The first snowflake began to descend to earth, dancing lightly in the wind

The first snowflake began to descend to earth, dancing lightly in the wind. It traversed the numerous layers of cold atmosphere before reaching the treetops of the forest. The fir trees rustled in the wind, sounding like a voice whispering soft nothings.

Every now and then, one of the branches would creak and groan under its evergreen burden, and the sound would ring through the near silence of the forest.

A gust of wind caught the snowflake, carrying it further over the forest. It had only traveled a little further when it came into a clearing. At the center of the clearing there stood a great house. It was old, perhaps colonial in origin. The bricks that had once shone red among the greens and browns of the forest were now grimy and moss covered. Two large windows peered out of the top of the house like the eyes of some curious giant, clouded by some thin pieces of gauzy cloth. The chimney, worn away by time and weather, swayed under the beginning bouts of the storm. A roofed white porch spanned the whole front of the house, three rocking chairs creaking back and forth in the wind.

A long squeak announced the opening of the door. Almost silently, a figure walked out of the house and onto the porch. He walked around the chairs to the porch end and looked out over the front lawn of the estate. He placed his hands on the porch's railing and looked up at the lone snowflake as it drifted down towards him. And he didn't seem the least bit perturbed as the snowflake floated through his hand to land on the railing.


"Turn that music down please!" Anne shouted from the back seat of the van. Dan, sitting in the passenger seat, turned the knob down and looked back at her.

"What'd you say?"

Serenity and Yolen in the middle seats chuckled to themselves.

"I asked you to turn the music down. I could hardly hear myself think, and obviously you couldn't hear me!"

"Fine, we'll keep it down." Dan huffed and turned back to face front. Yolen reached up to the driver's seat and tapped Train on the shoulder.

"How long is it 'till we arrive?" he asked for the umpteenth time. Train rolled his eyes.

"It hasn't changed that much in the last two minutes," he sighed. Yolen did the math in his head, resting back in his seat with a smug smile.

"So, it's only an hour and 33 minutes then!"

"How should I know?"

Anne sat back to enjoy her book now that she could hear what was going on in her head without having to block out blaring rock and roll. As she began reading, however, it became apparent that on such a bumpy road, she wouldn't even be able to finish a page. She sadly put away the book and, with nothing else to do, turned to the four other people in the car.

The road trip and camping had all been Train's idea. He was the oldest of them all at nineteen, and, having just gotten a raise at his job, he had decided to invite the rest of them on a trip. He had informed the rest of the teenagers that they would be driving for about a week, camping out on the roadside or staying at motels, going wherever they pleased, stuffing themselves with sugary snacks while on the road, and in general doing whatever they wanted. At the moment, they were trying to reach what had looked like an interesting roadside attraction; a mini-golf putt-putt next to a mini petting zoo. Serenity, the sweet girl she was, had wanted to see the animals. Yolen had instantly agreed with her, but nowadays, he agreed with anything she said. His "secret crush" on the girl was only a secret to Serenity herself. Dan, Anne, and Train all agreed that mini-golf might be a good idea, since they could stretch out their legs. They had been driving almost all day without stopping.

If they had known, however, that the putt-putt/zoo was so stinkin' far away, thought Anne, they probably would've stopped for the night at that last hotel instead of being in the middle of a deserted back road in the evening. Then again, it was rather pretty. Besides, even if they had to stop for the night, they had all of their camping gear.

Serenity peered out of the window at the darkening sky. Her eyes lit up. "Hey guys! It's snowing! Look!"

Anne, Dan, and Yolen peered out the windows while Train tried to look up through the windshield at the sky. Sure enough, telltale white clumps of snowflakes were falling to the ground. Dan groaned.

"I hope the golf place doesn't close 'cause of snow," he muttered. Train glanced quickly out of the window before returning his eyes to the road.

"It doesn't look like it's sticking," he replied. "They probably won't close-"

Before he could finish his sentence, Anne and Serenity both screamed "Look out!" Train swerved to the right a little, bumping the edge of the road for a second as he tried to avoid a leaping deer. It jumped out of their way and stared after them for the briefest of seconds before fleeing once more.

Dan sat back in his seat with a sigh. "Phew, that was a close one for that deer," he said, wiping his forehead. "I don't recall seeing any deer crossing signs though. Any of you remember?"

"No," Anne replied, but before she could add what she thought, Train swerved again, sending her swinging into the side of the car. She straightened herself out huffily. "What was that about?" she asked Train irritably. Train stared through the windshield carefully.

"Another deer just ran across the road," he explained to the ruffled teen. "It was coming from the same direction as the other one."

"Maybe the deer are playing games with us," Yolen joked. Dan snorted.

"Yeah, maybe all of the deer became super intelligent and plan to get their revenge on humans by running us off the road," he laughed. A sudden loud thump interrupted his laughter. "What was that?!"

More thumps came from the left side of the car. Train turned to look out the window… and his eyes widened in shock.

"Holy hell!" he gasped. "There's a whole herd of deer-", but it no longer needed explaining. From the other side of the road, a huge herd of deer began running as fast as they could across the road, ignoring that the car was in their way. Train slowed to a stop and turned the car off, not wanting to hit the deer, but it didn't make a difference. The deer acted like they couldn't even see the car, just kept running into it as they tried to flee from some unseen horror.

Serenity huddled together with Yolen as frothing, wide-eyed deer rammed into the doors and windows again and again. Dan and Train started as a doe attempted to leap over the front of the car, failing and landing awkwardly on the hood, only to roll off. They watched in horror as the doe struggled to rise, only to get trampled into the ground by her fellow deer.

After about a minute of this, the last deer crossed the road, leaving the van, the five teens, and at least ten deer carcasses. The five sat in silence for a moment, stunned. Finally, Train took a deep breath and attempted a shaky smile.

"Well, that was… odd," he began, "but now that it's over, we can move on." He turned the key in the ignition and waited for the engine to kick in. Nothing happened.

"Train..." Dan glanced over at him. "Why's the car not going?"

Train growled as he tried a second and third time to restart the car. "It won't start!" He shook his head, taking the keys out of the ignition. "I bet that deer hit something when it landed on the hood." He opened the door.

"You're not actually going out there, are you?" Serenity asked, frightened. Train gave her a reassuring smile.

