Blood dripped from cold numbed fingers, leaving a trail between freshly falling snow and a house of horrors.
Edith Cushing and Alan McMichael had survived a living hell within the wretched walls of Allerdale Hall. They had reached the gates, covered in blood and snow and an assortment of clay and mud; fighting through their pain and fresh wounds; fearing the unknown and a likely death that stretched in the snow beyond.
While they were now dressed for the cold, they were still freezing…still wounded…still uncertain of their ability to survive until they reached a village. Her shoes were missing, and she dreaded the touch of frostbite…of more loss. It was half a day’s walk through these dangerous conditions, just to reach a village. Alan was still bleeding.
What good was a warm and woolen coat when blood was being lost? Edith’s hair was sodden and wet from melted snow, even as ice settled into it. Alan’s wound was still bleeding, but he was able to match her aching step for step. He was heavy. Eyes fluttered as they struggled to see against the snow blowing in them, until the wind stopped for a moment.
She looked down, and at last noticed they were leaving a trail of blood in their wake. It was quickly heightened in color by the clay and obscured by the falling snow, which blended together into a tableau not unlike a battlefield. She shook herself from poetic thoughts as she caught herself on a near slide into unconsciousness, even as Alan touched the small of her back to urge her on. They would keep each other going. They only now reached the gates.
They feared dying cold and alone, even as they escaped the horror that was behind them. They did not expect to survive the journey…but fate was kind. A stranger had passed word of the doctor’s quest after his passage through the village. There were people in the snowy field approaching them…they bore stretchers; medical supplies. Edith was shocked. One man stepped forward, and she thought she saw Alan's eyes grow jubilant even as he held his side tighter.
“You told us to meet you,” the stranger said with concern. “After the storm, didn’t you say, sir? Hard going without a horse, if you don't wait like a sane man. Not wise of you to travel, as it could go on for days more,” he shouted over the wind blowing snow into their faces. The man tilted his head solemnly as he waited for others to get going with aid.
Alan was grinning more than should be possible in his state. “It was the only way I could get there in time. They almost killed us…as you can plainly see,” he called back with a sharp grimace of pain. They could tell everything later, to the constabulary if they must. There was nobody left alive to arrest, and he wouldn’t implicate Edith now in what would plainly be seen to be self-defense later.
As Edith passed her friend to one man, relieved of her burden, she weakened. Before she could faint now that her goal was met, she looked behind her. Nothing moved across the snow…nothing was coming for them. She sank hard onto the awaiting stretcher and reached for Alan. They entwined their fingers together, unwilling to be separated. Another stranger was trying to stop the flow of blood from Alan’s armpit and side without breaking them apart.
Blood pooled and soaked into the cloth of the stretcher, even as pressure was applied. Slowly but surely, it lessened until wounds were bound and Alan could be moved further. Edith vowed to never set foot within those cursed walls again.
Onward they went, as they were carried in the direction of a small hospital several miles away. As Alan looked weakly over his own shoulder, he thought he felt someone watching them, waiting; but no, a second look showed nothing but the glare of sunlight upon the snow, as the clouds briefly parted. He was getting superstitious for a moment, but deemed it caused by the blood loss. Only that, and nothing more.
They did not need to convalesce for long within the hospital they were assured upon their arrival. Only a week, and then each could go to another bed in another place. Other patients were sicker than them. The doctors did all they could for the injured duo, and watched Alan’s wounds diligently. There would be scarring, but he would live. He would be fine (albeit lacking an appendix, due to where the blade had struck) in no more than three months. The cold they had endured worked to slow any infection. Doubly lucky, Edith later mused to him, that the knife was not dipped in poison.
The fear of such lessened after the first day, but Alan needed to regain more strength before the doctors would be satisfied. It baffled him that Edith made it out of the whole affair with only a requirement of crutches for the broken leg, and an urging that she must rest until the poison was clear of her system. The weakness may linger; the bloody expulsions would finish in a month, if she were not poisoned again.
She heatedly refused an offered wheelchair, and then the crutches, and chose instead a cane with a brace for added protection.
There was one particularly inexperienced and harried physician who had never seen or heard of the source of the poison in his tiny hamlet, even when firethorn berry leaves seemingly grew so close. He was haughty, despite his confusion. Alan was an ophthalmologist, and his bedside manner was better! Edith had told him so, in between whispered talk of exactly what occurred. She was cryptic in some places of her story, but he knew she would relent when away from prying ears.
She always did for him.
When she felt well enough in both body and mind, Edith would write again. Nobody would deny her that small mercy. Nobody would ever take that away. One novel had burned, even as the seed of another trickled into her imagination.
Others would have buried Thomas immediately, but for the snow blocking all the rescuers from entering. Once they shoved it aside, certain rooms were barred from them due to an interior wall collapsing. Some would stay to try to help. Others fled, seeing a dark presence going through the motions of everyday tasks, with nary a pause to acknowledge them.
Edith and Alan were assured the caretaker could gain access, and take Thomas’ body through the elevator. Finlay wouldn’t let him rot. In the meantime, upon hearing the news of their plight, the man gathered together what he could reach; any personal effects that she may require. It was only two boxes. Her dresses, her shoes, her fountain pen—now wiped clean of dried blood; the second box contained a few of Thomas’ inventions; a toy or two of Lucille’s.
At the bottom of the second box was the fine china set used to serve tea. To Alan’s dismay, he didn’t throw it into the wall and reopen his wounds, but only just sat it down with shaking hands. He wondered if there was still some poison tainting the edges even now. To his joy, Edith calmly limped outside and shattered it with a new cane’s blows while he watched from the window, before returning indoors to fall upon the bed. It must have proven cathartic, for she slept well.
Now, Alan carefully rapped on the door to Edith’s room. He had his own in the depot, but he wished to speak with Edith. The hour was late, and a quick house call from a local doctor earlier had seen to the dressings being changed for his wounds. A servant peered around the corner until he shook his head. She darted away, to attend to another chore. They had had enough of people popping in with extra bedding and food, appreciated though it was. They had rejected all kind offers of tea. Everyone could turn a blind eye to peculiar things given their predicament.
They would ignore his actions just for this one time, when Alan obviously wasn’t in any position to do anything untoward. Not that he would. While neither wished for a scandal, Alan doubted any unsavory word of mouth could follow them from Cumberland to Buffalo which would be worse than the truth of what they lived through. That alone could keep Eunice’s gossip mill going for a year. The tragedy and romance of it all was wonderful fodder.
He remained silent as Edith opened the door, lest he draw attention to them. He saw she was in practically the same miserable blood covered boat as him, as she threw away a bloody handkerchief. It was the poison's dubious work. They shared a sorrowful look, before she shook herself of it, and ushered him inside with a look of concern.
“Get in here, Alan. You don’t need to be walking around so much either,” she fretted as she returned to her bed and made room for him. He nodded. They trusted each other, but he would attempt to hide behind a curtain if someone knocked. He placed a pitcher of water he had acquired on the table closest to her, and smiled at her grateful look.
As carefully as he could, Alan lowered himself to lie beside her on the bed. No stitches tore, as he held his side and waited out a wave of pain. “Edith,” he called now. He had questions. “How did you already know the names of the three before you? Did he tell you?”
“Ghosts are real, this much I know,” Edith began delicately. “There are things that tie them to a place, very much like they do us. Some remain tethered to a patch of land; a time and date; the spilling of blood; a terrible crime. There are others…others that hold onto an emotion, a drive: Loss. Revenge…or love. Those…they never go away.”
Alan sighed, needing more. It was too much a fairy tale. “You saw things, from the poison and fear?” At her look, he held up a hand. “I want to understand, Edith. I want to believe you. Was it like when you believed your mother appeared, when we were small? I’ve heard it said that sometimes, people just sense that something awful happened in a house. Could that be what it was?”
“No, Alan,” she protested without raising her voice. “Lucille’s tea didn’t cause hallucinations before you venture down that particular path. It cramped and tore at my stomach,” she said, taking a deep breath before she could continue speaking. Her voice shook as she continued. “It left me ill and weak. I choked on blood, and thought it might be consumption, but I didn’t hallucinate. I found recordings in the closet. A ghost led me to them. The recordings told everything, in their own words, as they suffered.” Ghosts were real. She had felt their icy touch. “Do I sound insane to you?” She hated the question; dreaded the answer.
“A madwoman wouldn’t have survived them, Edith. You pieced things together. You…you lived. You’re very ill, but you’re sane. To me, you’re sane.” Alan sighed. Maybe not to Eunice, but to him, yes! He nodded as he thought, but hesitated in his belief in the unknown. Ghosts happened to other people. Such things did not happen to them. They had to be certain. Experiences could be misunderstood. Just as certain pictures could be a simple double exposure without a ghost element, as he had learned several he had shown Edith were, just a few short hours before viewing Carter Cushing’s body in the morgue.
She had been through so much, and he didn’t wish to agitate her further. He loved her so much for saving herself…for saving him, when all seemed lost.
Edith shook her head in frustration. “When I was wandering the house, I heard a scream coming from the bath. I heard the sounds of a child’s merry laughter bouncing off the walls behind the door. It was an echo, a spirit reliving the past despite one participant being alive. Lady Beatrice Sharpe. The girl was laughing as I heard the sound of something slamming into flesh.”
Now she turned solemn eyes to Alan, as she raised herself carefully with one arm. “I saw the end result in all its glory in the tub. The blood…there was the spirit with a hatchet in her head, and so much blood. She warned me to leave. This was before I knew the truth, Alan. And then you came in the snow, after I fell, with the clipping.” She could see Alan gradually gleaning the truth. “The laughter, you see, was Lucille’s. Lady Beatrice was reliving her last moments alive. How could I have known that if I didn’t see a ghost? How could I have such knowledge, if I wasn’t told by anyone living?” After thirty seconds of silence, Edith began to wonder if she should have told him at all.
“I believe you,” he replied at last. “I believe in you, Edith. I always will. No poison could align with so many facts so well.” He touched her cheek. She described it so well that Alan was reassured it wasn’t a hallucination. Perhaps she was someone with the right spark of some heretofore undiscovered element which made her suitable for seeing such things. He didn’t know. That wasn’t his area of expertise.
“I just need to see one, too, before I can believe in them like you do. For both our sakes. I want to believe. Until then, let’s just say that I don’t believe in ghosts beyond a shadow of a doubt…but I do believe in you.” He had another moment’s reflection upon her earlier words. “What was the loss which bound them together?”
Edith put her head onto his shoulder with a relieved sigh. That was enough. “Thomas’ lies? Being murdered by Lucille. Losing their families. The other wives couldn’t move on, until she was stopped.”
“Barefoot in the snow with only a shovel for protection,” he marveled now. “You are a wonder, Edith.” To his pleasure, he startled a laugh out of her. There was the smile he’d been sad to see lost when her father died. He would laugh himself, if it wouldn’t tear his stitches apart and leave him bleeding in this bed.
