of the Blind
Available now on Kindle and in paperback!
Keep scrolling for a preview of this book!
The cellar door stood open at the far end of the tunnel, the last of the day’s sunlight pouring down from above, welcoming them back from the hell they’d somehow endured.
Wayne stopped and gazed back into the darkness one final time before climbing the steps. Back there was Gilbert House, in all its impossible, sprawling madness. There was a monster in there somewhere, a pale, hulking, murdering thing, but he felt that another monster had come back with them, a monster that made promises and didn’t keep them, who offered protection he couldn’t deliver.
A warm hand slipped into his as he gazed despondently back, and he turned to meet Nicole’s sympathetic eyes. “I’m sorry about Olivia.” He knew by the sadness on her face that she was sincere, but it didn’t change how awful he felt. How could he have failed so completely? He doubted if he’d ever forget the sound of the poor girl’s terrified screams as she was sucked into that awful darkness.
“We’re all sorry,” agreed Albert as he and Brandy climbed the steps ahead of them.
Nicole tugged at his hand and he began to move again, willingly following her up the steps and out of the nightmare.
Here, as the four of them squinted into the dwindling evening sunlight, they were greeted by a startling sound. It was the slow and repetitive concussion of a single pair of hands clapping together.
“Impressive.” The woman appeared to be in her late forties or early fifties. She was standing in the deepening shadows beneath a nearby tree. She was skinny, almost unhealthily so, and her raven black hair was likewise fine, flat and limp. Her face still retained remnants of a beauty that she must have possessed in her youth, but her dark eyes were framed by fine lines. She wore very little makeup, if any, and was dressed in loose-fitting khaki pants and a black, short-sleeve shirt. “When I heard the screaming, I thought for sure you wouldn’t come back.”
“Who are you?” Albert demanded.
The woman smiled at him, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile by any means. “Beverly Bridger, as if you didn’t know.”
He stared at her, confused. As if he didn’t know? He’d never seen this woman before in his life.
“I think you have something of mine.”
She glared at him. As he gazed back at her, he found something about her eyes oddly unsettling. “My file?”
“Your file…?” For a moment, he was clueless. Then it occurred to him that she must be talking about the envelope. When Andrea Prophett gave him the envelope, she told him that someone sneaked up to her window in the middle of the night and taped it to the screen. Was this the mystery courier? Now that he thought about it, Olivia had informed them that an older woman was waiting for them when she and her friends showed up here Wednesday evening. That woman, she’d told them, gave her boyfriend, Andy, a letter that sounded exactly like the one Wayne received the same day.
Beverly fit her description perfectly.
“I don’t know how you did it, and I don’t want to know. I don’t care. I just want some answers.” There was a gleam in her eyes that Albert didn’t care for at all, like girlish glee tainted with strained desperation.
“What are you talking about?” he snapped.
But she ignored him and turned her eyes to Wayne, instead. “I didn’t think I’d see you again.”
“You gave me that letter,” he said. Like Albert, he’d already put the pieces together.
She nodded. “You were one of three. Only one of you showed up the night you were supposed to.”
Wayne barely suppressed a shiver. Three of them? He wondered who the third was. Probably someone smart enough to throw it in the trash and never look back. “Why me?”
“Why you? Look at you. Gilbert House isn’t safe. I needed someone big and strong, someone tough enough to get in and back out.”
“Then why me?” asked Albert. He liked to think that he was pretty tough, especially since his trip into the Temple of the Blind last year, but he knew he certainly didn’t look as formidable as Wayne.
She glared at him. “What do you mean, ‘Why me?’” she scoffed.
“I don’t…” He shook his head, confused. “You sent me that envelope, didn’t you?”
Her expression shifted to shock and then to anger. “Sent it to you? You stole it from me!”
“What?” This was from Brandy. “You’re fucking crazy.”
“A girl dropped it off at my house this afternoon,” Albert explained patiently. “She said someone taped it to her window in the middle of the night.” His voice was calm, not defensive, but it set her off, nonetheless.
“Don’t lie to me!” she snapped. “No one else knew about my file!”
He looked at Brandy, confused. When he looked back, he said. “You don’t even know me.”
Beverly’s eyes were sharp and stabbing. “You’re Albert Cross.” She spoke both his names as though they were vulgarities, almost spitting them at him.
“How do you know him?” asked Nicole.
But she didn’t look at her. She only stared straight at Albert, as though half expecting him to attack her. “I know where he was last September,” she said, as if she were revealing some filthy secret.
Albert and Brandy looked at each other, surprised. “How did you know we were down there?”
“I saw it,” she replied.
“You saw it?” Brandy asked, horrified by the idea of anyone seeing the things they’d done in those dark chambers.
“Dreamt it, actually,” she clarified. “Look, I didn’t camp out up here for the past three days to talk about you people! Now tell me what you found!”
The four of them exchanged worried looks. This conversation was becoming very uncomfortable.
“What’s so special about this place?” Albert asked, avoiding her question. “Why do you want to know about it so bad? And why not just go in and see for yourself?”
The woman’s expression hardened, her eyes narrowing. It was clear that she possessed little patience, but she granted them her reply. “It’s special to me because it’s been torturing me my whole life. I feel it every day. It’s like poison ivy that won’t go away. It just keeps itching and itching but you can’t scratch it.”
“And you want us to scratch it for you,” he said. His tone was intentionally mocking. He didn’t like this Beverly Bridger any more than he’d liked Gilbert House’s ugly bouncer.
“Yes,” she replied, clearly losing her patience now. “I want you to scratch it for me. Now tell me what you found, you little freak!”