"Don't worry. I'm just going to check the engine. Besides, whatever spooked the deer is probably just a fallen tree or something." Train stepped out of the car and shut the door with a click. As he made his way around to the front of the car, he had to admit that the deer bodies lying around on the ground were pretty creepy. The doe that had landed on the hood now lay right in front of the car, staring up at him through glazed brown eyes as he skirted it and lifted the hood a little. The steam and smoke that came out of the crack was enough to give him the whole story.

He opened the door and poked his head in. "Looks like something hit the engine. We're stuck here until someone comes along."

Anne stared at him. "What do you mean, stuck here?" she asked. "Can't you fix the engine or whatever?"

"Nope, I don't know much about car engines. Besides, it won't be that bad. We've got plenty of food, and we did come prepared to camp on the roadside."

"I don't know about you guys, but I don't think I want to sleep out there with those deer," Dan commented wryly, peering out at the body littered road. Serenity nodded.

"That would be so scary!" she agreed wholeheartedly. Yolen and Anne also nodded.

"Well, if that's how you feel, we could move up the road a little. There's not enough room for us to all sleep in the car."

"I vote Dan sleeps on the roof!" Anne immediately supplied. Dan turned and glared at her.

"Well, I vote that you sleep on the roof!" he shot back. Train rolled his eyes.

"No one's sleeping on the roof when it's about to snow," he told them firmly. "We'll move up the road a little and set up camp there. Someone's bound to drive by, and if we intercept them there, we can get some help. If no one comes by tomorrow, we'll try walking to the mini-golf place and ask for assistance there. Good?"

They all agreed that it was most likely the best course of action, and so, Train and Dan got out of the minivan to retrieve the tent and sleeping bags from the trunk. The rest left to seek a suitable campsite further along the road.

As Anne, Yolen, and Serenity searched the roadside for a clearing in which to spend the night, Anne looked up at the sky and shivered.

"What do you suppose those deer were running from?" she asked, turning to look at her companions. Serenity shuddered and moved closer to Yolen

"I really don't want to talk about that," she replied, her voice unsteady with fear, "That was so spooky."

Yolen moved as to put his arm around her shoulder, but before he got a chance, something in the forest caught Serenity's eye and she stepped away.

"What's that?" She asked, pointing. Yolen and Anne followed her gaze, peering at a yellow light shining through the dusk.

As they went to tell Dan and Train, the snow began to pick up.


The group stumbled through the forest towards the soft glow. Train and Dan had been updated on the recent discovery, and it had been decided that light must mean people were around.

"It doesn't seem too far ahead," Train called back from the front. Dan, who had taken up the rear, looked back towards the road. Their camping gear was faintly visible by the glow of his flashlight over the bushes. A shout from the front of the group dragged his attention back.

"It's a house!" Anne said in surprise.

"Brilliant observation," Train replied sarcastically. "Did you figure that one out yourself, or did you have help?" He yelped as Anne gave his shoulder a punch. "Geeze, I'm just kidding!"

Yolen whistled. "That looks like a pretty old house," he said, shining a flashlight over the grimy walls and the dusty windows. "Abandoned too, by the looks of it."

"What's it doing in the middle of nowhere?" Serenity asked, walking closer to the house. Yolen followed quickly after.

"Be careful! There might be rubble lying around!"

Train clicked his flashlight off, motioning for Dan and Anne to do the same. "I'm not so much worried about rubble as I am curious of where the light came from." As their lights went out, the glow they had seen made itself known again. Up in a small window just above the door, one bare light bulb flickered wildly before finally giving up and going out.

"Huh," Train muttered as he flicked his flashlight back on. "It looks like this house has electric lighting. That's helpful." He turned to Serenity, who was tentatively walking onto the old porch. "Is it sturdy?"

Serenity felt around with her foot, tapped, then stomped. The floor remained intact and gave only the slightest of groans. She looked up at Train. "It seems pretty sturdy to me."

"Alright." Train walked up to the front porch and opened the door a little, shining the flashlight through the crack. "Why don't we stay here for the night?"

"What?" Anne asked unbelievingly. "In this creepy old house? Are you serious?"

Train turned to her and shrugged. "Why not? After all, it is empty, and the tent might not do so well against the snow." Almost as if to prove his point, a sudden gust of freezing wind set them all shivering. "Besides, it'd be fun. Wasn't the point of this trip to try new things? Then how about," he gave a dramatic flourish and deepened his voice, "a night in a haunted house?"

Dan laughed. "Train's right; staying in the tents tonight wouldn't be as much fun. Besides, exploring an old house like this would be a blast."

Anne turned to Yolen and Serenity. "What do you guys say?"

"I think it's better than the tent," Serenity replied, and hesitatingly, Yolen nodded. Anne rolled her eyes.

"Fine. Someone has to go back and get our stuff then."

"Sure." Dan began to head back through the woods, but Train stopped him.

"We should probably keep in groups," he said. "How about you and Anne go get the stuff? Serenity, Yolen and I will go check the rest of the house out."

"Why do I have to go with him?" Anne asked irritably.

"Why not?"

Grumbling, Anne obliged, following Dan towards the road and their gear. Train turned back to the house with a grin.

"Let's see what's inside!"


He stood on the porch, looking out onto the barren yard. The sun cast its dying glances over the treetops as it set, giving the land a pale orange glow. He stared at the single snowflake that had passed through his hand and now rested on the railing. It remained in its crystallized form, not melting as it should have under his hand.

Assuming he still had any body heat left.

He looked back up at the forest. The killer was nearby… his killer. Even though he couldn't see the person himself, he could feel it. He could tell by the panicked actions of the wildlife where he was moving.

He could hear a group of deer crashing through the woods towards the house and sighed. The poor creatures, being hunted down by some unknown being, some omnipresent hunter that constantly stalked them no matter where the herd stopped. He had seen more than one deer carcass on the edges of the premises. At that thought, he shook his head. Better deer than another person.

A sudden screech came from the road that had changed so much during his death. The herd must have intercepted some poor driver on her way to some place. He only wished he had such freedom.

Another shriek of rubber made him frown. Surely the deer weren't hindering the driver that much.

There was a sudden rush of sound as the deer came fleeing through the forest and into the clearing where the house stood, stopping abruptly in the front yard. They stared at him with fear widened eyes, finding themselves trapped between one horror and another. They bolted off to the side, away from him, and away from their tormenter. He watched them go sadly. There was a time when he wouldn't have frightened them off merely by his presence. Those days had passed long ago.

Looking once more to the road, he became alarmed as he saw smoke drifting lazily over the treetops.

