Darkness. It was all young Evie could see as she slipped from the window of her foster parents' house, without even the streetlamps to guide her path. The back of her hand met her cheekbone, wiping away the glistening tear that had slipped from her eye. This would not be her first escape attempt and she was sure it wouldn't be the last; she'd not yet lived a decade and she'd already managed to run away from a handful of families, though this one was by far the worst. She'd been banished to her room for the night, despite doing nothing wrong—the rules in this new home were strict, and events were scheduled down to the minute. She had gone into the kitchen for something to eat, but since it was not the allotted time, she was being punished. Absolute misery.
Evie sat outside the bedroom window in the empty bed of flowers, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the night. The blades of grass outside the flower bed came into focus, and Evie blinked. She'd be able to find her way around; if she could get to the other side of the house, she'd be able to see the streetlamps. She'd be able to go somewhere better.
Evie brushed the damp dirt from her hands and rose to her feet, heading away from the house and towards the neighborhood; at least there she'd have streetlamps to guide her path. The neighborhood itself was sleepy and dark, no signs of life coming from any of the houses. That was good for the most part; at least then nobody would stop her and ask her where she was going. Evie recognized that a girl as young as she was shouldn't be wandering the streets this late at night—at least if she were a bit older the residents of Maple Street wouldn't question her. Perhaps they'd assume she was walking home from a friend's house.
The streetlights seem to give a warm quality to the night, as if in attempt to comfort Evie. Follow the light, they seemed to say. You'll be safe if you follow the light.
Evie reached streetlight after streetlight, peering up at the moths attracted to their glow. The night was anything but silent; crickets and cicadas and mosquitos buzzed in the air, giving Maple Street its own special soundtrack. Evie's bare feet slapped at the sidewalk, skinning the backs of her heels slightly. The bottoms of her feet were browned from standing in the flower bed; it was something she'd have to worry about later.
The last streetlight stood tall in front of an old house, perhaps built back when bootleggers and flappers roamed the streets. Evie slowed to a stop as she approached it. It flickered on and off, sending off a message to a non-existent listener. Evie imagined it said: Stop. Evie cocked her head, and then turned her gaze to the house it rested in front of.
The lawn was quite overgrown, and several of the front windows were boarded, their glass broken. It looked as if there hadn't been a soul inside for several years. Would anyone think to look there for a runaway foster child? Evie considered this for a moment before her outright curiosity got the better of her—she took her first steps towards the house. The foot-high weeds brushed at her shins, and she reached without direction to push them out of her way. Underneath several layers of overlapping grass, Evie could feel a stone path underneath her feet. Someone, at some point, had cared about the house enough to fix it up.
Evie tried the front door; it wouldn't budge. The knob seemed to be stuck in place, stiffened from years without use. Evie dropped her hands to her sides, only slightly discouraged. Maybe she'd have more luck with the back door. Evie walked along the side of the house, her fingertips trailing along the wall as she went. The weeds were starting to make her ankles itch; she stopped to scratch one before rounding the back of the house. The back door seemed to have been ripped from its hinges; all that remained was a screen door that banged against the doorframe in the breeze. There was a small burst of excitement just behind Evie's ribcage—the door being gone was pure luck. She hastily made her way towards it, silently hoping she wouldn't step on anything sharp.
Evie was able to slip through the small space the door allotted when the wind blew it open, leaving her in the back foyer of a quiet house. As she stood there, she couldn't help but feel a persisting monachopsis; something about her adventure felt dangerous, and there was a small voice in the back of her head urging her to turn back. She ignored it, stepping from the foyer through a small archway and into the house's kitchen. She only had a second or so to look around before hearing slow, heavy footsteps coming from the upper level of the house. Evie's heart leapt into her throat and she crouched to the floor, sliding behind the island to remain out of view if anyone were to enter the kitchen from the front. Evie pulled her knees up to her chin, her heart pounding fiercely against her chest, breath leaving and entering her lungs at a rapid pace. The kitchen light flicked on, and Evie froze, not even daring to breathe.
The footsteps neared her place behind the island; they were heavy, as if the person were wearing boots. A shadow cast over the side of the island, and there was the person, standing to Evie's right. Evie peered at him through the corner of her eye.
He was a tall boy of about seventeen, and had shaggy dirty-blond hair that reached the back of his collar. There was a black Red Sox cap positioned backwards on top of his head, and he wore a black t-shirt with dark cargo pants and combat boots. He peered down at Evie for a moment before crouching in order to be at eye level with her, his elbows resting on his knees.
