Chapter 13: Unwelcome guests
A rush of running feet ended as a woman clattered into the room. With a squeak, she skidded to a halt at the sight of Chloe. Another woman and man followed close on her heels. They rushed in, skidding to a halt behind the first woman. The new arrivals stared for a second; then the new woman began to scream. She was pointing at Chloe. Chloe screamed back in terror staring through a hand at the couple. The woman was bustled out of the conservatory by the man while the first woman stood rooted to the spot. Chloe reached out to her for help.
The woman’s scream drowned out Chloe’s cries. In a flash the woman disappeared through the door. Chloe followed pleading. “Please help me! I don’t understand.” In an instant Chloe halted. She realized she was gliding after the woman. It was fortunate that she did, as the woman had come to a complete stop. At the foot of a grand staircase, huddled together on the floor, were the man and woman who had fled earlier. The other woman’s head spun between Chloe and the couple. Darkness and cold seeped down the stairs like a fog rolling in. The heavy sounds of footfalls echoed from above them. Chloe could feel the anger, the hatred, and the despair creeping closer.
The man had struggled to his feet now. He half-carried, half-dragged the woman away. Chloe heard the front door slam but found herself still staring up the stairs waiting for the horror to appear. The woman who had arrived last whispered, “Who’s there?” as she tried to back away and put distance between herself and the unseen. Her attention was completely held by the dark at the top of the stairs. She ignored Chloe floating just behind her.
The woman’s voice increased in volume. “This is not funny! I demand to know who is here.” She waited for a reply. When none came, she continued. “I am a representative of the estate and demand that you vaca—” An angry wind blew down the stairs, knocking the woman into a chair.
Darkness descended the stairs, flowing and collapsing in on itself and reforming. Chloe’s back was against the wall. The woman pushed herself to her feet. Before their horrified eyes, the darkness materialized into a beast. Its gaze held them with glowing embers for eyes and shadows melting off and reforming over it. Advancing on the woman, the creature radiated hate.
“Get out,” the beast rasped. In an instant the woman abandoned her backward, retreating in favor of a full pelt to the door.
She was alone now with the creature. Chloe tried to melt away before being noticed. Her movement caught the darkness’s attention. The eyes turned to flames; the fires of hell erupted in the thing’s mouth. Through the howl of rage, a chorus of demons shouted “Youuuuu!” Tendrils of black shot from the pointing finger toward Chloe. She screamed but then was silenced as she found herself in another room. She had slid through a wall.
Getting her bearings, she flew back to the conservatory. Shaking with terror, she hid in a flowerbed. Listening for any sound, she lay still and quiet. Nothing was pursuing her. She stayed there for hours trying to make sense of what had happened. After a while, when she was sure the thing she had seen was not going to come for her, emerging from the dirt, she began to explore the massive house, her feet barely making contact with the floor. It was an odd feeling. The more she moved, the more she enjoyed it. She floated from room to room on the main floor. All the furniture was covered in dusty cloths, and the house was still. It felt abandoned. Listening to the silence, she got the feeling that no one had been living here for a long time. When she had finished her exploration, she found herself at the bottom of the stairs again. It was quiet. The air held none of the malevolence it had earlier. Tentatively, she began to ascend.
At the top of the stairs, a long, wide hall contained many portraits of stern-looking men. The last in the line was a face she recognized. A tear ran down her transparent face. Chloe knew where she was now. She was in Sterben Hall. Fear gripped her. “Edgar,” she breathed. Willing her body to move faster, her feet kicking frantically at the air, finally through determination, she flew down the stairs to the front door. Her hand went through again, and again she tried. Her fingers could not grasp the handle. She was trapped! She had to flee. Chloe was flying back down the hall. She was back in the conservatory and back in the dirt. It took several long, panicked moments to calm her mind enough to come to some conclusions, the first of which was she was alone. No one followed, and she heard no sound. There was something in the house, but it didn’t seem to know she was there. She thought back to the picture and to Edgar. She had risen from her hiding place without realizing it. She was floating around looking at the dried flowers and blank stares of the busts. She was in front of a statue of a woman holding a vase.
“That really isn’t dignified, you know?” she asked the statue. “You’d think you’d notice your breast hanging out like that.” She received no answer. “You know, I think my fears of Edgar finding and hurting me are a bit unfounded.” She was now talking to a bust of Caesar. “I think I get it now.” She held up her hand. Looking through it, she continued, “I’m already dead, so what can he do to me?” She was wandering back up the hall. Stopping in front of a painting of a boy fishing, she sniffed at the dust. “By the look of some of the things in the house, I think I have been for a while.” She was back at the front door. Again her hand slipped straight through. She addressed the door. “Not being able to use the door knob is no big deal.” She shrugged. “After all, I passed through the floor and a wall.” Chloe pushed herself against the wooden door. It resisted at first; then she was outside the house. Late-afternoon sunlight streamed onto the wide front porch.
Looking down, she could barely be seen in the sunlight. This would be a small problem when she got home. She had to see her parents, tell them what had happened, and make sure Edgar never took someone else’s daughter from them. Mind made up, she marched down the steps to the path. She could feel a tug at her back with every step she took. Pain began to creep up her arms, her legs, and her chest. It was difficult to walk. The tug became a pull. Chloe felt every broken bone, every injury from being hit then dumped down the well. The pain was too intense; she gave up the struggle. She watched as she was pulled back up the walk. The lane grew farther and farther away; the pain receded. She was back on the porch, through the door, down the hall but stopped in the conservatory. She was completely free from physical pain again, but the tears returned often.
The conservatory is where she spent most of her time. As time wore on, she found she could interact with objects. This was a blessing to her, for she could read all the books in the massive library. Only once more did she venture upstairs. She reached what she could only assume was the master bedroom. She could feel hatred seeping out under the door and knew she did not want to enter there. Then there was the scratching and the breathing that seemed to follow her through the halls when she ventured close to the stairs. So she haunted the library and conservatory. This thought always brought a wry smile to her face.