"Oh my…" he whispered to himself. "I hope no one is injured." Silently, he also hoped that the helpless travelers could still drive away safely. It wouldn't do to have them around when he was most active, after nightfall.

Time moved faster when you didn't need to fill it with life and living, and soon enough, the sun had set. He remained standing on the porch in the same spot, staring out into the forest as the night creatures stirred and awoke. Some bats flitted about in search of tasty moths to munch, and the owls silently followed them, their fluffed wings making their approach unnoticed by their prey. Some crickets began to cause a stir, while a few stray cats quietly searched for mice and shrews, with only the rustling of grass under their paws heralding their arrival. Most of the animals here had lived for all of their short lives on the property, and were too used to the strange landlord to fear him.

Others, however, were a different story. Silence descended onto the wood as human voices carried over the breeze. The bats flapped back to their perches, followed by the disappointed and still hungry owls. The crickets ended their orchestra, and the cats froze, their twitching ears the only sign that they were still among the living.

The voices spoke. "What do you suppose those deer were running from?" a girl asked.

From the night, another girl replied. "I don't want to talk about it. It was so spooky."

There was a brief pause. The man on the porch mused over the facts he had deduced. Just as time could pass in the blink of an eye for the deceased, it could stretch a few seconds into what felt like years.

The children- for they didn't sound much older than he had been when he first left home- had probably been nearly trampled by that herd of deer, and if the smoke was any indication, they were in some sort of a fix. A breeze passed through him, carrying with it a feeling that was familiar and alien in the same instant. He shuddered. The killer was on the move once more. A sudden thought hit him. If these children were left unprotected…

He turned and rushed into the house, once again pleased at the fact he had paid to wire the house with electric lighting before he passed away. Flicking a light, he saw the bulb hanging over the front door flicker on unsteadily. It wasn't too bright, but in the quiet darkness of the night, it would most certainly stand out.

After another agonizingly long minute, the second voice was heard again. "What's that?"

He smiled. It would only be a matter of time before they came to investigate.


Yolen looked around the main hall of the old house and gave an approving whistle. "Whoever lived here must have lived a nice life," he said, admiring a wooden carving of a bird on a branch that sprouted from the bottom of the stair's banister. "It's amazing how well this place has held up."

"Lucky for us, too," Train replied as he peered into the adjacent rooms. "Looks like the dining room is over here."

Serenity curiously opened a door and peered down into darkness. "There are some steps over here going down. I guess there's a basement."

"There might be some canned goods down there," Yolen supplied helpfully. Train gave him a surprised look.

"Would it still be good after all these years?" he asked. Yolen nodded.

"If they're properly canned, we should be able to find something edible down there."

Serenity made a face. "Why would we eat something that's been in a musty old basement when we have all sorts of snacks back in the van?"

Yolen laughed when Serenity stuck out her tongue in disgust. "C'mon," he chuckled. "Isn't that what Train was saying earlier? Now we not only have a haunted house, but also," he imitated Train's drama from earlier, "a haunted banquet!"

Serenity gave him a playful shove. "Stop being so creepy!" she giggled. "It's hard to take you seriously!"

"So, are you two going into the basement or not?" Train asked.

"Sure, why not," Serenity shrugged. "But if we find anything, I'm not eating it."

"Fair enough," Yolen said with a smile. "Shall we go?"

Not even a few feet away from the trio, a being watched the couple descend into the basement.


Serenity and Yolen made their way into the basement, flashlight lit, and unaware of the presence following behind them.

"Train said that there was electric lighting installed here," Serenity commented. "Do you think the person wired their basement too?"

"Hard to say," Yolen replied, shining his flashlight down the steps. "This house is pretty old. It would have been too dangerous to install electricity, when it was invented, in the foundation." He paused for a moment, and then added, "I think…"

The beam of Yolen's flashlight finally struck across dirt ground. "At last," Yolen exclaimed, lengthening his stride as to reach ground level as soon as possible. In is haste, however, he stumbled over the last step, and dropped his flashlight, which went skittering into the darkness, before its weak beam sputtered out, leaving them in complete darkness.

There was silence for a second, before Serenity quietly asked, "Are you alright, Yolen?"

Shakily, Yolen responded, "I'm ok." Serenity heard him clumsily right himself. "But the flashlight…"

"It's fine," Serenity replied. "I think I saw a light switch along this wall. It should be pretty easy to find."

Yolen's hesitation was magnified in the pitch black. "I don't know… maybe we should get another flashlight first."

"It wasn't too far along the wall," Serenity encouraged, "and besides, we can hardly get back up those stairs in this dark." Yolen sighed and gave in.

"All right," he said resigned. "And as soon as we find the light switch, we're going to find our flashlight, grab any food, and go back upstairs."


Dan felt the fresh snow slicking the grass beneath his feet as he trudged along after Anne. She was complaining again, as she usually did. Something about the snow and being forced into manual labor- "And with you, of all people!" Dan rolled his eyes, but ignored her as he trailed behind. When they finally reached the car, much to Dan's relief, Anne stopped her rant long enough to open the trunk and remove a few items. She shoved them into Dan's arms, and returned to pick up some more. Dan, holding his various bags of food, turned his head… and immediately wished he hadn't. He held back a gag with a little choke. Anne turned her head to look at him, one eyebrow raised.

"Dan? Something wrong?"

Dan indicated where he was looking with a nod, and Anne turned to look. She almost dropped her bags as her eyes took in the sight.

Across the road, at the edge of the wood, three new deer carcasses had materialized on the grass since they had first left the car. These new bodies, however, were not merely dead, like their fellow deer that lay around the van.

The first one's head was dangling by only some muscle, and the bone was visible where the separation was. It was propped up against a tree, its head swinging gently, almost mockingly. The entire side of it had been ripped up, and even now, blood and shredded organs were slowly dripping out onto the ground.

The second deer was furless, and surrounded by branches. The head was twisted so that the deer was looking straight over its back. It was lying on its side, and the gut had been cut open, from the front legs all the way to the tail.

The last one had met its fate at the hand of his antlers. Two jagged shards stuck up from his head where the majestic crown had been before it got ripped off. The antlers now protruded from its chest, driven all the way through its back. It twitched occasionally, but there was no doubt in either teens mind that it was dead.

They stared unmoving for a moment, when finally, Anne spoke. "I think we should go…"

"I agree completely," Dan replied. The two of them turned and headed off as quickly as they could, not even bothering to close the trunk. From behind the mutilated deer corpses, a figure emerged from the wood. He watched the teenagers hurry off, his dark brown eyes glowing.

