(Huge thank-you to everyone who's stuck with me so far during this spooky short story series! I hope y'all have enjoyed it!)
Laila forced herself to take a deep breath before walking up the rattling, shaking stairs. Her hands gripped the railing tightly as she forced her vision only on what was straight ahead. She felt like the climb was taking forever as if there were more stairs than before.
She resisted the temptation to glance behind to see how far she had come, afraid of what she would see instead.
Finally, she made it onto the landing. The long hallway stretched into darkness that looked even darker when Laila flicked the light switch on, only to watch it mysteriously not turn on. She hesitated, knowing the only way to the attic was through that inky blackness.
On the one hand, she had no idea what was lurking in the House. But, she also knew that Lake was waiting for her outside; alone with her parents.
A choice that wasn't a choice, really.
"It's just a dark hallway," She whispered to herself and tentatively walked towards the darkness where the ladder to the attic waited. "Nothing to worry about."
Her heart pounded like a drum and she wondered if the House could hear it. Did the Girl hear it? Did she even know Laila was coming or what she was up to? If Lake could actually touch her now, the Girl probably could too. And if she didn't want Laila to destroy the House-
Laila's blood ran cold as she froze at the unexpected sound. She turned slowly, dread filling her when her eyes landed on a closed door. There was a brief silence.
Then the doorknob began to move, like someone was shaking it.
Like someone was trying to get out.
She felt like she couldn't move as she watched the locked handle shake harder and harder. Both Lake and the Girl had made it clear they were the only two ghosts in the House. And while there was a very strong chance they were lying, Laila couldn't help feeling like whatever was behind that door was not nor had ever been human.
She screamed and jumped backwards as something loudly pounded against the door. The very wood shook as something heavy hit the door again and again. She backed away, only to scream again as the door behind her shuddered with an equally loud thud.
A shiver ran through Laila as she saw all the closed doors in the hall shaking violently as the doorknobs rattled and something slammed into the walls. She sprinted down the hall, not wanting to stick around to see what was in the rooms. Just barely through the darkness she could see the shiny, metallic glint of the ladder in the faint moonlight.
She urged herself to go faster as one of the doors behind her slammed open.
Laila was running harder than she ever had in her life. With desperate relief, she reached the ladder and practically flung herself onto it. She climbed, feet slipping on the rungs in her haste as she sensed something in the darkness coming behind her, getting closer and closer. She reached the attic door and pushed on the old, heavy wood with all her strength.
She managed to shoulder it open and pull herself inside just as something swiped at her legs. Laila quickly pulled her feet inside, slamming the door shut and pressing her full weight against it as the thing outside rammed into it multiple times before apparently giving up as silence and stillness filled the room. Laila breathed heavily as she looked down to see scratches running up and down her legs.
"I was wondering when you would visit me again," an eerie, high-pitched voice said.
Laila's head jerked up as she looked around to see the Girl drifting towards her. Her breath caught as she took in the ghost's changed appearance.
Where Lake had been physically solid, but still clearly dead, the Girl looked entirely alive. Her once translucent, grey skin was now a light alabaster, with a pink flush of health in her cheeks. Her movements were still gracefully smooth, but clearly more human than ethereal. Her golden-blonde hair hung in soft ringlets rather than the floating, curls of light grey that had seemed as solid as a ray of light.
Only her cloudy, faded grey eyes indicated anything was wrong with her.
"Lake was right about you," Laila said, staring at her once friend. "You are behind all of this."
"Oh come now, Laila, I can't take all the credit. The House is the one that's been sucking the life from people for centuries."
"You expect me to believe you're just an innocent bystander then?" Laila crossed her arms with a frown.
"You know what a symbiotic relationship is?" The Girl waited for Laila's short nod. "The House kept me. Lake and I, we died of what you could say were more "natural causes" than the rest of the people we were with, so we got to stay. Everyone else, they turned on each other, driven to madness by this place. The more violent a death, the more life the House can extract from it." She drifted away from Laila towards an old dusty mirror. "I get to take some of that life for myself. I can be alive again, for a few days." She smiled at her reflection. "In exchange, I take care of cleaning up the House from its previous residents, placing it back on the market, and waiting for the next family to move in."
"You're orchestrating the deaths of innocent people," Laila said in horror. "And for what? To pretend to be alive again?"
"You don't get it!" The Girl whirled around to snarl at Laila. "You and every other parasite that comes in here get to be alive! You get to grow and change and see the world, while I'm stuck here! And every day, I watch as the people who come here willingly let themselves get trapped inside. They throw their money at this House to create the perfect fortress to keep the world away, ignoring the gift of life that they have and I don't!" The Girl had stepped towards Laila and was now towering over her. "So yeah, I help the House. The people that come here don't want to leave anyways; call me a monster for letting them stay forever."
Laila shook her head refusing to back down from the Girl's piercing gaze. "I won't let you keep getting away with this."
The Girl's hands balled into fists. "You should have left when you had the chance, then."
Laila managed to duck and dart around the Girl just as she lunged for her. She tore through the cobwebs and jumped over boxes as she ran towards the opposite wall where an old, dusty cot sat. The Girl was running after her, thankfully slower in her long dress as she screamed curses at Laila. Laila knocked over a towering stack of boxes and objects, not pausing as she heard the Girl yelling in frustration to find her way partially blocked.
Laila reached the cot preparing to pull it before realizing she had no idea where to go. Even if she could get it past the Girl, she couldn't get it down the ladder. Her stomach dropped as the walls of the attic pounded angrily.
