So, technically, this is the end. Next week, there’s a short epilogue-like chapter, and then it’s back to the occasional short story (which will come more frequently then, I was just rather busy these past few weeks).
- Abigal Murray’s Diary, 9th December
We should get into our boats and paddle to the mainland.
Finally they believe me, but that doesn’t change anything now. The five missing men are dead, everyone knows that. Nobody dares go up to the house. I told them there’s only two of them, but they are half-convinced the Norths have a deal with hell. They said that if I can get them into the village, they’d take care of them, but they won’t go near that hell-house again.
Of course I forbade my parents to come, and took the path cross-country. I know they’ll follow, but they’ll take the road. If I’m quick, everything will be over once they arrive.
I went at daybreak. We never saw them in the sun. I am standing in front of the house, scribbling what might be my last words.
It looks deserted. No hammer blows, no smoke from the chimneys, no sudden movements behind curtains or dirty windows.
It’ll be over soon.
I entered the house through the same window as last time, because all doors had been locked. This time I felt the thorns, and each time I pulled myself up the window seemed to climb up the wall, away from me.
But, hands bloody, clothes torn and back bruised by the rifle, I made it.
There are still piles of leaves everywhere. In each corner something appears to move, only to reveal itself as the wind playing in the dust.
I checked the room with the painted box first.
Now I at least know what happened to the Five. The Norths cleaned up, but everything smaller than a chicken’s egg they left. I guess I should have cried or thrown up, but I’ve seen Donnie’s body. I don’t know what could be worse than that.
Something slithered down the chimney. I lit a match and threw it on the bed, where it listlessly chewed on the damp sheets.
“No,” a familiar voice hissed from a pile of curtains tucked into the fireplace.
I lit another match and set the remaining curtains on the floor on fire. It lit up faster, the fabric wasn’t as rotted.
“Put it out,” the voice begged.
“No.” For lack of further flammable materials, I left the room. Above me I heard the rustling as the thing with the glowing eyes made its way through the ceiling.
I kept clear of the cupboard where it snatched me the first time. It might have saved me from that monster the North brother became, but it will have to find a new home. This one needs to go, together with its owners.
I looked at the ceiling. “If you can’t stand sunlight either, wait for me in the cellar. I’ll get you more curtains.”
The scratching stopped for a moment. Then it started again, directly above me, as if it were trying to scratch its way to me.
“You know I need to do this.”
I opened the door at the dark end of the hallway. At the far end of the room, thick curtains hid a bay window, pooling on moth-eaten cushions.
I left the door open and lit the next match. I almost tripped over another box standing in the middle of the room. Big enough for the older North brother. Very slowly, listening for the rustle of my clothes, my own breath, I bent down.
Not a sound. As silent as a dead man’s coffin. But I didn’t believe it. With long steps I crossed the room, out of the circle of light from the door. I ripped down the first layer of curtains, but the next was nailed to the window frame.
The match bit into my fingers. I dropped it and it went out. I tore at the curtain, but it was too thick. Not a single thread ripped.
A gust of wind hit my back as the door slammed, killing the light with a bang.
Claws dug into my neck, pressing on my speeding pulse as if to check it. A second hand pried my fingers from the rifle.
“How many people know that you’re here? Tell me the truth and I’ll let you leave.” He didn’t even try to make his lie sound convincing.
“Everyone. The entire village.” At least I could tell the truth. Even if he killed me now, he was fucked.
He let go. His arm brushed against my shoulder as he walked past me. The cushions sighed and dust tickled my nose.
“Can I get half a day?”
What in the world was I hearing? They were supposed to be monster, coldblooded murderers, wild animals. Yet he sounded like a man who had worked too hard for too long.
“I just want to leave this island.”
“You can as soon as you undo your brother’s crimes.”
“Are you speaking about the five workers, the family over the hill or that boy? All my fault, you know. Seventeen days, eleven corpses. That’s a record even for me.”
Donnie is just a part of a record – his, not his brother’s. I shot the wrong monster. I was prepared to kill the wrong man. I was so sure.
