. I had to do this for her. I just had to.

Reluctantly, I took a step forward. Then another. Step by step I walked down those old stone steps, and step by step the air grew colder and staler.

The foul smell was everywhere now, making the air thick and putrid in a miasma that seemed to surround me and taint every surface it touched.

I was getting used to the smell, but it still unnerved me. My heart was thundering so hard I could hear my pulse in my ears, a steady thumpthumpthump that was almost like an ominous drum beat.

I was halfway down the steps when I saw the floor of the basement itself. The flecks of brown on the steps, which had steadily been increasing, now covered the floor in large, dark puddles.

I suddenly stopped and held both hands over my mouth, this time feeling my bile rise to my throat.

It was blood. The sticky, oozing substance was blood.

I started to tremble, shivers running along my skin, but I pushed it out of my mind. I forced all logical and rational thought as far away as possible. I kept the paralysing fear at bay, and kept walking.

I descended further and further down.

I could see the rest of the basement now; the bare grime covered stone walls mirroring the scene from my nightmare. What appalled me was the blood. It was everywhere; thick and congealing on the walls and floor and even the surface of the roof. It oozed from the ceiling and I suppressed a scream as a drop of blood dripped onto the tip of my shoe.

The panic was overwhelming now. I felt myself start to sweat, regardless of how cold my whole body felt.

My eyes scanned to the right, where there were some old crates and boxes piled up against one wall, and then to the left, taking in the dusty old window that hadn’t been used in aeons.

But then my eyes were drawn to the centre of the stone chamber, where the lone figure was waiting for us.

Lucas smiled serenely as he watched me falter in front of him. His face and spikey blonde hair was streaked with dark red; fresh and glistening against his pale skin. He was clad in a long, black cloak that dragged along the ground like a sinister cape. The edge of the material was soaked in the puddles of blood that surrounded him, as were his bare feet. His hands were clasped in front of him with his thin spindly fingers interlocked elegantly one over the other in a gesture of patience.

“Well, well, well, took you long enough.” Lucas called out to us, his voice light and carefree.

The sound grated against my ears and made every muscle in my body cramp up in sickening fear. It wasn’t me he was looking at though. His cold eyes were focussed solely on the boy behind me.

“What happened to your face?” Raith snapped abruptly, his tone harsh.

“Well that’s a rude thing to say to your mentor.” Lucas replied with false bravado.

“You were a shit mentor.”

Lucas snorted and ran a hand through his blonde hair, leaving a new trail of blood through the golden locks.

“If you must know, I was redecorating. Do you like what I’ve done with the place?” He asked nonchalantly with a glance around the blood splattered basement.

“Where’s my sister?” I shouted, surprised at how brave I sounded when I was moments away from wetting myself.

Lucas looked at me sharply, raising his eyebrows in shock like he hadn’t even noticed I was here.

“Now this is a surprise. How did you end up in Purgatory?” Lucas asked in a patronising tone.

“Go to hell.” I spat, feeling my temper rise.

Lucas just laughed a cold, hollow laugh.

“You know if you had just met me in the cemetery all those months ago, none of this would have had to happen. But you ignored my warnings and, well, here we are.” He said, sweeping his hand out in front of him.

I clenched my fists, letting my fingernails dig into my palms.

“Where is my sister?” I repeated slowly with gritted teeth.

Lucas smirked.

“Which sister?” he asked softly, his smile taunting as he stepped aside. “This sister?”

I knew what was going to happen next. It was the only way this situation could get any worse. I knew it was coming and yet, as I heard the familiar sound of her tortured cries, I was still overcome by fear and guilt.

A figure appeared from behind Lucas; a figure with dirty auburn hair, a wasted body, sallow skin and a gaunt, hollow, blood streaked face.

She approached me, hunched over with her arms outstretched; broken, grubby fingers reaching towards me.

I screamed.

I shouted.

I felt the tears spring forth from my eyes as my feet became rooted to the spot.

I was in my nightmare again, only this time I couldn’t wake up. There was no Smile holding my hand; no one to guide me out of this horrible place. There was no way I could escape.

“Tegan!” Raith shouted but I barely heard him.

All I could hear was her shallow, rattling breath as she stumbled her way towards me.

Her body was clad in rags that dragged along the ground; the dirty off-white cloth blossoming into bright red.