“Do you want to help other ghosts find peace, Edith?” He asked as he peered down the length of the bed, looking for swelling or signs of infection despite the clean fracture without hurting himself at the same time. The brace was off for now. Seeing his intention, she rearranged herself until her leg was closer. She gasped when he pressed too hard on her colorfully bruised ankle. He rubbed her hand in apology. She was still so pale and wan, but the doctors had assured him it would pass. The stitches in her cheek shouldn’t leave much scarring.
Her feelings pushed her to say yes. Her experiences made her shudder from the thought, dancing away from such confirmations. ”I don’t know,” she at last admitted, before coughing. She hoped she wouldn’t awaken with more blood upon her pillow, or upon Alan’s shoulder if he stayed longer than was wise. Shoving such dark thoughts aside, she shook her head. “No, I’m wrong. Yes, Alan, I do know. I do want to.”
She thought of the three brides and the baby, more than she thought of Thomas and Lucille’s parents. She thought of how long they wandered the unhallowed halls, and observed sadly as others were drawn in and killed. They never asked for it. They never thought they would be given such a fate. If there were a way to save others from lingering, they would find it.
Alan situated himself a bit more comfortably. “Edith? Maybe we could do a ghost hunt or some such activity to see what occurs? I’ve heard Edgar Allan Poe is as restless in death as he was in life,” he tempted.
“Are you joking, Alan? Truly?” She knew he wasn’t mocking her.
“Not a word was in jest, Edith. I would go as far as table tipping at a séance if it would help us see a spirit. Surely you would not doubt my dedication; don’t believe I’ll be backing out on this promise now.”
She nudged the finger touching her cheek, forever grateful for such a friend.
“We’ll sit in empty houses and be patient with just ourselves to distract us from the unendurable tediousness of watching the clock.” It would be better than a house filled with violent deaths, wrapped in the shadow of madness and abuse. Perhaps they could locate someone to chaperone the two of them properly, but it was doubtful given the hours involved.
The candle suddenly went out, plunging them into gloom. There was a draft. Alan felt Edith tense, and broke the fear by saying, “We’ll surely have light on that day.” He heard her wearily muttering, “I wish I had stolen a candelabra before we escaped.” They both knew it wouldn’t have been possible, but the feeling was mutual.
Alan felt there was more she wanted to say, and nudged her. “What is it?”
“One of the wives…Enola Sciotti…she had a family,” Edith whispered. “I’m going to write to them in the morning. This morning, or perhaps the next, when I know what to say. They need to know that she’s dead…so they won’t worry why she wasn’t writing back.” Before he could protest in any way, she shot it down the best way she knew. “What if it had been Eunice?”
He touched her hand. It was an indicator that he would help her. “It almost was, remember? Give them closure.”
It wasn’t long before dawn. Alan estimated it had to be a half hour away at the most. They knew he couldn’t stay, as the servants would bring breakfast to each of their rooms shortly.
A few minutes of calm and silence worked its magic to relax her; the warmth of a friend beside her and the darkness of the room aided it further. She fell asleep with her face tucked into Alan’s arm. He tenderly moved her back to her pillow and touched Edith’s forehead; there was no fever, just the exhaustion that came with her tribulations.
Alan crept back out, once he was able to rise from the bed without causing her to awaken...or alerting anyone else with a stray pained shout.
Thomas considered revealing himself to Edith one more time, to tell her he would always protect her, as well as Alan. To tell her he wished they had more time. He couldn’t do more than watch from afar now, as rescuers arrived. So long as Lucille remained within Allerdale Hall…so long as he stayed…they would be safe.
He would determine how long until she became a threat again. He put off his own rest and felt an ache that should have remained in flesh and bone. It would remain with him the longer he put off his own end.
Thomas knew Lucille would not let herself leave until the walls themselves were gone. Even when the others who haunted it left—their souls now put to rest, as their murderer died—Lucille would pace and wander and dance as though balls were being held. She was never more than the musical accompaniment for such events. She was trapped in the past. She would play snippets of lullabies on the piano, and classical pieces of Chopin for no ears but hers...or his.
Lucille was lost in her lunacy; she was lost in the little rituals she had performed when she was still a person that lived and breathed and killed without hesitation or remorse. Gliding from the kitchen, to the bedroom, to the main hall. Believing she poisoned food that was already rotten as she hummed. Sometimes her eyes would focus and she would see Thomas as he silently observed, but she always retreated to the sanctity of music.
It couldn’t last. It wouldn’t last. These precious moments of peace shortened. The one was not linked to the state of the house, and able to go at his leisure; the other only stayed because she was never ready to leave. Lucille’s festering rage was returning in increments, to Thomas’ consternation. When she returned to her own mind and was lucid, the anger was a force that tore already weakened and rotten supports with an almost unnatural wind. She could bring it down herself, without understanding it was her doing. She didn’t know what she caused in her saner seconds. She would deny being the point of origin.
He had found peace. Lucille had found anger and lost herself so utterly the only way to ward it off was music. He could see her desire for pain. It was worse than when she was alive. She reached for him once, soon after they both died. It was the only time she seemed clear, before fear had consumed her. Hate simmered in her eyes, before she began her deluded reliving of events both within and without the house. Once, he tried to get through to her by taking over the piano and playing a reasonably nice piece. She was always better than he when music was involved.
In that moment, she sat and soaked it in, eyes closed despite his errors.
When Lucille reached a hand for him now with dark eyes flashing with scorn, he simply clenched his own and walked down one corridor, then another, as though deaf to her.
He ignored her anger. He turned a blind eye (and ear) when the wind howled and increased in strength, flinging doors off their hinges. He said nothing still when every glass object close to it shattered where it fell, and she sank through the floor with a strange wail. She wanted him to react.
He looked down at the floor again, and knelt, momentarily forgetting he couldn’t couldn't feel. The shards couldn’t cut him. He didn’t need to clean it up. The house was in such disrepair now, that soon it would be gone. There was more clay upon the floor than wood. He paced to where his body lay…someone could bury him when the thaw came but everything was too hard from the winter…too brutal.
Thomas could only judge how much time had passed by the state of the body. That, too, was difficult as the winter turned the shell into a well-preserved husk. Several moths littered the floor around him. Their inexplicable little winged ghosts fluttered about, before returning downstairs to their mistress. He pushed aside the inevitable confusion that came with the sight. If spring came before his body was moved, he distantly knew that decomposition would be faster, and nature's living creatures would feast upon him.
The world continued to turn. Spring came. He was buried. The seasons changed. The snow on the floor melted, warping the wood until he could see the level below. He devised a plan.
Books on spirits were few and far between in this house, and then it was ghost stories. Thomas stumbled upon one, though, long ago, which may benefit him now. Lucille had accidentally broken the lock hiding it in a raised cupboard, as she looked for an heirloom once. He barely touched it, then. Now, it was important. Rot had made the wood weak, so the book had fallen through. It sat covered in dust, mold growing across its cover. Pages came loose as he made a breeze open it.
The ghost tilted his head. He wondered why he hadn’t thought to check before. This fore-edge illustration was saucier than the rest. He smirked wistfully. It reminded him of that night at the post office. There was a particular act he hadn’t attempted in his time with Edith. Now, with a sad shake of his head, he wished he had.
He read. The damp was causing some pages to turn into scraps of moldy paper. The book’s binding fell apart soon after he finished. Pages blew away in the wind, and out a broken window. While it had aided him, it would never reach Lucille’s eyes. Several irrelevant pages stuck in the clay outside. Thomas turned away, and drifted through the floor. No need for stairs, when one was dead. New creaks caught his attention, and he suspected the house wouldn’t last many more days.
It was more than just the east wind.
He had learned of what he could do like this, even as Lucille returned to the piano until there was only kindling left, scattered upon the ground…for the walls caved in upon it. He had learned ways to stop himself through a source he could barely manipulate, and by extension to stop his sister, when the time came.
Thomas felt elation as he saw another wall cave in; he felt dread as he knew it would mean the end of his vigil. This would be the end of the house the Sharpes had wasted so much money on; this would be the end of the house he and his family caused so much pain in.
Clay splashed through the cracks barely holding together the bones of the chimney. It was like blowing on a house of cards when the east wind came through the house next. The house wasn’t breathing through cracks and shuttered windows. It was dying. The wind triggered a sound akin to a death rattle, even as brick and stone collapsed into several more piles. Clay was bubbling up faster now, causing supportive beams to sink down and fail.
He would protect Alan and Edith, he thought, as the ceiling caved in completely. The floor sank with the last of it, and he judged it safe to go. The black moths fluttered madly, seeking some other decrepit abode to call their own, away from prying eyes. Perhaps they sought someone mad enough to cultivate them as if they were fine rubies.
He was on his way to warn, even as Lucille realized that it was time for her to act. “No, Lucille, you cannot,” he whispered to his sister before he departed. She growled in fury and her hands clawed where she knew he was likely to appear next…but he was already gone.
He could aid those willing to do that which he couldn’t complete.
Late November, 1903
Two years had passed since Edith rejected the name of Sharpe. Two years had passed since she reclaimed her maiden name of Cushing. Two years could change so much. Flowers bloomed and wilted and the world kept turning. Illness waxed and waned like the moon above, and she had suffered great pain, before her health returned from the poison’s grasp.
Edith was able to reclaim the house easily, despite most of her father’s possessions being sold off while she was away. While she always suspected Alan had called in favors from a few of his richer patients, she had never asked. All that mattered upon her return was that her bed was still there; that most of the furniture was there; and, finally, that Annie—her favorite maid—willingly returned to her side.
Time healed almost all wounds was the phrase she clung to these days. So now, she hopped over a loose cobblestone before she could stumble, and scurried up the front steps. She paused and waited when she saw something slowly fluttering against the door. She waited for it to go, knowing it sought the warmth of her home.
Despite the cooling of the season as autumn crept up, several butterflies were still hanging on. Edith made a mental note to avoid a chance of seeing piles of their little winged bodies dying, by avoiding the park. They were beautiful, and she always hated to see the first frost claim them.
Once it departed, she went into the house. Alan’s hours were over, so she would find him in the office or the bedroom.
Edith had torn the blinders off when it came to mediums. She had attended several séances now, both with and without Alan, and all of them to date were charlatans. Alan had missed this last one, off on a house call for a hesitant patient who didn’t wish to travel far with an eye infection, lest they crash into another carriage.
So he had missed the surprise of a so-called medium attempting to use cheesecloth to simulate ectoplasm, and accidentally choking on it, whilst the gramophone warbling sounds to simulate the eeriness of the other side speaking through the medium fell over with a great crash; the amusement of the same woman, now unmasked, admitting the rapping was done by the man behind the dark curtain; the man who leapt out the window lest he, too, be caught. The discovery that at least one woman had been robbed of a necklace—later found on the man behind the curtain.
Someday, Edith wished for a true séance, with a medium who was not out for her money. She needed to know how it went when a séance went perfectly, even if nobody from her past spoke or revealed themselves in some other fashion.
As for Alan…after sitting in empty houses for too long while reminiscing and laughing at childhood secrets and worries to alleviate the dull ticking of the clock as they waited for a spirit that would never show…things gradually took a turn. A dinner here. A dance there.
Within these two years, their friendship blossomed into more. A year and a half was how long it took before Alan cast aside propriety for some appropriate time for a mourning woman and proposed.
