“Don’t read while you eat, Kaylee,” said Mom, as she usually did, in her blunt, matter-of-fact manner. This was one of her policies.
Kaylee Colton didn’t care about that, as she was too immersed in Ghostliest, the third volume in the Ghostly series, to concern herself with trivial matters like etiquette or basic hygiene at the breakfast table. She was far more concerned with the potential traps awaiting the two ghost hunters, Jasmine and Kurtz. A transfixion snare could mesmerize their minds until they dissociated. They would see without seeing. This type of hazard nearly imprisoned Jasmine, the legendary ghost huntress, in the final chapter of Ghostly. Again in Ghostlier, Jasmine and Kurtz were transfixed when they stumbled across the Ancient Fountain, which could easily suck their brains into an infinite void.
“You’re going to get milk on that brand-new book.” Mom was in one of her usual morning moods. “Sean!” she yelled up the stairs, and Kaylee cringed. “Five minutes.” Mom stood tall and commanding, like a blunt force of nature, and she tended to yell a lot.
Kaylee wasn’t speaking to Sean since he’d called her an “ugly troll,” and she just wanted to find out what Jasmine and Kurtz were blundering into. The two unlikely ghost hunters always wound up at the locus of some inter-dimensional rift. The object they sought could be hexed and potentially freeze their minds for eternity, but that was the ghost-hunting biz.
Kaylee escaped toward the stairs to finish the chapter before school.
“So how is it?” Mom stared over, expecting some kind of elaboration.
“So far so good.”
“I want to read it, after you’re done. Okay?”
Kaylee nodded. “Five minutes, right?”
Her mother nodded back and then exploded in a bellowing thunder. “Sean! Turn that damned noise off!” Mom huffed in frustration, and she hustled about to finish up. She tended to be more than a little disorganized.
Kaylee ascended the carpeted staircase with her book. From Sean’s bedroom at the end of the second floor hallway, a loud screech flooded out from his television set. It sounded weird, like aliens playing with the Emergency Broadcasting System. Repeating endlessly, the turbulence ground out somewhere between an old modem connecting and an obnoxious electric guitar with too many effect pedals turned on. Not even Sean’s taste in music was that terrible.
Paused before her bedroom doorway, Kaylee felt awkward, and she just wanted to duck inside to escape.
“Dorkus.” The noise barrage tugged at her sense of equilibrium, and her body felt queasy and numb, but the last thing she wanted to do was confront Sean. Her brother liked to brag about roughing up other kids at his high school for fun. He lifted weights in order to become an even bigger asshole. The best policy was to avoid, avoid, avoid.
She ducked inside her bedroom and jumped on her bed to finish that Ghostliest chapter. Mom had gifted her the book yesterday after she had suffered and cleaned dirty dishes, load after load. That was their deal.
In the book, Jasmine and Kurtz happened upon a secret door buried in the landscaping of the curiously designed gardens surrounding the Metropolitan Museum. Actually, Kurtz tripped over the handle and fell on his face in the wet dirt.
Kaylee’s ears still tingled from that TV interference, and so she increased the volume of the words in her eyes to block it out. Reading always helped her ignore her jerky brother. Mom would sort Sean out and maybe take his damned TV away. Perhaps he’d even remember how to read.
Ghost huntress Jasmine was first through the steel trapdoor and down the filthy concrete staircase plunging fearlessly below the earth. Whatever or whoever waited down in that black underground passageway was integral to setting the spiritual planes back in alignment. Jasmine’s extra senses tingled with certainty.
Kurtz, the nerdier and more cautious member of the team, felt obligated to follow Jasmine, as he usually did, down into the spider hole. Not least because he was secretly, madly in love with her. But Jasmine was mission-oriented and single-mindedly determined. Because she was the only known medium sensitive enough to do this job, she had no choice in the matter, really.
Kaylee heard something from downstairs. It seemed like shouting, an overheated fight with Sean. Snapping from the text, she froze to listen. Mom yelled again, but she always yelled, and Kaylee couldn’t understand any of the words.
