Chapter 27

There was an electrical box just inside the door. Cashman had to flip the switch back and forth several times before something caught and the lights in the ceiling turned on.

The warehouse was huge. At least three stories tall, it stretched to about the size of half a football field. It was clear it would take awhile for the lights in the ceiling to come on fully.

Unfortunately, Cashman didn’t want to waste anymore time.

He knew better than to bother with a gun. He just led me straight toward the center of the warehouse. Emma and Nancy trailed us, Nancy keeping her gun pressed against Emma’s head.

We had almost reached the midway point when a soft, low voice echoed in the darkness around us.

Stop …

We stopped.

You have done well, Cashman …

“Well,” Cashman said loudly, “I do what I can.”

The boy has the silver ring, yes? … Let me see it …

The voice sounded like it was coming from every direction.

Cashman nudged me.

I raised my left hand up high.

Yes … ” the voice said, excited now. “Very, very good …

Behind me, Emma began sobbing.

I wanted to turn back to her, try to say something comforting, but right then the Shadow Man showed himself.

He sort of materialized in front of us. Pieces of darkness pulled from the edges of the warehouse, swirling about, until standing only a few feet away was the distinct shape of a man.

Cashman, despite his assurance the Shadow Man would not double cross him, slowly backed away.

I stayed motionless, staring back at this thing that began to form features: eyes, a nose, a mouth.

The mouth moved when it spoke.

Give me the ring …

“I can’t.”

The black eyes seemed to darken for an instant.

Do not play games with me, boy … Give me the ring …

I held my hand up again, pulled at the ring that wouldn’t budge. “See, it won’t work,” I said, then I lowered all my fingers except the middle.

The black eyes seemed to flash even darker.

Cashman” — the soft, low echo voice becoming harsher —  “bring me the girl …

Emma was still sobbing. She couldn’t seem to stop. She even tried running away when Cashman went for her, but he was quicker. He picked her up, carried her toward the Shadow Man, and placed her on the ground. She tried to run again but the Shadow Man reached out with his dark hand and held her in place.

She screamed.

Now, boy,” the Shadow Man said, “give me the ring …

“I told you, it won’t come off. See?”

And I frantically tried taking the ring off again, pulling as hard as I could.

It slid off my finger with no trouble at all.

Yes … ” the Shadow Man said excitedly.

I stared down at the ring. Then I looked up at the Shadow Man and Emma. Then I looked over to my left, where Cashman and Nancy stood. They’d slowly been moving backward, as far as they could from us without making it too obvious. By now they were maybe thirty feet away.

What are you waiting for?” the Shadow Man asked. “Do you want me to kill your sister?

“No.”

Then give me the ring … GIVE IT TO ME!

I kept staring down at the ring, expecting it to glow.

Blinking, I glanced up at the Shadow Man.

Glanced back down at the ring.

Glanced back up at the Shadow Man.

I didn’t understand — not everything — yet somehow I did.

“Fine,” I said. “You want the ring so badly, catch.”

And I tossed the ring, not in the Shadow Man’s direction, but in the direction of Cashman and Nancy.

They both knew what was going to happen before it did. Maybe Cashman was right; maybe his species was smarter than us humans.

Nancy made a sound like a strangled scream; Cashman just yelled.

The Shadow Man dissolved at once, the strands of darkness whipping in circles toward Cashman and Nancy.

And still the ring flew through the air, turning over and over.

Less than fifteen feet away … less than ten … less than five …

It began to glow when it reached the two of them.

The Shadow Man reached them at the same time.

He materialized suddenly, catching the glowing silver ring in both black hands —

And at once there was an explosion of bright intense light, followed directly by screams and cries of anguish.

It was only there for a second or two, nothing more, and then the light blinked out. The screams and cries stopped. Cashman and Nancy and the Shadow Man were gone. All that was left was the silver ring, now falling to the ground.

I started walking then, not toward the ring but toward my sister.

Emma was sobbing again, and I lowered myself to my knees, wrapped my arms around her, held her tight. I smoothed back her hair with my hand — the hand that had just seconds ago worn the silver ring — and I whispered to her that it was okay, that everything was okay.

The lights in the ceiling flickered and we were suddenly no longer alone.

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