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Blood on my Hands

It was the house on the corner. No one had lived there since 1971. Rumor had it that in 1976, someone had thrown himself off the roof. He had died. His name, Kenneth Ridgway, was only ever spoken in a whisper. Supposedly, his ghost haunted the house. That was why, according to legend, both of the attempts to knock down the house, first in 1977 and later in 1983, had failed – Kenneth’s ghost had stopped them, nearly killing both demolition crews. There were also words carved onto the outside wall in the back of the house, words carved by the ghost. DO NOT COME NEAR MY HOUSE.

Christine thought it was all bullshit.

Alexander, Christine's cousin, drove past the house slowly. Christine looked at it. It was obvious that it had been abandoned a long time ago. There was no glass in the windows, and the lawn was overgrown with weeds. Paint was peeling off the side of the house, and it just looked really run down.

"So. This is it," whispered Christine's sister Amy.

"Park a few streets down," suggested Justin, also whispering. "You don't want anyone to see your car here."

"Who's gonna see it?" said Alexander. "There's no one here." They had knocked down all the other houses on the street. But he kept driving anyway.

Christine leaned back and rested her head on Paul's shoulder. He twirled a finger around a lock of her hair. "Scared?" he breathed into her ear, the only sound in the silent car.

"Not scared," she corrected him. "Just, just a little nervous."

He smiled at her. "What can happen? Worst case scenario we get busted by the cops. And that hasn't happened for a couple years."

"No, worst case scenario we all die." That was what she had been thinking, could not stop thinking about since she and Amy had snuck over to Alexander's house. She didn't believe in ghosts, but it could happen.

Her cousin parked the car around the corner. "All right, everybody out," he said.

There were seven of them: Christine, Amy, Paul, Alexander, Justin, Vince, and Claire. Christine and Paul walked behind the others in their group. As the house came within eyesight, Christine grabbed his hand and held it tightly. He squeezed back gently, almost comforting enough to calm her nerves.

Coming here had been Justin's idea. His brother had done it, a couple of years ago, and he wanted to continue the tradition. But he hadn't wanted to come alone, and anyway Alexander was the only one of the seven of them who had a car.

They cut around to the back door. It was common knowledge that the lock was broken, had been broken soon after the house was abandoned because of everybody else breaking in. Christine glanced up at the wall. She didn’t see the words that were supposedly there. Justin and Amy were the first to enter.

"Are there monsters inside?" Paul asked, for Christine's benefit.

"It's fine - don't worry," replied Amy. Though she spoke only in a whisper, the silence carried her words, and to Christine it felt like a shout.

"No serial killers, no rapists?" Christine double-checked.

"It's fine," Amy repeated. She was holding the door open with her foot, standing just to the side of the doorway, leaving them space to go in. "Come on. You'll be perfectly safe."

Still she hesitated. "No ghosts?"

"I promise you," said her sister. "At least not in the coatroom. Besides, it's just a house. What can happen?"

"If it’s not I'll murder you." She knew it was the emptiest of empty threats, but she felt an obligation to say it anyway.

"You're not going to get killed," promised her sister.

Paul swung their joined hands a couple times. “You ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," she said, smiling weakly up at him. Together they stepped through the doorway. Paul closed the door behind them and the coatroom became pitch-black. And as the door closed, Christine felt a change in the atmosphere. She couldn’t describe it, not really, but it was real now. It felt like there was something she had to do, but she didn’t know what it could be. They wouldn’t leave, though, until she fulfilled her mission.

The darkness was completely smothering. Christine couldn't breathe. She hated it when it was so dark you couldn't even see your hand right in front of your face. She felt the darkness press into her, as if it was a tangible thing, a living, breathing creature, and then ...

And then Justin clicked a flashlight on and the feeling passed.

Christine took her phone out to check the time. It was 12:11, and she had no reception. S***. So she couldn't call 911 if there really was a monster, or a serial killer, or a rapist, or a ghost.

"No one's gonna die," Paul assured her, as if reading her thoughts.

