By Elizabeth A. Seibert
Even adults can be terrified of the dark.
It is widely known that little girls are descended from demons.
None forget the darkness that hides in the ceiling cracks and crinkles underneath the curtains, watching and waiting for slumber.
Boys may think they have the same nightmares as girls, of waking up to their sheets in flames, or of falling into an infinite space—but these are just Sleep’s tricks on the brain. For little girls, it is real.
This brings the story to Blackburg, a suburban community with 15,000 residents. Blackburg holds a movie theater that shows four films, a 24-hour convenience store, and rows of tiny suburban houses with tiny chimneys and tiny flower gardens that look exactly the same.
Two things are important about Blackburg. First is the Blackburg Mansion, the oldest house in town, long-since abandoned. With its five stories, spiraling staircases, and ivy glued to the exterior, the ornate house had been converted into the town’s only museum.
The mansion served as a lovely centerpiece to the town… until money ran dry and its upkeep stalled. It still holds exhibits, but few people are interested in seeing them.
Some folks say the museum still lights up at night, though no one knows how the electricity is funded, or who is using it.
The second important thing about Blackburg is this rumor: A girl had reached the age of ten without being Cured. Little girls were typically Cured by age six or seven, after their nightlights and stuffed animals threatened the demons and scared them away.
Nightlights and stuffed animals are great protectors of little girls, but not all little girls like them.
Everyone in the town had heard the rumor of the un-Cured, but if asked, the townsfolk would change the subject before disclosing if they believed it.
Until one particular Thursday night, when Max Grant and Evie Wall left Courtney Ash’s party twenty minutes after curfew.
“Max drive faster!” Evie cried as Max hit twice the road’s speed limit. “My parents…And it’s a school night…” She put her head in her hands. “I’m never going to be allowed to go anywhere ever again.”
“Chill,” Max replied, “We’re only twenty minutes late. Just say I needed gas.”
Evie gestured frantically towards his gas gauge. “They’re not going to believe it when you show up with an empty tank! And there’s nowhere to buy any between here and our street…” Evie bit her lip and looked straight ahead of her, through the windshield and into the pitch-black sky. “This is SO not good.”
The minivan sputtered slightly. Max and Evie rocked in their seats. More sputtering. Max exhaled.
“Are you kidding me? We ran out? We’re going to get stranded here?” Evie gestured towards the narrowing, windy road. With few houses around and fewer street lamps, the road was filled with shadows cast from the surrounding trees and stars.
Evie fidgeted nervously at the prospect of having to walk home.
Max shook his head. “No, we didn’t.” He pressed his foot to the gas pedal and accelerated hard. The car’s engine squealed and the minivan abruptly flew around the road’s bend. He grinned. “Back in business.”
“Is it just me or is it getting darker?” Evie asked as the tall, branching trees obscured the starlight.
“Woah.” Max gripped the steering wheel and bit his lip, concentrating heavily on the winding road.
The wind rushed past the teenagers, almost screeching. Evie glanced at his speedometer, which quickly approached 80 miles per hour. “Oh my god,” she said, “Slow down, NASCAR.”
“I can’t…” Max breathed. Sweat dripped from his forehead. He flicked on his overhead lights and caught a dim view of the road. “…and I can’t see.”
Evie’s eyes widened as the shadows on the road morphed into bigger, darker, and crazier shapes. Ahead of them, a light wavered in a second-story window.
“Please don’t get stuck here,” Evie prayed, “Not in front of the Mansion.”
Max drove into the Blackburg Mansion’s view, about to speed past it, when the second-story light vanished and the car engine went quiet.
“That’s not creepy…” Max said and his car continued racing ahead, but the wind around them fell silent. Neither Max nor Evie could hear anything other than the confusion that pounded in their heads.
“MAX!” Evie screamed. Out of nowhere, a glowing grey figure appeared in front of them, sprinting into the road like it was running for its life, “There’s a deer!”
“Shit.” Max slammed on his brakes and the teenagers braced themselves for impact.
Bump bump bump, the van skidded over… Whatever it was. Everything stayed quiet for a moment, then the engine slowly resumed its tired whirring.
“Crap…” Max trailed off, spinning the car to see what they’d hit.
“It’s a dog,” said Evie, frantically nodding to herself, “It looked like Mr. Henry’s dog.”
“I mean it was pretty overweigh-” Max stopped short when he saw the grey figure off to the side of the road. “Evie,” he swallowed, “I think we hit a person.”
Evie couldn’t speak as they watched the shadows gather in the starlight around them. She even stayed frozen to her seat when Max jumped out of his car and ran to the darkness.
A young girl’s voice sounded, but her warnings vanished into the nighttime air like an echo fades across the horizon, “Stay out. Stay away.”
“What?” Max called back. He saw nothing on the road ahead of them, there was no body, corpse, or indication that anything had been there.
“Get in the car, Max,” whispered Evie, who had heard each of the girl’s words. “Get in the car. Now.”
