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The dog is acting strange tonight.
“What’s wrong with you, Fishbone?” I ask him. He’s cowering under the coffee table, wailing like a ghost and shivering. I nudge him with my socked foot. He snaps at me, his eyes flaming. He never snaps.
I get down on my knees and put my finger to my lips so that he can see. That usually shuts him right up. Now he whimpers and peers around the room. A low growl rumbles in his throat.
There’s a tap on the window. Just a tree branch, I tell myself.
A chilly breeze shudders through the room. Goosebumps rise on my arms and I rub them, teeth gritted. I get up and go to turn the heat up. When I return, Fishbone is dragging himself across the floor, yelping fearfully.
“What’s up with you, boy?” I say, hunkering down to stroke his long, coarse fur. I scratch him in his special spot—right under the neck. When I do that, he always flops onto his side and rolls his eyes with pleasure. But now he barely acknowledges me. The candles that I’ve placed around the room flicker, sending shadows leaping and dancing across the floor.
Yet another chill whips through the room, making the flames tremble dangerously on the candle wicks. Fishbone howls. Something whooshes past me. I whirl around. Nothing’s there. I look down at the dog. His big brown eyes are following something behind me. Again I glance over my shoulder and again I see nothing unusual.
I grab my phone.
“Mom! What time are you coming home?”
“Honey, we just left. We’ll probably be home in a couple of hours, okay?”
“Two hours?” I can hear my voice rising in alarm.
“Two hours at the most,” she assures me.
I toss the phone down on the sofa and glance out the window into the night. Everything is indistinct and gloomy. As I’m turning away, I catch a flash of white. My heart is beating hard, like a metronome, keeping time with my fear. I look back and see nothing. Nothing but nothing.
There’s a loud clatter in the basement. I almost think I imagined it, but I can feel the vibration in my feet. I exit the living room. Behind me, Fishbone is sobbing and pulling himself back under the coffee table. I didn’t know dogs could sob.
I open the door to the basement and stare down into the dusky darkness. I can only see three stairs down. The shadows swallow up the rest. Fear balls up in my stomach.
I grope along the wall for the light switch. The bare light bulb on the ceiling flickers twice and dies. I get a flashlight out of the kitchen and return. I flick it on and descend into the dark, an apprehensive grimace stealing across my lips.
The basement is damp, with a cracked stone floor that looks almost as old as the earth. The washing machine and dryer are squatting in a corner, huddling together like they’re cold. I see nothing that could have caused the thump. Except...
What’s this? There’s a gaping hole in the wall like a yawning mouth. Peering into it, I can see all kinds of pipes and wires. And on the floor at my feet is a huge, twisted hunk of metal. Ripped right out of the wall. That wasn’t there earlier today.
Another wisp of freezing air passes through me. I think I feel a cold finger running along my throat. I bellow like a wild animal and dash up the stairs as fast as I can.
Fishbone is still quivering under the coffee table when I return to the living room, so I settle down on the sofa and try to relax. There’s a mildly interesting black-and-white movie on, and I watch it for a while, feeling my eyelids droop and my brain calming down into sleep.
“Hey! Hello? Is anyone home?”
My mind sharpens at once and I look over at the back door. There’s a form silhouetted against the curtain covering the window. Fishbone snuffles, his whiskers twitching, and lets out a low, gravelly moan.
“Hey, it’s Emily! You here?”
Emily! Thank God. I hurry to the door, throwing it open. The night tries to rush in, but the candlelight pushes it back. I step out onto the patio.
“I see you still like candles,” a voice whispers spookily out of the darkness. I laugh as she steps into the light. “Too bad they can’t protect you from me.”
My smile freezes on my face as I realize—too late—that it’s not her. Icy fingers wrap around my arms and the thing presses its ugly face close to mine. I try to scream, but my lungs feel like they’re full of cotton. I look desperately around for help.
The last thing I see before the ghoul drags me away into the dark is Fishbone, standing in the doorway and barking with all his might.