Frank turned on his heels, and headed back the way he came towards the spiral staircase. His legs had began to cramp up, but he didn’t care. He knew he had to out of that place as quickly as possible, or else something might happen. He started down the stairs, his right hand gripping the old wooden railing tightly as he descended. Each step he took echoed throughout the old mill, as if the walls themselves were speaking to him. He tried to climb down faster, taking the steps two at a time. His legs ached, and his heart pounded still harder in his chest. He was halfway down now, and soon he would be outside in the fresh air, where he would be safe. Yes, he would be safe outside.
As he passed one of the broken windows, he stopped dead in his tracks. He thought he saw…did he just see that? He knew he had to keep going; had to keep going down the stairs…but he had to have a second look. He became still, and listened. His quick, labored breathing was the only sound around him, and it seemed to calm him somewhat. Forcing his will, he turned slowly to his left, and looked out of the broken window, to the small pond below. It was a woman, with long brown-grey hair, and a yellow summer dress. She was standing by the pond, her arms hugging herself tightly. She seemed to be staring out over the water, swaying gently back and forth, as if trying to comfort herself. She seemed familiar, but he couldn’t get a clear look at her face.
What was she doing out here? It was, after all, a good distance from town to be walking, with no coat or scarf. Perhaps she drove a car? No, he would have heard the engine, would have heard the tires crunch through the snow. Surely she didn’t wander off on her own, and get lost? Whatever the reason, Frank saw she was down below him, staring out over the pond. He decided that things were safe, now. Whatever evil thing had stalked him before must surely be gone by now; monsters don’t like an audience, do they?
He called out to the woman, feeling relieved to see another person about. His spirits lifted as they did when he was a child, and his mother would come into his room at night to turn on his closet light, and scare away the boogyman. He waved his arms and called again, trying to get her attention. The woman simply stared out over the water, and made no attempt to look up at him. Could she not hear him? Perhaps he was too high up, or the wind was blowing too hard down below? He called to her again, louder this time. Suddenly, he heard the shrieking again. It was louder, and more panicked than before. His heart stopped in his chest, and his stomach lurched inside him.
It was still here.
This time, the screaming was not coming from inside the mill, but seemed to be coming from the pond itself, as if there were an invisible person standing on the surface of the water, wailing in agony. The woman by the pond didn’t seem to hear the noise; or she was simply ignoring it completely, he couldn’t tell. Whatever the reason, she continued to stare out over the pond, slowly swaying and holding her arms over her chest. Her hair blew in the wind, and suddenly she began to move.
As Frank watched, she took a step towards the water, and then another. He called out to her again, told her to stop...but she continued to move towards the bank. Soon she was only inches away from the pond; another step and she would dive headfirst into the cold water. The shrieking from the pond was louder than ever, and Frank was beside himself with apprehension, not knowing what to do. He considered running down the stairs again, when the woman turned around suddenly, and stared right into his eyes.
He clutched his chest so quickly he nearly knocked himself backwards. He backed up against the railing of the mill, then turned and began to run down the stairs, as fast as his legs would carry him. He continued to keep his hand on the rail, but only for balance as he was now practically running full speed. He had to get downstairs now, right this very moment. It was her…she was down there. His beloved Barbara, after all these years. She was back.
Was it real? How could it be? She couldn’t be back…she couldn’t. She was dead, wasn’t she? Yes, she was dead. He had seen her body lying there on the floor, bent and twisted at the bottom of the stairs. He could still hear the sounds her throat made as the breath was wrenched out of her by forces unknown. He could still see the look in her eyes; still see the fear.
Barbara was dead, it couldn’t be her down there, it couldn’t. Still, he descended faster and faster, his heart pounding in rhythm with his footsteps, until at last he reached the bottom of the mill. Just beyond the wall to his left, he could hear the yelling of the pond. He had to get outside. He had to see Barbara, tell her he was sorry for what he did. She had to know it was an accident...
He ran through the old wooden door, and turned to his left, towards the pond.