“You’re their daughter.” Laura put a hand on Cassie’s shoulder. “You don’t have to make anything up to them. Besides, they’ll kick us out before we can volunteer to help. God knows Mom doesn’t want anyone to baby her, even with a brain tumor.”
Laura’s words didn’t make Cassie feel better. She still hadn’t talked to either of them. Cassie had pitched her and her sister’s visit as a surprise, but the truth was she didn’t want to give her parents a head’s up in case they didn’t want to see her. Or just in case she decided at the last minute that she didn’t want to go.
Cassie stuck the key in the ignition and twisted. Her car roared to life, and the headlights illuminated the surrounding darkness. The gasp that left her mouth was automatic, and she didn’t have time to cover her reaction before Laura jumped and followed her gaze.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Cassie said. She searched for a plausible lie. “I thought I saw a cat run off. Scared me.”
“Jesus, don’t do that.” Laura clutched a hand to her chest. “I thought we were being kidnapped.”
Laura seemed to realize what she said as soon as it left her mouth.
“Cassie, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I—”
“It’s fine.” Cassie forced out a laugh. “You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me. Let’s just get home, okay?”
Laura nodded and turned back to the front of the car. Cassie followed suit, and once again locked eyes with the ghost of the little boy who had been haunting her for months. He seemed to show up more frequently outside of her bedroom as her sister’s visit had drawn closer.
Was it a plausible connection or simply coincidence?
Cassie couldn’t say for sure, and she wasn’t looking forward to solving that mystery. She’d already lied to her sister, and they weren’t even home yet. How would she nonchalantly ask Laura if she had any connection to a little boy who had died twenty or thirty years ago?
Cassie twisted in her seat and carefully pulled out of the parking spot, knowing there was no simple answer to her question.
Cassie gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white and her hands ached. Her headlights illuminated the road right in front of her, and the rest was so dark she felt like she was driving through a void in space. She could sense, rather than see, the trees whipping by as she sped down an empty highway.
Her foot slid off the gas pedal, but the car didn’t slow down. She slammed her foot on the brake, and the pedal went right to the floor with no resistance. The car didn’t shudder or stop, no matter how many times she stomped her foot. There was no slowing down.
Cassie looked around, wondering if she could use something—anything—to help her slow down and stop. There were no guardrails, and the inky blackness scared her more than the road ahead. If only she could find an exit and maybe an empty field to help her slow down.
The car drifted to the left, but no matter how hard she yanked the steering wheel to the right, she couldn’t correct her direction. She saw no headlights in the distance, but that didn’t mean another car wouldn’t come barreling around the corner at any second. Her panic grew, and her chest constricted. Her breaths became shallow. Her head grew light and her vision spotty.
A soft glow in the distance caught her attention. If it was another car, there would be no time for her to move out of the way. She tried once more to turn the steering wheel, but it was locked in place. Her trajectory was certain.
As she closed the distance between her and the soft glow, forms took shape. The illumination didn’t look like headlights. Instead, it appeared like an invisible lamppost shining its light across the center of the highway.
A figure appeared in the center. Then two. Then three.
Cassie tried once again to slam on the brakes, but instead of slowing down, the car shuddered and barreled down the road with renewed vigor. She leaned forward, squinting, trying to figure out what she was seeing in the distance. And as soon as the figures came into focus, she couldn’t control the scream that escaped her mouth.
Her parents stood in the road with blank faces. The light washed out their features, making them look pale and lifeless. They held hands, her father on the left and her mother next to him, but there was no indication they knew what was about to happen. They didn’t notice Cassie bearing down on them.
Laura, only five or six years old, stood next to their mother. Unlike her parents, Cassie’s little sister could see exactly what was happening. She was crying and clutching a teddy bear to her chest. Her face was a mask of horror and fear. The sight brought tears to Cassie’s eyes.
But no amount of turning the steering wheel or slamming on the brakes would slow the car down. The distance between them closed within a matter of seconds, and just as Cassie could see the size of her sister’s dilated pupils, just as the car was about to crash into her family, Cassie slammed her eyes shut.
Cassie’s eyes snapped open, and for a few seconds, she refused to move. Refused to breathe. Refused to accept she was safe in her bed. That her sister—now a full-grown adult—was safely asleep in the guest bedroom.
The breath she held burned her lungs, and she let the air out in one long go. She wiped the tears from her eyes and sat up, taking several deep, calming breaths. Her heart rate slowed to what resembled normal. Her shaking hands would need a few more minutes.
When Cassie looked to the corner of her room to see if the ghost boy was standing there like usual, his absence disappointed her. Last night’s run-in still weighed on her mind, and she wondered if he was instead paying a visit to her sister while she slept.