"Well, well, well…"


There had been a brief disagreement on who should be in front, but in the end, the boy named Yolen won out only because he pointed out that he was already further in the room. The girl, whose name he had recently learned was Serenity, reluctantly agreed, and now the two of them were inching along the wall, feeling for a switch.

"Would the switch look like the ones in a modern house?" Serenity mused. Yolen shook his head, a useless gesture in the dark.

"It would probably be bigger. More like a lever than a switch." The boy ran his hand over the smooth walls of the cellar. "Are you sure it was this far in?"

The spirit began to fret as they passed under the lever that activated the lights, which was mounted higher up on the wall to avoid hindrance. They were edging closer and closer to a pit in the floor, where his body resided. It wasn't deep enough to kill with a fall, but it would be a good deal of time before they could get they fallen one out of the hole.

Even he wouldn't want to spend any time with his own corpse.

He flitted about them anxiously, trying to warn them of the danger lying ahead. Unfortunately, without the necessary knowledge of him, they could not see him. They continued making their way towards the death pit. The girl spoke suddenly.

"Yolen? Do you hear that?"


"That squeaking noise?"

The boy Yolen paused to listen. "Now that you mention it…" he took another step. "It's coming from further in the room. Mice maybe?"

"I wish we still had our flashlight…" the girl muttered.

The specter stood in front of them, thin air beneath his feet. He was standing over the pit, and in a few seconds, the boy would be falling in. There was no other choice. He dipped down into the pit for a second, his hand brushing the grave's dirt as he drew power from it. He floated back up…

And showed himself.

Yolen let out a yell of fear as a man appeared in front of him, emanating a harsh light. His long brown hair was tangled around his neck like a noose, and his face appeared to have been beaten in. His arms were twisted wildly like corkscrews, and both of his broken legs had blood trickling down them to pool at his feet. Two empty eye sockets leered as the apparition leaned towards him. Yolen jumped back in fright, bumping into Serenity, who stumbled backwards, arms flailing above her head. One arm hit something on the wall.

As suddenly as it appeared, the vision was gone.

"What was that?" Serenity asked, pushing herself to her feet and keeping one hand on the wall. Yolen remained on the floor where he had fallen, staring into the darkness where the image had appeared.

"I-I-I d-don't k-kn-know…" he stuttered, shocked. "I-it was just floating t-there…"

Serenity rubbed her sore arm. "What was?" she demanded. "I didn't see anything. I just saw a light." She rubbed her arm again and looked up the wall, trying to discern a shape in the darkness. "Something hit my arm." Reaching up the wall, she searched for a second before her hand came across what felt like a bar of metal, tilted up at an odd angle. "Yolen, you said there would be something like a lever, right?"

Yolen remained staring wide-eyed into blank darkness. "Yes."

"Right," Serenity muttered. "Let's try this then…" She pulled the bar down, and after a moment, it groaned and lurched. There was a crackle of electricity, and a row of bare bulbs attached to the ceiling flashed on. She looked around the now lit basement. About a foot in front of Yolen there was the gaping mouth of a pit. A few inches to the right of it lay their flashlight. She moved to retrieve it.

"Lucky it didn't fall in," she said, stooping over to pick it up. As she began to stand up again, she glanced into the pit and gasped in horror.

"Oh my God," she said in a trembling voice. "Yolen…"

But she didn't need to explain. Yolen, though still thoroughly shaken by his experience, stood, looking into the pit as well.

"Who would do something like that?" he whispered

In the pit, a skeleton, yellow with age, stared up at them with blank eye-sockets and a wide mocking grin. Its bony arms had been twisted around behind its back, and both legs were broken.


Train was more than startled when all four of his friends returned at the same time, all flushed and panting. He had just come down from the upstairs portion of the house, where he had found what had appeared to be the master bedroom. During his search, he had also found a large hall in the back with an enormous fireplace and plenty of firewood to get it started. There was more than enough room for them to sleep there for the night. He had been eager to share these and his other discoveries with his traveling pals, but the looks on their faces told him that they had something more important to tell.

"We were down in the basement, and-"

"There were these mutilated deer corpses!"

"We saw a skeleton down there!"

"No way!"

"There was a ghost there too!"

"What are you talking about? I didn't see any ghost!"

"You were behind me, you wouldn't have seen it!"

"What'd it look like?"

"It was terrifying! It had its eyes ripped out, and its arms were curled like this, and its legs were weird and bent out and bloody! It was crazy and scary!"

"We saw deer carcasses that were like that! The one had its head torn of like this, and another had just been gutted, and the third got stabbed with his own antlers!

The four continued jabbering on until Train, not being able to understand half of what was being said, raised his voice.

"Hold on!" Everyone stopped talking and looked at him. He gazed calmly back. "Now, we can hardly understand each other if we're all talking at the same time. Who wants to talk first?"

Dan and Anne were voted as first talkers. Anne told most of the story, being extremely graphic on the descriptions of the deer, while Dan poked in a sentence here and there. Train looked utterly confused by the end of it.

"What could do that to deer?" he wondered aloud.

"I bet it was some animal," Anne declared. "All that brutality, that strength-"

"Nope," Dan said abruptly, cutting her off. "What animal could rip off the deer's antlers then stab it with them? Besides, if an animal had killed them, it would've eaten them. We would've seen more skeletons than corpses."

"Dan's right. It couldn't have been an animal," Train agreed. Serenity frowned.

"What could it have been then?" she pressed. "No human could break off the antlers… right?"

"If they had the right equipment," Yolen put in with a monotone. Serenity turned to him, surprised more by his tone than what he had said.

"Yolen? You okay?" she asked, looking at him worriedly. Yolen shrugged, his eyes blank.

The rest of the group exchanged worried looks. Train, while looking at Yolen, addressed Serenity. "So what happened to you guys?"

Serenity told them about going into the basement, loosing the flashlight, and trying to find the switch. She further explained the strange glow that she had seen past Yolen, and the discovery of the lever. When she got to the part concerning the skeleton, Yolen's eyes lit up in recognition for a moment.

"It's the same…" he muttered to himself. Everyone turned to look at him.

"What's the same?" Serenity asked gently. Yolen looked up at them, eyes alit.

