By: Patty S.
Disclaimer: None really needed here. This is all mine. Came right out of my warped imagination so if you dont like it you have only me to blame. <g>
Violence: None really.
Language: Cussing. Lots of cussing.
Acknowledgement: To my beta readerszuke, Verda, Lori Lake, Andy, and Jean. Thanks for being picky, thoughtful, full of questions, fixing my commas and just making me a better writer <g>
Feedback: Of course! I love getting feedbackgood or bad.
October 31, 2004
Sara Cooper adjusted the straps of her air pack as the fire engine raced down the street. She glanced out the side window and laughed when Sponge Bob Square Pants and a couple of Teletubbies waved at her from the corner. Several other kids were gathered there to watch the engine roar past, excited by the lights and sirens and waving their little arms to the crew.
The fire call had come just when Sara was getting ready to pass out candy at the station. It was one of her favorite times of the year and she was going to miss out. Her gaze turned to her partner, Brent Cooper, who looked as excited as the little kids on the street. Boys. They always get happy when theres a fire.
A dim orange glow was visible in the early night sky, drawing Saras attention to the house ahead of them. It was an old Victorian style house and one she had often looked at when driving past. The decrepit exterior always made her wonder if it was haunted.
Flames shot out from the windows of the top floor, black smoke billowing out of the eaves. Sara grabbed her face piece as the engine came to a stop. Brent was out the door first, which didnt surprise Sara one bit. She briefly heard the fire chief directing the rest of the crew to drag hose lines off the truck.
"Cooper, Owens!" The chief pointed to the front door of the house. "Dispatch says theres someone inside that house. You two start a search of the first floor."
Brent barely acknowledged the chief before rushing up the steps of the front porch. Sara shook her head and followed. He checked for heat by removing his glove to touch the door. "Lets roll!" He dropped to his knees, turned the knob and crawled inside.
Thick gray smoke filled the area, making it hard to see. There was a distinct orange flicker coming from the top of the stairs. "We need to hurry."
Brent nodded and turned to the right, one hand touching the wall, the other gripping an iron bar. The Halligan tool could come in handy if they had to pry any doors open. The flashlights attached to their helmets offered little help as the two began to search.
"Hello!" Brent called out, his voice muffled slightly by his face piece. "Anyone here?"
Sara swept the handle of her axe out to her left trying to feel for anything soft, like a human body. The first thing she struck was hard and after a couple of taps she realized it was probably a chair. She continued to crawl behind Brent, one hand on the cuff of his bunker pants so that she would not lose him in the dark. "Hello!" She called out in cadence with Brent.
Sweat was already forming under her mask and she had to concentrate on keeping her breathing even so she would not run out of air too quickly. She could hear the chatter from the other teams on her radio as they started to clear the rooms of the house. So far no one had been found.
Brent came to a stop and Sara had to sit up on her knees a little to see why. Through the dim light she could make out a set of double doors. Brent quickly checked them, then motioned her to follow him into the room.
There was no smoke in this room, though the roar of the fire could be heard above them. Sara knew they had to move quickly. Bookshelves lined the walls around them. There was a couch and two chairs in the center of the room and a desk off to one side. They had enough light to see into the room and quickly realized there was no one in it. Sara started to tell Brent they should leave when she heard the distinct blast of the fire engines foghorn. Three blasts told them to leave the building immediately. It was no longer safe to be inside.
Sara waited to make sure Brent was touching her leg before she began crawling toward the exit, feeling along her left to make sure they re-traced their earlier path. When she reached the double doors, she found them closed.
Sara tried to turn the doorknob, but nothing happened. The knob turned, but the mechanism did not open the door. She took off her glove to check the temperature of the wood, relieved to find it still fairly cool to the touch, which meant there was no fire on the other side. She put the glove back on, got to her feet, and motioned Brent to stand back.
One swing of the axe broke the knob completely off the door. A second swing bounced the axe head off the wood and nearly knocked Sara over. "Shit!" She gripped the axe tighter this time and swung again.
The axe head bounced back like it had struck rubber. A third swing bounced the axe head back so hard it nearly knocked Sara over. Sara dropped the tool to keep from hitting Brent with it.
"Let me try." Brent moved in front of Sara and struck the door with the pry end of his Halligan tool, gripping the iron bar tightly in his hands. He got much the same result as Sara. "Fuck!"
"Lets get to a window!" Sara pulled Brent toward the wall in search of a window. They made a complete circuit of the room, but found nothing.
"Interior to Command!" Brent yelled into his shoulder microphone. The roar of the fire grew louder and it was obvious to them both that it was directly above them.
"Interior to Command!" Brent yelled again, his voice rising with his panic. "Theyre not answering me!"
Sara stood in front of the double doors and started shoving against them. "Give me a hand."
Brent joined her, but despite their combined efforts, the doors would not move. "This is crazy!"
"I know." She leaned against the door. "Theyll find us."
There was a loud crack above them and Sara looked up just as the ceiling came crashing down upon them.
