Endings (part 2)

As Nancy awoke, she felt the warm sunshine falling on her through the window. She breathed in the light air, wondering what she would find when she opened her eyes. She tried to roll onto her side, realizing in the process that she was sitting in the chair in the living room. It was a familiar feeling, since she often fell asleep while sitting in the chair. But something was different today.  It seemed that the dark heaviness that had been hanging over her for the last several years had dissolved as she slept. She tried to remember the events of the night before. Little by little, the memories returned. She remembered the wights and their eyes staring at her from the darkness. She remembered the fire and the cellar and the broken shard that she had finally let go. It was all over. The ghosts were gone.

She slowly became aware of another presence in the room. She could hear voices whispering to each other. They were talking about her. But these were not the dark, oppressive voices that had filled her head so often in the past. They were familiar voices so sweet that she could not believe she was imagining them. She finally allowed her eyes to open, squinting a bit in the bright daylight. There were five faces staring back at her.

She thought for a moment that she was still asleep and dreaming. “Frank? Is that you?” She sat up and blinked a few times. Standing next to her brother was her sister-in-law. Nancy could only think of one possible explanation. “Am I dead?”

Frank laughed. “No, Nan, you’re not dead. You’re home. We’re all home.”

Nancy, hardly believing what she was seeing, jumped to her feet and ran to embrace her brother and his wife. “Where have you been? We all thought both of you were gone.”

“It’s a long story,” said Frank, wrapping his arms around his sister. “But Don and Miracle found us. We’re all here now. Everything will be alright.”

Nancy looked around at the other faces gathered in the room. There was her nephew and her niece, and another face that she did not recognize. He saw that she was looking at him and stepped up to introduce himself.

“Hello, Miss Nancy. I’m Dwight. Your family here was kind enough to let me come over for the day.”

Nancy shook his hand, then turned back to Frank. “How long have you all been here?”

“We just got back,” he said. “We found you sleeping, and we weren’t sure whether to wake you up or not. We’re just glad you’re safe.”

Nancy smiled. “Of course I’m safe. With all of us here, this is the safest place in the world.”

 

The next day found the Evers family gathered around the table for breakfast. Everyone was quiet, but no one minded. It was perfect just to be together again. There would be time later for stories.

Dwight had left the night before. He knew he had to get back to his family and the life that he had run away from so long ago. He promised everyone that he would come back to visit someday soon. He shook everyone’s hand before he left, but he gave Miracle a hug and told her that he would write.

Frank looked around the table at his family. His children were so much older than the last time he had seen them. He was sorry for all of the life that he had missed, but he was even more filled with thankfulness that he was able to see them now. He was proud of the adults they had grown to be. He looked at his sister. She seemed older than she was, but even she had a new spark in her eyes that he had never seen before. For the first time since he found her all those years ago, she seemed alive. Finally, he turned to his wife. His Crystal was the one shining piece of his life for the past years. Even in the darkness of the prison that the wights had kept them in, he was able to find happiness knowing that they were together. She caught his glance and smiled back at him.

Don saw his parents smiling at each other. He had forgotten how much he missed that. His father had promised an exciting tale of being captured by the wights and living for years as a troll. Mother had just shook her head. “There’s not much to tell, dear. Life as a troll is dull to say the least.” Don turned to look at his sister. Her violet eyes were sparkling again, just as they had when she was younger. But she was not young anymore. She was growing into a beautiful woman. He looked across the table at Nancy. He had always felt sorry for her, but now he finally understood something of what she had gone through. He was glad to see her happy and looked forward to getting to know her all over again. Yes, despite all that had happened, they had all come home again.

Miracle was glad to be called Miracle again. She had never gotten used to being called by her middle name, especially when that name belonged to her mother. She was not sure exactly how the family would fit together after all these years, but it was enough to know that they would figure it out together. It had been a long time since the table had been full like this. Every chair was filled. One, two, three, four. Not a face was missing. She then looked down at her own chair with a smile. Five.

 

The End

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Endings (part 1)

Melinda’s eyes widened as she pulled her hand out of the drawer. She stared at the small object she was holding. The rock shard began to glow brighter and brighter in her hand. Her shallow eyes, now flaming with anger, shot a fiery glance at Crystal.

