Excerpt from

©1994 Stephen Mark Rainey, ©2004 Thomson Gale/Five Star Books, ©2010 Crossroad Press

With a start, Barry opened his eyes to complete darkness, which he knew immediately wasn’t right. Not so much as a stray moonbeam or illuminated clock dial cut through the wall of blackness, and for a minute, he had to think hard to remember where he was...at his apartment in Atlanta, or somewhere else? His head felt heavy, but it no longer spun – perhaps because he had no point of reference in the darkness. After a couple of attempts, he managed to shake most of the cobwebs out of his head, and at first he thought the electricity must have gone off. But no – the refrigerator was still humming softly in the kitchen. He clearly remembered leaving the small fluorescent light on in the kitchen; either the bulb had burned out or someone had deliberately shut it off. He reached for the nightstand and his fingers touched the cold steel of his gun, which he picked up with a heavy sigh of relief. Then he lay perfectly still and listened intently for any unfamiliar sound – but he could barely hear the silence above the pounding of his heart.

No telling what time it was. He could have been dead to the world for three minutes or three hours. He hoped it was close to daybreak, for adrenaline had kicked him fully awake. Under no circumstances would he be able to get back to sleep. He reached up to turn on the bedside lamp but then remembered that its remains had been transported to the nearest landfill. The switch to the overhead light was next to the door to the hall.

He carefully slid to his left, moving as silently as possible, and settled himself on the floor, propping his gunhand on the bed with his weapon aimed toward the door. Even though his eyes had had time to adjust to the darkness, he could still see only vague silhouettes of the furniture, black against black. He realized he was trembling. If the kitchen light had just burned out, perhaps he would feel foolish for overreacting, but at least he would be a live and happy fool.

He found himself on the verge of calling out, hoping against hope that maybe Matt had come home. But his brother would not be sneaking around in the dark. No, if someone else were in the house, it had to be a hostile intruder. Was this how it had been for Matt – waking in the night to find all the lights out, and an unknown prowler in the house?

Something at the far end of the house suddenly went thump. Like the legs of a heavy chair lifted and then dropped. Barry’s finger automatically closed on the trigger. His thumb tugged back the hammer, which locked with a solid click.

A moment later, the sound came again.

Son of a bitch. It sounded like it was coming either from Matt’s room or the living room. Now that he had an idea where the culprit was, maybe he could risk trying to reach the light switch – and then getting out to the hall to turn the rest of the lights on. The best defense was a good offense, right?

But then the thumping sound came again, this time much closer. In the hall! Christ, who would be making a noise like that? He could feel the impact in the floorboards beneath his knees.

Then he heard a low, hollow chirping sound, seemingly from a great distance, like a wounded bird in a glass cage. Impossible to tell where it came from. Another heavy thump, only a few feet beyond the bedroom door. Barry’s palms were sweating, his grip on the gun slippery. He felt his heart rising to his throat now; good God, he couldn’t afford to panic.

A weird, musical piping rose above the chirping and drifted eerily through the darkness toward him. No way that could ever come from human vocal cords! And beneath these sounds, a grating rumble – a deep, guttural voice – began to mutter something completely unintelligible.

Not human.

And another heavy thump. Just outside the door.

Unseen eyes glared at him; of this he was certain. His finger could not even close on the trigger of the Ruger, for the paralysis of terror gripped his every nerve. And then, like a chilling ocean wave, the sounds from the hall rushed in through the door, pummeling him with their raw power, boring at his eardrums, trying to get inside him, even through his mouth and nose.

“The spirit cannot harm you. Only you can harm you, if you allow yourself to be influenced by it.”

Jennifer’s words came back to him, steadied him, but they could not ward away the noises that gibbered around him, nor erect any kind of barrier to keep them out. Nothing he had ever experienced could have prepared him for this unbelievable, sensory assault. So many layers of sound – so much latent fury in each individual chirping voice! Some of them seemed so close that he should be able to touch their sources, if they could even be touched, while others reverberated from great distances: through the walls, the floor, the ceiling. From outside the window. All directed at him.

Through his rising panic, something resembling reason briefly stole into his brain, and he clung to it with all his strength. Yes, the noises were terrifying; but that was all they were. Noises. If a living person were behind them, they might be used as a diversion. Somebody might actually be in the house, holding Barry at bay by means of his own fear...

He tore himself from the floor, stood upright. His knees wobbled, and he instinctively threw an arm up as if to ward away his attackers. But he felt only empty air and blindly stumbled toward the door, desperate now to reach the light switch. He bumped into the chest of drawers, upsetting whatever was on top of it. But then his hand found the wall and slid along it until his fingers closed on the switch. He threw it, and as if a window had opened to the sun, blessed light erupted to dispel the darkness....


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