“I am not—I repeat, NOT—sleeping in that room with her,” I said. I crossed my arms in front of me and glared at my dad.
“Ashleigh, please,” he said. He gave me a pleading look, one I was starting to know too well. Pleading with me to let him win the argument—let him show everyone that he was boss. He’d been using that look ever since he got married to Carol, my stepmom. For the past four years, it had been just Dad and me, and I was used to getting my way with him. But now that my stepfamily was in our lives, things had started to change. And I didn’t like it.
“No, Dad,” I interrupted before he could say anything more. I held my hand up too, just for good measure. I wasn’t going to let him win this time. Even if Carol was watching from the kitchen table. “I’ll sleep on the couch down here. I don’t care. I’ll sleep in Andie’s room. I’ll even sleep outside. But I’m not sleeping in the same room as…as…” I paused, wanting to say that thing but instead I finished, “…as her.” Of course I was talking about my stepsister, Cassie.
Dad heaved in a deep breath of air, his chest expanding like a balloon until I thought it would pop, but he let the air out again with a loud sigh. “Don’t be ridiculous. Whatever it is that’s going on between you two, I’m sure we can work it out.”
I snorted and shook my head, wishing it was something we could just work out. “I’m sleeping on the couch,” I said, marching into the family room. I plopped myself down on the cushions and stretched my feet out. “It’s perfectly comfortable,” I called. But the couch was too hard and I knew my neck would get a kink in it if I slept here. Still, it was better than the alternative. Better than sleeping in my bedroom with that thing in the other bed.
I listened to Carol and my dad whispering to each other in the kitchen. I stared at the ceiling, thinking about the events of the afternoon that had led up to my being on the couch right now.
It all started when Cassie went into the woods alone. She was supposed to go with Ben—they were going to hang some amulets that were supposedly going to help with whatever was out there, though Amber and I didn’t think it would work. Then Ben showed up, but Cassie was gone. We decided she must have gone into the woods—that thing out there must have lured her in. Ben found her, except it was too late. It had gotten to her. Now it wasn’t Cassie anymore. And it was in the house, up in the bedroom we shared, right now.
My evening had been ruined. I should have spent it at Liz’s house, dancing with Josh, feeling his arms around me and resting my head on his shoulder. That had been the plan, but Cassie had ruined everything. When Ben found her and brought her back to the house, I knew it wasn’t Cassie anymore. Her eyes—usually a clear blue—had gone a deep brown, almost black. She had walked as if in a dream, all the way up to the bedroom, and lain on her bed. She hadn’t moved since. Ben had sat by her for a full hour while I watched from my own bed, neither of us knowing what to do. Of course I couldn’t tell Dad and Carol the truth about anything. They wouldn’t believe it anyway. I suppose they just assumed something had happened between Cassie and Ben and me, and now Cassie was in a funk.
“Fine,” Dad said from the entryway, interrupting my thoughts. “You can sleep down here tonight. But that’s it. One night. Tomorrow you two work out whatever is going on and you sleep in the bedroom again.”
I folded my arms across my chest but didn’t say anything. I had won the battle tonight. I would worry about tomorrow night when it came. But long term I might just have to move out. Amber would take me in. I know she would. Her mom is like another mom to me, and for the longest time Amber and I had plotted how to get our parents to date. We had planned on having them marry and move in together. Then Amber and I would be sisters. That was all before Carol came along.
Dad came over to the couch, and I shifted my feet so he could sit down. “Listen, Ash,” he started, “I know things haven’t been easy. I admit that. It’s been hard moving out here and having to make new friends, start a new school, plus get used to a new family. I understand that.” He paused to scratch his beard—his little nervous tic. Whatever he was about to say was making him uncomfortable. I took a deep breath and prepared myself. “I was a teenager once,” he continued, resting his hand awkwardly on my foot, “and I know trying to navigate the world of dating and boys—”
“Hold it right there,” I said, bolting upright and jerking my foot away. “This is so not about boys, Dad.” The last thing I needed right now was a father-daughter moment about boys and dating and, God forbid, a talk about the birds and the bees.
“I just wish you would tell me what’s going on,” he said, hurt in his voice. “You used to tell me everything, remember?”
“That’s when I was twelve, Dad. Things are different now. Besides, this isn’t something you’d understand.”
“You might be surprised.”
No, you’re the one who would be surprised, I thought. There was no way I could tell him what was going on. What was I supposed to say—there is something evil that has been haunting the woods, and now it has possession of Cassie and is in our house right now? He would spaz—only because he would think I had gone crazy. No, there was no way I could tell him anything. “Just forget it, please?” I begged. “We’ll work this out.” I didn’t know how, but we had to. Amber and Doctor Barry and my friends at school—somehow we would fix this.
“Just be sure that you do,” he said, reaching over and patting my leg. He gave a satisfied nod, as if we had accomplished something, then stood up. “Remember, this is just for tonight,” he added, gesturing to the couch.
“Whatever,” I replied. There was no way I was sleeping in my bed, not as long as Cassie was . . . whatever she was. They would have to drag me kicking and screaming if they wanted me in my bedroom. I stretched out on the couch again and knew tomorrow would be a big fight. I’d have to prepare myself—things could get ugly.
It was only a little after nine, but Dad and Carol had announced they were going to bed early. Dad had already disappeared up the steps, but Carol stood in the entryway, her face pinched with worry. I knew she was all freaked out about what was going on with Cassie. She’d probably never seen her like that before. I’m sure she figured she was just being dramatic about something. “Here’s a blanket for you,” she said quietly, stepping into the room and setting a blanket on the arm of the couch.
