The team gathered at the sight of the fire. James carried the boxes and trash bags to the card table Ben had set up. Nancy passed out the goggles, masks, and gloves. Rhonda sat with Ben at the table to pull the large rubber boots over her tennis shoes. I hung back by the apple tree and stared at the sagging structure.
The firefighters had left the day before and deemed the house stable enough for people to enter. The flames had blazed high but were fought back in a valiant battle. I’d watched the whole thing from the sidewalk and known this house had something different.
“Kelly, let’s go,” James said and waved me over to the table.
I joined them and donned my protective gear, but I glanced to the house continuously. I had the sensation of being watched from the only unbroken window and couldn’t keep my eyes away.
“Okay,” Ben said and clapped to get everyone’s attention. “You all know the drill. Spread out, watch your step, gather anything salvageable to the boxes, questionable in the trash bags. Keep your radios on for easy communication and quick aid if you get stuck or trapped.”
We nodded and each took a bag and a box.
James and Nancy led the way into the house, but I hung back at the end of the line. I felt a pull to the room with the unbroken window, but I wanted someone else to have the chance to go there instead of me. I didn’t want to see what was in there. I couldn’t explain the feeling, but it had sunk into my gut the moment we’d arrived.
Nancy walked straight to the kitchen, James to the garage, Ben stayed in the living room, and Rhonda went towards the hallway. I trailed behind her and waited to see which bedroom she took. From the inside of the house, I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to avoid. And I secretly hoped that was the room Rhonda would take.
But she went right and opened the door to a charred master bedroom. So, I turned left and walked into a room that had been completely untouched by the fire. The lining of my stomach turned to ice, and I tried to yell for backup, but my voice caught in my throat.
And then the door closed behind me of its own accord. I didn’t want to turn and look. Instead, I took in the room and tried to process what I was seeing. A princess style bed with a dainty white net hung around the posts. A golden rocking horse near the window. A dollhouse straight out of the Victorian age, complete with furniture. Everything glowed with a dim light, as though being lit up from below.
“Help,” I croaked into the radio and felt the cold chill of breath on the back of my neck.
I heard footsteps of the others approaching the room, but I knew they’d be too late to reach me. I knew it just as I had known I should have avoided this room. But someone had to take it…
I turned around to face the demon and found a woman with a gold Egyptian headdress. Her tanned face sat in a permanent scowl and her red-painted lips pouted at me.
“Hello,” I tried to say, but the word came out in barely a whisper. I should have said goodbye. Maybe the team would have heard it and run the other way.
The woman held up a hand, and her long fingernails grazed the side of my face. The heat was intense, and I stumbled back, but I choked on invisible smoke and froze in my place. She came closer, her hand still outstretched.
The nearer she got, the more skeletal her face became, and I felt a scream scratch in my throat, but something trapped it. Just like me. Just like her. Trapped in this room that the fire hadn’t touched.
The team entered the room and looked around. But I could tell from their expressions that they couldn’t see what I had. The room wasn’t pristine in their eyes, and I didn’t stand in the middle of it with a demon. Nancy shrugged and left first to go back to the kitchen. James followed her but glanced back over his shoulder with a puzzled expression.
Rhonda and Ben exchanged a look.
“Kelly?” Rhonda asked into her radio.
The sound didn’t come out of the one I held; my light had turned off once the woman touched me.
“Kelly, are you there?” Ben asked, more urgency in his voice.
They left the room in a rush to check the rest of the house. I waved goodbye to their receding backs, the cold leeching into my soul now.
The demon woman smiled at me, and then vanished.