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There's Always A Way In

With the blackout having hit the cottage a few minutes earlier, Ariel propped the flashlight on the kitchen counter, opened the oven and peeked in anxiously. She hoped the cookies she had made survived the power outage. They certainly smelled great. Nothing like freshly baked cookies to warm up a cold, rainy night.

She took out the baking tray and set it aside on the counter before turning the flashlight upon it to inspect the cookies. She grinned, a tickle of relief pulling at the edge of her mouth. Despite the abrupt power outage, and about a minute before the oven timer was supposed to go off, all thirteen --a baker's dozen-- looked deliciously perfect. Using the spatula, she lifted one off the tray, soft and limp, and touched it once with her finger. Still hot, but temptation and anticipation enabled her to just snatch it up and pop it into her mouth.

“Ow,” she said, cringing. That would teach her putting a hot cookie into her mouth. The chocolate chips were even hotter and they definitely singed parts of her tongue even as they melted upon it.

She chuckled to herself. Pain sometimes could taste so delightful.

As she transferred them to a plate, she thought how impressive her first foray into baking chocolate chip cookies turned out to be. It was the first time she had baked anything, actually. To be perfectly honest, “cooking” was an activity that had never broached her brain process. Yet, here she was, with a plate full of warm, golden, chewy cookies that she made... without even having followed a recipe. Weird. She hoped she had more latent abilities lying dormant within her. Maybe something that would help her with her physics class next semester.

Holding the flashlight under her armpit, she carried a tray with the plate of cookies and two glasses of milk from the kitchen to the hallway. Though the Krygier's kept their cottage organized --certainly much more so than her own family's abode two lots down the lake-- she walked slowly in the dark. She heard the storm in the distance, still on its way to their side of the lake. The lights going out were no surprise. Cottage country electricity wasn't exactly known for its dependability.

As she made her way down the hallway towards the bedrooms, past a row of large windows. She paused when lightning flashed in the distance, followed by another, trembling ebbs of light chased by rumbles like tumbling boulders. Every time the sky lit up, the dark hills appeared. It was an eerie illusion how everything seemed much closer when in silhouette.

Ariel exhaled, suddenly aware that she had been holding her breath, then shook her head and continued on to the last bedroom at the end of the hallway.

“Okay, sire. Your cookies have arrived,” she announced as she turned the corner.

She twisted her body, scanning the flashlight across the pitch dark room. She turned it upon a blanket hanging from some rope and propped up by a couple of chairs to create a makeshift tent at the base of the bed. She could see a shadow, glowing from an electric lantern, moving around within.

“Hey, Jonas,” she said as she approached the tent. “Can I come in?”

He didn't answer.

Ariel rolled her eyes and smirked. She tapped her foot on the floor: One -- pause-- then one, two.

Still no answer.

She shrugged and sighed, then crouched down and shimmied into the tent.

“Hey!” Jonas said, annoyed.

“Hey, yourself,” Ariel replied, “I did the secret knock.”

“I still didn't say you could come in.”

She stuck out her tongue. “So I sneaked in through the window... there's always a way in.”

The young boy frowned at her. “That's cheating.”

“Look. Cookies,” she said, holding the tray out to him as if trying to appease a belligerent puppy.

He eyed them suspiciously. “Twelve?” he said.

Though his response struck her as a little odd, Ariel replied, “Yeah, six for you and six for me. Fair?”

Jonas shifted his crooked grimace to the other side of his mouth.

Ariel sighed and held up two scout fingers. “I swear, your Honour, I only made twelve cookies. That is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

He still wasn't biting.

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. It was your idea I make these. I'm no happy homemaker, Betty Crocker, by the way.”

She could tell Jonas was fighting the urge to resist taking a cookie just to spite her. After a pregnant stand off, he finally relented and took one from the plate.

Ariel watched him chew through his frowny face. “Good, huh?” she asked.

He continued with the sour look.

“Yeah, he loves them,” she thought.