“Where did you get that?” she demanded, her voice choked with fear and rage. The glow from the shard lingered around her hand for a moment before slowly spreading over her body. “What have you done?!”

Crystal watched in shock as the wight began to writhe and shrivel, shrinking back into the form of a ceramic figure with a large crack along her back. Once the change was complete, the glow vanished. The shard of rock was nowhere to be seen. Everything was quiet. Crystal glanced around her. Don still lay on the couch in the living room; the fire still burned in the stove. Nothing else had changed. Suddenly, Crystal felt very, very alone. As long as there was someone with her she felt secure. Now, in the silence of this awful house, with that awful creature lying at her feet, with her brother unconscious and possibly dying, she was afraid. She was terrified. Realizing that there was nothing between her and and freedom, everything inside of her told her to run.

Part of her knew that she had to stay. She knew that she had to think of some way to fix everything. Her being was torn between the choices that presented themselves to her. And so, as if by instinct, she did what she had always done when she was conflicted. She closed her soft, violet eyes, tried to clear her mind, and counted.

“Ten, nine, eight…”

She needed these moments to focus on her situation. In this world where everything was designed to confuse her, she needed to think of something that made sense. Otherwise, she needed to leave.

“Seven, six, five…”

She counted back slowly, allowing everything to sink into place. As her circumstances became more apparent, however, she became more and more afraid of everything around her. She could not wait too long for an idea to come. If she was still lost when she reached zero, she would run. Maybe she could find help from outside.

“Four, three, two…”

Just then, she heard a familiar whimpering noise. She opened her eyes to see Dwight, still in his animal form, standing in front of her, watching her expectantly.

“What am I supposed to do?” she asked.

He turned around to look at the figure lying on the floor.

“I did what you told me, Dwight. I gave her the shard. What more can I do?”

Dwight answered with glance towards the stove. Crystal understood. “She’s not gone yet. I need to finish it completely.”

She timidly reached for the figurine, hoping that it would remain motionless. She slowly wrapped her fingers around it and picked it up. It felt cold in her hand. She quietly carried it to the stove and, with only a slight hesitation, tossed it into the flames. After a short moment, it burst with a bright light that engulfed the stove and threw Crystal onto the floor. The house shook, there was a sound of rushing wind, then everything went black.

The next thing Crystal was aware of was her own breathing. She opened her eyes to find herself still in the dining room of the farmhouse. Something was different, though. Everything looked older, and most of the decorations that had filled the house were gone. Once she realized what had happened, she remembered her brother. She jumped up and ran into the living room. Don was just beginning to sit up on the couch.

“Don!” Crystal threw her arms around her brother. “You’re back,” she cried weakly, her voice choked with emotion. She added, in a quiet voice, “She’s gone.”

“Yes, she’s as gone as she’ll ever be.” The siblings turned to face the familiar voice. Dwight walked out of the kitchen, once again in his human form. “And, though I don’t wish to interrupt your reunion, I would like to leave as soon as possible. Perhaps we should see if that gas can is still downstairs.”

Don agreed and the three made their way back into the cellar. Even the darkness seemed brighter than before. As hoped, the gas can was still sitting where it was. Just as Don was about to take it and head back upstairs, Crystal let out a scream.

“Don, look! Behind the bars!”

Don squinted into the dark corner of the room where the trolls had once been. His heart skipped as he was able to make out two forms huddled together in the darkness, sleeping peacefully.

Dwight walked over for a closer look. “Who are they?” he wondered aloud.

Don fought back a sudden wave of emotion. “Those are our parents.”

Confronting (part 2)

Nancy opened the trapdoor in the kitchen floor. Cool air rose from the darkness and gently brushed around her. She could smell the dust and the wood. It was a smell that had meant security and solitude for so long. So many times she had hidden in the darkness of the cellar from imagined fears. Now that there truly was something to fear, the cellar was the last place she wanted to go. This time she feared her own past. And there were a lot of memories connected with this place.

“It’s just one last piece,” she told herself. “Just go down, find it, then bring it back up.”

She took a step. Everything was still quiet, but she could feel eyes peering at her from the dark corners of the house. They wanted her to remember.

“That doesn’t matter anymore,” she said, taking another step. “I’m only thinking about being free from you.”