Sara awoke lying face down. When she tried to get up she felt a wave of dizziness and was forced to lay her head down and close her eyes against the nausea that came with it. "Brent?" She called, her voice barely audible to her own ears. It hurt her throat to talk, but she wanted to find her partner. "Brent?"
"Im right next to you. Dont move."
"Okay." She couldnt see him, but trusted her partner without question. She kept her eyes closed, listening to him move around her. The weight of her air pack was lifted off her and she rolled to her side and opened her eyes to find Brent looking down at her. A small gash marred his sooty forehead. He wasnt wearing his air pack or mask. "Wheres your pack?"
"Over there," he nodded toward a corner of the room they were in. Her axe and Brents Halligan tool were leaning against the wall next to his air pack. Their helmets sat nearly on the floor.
"Wasnt there a fire?" Sara asked as her partner placed her air pack and face piece next to his own.
"There was. Looks like its all gone now."
"Gone? The ceiling fell in on usand last I knew the room above us was on fire. How the hell can it all be gone?" Sara pulled herself to a sitting position and leaned against the wall.
Brent shrugged, taking a seat next to her. "Thats the million dollar question, Regis."
Sara looked around the dimly lit room. It was a lot smaller than the library they had been in, close to seven feet tall and maybe ten feet square. The walls were made and floor were made of uneven, unfinished wood. "Where the hell are we?"
"Been trying to figure that one out." Brent motioned to the corner where their gear sat. "I started over there and pounded the floor and ceiling, but they seem solid. Theres a crease in the wall to your left. Probably a door, but I dont think it opens from the inside."
Sara looked at the ceiling, finding only an old light hanging down by a frayed cord. The bulb barely keeping the place lit. "But how did we get here?"
"Damned if I know."
"Maybe we need" Sara stopped speaking when she saw the wall to her left begin to move.
They were both on their feet instantly. Sara moved closer to their stacked gear, grabbing her axe as she watched the wall swing open like a door.
"Whos there?" She got no response.
Brent started for the opening, but Sara stopped him. "What?"
Something wasnt right. A feeling deep in her gut kept Sara from moving forward. Where was the fire? It was a question that continued to roll through her mind demanding to be answered. "Lets get our packs back on. Just in case."
Brent handed Sara her air pack, which she slung over her shoulders like a backpack, letting the face piece hang around her neck. She didnt want to start using up her air until she had to. She put her helmet on and waited for Brent to secure his air pack and helmet before she stepped through the door.
Saras eyes swept around the room, taking in the ornate decor and the bookshelves that lined the walls and were as tall as the ceiling. In the center of the room was a matching set of chairs and a couch that looked like they dated back to the early 1900s. A wooden desk sat in the back of the room in a dim corner. There was a single oil lantern on the corner of the desk that cast an eerie glow around it.
"What the hell?" Sara whispered as she moved forward to let Brent enter. There was something very familiar about the room and as she walked around it the memory hit her and Sara nearly fell to her knees with the realization. "Brent, this is the room we were in."
"What?" He was standing in front of a set of double doors, trying to open them.
"Yeah. I remember the couch and chairsand that desk in the corner. Right where youre standing is where we were when the ceiling collapsed."
"Youre nuts." Brent shook his head. "Theres no way. That whole damn place was on fire"
"And the ceiling fell down on us, but were here and in one piece. And if you recall, we woke up in a little room with absolutely no idea of how the hell we got there." She watched his face as he tried to process it all. "This house should be damn near destroyed."
"So what do you think were supposed to do?"
"Keep looking. There has to be a reason were here. Something we need to find to work our way out."
"Okay, Nancy Drew, you just tell me where to start." He gave her a lopsided grin that made Sara chuckle, despite the seriousness of the situation.
"Well Ned, start over there by that desk. Just look around." She turned away and started examining the books on the nearest shelf.
The first set of books was a collection of works by Virginia Wolfe. Sara carefully pulled one down and began thumbing through the pages. It was her diary. Sara remembered reading the same book years before and found herself captivated by the words on the pages before her.
"Do you enjoy her?" The voice was strangely familiar and definitely did not belong to Brent.
Sara whirled around, but didnt see anyone else in the room. "Did you hear that?"
"I though it was you."
"I didnt mean to startle you." The voice came again. It was feminine, but Sara still did not see anyone in the room with them.
"Okay, where the hell are you?"
"Im right here."
Sara took a deep, calming breath. "If youre here then why cant I see you? You got a hidden speaker in here somewhere?"
"Maybe even a camera is hidden." Brent was looking behind the books of one shelf.
"There is no camera or speaker." The voice sounded amused.
Sara looked at Brent, who had stopped his search. His face had gone pale and she wondered if he was thinking the same thing she was. A ghost maybe? But that was just crazy. Ghosts didnt exist and even if it did, would a ghost really be talking to them? There had to be another explanation.
"Youre right, Sara. Im not a ghost."
"Read your mind. Yes."
"Okay." Sara looked at the ceiling, hoping to find something there. "Why cant I see you?"
