“Carmel!” I shout, struggling up onto my knee. “I’m okay.”
“Cas,” she shouts back. “These jerks— I didn’t know, I swear.”
I believe her. I rub the back of my head. My fingers come away with a little bit of blood. Actually, it’s a lot of blood, but I’m not worried, because head wounds leak like water from a faucet even when the injury is barely more than a paper cut. I put my hand back on the floor to push myself up and the blood mixes the dust into a gritty reddish paste.
It’s too soon to get up. My head is swimmy. I need to lie back down. The room is starting to move on its own.
“Jesus, look at him. He’s down again. We should probably get him out of there, man. He could have a concussion or something.”
“I hit him with a board; of course he’s got a concussion. Don’t be an idiot.”
Look who’s talking, I would like to say. All of this feels very surreal, very disconnected. It’s almost like a dream.
“Let’s just leave him. He’ll find his own way back.”
“Dude, we can’t. Look at his head; it’s bleeding all over the place.”
As Mike and Chase argue back and forth over whether to babysit me or let me die, I feel myself slipping back down into darkness. I think this might actually be it. I’ve actually been murdered by the living—pretty unthinkable.
But then I hear Chase’s voice go up about five or so octaves. “Jesus! Jesus!”
“What?” Mike shouts, his voice irritated and panicky at the same time.
“The stairs! Look at the f**king stairs!”
I force my eyes open and will my head to lift up an inch or two. At first I don’t see anything extraordinary about the stairs. They’re a bit narrow, and the banister has been broken in no less than three places. But then I look up farther.
It’s her. She’s flickering in and out like an image on a computer screen, some dark specter trying to fight her way out of the video and into reality. When her hand grips the rail she becomes corporeal, and it whines and creaks beneath the pressure.
I shake my head softly, still disoriented. I know who she is, I know her name, but I can’t think of why I’m here. It occurs to me suddenly that I’m trapped. I don’t know what to do. I can hear the repeated panicked prayers of Chase and Mike as they argue about whether or not to run or try to get me out of the house somehow.
Anna is descending upon me, coming down the stairs without taking any strides. Her feet drag horribly along like she can’t use them at all. Dark, purplish veins cut through her pale white skin. Her hair is shadow-less black, and it moves through the air as though suspended in water, snaking out behind and drifting like reeds. It’s the only thing about her that looks alive.
She doesn’t wear her death wounds like other ghosts do. They say her throat was cut, and this girl’s throat is long and white. But there is the dress. It’s wet, and red, and constantly moving. It drips onto the ground.
I don’t realize that I’ve scooted back against the wall until I feel the cold pressure against my back and shoulder. I can’t take my eyes off her eyes. They’re like oil drops. It’s impossible to tell where she’s looking, but I’m not foolish enough to hope that she can’t or hasn’t seen me. She is terrible. Not grotesque, but otherworldly.
My heart is pounding in my chest, and the ache in my head is unbearable. It tells me to lie down. It tells me that I can’t get out. I don’t have the strength to fight. Anna is going to kill me, and I’m surprised to find that I would rather it be one like her, in her dress made of blood. I would rather succumb to whatever hell she has in mind for me than give up quietly in a hospital somewhere because someone hit me in the head with a piece of plank board.
She’s coming closer. My eyes are drifting shut, but I can hear her movements whisper through the air. I can hear each fat drop of blood strike the floor.
I open my eyes. She’s standing above me, the goddess of death, black lips and cold hands.
“Anna.” My mouth curls into a weak smile.
She looks down at me, a pathetic thing shoved up against her wall. Her brow creases as she floats. And then she jerks her gaze away toward the window above my head. Before I can move, her arms shoot forward and break through the glass. I hear Mike or Chase or both of them screaming almost in my ear. Farther away, I hear Carmel.
Anna has pulled Mike through the window and into the house. He’s screaming and bawling like a caught animal, twisting in her grip and trying to keep from looking at her face. His struggles don’t seem to bother her. Her arms are as immobile as marble.