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Kimberly’s eyes snapped open, and she was instantly alert. What was that noise? She turned onto her side, and stared at the opened door.
Grabbing her glasses off the nightstand, she slipped them on. The glow of an LED nightlight next to her dresser became brighter as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.
Its blue glow bounced off the walls, throwing nearby objects into sharp relief.
She heard the sound again. A type of scratching that reminded Kimberly of a cat dragging its claws along a piece of sandpaper.
A cold thrill of fear coiled around her spine when Kimberly realized the sound was coming from downstairs.
She reached over to wake Gary, and cursed when she felt nothing but cold, empty sheets.
She sat up.
The scratching came again, faster this time and then slowing down, only to speed back up in an odd, rhythmic pattern.
What was it?
She opened the drawer to the nightstand and pulled out a twelve-inch magnum flashlight.
She then swung her legs over the side of the bed and listened again.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Abruptly, she heard a ripping sound that caused a long-buried memory to surface in her mind.
It was Christmas morning, and Lynn was only three. She had grabbed the biggest box under the tree, and had begun pulling at the paper, ripping it off in small strips, giggling with delight.
That’s what this sounded like now, only there was certainly no giggling. Just eerie silence punctuated by loud ripping noises.
Slipping from beneath the sheets, she got up and listened at the door, gripping the flashlight.
It can’t be a burglar. What kind of criminal would break into a house just to scratch and tear things?
Her heart jumped.
What if it was an animal? Had a raccoon or squirrel gotten into the house? Was it now scampering about downstairs, searching for a way out?
What if it was rabid?
Scratch. Scratch. Rip.
The last rip was so loud, Kimberly had to stifle a gasp.
She had to get to Lynn right now. Something, or somebody, was in the house with them, and they needed to get out and call the police.
If it turned out to be nothing more than a pissed off raccoon, then the police would have an amusing story to tell around their coffee cups the next morning. She didn’t care. She wasn’t about to take chances.
Without a sound, she squeezed her body in between the half-open door and the frame, and tiptoed out into the hallway.
Keeping her eyes trained on the landing, she backed toward Lynn’s room, ready to strike out at anything that made a sudden move.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. The sound dragged out, deliberate and insistent.
Kimberly quickened her pace until her hand touched the door of Lynn’s room.
She pushed it open and stepped inside.
When her eyes found the empty bed, she had to cover her mouth to keep from screaming.
The frantic sound came again, and a violent tremor shot through her body when she realized its source.
Lynn was downstairs.
Turning wild and frightened eyes to the bedroom door, Kimberly turned on the flashlight and listened.
As she entered the hallway, and descended the stairs, the harsh, ragged sound of panting found its way to her ears. It was coming from the studio.
Kimberly crossed into the living room, and stopped just outside the studio door.
The panting had turned into a low growl now, and there was Lynn, her back to her mother, her shoulders heaving up and down, as her hand worked furiously over a large, white sheet of construction paper.
A sudden feeling of panic struck Kimberly in the gut, followed quickly by a stab of guilt when she realized she was now frightened over her own child.
Even from this short distance, Kimberly saw that all of the muscles in Lynn’s body were tense against the light nightgown she wore. Her blonde hair was in disarray, and her short, panting breaths caused it to move in and out as though the hair itself had come alive.
The child’s arm worked, and Kimberly stared in horrified fascination as she dug the pencil into the paper. The room had been completely dark before Kimberly had come in with the flashlight.
How could she even see what she was drawing?
She took a tentative step forward. “Lynn?”
Kimberly kept her voice low. Her hand was trembling so badly, the light from the flashlight beam looked like a firefly hovering around Lynn’s body, desperately seeking a safe place to land.
“Lynn?” Kimberly repeated, forcing the fear out of her voice. She took a step forward, then another.
“Baby, it’s Mommy,” Kimberly said.
Her entire body broke out into a cold sweat as she reached for her daughter.
“Lynn,” Kimberly said, her voice firmer this time. “Lynn, what are you doing?”
She didn’t just stop drawing. She simply stopped. Like a marionette whose master had lost interest, every single movement ceased. There was no breathing, no furious scratch of the colored pencil, no movement at all.
The child's body twitched and pivoted so suddenly, Kimberly nearly dropped the flashlight. Through the matted tangle of hair, Kimberly could clearly see the palpable hatred in Lynn's eyes.
Kimberly didn’t look away. “Who are you?”
Lynn’s head cocked mechanically to one side, but she did not answer.
Kimberly looked over Lynn’s shoulder, and trained her flashlight beam on the drawing.
The construction paper was almost completely black, resembling the earlier drawings Lynn had done. Once again, there was a figure towering over what looked to be a frightened young child. There was a cross on the wall. It dawned on Kimberly she had seen this before, but had dismissed it as a letter. It was clearer now. This was definitely a religious symbol.
The figure in the drawing held a long, black object in its hand. The child seemed to be sitting on something, and, as Kimberly peered closer, she could see there was something wrong with the child’s right leg.
She squinted. There was a black mark on the right leg and tiny circles protruding from it that appeared to attach to a similar black mark on the wall.
Was that a chain?!
Kimberly stepped closer to her daughter.
“Lynn, why are you drawing these things?”
The child’s head went through what looked like a series of jerky clicks as she met her mother's gaze. “I’m not Lynn.”
The voice was hoarse and whispery.
Kimberly stared into the gray eyes. “Then who are you?”
The child simply stared, unblinking, her mouth hanging open, the colored pencil hanging limply in her small fingers.
“Who are you?!” Kimberly screamed. She fell to her knees and shook Lynn by the shoulders. “Tell me who you are!”
Suddenly, Lynn’s features softened. It started with her forehead, and smoothed down as though a translucent mask were slipping from the child’s face. The knitted brow slackened, the eyes gained clarity and filled with tears.
“I’m Emma,” the little girl said. “Will you help me?”