Justin flicked the thin yellow beam of light around the coatroom. Christine had envisioned gray, faded wallpaper, torn and peeling off the walls. She wasn't expecting the amounts of graffiti that covered the walls. Old notes written in Sharpie and Magic Marker. Pictures in pink and green spray paint. Messages layered upon one another, and there were so many Christine couldn’t even read the oldest ones.

There were newer messages too. The light fell on red spray paint announcing that Kristen waz here and asking someone to prom. The prom invite had several responses, some followed by a name and a number. On the floor there was an outline of a body, like what the police did for crime scenes.

"Do we just leave our mark and go?" said Claire. Christine guessed that that was what most of the other people had done. Wrote a message or drew a picture in the coatroom and left, too scared to continue.

"No, I want to explore," said Justin. His brother hadn't stayed very long, and Justin was always looking for opportunities to one-up him. Christine understood sibling rivalry perfectly. It was the main reason she had agreed to come tonight.

"How many people can say they've been in every room of the house and made it out alive?" added Vince. “Once word gets out … ”

"I just want to go," said Christine. Sibling rivalry or no, something didn't feel right about the house. She had expected some degree of creepiness, but she wasn't just creeped out. She was afraid. She didn't know why, but the house was frightening.

Justin swung the light around to her. "We didn't make you come," said Alexander. "You said you'd come with us when we asked you. You can't back out now. Or else you're walking home."

"If you really want to leave, I'll go with you," Paul whispered to her.

Christine gripped his hand even tighter and replied, "No, let's stay. I'll be fine."

"If you say so." Paul didn't seem to believe her, but that was okay. She knew he wanted to stay and see the house with the rest of them. Christine just wondered what there was to see. After all, it was only a house.

The light swiveled around and landed on a wooden door. "Want to see what's behind here?" asked Justin.

"Probably just a closet," dismissed Claire. "Let's go somewhere exciting, like the basement or something."

Alexander went to open the door anyway, while Justin kept the beam of light fixed on the knob. Christine held her breath as her cousin tried to open it. The door opened a few inches but then stopped. "I think there's something blocking it," he announced.

"Let's unblock it, then," said Amy. She strode over confidently and began to try to squeeze through the five inches of space between the door and the frame. After a while, she was able to maneuver her way into the closet.

"What's inside?" asked Vince. He, Claire, and Paul all crowded around the doorway. Only Christine didn't care. It was probably only a closet anyway. She didn't need to break into an abandoned house to see a closet.

“There’s a jacket in here,” she distantly heard Amy say. Also seemingly from a distance she heard them shaking out the jacket. She felt the wind from all the way over there. It was a chill that stayed with her for a few seconds, and then went away. Odd…

But with the single beam of light pointed away from her, Christine felt the darkness pressing in on her again. She couldn't think, couldn't feel, couldn't even cry out as someone stalked silently towards Claire.

She could only watch as small, feminine hands curled around the other girl's throat, hands that jerked upward and snapped her neck when she began to scream.

Christine's fear skyrocketed as she backed up, as far away from her friend's body as possible.

"What happened?" Justin swung the light around at Christine. It shined in her eyes and blinded her but she didn't really care. She pointed down at Claire's crumpled corpse on the ground.

"Claire?" Amy knelt down on the dirty floor. "Is she dead?"

Vince knelt down too. "S***. I think she is." He felt around her wrist for a pulse, but Christine could have told him it wasn't worth the effort. "S***," he said again, shaking the girl by her shoulders. Claire's head lolled back on her broken neck. "S***."

"Look, there are finger marks," noticed Amy.

"Someone must have strangled her or something," said Christine.

"Did you see who it was?" demanded Vince.

She shook her head. "I have no idea who it was." It had been too dark to see much. "Or where they went," she added. Now that she thought of it, she didn't know where they had come from either.

Christine couldn’t look away. This couldn’t have happened to her friend. It was the kind of thing that always happened to everyone else. The girl on the floor didn’t even look like Claire. It must’ve been someone else. Claire had to be fine.

"So what do we do with her?" Alexander nodded at the body. "I mean, we can't take her with us, so do we just leave her here?"

