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The House (Part 3)

(Another Fiction Friday! The Adventures of Laila and her spooky friends continues! If you haven't read the previous parts check out parts 1 and 2 here! Hope y'all enjoy it!)

It had been nearly ten months since Laila and her family had moved into the House. A pleasant, refreshing breeze rustled through the tall grass where Laila was reading. Normally she found the start of spring comforting, but not this time.

All the changing season did was draw more attention to how different her parents were.

They hardly spoke to each other now, and the rare instances they did were just full of biting, venomous words. Both of her parents worked from home, which she used to be happy about as it allowed them to spend more time together. But as visiting guests were invited less and her parents stopped leaving the House entirely, Laila wished they had an obligation that would force them to leave.

To break the spell of this cursed place just for a moment.

The winter holidays had come and gone without event. No invitations for the annual Jacobs' family New Year's party. It was probably for the best nobody assumed they were throwing a party anyways, Laila thought bitterly. The only decorations in the House were the cluster of cobwebs and dusty, flowing curtains.

With a sigh, Laila shut her book with a snap before rising to her feet. The slightest bit of peace she had managed with reading and the spring air was destroyed by her own dark thoughts. Now the House had taken away even that brief respite too.

Straining her neck, she managed to find the attic windows. A barely visible wisp was aimlessly wandering around the cramped, abandoned room before pausing, as if it knew it was spotted. The Girl glided towards the window and stared down at Laila.

Laila raised a hand up in a small wave as the Girl stared, unmoving and blank. Eventually she returned the short greeting, translucent grey hand not even visible in the sunlight shining through the window, before gliding away to go back to whatever she was doing.

Laila sighed as she looked at the House in thought. She had learned that the Girl was confined to the attic during the day. She had made an effort to visit her ghostly friend in the day, but the confines of the untouched tomb were beginning to wear on her morale. Despite never saying it, Laila had figured that had been the Girl's final resting place before... becoming a ghost; a thought that was always present in the back of her mind.

Even with company, Laila didn't think spending most of eternity in a dank, dusty room would be fun.

With a shudder, Laila wandered away from the House, uncertain where her feet were taking her. Her mind ran through depressing circles of thought. She wondered how she could save her parents from the House, if it were even possible at this point. She wondered if they would return back to their normal selves after becoming ghosts. She wondered why, despite all the families that had lived and died in the House, there was only one ghost...

"Oh!" She exclaimed as her foot sank into something wet and slimy.

Laila looked around her in surprise. She had wandered all the way to a satin-smooth lake that sat between the House and the tree-lined woods. The water lapped gently against her ankles where she had stepped in the muddy brown shore. It was strange; her and her family had been at the House for months and not once had she realized that there was a lake here.

It was strangely peaceful.

For the first time in months, Laila felt slightly calm. Hopeful even. Perhaps there were more hidden beauties in the House. Maybe something she could find that would free her parents' from its malicious control.

"I wonder why the Girl didn't tell me about this place," She wondered out-loud, gazing at the shimmering surface.

"Probably because she's a seriously lame control-freak."

Laila screamed at the unexpected voice, her startled movements causing her to loose her already unstable footing in the slippery mud. She fell to the wet ground with an oof, before she scrambled to her feet quickly, the splashes of water sounding like gunshots as she clambered back to stable, dry ground. She sucked in panting breaths as she looked around wildly before her vision landed on a figure in the water.

"Oh shit, my bad," The figure said with a poorly hidden smirk of amusement.

The stranger was floating in the lake, just a short distance from shore. His algae-covered torso and head were sticking up above the surface as he studied Laila curiously. She met his stare as she took in his mottled, grey skin that seemed to ripple unstably in the sunlight.

Something told her that he wasn't treading water.

"You... You're like her. Like the Girl in the Attic," Laila finally stammered out, fear already turning into interest.

"You mean a ghost?" There was no bite to his words. He grinned when Laila tentatively nodded. "You can say the g-word, you know. Won't be offended or anything." He rose from the water, body simultaneously wet and dry as he sat impossibly on the surface. "Friends call me Lake. And you must be Laila?"

She nodded again. "Friends? There's more of you, then?"

His grin was sheepish. "Well... no. But the Girl calls me that, and we're friends."

"How come she's never mentioned you then?"

"She's in denial of our friendship," He said with a chuckle. "I think she believes someone better will come along so she isn't stuck with me for all eternity."

"That's sad," Laila said quietly.

Lake grinned again, surprisingly at ease. "For her, maybe. But that's what she gets for being such a recluse. I'm just happy to have the company." He cocked his head. "Speaking of which, what are you doing here?"

"I'm not really sure," Laila admitted. "I was just walking and next thing I know, I ended up here."

"It's quite a trek from the House to here." Lake's relaxed air vanished entirely as he narrowed his eyes at her. "You don't feel any urge to go swimming, do you?"

"Not particularly, no." Laila gestured to her clothes with a grimace. "I can't imagine the walk back to the House would be comfortable."

Laila almost laughed at Lake's scrunched-up expression, as if the ghost was thinking very hard.

"So... what? You just came over here because you felt like it?" His puzzled frown deepened. "No uncontrollable urge that you couldn't fight against compelling you to this spot?"

"Okay, honestly, I have no clue what you're talking about," Laila said.

