A harsh ringing sound broke the still silence, the receiver vibrating in its yellowing plastic cradle. A mouse scurrying across the dusty floor looked up at the noise, startled by the first sound, other than howling wind, that had disturbed its existence in months. As suddenly as it had begun, the ringing stopped, and the mouse went about his business.
7 Nights Later
"Shhh," Stacy hissed, staring at the clock. The glowing red numerals read 8:59.
She opened her window, letting in a rush of cool night air before turning to again glare at Autumn who giggled through pursed lips, the sound coming out her nose. Ms. Wilson's Chihuahua from two houses down barked at something in the night.
"God, I wish that dog would get eaten by a snake or something," James said, picking at a pimple on the end of his beaklike nose.
"Or picked up by a hawk or maybe an owl," Autumn snorted, continuing to smack her plump lips together, the juices from the piece of gum behind them making squelching noises.
"Hush," Stacy chided.
Recovering, Autumn opened her mouth to speak but ended up choking on a strand of her long blonde hair as a gust of wind blew in through the open window.
It was James' turn to glare at her, with a harshly whispered "Quiet!" before looking back at the clock, his extra chin jiggling beneath his jaw, and watching as the numbers changed.
"See!" Stacy exclaimed, peering out her window at the ancient house three streets away. The house looked like something out of the movie Clue, or even Edward Scissorhands. Hell, the whole neighborhood reminded them of the opening of the latter movie, just without all of the synchronicity. And more damn dogs barking.
Steven tried to join her at the opening and was rewarded with a face full of Stacy's auburn hair. He fought to untangle himself from it but by the time he had, the minute had passed, the ringing had stopped.
"And you're sure it's coming from there?" Asked Steven, pulling his glasses from his freckled face and cleaning them off.
"I- I uh, think so," Stacy said, taking a seat on her bed next to Autumn.
"Where else would it be coming from?" James asked, sending a dirty look Steven's way.
"One of the other houses around here," Steven replied, looking out the window. Lights were on in many of the houses around the neighborhood. Even the house across the street, which had been empty for nearly a month, had lights on in it, now that the bank had managed to rent it out.
"Psh," James dismissed him.
"We could always go and find out," Autumn said.
"Tomorrow night?" James asked, pulling his leather jacket tighter as the chill wind invaded the room again. "Shut the window, will you?"
Steven pulled the window shut. "This is stupid."
"No it isn't," Stacy said, before agreeing with James. "Let's meet there tomorrow at 8:45. Don't forget a flashlight."
Steven objected, "But we've got the project for Mrs. McCrary's class to finish."
"Don't be such a spoil sport. Besides, didn't you say you already finished your part?" Autumn mumbled around a large pink bubble. It popped, and the teen went back to smacking her lips noisily.
"Well yeah, but are you guys done?"
"We will be. Don't worry. Now are you in?" James asked, grabbing a pencil from Stacy's desk and plunging the tip into the new bubble that Autumn was blowing.
"Hey," Autumn protested, pulling gum from her cheeks before shoving it back into her mouth.
"Fine," Steven finally said, "but I gotta get going now."
"Yeah," James said, looking at his watch, "Me too, my mom's gonna kill me."
"What did you do this time?" Autumn asked.
"I forgot to take out the trash this morning. That's two weeks in a row now."
"Eww," Stacy said as the four teenagers left her bedroom.
The Next Night
The rain pelted their umbrellas and cut visibility, even with the flashlights, down to only a few feet.
"I don't see any lights on inside" Steven said, squinting through the gloom.
"Duh, of course not," James replied, slapping the backside of Steven's head.
"Come on you two," Autumn said, approaching the stiff iron gates that guarded the long gravel driveway. She gave the metal work a shove, but it did not budge.
"Let me try," James said as he pushed her out of the way and leaned into the gate. With his shoulder firmly planted against the seam where the doors met, he grunted as his feet dug into the gravel and began to slide, pushing himself away from the door, but not bulging the door at all.
"Uh guys," Steven interjected weakly.