She glanced over to her bedroom door crinkling her nose. This was a trying decision, and she didn’t want to get involved.
Down in the underground stairwell, an overhead, rusty steel door slammed shut on the two ghost hunters. The pair had no option but to forge into the catacombs and hope for another way out. But their flashlights went all flickery due to some electromagnetic anomalies, probably connected with paranormal energy fields.
A metallic explosion sounded in Kaylee’s house, a real smashing clank from the kitchen. Steel pans bashed. She jumped up on her bed, nervous and disoriented.
Still clutching Ghostliest, she carried it to her bedroom door and listened. That cycling noisy pattern masked whatever was happening downstairs. She strained to hear. The TV speakers droned on in a hypnotic rhythm that made her mind feel spacey.
Mom screamed, “Sean!”
Kaylee pulled open her bedroom door. Quietly she sneaked out onto the carpeted hallway. Down the stairs and back toward the kitchen she stepped, surrounded by swirling noise. Along the narrow corridor, she gazed as if in slow motion. The wall opened up on the right.
“Sean, stop!” Mom’s voice was a desperate, guttural roar.
“Mom?” Kaylee froze at the edge of the hallway, where the carpet met the ceramic tiling. There she gazed on Sean, who was standing over Mom with one of those long, super-sharp chef’s knives raised above his head. Millions of infinitesimally small droplets of blood hung motionless in the air.
There was something about a scream that was so inconsequential, so ineffectual that it couldn’t be relied upon. The mist of blood was the last thing Kaylee saw as a colorless wall of numbness overtook her eyes.
She became a marble statue.
Perhaps something happened then, which she couldn’t see. Grey liquid had splashed all over their white, newly remodeled kitchen, but large dark blind spots lingered.
Kaylee suspected that she could speak no more, that her voice had evaporated in that strange, lost moment. The screeching television sounded so much louder now, and it confused her such that she didn’t know if she was dreaming.
Pulsing and throbbing, the noise blitz swirled around the hallway like dancing ghosts. Buzzing sounds posed oddly in the air to her left and right as if in an insect swarm. The television cacophony carried her mind away on its fog, and it tugged at her like a siren.
Kaylee swayed on rubbery legs.
Sean then turned his head toward his sister, and he noticed her standing there. His expressionless face was splattered with grey galaxies. Wet patches soaked up into his spiked, dirty blond hair. His pale eyes shot right through her. It was as if he didn’t know her at all.
But she could see him now.
Sean wrenched the massive knife upward, and he held it in his two dripping hands. Without pause, he scurried directly at Kaylee like some demonic animal from Hades on a mission to destroy the world. He had become a hell-bat turned human.
Kaylee couldn’t scream, couldn’t say anything at all. All she could do was run back upstairs and slam her bedroom door behind her and lock it. Inside the paint seemed to have faded and the world resembled some black and white old movie.
Her brother’s body pounded against the wood. The force strained the steel lock as her door thundered.
Kaylee sat on her floor, and her back automatically pushed back against the door. Sean slammed again, and the shock of his jolt shot through her spine and skull. Now she felt like she must be dreaming, as it was far too strange, and there were gaps in her memories, like in nightmares. The real world was supposed to make more sense.
Sean stabbed into the wood panel just above her head.
She liked her door, and she remembered how Dad had replaced all the hollow ones with solid wood composite versions. Dad said the cheap ones were just garbage, and they didn’t block sounds. They certainly wouldn’t block a butcher knife.
Dad wasn’t even in the country. He was probably flying around over Europe, or it could be Japan? She used to keep a journal of his every stop and write the airport codes, but that was years ago.
All she could manage now was to mechanically push back against her door each time Sean bashed into it. It seemed like the right thing to do. Her brain was operating on auto-pilot.
Kaylee’s ears picked up the sounds of gouging, as well as the distorted buzzing from that messed-up TV down the hallway. If this was a dream, it was a really bad one, and she didn’t want to play along anymore. It had to be a dream, because there was no other explanation worth a damn.
Dad wouldn’t arrive home until the end of the following week, too late to sort this mess out. She was now completely on her own.