“Tegan! It’s a shape shifting demon! It feeds off your fear!” Raith was yelling, but his voice was too far away, easily lost.

Her wide, gaping mouth revealed broken, yellowed teeth and a dark black tongue. The stench increased; it was her breath.

I couldn’t run.

I couldn’t hide.

I was going to face what I should have faced years ago. It wasn’t fair that I got to live when she had to die. This would be her retribution. A life for a life.

“Tegan!”

Suddenly Raith was grabbing me by my arm and spinning me around roughly. His face swam into view, an expression of ultimate fear etched across his features.

“Tegan, you need to concentrate.” He said seriously.

I could see her out of the corner of my eye, her broken shuffle unwavering as she slowly closed the gap between up.

“It’s not use Raith.” I heard Lucas say from far, far away. “She’s too broken for you to fix.”

Raith started shaking me, drawing my attention back to him.

“Look, that demon over there isn’t the real Megan. It’s chaneling your fears so that you will let it devour you. I can’t destroy it because it’s tied to Jess’ soul. If I kill it then I’ll kill her too. The only way to free your sister is to stop being afraid and forgive yourself.”

Raith’s words barely made any sense to me. Even his face was beginning to blur under the tears that were clouding my eyes.

“But it’s my fault that he took her…” I mumbled.

“Haven’t you been holding on to this guilt for long enough?”

I shook my head violently.

“No. I forgot about her. I didn’t even think of her until these nightmares started again.” I sobbed.

“That’s a lie. Otherwise you would never have had these nightmares in the first place.”

“That’s because of you!” I suddenly shrieked. “You took a part of my soul! You took away my closure and solace over what had happened!”

Raith stared at me fiercely.

“I only uncovered what was there under the surface. You never dealt with her death because Smile was always there protecting you. But now you’re on your own and to get through this, you need to accept that it isn’t your fault.”

“He thought she was me!” I cried, feeling my face heat up in anger. He didn’t understand. He would never understand.

“No one could have known what he was thinking! He was insane. Megan loved you. She wouldn’t blame you for this!”

“I brought him into our lives.” I said softly.

“But you never wanted this to happen. Megan knew that. That’s why she sent Smile to look after you, only it’s not as easy as that. Megan forgave you a long time ago. You need to forgive yourself.”

“I can’t!” I screamed and pushed him away from me violently. He stumbled backwards and made as if to come towards me again, only to stop when Lucas suddenly appeared in front of him.

“Alright, chat time is over. We have some unfinished business.” He said with a savage smile. Then he ran at Raith and they both disappeared.

I forgot about them immediately and turned back to my sister. She was only inches away from me, her shallow breaths hot on my face and her soulless eyes penetrating my own.

“You did this to me.” She groaned slowly.

“I’m so sorry.” I sobbed, unable to control my emotions anymore. I was weeping, tears pouring from my eyes as the old wound in my heart was torn open again.

“You did this to me!” she shouted even louder, her voice tortured and strained.

“I know.” I cried, staring into her dull brown eyes which mirrored my own.

I couldn’t run from her anymore. She was my sister. She was my twin.

“I’m so sorry.” I said again as her hands reached for my neck. “If I could go back, I’d never talk to Mr. Red. I’d never steal you ballet shoes. I’d make him take me instead of you.”

I suddenly embraced her, holding her thin broken body against my own. She let out a shriek and sunk her teeth into my neck and I screamed against the pain.

Blinding flashes of white rippled across my vision and I sobbed.

I could see a beach cast in warm orange light. There were two girls playing in the sand, building a sand castle in the setting sun.

They were laughing together, identical smiles on identical faces.

It felt like the energy was being sucked out of me. I felt weak and dizzy. Pain throbbed through my body as her teeth sliced deeper and deeper into my flesh.

“Tegan! Look what I found!” one of the girls said, holding up a pearly white shell.

“Wow Megan! You’re always so lucky!” the other girl said, looking envious at her sister’s new found treasure.

“I’m sorry Megan.” I whispered as I buried my head into the tangled auburn hair of the creature clinging to me.

“I’m only lucky because you’re here by my side!” The first girl said with a bright smile.

“No way. You’re the perfect twin.” Her sister sulked.