"Because I have not body to see."
"Uh huh. Want to tell me whats going on then?"
The voice was silent for a moment. "Youre here to replace me."
"What?" Brent moved to Saras side. "Shes not replacing anyone. Were getting out of here now."
"Im afraid I cant allow her to leave."
Brent opened his mouth to respond, but disappeared before any words could form.
"Brent!" Sara reached for the spot her partner had been, then turned an angry glare to the ceiling. "What did you do to him? Where is he?"
"Hes safe. I sent him to return to his family. Im sorry, but its your time."
"My time? Are you trying to tell me that Im dead?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"Youre wrong!" Sara screamed through sudden tears. "I cant be dead. Im standing right here!"
"There has to be a replacement. By midnight tonight, you will be dead."
"Im telling you shes alive!" Brent started back for the house, but the heat of the flames kept him at bay.
"Owens! Get back here!" Chief Robert Santini hurried after his firefighter, grabbing him by the back of his coat and dragging him away from the inferno. "Theres no way anyone is alive in there. Im sorry."
"No!" Brent shrugged himself free and turned to face his chief. "You dont understand. We were in the library. I was talking to her and thenthen I just" Brent stopped, not sure how to describe what had occurred. "I found myself in the entrance to the house and before I could go back to find Sara I got pulled out. You have to let me back in, Chief. Im not crazy."
Chief Santini glanced behind Brent, looking in the area where he last knew Sara to be. His face didnt show his emotion, but anyone that knew him understood the heartache behind the chiefs decision. "Im sorry Brent. I know its hard. Sara was a good"
"Shes not dead, dammit!" Brent shoved the chief back and ran for the front door.
A hose team was there and had knocked down the flames enough for Brent to get through. As he disappeared into the house flames once again engulfed the entrance making it impossible for anyone to follow him.
Sara tried the doors again, though she knew they would not open. The whole thing was surreal and she slid to the ground, kneeling against the solid wood. "This is not happening. Im just having a bad dream or something." She looked around her, still amazed that the room was whole.
Frustrated tears fell from her eyes. She nearly screamed when she felt the whisper of a touch wipe them away.
"Its going to be okay. Ill take care of you." The voice sounded feminine and kind. "Youll want for nothing. I promise you that."
"I want out of here," Sara tested it, wondering how the voice would react. Or, rather how the house would react. Was she really thinking of a house as a being? Or had she simply lost her mind?
"I cant let you out, Sara. Im sorry, but thats not within my control."
"What is within your control then?"
There was a pause, then the lamps that sat on either end of the couch came on. "This room. I can give you anything you wish, so long as you are inside this room."
"Why here? Why cant I go to the rest of the house?"
"The fire has destroyed most of it by now, Sara. I was only able to save this room."
"So the fire is out?" Sara asked.
"Not yet, but it will be. I had to protect this room."
"Can you travel outside of this room?"
"Of course. I can go anywhere in this house." The voice paused. "Your partner is very persistent."
"What do you mean?"
"Hes come back."
Sara shook her head slightly, unsure if she was glad that Brent had returned or mad at him for risking his life. "Hell try to get me out of here."
"Dont be so sure."
Brent coughed and fought his way through the thick smoke to the doors of the library. He chastised himself for not putting his air pack back on, but there hadnt been time. He had to get to Sara.
The large wooden doors were locked and he used all of his strength to push against them. The solid doors did not budge.
The fire was nearly out in the rest of the house and Brent realized it would only be a matter of minutes before the fire at the front door was knocked down enough for a team to come in after him.
There had to be another way inside. He looked at the stairs to his left, noticing there was no longer an orange glow coming from the top. If the fire was out on the second floor, it might mean he could get to the room above the library.
Brent took the stairs two at a time, hoping against hope that the ceiling would still be collapsed and that he would be able to get to his partner.
There were only two rooms that could be over the library. Brent took a guess that the first one he came to would be the one he needed, based on how far the door was from the front of the house. The doorknob turned easily in his hand. There was a distinct rumbling sound and he barely managed to hit the hallway floor before the flames shot out of the room and over his head.
Sara reclined on the couch, trying her best to appear comfortable despite the craziness of her situation. She was still wearing her air pack and helmet and could not quite get comfortable. She was convinced Brent would stop at nothing to find her and hoped that it would be soon. In the meantime, she figured she needed to keep talking to the houseor ghostor whatever the hell it was. In doing so, Sara hoped to buy Brent the time he needed to get her out. "So do you have a name?"
"Julia. I was named after my grandmother."
"Julia." She let the name roll of her tongue with an odd sense of familiarity. "Its a beautiful name. Not plain like mine."
"I dont think anyone could ever call you plain, Sara."
The subtle change in Julias voice made Sara blush slightly. "Im not sure Ive ever had a compliment quite like that before. Thank you, Julia."
"Its well deserved. Youre a brave soul. You risked your life to save someone who wasnt even here."
"You mean the people that live here?"
"Yes. Them." Julias tone lowered and Sara could hear the disdain in her voice. "They dont keep the house well. Its why I let the fire go. I wanted them out."