"Shut up, I've almost got this," James grunted.
"My turn," Steven demanded, trying to push James out of the way.
"Fine," James conceded, finally stepping out of the way, watching as Steven to stumble into the door. This elicited a laugh from Stacy, but she stopped quickly and watched her friend grab ahold of the gate.
"Stand back," Steven told his companions, pulling on the portal, which swung open with a groan.
"I knew that..." James said, pushing Steven aside and taking the lead as the four of them marched up the gravel driveway, dodging rivulets of brown water that washed toward them.
As they walked, the storm raged about them, the rain hammering down and the wind threatening to steal the very umbrellas that shielded them from it.
"Maybe we can come back another night?" Steven asked as the echo from a peal of thunder rumbled into the night.
"Sure," James said, "You go home and we'll tell you all about it in class tomorrow, and then you can come on your own whenever you feel like it."
It was Steven's turn to glare at James from behind his glasses, but he continued to follow his friends as they approached the old house.
The wooden porch creaked as they ventured up the three steps, deftly avoiding the large puddle of brown stagnant water at their top. The door to the house stood firm, its tired red paint cracked and peeling. One of the small stained glass windows was missing from its frame, the doorknob unmoving as James attempted to turn it. He tried to reach in through the window, but his meaty forearm did not fit very far. "Um, I can't reach."
"Come on, we've only got," Autumn prodded, looking at her watch, "ten minutes to find the phone."
"Move," Steven said, and waited for James to extract himself from the window. Once his friend had done so, Steven reached in to the house and, with a loud click, the door popped open, the bolt undone.
Again James shoved past Steven, pushing the door open with a creak, just wide enough for the four teens to slip inside. "Uh, hello?" James called out.
It was Steven's turn to smack James. Steven put his finger to his lips before taking another step further into the dusty room. French doors, many of the glass panes broken, opened into a sitting room on the right. The furniture within was covered with plastic sheets, dust from years of disuse disturbed only by rodent tracks and what appeared to be the paw prints of a cat.
Autumn turned to the left where a large hole in the wall looked upon what appeared to have once been an old office or possibly a library. A large wooden desk sat on a cracked sheet of plastic, an ancient red leather chair toppled behind it. The shelves lining the walls were empty save for a scurrying rat. "I don't see a phone," she whispered.
They strode deeper into the house, past a doorway that led into a kitchen with chipped marble countertops and old floral wallpaper stained and peeling off the wall like sunburned skin. Beyond that, a stairway off to the right led up and back toward the front of the house while a room on the left held an empty china cabinet and a large oaken table rested askew, its thick broken leg lying on the ground a few feet from it.
"I think it's upstairs," Stacy said, peering up the stairs and noticing an open window. The group climbed the stairs and were lashed by the intruding storm's fury, each wooden step groaning under their weight and adding to the tempest's cacophony.
Autumn checked her watch. "Hurry, only a minute until 9:00!"
Hurried, they crept down the hallway and opened the first door they came to, all four jumping as the phone within the room began to ring.
Warily, Stacy approached the device, the once-white plastic receiver rattling in its cradle. Cautiously, she picked up the phone and held it to her ear, "Hello?"
"Help me!" It was Steven's voice. "I'm in the basement!"
The line went silent and Stacy slammed the phone down in shock. She whipped her head around, eyes opened wide. "Where's Steven?"
"He was right behind me." James stepped out into the hallway, coming back in and shrugging.
"I swear it was him on the phone," she said, her voice shaking.
James crossed the room in four long strides and picked up the phone. "It's dead." He bellowed out his friend's name, ignoring the stares from the girls.
A look of panic crossed Autumn's face. "We've got to tell somebody!"
James walked out into the hallway. "Stay with me," he told both of the girls, and then, "Tell somebody what? That we broke into this place and now one of our friends is missing? You really think they'll believe that? We'll end up getting arrested or something. Besides, he's probably at home already, hiding beneath his covers as we speak." He yelled his friend's name again. "Look, let's get out of here."
