Rating: PG-13

Mulder knew he wasn't behaving rationally. But knowing that did nothing to diminish the fear he felt. He had always hated to ask for help, hated to let anybody know that he was afraid of something. Even when he had been a child and had been scared of the shadows in his room had he stayed in bed, closed his eyes and tried to ignore the imaginary sounds he heard or the sensation that he wasn't alone in the room. If it got too bad, he had his sister. At least until the day she disappeared. Samantha had always been more afraid of the dark than he had and she had eventually ended up in his bed if she had been scared of something. In that effect, he'd been able to cover his own fear by making her feel safe.

After he had grown up, he had no longer feared the dark. Shadows were, after all, just shadows, and although he knew that monsters did exist, he also knew that they could be beaten and that they were usually more afraid of him than he was of them. Monsters were, after all, usually animals.

An ironic facade along with the ability to cut his feelings off like he would shut off the light had left him in a place where he hardly ever got hurt. Mainly because he never let anybody get to him. But his ordeal in Schreck Mansion had left him emotionally raw. No matter how he tried, no matter how he scolded himself, he could not shut down those feelings of pure terror. He had tried to keep up a strong face for Scully, to let her know that he would be ah okay and that nothing could touch him now that he was back where he belonged. But that wasn't true. Sitting up in the bed of Scully's spare room, he almost convulsively clutched the covers to him, his eyes darting over the dark room, searching for the threat he knew wasn't there.

Rubbing his left hand hard over his face, he tried to calm himself down, to tell himself how ridiculous he was, but the panic was built in at the moment and he couldn't shake the feeling that if he fell asleep, he would wake up in that basement again. He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to sleep, but he simply didn't dare. The idea that maybe he should seek Scully's company had crossed his mind, but he did not want to appear as a bigger coward than he already did. And for some reason, that was how he thought she saw him right now. As a coward. After all, Scully didn't believe in ghosts. She would eventually claim that he had been frightened by his own shadow and was letting one too many ghost stories get the better of him.

Realizing that those were not Scully's words, but his mother's did nothing to calm him down. His mother had assumed that the best way to still her son's fears of the dark would be to make him feel silly about being afraid. Instead she had instilled the need to appear brave in him rather than being brave. Hiding your emotions was what mother wanted you to do.

Almost aggressively slapping his forehead, he clenched his jaws in an attempt to banish his mother's virtually condemning voice from his mind. The matter of the fact was that he was too afraid to sleep while he was alone. Given the things he had seen in that house, that wasn't such an odd thing.

His mind started working overtime at trying to find an excuse for going to Scully's room in the middle of the night. It would have to be watertight and it would have to earn him the right to stay with her for the rest of the night. But he couldn't come up with anything that would warrant that outcome. So, what could he do other than sit in the darkness and fear the shadows? Almost sneering at his own stupidity, he realized that there was one option he had forgotten about. He could turn on the light.

Reaching a shaking hand out for the lamp, he turned the light on and found that it made him a little more comfortable. But not enough to fall asleep. Not enough to lie down, either. Because if he did lie down, he would fall asleep, and sleeping was dangerous. He had been moved in his sleep. Moved to a dank smelling cellar with dead people pursuing him and giant globs of slime invading him.

"Stop it," he hissed quietly at himself, his t shirt already moist with cold sweat, which was breaking out all over his body.

A soft knock on the door made the shadows advancing on him in his mind draw back and he stared at the door for a moment until it opened and Scully stuck her head in, blinking in the sudden light. "I saw the light. Are you okay?" she asked, her eyes scrutinizing him.

He tried to smile, but it came out all wrong. Then he nodded, afraid to speak lest his voice betray him.

Scully pushed the door wide and stepped inside. "You don't look okay," she commented, finding the need to push the subject in spite of what she normally would do. "Can't sleep?" she asked on and he quickly shook his head, cursing his pride to hell. Settling down on the edge of the bed, Scully regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then reached out to brush fingers through his hair. "Mulder, you need to sleep. You're exhausted," she told him.

‘Don't you think I know that?' he wanted to ask her, but he couldn't get the words out.

