Seconds Away Page 28

Another noise from upstairs.

I grabbed my phone and hit Myron\'s number. Two rings later, he answered. ’’Mickey?’’

My voice was a whisper. ’’I\'m at Bat Lady\'s house.’’

’’What? Why?’’

’’Can\'t explain. Please get over here. I need help.’’

I expected more questions. I didn\'t get them. Instead Myron said, ’’It\'ll take me fifteen minutes.’’

I hung up.

Now what?

Wait. Stand by the stairs and wait. Either Myron would get here in time and we could go upstairs together or the Butcher would have to come down.

But suppose Bat Lady was up there. Suppose he had attacked her or worse.

What if, right at this very moment, he was strangling her or something. Was I just going to stay down here and let that happen?

I stared at that old staircase. It didn\'t even look as though it could hold my weight. I was still debating what to do when a sound made up my mind for me.

From upstairs, I heard a window creak open.

Was the Butcher trying to sneak out?

Uh-uh, no way. No way was I going to let this guy get away when I had him trapped.

I ran up the stairs. Part of my brain told me to slow down, to be careful, to not underestimate my opponent. I was young, yes, but I had been trained all over the world how to fight.

So what was my training telling me now?

It didn\'t matter, because when I reached the upstairs hallway, what I saw stopped me as if my feet had suddenly been nailed to the floor.

What the . . . ?

I don\'t know what I expected. I guess I figured that the upstairs would be, well, like the downstairs dark, dingy, maybe some old wallpaper, antique sconce lighting on the walls. But that wasn\'t what I saw.

I saw photographs. Hundreds. No. Thousands. Thousands and thousands of photographs.

The hallway was completely blanketed with pictures of children and teenagers. They were everywhere, on every available space, not just encasing both walls from top to bottom but even glued onto the ceiling overhead.

I reached my hand out and touched them. There were photos on top of photos. Layers and layers of photos I couldn\'t say how deep. The photos were all various sizes. Some were black and white, some color, some fading, some vibrant. Some were smiling, some were grim. The children were of every race, creed, nationality, and even era.

Both bedroom doors were open and maybe that explained it, but there seemed to be a wind effect going through that corridor. A few of the portraits started peeling off, falling down around my feet. One was of a little boy, no more than eight or nine, with curly hair and sad eyes. The boy somehow looked familiar to me.

Something in his face . . .

Another photograph gently landed next to it. Then another. I looked down and saw a photograph at my feet that almost made me scream out loud.

It was a school portrait of Ashley my former girlfriend who we all rescued down at the Plan B Go-Go Lounge.

I stared down at her pretty face, lost for a second, confused.

A sound at the end of the corridor knocked me out of my stupor. No time to worry about a bunch of pictures. Not right now anyway, because down the hall, at the end of this row of photographs, was the door leading to Bat Lady\'s bedroom.

He the Butcher, the Paramedic, whoever was in that room.

I headed for it now. The portraits were still peeling off the walls and ceiling, almost like they were shedding. Several landed on my face. I raised my hand as a shield, got to the door, debated how to enter, and then just threw open the door.

The room was empty.

There was no more wind because someone had just closed the window. And either that someone had to still be in this room or he had gone out the window.

I hurried over, closing the door behind me. If he had managed to jump out, he couldn\'t have gotten far. Not yet. He\'d still be in the yard. I looked out the window.

Nothing.

Cold dread spread through me. Nothing. That meant he was still in here, still in this very room. I slowly turned away from the window.

The room had wallpaper that was either yellow or aged, I couldn\'t tell which. On the bedside table were two photographs. One was an old sepia-tone picture I had seen before the Sobek family before the start of World War II. Samuel, Esther, Emmanuel, and little Lizzy. The other photo was in fading color it was Bat Lady, looking to be in her fifties or sixties maybe, standing by a tree with that same sad-eyed, curly-haired boy whose picture I\'d just seen in the corridor.

I kept very still and strained to pick up any sound.

Where was the Butcher hiding?

I stood right next to the bed and for a moment, I wondered whether he was hiding underneath it. I glanced down at my feet, just starting to think that it would be too obvious a hiding spot, when two hands shot out from under the bed, grabbed my ankles, and pulled hard.

I let out a scream and lost my balance. My elbow banged against the night table, knocking down the lamp, plunging the room into total darkness as I landed hard against the wood floor.

The hands kept pulling, dragging me under the bed.

In a frenzied panic, I started to kick, hoping to land something or maybe free my ankles. But he held on. I couldn\'t see a thing. I could just feel myself slowly being sucked down.

I was three-quarters of the way under the bed.

What was he trying to do anyway?

I didn\'t know and I didn\'t care. I wanted to be free. I kicked and bucked and screamed until finally one ankle, and then the other, slipped free. I scuttled across the floor and into the far corner. I huddled there, knees to chest, and waited.

I wasn\'t sure about my next move. My eyes had not started to adjust to the darkness from the shattered lamp. I had my hands up in a defensive position. My adversary was still in the room, but I didn\'t know where. I had to be prepared. Again I tried to stay still and listen, but my breathing was too loud now.

Then the bedroom door quickly opened and closed.

I got up and ran toward it. I fumbled for the doorknob, turned it . . .

The knob didn\'t move.

I twisted it harder, but the knob wouldn\'t budge. From behind the door I heard a sound like crinkling. I sniffed and smelled something that made my eyes widen. I reared back and once again used my shoulder. Nothing. I took a step back and rammed the door once again.

It gave way. I stumbled and fell into the middle of that corridor with all those photographs.

And they were on fire.

The fire raged, the flames quickly dancing up the walls and onto the ceiling, the photo paper working like kerosene. The portraits crinkled, peeled, and blackened, filling the corridor with smoke. The flames quickly flanked me, blocking my way back into the bedroom. I used the crook of my elbow to cover my mouth and searched for a way out.


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