“Thank you for sharing your story with us, Billy,” O’Hanley finally said in a tone that bordered on patronizing. “It must have been awful—”

O’Hanley stopped himself short when the acrid smell of smoke filled the room. We heard the wobbly squeak of the window handles opening the small panes of the window outward toward the dark courtyard. As the dimly lit room filled with thick gray smoke, my heart started to race. “What is he doing?” I asked Dr. O’Hanley.

In a vibrant burst of flame, the red brocatelle curtains ignited. Hailey screamed. Faster than my brain could even register that the curtains were ablaze, fire devoured them and danced along the nearby brocade wallpaper. It flickered within the wallpaper’s elaborate velvety pattern, embers burning hot and red in the golden jacquard stars and leaves. The fire was bright enough to illuminate our faces, amplifying the low glow provided by the electric light over our heads.

“He must have died in this room in a fire,” Leigh Anne said, shaking her head with pity. “He was locked in, and because the windows face the courtyard, no one heard him crying for help.”

Smoke continued to fill the room. It was growing so thick that I could barely see O’Hanley just a few feet across from me on the other side of the Ouija board. “We can’t be too sure of that,” O’Hanley cautioned, sounding dubious. “Ghosts that present themselves as children can’t be trusted. They could be unfairly trying to gain our favor by presenting themselves as innocents. And when ghosts really are children, that’s sometimes more dangerous. Children don’t understand boundaries. They don’t know the danger of going too far.”

We’d been in the room long enough that my own room down the hall seemed like a memory from a past lifetime. Adrenaline flooded my system, blood thundered in my ears; I could think of nothing but bringing an end to contact with this spirit and getting the hell out of Room 9C.

“That’s enough now, Billy,” he warned. “You’ve shown us what you wanted us to see.”

Hacking coughs seized Hailey. She cupped her left hand over her mouth and her entire body shook. Smoke burned my eyes, and tears rolled down my cheeks in hot rills. Even though my rational brain knew that the scene around me was just an apparition, it certainly felt real. I could sense the heat from the fire on my face. With an earsplitting pop, the glass oil lamp on the table below the window detonated like a bomb. Particles of glass blew toward us like razor-sharp snowflakes. I buried my face in my left elbow, and when I dared to look up at the others again, O’Hanley, Leigh Anne, Mason, and Hailey all looked as if someone had sprayed their faces with a fine mist of blood.

“He’s not trying to show us anything!” Hailey hysterically screamed over the growing roar of the fire. “He’s trying to kill us the same way he died!”

Dr. O’Hanley attempted to calm us with his outstretched left hand. “Everyone just remain calm. None of this is real. This is just an apparition, something a spirit wants us to believe. We are not in any actual danger…”

Leigh Anne wiped her face with her left hand and saw garish red blood streaked on her fingertips.

“Then make it stop!” Mason commanded O’Hanley.

Awkwardly I shifted onto my knees. Dr. O’Hanley furiously shook his head, almost as if he wasn’t too sure anymore of what was real and what wasn’t. Hailey’s body wracked with another round of coughs. Fat, furious flames blazed along both of the wallpapered walls over the beds. The wallpaper was charred where the wall met the ceiling all the way around the perimeter of the room. The bedspreads singed in unison, catching fire slowly. From where I sat, I could barely see the dark windows anymore through the brightness of the fire.

Room 9CWhere stories live. Discover now