“Honey, it’s happening again!”
Martin looked up from the crib he was building. He glanced around the garage and out through the open garage door to the driveway. Twilight was fading into night. He scanned the shelves of the garage again; nothing. “Are you sure?”
“I am watching it! Martin, get OVER HERE!” It was The Voice. Martin set his measuring tape down and pelted through the mudroom, down the hallway and up the stairs. The baby’s room was the second door on the left.
He pushed through the door. “Where?”
Brenda pointed at the corner where the boxes of diapers were arranged. The last time Martin had been in the room, the boxes were all closed still. Now all of them were open and diapers were spread over the floor in that area of the room.
As he and Brenda watched, one of the diapers opened as if an unseen figure were preparing it for use on a baby. Brenda hissed and her hands went to her rounded belly.
Martin approached the moving diaper. “Hello?” The diaper stopped moving. “Is someone there?”
Cold tingles exploded on Martin’s scalp as the diaper suddenly shot up from the floor to smack into the ceiling, where it flattened. He stepped back. “Who’s there?” He suddenly needed to pee.
The diaper on the ceiling began to spin. First slowly then building in speed until it was a blur. Worst was the noise and the little bits of textured ceiling that flew everywhere.
The noise it made put Martin in mind of the sound of mice skittering across a tile floor. He stepped back again, reaching out for Brenda’s hand. She squeezed tightly. They shared a long look.
“What is going on?” Brenda’s face was stricken, terror glimmering from her eyes.
“How would I know?” The spinning diaper drew his eyes back again. It was beginning to break down now. Panic, tasting of copper and bile, clouded his thoughts. “Hello? Who’s there?”
Brenda gave his hand a squeeze, but he didn’t look at her. This was nuts; this kind of thing only happened in the movies! And people always died in those movies. “What do you want?” he called.
At that moment, the diaper fell to the floor, ragged and torn. Martin felt… something. It was as if a presence he couldn’t see had just turned to look at him.
In an instant, the room filled with pressure—it felt like being underwater. Brenda pulled Martin close. They both gasped, trying to take a breath.
The pile of diapers in the corner exploded, flying in their faces. Both Brenda and Martin ducked, covering up despite the fact that the diapers didn’t hurt.
Then a voice. “MINE!” It sounded like rocks grinding together, like a truck crashing into a huge sheet of glass.
Martin yanked Brenda and hustled out of the room. “Okay. We can do that.” In the hallway, he turned to his wife. “We’re leaving. Get your jewelry, the first edition Dickenses and your purse.” He nudged her down the hall.
“Wait,” Brenda said. “What are you doing?”
“I’m getting the safe.” He turned toward the stairs and the office downstairs.
“No, wait a minute,” Brenda said. She hadn’t budged. “This is our house. We bought it.”
Martin spun and faced her. “Look. This is insane. It’s not a movie; it’s real. But in the movies, people die horribly. In real life, it’s gotta be worse. We’re outta here.”
“IIIIIIIIT’SSSSS MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE.” The voice seemed to fill the hallway and the walls.
“How do we know that this isn’t somebody playing a trick on us?” Brenda asked.
Martin fixed her with a disbelieving look. “Don’t you freaking feel that? That’s not a trick.”
A moment passed. The sound of diapers hitting the floor came to them. Pressure seemed to be spilling out of the nursery and wrapping around their feet.
Brenda nodded. “Okay. True. But we can’t just leave everything!”
“Life or stuff and horrible death, hon?” Martin turned again. He felt like he was walking through shallow waves.
“But what about the next person in the house?”
“Holy crap, who cares?” Martin glanced over his shoulder. “Just get your things!”
He dashed down the stairs.
At the same moment, the door to the nursery was torn off and thrown against the opposite wall of the hallway.
“MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNE.” The voice was now a banshee wail, a lion’s claws on a chalkboard.
In the den, Martin frantically keyed the combination into the safe’s touchpad. He got it open, reached for their passports and spare cash and remembered. “The whole thing, moron!” He slammed the safe and yanked out the extending handle with both hands, lowering the solid safe to the floor. He pushed a button and wheels popped out of the safe casing, then pulled the handle out more and headed for the garage. “Brenda! We are leaving!”
An enormous breaking noise, followed by a thud Martin felt and heard, exploded from the upstairs. His heart dropped and stopped. Sucking in air past a swollen throat, he left the safe by the garage door. “Brenda! Brenda!”
