Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. (chapter 4)

On the other side of the door, lit only by her flashlight, was an almost empty room. Dusty cobwebs clung to sheet-covered objects. A table, split in two by the weight of a fallen chandelier, lay in the middle of the floor where it had died. The faint odor of decayed mouse turds floated up, disturbed by her footsteps. A floorboard creaked wetly under her weight.

The beam of light swept over the walls, revealing peeling, faded wallpaper, and lathing strips poking through the plaster like the ribs of a starving man. A nearby door hung drunkenly from one hinge. Jennifer slowly walked further into the room, nerves stretched taut.

Glass crunched underfoot, causing her to start. She paused to catch her breath. The sound of a blade being sharpened reached her ears. It seemed to be coming from the next room. She cocked the hammer back on the USP, and carefully slipped passed the door.

The dancing light revealed a grandfather clock in a far corner, a cold fireplace, rodent chewed chaise lounges across from the cold hearth, and a pair of antique rocking chairs on either side of a sagging bookcase with moldy books. She stepped closer, and heard a music box tinkling softly. She moved the light around, but couldn’t find it.

A baby began to cry further in. Her heart dropped like a stone in her chest as it became the sound of a young child shrieking in terror. The beam of light shot around the area in jerky motions as she frantically looked for the source. The child’s voice morphed into the screams of a young woman.

Jennifer raced into a hallway and up a rickety set of stairs when the screams became the voice of an old man gasping for air. At the landing, a door slammed shut with a horrific boom, cutting off the noises. She whipped the gun around, biting back a gasp of fear. Her stomach was hard as a rock. She slowly headed down the short hallway, trying the differing doors. Each was locked.

“Danni?” She whispered.

Near the end of the corridor, she spotted a dusty mirror. She brushed away some of the dust, and glanced at her reflection. A pallid, and sweaty countenance stared back at her. She took a deep breath. ‘Get a hold of yourself, girl.’ She took another breath, closing her eyes. A stealthy sound from behind her made her eyes open wide.

A shadowy figure slipped down from the ceiling. As if it realized it was being watched, it looked into the mirror. A black-haired, pale-faced man with black circles under his eyes stared at Jennifer. His eyes flew open and his mouth opened. A horrible rasping sound came from him. It sounded like he was being choked under water.

The noise galvanized Jennifer into movement. She whirled, screaming. The USP thundered three times, tearing apart the darkness with flashes of lightning as she fell to the floor. The dropped flashlight rolled on the floor, illuminating the hallway.

It showed… nothing. The hall was empty except for her dusty footprints.

“Remember, Utsukushī*, trigger discipline is the second most important thing to remember when handling a gun.”