She tried to keep her mind on her task, but the thoughts kept creeping back. She could see the faces of Don and Crystal, scared and helpless, as they huddled in the darkness. She remembered sending them down there for hours whenever they spoke of wandering too far from the house. She tried to ignore the thoughts and continue her descent.

“I only wanted them to be safe,” she pleaded. “I couldn’t see that I-“

She stopped. She had reached the bottom of the stairs, and she now stood surrounded by a thick blackness. She was aware of the wights staring down at her from the kitchen, hovering over the open door.

“I couldn’t see that I was becoming what I feared. Part of you has become a part of me.”

She bent down and began feeling around on the hard floor.

“And when I felt threatened, I kept going back to it. I couldn’t let it go. And now it’s left its mark on me.”

She paused for a moment to feel the scars on her hands. Then, with a renewed determination, she continued her search around the dark floor. She finally found the small keepsake that she had held on to since she was young. It was a shard of ceramic that she had found among the broken pieces of a vase many years ago. She had found where every piece went except this one, and show she kept it. It had always been the one thing that she felt she could call hers.

“This time I’m letting it go.”

She turned and climbed back up the stairs. As her courage grew, the wights shrank into smaller and smaller shadows. She crossed the room and stood in front of the fireplace. She hesitated for a moment in front of the flames as they flickered and threw her shadow onto the wall behind her. Then, without another thought, she tossed the piece into the fireplace. It burst in the heat and burned quicker and more brightly than she expected. Within a few seconds, it was gone.

Confronting (part 1)

Among the many oddities that filled the farmhouse was an antique fireplace stove in the dining room. Crystal helped Dwight move some logs into the fireplace and start them burning.

“It’s so nice to have hands again,” said Dwight, proudly striking matches and tossing them onto the blazing logs.

“Don’t waste them,” warned Crystal. “We need that fire to keep burning. Are you certain this will get rid of her?”

“She was always very careful not to have a fire going when she was sleeping like that. She tended to avoid fire altogether as much as possible, actually. Nothing is for certain, but this is the best idea I have right now.”

They waited a minute for the fire to reach a nice hot temperature.

“Alright, Don!” Dwight hollered into the kitchen. “Bring her over here.”

Don had been keeping an eye on the box that was covering the ceramic figurine. He now carefully lifted the box, hoping that the figure was as blind as it was motionless. What he found was even more horrifying than he feared.

“She’s gone!” he yelled.

Dwight and Crystal ran into the kitchen. They stopped cold when they saw the empty floor where the figure used to be. Dwight knew exactly what had happened.

“She’s awake.”

Before they had time to think, they heard footsteps on the front porch. Dwight grabbed the box and its lid and tossed them into the cellar. He then quickly pulled the rock shard out of his pocket and handed it to Crystal. As he shrunk and changed back into an animal, he managed to give the siblings some last directions.

“We don’t know how much she knows. Get her to touch the rock, but don’t let her know anything. She can’t suspect-“

And with that, he was back to his small furry form. He ran into the cellar just as the front door opened. Melinda walked in.

“Well, hello there!” she said with a friendly smile on her face. “I thought you would have been gone by now.” She paused for a moment when she saw the fireplace. Her smile faded a bit as she turned back to the siblings. “I see you started a fire. Are you cold?”

Don and Crystal glanced at each other. Don spoke; “Yes, I’m feeling a little cold. We thought we would stay here until you came back. We’re not in a hurry.”

Melinda looked around the room very slowly. She seemed satisfied after a few moments and walked over to Don. She looked into his eyes. She spoke in a strangely harsh tone. “It isn’t cold at all, Don. I think you’re getting sick.”

As soon as she had spoken Don began to feel dizzy. He tried to say something, but the poison was beginning to work and he found himself unable to move. His body went limp and he fell to the floor. Crystal let out a small scream.

“Yes, he’s sick,” said Melinda, turning to Crystal with a calm expression. “I have a special kind of tea that should work until we can get him some help. Be a dear and bring me a pan of water. This fire will be of some use after all.”

