Remember that “first 500 words” challenge I participated in? Well, this week I’m picking up the middle 500 words from somebody else’s story.
The first part is by Arin Pandey. My part follows after the “* * *” halfway down. Next week, a completely different person might take this story to its conclusion.
It was only after I opened the door at seven fifteen that I remembered Mum’s catchphrase sounding all my life: “Don’t open the door to anyone after seven.” She didn’t say it that night, before she went to work her night shift. But that’s no excuse.
I’d asked the obvious question when I was much younger, “If it’s so dangerous to let anyone in then why is it okay for you to go out at night?”
The answer was as bizarre as the instruction itself. “Because Tamara, the Grim Reaper comes to get you, not the other way around.” Then, whispering a prayer, she left for her night’s excursions.
The stranger standing on the doorstep looked as wild and woolly as the night itself. His thick, curly, black hair stood in wet spikes, so I didn’t notice the peaks at each side of his forehead. Not then. The light coming from the hallway behind me was too pale to see his face clearly.
The wind was whooshing like a drunken ghost, and there was so much rain that I could hardly see the other side of the road. None of our street lights have worked for as long as I can remember. I know this ‘cause I do look out the windows, like a prisoner behind bars.
Although the unknown quantity didn’t look much older than me, I felt the need to protect Tonkin. He’s only sixteen. I didn’t want the guy to think I was afraid or that we were alone at home. Obviously I couldn’t shut the door in his face, so I barred the entrance and started to angle the door slowly shut.
“Play with them,” Dad used to joke. “Then hit them with it when they’re least expecting it.” Of course he was halfway across the world, doing exactly what he preached.
“Sorry, we’re going out,” I mumbled, keeping my voice as low as possible so I sounded older.
“I just want directions,” he said in a teenage twang I recognised. “My GPS says I’m on the corner of Blackthorn and Wildling Streets. But if I go either way I hit a dead end.”
“Then go back the way you came.” I stated the obvious.
“That’s the funny thing. Every way I go from the intersection hits a blind alley.” He was sounder higher pitched.
Then what I had been dreading. “Who’s at the door?” Tonkin called out.
I wouldn’t have minded so much if Tonkin’s voice was deeper, more like Dad’s.
“He’s just leaving,” I called back, trying to remember what Mum did when she opened the door at night.
Then I turned to the guy. “Turn your GPS off. GPS signals go kaput in this part of town. Then drive back the way you came. If you come to a kerb, do a U turn. Try this on all the streets until you find a way out. Who are you?”
I was surprised to see the Grim Reaper looking frightened.
* * *
“That’ll take too long. I need good directions, or…”
He glanced away, checking the street.
“Or a place to hide.”
My arm stiffened against the door jamb.
“I told you, we are going out. Who are you?”
“Don’t. Go out, I mean. You really, really shouldn’t. It always gets nasty when he shows up.”
“I’ve had enough of this. You won’t tell me who you are? You got your directions, now get going!”
Outside, the wind whipped the rain into icy daggers. It blew the door from my grasp.
My brother stomped down the hall behind me.
“What are you still doing? Let’s finish the movie.”
Tonkin saw the drenched stranger outside and ushered him in.
“That storm’s terrible. Get inside, man!”
I reached out to shut the door on the stranger, but he was quicker than anyone I’ve ever seen. In a blur of black-green, he was behind the door, pushing it closed. I jumped out of the way with a shriek, just barely managing not to lose a finger as the door slammed shut. The teen slumped to the ground against the door.
I glared down at him.
“You got what you want, now I get what I want. Your name.”
He turned to face me and my brother. I took a step back when I saw his face. Tonkin gasped behind me. Our unwanted houseguest had a pair of short, curled horns sprouting from the hairline above the brows. His eyes were a brilliant amber. He had a face that was almost, but not quite, human.
“I have no name, aside from my title.”
“The Grim Reaper?”
He choked at my words, then laughed.
“Well, if not, then who?”
“I’m an acolyte to the Wild Guardian. And… a thief.“
He reached his hand into his jacket pocket. I shifted my stance, ready to run. I would push Tonkin to the back door when the stranger inevitably pulled his weapon on us.
When his hand retreated from the pocket, the stranger held a glowing, pearlescent key.
“My job was to safeguard this. But, I got greedy. I stopped myself before I sold it, but the buyer won’t take no for an answer. Now, he’s after me.”
The storm outside raged. Hail beat hard against the windows. The stranger scrambled to his feet.
“We need to move. Somewhere without windows.”
I glanced outside. The streetlights were turning on, one after another. A large shadow stalked beneath them. The storm grew wilder as the thing approached.
I was frozen, fixated on the thing outside.
Tonkin grabbed my arm and led us down the hall. But it was too late.
The beast’s footsteps shook the house. It slid past the window. I covered my ears at the sound of claws on glass. Why didn’t I listen to Mum’s warning?
With one kick, the shadowy monster broke the door from its hinges. It bellowed a gruff laugh.
“Humans. Don’t you know to never open the door after seven?”