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The Way Through the Woods

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“Fifty-two, fifty- three, fifty four, fifty-five…”
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It was yet another housebound Humboldt County day with the rain drumming hard on the apartment roof, and gushing down the street in heavy, ankle-freezing torrents. It was on gray wet days, such as this one when there was nothing but reruns on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and all the board games and videos had already been played, hide-and-go-seek seemed like a worth-while idea.

“Fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine…”

It was seven-year-old Olivia Satoui’s turn to be seeker, and she already had a good idea where her older sisters were. They were always hiding together and in the same spot. Being triplets, they seemed to like sticking together like glue.

“Sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two…”

Olivia got tired of counting and uncovered her eyes.

“Okay!” She hollered, getting up from the sofa. “Ready or not, here I come!”

Tiptoeing down the hall, she listened for the sound of stifled giggling and the rustling of clothes.

“Say, where’d you all go?” she said loudly. She peeked into their shared room scattered with toys and tween novels. “I will never find you and then I’ll be an only kid! Unless…!” she dropped to the floor and flipped back the covers of Kyoto’s bed.

“Oh, guess not…” she muttered upon seeing only monster movie magazines and horror and sci-fi paperbacks. “Well, how about…here!” she shouted, going to Izumi’s bed. Nothing was there but funky shoes, socks and a huge pile of trendy teenage magazines. A third inspection of Mizaki’s bed revealed only a neat stack of science books and magazines, and a box of Beanie Babies.

“Well, gee-whiz,” Olivia mumbled, brushing the dust from her denim overalls. “They must have gone somewhere else then…Unless.” Her eyes soon fixed on the closet door, and then walking stealthily over, she reached out to slowly turn the knob.

Then her smile faded as a warm breeze blew across the room. It brushed over her face and fluttered her short, bobbed hair. The smell of warm, green grass and moist earth filled the cramped space.

“What…?” Olivia’s eyes grew wide as the door swung slowly open.

She froze as she stared into the space beyond. Her brow wrinkled as she cocked her head, confused and bewildered.

There was no trace of clothes, shoes or sports gear. There was no trace of anything resembling the interior of a closet. It was now a hollow opening facing a lawn surrounded by dry fields and woods.

Olivia scrunched her nose and frowned. “Is this like Narnia?”

She blinked a few times and then pinched herself hard on the arm to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. It hurt and the summer landscape was still there so she knew she wasn’t dreaming.

Olivia pursed her lips into a pout, tapping thoughtfully at them with a grubby finger. After a few minutes of pondering, she stepped cautiously over to the door, reaching out to grasp the threshold.

“Hey!” she shouted her voice shaky and hoarse. “Are you guys out there?”

She listened as cicadas hummed and chirped in the soft, springy grass and bushes, while birds swooped and skimmed in the crystal-blue sky.

Again she called out, more loudly this time. “Izzanami! Miiiiizzzzzaaaakkkiiiii! Kyyyyoooto!”

No response.

Olivia swallowed back the anxious lump in her throat and released her grip on the door frame.

"Augh, you all can be a real pain in the hinny sometimes!" she grumbled. “When I find, you owe me a big cheesy pizza, and some strawberry ice cream with sprinkles and a cherry on top. Oh yeah, and don't forget a video rental—either Pixar or Miyazaki or even the Marx Brothers.‭ ‬And no‭ ‬Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey or‭ ‬the Three Stooges‭! ‬I hate those guys‭!”

With a huff of annoyance, she stepped determinedly across the threshold, the sweet heavy scent of loamy earth and blossoms soon filling her nostrils and coated the back of her throat.

Seconds stretched into minutes, with only the ever-increasing rain and thunder to break the lonely silence. Then an icy wind whipped through the room, scattering papers and posters like startled birds. It rifled through the pages of a souvenir scrapbook resting on Mizaki’s writing desk, coming to rest on a particular page with a taped yellowed fragment labeled:


Story bit found by Mizaki Satouri,‭ ‬7‭ ‬ in squirrel’s nest behind Holiday Gardens Apartments in Murrelet CA,‭ ‬Mar.‭ ‬13‭ ‬1996.‭ ‬Writer—No Name.


Several centuries ago,‭ ‬there was a sorceress named Algrisa,‭ ‬and she wrote a book.‭ ‬The purpose behind writing it was neither for profit nor fame,‭ ‬but for revenge at the unexpected demolition of her house.‭

Algrisa lived on the icy,‭ ‬wind-swept coast of northern Mur.‭ ‬Some scholars claimed her house was a grand crystal palace,‭ ‬but this was very unlikely,‭ ‬for she wasn’t a show off.‭ ‬Most reliable sources agreed it was a hut fashioned from driftwood,‭ ‬fragments of wrecked vessels,‭ ‬and whalebone.‭

Despite the remoteness of her house,‭ ‬people came from all around for advice on their various problems.‭ ‬Although she preferred to be left alone,‭ ‬poring over volumes of archaic lore,‭ ‬Algrisa often answered her visitors‭’ ‬queries out of politeness.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬not all the pilgrims sought her sage counsel‭; ‬some sought her hand in marriage.

Now this wasn’t at all surprising,‭ ‬despite her one hundred and twenty-three years,‭ ‬Algrisa appeared to be no more than eighteen years old.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬she preferred a withdrawn life of prophetic wisdom to one busy with chores and babies.‭ ‬So she refused them all,‭ ‬including one who was a very proud and powerful wizard.

The wizard saw her refusal as a sign of arrogance and contempt.‭ ‬He waited however,‭ ‬biding his time patiently.‭ ‬It wasn’t until the sorceress left for a hunting expedition that he acted.‭ ‬Conjuring up a fierce storm,‭ ‬he sent it plowing inland.‭ ‬Lashed by the howling wind,‭ ‬the sea unleashed a raging series of monstrous waves that swamped the entire shore,‭ ‬completely obliterating the hut along with its contents.‭ ‬By the time Algrisa got back,‭ ‬all that remained of her hermitage and libraries were some splintered timbers and a few pathetic scraps of parchment.

Immediately,‭ ‬Algrisa set to work.‭ ‬Scouring the market place and various magicians‭’ ‬guilds for writing material,‭ ‬she finally pieced together a book of magic.‭ ‬Some of the spells were perfectly safe,‭ ‬but most were designed to backfire with hellish results.

One night,‭ ‬she went down to a crossroad where the wizard was known to pass.‭ ‬Placing the book in the middle of the road,‭ ‬she then hid herself in the hedgerow to watch.‭

The bait was soon taken.‭ ‬What specific spell he used afterwards the tale doesn’t tell,‭ ‬except to say that what remained of him was enough to fill a snuffbox.

