Midnight Jones excerpt

At the bottom of the stairs, Todd once again stopped, waited, listened. A new sound came to him through the darkness. The soft scraping of something across a hardwood floor. As if someone were shifting one of the chairs in the dining room. But why? To sit on or to climb on were the obvious reasons that leapt to mind. Only there was no reason to go climbing on chairs in that room. Everything of value was within easy reach. There was a fair amount of Norwegian silver in the china cabinet drawers, but nothing was stored on top of the cabinet.

Not that a burglar would know that.

Shit. Why hadn’t he grabbed his phone before coming downstairs? Hell if he was going back for it now. It would take too long and give an intruder time to get away with whatever loot he could grab. He could handle some punk kid if he had to.

Todd moved forward, one cautious step at a time, across the living room and toward the small formal dining room. Three feet from the archway, he stepped into a wall of freezing air. It sank instantly into his bones, chilling him inside and out. He gasped at the shock of cold, his breath misting before him, and took a reflexive step back, shivering all over. Something didn’t want him to go any farther. He was certain of it. Why? Was it an attack? Or was something trying to stop him for his own safety?

Never had the old house felt so eerie, so imposing. The light from the streetlamp that shone through the waving oak branches cast terrifying shadows against the window shades. Todd shivered again, and it had nothing to do with the temperature. That seemed to have returned to normal. Sixty-four degrees had never felt so toasty. He put out a cautious hand and touched only cool room-temperature air.

Moving forward once more, he found nothing spectral nor tangible barring his path. Stepping into the dining room, he looked around. The light from outside was stronger here with no tree to dapple it and no shade over the bay window seat to filter it. At first glance, everything seemed ordinary. The china cabinet was closed, its contents apparently untouched. The light fixture above the table hung dark and still. The painting on the opposite wall was unmoved.

Then he saw it. The chair at the head of the table across the room was pulled away as if someone were sitting in it, and yet there was no one there. Goosebumps rose up and down his arms and his stomach felt sick. Footsteps sounded behind him and he spun in place, stomach lurching. Queasy and dizzy, he grabbed the open doorframe for support. A shadow darker than anything caused by the furniture loomed up out of nowhere. Vaguely human in shape. Ominous. Threatening. There was nothing he could do. He couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t defend himself. Hell, he wasn’t sure there was anything physical to defend against.

The shadow form wafted toward him. He gasped in a shallow breath and held it. The thing swept over him. Around him. Through him. He choked at its passing, turned to follow its path into the dining room where it reached the opposite wall and vanished.

Todd sank to his knees, gasping for breath, fighting not to vomit up the meager contents of his stomach. When he could trust himself to move without throwing up, he shifted onto his butt and sat with his back against the archway. Knees bent with his arms atop them, he let his head fall back against the cool, solid, reassuringly real wood.