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20. in the dark of the room

A picture of Emmett running forward from out of a long hallway, his right hand outstretched. Emmett is dressed in his raccoon costume, but here the costume looks more detailed and well-crafted. The mask is made of wood. Smoke pours out of the mask from the eyeholes. The dagger is larger, resembling a sword. The floor, ceiling and walls of the hallway stretch out far behind the approaching Emmett. At the other end of the hallway, it's too dark to see the hallway's end.
It was the little boy she’d seen at Risky’s Pond – the one in the raccoon mask. But the mask looked different … like it was made of wood. Green and yellow light poured out of the wooden mask. And smoke, too. CJ saw smoke pouring out of the mask’s eyeholes.

CJ SWEET

It was a power outage. CJ was sure of that. There was that telltale sound of the electricity going out all around her — that sudden cessation of the background hum of machines that ran off of electricity. But there was something different going on, CJ observed. The darkness was … total; that didn’t make sense to CJ. She felt like there should have been some light, coming from somewhere – like emergency lights, or battery-operated things. But there wasn’t even that – just the dark. And that dark was somehow palpable – thick. Those weren’t the best descriptions, but — in that moment, anyway — CJ couldn’t think of any more scientific descriptors than ‘palpable’ and ‘thick’ for it.  She remembered noticing earlier that there weren’t any windows along the walls of the hallway. The effect of such sudden, total darkness was disconcerting to CJ, and she found herself starting to panic.  It wasn’t like her to get panicky so quickly, but the feeling of panic was spreading over her, pouring from the center of her stomach out into her extremities – and then her imagination started to get the better of her. She found herself thinking of several different scenarios in her head about what could have caused the power outage. She pictured Mickey Laddow – a boy she knew, a boy who had murdered people – who was probably sitting in a prison cell, behind a door with an electric lock. She imagined Mickey being suddenly freed by the power outage. She pictured him walking down the stairs toward her. She imagined him calling out her name in that creepy, flat voice of his.  It was a voice she’d come to hate long before that day. She hated how Jay was Mickey’s friend; she’d tried to warn Jay, and she’d been right about Mickey Laddow all along. She also felt guilty, because she’d failed to get Jay to drop Mickey as a friend. And that got her thinking — about how Mickey had more friends than just Jay and Rick. Mickey had a lot of friends all over Drodden – even some adults. She wondered if Mickey’s actions had been known to anyone else in Drodden – and if they’d known it would be more than just a prank. She wondered if Mickey had actual accomplices, who had maybe just cut the power to the police station – perhaps as a precursor to some escape attempt.  She wanted light, but that made her imagination picture a pair of burning bodies at either end of the hallway.  Of course, CJ knew that none of the fears that her imagination was conjuring up were likely. But, until today, she hadn’t thought it likely that a boy she knew would murder anyone. Her could feel her heart beating faster and faster, the longer she spent in the dark hallway. She was always so painfully aware of her heartbeat, whenever she was frightened; her pulse was thudding so fast, a pounding in her ears. Other than the sound of her pulse, she couldn’t hear anything else for several long moments. Then, over the hammering of her heartbeat, she was startled to hear voices that she didn’t know. Men’s voices were talking, but she couldn’t make sense of their words. But, as she tried to translate the sounds she was hearing into understandable words, she just started hearing her heartbeat again. This had happened before to CJ – and she knew it was panic. And the more she heard her heartbeat in her ears, the more the voices faded away.  It wasn’t so much that people stopped talking; the sounds just seemed to get quieter, until CJ couldn’t hear anyone – couldn’t hear anything but her heartbeat. CJ told herself she needed to get control of her mind and body, or she’d pass out right there on the spot. CJ wondered why nobody was turning on any flashlights.  It occurred to CJ that there should also be emergency power generators.  Those weren’t coming on either. She reached up and waved her hand in front of her face, hoping her eyes had adjusted. They hadn’t. And then CJ felt a hand brush over her left shoulder. She jerked away from the touch, in shock, stifling a gasp. She quickly turned to look up toward the source of the touch; she immediately felt really stupid, because she still couldn’t see anything at all.  It hadn’t felt like her father’s hand.   She wanted so badly to call out. But her imagination made her picture someone hearing her voice and shooting at her in the dark. She was in a police station, and she didn’t want to die just because someone decided in a moment of uncertainty that she was some kind of a threat. So she waited there, in the dark, waiting for the touch to come again. The blood rushing through her ears was maddening to her, pounding along with its escalating rhythm.