Dana Scully was no fool. She had not gotten this far in life by being oblivious to other people's state of mind. And it was apparent beyond the subtle that her partner and friend was scared out of his mind, unable to process whatever he had gone through in that house. And one thing she knew without confirmation. If he didn't get a good night's sleep, his condition would worsen. Drawing a deep breath, she considered her options, decided what she needed to do and sighed. "Look, you've been alone in that house for almost a week, Mulder. I don't know what happened to you, but you'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to notice the atmosphere in that house," she said. "I for one would not want to sleep alone after having been stuck in a place like that for that long."

He stared at her, unable to fathom that she was offering him what he so desperately wanted. Hell, he didn't care if she held his hand. All he needed was for her to be in the same room, to hear somebody breathing and know that he wasn't alone. But still he could not get the words out.

Scully took his left hand in hers and gave him a light tug as she got up again. "Come on. You're not going to get any sleep while you're alone," she told him.

Seemingly reluctant, he got up and followed her into her bedroom. This would be a gesture he would not forget. Ever. The fact that she made him feel like he was doing her a favor by doing this was enough to soothe his strained pride.

Scully slipped into bed again and padded the mattress gently. "Come on," she said.

Mulder considered his options for a moment, the fact that he just wanted to jump into bed with her, then actually managed something similar to a smile and slipped under the covers beside her. "I'm sorry about this," he mumbled, his voice grating in his throat.

"About what? Being human?" she asked back with a soft smile and stretched her arm out for him. "Come here," she added. "Let's spoon up."

That brought the first earnest smile to his lips and he snuggled down with her arm around him and her body pressed against his back. Suddenly things didn't seem as terrifying. And it took him less than a minute to basically pass out. The warmth of Scully against him, the feeling of being close to someone, made him relax completely.

Scully smiled to herself, aware that she would be sleeping lightly this night and probably wake up every time he moved. But the smile wavered and died again after a second. She couldn't even begin to imagine what he had gone through and she knew it had to have been pretty damned horrible to make him act this way. She had known Mulder long enough to know about his almost compulsive need to control his emotions and for him to show so clearly that he was afraid made her wonder just what exactly had set it off.


Waking up a while later, the first thing Scully became aware of was that she had actually fallen asleep in the first place. The second thing she observed was that it was 4.15 a.m. Lying on her side with her back to the center of the bed, she wondered what had awoken her and figured it was probably Mulder. Turning over on her back, she looked over to the other side of the bed to find it empty.

Still a little sluggish from sleep, she propped herself up on her elbows and glanced around the bedroom. There was no sign of her partner anywhere. "Mulder?" she asked and sat up.

There was no reply. It made her wonder where he was. She was aware that his actions at the moment were not very rational, but on the other hand, when were they ever? Slipping out of bed, she padded barefoot across the floor to the door and opened it, actually expecting him to be watching television or something similar.

The living room beyond was dark and empty. "Mulder?" she asked again. Switching a lamp on, she blinked in the light for a moment, then slowly let her eyes slide over the room. Rubbing the back of her neck with one hand, she frowned. "Where the hell is he?" she mumbled.

Turning, she eyed the half open bathroom door, walked over and pushed it open to take a look inside. Nobody there. Thinking that maybe he'd thought it a little awkward if they woke up together, he might have returned to the guest room. She walked down to that door, pushed it open and found another empty room. And the clothes she'd had Skinner pick up for him on their way to her apartment were still there. That meant that wherever he was, he was wearing nothing but his boxer shorts.

Turning around, she headed to the front door and found it locked with the chain still in place. He could have locked it from the outside, but he could not have put the chain on. That was just not possible. Besides, why would he want to leave, wearing nothing but his boxers? It was cold outside, a promise of snow in the air. Despite his presently irrational state of mind, she knew him well enough to know he would not go out there dressed in practically nothing.

At that point she started to get worried. Something was utterly wrong with this scenario and she found herself doubting that he had been there in the first place. If it hadn't been for the fact that there were telltale signs of his previous presence, she would have considering it to be her imagination.

Taking a walk through the apartment, she checked doors and windows to make sure he hadn't left in some spur of panic or something, but no exit ways were left open. She jiggled handles and pushed doors to make sure. The thing that occurred to her when she ended up back in her living room without a clue of how he had gotten out, was that he couldn't have gotten out. Not with everything locked and closed.

Starting to feel cold despite her pajamas, she stood in the middle of the living room, staring into space as a rather implausible notion dawned on her. What if he was back in Charlottesville?


Mulder jerked awake, becoming painfully aware of the complete darkness around him and the clammy cold air. He was on his feet before he was even aware he was moving.

