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The House (Part 4)

(Surprise! This isn't the finale like I planned! I hope everyone's enjoying this spooky-themed Fiction Friday series. I've decided to time the ending for Halloween so expect the final part of Laila's story on October 31st! Feel free to comment below if you like the story so far & don't forget to subscribe! P.S. If you need a refresher, you can find the beginning of the story here.)

Laila crept as silently as possible through the still House. Strong wind from outside blew against the wooden structure, making the House creak and groan like a warning. Despite the House's inanimate existence, she couldn't help feeling like it knew what she was up to.

Gritting her teeth, Laila yanked her dad's leg and dragged his unconscious body the last stretch to the front door. Resisting the urge to sigh loudly, she silently placed his leg on the ground, next to her mother, as she carefully cracked the door open inch by inch.

It had been shockingly easy to convince her parents to let her make dinner unsupervised that night. She supposed that should've been predictable, considering how unresponsive they had become in the few weeks since she met Lake. She had debated listening to him sooner, spending plenty of nights staring up at her ceiling and ignoring the Girl chattering in the darkness next to her as she contemplated arson.

But that morning when she had woken up to see her parents mutely drifting around the House and only responding to her with shrugs or blank stares, Laila had made up her mind. She tried as hard as possible to go about her day as normal, before skipping into the kitchen to make dinner. She had spent the entire time she was cooking with nervous glances over her shoulder and sweat forming on her brow with the silent fear that the House had seen her slip the sedatives into the food. She didn't fully relax until her parents had eaten and drifted to their bedrooms before the sound of snoring eventually filled the House. Now she was committed to the plan.

Even if Lake wasn't telling the truth and setting the House on fire didn't fix them, she could at least prevent any more damage.

Besides, Laila wanted to see the building burn.

Relief washed through her as she inhaled the brisk night air, the front door open wide enough for her to slip through. She bent down, getting a firm grip on her mother's ankles, and gently tugged her through the door, out the porch, and onto the soft grass of the yard before darting back inside to do the same with her father. Her parents had grown alarmingly thin, looking tired even as they remained unconscious, like the House had been sucking their energy away slowly.

From what the Girl had told her, it would only be a matter of days before the madness-inducing House made her parents snap and turn on each other with unexpected and fatal violence.

Speaking of the Girl, Laila thought, looking towards the dark, empty House. Her ghostly companion hadn't shown up once to question her actions. While she was grateful to have gotten her parents outside undetected, she couldn't help feeling somewhat apprehensive.

Something was definitely wrong.

"No time to waste," Laila muttered to herself as she pulled a match out of her pocket and began to walk towards the wooden porch.

She froze, a chill running up her spine as she heard wet, squelching footsteps approach her.

Laila whipped around to see Lake moving towards her, algae and water trailing behind him. He was staring at her with piercing, disappointed eyes. Her fear rose as she fully saw him in the bright moonlight-- and how unexpectedly solid he seemed to be.

"Hi Lake," Laila said nervously, taking a tentative step back as he stopped right in front of her. Her nose burned with the scent of water and decay. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh, I just thought I'd come by to see how our little plan is going," Lake said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I came up here to congratulate you on getting your parents out."

"Thank you--"

"But, now I see you walking towards the House. With a match." He towered over her, his fake smile growing even more menacing. "Now, explain to me why you seem all ready to light the House up when you don't have the one thing I asked for?"

Laila determinedly met his gaze. "I'm not risking it. For all I know, the moment I leave my parents they could wake up and come back inside." She dragged the match against the porch's railing, the small flame lighting up her face. "I'm finishing this now."

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Lake snarled as Laila raised the match above the wooden porch.

"Oh yeah?" She turned her back on him. Why was she so frightened of him anyways? As the Girl had proved, the ghosts couldn't touch her. "Try to stop me!"

Before Laila could release the match, something cold, slippery and damp snatched her wrist like a vice. She shrieked as the hard grip violently yanked her away from the old, flammable wood of the porch and whipped her around to see Lake's irate expression...

...and his dead, grey hand that was squeezing painfully tight against her skin.

Laila felt all the air leave her lungs as he slowly and deliberately crushed the flame between his fingers without breaking eye contact.

"You were saying," he asked in a low tone.


"Use your brain, doll." He tilted his heads towards her still sleeping parents. "All that leeched energy had to be going somewhere. Hey, don't give me that look," Lake said at Laila's mixed expression of horror and rage. "I've only been taking my share of the leftovers."

"L-leftovers," Laila repeated.

"Well sure. The House is given enough to keep it in sturdy condition without the need for any nosy contractors or plumbers or whatever. And I get the scraps the boss doesn't keep."

"The boss?"

"I mean do I think it's fair that I get enough stolen life-force to be almost back to normal for one measly night?" Lake continued, not hearing Laila's tentative question. "Of course not, but I don't know how this whole thing works so I'll take what I'm given--"

"Lake," Laila interrupted loudly. "What are you talking about? What boss?"

He fell silent, before his lips curled into a nasty smirk. "What boss? Why, your little bff of course." He laughed as the blood drained from her face. "You seriously didn't know? That stuck up ghostie bestie of yours is behind all of this. Why do you think she was so adamant on getting you to leave without your parents? Without them, there would be no energy for us to steal until the next unfortunate family moves in. And let me tell you, that Girl has about zero patience. There was no way she was going to lose two victims the House has already spent so much time on."

Words failed her for a long moment. "Wh-- How," Laila finally stammered out. "I thought the House--"

"Well sure, the House kept us. Do I know why? No, but I've learned not to question it. I assume it needed help in, you know," He gestured to her parents. "Speeding up the process. That's what the Girl says anyways."

"You're lying," Laila argued while hearing the doubt in her own voice.

Lake's eyes narrowed. He tightened his grip and pulled her after him up the porch and shoved her into the dark, open doorway.

"Why don't you see for yourself?" He hissed. "Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on your parents. Hell, I'll even help you light the building on fire. Just get me what I want first!"

"And if I don't?"

He smiled humorlessly and released her arm. Laila's stomach dropped as she saw the very real, dark bruises shaped like fingers already forming on her wrist.

"Then I'll deliver your parents' souls to the House myself."

Well. Laila couldn't argue with that.

With a steadying breath, she took a step into the House, ignoring how much like a mouth the doorway looked. A rush of air was the only warning she got as Lake slammed the door shut behind her. Her blood ran cold as she heard a lock automatically clicking and knew instinctively that neither her nor Lake had a key.

The wooden planks creaked loudly with each step she took while the pipes hissed like angry, hungry snakes. She resolutely kept herself from looking anywhere that wasn't directly before her, afraid of what she would find lurking in the darkness. Laila placed her foot on the first step leading up to the Attic and gripped the railing tightly. She bit back a scream as the stairs rattled ominously before her, each step visibly shaking and jumping threateningly.

The House was fully awake.

And it was furious.

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