"Hey," he greeted, his voice soft. "You lost?"
Evie was silent, still frozen, before shaking her head back and forth. "I didn't know anyone was here."
"It's alright," the boy assured, and then held out one of his hands. Evie took it, shaking it in greeting, though she wasn't sure if that's what he'd meant. "You been crying?"
Evie didn't answer, but the redness surrounding her eyes seemed to give her away; she'd since recovered and the tears were no longer leaking from her eyes, but the signs were still there.
"Come on," the boy ushered. "I'm not gonna hurt you. Come on."
With great reluctance, Evie rose from her spot, and the boy broke his crouching position, rising to his full height. Evie, a few inches shy of four feet tall, came up to the boy's hip. The boy motioned for him to follow her before offering out his hand—Evie took it. The boy lead her out of the kitchen and into a hallway where a light was dimly shining near the staircase; the hallway was empty but for the two of them.
"What's your name?" the boy asked.
"Evie," she'd answered quietly.
"Evie?" he'd asked, warranting a nod from Evie. "Well, nice to meet you, Evie. My name's Dyl."
"Dyl?" Came a woman's voice from the top of the stairs. "Is everything alright down there?"
"Yeah," Dyl responded. "Just a kid."
When she and Dyl reached the foot of the staircase, Evie caught her first glance at the woman. She was fairly petite, with brown hair that appeared as if it had been shaped with curlers during the night. She wore a cream-yellow dress with a belt of the same color around her waist, her head tilted in the slightest, a look of concern upon her face. At the sight of Evie, her expression softened—whatever she had expected to invade their home, it hadn't been a scrawny child no older than six. The child standing at the bottom of the stairs had wide doe-eyes, and seemed to be clutching Dyl's hand as if she was afraid to let go.
"Oh?" the woman asked at the sight of Evie. "Is she alright?"
"She's fine," Dyl said, turning his gaze to Evie. "A little scared, I think."
The woman descended down the staircase gracefully, her look never drifting from Evie. When she reached the bottom, she grasped Evie's other hand.
"What are you doing here, darling?" Evie shrugged her shoulders at the woman's question. The woman turned to Dyl, giving him a stern look. "You didn't frighten her, did you?"
"You sent me down here to scare her off," Dyl pointed out. "Then I realized she was a kid."
"Well, we had no idea who it could've been," the woman dismissed, and turned back to Evie. "Where do you live?"
Evie shrugged again, her head tilted downwards as not to make eye contact with the woman.
"What's your name?" the woman asked in attempt to get Evie to speak.
"She said it was Evie," Dyl told the woman.
"Shush," she said, shooting a glare at Dyl. "Let her talk." Her look softened as she turned back to Evie. "Is that your name, honey? Evie?"
Evie nodded her head, not daring to say anything. This woman would take her back to the home if she said where she lived, and that was the last thing Evie wanted.
There was a loud crash from upstairs, and the woman closed her eyes, releasing a small sigh and letting go of Evie's hand. She turned to face the stairs.
"Boys! Get down here!"
Evie looked up at Dyl, and he rose his eyebrows, as if to say: Somebody's in trouble.
Moments after the woman spoke, two identical boys of about eleven appeared at the top of the stairs. They were near mirror-images of each other, aside from the color of their shirts. Both had long bowl-cuts, their hair a shade of strawberry blond. Evie's eyes fell to the cuffs of their pants; they flared outwards significantly, nearly covering the entirety of their shoes. Evie scowled—she'd never seen anyone wear jeans like that before.
"Are you two trying to tear down the house?" the woman asked, her hands placed firmly on her hips.
"It wasn't me," said the boy on the left, before sticking his thumb in the direction of his brother. "It was Kai."
"Was not! It was totally Bodhi," the one called Kai argued, giving his brother a good shove on the shoulder. Bodhi grabbed his brother by the collar of his shirt and elbowed him with his other arm, beginning an all-out war between the two of them.
"Boys!" the woman yelled again, holding up her hand. The twins froze in place. "I don't care who did it. It's the middle of the night and we don't need anyone else showing up."
"Who's this?" Bodhi had asked, his gaze fixed on Evie.
"This would be the intruder," the woman said.
"Ruth, she's a kid," Kai said, one hand still fastened around his brother's forearm.
"We know that now," Ruth said, the tone of her voice suggesting that her patience was wearing thin.
Evie finally decided to speak up. "You—you call your mom Ruth?"
All the heads in the room turned to look at her before both of the twins snickered. Ruth shook her head slightly, so slightly that it was barely noticeable.