It took him no time at all to realize that his worst fears had come true. The thing he had been afraid of before drifting off to sleep, feeling marginally secure in Scully's arms, had been that if he did fall asleep, he would wake up in that basement again. In this basement. Unable not to, he moaned in fear, blinking rapidly, trying to see something without being able to.

The smell was enough of an indicator of his whereabouts. The dank basement smell, the chilly moist air, the stone floor beneath his bare feet. This was the basement of Schreck Mansion which he had once again been transferred into during sleep.

Suddenly finding it very hard to breathe, he started backing up, trying to listen into the void this basement was to hear any sounds, which might sound threatening. "Oh God," he whispered hoarsely to himself. So far, he had heard nothing, but once again he could not find his bearings, could not even estimate in what direction he ought to go to get out of this place. He knew there was a door somewhere. But he didn't know where and the dangers between him and that door were plentiful.

Taking another hesitant step backward, his right heel did not immediately touch the firmness of the stone floor. It sank into something squishy. Letting out a yelp, he turned and tried to back up, but the goo had already encased his foot and was moving slowly up his calf, making his skin crawl with the sensation. In his attempt to free himself from this unspeakable horror, he lost his balance and crashed heavily down on the floor, bruising his left shoulder and upper arm severely.

He cried out in pain when the skin on his arms was ripped to tatters by the rough floor, but he still kicked out, trying to push himself away from whatever that stuff was. Having it force itself inside him again was something he thought his mind couldn't stand. Not a second time. Instead of gaining ground, though, his left foot slipped on the floor and splashed into the goo as well, instantly becoming submerged and restrained by it.

Holding his left arm with his right hand, he struggled against the panic, which would dim his senses and make it impossible for him to think straight, but the sensation of that stuff reaching his knees and proceeding up his thighs made him freak out. Struggling harder than he ever had before, he managed to roll over on his stomach and used both hands, no matter how painful the broken fingers of his right hand or the torn skin on his left arm made it for him, and tried to drag himself out of that stuff. And still it kept oozing up his legs.

Although he knew better, he tried to scrape it off with his hands, only to get both hands entangled in the goo, which instantly started oozing up his arms as well. The pull of that stuff was horribly strong and he knew he didn't stand a chance, but he fought nonetheless.

When it reached his elbows, the pull lessened a little. But only for a second and he realized too late what was going on. With tremendous power, it yanked him forward and he slammed face first into a major blob of the goo, which closed around him like a slow moving wave. He tried to move his head, tried to pull back, but it was everywhere around him and his movements were slowed to a crawl while it slowly started invading him again, pushing through every opening it could find.

He writhed and twisted, putting all his panicky strength into the movements, but nothing he did made any difference. It pushed into his nose and from there into his mouth and filled it up, forcing his jaws apart before it again oozed down his throat, into his lungs, his stomach, filling every nick, every open space. And in the middle of everything, with his mind revolting against this intrusion by starting to shut down, a calm, rational thought rose to the surface. What was the purpose of this? Why was the house doing this to him?

The rationality of that thought was scary because it was completely detached from the revulsion he felt. Again that part of his mind produced a possible explanation why he was able to rationalize when he was suffocating to death in a giant blob of slime. Maybe he had just suffered a split in his personality, he thought.


Scully took about five minutes after realizing what might have happened and until she was able to move again. The idea alone was preposterous. But, on the other hand, she would not be the first to discard it as Mulder's influence at this point. During her seven years with him, she had seen things she was a lot less likely to try and explain than this.

When she finally regained her ability to move, she ran into her bedroom to get dressed. Not caring what she threw on, she did it quickly, rushed into the guestroom to pick up the clothes for Mulder, and was out the door before she had a chance to give her present course a second thought.

She unlocked the door of the car and slid behind the wheel, dumping a pair of sweat pants and a t shirt on the passenger seat, slid the key into the ignition and twisted it. The engine came to life with a soft purr and that was when she stopped short again, blinking almost in surprise at how far she had gotten without conscious thought. But there was no doubt in her mind what she had to do. One corner of her mouth jerked when a completely unmotivated thought popped into her head. Her brother Bill would have had a heart attack if he knew what she was up to. And Melissa would have encouraged her.