After careful consideration and Alan telling her he would listen to all denials and not be badly hurt, as well as her own feelings, she finally accepted. They were stronger together than apart. It had taken so long to get engaged that once she said yes, Alan threw caution to the wind. He knew Edith didn’t need his mother or Eunice at the ceremony. Why have one with more than a servant as a witness? Why couldn’t they tell Mrs. McMichael of the event later? Why not dash away and ask the first priest to do the honors, once the paperwork was complete? Yes, his mother might fume for a year, but didn’t she already disapprove of Edith?
It was a simple exchange of vows and rings. It was beautiful to Edith. The ring was a tasteful size, and she adored it. It wasn’t gaudy. There wasn’t a tragedy hanging over this new chapter of her life. They survived his mother’s righteous anger once they returned from the honeymoon.
They had separate bedrooms, for when one or the other kept late hours. Alan would be up taking notes or unable to sleep due to fixating on a patient’s particular medical concern. Edith wrote at strange times, and the slow and steady tapping of a typewriter’s keys wasn’t as distracting down the hall. When nothing stopped them, they slept in the same bed. Some late nights were spent with Alan listening as Edith read what she had finished in small doses.
Much like her first novel, the end result of such things was the uncanny ability for Alan to repeat whole passages on command. It was a terrible trick, and infuriated his mother, but it delighted Edith. That was all that mattered to him, even if he playfully glared at her for being the cause of such a situation. It wasn’t his fault that he loved her and her writing.
Edith once sleepwalked, shortly after they returned from a quiet day abroad. Alan told Edith later how she had searched the kitchen. When he had asked what she was looking for, she had babbled about tea to throw out the window in such a roundabout fashion that he realized she was asleep. He had advised her to come with him, and steered her the right way, before he carried her up the stairs to her room.
She had broken loose, and searching fingers stole his pocket watch from his vest. As she seemed to be soothed by the ticking, he had let her keep it. Once she was deposited on her bed, he had wrestled a small mattress into position at her bedside. As she tossed and turned in the grip of fevered memories, he stayed near.
Alan, too, would jolt upright in the night with a cry. His reasons were his own, but she recognized he was being stabbed in his darkest dreams. She would stay with him, on those nights. Such incidents became fewer the stronger each grew in health. They rarely needed the extra mattress anymore. She hadn’t roamed the halls like a phantom on a quest to rid the world of poisoned tea in over a year.
Edith continued to write. He continued to work in his chosen field of medicine. He was still interested in the world of the supernatural, and that never waned; he happily accepted the occasional invitation from mediums who didn’t realize he would prove them for the frauds and charlatans they were, all with the air of a detective that had found his calling with quietly restrained glee.
This latest visit in particular was surreal, Edith judged, and it was a pity he had missed the curious scene. As she searched the house, she couldn’t wait to tell him.
Alan popped his head out when he saw Edith run by. “In here, not the library,” he called even as she turned around. Tonight was the night for their monthly ghost hunt. It wasn’t a property with a history of violent deaths on the premises. For their bigger spring ghost hunt, he had wondered if they should seek Charles Dickens or the Bell Witch. Which would be more intriguing? They had four months to choose. He doubted they would find ghoulies, ghosties or long-legged beasties, but a bump in the night was standard in old houses.
If something did happen, it could always become fodder for her next novel, if there were atmosphere enough to go around. Tonight’s selection was a man whose name he just couldn’t remember. He would ask Edith again later.
This had once been her father’s old bedroom. As she entered and removed both hatpin and yellow bonnet, he held a finger up to plead for extra time. Edith’s brown dress matched the fallen leaves. Alan thought it suited her well.
He urged for silence, as he organized a patient file that needed returning. It was not a matter of life and death or beyond, but he had a system, and didn’t want patients getting cataract surgery who didn’t require it. Since the cataract in this particular person hadn’t fully hardened, he couldn’t perform surgery yet without endangering their sight further. Edith understood. “How was the séance?” An emergency before this detained him, or he would have been at her side. “You took notes, didn’t you?” He wasn’t teasing. He had seen her do such a thing once.
“Terribly strange,” Edith declared. “It didn’t end, so much as people escaped before anyone lost more valuables.”
Alan raised a brow in disbelief, and would have begged for further details, when the groan of the clock interrupted. He peered into the hall, growing concerned when Edith paled. He questioned silently if something broke. He glanced Edith’s way, questioning silently if something broke. She shook her head before he could ask, even as she looked from the walls to the floor, to the door she had just stepped through. She opened her mouth to speak further, when she looked behind him. The smile fell from her face. Shock and tears warred, and her voice trembled when she spoke.
“Alan, look. Hurry.” It was all she could say.
From her tales, Alan could guess what the sound preceded. She pointed. She said his name in a tone he hadn’t heard in two years. Whatever it was…was behind him. Slowly, he turned.
The file folder slid from his hands to the floor, forgotten.
It was her father. When Alan saw Carter Cushing, it was just as he remembered on the morgue table, but a bit more decomposed. He saw him clearly, and couldn’t look away. He was close to Edith, and he stared from her and back in a disbelieving silence. He wouldn’t faint and recalled Edith’s warnings that a ghost would show itself when it was ready for him to see…but since it didn’t come up again in two years, he never truly believed. They had never seen a ghost at a séance or a reputedly haunted inn.
Ghosts did not roam the streets in his world of science. Spirits didn’t hover over you as you slept. Demons didn’t follow close behind your shadow, slashing at your throat. That had been his system of belief since he was a child. He dealt in cataracts and pink eye and color blindness, for God’s sake.
“Ghosts…they’re real,” Alan whispered reverently. She had told him! Everything was changed for him now. He wasn’t wounded grievously; he wasn’t hallucinating; he wasn’t feverish. His whole belief system was shaken to the core. There had been rational explanations. Such things didn’t happen to him. He hadn’t mocked, but he hadn’t believed. He was a tried and true skeptic by now.
He was wrong. The séances…if they had contacted something or someone…he didn’t know how to finish the thought. What would he have done? He had treated it as a lark, but always tried to keep an open mind for her. “This wasn’t our game. This was my own denial, not yours,” he whispered more to himself than to Edith. He believed in her, but he didn’t believe in them until now.
“Yes, I know,” Edith softly replied. Her shaking hands covered her mouth, stunned to see her father. She wanted to curl in the corner. She wanted to fling herself into her father’s arms and never let go; even knowing she would pass through him.
Lips too damaged by the method of death, as well as rot struggled to form words too difficult for Edith to decipher. His face was too decomposed. He didn’t know how to properly communicate with his mind. He tried to warn of that which lay ahead, and failed to provide a single syllable.
Edith felt her father’s attempted kiss upon her brow as he leaned forward, and saw Alan’s look of wonder grow. She held up a hand to urge him to remain where he was. She recovered from the worst of the distress, as her father was passing through the wall.
Could he see with such damage? Was he blind? She dare not say anything else until the clock stopped its groaning, but it hadn’t ceased. She didn’t know why. Perhaps he wandered the house. Would he return to the club? It just felt like sacrilege to shout after him, so she stood by powerless to help him. There was no mystery to his death; she knew it was Lucille’s hands that killed him.
The clock continued to wheeze and groan in the hallway, just as it had when she was a small child. Just as it had before Thomas whisked her away to the ball. So it was the nature of a spirit that upset time. Her heart stuttered, but she had seen and lived through more terror two years prior. Thomas…Lucille…all the darkness. If it was coming back to haunt them, what then? Why wouldn’t her father rest?
As the clock groaned one last time before the ticking resumed, Alan took a long calming breath from where he clung tightly to the bedpost. Finally, he dared let go and sat down on the bed. Edith’s stories…the strangeness of it all. He understood now. He strode to Edith and cupped her cheek, as he finally saw her tears. “This is what it was like before?” Was this the shared experience they could have had, if a medium were real? Surely not.
“It—it was colder when Mother appeared. I was alone, but…yes, Alan. He’s never come before.” She had always thought if he did, he would roam the halls of his club. He would haunt the room where Lucille murdered him. Edith occasionally had someone put flowers beside that sink. Almost to herself as she wrapped her arms around her middle, she whispered again, “Never. He didn’t die here.”
“Can we follow?” Neither dared speak louder. The servants were sleeping at this hour of the night. Shouts would only cause fear. “Could he deliver a message to us?” Edith looked tolerant, but amused. He understood the look. “Through someone, not physically. There’s automatic writing. A séance? Like the charlatans,” he continued. The ones he attended, when he had yet to believe. When he looked in every corner for persons concealed under a dark cloth or the table.
“No,” Edith replied. It felt wrong to disturb him, even if he was restless. “Mother took fourteen years to get her message across and still I didn’t understand, Alan. Still I misunderstood. Surely it won’t take him that long,” came the wry observation as she began to recover her wits. Lord, what was she saying?
The gas lights flickered again, and Alan stared at the wall, waiting for a sound. A confirmation. Anything. The shock had thrown him, just as it had when Edith was a child. Of course, there had been more screams of terror then. “If he wants to try again, Alan, he’ll do so in his own time. You have a busy day tomorrow, remember?”
“First my patients; then we travel onward to that reputedly haunted home. Ghost hunting. Yes.” The shock had driven it from his mind. Now that he believed, he didn’t know what could happen. Lectured by a long dead author; sitting in a room in deafening silence as the minutes slowly ticked by in ever-growing disappointment? He ran his fingers through his hair, in an effort to get a hold of himself. He may not sleep tonight. Until he saw it with his own two eyes, it hadn’t seemed real. He quietly picked up his scattered papers from the floor.
There was a strange sigh that felt like a breeze across first Edith’s flesh, and then his. A whisper. She shivered, even as she returned to her bedroom.
Was someone else here even now, or was it coincidence?
The next night, they sat in the house of a dead author, lights as dim as they could be, and waited. Alan tapped his foot nervously. As with each ghost hunt, he had brought supplies. A heavy camera would be used for determining if there was anything around that neither could distinguish. It was a hassle to drag between the house and his car, but he did this for Edith. He did this for the sake of his own curiosity.
Most times, however, they came up empty. After three hours had passed them by with no results, Edith knew it was likely as not that no ghosts roamed here. She rose to her feet, and was about to advise Alan to pack up his things. She turned quickly when she heard Alan gasp. “What is it?” Had something happened when she wasn’t looking?
He shook his head. “Over there. It was the shape of a man…sort of shrouded in white mist. It was strange.”
“Who did it resemble? We can wait.” Perhaps he had seen their writer; perhaps it was something else. They could wait, just in case it wasn’t merely visions of a mind desperate to be relieved from monotony. His mind was open to numerous possibilities after seeing her father. Perhaps that was all it was.
“Thomas,” he whispered. “It was Thomas Sharpe, I would swear to it.” He swallowed, focusing on the spectacle he had witnessed. “He was trying to say something, much like your father. Something important that was too far off to hear.”
“Alan,” Edith whispered. “Did you see blood on him?” This was the only way to know for sure. She had never told him what Thomas’ ghost looked like. This wasn’t what Edith had anticipated when it came to achieving results on an outing.
