Katie held her nose against the stench of Seth’s vomit filling the car. “Dammit Seth, put your face farther out of the car,” Josh said, while rolling all the windows down. Once Seth was able to stop dry-heaving, he sat up and leaned his head against the seat. “Shut up ass, you’re the one who picked that poison factory of a truck stop to eat at.” He closed the door, causing the stench to waft through the air again. “We’re going to have to find somewhere to stop,” Seth grumbled. Katie looked at the clock and sighed. Two weeks ago the three of them had applied for a job working on pipelines in Montana. Being from a small town of five hundred and fifty people had given them few options and leaving the dead-end town seemed like a dream come true, not to mention no one would be there to miss any of them. Seth and Katie had lost both their parents five years ago in an accident, and hadn’t seen the rest of the family since. Josh’s family didn’t give a shit about him. They cared more about their meth lab and the losers that frequented their home. So yeah, leaving was the best thing that could happen to the three of them. The problem now was getting there. They’d left yesterday morning bright and early, excited for the journey, but so far, things were not looking good. They’d only gone eight hundred miles out of a twenty two hundred mile trip, all thanks to the flat tire incident yesterday, and now this. “Come on Seth. You sure you can’t suck it up?” Katie asked. “Are you freaking kidding me? How about I just start puking in the car, or better yet, in your lap?” “God Seth, don’t get your panties in a wad.” Katie shook her head and gave Josh a pointed look. As much as she loved her brother, he could be a real tit bag. Josh intertwined his fingers with Katie’s and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “We will be fine,” he reassured her. “We still have three days to get there. That’s plenty of time.” She scowled back at her brother, but didn’t say another word. Staring out the window, she instead focused on the rolling hills of Missouri. The old country road they were currently on twisted more than any road Katie had ever traveled. She had been nervous when she finally got up the nerve to ask Josh if he would mind taking state and county roads instead of the interstate. But like she should have known, he didn’t care at all. He knew about her fear of busy highways, and the total panic that would overtake her. The one time she dared get on an interstate after her parents death, she had had a meltdown, assaulted by images of her parents crushed bodies trapped underneath the eighteen-wheeler that had rear-ended them. Seth started groaning again and Katie stole a glance back at him to see that his face was paler than before. “You better find something quick. He’s not looking so good.” “Oh, now you care,” Seth croaked. Katie shrugged. “Not really. I’m worried about the upholstery.” Seth flipped her off and then leaned his head back again to look up at the roof. The truth was, she did care. She cared more that he would probably ever know. Besides Josh, who could decide to leave her at any time he wanted, Seth was blood, he was her only family. She cherished that. Not that she didn’t cherish her relationship with Josh, but Katie knew that relationships could change. Been there, done that. But who was there after that last failed relationship? Seth. Seeing a small gas station and café next door just after a sharp curve, Josh pulled over at the gas station and went inside to ask where the nearest hotel was. While he was inside, Katie looked at the map on her phone, which barely had any service. They were a good fifty miles from any decent sized town. Tossing the phone aside, Katie looked at the rundown station, with its fading boards, bug zappers, and stacks of tires scattered all around, and wondered how many people lived around here. She hadn’t seen another car in at least ten minutes. The old man who sat out front in an old rocking chair whittling a piece of wood spat on the ground, leaving a gross lump of tobacco right next to the door. Josh came back with a piece of paper in hand and got in the car. “You’re in luck, my man. There’s a bed and breakfast about a half mile down the road. The old woman inside said there’s a diner right past it.” He shook his head and chuckled, as he put the car in gear. “She was scary as hell, all snagged tooth and bloody apron.” “She had blood on her apron?” Katie asked, horrified. Josh shrugged. “Yep. Apparently, she’s the town butcher. On one side of the store, there was a long wooden table with meat all over it. Personally, I wouldn’t eat anything that came from there. Flies were everywhere.” Nice, Katie thought as a chill ran down her back. Good thing she had packed some good old canned meat and crackers. No way was she going to be eating at the diner. They probably got their meat from there. They passed what looked to once have been a church but that was now overgrown with weeds and ivy. Seth groaned