Releasing the brake, she steered the car out into the road and floored it, driving much faster than the speed limits allowed. She didn't care about that either until it hit her that she could be seriously delayed if she was pulled over for speeding. Yet she maintained her hap hazardous speed until she hit the freeway and slowed down to what she at that point considered a near crawl. Glancing at her watch, she noted that it wasn't more than forty five minutes since she had realized that Mulder wasn't in the apartment any more.

Nearly wincing, she had to maintain a firm grip on her anxiousness to prevent herself from pressing the gas pedal to the floor. The feeling that she needed to get to Charlottesville as fast as she could would not let her go. And it became more and more urgent by the second.

Knowing that it would take her about three hours to get there, she found it extra hard to control her need to drive faster than allowed. But she could not afford to be pulled over. Instead she found herself cramping up because she was holding onto the steering wheel like a drowning woman would hold onto a straw.

The traffic was almost non existent at that hour and Scully very much had the highway to herself, which made it even more difficult for her to remain within the speed limits. Reaching over to search the pockets of her coat, she checked if she had her badge with her, found that she did and made up her mind about what she needed most. She would risk getting pulled over and if she was, she would pull rank on them. All she knew was that she needed to reach Charlottesville earlier than she would if she kept driving as slowly as she did.

Glancing in the rearview mirror, she noted that there was nobody behind her and there was nobody in front of her, either. Throwing caution to the wind, she pressed the gas pedal down and the car accelerated to eight miles per hour within a few seconds. When the needle passed eighty five and it still did nothing to quell her nervousness, Scully started fearing that she would be to late no matter how fast she drove. But the urge to get there as fast as she could was still very much present and would not let her go. The needle hit ninety and that's where she tried to keep it as the landscape sped past her at an alarming rate.

And all the while the feeling that she was on the right track and needed to get there as fast as possible kept increasing. Scully could honestly admit to herself that she had never felt anything so clearly in her life except for the very acute and mind shattering pain a bullet wound caused. At that moment, she was again acting on instinct, being driven by her subconscious mind and she didn't even slow down to question those feelings, which she would have considered one hundred percent irrational if Mulder had been by her side and this had been a case they had been on.

It made her question her feelings toward her partner when she realized this. The fact that she was willing to throw all her disbeliefs and beliefs overboard to follow a gut instinct made her wonder how much of Mulder's attitude toward the world she had adopted over the years she had known him.

Had people she knew not started to give her strange looks when she spoke about her work? Weren't those looks comparable to the looks that Mulder received from his colleagues? Smiling grimly, she acknowledged that she was earning her newest title, her newest nickname. She had heard it only once and the man who had said it had quickly found something else to look at when she had given him a withering stare. He'd called her Mrs. Spooky.

When she hit Charlottesville one hour ahead of time, she was relieved to have made it in one piece and without being pulled over, but the urgency was nagging her to keep speeding. She didn't, though, once she hit a more populated area. Driving almost on instinct back to the mansion, she let the car roll to a stop in front of the closed gates. The manners taught her insisted that she should go by the Cranes and ask them to let her into the house again. The nagging feeling in her subconscious screamed in rage at that idea. There was no time, it insisted. No time to be pleasant. Mulder's sanity and perchance life were at stake here. That could not be measured in material goods.

Swallowing hard at what she was about to do, she backed the car up to the opposite side of the road, revved the engine and floored it, ramming the Taurus right through the heavy, wrought iron gates. The lock on the gate was fortunately not very strong and the gates jumped open with the force of the impact, doing minimal damage to the car.

She raced the car up the trail to the mansion and was out of it before the engine had stopped entirely. Ripping the trunk of the car open, knowing full well that the doors of Schreck Mansion would not be nearly as easy to break through as the gate had been since she for obvious reasons could not drive the car through them, she retrieved the mandatory crowbar, which was a standard item in the trunk of the cars issued to federal agents. Stopping short, she stared at the fire extinguisher for a moment and once again heeding that nagging voice in her subconscious, she grabbed it and ran up to the front doors. She had no idea why she bothered to bring it. All she figured was that it might come in handy.

After applying the crowbar to the door, she put all her strength into breaking the doors open. Holding onto the crowbar with both hands after wedging it between the doors, she leaned back, letting her body weight do the job for her. Unfortunately, the crowbar was not wedged in deeply enough and slipped out of the crack, landing Scully rather unceremoniously on her behind. With a grunt of annoyance, she rose back to her feet and regarded the crack between the doors for a moment. Then she raised the crowbar with both hands and hammered it into the crack with all her might. Satisfied that it wasn't going to slip unless the wood of the door splintered, she once again leaned backward, her hands locked around the steel bar. With an audible metallic creak, the lock broke open, once again spilling Scully unto the ground.