Crystal did not know how she should act. Dwight told her not to let Melinda know about the rock, and she figured it would be best to play along with her hostess for now. There was not much time, and she needed to get Melinda to touch the rock without alarming her in any way. She proceeded to find a kettle that she filled with water and brought to Melinda who had laid Don on the couch.

“Thank you, Crystal. Keep an eye on your brother while I get the tea ready.”

Crystal’s mind was racing. She knew that the moment Melinda knew something was wrong, the whole world could turn against her. Having an enemy who controlled reality was proving to be a very difficult situation. Meanwhile, Don was completely unconscious. Crystal knew that he would not last very long.

“Alright, I need to mix some herbs together,” Melinda said after a few minutes. She sounded increasingly uncomfortable, and Crystal was worried that she suspected something. “The water needs to be the right temperature. I keep a thermometer in the top drawer beside the sink. Make sure the water stays just below boiling. Move it off the stove if it gets too hot.”

Once again, Crystal had no choice but to comply. She walked to the drawer and pulled it open. Melinda was rummaging through cabinets for some ingredients that Crystal could only imagine would hasten Don’s death. She saw the thermometer laying in a pile of measuring spoons and spatulas. Glancing towards Melinda to be sure she was not looking, she quickly put the thermometer in her pocket, grabbing the rock shard at the same time. She placed the shard in the drawer and hid it among the utensils.

“Melinda, I can’t find the thermometer.”

Melinda continued what she was doing. “It’s in that drawer. Perhaps it’s under something.”

Crystal pretended to look around some more. “It’s definitely not in here. Can you come look for me?”

The wight turned around, clearly agitated. Her eyes looked harsh and shallow. “How difficult can it be? It’s not a big drawer.” She pushed the girl aside and shoved her hand into the pile of utensils.

Decisions (part 2)

Nancy had wondered what sort of torture the wights could inflict on her. The reality was worse than anything she had imagined. They did not hurt her or even speak to her. They stayed hidden in the shadows of the house and watched her. Time promised to continue moving ahead as normal. The only thing different was that she lived hour after hour under the scrutiny of those shallow eyes. And every time she felt their invisible gaze on her, she remembered everything. Every detail of her life, every failure, every moment of each heartbreaking day she had ever seen flew through her mind. The scars on her hands burned as the memories echoed off the walls and were amplified through the lonely emptiness of the little house.

“It’s only your head, Nancy,” she said to herself. “Fill it with something else. Don’t give them room to work.”

For a while, she tried to continue with life as usual. She slept, cleaned the house, made herself a small meal, all while trying her best to avoid even looking at the trapdoor in the kitchen. She had told herself before they came that she would never again set foot down there until they were gone. She was afraid that once she was in the safety of the dark basement she would never come out again. And now that she was fighting the flood of regrets that threatened to drown her, she especially did not wish to be reminded of that basement. She knew that seeing it would instantly bring to mind Don and Crystal and all those years she spent trying to take care of them.

“It’s not real!” she shouted, realizing that her mind had once again wandered to her past. “It’s over. What happened is over and gone. The memories can’t hurt me. You can’t make me fear what I can’t change.”

She was once again surrounded by silence. “Why don’t you speak to me?” She could feel their eyes in the shadows. They were watching her to see what she would do. They were waiting for something. “You’re still trying to use me. I have something that you need. Well, if all you have to manipulate me is my past, then you won’t get what you want.”

Slowly and deliberately, Nancy started a fire in the small fireplace. Once it was burning nice and warm, she began walking through the house. She carefully searched every shelf, every table, every drawer, every corner in every room for every item that reminded her of something painful in her memory. She glanced into the shadows, wanting them to see her determination. One by one she tossed each item into the fire.

“I didn’t get away from you all those years ago to give in to you now. Maybe you’re right; maybe I took part of you here with me. Well, I’m getting rid of it here and now.”

Room by room, she emptied the house of anything they could use against her. Finally, after she finished the last room she sat on the couch in front of the fire and watched the flames dance around her fading memories. It was then that she noticed a small tightness in the pit of her stomach. She knew exactly what it was. There was still one piece of her past that she had not destroyed. It was the one thing that had given her comfort since before Frank had found her all those years ago. And she knew exactly where it was.

Decisions

“She only needs one victim,” explained Dwight. “I guess she felt that she wouldn’t need you for very long.”