"But what about Steven? He was on the phone!"
"Are you certain it was him?"
"Well, um, yeah."
James cocked his head at her, his green eyes catching the light from the flashlight. "Seriously, grow up. You know what? It was him. You two are just trying to scare us. He's at home laughing at us all, or better yet, he's waiting outside for us to come running out like little girls. That's it, isn't it? I knew this was stupid, and we've wasted so much time that my mom's going to kill me now."
"What is it this time?"
"I haven't finished the science project."
"Oh shit, me neither," Autumn said.
"Shouldn't we at least look for him?" Stacy looked worried.
"Really, the joke's over, you can give it up now," James said, spitting into a dusty corner.
Stacy opened her mouth to answer, but her cell phone rang as they descended the stairs toward the entrance of the house.
"Stacy, where are you?" Asked the angry voice on the other end of the phone.
"It's her dad," James mouthed to Autumn, but the blonde could hear her friends father just as well.
"Um, I went out for some, uh, fresh air Dad."
"Get your butt home, and turn in the phone when you get here. What were you thinking going out in this storm?"
They arrived on the first floor and Stacy went back into the house, away from the front door.
"But your dad-" James began.
"I am not leaving until I've found Steven."
"Fine," James and Autumn both said, falling into line behind Stacy.
"Just stay together," she cautioned, throwing open a door and peering in. "It's just a bathroom."
They searched, room by room, throughout the entire first floor. They found a coat closet beneath the stairs as well as a large walk-in pantry, but no steps or ladder down to a basement.
"See," Autumn said, "James was right, Steven just got scared and went home. Come on, let's go."
"I guess," Stacy sighed as they peered into the main hallway through the hole in the office wall. "Fine, you guys must be right," she reluctantly agreed, shaking her head.
The three companions left the house in silence and parted ways outside of Stacy's without saying a word, a wave passing as their only farewell.
Stacy's sleep was haunted by Steven's voice. "I'm in the basement!," replayed over and over in her dreams.
He was tied to a table, heavy ropes holding his arms and legs splayed out. Tears ran down his face, he spoke the four words over and over into a phone that was pressed against his head by the black gloved hand of someone just out of view.
This would go on for a little while before she woke up sweating, only to fall back asleep and relive the nightmare.
It was not until she was sitting at the table, shoveling scrambled eggs into her mouth, that she remembered the vision with any clarity. Stacy tried to push the disturbing images out of her mind and focus instead on getting ready for school.
Throughout the day, her thoughts drifted back to the phone call, and lunch did nothing to relieve her fears. Autumn and James sat across from Stacy, each with a greasy slice of pizza. Autumn picked at a pepperoni and popped it into her mouth before smearing orange grease on her napkin.
"So, where's Steven?" James asked, looking around the cafeteria.
"I don't know," Stacy replied, pulling a plastic bag from her lunch sack.
"Are those your mom's cookies?" James inquired, already reaching for the bag.
Stacy slapped his hand. "Yes, and I got enough for both of you to have some." She handed a pair of the cookies to each of her friends, and took a bite out of one herself. They finished their meal in silence, Stacy only speaking once when she got up to leave. "Ok, I have to go turn in a library book. I'll catch you guys in science."
She was easily distracted for the next two class periods, the image of Steven tied to a table kept popping back into her head.
Mr. Gander, her math teacher, held her after the bell had rung and asked her if she was feeling alright.
"Yeah, I had some bad dreams last night, I'm just tired," Stacy replied.
"I'm sure. Is there anything else Mr Gander?"
"No, go on. Try and take it easy tonight."
Afraid she was going to be late, she tore through the halls, trying to make it to last period, science class, on time, and made it with almost a minute to spare.
James grabbed her as she walked into the room, and she suppressed a squeal. "What are you doing?" She hissed.
All James did was point and giggle. Steven sat at the back of the class. He looked exhausted. Dark circles hung under his bloodshot blue eyes, which he could hardly keep open, and his dirty blonde hair looked even dirtier.