Ariel set aside the tray and crossed her legs as she sat. The tent had pretty decent head-space. She raised her eyes as she listened to more thunder as it rumbled ominously around them. The patter of rain on the roof of the cottage began to quicken. “You okay?” she asked. “Not bothered by the storm?”

Jonas shrugged. He drank his glass of milk, then spun around on his knees, turning his back to her and his attention upon some sheets of paper and pencil crayons scattered on the floor.

Ariel grinned and rubbed her fingers through dark curls of hair at the back of the little boy's head. “Don't worry about it,” she offered, “your mom and dad will be back by the time you go to bed.”

Her consolation efforts were rebuked with his hand brushing away hers.

Despite the cold shoulder, Ariel smiled. She really liked Jonas, often playing with him whenever both their families were up at their cottages. Being paid to babysit with him while his parents spent a night out on the nearby town seemed like a bonus. It was also a good excuse to get away from her own family for a short period. There was only so much Scrabble or Yahtzee that could be played on a rainy night.

Ariel pulled a sheet of paper out from under her knee. Jonas had drawn a picture of her making cookies in the kitchen. She raised her eyebrows, struck by the details he had managed to slip in despite not even having watched her make the cookies. For a seven year old child, it was obvious he had some impressive drawing talents. Combine them with what Ariel always thought she saw as a very perceptive gaze in his icy-cool blue eyes, and the Krygiers likely had a budding artist on their hands, Spider-man pajamas and all.

As she was about to set aside the drawing, she paused and peered at it again, tilting it towards the light of the lantern.

“...Ten, eleven, twelve...” she mouthed the words, “...thirteen.”

Jonas had drawn a baker's dozen cookies.

“How did...” Ariel began to say, but checked her tongue. She shook her head and scoffed quietly.

Stretching out onto her belly, she shimmied up to the side of Jonas as he sketched another drawing on a large sheet of paper. “Hey, Picasso, what are you working on now?” she asked.

Jonas' small hand worked swiftly, moving his colouring pencils with deft, confident strokes that seemed to belie his age.

Ariel tilted her head, her brows knitting as she watched the picture appear on the paper. It was obviously the profile of the cottage, the lake, the trees, all being rendered from Jonas' mind's eye. The depth of skill and detail managed to impress her again. She was certain that everything she drew when she was his age looked like sausages and pork chops whether they were supposed to be or not.

“Wow,” she said with a whistle, “you've got some talent here, mister.”

The boy was still on mute, still drawing at an almost feverish pace. At the top of the sheet, he drew a scraggly, jagged blue line knifing through the dark clouds in the sky.

A white light suddenly flashed at the opening of the tent, illuminating everything around the two of them like an x-ray. Ariel flinched, her suddenly quickened heartbeat buried in the growl of loud thunder and the heavy crackle of rain upon the roof.

“Jeez!” she gasped. She chuckled trying to mask her startled nerves. “Sounds like it's nearly on top of us.”

Jonas didn't seem to have been bothered by it at all, his focused drawing continuing uninterrupted.

Ariel turned her attention back to the drawing. After a moment, she asked, “What are those?”

With a dark brown pencil, Jonas was busy drawing some... well, some things. She couldn't make out what they were, but they were coming out of the lake, each a morass of curdling mud and moss. Thick and stumpy, possibly moving on legs, they appeared to be melting and oozing forward towards the cottage. They were wet, dripping, and ugly masses – the stuff of childhood nightmares. The way Jonas had drawn them --a gritty mess of kinetic scribbles-- they almost seemed to be moving on the page.

A march of cold pins pricked their way up Ariel's spine towards the back of her neck. Her eyes narrowed, and she said through hushed breath, “Jonas... what are you drawing? What are those things?”

They were giving her the creeps.

Jonas' eyes were wide, reflecting the image on the page in the crystal clearness of his blue eyes. “Lake goblins,” he said.

Ariel looked at him and paused for a long moment. She squinted with a jeering eye and said, “Lake goblins?”

