It had taken the police six hundred and fifty-two snowflakes to arrive. Mackenzie had counted them as they had fallen, so she was sure that was how long it had taken. She rarely measured anything in time anymore because time was no longer as stable as it used to be. As the gurney was carried out the front door, she struggled to find the words to describe what had happened to Cami. It hadn't been long before her house was surrounded by officers, one of whom she watched as they spoke on the phone.
They were too far to listen in on, but soon enough they had hung up and made their way towards her. His hand was on his gun, and she thought for a moment he might draw it. "You're Mackenzie Crawford, right? The owner of the house?"
"I see that you were the one that made the call. You weren't very descriptive about what happened. Why is that?"
"Have you been inside?" The officer blinked at her. She turned her head up, heavy shadows under her eyes.
"Have you been inside the house?" Her voice trembled.
She watched the hand that touched his gun as it flexed, as though reassuring himself that it was still there. He looked up at the front door and wordlessly nodded.
# Four Weeks Prior. The new house was haunted. Just from driving up the parkway, Mackenzie could tell. She'd always been able to tell. Something about haunted locations felt different. It was a bit of a disappointment--after all, she'd moved to get away from haunted places-- but it wasn't anything that she couldn't handle.
The moving company had already been there, judging by the tire tracks and footprints on the soft ground. She'd given them some instructions on setting up, but there was still work to do. All of that could wait until tomorrow. She'd driven all the way from Virginia with few stops, and it was almost night. She thought that a good night’s sleep would make unpacking easier.
She'd almost fallen into a hole in the porch on her way inside, and for just a moment, she'd felt something smooth brush her ankle. She'd brushed it off as a rock and continued inside, locking the door.
The inside of the two-story was exactly like the photos she had seen from the previous owners. The walls were papered in cream with thin black vines, the floors were hardwood, and the bedrooms were painted in bronze tones. Everything was the same, with the exception of the four ghosts who stood in the halls, staring off into the distance.
If the place had to be haunted, these were the best kind of ghosts to have. In her experience, they were rarely active, and they never broke anything. They were faded, barely-there impressions of the people who they had once been. With new reassurance that she wouldn't be bothered by them, Mackenzie made her way up the stairs with her two bags. As she went, she wondered why the house had felt so strong if these four imprints were all that was there.
It wasn't until the sun had finally set behind the mountains that she got her answer. She'd been unpacking the bags in her room after checking that everything was locked when she felt all four of the ghosts downstairs disappear. The abruptness gave her pause. While they might have been fading, none of them had felt like they would be dissipating so soon.
She'd set down the clothing she was holding, debating going downstairs, when a wave came over her. A paralysis settled into her bones, keeping her standing in place, even as she felt the hot air on the back of her neck. The ghosts hadn't faded. They had run.
# Three Weeks Prior. The barista set a drink down in front of Mackenzie, and her hands shook as she dragged it towards her. The woman watched her quietly, but she knew what it was she wanted to ask her. As if on cue, the barista leaned into the counter and gave her a look.
"You look real tired, sweetie. You sleeping alright? You've been in here every morning this week." There was concern in her voice, and if the situation had been any different, Mackenzie might have been touched by it.
Instead, her eyes flickered to the ghost standing beside her, its head titled to the side, its missing eyes watching her. "I haven't slept in several days. New house. It's a little difficult to get comfortable still."
The barista nodded sympathetically and passed her an old-fashioned donut. "Well, you just hang in there. I'm sure you'll settle in and get some rest soon."
Mackenzie smiled and gave her a small nod, the motion sharp and jerky. A few seats over, a woman sat down. "I'm so sorry, this is so rude of me, but I heard you just moved in. Are you the gal who bought the Galloway house?"
"Uh, yeah, I am. Moved in last week." She rubbed the back of her neck, a chill running down her arms. Her eyes darted from the woman to the ghost and back.
"It's great to meet you! I live around the other side of the lake. My name is Cami." She smiled and for a moment, Mackenzie thought she looked at the ghost. Cami waved her hand in a strange flourish as she offered it to Mackenzie, and the ghost beside her melted away. The weight of hollowed eyes fell away, and she reached out to shake her hand.
For a moment, she considered that Cami had done something to make the ghost fade out, but she dismissed the idea. Mediums could only communicate with them, and see them, but rarely do anything to them. People who could banish or dismiss ghosts were something else entirely, and she had never met one before. Either way, Mackenzie found herself feeling a little brighter.