"The skeleton and the ghost!" he exclaimed. His friends stared at him blankly as he continued, voice rising. "They both looked the same! The arms being twisted, the legs broken, it's the same! That's the ghost I saw! The skeleton's ghost is still here, and he's haunting the house! He must be the one who killed those deer! The deer were running from him, and he stopped us on purpose! He's gonna kill us! He-" he choked on his words, eyes wide in terror as he looked pleadingly at his friends. They stared back at him, and finally, Train cleared his throat.

"Yolen," he said as softly and kindly as he could, "where did you see the ghost?"

Yolen shivered. "It was over the pit," he whispered. "I saw it before Serenity found the lights. It was that glow she saw."

"This is so terrifying," Anne said, wrapping her arms around herself. "It wasn't so bad before, but now we've got ghosts and skeletons and…" she trailed off.

Serenity put an arm around Yolen's shoulders, trying to calm him down. "What are we going to do now?"

Dan, who had been silent for awhile, suddenly spoke up. "I don't think the ghost wanted to hurt you, Yolen."

Train turned to Dan, puzzled. "Why do you say that?"

Dan shrugged. "Yolen was headed straight for the pit, right? And the ghost's skeleton was in the pit. What if it was trying to protect its resting place?"

"So you're saying that if we avoid the basement, we'll be ok?" Anne asked. Dan nodded.

"What about the deer then?" Yolen said. "You all said it couldn't be an animal, and we're the only people here. Who else could it be?"

No one had a chance to answer, for at that moment, slams could be heard from all around the old house as windows and doors shut and clicked locked. They turned and watched in fear as the front door pushed itself closed and turned the lock. Yolen ran towards it, grabbing the doorknob and trying to turn it. It was useless. He spun to face the others, shaking.

"We can't get out."


Outside of the house, a lone figure stood in the woods, watching as the house locked itself against him. He frowned irritably.

"Idiot still won't let me in. Now he's trying to hide those kids…" he trailed off and gritted his teeth angrily. They were longer than a normal human's, and shone a brilliant pearly white. His brown eyes flashed. "I have to get in there!" he muttered.

"I have to save him…"


The five kids huddled together around the fireplace, trying to figure out what to do. Over the past half hour, they had tried opening various windows and doors. When this didn't work, they had attempted breaking down the door and throwing objects to shatter the windows. None of it worked. Serenity went so far as to suggest that there might be a way out through the basement, but that idea was quickly scrapped. Nobody wanted to risk angering the spirit again.

"Maybe we can figure out what it wants from us…" Train suggested uncertainly. Yolen gave a short, hysteric laugh.

"It wants to kill us, that's all!" he snapped. "It's just toying with us now, then it'll pick us off one by one…" he trailed off, his fear resurfacing. No one said anything in reply. Yolen hadn't been acting like himself since his encounter in the basement, and not one of them blamed him for being so spooked. Anne turned to Train.

"How would we find out?" she questioned. "Unless the ghost left us a message or something, I doubt we could figure it out on our own."

Train thought a moment, looking down at his hands. A thought struck him, and he looked up.

"The master bedroom!" he whispered. "I can't believe I forgot about it!"

"Forgot what?" Dan said tiredly. Train stood.

"I found the journal of the guy living here!" he exclaimed. "It was up in the master bedroom on the dresser! It probably has something in it that would help us!"

"What if it doesn't?" Serenity asked.

"Don't have anything to lose, do we?" Train replied. He turned for the stairs. "I'll go get it."

"Wait!" Train stopped and turned. Yolen was on his feet, wide eyed. "None of us should go alone! That's what he's waiting for!"

"Yolen does have a point," Dan conceded. "Even if the ghost doesn't want to hurt us, it's not a good idea to go alone."

"Alright then, who's coming with me?" Train asked. Everyone else stood.

"We should all go together," Serenity said. "That way, no one will get left behind."

"Alright." Train turned back to the stairs. "Let's go."


Train opened the door to the master bedroom, and everyone peered in around him. They all carefully scrutinized the room for a moment, before Train said quietly, "I think we're ghost clear."

Trying to be as silent as possible, the group made their way into the room. Train went over to the dresser and picked up a pocket-sized leather-bound book. On the front read, in intricate cursive script, "Property of Reynard". Beneath this, there was an additional two words in another hand, saying "the fox". It was partially scratched out.

"Reynard the fox?" Serenity asked, peering at the book from Train's side.

"It's from an old series of tales," Yolen lifelessly supplied, "about a fox named Reynard who goes about tricking people and playing jokes on them."

"Much like the Reynard here, I suppose," Dan muttered. Everyone chose to ignore him.

Train opened the book and flipped through a few pages. "We should see about the person's latest couple of entries," he said aloud, flipping some more pages as he tried to find the last entry. When he found it, he began to read aloud.

"Conquince has been acting strange recently. Normally, he tries to handle material things as little as possible, but lately, he has been doing more and more with inanimate objects; he took care of the garden while I was away today at the market, he cooked dinner when I was late, and he cleaned the entire house in the course of one evening. He blames boredom, but this behavior of his is far different from the attitude he had when he first returned. It's almost as if he's no longer content to be what he is now. I hope to discuss the topic with him later, and if I can coax him to tell me what is on his mind, maybe I can do something to help. After all, I can't imagine it's easy for him, what with his 'accident'."


"It's dated June 11, but there's no year," Train commented. Dan sighed.

"Looks like there's nothing here to help us," he groaned irritably. Anne shook her head.

"We've only read one journal entry," she pointed out. "We're not going to know too much from that." She turned back to Train. "Try to find out about Conquince's accident."

"Right." Train flipped further back into the book until something caught his eye. It was a short entry, barely two sentences long. It stood out sharply against the other pages filled with at least a paragraph or two. He paused to read it.

"Conquince died today by wolf attack. Funeral to take place in two days."


Dated February 4

Silence fell upon the utterly astonished friends. "But…" Anne murmured, "It said that Conquince was acting strange…"

"How can that be? He was dead!" Dan gasped in confusion. Train flipped to the next page.

"Reynard skipped out on writing the next day, but on the 6th, he wrote about the funeral. Then the next day…" he flipped the page and read the first few lines. "Oh man…"

"What now?" Yolen groaned. "I don't think I can take it."

Voice shaking, Train read the journal entry for February 7th.

"A miracle has taken place today! Conquince has returned from the realm of the spirits to keep me company, and he has told me that he plans to stay until I feel comfortable on my own. I am so glad, for it was lonely on the estate without him. He cannot touch living items, unfortunately, but he can easily handle non-living objects. He prefers not to, though, and this is probably a good thing. If he went around doing everything, I would become fat and lazy. In a place like this out of town, that would never do.