"Why's she still here?" Bodhi asked.
"Don't be rude," Ruth said condescendingly.
"I'm just asking."
While the twins argued with Ruth, Evie peered up at Dyl, who was smirking as if this was something that happened often. The twins continued the rest of the way down the stairs, one of them reaching up and attempting to knock Dyl's hat off his head; Dyl pressed his hand to the top of his head, preventing the hat from moving. He gave the twin a death glare, but this did not seem to faze the twin.
Ruth sighed as the twins passed her by. "Where's your sister?"
"She's upstairs," one of the twins answered as they both walked down the hallway towards the kitchen. "She doesn't feel well." They didn't even turn their heads while they answered Ruth.
Ruth only stared after the twins forlornly, as if she knew she was fighting a losing battle with them. She pressed her fingertips to her temples, rubbing small circles into them.
"Dyl," Ruth said, her voice small and resigned. "Please take Evie to the kitchen. I will deal with her in a minute."
Deal with her? Evie looked over at Dyl, frightened, as he lead her to the kitchen, where the twins were ransacking the cupboards. One of the twins—Evie thinks it was Bodhi—reached up for a cupboard and began to sway, as if he were dizzy, and had to catch himself on the countertop.
"Whoa," he said, though this only briefly stopped him before he went back to what he was doing.
"Here, sit down," Dyl said, gesturing towards a kitchen chair, and letting go of Evie's hand. Evie stood there for a moment looking quite lost before taking a seat at the table. She watched Dyl approach a cabinet, open it, and began rooting around for something. From the sounds of the canisters in the cabinet, it sounded like he was looking for some sort of pill.
Kai slowly walked up behind Dyl, and quickly slapped the bill of his hat, attempting to knock it off his head. Once again, Dyl held it in place, giving the twin a glare as he pulled a bottle of aspirin out of the cabinet.
"Your head hurting, Dyl?" the boy asked sarcastically.
"Yeah," Dyl responded matter-of-factly, popping open the canister and shaking a few pills into his hand. Then, under his breath, he said, "Feels like my brain's been blown out of my skull."
Both of the twins had laughed at this, though Evie failed to see why it was so funny—if anything it was morbid.
Dyl downed the pills without any water as Evie sat silently at the table, watching. She didn't understand why the family hadn't just thrown her out the moment they'd seen her, but at the same time she was grateful—after all, anything was better than the foster home. Evie continued to watch the boys in the kitchen. Bodhi grabbed a glass from one of the cupboards, and then without warning, collapsed in place, the glass shattering on the floor. Evie jumped. Both Kai and Dyl looked over at Bodhi nonchalantly.
"Is he okay?" Evie asked, wide-eyed.
"Oh, yeah," Kai assured. "This happens all the time."
"Just give him a minute," Dyl said, waving his hand as if it wasn't a big deal.
Sure enough, shortly after he'd fell, Bodhi pushed himself to his feet and shook his head, as if coming out of a daze. He blinked, staring down at the shards of broken glass scattered across the floor.
"Whoops," he'd said.
Ruth entered the room, a girl about Evie's age clutching her hand. She had platinum blond hair in banana-curl pigtails, blue eyes, and a pale, sickly complexion. Ruth released the girl's hand and the girl made her way over to the table, sitting across from Evie. Evie had stared at her in silence; she felt almost as if she were intruding on the lives of these people. The girl gave Evie a weak smile, and after a moment of contemplation, Evie returned it.
"Here you are, Nova," Ruth said, carrying a cold glass of water in the girl's direction. "Drink that. It'll make you feel better."
"What's going on here?" came a gruff voice from the entrance of the kitchen. Evie's eyes darted over to see a man in a suit standing tall in the entrance. He had dark hair that was neatly styled and parted to the side, along with black-rimmed glasses. Evie's eyes fell to the man's neck; there were strange, purple markings like bruises snaking their way around his throat like a necklace. Evie's eyebrows furrowed, and she quickly looked away—she didn't want to seem rude.
"Arthur, this is Evie," Ruth explained after she'd handed the glass to Nova. "She's our so-called intruder."
"What's she still doing here?" Arthur asked, glancing in Evie's direction. Evie fixed her gaze on the table, attempting not to make eye contact with the man.
"We're getting her sorted, and then she'll be on her way." Ruth placed her hands on her hips, her head tilting slightly to the side. Something about her look told Arthur that there was nothing to worry about, and he should continue about his business as he had been.
