Chapter 18

Darkness again.

And in the darkness I saw my family, my parents and sister. In the darkness I saw them dead. Yet they were still alive. Their eyes wide, their faces pale. Screaming.

Something touched my face.

I jerked out of sleep.

The old woman was crouched in front of me, pressing a damp cloth against my forehead.

“Are you thirsty?”

I nodded.

She stood, turned toward the wooden table, picked up a bottle of water, unscrewed the cap, then held it out to me.

I just stared at her.

“Go ahead,” she prompted.

I remembered then that my right hand wasn’t chained to anything and reached out and took the water and chugged it until there was nothing left.

The woman took the empty bottle back from me with a small smile. “You really were thirsty, weren’t you?”

“Why are you doing this to me?”

“Son, I’m not doing anything to you.”

“My parents are going to realize I’m missing. They’ll call the police.”

She produced that small smile again, only this time it was tinged with sadness. Shaking her head, she whispered, “You poor, poor boy.”

I couldn’t tell whether she was being sincere or sarcastic and looked away from her. Beside me on the floor were the remains of the chainsaw Cashman had used earlier.

“Are you scared?”

I looked back at her.

“Stupid question, I know.” The woman ducked her head, raised it back up. “My name’s Nancy by the way. I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but … ”

“Why. Are. You. Doing. This.”

“Again, I’m not doing anything. It’s Cashman. He wants the ring.”

“Yeah, I kind of already figured that part out.”

She looked away from me, bit her lip, closed her eyes. She stayed that way for a long moment. “To be honest with you,” she said but then went silent.

“What?”

She shook her head.

“What were you going to say?”

She started to speak again, stopped, took a deep breath and whispered, “To be honest with you, I’m scared too.”

“Of what?”

“The Shadow Man.”

“Who?”

“He’s coming, you know. Cashman already contacted him. He’ll be here tonight. He wants the ring.”

“And what is he going to do once he gets it?”

Nancy shook her head, looked away from me again.

“Hey,” I said softly.

She looked back.

“You don’t have to do this. You can let me go.”

She stared down at me, just stared for the longest time. She seemed to be thinking of something and looked as if she was about to speak when the door at the top of the stairs opened and Cashman came down the steps. He had two large paper bags in his arms and was grinning.

“Had to make a quick stop at the hardware store,” he said. “Ready for round two?”

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