Don felt sick. It was not because the poison had any noticeable side effects; he just realized how foolish it was for him to have eaten anything in this strange house. “How long does it take to work?” he asked.

Dwight shrugged. “Probably another hour at this point. Unless she’s destroyed before then.”

“So it’s not a stalemate at all. I’m racing time to find that missing piece.”

Dwight shook his head. “I think searching for it is a waste of time. If you could reach it in only an hour, she would have retrieved it long ago. You’d be gone long before we found it. No, we have to think of something else. If we could know exactly where it is, maybe we could somehow contact someone there.”

Crystal had been lost in thought for a while. She finally spoke. “You said that she would have wanted us to take her to the missing piece. She was about to let us go home. She even gave us a map. Could it possibly be there?”

“I don’t see how,” said Dwight. “You only happened to pass through here, didn’t you? It was only when you crossed into her domain that she had any power over your senses. It would be rather coincidental for the piece to be at your home. No, I doubt that that map actually leads anywhere near your house.”

Don slowly pulled a paper out of his pocket. “We weren’t just randomly passing through. A few days before we came here, I received this letter.” He handed the paper to Dwight. “I was living in one of the towns at the time. I never knew who sent it.”

Dwight read the letter out loud:

Don,

I wish I could explain who I am, but I can’t. Just know that I’m a friend. I have been watching you for some time. I knew your father. He was a good man. I’m glad that he didn’t live to see what you have become. He tried so hard to give you a chance to live a better life than he did. But when you got the chance, you failed to live up to his level of responsibility.

When your father learned that his sister was in trouble, he dropped everything and came to help her. When he saw what he had done to his wife, he came back to her and helped raise you and your sister. Now you find yourself in a similar situation. You don’t have a wife, but you have a sister. You know that she needs help, and yet you leave her to survive on her own. I hope you think hard about what you will choose to do. I hope you will make the right choice like your father did.

Don took a breath to steady himself. “I didn’t know who sent it, but I knew it was true. I had never thought that how I was living might have disappointed my father. It was that letter that made me decide to come back for Crystal. I decided I’d figure out who sent it later; my first responsibility was to my sister. I noticed today that the handwriting in the letter is the same as the handwriting in the note that was left on the package this morning.”

Dwight sat down in one of the dining room chairs. “So you weren’t just unlucky. You were chosen. She meant to bring you here. Everything was orchestrated specifically for you.” He scratched his head, trying to put together what it all meant. “Crystal, I think you might be right. The piece just might in your house somewhere. That’s why she brought you here: so that you could take her back and she could be reunited with the part of her that she lost.”

“Why did she take so long?” Don wondered aloud. “Why didn’t she come looking for it before now?”

“Because of the rock,” Crystal answered, a look of fear suddenly on her face. “She couldn’t come near the house while the rock was on my dresser. Dwight, you said that she’s the leader of the wights. Where are the others?”

“I don’t know. The others left shortly before you two showed up. They do that on occasion. I haven’t seen them since.”

“Then we might be too late. Now that the rock is out of the house, there’s nothing to keep them out.” Her eyes fell as her heart sunk under the realization of what must be happening back home. “Nancy…”

Dwight stood up suddenly. “This is bigger than I feared, and we’re losing time,” he said loudly. “We don’t even know that the missing piece still exists. I say we get rid of as much of her as we can as quickly as possible. Our hope now is that somehow that last piece has already been destroyed.”

Missing Parts

Don was quickly putting things together as he and Crystal followed Dwight up the steps and back into the kitchen.

“So you’re saying that the stories are true. Wights can influence our senses. All of this is an illusion that she created. But why? And why was she about to let us go?”

Dwight answered as he hunted around the kitchen, looking through drawers and cabinets for something. “She needs strong human emotion to live. She builds these worlds to house her victims. Some are made to evoke sorrow or loneliness or despair.”

“This one was made to confuse us,” Crystal said.

“That would seem to be the case, yes,” continued Dwight, still rummaging through every corner of the house. The rock shard was in a small pocket in his tattered vest, and everything he came near changed slightly as they had in the basement. “All of the strange things that happened since you arrived were meant to fatten you up with confusion. Fortunately, you still had a piece of that rock left; her spells can’t work around them. As to why she seemed to give you everything you needed to leave, I don’t know. My only thought is that she meant to come with you. Even so, I don’t know why she’d want to leave here.”