in the back seat, claiming he was going to get sick again. Thankfully, Willow’s Rest Bed and Breakfast came into view. Josh pulled into the driveway and before he could put the care into drive, Seth fell out and started barfing again. Katie got out of the car and examined the quaint, three story house. Dark grey siding with white, picturesque accents gave the house a beautiful, bold look. The first and second floor had several windows, but the third floor only had one. Katie thought she saw movement through one of the front windows, but when she looked again, nothing was there. She turned her attention to the porch and the older woman rocking in the white gazebo. The lower porch wrapped around the first floor, but came to a wide end where the gazebo was. It was beautiful. “Hi there,” the woman called and stood to her feet. Katie placed a smile on her face, although the stench of Seth’s vomit made her want to frown. “Hello, we were wondering if you had any vacancies.” “Oh yes, we do. We haven’t had visitors in quite some time.” The woman smiled, causing the skin under her eyes to wrinkle. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun and she wiped her hands on the yellow, daisy printed apron she wore. “Come on inside. It appears that boy there could use a shower.” The screen door creaked as she opened it and disappeared inside. When it slammed, Katie flinched and looked to Josh and Seth. Was this a good idea? She didn’t know why, but all of a sudden she was starting to get nervous about staying there. Her stomach twisted at the thought, but when Josh shrugged and put Seth’s arm around his shoulder, she shook it off. Katie took the lead and entered the house. A chill ran down her back as she crossed over the threshold, and she shivered. “You’ll get used to it.” Startled, Katie jerked and looked to find the woman standing off to the side, her hands folded in front of her, with a slight smile. “It’s an old house. There’s drafts and creaking boards, but she’s strong.” Seth and Josh pushed past Katie, who was not moving. That feeling, of something not being right, settled in on her again. She looked to the boys, who didn’t seem bothered. “I’m Mrs. Willow White. You may call me Willow.” Josh introduced the three of them and Katie did her best to smile. Another chill ran down her back when Willow looked at her. “Such fine young people. What brings you to the area?” Josh explained the situation, at which point Willow instructed Seth not to dare ruin her newly cleaned carpets. Katie couldn’t help but laugh at the motherly tone she took when talking to Seth. It reminded her of her own mother. “How many rooms will you be needing?” Willow asked. “Two,” Katie answered. Willow frowned as she looked from Katie to Josh and then down to their hands. Katie could imagine what the woman was thinking as she lifted her head and nodded. It was clear she didn’t like the idea of Katie and Josh sharing a room, seeing that they weren’t married, but the old lady needed to get with the program. This wasn’t the eighteenth century. The house was outdated in décor, with old-style lamps and rugs littering every room. Willow led them up the stairs and down the hall past two closed rooms. At the end, she turned, hand outstretched, with two keys dangling from her bony fingers. “I hope you feel welcome. Dinner will be served at five o’clock. Feel free to explore the grounds. I have quite the garden.” As Willow passed, she paused and grabbed Katie’s hand. “I’m so glad you are here. It’s been quite lonely.” With no further explanation, Willow went back downstairs. Seth parted with Katie and Josh, grumbling that he needed some rest. Once alone with Josh, Katie sighed a breath of relief. As much as she loved her brother, it was nice to be alone with Josh. “Everything ok?” he asked and settled on the bed next to her. “I don’t know,” she answered and ran her hand along the back of her neck. “I have this strange… feeling something is wrong. It’s hard to explain.” Josh smirked and leaned in closer. “How about I help you relax?” As his lips met hers, and his hand skimmed up under her shirt, Katie tried to relax into his touch.
Some time later, Katie tapped on Seth’s door and leaned her ear up against the wood. “Seth? Seth are you okay?” The sound of Seth heaving and groaning was her answer. Figuring he wasn’t going to be up for dinner, Katie turned to leave and found Willow standing behind her. She gasped as her heart leaped in her chest. “Oh, I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to startle you.” “It’s okay,” Katie said. “How is he?” Willow was holding a bowl of soup, a gentle expression on her face. “Still the game. I’m not sure he will be up for that,” she said, and gestured at the bowl. “We shall see,” she whispered, and stepped around Katie to go inside Seth’s room. That uneasy feeling Josh had been so kind to ease was now back. Katie took a deep breath and held it, hoping to ease the tension that was building. But it didn’t help, and she felt