Several more centuries elapsed,‭ ‬and eventually,‭ ‬the sorceress died.‭ ‬No one,‭ ‬not even the wisest and most well-preserved magicians can escape Death.‭

The Algrisa,‭ ‬as it came to be known,‭ ‬still existed—and still unleashed its fury on any incautious person who discovered it.‭ ‬ It soon earned the reputation of the third dangerous magic book in the world after the Grisly Grimoire by Oglath Azgroth of Zilth and the most dangerous book of all--‭ ‬the Spontaneous Combustible Besephalaminon,‭ ‬which,‭ ‬even a mere mention of its name,‭ ‬caused one’s shoes to burst into flames.‭

After traveling from one library to another,‭ ‬and generally making life miserable for countless monks,‭ ‬scholars,‭ ‬and meddlers alike,‭ ‬the book was lost.


Yellowed pages of newsprint rustled dryly as more pages were turned:


Old newspaper clipping traded to Mizaki Satouri,‭ ‬7‭ ½ by packrat at Redwood Park,‬ Murrelet CA,‭ ‬Mar.‭ ‬27‭ ‬1996.‭ ‬Writer—No Name.

 The Express and Telegraph‭ (‬Neo-Calpuria,‭ ‬New Australia:‭ ‬1867-1920‭)

Plague of Apocalyptic Proportions:

A Vessel‭ ‬Infested‭ ‬and the Crew Demoralized.

An account arrives from New Amsterdam told of strange adventure which happened recently on board of the schooner‭ ‬Medb Lethderg,‭ ‬which was sailing from‭ ‬New Hawaii‭ ‬to New Pacifica,‭ ‬California, The schooner was manned by a‭ ‬mixed‭ ‬crew of Gerdin,‭ ‬human and elves, She had left‭ ‬New Hawaii‭ ‬some days ago when the captain and the crew were all startled to see the decks invaded by hundreds of‭ ‬8″‭ ‬long blue centipede, whose bite is said to be as deadly as that of a pit viper.‭ They succeeded,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬in killing the blue menace with‭ ‬cauldrons of‭ ‬boiling water.‭ ‬Some days later the steward ran from the hold in hysterics,‭ ‬saying that it‭ ‬now‭ swarmed with‭ ‬the murderous blue pests as well as‭ ‬Lesser Brown Scorpions.‭ ‬Some of the crew,‭ ‬provided with lanterns and marlin spikes,‭ ‬descended into the hold,‭ ‬and the beasts,‭ ‬frightened by the light,‭ ‬came‭ ‬out‭ ‬onto the deck by the thousands.‭ ‬The sailors,‭ ‬again frightened out of their wits,‭ ‬then ‬ sought refuge on the masts and rigging,‭ and the captain could not‭ ‬convince them‭ ‬descend to fight the horde.For three days the‭ ‬creatures swarmed on the deck,‭ ‬and not one of the sailors would take the risk of‭ ‬abandoning‭ ‬his refuge. A mastiff,‭ ‬who was chained in the bow ‬died ‬within ‬in a few seconds of being bitten. The captain and the first mate,‭ ‬who remained on deck,‭ ‬tried to destroy the‭ ‬swarm‭ ‬by ‭ ‬pans of burning sulphur‭; ‬but they only were able to killed a hundred,‭ ‬and there were still thousands more to take their place.‭ ‬Their salvation came in the form of a storm‭ ,and‭ ‬monstrous waves‭ ‬swept the deck clean of the biting,‭ ‬stinging plague,‭ ‬those that had‭ had not been carried off by the ‬sea soon succumbed to the cold.‭ ‬The schooner had a cargo composed of dissembled parts for the rebuilding of a newly purchased Victorian,‭ ‬of which much was worm eaten,‭ ‬and in the interior of which the centipedes and scorpions had quite ‬possibly ‬made their nests.


The clock in the laundry room now read twenty to two. A piebald cat slept in a bundle of laundry. It opened an eye when the phone on a shelf began to ring— once…twice… three times…. Where was that baby sitter at? Usually Caelyn was prompt at answering the damn phone.

Four…five…six…

The broom closet suddenly burst open, and Mizaki tumbled out in clatter of brooms and mops. She struggled to her feet and scurried to the phone, yanking up the receiver.

“Yeah, hello?” she said groggily. “What?” she winced at the shrillness of the voice at the other end. “No, Ellie. I don’t want to see what you found in an old shed. It’s probably something really gross and disgusting…like a dead junkie or some anime porn!”

The cat yawned then proceeded to retch up a hairball.

“Well, why don’t you call one of your Wiccan friends then?” Mizaki was now wide awake and very irate. “Maybe that creepy brujo kid with the glasses, get him to translate the darn thing for you.”

She jerked the receiver away as another shrill babbling erupted from it.

“Oh, he’s in juvie?” Mizaki nodded slowly. “For setting fire to this guy’s bed?” She was silent for a moment as she mulled over this latest news. “Yeah, well what do you expect…the guy was a complete and total nutjob, even if he was able to run a freakin’ Tarot racket and dupe people out of their savings.”

She gritted her teeth as shriek after outraged shriek drilled like needles into her eardrum.

"Well, Ellie," she told the caller sternly. "Maybe if you stopped hanging around with weirdoes like that then people will quit bitching on you about all this witchcraft crap. Anyway, can't you think of a better way to get attention? All this occult stuff won't make popular or help you fit in. It just makes you look like a goddamn freakin' retard!" Mizaki stiffened and glared at the phone. "What did you just call me?"

The house was a hovel not a home: standing dark and deserted, its decrepit tiled roof and wooden porch nearly swallowed up by the surrounding trees and bushes. The walkway leading up to it was heavily overgrown with weeds and tangled tree roots and bushes.

Olivia studied the dilapidated structure in front of her. Her small hands tightly clenched at her side as she resisted the urge to suck her thumb. Nervously, she looked the way she came. And then turning back, she swallowed the lump in her throat and slowly climbed the creaky, lichen-infested porch. When she yanked at the front door, she found it was locked.

Olivia began to frown. Then she peered through the large window beside it. Through the grime and patches of mildew, she saw that the inside was even worse than the outside. Everywhere she looked, in the lounge and kitchen area, there were piles of rubbish, and it wasn’t the old-fashioned sort you tend to see in movies or read about in books. The mess looked new as if the owners had simply left it all behind only a month or two ago.

Olivia shook her head in disbelief. Gross! She thought. Why would anyone live out here in this dump?

As she turned away, the shadows beyond the murky glass seemed to shift and lengthen. She froze then glanced back over her shoulder; her sharp eyes probing the filthy corners of the rooms and straining her ears through the deep quiet. The only sounds she could hear were that of her frantically pounding heart and harsh rapid breathing. Taking a shuddering breath, she took a step back while rubbing the goose bumps now sprouting up on her arms.