"Has he said anything to you?" inquired Stacy, but James shook his head.
"No, I'm not sure I want to talk to him, is that drool?" He replied, squinting at Steven.
"Has he turned in his part of the assignment?"
"I don't know, you go ask him."
"Hi guys, what's going-" Autumn asked, appearing behind her two whispering friends, who both jumped in surprise, having been interrupted from their conversation.
James again pointed at Steven. "Have you talked to him?"
"No," Autumn said, "this is the first time I've seen him today. Hey Steven, did you turn in the project?" She called across the room, eliciting stares from her classmates but no response from her friend. She walked over to him and asked again. "Did you get the project turned in?"
Again he ignored her.
"I better not fail because of you."
The whole class was staring at her now, so she sheepishly took her seat and fished out her portion of the project from her backpack.
James walked by, taking the paperwork from her and, after squaring them on her desk, dropped the small stack onto Mrs. McCrary's desk. Class was dull, as usual and, afterwards, Steven continued to sit at his desk, ignoring the bell and the students filing out.
"He must really be pissed at us. Was he hiding in that house somewhere waiting to jump out and scare us?" James wondered aloud as they walked toward their lockers.
"I don't... I mean, there was no joke," Stacy responded, telling James and Autumn about her nightmare.
"Come on Stacy, do you really expect us to believe that?" It was Autumn's turn to doubt the story. "Ha ha, you two got us. Can we move past it now?"
"I'm not joking!"
"Really Stacy, enough is enough."
Mercifully, at least for him, James changed the subject, "Did you guys get the math that we went over today? It went right over my head."
"Sure, it was easy," Autumn said before shoving a piece of gum into her mouth.
"I'm glad someone thinks so," Stacy said, trying again to push her nightmares from her mind. "Any chance you could come over later and go over it with me?"
"Me too?" James asked, and then turned to Stacy, "Do you think your mom would make some of those chocolate chip cookies of hers?" His eyes grew a little wider as he spoke.
Autumn poked him in his ample stomach, "You don't need another cookie, but yeah, I'll help you both."
"No, I need help with the math. I want another cookie."
"Fine," Autumn laughed, "See you two later." She turned left, heading off towards the front of the school and her locker.
"Look, James-" Stacy began.
"Enough's enough. I'll see you later. Don't forget to ask your mom about the cookies!"
James had barely finished chewing his fourth cookie before he stuffed another into his mouth. "These are so good," he proclaimed, crumbs falling all over the math worksheet that sat on the bed before him.
"God, you're getting crumbs all over my sheets," Stacy said, shaking her head.
"Sorry," James mumbled with a mouth full of cookie.
"We're almost done. So if two X plus two equals seven and five X minus three Y is eleven, what does Y equal?" Autumn asked, staring at her own sheet of homework before her.
Stacy wrote the equation down on the paper in front of her before nibbling on her pencil's eraser.
"I am so sick of math," James said, reaching for another cookie and finding the plate empty. He stared hungrily at the plate, "Do you think-"
Stacy shot him a dirty look, "Don't you dare ask for more cookies, you ate all of them."
"I was going to ask for your mom's recipe."
Stacy scowled, "I'll check before you leave." She turned back to Autumn, "So, X must be two and a half, right?" Stacy asked, jotting the number down on her piece of paper.
"Good," Autumn said with a smile. "At least one of you is getting this."
"It's not my fault this stuff is boring."
"Oh," Stacy exclaimed, erasing a number furiously and then writing down another. "Y is point five!"
James made a show of writing something down on his own homework, craning his neck so he could see what was on Stacy's. "Hey, it's almost nine! You going to open the window so we can hear the mysterious phone ringing again?" James laughed, causing Autumn to giggle.
"I'll admit, that was pretty good," Autumn said, slipping her finished homework into her backpack.
Stacy shook her head and went to the window, sliding the pane upwards, letting in the cool night air. She kept glancing at the clock, which moved painfully slow, and nine o'clock came but the distant ringing did not.
