Had Skylar entered the room quietly, everything would have been fine. She had mistaken his bedroom for the attic, and now he was after her. She swore never to sneak into a house again. Nothing was worth this. If she hadn’t broken in so rashly, she wouldn’t have had to run down the crooked stairs, past the first floor and into the basement. Skylar swore to herself. She was not an amateur, not a rookie, but hiding here was a rookie mistake. She should have vaulted out of the top window or found the attic and hid there. At least then, she would have found what she was looking for.
Out of her panic grew the need to hide, the need to tuck herself away in heart of the house’s deepest shadows. She regretted that her chosen hiding spot was a crawl space just wide enough for her to breathe and feel the soft cobwebs against her lips, almost as much as she regretted that it was in a basement that had only one way in and out. For a moment, she imagined a a thin pall of cobwebs covering her from head to toe, but she was quick to shake the image from her mind. It seemed to her like the smartest location to hide, and for now, that was all she could do. She heard him coming.
Two steps and then three. They sounded heavy. When she was upstairs, she didn’t get a good look at the man’s face. At the exact moment when she had opened the bedroom door, he had turned around so suddenly from what he was doing. She remembered it and replayed it in her mind: he was bent over the bed before she came, and when he turned, his figure unfolded upward – a large, looming man as thick as the doorway and one head’s worth from the ceiling. She could fit at least two of herself in his standing figure, and had she had the time to understand who he was, she would have been more fearful. But, the bite of fear pulled her to where she was now, and all she could do was wait until he gave up looking for her.
Four steps. Six steps.
She stopped breathing at once. Skylar had always criticized actors for doing this in movies, because logically it meant that they would eventually have to gasp for air. Any person with any common sense would realize that slow, soft breathing would call no attention to herself, unless the pursuer had superb hearing. Still, she held her breath, almost in spite of the logical side of her brain telling her to start breathing. Everything in her body welled with energy to gasp and then run. Skylar tried to calmly tell herself to breathe out slowly enough for him not to notice. When she began doing so, she saw a flash of light in her periphery.
Had he come for her? Had he found her out? The light disappeared, and she told herself not to sigh. A sigh would be deadly. A sigh would find her out, leaving her helpless in this little coffin she had tucked herself in. What if he never left?
The light came again, and then was gone.
She slowly let the air return to her lungs, stifling back a sneeze from the dust around her. The light periodically came and went, and she realized it must have been a flashlight panning over the walls and the ceiling. There was a crack in the walls, a sliver of a crack at the edge of the crawl-space. She could see it: one foot from her face, at the exact height of her eyeline, just the size of Skylar’s thumb. She edged herself closer to it, careful not to make a sound, careful not to let her sneakers push against the dust and betray her location. Each tiny step was carefully planted, almost too careful in their positioning that she lost balance.
She caught herself at once, letting her hand push against a support beam, or something hard. She couldn’t tell; it was too dark. She inched herself closer to the thumb-hole and peered through. She saw nothing. There was only darkness, and for a moment, she thought she was free.