February 9th

It is amazing, for even though Conquince and I are old friends, it is like he is completely different for his state as a spirit. We have begun a study on ghosts between the two of us. It is truly interesting what we learn each day. For instance, yesterday we found that although he can will himself to handle dead or non-living masses, he can just as easily bypass them like ghosts in tales. We also found, to Conquince's sadness, that animals are acutely aware of a ghost's presence, and some of the larger creatures now refuse to come close to the house's premises. Although this dissuades the wolves from coming around, the deer now will not go near him. He used to feed many of them by hand, for the animals in this area are fairly tame, and it saddens him to see them flee on the sight of him.


February 10th

Today, someone from the village stopped by to offer her condolences for Conquince's death. It was one of the older women, someone we didn't know as well as others in the marketplace. Interestingly enough, when Conquince came out to greet her, she didn't see him. Despite all of his efforts, she remained blissfully unaware of his presence beside me.

I have called a distant friend of ours over to see what the limit of Conquince's visibility is. Perhaps I am the only one that sees him.


February 11th

John visited today, and although he could see Conquince, it was only faintly, like a shadow. When I explained to him what we were trying to find, he submitted a theory. He said he has heard that ghosts will only appear to those who know them well. Unfortunately, Conquince and I generally stick to the property, and with the exception of our families, I doubt there will be anyone who can clearly see Conquince except for myself.

After giving us his good wishes and bidding both of us a good day, John left.


Train read about three more entries before stopping. "They're all basically the same," he said in astonishment. "Conquince came back as a ghost, in order to keep Reynard company, and they began working on this ghost research together. Then, as the last entry says, Conquince began to act strangely, and shortly after, something happened to Reynard and he couldn't continue his journal."

"Of course! That old journal! Why on earth didn't I think of that?" exclaimed a voice from the doorway.

Yolen turned and screamed, and everyone spun around to face the newcomer. Standing in the doorway was a man in colonial garb. He wasn't too old looking, and his face held the same reassuring look a father might give his child. A faint aura of light surrounded him, barely lighting his features. Two deep blue eyes peered out of a gentle face framed by long brown hair that was messily tied in a pony-tail. There was a feeling of activeness and life around him, but this feeling was seriously dampened by his unearthly pale skin.

He took a step towards them, hands up in a disarming manner. "Please, don't be frightened," he said, addressing Yolen as the boy continued standing with his mouth wide open and eyes bulging. "I apologize profusely for frightening you so badly earlier. I just couldn't find another way to keep you from accidentally falling into that pit in the dark. I am truly sorry. If I had known it would terrify you so horribly, I would've tried to find another way to warn you."

Yolen didn't reply, just closed his mouth and began to back away from the spirit. Everyone else was frozen to the spot and could only watch. The spirit reached a hand out, pointing with two fingers to Yolen's forehead. Yolen began to back up faster, but his progress was hindered by the dresser. He pushed himself back against it, trying to keep moving away from the being, but the man continued to advance. When he reached him, he placed his fingers over Yolen's forehead. Yolen tried to swipe his arms away, but he only went right through the specter's arm. It shimmered for a second before clearing again. The man frowned.

"I would be greatly obliged if you wouldn't do that," he told the boy. "Now just hold still. This will help you…" Around his fingers, the glow that surrounded him concentrated for a moment, and then a little of it transferred to Yolen's forehead. Suddenly, Yolen blinked and gave his head a little shake. The apparition removed his hand. "Feel better?"

Yolen gave his head another little shake, then looked up at the man. "What did you do?"

The man shrugged. "I merely altered your memory of seeing me in the basement. I figured from what I had gathered from your conversations that that was one of the bigger things on your mind." He waved one hand idly. "In addition to you thinking I wanted to kill you off one by one, which, may I add, is completely untrue." He turned to look at the other four. "As for the deer, I had nothing to do with it. Although I'm pretty sure I know who is responsible for it."

Train was the first to recover from their fright. "So… you're Conquince, right?" he asked. The man shook his head.

"I'm Reynard. It's my journal you just read, and that's why you can see me." He smiled approvingly at Train. "That was quite bright of you, even if it was unintentional. I was trying to find a way to communicate with you without frightening Yolen over there, or any of you for that matter. And now that you've read my record of my life, you know me well enough to see me."

"But we don't really know you that well!" Anne pointed out. "We only read a couple of entries, so how can we see you so clearly? You wrote that some guy named John could only barely see Conquince."

Reynard clapped his hands. "Bravo. You're correct, of course, but if you read further, you would've found that people with a stronger belief in spirits can see them more clearly than those who don't believe at all. Since all of you had a rather frightening experience, which you blamed on a ghost, it magnified your belief and cleared your vision."

"You know," Dan commented dryly, "this is fun and all, but I'd like to know what's going on now. The diary said that Conquince died first. So are there two ghosts here, or are you the only one? And if that was your corpse down there, how did you die? And what made you lock us in the house after we all came in?"

"That's a lot of questions," the being sighed. "Luckily, they're all related." His smile disappeared, and his face became grave. "It may very well concern the welfare of your lives… or whether you even live or not."

He began telling his story, and all of them felt themselves being drawn into his words.


Conquince had been acting strangely for the past week. Reynard began to notice it more and more as time went on. The once wistful looks he sent towards animals on the property now seemed bitterer, as if Quincy resented the fact that the creatures were still living and he wasn't. When once he refused to handle material objects, he now tried to find excuses to use them, and occasionally he would pick up some small item like a picture frame or whatnot and just hold it, looking at it reminiscently. Reynard observed these strange behaviors with growing worry. What could be wrong with his dear friend?

When he finally decided to confront Conquince on the matter, however, the spirit disappeared without a trace. Reynard searched the entire property, surrounding woods and all, looking for his old friend, but to no avail. Conquince was gone.

Reynard returned home, dejected. As he entered the house, he recalled what Conquince had told him when he had first reappeared. He had told Reynard that it was only until he got settled in on his own, and then Quincy would return to the spirit world. Reynard began to wonder it that wasn't what had happened. Perhaps Quincy had grown tired of the mortal world and, having decided Reynard was ready, departed once more into the unknown of the afterlife.

Sadness began to well up in Reynard's chest as he made his way up the steps to his room. He wished that his deceased friend had at least said goodbye, or left some kind of indication of where indeed he had gone. But no, as he looked around his room, there was no sign of any message from Conquince. He fell into a restless sleep that night.