And then, somehow, over the rush of her blood in her ears, she heard a voice. “CJ.”  It was a woman’s voice – coming from right in front of her. The voice was somehow warm, and reassuring, in the dark – and CJ found that she suddenly felt a lot calmer. “Can you hear me?” the voice asked.

CJ didn’t know the voice — which made sense. CJ didn’t spend a lot of time talking to the Drodden police, even though she made a point to listen to the things they said and watch the things they did when she was around town. There weren’t that many women police in Drodden, though. The voice didn’t belong to any of them that CJ could recall herself having heard speaking. But there was more to it than just the unfamiliarity; the voice was strange. Something felt wrong to CJ; it was the way the voice seemed to calm her down. CJ couldn’t see how having your name called out by a stranger in the dark should be in any way calming … but it was.  Her pulse rate was dropping. Somehow, just hearing the voice made things seem like they were getting back under control, even though she had no evidence of that being true. That felt wrong to CJ, too – reacting without evidence. CJ didn’t ever try to be emotionless, but she knew enough about the world to know that feeling too much in the wrong place could get a person killed – especially in places like a police station. So she did what she always tried to do when fear was getting the better of her: she asked questions. “Who’s there?”  She’d wanted to ask where her father was, too. But she withheld that. She didn’t know this woman, and she didn’t feel like she could afford to take the risk of trust anyone in such a vulnerable moment, no matter how reassuring the woman’s voice sounded.

“I’m a detective, working on your case,” came the voice, again.  “I’ve got to show you something important.”

“I’m sorry,” CJ lied. The moment she heard the voice say ‘detective,’ she knew she had to be on the defensive. That’s just how it was. “I’m a little nervous”

“That’s understandable, but I’m here to help.”

“Okay, but – how? It’s too dark to see,” CJ replied. She’d tried to figure out where the voice was coming from, but she’d found that she strangely couldn’t. It seemed to come from all around her.

“The power blew out,” the voice replied. “I think I might’ve accidentally caused it. I’m the one who should be sorry.”

CJ felt those waves of reassurance and trust again. On a purely emotional level, it made her feel better. But on an intellectual level, it seemed wrong. She recoiled from those feelings. “Please — who are you?” she asked. She needed information, not comfort.

“Look,” said the voice, sounding tired — exasperated. “I’m trying to tell you. I’m a detective working your case. I might not get another chance,” the voice answered back. “Look – I don’t know how long we’ve got before the lights come on again. I’ve only got this one chance to show you this.  So — here — … look for the glow.”

“Glow?” CJ didn’t understand that answer at all. “Who are you? What’s your name?”

“Look at the card.”

“What card?” CJ was about to object further, and demand the woman’s name again. But before she could voice any further questions or objections, there was a little flash of light, about the size of an open matchbook, darting in front of her.  It was soft light — the kind that doesn’t seem to illuminate anything but its source.  The light was yellow-green, like those cheap ‘glow-in-the-dark’ toys, the ones that are always made of that lightweight whitish plastic.  Except this was small, rectangular and as thin as a piece of paper.  The light came to a stop in front of CJ’s face, close-up.  CJ saw that it looked like paper — like a business card, despite the glow.  But the paper looked strange to CJ — or maybe it was just how the card seemed to float there in the dark.  CJ took hold of the floating card. Focusing on the card, CJ found that the words were too fuzzy-looking for her to read at first. She had to pull her head back a little in order to read it:

DET. EVELYN DIEDZ
Containments and Extractions
“Lupum ululatum non time. Lupum subridentem time.”

“Can you read what it says?” asked the voice. “Can you see my name clearly?”

“Detective Evelyn Diedz?”  CJ read aloud.  She looked up to where she presumed the woman was standing.  CJ still couldn’t see anything.  But, as CJ spoke the name out-loud, the girl felt a weird sort of tremor go through her, and the back of her head went tingly.  “What are containments and extractions?” CJ quietly asked herself. “Is that Latin at the end there?”