Max looked at her, confused, but there was no mistaking the urgency in her voice.
“Nothing was there,” he muttered, as he slid into his seat and twisted his keys in the ignition. His engine sputtered, finally giving way to motion. “Just a trick of the light, I guess.” He adjusted the bright, royal blue baseball cap that he always wore. “God, let’s get out of here.”
Evie nodded. But if anyone had looked her in the eyes, they would have seen the same shadows that twisted along the road in front of them. If anyone had touched her skin, they would have found that it had reached the same temperature as the cold, creepy air outside.
* * *
Later that night, Evie awoke with a gasp. It was her first nightmare in a years, and she’d almost forgotten the paralyzing fear that came with them. Trembling, Evie gathered her comforter around her shoulders, assembling her blankets into a tiny cocoon.
As her panting slowed, Evie could see her breath, like a misty flashlight on an icy night. She shivered. A car drove by outside, its headlights making shadows on her walls. The shadows trailed behind the car, until out of the corner of her eye, Evie glimpsed a movement at her window. She turned towards it but saw nothing.
“Relax,” she said to herself, “You’re just imagining things.”
With her breath still visible, Evie looked from her window towards the dark corners of her room, where shadows hid in the ceiling cracks. The shadows twisted in her room’s purple siding, slowly sinking down to her floor. They reached her carpet and seemed to slide across it, towards her bed.
Goosebumps sprouted on Evie’s arms, and it became harder for her to breathe. “Go away,” she whispered, as chilly sweat accumulated on her forehead. She watched the shadows swirl together, growing bigger and darker. “You’re not supposed to be here. I’m Cured.”
Evie’s eyes darted from her bed to the light on her ceiling, to the switch by her door. As the shadows reached her bedpost, Evie panted, almost panicking. She frantically leaned over to her bedside table and grabbed her phone.
“Flashlight, flashlight, flashlight,” she whispered, though her hands barely worked properly. Finally a small beam of light emanated from her phone. Evie pointed it at the shadows climbing up her bedpost, and after pausing for a second, they seemed to fade away.
Still breathing heavily, Evie shined her light around the room, and saw the shadows accumulating on the old, marble fireplace that had come with her room but never been used. In fact, if anyone had tried to use it, there would have been a chimney fire and no place for the smoke to go.
She paled, as a distant memory of her room being set on fire surfaced from the back of her mind. “No fires tonight,” she whispered to the murky shadows, “I’m Cured.”
The fireplace made the shadows glow in Evie’s room, and they grew even taller and darker before her.
Evie kept pointing her light at the shadows, but they only continued to accumulate, their dark mass inching closer to her bed. Evie panted and looked around her room for something she could use.
Finally, she lunged towards the end of her bed, and dug deep in the crevice between her mattress and the wall. There, she pulled out a ragged, worn stuffed bear, the size of her forearm.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” she tried to soothe herself. She held her bear in one arm and kept her phone glowing in the other. She relaxed. The shadows on her walls seemed to stay where they were.
Evie stuffed her pillows under sheets and crawled under the blankets. She pulled her phone and bear into her tent-fort and remained as still as she could, letting her pillow fort protect her.
The dark shapes crawled onto her blankets over her head. Evie sucked in a breath, waiting to see if her fortress would hold safe, but when the shadows crept onto the periphery of her flashlight, they sprung back and withered away.
Evie sighed, and after considerable amount of time, her breathing started to slow. Soon she felt warm again.
The next morning, Evie woke with the feeling that she’d just experienced a dream from another dimension. Such dreams occur from time to time, but people hardly remember them, as people have a hard enough time remembering what occurs when they’re fully awake.
Evie remembered Max’s driveway, and she could easily picture saying goodbye to her friends at the party. Everything must be fine, Evie thought to herself.
She kept this thought with her as she got ready for school, and when she emerged downstairs that morning, she had almost forgotten the eeriness that had awoken her.
She found her mother fidgeting at the kitchen table. “Evie, have you heard from Max?”
Evie flitted around the countertops, simultaneously spreading peanut butter on a sandwich and shoving a waffle into her mouth. “Not since last night, why?”
Evie’s mother pushed a glass of milk in her daughter’s direction. It was her passive way of saying, swallow before you speak. “Mrs. Grant called this morning, apparently Max didn’t come home last night.”
“That’s impossible.” Evie threw her sandwich into her backpack. “I got out of the car in his driveway. Next door.”
Evie’s mother pursed her lips. Evie’s mother was always pursing her lips, making her appear perpetually disappointed in the present situation. “What time was that?”
“Is Max really missing, Mom? Or did you just want to bring up the fact that I came home later than you wanted?”
Evie’s mother frowned. “Mrs. Grant is very concerned. And now you’re late.” she waved towards the door, brushing her daughter off to school. “We’ll finish this later, but let me know if you see him.”
Evie rolled her eyes and pulled her backpack over her shoulder. Arguing at 7 in the morning was a daily occurrence in her household. Nonetheless, as Evie took her seat on the school bus just a few minutes later, it surprised her not to see Max on the bus.
