Ruby was coming back up the hallway. “Jo, what is it?”
“She’s here.” I raised a hand to halt Ruby. “Don’t come in.”
Shreya shifted a fraction, her grey eye sparkling behind the hair. It was
heavily ringed by shadows. I bent forward and dropped my voice into the
gentlest whisper I could manage through my fear. “Shreya, I’m sorry about
what happened to you. It was awful. Unforgivable. But you don’t need to be
afraid any longer. Ruby and I— we’re here to help you.”
“I don’t need your help.” The voice was gravelly and cracked, words
passing through a throat rarely used. Shreya shifted forward. The chains
clinked. She wore no shoes, and her nails had grown lengthy. I wondered
how long she’d been kept up here.
“Shreya, we just want to leave. Let us out, and you can have the house to
“I don’t… want… the house.” She shifted her weight from one side to the
her long hair falling forward to obscure the eyes again. She bared her
teeth in a cold smile. “I want her .”
A bony hand rose to point to the doorway. Ruby stood in the opening,
eyes huge and terrified.
I guessed Shreya’s intent a second before she moved. “Run!” I yelled,
dashing towards the door at the same instant as Shreya lunged after us. She
was fast. Long fingernails scored across the back of my shoulder as Ruby and
I raced for the stairs. I couldn’t breathe. Shreya was gaining. Another second,
and her bone-thin fingers would grasp my arm—
The chains clanged as they were pulled taut. Shreya released a gasping
cry, and her pounding footsteps ceased.
Ruby and I hit the end of the hallway. We turned to look behind
ourselves. Shreya had vanished. The door to the blue room stood open. Inside,
the grey curtains shifted in the breeze .
“You okay?” Ruby asked, squeezing my arm. I couldn’t speak, so I
The lights went out with a hissing whine. Ruby and I clutched each otherclose. Night had surrounded us, and without the downstairs lamps to share
their glow, the house was pitch black.
We waited, crouched at the top of the stairs, for the lights to come back
on. They didn’t. Ruby took a shaking, gulping breath. I could feel her
trembling. “We’ll try the door. If it d-doesn’t work, there are torches d-
downstairs. In the kitchen.”
“Okay.” I couldn’t take my eyes off the place where the blue room would
be. Everything else in the house was dark except for one small, glinting
circle. It looked like an eye peering out from behind curtains of hair. I nudged
Ruby towards the stairs. “Don’t let go of me. I don’t want to lose you in this
We inched down the stairs. Having to move without my eyes made me
sick to my stomach. I used my foot to trace out the edge of each step before
climbing down it. I knew the stairs were all the same height, but in the dark,
it didn’t feel like they were. Progress was laboriously slow.
A chain link clicked, and Ruby flinched. I squeezed her hand. Keep
My feet touched the uncarpeted foyer. I began breathing a little easier and
released my grip on the bannister. Ruby rose out of her crouch and led me
towards the front door. I listened to her fingers scrabble over the wood then
touch the handle. The metal rattled. She groaned deep in her throat.
“It’s not opening?”
A deep note pinged through the still air. I knew what was coming and
squeezed my blind eyes closed. The melody started.
“We need the torches.” Ruby’s voice held an undercurrent of bitter
resignation. “This way.”
We turned, and I let her lead me deeper into the house. I ran my free hand
along the walls as we felt our way through the maze of rooms. I stubbed my
toe against an unseen piece of furniture and gasped.
“All right?” Ruby asked.
Both of our hands were clammy, but we didn’t let go of each other.
The floor changed from wood to tile, and I knew we’d entered the
kitchen. I waited for Ruby to feel along the wall and count the drawers. The
melody, slow and full of ponderous intent, swam around my head. A drawer
clattered as it was pulled open, then Ruby rummaged through the contentsand inhaled as she found something.