The boy continued to draw more of the creatures, birthing more of the hideous things with his busy pencils. Ariel lost count of them. They were all around the cottage, on the porch, on the roof... a rather large one was right at the door, with its dripping, ragged limb stretched towards it.

“Lake goblins?” she repeated, even more skeptical. Each time she said it, the absurdity of it all seeped deeper into her head. She chuckled, “And what? Have they come out for some milk and cookies?”

Jonas turned his head towards her with an odd deliberateness and whispered, “They're hungry.”

A hint of concern sparked within Ariel once more as she looked into the boy's cold pupils. Easing back on the mocking tone, she asked, “So... should I make more cookies?”

It practically sounded like horses were running across the roof as the rain continued to build.

Ariel blinked. It suddenly dawned on her that with the power being out, she wouldn't be able to bake more cookies. Just as quickly she scolded herself. She shook her head and thought, “Wait a minute. I'm going to make cookies for lake goblins?”

Before she let that ridiculousness settle in, a sudden burst of lightning lit up the room instantly followed by a ripping boom of thunder. Ariel yelped and covered her mouth, her eyes wide.

“Holy...!” She was cut off by yet another white flash and resounding clap of thunder, rattling the windows as if something was lunging against them. She grabbed at Jonas' arm.

The boy shirked away from her and continued to draw at a frantic pace. He drew another long, crooked line of lightning on the page, an angry grumble of thunder building as he did so. Another lightning strike and thunder clap erupted.

“Jonas!” Ariel yelled over the bristling cracks, flinching at each brilliant flash of light.

Blue lines continued to appear at the end of Jonas' pencil. They stretched down from the clouds, cracking across the sheet of paper, and struck the creatures below, eradicating them from the page in a conflagration of scribbles and scratches. One fell, then another, then another, each blow matched by terrible lightning and thunder all around the cottage. One-by-one the creatures were blown off the picture.

Ariel covered her ears and shut her eyes, shouting over the violent cacophony of light and sound. “Jonas! Jonas, stop it!”

The little boy continued to draw as if charged with a mission from beyond.

Finally, she snatched the sheet of paper off the floor, away from him. “Enough!” she shouted.

Jonas screamed back, “I'm not finished!” He grabbed at the paper, his eyes wild, teeth gnashing.

“I don't care!” Ariel snapped back, holding the sheet away and backing out of the tent even as the boy clawed at her.

“Give it back!” he insisted. “I need to finish it!”

“No! No more drawing! Time for bed!” she yelled, leaving behind her flashlight and stumbling out of the bedroom.
“I need to finish it! I need to finish it!” Jonas continued from the shelter of his blanket-tent.

Ariel slammed the door shut and shouted back, “Go to bed, Jonas!”

Listening to the muffled cries of the little boy behind the door, she breathed deeply, trying to calm herself. She gasped, swallowing back her beating heart, and counted slowly to ten.

The thunder and lightning had died down almost instantly, though it was still a downpour outside, pebble-sized drops hammering away at the windows. Slowly, Ariel composed herself, a sinking feeling in her gut. She closed her eyes and lowered her forehead against the door, thumping it lightly. “Jonas?” she sighed, knowing that she was speaking too softly for him to actually hear, “I'm sorry. Just go to bed, okay? Your mom and dad will be home soon. I promise.”

There was no reply.

“Jonas?” Ariel said, a little more clearly. She frowned and looked at the door. “Jonas? Are you alright?”

She reached for the knob.

Just then, she heard a knock at the front door. One thump... a pause... then one, two.

Ariel craned her neck to the side and peered through the darkness of the hallway. Her lips fluttered, but she couldn't form any words. She had a million thoughts flitting through her skull but she had no idea what to say.

Another knock: thump... thump, thump.

Cold tendrils pulled away under her skin from her finger tips up past knuckles and through her arms. It felt like a thousand little ants were scurrying across her face and pulling at the hairs on her neck. She swayed on her feet, struggling, as if she were going to fall backwards if she tried to move.

“He-hello?” she eked.