"We should just leave now," said Paul. "There's a murderer. We should call 911 in case they're still here. If we stay, they might kill us."

"I want to stay," said Alexander. "Besides, no cell reception here." To prove this, he waved his phone in front of Paul’s face.

Paul stood by Christine and put his arm around her shoulder. "We can go home, if you want. I'll walk you."

She shook her head, shrugging Paul's arm off. "I'm still in." It wasn't that she wanted to stay. It almost felt like there was something forcing her to stay, a magnetic compulsion, even though she wanted to go home and never come back.

“So we're staying," said Amy. When no one challenged her, she took the flashlight from Justin and started off down the hall.

Christine and Paul joined hands again and followed Amy to some other room. She stopped in front of another door.

"I think this is the stairs to the basement," she said. "Anyone too scared to go down?"
Everyone's eyes turned to Christine. She couldn't blame them. She wanted to take up on Paul's offer and leave the house with him, but something really was making her stay. "I'm not scared," she lied. "It's just a house." That was all it was. Just a house. A house that had possible ghosts and murderers.

"Follow me." Amy opened the door, and there were stairs going down. Christine couldn't see anything past the first few steps.

As Amy went down the stairs, Christine heard some of them crack under her feet. Occasionally Amy called up warnings, like "Be careful of the fourth stair," and "You'll have to skip over the seventh one because it's completely caved in," and "There's sixteen steps total."
Christine was the last to go. Vince was right in front of her. She was almost afraid she'd lose her balance and fall into him and push him down the stairs, all sixteen of them.

She felt her way down the stairs, and, wary of steps four and seven, she made it to the bottom without falling into Vince. The others were waiting for her; Christine was surprised that Amy hadn't kept going without them and left them all without any light. Why had they only brought one flashlight? God they were stupid.

"Ready to keep going?" Amy needed no encouragement to head off away from the stairs.
The basement was big, bigger than Christine expected it to be. She just followed the others in her group, not talking to anyone, even Paul. She couldn't rationalize it. Maybe she was afraid that they would be killed by whoever it was that had killed Claire. But that didn't make sense. They knew that a murderer was there now, and her friends would never let her get killed. Besides, with six of them, the murderer probably couldn't risk coming after them again.

Suddenly, Amy aimed the flashlight at the corner of the room. The jerking movement made Christine jump.

"What?" said Vince.

But Amy just shook her head. "I thought I saw something moving. Must've been my imagination."

Christine knew that her sister had thought that she'd seen the murderer, if he was still in the house. Or she. It might've been a girl.

"What's that over there?" asked Alexander. He pointed to the far wall, where Christine could barely see the faint outline of something lying on the floor. Amy shined the light over there.

A skeleton sat, propped up against the wall, grinning at them.

"It's fake," Justin said instantly. "There's no way that could be real. Wouldn't someone have reported it?”

"Didn't that one person disappear?" said Christine. "In like, 1980? What was his name? Tim ... Tim Allan or something."

"I remember hearing about that," replied Amy. "There was something on the news a couple years ago, something about it being the 25-year anniversary of him disappearing and they haven't found him yet."

Vince looked at Christine. She met his shadowy eyes but then averted her gaze. For some reason it felt wrong to look at him. "You think this is him?"

She shrugged. "It could be." It didn’t seem likely, though.

Christine started to feel a pull to the skeleton, though like everything else she couldn't explain it.

"What are you doing?" asked Paul as Christine walked closer to the skeleton.

"Nothing." She stopped and turned her head back to face her companions. "Dare me to touch it?" she said, a grin creeping up her face.

Amy wrinkled her nose. "It's probably got a ton of germs."

"Yeah," agreed Alexander. "The rats that ate the skin off probably carried a ton of diseases." He shrugged. "But you can touch it if you want."

“There haven’t been rats here for a while,” said Christine. “If there were we would have run into them by now.” She knelt in front of the skeleton, and reached out to touch one of the leg bones. She had to prove herself somehow. It was dry and textured, and Christine imagined she could feel the tooth marks from the rats that Alexander said ate the skin.