Don began to grow frustrated with Dwight’s constant movement from room to room as he searched every possible hiding place. “What are you looking for?”

At that moment, Dwight noticed the wrapped package still sitting near the trapdoor in the kitchen. “Did you get that here?” he asked.

Crystal picked up the box. “Yes, Melinda left it for us. I suppose we should have opened it, but Don said we should just take it and leave.”

Dwight walked over to Crystal and took the box from her hands. “It may be nothing. Possibly just another meaningless item meant to confuse you.” He carefully untied the silver bow and pulled the wrapping paper off, revealing a square cardboard box with a lid. He very slowly removed the lid, as if afraid that something might jump out at him. The moment it was open enough for him to see inside, he jerked back and dropped the box to the ground. Out of the box rolled a small ceramic figurine of a lady wearing a long hooded cloak.

“It’s her!” he cried, pushing himself against the farthest wall he could find.

Don moved in for a closer look. “The eyes look similar, I suppose. Are you sure it’s supposed to be her, though? It could be of some other wight.”

“It’s not supposed to be anyone. It’s not a statue of her. It is her. That’s what she looks like when she sleeps.”

This time Don jerked back. “Wait; if she’s sleeping, she can’t hear or see us, right?”

Dwight shook his head. “I don’t know. I think that if she knew what was happening right now, she’d be doing something to stop it.”

Crystal noticed something on the figure’s back. “Guys, I think Melinda has a part missing. Look at that crack on her. It’s like a piece broke off. Do you think that’s important?”

Dwight slowly moved closer. He took a quick look at the cracked ceramic figure before tossing the cardboard box over it. “Maybe that’s why she wants to leave. Maybe she needs to find that missing piece in order to keep the illusion going. It’s no good for us either, though. We can’t destroy her completely unless we can destroy all of her. If there’s still a piece out there somewhere, she can always find a way to come back.”

Don thought for a moment. “Then we’re at a stalemate. Why not just leave it like it is? We have gasoline and a car and directions home. If we don’t take her with us, she can’t do anything. If she ever does come back, we have the rock shard.”

Dwight considered the idea. “I suppose that’s the best we can hope for right now. I’m sure we all just want to leave.”

“Yes, we do,” Don agreed. “All I got out of this trip was a headache and piece of candy.”

Dwight froze. “Please tell me that you didn’t eat her candy.”

Changes

The glow coming from the shard of rock was not like an ordinary light. It was as if the shard was cancelling out the darkness immediately around it, forming a ball of light that only spread out a few inches from its source. Crystal walked to the wall and held the shard up to the light switch, curious what would happen to the glow when she turned the light back on. Just as she was about to flip the switch, she jolted back with a start.

“Don, did you see that? The light switch disappeared!”

Don aimed the flashlight at the wall. The light switch was where it had been before.

“That’s strange,” Crystal said. “It was gone for a moment.” She brought her hand near the wall again, moving it very slowly. As soon as the switch entered the ball of light surrounding the shard, it vanished.

Don moved in for a closer look. “Even the wall looks different in that light. It looks older. Everything that glow touches changes. Here, hold it near the stairs.” He took his sister’s hand and brought it near the old staircase. Wherever the glow fell the wooden stairs changed into dirty cement steps.

Crystal felt a small paw tapping on her leg. Dwight had scurried over to the siblings and was anxiously holding out his paws, clearly wanting to hold the glowing shard. Unsure, Crystal glanced at her brother.

“He’s the one who told us about it,” he said. “He seems to know more about what’s happening than we do. Give it to him, but make sure he doesn’t run off with it.”

Crystal slowly handed the shard to the small creature. As soon as it was within his reach he grabbed it and hugged it tightly. After a moment, he began to grow. As he grew, his antlers and wings began to shrink and disappear. His fur became a tattered set of clothes. Don and Crystal watched in astonishment as his rabbit-like face became the smiling face of a young man.

“Who are you?” Don demanded, slowly backing up the stairs.

The young man chuckled softly, admiring his own human features. “My name is Dwight. But you already knew that.”

