You see that dead guy by the side of the road? Yeah, the one lying in a pool of his own blood with his face all messed up and his clothes all torn and dirty. That’s me. Sam Hopkins. And okay, I’m not really dead, or at least not completely. I’ve just been beaten up. A lot. Badly. Which I guess is a little bit better than dead . . . although when I think about how I’m going to have to explain this to my parents—frankly, dead doesn’t seem like such a bad alternative.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering how I got myself into a situation like this. You probably want to hear about Jennifer and the demons and how I played chicken with a freight train and—oh yeah—the weird murder and how I found out about it—you’re definitely going to want to hear all about that.
But first, I have to tell you about the stupidest thing I ever did...
WHISPERS CAME AT HER OUT OF THE DARK.
We are death.
We are angels of death.
We will destroy them.
We will destroy them all.
The whispers came from every corner. They crawled up the sides of her bed, skittered over her blankets, over her skin. Like cockroaches. First one, then another, then a swarm of them, covering her.
We are angels of evil.
Angels of death.
We will teach them to be afraid.
Jennifer gasped and sat up quickly, staring into the shadows, searching the shadows of her room, her lifelong room, her girl-room, suddenly strange to her now in the dark. So many eyes staring back at her. Stuffed animals—friends all her childhood long—her teddy bear, her crocodile, her baby giraffe. Glass eyes, black glass eyes, staring back. The posters on the wall: her favorite singer, her favorite band. Paper eyes, flat eyes, staring. Her calendar. Disney princesses. Their bright smiles suddenly different, suddenly knowing and mocking and wicked. Eyes staring at her from the shadows.
And the whispers everywhere:
We are angels of evil, angels of death.
We pledge in blood to kill them all.
Who was it? Who was there? Her heart beat hard as she scanned the room, searching. No one. Just her computer, the dull screen, watching her out of the shadows. Her stereo. Stary-oh! Scary-oh! Circular speakers like eyes, staring.
Jennifer grabbed her pillow, held it in her arms for comfort, held it in front of her as if it could protect her.
But the whispers kept coming. They skittered up the wall. Roaches swarming darkly up the wall and over the ceiling where they could drop down on top of her and scramble over her skin, get tangled and crawly in her long brown hair.
They will see our power.
They will be afraid.
Afraid of us.
Because we are angels of death.
Terrified, Jennifer slid quickly off the bed and stood in her pajamas, still clutching her pillow in front of her. Her breath trembled out of her as she turned and searched the shadows. Teddy bear, princesses, scary-stary-oh all watching her.
Yet no one was there. Everything was motionless, still.
We pledge in blood to destroy them . . .
She dropped the pillow. Clapped her hands over her ears. Stop! Stop!
She wanted to cry out. Should she? Should she call for her mother? She so, so wanted to. She could feel the cry wanting to explode inside her. But she didn’t. She knew what would happen if she did. If she cried out, her mom would come. Tired. Frowning and narrow-eyed. Needing her sleep so she could go to work in the morning. She would come in and turn on the light . . .
And there would be nothing. Nothing but the stuffed animals and the princesses and the scary-oh, no longer staring, pretending not to stare.
“There’s nothing,” Mom would say, impatient, annoyed. “It was just a nightmare. Go back to sleep. For heaven’s sake, you’re sixteen years old!”
That’s what would happen. Jennifer knew. It had happened before. Then her mother would turn out the lights again, flicking the switch with an angry snap. Jennifer would hear her heavy, weary, long-suffering footsteps returning down the hall to her room. She would hear her bedroom door close. Snap.
And then it would all start again. The whispers. The staring. It would all come back and there’d be no chance of calling for Mom this time. Jennifer would be totally helpless.
She tried to swallow now but couldn’t. She was too scared, her throat was too dry. She looked around for an idea, a way out, a way to escape. She saw the door. Ajar. When is a door not a door? When it’s a jar—right? She could see the lighter dark of the hallway. Her mom kept the bathroom light on so she could find her way there in the night. The glow bled out into the hall a little, and the lighter dark was a thin line where the edge of the door parted from the jamb.
Oh, I’m in a jam, all right, Jennifer thought frantically. But at least the door is a jar.
Mark, she thought.
Her brother, Mark. She could go down the hall. Knock softly on his door so it wouldn’t wake her mother. Mark would help her. Mark would protect her. He always protected her. He was strong where she was weak, brave where she was frightened. Mark was her hero—and he was hereoh! When kids made fun of her at school, he stopped them. Whenever anyone picked on her or called her crazy or pushed her or tipped over her lunch tray, Mark grabbed them by the shirtfront, pinned them to the wall, and made them apologize. Whoever was whispering would be afraid of Mark. Whatever was hiding in the room, watching her . . . Mark would make it leave her alone and go away.
She held her breath for courage and darted quickly through the staring, whispering shadows to the partly opened door. She was afraid—so afraid—afraid that any moment some whispering shadow-thing would rush at her out of a corner, would grab her and drag her forever into its world of whispering darkness. But she kept moving, as quickly as she could, toward the thin line of light.
She made it. Opened the door. The moment she stepped into the hall, the whispers ceased. It was quiet. The whole house was suddenly hugely, darkly silent. She could hear the silence of it, settling, ticking, waiting.
She breathed out: Oh.
Her brother’s room was down at the end of the hall. Far away, it seemed. His lights were out. His door was shut. He must be sleeping.
But Jennifer started down the hall. Through the dark silence—so silent she could hear the brushing-together of her cotton pajama legs. Stepping slowly down the hall.
But the hall—the hall was different! The hall had changed. She turned her head this way and that. The usual wallpaper was gone. The yellow paisley wallpaper . . . She saw drawings on the walls now. Horrible drawings. Dark, violent, horrible images spray-painted and slashed onto the walls. And the walls themselves were different. Not like they were during the day. The walls were rough, splintery broken. And beneath her feet she felt . . . not the carpet of her own home but packed dirt with pebbles that bit into the flesh of her bare feet . . .
She was halfway to her brother’s door, near the stairway—the stare-way—when without warning, they started again:
They will be afraid.
Afraid of us.
Because we are angels of evil.
Jennifer gave a little cry of fright—no, no, no, stop—and stumbled around, turning this way and that trying to find out who—who—who was whispering?
And there! Something! A shadow. Yes. Hunkering, moving. A terrible shadow-thing, with the whispers dancing around it like worshippers at a primitive shrine.
We will kill them all.
Kill them all.
In a sudden moment of courage and determination, Jennifer reached out for the light switch. She would turn on the lights. She would catch it. She would face it. It was a thing of darkness. It couldn’t stand the light.
Her fingers felt the wall. Not her wall. Not the wall at home. The rough, splintery wall splashed with hideous drawings and signs.
But there. There it was: the switch. The light switch. She flipped it up.
Light, blessed light, flared through the room. Jennifer braced herself and looked—looked down the hall—her heart beating hard.
No one was there. Nothing. The hallway was empty. And it was her hallway. The old familiar yellow paisley wallpaper. The carpet. The bathroom door with the light on. Her mother’s door. Her brother’s.
Her house. Just her ordinary house. Everything the same.
She stood there a long moment as relief started to creep through her. Maybe Mom was right. Maybe it was all a dream.
Then—from directly behind her—from inches behind her—a single voice—deep, gruff, clear, commanding:
She cried out, spun around, and the thing stood towering above her, eyes red, flaring, fangs bared, dripping, lowering toward her, closer, closer!
Jennifer could not even scream.