It took much effort for Hunter to walk into the living room, to move his legs at all. It was like moving underwater, fighting against a current. He knew the current was fear, just an emotion, but that didn’t make it any easier to fight through it. Fear was debilitating, as much a  catalyst for paralysis as any drug or broken spine. And why shouldn’t he be afraid? He knew now they were dealing with something supernatural, demonic, evil. Something they couldn’t tackle with just knives and frying pans. They were out of their league, and the acceptance of this realization opened up parts of his imagination he’d only tapped when playing dumb games like Warlord’s Realm. He saw the worst his mind could create. Seas of blood and hordes of undead. Souls suffering eons of torment.

The idea that there existed a dimension beyond this world, something akin to hell, or maybe even hell itself, a plane where evil and magic were reality...it froze his blood.

But then his thoughts turned toward Kailyn, and he wanted nothing more than to kill this evil woman. Problem was, after seeing the pictures in the attaché case, after seeing her for what she was, he wasn’t so sure there was a viable way.

Beside him, Gemma was near hysterics, staring out the window with her eyes wide. Larenz was quiet on the other side of her, his hands shaking. He, too, was suffering a new type of fear. The fear of acceptance. Hunter couldn’t blame either of them for breaking down; this was not something they taught you how to deal with in school. Or anywhere for that matter. The hair on his entire body was standing on end and he thought he might puke at any second. 

The old woman was on the porch, looking in at them with her sanguine eye, tapping her sharp fingernails on the window the way a child does to a fish tank. She didn’t smile, or sneer, or have any emotion at all. She just tapped, tapped, tapped.

“Why?” Gemma muttered, tears now coming down her cheeks. “Why us?”

“Because we came here,” Hunter answered.

The woman moved back and forth on the porch, the boards creaking under her slow footsteps. She tapped, moved a step, tapped, took another step, tapped, and continued in this manner until Hunter couldn’t take it anymore. He screamed, “Either kill us or go away, you decrepit cunt!”

The old woman stopped, cocked her head as if she’d never heard the word before. Then she walked out of view, around the corner of the porch, at which point her footsteps ceased.

Hunter stood waiting for a sign that she was still there, but all he heard was silence. “Where’d she go?”

“Back to the woods, hopefully,” Larenz said.

“Hey, guys, c’mere!” It was Carl, shouting from the kitchen.

They all ran to the table to find the papers from the attaché case scattered across the table. Carl was holding up a piece of notebook paper and waving it like it was a winning lottery ticket. “Look at what I found.” He put the paper down on the table, stabbed a finger at it. It was nothing but a long, continuing scrawl of bad penmanship.

“What’s it say?” Hunter had no time to read things; that crazy hag might be back any second and he was not about to let his guard down.

“I’m not entirely sure but it’s the only paper that’s not a drawing. It’s a bunch of nonsense, really, stuff about darkness and souls and dates that go back hundreds of years. This part here is about making clay jars, and this is about soil, and this is about stones and wildflowers and the bones of small rodents. But I can’t make a coherent thought out of it. It’s just babblings. But...this here...see how it says over and over, ‘Keep in a moist dark place. The basement. The basement. The basement.’”

“Shit,” Larenz said, as if someone had placed smelling salts under his nose. “You gotta be kidding me.”

Gemma said what everyone was now thinking: “Fuck me. There’s a basement. How’d we not think of that?”

“But where?” Larenz looked around the room, his finger pointing at anything that resembled a door. “We’ve checked all this. That’s the pantry. That’s just a shallow cupboard. That’s a closet over there. Nothing in it but winter coats and a vacuum. Where’s the basement?”

In a house this old, Hunter knew the basement could be anywhere. He remembered visiting his grandmother in upstate New York as a kid, before she passed away. Her house had been big, built in the early 1800s, and though he had little memory of his grandmother anymore, he remembered her house and how it seemed to have a collection of secret passageways. Hidden staircases and secret rooms that could be accessed by panels invisible to the untrained eye. His father had later told him they were servant’s pathways, leading from the help’s quarters to the kitchen and laundry rooms. Passages through the walls so that no guests had to look upon the house’s employees. His grandmother did not employ help, having bought the house years after the original owners, which made it easy for Hunter to run up and down those narrow staircases, pretending to search tombs for lost treasure.

Josh’s father’s house didn’t seem to be that old, but it was conceivable that the basement door had been built to blend into the walls, especially if it was in a room one wouldn’t normally think of as leading to the basement.

“Gotta be in dining room or living room,” he said. “I think it’s hidden on purpose. A design element.”