“You must be imaging things,” Olivia murmured. “There’s nobody living here…if there was, I would have heard them making noise.”
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Still she took a few more steps back, afraid to get too close. The window seemed darker now, as if the remaining sunlight was being bled out. It was like someone was slowly twisting a dimmer all the way off. Something also seemed a little off with the dirty splotches speckling the window pane, the patterns seemed more distinct now—almost like faces staring back at her. Some of them blurry and indistinct while others showed misshapen yet still recognizable human-like mouths, eyes and noses.

Something scuffled dryly on the rough-hewn steps behind her. And when the porch creaked and moaned, she gasped and whirled around…only to be met by nothing at first, until her eyes caught sight of a series of small smudgy prints along the edge of the porch. Despite her nervousness, she bent closer to examine them. Very carefully, she traced her finger around one of the paw prints.

Olivia was no zoologist, but was not entirely ignorant of different animal tracks. She knew it wasn’t a cat due to the prints’ tiny size and didn’t think it was a dog either due to the human-like ‘fingers’, quite possibly it was a rodent—a mouse or a rat, maybe even a lizard of some kind—which had apparently scurried up the stairs giving her a major fright. She glanced around the porch curiously, alert for still more tracks or small scurrying forms. There was no sign of the creature anywhere and somewhat shaken, she finally decided to head back home. She found this place way too creepy/disturbing for her tastes and wished only to return to the crowded yet familiar suburban apartment, plus she didn’t want to get stranded in this strange world should the door to the closet ever returned and was shut. Perhaps she might be able to convince her parents and even her sisters to accompany her on her next trip through the magic portal where they might even help her unravel the mystery of this strange deserted house way back in the woods. And speaking of her sisters, she could almost hear them coming.

“Olivia!” A faint voice shouted through the trees. “Hey, Olivia! Where are you pipsqueak?”

“Come on, Olive!” You win, we give up!”

Another voice yelled. “Olly olly oxen free!”

There's nobody out there. You're just hearing birds. Nope, that’s not right. You’re just hearing things from your own feather-brained head. There's nobody here for like hundreds of miles, just you and this cruddy dream place. It’s all just your wild imagination playing tricks on you.

Stubbornly, she closed her eyes and just sat there, hearing the summer breeze ripple the leaves above and whistle around the eaves of the old house. She began tapping her heels together all the while mumbling that famous movie mantra, “There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…there’s no place like home.”

“Olive! Where are you!” The first voice called with more urgency. “Stop playing around! It’s time for lunch! Caelyn’s going to get into serious trouble if Mom and Dad come back and you’re not here!”

“Where do you think Caelyn is anyway?” The second voice asked. “It’s not like her to be an hour late. You think she might be blabbering on the phone with her boyfriend or one of her airhead friends?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Kyoto,” The first voice grumped. “Maybe she had appendicitis or her car broke down.”

“Dude, she like rides a bicycle and lives half a block away,” The second voice pointed out.

“Well, I don’t know then,” The first voice barked in frustration. “All I know is that she must have a good enough reason for coming and at this very moment, I’m hating our kid sister for going off to hide in the woods out back all by herself.”

Izumi’s cross voice jarred Olivia back to reality. She snapped open her eyes as she ceased her Dorothy Gail mantra.

“But I didn’t go into the woods out back,” she mumbled. “I went into the closet.”

There was a sudden heavy thud and thrashing of underbrush followed shortly by swearing in English and Japanese.

“Izumi! Are you okay?”

“No!” was the bellowed reply.

“Ugh. Not only are my leather boots are soaked through, my Cabrini slacks are smeared with dog doo!”

“Dude, why didn’t you wear your wellingtons?”

“Because I was in a hurry to look for Olivia, that’s why?” came the disgusted reply. “And I still don’t know why she decided to go hide in the middle of freakin,’ possibly weirdo-infested woods.”

There was a long pause. The only sounds were from the warm, gentle wind sloughing through the trees and the hammering of Olivia’s heart thundering in her ears.

“Maybe she wanted to go see the haunted house,” Kyoto murmured.

“W-w-what haunted house?” Olivia stammered. A chill soon enveloped her from head to foot, seeping into her bones. She tried to move her legs, but found herself unable to budge an inch. As Olivia concentrated on trying to get up with all her might, she heard that dry rustling behind her again.

She slowly glanced back and was startled to see the front door cracked open “Hello?”

“Oh, puh-leez,” Izumi groaned. “You actually believe all that stuff about those kids dying of some disgusting, demonic disease at a slumber party séance?”

“Actually they got murdered by some unknown killer,” Kyoto corrected her. “All of them poisoned by this mandrake-like plant root that was vaporized in this kerosene lamp. Worked faster than arsenic and pretty horrible too—their skin was all blistered and purplish-black and it was flaking off in bloody strips—“

“Kyoto!” Izumi yelled at the top of her lungs. “This isn’t the time and place for discussing some creepy urban legend. We got to find our bratty little pest of a sister and get our butts back home before our parents come back and find out!”

“Got it,” Kyoto affirmed. “Find Olive and get out pronto before parental units get back and turns us into yakitori.”

A sudden icy breeze rustled the knee-high grasses and surrounding bushes. “Who’s there?” Olivia’s voice dryly caught in her throat. She could see nothing but pitch-black in the long narrow crack. Somewhere in the distance, the voices continued on with their diatribe, although they now sounded muffled as if her ears were jammed-packed with cobweb and cotton balls. She could only make out a few words—“unknown killer, lamp, legend, and yakitori.”

“I’m starved,” Olivia muttered. “Yakitori sounds way better than pizza and ice cream.”

She took a deep breath and scooted closer to the edge of the porch. A sudden prickling on the nape of her neck told her that she wasn’t alone. The wind had picked up, the temperature suddenly dropping. The freeze cold penetrated her sweater, going straight through flesh and bone. Yet her rasping breath produced no puffs of steam and the bright sun still shone on the luxurious deep green of early summer.

Whatever was watching her was standing right behind that partially opened door. She squeezed her eyes tight, afraid to look, afraid to turn around and see something hideous in that shadowy recess. When she realized her eyes were clamped shut, she snapped them open again.

Pushing through her quivering fear, she slowly stood up.

As she inched forward, she heard a faint scraping behind her followed shortly by a creak.

She shot a wild look over her shoulder as something rubbery and cold coiled around her ankle. She thrashed desperately against its grip, her screams echoing through the rapidly darkening clearing, but the more she fought, the tighter the grip got.

Suddenly hundreds of shadowy arms, like black plumes of spiraling smoke surged from the yawning doorway. Olivia flailed wildly about as long spindly fingers clutched her hair and clothes.