I felt my knees give way as all the energy left my body. I fell to the ground and crouched there as the monster hung on to me, its teeth clenched around my neck as it drained my life away.

The first girl tackled the other in a massive hug that left both of them sprawled across the warm sand.

“I couldn’t do anything without you Tegan. We’ll be best friends forever.” Megan said with a smile as bright as the sun above them.

“Forever?” her sister asked.

“Forever and ever, no matter what.”

“I love you Megan.” I gasped, as my head started to droop.

Forever and ever.

“I love you…”

…ever and ever.

“Megan…”

“Megan forgave you a long time ago.”

It hurts.

“She sent me to protect you, because she knew you had to be saved from yourself.”

Everything hurts.

It’s not your fault.

I’m so very tired.

“You’re my best friend.”

So tired of feeling like this.

“Let’s never be apart.”

It was like I was sinking slowly into cold water. Everything became dull and blue. All the tension eased out of my muscles and I felt the cold ripple across my skin. Above me was the shimmery, shiny surface of the water, only I was looking up at it from below.

“It makes me sad when you’re mad at me.”

I could see her face, staring down at me through the water. She was trying to tell me something but the waves across the surface of the pool made it hard for me to see. I tried to move closer to the surface but my body was too heavy.

“Promise we’ll be together forever?”

Her face was becoming clearer. She looked sad. She was shaking her head. Was she crying?

“Let’s not fight again.”

Why was she crying? Why was she sad when I was doing this for her?

“I love you Tegan.”

I was crying but as soon as my tears shed, they were lost in the water.

“I love you so much. Please don’t do this.”

Her words suddenly echoed all around me, stronger than the water flooding my ears. It shattered the strange void of dull silence in my head and the world sharpened around me.

“I love you Megan.” I whispered. “And Megan loved me, which is why you’re not my sister.” My voice became louder and I felt my limbs start to shake.

Everything was becoming clearer now. The water was receding and I felt the lethargy leave my limbs.

“Megan would never do this to me, Megan would never blame me for this.” I said, opening my eyes and placing my hands on the bony shoulders of the creature in front of me.

“You’re not my sister and what happened wasn’t my fault!” I bellowed.

I pushed the thing away from me and it went flying across the floor, its teeth ripping out of my neck in a spray of blood and spittle.

I let out a cry against the pain, a hand flying to my neck. The monster’s teeth had left a large gaping hole right above my collar bone and my hand soon became sticky and warm with gushing blood.

I glanced up at the creature lying a few metres in front of me, crumpled on the floor with its eyes glaring in my direction.

“You killed me.” It said, its voice suddenly crystal clear. It was the voice of Megan, a voice that I hadn’t heard in five years. But it wasn’t Megan. I could see that now.

“No I didn’t. It was Mr. Red. Megan knew how much she meant to me, and she also knew that I would never wish anything like that to happen to her.” I said, glaring down at it.

The thing suddenly rose to its feet in one fluid motion and I jumped back in shock.

“I will never forgive you. You have no idea what he did to me.” It moaned in the voice of my sister.

It floated towards me, its feet an inch off the ground.

I grabbed it by the shoulders, trying not to shudder at how cold the skin felt under my fingertips.

“I blamed myself for too long. She wouldn’t want me to live this way anymore.” I whispered fiercely. “You can’t trick me anymore. You are not Megan!” I bellowed.

The creature suddenly collapsed and I fell with it, dragged down by the weight of her body. I fell on top of her and as I struggled to get to my feet, something strange happened.

She began to change. Her hair became lighter and fuller, and her dirty auburn locks changed into a rich golden hue. She began to gain weight; her thin, bony limbs becoming larger and more healthy looking. Her skin lost the strange yellow shade that made her look so sickly, and her ragged clothing morphed into a tight T-shirt and pink denim shorts.

I stood up and stared in upmost shock as her face changed from the ghastly, gaunt mask of the monster and into the soft, terrified features of Jess.

“Tegan?” She whispered, her bottom lip trembling.

“Oh my God, Jess!” I cried. I fell to the floor again and wrapped my arms around her in a tight embrace.

Jess sobbed into my shoulder, her whole body shaking as she cried.

“I was so scared.” She whimpered. “That thing, it felt like I was trapped inside it, watching everything happen but…but powerless to do anything!”

“It’s okay now.” I soothed, squeezing her even more. “I’m sorry all this happened. I’m sorry I got you into this.”

