The Netherwalker [The Witch-Walkers #1]

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Chapter 01: The Summer of 2020

It was a beautiful summer’s day.

Penelope Walker stood on the sidewalk, wondering what she was doing there.

“Why the heck did I come out into the open?” she muttered to herself in slight irritation.

A few minutes ago, she had been having a peaceful time reading a gripping novel. The bed covers were soft underneath her and a blanket covering her legs.

Yes, it was quite warm and cosy.

But, all that shattered like glass the instant somebody decided to enter her room.

Who it was she had no clue, but it startled her. When she had set her novel down to stretch her limbs, she had almost jumped through the roof. And that was when she had noticed a strange-looking girl staring at her from the foot of her bed.

Penelope had been close to screaming. But, she had sense enough to close her mouth with both her hands before she had completely lost it.

She had then forced herself to calm down. She took deep but ragged breaths and cleared her throat as much as could with all the shaking that she was doing.

She had gathered up enough courage to ask, “Who are you?” in a voice that meant to say, ’I’m not scared of you’, but in fact said, ’Can you leave? You’re creeping me out!’.

The strange-looking girl had not said anything. She had stared at Penelope with a blank expression.

Okay,’ Penelope had thought. ’This is getting way too freaky… Let’s try something else…

“Where are you from? Have you lost your way?” she had asked, before regretting it. ’Way to go, Penny,’ she had thought and mentally face-palmed. ’Why would anybody get into somebody’s house like this if they had lost their way? There’s the doorbell sitting outside for a reason!

But, the girl at the foot of her bed had still not replied and neither had she removed her gaze.

Penelope had tried to come up with something better to say, but her mind had turned up blank. So instead, she had taken that opportunity to study the girl.

Tit-for-tat,’ Penelope had thought and started her very own staring match.

The figure had been wearing a brown torn gown with a white bonnet at the back of her head. That had made her look as if she came right out of a medieval-era fairy tale. Penelope realised that she wasn’t actually that strange.

Penelope had frowned. ’How astonishing that a dress should make all the difference in the world,’ she thought. ’I wonder…no…she’s not a Ghost, is she?

The girl, who was still staring at her, had not looked like one. From Penelope’s experience, ghosts were more transparent. Also, she had, unlike a ghost, seemed too solid.

Then, who is she??

At that moment, the girl had turned around and fled out of the room with astonishing speed! Penelope had only time to recover herself, before racing out of the room herself. She could see the strange figure across the hall downstairs and moving towards the door.

“Hey, wait!” Penelope had yelled, as she had run after her.

Yet, when she had reached the street outside the front gate, there was nobody in sight. As a matter of fact, the entire street seemed deserted!

And that was how Penelope had lost out on a warm cosy afternoon…

“All because of that – that…thing – whatever it was,” she told herself aloud.

She turned and retraced her steps back into the house and her room.

Now, the mood of the atmosphere changed. The book lay forgotten, while Penelope found herself wondering who the girl was…

Finally, when she was tired of wondering, Penelope’s eyelids began to get heavier by the minute. She closed them for a bit.

When Penelope next opened her eyes – her book sitting on her stomach face down – the light had dimmed a little.

She sat up and turned around to look out the window—it was almost six in the evening, it seemed. Startled at how late in the day it was, she jumped out of her bed and turned to check the time. Her analogue clock that usually sat behind her bed on a small stool showed one.

What the…?’ She turned back to the window to make sure that she had seen right – and she had, indeed. Then –

“Yea right,” she told herself. “The cell in this clock exhausted last night. Anyhow, I better go downstairs and see if that stranger has appeared again.” She shuddered at the thought. She was not sure she would able to handle seeing that oldish-looking girl one more time…

Penelope climbed down the staircase and she went into the living-room. She switched on the television and settled herself on a sofa. She began flipping through the channels.

A few moments later, she noticed that the sky had closed up. Frowning, she went to the window overlooking the front gate, opened it, and stared outside. Dark clouds were gaping back at her and the air that slammed onto her body was slightly cold, making her tremble a little. A flash of thunder and a roar of lightening was enough for her see what was going on…

It would rain very, very soon.

Penelope hurried to shut the window and close the curtains. It plunged the room into darkness, though not quite. It was visible enough to go to the end of the living-room to switch on the overhead light.

She then turned off the television, as a precaution, and went back up the stairs to pick up her novel and bed things.

She was once again cosy under her blanket on the living-room sofa and her interesting novel.

The next thing she knew, it was dark all around her.

Penelope let out a yelp of surprise and sat up, blinking, and wondering if she was still asleep and was dreaming all this. She was not very fond of the dark and tonight was no exception.

When she trieed to switch on the light and failed, she realised that it was only a power-cut. She looked out the window to see the rain pouring down in torrents. Penelope lay back down on the sofa, closing the book and resting it on her stomach. In the lull of the storm outside, she came very near to dosing off, when she sat up again.

A curious noise came to her ears. It was very light and so, she almost ignored it, thinking that it was only her imagination.

Yet, the curious noise became a little louder and twice as insistent. Completely awake now, Penelope sat up and stared in the direction it was coming from. It seemed to be coming from the staircase and sounded somewhat hollow.

For a moment, she thought it might be coming from outside—some crazy kid must have gone out to play in the rain. Then, she ruled out that possibility when she realised that the noise was not from outside.

She crept in the direction of the noise—she left the living-room and stood at the bottom of the stairs. She stood there, waiting and listening. Using her senses other than vision, she tried to determine the direction of the noise. It was coming from… quite far, but not near either…

When she finally discovered the source, her heart skipped a beat. She gulped.

I hope…not there,’ she thought.

Fear gripped her heart: it seemed to be coming from her own room. She looked around frantically for some kind of flashlight and found her phone on the centre-table.

It vibrated precisely at that moment. The screen lit up with a message, so she could reach for it quite easily.

Penelope walked over and picked it up. She ignored the message and browsed for the flashlight. The next instant, the whole room brightened up with white light, like it was daytime.

Mustering up all her courage, she climbed up the stairs.

Once on the landing, she was surer about the source of the curious noise, which was still quite audible. The only difference now was that the closer she approached her room, the louder it became.

Penelope was generally very frightened of the dark. She was like this ever since the first time she had seen ghosts, at the age of ten. She was then still a naïve girl. Her family had been staying at a place miles away from anywhere, called Weatherbone Rocks. To any outsider or a city-dweller, it appeared to be a large wasteland with houses popping up here and there. But to its residents, it was like a huge community living together as one big happy family. Penelope had happy as well as sad memories there.

Unexpected tears forming in her eyes brought Penelope back to the present. She wiped them away with the back of her free hand and urged herself to focus on the situation at present.

“Focus, Penny, focus!” she chided herself. She shook her head in an attempt to keep the memories from coming back and she gazed at the closed door of her room.

Something – or someone – was in there.

Shivers ran down her spine and she stopped for a moment to regain my courage.

Then, after what seemed like an hour, she finally took another step – and another one – and another one – till she was at last in the room. She opened the door, flashing the torchlight, and looked around.

There was nothing untoward there, but the clicking noise was still audible – louder than ever! She looked around, trying to point out the source that noise. She gazed around the perimeter of the room, till she spotted the door that opened onto the terrace garden…

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