"I'm Mackenzie. Great to meet you."
# Two And a Half Weeks Prior. The silence meant that it was coming. The silence meant the other ghosts had left, to wait again for daybreak. Sometimes, it just stood outside of her door, tapping on the wood like it was asking for permission to come in. Sometimes, it crept out of the walls and laid down behind her, breathing against her neck. As she sat up in bed and waited, Mackenzie wondered what kind of a night it would be.
Soon, the scratching on the floorboards began, and she knew it was a tapping night. She pulled the blankets up to her face, muffling her cries as it drew closer. The scraping stopped outside her door, and she waited for the sound that would keep her awake all night.
Instead, the doorknob began to turn. She went stiff and held her breath. The mechanism clicked open, even though she had locked it just a few minutes before. The door creaked as it opened just a crack. Everything went still and quiet. She waited.
# Two Weeks Prior. The daytime was the only time when Mackenzie felt safe anymore. Even the ghosts that had previously bothered her were nothing now. Even as she sat at the table with Cami outside the little diner in the town square with the one that kept trying to pet her hair, she found that it bothered her very little.
Of course, that could have been the lack of sleep making her feel that way. The circles under her eyes had long since turned purple like the bruises on her arms and waist. She fiddled with the cuffs of her sweater while she and Cami waited for their lunch to be brought out.
"You're really worrying me. You look so tired, Kenzie. Did you even brush your hair today?" Cami reached out and brushed some tangled strands off Mackenzie's face. She waved her hand near her shoulder as she pulled back. The ghost faded out, and the weight of its presence disappeared. For the last week that they had been talking, Mackenzie had noticed that exact thing happen three times.
There was a small flicker of hope in her chest. If it really had been Cami, then there was a possibility she could help. The only problem was Mackenzie wasn't sure how to bring it up. If she was wrong, then Cami would think she was insane. She didn't want another Erica situation.
"Can I ask you something?" Mackenzie had learned a lot from the situation with Erica. If Cami thought she was crazy, then she would leave it at that.
"I mean, yeah? What's up?"
"Do you see them too?"
Cami had been lifting a mug to her lips, but the moment Mackenzie spoke, she stopped. There was a moment of silence. "I'm going to guess that you mean... the ghosts?"
As she nodded in response, the other woman's eyes went a little wider and a smile cracked on her face. "So, you can, you can get rid of them? You can just make them disappear?"
"Yeah! I'm guessing you can't? But you can see them?"
"See them, hear them, Sometimes touch them."
"Wow. I've only ever met one other person who can see them, so it's crazy to me that you can." Cami shook her head, the smile getting wider. Being around her brought some amount of normalcy back into Mackenzie's life, and even if she ended up not being able to help, she was still glad to have met her.
# One Week Prior. Sleeping had become impossible. At night, it always found her. During the day, she was too paranoid to try. She had stopped trying to sleep in the bedroom and had instead moved to other areas of the house. That night, Mackenzie had hidden down in the basement, tucked behind the washer and dryer, the wall to her back, and a small gap in front of her.
It didn't take long for the scratching to start. After three weeks, she had realized that it always started by the front door. She had installed locks, set up barricades of furniture, and even tried nailing the door shut. Every single night, the front door scraped open regardless, and the thing would look for her.
From the crack between the appliances, she watched the lights in the hallway at the top of the stairs flicker. They blacked out completely, and she covered her mouth, trying to breathe as quietly as possible. The shape appeared in the doorway, barely distinguishable from the shadows around it. She tucked herself as tight as possible into her corner, pressing the loose sleeve of her sweater to her mouth.
Slow, heavy steps. Its weight made the boards creak as it moved closer to her. She stayed still. The scraping started again as it reached the cement floor. Mackenzie was sure it could hear her heart beating because it moved toward her. The light in the hall began to flicker back to life but stayed dim. A shadow spread over the wall above her hiding spot, and she watched it as its owner closed the distance between them.
It stopped. Silence. The shadow remained on the wall, swaying back and forth. It didn’t move any closer. Mackenzie peered through the crack in the appliances to see the backlit outline standing close enough to touch. The nights when it watched her were worse than the nights when it touched her. She leaned her head back against the wall and waited, unable to sleep.