The porch blurred past her as she was then yanked backwards toward the void. Then warm and strong hands caught her flailing feet and arms and then she was yanked back. Then she was in Mizaki’s arms, shocked and winded as auburn-haired Caelyn stood tall and straight, glaring furiously into writhing black void.

“Nobody messes with my kids!” the elfish babysitter snarled, hands balled into fists at her side, “especially ghosts of spoiled rotten fucking brats who poisoned her siblings and their friends because she was sent to bed without dinner as punishment. Be gone from here, you murderous witch brat before I rip your maggoty soul apart and flush the pieces down the nearest public toilet. You had your chance at life, and you blew it! And no way in hell are you coming back again in a stolen body of an innocent yokai kid, forcing demons and lost souls to do your filthy trickster bidding…like you did to the living when you were alive. Now get out of hell outta here you goddamn mind parasite, you stinkin’ skin stealer, strigoi mort, you worthless worm spawn who ruined a good many lives—both Mortal and Faire Folk! You are not welcome here! Get back to the Shadow Realm! This Way is closed to you!”

“Hey!” Izumi’s voice suddenly shouted, shrill with hysteria. “Caelyn? Is that you yelling? Is Olivia with you? Where the heck are you guys? It’s so dark out here! Is there a tornado coming?”

There was a sound of feet splashing through puddles and thrashing through the underbrush. Then Kyoto and Izumi burst into the clearing, sweat and rain streaming down their pale faces.

“There you are!” Kyoto shouted. “Finally!”

“We’ve been looking all over for you guys!” Izumi burst out. “It’s like the Blair Witch Woods out here!”

They skidded to a halt, their eyes growing huge with astonishment.

“Is that the ‘house’ you were telling me about?” Izumi asked. “The one where all those kids got whacked by that poisoned lantern?”

“I don’t get it.” Kyoto shook her head baffled. “The kids at school said it was a huge Victorian mansion with stone pillars and a big iron gate.”

“Yeah?” Izumi wrinkled up her nose in disgust. “Well, it looks more like a crack house than a haunted house to me. Maybe if there were clowns, garden gnomes and zombie militias chasing us with chainsaws and weird escaped mutants trying to sell us timeshares then it would be kind of an improvement.”

Had the two sisters arrived a minute earlier, they might have seen what the other three were staring at. They might have seen that door was wide open, and beyond it that room that yawned as black as a bottomless pit, the only light visible coming from an old-fashioned trainman's lantern. They might have seen the thin, scraggly-haired person who held in one frail hand while the other was stretched toward a cheval glass mirror.

They might have even felt a felt an intense wave of sheer panic and fear at the plain pointed features of the girl quietly regarding her partially emerged reflection in the murky glass. Their mouths might have dropped open with shock as the pale face contorted into dried up shriveled rags of skin upon a hideous old skull as the lich-thing slowly turned to fix them with a cold, silent stare before the door slammed shut with a thunderous crash.

The steady downpour had slowed to a light drizzle when they finally staggered through the back door to the apartment, and by the time everyone was in warm dry clothes the sun was just beginning to peek out from behind the thick blanket of clouds.

After Caelyn made hot chocolate for them and ice tea for herself, she explained to them the real story behind the events which they had just witnessed.

“Back in 70’s and 80’s, there used to be a subdivision back where that forest is now at, and amongst the modern buildings was a large Victorian mansion—the same place where that devil spawn did that foul deed…and where she died shortly there afterwards by falling face first into a mirror.” She frowned as she sipped her tea. “Or maybe she was pushed by a ghost of one of her victims. Who knows for sure? But there wasn’t any hauntings afterwards, even though people called it ‘the haunted house.’ It didn’t get its dark, terrible curse until…”

“Until what?” Olivia finally asked as she sat nestled between Mizaki and Izumi.

Until this neo-hippie girl brought forth something that should have been left dormant and well buried.”

“That girl we both saw?” Mizaki interrupted. “The one that tried--?”

“Yeah,” Caelyn cut in the moment she noticed Olivia looking frantically about. “That was what she called up…among other things.”

She took another sip of her cup while she petted the cat, which sat quietly on the coffee table. “My older sister Judith (she’s 24 now) knew this girl since preschool. Her name was Lucille and she was what you would call a special snowflake. Spoiled rotten beyond belief, complete doted on by her parents.”

“Like Ellie Lambert,” Izumi muttered. “She’s a total brat and a bully. Always pestering us to teach her magic…like she thinks we’re witches or faeries just because we got shiny black hair and pointy ears.”

Kyoto snorted in disgust. “Faeries? We’re not lousy stinkin’, sprinkling pixie dust, faeries! We’re chickcharnie half-breeds! That’s why we can’t change shape and do magic.”

“Well, you still have years to go before you can find out if you got your mom’s sort of talent,” said Caelyn reassuringly.

“You know, she locked Caelyn in the laundry shed?” Mizaki blurted out.

“What?” Izumi and Kyoto exclaimed, shocked.

“Yeah, that’s what Caelyn told me,” Mizaki went on. “She went to the laundry cottage to wash her clothes, not knowing that Ellie was following right behind her. Then Ellie jammed the door and it got locked. Then Caelyn tried to climb out the window, but wound up stuck. Finally, she hollered until the snoopy old lady from next door finally came out and unlocked the laundry door. The old lady saw everything and even told Caelyn’s parents about it and that’s why she was late.”

“Wad da hell, that bakayaro!!!” Izumi growled. “Hope that old lady called the police on her!”

Caelyn shrugged with a heavy sigh. “Well, her parents will just find her a good lawyer then. They’re rich enough since they’re both shrinks.” Flipping her long hair over her shoulder, she continued on with her story. “So my sister Judith knew Lucille for a while throughout grade and middle school. The girl was a real flake, really into New Age theories, telepathy, astrology, psychic healing, and spirit chat, of course.

“On top of that, she was really, really bossy, everything had to be her way…like she wanted to join a ballerina dance class, Judith had to join even though she had two left feet and ended up being relegated to set decorating and pulling the curtain to open the show or when Lucille attended a birthday party featuring a lot of cheesy carnival games and people in clown costumes, Judith had to be there too even though my sister found such games and clowns lame and annoying. Or she had to go to one of Lucille’s "princess" tea parties where she had to listen to Lucille go on about various conspiracy theories ranging from reptilian aliens taking over the government to how colds and flu were actually the result of negative thoughts rather than germs.

“Things changed once they got into the eighth grade though. Judith made new friends—friends that were into actual fun stuff—playing arcade games, listening and dancing to the latest music, playing hacky sack and street hockey, stuff that didn’t involve infantile tea parties with plushie toys and stale cookies and dancing about in pink tutus pretending to be sugarplum fairies.

