Chapter 34

128 20 10

Even though it was afternoon, the hallway was dim, illuminated only by a few shafts of sunlight cutting through the murk from overhead skylights. In their warm beams, fine particles swam and drifted. The floor was hardwood, although its once precise lines appeared furry, coated with layer upon layer of what looked like ash. The wall to the left was lined with family photographs. One was taken during Christmas, in front of a decorated tree, another standing before the ocean and the last showing the mother and father hugging their daughter at her high school graduation. In each, Grant appeared happy.

Eva stared at the memories and thought of her own family. Her mother and father had been killed in a car accident when she was just six years old. Her father had owned a small construction company and her mother worked as its receptionist. They had been hit by a drunk driver on their way home from work together. As a result, she had been raised by her grandmother, Alice.

Eva's eyes welled at the thought of her grandmother. She'd be eighty-four now, if she was still living. But of course, the worst must be assumed.

"Eva?" Wes' voice came to her from the mic in her helmet. She turned around as he entered the hallway from the kitchen she had passed through.

"I'm here," she said.

"Hey, wait until we're finished scouring one room before heading off alone. We all move together. Okay?"

"Right. Sorry."

Wes darted back into the kitchen and Eva started after him. What was wrong with her? She knew better. Just before reaching the kitchen, she heard movement behind her. Spinning around, she thought she caught a glimpse of something that had just departed the far end of the hallway, to the left. It was dim however, and the far corner sat in the gloom just beyond the penetrating sunlight. She almost called out but decided that wasn't wise. It could've been her imagination.

Ducking into the kitchen, she found Laird and Wes tearing apart the cupboards and pantry, searching for anything, despite Grant assuring them the house had been stripped clean long ago.

"Where's Grant?" she asked.

Without looking at her, Laird responded. "In the garage. Don't bother him."

Wes explained, "Said he needed to be alone. He takes it hard every time we stop here."

"Why did we stop here?"

"It's sort of therapeutic for Grant," said Wes. "We don't stay long, but he treats it as almost sacred ground."

Eva nodded. "So, he needed to be alone in the garage...on the other side of the house?"

"That's the only garage," added Wes, returning to his task.

Eva turned back to the hallway and raised her rifle into firing position. It sure as hell wasn't Grant that had produced the noise, then. As she cautiously advanced, she racked her brain for all possible explanations. It could be a rodent...a raccoon...maybe a fox.

She reached the corner and turned, with the rifle thrust forward. There was nothing except the other half of the hallway, which continued for another fifteen feet, culminating in a door leading to the backyard. Eva searched the last bedroom on the left and after finding it empty, proceeded through the exterior door. She found Grant twenty feet away, standing at the open door of a shed, staring inside.

Eva's heart quickened at the bizarre sight. She studied Grant's body language; his rigid posture indicated something was amiss. Risking a quick look in all other directions, Eva concluded that only the two of them occupied the rear yard. Her weapon ready, Eva walked toward Grant, who indicated no awareness of her presence. She modified her approach, coming at him at a three-quarter angle, to get a better look at his hands. His weapon was still slung over his shoulder, but his hands weren't clasping it. Instead, they hung limp at his side.

"Grant?"

When he didn't respond, Eva – still maintaining a safe distance – followed his gaze. He was fixated on something inside that she couldn't perceive. Then, she witnessed something that gripped her just as it had Grant.

Beyond the narrow swath of sunlight leaking in through the open door was a barely visible figure. Eva squinted, believing her mind had betrayed her and only imagined the form, an illusion cast by the intermingling of shadow and indirect light. But after it moved, she was forced to acknowledge its existence. Apparently oblivious to Eva and Grant, it seemed to be preoccupied by some business that was unclear. Realizing she had been holding her breath, Eva inhaled sharply. The figure seemed not to notice her sudden gasp.

"It's alright," whispered Grant.

Almost equally startled by Grant's return to normalcy, Eva recoiled.

"Just remain still." He held his hand up, enforcing his suggestion. "I don't want her to go just yet."

Eva returned her attention to the otherworldly presence. It flitted about, from one side of the shed to the other. It seemed she was dancing.

She?

Concentrating on the transient thing, Eva finally discerned the outline of a female. It wasn't that of a child, but not quite an adult. And then she understood Grant's fixation, and his prolonging of the moment. The figure, Eva understood, after careful scrutinization, was that of his daughter.

Lowering her weapon, Eva stood transfixed, a flood of emotion washing over her. Despite his mic being muted, Grant's pain sounded through his helmet. The girl appeared to be performing ballet, gliding gracefully from one end of the shed to the other. She danced across the sun-streaked floor once more and then faded from existence.


LITTLE GREEN MENWhere stories live. Discover now