She glanced out the window at his house and tapped on her phone. Are you coming to school today? Evie texted. As the bus pulled into the street traffic, Evie shrugged.
“No Max today?” Came a voice from the seat behind Evie.
Evie turned to see Bernice Rolland, a redhead in the grade below her, whose face always lit up when discussing Max.
“Sometimes he doesn’t come on Fridays,” Evie answered.
Bernice nodded, seeming to accept Evie’s response. “Seems like half the bus didn’t come today either. Hey, was there a dust-storm last night or something? Max’s house looks dusty.”
Evie glanced at the Grant house one more time. Bernice was right. Max’s house looked like a transparent grey coat had been caked onto its snow-white siding. And the windows were as black as voids. Weird.
She pulled out her phone again, just for good measure. Where are you?
At school, Max was in neither their geometry class nor their writing class, and by lunchtime Evie decided he’d just needed a mental health day. She was a little jealous of him, actually.
As she ate her sandwich with her friends, she could barely focus on their conversation. She wished she’d taken the day off too.
Evie was contemplating how to skip her afternoon subjects, when Courtney Ash said something that brought her back into the lunchroom reality.
“My brother saw the un-Cured girl last night,” she said, sipping on her chocolate milk. “He was driving back from getting more chips and took that shortcut, you know, the one that goes past the Mansion.”
Evie looked up at Courtney. So did all the other girls at the lunch-table. Anyone who ever brought up the Curing was usually rewarded with un-divided attention. “He said he saw a light inside, and just as he passed the Mansion it went off. Then the un-Cured girl was just standing there, in the middle of the road.”
“She wanted him to hit her?” wondered Julia Applegate. “Ugh, what? That’s so creepy.”
Courtney shrugged. “I guess. He said he didn’t though. He just drove past her and he thought she was going to follow him. But she didn’t.”
“How did he know it was her?” Evie asked. “Did he see what she looked like?” The table stared at Evie, as if she were asking too many questions about Courtney’s story. “Because I think Max might’ve–“
Before Evie could tell the table that she did, in fact, think the story was plausible, Courtney cut her off impatiently, “He said she was all gray and creepy, and when he passed her the car got all weird and scary or something.”
As Courtney talked about the un-Cured girl, Evie saw something move out of the corner of her eye. When she turned her head, however, all she saw were people sucking down yogurt and playing with their phones.
“You mean like…” Julia started to say, but came at a loss for words.
“Exactly like when we were little,” Evie finished Julia’s thought. She didn’t look at her friends, and thought she saw a different movement to the left of her.
She tightened the knots in her scarf, as the cafeteria even felt colder.
The girls at the table shifted in their seats uncomfortably. Though each of them was Cured at this point, there was no forgetting what it had been like Before.
Julia Applegate shifted the lettuce around in her salad bowl. “God if I ever had to… go through that again,” She trailed off and swallowed hard. “I’d jump in front of a car too.”
Evie picked at her sandwich, trying to ignore the dark movements she’d noticed, and take in the conversation. The night before had come back to her now, draining her face of color, and making her feel dizzy.
For a fleeting moment, she thought she heard the girl’s voice. Stay away. “What if that’s not why–,” Evie started, only to be cut off again.
“The weirdest thing Josh said though,” Courtney continued to talk about her brother, “Was that as soon as he passed the girl, the Mansion’s light came on again.” She shuddered. “So bizarre.”
“I’d believe it.” Julia pushed her salad away from her. “As far as anything where the un-Cured are concerned, I’d believe just about anything.”
“I wonder what the truth is though,” Evie commented, and again, the girls gave her the stay-out-of-it look. “Like what happened to the girl?”
Courtney shook her head and the rest of the table remained quiet.
Evie couldn’t say it aloud, but the thought remained: what happened to Max?
As she sat among her solemn friends, picking at her peanut butter and jelly, a larger, misty movement caught her eye. Evie glanced towards the corner of the cafeteria where it was a little darker, but for the third time, whatever she thought she saw had quickly vanished.
This time, however, it felt more real. Evie scanned the remainder of the room, searching for anything that seemed out of place, and rubbed her cheeks uncomfortably.
Her eyes darted about and something prickled the back of her neck. Something she couldn’t quite place her finger on, but could sense with just her heartbeat.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw it again. Movement. Light flitted around the cafeteria as if it couldn’t figure out where it was supposed to be. She saw it too—the absence of light—the crooked shapes she was all too familiar with. They were in her school? Why? Had they followed her here?
“What’s wrong?” Courtney asked Evie, with her eyebrow raised.
Evie shook her head, and settled back into her seat. “Nothing,” she replied, and the shadows vanished once again.
How was it that no one else had seen them?
Evie returned home that afternoon to find Max’s driveway filled with flashing police lights.
