Seconds Away Page 27

Maybe I could get in that way.

I started toward the back. Bat Lady\'s house is set right up against the woods. I don\'t mean that the woods are off her backyard I mean that the house literally sits against the trees, as if the very structure was a part of the forest. I quickly tried the back door, but the new lock held.

I took the small flashlight out of my pocket. It was extra creepy back there. I practically swam through a thick haze of trees until I reached the garage. I knew that inside there was a trapdoor that led to a tunnel. But the garage door was locked. So now what?

I can\'t say exactly why, but I headed to the lush garden behind the garage. Something, I don\'t know what, drew me there. Ema and I had found it during our last night visit here. I had no idea how Bat Lady kept her plants looking so lively this time of the year, but that was the least of my concerns. There was a path in the middle of the garden. I knew what was at the end of it.

I lifted my flashlight. It found the tombstone in the back. I read the now-familiar words:

LET US LABOR TO MAKE THE HEART GROW LARGER,

AS WE BECOME OLDER,

AS SPREADING OAK GIVES MORE SHELTER.

HERE LIES E.S.

A CHILDHOOD LOST FOR CHILDREN

A30432

I had figured that E.S. stood for Elizabeth ’’Lizzy’’ Sobek, but now I realized that it could just as easily be her brother, Emmanuel, or her mother, Esther, though they had died in Poland more than half a century ago;so really, how could they ’’lie’’ here?

But that wasn\'t the main point.

No, Mrs. Friedman, Lizzy Sobek hadn\'t been killed by the Butcher of Lodz. Lizzy Sobek had survived the war and been, well, a hippie at some point and now everyone in town knew her as the Bat Lady, the creepy old lady who lived in the creepy old house.

I wondered what Mrs. Friedman would do if she learned that Lizzy ’’Butterfly’’ Sobek, the legendary resistance fighter who lost her family at Auschwitz, lived less than a quarter of a mile from Kasselton High School.

I moved toward the tombstone. In the background, one HorsePower song faded away and another began. I knew what was on the back of the tombstone that same Abeona butterfly with its animal eyes on the wings. I had seen it here during my previous visit, but again something had drawn me here, so I had to play it out.

My footsteps echoed in the dark. I got my beam ready, aimed it at the spot, and gasped out loud. The butterfly was there, but someone had crossed it out. Someone had spray-painted a giant X across it.

I spun back to the house, and this time I could hear mocking laughter.

The sound ran down my spine.

Go home, Mickey, I told myself.

There was danger. You could feel it. Danger had a certain quality to it. You could almost reach out and touch it. I knew that I should go. I knew that I should regroup and think this out. But there was no way I was going to, not because I was particularly brave or, in this case, foolhardy, and not because I wanted to be as dumb as those teenagers who go into the serial killer\'s house in horror movies.

I just didn\'t want whatever was haunting me to escape again. If it got the better of me, okay, I could live (or die) with that. But I needed answers and I wasn\'t about to let the person who might be able to answer them slip through my fingers again.

I ran to the back door and knocked. Dumb. Nobody had responded before. What did I think would be different now?

I cupped my hands around my eyes and peered into the kitchen through the back window. Dark. But then I saw a shadow cross in the distance. Someone had streaked by and was heading up the stairs.

Why?

I tried picturing Bat Lady moving as fast as that shadow. I couldn\'t imagine it.

Someone else was in that house. Someone else had spray-painted an X onto the tombstone. Someone else had turned on the music and mocked me with a laugh.

I ran around to the front and looked up into Bat Lady\'s bedroom window with the light. I tilted my head, trying to get an angle, trying to see something a shadow maybe, a silhouette, anything and as I did, someone turned off the light.

Total darkness.

Oh no.

I didn\'t know what to do. I debated kicking in the door, but then what? This was probably nothing a visitor or maybe even Bat Lady herself turning the lights down before heading to sleep. Still, my heart was pounding against my chest. I had to do something.

I was just debating my next move when the light in the window came back on. I moved back onto the grass so I could get a better look. I cupped my hands into a megaphone and called out, ’’Hello?’’ I didn\'t know what to call her. Her identity was a secret, so calling out to ’’Miss Sobek’’ wouldn\'t work. I wasn\'t sure yelling ’’Bat Lady’’ was the way to go either.

’’Hello? Can you hear me?’’

Nothing.

’’It\'s Mickey. Hello? Can you open the door? Please?’’

I saw something in the window move. A hand pushed the thin gauzelike curtain to the side and then a face peered out.

I screamed out loud this time.

There, from that upstairs window, the Butcher of Lodz was staring down at me.

Chapter 23

I couldn\'t breathe.

There was no question about it this time: It was the same guy in the old photograph and he hadn\'t aged a day.

For a few seconds, my brain just shut down. I didn\'t wonder how this could possibly be. I didn\'t wonder whether I was dreaming. I didn\'t think about running after him or calling out or doing anything. I just stood there, frozen, looking up into those green eyes with the yellow rings, the same eyes I\'d seen the day my father died.

When he ducked away from the window, my brain unlocked. For a single second, no longer, I stared up at the window and considered the possibility that my mind was playing tricks on me.

No friggin\' way.

I ran back to the door and this time I didn\'t hesitate. I lowered my shoulder and rammed into it. The door didn\'t give way so much as shatter, the wood breaking into splinters. I fought through them, pulling myself through the opening. I stood in the front foyer. The living room was on my left. The record player was still on. On the fireplace, I saw that same old picture of the hippies with the butterfly T-shirts.

I heard a noise above me.

He was still upstairs.

Okay, now what?

I could wait right here, couldn\'t I? He would have to come down these stairs. I could just stand here and wait and demand answers.

Would that really work?

I didn\'t know, but a thought occurred to me. I needed help, and one person immediately came to mind: Uncle Myron.

That surprised me, but then again, who else did I have? Ema and Spoon couldn\'t really come to my aid here. If I called Mr. Waters, well, I\'d just broken into a house, hadn\'t I? I could get arrested.


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