"But you kept it from this room. Why? Whats special about this room?"
Julia replied, "This is where my soul is, Sara. It has always been here among my books."
"You enjoy reading? I love to read."
"I know. I could sense that when you picked up Virginias diary. Were kindred souls, you and I."
"Are you a writer?"
The sound of Julias laughter filled the small room and made Saras heart beat a little faster. "Oh, I would never presume to call myself a writer. I could barely write the checks to pay my bills."
"Im the same way. But I do love to read."
"Who is your favorite?" Julia asked, a hint of excitement in her voice.
"Depends. Are you asking about the classics? Modern, romance, mystery, crime novels, thrillers." Sara chuckled. "I pretty much like them all. Its hard to pin down just one."
"But I bet you can."
The firefighter sighed, letting her gloved fingers run idly across the spines of the books in front of her. Some of them were antiques, yet others looked as though they had just been purchased. "I would have to say that the one writer that has alwaysspokento me has been Virginia Woolf."
"A tortured soul who never lived to realize just how deeply her words affect us now."
"Exactly. Her words just came off the pages at me like a long lost friend connecting over the pages through time. Beautiful soul, beautiful words, she just knew how toto"
"Get to you. To speak to you in a way no one else ever has."
"Exactly!" Sara turned and looked toward the ceiling. "Ive never known anyone that ever understood why I enjoy her so much. My partner, Brent, is always teasing me about being in love with a dead woman, but thats not what its about. I love her words I love who she was, but Im not in love with her. You know?"
"I do. Are you in love with anyone right now, Sara? Is there anyone left behind?"
Sara shook her head and pulled down the first book she came to. It was Mary Shelleys Frankenstein. "No. Hasnt been anyone for me for some time. Ive sworn off love. Its not for me."
"Once bitten, twice shy." Sara put the book down. She was getting hot in all her layers of protective clothing and gear. It had been a while since she had heard the sounds of the fire. Despite her better sense, Sara decided to remove the air pack and heavy fire coat, leaving her in her bunker pants, boots and t-shirt. She also placed her helmet alongside the air pack and removed the protective hood from her head. Her short brown hair was matted to her head with sweat and she ran her fingers through it.
She sat down on the couch and tucked her legs up under her and got comfortable. "I wont ever let that happen again."
"How very sad. You deserve to be loved. Youve got a beautiful soul."
Sara felt herself blushing again. "Thanks. I just wish I could go home."
"So do I, Sara. So do I."
The flames roared overhead as Brent crawled past the door and further down the hallway. Thick smoke still hung low, so he kept to his knees as he worked his way to the next door. He touched the outside of it with his hand. The door was cool to the touch so he pushed it open and went inside, closing the door behind him.
Brent found himself in a large bedroom, presumably the master bedroom. There was very little smoke in the room, so he stood and went to the window, which looked out over the west side of the property. The woods were dense on that side, illuminated by the red lights from the engine parked on that side of the house. He could see his fellow firefighters getting the hose lines ready to be placed back on the trucks. It wouldnt be long before they figured out where he was.
He quickly moved from the window and began searching the room he was in. It was completely devoid of any furniture and had only a walk-in style closet. The closet, he realized, was on the same wall as the room above the library.
He practically ran into the closet, going to the back of it. His knuckles rapped hard against the wall. The sound was hollow. "Yes!" Brent gave the wall a good shove with his shoulder and felt it give slightly under his weight. It wasnt enough to open it, but enough for him to see the line that marked a hidden door.
"Julia, are you still there?" Sara asked, after the voice had been quiet for what felt like hours.
"Of course. Im always here, Sara."
"How is it youre here? What happened to you?"
A long moment of silence followed and Sara wondered if Julia would answer. Sara was getting impatient and somehow knew the answer to her questions would help her find a way out.
"I didnt want to die here."
"When did you die? What year was it?"
"It was 1836. Halloween night." Julia paused and Sara patiently waited for her to continue. "I was only twenty-eight years old. I had my entire life ahead of me."
"Im twenty-eight," Sara said, almost to herself.
"I know. Thats no coincidence."
"Please, go on." Sara prompted, anxious to hear Julias tale.
"I was seated on the couch, just as you are now. I had just gotten my first copy of The Odyssey and was about to start it whenwhen" It sounded like Julia was starting to cry and it brought Sara to her feet.
"Please, dont be upset. Just talk to me. Sometimes it helps if you just talk to someone."
"Ive never told this to anyone before." Julia sniffled. "Im sorry."
"I was about to start reading when I heard a commotion coming from the other side of the far wall. The one behind you. I had no idea there was a hidden room in there, much less what lay inside it."
Sara felt shivers go down her spine again as she listened. "What was inside?"
"A trapped soul. All she needed was someone to replace her. But I fought against her. I didnt know of such things, but I knew I could not allow her to escape. I let my heart guide me and it was telling me she was evil and should not be released. I did all that I could to get her back inside that room, but she escaped."
