"Are you ready?" James asks me. I don't need to turn to know he is next to me.
There is a mattress on the floor of the first room and an ashtray spilling over with crushed cigarettes next to it. Otherwise there is no furniture. I take a step forward, but turn back to look at James.
Are you coming with me?" I ask.
"No," he says. "I'm not allowed."
"The truth." I look inside again, pondering his words.
"How did you get banned from your own childhood home?"
"I burned a school with the children inside."
The air leaves my lungs. Did he really say that? I turn once more, but he is no longer there. Vanished. Like an echo in my mind I hear the words again as I gather my courage and enter the house.
The door swings shut with a bang and I see a tall thin man with blonde hair leaning against the wall.
"Hello, Ella," he says.
I know him. I met this man long ago, but how can he be in front of me now? I thought he died. And he doesn't look like a ghost. Reaching my hand forward, I pinch his arm and recoil with shock.
He is real.
"Are you surprised I'm not a ghost like James?"
I can't help laughing. "I saw your gravestone, Ryan."
"Deaths can be faked," he says, winking at me. Closing my eyes, I picture Ray in my mind.
"Is he alive?" I ask.
Clouds roll over his pupils and for the briefest moment I see the man the police label a terrorist.
"He is dead to me," he says.
The words sting me and I want to slap him. "How can you say that about him?"
"I am aware how you feel about him, Ella, but it doesn't change the fact he destroyed my family. So, don't ask me about him. If you want to know, seek the answers at the end of the hall."
His eyes press into mine and for many moments I let him dig and explore the various rooms inside my mind.
"What will I find at the end of the hall?" I ask, unsure what to make of the anger I feel flowing from him.
"A dragon," he says and exits, taking the stairs to the basement.
Looking down the short hall-way, I ponder what I will find when I open the last door.
"Why did he leave?" I ask out loud. My voice sounds odd in the empty space and I take a step forward, wanting to leave the living room. I hear a sound like a growl coming from one of the bedrooms and I grip my knife before taking another step on the hardwood floor.