“Even though she no longer hung out with Lucille, Lucille was always there, lurking in the background, like a shadow on a wall or a stray mutt skulking for attention or food. Although Judith felt sort of bad for ignoring the girl, she still thought it was probably a wise idea on her part.

“Lucille was starting to become really creepy-annoying lately. Following Judith around, constantly inviting herself over. She would call my sis up and be like ‘Please can I come over? Please can I come over?’ And Judith would be like—‘No, I have an important book report to do with Ginger. Maybe when I get some free time, I can have you over someday. I promise.’ But the brat wasn't going to be satisfied with a vague promise. She kept it up, whining away like a band saw. ‘Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease? Can't I come right now? Can I? Mom says I could.’

“Her mom just happened to be one of those totally and utterly clueless suburbanites who walked round, wearing rose-colored glasses and believing with all their heart that their offspring would do no wrong.

“And her dad wasn’t much better, a college dead beat and drop out turned aspiring attorney who was too preoccupied with winning cases rather than instilling discipline in his daughter.”

Caelyn shook her head. “I could go and on about Lucille’s constant begging and barging in, but it would take too long. Eventually, my mom brought her foot down, and sternly told her she couldn’t call or come over anymore. Well, that soon brought a halt to Lucille’s constantly calling and coming over. She was so scared of my folks, especially my mom whenever she got into Mama Bear Mode. Yet that still didn’t stop Lucille from coming up with various hair brain schemes to intrude on Judith’s social life.”

“Ugh, Ellie’s one of those,” Izumi groaned with a roll of eyes. “Except she’d never call first. She’d just come over and just barge right in like she owned the place. Then she’d raid the fridge and then get her grubby paws all over our stuff. And if the front door was locked, she’d go around and check the back door and every freakin’ window.” She rolled her eyes again. “I swear, it’s like she was raised by trolls or goblins or something that lived out in the woods!”

“I think trolls and goblins have much better manners than that clown,” Kyoto murmured, taking a sip of her hot chocolate. “They don’t come unless they’re invited or if you say the magic words—‘I wish you come and take my lil’ bratzillia of a sister or brother away.”

Olivia took a big sip of her drink. “I wish the trolls or goblins will take Ellie away,” she said in a low voice. “Just like how that ghost girl tried to take me away.”

Caelyn stared at her, dumbfounded. “Why would you say something like that?”

Olivia set her mug down and looked at the girl across the table. “She’s always finding a way to ruin things, like she did on my 6th birthday. Some of the neighbors had warned us when we moved here, that she stole and broke stuff.”

“Yeah,” Kyoto scowled. “But, we didn’t believe them because we thought they were just being prejudiced…because she’s a hualau.

“Hua-la-wha-now?” Caelyn asked, baffled.

“Where we’re from, it’s kind of like the Hawaiian word haole,” Mizaki explained, “meaning foreigner, although hualau’s more of an ethnic slur. Even the non-native people hate being called that, they’re rather being called malihini or haole or Midgarder.”

“It means ‘rogue alien human,’ Olivia murmured, “cause that’s what Ellie Lambert is, a ‘rogue alien human.’

“What did she do at your 6th birthday party?” asked Caelyn, watching Olivia anxiously. “Did she steal some of your presents?”

Olivia shook her head. “She wasn’t even supposed to be there. Everyone pretty much hated her so no one told her about the party we were having. It was at Redwood Park, just my family and some of my friends and their parents (the ones that were able to come).

“Then she and her loser friends come over, acting all really sweet and innocent (maybe she got the news from one of the grown-ups, cause no one I knew trusted her…not after what she did to the class hamster and hermit crabs).”

“Hey dog ate them!” Izumi burst out indignantly. “Jana Sears was taking care of them last summer, and everything was going great…until Ellie brought her new wolf dog puppy, after she was repeatedly told not to because it was hyper-crazy, always bouncing off the walls and breaking stuff. Then Ellie stuck the hell hound in the rec room where the class mascots were, and after that it literally became a ‘wreck room.’ Jana had to get her dad to buy the replacement animals, since Ellie already spent all her money on ElvenQuest and Anime crap. She’s still not talking to Ellie.”

Olivia frowned. “The dog was at my party, it ate my birthday cake before we could sing ‘Happy Birthday’ so there was a huge hole in my cake. Then it crashed into my presents, and then it grabbed and guzzled down the kids’ treats.” She began waving her hands wildly about. “It was a mess, half the kids were screaming and crying, and the parents there were all shocked and disgusted. And the dog was romping around, licking people, and tossing around presents.”

“And that’s how your party got ruined?” Caelyn nodded.

“No, it only got worse when the dog knocked me down, and I fell face first in what I thought was mud. Only it wasn’t mud, it was doggy doo and it was everywhere. My face and hair was covered in the stuff and Ellie and her bozo friends were wetting themselves laughing.”

“Oh, man!” Caelyn looked shocked.

“Yep,” Olivia nodded solemnly. “Everyone else didn’t think it was funny and still don’t. I think one of the moms called the police on them, but none of them went to juvie. They just got a stern talking-to. Well, I still smelled of dog doo even after several days of showering. Ellie kelp calling me ‘Stinking McDoodoo Head’ and kept telling me to stand downwind, although she didn’t do it out loud because she was afraid of my sisters and some of the other kids ganging up on her.”

“Yeah, well I’m surprised she’s still going to school,” Caelyn muttered. She sipped her drink, frowning. “Lucille got expelled in her sophomore year in high school for slipping rotting road kill into this popular girl’s locker. Apparently, she got peeved because ‘Miss Popular’ decided to invite Judith to her Halloween party while Lucille was left off the list. Around this time, Lucille started getting into black magic, not the fake kind you see in movies and Magic: the Gathering cards, the real scary kind involving death-dealing curses and conjuring up ghosts and demons, often with dark rites done in secret and in out-of-the-way places.

“Of course, no one took her seriously—she looked more Little Orphan Annie than Wednesday Addams and she wasn’t the only angst-ridden poser trying to shed their preppy persona. Yet while the other kids were trawling through thrift shops, the malls and music stores for the latest dark metal album and Gothic fashion apparel, Lucille was treading a far darker path. And it was down this dark, lonesome road that she found a shadowy community that she thought understood her and who even pushed her interests farther.

“A few weeks after her expulsion, the rumors began to circulate. That Lucille wasn’t messing around with the usual scented oils, wax candles, glammy spell books and pentagrams. This was real sinister Hoodoo stuff, really horrible rituals that no decent folk would talk about openly; secret things done in shabby, mildewed rooms or deep in the woods in the dead of night.