She spotted her mother standing in the periphery of the action with Max’s mother, Michelle Grant. Mrs. Grant was crying as the police questioned her, but Evie noticed how tired they all looked, and guessed there wasn’t much left that anyone could do.
“Evie,” her mother called out as Evie stepped off the school bus. Mrs. Grant looked up at Evie, and hope flashed across her face.
“This is my daughter, Evie,” her mother told two overweight, middle-aged policemen as Evie approached the group and gave them a wary smile. “She was with Max last night.”
Evie took in the Grant household, which appeared even darker and gloomier than it had in the morning. The policemen looked at her expectantly, holding out their notebooks, ready to take her statement.
“Max almost ran out of gas,” she told them, “but that was all that happened on the way home.” She stuck to the story they’d agreed on.
“Do you think it’s possible he went to the gas-station this morning and didn’t make it?” Mrs. Grant asked the policemen. Her hands were clasped tightly in front of her, and her voice was filled with worry.
The two men looked at each other as if they were trying agree on something, and the older one shifted uneasily on his feet.
“We did find this.” With a look of serious reluctance on his face, the younger policeman dug into the yellow evidence bag that he carried.
As he pulled out the evidence, the shadows at Evie’s feet crept closer, as if they too wanted to see what the police had found. She gasped when she saw, and goosebumps prickled her skin.
Mrs. Grant turned paler than anyone had thought could be humanly possible. “Where did you get that?”
The policeman held Max’s royal blue baseball cap in a clear zip-lock bag. “Ma’am is this your son’s hat?” he asked, because he had to.
Mrs. Grant brought her hand to her face and nodded slowly. Heather’s heartbeat pounded in her ears. The last time she’d seen Max, he’s been wearing the hat. In fact, Heather couldn’t recall at time he wasn’t wearing it.
“It was found on Greylock street,” said the policeman. “On the sidewalk outside the Blackburg house.”
Evie’s heart sank as she realized that the Blackburg Mansion, and what had happened the night before, must have had something to do with Max’s disappearance. It was almost as if the shadows could hear what she was thinking, as the dark dust inched closer to her.
Evie stood still, like as statue, gazing at the cap. She caught her breath and looked to the street, past her driveway. Dusk had come and the trees on her street loomed over the sidewalks like giant skeletons, beckoning her to follow their branches.
She knew where she had to go.
“I’m going for a walk,” she told her mother. “I’ll be back for dinner.”
Evie’s mother, Mrs. Grant, and the policeman each nodded. “Let us know if you find anything,” their expressions each seemed to say.
* * * *
The road was calm as Evie scurried towards the Blackburg Mansion. She gripped her phone in one hand, while her other held the worn-out teddy-bear – the one that had always kept the shadows at bay.
She stayed to the side of the road where the moon, full and bright, could still touch her with its light. Dusky cloud-cover loomed on its either side, and Evie knew it was only a matter of minutes before the moonlight would be gone, and she would be left in the road, alone with the shadows.
The dark shapes trailed silently behind her, keeping a safe-distance, as if all they wanted was to observe her every-move.
A distant howl in the wind prickled Evie’s ears. A rustling came from the overhead trees, causing a couple of the dying, orange leaves to land at her feet.
She risked a glance upwards. Dusky shadows hid in the trees branches, twisted in the leaves.
The air around her cooled even more as the shadows inched along the branches, almost over her head, Evie sucked in a breath and quickened her pace, running down the sidewalk.
The shadows trailing on the road behind matched her acceleration. Out of the corner of her eye, Evie noticed more dark shapes sliding along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road. She looked at them, her nervousness growing.
In her direct gaze, several of the shadows dissipated, flying to an area where she couldn’t see them. A few of them remained on the sidewalk opposite her.
All of the blood rushed to her face as the realization set in: the shadows weren’t afraid of her at all.
She approached Blackburg’s town center to find it closed and empty. She ran past the movie-theatre, which had its lights off and its doors shut—the exact opposite of what it usually looked like on a Friday night.
Even the 24-hour convenience store was vacant, although its lights glowed faintly through its windows, like a back-up generator had been switched on.
One by one, the streetlights ahead of Evie extinguished. At the same time, the dusky-clouds drifted in front of the full-moon, leaving her stranded in the darkness.
Evie stopped, gaping at the scene before her. Her entire body felt chilled. Frozen. She thought she saw a movement in the convenience store, and ran towards it, trying to find someone who could help her.
She reached the door to find it locked, and the store empty.
Ahead of her, the shadows slid together, their darkness accumulating.
She gasped, suddenly terrified. The realization had hit her like a glowing ember, sinking down her entire body. “It’s the shadows,” she said, her own voice almost surprising her, “The shadows control Blackburg.”
Evie knew she was only a block away from the Mansion, but with the growing, black void just a few yards away, she didn’t think she could make it there. Beads of sweat glistened on her forehead. “I can’t do this,” she said.
She turned to go back to her house, but the shadows behind her had spread across the road, like a nightmare she couldn’t escape. A nightmare that slowly inched towards her.