“It…it was like he was underwater and the blood was floating up. From his cheek. The stain of it was on his shoulders.” He hadn’t looked further. He saw the intensity in her eyes, and knew she believed him. “Did I truly see him?”
“You truly saw him, Alan. He wanted you to see him,” she confirmed, as she squeezed his hand. “We can’t go back there, Alan. We won’t,” she firmly whispered. “Why isn’t he at peace?” She had believed he was!
“That wasn’t it,” Alan argued. “He wouldn’t want that, he wanted to get you out, too! He wanted you out of there just as much as I did. Why would he ever tell us to go back?” Maybe Thomas could get through in a way that wasn’t physical speech. “Just…Edith, let’s wait a few minutes more. We’ll see if he shows.” This wasn’t their house. Please don’t let Thomas write upon the walls, or destroy something they couldn’t explain properly to the owners.
Before Edith could question his certainty, he grabbed her wrist and pointed. “Look.” Words were forming upon the glass of the window, as though traced deliberately and painstakingly by shaking fingers. Thomas was strong enough for this much. She grasped Alan’s arm in response as they rose together, both hurrying to ascertain the message.
“Beware.” How helpful. There wasn’t room for more than this terse, cryptic message. “Don’t we need more than this, Alan?”
Alan gave it consideration. “Thomas, could we try something together…later? Tomorrow. In our own home. Perhaps a séance…or a message cast into someone’s mind?” What else had they heard tales of? “Channeling, if we aren’t too timid or closed off to allow you entrance. Just long enough for your tale to be told.”
It was an excellent, if terrifying, suggestion to Edith. “Knock if you are strong enough, Thomas,” she urged. There was silence, before she took the edge of her yellow sleeve and erased the previous words from the glass. “Please try again.” Was he gone? The room still felt frigid, if she dwelled upon the sensation.
The living waited, straining to hear the knock of the dead. Finally, it came. So, too, were new words forming. “Yes,” Edith read. “Thank you both.”
Alan took her hand after a moment’s hesitation. It was time to go home and wait for the man himself to deign to appear, through voice or thought or hastily managed form. “I’m with you every step of the way in this, Edith.”
She wouldn’t meet with the spirit world alone.
Alan sat at the table once the gas lights were dimmed, with Edith positioned across from him. He wasn’t sure if this was the right way to go about holding a genuine séance. “Do you want to hold hands for this, or just touch the table, Edith? I doubt either of us will be moaning and shouting for the spirit guides we don’t have.” This was so strange.
“We’ll hold hands,” she smiled. Perhaps it would be stronger that way. “If Thomas needs us, we don’t need theatrics.” She swore to herself that whatever happened, she wouldn’t panic.
Alan took her hand and looked around the room, at a loss. “We wish to speak to Sir Thomas Sharpe, once of Allerdale Hall. If you’re wondering, Thomas, we’re ready. Edith is waiting, too, as you likely already know. Please try to come through in whatever way you wish.” He shrugged to Edith after a minute of nothing, and she urged to him wait with a look. “Please try. Pick up a pen yourself. Use one of our hands to aid your task, and write.”
A two-person séance wasn’t achieving much more than a wasted candle, until Alan suddenly pointed in surprise. White mist engulfed even the candles throughout the room. They were not snuffed out, but hidden as though the room were being wrapped in an oppressive fog. Edith instinctively ducked down. She feared she would smother, but it seemed gentle when it finally eased away from her, and grew fainter as it approached Alan, before disappearing.
Through Alan must have been Thomas’ only recourse. He wouldn’t have wished to pass through Edith. Alan gave a shudder as he swayed in his chair, and his eyes clenched tightly shut. It felt like something was curling up softly against him in his mind. It didn’t hurt, but it did cause him to almost panic as a jumble of thoughts not his own poured freely into him. For a moment it seemed as though he was merely an observer, until Thomas tinkered in some unfathomable way and allowed them both control at once.
Edith frowned, before she leaned closer, and watched Alan’s face. Perhaps it didn’t matter if they clasped hands or not. Her experiences didn’t cover this. Alan jolted again, and looked confused as he opened his eyes. They were normal. He was himself, even if he was lost in the strangeness of it all. “Alan?”
“I heard him,” he began awkwardly. “It was his voice, his very presence. Even his smell.” He remembered how close he had stood to him, when the other man asked where he should stab. One didn’t forget that. “It was so clear inside my head. He said…” Here he paused, frowning. “He needs to warn us.” He tilted his head, as though listening.
When he spoke again, his voice was strange, as though there was more than just him speaking. Thomas. “I need paper. Now.” Alan shook his head, before he grunted out, “It’s too complicated for us when we try to speak at the same time. Just my hand could achieve more.” His eyes fluttered. Were they gold, for a moment’s breath? Yes. His voice and posture were very different when he continued with a small smile. “Being two people at once is very baffling, Edith.”
Edith dared not comment on how complicated it was for her, too. There were too many emotions rearing up. She stroked the cheek of whoever he was right now, be it Alan or Thomas, and rushed to her hoard of paper. She procured her old fountain pen, and twenty pages. She almost turned back for more. Surely that would be enough, for what he had to say.
A fond smile graced Alan’s lips as he fumbled with the fountain pen. He gasped, then, and seemed more himself as his hand began scrawling madly across the pages. It seemed a strange sight to write against your own desires. Stranger still to not know what you were writing until it was upon the page and before you. Six pages in, he smiled with pain behind it. They had most of their answers, but more was still left to tell.
“This is quite odd,” Alan pondered. “Warm and crowded in a way.” He watched his hand creating letters on its own, with a brow raised. The baronet wanted to chat through the writing, and make passing comments to him in his mind; it was distracting. He could see him in his head if he closed his eyes, just as Thomas was in all his glory. It seemed he was struggling against temptation to take full control and breathe and feel and sweep Edith off her feet one last time. Alan appreciated the restraint.
“There was so much he needed to say, but he’s staying back now to just…attempt the automatic writing.” It wasn’t so bad, truly. It tingled as though his arm had poor circulation, but it was fine. Yes, he knew Thomas likely couldn’t help the sensation using another’s body.
Alan suddenly frowned. Was the experience changing? There was something he couldn’t identify at first—wariness. Thomas felt worried. Confused. Anxious. The room was chilly. Moreso than when Thomas arrived. His eyes glowed even brighter within his mind. Alan’s head jerked against his will in the direction of the window, as though the spirit wished for him to understand. He wished for him to look. There was someone there. From Thomas’ mind, he learned it was Lucille. She must have been outside, drawn by Thomas’ actions. She would be lured away if he departed now. The writing came to an abrupt end.
With a strange twist in his chest, Alan felt more than heard an apology for cutting things short. He searched hurriedly with eyes closed, but was alone in his mind once again, even as the white mist lifted from his body as calmly as it had arrived. He briefly sagged forward. “Oh, Thomas,” Alan sighed as he leaned back in the chair and flung down the pen. He knew why the baronet left. It wasn’t weakness; it was the need to protect them.
Thomas had wished to avoid a confrontation while he inhabited Alan’s body…while he was situated so close to Edith. He had not wished for them to be hurt. Perhaps Alan could try to contact him again very soon.
Edith moved forward in concern. “What happened?” She had seen most of it, but not what occurred behind her back. That had eluded her.
Alan massaged his hand, trying to bring some life back into it. He had written too much, too quickly, and it had indeed writer’s cramp within it. “Exit, pursued by a ghost,” he paraphrased wearily. He was pleased when she held back a laugh behind her hand. She understood the reference, but remained concerned. He shook his head. “That was a terrible thing to say, I know. I’m sorry. He was in the middle of a sentence about how to bind Lucille, when she made her presence known. We sensed her. I felt an ache; a pull. Thomas had chosen to back off. She left.” He slid the final page to Edith, and tapped one line. “See there? That’s where she interrupted us.”
The line of the pen had gone off course and scratched upward through the text. The words surrounding the interruption were still legible. To the room around him, feeling mildly ridiculous for speaking to thin air if the spirit was gone, Alan added, “Thank you for trying, Thomas. It was…a learning experience.”
“He was driven away,” Edith deduced. For how long? “You looked strange with him inside you,” she said as she moved to kneel beside his chair. She arranged her dress so she wouldn’t trip herself when she stood up again. She had worried for Alan. “I don’t know what I saw.” She struggled to put it into words. “A haze of white around the edges, with golden flecks even when your eyes weren’t his…but no blood drifted above you.” She had been spared that sight. She didn’t wish to see blood pouring from Alan’s face.
“Yes, his thoughts were just gone. It wasn’t a gradual process.” Alan regarded her with admiration. “You could see all that after he entered me? Did you see Lucille?” She shook her head. She had been looking at Alan. Alan considered her words. “Is it like double vision?” He would fall back on what he knew best.
She nodded carefully. “It was not constant like that would be. It rippled like a mirage in the desert,” Edith clarified.
Alan directed her attention back to the pages, storing this information away for when they had the time to discuss it. ”It appears as though my hand torn from the page by an unseen force. In reality, it was due to his unexpectedly vacating my body.” Here, he held up everything else. It told of how Allerdale Hall was reclaimed by nature; it told of Lucille’s vow of destroying them; it told of how he was sorry for everything done to Edith. There were ways to protect themselves. He passed the pages to Edith to see for herself.
“Thomas seemed to rejoice in the fact Allerdale Hall was gone…except for one thing. Lucille. She did something after he left. There was a fire she caused. There was terror in the town…well, except for Finlay. She rather liked Finlay on her good days, so he was spared from her wrath. He didn’t seem to even notice her at the door.” Alan marveled at the knowledge gained from a brief session.
Edith returned to her seat. As she turned each page, it grew increasingly dire…until she hit upon methods of protection for each of them. “Salt? Salt defends against ghosts?” If the ghosts had been truly malicious in Allerdale Hall, she could have turned to this. If any salt were to be found there, given how low on supplies they had appeared to be; there was plenty here. She didn’t think they could acquire holy water.
“A circle around yourself, if you look ahead. It doesn’t help if the offending spirit blows it away with a breeze. He also mentioned iron, but the lucky rabbit’s foot and my lucky socks which I do not own may have simply been a cruel joke,” he said with a nervous laugh.
Edith smiled. “He didn’t write about the rabbit, so it was for you alone. As for the binding…did he say anything else, which didn’t make it to the page?” Surely they couldn’t be that far adrift.
“It was something personal…so something Lucille was connected to, aside from poison.” He thought, before looking back to her. “A locket, a dress, something she loved beyond measure for a prolonged period of time. She coveted that ring, did she not?”
“The ring is with her body,” Edith corrected. At the time, Finlay had sent a telegram about Lucille’s funeral, empty of mourners. He had glossed over several things, but had stated she was buried with the ring. They didn’t have to worry about it turning up unexpectedly on someone’s hand. “Unless someone exhumed her, it should be with her still,” she added.
She realized now that Finlay never had told her of Thomas’ funeral. She and Alan had not stayed in the area a moment longer than necessary. They had been desperate to return home. The poor old man must have simply lost the address. “So now we wait for her to come to us,” she queried.