Crystal was still standing at the foot of the stairs. Somehow she was not at all afraid of this person who claimed to be what once was a wolpertinger. “So the rock turns animals into humans?” she asked.

Dwight quickly turned to face her, seeming somewhat insulted at the suggestion that he was an animal. “Not at all,” he asserted. “I was always a human. The rock kills her power. It just allows us to see me as I always have been. She must not have known that you had a piece left over.”

Don was still cautious, but he felt that this young man meant them no harm, and it seemed that he shared in their predicament. He took a step down and asked, “How long have you been here?”

Dwight thought for a moment. “A few years, I suppose.” He smiled sadly to himself as he remembered. “I was sixteen when I ran away from home. I was headed to the biggest town I knew of to try to become someone important. I had big plans and an even bigger ego. I got lost one night and happened across this house. By morning I was a wolpertinger. Of all things! A cute, fuzzy wolpertinger! She lived for a while off of my sheer humiliation.”

“Well, now that you’re human again,” said Don, “could you give us back our rock shard?”

Dwight tightened his grip on the shard. “I’ll give it back soon. But once I let go of it, I turn back into an animal. Her power won’t be completely eradicated until she’s destroyed. And if we’re going to do that, you need me as a human.”

For the first time in a long time, Don had a moment of clarity. “You mean Melinda, don’t you? You’re saying that she’s-”

“Yes, she’s a wight. And not only a wight; she’s their leader.”

Lights

“What’s down there?” Crystal shouted into the darkness that had engulfed her brother.

Don was standing at the bottom of the wooden stairs leading into the cellar. The light from the kitchen above him seemed to stop halfway down the staircase, and he was still unable to see anything.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “It’s completely dark. I think I hear Dwight, though.” He listened for a few seconds, then gave a quick whistle, hoping the little creature would come to him. Instead, a deep, sharp, loud growl echoed through the room. Don fell back on the stairs as he drew in a short gasp. And that’s when he smelled it.

“It’s a troll!”

Crystal had been looking around the kitchen and had managed to find a flashlight. She had started making her way down the stairs and was near the bottom when she heard the growl followed by her brother’s terrified voice. She instinctively aimed the light towards the source of the noise. The beam of light revealed a large cage on the far end of the room containing a enormous creature. The thing was nearly ten feet tall, and it was covered in a thick, scaly skin. Its hair was long and matted, and its arms, which hung so low they nearly touched the ground, ended in sets of sharp, crooked claws. The creature turned and stared at Crystal with its sunken eyes, and she was instantly frozen with fear.

Don slowly walked backwards up the stairs until he reached his sister. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s in a cage. Remember, Melinda raises these things for research. I don’t think it will hurt us.”

He tried to reassure his sister, though inside he was both terrified and disgusted at what he saw. This was the kind of heartless animal that had taken his parents. Only the thought of finding gasoline for the car so they could leave kept him from pulling Crystal up the stairs and locking the cellar door shut for good.

“Come on, shine the light around the room. See if there’s a light switch or something.

Crystal slowly regained composure and allowed Don to take the flashlight. The troll continued to stand completely still as Don gathered up the courage to move the light off of it and search the walls of the cellar. He kept his ears sharply focused on the cage, ready to snap the light back if the creature moved again. As he had hoped, the light soon fell on a small light switch on the wall nearby. He quietly walked over to it and flipped it on.

The lights took a few seconds to flicker on. Once they did, the siblings saw that there was not only one, but two trolls. The cage was not really a cage, but rather a whole corner of the room set apart with bars that went from the floor to the ceiling. The trolls, though still hideous, seemed somewhat docile and a bit less intimidating in the light. In the middle of the room was Dwight sitting next to a gas can. Taped to the can was a hand-drawn map. Upon closer inspection, Don found that the map led back through the maze of roads to their small house by the mountain.

“It looks like she left us directions to get back,” Don explained to his sister who was still standing near the bottom of the stairs.

“Then let’s go,” she said. “I don’t like anything about this place. I’d rather be back home than here. At least made sense back there.”

Don was about to agree when Dwight suddenly jumped up in excitement. He yipped loudly as he ran towards Crystal. Once he reached her, he stood up on his hind legs and began making all sorts of odd noises, as if he was trying to speak. When he saw that his attempts were failing, he ran to the wall with the light switch and began jumping and clawing at it.