Martin saw the kindling as he rounded the corner to the stairs. They had collapsed. Brenda was nowhere in sight.
“Martin!” She appeared on the landing, one hand holding a bulging pillowcase. She screamed and pointed behind Martin.
Knives flew from their custom Cutco block. Martin raised his arms and spun, throwing himself down. Hot lines of pain burst to life on his head, face and arms. A sudden, cold and deeper pain throbbed in a forearm. He kept his arms up until the knives fell.
Shaking, he slid the paring knife out of the meat of his forearm.
“I’m okay.” He squeezed his arm tightly, searching for a kitchen towel. “Can you get down?”
“I can jump onto the couch,” Brenda said.
“Wait!” He grabbed an Easter-themed dish towel and used his free hand and teeth to tie it around his wounded arm.
“KILL!” Instead of just sounding eerie and terrifying, the voice was deeper now. It sounded furious.
The cupboard doors flew open, puking dishes and crackers and spices.
Martin ran to the couch. “Drop me the bag!” Brenda did so. Martin almost missed it, snagging it by a corner. Luckily, she had tied it tightly.
“Okay.” His arm throbbed worse than his leg had when he had been beaned at the company softball game. He lifted his arms toward Brenda. Blood dripped toward his shoulder. “Climb over the rail, then lower yourself. I’ll help you come down.”
Brenda didn’t wait for him to finish. As the kitchen windows blew outward with the sound of cannon fire, she lifted a leg over the railing.
“Careful, hon!” Martin ached at the sight of his seven-month pregnant wife climbing over the railing.
“Just catch me!” Brenda grunted, then slowly lowered herself so one leg was perched on the edge of the landing and the other leg was coming closer to Martin’s outstretched hands.
A moment later, he had her. “Okay, just take it easy.” As she came down, he held her tight. They quickly got to the point where she had to let go. “Okay, I’ve got you.”
Brenda didn’t hesitate. Suddenly Martin was staggering, but he was able to crouch and help her hit the couch gently.
“Go!” Brenda grabbed the pillowcase and made for the garage just as the landing began to tear out of the wall.
Martin took her other hand and helped her step over and around debris. Loud popping noises, then the sound of splintering and shattering wood filled the air. He spared a glance over his shoulder. With a heavy groan, one side of the landing folded down until it hit the couch he had just been standing on.
“Come on!” Brenda was dragging him now. They made it to the garage. Martin grabbed the wheeled safe and they rushed out through the garage into the driveway. Martin tossed the safe in the back seat, slipped into the front seat and gunned the engine. Brenda engaged her seatbelt and grabbed the door handle as Martin backed out of the driveway.
Some instinct or muscle memory kicked in and he hit the garage door remote. The door shut, but just before it blocked off their view of the interior of the house, they saw the door leading to the house torn into bits as if it had been loaded with C4 or dynamite.
Then the wide door hit the concrete with a thud, but the Honda Pilot was already tearing out of the cul-de-sac.
After only a few seconds, Martin pulled over.
“What’re you doing?” Alarm filled Brenda’s voice, making it shrill.
He showed her his hands. They shook. Trembles coursed through him. “C- Can’t drive.” He sucked in a noisy breath.
“It’s okay.” Brenda took his hands, holding his gaze with her eyes. “We’re out. We’re safe. The baby’s okay.”
“I just-” he sucked in another lungful and held it for a moment. It came out in shudders. “I was so worried. You. Amelia.” He glanced at her stomach. He swore. “That.. that…”
“Was real. It happened.” Brenda squeezed his hands. “You were amazing.”
He swallowed. “You were amazing. You climbed over the rail!”
“You got a great view of my big butt.” She smiled and caressed his arm. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
Nodding, Martin extricated his hands. “Yeah.”
Realizing he hadn’t turned on his headlights, he flipped them on.
Brenda gasped, grabbing Martin’s arm and sqeezing. Martin jerked back, gooseflesh covering his arms. “Holy hell!”
A ghostly figure stood captured in their low beams.
“Oh,” Brenda said.
Martin laughed nervously. “It’s Aidan.” He rolled his window down to talk to the young neighbor boy who was walking his bike. “Hi, Aidan.”