Jess pulled away from me so she could see my face.

“No Tegan, I’m sorry I’ve been ignoring you for the past week. I didn’t know how much you were hurting inside. I didn’t know you blamed yourself for what happened to Megan.”

She looked like she was about to burst into tears so I shook my head quickly.

“It’s all in the past now.” I said, clearing my throat awkwardly. I was never really good with this sentimental stuff, or with people apologizing to me since I was usually the one in the wrong.

Jess smiled at me brightly.

“Well thank you for coming to save me. You’re the best big sister ever!” She beamed.

I hugged her a little longer, just basking in the moment. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I couldn’t believe that Jess was alive and well, right here in front of me.

Eventually she started to fidget under my vice-like hug so I had to let her go.

Then we both stood up and looked around the empty basement.

“Jess, what happened to Cory?” I asked as my eyes drifted to the blood sprayed across the floor.

Jess’ face suddenly became stony.

“He came to the house with Lucas looking for you, but when I told him you weren’t here, he seemed to go crazy. He kept shouting that he needed to see you and I thought he would trash the house or something, but then Lucas put a hand on his back and he instantly calmed down. Then they forced their way in and…” her voice cracked and she looked away.

“You don’t have to tell me.” I said softly, feeling my heart break at the haunted look on Jess’ face.

She started to sniffle but managed to remain in control.

“When he was at the house, Lucas seemed to be controlling him.” She said blankly. “Cory wasn’t himself. I don’t think he’s been himself for a while. His sister’s death did something to him and I think that allowed Lucas to gain control.”

I nodded, feeling nauseous. I had started dating Cory almost immediately after his sister’s death. Had he been unstable the whole time? Had Lucas been planning this all along?

Jess was going to say something else but she stopped when we heard a strange noise.

It was the sound of whispering.

Jess and I froze, our eyes darting to the corner of the room where the shadows seemed to twist and grow.

“Things live here.”

“What kind of things?”

“Bad things of a demonic nature.”

The shadows were dark, so dark that they seemed to suck all the light out of the room and into the gaping black abyss.

They stretched out towards us, dark tendrils creeping forward like long black fingers.

I suddenly remembered what Raith had told me.

“You need to grab Jess and run. Get out of here and run back to that old church.”

The whispering grew louder but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. It seemed to come from all around me; a strange hissing nonsense that grew louder and louder.

“Tegan, what’s going on?” Jess asked nervously, her eyes darting back and forth as the shadows twisted and turned like black smoke.

“I don’t know but we need to go. Now.” I said.

I tore my eyes away from the hypnotising darkness and grabbed Jess’ hand, leading the way up the stairs and back through the hidden door.

Something wasn’t right. I had the horrible feeling that something awful was going to happen.

The sitting room was quiet and dark; the lights much dimmer than before.

I looked around warily, expecting something to jump out at me at any second.

“What’s wrong?” Jess asked as she watched me glance around suspiciously.

“Nothing. Let’s keep moving.” I mumbled.

I dragged her back into the hallway but we stopped when we reached the front door.

“What’s that sound?” Jess asked.

I hadn’t noticed it at first but Jess was right, there was a weird noise coming from the front door; like a scratching sound.

“I wonder what it is.” Jess said, chewing on her nails thoughtfully as she walked across the foyer.

“No Jess! Don’t open the…”

Before I could finish my sentence, Jess pulled open the door and shrieked as something dark leapt at her.

I screamed as she fell backwards with a crash onto the hard floorboards, barely managing to push away a large, rabid, two headed dog.

“Jess! Oh my God!” I cried, running at her and trying to pull the dog back before it attacked her again.

“Get it away!” Jess screamed as one of the heads bit into her leg while the other nipped at my fingers.

I tugged at its body as hard as I could but the beast was too strong for me.

Giving up, I looked around for the nearest object I could see.

There was a heavy brass oil lamp lying on one of the display tables by the door so I grabbed it and swung the object into the hairy brown torso of the dog.

It yelped in pain and released my sister, only to snarl and run at me.

I swung the lamp again, catching it in the muzzle. The beast fell sideways and landing with a thump on the wooden floorboards just in front of the open door.

Before it could get back up, I ran towards it and kicked it as hard as I could, the heavy torso barely budging under the force of my small foot.

