James dropped his head and twisted around toward the group. His dark brown eyes glowered at the teenagers as they huddled in a circle. A sneer appeared, and a roar of sinister laughter crawled up his throat and through his crimson lips. “Now,” he slapped his palms together and rubbed, “what game shall we play next?” James placed his fingers on his jaw and caressed the tip. “Hmm, let’s see.” A finger tapped his chin. “Ahh, yes.” His glare pushed the group back a few steps. He glimpsed at his wristwatch. “Hmm, a half-hour before midnight.” And nodded, “Yes, plenty of time.” His head snapped up, and his face softened. “Let’s get in a line.” And he patted his hands together. “Come now, in a line.”
Sophia, Elijah, and Ava stared at each other, frozen in terror. Their hearts raced, breath rapid and shallow. Their faces drained of blood.
An icy hand grasped Ava’s arm and jerked her from the others. James dragged her three feet from them. “Now, now, Ava. I said, get in a line.”
Ava closed her eyes and lowered her head to avert eye contact. Her body quivered in fear. The shiver intensified when James’ frigid body embraced her. He lowered her head onto his chest and played with her purple and brown hair. A frosty breath blew into her ears. “Don’t worry, dear little Ava. If you survive the game, I’ll take you home with me.” He angled his head to view Sophia and Elijah. “I’ll finish raising you myself.” The corner of his lips rose as a chuckle vibrated from them. “Get. In. Line… Now!” Sophia and Elijah obeyed.
James paced and raised a finger. “Now, a candle.” He stopped in front of Sophia and turned. His fingers rose to her face and lifted her chin, and he leaned in closer. He cupped her head in his hands. “Go to the kitchen and grab a candle, my sweet.”
The girl’s body swayed. “Yes,” slid out from Sophia’s pink lipstick lips.
James lifted his head. “Go, now.” She nodded and raced to the kitchen.
Rooted to the floor, Elijah watched James instill fear in Ava and seduce Sophia. I must do something. But what?
Sophia returned with a medium-sized black and red pillar candle and gave it to James. “Is this what you wished?”
James peered into her eyes; mouth pinched. “Yes, dear.” His hands curled around the candle and lifted. He shifted and sauntered to Elijah, whose arms rose. His palms faced the ceiling. James placed the candle on the hands. “Here you go, Elijah, my boy.”
Elijah tried to shake his head but to no avail. He struggled to speak. “Mmm, mmm.” But his locked lips stopped the sound.
“Now, Elijah.” James shook his head and planted a finger on Elijah’s lips. “There’s nothing you can do.” He slanted his head and snickered. “If you want out, you must play the game.” James peered into Elijah’s eyes and nodded and tapped Elijah’s head with his finger. “I know what goes on in that mind.” James glared at Ava and back to Elijah. “Dirty little mind.” He smirked. “Didn’t know young teenagers thought that way.”
James strolled to Ava, stopped, and did an about-face. He stared at the line and fluttered a hand in the air. “Now, to the bathroom.” James had controlled the group’s movements and forced them to follow.
They entered the bathroom, and James placed Elijah in front of the mirror. He moved Ava a few inches behind him, and Sophia stood opposite her. Their reflections peered back. Pale, tear-swollen eyes and dread washed over their faces.
James glanced at his wristwatch. “With the lights off and the doors and windows closed, we’re good to go.” He handed Sophia a book of matches. “Now, sweetheart, give these to Ava.” He watched their every move. “Now, Ava, my love, light a match.” Ava snapped a match out of the book and scrapped the head against the striker, and it lit on the first try. “Now, give the match to Elijah.” Her hand shook as she passed it to Elijah, who steadied himself and pinched it from her. “Now, light the candle.” Elijah did what James asked. He dropped the match in the sink, and the flame fluttered out. “Now, stare in the mirror and wish for something, besides fleeing from me. Visualize it in your mind. Wait until you feel a presence in the room.” Perfect timing, 12:01 am.
The hair on their bodies stood on end, and goosebumps formed on their arms. James rubbed his palms together and grinned. “Now, repeat after me. ‘I’m aware of your presence, and I welcome you into this home. Come now.’” They repeated after him. “Now say, ‘We will play a game of Hide and Seek, until three.’” They repeated the phrase. James inhaled; head tipped back. When he exhaled, it straightened. “Now, boy and girls, go run and hide.”
Elijah dropped the candle into the sink and dashed off with the girls. They separated and hid. A harsh growl rattled the windows, and heavy footsteps shook the house. The temperature plunged below zero. Their breath formed a mist in the air every time they exhaled. Ava hid in the study behind the couch. She snatched a blanket from its arm and wrapped her chilled body. Elijah pulled a coat from the hallway closet and put it on to keep warm. Sophia, stuck in the food pantry, folded her arms around herself as hypothermia took over.
“Ammit, Ammit, Ammit.” James exhaled. He paced in the front room, the biggest room in the house. “You see, she’s an ancient Egyptian demon. She yearns to devour souls and the meat and blood of humans.” A howl vibrated the home. “She’s ravenous right now.” He peeked at his wristwatch. “You have until three. When you hear the tone, run to me.” If you can. “And you’ll win your wish.”
