Sarah Jones made her way down the stair from the principal’s office, a hall pass in her hand. News travels fast in a small community like Converse and Principal Stephenson had read her the riot act for her “foolishness” the night before. Now she was on her way to Freshman English and it was the last place on Earth she wanted to be. Passing by Mrs. Drake’s Algebra class, she noticed Allen Parker’s empty seat and she had a sinking feeling in her gut as the weight of the horrors they’d witnessed bore down on her.
She felt responsible, of course, for Allen being in the hospital. He’d gone into the Winger House because she’d asked him, no begged him to. And he almost died there. They all did. Dale had told her to sit tight, to let them do some research, but she just couldn’t let it go. And she couldn’t drag the boys into this any deeper. But she had to do something.
Sarah kept walking past her English class, down the next flight of stairs, and out the front doors of the high school. It was overcast and rain was imminent, but that was the furthest thing from her mind. She walked with purpose, down the steps and across the manicured lawn, through the gate in the north fence and she kept on marching past the Church of Christ, her eyes lingering on the towering spire of the Methodist Church a few blocks away.
“They’ll have what I need,” she muttered.
Sarah Jones had waked that morning with a throbbing headache, but there was more than that, for she rose with intent. As she dressed for school she’d mulled over the kernel of a plan that had come to her in her sleep. She had never been one to put much stock in dreams, but this was different. In this dream she’d been visited by an old friend.
Dream Sarah was standing in the middle of the clearing in the small copse of woods that enveloped Little Pipe Creek, not far from the tiny cemetery where she and her friend used to go to be alone. She missed her friend terribly and as that friend now spoke to her from the shadow of an old willow tree, Sarah was at once overjoyed and terrified, because the darkness seemed so pervasive and complete… and her friend seemed very much at home there.
“Hello, Tracy. I’ve missed you.”
“I don’t know why, it’s not like I’m far away.”
“Are you dead?” Sarah asked, afraid of the answer.
“No, silly, I’m somewhere else. After what happened with my mom and all the rest…” Tracy Larson’s voice trailed off. “Look Sarah, I haven’t long.”
“Why not? Are you being held against your will? I could help, if you’d only…”
“No, Sarah. I’m fine. I’m with people who care about me.”
“Then what is it? Why are you here?”
“I’m here, Sarah because you’re in danger. You mustn’t go back to that house, Sarah. Promise me, you’ll stay away from there.”
“I can’t do that, Tracy. Cassidy needs me.”
“You’ll do her no good if you get yourself killed. Trust me, there’s an evil in that house that would stop at nothing to drag you down with it. You can’t fight it, Sarah. It’s too strong.”
“Then I’ll have to be stronger.”
“Sarah, you’re not listening to me… Sarah… Sarah…”
And then she was gone and Sarah was staring at the ceiling thinking about what her friend had said. If she was anything, it was strong willed. Sarah Jones didn’t know how to back down, and now, as she made her way up the steps to the Converse Methodist Church, she prayed that her will was strong enough.
The great thing about small towns was that virtually no one locked their doors and this place of worship was no different. All was silent and still. Her heart thundered in her chest and she swallowed hard against the maddening fear that was taking root. Why, she wondered, what is there to fear here, in this place of God? But it was the fear of questions that plagued her. Fear that if she gave voice to what was in her heart that she wouldn’t be able to go through with it. And she feared that her cousin was already lost, like Tracy.
Sarah Jones knew that she couldn’t go through that again.
Walking slowly across the foyer, ears straining to hear the slightest noise, Sarah slipped into the assembly as quiet as a church mouse. The aisle stretched out before her, leading to the holy altar. She’d never been much of a churchgoer. She’d been raised Methodist and had attended services as a child, but after the divorce her mother quit coming and then it just became easier to sleep in on Sunday mornings. She wasn’t really even sure that she believed in God. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe, just that she had questions that the church was in no position to answer.
So why was she here? There it was, nagging at the back of her mind. This was her master plan? Standing before the altar of God she had little faith in, she was suddenly floored by the thought. Her eyes lingered on the basin to the east of the altar as she took the clear plastic bottle out of her purse and dipped it into the holy water.
Sarah began to weep as she filled her empty vessel. The metaphor was not lost on her. There was no denying that there was something horrible in the Winger House. Something so foul that it defied death. If such a thing could exist, then why not God? She tightened the cap onto the bottle and slid her secret weapon back into her purse.
Holy water, she thought. I just snuck into a church to steal holy water so that I could do battle with the forces of darkness. Am I out of my mind?
Sarah nearly jumped out of her skin as she turned to face the voice that came from the back of the assembly. He was tall and handsome, with curly blonde locks that spilled out from beneath a black fedora that matched his suit. Swallowing, she zipped her purse shut and stepped away from the altar.
“You scared me,” she said with a nervous quiver in her voice.
“Scared you? The girl who is planning on confronting Bifrons of the Tombs with nothing more than some after-school spunk and a liter of holy water? Why, I’d have thought someone like that would be fearless.”
“How do you…?” she stammered. She looked toward the side exit and wondered if she ran how far she could get from him before he caught her. “Who are you?”
The man removed his hat and smiled.
“My name is Landon Connors and I’m here to help you.”