“Help me Jess!” I cried, slamming the lamp onto the head of the beast as it began to struggle.

It yelped in pain and blood sprayed all over my face and clothes.

Jess ran to my side and together we managed to push the dog through the front door.

As soon as it was over the threshold, I slammed the door shut and double bolted it, resting my back against the sturdy wood as I tried to catch my breath.

Jess stared at me, also breathing hard as she crouched down and gripped her bleeding ankle.

Even before my eyes it was already starting to heal.

I put a hand on my neck, where there should have been a gaping hole from where the demon in the basement bit me. Instead, I felt nothing but smooth skin under the crust of dried blood.

I suddenly remembered that Raith had said something about wounds healing faster here.

That may be true but it still didn’t make me feel any better.

Once my heart beat was under control, I slowly stood up and pulled back the curtain over one of the window panes next to the door.

As I peeked through the window, I felt my face drain of blood.

There, pacing powerfully in front of the house, were several large, two headed dogs. They were big, at least a metre in height, with short, dark brown fur that did little to hide the contours of their ribs showing through their thin dark skin. The hunger in their eyes burned as I watched them, and their mouths were pulled into a snarl that revealed white teeth that looked as sharp as knives. Usually I loved dogs, but these things were the size of small horses and looked nothing like any dog I had ever seen.

“Shit.” I swore, watching as one of the dogs started walking towards the front of the house, where I could see its injured companion lying immobile.

“What are we going to do?” Jess whimpered, staring at me with wide, fearful eyes.

“Jess, we have to get out of here.”

It was as if my words had broken the strange quiet spell over me, because suddenly everything became clearer but a lot more dangerous.

“Come on.” I said, turning and walking back down the hallway. I approached the arched doorway at the end of the corridor, where I could see the distinct white tiles of the kitchen.

The lights flickered on as soon as I entered the room, and I paced across the dirty white marble tiles towards the kitchen bench.

“What are you looking for?” Jess asked as I pulled open drawer and after drawer.

“The knives.” I muttered, finally finding the right drawer. I pulled it out and emptied it onto the wooden table, the clatter of metal on metal almost piercing in the still silence of the room.

“Pick one.” I commanded, grabbing the largest, sharpest knife I could see.

Jess stared at me like a lunatic and I wanted to scream in frustration.

Freaking hell Jess, grab a knife! We need to go!” I yelled.

Suddenly we heard a scratching at the front door, following with a series of low growls.

That seemed to get through to Jess, because she suddenly grabbed a heavy cleaver from the pile held it tightly in her small hand.

“Now what?” she asked.

“Now, we leave.” I said.

We crept back out of the kitchen and towards the front door.

The dogs were now throwing themselves at the door, each loud thump accompanied by a high pitched whine. It wouldn’t be long until they figured out that they could get through the windows lining the door a lot easier than the door itself.

“What do we do? They’re blocking our way out.” Jess whispered beside me, practically gnawing on her nails like she was eating her last meal. It was kind of gross.

“I don’t know.” I whispered back, my heart sinking as I realised that I had no idea if this house even had a back door.

I felt hopeless. I couldn’t believe it was going to end like this. After everything I had been through, after facing my own personal demons and finding Jess, it couldn’t just end like this.

“Oh my God, Tegan!” Jess suddenly cried, grabbing my arm in excitement.

“What?”

“There’s a window in the basement! We could smash it and crawl out!”

I stared at my sister in absolute wonder.

“Jessica Susan Michaels, you are a genius!” I yelled, feeling a small seed of hope spring up in my mind.

“Yea, I know.” Jess said with an arrogant smirk. I just rolled my eyes and pushed her towards the sitting room.

Before I followed, I quickly picked up the bloody oil lamp I had left by the door, just in case it came in handy.

Then I walked back into the sitting room.

“What’s wrong?” I asked when I saw Jess just standing, staring at the hidden door.

“I changed my mind. I don’t want to go down there again.” She said softly, her expression frozen in a state of fear.

I juggled the heavy brass lamp and the long knife in one hand so I could put my other hand comfortingly on her shoulder.

“It’ll be okay.” I said, hoping to sound more confident than I felt. “We can do this as long as we stay together.”

Jess sighed and nodded.

“If you say so Tegan.” She said resignedly.