The next morning, he went downstairs to the kitchen and sadly began to make breakfast for himself. He was stopped by a voice that struck hope into his heart. From the basement, Conquince's voice could clearly be heard. The spirit was calling out to Reynard, asking him to come into the basement. Reynard hurried down the stairs, took two long steps into the darkness, and pulled the lever that activated the lights. He blinked in surprise.

There in front of him was a pit. It was about three feet in diameter, and maybe seven or eight feet deep. He looked around for Quincy. If he was the one who dug the hole, it would explain why he had been missing all of yesterday. He called out for his friend, and heard Quincy's voice reply behind him. He turned, only to receive a stinging blow to the face. Too shocked to even stumble back, he merely dropped. Conquince stood in front of him, his normally friendly brown eyes glowing with malice and bloodlust. Reynard was absolutely confused. What had hit him? Human souls like Conquince couldn't touch anything living. His shock turned to awe as Conquince leaned towards him and grabbed his arm. He could feel its cold touch on his skin, and he shivered.

Conquince pulled him to his feet, then gave his leg a forceful kick, more powerful than anything a human could manage. Reynard screamed in pain as his lower leg snapped in two, and the pain made his other knee buckle. The shattered bone jutted through the muscle, causing terrible pain that made Reynard shudder with every surge of feeling he received from his leg. It only doubled as Conquince shattered the other leg. Reynard sank to his knees, trying desperately to relieve the pain, and Conquince followed suit. He began to struggle against the ghost's grip, but Conquince only tightened it. Reynard looked into his old friend's face and fear filled him as he saw the bloodthirsty joy running through those once compassionate eyes.

Conquince began to twist his arm behind his back, grabbing his shoulder so that the bone was forced to twist. Reynard howled in agony as his one arm was mangled to uselessness, and increased his shrieking as Conquince repeated the torture with his other arm. Unable now to defend himself, Reynard lay there limply as Conquince punched him in the face a few more times. Then, with a shove, Reynard found himself falling into the pit that Conquince had undoubtedly made. He hit the ground hard, causing him to gasp for the air to scream as his arms and legs flew out at strange warped angles. Without his breath, he felt his gaze slipping. His last view was that of Conquince standing at the pit edge, looking down on him with merciless eyes. And his last thought was, "Why..?"

Reynard would have been lying if he said he didn't expect to return as a ghost. When he came around again, his first realization was that the pain was gone. The intense pain that had burned even through his unconscious moments was gone. Gingerly, he moved an arm, then a leg. To his great relief, they were still intact. For a brief moment, he hoped that perhaps the whole incident had merely been a horrible, twisted dream. But when he opened his eyes, he was disappointed. There above him was the cellar ceiling, and when he looked down, his corpse looked up at him with blank sockets. Apparently, Conquince had returned and taken them while he was out.

Conquince! He was the one who had killed him! Reynard sat up sharply. Why would his best friend do something like this to him? What motive did he have for such a cruel murder of someone he cared about?

Another thought bit him, irritating him like some buzzing mosquito. How could Conquince touch him? Ghosts couldn't handle anything living; the two of them had proved it many times. So, why was he able to attack him?

Reynard remembered Conquince's icy grip and shuddered once again. What had happened to his friend?

It wasn't long before people came looking for him. They found nothing, and in addition, they themselves were never found. Reynard began to find their rotting, mutilated bodies around the house, and tried to give them all proper burial. None of them returned as spirits, so he assumed that they made it to the afterlife safely. He couldn't leave the mortal plane yet though. He had to find out.

After awhile, the people in town realized that sending people to search was useless, since the searchers never returned. Reynard assumed by the sudden halt in human life that they had given him up for dead, just like his companion. Reynard was glad that the human corpses disappeared, but his relief was short. Soon enough, dead animals began to appear, littering the grounds and making the air un-breathable with their stench. But after awhile, the amount of them each day began to lessen, and soon, Reynard only saw a dead creature once every couple of days. He could easily tell which ones had died naturally, and which ones Conquince had gotten his hands on. Each animal he caught was brutally beaten and killed, just the same as the searchers and Reynard. And even with all of this, Reynard still did not see Conquince. He knew he was there though; he could feel it. He wasn't going to leave without finding an answer, and he would protect all he could manage from the brutality of his once closest friend.


Reynard finished his tale, quietly speaking the last line. The teenagers stared at him.

"So, those deer we saw…" Dan began, trailing off expectantly. Reynard nodded.

"They were most likely the victims of Conquince," he affirmed. "If you hadn't come when you did, you might have intercepted him instead of the herd of deer."

"And then…" something in Anne's head clicked. "You lit the porch light!" she exclaimed. "You led us here, knowing that Conquince was on the loose! You were trying to save us from him!"

Reynard nodded once more. "That is correct. When I saw the smoke from your vehicle, I guessed that you might be in trouble. So, I lit the light, hoping that you would see it. Luckily, this young lady," he gestured to Serenity, "noticed it, and you all came to explore."

"Why lock us in then?" Yolen asked. He thought he knew, but he wanted to confirm his fears. Once again, the spirit's face became grave.

"Conquince followed the five of you. He is standing outside of the house now."

No one spoke for a good long while. Finally, Serenity stuttered, "B-But how are we going to get away then?"

For once, the spirit didn't have an answer, but Train, who had been mulling this over, had an idea.

"What if we trapped Conquince in one part of the house?" he asked. "If we could keep him there for a good long while, we might be able to run to the golf place. There might be people there that could shelter us, and if not, at least we'd be far enough away and Conquince wouldn't be able to come after us. Right?" he said, turning to the specter.

"Yes," Reynard admitted. "I don't think that Conquince goes too far off the property. He couldn't as a ghost, you know, and I think the habit stuck."

"How will we lure him into a trap?" Yolen asked. Reynard smiled.

"That shouldn't be too difficult," he said. "There's a room downstairs with two entrances; one leads to the front hall, the other out of the house. If you stayed in that room and left just as he came in, I should be able to keep him in the room until morning, at least."

"That should be enough time," Train mused, "and seeing wouldn't be an issue, all we'd have to do is follow the road."

"Alright then," Reynard said, turning towards the door. "I'll show you the room."


Outside, Conquince circled the house, trying to find a way to enter. That urge filled him again, as it had every time something living approached him since he had changed. He had learned to control it more over the years, but when people came around, it was too much to bear. He had to kill them! Those undeserving brats that lived when he could not!