“Hi Mr. Willis.” Aidan’s eyes suddenly focused on Martin’s towel-wrapped arm. “Are you okay?”
“It’s nothing,” Martin said. “What are you doing out so late?” He glanced at the Honda’s clock. Only 9:10. Didn’t insane stuff like this happen after midnight in the movies?
Aidan lifted his bike, indicating his front tire. “I was at Ethan’s. But my tire blew out halfway home.”
Martin nodded. Now, in the car, having a conversation with a neighbor, the events of the last ten minutes seemed unreal. Impossible.
No. It had happened.
“Why don’t you get home?” Brenda said. “Your mom must be worried.”
“I called her on my cell,” Aidan said. He looked from Brenda to Martin and back. “You’re leaving.”
Faint tingles crawled up Martin’s neck. “What?”
“You’re leaving. Like the Standishes did.” Aidan looked over his shoulder at Martin and Brenda’s house.
Martin and Brenda exchanged a look. Something in the way Aidan said that…
“What do you mean?” Brenda asked. “Aidan? The Standishes?”
Aidan turned back to them, eyes wide. “One night, the Standishes just packed up their van and left.” He bounced his bike once, the flat front tire keeping it from going very high. “Now you. It’s the house, isn’t it?”
“What about the house?” Martin glanced at Brenda, stunned. This had happened before?
“Mrs. Fails,” Aidan said. “She’s haunting it.”
Silence spread, filling the cracks of the night.
“Who is Mrs. Fails?” Brenda was leaning so far that she was practically in Martin’s lap. He could feel her heart beating in her chest where she pressed against his right arm.
“She was the lady whose babies died.” Aidan looked down. “I guess she had something. Like she was sick or something.”
“Her babies?” Martin remembered the horrible voice. How it screamed “Mine” several times.
Aidan nodded, sadness clear on his young face. “They never even got born. Except the last one. But he died the night they got home.”
Brenda swallowed, her throat tight.
“That’s horrible,” Martin said.
“There were arguments after that. Lots of shouting.” Aidan glanced back at the haunted house. “Mr. Fails left a while later. And Mrs. Fails…” he trailed off. His gaze went to his home.
“Aidan?” Brenda stared intently at the boy. “What about Mrs. Fails?”
Martin gave her a look, wanting to give the boy some room. He squeezed her hand.
“She killed herself. Like with a rope.” Aidan shuffled and scuffed his shoes on the sidewalk. “I really have to get home.”
“It’s okay,” Brenda said. “Thanks.”
Martin extended his left hand and gripped the boy’s shoulder for a moment. “Aidan. Really. Thank you. You better get home.”
The boy nodded. “Sorry you have to leave.”
“We are too,” Brenda said.
Aidan pushed his bike down the sidewalk, turning up the walk to his front door.
Martin put the car into gear and pulled away from the sidewalk.
Brenda caught his hand. “Wait. Martin, wait a minute.”
He pulled back over. “We have to go. She wants Amelia!”
“Yeah. But you heard about the Standishes. We can’t let it happen to someone else. What if someone dies?”
Martin wanted to say he didn’t care. He wanted to get away, move to a different city, maybe a different country. He looked down at Brenda’s stomach. “Are you sure she’s okay?”
He rubbed his face with his free hand; Brenda still held his right hand. No. They had to get away. He had to keep his wife, his baby, safe. “But what can we do? It’s a freaking ghost. Or a poltergeist. Or something.”
They sat in silence for a long minute.
Her hand shifted on his. He looked into her eyes. It was too dark to see the color, but he loved their chestnut color.
“Don’t we have homeowner’s insurance?” Brenda asked.
“Well, yeah,” Martin said.
“If she’s haunting the house, would she be gone if the house were gone?”
Confused, Martin shook his head. “I guess. I mean, I don’t know.”
“Have you ever heard of ghosts haunting ground?”
“So maybe if the house were gone, she would leave. Or maybe we could drive her away.”
She stopped, staring at him for a moment. Then she laid out her idea.
It took some doing, but Martin finally came around. It was the thought of another couple going through the same thing, but maybe something awful happening to their child, that convinced him in the end.
He pulled the Pilot into the driveway. Reaching up to the remote, he looked at his wife. “You’re staying here.”
She nodded. “Only because of Amelia.”
“Remember to get the draft going.”