“Jealousy and hatred were nasty, ugly beasts, especially when they were coming from spoiled rotten kids with more money and free time on their hands than common sense in their heads.”

“And where were Lucille’s parents during all this?” Mizaki looked at Caelyn, mystified.

“Oh, being their usual neglectful selves,” Caelyn grumbled. ‘Oh no, not my Lucille! She’s a good girl …a mother knows best! You’re all lying!’ Her parents thought that the cheerleader girl actually pinned the whole locker fiasco on Lucille. Actually ‘Miss Popular’ was on the squad due to a high grade point average and had lots more decency than the whole family who endlessly accused strings of students of bullying, which only served to deepen Lucille’s social rejection further.

“I was seven at the time, and even I thought she was a whiny, bumbling oaf, sad and pathetic even. But after Judith and then I saw some really weird stuff, I actually became really afraid of that kid.”

“What kind of weird stuff?” Izumi asked curiously.

“Well,” Caelyn replied, “when Judith heard the rumors that her former friend had fallen in with the wrong crowd and was now a hardcore dark witch, she didn’t believe it one bit. Okay, she could believe the black clothes and the vampire makeup, although it made Lucille look dumb as hell rather than cool. She could believe Lucille going into death metal and Halloween horror stuff, but casting actual real spells and summoning demonic beings? Baloney! Not only Lucille was a yellowed-bellied, lily-livered, scaredy cat, she also didn’t like getting dirty…and you how those Hoodoo people get downright dirty with all manner of gross gunk? That was until she saw Lucille vanish into a door that wasn’t there a minute ago.

“Halloween came and went without incident, and then it was early November. Judith was coming back from a weekend movie with a couple of her friends when they noticed Lucille walking down the main street. They all got curious, wondering if there was some truth in those witchcraft rumors…so they decided to follow her. And for several blocks they did, into the shabbier part of down town across from the college. Eventually, they followed her into this alleyway, and they all watched from a distance as she paused halfway through and drew a compass design on the wall in what looked like blood or maybe even wine. As the amateur sleuths stared in amazement, the symbol began to expand and spread across the wall, the wavy lines undulating like the tentacles of an octopus. The plaster surface began to flake and crack away, revealing beneath it a stone archway. For a moment, the three girls stood staring open-mouthed as Lucille stepped bravely through the opened doorway. The next minute there was a thud of running feet as my sister and her friends fled in the direction of home.”

“But where did the doorway go exactly?” Kyoto asked, bewildered.

Caelyn shrugged as she sipped her drink slowly. “Judith just caught a glimpse of the place before she took off, but she told me later it reminded her of the Scottish capital of Edinburgh with its steep cobbled streets and tall gloomy buildings with its steep cobbled streets and tall gloomy buildings…except for the lights, they all seemed to be lit by these luminous lanterns floating in the air. It was like something out of a fairy tale or a George Lucas movie.

“Understandable, Judith was freaked out and she warned me under no circumstances was I to make contact with Lucille. Don’t let her in the house, don’t let her borrow anything, even if it was small stuff and don’t eat anything that she offered you, even if it was baked goods at a yard sale or party. I had no problem following those rules since Lucille wasn’t hanging around our street anymore. Yet weird things continued to happen…”

“And you believed your sister when she told you about what she saw?” Izumi asked, scratching her nose.

“Of course,” Caelyn nodded. “My sister wasn’t one for telling tall tales, she even told our parents about it although, not surprisingly, they were rather skeptical about the whole things, especially Dad. He thought it was all a prank some film students did with some hidden mirror and cameras. He had always been pretty skeptical of the paranormal, until he came face to face with it.”

“So what kind of weird paranormal stuff are we talking about here?” Izumi looked puzzled. “Like dolls coming to life and attacking people? TVs turning to creepy static? People being sucked into closets?”

“No, nothing like that,” Caelyn replied. “Things didn’t get weird until the start of Thanksgiving break. We were having a bout of Indian Summer after all the crap weather we had in October. Me and my little brother Arlen were outside on the trampoline late evening when all of a sudden all these glowing green rods appeared. There were about the same size and width of a glow stick, and there were like hundreds of these things zipping and whizzing about our backyard and high up in the trees. We were so terrified that we ran back inside, but they were gone by the time Mom and Dad came out.”

“Fireflies?” Kyoto asked, watching Caelyn closely.

“We don’t have the flashing kind,” Mizaki informed, “and fireflies don’t look like glowing rods.”

Caelyn shrugged and shook her head. “We didn’t know what they were, and they weren’t as scary as what came afterwards.” Her long fingers twitched nervously as they grasped her cup. “The closet doors in our house started swinging open, always around the same time—3 A. M. Eventually, Dad, thinking it was just some out-of-whack frames, just took the doors off the hinges. Things continued to get worse, we started noticing movement out of the corner of our eyes—shadowy humanoid forms, but made up of what looked like spiky scribbles, like little kid scribbles of a human shapes, but these things moved in a herky-jerky fashion of old film footage.

The Satoui sisters sat stiffly in fear-frozen silence, half-expecting to see a dark scribbly figure flash past Caelyn’s back.

“Fast forward three weeks later,” the teen went on. “Me and my brother would see these shadow things in our room, all concentrated in the corners, writhing and twisting like a mess of snakes or centipedes.”

"Ewww!!!" Olivia exclaimed. “I hate centipedes!”

“Yeah, you’re not the only one,” Caelyn nodded in agreement before continuing. “Well, Arlan got really bad night terrors, and several times, woke up screaming that there was some eyeless Nosferatu guy leaning over his bed, grinning. ‘Eyeless’ as in blank skin over where the eyes and sockets should be.”

There was a tense silence in the room while Mizaki wrote rapidly in her journal.

“So what happened next?” Izumi asked finally.

Caelyn shrugged. “We eventually moved across town, but shortly before we did, Judith and some friends got together and went looking for Lucille. Apparently she wasn’t the only one that Lucille had on her spectral grudge list.

“So did they come armed with holly water and crosses and a vampire hunting kit‭?” ‬Kyoto asked eagerly.‭ “‬You know…like in the movies‭?”

“No,‭” ‬Caelyn answered.‭ “‬It was just a scared,‭ ‬angry bunch of teenagers,‭ ‬all looking to kick Lucille’s ass.‭ ‬But they didn’t find Lucille that day or the next,‭ ‬and when one kid checked by her house,‭ ‬it was entirely covered with this large funigating tent.‭ ‬When he asked one of the ‬exterminator,‭ ‬the man replied that their house was being tented and fumigated for house centipedes and whip scorpions,‭ ‬and they couldn’t return for six months.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬the ‬man didn’t know where the ‬family ‬was currently staying right now.‭ ‬So the matter of confronting Lucille was soon dropped although the kids ‬got ‬a certain satisfaction and comfort in knowing that someone messed up so badly that they just can't ever come back into your life.

