I’m going to throw up.
I clamp a hand over my mouth, but it’s unstoppable. I shove Ethan aside and make a mad dash for the kitchen, just in time to hurl into the sink. I grip the edges of the kitchen counter, my vision blurring before my eyes.
Ethan’s hand touches my back, and I shudder at his touch, and not in a good way. I close my eyes, trying to block out what I just saw in the compartment under the floorboards. But I can’t. I’ll be seeing that image until the day I die.
I’m sorry we came here. Sorry we got started on any of this.
“I guess we know what happened to Dr. Hale now,” Ethan says in a husky voice.
“I guess so,” I choke out.
I didn’t know what to expect when Ethan opened up that compartment. But that was like nothing I’d ever seen before. A rotting corpse, stuffed under the floorboards. I don’t know how long it takes for a human to turn into nothing but bones after death, but this body hadn’t reached that stage yet. There was still dried-out black skin clinging to the bones.
And scraps of clothing. What possibly used to be a blue shirt. Denim pants. Evidence that once upon a time, that
desiccated corpse was a real person. They put on pants and a shirt that morning, never suspecting how their day would end.
“I need some air,” I gasp.
Before Ethan can protest, I push past him and stumble toward the front door. It takes me a second to fumble with the locks, but when I finally get it open, I almost cry with relief. I step out onto the front porch, my socks sinking into the snow that accumulated there last night.
Now that the sun is down, the temperature is definitely below freezing. And all I’m wearing is a pair of blue jeans, a flimsy blouse, that white cashmere sweater, and my socks. By all rights, I should be freezing my ass off. But it feels good. It gives me a distraction from the horrible image I will never get out of my head.
“Christ, Tricia, it’s freezing out here!”
Naturally, Ethan has followed me out to the front porch. At least he was smart enough to put on his boots and tug on his coat. He’s also holding my coat.
“Put this on,” he orders me.
I let him lace my arms into the coat, although it probably feels to him like he’s dressing a rag doll. He throws an arm around my shoulders, but I shrug him off. I don’t want him to touch me right now.
“You should put on shoes,” he says quietly. “You’re going to get frostbite.”
I stare off into the distance. Snow, as far as I can see. How are we ever going to get out of here? And we’re stuck here, with a dead body.
“Tricia? Are you okay?” “No.”
Ethan grimaces. “I’m so sorry you had to see that. I never should have opened the compartment.”
“I’ve never seen a dead body before.” I glance over at him. “Have you?”
He hesitates a second too long. “No.”
“Well…” He shoves his hands into his coat pockets. “At funerals, obviously sometimes there’s an open casket. So…”
I swallow. “We really have to spend the night here?”
Ethan stares off into the distance. “I guess I could go back down the road on foot. See if I could flag down a car and call for a truck to plow us out.”
“And leave me alone with that dead body?”
He sighs. “We don’t have a lot of options. I still think we should wait for the morning. At the very least, it won’t be so cold.”
At his words, I realize that my feet have gone completely numb. I really am going to get frostbite if I stand here much longer. “Let’s go back inside.”
“That’s a good idea.”
Ethan puts his hand on the small of my back and leads me gently back into the house, even though a wave of nausea hits me as I step into the living room. My socks are completely soaked from the snow, and I still can’t feel my feet. Ethan leads me to the sofa and gently sits me down.
“You need to warm up,” he says firmly. “Yeah,” I mumble.
I can’t seem to stop shaking. I shiver almost violently as he tugs off my frigid socks. My feet have turned an angry red color. Ethan clucks his tongue. “I’m going to get a bowl of warm water.”
He’s so calm about the whole thing. How can he be so calm? What we saw in that compartment was one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen in my life. It was like something out of a horror movie. Yet Ethan doesn’t seem at all upset about it. Shouldn’t he be upset?
But at the same time, I’m grateful he’s so calm. He’s going to be such a great husband. And a great father. You need somebody like that—somebody who is so level-headed in a time of crisis. That’s Ethan.
I close my eyes, listening to the sound of water running in the kitchen. I take a deep breath, trying to control my shaking. I hear footsteps, and when I open my eyes again, Ethan is standing in front of me, holding a large glass bowl filled with water.
“Put your feet in,” he instructs me.
I oblige. The sensation is slowly returning to my toes, and it feels almost like they’re burning as I submerge them in the lukewarm liquid. Somehow it calms me down though. The shaking is easing up just a bit.
“Better?” he asks. I nod wordlessly.
Ethan drops down beside me on the sofa. He puts his arm around my shoulders, and this time I let him. I rest my head against him as the tremors in my body gradually subside. Before I can completely calm down, something makes my head jerk up.
It’s a crash. Coming from Dr. Hale’s office.
Ethan hears it too. He sits up, his whole body rigid. He’s been denying it the whole time we’ve been here, saying that I’m crazy, but now he knows I’m right. There’s somebody else in this house. There is somebody in Dr. Hale’s office.
That or the corpse has come back to life.