“If she doesn’t make an effort right now, we can do several things. I can cancel all my appointments, and say I was called away under the pretense of a family emergency.” Which was exactly what this appeared to be. God help them all if Eunice got wind and asked for the details. “In the meantime, we can spend tomorrow afternoon researching, after I rearrange it all.” He moved to the bookshelf. They had books on Spiritualism and assorted matters. He began taking anything relevant down.
He brought books by the armful, and divided them into separate piles on the table. “Something you can do, Edith? Please help me give the servants leave to go home to their families. Nobody needs to be caught in the middle.” A police inquiry would be simultaneously intriguing and appalling.
Edith nodded. “Or somehow used by her to poison us.” She rose to go speak to the servants. Anyone not too busy could pass word along to the rest. She would use Alan’s excuse of a family emergency, for which they must leave town. She could see them deeming she and Alan mad if they heard the truth. Annie still wondered about her; Edith knew that.
Edith paused at the doorway. “I’ll talk to Annie, Daphne, and Wilhelmina. You can speak with Madeline and Quentin. I think that would be faster. For how long do we tell them, Alan? Two days? Three?”
”Until this is over. Tell them a week,” he finally decided as he seated himself on the edge of the table. “It should be long enough. If they could cope with me dashing off haphazardly just after opening my practice, then surely my patients can survive one week of us playing peek-a-boo with the ghost of Lucille Sharpe,” Alan smiled.
Within the hour, the news had been broken; the servants filed out the doors before nightfall. If they didn’t gossip, these baffled people could expect a substantial pay increase for Christmas. Upon Edith’s recommendation, Alan sent a telegram to his secretary, to ask her to spread the word of cancellations, just to spare them from that tedious duty.
Research could and did begin at once with nothing in their way. After seven hours of such, and taking notes on possible traps, Alan’s head began to sag into a book. With a dull thud, Edith knew he was asleep. It took him longer than she expected. There would be no more answers found on this night. Nothing but the aid of a fellow spirit to call on others for protection was mentioned in the one Alan now used as a pillow…and it was obvious that Thomas could be their source for such matters. Edith removed the pencil from Alan’s slack hand.
She tried to take the book away, but he muttered about answers and clung harder. With a sigh, Edith kissed his temple and left him to it. She only wrote a note apologizing for not being able to pry him loose, before she herself ascended the stairs to her bedroom.
He couldn’t be comfortable, she judged, as she collapsed into her own bed in a heap. She suddenly felt strange. She had enough time to remove her glasses, and let them clatter onto the nightstand.
An unnatural sleep claimed her in seconds.
In her restless mind, Edith dreamed of a place best left behind forever when ghosts and pain didn’t follow her through the darkness and across the sea. Crimson Peak. In this dream, she wore what she did as she fought to survive Lucille. Unlike that day, she had no shovel raised in defense.
She looked down. This gown wasn’t caked with gore and clay. It was clean. Her leg didn’t agonize her. She didn’t hear Lucille running. There was fog everywhere now. At first she doubted Thomas would conjure such atmosphere; she blamed her own fevered imagination. Until his pale face rose out of the fog with glowing eyes as he looked around with a wry brow raised.
“Edith…I'm sorry, but I had to get your attention, and wasn’t sure where else to be. Not a funeral. Not your own home, where you could be uncertain of your own mind.” Thomas reached for her with a sad smile. He sank slowly, carefully into a chair that was suddenly across from her, pale face and eyes bright with wonder. This would take some getting used to. How amusing was his fascination; how sad was his need to touch after being dead but two years.
“You have it, Thomas. You know you do,” Edith sighed. How could he not? He had been trying so hard to help, and if this was the way, so be it. She couldn’t hate him. Time hadn’t truly dulled the pain, but these actions aided them greatly. “The fog, though…the eyes, the suit. It made you seem more a fiend from Stoker’s writings than yourself,” she chided. “I’m glad you almost look yourself again.” She took his hand and rubbed it with a thumb. They could touch here. The logic of a dream influenced by the will of a ghost would allow it.
His blank look at the reference made her shake her head apologetically. Carefully chosen words could have led her down the path of a discussion of undead brides and pained victims, and such was a bad topic for them to broach. “He wrote such a story as I said,” Edith clarified before the subject was dropped.
He kissed her palm, before letting go—he seemed unsure how much to touch her, when she was with Alan now. “I couldn’t do anything against her while I lived, until the end…I just couldn’t. Let me do this now. The toy that arrived with your things and some of my effects meant something to Lucille long ago, before the deaths. Therein lies the answer. You saw it in my workshop? The two-faced toy?” He smiled when she nodded. “Use it. Bind her to it. Do whatever you can with what you’ve read.”
Even in a dream, even as a message where she could see him easily, his voice faded like a distant breeze as he finished speaking. He clenched his fists before continuing on, stronger this time.
“I wanted to warn you, when I felt the house crumble,” Thomas began. “Lucille’s rage was tainting the last remaining wooden support as it sank into the clay. She was coming to kill you, and if I did nothing now, I would never find rest.” He paused. “It would be my fault if you died. Lucille already killed me; she needn’t pull you and Alan into some hell with her. So I came.”
Thomas was determined to tell all. Outside of a dream, it was far too hard for a ghost to speak distinctly. “You and Alan can do that much now…before anyone else is ruined. Before she finds vengeance against you for herself, or through another, and continues unchecked. She has so much anger, as you well know, Edith,” he sighed at the last.
Edith felt a pang of sympathy, and had a horrible thought. “We will. How long before they buried you, Thomas? How long were you left in that room? You aren’t still there, now that the house itself is gone.” That much she knew.
“Too long,” he whispered. The sight of such things could haunt even a ghost, especially if it was one’s own body. There was a horror in viewing your own body as it withered. “I lost track of time there. It was…four months? I don’t quite recall.” He wouldn’t know if it was warm or not, as he rarely looked outside. He didn’t have the sensations living flesh did.
“Oh, Thomas,” Edith sighed.
“Finlay, at last, was able to reach me,” he assured her. “It took time.” The poor old man had cried for hours at the loss of his charge, once he navigated the disaster of a house. They sat there, her hand on his, until he opened his mouth to speak again—and felt something pass through him. Thomas’ expression changed then as he stood. Hunted. Fearful. Determined.
Edith gripped his hand tighter, as she also rose. “What is it, Thomas?” She knew something was wrong. Did he need to leave?
Thomas moved back and his eyes hardened. “It’s Alan. You should arm yourself, Edith. Arm yourself and be as careful as you can downstairs, for Lucille has done something to him.” He searched his thoughts, and came upon the heart of the matter. A residual link between himself and Alan; was it left open from the séance? There was a vulnerability that had been cast wide open. His sister had found a way to seize control of Alan by force. “He isn’t himself anymore,” he cautioned.
“He’s possessed, you mean,” she moaned in disbelief. She wished this were only a dream.
“Yes. You have to wake up now,” he urged. “I will be with you, Edith.” The scene around them was shifting, fading.
Edith did just that, as he thrust her from the dream and her eyes shot open with a gasp. Barely awake, and still in her daytime dress, she leapt from the bed. She grabbed her silver-handled cane as she went, gown trailing behind her as she reached the stairs. She stopped as she looked down the winding way.
Edith peered around the corner as best she could without making a noise that might give away her position. She remained there, and waited until she saw movement. Where was Alan? She spotted him as he walked beneath a lamp, and turned it down a notch. He swayed, moving out of sight for a minute before he neared the piano. She saw Alan’s lips moving as though talking to someone unseen; from her vantage point she couldn’t hear the words. His movements seemed wrong, his gestures unnatural. It was like he was the sleepwalker now, before his walking became smoother.
Now Edith believed. Alan didn’t know how to play, but the one inside him was touching it as though it were a lover long parted. What could she do? Go down there, and try for a small measure of calm, no matter how terrified she was.
She leaned against the wall, and gathered the strength to face Lucille again. This time, inside her best friend’s body. She wasn’t used to saying husband yet, as he had been her friend far longer. As she stood there, she blinked as she heard a haunting melody begin. What was that song? It was familiar. When it registered, she knew it was a lullaby, which provided no succor or comfort from the one it had once been sung by. Thomas wouldn’t look at her. He didn’t have to. He may not entirely understand, but she had forgiven him for his lies.
There were bad memories enough for both of them, of a night of revelations. A night she had fallen, and almost died because of Lucille. The very same moment Alan had arrived at the door, on a quest to rescue her, which went a bit wrong.
Well, now Edith could repay the thought with an attempt of her own. She wouldn’t give him up as lost. She couldn’t run from the beast inside him, and keep her own self-respect. She would never be able to look herself in the mirror again, if he suffered as much as she feared.
She would not be taken by surprise or unarmed. She would see her foe, and she would survive once more. She opened her mouth to call to him, but paused. She looked behind her, and Thomas was waiting to aid her. There was a soft glow as he gently waved her onward, one finger to his lips for silence. He would watch over her, and make whatever move he could when there was a chance.
Edith would have gathered more weapons than the cane, but for the fact that the letter opener was downstairs…the knives were in the kitchen. The bronze candleholder was too large, too heavy, and would kill him while Lucille still occupied him. If she wished to fling a pillow or box of items gathered from Allerdale Hall, it would do nothing more than make Lucille laugh in her face before she killed her.
So be it, then. She didn’t have much for protection. Lucille hadn’t had time to gather weapons, if she had only just taken him over as Thomas had implied. They were on even footing.
She moved to descend the staircase.
Alan opened his eyes and looked around. The candle was gutted. The fire in the grate was burning low. He had still been researching with Edith, when last he was awake. A note beside him quelled his confusion, and let him know that she hadn’t dared wake him when he seemed so peaceful. There were apologies for a sore back when daybreak arrived. He smiled.
His eyes turned to the clock on the mantle, and he squinted in the dim light. It was ten minutes to midnight. Wasn’t midnight normally the best time to contact the spirit world in the stories Edith had made him read? Or was it some other time? Wasn’t that something mentioned in the books he had seen on Spiritualism? He shook his head. It was late, and he was sleepy. An idea came to him, then, and he recalled that earlier he had borrowed a ouija board from a friend of Eunice’s, but had never tried it out as of yet. Some used it in séances. His intention had been to let a charlatan try it out first, so he could learn how it was properly done.
Perhaps he could use it to end all of this, and cast out Lucille? He would speak with Thomas through it; one way or another, it would end. They wouldn’t have to go to the effort of finding the right words or destroying her. He wouldn’t have to wake Edith, save to give her the wonderful news that her dead sister-in-law was banished.
Edith had once said to him that ouija boards were sillier than simply holding hands and waiting in a dark room. It was just a piece of wood and a planchette that was shoved by someone. Could she be wrong? Couldn’t it work? He set up the board, after moving the books to the floor.
“Is there anyone in the room?” Alan asked. Just as he had hoped, the planchette moved on its tiny wheels straight to yes. He smiled. There was Thomas, he assumed. Or was it? Was the room chillier? Maybe it was someone else seeking to help. “This is Thomas? Can you tell us anything else?” It moved to what would indicate no. He frowned. Was it that Thomas had said everything and nothing was left to tell, or was it saying that it wasn’t Thomas? He plowed onward, ignoring his growing doubt.