She growled under her breath and rose again to pry the doors apart. It was Mulder's specialty to pick locks, not hers. She went for brute force when she had to open a door she had no key for. Not that this had happened too many times before. She could remember only one occurrence where she had been forced to break a lock open and that had happened long before she had met Mulder.

As she stood there, one hand against the door, the crowbar in the other, it suddenly occurred to her that she could have shot the lock open. On the other hand, that would probably have attracted unwanted attention. And how was she going to explain to the police that she needed to save her partner from a haunted house? With an almost nervous titter, she returned her attention to her shady transactions.

She gave the doors a push and they swung wide, allowing her to step into the entrance hall. For a moment, she doubted her senses. There was no doubt in her mind that she needed to save Mulder, but she started doubting the brilliance of coming to this house alone. There was clearly something going on in this place. She could sense it as much as she could hear it. There were bumps from upstairs, doors slamming, and a cold draft made her shiver almost uncontrollably. Scratching sounds along with a moving thumping along the walls made her hold her breath and look around anxiously. This house was alive in the very sense of the word and somehow she knew that there was no natural explanation for this, no matter how much she wanted there to be one.

Taking a few hesitant steps into the entrance hall, she cleared the doors, which instantly swung shut behind her. Jumping at the noise, she swirled around and stared at them for a second, then glanced down at the crowbar in her hand. One thing she was certain of. If she could get in, she could get out. No matter how, she would find Mulder and get them both out of this house of horrors. A thumb followed by a rustling from the area where she had found Mulder the last time made her forget about her immediate concern. Certain that she would find him in the winter garden once more, she broke her own partial paralysis caused by the incomprehensibility of what was happening around her and rushed in that direction.

She hit the frosted glass doors, which swung open into the winter garden, where she came to a stop at the sight that met her. The withered vines were all in motion, creating the sound she'd heard. They were moving all over the room, twisting around each other, breaking through the floor, the walls, the glass ceiling above. Scully stared at the scene for a second, not really understanding why those vines didn't go for her, and then she started to withdraw. The second she started moving again, the vines started slithering in her direction. She jumped back and pushed the doors shut, knowing that the swinging doors would not hold back those vines. Instead of sticking around to see what those reanimated growths had in mind, she turned and ran back to the entrance hall, trying to figure out where she might find her partner and friend.

Stopping in the center of the entrance hall, she started turning in a circle, her eyes scanning doors, floor and stairs while she tried to figure out where she might find what she was looking for. A strange sound made her tilt her head back and she looked up at the huge chandelier dangling right above her. With equal amounts of dread and fascination, she watched while the copper arms of the chandelier started moving, weaving through the air like someone's twisted idea of snakes.

"What the hell?" she mumbled, unable to fathom this odd form of life. Despite her inability to understand what she was seeing, she knew on instinct that her chances of being able to avoid trouble and find Mulder as fast as possible would increase if she did not let herself get distracted by oddities like this. She followed a sudden inclination to step aside and was barely missed by one of the arms of the chandelier, as it embedded itself in the marble floor right where she had been standing. Somewhat shocked that the appliances in this house would go to such extremes to stop her, she decided to keep moving. Standing still could be dangerous.

She briskly walked toward the stairs leading to the first floor and grabbed a hold of the banister when she reached it. But something made her hesitate before going up. Frowning, she turned her head and looked toward the north wing of the house while she tried to work out why she felt such a strong urge to go in that direction rather than follow her first impulse to go upstairs. Almost as if guided by invisible hands, she turned fifteen degrees and headed straight for the kitchen.

The Cranes had cleaned up after Mulder's last visit to the house and everything was back where it belonged. Hence the door to the basement, unbeknownst to Scully, was once again unobstructed. Stopping dead once more, she stared at it, being swept by an overwhelming sensation that she was on the right track. "A flashlight," she mumbled to herself. "I need a flashlight." Although she was fairly certain that the basement would have electrical light, she felt the need to get some of her own. Just in case.

