After my abortive bath, I went to bed but only slept for three hours. I woke from a restless, dreamless sleep that did nothing for my newly trebled anxiety. The window was the brightest thing in the room, a pale gray square. The wind made the frame creak, and a rivulet of cold air was getting in. I listened to the miserable sound of the wind straining against the house. The feeling of being watched was still there too. I grabbed my penlight from the nightstand and shined it around the room. Nothing, not even a cat. That didn’t soothe my crawling skin.
I decided to get up and find some electricity so I could read. I didn’t want to leave my warm cocoon for the unexplored depths of Lexi’s house, but staying in bed and jumping at shadows all night was no alternative at all. I cursed the cold again, draped my afghan over my pajamas, and put two pairs of socks on my feet. Armed with afghan and Clive Barker book, I headed downstairs.
I heard Eddie snoring as I passed his room. It was the only familiar sound in a symphony of creaks, groans, and the constant rustle of the wind driving against the walls of the house. I didn’t want to turn any lights on. I decided that the kitchen would be a good place to read, and walking there in the dark would make me feel better about the house, too. I already liked the feel of it, in some screwed-up mystical way. It felt alive, much more alive than the hotel rooms Eddie and I had been living in. The creaks and groans were spooky but I wasn’t going to let the unfamiliar shadows frighten me. I would walk in them until they no longer held any mysteries.
At the bottom of the steps I smiled with the thrill. Taiisha’s voice rose in my head: She likes it. She likes being scared. My smile died.
I heard her behind me. There was no mistaking that chuckle, that scornful intake of breath. My skin stood up in alarmed goosebumps, and I turned and ran. I ran in a blind, stupid, senseless panic, not seeing anything. There was a howl in my mind, but I didn’t voice it. Somehow I crossed the foyer and fled into the ballroom.
In the middle of the ballroom I tripped over my own feet and fell. When I hit the floor I curled into a ball, expecting to be hit, arms crisscrossed over my face. I wound my afghan around myself, hiding beneath the knitted yarn like a child. My throat was tight from a scream withheld too long, but I didn’t let it out. I closed my eyes and willed her to be gone when I opened them. This had never worked in the past, but sometimes I couldn’t help it.
I couldn’t bring myself to open them for several minutes, but no one hit me. The house was silent, except for the rushing sound of snow and wind buffeting it. The wood floor was cold; a draft ran chilly fingers through the spaces in the afghan and found my bare legs. When I finally opened my eyes and peeked out from under the blanket, Taiisha wasn’t there. There was nothing but black shadows and gray light from the luminous snow outside, and my breath wheezing hysterically through parted lips. I closed my mouth and forced my breath through my nose, slow.
Jesus, I was hiding under an afghan in the middle of a huge ballroom. If Taiisha had been there, she’d have kicked the fuck out of me for being stupid. My heart wasn’t in it, but I threw the afghan off and stood up. Nothing struck me down. No one came howling at me out of the dark. Even the crawling sense of being watched was gone.
As the panic left me, I got cold again. I put the afghan around my shoulders again and continued through the ballroom into the kitchen. It was my destination, so I went there. I had dropped my book somewhere in the dark and didn’t want to look for it, but I turned on the lights and sat down at the kitchen table as if to read anyway. I just sat and looked at my hands, not seeing anything. At some point I dumped the sugar bowl out on the table and finger-traced a reasonably poor likeness of Taiisha in the powder. She was in my head and that helped to get her out. Getting out didn’t help; I was still in a big old creepy house in the middle of nowhere and I was expected to kill someone. The thought skipped through my head and repeated itself, like a scratched record. I finally got it to go away by thinking fiercely: But I don’t WANT to kill anyone! Whether I was talking to Taiisha or myself, I wasn’t certain.
I was still there when the sun came up. The gray of the snow falling in the windows grew steadily lighter until the day was as bright as it was going to get. The sky was white-gray. When I looked out the window I saw nothing but snow and leafless black trees frosted thickly with white. I realized that the sky was so pale because it was completely filled with snow, almost opaque with it, though there was little wind. I got cold just watching the snow fall; it was almost up to the windows in some places. My afghan was warm, so I kept it wrapped around me.
The daylight roused me a little bit though. The world had shifted around me slightly, and it was going to take a while for me to get comfortable with this new position. The problem was that I didn’t really have the luxury of being unsettled. Not when Lexi might betray me to Eddie over breakfast. Not with Taiisha still out there somewhere waiting for me to kill Eddie and prepared to kill anyone I talked to in the meantime–she could be killing Ian and Zheng right now, in fact.