Are You Haunted: part nine
Telling himself he was stupid, but feeling panicked, Powell began inching back towards the opening. His worries tumbled over in his mind and resolved. His first idea, that they would not hate him if he reported what he’d found, he rejected. They would find a way to make this his fault. It occurred to him the sabotage might have nothing to do with the war. Old enmities and grievances could smolder even in the midst of cataclysm; they might catch fire again, when the war ended.
As his feet touched the cellar floor, Powell knew. He heard an exhaled breath, and a rustle of fabric. He threw up a hand against the flashlight beam, seeing, when Miller lowered this, that his friend had waited alone.
“Jesus Almighty, Kenzie, look at you! I knew you were up in there. You raised a cloud of dust, moving around.” Miller took him by the arm, hustling him along. “When you get upstairs, you gotta clean yourself up. Use your canteen.” Miller trotted him to the top of the cellar stairs, and on to the first-flight landing. He stopped. The lieutenant was fair-haired and short. He looked up into Powell’s face, his own amazed and pitying. He shook his head, deciding not to trust Powell, and began walking him up the next flight. “We agreed we’re not gonna say anything. It’s okay.” And Miller added, “Powell Kenzie, we are all in the shit pile together. Keep that in mind.”
The shock was prolonged this time. He was paralyzed, he thought, or he would have lifted a hand, to shade his eyes from the overwhelming glare. The headache was a jackhammer at the base of his skull; the light a fog filling the room. Powell was cold now, where before the attic had seemed too hot for a blanket. He needed to wake from this dream. He might not be as sick as he felt—all that could be part of it, an illusion.
I will let you call me Lettie, if you know me well.
You may kiss me in the moonlight, and I’ll never tell.
No, I’m not a lass coquette-y with the village swells—
The light diminished. He raised his head from the odd position in which he’d fallen asleep―neck twisted sideways, brow jammed against the wood frame of the cot. She was there, wearing a black cloak, her hands clasping it at her throat; and against the slanted roof beams, its darkness seemed the entryway to a tunnel. Her face was a pale oval, and to Powell, her closed-mouthed smile might have been Isobel’s. He supposed he was making things up to himself. These were only forms of shadow and light. But he’d heard her sing, in a quavering lilt, to a tune that jingled like an old-time piano’s.
“Your name,” he said, and wondered if he had seen her features sharpen; eyes that were distinctly eyes, meet his, “is Lettie.”
“There is an easier way in,” she told him. “You know the place.”
(copyright 2015, 2018 Stephanie Foster)