like she was going to be sick. Great. She was probably coming down with the same thing Seth had. In the bathroom, Katie leaned against the sink and waited for the water to run hot. After rinsing her face, she looked in the mirror and scowled at herself. She didn’t look sick, just tired. Rolling her eyes, she turned to leave when the shower curtain blew out behind her. She screamed, but turned to find nothing was there. Her skin broke out in goose bumps as a chill spread from her neck, down her spine, and spread throughout her body. The door opened and Josh hurried inside. “What is it?” Katie stared at the shower and the loose hanging curtain that was now still. “Katie?” Josh asked and came to stand in front of her. “Katie,” he repeated. She looked up into his eyes but didn’t know what to say. ‘Oh, you know the shower curtain moved and then I got a chill.’ Not really scream worthy. “I saw a roach,” she answered, knowing he would still laugh at her girly reaction to a bug, but it beat him thinking she was crazy. Josh did laugh and tease her about it all the way to the dining room. The table was set, with candles placed in the middle. Katie thought it was strange but didn’t say anything. She wasn’t used to such elegance, but considering Willow said it had been a while since she had company, maybe she was feeling festive. Katie sat next to Josh, the smell of fresh, homemade food wafted through the room and made her mouth water. It had been a long time since she had a decent meal. Since their parents died, Seth and Katie had mostly lived off sandwiches and canned meats. It wasn’t an ideal feast but it filled their stomachs and kept them going. Willow came from the kitchen with a steaming roasting pan. When she sat it down and lifted the lid, Katie’s eyes widened with delight. A large roast surrounded by potatoes and carrots still sizzled inside. Willow disappeared again and came back with rolls and a salad bowl filled with greens. Katie began to salivate, ready to dig in. The front door opened and in walked a girl, her face flushed and sweaty. “Sorry I’m late, Willow. Mrs. Evans was being a pest today.” “That’s quite all right, Leah. You’re just in time. We were about to say grace.” We were? Katie thought. Thinking back, she couldn’t think of a single time in her life she had said a prayer, not even when her parents died. Leah took her seat and they all bowed their heads. Willow said a nice prayer over the food and for Seth’s health. Katie’s stomach growled, and she was sure they had reached the end of the prayer and was waiting for the amen so she could start heaping up her plate, when Willow’s tone changed. “And thank you, Almighty Father, for bringing my family back to me. Amen.” Katie had been staring at Willow during the last of the prayer and when the older woman’s eyes met hers, she smiled. What did she mean by bringing her family back together? Surely, she didn’t mean the three of them. They weren’t her family. Maybe it had something to do with Leah or another matter they knew nothing about. But deep down, Katie had a feeling of foreboding. All during dinner, Leah kept the conversation lively by telling the group about some of her patients and their crazy tendencies. She was a house nurse and cared for her patients at all hours of the day and night, no matter how ridiculous the task. At twenty-two, she had no tie downs, as far as children or a partner, and loved her patients. About mid-way through the conversation switched to questions about Katie, Josh, and Seth. Where were they from? Where were they going? It was nice, but Katie noticed Willow seemed to have lost interest when they started talking about their future plans. True, they weren’t grand or anything, but she seemed to turn her nose down at the idea of them leaving. A part of Katie felt for the older woman, but they certainly weren’t going to stay in some no-name town for the sake of one woman’s feelings. “I’m stuffed,” Katie said and set back against her chair. Willow’s eyes snapped to her and she scowled. “Beth Ann, you know better than to slouch. It’s distasteful.” Confused who she was talking about, Katie looked to Josh and then Leah. Leah cleared her throat. “Willow, that’s not Beth Ann. Remember? Her name is Katie.” Willow’s face paled. A sudden draft passed over Katie and she shivered, but as fast as it came it went. Katie noticed Willow’s own arms raise with chills seconds later and a sense of peace crossed her face. “You’re right. I don’t know what came over me. I do apologize, child.” Standing and grabbing her plate, she turned for the kitchen. “When you are finished, please bring your plates to the kitchen for washing. I’m going to make Billy some soup and go check on him.” Billy? Who was she talking about now? Once the kitchen door swung shut, Leah leaned in closer to Katie and Josh. “I apologize for Willow. I’ve never seen her get confused like that. It worries me,” she said. “Who are Beth Ann and Billy?” Katie asked. “They are her children, but they passed