Then Jess reached out and pulled the door open.

We moved quickly, shuffling down the misshapen stone steps even before the lights were fully on. The stench made me grimace but I put it out of my mind, focusing on the task at hand.

By the time it was bright enough to see, we had made it to the bottom of the staircase.

The basement still sent chills down my spine and the splatter of blood on every surface made the bile rise to my throat.

Jess seemed to have a similar reaction because she gagged and held a hand to her mouth.

There were bloody footprints all over the floor and it made me sick looking at them. Instead, I averted my eyes and focussed on the grime covered window.

It was a narrow, rectangular shape that was wide enough and long enough for someone to crawl through on their stomach.

“Help me move some crates over.” I said to Jess as I approached the window and stood on the tips of my toes so I could reach up and try to open it.

The hinges were stiff and rusted shut and no matter how much I pushed and shoved, it wouldn’t open.

Jess began to hurriedly build a tower of crates that we could stand on, while I continued to push at the dusty old window.

The sudden sound of breaking glass somewhere above us made us both freeze.

“Tegan, could you, like, hurry up and open the window?” Jess basically screamed at me.

“I’m trying!” I shouted back, using all my strength and still not able to make the metal hinge budge.

“God, move over.” Jess snapped, pushing me aside so she could try her hand at it. I was more than willing to let her take over, stepping down and looking around the desolate basement.

That’s when I noticed it.

There was something in the corner, something really dark.

I squinted at it, feeling my skin grow cold as I remembered why we left the basement in the first place.

What happened to those strange whispering shadows?

I took a small step forward and stayed rooted to the spot. I had seen enough horror movies to know never to run headfirst into stingy dark corners.

Slowly, I was able to make out large dark tendrils of black substance clinging to the walls, stemming from a pitch black centre.

The more I stared at it, the more the substance seemed to move; as fluid and dark as the shadows that surrounded it.

I began to hear the whispers again, softly at first but louder and louder with every passing second.

The mass of darkness began to move, its strange tenticles growing as its surface began to twist strangely.

Uncertainly, I took another step forward and felt my mouth fall open.

I was wrong. The surface of the darkness wasn’t twisting. The movement I was seeing was the result of a million little black mouths opening and closing, whispering things I didn’t understand.

What the flip is that?” I screamed, stumbling backwards into the pile of crates that Jess was standing on.

“Watch it you moron!” She cried, almost losing her balance.

“Jess, what the flip is that dark thing with all the mouths in the corner?” I yelled at her.

“Dark thing with mouths?”

Jess looked around at where I was pointing and snorted.

“Stop trying to scare me. It’s just a shadow.” she said calmly.

“Take a closer look.”

Jess got off the crates and wandered over to the thing.

“I don’t see anythi-holy shit!

Jess squealed and ran back towards me, her eyes terrified.

“Tegan, we need to get out of here!” she screamed.

“Just a shadow right?” I said teasingly.

“Shut up and break the glass!”

I followed her advice and swung the heavy oil lamp into the window. The horrible crash echoed around the room and I cringed at the loud noise.

The whispers suddenly intensified and I felt the dark presence grow in the room.

I looked over my shoulder and felt my stomach drop.

The black thing had expanded; its thin, spindly tentacles reaching out further and further as its dark core seemed to grow. The mass was pulsing now, moving up and down like it was breathing.

“Do it again.” Jess said quickly, panic written all over her face.

I swung the lamp again and again into the glass window, watching as the crack across the thick glass became bigger and bigger. It stretched across the surface of the window like a large silvery spider web, but the glass still wouldn’t break.

“Tegan…” Jess moaned. “The dogs have found us Tegan.”

I looked back and wanted to shoot myself in the head for not closing the basement door behind us.

There, at the top of the set of stone stairs, were the three massive two headed dogs.

I expected them to attack us but for some reason they stayed there, staring down at us with large red eyes.

“Why aren’t they moving?” I whispered.

“They’re afraid of that thing in the corner. God, Tegan, hurry up!” Jess wailed.

I turned away and smashed the lamp over and over again into the window.

Finally, it shattered and I let out a triumphant cry.

“Come on Jess!” I shouted, knocking the rest of the glass out of the window pane and grabbing my sister’s arm.

Jess threw her knife through the opening and then stuck her arms and head after it.