Right, there was also the House to deal with if she went that way.
She looked around frantically before her gaze settled on the large, circular window. It looked out right over the front yard, where her parents and Lake were. It was a long drop, but he didn't say the bed had to be in perfect condition. Besides, the mattress looked padded enough...
She made her decision and began dragging the cot towards the window.
"Laila, I swear to God, I'll kill you myself," The Girl snarled as she crawled her way through the knocked over debris separating them. "You will not take this away from me! The House will get your parents! I'll make you watch and then I'll let it have you too!"
Laila ignored her as she continued to pull the rusted, metal bed. Sweat poured down her face as she finally reached the window.
"Wait, what are you doing," The Girl asked, pausing in shock as she finally saw Laila with the bed.
Laila unlatched the window and shoved it open, earning a low, angry rumble from the House that seemed to shake the entire building. She almost lost her footing on the vibrating floorboards as she readied the bed on the window frame with a grunt.
"Stop!" The Girl was practically crawling in her efforts to reach her. "Do you have any idea what that is?"
"Yeah, actually, I do," Laila said in a flat tone before shoving the bed out the window.
Laila winced at the Girl's high, piercing shriek followed by the sound of something metal landing on the ground. For a moment the two just stared at each other. Then the House shook, louder and more violently than before, as the smell of smoke filled the air.
The Girl's eyes widened in rage. "You didn't." Her face twisted into something inhuman as she charged Laila, white dress streaming behind her. "I'LL KILL YOU!"
Laila didn't hesitate as she flung herself out the window.
She couldn't bring herself to scream as she fell through the air, eyes squeezed tight. She knew she wouldn't land on the mattress.
At least my parents are safe, She thought as she hurtled towards the ground...
...and landed in something cold, solid and strong.
Laila opened her eyes to see Lake's amused smirk looking down at her. She blinked in confusion, staring at him before looking around to see her still fully alive and unharmed body held in his grey, algae-covered arms.
"And here I thought I was the reckless one," He said with a grin.
"You... you saved me?"
"Sure," He shrugged. "You got me what I wanted, I have no reason to see you dead."
Laila glanced towards the House to see it engulfed in flames, the old wooden structure, easily catching on fire.
"You set the house on fire," She stated in surprise.
"A deal's a deal, right?" Lake gently placed her on her feet.
"But that much fire already," She paused before looking at Lake shrewdly. "You set the fire before I got the bed out." Her mouth dropped open. "You were never going to hurt my parents, were you? Even if I failed, you were going to destroy the House and save them."
"I don't know what you're talking about," He said, attempting and failing to sound truthful.
"You are a nice guy," Laila stated with a smile.
"Shut up." Lake grumbled ignoring her look. They both stared at the burning structure that was groaning in pain before he said quietly, "I just really hate that House."
"So what now? The Girl--"
"She'll be fine since you got this out." He gestured to the cot. "Might be a little singed for a while, but she can't die again. She'll probably just wait out the flames and sulk until the sun rises."
"Somehow that doesn't make me feel better," Laila said.
"Don't you worry." He smirked bitterly. "With the House out of the way and her trapped with me, I'll make sure she doesn't hurt anyone else ever again."
Laila placed her hand on his arm, waiting for him to look at her. "Thank you," She said sincerely.
He gave her a slight, sad smile before stepping away. "You should be safe to call 911. The House is destroyed enough for them to not be able to save it, and your parents should be back to normal, although they might be disoriented."
Laila nodded and watched in silence as Lake easily began dragging the now damaged and bent cot towards the direction of the lake, disappearing into the dark. Laila pulled out her phone and called 911. She sat next to her parents still unconscious forms as she waited, already hearing the sounds of sirens approaching in the distance.
She stared at the roaring flames. The House itself had fallen silent. The only sounds filling the air now was the natural crackle and snap of dry wood burning quickly. Gazing into the heart of the flames, Laila could see a translucent, human shape glaring at her with irate grey eyes.
Laila closed her eyes for a moment, distinctly ignoring the sound of footsteps before opening them again to see the figure in the fire was gone.
As the sun began to rise and Laila's parents stirred with groans she let herself finally, truly relax. They were all going to be okay.
The earth shook as the construction crew worked. The lake's smooth surface rippled from the hammering drills and growling trucks as they dug up the ground to build a foundation.
It had been nearly three decades since anything manmade had stood on these grounds. The grass and forest had grown back, sheltering the lake from public eye and keeping its secrets hidden and undisturbed for years and years.
Until a recently married and wealthy couple decided to buy the property and build a new mansion to celebrate their union and upcoming baby.
Just on the water's edge, something grey and shadowy watched the construction worker's process. It was just barely visible in the bright sunlight as its grey, flowing dress disappeared into the water. It didn't react as another equally translucent shade came up behind it.
Lake sighed at the sight and shook his head. "Please. Don't get any ideas." He took one of the Girl's hands in his and squeezed it. "It isn't right."
The Girl remained silent as she watched the crew's process. The moment they poured the first drop of wet cement, an abruptly cold wind blew through the air with a low rumble that was familiar to the two ghosts. The construction worker's froze for a long time until their boss snapped at them to continue working. But even as they got back to building, it was clear they were uneasy.
Lake's grip on the Girl tightened. "I'm going to do everything I can to stop you, you know."
"I know," the Girl finally spoke as she turned away from the shore to look at Lake.
They stared at each other as the Girl took his other hand and moved closer until they were almost nose to nose. And when she smiled, Lake shuddered.
She stood on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear: "And you're going to fail."