“Or is this Carter Cushing? I desire to speak with Edith’s father. Are you there?” It was a strange and silly thing indeed to ask questions in an otherwise empty parlor. Perhaps it would be easier on the man to speak this way, when he didn’t need to use lips destroyed by such agonies suffered in his last seconds. There was a strange hesitation in the response, which made him nervous, and he prayed for a yes.
His prayers were not answered.
The planchette moved of its own accord, away from his now nerveless fingers. It touched no, and continued to move. Oh. Oh, God, no. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. Her father had appeared a few nights ago. He should have been here to help. The planchette moved on its own, to spell out initials. He saw the L…he saw the S…he grew grimmer still, as it mockingly spelled out, “Tea.” It was asking him if he wanted to be poisoned—that was loud and clear. The diabolical fiend wished to taunt him. He rose from the table. He shouldn’t have thought that they were safe for another night.
The planchette began to spell out Lucille’s entire name. This had to stop. He wasn’t in control of this board. He felt now that he never had been, novice that he was. He grabbed the thing as it made another pass. The effort involved to move the planchette made it feel like he was wrestling with something stronger than himself. It moved to the L again, and a jolt of energy traveled up his arm. He couldn’t see it, but he felt it, and went still.
Waves of dizziness struck him, before everything returned to crystal clarity. He jerked his hand away, and searched it for wounds. Despite the sensation, he had not been scalded. What was that? He tingled everywhere—both inside and out—before it faded. It was a familiar phenomenon, but it had to be a simple correlation between automatic writing and speaking with the spirits. With a grunt, he threw the planchette but it circled back and struck his shoulder.
No blood. A haunted object hadn’t just impaled him. Yet. It was levitating before him. There was a clatter as it fell, and rolled to a stop several feet away. Alan turned to the stairway where Edith would have ascended to her room. He knew this was a mistake, but he wasn’t sure what to do next. Lucille was just biding her time. Edith could be in peril this very moment.
Alan looked around. Lucille was there, and she was close to him. He felt it. He had invited the wrong spirit in with his desires to be a hero. Just as before, when coming to Edith’s rescue had led to being stabbed.
As he began to call out, he felt a coldness caress his throat before it ceased. His terror grew. It felt like it drifted to muffle him if he opened his mouth. The smell of decay hit his nostrils. He bumped into the wall when something shoved him roughly, but caught himself before he could hit his head. He was winded, but otherwise fine. He still saw nothing. She was playing with him.
There! Lucille hovered in a hazy smoke that wouldn’t let him see her features. Alan hoped she would leave, but knew what was likely in store. He would die tonight. She shook her head slowly, as though reading his mind, before her words entered it. No. I need you, Dr. McMichael. “Why,” he breathed. She flung him sideways onto the floor with a sudden gust. Papers scattered around him, and the books he had moved to the floor earlier skidded a short distance from the force. One of the larger ones thumped loudly into the wall. Another narrowly missed his head, and he ducked. He tried to catch his breath, and crawled backwards.
I need a body. Shhh…this won’t take long at all. The message drifted through him, and he struggled anew to find a method to escape. If only he could see her. He wondered why she was stronger than Thomas. Thomas had struggled to be seen until the séance. Was she toying with his mind through some form of illusion? Otherwise, surely this commotion would have brought Edith running to his side. There was no way to know for certain, and Alan stopped trying to wrap his brain around such notions as he struggled to get away.
Lucille was invisible, and his heart was pounding in his chest. When she manifested directly above him, a blast of cold wind shoved him flat onto the floor. She levitated a few feet from his face now. A portion of her own was rotting upon a fractured skull as the mist parted. Her hair loosely floated free, and drifted with old phantom blood around what remained of her face. Lucille's hand was outstretched, as though she was waiting for him. Alan’s own stopped in the midst of moving, as he belatedly resisted the urge to shove her away. He knew he would only pass through.
Let the wind blow kindly in the sail of your dreams, she sang slowly, as though to soothe him. To prepare the way, he realized with a sick fear. The song sounded like it came from everywhere. It was hideous, and he couldn’t roll away. A stronger wind than before shoved him back into the position she wanted him to be in. He was pinned down. She was stroking his face. Her touch was like ice and he instinctively recoiled. His chest heaved. He began to feel numb. Was it Lucille's doing? Or was he just too overwhelmed to feel anything else?
And the moon light your journey…and bring you…to…me. Alan could see her too bright eyes getting closer. He shook his head frantically. Moments later, she sank upon him, into him…flowing faster with a crushing weight. His eyes rolled back as he gasped. She was a smoky haze of moths, and they penetrated everything. They weren’t really moths, were they? It was the very essence of Lucille which was drowning him.
The darkness seeped through his clothes, his hair, his eyes, his pores, and would not be dissuaded. He couldn’t scream unless she wished it, and right now, she didn’t. He thrashed and rolled over, clawing at something that was no longer there. It was spreading out slowly inside him, surging and submerging him in increments beneath the force. He wondered how much time he had left. He wondered if he could warn Edith. As Lucille oozed over his consciousness, he knew he couldn’t.
Alan didn’t know how to fight against this. Possible words from the research couldn’t even form in his mind. She wouldn’t let him think phrases that could exorcise her, much less open his mouth to say them. Cold sweat formed as he strained against Lucille’s will. He tried to cry out in pain, but it was cut off before it began.
Shaking, he moved from his prone position. There were no weapons to save him. There was no person to stop this. This was so much colder than the hike to Allerdale Hall. This was so much worse than the blood loss. Alan slammed his palm against the wall in an effort to focus on now and not the past, before he slid down to rest on his haunches. It felt like the air itself was being drained away from his lungs. He crouched, and gasped for breath. Could he see it? It wasn’t that cold here! He imagined he saw frostbite on his fingers, but knew it was Lucille playing wicked games upon his senses. This wasn’t happening. This would not happen.
Oh, but it will. The thought was not his own. It came from deep inside him now. It felt much like an unexpected blade of a knife sliding underneath his flesh now that she twisted inside him. Alan moaned at the sensation and grabbed the wall in horror, suddenly feeling weak. No, this was not what he had suspected could happen. Lucille was in his head and trying to gain a foothold. No, not trying. She was inside, he knew that, and would use him at her leisure.
Alan felt himself falling; as his body lay curled on its side, he fought for control and lost. He could hear her. The stench of before was more intense in his nose. God, he could even taste her. He felt her smiling in victory where she seated herself inside his mind.This will be delightful.
Get out and go away, he wanted to scream. The words would not come to his lips. A hiss of rage and a strangled laugh—not his—did instead, before he felt his lips move. “I said I needed you. You will not survive this night if you struggle, Dr. McMichael,” came words that were not his. The voice wasn’t his, even if it came from him. “Neither will she,” Lucille growled. “You will kneel upon her chest and watch as she takes her last breath while your hands are around her pretty throat. Or,” she offered. “You could close your eyes. You don’t have to look if it makes you uncomfortable,” she cooed through him.
Lucille flowed through him like those accursed black moths, which had once alighted across every surface of Allerdale Hall. It was like they were stuck in his throat, preventing him from calling out as himself. Would she devour everything he was, and leave him an empty shell? How could he fight? Was it hopeless? In his mind, he could see Edith’s frightened face as she plummeted and knew her falling was not a moment he had ever witnessed. He had seen the aftermath, but not the crime. There was pleasure in the background of it all, covering and dripping from everything.
God, Alan wouldn’t hurt her, but Lucille’s fingers…claws now, he had to amend, were swiftly gaining purchase. He was too weak to get free. He felt his body begin to move against his will, like someone’s demented puppet, but knew he could not stop it. He was so cold, like ice and some other foul substance was seeping into his veins and beating through both heart and soul. Stopping his ability to think clearly. She stretched her fingers—his fingers; they would always remain his, even in this horror—as she eased her way in deeper. She hummed in pleasure as she dragged his body up to a sitting position.
There would be no more struggling.
Lucille rose on Alan's unsteady legs, as she sought to settle his motions. She was new to this. It had been two years since she was alive, and now she filled another's lungs with air. Exquisite. She swayed, before she moved Alan's hands to make adjustments to the brightness of the gas lamps. She flung open the drapes in a rush, and gazed unblinking at the night sky.
She leaned Alan closer to the window, and eagerly pressed his rapidly cooling palms against it. She would savor the return of physical sensations. It had been far too long for her. The moon was so bright tonight. It was far better to do her work in the dark, Lucille distantly noted. As she now observed what had once been Alan’s face reflected back to her in the glass, she determined that she couldn’t hide well enough to fool anyone who knew him.
She discovered Alan’s theory as it unwittingly surfaced, then, and almost smiled. He was correct. The books were still piled on the floor, and the papers were resting undisturbed upon the table. No gusts of wind had blown. The wind was an illusion filtered into him until he so believed that his fear put him right into her grasp. Only the possession was real…only the singing that led up to her sinking into his body. Not the frostbite. Not the shove. While she had manipulated the planchette to deliver her message, and strike the right note of terror within him, it had not levitated. His thrilling delusion had begun the moment he interrupted the planchette spelling out her name.
Being occupied by Thomas during the séance had weakened the doctor’s flimsy resistance. Alan became much more vulnerable to both suggestion, as well as possession. He had likely never even known that such a thing was possible until it was far too late. It was easy to infiltrate his mind, and control his perceptions.
Lucille allowed him to know all of this. Then, she turned and flung the planchette with his hands. She had wanted him to fear for his life as he crawled through the fantasy, before she took up the reins. She had desperately needed to torment a victim for so long, and he had delighted her. Lucille walked Alan’s body a short distance, until she was balanced. It wouldn’t do for her to stagger, to stumble, to be unfamiliar with this body’s limits as well as her own, if—when, she corrected herself—she pursued Edith through the house.
“Yes,” she murmured as she turned again. Her new eyes fell to the piano. From Alan’s mind she ripped the knowledge that it was rarely used. It was more of a decoration, as the good doctor had very little aptitude for music. A small smile formed. “Oh, Dr. McMichael. This will be delightful,” she repeated ecstatically. This time, it sounded like his voice. She was compelled to play and moved toward the instrument.
She was singing her lullaby as she sat Alan down at the piano. Fingers danced over the wooden lid, as though she was home at last, before she raised it up. "We can't live in the mountains, we can't live out at sea,” she sweetly continued to sing under her…under Alan’s breath, even as she touched the keys and began to play. When himself, he was not that gentle a singer. “Where oh, where oh, my lover, shall I come to thee?"
With ever mounting dread, in his mental prison, Alan understood that she would make him watch whatever she did to Edith. To Eunice. To his mother. She would make him watch anyone else that should die, if they barred their way. The servants were safe with their families, even if he knew it wouldn’t be for long.
So much suffering was at hand, and Alan couldn’t do a damned thing to stop it. Alan felt Edith would walk unknowingly to her doom. The thought made Lucille squirm with joy.
“Alan,” called Edith’s voice from upstairs just then. “Were you saying something?” To Alan, it sounded like she was angry. She sounded cautious. She sounded determined. She knew? He almost rejoiced, but for the fact he was trapped. He went silent, and hoped he was right this time.