Lake stared at her in a long silence before nodding once. "Fascinating," He whispered in an almost too low tone.

"What is?"

"You are." He rose from his seated position on the water's surface and drifted towards her before jolting to a stop just at the shoreline, like he had hit an invisible barrier. "Nobody comes to the lake."

"Maybe you've just missed them in the past?" She didn't like the look in his faded, grey eyes.

"No." He shook his head adamantly. "I know about everything that comes near here. Every animal, every insect, even a blade of grass blowing in the wind, I can sense it. No human has ever come here. Not since..." His voice trailed off with a far away expression before he smiled bitterly. "Well. Anyways, no one at the House has come here. And if they had, I doubt they would walk away alive."

Laila took a step back from him, trying and failing to not stare at his clearly, drowned form. "Huh," Was all she managed.

His expression darkened at her clear nervousness. "Huh, indeed." Lake's tone was mocking, no sign of the pleasant ghost from earlier.

They stared at each other in a silent stand-off, the only sounds the peaceful buzz and hum of nature and gently, lapping water. Finally, Laila managed to take another step back, away from the shore. She adamantly ignored the way his eyes darted down at the movement, like a dangerous predator marking its prey.

"I should go," She stammered.

"Oh, so soon?" There was nothing genuine or nice in his tone.

Laila nodded with a forced smile of apology. "I've been gone for a while, I'm sure my parents will wonder where I am."

"I highly doubt that," Lake scoffed. "They don't care about you anymore."

"Don't talk about my parents that way," Laila snapped, her hands curling into fists.

"Why? Because you don't want to hear the truth?" His expression was dark. "From what I've seen, they don't wonder about anything outside of their own twisted selves."

Laila's blood ran cold. "You've... you've been in the House?"

"Of course I have." He smirked wryly at her horrified gasp. "Did you know you snore like a freight train?"

"Go to hell," She snarled.

"New-flash sweetheart, I'm already there."

"It's no wonder the Girl doesn't like you." Laila was encouraged by the look of hurt on his face. "You're a horrible, miserable person."

"You don't know jackshit about me," Lake hissed. He was pacing before the invisible barrier like a caged animal. "And you certainly don't know anything about her either. You think I'm bad?" He laughed bitterly. "You have no idea."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"She keeps going on and on about wanting to save you, and yet you're still here. If she really wanted to protect you, don't you think she would show you the way out?"

Laila glared at him. "The Girl has tried to get me to leave many times, and I've refused. I can't leave my parents behind. That's my fault, not hers."

"That's not what I'm talking about," Lake said. His mouth curled into a satisfied grin at Laila's clear surprise. "You can save yourself and your parents. Of course, I just assumed your good buddy had already told you about that, but that you had refused, considering that's what she said happened."

"When," Laila's stomach dropped. "When did she say that?"

Lake arched a brow. "You seriously think I keep track of time out here?" He rolled his eyes at her scoff. "The first night it snowed, I think."

Four months ago then.

"Are you lying to me," Laila finally asked in a quiet voice.

"Oh, come on, seriously? What do I have to gain by lying to you," Lake snapped, clearly offended. "If anything, I want you to leave this place because looking at you alive and well every night pisses me off! I mean, you've been here for almost a year and your entire family is still alive? Meanwhile I come to this stupid, godforsaken House once and this is what I get?"

"I suppose that's fair," She said, looking at Lake's frustrated scowl with pity. "But why wouldn't she tell me?"

"It doesn't exactly benefit her if you burn the House down."

Laila's mouth dropped open. "If-if I what?"

"Burn the house down," Lake repeated slowly, like he was speaking to a toddler. "Seriously. You burn the House down, and it'll loose it's hold on your family. Of course, you would need to convince them to come outside before you go all fire-starter, but once it starts burning, its hold on them will weaken."

"That's all," Laila asked.

Lake nodded. "That's all. Just burn it, and your family will be free."

"If it's that simple, then why has no one tried it before?"

"No one's been immune to the House's control before," Lake said with an honest shrug. "If anyone can do it, it would be the girl who's spent a year in it completely unaffected."

Laila's mind ran the thought over and over before she crossed her arms and gave him a shrewd look. "Why are you helping me?"

"Because I'm nice. I'm a nice person," Lake said. At her glare, his mouth curled into an amused smirk. "And because I have just one request."

Knew it. "What's that?"

"As I'm sure you've guessed, me and the Girl are bound to wherever we..." He cleared his throat. "You know, moved on. I'm stuck here-"

"And the Girl's stuck in the attic," Laila interrupted with concern. What would happen to her if the House burned?

"Mm, no. She's not. She's tied to the bed. That's where she was when the Typhoid hit, and that's where's she stuck during the day."

"Oh." Laila felt slightly less worried. "So what's your request then?"

"Nothing crazy," Lake said with a grin Laila found entirely maniacal. "Just that you throw the bed in the lake before you destroy the House."

"That would... trap her here. With you." She pictured the bed's rusted metal frame and the way it would quickly sink. "Forever."

"With me," He agreed with a nod.

Laila was silent, in an internal moral war with herself. Lake seemed... obnoxious at best. And the Girl was her friend. Or, she had thought she was, up until now. But if the Girl had been lying all this time...

"Fine. You have a deal."

Lake's grin widened.

"You so aren't going to regret this."

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