Fiona’s eyes opened, and she gasped. She was in her room, safely tucked away from the fear inside her. She tossed aside her blanket and climbed out of bed. She noticed voices coming from upstairs, and paused for a moment to listen. Although she couldn’t make out what was being said, the intensity in which they were speaking sounded urgent and frightened, so she threw open the door and raced upstairs.
Once she was in the living room, she took note of her surroundings. Steven was crouched on the sofa, holding a steaming cup of coffee. His hands and feet were shaking. Beside him, Yvonne was sipping peppermint tea. Her body language clearly showed that she was trying to regain her nerve. Both of their eyes seemed to dart across the room at any sign of movement, with their shifting focus kept on the shadows.
The front door opened, and Roderigo and Carlton entered. Steven looked up, clearly feeling more at ease, but this moment was shattered when his uncle spoke. “It’s not there anymore.”
“What isn’t?” Fiona asked.
“Something attacked Steven and Yvonne,” Carlton said. “Made a mess of the apartment.”
Roderigo took a seat, grabbing an old cup coffee off the table. “Every light in the house is broken, and the TV and microwave are fried. It killed the circuit breakers too–we’re lucky the place didn’t burn down.” He looked up at Steven. “Did you see it?”
“No,” Steven said. “I didn’t want stick around long enough to find out what it was.”
“Can’t blame you,” Carlton said. “It’s probably not going to be safe to go back there for a while. Thanks to the CFL’s you used, there’s mercury everywhere–The vapor’s so bad couldn’t even go inside.” He shrugged. “But give me a mask, some safety goggles and a day or two, and I’ll have it cleaned up. Unfortunately any clothing and wood that got exposed is now hazardous waste, and that includes your mattresses, blankets and carpet.”
“And my computer?” Steven asked.
“Oh, it’s toast, like everything else. Not even a power surge could’ve done what that thing did.”
The phone rang. Yvonne quickly answered it. At first she seemed rather quiet, simply repeating, “Yes,” to whatever questions were asked of her. Then, after a minute or so, she frowned. “Thanks, Arnold,” she said. When she hung up, she turned to the others. “That was Gibson.” She seemed disturbed.
“Did something happen?” Steven asked.
“Yes.” She looked over at Fiona. “There was a fire at the museum. They’re is working on it now, but they’re not optimistic. You’d better get down there.”
* * *
The drive was only a few minutes, but by the time Fiona arrived the building had been reduced to its frame. The fire department was now working on preventing the blaze from spreading to the main building. As Fiona stepped out of her car, the roof collapsed, and the crews nearest to the blaze descended momentarily into chaos. She found herself transfixed on the scene, feeling her mind drift away. It was almost as if she was somewhere else, viewing the blaze through a fog or haze.
“I’m going to have to get back to you later.”
That voice brought Fiona back to her senses. She looked to her left, trying to place figure that was now approaching her. “Sorry to see this happen,” the figure said. I know you had a lot invested in it.”
“Yeah.” A lot was an understatement. Fiona had, over the years, put nearly a million dollars into the exhibit, and that wasn’t counting the hundreds of pieces she’d found while diving or digging in riverbeds–or, for that matter, those that were donated or loaned by other collectors. The exhibit also included the highest quality specimens from her collection, and all of the pieces were irreplaceable. And now, most likely, all of them were gone.
“Keep in mind that we haven’t had time to do a real investigation,” Gibson said, “but there were a few witnesses on the scene when I arrived. According to them, the fire started very quickly, and considering how hot it’s burning the fire marshal suspects that an accelerant was used. Sorry, but it appears to be arson.”
“You’re kidding?” she exclaimed.
“Do you have any enemies, anyone that would want to hurt you?”
“Of course not,” she said. She realized that she had sounded gruff, and apologized. “I mean, you know me. You and my dad go back a long ways.”
Gibson motioned for them to walk, leading her away from the car and further from the fire. “I know, but it’s standard procedure. Now don’t get offended, but where were you two hours ago?”
It was a routine question. Fiona knew this, but she couldn’t help but feel slighted. Still, she forced herself to remain polite. “I was at home,” Fiona said, “Asleep in my room. I’m not exactly hurting on money and, well, my fossils are my life. I’d never torch them.”
“I know,” Gibson said. He ran his hand across his mustache, following the hair down to his chin. He looked thoughtful, and at least partially regretful about where his line of questioning had gone. “Well, if I have any more questions–”
Before he could finish, a high-pitched shriek filled the air. Fiona grabbed her ears to shield them and fell to her knees. As the noise grew louder, the windows shattered, scattering fine, round chunks of glass across the parking lot. Gibson reached out to pull Fiona away when they heard a voice that chilled their bones.
“That wondrous voice so full of song brings me pleasure, gives me peace; I see her smile, young and strong, an innocent among those reeds. And then I see a moonlit face, a nightmare clothed in dark and light; returns me to the final race, the falling down, our mortal plight.”
It was Princess’ voice. Despite the static, her words were distinctly audible, albeit strained. After the shock began to wear off however, Fiona noticed something else in the background, all but obscured by the noise. It was a familiar, off-key melody, one that she recognized as the tune to London Bridge. In fact, it was the exact same tune that she had heard so often in her nightmares.
“Sisters, sisters, on the shore, dancing wild among the reeds; children in a darkened world, caring not, taking heed. The Watchful One sets her sights upon that which is soon to come; the Dreadful One does give me fright, for soon the world will come undone.”
Before she could register the last line, the static had already begun to subside. As Fiona pulled her hands from her ears, she found herself in disbelief. Did that just happen? she thought. Her heart pounded in her chest. Was that really her?
“I–I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to go.”
“I understand,” Gibson said. It was a lie, and a bad one at that. His face had been drained of color, and his expression was wide-eyed and filled with fear.
Fiona reached into the back and grabbed a blanket to brush off her seat before jumping in. To her relief, the car turned over almost immediately. She pulled the car onto the road, paying no mind to the speed limit. It wouldn’t matter. No one on Earth could blame her for trying to leave that behind, and whatever had happened was something the others needed to know.
Whatever doubt she had about Carlton’s story was gone. But while the thought that her sister may not have suffered that fate was reassuring, the tone in her sister’s voice told Fiona that something was not right. Rather than being saved, it seemed that her sister had been spared Hell only to be thrust into Hades instead. That thought did not comfort her in the least.