away when they were younger. Poor things came down with pneumonia and suffered from a lung infection and brain damage. They had no choice but to take them off life support.” “They?” Josh asked. “Willow and her husband Frank. He passed away two years ago from a stroke.” That explained why Willow was acting the way she was, why she seemed so lonely. She was. She had lost everyone in her family and was now living off the hope of having guests in her home. Leah announced she was going to do the dishes for Willow, and refused Katie and Josh’s help when they offered. Telling Josh she needed some air, Katie ventured outside and into the garden. Willow hadn’t been lying when she said it was beautiful. Ivy wound up and over and archway as she entered the garden. A brick wall around four feet tall kept the garden secluded from the rest of the world. A stone pathway encased in concrete rounded the outside edges, with a crosswalk running in the middle. Flowers of all kinds, ranging from roses to petunias to fruit trees, filled space. When Katie reached the back of the garden her stomach knotted as she looked at the orange and red day lilies lining the back wall. It wasn’t the bright flowers that caused her to pause and feel nauseous, it was the evenly spaced monuments made into the wall with cream-colored black and white portraits centered in the middle that made her pause and her skin crawl. She didn’t know why, maybe it was the way their eyes made her feel as if they were watching her or the scowl on the older man’s face, but Katie turned as fast as she could back toward the center of the garden. She didn’t stop until the back door slammed shut behind her when she entered the house. The loud bang caused her to gasp and it wasn’t until that moment Katie realized she had been holding her breath. Fear had her heart racing, but curiosity fueled her as well, and she turned, slowly, to look out over the garden through the back door window. She didn’t expect to find someone staring right back at her, but there he was, a strange man standing in the middle of the garden, head tilted as if he was studying her. She screamed, her fear intensifying, as her body felt like it was being plunged in a bath of ice water. “Katie?” a female voice questioned. Katie turned to see Leah coming out of the kitchen and into the mud room. When Leah saw the terror on Katie’s face, she rushed to her side. “What’s wrong?” Katie turned back to the window and went to point at the garden, but paused. “Where did he go?” “Where did who go?” Leah asked, and looked out the window. Katie got closer to the window and searched wildly around the garden. “There was this man standing right there, looking at the house.” Leah looked again and shook her head. “Katie, I don’t—” “Oh, he’s fine. He’s a friendly,” came Willow’s voice from behind them. Katie turned and looked at Willow like she lost her mind. What did she mean he was a friendly? Katie had felt threatened when out in the garden and then again when she turned to see the man staring at her. “Who are you talking about, Willow? Who is it?” Leah asked. Willow waved her hand through the air and stepped toward the back door. “It’s only Frank.” She went out into the garden, smiling. Leah’s eyes widened as she watched the older woman wind her way through the lilacs and rose bushes. “Poor woman,” Leah remarked. “Who was she talking about?” Katie asked, and took a deep breath to calm her racing nerves. “Her husband.” “Wait… I thought her husband was dead.” Katie thought back to the man she saw in the garden. She had seen someone, no doubt about that. “He is.” “But I saw a man, a real man, standing in the garden and looking into the house.” Leah shrugged. “Maybe it was a passer-by cutting through the yard. It happens.” Leah walked Katie back toward the stairs that led to her room. She asked Katie over and over if she was okay, and although she said she was fine, Katie couldn’t shake what had just happened. She had felt fear and the array of emotions that come with it, but never had she felt it as intense as she just did. Something wasn’t right. “Are there no pictures of the family?” Katie asked. She had looked for some as they passed through the dining room, sitting room, and foyer. “No. Ms. Willow took down the pictures after they died. I asked her why, because I would think those would be dear to her, but she just said the dead can’t live if trapped. I don’t know what she meant by that,” she said, and then shrugged, “but I guess everyone has a right to believe what they want when grieving.” Katie believed the same thing to a certain point. Leah said her goodbyes and told Katie if she needed anything to call. Katie was left to wander around the house alone. After checking on Seth and finding him asleep, she went in search for Josh. As she walked the hallway, no knowing where Josh could be or where to go, she stopped when she heard what sounded like someone humming. She turned, trying to pinpoint exactly where the sweet melody was