The phone woke her.
"Janet, I have to see you right away." The voice was sharp. Urgent.
"Stephen?" She shoved back the halo of hair. "You don't sound like yourself."
"I'm at Heather Down."
"You're what!" Janet rubbed her brow. "What time is it?"
"Just after midnight."
"And you're where? What the crap are you doing up there?"
"I told you I had to come back. When you wouldn't come with me, I came alone. Janet, you need to get up here, now. I mean tonight."
"Get up there!" She held the receiver at arm's length. "What do you think I am, crazy?"
"Janet, I know about everything that's been going on. I know it all."
"And just what has been going on? Tell me. And while you're at it tell me your part in the whole scheme of things?"
"Don't ask for explanations over the phone. It's a long and complicated story. Sheriff Wiley's on his way out here. He can help explain it all. Just get up here and we'll straighten this whole mess out."
"Don't take me for a fool, Stephen."
"That's just it, I don't. I know you for the brave and honest person you are."
"I'm not brave. I'm a full-blown coward with a marshmallow backbone." She shook her head. "Oh God, I don't know what to believe."
"The truth, Janet, that's all. The truth." The voice was angry. "All this stuff'ss been happening to you for a reason. You had to be removed because you're in the way." He paused as if desperately searching for words. "Do you trust me enough to come up here and find out for yourself?"
"Stephen, I want to believe you, but I'm scared."
"Janet, if you've never listened to me before, listen now." He spoke slowly, giving weight and measure to his argument. "Things are not what they seem. Until all this is straightened out there can be no future for you--for us."
She was beyond hearing the words and could only hear the pleading in his voice. "Please. Can't it wait until tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow will be too late." His voice contained a razor's edge of intensity. "Come now, Janet. Come now, or you'll never know the absolute truth."
She thought about Hilda and the speeding car in the dark alley; about the skid on the mountain; so much danger. "I'm not so sure the truth is all that important anymore."
"The sheriff just drove up." He paused for the space of a breath. "I've never told you Janet, but I love you." He chuckled. "Yeah I know, it surprised me too. Our future's all that matters to me, but we can't have a life together until all the knots are untangled. I won't ask too much of you tonight, I know I caught you off guard. So come if you can--I know you'll do what you think is best." Then the line went dead.
Janet peered through the heavy mist at Stephen's apartment across the courtyard. It was dark. At the parking lot, the familiar white Mustang was also missing.
"Of course he's not there," she told herself. "He just called from the mountain." Then why did she feel so wary?
"It's okay," Janet kept reassuring herself. "It's going to be okay." Somehow Stephen had uncovered the truth and now her life would be set to some kind of reasonable order. But she still couldn't shake the feeling that danger was lurking on the mountain.
The headlights picked through the ice-laden fog that rolled across the highway in front of the car, and Janet had to swipe the clouded windshield with the sleeve of her coat. At long last she could see the faint outline of the mansion in the murky distance.
She parked the car in front of the carriage house and cut the engine. Unconsciously she picked up the denim bag from the seat and slung it over her shoulder. She opened the door and stepped out into the mist. In the distance the crash of the sea roared in its fury.
Tugging the hood of her coat over her head, she turned and looked toward the house: Heather Down, her beloved family home now looked dark and ominous and she wanted to run away. The sound of her footsteps faded when she stepped from the pavement to the over-grown lawn. She could feel the tall grass brush against her legs and grapple around her ankles. Janet glanced skyward. A rare blue-moon lighted her path; such an occurrence was marked by a second full moon in a single month and was said to predict danger--and even death.
Janet juggled the clutch of keys as she moved across the porch. When she touched the knob the door opened on its own. Musty odors of a room too long closed enveloped her as she stepped over the threshold. She reached for the lights then remembered that the power was off in the switchbox.
"Stephen," she called out. "I'm here." Silence was the only response. Nerves tightened and she fought against the urge to flee. "Is anyone here?"
She closed the door behind her, cutting off all outside light. In the darkness she made her way to the library table situated at the foot of the stairs. Feeling for the pulls of the center drawer she slid it open and reached inside. Her hand closed around a long, slender candle and beside it she felt the square matchbox. The scratching of the match against the sandpaper side of the box grated in the silent room and she touched the flame to the wick. Turning slowly, she looked around and took a step in the direction of the study.
"Stephen," she called a second time. "Are you there?"
A slight rustling, ever so faint, sounded above her. She took a tentative step to the foot of the stairs.
"Is someone up there?"
Again, something stirred.
Determined to take back control of her life, Janet's resolve hardened against any adversary she might encounter. Gripping the candle in her right hand she clutched the banister with her left and began to climb. The wick flickered and danced shadows on the wall to her right as she placed one foot above the other. She continued upward. Halfway to the first landing she felt something brush across her foot and scurry away. "Settle down," she scolded herself, "it's only a mouse."
Janet climbed with a forceful purpose. After what seemed an eternity she reached the first landing. To her right was her late grandmother's bedroom. The door was closed. Was this where the sound had come from? As if in answer to her question, she heard a mewling from behind the door.
"Who's there?" she demanded, and tried to steady her shaking voice. "What do you want?"
Another muffled sounded penetrated the heavy oak.
Someone was inside the room. Goosebumps sand-papered Janet's arms and prickled along her spine. Her breathing, ragged and shallow, made her lightheaded. She stepped backwards, ready to escape down the stairs, when a drop of hot wax fell from the candle and dripped onto her hand. Reality returned with a clarity that told her leaving would provide no answers. She had to find out once and for all who was pulling the strings that was controlling her life.
Fortified with new-found courage she stepped forward and reached for the door. Fear like a deadly stalker prowled through the network of blood and muscle and nerve systems that made up her body. Her heart quickened as she turned the knob and stepped into the dark chamber.