“You’re so heavy!” I complained and I tried to lift up her flailing feet as she clawed her way forward through the window.

“Shut up!” Jess screamed, managing to wriggle her whole torso out of the basement.

When she was completely out, I passed her my battered up oil lamp and knife.

“Is it safe out there?” I called to her as I stuck my arms through the opening, followed by my head.

“I don’t see anything.” She replied, grabbing my hands and trying to pull me out.

I got the first half of my body out but just as I was trying to crawl forward on my forearms, something wrapped around both my ankles.

It was like a slimy rope covered in a billion insects that were gnawing on my skin, only with teeth as sharp as needles.

“Jess! Help me!” I shrieked as the thing started pulling me back into the basement.

“Tegan!”

Jess grabbed my hands and tugged but the thing’s grip was too strong.

I screamed again as the tentacle wrapped even tighter around my legs, making my feet become numb with the lack of blood.

I thrashed around, trying to kick the thing while Jess sobbed, her hands about to slip from my own.

Desperate, I swung my legs up so that my ankles smashed into the window pane. A sharp, stabbing pain flared across my skin and the tentacle released me, reeling back from the sudden collision.

The moment it let go, the backlash sent me skidding forward through the window and right into Jess.

We both fell backward onto the hard ground and I grimaced as my body slammed into the soft dirt

“Tegan! Are you okay?” Jess cried, her face wet with tears as she helped me up.

I stared down at my legs and cringed. There was a purple ring around my ankles, and the skin had small tears all across my feet.

“I’ll be fine.” I said quickly, picking up my knife which had been thrown in front of me in the chaos.

My moment of safety didn’t late long, because before we could even catch our breaths, I heard the sound of running feet.

Jess and I glanced around and I almost fainted.

The dogs had found us, only this time there were at least ten snarling beasts.

“Run!” Jess screamed and we took off, thundering into the forest as fast as our feet could carry us.

We sprinted through the tall trees, the darkness shrouding everything in shadow and making our path unstable and unclear. The wind rushed past me, as cold as ice and chilling everything in its path. Stray branches whipped at my bare arms and legs, slicing through my skin as finely as a thin blade. The ground was rough against my pounding feet, and my hair streamed out behind me in a mess, strands getting caught in loose bark and leaves.

My feet slipped on a patch of loose ground and I stumbled. I barely regained my balance, the moonlight making everything disorienting and strange.

I could hear the dogs behind me, barking and growling as their paws raced across the ground in pursuit.

I kept running, following Jess’ nimble figure as she sprinted through the trees. The trees were everywhere, appearing left right and centre in the green and brown blur. I could barely keep sight of my sister’s blonde hair through the wilderness. Left, right, left, right we twisted and turned through the strange maze.

My lungs started to strain, my breathing grew louder and louder and with every breath, the cold air seemed to pierce my chest. It hurt, everything hurt. My heart pounded, my limbs ached. My skin was cold.

I tripped again and this time I fell, face first into the loose dirt and leaves.

My whole body slammed hard against the ground and I felt momentarily winded, the ache spreading all over my body.

“Tegan! Get up!” Jess yelled from nearby.

I lifted my head and spat out mix of soil and twigs as I watched my sister run back towards me.

She grabbed my hands and pulled me up roughly, dragging me forward.

She was too late. The dogs had descended upon us.

Jess didn’t hesitate.

She turned around and, as the nearest beast darted forward, she swiped at it with her cleaver. The blade glided across one of the heads, slicing open a portion of the dog’s muzzle.

I dived to the ground and grabbed my own fallen knife as a second dog came at me, its razor sharp teeth glistening in the ghostly moonlight.

It leapt at me and I ran forward, swinging the knife around so that it embedded into the beast’s chest. I ripped the blade out just as a second dog attacked, its two heads snapping viciously at my hands.

There were more coming. I could hear them. There was no way Jess and I could fight off all of them.

I could see my sister now, savagely waving her knife around in a frenzy.

I was doing the same, darting left and right as two hounds tried to tear chunks of flesh out of my arm.

My foot hit something round and metallic and I looked down quickly.

It was the heavy old oil lamp that I had, for some reason, still been carrying when I had tripped the second time.

An idea suddenly struck me.

“Jess!” I shouted as I swiped at the dog nearest to me, my knife grazing its shoulder.

