The darkness lowered itself on a little girl as she ascended the dwindling stairwell. With every noisy creak, her sobs grew quieter. Moonlight poured through slit-like windows, illuminating her tears, though the waning moon could do little to chase the shadows of evil haunting these halls. They did not bother her; she was one of them.
Lily Creg, at eight years old, was not scared of much. The sole thing that frightened her, besides snakes, was herself. An absolute wrongness surrounded her when night fell; she called it the “Grasp of the Night.” It sounded real, like it actually was.
She could never explain what was happening to her. She had made several attempts to convince her mom that something was wrong but Mum did not believe a word. Lily’s big sister, Irin, laughed at her, saying it was all in her head. They both thought she just had silly ideas. Irin had even shaken Lily once, yelling that too many movies had messed her up; that her imagination was out of hand.
Only the youngest member of the family still listened. Two-and-a-half-year-old Kate wiped Lily’s tears, even at times when she was hiding under the covers.
Nothing she said could convince them. Lily’s mum was now insisting on taking her to a psychiatrist; her first visit would be tomorrow. Irin could laugh all she wanted, but Lily knew what would happen if the shrink decided to lock her up. If this carried on, more people would die.
Lily climbed the stairs slowly, not bothering to turn on the lighting fixtures her mother had so painstakingly added. The lights were supposed to make their life in this drab place more convenient, along with a small elevator still waiting patiently to be set up. Once upon a time, Lily had been thrilled to have her tower bedroom; it made her feel like a princess she’d seen in a movie. Now, though, the height made her stomach turn, reminding her of all she’d done.
Beyond the pretty pink door at the top, a hexagonal room took shape. It had been everything Lily had ever wanted, a dream come true. For a moment, she allowed herself to look around the room, particularly at the colorful butterfly and flowers painted on the red wall. The butterfly—Razo, she called it—always cheered her up, and would get a pat on the wings for its service.
Smiling at the memory, Lily touched the slightly bigger right wing. As her fingers grazed it, this small bit of cheer quickly changed to horror. Red paint began to seep into Razo, twisting through his wings until he disintegrated. The flowers came next, terrible swirls of red melding through until they were gone completely. Lily fell back, eyes growing wide, as she realized it was no longer paint that was dripping from her walls. With a frozen fear, she watched as a stream of blood slowly crept towards her feet.
“No!” Lily shut her eyes and covered her ears, desperately trying to block out what she was seeing, but then her mind turned on her, showing her something much worse—the truth. Her best friend, Aurelia, and the dozen others who had leaped to their deaths flashed through her mind. She could still hear their skulls’ thuds against the cold pavement below, see the squirming bodies, the blood. Lily was the one responsible.
“I have got to go,” Lily said with a determination few her age possessed. “Everyone is better off without me.”
She opened her eyes, and as if the blood had accepted her words, it no longer lingered in the room. Razo and the flowers stared back at her as if nothing had happened.
Lily began to search for a way to sneak out; she had to leave now, before the blood could come back—or worse, she hurt more people. Dragging her pink desk across the room, she climbed atop it to pry open the window. Her mother had promised to fix the windows soon, but for now, they were heavy and did not like to stay open. Once she was sure it wouldn’t fall shut again, she glanced down to judge the distance.
Lily braced herself against the cold and scowled down at the dead lawn. Glancing to the mysterious research facility beside their house, she noted the tall lights surrounding its perimeter; beyond that was darkness. Her mom had told her once that the research facility, the Grelt Nature Conservation and Research Association (GNCRA), was full of mean people that had tried to take their land. Lily wished that her mom would leave the outside lights on, but no matter how many times she asked, her mom shut off even the porch light. Tonight, she would have nothing but the moon to guide her.
The frigid wind forced Lily to grab the windowsill to keep from falling. Soon it would snow in Castle Pines, and she remembered the three little snowmen her family built together each year. Well, this year there would be one less. Lily had to leave, and had to keep her family safe. Had to keep everyone safe.
With the last of her hope, Lily prayed to the moon, “Mom said you protect good little girls at night, moon angel.” She wiped a tear. “You weren’t there when Aurelia died, or you would have saved her. I have been naughty. Please forgive me.”
“Make a stitch in time . . . don’t do this. You just have to make a stitch in time,” a tinkling voice carried on the air. Lily stared into the darkness, trying to make sense of what she thought she had just heard, but she couldn’t. There wasn’t time for riddles now; she had to leave before she lost her nerve.
The wind chimes on the porch began to sway violently with the wind, and Lily had to concentrate on blocking them out. Bracing herself, Lily took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and jumped.
Lily woke on the ground, blood pooling around her. Gazing through the darkness, she tried to focus on what appeared to be her family and neighbors, all huddled too closely around.
Why were the neighbors here in the middle of the night? The only face she recognized, outside of her mom’s, was Mrs. Rolek, her mom’s best friend. The daughter, Anna, didn’t seem to be with her, though. Anna feared the dark. Lily smiled. She took pride in being very brave as far as children—particularly girls—went.