Then the flashlight began to flicker. It blacked out for a second but then the light returned. "S***. Does anyone have extra batteries?" said Amy. She passed the flashlight back to Justin.

"I just put in fresh batteries before we left," protested Justin. "It was probably just a fluke." As he finished speaking the light dipped again.

"Maybe it's his ghost." Alexander nodded at the skeleton. Almost as if in reply, the light flickered.

"Let's go back upstairs," said Vince. "There's more rooms to see anyway." They had originally decided to go through the whole house, every room. No one had ever done that before. Most visitors had gotten too scared to continue after the first few rooms. But they clearly weren't about to let Claire's death or a broken flashlight stop them.

Christine jumped when someone cleared their throat behind her. She turned away from the skeleton to see Paul. "You okay?" he asked her.

She nodded impatiently. "I'm fine," she snapped. "There's nothing to be afraid of."

Paul looked offended. "I'm just looking out for you."

"Well, I'm fine." Christine didn't know why she was pissed at him for checking up on her, she just was.

"We're going upstairs again," he told her, turning and walking away.

Christine watched the others walk back to the stairs, and, touching the bones one more time, she followed her friends, adopting a slow jog that let her catch up to them.

Justin had the light shining in front of him, so it was dark by where Christine was. She had to feel her way up the stairs. She slowed when she sensed someone in front of her.

She heard a dull thud, and someone cried out. Then the person in front of her toppled down the stairs. Something fell down after them, but it was too dark to see what it was.

"What was that?" shouted Alexander.

The light, now a steady but weak beam, whipped back to shine down the stairs. It took a moment for Christine's eyes to adjust to the sudden brightness, but when she saw what lay at the bottom of the stairs, she immediately turned away. She wished she hadn't seen. The image was pressed behind her eyes, and closing them just made it more vivid.

Vince was sprawled out at the foot of the stairs, an agonized expression on his face. He was too still to be alive. Next to him was a long, white stick. But it couldn't be a stick...

"Holy s***," whispered Alexander. "First Claire, now Vince."

"Is that a bone?" said Justin.

Of course it wasn't a stick. It was a bone from the skeleton they'd found.

"I think it is," replied Amy in a whisper.

"Are you sure?" said Paul.

Christine started backing down the stairs. "I can go check for you," she offered. "Want me to check?"

"I'll come with you," said Amy.

Christine waited at the bottom of the stairs for her sister, careful not to step on Vince or the bone. Justin tossed Amy the flashlight, and together the two girls sprinted towards the skeleton. She knew what they would find, though, a skeleton with a leg missing. Or an arm.
As they got closer, it became obvious that the skeleton was missing part of its leg. "Wonder how much effort it took to take that bone out," said Amy.

Christine shrugged. "It's not like he can resist it."
"No,” murmured Amy in agreement.

Whoever it was, the murderer had to still be in the basement with them. He could come and kill them at any point. What did they have to defend themselves with? The flashlight?

The same thought seemed to occur to her sister; Amy shivered. "Let's get out of here," she said.

"Yeah." Christine was afraid again, although now no one could blame her, what with a murderer running around, following them. But she was determined not to show it.

Amy turned to leave, and Christine gave the grinning skeleton a final glance. She wanted to ask it what was so funny, what it knew that she didn't.

They didn't run back to their friends, giving Christine time to appreciate the scenery. Cobwebs littered the corners of the ceiling. The wood-paneled walls, like in the coatroom, were covered in layers of graffiti. The carpet was worn down and stained. There was a strong scent of mold that Christine could barely tolerate.

When they reached the stairs again, Alexander called down, "Long time, no see."

"How you been doing up there?" Amy replied. She stopped, leaning against the wall and cocking her hip. Christine stopped too, trying not to look at the body on the ground.

Justin smiled. "A man really learns something about himself, being alone in the dark for a while like that."

"Yeah, that he's afraid of the dark," teased Christine.

"So is it the bone?" asked Paul.

Amy stepped over Vince's body to ascend the stairs, and Christine followed. "Yeah, they took it from the guy's leg back there."