coming from. When she reached the last door before the staircase, the humming louder with every step she took, she stopped and leaned in close to the shut door. When her skin skimmed over the wood, it stopped. She tried the door handle, but it didn’t give. Curious not only about who was making the beautiful tune but also wondering what was inside the room, Katie grabbed the door knob but found it locked. She sighed and stepped back, debating on whether or not she should knock. Before she could make a decision, the knob clicked and the door gave way. With caution, Katie stepped toward the now open room. Her heart raced as she held her breath and went to take a peek inside. The room was dark, the sun already starting to set on the other side of the house. White cloth linens covered the furniture and pictures handing on the wall. Katie wanted a better look and started to open the door wider, when she was suddenly grabbed from behind. “What are you doing?” Josh asked. Katie slapped his arm, aggravated at him for scarring her, but also mad at herself for being so jumpy. “I thought I heard someone humming in there.” She turned back toward the room and gasped. A girl wearing a flower print dress, her hair straight and scraggly, stood in the center of the room. Katie stepped back, surprised. “What’s wrong?” Josh asked. Katie couldn’t answer him. She couldn’t answer the questions swirling in her own mind. Risking another glance inside, she was surprised to find the room empty. Shaking her head, confused as to what to believe, she reached down to shut the door but didn’t get a good grip before it slammed on its own. Katie flew back into Josh’s arms, and caused him to stumble. “Are you okay?” he asked, then spun her around to look her in the eyes. “You look frightened.” Katie ran her hand down her face. She was frightened. “I don’t know. I keep—” she paused, unsure of how to continue. How did she explain how she felt, what she thought she’d seen, when she didn’t know? What if she told Josh and he thought she was crazy? “Just forget it,” she said. “I’m tired.” “A nice bath would do you some good.” Josh and Katie both turned to find Willow standing at the top of the stairs, her hands folded in front of her and a sweet smile on her face. Josh started to massage her shoulder and peered around Katie. “I think that would be a great idea. You seem a little tense.” Katie agreed and followed Willow down to the kitchen to get some lavender oil, while Josh started filling the tub. “You’re going to love this oil,” Willow said, retrieving the bottle from the cupboard. “It has a hint of rose oil in it. The perfect mixture to help you relax. It was my daughter’s favorite.” Willow opened the bottle and took a deep breath. “She was so lovely. Always smelled pretty too.” “What was she like?” Katie asked, drawn by the love so evident on Willow’s face. That love faded as Willow put the cap back on the bottle, and instead sadness – and what Katie thought was despair – covered the older woman’s face. “Once she was loving and carefree. Now she’s dark… and spiteful.” Katie jumped when the cupboard door slammed. What did Willow mean by now? Her daughter was dead. How could she be those things Willow said? She wanted to ask Willow about it but didn’t know how to broach the subject, so instead she silently followed her back upstairs. The water was nice and warm when Katie sunk down into the claw foot tub. Growing up, Katie had loved taking a bath at her grandma’s house, who had sanded off the old chipping paint and repainted it a light pink, per Katie’s request. She had loved that tub, and was sad when the house sold, tub included. Katie leaned back against the cool porcelain of the tub, enjoying her childhood memories. She closed her eyes, and inhaled deep. Willow hadn’t been lying when she said the lavender and rose oil would relax her. Between the fantastic smell and warm water, Katie began to drift off to sleep. Right before she succumbed to the quiet darkness, a movement to her left caught her attention. She jerked, figuring Josh was sneaking in for a peek, or knowing him wanting more. But when she looked, no one was there. She looked around, the feeling of being watched stronger with every passing second. Unnerved and no longer able to relax, she drained the tub and toweled off. She looked around for her clothes, having asked Josh to bring her some clean ones, but only found a robe. “Figures,” she mumbled, as she wrapped it around herself. Deciding to check on Seth one last time before she called it a day, Katie walked down the hall to his room. When she found the knob locked, she gently knocked on the door. “Seth?” she questioned when there was no answer. Again, she tried the handle, but just like before, it was locked. Worried, and not understanding why his door was locked, Katie leaned in and pressed her ear against the wood. For a moment she didn’t hear anything, but after a few seconds of waiting, Willow’s raspy singing voice faintly began to trickle through