Chapter 3

Christmas eve, a time when families get together and celebrate the yule tide holidays. Everyone finds joy in the season, whether its in seeing childrens faces when they get that one present they have wanted, or coming together to help others. Tonight I am on duty, having drawn the proverbial short straw. It seems that if you don't have a wife and kids, you obviously are not doing anything for the holiday season, so you get chosen to work. Looking to my left I see Sanchez. Poor bastard has to stand twelve hours of post with me. The T.V. monitor in the corner shows snow, pure and white.

"I don't know man, I am getting tired of being shafted by this chain of command," Sanchez says as he looks over at me. Sanchez just got a divorce, his wife leaving him, and taking her citizenship with her. He had been heckled for weeks about it by an unforgiving department. I tried to stay out of it, playing mediator so that Sanchez could get some breathing room. "I cant believe that bitch could just up and leave like that!" his voice echoed through the room. I felt bad for the guy. You put your faith into a person, and they just up and leave.

"Hey man look on the Brightside, at least she didn't take half of your paycheck." I say, causing Sanchez to chuckle, his coffee dribbling down his chin.

"Well I suppose there is that," he looked down at his coffee. "Hey man I am going to go get another cup, you want any?"

"No man I am good." I reply. Sanchez nods, and walks out of the room. Listening to the audio monitors around the housing area, I hear Christmas carolers sing. I sit back and close my eyes for a second, lost in the peaceful serenity of the moment.

BANG! My eyes open wide, heart racing with adrenaline. I run out of the room to the break room. I stop as I enter. Sanchez is lying on the ground, pistol in hand and blood pooling around his body. Overcome with shock, I have no clue what to do. Hesitating, I go over to inspect the body. His face was pale, eyes closed. He looked like he was at peace with the world around him, lost forever in the sound of Christmas carols.

Albert shot awake with a gasp; he fought down the scream that still lingered in his throat. Of all the dreams and nightmares that had passed, that one was always the worst. The memory still played in his head, every second burned into his brain. Closing his eyes, he tried to erase the thoughts running through his mind. Getting up, he looked at his watch. 08:00. He had slept longer than usual. Going down stairs and out to the car, he grabbed the suitcase in the back seat. As he turned back around he heard a skittering sound coming from nearby. Turning his head in the direction of the sound he saw a small raccoon staring at him through a bush. Shaking his head, he started walking back towards the house. Albert stopped in his tracks, one of the golden retrievers was missing.

Looking on the ground for any signs of other vehicles, he started pacing around the exterior of the house. As he drew closer to the shed, the distinct smell of rot came about him. Gagging he turned for a second away from the smell, covering his nose and mouth with his sleeve. Turning back around made his eyes water, something had died in this area. Making sure to have a tight seal around his mouth, Albert paced slowly over to the shed. As he rounded the corner of the house, he saw the dog statue placed behind the shed. Its expression was that of a cornered beast, snarling and furious. Cautiously Albert gazed into the back of the shed, unsure of whether or not the person that had moved the statue was still in the vicinity. As his eyes swept the small enclosure, he saw nothing.

"Careful following that dog around, god knows where he will take you," a voice said, causing Albert to turn around so fast that he fell. Scrambling to his feet, Albert looked for the source of the voice. A figure came around the other side of the house. As they stepped into view, Albert backed up, unsure of if the individual was dangerous. You could never be sure about people in this world. "Relax, I am not here to rob you, so there is no need to freak out on me."

Albert finally got a good look at the individual, a woman of short stature with brunette hair and petite frame. "Are you the one that moved the dog? And who are you anyway?" he asked still on guard from the sudden appearance of this female. She laughed a spine tingling, almost malignant chirp. Like a bird with a broken wing.

"Move him? Please, that piece of shit must weigh a hundred pounds. As for who I am, you can call me Lilith." She said as she walked closer to Albert. Her steps were light, leaving almost no trail on the grass. The air around her seemed to darken with every step she took.

"What are you doing here? Ms. Anderson has left for a couple of weeks, so I hate to disappoint you but no one is here." Albert said as he fought the urge to run back into the house. This woman was terrifying, nothing about her seemed real. From the way she talked, presented herself, and looked, it all spelled danger to Albert's senses.

"Oh don't worry about me darling, I am just out for a walk, and happened to come across this lovely little house. But, I am afraid time is running short, so we will have to pick up some other time," at that, she walked forward, almost gliding and came just short of Albert. He froze, unsure of what she was about to do. With a gracefulness that was almost misleading she placed a kiss on his lips. A feeling of cold immersed his body, even as the warm pink flesh made contact with his. "Yes darling time is running short indeed," she said as she pulled away. And with that, she was gone.

Albert remained frozen in place for a few minutes, the past few minutes coursing through his head. What had she meant when she said that time was running short? Why had she kissed him, and why did it feel wrong? Like he had just committed the vilest of acts. Snapping back to reality, he swirled his head around, looking for where she might have gone. There was no sign she had even existed two minutes ago, other than the feeling of cold that still echoed in his body. Walking over to the statue, Gabriel if he remembered right, he tried lifting it. She had been right about one thing, the statue did weigh a hundred pounds. Albert's muscles protested as he slowly made his way back to the front of the house, golden retriever in hand. Placing it down beside Michael, he took a step back to make sure that it was even. That's when he saw that the expression on the dogs faces seemed to have changed. It was a look of fear, like if they had been alive they would have cowered. Albert went back inside to gather his thoughts. What was going on here? Why were statues changing expressions, and women coming and going like the wind? Shaking his head to clear thoughts of the supernatural and occult, symptoms of too much movie time, he decided it was time for a shower.