“Thanks,” I said, not meeting her eyes. She probably thought that whatever was going on with Cassie was partly my fault too.
She stood there for a moment, gazing at me as if she wanted to say something more, but she gave a little shake of her head and walked away. She flicked the kitchen light off, and I was left in the dark, the glow of the stove light my only company. I immediately pulled my phone out and texted Amber. U there? I asked.
A few seconds later came her reply. U in ur room?
No way, I texted back. Couch.
Dr B says he can help, she wrote. Doctor Barry—I had to admit, he hadn’t helped much so far, but I trusted Amber. Besides, he was our only hope at this point.
When?! The sooner the better.
Soon, was all she texted back. I sighed. It wasn’t good enough for me. Tell him to hurry. This is a 911! I wrote. It was easy enough for Doctor Barry to say “soon.” He didn’t have to be under the same roof with it.
Next wkend? Can u get rid of ’rents again?
No prob, I replied. Getting rid of my dad and Carol should be easy. I’d done it before. And I was desperate—enough to take drastic measures and do whatever it took. But Dad had been putting his foot down more and more lately, ever since he and Carol got married. If it hadn’t been for her it would have been easy to convince Dad to leave when I wanted him to. Of course, if it hadn’t been for her I wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place, living in the middle of nowhere with a possessed stepsister.
GTG, Amber said. I set my phone on the end table, then covered myself with the blanket. I nestled against the back of the couch and faced the room, suddenly aware of how dark it was. The light on the stove gave off an eerie green glow, but it didn’t seep as far as this room. Still, it was better than being up in my bedroom with …could I still even say it was Cassie? It was probably still staring at the ceiling right now, it’s dark eyes open and unblinking. Creepy. I shivered, pulled the blanket up to my chin, closed my eyes, and tried not to think about it.
I must have fallen asleep, because suddenly the crash of thunder woke me up. A loud, rolling thunder that made the walls of the house shake and the plates rattle in the kitchen. It was so dark I couldn’t even tell if my eyes were open or shut. The stove light wasn’t glowing anymore—the power must have gone off. I scooted myself up on my butt and reached back for my cell phone, feeling around on the table until my fingers touched it. I grabbed it and flipped it open, glad for a little light. It was 1:17 in the morning. And now I was wide awake. There was a flash of lighting and then another crash of thunder, so close that I even felt the couch vibrate. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, not in this storm, so I decided I might as well do some research.
I opened the Internet on my phone and typed in possession, just to see what I could find. I sighed and tapped the phone impatiently while I waited—the stupid Internet out here was agonizingly slow. “Come on, come on,” I muttered, waiting for the screen to load. Finally some stuff came up about devils and demons, but it didn’t sound like what had happened in our case. This was different. Still, reading all the stories people posted gave me the chills. There was one about a girl who spoke in a male voice and whose head almost spun around backwards. If Cassie started doing that I’d move out for sure.
As I read, I got more and more creeped out. But it wasn’t just the stories. Or the constant thunder and lightning outside. There was something else. The feeling that something was watching me. What was worse, I couldn’t see anything in the inky blackness surrounding me. I felt smothered.
I turned my attention to the phone, trying to concentrate on what I was reading. People being possessed—I realized it wasn’t the best thing to be reading in the middle of a stormy night when the power was out. Am I nuts? I thought. Find something else to do. I quickly typed in Josh’s Facebook page, and scrolled through some of his pictures instead. That’s better.
But the next flash of lighting lit up the room, and in that quick second I saw something out of the corner of my eye. A shadow. At the kitchen table.
I froze, not wanting to move my eyes from the phone. Maybe I was just imagining it. All this stuff about possessions was getting to me. But I was lying to myself. There was someone at the table. My heart pounded, a hammer beating against my ribs. I slowly brought my phone down to my churning stomach and dared to look towards the kitchen.
In the darkness I could barely make out the silhouette of a figure seated on the chair, facing me. It was the Cassie-thing. I imagined I could see its eyes, black fire burning in the dark.
I sat there for a second, not taking my eyes off it, trying to catch my breath. It came in quick, shaky gasps. What the heck did it want? I wondered. For some reason, the answer that popped into my head was It wants me. Not the answer I wanted to tell myself. I jumped up from the couch, entangling myself in the blankets and crashing to the floor. “Stupid, dumb blanket. Get off me,” I said, yanking my legs free. I blindly walked towards the stairs, hoping I was headed in the right direction. Another flash of lighting showed me I was in the kitchen, the stairs straight ahead. Cassie was still at the table, but in that brief moment of light I saw her head trailed me, as if she was watching me in the dark.
I scooted towards the stairs as quickly as I dared. I wasn’t sure what my plan was once I actually reached them. It wasn’t like I was going to go to my bedroom. But there weren’t many other options of where to go.
My toe slammed against something hard—the bottom step. Thank God, I thought. But I had only taken one step up when I felt an icy hand on my arm, grabbing me, pulling me back. So this is what it feels like to die of fright, I thought, as my heart stopped for a moment. I wondered if it would beat again, but soon I felt it frantically thumping against my chest.
I don’t know if I screamed. I don’t think I had time. In the next instant, lightning lit up the room again, and I saw a pair of clear blue eyes looking at me.
“Cassie?” I asked, confused. “Is that you?” The eyes—they had been blue, not black. Blue—her eyes.
“Help me,” she whispered, her voice groaning as though she were forcing the words out.
“What?” I asked, barely able to form the word in my mouth.
“Go!” she croaked, louder this time, pushing me onto the stairs. I didn’t have to be told twice. I scrambled up the steps, banging my shins the whole way up but not caring, and sprinted down the hall to the bathroom, lunging inside and locking the door behind me.