“Is the light bothering him?” Don wondered out loud. “I think he wants me to turn it back off.”

“Please don’t,” Crystal said. “Just pick him up and let’s go.” Dwight seemed to understand her and began yipping even louder, looking back at Don with a pleading expression.

“I don’t know, Crystal. He seems to know what he wants. We should probably turn the light off before leaving, anyway.” Don crossed the room again and quickly flipped the switch back down. The room was again engulfed in darkness. Dwight ran back to Crystal, and this time Don saw what he was so excited about. Crystal’s jacket pocket was glowing. Crystal saw it too, and she slowly pulled out the source of the strange light; it was the last remaining shard of the rock that they had used to mark their path.

The Present

“Don, I don’t even know what we’re waiting for anymore. The town can’t be far away; maybe we should just walk there and see who we can find. There’s something wrong with this farmhouse.”

Several hours had passed without any sign of Melinda. Don and Crystal were sitting on the couch in the living room of the farmhouse watching Dwight the Wolpertinger run around the various tables and chairs set at odd places. There was a heavy feeling in the air, and both of them were ready to bid this place farewell.

“You’re right,” Don agree. “Let’s go. We’ll leave a note for Melinda in case she comes back while we’re gone. We can buy some gas in town and be on our way as soon as we get back. I have some paper in my room.”

Don began making his way up the stairs with his sister following close behind. Dwight ran around the couch twice before joining them on the staircase, chattering quietly as he hopped from step to step. When they reached the guest room, Dwight stopped suddenly and sniffed around. He quickly ran back down the stairs as Don and Crystal opened the door and walked into the room. Everything was as Don had left if, except there was now a small gift-wrapped package sitting on the bed.

“That wasn’t there before,” Don said quietly.

“There’s a note attached to it,” Crystal observed. She stepped forward and picked up the small envelope that was sitting on top of the package. It was addressed to both of them. Without a word, she opened it and held it out so they could both read.

Dear Donald and Miracle,

I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to see you this morning. I’ve gone out for the day unexpectedly, and I don’t anticipate being back until later tonight. Don’t feel obliged to stay until I get back. There’s a can of gasoline in the cellar. If you could make sure Dwight is in the office downstairs before you leave, I’d be most grateful. Please accept this small gift as a thank you and an apology for leaving so suddenly.

It was lovely meeting you!

Melinda

Crystal lowered the note to look at the present. It was wrapped in blue and white striped paper and tied with a silver bow.

“Should we open it?” she asked, turning to her brother.

Don didn’t answer. Instead, he was staring wide-eyed at the note she was holding. His mind was desperately trying to fit everything together. “I’ve seen that handwriting before.” He moved his hand toward his pocket, then thought better of it. “Crystal, this is starting to scare me. The package might be important. Let’s just take it and go. I’ll put Dwight in the office, you get your things together. We’re not coming back here.”

Don picked up the box and handed it to his sister before rushing down the stairs to find Dwight. Crystal, startled by her brother’s panicked tone, ran into her room and shoved the box into her suitcase. She had everything packed in a few seconds and arrived downstairs to find Don searching the house for the little animal.

“Try calling him,” she suggested. “Dwight! Where are you, Dwight?”

She was answered by a small whimper coming from the kitchen. They followed the sound but found only an empty room.

“Call him again.”

“Dwight! Come on out!”

Another whimper made it’s way through the room. It was coming from beneath their feet. Their eyes quickly searched the floor, coming to rest on a rug in the middle of the room. Don slowly bent down and pulled it out of the way. Underneath was a trapdoor, presumably leading to a cellar beneath the kitchen. He cautiously tapped the door with his foot. A series of yips and whimpers cried out in response.

“He’s down there,” Crystal whispered. “How do you suppose he got there?”

Don shook his head. After a moment’s reflection he reached for the handle and pulled the trapdoor open. Immediately, the sounds stopped. The siblings stared down into the blackness.

“That’s probably where the gas cam is,” Crystal said. “We should take a look.”

Don nodded as he began climbing down the narrow stairway leading under the kitchen. After a longer descent than he anticipated, he reached the bottom and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.