Thump... thump, thump.

The sound of her own breaths pacified the noise of the rain outside. She said with an aching, false hope in her voice, “Mr. and Mrs. Krygier? Is that you?”

Thump... THUMP, THUMP.

Ariel held her breath. That's when she heard it: water trickling. Not the sheets of rain washing down the side of the cottage, it was like a gurgling, babbling stream. Maybe a pipe burst or a sink was overflowing? That's what she was hoping.

Her head was stuck, neck twisted, as she peered down the hallway. Eyes narrowed, filtering through the blackness, sorting out the grey hues. From around the corner, something was moving low on the floor like a creeping pool. It wasn't water, it was too thick, slimy, oozing, and moving with an organic deliberateness as it curled around into the hallway, curdling towards her.

Ariel gasped. She scrabbled at the doorknob. It seemed to be slipping through her fingers, but she finally managed to twist it and push the door open. She ran back into the bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her, leaning her back against it. Her heart punched within her chest as she struggled for breath.

Looking towards the blanket-tent on the floor she managed to eke out, “Jonas?”

The silhouette behind the blanket didn't move.

“Jonas!” Ariel called again, louder as a new panic began to settle in her gut.

She scrambled forward and crawled into the tent. “Jonas!” she screeched.

The little boy was curled up into a tiny little ball, clutching a pillow. His eyes were wide, frozen. He wasn't moving but at least he appeared to be breathing.

“Are you okay?” Ariel gasped.

Jonas' small red lips fluttered apart. His voice creaked as he whispered, “I didn't finish the picture.”

Her brows twitched as she looked down at the sheet of paper, scrunched as she clutched it tightly in her trembling fist. Slowly she pulled it open. Through the wrinkles and tears she scanned his picture quickly, glancing at all the creatures that had been scratched out... all except the large one at the door of the cottage.

THUMP... THUMP, THUMP!

Ariel jumped back in the tent. She stared through the material, envisioning the door to the bedroom.

“Who's there?” she shouted.

THUMP... THUMP, THUMP!

Still staring towards the door, Ariel held out the picture to the boy. “Finish the picture, Jonas,” she urged.

“I can't.”

THUMP... THUMP, THUMP!

She looked at him, eyes flaring wide. She shook the sheet of paper. “Finish the picture!”

He shook his head.

THUMP... THUMP, THUMP!

Desperate, she pleaded, “Please, finish it! I won't open the door.”

Jonas gazed back at her with cold regret. “It's too late.”

Ariel's heaving breaths swayed her body. She gasped, “Wha-wha... ?”

The boy watched, gripped to his tiny spot on the floor beneath the tent as Ariel was snatched away from the opening, legs kicking and flailing. Her foot kicked the flashlight underneath the blanket to the other side.

Jonas held his breath, listening to her screams and shrieks as she was dragged away. Harrowing bumps and thumps on the other side of the tented blanket bore evidence of a desperate scramble, a struggle in vain. Shadows tangled and wrestled with another. The twisted silhouettes cast a nightmarish show before his glassy eyes.

Jonas couldn't move.

Just as quickly, it was done. Everything was still and silent, just the sound of wind and rain sweeping through the room.

The boy's lips popped apart, an audible gasp as his lungs filled with air. After a minute, he managed to unwind his locked joints and crawl forward through the paper, pillows, and messy wetness pooled at the opening of the tent. He peered around the corner, his eyes wide, towards the door.

It was still shut.

He turned his head the other way.

Rain splattered on the floor through the wide open windows, their screens torn, goopy sludge hanging off of the mesh. A waning, muffled noise rumbled in the murky distance. Jonas told himself that it was only the last whimpers of a dying storm.

“Jonas! Ariel! We're home!” Mr. and Mrs. Krygier called out from the front door.

With eyes still fixed upon the tattered window, Jonas wondered how he would explain this. He knew the words “we want the truth” would be part of the conversation.

On a dark, rainy night by the lake, there was only one truth: There's always a way in.

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