Jessie didn’t know how the fire had gotten out of control so fast. Panic coursed through her as she raced towards the back of the house. The heat from the flames seared her back, forcing her forward. If she stopped, she would never make it out. Behind her she heard something crash. She resisted looking back and witnessing the destruction of her home. Focusing on her goal, she moved forward; she only had a few more feet to go. Her heart pounded in her ear, competing with the sound of sirens outside. The door was right in front of her. She didn’t check the handle to see if it was hot, she just turned it and pushed the door open.
Heidi was crouched in the corner. Crawling to her daughter, she lifted her into her arms. They couldn’t go back the way Jessie had come, but the window was there. She didn’t even think. She opened the window and climbed onto the ledge and jumped.
*Three Months Later*
“You have a beautiful daughter…” the man glanced at her name tag, “Jenny? How old is she?”
Her eyes narrowed, studying the man suspiciously. He chuckled, noticing her scrutiny and held up his hands.
“I’m not a pervert, I just couldn’t help but notice. She has startling eyes. Their unusual. My grandmother calls them twilight eyes”
He turned to study the girl again. She was sitting in the corner of the diner, out of the way of the customers. She had a piece of paper in front of her and appeared to be drawing.
“She’s always had a gift for pictures. I thought that would stop after she lost her sight, but it’s almost as though she still sees the world around her, just in a different way than the rest of us.”
“She hasn’t always been blind?”
“No. It happened a few months ago. There was a fire.”
She refilled his glass and turned to move on, but he stopped her, putting his hand out and touching her arm. She flinched. His fingers were cold. “You didn’t answer my question. How old is she?”
“I don’t see that you need to know that.”
“I would say… 11 years?”
She didn’t answer. She stood, frozen, staring at the gun she saw sticking out through is coat. In the corner, Heidi had turned her head towards the two.
He leaned forward and whispered, “Jenny… or is it Jessie? How long did you think you could run?”
Her hands trembled. The man reached out and took the pitcher from her before she could drop it and set it on the counter.
“Who are you?” She asked.
“Hopefully the man who will save your life.”
Heidi was approaching them. She held out the paper she had been drawing on. Jessie reached out to take it, but the girl instinctively stepped past her. “It’s for him.”
The man took the paper and looked at it. He turned it so Jessie could see. Heidi had used a red marker to draw the image of a man with a large brimmed hat.
“Daddy,” Heidi said. “He’s coming.”
“He died in a fire three months ago,” Jessie said. She had closed the diner early, chasing out all the customers, except for the man. Julio had offered to stay, looking suspiciously at the stranger, but Jessie had told him she’d be ok and sent him home with the assurance he would still be paid for a full day.
“How did the fire start?”
“I was going to leave him. I was afraid for Heidi. The night before… ” her voice choked and she looked away. Heidi was back in her corner. She wasn’t drawing this time, just staring towards the door, like she was expecting someone to come walking in.
“He raped her?”
“If I hadn’t walked in when I did… she was crying, begging him to stop. He ran out when I came in. He didn’t come back that night, but I knew he would eventually. So the next morning I started packing. When he came home he hit me. He told me I wasn’t going to take his little girl from him. I had a gun my sister had given me for protection. I had it in my hands. I don’t know how it got there, but when I realized I was holding it, I shot him.
“Sounds like self-defense to me. Why did you change your name and run?”
“The bullet didn’t kill him. He went crazy. I shot a few more times, but he just kept coming. He knocked me out. When I woke up, he was pouring gasoline all over the house. The gun was still in my hand and his back was to me. I shot him again, but I didn’t notice he’d had a match in his hand. When the bullet hit him, he dropped it and the whole place went up in flames.”
“Why didn’t you tell the police what happened? You’re wanted for murder.”
“They wouldn’t have believed me. He was one of theirs.”
“So you ran.”
“I thought it would be a new beginning. A chance to start over. I had some money I’d set aside. But then…”
“Your husband wasn’t so dead after all?”
She laughed. “He died. There’s no doubt about that. At least his body did. His spirit however… or whatever part of him that was evil…” She paused, then continued. “In a way I’m relieved you found me. Maybe the safest place for me is prison.”
“I’m not a cop. I’m a Paranormal Investigator… me and my sister. We’re here to help.”
Just then the lights went out in the diner.
Jessie jumped from her seat and grabbed her daughter.
This way. The man took her hand and they ran towards the kitchen and the back door. Behind them the glass door shattered. A table moved across the floor, blocking their path.
A voice spoke, chilling Jessie. “Daddy’s home.”