Time clicked by as Ammit sniffed the air, searching for them. She searched room by room and tore the doors off the hinges and yanked the curtains off the rods. The demon flipped beds and chairs. She stomped her way to the first floor. Ammit entered the front room and paused by James, who petted her. “Go now, find them.”
Ammit entered the kitchen and split the pantry door in two and peered inside. She licked a frozen Sophia. The beast expanded her crocodile jaw and slid Sophia down her throat like an ice cube. She swung around and sniffed the air. Her pace slowed, and she shuffled her way to the hallway, and laid next to Elijah’s closet, and fell asleep.
A putrid stink of decaying flesh filled Elijah’s mouth and nose. Bile rose in his throat, and he fought to keep it down. I can’t let her find me.
“Hmm,” James’ voice echoed through the house. “Sophia’s gone.” He waved his hand in the air. “That’s okay. I didn’t want her. She was too… cold for me.” He guffawed.
A few hours passed, and Ava peeked out from behind the couch and crept to the desk. Her heart-thumping woke the slumbering beast. Its nose sniffed the air. Ammit shook her lion’s mane and rose onto her hind hippopotamus legs and stretched. The creature shifted her body to her front lion legs and again shook her mane. She sniffed at the door, let out a snort, and licked it before searching for the beating of the heart.
Ava darted to the closet and twisted the knob. The door creaked open, and she slid inside. The meditation she did helped slow her breathing and heart rate. I hope this works. She glanced at her wristwatch. 2:45, fifteen more minutes, I hope.
The den shook at every step Ammit took. The demon pushed her way through, breaking the door frame. She tilted her head and glanced around the room. With a grunt, she withdrew. The vibration of her footsteps faded.
Ava let out a sigh of relief. The paneling behind her exploded. Ammit’s mouth clutched down on her legs as her hands tried to grasp the doorknob. The demon dragged the girl to James. His face went from a sinister smile to a dissatisfied frown.
Tears smeared Ava’s mascara, and it trailed down her cheek and dripped off her chin. Blood gushed out of her legs as Ammit’s razor-sharp teeth tore deeper into her flesh.
James kneeled and caressed Ava’s pale cheek. “I hoped you’d survive this game.” He lowered his head. “What was your wish, my love?”
Ava shook her head, and her forehead wrinkled. “You already know.”
James nodded. “To flee from your parents.”
He stroked Ava’s matted hair. “And now?”
Ava’s body shook. She peered into his eyes. “Anything to stay alive.”
He slid his hands to her chin. “Anything?”
James grinned. “The things I can do to you when you become of age.”
“I’m yours,” she whispered.
Humm, are teenagers easy these days, or am I missing something? No thrill of the hunt, I’ll pass. Let’s get this over with. James shifted his head to Ammit. A roar rumbled out as her jaw expanded and scooped Ava into her mouth.
A lone tear appeared and dripped from James’ eye as Ava’s last word echoed in his mind, ‘NO!’ He sneered at Ammit. “Do you know how hard it is to find someone like her?”
Ammit stomped away.
James glanced at his wristwatch. “Tick-tock, three minutes, the tone will be… well, you know.” He stared at the hallway closet door. “Looks like you’ll win, Elijah.”
Elijah slapped a hand over his mouth when Ava’s screams died out. He glanced at his wristwatch, and the tone of three peeped. He flung the door open and sprinted to the front room. Elijah froze when a beast with a combined body of a lion, hippopotamus, and crocodile glared at him. The demon shadowed him. I’m wasting time. The demon swayed and hacked salvia all over Elijah. He shook his head. Something stuck in her throat. It’s now or never. Elijah backed up a foot and darted toward the beast and slid under her into the front room. James’ grin faded into anger.
Elijah jumped up and placed his hands on his knees. With each exhale came a word. “I. Made. It.”
James took off his wristwatch and strolled to Elijah. His rage subsided, and his grin returned. He held the watch in front of Elijah’s eyes. “Five after three.”
Elijah shook his head. “Impossible.”
James gazed over Elijah’s shoulder and nodded at Ammit. “She knows how to hold people off. But, she has something caught in her throat. She would’ve shadowed you longer.”
Elijah shook his head.
Ammit turned toward Elijah and James. She hacked once more, and a black boot flew from her and landed next to Elijah’s feet. He jumped back.
James placed a hand on Elijah’s shoulder. “She knew where you were… all along. The demon stopped you from crossing over, just long enough for you to miss the deadline.”
Shit, now what?
James studied Ammit. “It’s not fair. You get what you want, but you eat what I want.”
James pressed his chilled body against Elijah. He wrapped his arms around Elijah’s chest and whispered in his ear. “Dear, Elijah. She opted not to eat you. Guess she had her fill. But, she wants something else.”
Elijah’s body tremored. “What?”
James’ grin widened. “She wants… you.”
Elijah shook his head. “NO!”
Ammit stood upon her hippopotamus feet and embraced Elijah’s with her lion’s feet. She absorbed him, and a hum from the demon echoed in the house. A black swirl appeared, engulfing the beast.
James glanced at his wristwatch as he fastened it back on his arm. “Time to see what Liamy boy is up to.” A fiery portal opened, and he strode through.