# Twenty-Four Hours Prior. A snapping sound jolted Mackenzie awake. Her clothes felt damp, especially her sweater. She couldn't remember what she had been doing. It startled her to realize that it was Cami who had woken her up, as she undid the buttons on Mackenzie's sweater.
"-zie, hey, come on, you need to wake up. You spilled your coffee all over your sweater. It's freezing, we need to get this off you." The hands pushed at the fabric, and Mackenzie felt herself snap back into reality.
"Wait, wait, I'm fine, it's just a little-" She tried to shrug the sweater back into place, but one of her hands still had the spilled coffee cup, and the other had been in her pocket. Cami gave her a look as the woman's arms came into view.
For the first time since moving in, Mackenzie's days outside the cursed house crashed violently into her nighttime hell. Cami's fingers traced down one of the long, angry red lines that decorated her skin like hatching on a drawing. They were layered over each other, some disappearing up into her sleeves, some partially healed, and one still bleeding from the previous night. The rest of her arms were splotched in purple and blue and green, the discoloration ending abruptly near her wrists.
When Mackenzie closed her eyes in defeat, flashes of the previous night rolled like credits through her head: spindly hands with fingers that ended in what felt like blades dragging up her skin, breath against her hair and neck, and the full body paralysis that prevented her from stopping it as it gripped her arms until she lost feeling in them.
"Are you in trouble? Is someone hurting you? Were you attacked?" Cami started firing the questions off rapidly as she shed her outer jacket and wrapped it around Mackenzie's shoulders. Tears welled up in her eyes as she shook her head in response, unsure of how to explain it to her friend. "Hey, Kenzie, it's okay. Talk to me. Let me help you."
The tears spilled over, and so did everything else. Between jagged breaths and sobs, she explained what had been happening. Cami held her the entire time, rubbing her back and brushing the hair out of her face. Snow began to fall around them, the first of the season. By the end, a determined look had come over her friend's face.
"Let me spend the night."
"I don't want you to get hurt, Cami."
The woman shook her head and took Mackenzie's hands, pulling her to her feet. She started walking down the path. "I won't take no for an answer. I'm helping you. Let's go, if we get there before dinner, I can do some stuff that might ward it off before night."
She allowed Cami to pull her along, their fingers laced together. Something inside her started to feel warm again as they walked hand in hand up the parkway toward the house. Something that Mackenzie hadn't felt since Erica's death. Something that kept her hand wrapped in Cami's as they walked up the front steps and hopped over the gap on the front porch to go inside the house.
# Two Hours Prior. She should have tried harder to say no, she decided. She should have done anything to keep Cami from going inside the house. From where she sat on the couch, she could see the full-length mirror that hung by the coat closet. More importantly, she could see their reflection.
The lights flickered above her, but in the brief flashes of light, she examined its reflection as it sat behind her. It had blended in so well with the shadows because of its jet-black shell, almost human-like in its shape. It was too long, too thin, too sharp to ever be mistaken for a human, but its shape mocked the form all the same. She watched as it tapped its claws against her shoulder, where each one stabbed into her skin, piercing it until she bled. Its knees were bent up and out at sharp angles, and its feet had the same sharp shape as its fingers– if you could call either that.
The most offsetting part about it had been its "head." Again, its shape mocked that of a person’s; oval, with sockets where eyes go and a curved nose. The sockets were smooth, and bare, but somehow, she knew that it was watching her. It moved like a puppet, its joints clicking and its motions jerky. Its head kept turning to the side, tilting, as though it was listening to something. There had been a horrible ripping sound when it had first opened its now bloodstained mouth. The same mouth that curved in a far too wide, sharp smile.
A part of Mackenzie knew that she shouldn't be staring at it. She wasn't sure why she knew that, but she did. The longer she stared at it, the louder its "voice" got. She didn't know when it had started. All she knew was that she could hear it, loud and clear, without the thing having to speak to her at all.
The moment she realized that she had begged it to kill her. She had felt its laughter, felt its refusal. It had conveyed that it wanted her to stay. Talking to it was another thing she was sure she shouldn't do. But she would do anything to avoid looking at Cami's severed head on the coffee table.
The police had been kind to her. They had taken her statement, monster and all, and decided she was in shock. They had sent her home. It didn't matter to Mackenzie that they thought she was crazy. She hadn't moved from the porch since arriving back. The sun was setting behind her, but she stayed. Sharp black claws curled out from the hole on the porch.