“Fuck shit fuck,” I swore, trying to figure out what to do. Obviously Perry was first, but as much as I hated Maximus, I couldn’t have him get hurt either. I placed one foot on the wainscoted wall and the other on the railing, and pulled Perry straight out of the hole. Once she was able to get her footing on the step I was standing on, I crab crawled up the railing and wall to Maximus.
I looked down at his pale, sweating face and offered my hand.
“Come on, Dickweed. Your day’s not done yet.”
I hoisted him up, my grip wrapping hard around his elbow, my shoulder straining. I didn’t know if old Dex would be able to get him out, but I was new Dex for a reason, if not for this reason. With some strain and effort, Maximus was lifted out of the hole in the stairs and climbed onto the next one which thankfully supported his weight. I then told Perry to take a flying leapfrog onto his back. It took her a few seconds to realize what I was asking, but she did it, jumping clear across the hole that nearly swallowed her and coming to a thud on him.
Before the step had a chance to break under both their weight, I got into a squat and yanked hard under Maximus’s arms, pulling him and Perry forward before anything gave way beneath them. The three of us collapsed onto the floor, taking a few moments to breathe before we got to our feet.
“Thanks, man,” Maximus said, avoiding my eyes and walking away. I gave him the finger behind his back while pulling Perry closer to me. I kissed the top of her head and said, “Third floor’s a charm.”
She couldn’t even muster a smile. I couldn’t blame her. I squeezed her shoulder and told her we were almost done.
The third floor was a lot like the first floor. More or less one giant room instead of a bunch of tiny little ones. There were two rooms at the end and a bathroom, something I assumed either richer boarding guests or the owners would use, but the rest of the area was one big game room with leather couches still covered in plastic, shelves of books and game boards and picture windows. Dust still covered the floor, but everything else looked somewhat fresh and new, as if some ghostly couple had pulled down a game of Monopoly and entertained each other for a few nights.
But as much as this floor held my attention, it was the attic that was calling me. A door at the end of the room must have been the way up. I looked at Perry and Maximus, who were chattering to each other about cold spots and purple waves and this and that, and felt like they were speaking in an alien language. The thing that I was after, the thing that I understood, was upstairs, and upstairs was where I had to go.
I walked to the door and opened it, not at all surprised to find a flight of stairs leading up to the next level. I looked behind me first, but the two of them were paying no attention to me, so I walked up the stairs. They were much more solid than the ones earlier; in fact they felt like pillars of strength, wrought from the earth itself.
Once I got to the top of the stairs, it took me awhile to understand what I was looking at. I mean, it really took me awhile. Instead of a boring, dark attic as I had expected, I was looking down the length of a well-lit room. There were flickering candles in the middle of the wood-slat floor, hundreds of them, some of them red but most of them black, all of them forming this giant oval. In the middle of the floor was something white and moving. It took me awhile for my eyes to focus on it, to pinpoint what it was, but when I did, a small scream got buried in my throat. It was a small white snake with yellow diamonds down its back, pinned to the floor with a knife down its middle, writhing in pain as it was forced to die an immobile death.
A strange smell of sweet baby powder and tangy copper filled my nose as a cold breeze blew past, making the flames dance. I looked up and saw row upon row of bleeding chicken feet suspended from the arched ceiling by delicate wires, the drops of blood scattering on the floor.
I didn’t know what to think or say or do. I wanted to yell and scream and tell Perry and Maximus to come up here, to see what I was seeing, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do a single thing because things were happening beyond my control, without pause, without consent. I was fucking losing my mind, that’s exactly what was happening.
Because at the very end of the room, beyond the dying snake and where the hundreds of black, greasy candles were burning, there was a mirror. A full-length mirror. A mirror that was aimed right at me but didn’t even hold my reflection. But what it did hold, what all the mirrors held lately, was my mother.
She waved at me from inside that silver, the way she looked in my dreams, the way I remembered her in life. She waved at me. She blew me a kiss. And then she disappeared.
I blinked, trying to regain control of myself, of my soul, of my goddamn bladder, when my attention was ripped from the empty mirror—the mirror that still wouldn’t hold my reflection—to the space just beyond it.
A tall, hulking black man stepped out from behind the mirror. A familiar face, if not for the dead glazed eyes and drooling lips that curled up in rage as soon as he saw me. It was Tuffy G. It couldn’t have been anyone else. Tuffy G, the man we all saw die in the bar, was standing in this attic with me, looking like I was next on his hit list. I didn’t know what to think, but luckily my instincts were quicker than that.
I turned and ran and ran hard. I went for the stairs, feeling the floor beneath me shake and rumble as the giant undead thing came toward me. I kept running, taking the stairs two at a time until I was on the landing of the third floor. Perry was by the wall trying to get readings from her thingamabob and Maximus was filming an inanimate couch.
I screamed. I ran. I tried to warn them.
But Tuffy G already had a plan.
He lurched forward after me, and just when I felt his hand grazing the back of my shirt, I knew he went off to the side.
She screamed once she saw him, his arms outstretched, his mouth open, teeth bared. He grabbed her by the neck and shoulders, his fat, dead hands about to dig into her and break her to pieces. His jaw snapped violently, wanting to eat her alive.
I didn’t have much time. No time to think about what was really happening, whether this was a ghost, a zombie, or a sick fucking prank. I dropped my camera to the floor, making sure the lens was pointed in the general direction and grabbed the nearest sharp blunt object, a floor lamp without the bulb. I swung it up like I was in the Little Leagues and cracked it against Tuffy G’s back. When that only made him pause in mid-attack, I quickly did it again, dropping low to a crouch and swinging at the back of his knees. I swung hard enough to break any man’s legs. Only this wasn’t any man. The lamp post broke instead, splitting in half, and Tuffy G turned around, enraged and ready to fight. His dead eyes focused on me, and even with all my super strength, I was pretty sure I was a goner.