"See, just a bad joke." James said, but he jumped when the door to Stacy's bedroom swung open, revealing her father holding a phone.
"It's for you Stacy," He said, holding it out for her. "And close that window, damn it, you're letting in all the cold air." He set the phone down on her desk and left, closing the bedroom door behind him.
Stacy did as she was told, clicking the lock on the window before timidly picking up the phone. She looked at the caller ID. "It's Steven!" And then into the phone, "Hello?"
"Help me! I'm in the basement!" Stacy managed to hang up on him before she threw the phone across the room, a look of sheer terror on her face.
It had barely landed on the bed before it rang again. James picked it up, "It's him again," he said before answering it. "Listen you- Oh, I'm sorry Mrs. Brand- No, he's not with us, what do you mean you haven't seen him? Hold on, let me put you on speaker phone."
Having done so, Steven's mother's voice came filled the room. She sounded very worried. "He said he was spending the night at your place, James, so you guys could finish that science project. But he never came home from school, and Mrs. McCrary called earlier and said that he hadn't been in class today and hadn't turned in his part of the project."
James looked at the two girls before cupping the phone against his chest. "He was there today. You saw him, right?"
"Yeah. I think," Stacy said.
"Mrs. Brand," James said, pulling the phone from his chest, "We saw Steven in her class."
"She mentioned she saw Autumn talking to an empty corner today, but thought it was just you guys goofing off."
"Empty corner?" Autumn mouthed, closing her eyes and trying to picture the classroom.
"If you three see him, let him know we're worried about him and tell him he needs to go straight home," Mrs. Brand said before telling the teens farewell and hanging up.
James dropped the phone and all three of them stared at it again, waiting for it to ring, but it remained silent. James made a show of brushing the crumbs off of Stacy's bed, until he got to her pillow which he began to beat on.
"Um, James?" Autumn asked, "What are you doing?"
"I... I've almost got... it."
"There was a big spider on your pillow."
"No there wasn't." Stacy said, crossing her room and taking the pillow from underneath the pummeling hands of James. "There's nothing on here."
"It's on your arm!" James exclaimed, slapping at her wrist.
"Ow! What the hell?" Stacy said, taking a step away from him. "I think you need to leave. Now."
"It's in your hair!"
"Dad!" Stacy yelled and a few moments later, her father was standing in the doorway.
James screamed before stumbling out of the bed and running towards Stacy's father, and the doorway, with his chins tucked firmly against his chest.
Stacy's father managed to jump out of the way and then chased James down the stairs and out the front door before walking back up to his daughter's room. "What the hell was that about?"
"I don't know, but he left his backpack and everything," Stacy said, collecting his things and shoving them into the bag. Finally she handed her father the empty plate. "Are there any more cookies?"
"Your mom made plenty for you guys."
"Yeah, but James ate all of them."
"Oh, I'll check," Stacy's father said, his expression changing as he laughed and shook his head.
"You know, I ought to go, I mean it is after nine," Autumn said, shoving the rest of her belongings into her backpack.
"Yeah, and I need to finish cleaning off my bed," Stacy said, shuddering at the cookie crumbs that still lay all over it.
Much of Stacy's sleep was occupied by the same dreams from before. Steven tied to a large wooden table, a phone held up to his face by the black gloved hand of a figure just out of reach.
Steven was crying in the dreams, and his shirt, the same green and white striped one he had been wearing the night he disappeared, had been torn away. Tatters lay on the table to either side, as if someone had ripped it down the center of his chest and let the scraps fall where they may. From her vantage point, she could see blood pooling in spots upon his chest, but it was not until the alarm went off and she was pulled swiftly from the nightmare by the clock's harsh squawking that the wounds upon his chest took on any kind of clarity.
She bolted to the bathroom, vomiting in the toilet, afterward wiping the tears from her cheeks and hoping not to run into either of her parents along the way. She tried washing her face with cold water, but could not get the visual out of her head. Finally, after taking a deep breath and sitting down in the tub, she allowed herself to relax, and closed her eyes again. But the vision was still with her. Carved into Steven's chest, the blood still trickling from the wounds, was his statement from the night before. "Help me! I'm in the basement!"