Oh, maybe they came because she was hurt. That didn’t make sense, because none of them even looked at her. Her mum was crying and chewing at the woolen sweater she wore. Someone was holding Kate on the doorstep. Irin didn’t even look her way. There was no attempt to take her to a hospital; maybe she didn’t need to go? Perhaps she just needed some bandaging up? Everyone’s sorrowful expressions were scaring her, though.
“Mom!” Lily cried. “What’s wrong? I’m right here. I’m okay!” Lily’s mum didn’t even glance at her; maybe she wasn’t loud enough. She tried again, “Mom!” but still no response.
No one appeared to hear her.
Lily began to panic, but she didn’t dare move for fear of making her injuries worse. The sound of the sirens closed in. Finally, someone to help her. When a tall officer strode towards her, she thought for sure he would pick her up, carry her to safety; but he only stood beside her.
As another officer walked up to address the crowd, Lily rolled over for fear he would step on her. What was going on?
“Step back!” the new officer shouted, pointing a light up onto the tree. That’s when she saw it.
The light illuminated a small figure; a little girl had been impaled on the end of a branch, like a marshmallow at the end of a stick—a very bloody marshmallow. She froze as she noted the ghost-like eyes, the brown waves of hair. Lily jumped to her feet. It was her! She was the bloody marshmallow!
Lily ran—ran from the horrifying scene, ran from a world that made no sense. She only stopped to glance at Kate in the hall, took in her tear-stained cheeks, her thumb in her mouth. Lily wanted to comfort her little sister and instinctually stepped towards her, then faltered. With tears now streaming down her face, Lily ran back to her tower, leaving Kate behind.
Wanting to be brave, even in this surreal state she didn’t understand, Lily looked out of her window, down at her own body. She watched as they took her away and continued to stare into the darkness.
Lily died at midnight on September 14, 1998.
Amid that very same night, John Frost mingled with the shadows. His hawk-like eyes set on Veronica Wilson, monitoring her every move. Her husband, Ray Wilson, had died in an accident a little more than an hour ago. Of course, John knew it was no ordinary accident, but he hadn’t expected an unwanted witness. He looked at Veronica and back at his watch again. It was unlikely she would relay to the police what she’d seen. He most certainly wouldn’t, if he were in her place.
He kept a shaking hand on his chest, reminding his heart to beat. Tonight, it took a lot out of him to complete the mission, and he couldn’t fail. He licked his lips before dialing on the new cell phone, following up on the phone call he had made an hour ago.
“Yes, Your Majesty. I’m still here.”
“What about the witness?”
John cast a glance back at Veronica.
“She is bound to her worry, Your Majesty.” John managed a proper sentence. “She won’t be any trouble. Rather, I think this will help us in the long run.”
“Very well, if you say so,” the queen seemed convinced. “Diane will take it from here. She’s through with the girl in Colorado.”
“Okay, Your Majesty,” he said, and looked in his pocket mirror to confirm he hadn’t taken in any of the magic from tonight. The other Grasp members could be young again, but he didn’t want to lower his age. If he did, he’d have to leave the love of his life, Rosalie, who was unaware of his involvement with the Grasp.
The queen cleared her throat, and John realized there was something he’d missed. “The Grasp will prevail, Your Majesty.”
The commanding voice was replaced by the small voice of his little girl. “Daddy?”
“Oh, Steph.” John sighed in relief. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. She left, Daddy. Don’t worry. She was only teaching me a few things about demons. I wasn’t scared of her.”
“Good girl.” John tried not to sound nervous. He had an idea of what the queen would do if anything went wrong with the mission. He couldn’t lose Stephanie. Steph was a bright kid, hope for the Grasp. One day, she would be in his shoes, carrying out their mission. The queen would never try to harm her then. “I’ll be back by morning, sweetheart. Love you.”
“Did you summon the demon?” she asked. “Do you think I will too, someday?”
“Sure.” John thought back to the accident scene, where Ray was hit by a truck. As he analyzed the situation, he sensed this demon would go a long way. It was a good call not to kill Veronica, no matter what the queen had instructed him.
His eyes flickered to Veronica, drowned in sorrow, quite aware of what had happened. If he were in her place, he’d be worried too. His emotions, though, came forth only when his own family was involved. For him, this was work, and witnessing others’ sorrow and despair was a usual affair.
“Are you there?” Steph whispered. “Is everything all right?”
John smirked as he put on his hat and turned from the scene. His Cadillac was waiting on the other side of the alley.
“The demon is just getting started, Steph.” His words bounced off the dark walls. “It is just getting started.”
It started as a mystery killing.
After day came the dark.
People in isolation walked the deserted streets.
Then the demon left its mark . . .
No one knew which night it would come.
No one knew how it did what was done.
All they knew was to be afraid—
A new era of darkness had begun . . .