‭“‬The family eventually returned after sixth months,‭ ‬although they stayed long enough to collect a few precious items.‭ ‬Nobody saw Lucille come with them,‭ ‬and nobody saw her leave ‬with them ‬never to return.‭ ‬The house was eventually‭ ‬sold to a young Italian couple from the Brooklyn area.‭ ‬The remaining furniture and personal belongings of the ‬previous occupants were ‬either thrown out or sold in a garage sale.‭ ‬Judith and some of friends ‬scavenged through the ‬stuff looking for ‘‬evidence’ ‬of Lucille’s hoodoo practicing,‭ ‬but aside from a few tacky magic props,‭ ‬they didn’t anything.‭ ‬Life ‬in the community ‬went ‬on as if nothing happened,‭ ‬and since there was nothing in the local newspapers about recently missing teenagers,‭ ‬nobody worried about the whereabouts of a certain ‬amateur ‬witch.”

‭“‬So she disappeared without a trace‭?” ‬Izumi said in a whisper.‭ “‬Just like that‭?”

“But what’s all this got to do with that house back there in the woods‭?” ‬Kyoto inquired impatiently.

‭“‬She was just getting to that,‭” ‬said Mizaki,‭ ‬still writing down what Caelyn just said.

‭“‬Three more years passed,‭” ‬Caelyn continued quietly,‭ “‬and I was ten,‭ ‬my sister was finishing up high school,‭ ‬my little brother was now in the second grade. Although we moved into a new house,‭ ‬we were now convenient close to our schools so we were happy.

‭“‬Then Judith suddenly remembered that we were passing near the Highland neighborhood of her friend Ginger lived, whose parents owned the Wynnewood Boarding House.‭ So we started walking down the path, and we couldn’t help but notice that there weren’t any lights illuminating the path or at any of the houses in the distance. As we walked closer to the subdivision, we soon discovered the reason-- every house was abandoned; boarded up plywood covered the windows and doors. Abandoned barbecue grills and patio furniture was left to rust and crumble in yards overgrown with weeds.
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"Our jaws dropped and I was sure I shivered as we walked along in a daze. How could a once-busy subdivision be suddenly abandoned in such a short period of time, and resembling a scene from a post-apocalyptic horror film...or even that Pripyat city in the Ukraine? ‬After a few more blocks, we finally found the dead end road where the boarding house was and Judith hurriedly dragged me along, all the while calling out for Ginger or for any of her parents. Then when we reached the site where the house was, we both suddenly came to a dead stop.

"In its place sat a white two-story farm house, complete with double chimneys, and dormer windows and a wooden porch out in front. It was in good condition compared to the neighboring houses; our fearful eyes soon fixed onto the tall ragged silhouettes shadowing the windows which were dimly lit by shaded lamps. Suddenly we heard a slight creaking noise. Our ears strained and eyes widened as the front door suddenly opened as someone stepped out onto the porch."

Everyone, with the exception of Mizaki, stared at Caelyn, incredulous terror in their widening eyes.

“We stood for a moment silent and motionless, staring as this figure walked slowly toward us. Then Judith managed to catch her breath and yell ‘Run!’ And that just what we did. We both happened to be carrying flashlights, and as we ran down that dead end road and then onto the cold dead street, we would catch glimpses in the bouncing light beams of that thing leaping and running along side us.

The silence hung heavy in the room,broken only by the scritch-scritch-scritch of Mizaki’s Leopard Feather Pen and the sounds of passing cars swishing through puddles in the damp streets. Caelyn stole a glance at the sunlight streaming in through the window behind her, and was glad not to see a pale, doll-like face staring back at her.

“Ummmm...Is there any more?” said Kyoto, shyly.

“Yeah,” Caelyn replied, turning back to them. “Quite a bit more. So we managed to get clear of the subdivision and headed straight for Deanna’s house which was closest.

“We began frantically pounding on her door, yelling at her to let us in. When Deanna finally did let us in, she was grinning since she thought we were just playing a joke. Yet when Judith ran around the house, locking every door and window she could find, then the grin disappeared from Deanna’s face.

“‘What’s going on?’ Deanna wanted to know. ‘You all look like you’ve seen a ghost.’

“‘Look outside and tell us if you see anything weird?’ Judith just told her. She was crouched with her back against the living room wall, tears streaming down her face.

“Deanna then looked out the window and said, ‘No, there’s nothing out there. What am I supposed to be looking at anyway?’ Then she froze and gasped, ‘Wait a minute...what the hell is that thing?’

“Then Judith asked, ‘What does it look like to you?’

“‘Well, I don’t know,’ Deanna shook her head. ‘Can’t really tell from here...looks like a tall lanky shadow-something or rather.’

“‘Where’s it at?’

“‘On the far corner of the street at the edge of the woods, where that subdivision used to be.’

“Judith stopped sniffing and stared at her friend, baffled. ‘What happened to it?’

“‘It’s still at the corner,’ Deanna replied, still peering out the window. ‘Just standing there. Now it's gone, just vanished suddenly.’

“‘No, I mean the subdivision!’

“‘Oh, that?’ said Deanna as she turned to face us. ‘Everyone had to move away a couple years back due to a massive pest invasion.’

“Judith looked bewildered. ‘What pests...like roaches?’

“‘Oh, not just roaches,’ Deanna replied. ‘All sorts of crazy stuff--mold and fungus that spread fast and looked like demon faces, little bagworm things dropping down on people from the ceiling, like hairy things crawling up the walls, every creepy freaky thing imaginable.’

“‘What?’ Judith stared at Deanna, dumbfounded. ‘You’ve seen these things?’

“‘No,’ Deanna shook her head. ‘But I’ve talked with some of the people who had lived there.’

“‘Oh? One of them didn’t happened to be named Ginger Peryga, would it?’

“‘Yeah, that was one of them I spoke to,’ Deanna nodded, glancing curiously at my sister. ‘You know her?’

“‘Sure,I knew her from middle school and the beginning year of high school...then I didn’t see her again after we moved here.’

“‘Yeah, it was really a shame about what happened,’ said Deanna, frowning as she suddenly recalled the events of those previous years.

“‘Well, what happened?’ Judith asked anxiously as she got to her feet. ‘She’s not dead, is she?’

“‘No, she’s not dead,’ Deanna quickly told her, ‘although she lost an arm though, and then she and her folks were moving back to New York. Told me it was it all that witch brat’s fault.’

“Judith and me looked at each other then in a tense voice, Judith asked, ‘What witch brat?’