Christine felt a pang of regret that they had to leave Vince behind, but what else were they supposed to do, carry dead bodies with them? No, they had to leave them here until they could tip off the police, anonymously of course.

"Should we go home now?" asked Paul. "Two of us are dead already. There's a murderer. It's not safe."

He had a point, Christine realized. It would be stupid of them to risk their lives to keep going, in spite of their original plans. And yet, something was still calling out to her to stay.

"I want to stay," insisted Alexander. "You can go if you want, but remember I'm your ride." He pulled his keys out of his pocket and jingled them.

Paul shook his head. "Fine. I'll stay," he reluctantly agreed.

Christine took the flashlight from Amy. "Where to next?" She carefully led them through several of the rooms on the first floor, stopping at a couple to take a closer look.

One of the rooms had a fireplace. It still had wood in it, left over from the owners of the house, those who'd abandoned it.

Justin pulled out a lighter from his pocket. "Nothing like a cozy warm fire to lighten the mood."

"No, don't." Paul reached out to block Justin. "They'll see the smoke from outside."

"There's probably bats in there anyway," added Christine. Wasn't that what happened? Things nested in the chimney?

"You guys are no fun," said Justin, but he turned the little flame off.

"Let's keep going," said Alexander.

The five of them moved on to the kitchen, Christine still wielding the flashlight. There wasn't really anything interesting in the kitchen - they looked in all the drawers.

"Let's play spoons," suggested Amy, holding up four spoons. "Anyone got a deck of cards?"

It gave Christine an idea. Focusing the light on another silverware drawer, she pulled out a knife, the only one still there. It glinted dangerously under the glare of the flashlight.

"Good idea," said Paul, looking over her shoulder. She jumped, startled; she'd had no idea he was right behind her.

Christine nodded. "There is a murderer," she said. "We need self-defense." Since two of them had died already, she knew that they needed something to protect themselves with.

Even though she knew that Claire and Vince were dead, Christine was numb. She felt like they were just gone, and when - if - they got back home they would ask about what they missed, if it was worth it to go and see the house.

Christine would tell them no, it wasn't worth it.

"You know, I think Christine's the best of all of us so far," noticed Amy. "When she's holding the flashlight no one's died."

It was true, Christine realized. She had led the four others around the entire first floor and nobody had died. "Maybe the murderer wants to get me next," she said. "But he can't because you'd all see him."

"Great. You ready to die?" said Alexander, taking the flashlight from her. She hoped he was joking.

She smiled at him. "I won't die," she promised him. Christine held up the knife. "I'll kill him first." And she would. She would love to stab the murderer, the one who had taken two of her friends so far. She wanted him to pay. Or her. It could be a girl.

"Let's explore upstairs," said Alexander.

"Sounds good," agreed Paul. He and Alexander headed for the stairs, not waiting to see if Justin, Amy, and Christine were following.

Amy hurried to catch up. Christine thought that her sister was afraid of the dark, or at least afraid of being left behind. But Christine, who followed her sister more slowly, she was armed. She had a knife for protection. And although it was only a kitchen knife, it would still do the job, she thought grimly.

Justin trailed behind. Christine wondered why he wasn't up in front with Paul and Alexander; he was the one who'd wanted to come in the first place.

Paul, Alexander, and Amy were talking about something by the stairs, where they were waiting for Christine and Justin. "You ready?" asked Amy when they caught up. She, Paul, and Alexander headed up the stairs.

Christine stayed behind with Justin. They ascended the stairs together, but when they got to the top, Justin said to her, "I need a break."

"Why?" Surely he wasn't tired, although it was pretty late. Or early, technically, since after midnight was morning. Christine pulled her phone out of her pocket and clicked the screen on. It was just after two thirty.

"It's just," he tried to explain, "just that Claire and Vince died. And there's the skeleton in the basement. It feels like it's haunted, and we shouldn't be here."

"Yeah, well, we can't bring them back," said Christine. "And it's not like the people who lived here are ever gonna come back suddenly in the middle of the night. It's been like forty years. They're probably dead."

