Lightning flashed, so bright the world split in two. I was on one side of the rip and Thom on the other, his face pale and grim in the white electric light. Then the two parts sealed back together and everything went very, very dark. Just like what had happened the first time I went to her room.
There was a moment of silence. I reached for Thom blindly, but I couldn't find him in the darkness. Thunder pealed, so loud it had to be right over the top of the house.
Everything was cold. I knew what was happening - it'd already happened to me once, in her house only two days - was it really only two days? - ago. I found Thom and grabbed his hand in the darkness.
"She's coming," I shouted over the roaring. I couldn't tell if the roar was rain, wind, thunder or my own blood in my own ears.
"We have to go to her," he replied. "Do you have the photograph?"
We struggled through the noisy darkness to the front door. I drew back the bolt and immediately the door was flung open, slamming against the wall by the force of the wind. I pushed on ahead anyway. The wind was getting stronger by the second, and I found myself having to use my whole body weight to walk forwards.
Her house loomed ahead, dark and menacing. The closer we got, the more I realised that what I had thought was wind was in fact waves of evil, of rage, of some dark power that wasn't like anything I had ever experienced.
"Thom?" I called back. "You should go. Don't come in. I need to do this alone."
"No way!" he shouted. "I'm not letting you go in there by yourself. I'm here."
"You'll make her angrier."
"I don't care." He caught up with me, walked with me shoulder-to-shoulder. "We're in this together now. I'm not letting anything happen to you."
"Thom, I - but we've only just met!"
"I don't care." We were at the gate of the house. It screamed at me as I pushed it open.
It was dark, really dark, even darker in the shadow of the house, like a heavenly bucket of tar had been upturned and spilt all over the world below. No lights shone from the other houses in the street. In fact, when I looked, I couldn't see any of the other houses in the street, just endless dark shadows stretching out forever.
The door of the house opened as soon as I touched it, without me needing to push or pull it at all. It smashed against the side of the house so hard a huge crack split down the middle, and lightning struck again.
Inside, I couldn't see anything, but I didn't need to see. I could feel her presence, her hellish fury, radiating from the upstairs room. I was almost drawn to it, despite the danger, like a moth to a flame. I couldn't control myself, suddenly: some dark forces seemed to take over my body and then I was walking, across the threshold and up the stairs towards the nuclear generator in the upstairs bedroom. I couldn't look around to see if Thom was with me. The only thing I could do was check my pocket - yes, the photograph was still in there.
No longer were the waves of power pushing me back, tangling my hair and stinging my eyes; instead they rippled around me, like I was a stone that had been dropped into the ocean, supernatural energy rising up over my head and closing over my face. It had its own distinct sound - not exactly voices, or certainly not anything human, but not anything natural either. It was a rushing, a roaring, like the sound of blood in your ears when your heart is racing with fear. Maybe that was all it was, I couldn't tell.
Something brushed against my hand, and I knew without looking round that it was Thom. I was glad of his presence - it was warm, sunlit, buttery: the malevolence seemed to recoil from his touch and retreat further down the dark hallway the closer to me he got.
I was both freezing cold and burning hot at the same time. Perhaps, I thought, this is what hell feels like.
With Thom behind me, we forged our path through the shadows. Although I knew it was only a few steps from the top of the stairs to her bedroom door, the hallway had stretched and lengthened, dark warped shapes flickering in and out of my vision. I didn't dare even try to look anywhere but the door we were moving towards, scared of what I might see; even if I had wanted to, though, I don't think I could have. The energy both pulled me forwards and pushed me back. I had never felt anything like it before.
For every two steps we took forward, we seemed to take one step back; Finally, after what felt like hours of walking, although it was probably only a few minutes, I arrived at the door. The energy was strongest here; I could feel it radiating off the door handle as I reached out to open it, like the room inside was on fire. Still, I gritted my teeth through the pain and pushed open the door.
If I had thought the energy was strong outside the room, in here it was like a nuclear bomb had just detonated. She was standing by the desk.
She looked different to when I had last seen her, only yesterday - or maybe the day before, I had no idea what time it was. She was outlined in a silvery haze, glowing slightly, and she seemed to be hovering a few centimetres off the ground.
When I entered, she turned. Her face was furious, evil, twisted. It looked like an old oak tree; tangled and dark. Her blonde curls were loose and long, hanging down her back, and her skin was so translucent I could see the outline of the desk through it.
"You," she said, and a wave of energy rolled off her and through me. I stepped back involuntarily, and then pushed forward again. I tried to speak, but I couldn't. My lips were stuck, sealed fast, not by fear but by something else, more of that otherworldly power. "You took it."
I struggled against her power, trying to give her back the picture, apologise, make things right. I was scared but I wasn't. Adrenaline pumped through my veins, perhaps the reason that the terror hadn't hit me yet.
"Always, everything is taken from me," she said, and it sounded almost like a groan. Then her face changed, and I knew from this that Thom had entered the room. "Thomas Hayes," she uttered. "You should be dead."
Thom evidently hadn't lost the power of speech. "So should you," he said.
She screeched - that's not the right word, but it's the best way I can describe the noise that she made - screeched, and a fresh pulse of power flowed towards him, knocking him off his feet and onto the floor. He skidded a little, his momentum pushing him backwards into the corner.
"That's right," he said. "We know what you are."
"How?" she demanded.
"It wasn't hard," he said. He was looking at me over his shoulder, eyes desperate, trying to signal to me to do something, I couldn't tell what. He was stalling, I figured, but why? "It's wonderful what you can do with technology these days, you know. Times have changed since you were younger."
All of a sudden, I realised where he was looking - the desk!
