The smell of barbecues and chlorine fill the hot evening air. The orange, yellow, and red of the setting sun illuminates the many houses lined up on both sides of the street. The sound of bugs singing their evening tune begins to play and mothers begin to call in their children.
I'm sitting at our cheap, plastic table overlooking the scenery of a Burlington retiring for the day. If the worlds portrayed in books and movies were real, then this is the time that the boogeyman and all of your worst nightmares would come out to play. Mom's wind-chime sways lazily in the cool breeze, adding more eeriness to the atmosphere. Dad still isn't home, so the whole spooky dark house and abandoned streets thing is starting to get to me.
In front of me is Eyes that Haunt the Night. The dark cover, instead of scaring me, interests me. Why would I need to read this? Whatever was in the house, because after everything that's happened to me in the span of two days, I'm starting to believe, wanted me to read this and the Burlington book. But why? The skeptic in me is begging me to see reason, but my mind and heart are telling me that maybe this is all too strange to be coincidental.
I chew on my finger, trying to build up the courage to look inside. From the edges of the pages, I can tell that it's old. Maybe even older than my mom or dad. I'd never seen mom reading it, so why did she have it in her collection? Sure, she read other creepy stuff, but never anything like this.
Lights switch on in houses around me, awaiting the darkness of the night. If only others knew what I'd seen last night, what I'd felt only an hour before. I don't know if it's from my lack of sleep, but everything around me is making me extra attentive, extra jumpy.
I rest my head on the back of the lawn chair, its cushioning squishing down my already messy hair. Mom used to try to make me believe. She'd always tell me to be careful and that if I felt something was off, then I should just run. "Never question yourself," she'd say, holding both my hands in her delicate fingers. Her dark, blond hair would slip in front of her blue-green eyes while warning me. A thin line would crease around her mouth with worry. If it weren't for that bridge giving out, she'd still be here.
I frown, pushing back the tears that always come when I think of mom. Automatically, I reach for my phone beside the large book and it is when I am about to call her, that I remember that Tony and I are no longer friends. I quietly chide myself for letting her get the better of me when I know that she never forgets or forgives. I have four missed calls from Pat, but I'm not really in the mood to talk to him.
Finally, my fingers trace the outline of the two creepy, inhuman eyes and I slowly lift the cover. The first page is empty, save for a small, cursive warning: For the use of hauntings only. Beware the consequences of the mind. Hm. Okay. The warning sends a slight shiver through me, but now my curiosity is gaining, pushing me forward. I lift the top right corner of the page and am about to turn it, when I catch movement out of the corner of my eyes. I slam the book closed and look up, hoping to see the stranger waiting for me to notice him, but instead I just see Niki.
My fingers close protectively around the edges of the large tome as I watch her approach. Her black hair is a dye job, since I know for a fact that she's a redhead. Her green eyes and freckles look odd against the darkness of her hair, but her pale skin oddly works for her look. She's wearing oversized jeans and a vintage ACDC shirt. At just fourteen, Niki already has her own style while I try to mimic others.
"Hey," her raspy voice is welcoming in the silence of the night. She walks up the small set of stairs onto our patio and plops down on one of the chairs beside me. "Your dad told my mom to make sure you weren't alone tonight. He called and said he had to work late and that you looked way freaked out last night, so he wanted one of us to come and hang with you. I volunteered, of course, 'cause it'd be weird if mom or dad came out here. So, why were you freaked?"
"I..." my voice trails off. I hadn't noticed dad last night. Sure I was out of it, but I would have remembered seeing him standing there watching me. Also, what had he meant by not wanting me to be alone tonight? "I thought I saw something."
"Right," she widens her eyes when she sees the book on the table. "Where'd you get that?"
I look at her and it dawns on me that maybe this is someone I can talk to. Sure, she's fourteen, but at least she's someone. The question is, would she believe me? Or would she just call me crazy and laugh? "It was my mom's, she had it in our basement."
A look of anxiety sweeps Niki's face, but it is gone just as quickly as it appeared. "I see. You're mom was into some heavy stuff."
She takes in the ornate title and seething stare of the eyes. Her body visibly shudders after a moment. "Whatever," she says cooly, but I know she's just trying to mask how creeped out she is. "So you okay then?"
"Yeah, thanks." The words are barely out of my mouth when Niki leaps to her feet and starts heading back down the stairs. She must be really out of it if she is leaving so soon after just telling me that she was going to keep me company. I quickly look from the book to Niki's back and impulsively decide that it is now or never. "Hey, Nik's?"
Niki stops and her shoulders rise and fall in three rapid successions before she turns back to me. Her face is flushed and I know that something's got her spooked. "Yeah?"
"If I told you something totally crazy and unreal, would you believe me?"
Niki ponders the question for a moment before shrugging. "You're not really selling the credibility of it."
I nod and slowly stand up. I cast one last glimpse at the book before joining Niki on my front lawn. "Let's say you saw something that shouldn't have been there in the first place, or heard someone that isn't there, what would you think?"
Niki gives me an incredulous look and takes a step back from me. "I'd say call the doctors and get some medicine. We are modern people now."
I sigh and shake my head. "No, I'm not going crazy. I mean, there are times when I think I am, but most of the time I know I'm pretty sane. I just... I've a hard time believing, so I don't know what to do."
We stare at each other for a moment. Me, silently begging with my eyes for her to believe me, and her with what looks like fear. She clears her throat and takes my hand in hers. I look down at our intertwined fingers with raised eyebrows.
"You need to start believing," she rushes out in an uneven whisper. "Believe and everything will be clearer."
"Believe?" It is my turn to take a step back from her in worry, but she keeps a tight grip on my hands.
"Burlington... it's not what you think. You're mom knew about it and so does your dad. Now, it's your turn. You're being initiated into this world, don't you get it? The sightings, the voices," Niki pleads for me to understand with her eyes, "the stranger that visits you at night."
Her voicing the idea of a stranger visiting makes me listen even harder. "A stranger?"
"Yes, and I know you've seen your given stranger."
Our eyes linger on each other, the night around us seemingly shifting into another form. "There are more of him?"
"We see what we want to see," she whispers, now practically pulling on my hand.
"So he's not really there?" I ask, unable to process what she is saying.
"Yes, he's there, it's what type of creature you want to see that appears." A light flickers on in Niki's room and we both look up. "I have to go."
"Wait," I tighten my grip on her hand. "What do you mean by creature? Like a monster?" I laugh without any humour. "But they're not real... are they?"
Niki levels me with a cold, calculating stare. "They're real Clara, and you've been chosen by someone." She struggles against my grasp. "I have to go, please."
"Niki, what do you mean I've been chosen?"
"Read the book," she says, finally breaking free. My hand is suddenly cold without her warmth. "It'll tell you what you need to know. Be careful Clara, not everyone is chosen and not everyone is like the one who chose you."
I cock my head in confusion and frown as Niki sprints into her house.