Dropping the fire extinguisher on the long table, she hooked the crowbar into her belt, swirled around and ran back out into the entrance hall, somehow having managed to forget the threat from above. She once again barely avoided being speared by another of the arms and generally had to throw herself out of the way. Landing hard on her side, she grunted at the brutal impact, which sent a jitter through her elbow and all the way up to her shoulder.

With little effort, she got back to her feet, eying the chandelier suspiciously while she tried to anticipate its next move. "Gotta be more careful," she mumbled to herself and edged along the walls to the closed doors. With some surprise, she could open the doors with no trouble and she rushed outside to get the powerful flashlight, which was also a standard item in the cars. Flicking it on, she made sure it worked, then ran back inside again, where the doors once again slammed shut behind her. With one brief worried glance at the closed doors, she then turned and ran straight into the kitchen, avoiding any further attacks by the chandelier by simple measures of speed.

Once back in the kitchen, she came to a stop in front of the door to the basement. Realizing she was in the process of forgetting the fire extinguisher, she took a step back to grab it from where it was sitting on the long table, then returned her attention to the door.

Drawing in a couple of deep breaths to steel herself against any possible dangers, she reached out, grabbed the handle, twisted it down and pulled the door to the basement open. There she came face to face with the half rotted corpse of a teenager. Her instant reaction was one of stunned surprise and disbelief. For a second, which stretched into eternity, they both stood there, unmoving. And that second was enough for Scully to move past her initial reaction and push aside the urge to disbelieve what she was seeing. With the initial surprise dissipating, she ripped the fire extinguisher up almost on instinct and hammered it into what remained of the corpse's face, knocking it back down the stairs to the dark basement beyond before it could make any move against her.

Lowering the fire extinguisher again, she stared at the open doorway for a second, utterly stunned by what was happening around her. She knew by now that this house was anything but normal and she knew she would have to suspend her rational thoughts for now if she wanted to find Mulder and get them both out of this place in one piece. Exhaling sharply, she flicked the flashlight on and shone it down the stairs to watch in horrified fascination as that thing down there started moving and slowly crawled back up the stairs.

Scully considered her options, then slammed the door shut again and glanced around, trying to find something she could fight it with. Her eyes fell on a spray can of furniture polish sitting on the kitchen counter next to the sink and a lighter lying on a shelf above it.

Putting the fire extinguisher and the flashlight down, she grabbed those two items and turned back toward the door, keeping a safe distance, where after she flipped the cap off the furniture polish and flicked the lighter on. Seconds later, the door opened and that thing stood there, wavering, its face all but gone. Despite the gruesome sight and the fact that the rational part of her mind was screaming that this wasn't possible, Scully didn't wait for the corpse to make the next move. Instead she sprayed the furniture polish through the flame of the lighter, creating a virtual blast of fire, which engulfed the walking corpse and sent it tumbling down the stairs again.

Holding the spray can like she would hold a gun, Scully stepped up to the open doorway and sent a cautious glance down the stairs. The corpse had left little burning pieces of itself on the steps and was lying in a heap at the foot of the stairs, still very much on fire. It was with no small amount of dread that she watched it get back to its feet once more. But it didn't come back up. It lumbered around at the foot of the stairs for a moment, then broke through a door down there and stumbled into the basement itself.

Breathing hard as if she'd just run a marathon, Scully remained standing at the top of the stairs, lighter switched on, spray can at the ready, and stared in utter disbelief at the bottom of the stairs. It took a long moment before she managed to shake the mental picture which to her was taken directly out of a Romero movie. Dawn of the Living Dead, wasn't it? Glancing sideways at the large windows of the kitchen and the rising dawn beyond, she tittered almost nervously. "Night of the Living Dead is more like it," she whispered to herself, flicked the lighter off and lowered the spray can.

The dead thing in the basement wasn't coming back up. Not right now anyway. The last thing she wanted to do was go down there and give it the chance of catching up with her, but she had a very distinct feeling that Mulder was down there with it. The thought of that thing lumbering around down there made her shudder, but she was also determined to get her friend and partner out of this place before it was too late, a feeling which grew by the minute and had been growing since she had realized he was no longer with her. Pocketing both the spray can and the lighter, she returned to the long table, grabbed the flashlight and the fire extinguisher and turned back to the door.

Once again stopping at the top of the stairs, she gazed down into the darkness for a moment, hauled in a few deep breaths as if the air had suddenly become too heavy to breathe, then flicked the flashlight on and started her decent.