Completely dark except for the shaft created by his flashlight, the ornate room had two crystal chandeliers hanging over a long table that must have seated twenty people at one time. Ian had a fleeting thought about those people and their fate before pointing his light toward the far wall. A fireplace covered in white marble took up most of the wall. Above the mantle a portrait depicted a very happy family. A middle-aged, blonde woman sat in a wingback chair with a dark-haired man behind her. Three blonde girls in their teens surrounded her, all blue-eyed and all smiling like they lived in a perfect world. Maybe they had, Ian thought.
The pain returned and Ian grabbed the back of his head in response. Instinctively he turned off the flashlight. But even as he did so, a light streaked and popped like electricity at the other end of the room. Ian advanced toward the fireplace. Could the house have an open circuit of electricity? Was that even possible? No, he told himself. The only electricity was what he generated himself with wind, water or fuel. All of these homes were as dead as the people who had once dwelled in them.
The crackle of electricity filled the air with the smell of smoke and burning hair.
He tucked his scarf back up over his nose.
The light grew brighter and in the center he could make out two figures embracing. Then they were gone.
He was in darkness.
Several minutes elapsed. He didn’t move or turn his flashlight back on. He knew he was alone, but he couldn’t deny that he had seen two people in the burst of lightning that had flooded the room. A man and a woman, he was sure of it.
His first thought was that they appeared so clean. The few people left alive on his journey had been struggling to survive. They had been worn and dirty just like him, some much worse.
As well as being clean, the people in the burst of light wore bright and new clothing. The man had been in dark trousers and a beige shirt that flowed around him. His hair was dark but his pale skin was stretched tight around his bones. Ian had noticed this in an instant but it was the woman who had captured his attention. She was magnificent. Loose blonde curls flowed down her back and across her shoulders, and her blue eyes were the color the sky should be on a clear spring day. She had creamy skin that begged to be touched, and a body lithely wrapped in a long tunic of dove gray. He recognized her from the portrait. She was one of the teenagers though she was several years older now.
He laughed. “You’ve lost your mind, Ian. That’s what this is. You’ve been without a woman for so long that you’re conjuring them out of the ether.”
The pain returned. He ignored it and waited.
The pop and crackle of electricity lit the room. His skin tingled and the hair on his arms stood up in response.
The pair flashed into view again. Ian was closer this time. What at first had appeared to be an embrace now seemed more like an assault. The man was stealing her breath. Those heavenly blue eyes were round with fear. She stared out of the light and looked right through him.
Ian didn’t think. He reached forward and thrust his arm into the lightning. Searing pain coursed through his hand and arm. Madness, he thought. This is pure madness.
He reached farther into the bolt and felt flesh beneath his fingers. Closing his hand around her arm he yanked hard and fell backward onto the floor, the woman falling on top of him.
She rolled to one side.
Ian saw the other figure in the light screaming with rage.
She held up her hand toward the enraged specter. Ian heard her mutter something. Blindingly bright light filled the room for an instant before it all went dark.
There was silence save for his own breathing.
She was dead or gone. Or had he imagined her?
He flipped the switch back on the flashlight he still gripped in his right hand and pointed it toward the floor on his left.
She was there, crumpled next to him. Her touchable skin only inches from him. He reached out and pushed the hair from her face. It felt like silk on his fingers.
Her eyes popped open and he jerked his fingers back like a child caught cheating in school.
There were several seconds before her eyes focused on him. It was like she was in a trance and for the first time she was waking up.
When she spoke her voice was soft and low, barely a whisper. “He’ll find another way through. You must run from this place.” Her head rolled to one side and her eyes closed.
Fear spread through him. “Shit. Don’t be dead! Shit.”
He felt for a pulse at her throat. There it was. He sighed.
“Not dead. Good.”
He picked her up, pulling her upright by both arms before hoisting her rear-end up over his shoulders like a fireman. She was small and thin and her pelvic bone pressed against his shoulder. Her weight was not much of a hindrance as he made his way back through the kitchen and foyer to the front door.