"Who was she?"
"She was the first owner of this house. But I didnt find this out until much later. She had been inside that room for so long she had gone mad. In her madness, her powers grew."
"Powers? Like in magic?" Sara asked.
"As in witch powers, yes. She used them against me or tried to. As we fought I managed to grab a hand mirror that was lying on my fathers desk. I held it up just as she cast a spell. I dont know what happened next, only that my body disappeared and my soul became trapped within the room."
"And where did she go?"
"Wherever a damned soul goes, I suppose. I really have no idea. I only know that when Lillian came into this room she fainted. When she awoke, she was trapped here as you are now."
"Who was Lillian?" Sara was starting to get confused, but figured that somewhere in this story would be a way for her to get out.
"She replaced Alice. It was twenty-eight years to the dayon All Hallows Eve. The moment that Lillian walked into this room, Alice disappeared. At midnight Lillian was separated from her body and forced to stay here."
"Then where is she? If she was stuck here, wouldnt she still be here?"
"She was replaced."
"Replaced? You mean in the same way she replaced Alice?" Sara was trying hard to put it all together and the more she figured out, the more she realized just how screwed she was.
"Yes. Every twenty-eight years the cycle repeats itself. Whoever is in here with me is replaced. Where they go is beyond my knowing."
"But you never leave?"
"No. I will always be here, it seems."
Sara sat down again and leaned back on the couch. "There has to be more to this."
"What do you mean? Ive told you everything."
"No. I mean there has to be a reason this is happening." Sara looked at the ceiling again and sighed. "I wish I could see you so I could know who Im talking to."
"So do I, Sara. I think you would have liked me."
Sara chuckled. "I like you now." She smiled at the silence, wondering if a disembodied voice could blush. "Okay. Heres the plan. Were going to go over every detail of what has been happening since you let Alice out of that room. If she managed to put you in here then we can manage to get you out."
"Are you certain of this?"
"Of course. You dont deserve to be here, Julia. You deserve to be wherever it is that your soul belongs. And I seriously doubt your karma is so bad that you deserve to be a talking library for eternity."
Julia laughed again, and the sound made Sara smile. "Okay. Lets start from the beginning."
"Damn, damn, damn!" Brent banged his forehead against the door in frustration. He knew it was a door. He knew it had to open somehow, but nothing he had done so far was working.
"Hell, wheres Nancy Drew when you need her?" he asked aloud, then shook his head. "Shes stuck in that stupid library," he muttered and started searching the closet again. There had to be a lever or mechanism that would open the door, he reasoned.
Standing with his arms across his chest, Brent stared at the wire hangars until his vision became fuzzy. He was able to see beyond the hangars to the small indentation on the wall just below the closet shelf. He leaned down and moved the hangars aside and reached forward, his fingers searching. He felt the tiny mechanism and pressed it down until he heard a low click and the door opened.
Brent had to stoop to go through. He was just about to straighten when his eyes settled upon something so impossible, so incredible that it froze the big man in his tracks.
Had he not been holding on to the door, Brent would have fallen over. His legs were suddenly weak and the man who never feared anything felt a fear in his gut so strong that it nearly sent him running from the room.
Lying on their backs in a neat row as if they were sleeping, were the bodies of seven women. They had been placed along the outside wall. His eyes carefully scanned their faces, seeing a strange familiarity among them. Each one was slim, about the same height and brunette. He moved forward, intending to examine them, but stopped when a light appeared to his right.
Within that light a body began to take shape. He fell to his knees and felt like his heart would pound out of his chest. "No!"
Sara was pacing back and forth across the library. "Okay, so we have an obvious connection with there being twenty-eight years between each replacement. But what is significant about that number? Does it mean something to you?"
"Its how old I am." Julia replied.
"You mentioned it was like a cycle. What if theres a reason each woman has to leave after twenty-eight years?"
"Maybe that was how long Alice was locked away? Do you think she was dead?"
"Im not sure." Her gaze was on the bookshelf nearest the secret room. There was an idea forming in the back of her mind, but wasnt quite cohesive enough to make known. "Have you read all these books?"
"Heavens no. Many of them were collected long after I died. I asked a few of the women to read to me, but none ever would."
"Im sorry to hear that, Julia." Sara ran her fingers along each book, careful not to miss any. "Were you born here?"
"Yes. In the room above this one, actually."
Sara stopped and looked up at the ceiling, as if she could see Julia there. "Did you have any siblings?"
"No. My mother died giving birth to me. I never knew her. It was just father and I."
"Your mother died giving birth and you were twenty-eight when this Alice person imprisoned you here?"
"I already told you that."
"What was your mothers name?"
"Alice can be short for Allison, Julia."
There was no response. Sara continued her search and let the woman process that bit of information. Sara was sure there was a connection. Maybe the crazy Alice person wasnt Julias mother, but the name similarity was too coincidental.
Sara was beginning to think that if she found a way to release Julia, she would be freed as well. Her only trepidation was that she had no idea what release would mean for her. Was she dying as Julia had told her? Was it past midnight yet? Would she wake up inside the library with a ceiling on top of her and her partner, both of them still trapped?