Even as he thought this, he remembered killing Reynard, and how he had used the same excuse to justify it. An emptiness flooded him for a moment, but when he heard a door creak open, the void vanished, completely filled by the bloodlust as he thought of his new victims. Quickly, he found the door that he had heard. It was the one leading down into the cellar. He grimaced. It wasn't the place in the house he wanted to see most, but it was the only way to get in.

As he skirted the giant pit in the middle of the floor, another thought floated to the surface, overpowering the bloodlust for the briefest of seconds.

"I have to warn him!"


Everyone waited anxiously as they stood in the back room Reynard had indicated. The deceased spirit had gone to see if Conquince had made it into the house, and when he returned, there was a strange look on his face. It was fear and worry, with almost a little happiness overlaying it, as if even though Conquince was a killer, he was still glad to see his old friend.

"He's made it into the house, and is heading here at an alarmingly fast speed," he summarized. "He's already in the kitchen."

"So he's almost here," Serenity said, trembling. Yolen stood next to her, and each gathered strength from the other's presence. Train was sitting closest to the door that Conquince would enter. Despite the cool air, he was sweating. He wiped his forehead. "How much longer, would you say?" he gasped hoarsely. The ghost stared intently at the door.

"Get ready," he muttered. "Everyone get around the other door."

Only seconds after they had done as he had said, the door into the house opened, and there stood Conquince. His brown eyes flashed angrily as he leapt at them, howling wildly. The five friends fled out the door, and the ghost pushed it shut behind them. Conquince snarled and turned to leave through the other door, but Reynard was faster. With both doors locked, Conquince had no where to run. He hastened to the window and watched as the teenagers ran back to their car. As they left his vision, he suddenly slumped to the floor.

"Reynard." His voice trembled as he addressed his friend from many years before. Reynard walked over to stand next to him, also staring out the window.

"Conquince." Reynard's voice was cold and sad. "I will not let you catch them."

"I know."

They were silent as the sun began to peek over the trees. This nightmare had lasted through the storm, and now it was morning.

"Reynard," Conquince said, standing. "I feel that I must explain my actions."

"Please do."


Dan shouted happily from his place at the front. Before him was the road, and on the road sat-

"Police cars!" he shouted. "We have a way out of here!" His friends cheered raggedly behind him. They reached the edge of the woods, where they saw a female officer directing some of her underlings.

"Someone get these deer over here!" she barked. "Clean up those bodies in that area… Hey! Gordon, leave those there, they're a special case!"

The teens ran up to her, panting. "M-Miss," Train gasped. "we-"

The officer turned to them and raised an eyebrow. "What on earth happened to you kids?" she asked, eyeing them. They looked at each other, realizing that they weren't quite as tidy-looking as they had been. Anne stepped forward to explain.

"We were driving down this road, trying to get to the mini-golf place about an hour and a half away, and these deer ran across the road. They-"

"And you hit them all?" the officer asked suspiciously. Anne shook her head.

"No! Never! They came by in a herd, and those," she pointed to the deer on the road, "were trampled to death. One of them hit our van over there and messed up the engine, so we were stuck here. We found an old house over there, and decided to stay the night. But then we came back to get our stuff, we saw them," she gestured to the mutilated deer on the other side of the road, "and started to panic. Then, this guy started chasing us, and we think he was trying to kill us. We managed to trap him in the back room of the house, and then we were going to walk to town for help. Luckily, though, you were already here."

The officer scrutinized them for a moment, then turned to one of the other officers. "Pete! Come here for a moment!"

A young man detached himself from the rest of the police force and trotted over. The woman turned to the teens again. "Tell him where this house is. Pete," she said, addressing the man once again, "take Jeanette and Cory and check it out. They say there's a killer there, so be on your guard. As for you five," she added, swinging back to them once more, "you'll be escorted into town. You'll be staying at a police station until we clear this up, but there shouldn't be any charges against you." She pointed them towards a police car, and as they hurried over, Dan nudged Anne.

"Way to keep us from sounding crazy," he whispered. Anne smiled smugly.

"Thanks." They loaded themselves into the small police car and were driven away.


Conquince spoke quietly, all of the anger gone from his voice. "When I was a ghost, at first everything was alright. It was easy to avoid using material objects to do chores and all, but after awhile, I started to envy you. I began to envy your life, how you could deal with other lives, and it just began to irritate me to no end. I began trying to hold and touch living creatures, and would remember how I was when I was alive. I got so angry."

"And then you disappeared that one day," muttered Reynard. "You went and dug that pit."

"I didn't know what I was doing," Conquince sighed. "I didn't know what I was even planning to do. Then I called you down, and I was suddenly so angry at you for being alive that…"

"You killed me." Reynard said it in blunt monotone, not condemning his friend, but not consoling him either.

"Yes… But once you were dead, all of my anger vanished, and I realized what I had done. I had reattached myself to the material world, and so I now could touch and feel life… only to try and destroy it in my rage." He looked over at Reynard, eyes apologetic. "I was ashamed of what I had done to you, and even though I should've stayed and explained myself then, I fled. I realized afterwards my mistake, for I knew you would return as a ghost, and I felt I had to warn you of the fate that befell me. When I tried to come back to the house again, however, you kept me out."

"I didn't realize you were trying to warn me," Reynard said softly. "I didn't know what you wanted. It was all so bizarre." He returned Conquince's gaze for a moment, then turned and walked to a set of drawers at the other end of the room.

"I needed to keep you from becoming too attached to the material world, or else you would've ended up like me. Fortunately, without anyone living here, you handled items very limitedly."

"I see." Reynard rummaged through the top drawer for a moment before pulling something out. "What would you call yourself now then?" he asked, aware of Conquince standing behind him now. "You're no longer a ghost, but you're not alive either."

"I guess I'm a vampire or some other undead," Conquince replied. Reynard idly twirled a carved wooden letter opener between his fingers.

"Do you think the methods of exorcising a vampire are like those we hear in tales?" he commented lightly. Conquince shrugged.

"It's your guess."

Reynard nodded to himself, then turned and plunged the letter opener into Conquince's heart. He didn't even flinch, just looked at Reynard with a small smile.

"I thought you might figure it out…" he whispered as his body collapsed into dust. His spirit remained standing there, and he held out a hand to Reynard. "Shall we pass into the afterlife now?"

"Yes," Reynard replied, taking the offered hand. "I believe we have stayed here far too long."