Read the first episode here.
Chapter 21 – Hadley Holbrook
“They’ll never accept you, Hadley. They’ll all turn their back on you.” The mean girl laughed as the Empty People surrounded Hadley.
“Leave me alone!” Hadley fell to the ground, brought her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms around them.
“Come out to the fog.”
The Empty People crept closer until Hadley felt one of their claws slide across her back.
“Be empty like us.”
Hadley shot up in bed. Her body was wet and cold. Aunt Rachel was next to her, snoring softly. She looked peaceful, like the mean girl and the Empty People weren’t bothering her like they did to Hadley.
Hadley slid out of bed and made her way through the dark into the bathroom, closing the door before turning on the light. After she had filled the cup on the sink with water, she sat on the toilet and drank.
Why was she the only one? Why did the mean girl and the Empty People keep picking on her? Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? She couldn’t go back to sleep, and Aunt Rachel would be mad if she woke her up. Maybe she could just play some games on her phone in the bathroom for a while. Hadley set the cup on the sink and turned off the light before opening the door.
Aunt Rachel was still asleep. Good. Aunt Rachel had said that she was sorry for being angry and that she was just tired. Hadley tip-toed to her backpack against the wall and fished out her phone.
As she turned back for the bathroom, muffled sounds from the wall caught her attention. She crept closer and put her ear to it. Voices of two people that Hadley didn’t recognize were talking about gathering papers of a manuscript. They weren’t whispering, but the sound was low.
The TV. The boy next door, Bryan, must have been watching TV. But, Hadley had tried the TV in her room, but nothing showed on the screen except static. Like the eyes of the Empty People.
Hadley shuddered. She didn’t want to think about the Empty People anymore. Maybe Bryan would let her watch TV with him. She moved to the door and slowly unlocked and opened it, careful to be as quiet as she could. But, now she had to knock on Bryan’s door. She gave a few soft taps and looked back. Aunt Rachel turned over onto her other side, mumbling something Hadley didn’t understand.
The sound of the lock turning on the other side of the door sent Hadley’s heart into her throat. If Aunt Rachel woke up to Bryan and her making noise, she’d get mad again. She put her hand on the door. Once it opened, she grabbed the edge and stopped it before too much light came into the room. She looked up and saw Bryan staring down at her, looking confused. Before he could talk, she brought a finger to her lips.
“Shh.” She pointed to Aunt Rachel and then whispered, “Can I come in?”
Bryan sighed and let her through before closing the door. Hadley looked around the room. It was like hers. But, the TV wasn’t on.
“What’s on your mind, kid,” Bryan asked.
Hadley’s cheeks got hot, and she looked at her feet. “I had a bad dream. Then, I heard your TV, so I thought…” She didn’t finish. She felt stupid. After a few seconds of watching her toes wiggle, she felt Bryan’s hand on her head.
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” he said as he rubbed the top of her head.
It was nice. It was like a big brother would do.
Bryan walked over to the loveseat and sat down. He had moved the table in front of it. “So, your aunt is kinda mean, huh?”
“No, she’s a good person.” There had been lots of times when Aunt Rachel would laugh and have fun with Hadley’s daddy. Deep down, Hadley knew she was good. “She just gets fustated sometimes.”
Bryan threw his head back and laughed. “Frustrated.”
“Frustrated,” Hadley repeated. “Anyway, what were you watching?” She plopped down on the cushion next to Bryan and tucked her knees to her chest.
“I wasn’t watching anything. I was playing a video game.” Bryan pointed to the laptop and game controller on the table.
“Ooh, I like video games. What kind were you playing?”
Hadley paused. “I don’t like horror games. I don’t like to be scared.”
“Yeah,” Bryan chuckled. “I’m just weird, I guess.”
“I know.” Hadley looked up at Bryan and smiled. “That’s why I like you. I’m weird, too.”
Bryan stared at Hadley for a moment. Then, he reached into his backpack by the table. “I have some fun multiplayer games.” He pulled out another controller and offered it to Hadley. “Wanna play?”
It was so much fun. For an hour, Hadley and Bryan played as some black, birdie things that they had to move through traps to get to the end. Every now and then, they would die. But it was always cute and funny, and they would both laugh. When they were about to start a new level, they heard a loud knock on the door to Hadley’s room.
Bryan paused the game, went to the door, and opened it. Aunt Rachel didn’t look at Bryan. She looked at Hadley.
“Hadley, get in here.” She was mad.
Hadley put down her controller and did what she was told.
“It’s 12:30. Do you have any idea how worried I was,” Aunt Rachel said as Hadley passed her.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Rachel.” Hadley crawled onto the bed and pulled her knees up.
“And you,” Aunt Rachel said, turning back to Bryan. “I don’t know you. For all I know, you could be some pedophile, so stay away from my niece.”
Bryan’s eyebrows went up. “Listen, lady. She knocked on my door and said she had a nightmare. So, I let her in to play some video games.”
“That doesn’t excuse you.”
Bryan clenched his jaw. “You know what? You remind me of my mother,” he said as he stepped back. He grabbed the door. “By the way, that’s not a compliment.” He slammed the door shut.
Aunt Rachel growled and headed for the bathroom. Before she closed the door, she looked at Hadley and opened her mouth.
Hadley waited for Aunt Rachel to yell at her. But, no yelling came. Instead, Aunt Rachel looked down and said quietly, “I’m sorry. Go back to sleep.” Then, she closed the door.