She shook her head and took a deep breath to center herself. No time for questions. She needed answers. "Yes, Julia?"
"What if youre right? Then what?"
"I dont know. Did Alice keep a diary?"
"She always stayed in the west corner."
"Okay." Sara moved to that corner, finding a shelf full of books in pristine condition, yet obviously centuries old. Sara opened one of the books with caution, turning the pages until she found what she had been looking for. "Pay dirt."
Brent was on his knees in the room above the library, watching in horrified fascination as the body of his best friend began to materialize. She was still not quite all there; kind of like a ghost. And if she was a ghost, that had to mean she was dead.
"This cant be happening!" Brent tried to touch his partner, but his hand went through her body to the floor. "This is fucking insane! I must be out of my damn mind!"
He got to his feet. "Sara, how can this be happening?" He leaned closer to his friend, his eyes suddenly going to the woman beside her. He reached down and touched the womans neck, finding her skin cold to the touch. There was no pulse present. "Dead. But no rigor. Maybe she hasnt been dead long."
But his eyes belied that remark as he scanned the rest of the rooms occupants. Each woman was dressed in what he could only describe as period clothing, the first one looking like someone out of Little House on the Prairie. Julia was dressed in the old 80s style parachute pants and a half-torn sweatshirt like the one Jennifer Beals wore in "Flashdance."
His mind was reeling as he tried to process what he was seeing. Each woman looked like she was from a different decade. But that couldnt be possible. The bodies would all be decomposed by now. There was no way the room he was standing in could have been sealed enough to preserve them so well.
The clothing could be costumes, but that would imply the women hadnt been dead long. Brent made a systematic check of each body. The conditions all seemed to be the same. Cold, but not stiff and very much dead.
His partners form was becoming more solid and Brent realized he was almost out of time.
It had been hours since Sara began reading Alices diary. Her entries began just before Julia was born and ended a few days after the birth. Sara confirmed that Alice was indeed Allison, Julias mother when she read a passage about the birth of the young girl:
My child had finally arrived. I held her for only a moment before allowing the midwife to take her away. Already my husband has laid claim to the child and I know that I will be nothing more than the one who gave birth to it. He will take the love he once had for me and give it all to the girl-child named Julia. I will be left alone once again.
She kept this to herself as she read, despite Julias request for her to read aloud.
Then she came to the most disturbing entry. Sara had to read it twice to make sure her eyes werent deceiving her.
"Please, Sara. Read me whats there. I can see it is bothering you."
Sara cleared her throat and began to read, October 31, 1808. It is the night of All Hallows Eve. I have locked myself in the library in hopes that he will not find me. I cannot allow this to go on any further, but I dare not try anything until he leaves for the evening. I can hear his heavy footsteps on the stairs .As soon as he is gone Ill begin.
There was a large blank space, then the entry began again. Sara read, He has been gone nearly an hour so I know he is well away. He may turn to come back, but he will not be in time. I am leaving this diary in hopes that someone will find it one day. I cannot live with myself any longer. My child does not deserve me for a mother and I do not deserve to live on this earth. Andrew is a good father. He may be angry with me now and will never forgive me, but he will care for Julia.
I have only one wish. That my child grow up not knowing her mother. It is the kind and right thing to do.
"The entry ends there."
"What do you think it means?"
"I think it means that Alice committed suicide. I would hazard a guess that she did the deed here. Im just not sure how she got locked in that room."
"What if my father locked her in there?"
Sara set the book aside. "What? Like it was his way of stopping her?"
"Yes. Maybe he locked her in there so she would not harm herself. Or me. Maybe he returned to the house without her knowing it."
"Or maybe he never left at all," Sara mused, turning the pages of the book. There were several blank ones until she came to one written in very clear, concise handwriting. "And maybe he wrote about it."
Sara cleared her throat and started reading again. I have done the only thing I could. I have locked Alice away. I cannot let Julia or anyone else know that she has lost her mind. Nor can I bring myself to take her life, even though that seems the most humane thing to do. I still love my wife, despite her madness.
One day this diary will be found and the truth will be known. Until then I will be the only witness to my crime. I know I will burn in hell for this, but I must protect my Julia.
"Thats it." Sara thumbed through the remaining pages, but they were all blank. "Julia?"
"II cant believe he did that."
"He didnt think he had much choice." Sara put the book back on the shelf. "At least not any choice that he felt he could make."
"Do you think she died in there?"
"Maybe. I dont know." Sara moved to the bookshelf that hid the small room. "Can I get back in there?"
"I suppose. No one ever tried."
"Pull the first book of the second shelf." Julia waited until the door had opened. "What are you going to do?"
"Find out what your mother did in here for twenty-eight years."
Brent went back into the closet and pulled the metal rod free, tossing the hangars aside as he re-entered the room with the bodies. He moved to the door, figuring it was close to where the doors to the library were. His hand gripped the metal rod tightly as he started slamming it into the wooden floor. The wood slowly chipped away with each strike.