“‘Lucille Lambert,’ Deanna frowned deeply. ‘According to what I heard, she was staying at the Wynnewood Board House with her folks while their house was being fumigated. Then within six months, all hell broke loose.’”

Busily, Mizaki wrote all this in her notebook: ‘Then within six months, all hell broke loose...’ Her pen paused as she looked up, very startled.

Caelyn stared back at her, clearly puzzled by Mizaki’s suddenly paling face. Then she continued on where she left off. “‘All sorts of things started spawning and swarming, first at the boarding house then all down the block. Fumigating didn’t work, and neither did industrial bleach and vinegar. Then Ginger wound up with some monster fungus or parasitic worm in her arm, where it had apparently crawled inside through a small scratch. It was like one of those Invasion of the Body Snatchers things, wouldn’t respond to any proper treatment, just kept crawling and growing and popping out in other places on her arm...so finally, it had to be amputated.’

“For a moment we stared at Deanna open-mouthed. Then Judith choked out, ‘Amputated?’

“‘Uh-huh,’ Deanna replied, ‘and Ginger claimed it was all that Lucille girl’s fault because she called up all those things just by reciting a few lines out of this magic book she had. Really old-looking book too, and it had funny-looking write in it like runes. Well, she wasn’t able to get a good enough look at it though on account that Lucille always acted bat shit insane, going as far as to threaten to kill Ginger multiple times if she caught her poking through her stuff again. Well, not long after Lucille made all those threats, the Lambert family was asked to leave. So they left just before things really went down.’

“Judith nodded. ‘So you don’t know what happened to that Lucille kid after that?’

“‘Fraid not,’ Deanna shrugged, shaking her head. ‘Although if she’s missing then there’s a good possibility that someone must've done her in, one of the people from that blighted area...or one of her parents even. She caused a lot of grief and suffering as well as property damage so she probably got what she had coming to her.’

“At this point I began watching the window again, half-expecting to see the glass shatter as a long bony arm burst through...like what often happens in monster movies. Eventually, Judith calmed down enough to talk about what happened back there. She told Deanna that the boarding house was now gone, and that a white farm house stood in its place, and that she saw Lucille coming out to greet us, now a gaunt, grey form walking on stick-thin limbs like an animal, its eyes missing from hollow sockets. I kept thinking to myself, Wait, that’s not what I saw.” Here Caelyn hesitated.

“What did you see?” Olivia asked in a low, frightened voice.

Caelyn leaned forward, hands clenched in her lap as she stared at the sisters across the table. “I saw the same Nosferatu dude my little brother saw in his bedroom back in our first house,” she explained. “Except for one difference.”

“He was wearing Lucille’s eyes?” Izumi frowned, scratching her head.

Caelyn shook her head slowly, “This guy had a trench coat full of eyes as well as a lot of creepy crawlies,” A note of fear came into her voice. “I had a feeling that those things were a part of him rather than part of an elaborate costume. There was even one big eye right smack in the middle of his chest!”

Still keeping her eyes fixed on the teen’s face, Mizaki groped for her pen that had dropped to the floor.

“You...actually...saw...a real life demon?”

“Sure...did...as real as you four seated across from me.” For a while Caelyn remained silent, and the Satouis watched her expectedly.

“At the time I didn’t mention the demon,” she finally said, “not only was I so scared. I also was worried that I wasn’t going to believed...I’m mean, the thing was so crazy-looking compared to say a shadow person or zombie ghost girl.”

“So what happened next?” Kyoto blurted out.

“So there we were,” Caelyn resumed, “the three of us trying to decide what to do next...when we suddenly heard a loud thump above our heads. The damn thing was on the roof, and it would rapidly follow us...every time we tried to make a break for it, like it had x-ray vision and the footsteps would be right above the front or back door or the patio sliding window by the time we ran over there. Finally we stayed where we were, cowering like frightened rabbits...until finally Deanna decided to call the police, but the thing was gone by the time they arrived on scene. From that day forth until my freshman year in high school, I was never allowed out by myself...even when I was in a group of my friends, I had to be home by seven.” She frowned in annoyance. “So my tween years were pretty much ruined all because of a curse cast by a selfish brat.

“As for that subdivision, the city shut down that road through the woods several years back. There’s no building now and they had planted a lot of thick trees across the entrance, and now you would never know that there was ever a path through those woods or that people had every lived in that spot. But from time to time, the old path comes back, but in strange unexpected places...always leading back to that house. And that anyone who ever ventured to follow it had either found strange artifacts that change their lives for the worse or else, wound up possessed or don’t ever come back at all.”

“But that path isn’t going to come back now,” Izumi pointed out. “Now that you sent that ghost/demon/lich whatever away but threatening to kick its butt.”

“Yeah, hopefully, that’s what happened,” Caelyn replied, a little uneasy. “But you never can tell with things like that. They’re very tricky, always searching for weak spots in the Veil or some lunatic or weak-minded fool who couldn’t resist the temptation with messing with the occult. It’s these things’ only means of escape--gullible ne'er-do-wells who want to rip that barrier away on things better left unknown and unrevealed.”

Mizaki paid no attention to the conversation. She remained motionless, staring out the front window. Should I tell them that Ellie called? she thought to herself, worriedly. Should I tell them what she told me...that she found a really old manuscript in a broken-down shed in the woods out in back--a shed that had disappeared when she came back to explore an hour later? Should I tell them that this book she found had strange runic writing as well as a vampire-looking thing on one of the pages? Should I also tell them what I learned from local gossip...that Ellie’s actually adopted, and that her real mother’s last name was Lambert...perhaps from that very same family that Caelyn mentioned in her story?

She suddenly felt her scalp crawl as her stomach constricted into a icy knot. Oh gawd...no! What if she’s bound to repeat the same mistake made by this previous relative? What if that trouble we had just experienced means that she’s already figuring out spells on a subconscious level? What if she’s having help from someone...or something sending out thought messages?

Suddenly her eyes widened as her mouth dropped open in a gasp.

Now everyone was looking at her, their faces lined with concern and confusion .

Olivia was tugging on Mizaki’s left sleeve while Kyoto was shaking her right shoulder.

“You okay, Mizaki?” Caelyn asked, getting up from her chair. “What’s the matter?”

Unable to say a single word, Mizaki only pointed. Noticing everyone else’s eyes growing wide as they regarded the thing the girl was pointing at, Caelyn turned to look.

Something was slithering down the front window. Something striated black and blue and bronzy-green. and snake-like with only front legs that left smears of a black, gooey substance as it crawled and slithered its way down the pane. Something with a featureless humanoid face with two long whip-like antennae that delicately tapped the glass. It paused for a moment to peer sightlessly in at them before noiselessly dropping down into the garden below.
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