"I need a break," repeated Justin. He sat on the top stair. "Go on without me. I'll join you in a minute."

"The murderer is going to get you," Christine warned him, but he only shrugged. So she walked away.

She could see the light in one of the rooms, and she guessed that that was where her other friends were. Christine started to make her way through the blackness to them. She made it halfway there, without tripping on anything, before changing her mind. Going through a couple of people's former bedrooms felt like an invasion of privacy, although, as she’d pointed out to Justin, the owners wouldn't be back anytime soon. But most importantly, she couldn't leave Justin to get murdered. She could take a break with him. Then at least they'd have the knife. Darkness pressed in on her, like it had in the coatroom, making her glad she had the knife.

"Are you the murderer?" asked Justin as she got nearer to him.

Christine opened her mouth to say that no, of course she wasn't the murderer, she was only Christine, but just then a voice replied, "Yes, I am."

"You're here to kill me?" Justin sounded calm as he stood up.

Christine wanted to tell him to not give in to the murderer, because she was right there and she had the knife and she could kill the murderer. But she couldn't. The darkness was trapping her. It held her to it, whispering against her arms, wrapping against her fingers, caressing her face. Its cold touch made her shiver.

"Of course," assented the murderer. Christine could tell from the voice that it was a girl. The voice was oddly familiar, and Christine knew she should be able to place it but couldn't. If she was honest, she thought that the murderer sounded pretty bitchy.

Christine could hear the murderer walk closer to Justin, a near-silent tread. "Christine?" said Justin.

Yes, I'm here, she ached to say, but couldn't. The darkness's hold on her was too strong, as if it wanted the murderer to kill Justin.

The murderer didn't respond. "Take off your belt," she said instead, holding her hand out in front of her impatiently.

Justin raised an eyebrow. "My belt?" Christine wondered how she was going to kill him with a belt. The murderer could beat him with it, whip all the skin off his back until he was a bloody, pulpy mess, left to die in the darkness. But wouldn't that take too long? And couldn't the rest of her friends hear the screams? Unless the darkness was holding them too.

She rolled her eyes at him for not understanding. "Just give it to me."

Christine was just waiting for the murderer to turn around and notice her standing there. She would be a perfect victim - she couldn't move. The darkness had her trapped. She had the knife to defend herself, but what good was it to her if she couldn't use it?

Justin shook his head and muttered, "Sorry." He obligingly took off his belt and gave it to the murderer.

"Thanks," she said in a patronizing tone. God, the murderer was a real b****. Still holding the belt, she kicked in a few of the railing posts. They collapsed easily; the wood was rotten. Christine, watching all this, was surprised that the floor hadn't caved in on them as well.

There was now a big enough space for a person to fit through. Christine suddenly realized what the murderer was going to do. Still, she could only watch the murderer's slender hands loop the belt around Justin's neck, listen to her tell him to sit down, and keep watching as she fastened the buckle around a few of the railing posts. Then the murderer kicked Justin off the ledge so he was dangling by the belt. He tried to hold on with his fingers but the murderer pried them off. She also held on to the buckle so the posts wouldn't break.

The darkness kept Christine in its possessive embrace for another minute or so, and then suddenly she was free, grasping at the belt buckle. When her clumsy, tired fingers finally undid it, she knew it was too late. Justin fell to the floor below, dead.

"Christine? Justin? Are you guys okay?" called a girl's voice from somewhere. She tensed, thinking at first that it was the murderer, but soon relaxed when she realized it had to be her sister.

Christine took a moment to catch her breath. "No!" she shouted. "We're not okay!" At least Justin wasn't. He was dead. It was real to her now. Claire, Vince, and Justin were all dead. Three out of seven, dead within the first three hours. Almost half of them, dead.

Amy, Alexander, and Paul came running, their feet pounding on the floor and the beam of light bobbing unsteadily.