“I know.” He leaned over and kissed his wife. Her lips, warm as always, seemed to give him strength. “It might take a while.”
Brenda nodded. “But the water heater should do it.”
“Yeah. If not, we’ll do something.”
“Okay.” She kissed him again. “Hurry.”
He hit the remote button and jumped out of the car. He snagged the safe and by the time he was at the garage door, he only had to slightly crouch to get in. “Has to look like an accident.” He ran through the destroyed door to the house and dashed down the hallway. Not stopping, he twisted and flung the safe into the den.
In the same movement, he turned and pounded back into the kitchen, opening the door to the basement as he went.
“MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNE!” Every light bulb on the first floor exploded at the same moment. Pressure squeezed against his chest and legs; suddenly he couldn’t move.
“Back off!” Martin screamed, skin crawling. “She’s mine!” He dug deep, reaching for the window above the sink. It felt like he was moving through hardening glue.
“KILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.” The fridge doors began flapping open and closed, followed by the cupboard doors.
“You can’t have her!” Martin forced a leg forward. There! He flipped the catch and pushed the window out, opening up a small crack. It had to be enough. He reached for the stove and turned on two burners and tried to turn on the other two, but suddenly couldn’t move his arms enough.
Grateful that the kitchen was small, he pushed through the pressure, even as it began to squeeze his chest. He felt like a deflating balloon. With his last bit of breath as it was pushed out, he bent forward and blew out the gas stove’s pilot light.
Done. Now he had to get out.
But he couldn’t move.
What little breath he could take felt like it was squeezing through the tiniest of cracks.
Dark spots appeared before his eyes.
“MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNE!” He felt the voice more than he heard it now. It seemed to shake the entire house.
He tried to take a step. Nothing. He dug deeper and was able to move his right foot an inch, maybe two. Feeling like he was drowning, he tried again. A little movement.
This was going to take forever. He could already smell the gas as it filled the kitchen. His eyes darted to the door to the basement, where the water heater was.
Move! He pushed through the pressure, gaining another few inches.
But his strength was failing as his body screamed for more oxygen.
Long minutes passed. Sweat rolled down his face. Each time he got some air, it was a little less than before. Each movement grew smaller and smaller. No. He took a slow breath, willing his lungs to fill. Vision swimming, he moved his left foot an inch.
Too slow. The smell of gas hung heavy and strong.
“Get away from him!”
Shock struck Martin a physical blow. No! Brenda stood in the door from the garage. “You can’t have him! And you can’t have my baby!”
“MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNE!” The pressure suddenly released around Martin. He sucked in a gassy breath. “Brenda! Run!” Her eyes widened. She screamed, staring at her stomach.
Her stomach began to move, as if being pushed inward by a huge hand.
A headache hitting him like an anvil, Martin grabbed his wife and yelled. “Push against her!”
Hand in hand, as the pressure built around both of them, they pushed.
“Push harder!” Martin yelled. “You can’t have her!”
A sound came to him. Like the sound of the furnace turning on-
Martin and Brenda pushed against the horrible pressure, Brenda moaning in pain.
Then sudden heat and a different pressure on their backs and they were running, then nearly lifted off the ground.
A sound like thunder hit Martin. It felt like having both sides of his head slammed with two by fours.
He held tightly to Brenda, his feet still moving.
The pressure around them suddenly released and they were through the garage and out on the front lawn.
Martin caught Brenda before she could fall and they both landed in a gentle heap on the soft grass. They turned at the same time. Through the pulverized door to the house, orange flames could already be seen licking the walls.
Crackling built into a roar over the next few minutes as Martin tried to wrap his head around all that had happened.
A minute later, he asked. “When should we call the fire department?”
Over the roar of the flames, they heard shouting. Aiden’s family was approaching at a dead run, other neighbors right behind them.
“We’re in shock,” Brenda said. “It can wait.”
“Is Amelia okay?
Brenda stroked her stomach, seeming to direct her attention inward. “I think so. We’ll make sure when the paramedics get here.”
He nodded. “Do you think it’ll work?”
Brenda contemplated the engulfed house for a long moment. She pursed her lips. “Yes. I have faith it will.”
“But we’re still moving right?” Martin waved at the approaching neighbors. “The insurance money should be enough to get a new house.”
“We’re moving all right,” Brenda said. “To Brazil. Or Antarctica.”