Evie stumbled back, almost pressed against the locked store, and grappled with her phone. She could see her breath in her hands as she quickly unlocked it and switched on the flashlight.
“Stay away from me,” she yelled to the shadows. The dark shapes’ movement froze as she pointed the light in each direction, almost as if it they cowered before her.
“That’s what I thought,” she told them, shocked and pleased with herself. “I’ve got this. I’ve totally got this.” Her voice grew stronger as she hyped herself up.
Evie shined the flashlight straight ahead, and managed a path through the shadows. The closer she got to the Blackburg Mansion, the more silent the town became, as if the entire town could be part of the shadows’ eerie vacuum.
Just then, a high-pitched pop-song, sung by chipmunks, played loudly and in her ear. The noise startled her, causing her to leap into the air like a spooked cat.
“Oh crap,” said Evie, as she raised her phone to her ear, “Who the heck is calling me? And now when I need this light…”
She stopped, her eyes going wide when she saw the caller ID. Max.
“Max, where are you?” She answered her phone, her voice frantic. The shadows inched towards her.
“Evie!” Max sounded excited. “Hey! Listen, you have to come to the mansion, you won’t believe-“
The call suddenly went silent. Evie’s phone went dark.
“No, no, no,” she whispered, pleading with her phone. Her phone screen lit up one last time, displaying the zero-percent-battery icon.
“No,” she shouted into the dark void.
Evie’s gaze darted around her, as she tried to discern a way to keep the shadows from touching her. She noticed a smaller number of them on the other side of the road, and looking both ways, she sprinted across the pavement.
“Move, move, move,” she shouted at the shadows. They were everywhere, in the cracks in the sidewalk, on the strips of grass by each house. “Oh god,” she said as she tired herself out, gasping for breath.
A flickering light caught her attention ahead. The second story of the Blackburg Mansion. “What is it with that light?”
As quickly as it had appeared, the light vanished, and was met instead by headlights speeding past the sidewalk. The car had come out of nowhere, and it came close enough to Evie for her to adrenaline to kick into overdrive.
For a fraction of a second after the car had passed, the shadows seemed to disappear, as if the car had run them over.
“Go, go, go,” Evie thought, seizing her chance to run to the Mansion’s gate. She sprinted across the road, with the shadows filling in behind her, filling up all the space they could acquire in her world.
The Mansion’s front gate was styled as a giant, cast-iron fortress. It was left slightly ajar, but the shadows twisted over it, as if they were the keepers to the Mansion, guarding it from the public.
Out of her peripheral vision, Evie saw the sidewalk shadows gaining on her. They could catch up in a matter of seconds. Who knew what would happen if they caught her.
Evie’s stomach dropped. “Um,” she said, looking frantically around her. She remembered the worn-out bear she held tightly in her arm. She looked from the bear to the shadows on the gate and took in a deep breath.
“Sorry, Marvin!” She called, swinging her arm back to throw him at the shadows. The bear pelted through them, penetrating a hole in their creepy gate. Evie ran after it, and scooped up the bear as she reached Blackburg Mansion’s front walk.
Shadows guarded almost every inch of the front walk, and Evie quickly used Marvin to forge her on path.
“Way to go, Marvin! My stuffed animal is so scary!” She laughed at the shadows, her adrenaline pounding in her ears.
Just a few steps away from the front door, Evie picked up Marvin, ready to throw him up the front steps, when something about him caught her attention.
Instead of his usual, worn out face, with eyes that were almost missing, and loose threads hanging out, it was as if his stuffing had been replaced by a dark soul. His threads had been tucked in, and as Evie turned him over in her hands, she realized his fur felt almost brand new.
Mostly, however, it was his new, beady black eyes. They stared up at her.
“What?” Evie gaped at the bear, and it suddenly felt heavier in her arms. Shadows were slowly filling the space she’d thrown him in, and Evie realized she had just seconds to make it to the door.
She dropped her bear on the front steps and the shadows swarmed over it like bees over cotton candy. She swallowed. She’d received Marvin on the day she was born, and he was the reason she’d been Cured. Now he was one of them. A shadow.
The Mansion was creepier than Evie had ever seen it before. Its five stories cast heavy shadows over the stone path leading up to it, and the ivy that covered half its brick siding made the walls seem even darker.
The Mansion had several long, glass-paned windows with cracks in them, but also stained-glass that was beautifully intact.
Tall, thorny hedges separated the front porch from the sidewalk. The space beneath the porch was impossibly black, as was the shade behind the trees.
Evie shivered when she reached the wide, rosewood stained front door, but couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow, she was being watched, by something—or someone—more than a shadow.
She almost didn’t realize that she could no longer hear any noise at all, not even the wind…or her own heartbeat.
The front door was also slightly open. Evie pushed it open, and her spine shivered as she stepped inside. “Max!”