"Shit. Its going to take forever to get through." He looked over at Sara again, realizing her body was closer to being whole. He didnt understand everything that was happening, but he believed that if Saras body became whole, shed be dead for sure. Brent had no idea how he knew that, but he didnt question it. He gripped the rod even tighter and continued to hammer at the floor.
Sara began a careful search of the small room that she and Brent had first found themselves in. Brent had been looking for something to open the door. Knowing Brent he probably got frustrated before he did a thorough search.
She started in the far corner of the room and almost immediately found it, a hole in the wood just barely wide enough to slip a fingernail through. Sara pulled the plank free and found a space just large enough for a couple of books. The books were old and far more frail than the ones in the library. She had to be gentle as she removed them, afraid they would fall apart in her hands.
Sara carried her find into the library and placed both books on the desk. "Im not sure how she would have gotten these inside, but Im willing to bet this was Alices reading material."
"I dont recognize those books."
"You probably wouldnt. I doubt they were ever in here when you were growing up." Sara opened the first book and read the title page. "The Book of Shadows. Sounds like something out of a TV show."
"That is a book of spells for witches."
"How do you know?" Sara asked, closing the book.
"Ive heard of it. I dont know where, but Ive heard of it."
"Well, maybe you remember more about your mother than you think." Sara picked up the second book, but almost dropped it when she read the title. "Shit!"
"What? What is it?"
"The Necronomicon. Your motherAlicewas seriously into the witchcraft stuff."
"Do you think my father gave them to her on purpose?"
"Well, he did think she was crazy. But I doubt hed give her these books on purpose. Maybe she had them hidden there all along." Sara went back to the bookshelf near the hidden room. "There arent any other books over here on Wicca or witchcraft. I bet your father never knew."
"How does this help us, Sara? To know my mother was not only crazed, but a witch as well?"
"Maybe it doesnt. But right now, its all we have."
Brent rested against the wall, fatigued and frustrated that his work had barely made a crack in the floor. "What the fuck is this house made of anyway?" He dropped the metal rod and slid to the floor.
His gaze fell on Sara, her body getting more solid as time went on. He glanced at his watch surprised that it was nearly eleven p.m. "Weve been here four hours already. Feels more like four days," he muttered and got to his feet.
He stomped on the crack in the floor, smiling when it gave a little. "Thats better." He struck it again with the metal rod, putting all his strength behind each blow.
Sara leaned back in the chair and closed The Book of Shadows. "Ive been through the entire book. I dont have any idea what spell she may or may not have used." Her eyes were tired from reading so she closed them as well. "Im sorry, Julia. Im just tired."
"No. Youre dying."
Sara opened one eye, despite knowing she would not see her companion. "I was hoping you were wrong about that."
"Im not. You dont deserve this."
"Neither do you." Sara got up to stretch her legs. She heard the crack in the ceiling seconds before the ceiling fell in front of the library doors.
"Yes!" She heard his deep voice and grinned.
"Yo Sara!" The big man lowered himself through the hole and engulfed his partner in a bear hug. "Damn glad to see you again! I told the chief you werent dead!"
"Geez! I cant breathe you big dork. Let me down!" Sara sucked in a few lungfuls of air, smiling at her friend. "I am glad to see you, partner."
"Lets go." Brent started to lift her up, but Sara stopped him.
"No. I have to explain a few things to you. And I cant leave yetnot until Julia is set free."
"Julia? Which one is she?"
"Which one?" Sara asked.
"Here. Lemme show you." Brent lifted Sara onto his shoulders, holding her up until she was high enough to see into the hole. She gasped when she saw the bodies.
"Fuck." On the floor, close to the outside wall, were the bodies of six women. Each was lying supine. They were wearing what looked like costumes.
A strange glow caught Saras attention. At the end of the line of bodies she could see what looked like a seventh body beginning to form, like it had been beamed in. "Whats going on here?"
"I dont even want to guess," he said, letting her down. "But youre starting to appear alongside of them and all of them are deadI dont want you dead, Sara."
"I dont want me dead either." Sara looked up at the hole. "I wonder Julia?"
Brent rolled his eyes. "Again with the voice."
"Julia, tell me what you look like."
"I dont know if I can explain. But I think father kept a picture of me in his desk. Check the top drawer."
Sara raced to the desk and pulled at the drawer, but it was locked. "Brent, get your big muscles over here and open this up."
"Yes maam." Brent easily pulled the drawer out, dumping its contents on the desk. "Hey!" He grabbed a small black and white photo. "Shes there. Dressed in a long skirt, kinda like the one in the picture."
Sara tugged him to the hole. "Get me up there. Ill drag her over to the hole. You take the body and set it down on the couch. Okay?"
"Youre the boss." Brent lifted Sara to the hole again, this time helping her gain purchase so she could climb through.
Dizziness overcame her the moment she stepped into the room and Sara had to take a breath to steady herself. Her vision was getting blurrier as she made her way to the row of bodies. The first one was the beautiful young woman in the photo and she dropped to her knees beside her.