"What's wrong?" asked Amy. Christine pointed down to where Justin lay on the floor beneath. The belt was still around his neck, and scattered around were the railing posts the murderer had kicked in. His features were hidden just enough for Christine to almost pretend that it was someone other than her friend on the ground, but she shook the illusion off as soon as she thought of it. It was her friend, and he was dead. He was never coming back, not ever.

"Dropping like flies here, we are," commented Alexander, peering down.

Amy smacked his hand with the flashlight. "You're heartless."

He grinned at her. "That's me."

"So are you sure we should stay?" asked Paul, the same question he'd asked after Claire and Vince were murdered.

Alexander nodded. "This is our thing, you know? We have to stay. And don't forget I'm still your ride home."

"Assuming we don't die before we make it home," muttered Christine under her breath. She finally tore her gaze from Justin's corpse.

"Yeah," Amy acknowledged her in breathy agreement.

Alexander grabbed the flashlight from Amy. "I'm gonna keep going," he said, starting to walk away.

Christine, Amy, and Paul followed him. Paul took Christine's hand, tentatively, like he was afraid of her somehow. She squeezed to let him know it was okay.

"There was a laundry chute in one of the rooms," he told her.

She smiled. "I’ve never seen one of those before."

He shrugged. "I’m not surprised," he said. "This is a house from the seventies. That's over forty years ago."

"Yeah, I know, thanks."

Alexander was leading them into another bedroom. This one also had a laundry chute, a square door about three, three-and-a-half feet across. Christine pushed the door in. The tube was broken off only a few feet past the door.

"Turn off the flashlight," said Paul. "There's a window in this room. If there's people outside they could see us."

"There's no people," said Alexander. "The street's as deserted as the house is." Still, with a wary glance outside the glassless window, he clicked off the light. After her eyes adjusted, Christine realized that it wasn't so dark - there was still enough light from outside to see.

"There's nothing here," said Amy. "Let's go somewhere else."

Paul scribbled a quick message on the faded-gray wallpaper. Peering over his shoulder, Christine read, In memory of Claire, Vince, and Justin. Then he pulled the curtains closed, blocking out all the light. Christine began to breathe faster and harder. It was dark again, and she didn’t like the feeling when it was dark.
She hated the feeling of the darkness. She couldn't see where she was going, and there could be someone, who she couldn't see, just waiting to kill her. There probably was someone she couldn't see waiting to kill her. She knew that she would die tonight, but she couldn't leave. She wanted to, but she just couldn't.

Christine hated darkness. Something tripped her as she began to walk out of the room. She caught herself on the wall, but slipped again because she'd rested her hand on the door to the laundry chute.

Her mouth opened to scream, because she knew she was going to fall, but somehow she steadied herself.

Alexander tripped as well, only he wasn't able to regain his balance. His hand shot out to the wall too, but there was no wall to catch him; Christine was still pushing open the door to the laundry chute.

He fell.

Christine could hear the sound of him hitting the floor of the basement, could hear the crack of his skull and the clink of his keys and the clatter of the flashlight falling out of his fingers. She could hear the batteries rolling out, and she knew then that there was no hope. They would be doomed to darkness for the rest of the night.

"S***," said Christine, looking down into the pitch-blackness of the laundry chute.

"Dropping like flies," Paul echoed Alexander's earlier words, from when Justin died, and it was oddly appropriate.

"We should find him," said Amy. "He has the flashlight."

Why hadn't they brought more than one flashlight? They were so stupid. "And the car keys," added Christine.

She held the knife in her left hand and Paul's hand in her right. Amy held onto Paul's other hand, and together, like a chain of little kids crossing the street, they made their way safely to the bottom of the stairs.

It was so dark. Christine thought she heard the murderer every time the floor creaked. It was always a false alarm. Until the one time it wasn't.

Paul grunted. Christine twisted around to stab at the murderer with the knife in her hand, accidentally scratching open her own thumb in the process. She felt the blade cut fluidly through vein and ligament.

"I got him," she said triumphantly, taking her hand away from the handle of the knife. She could feel blood on her fingers, warm against the chill of the house.

Paul suddenly became deadweight, and it was all Christine could do, with the help of her sister, to keep him from toppling to the ground.