The Mansion’s front entrance was bare, except for its ornate wall decorations and the intricate finishing on its ceiling. A double-staircase touched each wall of the foyer, leading up to the second, third, and fourth floors in a manner that Evie imagined a Count would have greatly enjoyed.
Everything was dark except for the last rays of daylight that streamed through the second story windows. The rays lost all their energy by the time they reached the floor. Evie touched a light switch next to the front door and a light-bulb popped when she tried to flick it up. “Great,” she sighed.
“Evieeee,” our heroine heard a familiar voice come from behind her.
Evie spun around to see Max leaning on the grand stairwell. He wore sunglasses despite its being dark, and they framed his face as if they were custom-made.
“Max?” Evie looked around, unsure him. “What’s going on? Why are you here?”
Max gave her an easy grin. “Come on, I’ll show you. Everyone can’t wait to meet you.”
Max turned and took a step upwards, then checked to see if Evie was following.
“Max, come on,” Evie almost laughed, but it came out more like a gulp than a laugh. “Let’s just go. This place is creepy.”
“No come on. It’s awesome,” he said, “I’ll show you.”
Evie raised her eyebrow, but slowly stepped towards the staircase, and followed Max up to the second story. The Mansion grew darker with each step, and Evie noticed that their only source of light was the soft glow coming from the portraits they passed.
“Gosh we haven’t been here since what, 7th grade?” She asked Max, “Everything looks so different. I don’t remember these portraits at all.”
“Oh yeah.” Max nodded. Without turning over his shoulder, he said, “That one’s Mildred. She’s a riot.”
Each portrait displayed a woman, dressed entirely in black, with rosy cheeks and a dark look in her eyes. They varied in age, ranging from their mid-twenties to pushing 100, but were each quite attractive, considering.
The portrait they were passing, which Evie glanced towards confusedly, showed a middle-aged woman with snow-white hair that cascaded all around her. The wrinkles around her eyes and forehead were so profound that Evie wondered who in Blackburg could ever have painted them.
Max passed the second story landing and continued up to the third. Evie realized she could no longer hear any of their footsteps. Or maybe the floors had just gotten less creaky.
Darkness closed in behind them like water rushing to fill a void. She could smell old books, dust, burnt wax, charred wood. It was getting colder by the second.
“Max I can’t believe you’re wearing sunglasses,” said Evie, surprised at how far away her own voice sounded.
She half-expected him to make a comment about how hot and trendy it was to wear sunglasses indoors, but Max just shook himself like he was waking up from a dream and replied, “Yeah, they help, you know.”
They reached the third floor and instead of continuing upwards, Max turned to lead Evie down a dusty hallway. Again, Evie paused on the landing.
She heard a heavy, thumping sound…like hearing one’s own heartbeat. As she glanced around the hall to discern the noise, dark shadowy shapes gathered on the walls and ceilings around her.
“You see these, right?” Evie called to Max, “What is up with these freaking shadows?” Evie shuddered, trying to keep them off her, but there was instead the unsettling feeling of someone—or something—who watching her.
“Oh them?” Max grinned, waving off Evie’s fears. “It’s okay, they’re just curious.” He finally stopped in front of a long room. “They like following you around. I’m not sure why, you’ll have to ask the ladies.”
“The ladies?” Evie stared back at her friend, dumbfounded. “Max what’s going on?”
“You know, I’ve learned a lot about this place,” said Max, leaning against the mansion’s wall. Its plastering practically disintegrated at his touch.
“Okay you know what,” Evie reached for his sunglasses, “I can’t take you seriously when you’re wearing these.”
She pulled of his glasses and stepped backwards on the scratched-wooden floors. Max stood in front of her, smiling sheepishly and shrugging. “What happened to your eyes?” Evie stammered.
Max’s pupils were a shade of obsidian that could only be found in the deepest darkest depths of hell. Instead of his normal, glowing white eyes, his entire façade was dark, as if his eyes had been popped out of their sockets and replaced with void, empty space.
“I know, right,” he laughed to himself, “They’re probably freaking you out. But you haven’t seen anything yet.”
Max tapped his fist on the door they’d stopped in front of, and it slowly swung open. “I have to stay out here,” he said, gesturing for Evie to step inside.
“Max, can we just go?” She asked, this time almost pleading with him. Begging. She wanted nothing more than to escape what must have been an nightmare.
“No!” A shrill, desperate voice cried. “No! You can’t leave.”
Evie spun around and stood with one foot inside the room, and one foot in the hallway, frozen in her step.
Then the door swung shut behind her.
Slowly, Evie’s eyes adjusted to the dimly-lit scene before her. Scattered around the room were several young-women, who Evie guessed couldn’t have been much older than she was. But looks could be deceiving.
Each of the women held a long, white candle in front of her face, but they were close enough together that the only shadows cast were on the walls—the periphery of their reality.
Evie’s stomach dropped, as if she’d just been buckled into a roller-coaster, only to realize it had four upside-down loop-de-loops and it was too late to get off.