“Well, that hurts,” came the voice. “But it’s good.” CJ felt the card being pulled out of her fingers; the glow disappeared into the now-restored darkness.  “Thank you, CJ,” Evelyn said.  The voice sounded fatigued, but relieved.  Then, a second later, the voice spoke again, sounding more secure and resolute than before: “Yes. I’m Detective Evelyn Diedz.” The voice wasn’t coming from everywhere any more; it sounded like it was coming from right in front of CJ. “I’ve been working on … what you’d consider the Laddow case … for a while now.  I’d like to ask for your help. Sorry about the power outage. But — look – this is really important. Once you get back into the light, I want you to –” And then, at that moment, the fluorescent lights above CJ’s head flickered back on – and CJ sweet saw the hallway in front of her – a hallway that seemed to stretch on forever. And she was alone. She spun around to look in the other direction. White walls and blue carpet were all she saw. And then, about five seconds after the lights had come back on, they went out again – and CJ was plunged once more into that perfect darkness. CJ clenched both of her hands into fists, at her sides. Her left palm suddenly hurt, and she felt a trickle of warm.

“Don’t, CJ – …” came the voice again … from right in front of her – where no one had been a moment ago. And then she heard the voice cry out: “Wait. Emmett – no!”

And then, before CJ could even react, there came two points of bright light, out of the dark in front of her – two pinpricks of green and yellow … or yellow and green; it was like the colors kept switching. The colors were different from the glow of Detective Evelyn Diedz’s business card.  This light was shinier – like … a pair of glowing eyes.  CJ realized that they were eyes, lighting up the darkness — and they were coming closer.  CJ froze.  She couldn’t move.  And the light coming from those glowing eyes – the glow growing brighter and brighter, like twin flashlight beams piercing through the darkness, until CJ could see the forever-hallway again.  But there was still no Detective Evelyn Diedz. Instead, standing in the distance, was a small figure — a familiar one.  It was the little boy she’d seen at Risky’s Pond – the one in the raccoon mask. But the mask looked different … like it was made of wood. Green and yellow light poured out of the wooden mask. And smoke, too. CJ saw smoke pouring out of the mask’s eyeholes. By the glow of the eye-lights, CJ could see the dark fur coat the boy was wearing; she could see the soft, smooth gloves.  There were big stitches in the cuffs of the coat that tied the ends of the sleeves to the gloves.  She saw all these details in the flash of a single moment. But then, the boy was running toward her; but it was strange. The distance between them seemed wrong, seemed to change — like the boy was close and then suddenly far away again — as if the movements of the boy were repeating, like the boy had somehow started from farther away than was possible for the length of the hallway, and kept restarting at different positions along the hallway. In fact, all the boy’s movements were strange to CJ’s eyes — sort of staggered, like there were spaces between, like the boy was blinking in and out of her vision, escaping from her sight and then moving into different positions before appearing again. Jagged, CJ realized. That’s what Rick had meant. And the boy kept coming closer. And every time the boy moved, there was a scrabbling, scratching sound.  Like claws on a tile floor.  CJ felt like time was slowing down around her, as the boy’s movements got him progressively closer.  CJ realized that the glowing light was coming from his eyes, too — it was somehow solid, and moving — billowing like smoke — and illuminating more and more as the smoke thickened around the boy. And then she heard a scratching sound on the ground between them, and she couldn’t help but look down. She saw letters well up from the carpet like black finger-paint. No, it was blood.  It had to be. The letters spelled out:

H U R T B A D

“Emmett — no!”  came the voice of Detective Evelyn Diedz again. “It’s not on purpose! She’s not — … !”

The boy’s body seemed to wrench and contort, and his arms raised up to his sides and then out toward CJ, and then suddenly he was right there in front of her.  The boy grabbed CJ’s left hand, and then her right. His grip was stronger than CJ would have thought.  It was also cold enough to hurt, cold enough to burn. Her hands started smoking where the boy held them in those furry gloves.

CJ cried out in agony, wincing from the pain, her eyes shut tight.

“CJ?”  It was Jay’s voice, coming from in behind her.

CJ opened her eyes and blinked a few times.  There was light.  The power had come back on.  She was standing in the waiting room again. “What?  Jay?’ she said.  Tears were falling down her cheeks.

“We got the power back on,” Jay said, grinning as if he’d had something to do with it.  Behind the grin, though — there was something else.  Like he was hiding something.  “Are you okay? What happened?  Why’d you yell like that?  Are you hurt?”

CJ instinctively looked down at her hands.  She could see where she’d poked through the skin of her left palm with her fingernail-tips when she’d squeezed her hand. There were two little wounds there. They’d already stopped bleeding. But there were no burns. She was in the waiting room again. Her friends and their families were standing in front of the big desk.  But the woman who’d called herself Evelyn and the boy in the raccoon mask were nowhere in sight.

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Published inpart 1

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