"Hmm," Arthur said, standing his ground for only a moment before turning back around and heading back up the stairs.
Dyl approached the table, holding something in his hands. "Don't mind Arthur," he told Evie, placing the item in front of her on a napkin. "He looks intimidating but he's not—he's kind of like a teddy bear, ain't he, Nova?"
Nova smiled weakly again at Dyl, nodding in agreement and looking at him with tired eyes.
"You can have that," Dyl said.
Evie looked down at the napkin—it was a sandwich, cut into triangles right down the middle. She looked up at Dyl unsurely; she barely knew him and if there was one thing she'd been taught in the foster homes it was to never take food from strangers. Dyl seemed to sense her uneasiness.
"What, do you think I poisoned it?" he asked playfully. "It's fine. Here, I'll have some." Dyl pulled a corner off of the sandwich and popped it into his mouth. "See? It's safe."
After looking at the sandwich a moment longer, Evie accepted the fact that the food was fine and picked it up. Nova stared at Evie as she ate, sipping from her glass of water.
"Now, what are we going to do with you, Evie?" Ruth asked as she approached the table.
"Aw, she's not hurting anyone," Dyl said to Ruth before turning his attention to Evie. "Did you run away? Is that why you're here?"
Evie slowly nodded, her mouth still full of sandwich. Dyl gestured to Ruth knowingly.
"You see? She ran away. We can't send her back."
Ruth sighed, looking from Dyl to Evie, and Evie could almost sense that she was going to send her back to the foster family. Ruth only shook her head, bringing her hands from her hips up to her temples.
"Dyl, could you get me some aspirin?" she'd asked, her voice defeated.
Wordlessly, Dyl found the canister of aspirin and handed it to Ruth. Ruth's eyes closed as she tipped the pills into her hands, as if the gesture had become automatic—she must've suffered from the headaches often.
"We can't have her stay here long," Ruth had said, sorting through the pills. "Somebody has to be worried about her. She has to go back."
"I'm not gonna send her out in the middle of the night," Dyl argued. "We can wait until morning."
Ruth was silent for a moment, her head shaking in the slightest. It was clear to Evie then that she knew Dyl had a point: sending her back out in the middle of the night could pose as dangerous, and who was to say she would ever reach her home if they sent her away? Ruth waved her hand as if she'd given up, and Dyl grinned at Evie.
Within the next five minutes, Evie was in the living room of the home, and Dyl was handing her a blanket.
"We'll take you home tomorrow morning," he promised as Evie curled up on the couch. "I'm sure they won't be mad at you. They'll probably be so happy you're home that they'll forget all about it."
Evie nodded, pressing her cheek into the arm of the couch. The last thing she remembered before drifting off to sleep was seeing Dyl leave the room and the light switching off.
"You've got some nerve coming in here, kid."
The voice that woke Evie was not a familiar one, and when her eyes opened for the first time that morning she could see a police officer leaning over to look her in the eyes. Evie raised her head, looking around the room; it was considerably messier than it had been the night before.
"Where's Dyl?" she asked groggily.
"You know half the neighborhood is looking for you?" the officer asked, and grabbed hold of Evie's arm. "Come on. Your parents are worried sick."
"Where's Dyl at?" Evie asked again as the officer dragged her behind him; a second officer waited at the front door—he was taller, thinner, and considerably younger than the one who'd greeted Evie upon waking.
"That her?" the second officer asked.
"Yep," the first one sighed. "I can't believe she's alive, coming in here and all."
The second officer furrowed his eyebrows. "What?"
"Right, you're a rookie." The first officer tugged Evie by the arm, urging her to follow him. "Everyone who comes into this house meets a tragic end. Hell, no one has wanted to live here since that teenager shot himself in the nineties."
"Someone died here?" the second officer asked.
"He wasn't the only one," the first assured. "The hell was that kid's name? Dylan Koblenz, I think… There was a man in the forties who hung himself… a housewife had an aneurysm in the fifties… and then there were those kids in the seventies, that was really bad. Carbon monoxide leak."
"Jesus," the second said. "That's awful."
"I was here when the kid killed himself," the first said, paying Evie no attention. "Pretty awful images. The gunshot knocked the hat right off his head. The house is cursed, I'm telling you."
The second shook his head. "Lucky the kid's still alive."
Evie turned over her shoulder, watching the windows of the house as she was pulled away, confused by what she'd heard. The house looked no different than it had the night before—but something about it had changed. It seemed colder, emptier; Evie watched it until they put her in the back of the cruiser, and it faded from her view as the car drove away.