She advanced on him, and I knew he didn't have long. I had to act now. I could tell that her focus on Thom was weakening her hold on me, and as she was distracted, I began to struggle. It felt like I was moving through quicksand, but I threw myself towards the corner of the desk, where it was pushed up against the wall.
"You will die, again," she was saying. "If it wasn't painful enough the first time, it will be worse now."
I threw my whole body weight against the desk, trying to push it over, distract her, damage her power, do something, anything, but it was no use. It was too heavy, and I was too weak.
She stepped closer to him, raised her hand, and brought it down towards his face. No matter how hard I pushed, there was nothing I could do. She was going to get him, hurt him, kill him. I tried to lunge back towards her, but I was so much slower than usual, I wasn't going to reach them in time.
"This is going to hurt," she said, and brought her hand down to rest on his cheek.
There was a boom, a bright flash, and when I looked up, hesitant to see what had become of him, she was on the floor. Thom remained in the corner, half-crouching, pale and shaking, but otherwise unharmed.
She began to rise, energy pulsating, stronger than ever, and Thom threw himself towards me. "The desk, now - whilst she's distracted -" he cried. "She's harnessing power from it - we need to weaken her, quickly."
Together, we heaved at the desk.
"What was that?" she said, slowly standing upright, confused and angrier than ever. "You are not Thomas Hayes."
"He was my uncle," said Thom. "And that was him. I don't think he'd ever let you hurt me!"
She roared and dove towards us, but our combined efforts were enough to shift the desk. It toppled forward, balancing for a second somewhere between the vertical and the horizontal. The crash it made as it hit the floor was deafening, booming. Papers blew everywhere, catching in the wind. The window itself blew open with a crack, and sheets of notes and drawings and photographs and god knows what else flew outwards in the resulting tornado.
"No!" she shrieked. "No, no, no!" Sure enough, as the desk fell, the energy had dropped as well. It was still roaring, but it was weak enough now that I could move properly.
I pulled the photograph out of my pocket and held it out to her. "Please," I shouted. "Take it back. Stop this. Please!"
"It's no good," she said. "It's too late."
"It's never too late," I said. "You have to let it go. You have to let it all go."
"No!" she cried. She struck out at me, but I dodged, ducking under the bullet of power she sent flying at me.
"Please," I shouted. "Whatever is keeping you here, forget it. It's not worth it." Thom was yelling something, but I couldn't hear it over the sound of my own heartbeat. "At least tell me why you're doing this."
She seemed to crumple, then. "His descendants… they must be gotten rid of."
"That man - that man that I called brother. He turned on me - he hurt me in the worst way he could. He took everything from me - he ruined me. He killed me." A sick realisation settled over me. "He had to pay so I made him pay. And I swore I would never leave this earth until everyone descended from him had paid too."
"So Thomas Hayes…"
"No, not him. He was an inconvenience; a means to an end. The other boy. Alex Jones."
Alex Jones? All along, we had overlooked him, focusing only on Thomas. Of course, of course, it would be Alex Jones. "And me…"
"He was your mother's second cousin. And no, I didn't kill your mother. What the doctors told you was all true."
"Why me? What about my sister?" I spat.
"She was going to be first," she said. "I was saving you for last. The last for the last…" Her words trailed off into an unearthly wail. "But then I met you first, and I knew you would be easy. I didn't expect you to steal from me."
Thom was still shouting at me, and I realised what he was saying. "Her name!"
He was right. Of course he was. "You feel like everything has been taken from you," I said. "Your pride, your life, your identity, and now your memories. But you haven't lost everything."
The wind howled.
"I know who you are," I said. "You have a name."
She paused, silent, as if holding her breath.
"Emilia Carlina," I shouted.
She made a sound like a cut-off gasp.
Everything went still. Still, and silent. The wind died, the thunder stopped. My hair fell flat against my shoulders and the papers whipping through the air stopped dead and drifted to the ground, where they remained, motionless.
"Emilia," I said. "You've done so much. You don't need to be here anymore."
Thom stood, and came to my side. "We won't forget you," he said. "You will always have identity. We won't let you fade away."
Light flashed, just once more. When the air had cleared, and the bright spots had been blinked from my retinas, I saw that where there had been a monster, there was now just a girl. She was pretty and blonde, with blue eyes and curls. She sat on the floor, curled in on herself. She looked very small. She gazed up at us. "I'm scared," she said, wide-eyed.
I dropped to the floor beside her and took her hand. "You don't need to be. You're brave. You can do this."
She closed her eyes. "Thank you," she said, and she breathed out, a final breath that had been three hundred and forty one years in the making.
And then she was gone. I looked up at Thom, blinking. My hands were full of dust, which seemed to dissolve even as I looked at it.
Thom took my arm and helped me up. "Are you alright?" he said.
"I think so. Are you?"
"I think so."
Together, we left the room and went down and out, back into the street. It was a lovely clear night. The rain had stopped, and wouldn't start again for a while. The moon shone brightly and our surroundings stood still. It was a peaceful night on a peaceful street. From far away, I could smell cooking, maybe cigarette smoke.
The paper had gone. When I looked behind me, all that was there was a house. No forces of evil, no dark powers, nothing - just a sad, tired old house in need of some serious renovations.
I looked at Thom. For some reason, I almost wanted to laugh. "We're alive," I said.
"It makes you grateful, doesn't it?" he said. "To be alive."
He was right - he was so right. I thought of the days spent staring out of the window, of the unopened university prospectuses, of the endless apathy, and I realised just how right he was. I had been so stupid - there I was with my own wild and wonderful life, and I had been throwing it all away. Maybe it wasn't appropriate to do so, and maybe it was just because of the shakes of adrenaline still running through me, but I let myself laugh. I felt freer than I had in ages.
"Let's not go back home just yet," I said, and so we didn't, not for a while.