“What?” Jess replied, throwing herself sideways as another hound leapt at her.

“Do you have a lighter on you?” I cried, darting forward and trying to stab the neck of one of the two heads of the approached beast.

“What are you talking about? I don’t smoke.” Jess replied, her voice going several octaves higher as three more dogs started circling her.

“I’m not an idiot Jess. I can smell smoke on your clothes. Do you have your lighter or not?” I shouted, narrowly avoiding getting my face bitten off.

I saw Jess use one hand to pat her pockets out of the corner of my eye.

“Yea I do. Why?” she asked, sinking her knife into the back of one of the yelping dogs.

I dropped to the ground and swiped at the legs of the two dogs after me. They both yelped in pain and retreated enough so that I could grab the brass lamp from under them.

I tore the lid off it and silently praised God that there was oil or some flammable substance inside.

Then I ran towards Jess.

Before I got to my sister, one of the dogs I had injured charged towards me and both heads closed their jaws around my right arm in a vice like grip.

I screamed and the knife dropped from my limp hand.

I fell to my knees and slammed the lamp upright on the ground.

Then, my eyes brimming with pain, I grabbed the knife off the floor with my left hand and forced it right into the chest of the beast.

Blood sprayed all over my arms and face, and I gagged, vomiting as the warm, salty liquid splashed into my mouth.

It lasted mere seconds before I was on my feet again, wiping my mouth with one hand and clutching the lamp with the other.

I sprinted towards Jess, well aware that more dogs had arrived on the scene and were running after me.

“Jess! Throw your lighter into the lamp and run!” I shouted at her, dumping the lamp a metre away from her and her circle of dogs.

Jess glanced at me and nodded, continuing to jab her knife at the dogs with one hand, and whipping out the lighter with the other.

She flicked it on and threw it over the heads of the beasts in one fluid motion.

I skidded to a halt, watching mesmerised at Jess’ aim. The lighter flew up in a perfect arch and landed with a satisfying clink into the lamp.

“Run!” I screamed at Jess and she brought the knife down right into the skull of one of the heads of the nearest dog.

It let out a shriek and she kicked it aside, running out of the deadly circle just as the lamp started to sizzle.

I grabbed her arm as I sprinted past and we ran, as fast as our legs could carry us.

A split second later, there was an ear shattering bang and we were thrown forward by the heat wave of a massive explosion.

The wind tore through my ears and I landed roughly on the ground metres away, face first in the dirt with my body sore and twisted.

Jess lay nearby on her back, breathing hard.

I slowly got up on my knees and elbows, and coughed up some blood and bile that burned my throat.

“You okay Jess?” I asked, my voice raspy as I wiped my mouth and crawled over towards my sister.

Jess continued to stare at the sky, but she nodded slowly. She looked a mess. Her clothing was torn and her hair was a matted yellow mane of dirt and twigs. Her whole body was covered in dirt and blood, some of it hers but most of it not. Her face was especially quite gruesome, scrapes and bleeding scratches covering her cheeks and nose.

I probably looked equally as bad, if not worse.

Jess tried to sit up and I helped her gently, my whole body aching with both dull and acute pain.

She stared in front of her, a vague, dazed expression on her face. Blood started to drip down from a large gash across her forehead and I wiped it away with my hand softly.

“Come on, we need to keep moving. That blast will probably just bring more creatures towards us.” I said delicately.

Jess looked at me and nodded, her eyes finally becoming a little focused.

We both stood up and, with our arms around each other’s shoulder, we stumbled forward, walking in what I hoped was the right direction. We moved as quickly as we could and it seemed to be fast enough because I didn’t hear a whisper of a noise apart from our soft footsteps.

During our mad dash through the forest, the season had changed from a dry summer to a vibrant autumn. The leaves felt softer against my feet and for that, I was thankful. It was eerie though, not being able to see all the bright colours because of the silver moonlight.

We walked for aeons but I knew it was only minutes. Jess seemed to become weaker and weaker by the second, and the more we walked, the more she needed to rest her weight on me. Her eyelids started drooping and she had to rest her head on my shoulder for support.

Then the trees began to thin out and I felt a glimmer of hope. That hope was instantly crushed the moment a figure suddenly appeared in front of us.

“Give me the ring.” Babu whispered.


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