the door. Katie didn’t recognize the song, and started to knock again to ask why the door was locked when Willow stopped singing and began to speak. “Don’t worry dear, you’ll grow to love it.” What did she mean by that? Love what? Katie would be damned if the older woman tried to convince Seth to stay here. She and he had big plans, and no crazy, lonely woman was going to take that away from them. Katie grabbed the handle of the door and was about to start banging and rattling it as hard as she could, when a strange roar, followed by a gurgling sound, erupted from inside the room. What the hell was that? As fast as it came, it stopped. Katie pressed her ear to the door again. “Oh quit fussing, Son,” Willow said. “You know I love you the best.” Shit! Katie thought. The woman had lost it. Frantic, Katie beat on the door and rattled the handle. This time, she didn’t stop. She wasn’t giving Willow a chance to pretend no one was inside. She would beat and bang on the door until it fell off its hinges if she had to. When Willow finally opened the door, she had on her pleasant smile. The one that unnerved Katie to her core. “What is it, dear?” she asked, but Katie didn’t give an answer. Instead, she pushed Willow aside and stormed into the room. Seth was sound asleep, the covers pulled up snug around him. “What did you do to him?” Katie demanded. “I gave him some medicine to help him rest,” Willow explained. Katie cringed against the sweet innocent voice, knowing the woman had been up to something. She just didn’t know what. And the way she kept mentioning her dead family, as if they were still alive, didn’t help matters. “Is something wrong with him?” Katie asked. “I thought I heard him groaning.” “He was,” she answered, her response fast. “Then the medicine kicked in and he was fine.” “What did you give him?” Katie looked around the room, but found no medicine bottles of any kind. “He’s allergic to certain medicines,” she said, angry. “Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. I whipped this up myself. It doesn’t have any of that chemical garbage they sell these days.” Katie eyed Willow. “You shouldn’t have given him anything without asking me first.” “Why not, young lady? You are not the one who is sick. And he agreed.” Katie could tell Willow was getting frustrated, but she didn’t care. “Because I’m the one responsible for him.” She leaned down to kiss Seth on the forehead, and make sure he wasn’t running a fever. Satisfied he was okay and just sleeping, Katie turned for the door. “Don’t worry, child,” Willow said, smiling again. “I will take good care of Billy.” Katie jerked back around. “Seth. His name is Seth and he’s not your son.” Willow gasped and stepped back, no doubt from Katie’s hateful tone and harsh reminder. Without saying anything else, Katie went for the door again and was going to talk to Josh about leaving and finding somewhere else to stay. There were too many questionable things happening for Katie to stay there any longer. A blast of cold air hit her back hard and sent Katie flying into the door. Her nose stung from slamming into the wood and when she reached up, she found it wet with blood. She jerked back around, ready to give the old lady what for, but was surprised to find her on the other side of the room where she had been standing before. No way could she have moved so fast. “He didn’t mean anything by it,” Willow explained, with sadness in her tone. “The boy just loses his temper sometimes. It’s not his fault.” Fear snaked through Katie’s veins as adrenaline sent her heart racing. Shaking her head, not knowing what to think of the situation, Katie fumbled for the door handle and then backed out of the room. She didn’t stop until she was in her room, her hands still shaking, and found Josh asleep in the bed. “Josh.” She wanted to scream his name, but couldn’t cause her voice shook. “Josh, wake up.” Josh moaned, but Katie couldn’t see him well. The sun had set an hour ago and the only light was coming from the bathroom. Katie walked over to the edge of the bed, her heart still racing, and shook Josh with her shaking hands. “Josh,” she repeated, desperately whispering his name. Groaning again, he rolled over. “What?” Relief flooded through her and she collapsed onto the bed. “I think we need to leave. Now!” “Why?” Josh asked, confused, and sat up. “I can’t explain it, but something strange is going on here.” Josh shook his head. “Baby, I think you’re just tired. Come over here and I’ll hold you.” Katie shoved him away when he tried to wrap his arms around her. “I may be tired, but I’m not that tired. You know me.” Memories of all the nights her and him spent hanging out until the early hours of morning and then going to school with no sleep flooded her mind. Even though she had little sleep, she still graduated with honors. Lack of sleep has never bothered her. “I do know you, but this is different. You’ve been through a lot, babe. And now, add the traveling and relocating. It’s a big change.” “That