The young ladies before her looked almost exactly like the women from the portraits on the stairs, including their hollow, black eyes and empty expressions. Their ages were the only differences from the portraits, which unsettled Evie even more.
“Evie, you have to help us,” came a creaky voice, like a grandmother’s with a chilly cold. “You’re the only one who can.”
The woman speaking had the smoothest skin Evie had ever seen, and the black voids in her eyes reminded Evie of a doll that was too lifelike to be normal. The woman blinked at Evie expectantly. They all did.
“I-I can’t,” Evie stuttered back at them. “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want from me.”
She heard a distant squeaking noise, and looked down to see a mouse scurrying across the wooden floorboard. It ran over to a woman with white hair down to her back, who scooped it up and held it in her hands.
The mouse settled into the woman as if it were her pet and not a vermin loaded with disease. It looked back at Evie and she shivered. The hollow, black eyes were everywhere.
“We’re the un-Cured,” said the woman with white hair. “We live here. Among the shadows. Among demons.”
“We’ve been waiting for you.” A lady nodded to Evie, but her neck remained crooked and Evie noticed a hump in her back, like her head wasn’t screwed on right.
Evie stepped backwards until her shoulders were against the locked door. Evie’s eyes widened again and she stepped so her back pressed against the door. “N-No,” she stammered, “I’m not like you. I’m Cured.”
The woman with the possessed mouse, as Evie decided that’s what it was, gave her a sad smile. “You still see the demons.”
“We don’t have much time,” came the woman with the crooked head. Her gaze dropped to the door.
Evie looked down at her feet and gasped. Shadows slowly seeped through the small space between the door and the floorboards, like oil oozing after a spill.
The shadows touched her ankles, scratching them as if she were walking through thorns, instead of standing in a haunted mansion.
Evie hopped to one side of the door and the woman with the shining, white hair whispered, “They’re coming. Quickly, Evie. You’re the only one who can still escape. Take us with you.”
The shadows slowly twisted through the room and its temperature was dropping by the second. Evie’s breathing quickened and soon her breath was visible. So was her shaking.
Evie twisted the doorknob again but it stayed firmly shut. Adrenaline pumped through her, and a few rumblings of panic pulsed across her chest.
Evie wiped the nervous sweat from her forehead. “I don’t know how to help you,” she said, almost crying. “I don’t know what’s happening.”
“Think, think!” The woman with the mouse replied. “There has to be something, it’s not too late yet.”
“I would do anything to have those eyes again,” said the white-haired woman, who was close enough to touch Evie.
“What is wrong with this place,” asked Evie. She thought about how the women, or the shadows, or the demons, or whatever it was, had taken Max’s eyes. “What’s Max doing here?” Evie shouted. But the volume of her voice came out as barely above a whisper.
“He was the only way you would come.” The crooked-neck woman moved closer to Evie. “You’re Cured, but you can still see the darkness that no one else sees. You can break the curse.”
The shadows tore across the floorboards and the woman stopped short, as if she were afraid to step on one.
Evie exhaled, relieved that the women couldn’t come over to her, but the shadows swarmed towards the crooked-neck woman and before Evie knew what was happening, the woman had melted into their dark oblivion. She was no more than a whisper in the vacuum.
“We can’t escape without you,” the white-haired woman said. As the shadows approached the women, their faces grew more defined and their figures changed. Wrinkles appeared on foreheads and cheeks, and their black eyes grew more hallow, tired, and defined.
Gradually, the women transformed from being scared adolescents begging for her help, into the women in the staircase portraits—grown, aged, and desperate.
“You have no idea how horrible it is,” the woman with the mouse said, “To be trapped here. Please help us.”
The women cried as the shadows came for them, and the white-haired woman extended a bony, hooked finger towards Evie, as if touching her would shield her from the demons.
Her shrill voice disappeared into the darkness, causing the shadows to fly around the room like bats. One by one, the Un-Cured women’s candles extinguished and their ghosts descended into the chaos. Even the mouse, with its beady black eyes and quick scurry, vanished into thin air.
The room’s growing void transcended into an evil pressure and the locked door suddenly crashed open, sending Evie sprawling across the room.
What is happening? Evie cried to herself, pulling her arms over her head to shield herself as the shadows swarmed over her, trying to envelope her like they did with the Un-Cured.
“Evie?” A familiar voice.
Evie turned on her stomach to find Max standing over her, looking as normal as she’d ever seen him. His eyes had returned to their piecing blue, and he fidgeted, twirling his thumbs, like he always did when he was unsure.
“Max!” Evie jumped up and ran over to him. She took his arm and tugged him into the hallway. Ducking under the swarming shadows, they struggled back towards the dark stairwell.
She saw a clear path down the stairs and into the lawn and her heart skipped a beat excitedly. They could do this!
Max stopped when they reached the landing. “Evie?” He said again, his voice growing fainter as the shadows accumulated around them. “Evie, did you help them?”