She shuddered and squeezed her eyes shut, until spots floated in the darkness. She rose, stepped back out of the tub and washed her face again, letting the soap wash away her tears.
"Stacy, you'll be late for school, are you up?" her mother called out, followed by a mouthed "Oh!" when Stacy opened the bathroom door. "Yeah mom."
She shoved a Pop-Tart into her mouth, and with both her backpack and James', headed to school.
Steven was not there, and neither was James, but a call to James' house after school revealed that his mom had kept him home sick after he had come home complaining about feeling weird, and then tried to pick a fight with a painting in their living room.
"You mean the Dali with the elephants?" Stacy asked, trying to imagine who would have won the fight.
"Thanks Mrs. Smith." Stacy hung up the phone and then turned to Autumn, who stood beside her. "He's sick."
"What about Steven?" Autumn asked.
"You call him," Stacy said, shoving her phone at Autumn.
"Fine," Stacy said, finding Steven's number in her phone. She dialed and his mother picked up.
"Oh. Hi, Mrs. Brand, any word on Steven?"
Stacy could hear her suppress a sob, and she felt even more uncomfortable. "Sorry to have bothered you, Mrs. Brand."
"Could that have been any more awkward?" Autumn asked.
"No." Stacy took a deep breath. "I'm going back."
"Back? Oh to the house?"
"Yes. I'm really worried about Steven. And what if he really is in the basement?"
"What basement? You were there. We didn't find any stairs or anything."
"I know, but still."
"You mean you're not going with me?"
"Uh, hell no. Steven's missing, and James is going crazy. I don't want anything to do with that place."
On her way home, Stacy stopped by James' house and dropped off his backpack, again asking after him.
"He's still not feeling well, but I think he'll be ok for school tomorrow. Do you know if he has any homework?" Mrs. Smith asked.
"Mom," James groaned from somewhere inside the house.
Mrs. Smith winked at Stacy and took his backpack. "Thanks for bringing this by."
"No problem. Bye," Stacy said, and then called out over Mrs. Smith's shoulder, "Bye James."
"Bye," James croaked from somewhere within. As Mrs. Smith closed the door, Stacy turned her back on the house and headed for her own home where she dropped off her belongings and told her mother that she was going to go hang out with some friends.
"We're eating at six, be home before then," her mother advised her.
"Yes ma'am," Stacy said as she left her house.
Despite the chill wind, Stacy found herself sweating as she approached the abandoned house. It looked old and run down, innocent in its decrepitness, but she could not help but stay her hand in fear as she stood on the porch, the tired red door before her.
"Ok, Stacy, you got this," she said to herself, and before she could think about it again, grabbed the knob to turn it, but it would not budge. Remembering Stevens actions of a few nights before, she reached through the broken window and felt around until she found the lock. With an audible click, the door creaked open an inch before her. Taking a deep breath, she extracted her arm from the window, pushed open the door, and crossed the threshold, only to scream and jump out of the way as an object bolted past her, trailing blood.
Stacy darted back out of the house, breathing heavily, and laughed nervously when she saw the pitch black cat sitting in the driveway, a dead rat in its mouth. "Just a cat," she sighed with relief, stepping back inside the house. She ventured through the open French doors into the sitting area to her right, and moved around the dust-coated furniture, searching for some kind of door into a basement, but met with zero luck. Next she peered into the office through the hole in the wall, but again, saw no evidence of a basement. Within, a doorway stood partially ajar, but she remembered it opening into a small closet. Proceeding down the hallway, she turned into the kitchen, startling another rat who scurried into a small hole in the baseboards opposite her. She peeled a few of the strips of wallpaper from the wall, the dried paste crumbling to dust as it came free, but eventually decided that if there was a basement, it would not be behind the wallpaper.