has nothing to do with it. Willow keeps spouting strange things about her family, now she’s saying things about their anger issues. I hate to be so blunt but they’re dead, Josh, as in no longer living and able to have mood swings.” Katie squirmed under Josh’s gaze. “And I keep seeing things,” she whispered. “There’s the way to convince me. Tell me you’re seeing things.” Katie closed her eyes and took a calming breath. It wasn’t going to be easy and rather than arguing about it, she instead finished packing her things. “You do what you want. I’m leaving.” Shaking his head, Josh went to grab at Katie but she pulled away. “Kat, will you wait a second? Where are we going to go if we leave? Seth is still sick and there’s not another town for sixty miles.” Something brushed up against her arm and sent a shiver over her skin. Katie screamed and turned, but nothing was behind her. Unable to take it anymore, she grabbed the handle of her suitcase, not bothering to finish stuffing everything inside to fit, and went for the door. “You can do whatever you want,” she said, “but I’m not staying here.” She went to grab the door knob, her intentions to first go put the bags in the car and then get Seth, but stopped when she touched the sheen of frost now covering the smooth metal. Before she had a chance to process what might had caused the phenomenon, she was thrown across the room, over the bed, and pinned to the wall. “What the f—” Josh stammered, and looked at Katie with wide eyes. Katie screamed as tears started to stream down her face. Whatever was holding her against the wall hurt. It hurt bad. There was nothing visible, but she felt it. The burn of something as cold as ice that held her around her mid-section so tight she couldn’t breathe. “Help me,” she said, her voice strangled. Josh jumped onto the bed, with fear in his eyes. Katie tried to take a breath, but the force around her became tighter and she could feel the pressure building in her face. Josh went to grab at her, but before he could touch her, she fell from the wall, the force no longer there. At the same time, Josh was thrown across the room and slammed into the wall with so much force it cracked. “Josh!” Katie scrambled over the bed, tears rolling down her face. She didn’t understand what was happening, but she knew whatever it was, was dangerous. She still felt the chill in her body from whatever had been holding her. She toppled over the end of the bed, falling onto her hands. She scrambled up as fast as she could, but it wasn’t fast enough. Josh fell to the floor in front of her, motionless. “Katie,” he whispered. “Help me.” His voice was strained and blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. “Josh!” Katie screamed again, panicked. She scurried across the floor and clutched at him when she reached him. “Josh, please say something.” “I can’t breathe,” he gasped. Katie began to shake him, knowing that wasn’t helping but didn’t know what else to do. “Tell me where it hurts, baby.” Angry, she wiped at her eyes to see him better. “I can’t… feel…” he coughed, causing blood to spill over his bottom lip. Katie started to feel around in his pants for his phone when Josh was yanked across the floor. His limp body slammed into the wall and he groaned, unable to defend himself. Katie jerked away from where Josh had landed. She didn’t know what to do, or what to think. Josh gurgled a cry, his head jerking from side to side. Katie couldn’t stand it any longer. She rushed to his side. She wasn’t stopping, no matter how scared she was. “Help,” Josh cried, again. The chill returned, but Katie ignored it. Knowing she couldn’t carry Josh by herself, she grabbed his leg and started pulling him toward the door. “Willow,” she screamed, hoping the older woman heard her. She needed help. Katie wasn’t sure the old woman would help, but she was her only option. She continued to drag Josh, with tears streaming down her face. Scared didn’t seem like a large enough word to express how fearful Katie felt. Her whole body was shaking and all she could think was if she didn’t get Josh and Seth out of there, they wouldn’t survive. Something wanted to harm them, although she still didn’t know what. She was almost to the door, with Josh moaning behind her, when it swung open in front of her. Katie stopped, relieved to see Willow standing there with concern in her eyes. “What’s going on?” she asked, wide-eyed, as she looked around the room. About that time a loud roar filled the room, like what she had heard earlier coming from Seth’s room. And just like before, it faded as fast as it came. Willow shook her head. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. You’ve made Billy angry.” Katie’s stomach dropped. “Wouldn’t come to what?” she asked, nervous to hear her answer. Willow’s expression was full of regret as she continued to shake her head. “He could have lived if you would have left well enough alone.” She made a tsk-tsk noise. “What a shame.” “What are you talking about?” Katie began to panic. “He was a nice young man.” Willow stepped back into the hallway. “Billy, do what you must.” A strong swirl of freezing air filled the room and Katie was flung across the room. She continued to fight and tried crawling her way back to Josh once she hit the floor. It did no good. Josh was suspended in the air, his body motionless, but his eyes wide with terror. Katie opened her mouth to beg and plead for them not to hurt Josh, but didn’t get the words out before the loud crack of Josh’s neck echoed through the room. He crashed to the floor with a loud thud and Katie screamed. Sobs wracked her body as she hurried over to Josh’s side. She beat on his chest, screamed his name, and pleaded for him to open his eyes, even though she knew it would do no good. He had to wake up. He had to. They had to get out of this house. Seth! Katie snapped to attention at the thought of her brother across the hall, weak and vulnerable to whatever was after them. With tears filling her eyes, she whispered she was sorry to Josh and ran for the door. Willow stood in the door frame, but Katie didn’t care. She’d run her down if she had to. Lucky for Willow, she stepped out of the way just in time. Katie didn’t give the older woman a second thought. Her only priority was to get Seth and get the hell out of this house. Finding the door locked didn’t surprise her, but it did spike her desperation. Katie ran and slammed into the door several times, hoping to break through. Just when she thought it was going to give way, she was thrown to the side, and slid down the hallway. She went to sit up and rush back down the hall, but was grabbed from behind by the hair. The door to the room Katie had been inspecting earlier, with what had sounded like a girl singing, opened. Willow stood at the end of the hall, watching as an invisible force dragged Katie into the room. She didn’t look surprised or fearful, but instead pleased. Katie thrashed her body around, not knowing what else to do. Her efforts were wasted, but she didn’t stop, not even when the hold on her got tighter and colder. “You’re only hurting yourself, dear.” From the corner of her eye, Katie could see Willow shutting the door. Enclosed in the small room with the crazy woman and spirit that had a hold of her, Katie began to plead for her and her brother’s life. “Please let us go. We have done nothing to you. Please. I won’t tell a soul.” Willow shook her head. “Don’t torture yourself, darling. All will be well once you accept what is.” Katie was jerked back so hard, her neck popped. She screamed from the pain, but also the fear that was taking her breath away. The roar that Katie now knew was the spirit communicating, filled the room. Willow nodded once the roar died down. “Just be gentle,” she instructed. A strong pressure wrapped around her abdomen, and stretched around to her back. “No! Please!” Katie kicked and begged and thrashed with all her might, but the spirit continued to move her with little effort. She was propped up into a rocking chair facing the only window in the room. Once she had her feet under her, she tried again to get away, but was held down with too much force for her to fight. Willow came toward her with a roll of duct tape in hand. “Once you get used to being here, we can take this off, but not before then.” She wound the tape tight around Katie’s chest and arms. “You can’t do this,” Katie screamed. Sighing, Willow cut a small piece of the tape from the roll. “I didn’t want to have to do this, but we must for now. At least until things get settled.” Willow took the tape and placed it over Katie’s mouth. That didn’t stop Katie from screaming and moaning, even if it was muffled. “I know you’re scared, dear, but you will grow to love it here. I’m going to take good care of you.” Willow smoothed Katie’s hair. “First, I must take care of your friend. I’m so sorry about that. What an unfortunate event.” Tears rolled down Katie’s cheeks, as she screamed as hard as she could. How dare this woman talk so thoughtless of Josh! “There, there child. I’ll be sure he’s disposed of properly. Afterwards, I’ll tend to Seth.” Willow left with a smile, and a few minutes later, Katie saw movement in the side lawn. It was Willow, dragging a bundle of sheets on the ground behind her. But Katie knew better than to believe Willow was out doing laundry. It was Josh inside. Katie also noticed the little effort Willow was putting into dragging Josh. The spirit had to be helping her. Katie sobbed as she watched Willow disappear into the garden. “Don’t worry,” a sweet voice whispered next to her ear, causing her to shiver. “Mama will take good care of him.” Katie picked up her head, her eyes still blurry with tears, and slowly looked around the room. At first, she didn’t see anything. Then out from the shadows of the room, a figure began to appear. Katie shook her head, not believing what she was seeing. It was the girl from the picture in the garden. Willow’s daughter. “Welcome home, Sister.”