A loud crunch sounded from the bowels of the house. It sounded like it was trying to retch us up.
“The boy was my brother.”
Another match lit up between us. I hadn’t noticed I’d dropped them.
In its light, he looked normal. His skin had the same golden shine as mine.
Again, the house retched.
“Have you brought someone with you?”
“He was my brother!”
His eyes snapped back to me from the twilight behind me. “He would have disappointed you one day.”
The put out the little flame as I lashed out and my hit missed him. His hand gently pushed my arm down.
I felt sick.
“If you had brought something with you that could kill me, I would let you try.” He sighed and got up. “Sit on that bench and wait for the night. Then you can leave.”
I did not move. He pushed me down onto the bench with fingers that were as cold as Donnie when I pulled him out of that pond.
“What can kill you?” I asked.
“Nothing so far.”
I tripped over my own feet in the darkness. He caught me.
“Careful. You’re already smelling of blood.” It didn’t sound like a threat. Or a friendly warning. His voice showed no emotion.
I wanted the rifle back. I wanted to hear him beg, pleas for mercy, apologies. A reason.
“I could forget myself if you bleed.”
“That’s not what I meant!” He gutted Donnie like a pig, but he wanted to spare me. Why?
If there was anything, he didn’t tell me. He didn’t say anything. Just walked up and down the room. Slowly I could discern shapes again, him, the big bed, the box.
He did not speak to me and I not to him.
At some point a knock sounded at a faraway door.
“Who did you bring?” Still, his voice sounded unconcerned.
“No one.” The curtains meant he truly couldn’t leave the room. Even if he wasn’t afraid, if he could stand his own against us all, they wouldn’t have tried to hide. With the three of us, maybe we could drag him out into the sunlight.
My parents shouted for me.
“No worries, Abi. I locked all the doors.”
Below us, a window shattered. His shape moved to the door and a key clicked in the lock.
“They are your parents?”
I nodded, which he saw even in the darkness.
“They needn’t be hurt.”
“I’ll be silent,” I promised, and even tried to hold my breath.
He leaned against the door while my parents made their loud way up the spiral staircase. The one with barely any windows.
“What about the other one?” The thing from the ceiling had helped me, but then I had lit its home on fire.
“William isn’t here anymore.” He spoke in a low voice, as if he truly meant to let my parents leave.
“I meant the other one. The one that crawls through the walls and uses the chimney as a lift.”
“There is no…” He thought for a long time, while only a few centimetres behind him my parents knocked on the door and called my name.
After they left, he spoke again. “Brown eyes, blonde hair and about your age?”
“It was not human.”
“Of course he isn’t.”
The second door to the room started to rattle. Again I heard my name.
“Take your parents and go. You set stuff on fire? It will have no use, the house is too damp.” He pulled me to my feet, pushed me past the coffin and towards the door leading to the hallway.
Behind the second door the ceiling crunched again. My parents screamed and made for the hallway.
“He thinks he’ll own the house if he stakes me.” James North raised his voice. “William says you need oak! Finding some yet?” He scoffed. “Your brother’s death had no meaning. Nothing had any meaning since my brother died. You shot William? You can shoot me as often as you like. Once I’ve dealt with my brother’s murderer. He should have died.” His voice became so low it was hard to catch. “Instead he passed it on to him.”
He unlocked the door and opened it wide enough for a ray of borrowed light to fall through.
“I ask you for a bit of time.”
His affairs are older than mine. Our time will come.
He gave me a key and the rifle, pushed me out of the door and locked it behind me.
I got my parents. After the front door closed behind us, a voice that needs not waste air for breath carried through the broken windows.
“We have time until nightfall,” I told my parents. We went down into the village, packed our things and loaded old Bill’s sailboat, who stepped out of his cottage with packed bags the moment we did.
The entire village gathered outside when we saw the smoke rise. Dusk was falling, and the church shone a warm light on the cemetery.
The house did not burn.
“Wait for me,” Patty asked us and went into her house. She came out with a bag of her own. None for the Father.
Some dogs barked as their owners led them onto the boats and their paws sounded almost like a child’s naked feet, outside after bedtime.