Edith came to a stop in the dim light, as her eyes focused on the back of her friend. She clutched one hand around a cane that wasn't truly needed. Her other was on the banister as she hesitated in putting her foot off that last step, knowing what she would find.
When she finally moved forward, she realized the drapes were open. She suspected Lucille had done such in order to better set the mood. It would have been enchanting in any other situation. It would have been a lovely surprise, if this were her Alan. Between the moonlight and the shadows cast by the light of the lowered gas lamp, though, her friend’s profile almost seemed demonic.
Alan’s fingers hovered above a key mid-note, before they returned to their task. Lucille was watching Edith through the corner of what were now her eyes. Fingers rubbed the keys as she resumed playing the same tune as before. “Quiet…just a moment, Edith. Surely you can wait.” A cold smile. “Sit down. I think you should rest your leg,” she purred through him with a false worry, as eyes went to the cane.
“No, Lucille. I would rather stand,” Edith replied. Oh, Alan. She knew this wasn’t him. If she were blind, she would know that tone could never belong to him. If she were deaf, she would know the wrongness of his looks. The truth of it was in his eyes, for they were the windows to his soul…and that soul was concealed beneath another’s. Edith thought she saw a strange green glow in their depths, if she looked just right. She kept her distance.
Those eyes glittered darkly at her, as Lucille inclined Alan’s head in a solemn greeting. The smile was sharp, and was not considerate. It was not kind. It was not playful. It was not Alan’s.
“You know. How intriguing,” Lucille noted. “Alan has said a great many things this night,” she added distractedly as she played. She couldn’t help answering the question, even though it wasn’t directed at her. “So have I. A threat against all that he loves; a plea to be released as I took control of his body bit by glorious bit; the lullaby which I now play through him—which of us did you mean, child? You really must be clearer next time.”
“You missed a splendid show, Edith,” Lucille continued, as though she were telling her a secret. “You missed him struggling to reach you. Trying to be so brave, when he was ever so scared,” she smiled pleasantly. “For both himself, as well as you.” Lucille just couldn’t help twisting the knife tonight.
Edith ignored the lurid words. “How long have you…played this song?” One step further into the room, and Edith could see the planchette on the floor. So that was how she had claimed him. Was it safe to touch? She didn’t dare.
“Always, Edith. But you know that, don’t you? You could feel me in him, couldn’t you? You see me in him,” she hissed. “I’m inside him, so how do you see me? What do I look like to you? Tell me,” she demanded before she looked away. This was a curiosity…she never saw any blood-drenched ghosts wandering the halls. They left moments after her death, and had not given her more than a whisper when she was alive.
“I can see you. I can see very little of him because there’s so much of you,” Edith breathed. “I see a black mass swirling around an innocent man, sinking into every nook and cranny and piece of his soul as he…as he probably hides in fear of you, because you are a monster who is smothering him with your wrongness!” She stopped to gather herself. “Am I right?”
Lucille nodded vaguely. “That does sound simply lovely,” she murmured. “I wish I could see it myself.”
That wasn’t entirely an answer to the question, so Edith tried again. “It’s an—an aura that shouldn’t be there…a presence that shouldn’t be felt outside the realm of the dead.” That was too florid even for her, so Edith quirked a forcibly pleasant smile. “I see you for what you are, Lucille. You seep from him; you cover him; I’d almost say you poison him. There’s something dark about him, and it’s the afterimage of you…you in death, not in life; your spirit.”
Lucille tainted everything Edith loved about Alan while she was there. Now she merely chuckled at the melodrama of Edith’s answer.
Edith might as well say how she knew to look for Alan. It couldn’t hurt. Hands on the ball of the cane, she watched Lucille’s every move. “Thomas said Alan was in danger.”
Lucille continued playing her music, lost in the notes. It turned into an amalgamation of several Chopin compositions, when the lullaby ended. One started in the middle of another, before the next blended in, as Lucille frantically desired to play what she had been denied since death. She had been stuck playing the same few notes over and over for so long, in the spot where she died. She didn't care that it was incoherent, so long as she had a body with which to create the harmony.
“If you had peace…you wouldn’t have to do this, Lucille,” Edith advised. She was trying to coax the dead woman gently, but was afraid it wouldn’t work. She wanted to test the other woman, though—and see if she could get her to leave Alan without any violence. This might be her only chance. She remembered how wandering the halls resulted in suffering for other spirits. “Don’t you want release after everything? Now that Allerdale Hall is gone? Don’t you want to rest?”
There seemed a hesitation, a longing in eyes that weren’t hers as Edith moved closer. Was a piano key struck wrong in that moment? Yes, Edith believed so, when she saw it was quickly corrected. A hand had been shaking. Then, Lucille shook Alan’s head in a steadfast denial. “Peace is home, Edith, and that, as you said, is gone. It sank into the ground, and the floors rotted all the way through so you could see the clay rising, and everything fell apart.” The notes being played were coming faster, and so was the ending of whichever song it was.
Edith thought she detected a flash of Alan rising to the surface in the midst of the playing. The lips were trembling, the eyes fixed desperately ahead…and then it was gone as quickly as it came. For all she knew, it could have just been Lucille distressed and on the brink of completely losing all inhibitions. Or it was a trick of the light. Was she so desperate to see what wasn’t there? It could have even been a gambit to lull her, as the music went from soft to dark and careened onward to a sweeping grandiose finale.
Her hand reached out, then drew back, but she didn’t dare touch Alan’s shoulder. The moment of hope for a gentle resolution was fading fast, and it broke her heart. “But if you could, would you?” Edith thought Lucille was disturbingly lucid as she leaned Alan’s body over the piano. It felt so strange to speak to her from within Alan’s body. Only music could keep her contained enough for this. As it was in life, so it was in death. She finally concluded Lucille would fear what waited on the other side. There would be no peace there, only hellfire.
“I don’t think I could. I shan’t wish to try,” Lucille ground out. “Stop meddling, Edith. Be quiet, and wait for me to finish. I have to finish.” The final note played, and echoed into silence. She spun Alan’s body around on the seat. Those dark eyes darted to Edith’s face. “There,” Lucille huffed. Sweat was upon Alan’s brow from the exertion, but she barely dabbed a drop away. Eyes stared down at the instrument one last time, before Alan’s hands were used to slap the cover closed.
The shaky calm faded in an instant, replaced with a stark madness as she returned to her true purpose. She was an animal primed to kill her prey. Lucille’s choices remained her own. This was one of many she would feel proud of.
Lucille rose to Alan’s feet, the chilling smile still there. She longed to hold a knife, and was disappointed to find none decorating the walls. “Oh, Alan is in danger,” she purred. She was finally remembering the halting statement. “I think I shall keep him. You took Thomas from me; I will keep Alan. You cannot do anything to me, if I am inside him. For as long as I wish it, he will remain mine.” Lucille prowled now, looking for something to use. It was somehow faster than Alan’s normal movements, with Lucille controlling them.
Edith wouldn’t argue while Alan was trapped. She wouldn’t correct Lucille. She choked back tears of relief as Alan’s hands picked up a letter opener, and then discarded it with shaking hands. He was still fighting, even if it was fleeting…and then Edith’s heart sank with the realization Lucille was only seeking a better weapon, for the letter opener was too old, too dull, and Lucille was excited. She wanted to run as she heard a strange little sound…Lucille’s laugh bleeding through Alan’s own tones as she neared and took a fireplace poker from its place. She was playing as she gathered strength.
“I think a hands-on approach is best, don’t you?” Lucille was stroking the metal, getting a feel for it. “I know how Father did it when he broke Mother’s legs a second time—saw it myself. I can do it, too, now.”
Edith held her tongue but a moment. “Before you helped…care for her another time?” Keep her talking.
Confusion seemed to trickle through, as Lucille was thinking hard. “I don’t remember,” she said as though it was nothing. Alan’s face shifted in an expression Edith couldn’t read as Lucille darted behind her. “Does it matter?”
“Get out of him. Leave,” Edith bluntly retorted. It merited another try. She didn’t want Alan to return to regrets. Even as she said the words, she knew it wouldn’t work.
“Not—just—yet,” Lucille said slowly and deliberately. The cold, imperious smile returned to Alan’s face before she wandered behind Edith. Cold fingers traced delicate lines upon Edith’s throat from behind.
Edith felt cool breath against her ear, before lips brushed it. Lucille’s whispers—her own voice, for this time—came from Alan’s mouth. "Your Alan is colder than your father was in the morgue, isn't he? It almost feels like a corpse left in the snow too long. I checked...in Alan's memories, you know. He was so close to your father’s body, wasn’t he?" That hand now stroked the back of her neck, before Edith felt fingers wrap themselves around it. Just one squeeze, and she would be choked. Edith shivered, too uncertain to cry out. It would be useless. “I should have stayed longer to witness your reaction, but I needed an alibi,” Lucille murmured. Her voice trailed off, as she was momentarily lost in someone else’s past.
"My work was beautiful," Lucille continued as she moved Alan's body closer. Alan’s chest was against Edith’s back. It was so cold. "I wish I had seen it with my own eyes. If only I could have stayed,” she reiterated with a hint of regret. “I can relive his memories for as long as I keep him. I can see you weeping there." Alan's hand grew tighter against Edith’s throat for one second. In the next, it was gone. She refused to respond to those awful words.
Edith gasped as she felt a fleeting kiss upon the back of her neck. When Edith made no other reaction, except to briefly close her eyes in fear, she heard Lucille sigh from a short distance away and finally turned. Lucille languidly stretched Alan’s arms, as she moved. “No pleas? No running up the stairs?” They were circling each other. Lucille’s laugh was low and dangerous. She wanted to chase her.
“I want you gone,” Edith repeated as her voice shook. She glanced behind Lucille. Thomas was there; his sad eyes were overflowing with outrage. One hand glowed. Edith had to stall. “I want my best friend back, and safe. I don’t want to let you out of my sight, in all honesty.” She squeezed the cane tighter, until there was a barely audible click. This was their home…she couldn’t run from the monster that stood before her wearing Alan’s skin. She wouldn’t turn away.
“I want you dead,” Lucille replied. “Poison was too slow. I’m just hurrying you along into the grave, where you belong, before illness or some wonderful accident causes you to wither and be peacefully eaten by worms. I want to see your blood spray from your skull. I want it to paint the walls. Death truly is a work of art. It’s so easy to kill,” she continued in a dreamy tone that sounded unsettling when she was using Alan’s voice. “A knife to the heart would be too merciful. It doesn’t hurt as much as a rusty shovel does when you bludgeon someone again and again and again! You will die,” Lucille finished.
The glee faded, and a snarl that didn’t fit Alan twisted his face. Lucille couldn’t keep up a coherent thread any longer; she would use Alan’s body to finish playing her favorite composers over Edith’s corpse. The poker swung down as she threw Alan’s body towards Edith.
Edith ducked, hitting the ground with her left knee, and the cane went up. The impact jarred her body, but she met and stared into Alan’s eyes…Lucille’s for now, she corrected.