Searching in the pantry, she found no seams. Nothing there except for an old can of Hunt's Tomato Sauce, the label cracked and brittle, sitting on the top shelf. Holding her breath, Stacy grabbed it, and turned it around. Dust flew everywhere, causing her to sneeze, and the label fell apart beneath her grasp, but if she was expecting anything else to happen, she was disappointed.
On the way out of the kitchen, she heard it.
It was faint, but she definitely heard something. Stacy concentrated hard and could just make out an almost imperceptible scraping noise, but she could not pinpoint the direction it was coming from.
Running to the next room, she stumbled over the leg of the oak table and flew, sprawling on the floor. Recovering, she searched the room, but found no door there, either. She stood, silent, listening for the sound again but did not hear anything. Rushing back into the kitchen, she stood, stock stil, straining to hear, but the sound did not return.
Hoping her ears were not playing tricks, she returned to the dining room, avoiding the broken table, and through a door in side wall that led down a small hallway. A closed door to the right concealed a bathroom where she thought she could hear the scraping noise again, but she could not be certain. At the end of the hallway, a doorway led into the office, but as expected, she found no trace of a basement.
Stacy peered through the hole in the wall again, looking out this time, into the small foyer, but the different vantage offered her no new insight.
"Damn it, Steven, where are you?" she muttered under her breath, leaving the office. As she was passing by the bathroom door, she thought she heard a voice.
Ducking into the room, she looked for a place to hide and jumped into the tub, yanking the rotting shower curtain, its metal rings rattling against the rod, closed.
Her heart pounding in her chest as she counted the seconds, waiting for a black gloved hand to tear down the shower curtain and grab her, but it never came. Suddenly, Stacy realized she was holding her breath and let it out slowly, carefully pulling the corner of the plastic aside and peeking around it. She sighed aloud when nothing was there and climbed out of the tub, poking her head out into the hallway. "Come on Stacy," she told herself, "you're nervous and you're hearing things. Just get out of the house."
She made it back to the kitchen in complete silence. Another rat - or was it the same one, she could not tell - was running across the floor with one of the larger scraps of the label from the soup can. It had disappeared into its hole when the silence was broken by a scream.
"No!" It was followed by whimpering. Stacy bolted for the front door and did not stop until the iron gate had slammed shut behind her.
There she rested, hands on her knees, breathing heavily, peeking out of the corner of her eye at the old house, waiting for someone to emerge and give chase, but again, nothing happened. Hurriedly walked home, glancing over her shoulder every few feet, until she rounded the corner and the house was no longer in sight.
Ms. Wilson's Chihuahua began its high pitched tirade at Stacy as she walked by the chain linked fence and finally, she stopped and turned to yell at the dog. Before even opening her mouth, her eyes fell upon something in the old woman's back yard.
"Thanks uh, yeah!" Stacy said to the animal before turning around and running back toward the old house.
The gate opened with its customary groan, but instead of heading up the stairs to the porch, she walked past it and around the side of the house. In the backyard, she found what she was looking for - the doors to the storm cellar standing wide open.
"Hello?" Stacy called out, descending the stairs. Steven's body was tied to the table from her dreams. When he saw her, his eyes widentd and he began to thrash at the bonds that held him. A man stood at a table on the opposite side of the room with his back to them both, selecting from what appeared to be an array of blades.
"Nice of you to join us," the man said without so much as looking up from the task before him.
Steven thrashed some more, trying to say something around the large strip of cloth that held his mouth open, and his head tightly against the table.
The man finally selected a knife, the teeth of its serrated blade catching the lone light that hung from the ceiling and reflecting it against the far wall. He turned, and the first thing she noticed were the black gloves, and the thick black apron which was slick with some dark liquid. The second thing caught her breath in her throat.
"We were wondering when you were going to join us down here," her father said.
Stacy turned to run up the stairs but heard the door slam shut. Horrified, she watched as a pair of high heels, and then calves, descended the stairs. They were soon followed by the rest of her mother. "You're not leaving yet, are you?"