The beating of my heart slowed. My thoughts turned to the burning, the terrible burning that was consuming my body. I could feel his hands crushing my neck. My eyes unfocused, and then my vision went gray and a sudden darkness beckoned.

Then there was nothing. No pain. No graveyard. No Luke. Just a vast emptiness surrounding me.

Without warning, I wasn't alone. I realized in a moment of horror that I sensed something nearby. Not the living, but something else. Spirits? At first I couldn't hear or see anything in the darkness, but then a black cloud and a rush of noise surrounded me.

Is that screaming?

Someone was shouting—another voice was praying. Slowly, one face formed in front of me and then another, until I was surrounded. But these faces weren't flesh and bone—they were ghostly images, flickering in and out of the darkness. Thin, transparent lines of gray came and went like someone was turning a light switch on and off. More noise...this time someone was yelling in pain. Something held me immobile in this place.

Where am I? How do I escape?

The faces and voices began to move closer, and I felt nothing now but fear.

And then a loud, male voice boomed from within the darkness. "You are not of my blood, but my blood brought you here to this space for the ritual. What is it you're seeking?"

"Seeking?" I asked. No—I didn't ask... I wasn't really there, was I?

"Come, child, there isn't much time. What is it you seek?"

Revenge. The word blazed across my mind.

"So be it," the voice said, and the world around me went silent.

No more ghostly images. No more sound. Now just a vast, gray space stood before me. Lighter gray wisps floated in the darkness toward me, like fog on a moonless night, and I was overcome with panic and claustrophobia. The dark mist closed around me and my blood chilled at the thought that any number of monsters could be in it with me, on top of me. But I seemed to be alone, and I drifted in the darkness for what felt like an eternity, unable to tell up from down, all scale and substance lost in the darkness. I could feel my arms and legs, though they seemed distant and numb, and when I touched my face with my hand, my skin felt cold and stiff.

Am I caught somewhere in-between the real world and the afterlife? Is any of this real?

I drifted forever, trapped out of time and space, and terror overcame me. I screamed and cried, but no one came to help. I was stuck here and feared I might never escape. Finally, my panic began to subside. I picked a direction and tried to swim through the smoky darkness. The mist or smoke or whatever it was swirled around me, but it didn't feel like I was moving. I struggled for awhile, until I finally gave up.

I screamed in frustration, wishing—no, demanding—to be somewhere else, and finally the mists began to move. I felt more than saw the fog swirl around my face, but when my shock at the movement broke my concentration, it stopped. In the far distance—or perhaps not far at all, it was hard to tell with no frame of reference—I saw what I thought was a flicker of light.

Gathering my will, I drove myself toward it, and it either slowly moved closer to me, or I moved closer to it.

And then I noticed something else.

A growl, a snarl. Small, red eyes peering at me from the darkness. The eyes blinked, and I felt stunned. What was this new horror? More ghosts? No, something different—something worse. I knew it in my very core.

I'd been frightened when confronted by the ghostly images and strange cries, but now something inside me—something more primitive—was reacting. Whatever was out there was far worse than anything I'd experienced so far. It was evil. It was dark and sinister.

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