“You have to find your way back into the world now,” I say gently.
Anna opens her mouth to speak, but I’ll never know what she was going to say. The house literally lurches, like it’s being jacked up. With a very large jack. When it settles, there’s a momentary jarring, and in the vibration a figure appears in front of us. It slowly fades in from shadow until he stands there, a pale, chalky corpse in the still air.
“I only wanted to sleep,” he says. It sounds like he’s got a mouthful of gravel, but upon closer inspection I realize it’s because all of his teeth have come loose. It makes him look older, as does the sagging skin, but he couldn’t have been more than eighteen. Just another runaway who stumbled into the wrong house.
“Anna,” I say, grabbing her arm, but she won’t let herself be dragged back. She stands without flinching as he stretches his arms wide. The Christlike pose makes it worse when the blood starts seeping through his ragged clothes, darkening the fabric everywhere, on every limb. His head lolls and then whips back and forth wildly. Then it snaps upright and he screams.
The sound of ripping that I hear isn’t only his shirt. Intestines spill out in a grotesque rope and hit the floor. He starts to fall forward, toward her, and I grab and yank hard enough to pull her to my chest. When I put myself between her and him, another body crashes through the wall, sending dust and splinters everywhere. It flies across the floor in scattered pieces, ragged arms and legs. The head stares at us as it skids, baring its teeth.
I’m in no mood to see a blackened, rotting tongue, so I wrap my arm around Anna and pull her across the floor. She moans softly but lets herself be pulled, and we rush through the door into the safety of daylight. Of course when we look back there’s no one there. The house is unchanged, no blood on the floor, no cracks in the wall.
Staring back through her front door, Anna looks miserable—guilty and terrorized. I don’t even think, I just pull her closer and hold her tight. My breath moves quickly in her hair. Her fists are trembling as she grips my shirt.
“You can’t stay here,” I say.
“There’s nowhere else for me to go,” she replies. “It isn’t so bad. They’re not that strong. A display like that, they can probably only manage once every few days. Maybe.”
“You can’t be serious. What if they get stronger?”
“I don’t know what we could have expected,” she says, and steps away, out of my reach. “That all this would come without a price.”
I want to argue, only nothing sounds convincing, even in my head. But it can’t be like this. It’ll drive her insane. I don’t care what she says.
“I’ll go to Thomas and Morfran,” I say. “They’ll know what to do. Look at me,” I say, lifting her chin. “I won’t let it stay like this. I promise.”
If she cared enough to make a gesture, it would be a shrug. To her, this is fitting punishment. But it did shake her up, and that keeps her from really arguing. When I move to my car, I hesitate.
“Will you be all right?”
Anna gives me a wry smile. “I’m dead. What could happen?” Still, I get the feeling that while I’m gone, she’s going to spend most of her time outside the house. I walk off down the driveway.
“I’m glad you came back. I wasn’t sure if you would.”
I nod and put my hands in my pockets. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Inside the car, I blare the radio. It’s a good thing to do, when you’re sick to death of creepy silence. I do it a lot. I’m just settling into my groove with some Stones when a news report cuts through the melody of “Paint It, Black.”
“The body was found just inside the gates of Park View Cemetery, and may have been the victim of a satanic ritual. Police can’t comment yet on the identity of the victim, however Channel 6 has learned that the crime was particularly brutal. The victim, a man in his late forties, appeared to have been dismembered.”
The images before me may as well be news footage played on mute. Lights on all of the squad cars ring out in red and flashing white, but there are no sirens. The police walk around in drab black jackets, their chins tucked low and somber. They’re trying to seem calm, like this happens every day, but some of them look like they’d rather be off in the bushes somewhere throwing up their donuts. A few use their bodies to obscure the view of nosy camera lenses. And somewhere in the center of it all is a body, torn to pieces.