“You keep talking to him like that, bitch” said Nicole, “and I’ll kick your fucking teeth in.”
Beverly shot her a hateful look, but only briefly. Her eyes fluttered immediately back to Albert.
He glanced at Nicole, surprised. He’d never heard her stand up for him quite like that. But then again, he’d never been confronted like this in front of her before, either. For that matter, he’d never been confronted like this at all.
This whole situation was just weird.
He fixed his gaze on Beverly for a moment without speaking, considering the situation. He didn’t like this woman at all, and he’d begun to doubt her sanity besides.
“I don’t know if we should,” Wayne said. “I don’t trust her.”
She glared at him, her dark eyes hateful.
“Yeah,” Albert replied. “I know.”
“Let’s just go, guys,” Brandy pleaded.
Albert could see the woman’s rage growing. “You never told us why you couldn’t just go in and see for yourself,” he reminded her, further pushing her tolerance.
She seemed to have to draw all her mental strength to calm herself. Through clenched teeth, she replied, “I just can’t.”
The woman growled, frustrated. “Just tell me what you saw!”
“You sent four people in there Wednesday night,” Wayne said, and Albert found himself pleased to hear the fury in his voice. “None of them came out and you still let us go in there. Now you expect us to tell you what we saw?” He stepped forward, brushing past Albert.
She took a step backward, obviously afraid of him and rightfully so. Wayne clearly outweighed her significantly.
“Because of you, they’re all dead! And all you care about is what we saw?”
“I did what I had to do!” Beverly screamed at him.
This was clearly the wrong reply because Wayne’s eyes suddenly grew very large. With speed uncharacteristic of his size, he lunged forward and grabbed the woman before she could turn and flee.
Albert’s heart leapt when he heard the woman scream. He didn’t know what was about to happen, but he couldn’t imagine any good coming from it.
Wayne hauled the skinny woman off the ground and over one shoulder. She shrieked as if she were being murdered—and perhaps that was exactly what she thought was happening. He spun around, hardly noticing the wild kicking of the woman he now held like a sack of laundry. “You want to know what’s inside there? I’ll show you!” In the wake of his grief and fury, he wanted to carry her all the way to the farthest corner of the basement. He wanted to drop her behind the door and then pile the cinderblocks in front of it and leave her there to suffer the fate to which she’d doomed Olivia and her friends two days ago. The sound of her pleading and begging behind that door would do little to satisfy the regrets he’d carried out of those dark hallways, but it would also be morbidly satisfying.
But when he began to walk toward the cellar door, the woman went crazy. She screamed to be let down, shrieked so loudly the whole city must have heard her, as though she’d read the terrible thoughts straight from his brain.
Brandy and Nicole both clapped their hands over their mouths and watched in disbelief as the woman came apart in his grip.
Albert wanted to stop him, wanted to tell him to just put the woman down before she shrieked herself into cardiac arrest or something, but he was frozen in place, too shocked to speak.
Fortunately for Beverly, Wayne’s determination to send her into the hell she’d served to Olivia was not quite as strong as her utter terror of it. She pounded him with her fists and kicked and thrashed and when her balance finally began to topple, she grabbed a handful of his thick, black hair and yanked so hard she actually tore a lock of it out. He cried out in pain and then stooped and dropped her.
As soon as her feet hit the ground she tried to run away, but it was no good. Before she could escape his reach, he seized her by her shirt.
Albert would later remember the moment in vivid detail. Wayne held onto the back of her shirt with both hands and spun her like an oversized doll. She actually came off the ground as she sailed almost a full three hundred sixty degrees. There was a loud pop that was the sound of all the buttons on her shirt letting go at once. And when he released her, she flew through the air for a brief moment before her feet touched the ground and she toppled forward into a thick patch of thorny brush.
Wayne growled and started toward her again, still hell bent on dragging her into Gilbert House.
“Stop!” Albert shouted, finally finding his voice. And to his surprise, Wayne did stop. “She’s done! Don’t hurt her.”
“Any more…” added Nicole. She couldn’t believe she’d just witnessed such a spectacle.
Beverly lay in the brush, sobbing into the dirt. Her shoulders ached, her knees and hands stung and her wrist was throbbing.
“Come on, everybody,” Albert said. “We should go.”
“Wait!” Beverly pushed herself up and rolled over onto her back. Her shirt fell open and her white, silky bra shimmered in the diminishing daylight. She didn’t try to hide herself. There was a shallow cut on her belly and another on her cheek. She held her injured left wrist in her right hand. “Tell me!”
“I can’t believe it!” Wayne hissed and she shrank away from him at the sound of his fury. No one there could have blamed her.
“Forget about it,” Albert told him. He looked at the woman, surprised she could even speak after being flung around like that, much less that she still possessed the audacity to push the very subject that had enraged Wayne in the first place. “Do you need help?”
She shook her head. “I need to know,” she said. “Please!”
“Monsters,” he told her. “There are monsters in there.” He took Brandy’s hand and the two of them walked away.
Nicole stared at Beverly for a moment and then followed her friends.
Wayne lingered the longest. He stood staring at her, hating her and pitying her at the same time. “I’m sorry,” he said flatly, and then he too walked away. He wouldn’t have really locked her inside to die. He merely wanted her to grasp the horrors she’d brought upon innocent people. It was her fault they were dead. She deserved to feel worse than he did, and he felt like nothing less than a murderer.
They left Gilbert House behind as the sun sank low behind the trees. Behind them, Beverly Bridger began to sob again.