“What?” Evie stopped and looked at her friend. Max stared at her as if this was a critical moment in his life, and he wasn’t capable of being more serious. “Max, of course not, I don’t know how-“
He didn’t let her finish. Instead Max pulled his arm away from her and his body went almost limp, almost like he was crumpling where he stood.
He looked down at the floor, away from her, and when he glanced up to look at her again, his eyes had returned to the hollow blackness.
“Then you can’t leave,” he said, his voice growing louder. “If you can’t help the Un-Cured, you’ll be Un-Cured forever too.”
It was like she forgot how to breathe. She gaped back at her friend, but most of the resemblance between him and the Max Grant she’d grown up with had faded until he was only really a ghost.
The dark shadows twisted behind him, as if they were his monsters to control and he was waiting to set them loose on her.
“Max, I’m already Cured,” she said, “I can’t help them.”
Evie took a step back from them and touched the top step to her descent downwards. She took one more look at Max, but his expression remained dark and empty.
Evie swallowed, but there was no turning back now. For either of them. She ran beside the shadows, jumping down the grand staircase, taking the steps three at a time.
She sprinted to the second story, then past the creepy portraits that hung on the wall. She forced herself not to look at them, afraid they would either slow her down, or finally somehow turn her into a demon.
The cold, shadowy air rushed past her as she ran, and Max’s voice carried through it. “If you leave you’ll die,” he said, “The demons, they’re everywhere.”
Panting, Evie continued running down the stairs. Suddenly, as if to illustrate his point, all the shadows she’d seen in the Mansion blended together at the front entrance. The only way to escape would be run through them, which Evie realized had the possibility of killing her.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” she yelled to the shadows, and to the house, which seemed determined to trap her. “But I didn’t Cure myself just to be trapped by you.”
Evie sucked in a deep breath, braced herself, and screamed. The screaming stirred the shadows enough the create a hole in their vacuum.
Her screams echoed around the hall until finally the shadows closed around her.
The shadows scratched at her, pulling and tugging her limb from limb. Evie tried to breathe, but almost suffocated in the darkness, as the shadow’s dark void lacked everything from light to oxygen, and enabled nothing to survive.
Evie felt herself being pushed to the ground from the weight of the darkness, and she hit the floor unable to speak or barely even keep her eyes open.
The front door to the Mansion, however, was cracked open just an inch. It was wide enough for Evie to glimpse the full-moon outside Blackburg and see the terrain again that the shadows couldn’t control.
With her last possible ounce of energy, she pushed herself off the floor and leapt for the door. Springing off her feet, she tumbled onto the front porch with the shadows scratching at her heels.
Every step she took down the front walk and towards the street liberated her more. Though the shadows still crept underneath the Blackburg Mansion’s porch and hung from its trees, Evie found herself able to breathe again and able to run towards the street.
Evie shook her head to clear it, her eyes still wide from the events that had transpired. As she stepped out on the street in front of the mansion, she noticed a light flickering in the second-story window.
Each of the un-Cured women had gathered there, watching her. Their newly lit candles wavered with the thumping heartbeat that had occupying Evie’s hearing.
She stepped into the street and turned to see Max hanging in the entrance, watching her. Even though his eyes were void and hallow, Evie knew that somehow, her friend was disappointed. Though he’d brought her there to trap her, he’d counted on her to help break the curse. They all had.
But there was nothing she could do about it.
With a heavy heart, but mostly relieved, Evie turned to run home. Out of the corner of her eye, there was a light. Two lights. And a whooshing noise. She faced the noise and saw a car fast approaching.
Her eyes still wide, she waved towards the car, jumping up and down for it to help her.
Suddenly the second story candles extinguished and everything surrounding Evie went silent. The twisting shadows that had poured out of the mansion’s entrance stopped at the front gate as if there were nothing more they could do for her.
They could only wait.
Before she had a chance to scream, the two lights flashed in front of Evie, and she turned just in time to see the truck’s front bumper before it obliterated her gray silhouette.
The shadows were quick to clean up, as they were in and out of the scene before the truck’s driver had a chance to turn off his engine.
A light flickered from the Mansion.
“Oh well,” said the woman with the crooked neck. She had gathered with the un-Cured and undead women in the staircase. “We tried.”
The white-haired woman stepped away from a long picture frame, the newest addition to their portrait collection. A dark, twisting shape appeared on the frame, and the woman waved her hand across it, as if she were patting a cat.
“She’ll wake up tomorrow, and we can show her around,” the woman said to the shadow. “Although I’m afraid her friend is of no more use to us.”
Each of the women examined the picture. “Looks nice.” One of the woman said, stroking her mouse. They each nodded, satisfied and then turned to head back to the third floor. Their sanctuary.
Only the portrait of Evie remained in the stairwell. Wearing what she had died in, the picture of her looked exactly like she had just moments before. The only difference was the dark, hollowed eyes staring through the dusky halls of the Blackburg Mansion.
This story is copyrighted by Elizabeth A. Seibert: November 27, 2016. All rights reserved.