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Chapter Two

My feet tangle underneath me. Grandma has a good grip on my wrist as she drags me down the stairs to the living room. I fall into the fluffy green chair, and my entire body sinks into the busted cushion. But I don’t mind so much. My shoulders barely reach the extremely tall and boxy armrests, and it feels like I’m very well protected from whatever my creepy Grandma has to say about the haunted room upstairs.

Her feet shuffle along the worn carpet toward the kitchen. Mom jogs down the stairs and sits next to me. She’s wearing the look. The one she uses when she has to work the weekend and will miss my band concert for the third time in a row.

She curls into the armrest of the couch. But when Grandma comes back with a piping hot mug in her hands, she crosses her legs and arms so tight they turn pale. The steam is fogging Grandma’s glasses, but she seems to move around the furniture just fine. She leans down to me and outstretches a mug that smells like hot cocoa. It happens to be my favorite, but the living room already feels like one hundred degrees, and I might burst into flames if I take a sip.

Grandma perches on the opposite end of the couch and glares at Mom.

“That’s not cool,” I say. “Mom didn’t make me go to the room.”

She shoots me a frosty glare. “You should not have been in the room. The floor is rotten, and you could have fallen through.”

“That’s your reason? What about the glowy map lines and the singing voice?”

Wrinkles tighten across Grandma’s forehead, but smooth just as quickly as her eyes gloss over. Yep, the woman who handed me the warm mug left town. “You shouldn’t have even come. Would you like a pie with that hot drink?”

Fear keeps me from answering. Was ‘pie’ a code word for being baked in the oven? Grandma shuffles back to the kitchen. The white doily on the coffee table absorbs the cocoa I spill setting down my mug. I lean toward Mom, who is staring intently at the beetle trekking over the shag carpet.

“Mom, that room was haunted. No kidding. It checked off all the horror boxes.”

“You said you heard a singing voice?”

“Yes. I thought it was you. Please say it was you.”

“As a small child, I heard a song that kept me awake at night. When I asked your Grandma about its origins, she told me it was just a dream. Eventually, she made me switch rooms. From that day, I’ve not heard the song again. You say you can hear it?”

Nope. This conversation is going in the wrong direction. I stand and grab Mom’s hand. “We’ve got to get Grandma and leave now. This place is evil, and I don’t need minor key music blaring from the walls to tell me something bad is going to happen.”

My eyes race to Grandma walking robotically back into the room—a cat is lying across her shoulder and it’s not interested in the pie she’s carrying. “This is the last slice, Hudson. That is your grandfather’s middle name, correct?”

“Yes,” My trembling hand reaches for the pie, half afraid of the cat and half afraid of my Grandma’s plastered smile. This must be how Hansel felt in those old stories. No way am I eating this pie.

The cat hanging over her shoulder jerks its head to the window sill of cat statues. Why do I always have to look? My legs recoil into my chair and tuck tight to my chest when the first cat turns its head and squints at me. Last I checked, glass shouldn’t do that.

“Mom! That cat statue thing moved.”

“Why yes, dear? Cats are a most advanced species, far more than humans, wouldn’t you say?”

Sweat rolls down my temples. Now Mom is perching and has the same plastered smile as Grandma. I wave a hand in front of her glassy eyes. “Mom?”

Suddenly I understand what’s happening. A deep laugh escapes from my mouth—the kind of laugh that burst free when your buddy is hit with a spit wad in the face. “You guys are pranking me, right?”

“What do you mean?” Grandma says in perfect time with the cat’s jaw.

My grin fades real quick when that ventriloquist cat notices me looking at him. It jumps to the floor and sashays across the room, staring me down.

Generally, cats like me. I pet the strays and give them bits of my snack, but this particular cat seems to want to eat my eyeballs. If that cat uses Grandma to monologue his evil plan, I’m gonna faint. No lie.

Waiting around for the next bad sign isn’t how people survive horror movies. I skip past the furry cat and rush to the front door, but the handle won’t turn at all. This is bad! Running wide around Grandma and Mom perching on the couch, I dash to the back door, but it’s also stuck.

A rolling pin on the counter will make as good a weapon as any. My sneakers step carefully to the living room. Grandma and Mom look like mannequins from the bargain store on the edge of town.

One glass cat after another twitches their tail and drops to the carpet, like CG cats in the movies. But my brain tells me not to hang around for whatever happens next. I fling the rolling pin at them and run for the banister to swing around the first landing. The clinking of glass paws has the floor tilting.

My rookie mistake of looking back sends shivers down my spine. An army of glass cats stalk me down the narrow hallway, the real cat hisses. I walk backward to keep an eye on them.

“Nice kitties,” my voice cracks. “I think I might have a treat in my pocket.”

A roar more loud and more fierce than nature show lions screams from the herd of cat statues. The tips of my hair blow backward. No joke. It’s time to run and fast!

But the cats charge along the hallway walls and cut off the bedroom where I had planned to jump out the window. It’s risky, but way better than whatever a glass cat might do to me.

Stumbling over my untied shoelaces sends me falling into the cat painting’s secret door. My ribs sting when I crash to the first step. Survival instinct pulls me from the stairs and stomping up the doorway into the haunted room. The song returns to my mind, only this time the voice has a cryptic message.

Valleys and mountains pale in your shadow,
My most beloved sea.
An inkwell of fortune to you I do bestow,
May you never return to me.

The jibber-jabber draws me back into the room toward the map glowing on the desk. My first trip to the room felt like magic. This time it feels kinda evil, like the last bit of chocolate you scarf on Halloween Night.

Glass paws tinkle against the hardwood floor, moving faster and drawing closer. I’m stumbling and gasping as I race to the desk. My eyes search the tools hanging overhead, but they are too high to reach. A metal-tipped pen on the desk looks sharp. A cat lunges at me, and I grip the pen with both hands, holding it out front like a sword.

Cold water droplets crash onto my face as a spinning vortex of crisp blue water hovers over the desk. Rolled papers and chairs lift from the floor and shot into the swirling center black as night. A flash of light and the furniture slips inside. My voice squeaks. I might be next.

First my laces, then my feet lift off the floor. The chewed tips of my fingernails scratch across the desk and grab hold of the edge. But the force is pulling at my waist and growing stronger. My fingers give, and I grip the map.

Waves churn all around me but never touch my body. My mind races with questions that seem to pull away from my body and snap back into place like spandex.

A sudden sensation of falling tenses my legs. The spinning wall of water swirls like the drain of a bathtub and dumps me onto a pile of burning-hot sand, which is definitely not the room in Grandma’s house.

Stabbing pain from the sharp ink pen jabbing into my ribcage has me breathing fast and sucking in a mouth full of sand. I glance from the map, then to the bright sun overhead. Tears drip from my blinking eyelids. I pass out.