"Say something! Paul!" shouted Christine, though she knew it was no use. Paul wouldn't respond to her. He couldn't.

"He's not..." Amy couldn't say it.

"He is." Together Christine and Amy lowered their friend's body to the ground. Christine felt around for whatever the murderer used to kill him.
Soon she found it. A knife, probably also from the house's kitchen, was buried deep into Paul's back, puncturing the left lung and the heart. Blood gushed onto her hands as she pulled out the knife.

"At least I got 'em," said Christine. It was too dark to see the body, and she didn't want to look for it. "They got Paul, but - ”

Then Amy just lost it. "We have to get out of here," she said. "Or we're both gonna die too. We seriously have to get out of here."

There was no point in telling her that they were both going to die anyway, because the murderer was determined to kill them all. Christine had stabbed him, but she didn't know if it was fatal or not. Christine chased after Amy as her sister raced for the door.

She followed Amy out the back door into the yard. It was a pretty big yard. There was a concrete patio, a few yards of dirt and sparse grass interlaced with spiky weeds, and then a lake.

Amy ran blindly into the water. It must have been freezing. Christine ran after her, gripping the bloodstained knife in her fist. She stopped ankle-deep in the lake. She looked behind her, but no one else was there.

But her sister kept running from the murderer. Christine knew that Amy didn't know how to swim, so she started moving again.

"Amy! Stop!" she screamed. “Please, Amy! Just stop!”

Her sister glanced behind her, and held her gaze for a brief second. Christine could see the panic in her eyes. She ran on, now waist-deep.

Christine waded in deeper after her sister, splashing through the frigid lake water. Amy made it in up to her shoulders, and then, after one more step, her head disappeared completely.

"Amy!" But Christine didn't know how to swim either. She couldn't go in and try to save her sister without the risk of drowning herself.

An agonizing few minutes passed, and then an unfamiliar voice behind her said, "There was nothing you could have done."

Christine turned, bloodstained knife at the ready. A guy about her age was wading into the lake as well, but there were no ripples, no splashes while he walked. She wondered why the mud wasn't swirling up to the surface where he stepped, and if he could teach her the secret.
Against her better judgment, Christine replied, "There was everything I could've done." She started to walk out of the icy lake - her legs were going numb.

The boy shook his head. "She was going to die anyway."

She looked closer at him. "So you're the murderer." It couldn't be the truth. The murderer had to be a girl. Christine had heard her voice.

"Yes and no."

Her face scrunched up as she pondered his answer. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" A name flashed through her mind, but Christine didn’t dare to say it.

He nodded at the knife she had lowered. "Who did you kill with that knife?"

Could she see through him? No, the coldness of the water had to be muddling her senses. It was a cool illusion though. "I got the murderer,” she told him. “I don’t think I killed ’em, but I got ’em." Christine looked down at the knife in her hands. Blood covered her fingers, crusting around her knuckles and caking under her fingernails. She plunged them into the water in an effort to scrub it off.
"Are you sure about that?"

"Y-yeah, pretty sure." But even as she said it, Christine began to doubt the truth of her words. Had she stabbed the murderer?

"You know what you have to do."

Christine nodded. She knew. She understood now.

Then the boy disappeared right before her eyes.

Not fully conscious of her actions, she fixed her gaze on a ladder leaning against the side of the house, almost reaching up to the roof.

Before she knew it, she was climbing the ladder. Her shoes, soaked with mud and the freezing water from the lake, squished with each rung. She barely acknowledged the words when she passed them, engraved in a rough scrawl next to the ladder. DO NOT COME NEAR MY HOUSE.

And then she was on the top rung, scrambling onto the roof. She was almost worried that she would fall through, but something told her she wouldn't, an instinct she shouldn't trust.

It told Christine to walk over to the front of the house. She wanted a dramatic exit. Or rather, it wanted one for her.

She jumped.

The concrete kissed her cheek and the darkness locked her into a final embrace as her blood and brains spattered onto the sidewalk.

The boy watched through narrowed eyes as Christine succumbed to his darkness.




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