"Well, I finally get to see what you look like, Julia." Sara gently touched the cold skin of her face. The touch sent a chill through her and she pulled back. "Wow. Okay, enough of the creepy stuff. Lets get you back together."
Sara got between the wall and the womans head and lifted the body by the shoulders. She managed to drag it back to the hole, stopping once to catch her breath. "Ready Brent?"
"You bet!" He stood directly beneath her, his arms held out to catch Julias body. "Go for it."
Sara used the last of her waning strength to pass Julias torso through the hole. Brent caught the body and took it to the couch. Sara was too exhausted to move.
"Now what?" Brent asked.
"Im notsure," Julia replied, her voice weaker than before. "Something is happening. II dontSara!"
"Im here," Sara called down, though she could no longer see anything. "Im right here Julia."
"Itsits working!" Julias voice faded with her last words.
Brent stood back as the body was surrounded by a brilliant light. He shaded his eyes against it. "Sara, is this supposed to happen?"
He didnt get an answer, but before he could do anything about it, the light was gone and Julia was sitting on the couch.
"Sara?" She asked, looking at Brent as her vision began to clear. "Wheres Sara?"
"Hey, you coming down or what?" Brent called up to his partner. "Sara!" He saw her eyes close just as her upper body was leaning out the hole. He was quick and managed to catch her when she fell through. She was limp in his arms and he quickly placed her on the floor.
Julia moved out of the way, kneeling beside the unconscious woman. "Sara? Oh Sara, please dont leave! You saved me. You have to be okay!"
Brent leaned forward and touched her neck. "Damn!" He shoved Julia out of the way and began performing CPR. Through his tears, he instructed Julia to start breathing air into Sara while he pumped her chest.
Julia wasnt sure exactly what she needed to do, but she bent closer to Sara and gently pressed her lips to the firefighters lips, feeling a jolt of energy pass through her body as she did.
Saras eyes opened slightly and Brent stopped his compressions. He wiped the tears from his cheeks and smiled down at his partner. "Dont you pull that shit again. You hear me?"
"Yeah," Saras voice croaked. Her eyes turned to Julia. "I thinkI think"
"Shhh." Julie pressed her fingers to Saras lips. "Rest. Youll have time to think later."
"Is she awake yet?"
Brent. Sara would know that voice anywhere. She opened her eyes to find her partner hovering over her with a worried expression on his face. His handsome face was covered with dirt and his eyes were red from crying.
Sara extended a hand and touched his cheek. "Yo Brent."
"Bout damn time you woke up," he said gruffly, then turned his head and kissed her hand. "What the hell is with you? You scared the shit out of me."
"Sorry." She sat up with his help, realizing that she was in a hospital room. A nurse was busy writing something on her chart, smiled at her, then quietly walked away. "What happened to Julia?"
Sara looked at Brent as though he were crazy. "Julia. The chick in the library."
"Partner, there wasnt anyone in the library but us."
"She was trapped there," Sara was insistent and her next words got louder. "Im telling you, she was there! You even gave her back her body. Brent, Im not crazy!"
Brent nodded, though she knew he didnt believe her for a minute. "Okay, just take it easy. Dont get all worked up."
"You really dont remember?"
"Apparently not." Brent sat in the chair next to Saras bed.
"But we were in that roomand you found the bodies. Brent, there were bodies"
"Yeah, I know." He rested his hand on her arm. "They found six bodies on a search of the upstairs. Arson guys think they had been there a while." He shivered involuntarily. "Shit. We might have been in Jeffrey Dahmers house."
Sara rolled her eyes. "I seriously doubt that. He put all the bodies in vats of acid."
"Gross. Even more gross is that you know that kind of shit."
Sara laughed at her friends expression. "I have a lot of useless trivia in my head, but it doesnt explain what happened."
Brent gently pressed his fingers to her forehead. "Theres not a damn thing useless about you, Sara Cooper. If it werent for you, I wouldnt be sitting here."
"Why?" Sara reached for his hand when Brent turned away from her. "Okay, so maybe what I remember was kinda crazy. Why dont you tell me what happened in that fire?"
Brent took a deep breath and slowly blew it out. "The only thing I remember is the ceiling coming down on us. You jumped on me like some kind of wild woman and the next thing I remember is us getting hauled out by Johnson and Camden. If you hadnt jumped on me, the beam that hit your tank woulda hit me in the head." He swallowed nervously. "You saved my life, partner."
"Thats really all that you remember?" She asked, an image of the young woman creeping into her mind. "Nothing else?"
"Not a single thing more." He still would not look at his friend. "When I woke up I was in the ER and my wife was standing beside my bed. She gave me a kiss, whacked me in the arm for scaring the hell out of her, then called the kids in so I could give them hugs. I was never so damn glad to see my family in all my life." Brents eyes fell upon Saras. They were clouded tears.
Sara squeezed Brents hand, all thoughts of Julia now gone from her mind. "Thats all that matters then."