The water was hot, not a nice comfortable hot but a scalding hot that was sure to turn you into a boiled lobster. Albert was starting to feel like he could sympathize with eggs, at least they had a form of protection from this shit. Finally feeling the water cool off, a product of leaving it on for thirty minutes, he began his shower. Closing his eyes and relaxing, Albert's thoughts picked back up on the conversation with the woman earlier. There was something strange going on, and until Albert figured it out he was going to sleep with the doors and windows locked.

There was also the issue with the oak door at the end of the hallway, Albert made sure not to go anywhere near it as he had come back up the stairs. The scent of decay that had made him violently ill was gone from the hallway. Deciding that he should go investigate, he turned off the shower and dried off. His body protested the lack of warmth, most likely still in mild shock from that strange interaction with the Lilith woman. Getting into a fresh change of clothes, Albert grabbed a spare washrag off of the counter and walked out into the hallway. Placing the rag over his mouth, he walked up to the large door. Turning the handle caused the door to give way almost immediately, and albert made his way inside. Cautiously, he removed the rag from his face and took in a small amount of the air. A stale scent greeted him, no trace of the rot he had smelled just last night. His ears picked up a gentle hum, a voice of tranquility and peace. As he ascended the stairs the tune picked up. Reaching the top, he found a figure in a black cloak sitting in a rocking chair singing to a doll.

"Do you like the song? My mother sang it to us every night before we went to bed." The figure spoke, a soft voice that cut through the silence of the room. Albert should have felt threatended, another stranger appearing before him, obviously breaking into the house to do so. But for all of his reason and instincts, he couldn't find it in himself to care.

"It is a lovely song, you have a great voice for singing," Albert said as he stepped closer to the black shade. The cloak the figure wore gave no clue as to who the individual was. Gazing around the room, albert found boxes full of antiques. Toys from fifty years ago littered the ground, books gathered dust on a shelf to his right.

"Why thank you, now what brings you to this dusky old house Mr. Stranger?" the figure spoke as it set the doll down on the ground. Standing up Albert once again gained nothing from the strangers appearance.

"I am supposed to watch the house for Ms. Anderson while she is on vacation." Albert spoke, his voice starting to fade in the presence of the shade. He should have asked why she was here, how she had gotten in. But he went to speak and no sound came out.

"I see, well be careful with what you find in this old house, nothing is as it seems," the figure spoke as they made their way to the stairs. "Stay safe Albert, and never hesitate to call for help. We are listening to you always." And with that the shade disappeared. Albert stood there in silence, The words still echoed in his head. More questions, with very few answers. The continued habit was driving him insane. It would seem that everyone and their mother could gain access to this house, and that scared Albert more than anything. Above all else he valued privacy and security. These few minutes where strangers would appear and disappear were unsettling. They moved like ghosts, one second they are there, the next second they are gone. As if they had never existed. Albert wasn't sure if he was imagining it, or if there was something else going on.

Looking at the ground, albert saw the doll the shade had been holding. Walking over, he picked it up gently. It porcelain face was faded from the years, the body made of a cloth material. Turning it around, he saw an inscription on the back, woven into the cloth. To my dearest angel, I will love you always. Setting it down, albert made his way out of the room, closing the oak door behind him.

Dinner was a silent affair, as he tried to make sense of everything that was happening around him. Albert knew that at any time he could pack up and leave. But sacrificing both Ms. Andersons home and his promotion wasn't something he was willing to do. If these strangers could just walk around the property, then albert knew the house wasn't safe for the old lady. He would stay until she got back, then try and persuade her to move to a location that was more secure. As he finished off the bowl of clam chowder he had been eating, he suddenly remembered the plants Ms. Anderson had asked him to water. Getting up, he searched the kitchen for a pitcher. He found one beneath the sink, and filled it full of tap water. Making his way around the house, he found no sign of plant life anywhere. Not willing to break one of the easiest rules to follow, he stepped out on the front porch looking for the vegetation. He found the plants on the right side of the house, encased in a small green house that had seen better days. Stepping inside he laughed at the audacity of the situation. The plants were of the cacti variety. Tall and spiny, they reminded him of old west cartoons. As he watered the cacti, he grew amazed at the size some of them had become. There was a lot of time and care put into the plants, each one had been properly maintained, the spines trimmed down when they got too long, and no sign of dead flowers or branches. He finished the job and made his way back to the front of the house, greeted by Michael and Gabriel. The two had dog grins on their faces, as if just by following the old ladies rules he had pleased them. His hand unconsciously reached out and scratched each of their heads. Chuckling silently, he opened the door to the home and walked to the living area. Sitting down, he watched the sun as it went down over the tree line. For a brief second he forgot about the happenings of the day, the visits from peculiar individuals, and relaxed.

Deciding to turn in early, he went up the stairs and to the guest bedroom he was staying in. As he lay down and pulled the white comforter over his body, Albert felt the bed pull him into its embrace. Closing his eyes, he reflected on the shade. The experience had not unsettled his as much as was expected. In fact the only thought that lingered in his head was that he had never given the specter his name. Slightly disturbed by the thought, he turned over, facing the window. Soon he felt sleep come, as his body relaxed and his mind cleared. The house was silent, only the sounds of the wind breaking the monotony. The last thing albert heard as the sandman came to claim him, was a humming, a sweet tune that permeated through the house. Peaceful, almost relaxing as it lulled Albert to his dreams.