Lucille seemed to have a moment’s uncertainty as a metallic clang resounded, before she realized there was a blade within the wood. Tricky. She had learned, while Lucille was lost in Allerdale Hall.
“Alan wanted me safe. The core is steel, and so is the blade. It has sat in here, for a year,” Edith proclaimed ferociously, even as she edged away. That which had begun as a friendly joke between she and Alan as she limped along and eventually healed had become a fact. It was presented to her as a birthday present last year. The cane was a prop, yes, but it was protection, too. It was there as an aid should she come close to harm again.
Edith pulled the blade free from its casing, and held it out like a regular dagger. She gasped as Alan’s hand shot out like a viper to wrest it away by the sharp end; instead it sank into the flesh of the palm. She stared in horror as blood dripped steadily. “Let go,” Edith whimpered. This was sick. Another drop splashed onto the wood near the wall, and the other finally relented when Edith poked it further forward. Edith remembered another time, another fight with Lucille, where much the same thing happened to the woman’s own hands.
There was a sadness that would overwhelm her if Alan weren't saved soon. There was fear that Lucille would do more damage. There was amusement in those eyes, as Lucille discovered Edith couldn't truly fight with it. Edith couldn't do more than block with it, but she would survive. She would slash Alan's body, if she must.
The poker rose again, now slick with the blood in Alan’s palm. Before it could find its mark, Thomas made his move. A brilliant white light poured through his hands as he grabbed Alan’s head.
“Thomas wants us both safe, too,” Edith shouted. She shielded her eyes and darted away to stand near the hearth. It was too bright to see more than shapes. Thomas was reaching, through Alan’s body and avoiding his soul, his mind, his will; everything that he was, even as he took a fierce hold of his sister’s form. Lucille didn’t belong in Alan, and with a hard wrench she was slowly torn free from her nest.
Lucille’s scream was feral as she was denied; Alan’s gasping cry frightened beyond measure and tormented. Alan felt Thomas ripping her out of his soul. She scrambled to stay inside him, but failed. Two screams pouring forth from one throat, until at last they separated; until at last they were silenced as one entity was cast out, and the soul being used collapsed to the ground in a heap.
Lucille’s inky darkness swarmed around Alan’s body when it was torn out. Alan closed his eyes tightly, afraid to open them. Shocked that he could do that much. He dimly felt Thomas do something to banish her. He wondered if it was temporary, and knew it was. She had been expelled from the room, but not from the house. It seemed there was a nugget of apologetic knowledge planted in his mind from Thomas as he had fought against Lucille’s presence.
He felt the floor beneath him. He could feel the cool hardness of the wood, and stayed there for a moment more, half unconscious. He hadn’t felt like this when he channeled Thomas. He never wanted to feel like this again.
Edith stumbled over and fell to his side, barely listening to the struggle behind her. She was convinced that this wasn’t over. She ignored the noises as they grew silent, and stroked Alan’s gradually warming face. She didn’t know if it helped him, but it reassured her.
As he drifted in the moments after, Alan just felt grateful to be free. What he had suffered from Lucille was bounds beyond what he had experienced with Thomas. She was a flood of hatred that destroyed everything in her path; Thomas was a calm refuge that didn’t overwhelm him during the séance.
Safe. He was safe now. Wasn’t he? Yes. He needed to get up.
Edith took in that Alan seemed dazed and confused; horrified beyond measure, as his head rose weakly inches above the floor and he groaned. As she thought…he was truly awake for the whole awful thing.
Beneath her hands, Alan moved back until he hit the staircase. He was oblivious to his bloody handprint marring the floor’s surface. He hadn’t been able to feel that pain until now. When he finally saw, he shuddered and looked around the room in dull horror.
Edith took the blade and cut off several parts of the sleeve of her gown. She applied pressure to the wound. Next, she quickly and quietly wrapped another portion of the cloth around the palm of his right hand, before he could speak…before she leaned her forehead against his temple in support. They sat in silence for a few moments; the ticking of the clock was all they heard. Thomas was guarding their backs.
Alan moved, then. He was stunned by Thomas’ rescue. He gasped, holding down both illness and relieved tears until the latter would be denied no longer. He was on his knees; his skin was clammy, though it was warm at last, too; he was partially upon the staircase. He moved until he lowered himself to one of the steps. He covered his face with shaking hands.
He felt the fleeting touch of a worried hand brushing his shoulder, which both chilled and comforted him. It worked rather like smelling salts would revive someone in a swoon. Instinctively, he moved to grasp the hand in commiseration, before he realized that couldn’t work. He touched the wall behind him as fingers passed through an immaterial being. Thomas wasn’t solid. Alan couldn’t truly touch him unless he wished it to be so, but they could linger close to such a thing.
Alan turned frightened eyes (not of Thomas, never of him again) to the dead man. The message was received through that touch. Thomas’ lips were moving now, and Alan concentrated on them. It was akin to deciphering the words of someone from underwater. ‘Welcome back to your body, Alan.’
“Thomas,” Alan hoarsely replied. “I’m fine, Thomas.” Liar. His throat was raw from the screams. Thank you, Thomas, he thought. I won’t try that again. I won’t let her in again.
Thomas’ hand touched Alan gently in support and comfort, as Edith’s own arm wrapped itself around Alan’s right side. Was Alan crying? In his gasps, it sounded like it. She bent closer, and sank to her knees, gathering him into her arms with a sad sigh. She almost tipped over as he grabbed her around the waist and clung tight. “We’re here,” she whispered in his ear. “It’s over. She’s gone.” For now was understood.
"I'm sorry…I'm…so sorry. I didn’t want that," Alan croaked. His eyes were bloodshot from tears and exhaustion.
Edith dropped the sword cane as she rocked him. She wiped his face of sweat and tears. She knew. "It was Lucille, I know, Alan," she comforted. "Do you think you can stand?" They couldn’t stay on the floor.
He shook his head, and opened his eyes again. “Thomas…” He stared intently at him, still distraught. “Thank you. I don’t know how to repay you.” He owed him a debt for saving Alan’s life, Edith’s life, and Alan’s very soul tonight. Thomas’ hand was still upon his shoulder, and the spectre looked searchingly, divining whether there was lasting damage. There was none. Lucille had scarred him terribly within, but he would heal.
A pause, and then with fondness Alan whispered in her ear, “I’ve never been more happy to have had that sword cane made.” Something birthed from a poor joke had saved her life. He cautiously flexed his hand to test the wrap’s strength and winced. “She was singing before you came downstairs. Did you hear it? Is that why you came down?”
Thomas shook his head. Edith smiled sadly. “Thomas was talking with me through a dream. I didn’t hear that. Thomas sensed you. We needed to get you back.” Edith looked between the two, before she turned and stroked Alan’s brow, just to reassure herself of his presence and safety.
“It felt like those damned moths were fluttering down in my throat…smothering me, drowning me, or eating me alive inside. I thought I saw them with her. They were always in every room of that blasted place, and now they’re with her still,” he muttered faintly. He didn’t want to scare Edith, so he said no more. How could he possibly describe it? He couldn’t. He never wanted her to endure it. He rubbed his eyes now, fighting an exhaustion that he hadn’t encountered before. It threatened to lay him out for days, but he wouldn’t let it.
Edith looked to him, taken aback. While she thought of the moths as well, Alan had only barely encountered them. He didn’t truly know of the infestation. Lucille had cultivated them, and nurtured them. Perhaps that knowledge was some strange residual impression from containing her evil mind. Perhaps it was coincidence. Edith frowned, until she was assured nothing supernatural was occurring again. He appeared himself.
She kissed his pale cheek. She would hold him when he woke from such horrors if they returned some quiet night. “Let’s get off the floor.” She could see that Thomas’ hand remained near Alan’s lower back as he stood. He moved away once, and Edith startled when both board and planchette were set ablaze until only scorch marks remained. Nothing else was touched. She saw a steely resolve in her dead husband’s eyes, and wondered how he learned to do such a thing.
Theirs was a united front, and Lucille would not touch him again while one of them remained.
Quietly, sadly, she asked, “What were you doing, confronting her? Alone, for that matter?” She knew what such a thing implied. She didn’t know what good she could do for him with such an item as a ouija board, but she knew they weren’t safe playing with such things apart from one another. There was no anger in her voice, only confusion and disappointment.
“I wasn’t, Edith,” Alan said to her now in his defense. He took another calming breath, which was gradually reviving him. “I swear to you that I was not encouraging a meeting with her.” Alan moved to clasp the baronet’s arm, gently hovering where it should be. Thomas completed the gesture himself, and Alan closed his eyes momentarily with a sigh.
“I thought I could contact Thomas,” he explained as he looked back to Edith. “Or even your father through the board. I thought it was Carter for a brief time. It was her. She took advantage of an opening, and it all went wrong. She took me before I could end the session.” He was so tired. He was still frightened of what might have been, and would take any blame. He was humbled by Lucille’s trap. Edith rubbed his arms to warm him further, and he shot her a small smile. “It hurt. You saw the rest.” He was in the wrong and he knew it. Never mind the how or why or reasoning for the plan.
Edith could see remorse in his eyes and embraced him. There was no other way to comfort him. It was like they were children again, in a house with imagined frightful things possibly lurking in the dark corners. Except now they were certain of one particularly dark thing that looked for a weakness and seized control at her leisure. Then, it was only their imaginations. Now, it was reality. He moved to kiss her once, twice, before they mutually pulled away.
Not here. Not now. They couldn’t give in to passion like this, when they were about to be killed. Or when Thomas was watching wistfully. When they parted, she stroked his face with one hand. “We’re ending this.” Before he could answer with one word of protest, she put her finger to his lips.
Edith tugged at his arm as they paced to the staircase, still relieved that he was himself. “We are ending this,” she repeated. “We’ll pour salt around you, Alan, with you in a ring as large as we can make it. If you stay there, you should be safe. If you stay there, she can’t touch you. I’ll join you. She won’t get inside you. Bind her in a doll with words from that book you found, Alan. Promise me that. I’ll…I will take care of the rest.”
He kissed her cheek and leaned over to cradle her in his arms. “We finish this tonight,” he agreed. “We have everything we need? Lucille didn’t take anything away? Then, this shall end.” He thought of sitting there safely while she endangered herself. He thought of what Lucille wished to accomplish. “Yes,” Alan promised. If Lucille could use him, then outside of a circle she could stop him from saying the words. She could make him attack Edith. She could make him kill her.
Edith would be in danger. That was the flaw in the plan, but Alan would keep her in his line of sight. He would watch her back to the end. Lucille would not take Edith from him. She would not take her from them, even while only one man breathed. They knew their roles in this dangerous dance.
If they tarried and wept like children, they would accomplish nothing. He would not protest the presumed safety of salt. He would not complain about a need to be protected.
Delicately, Edith asked, “Alan, while she was inside you—did…did she reveal anything through happenstance?” Their emotions were raw, and they would not fully relax until Lucille was gone from this world. “Did you see much of her plan? Was it more than killing us?” She knew he was reluctant to frighten her. She had seen that when he was muttering of moths. She frowned as he rubbed his arm gingerly.
“She made me believe certain things were occurring which were not. I thought she made an old wound reopen,” he admitted carefully. “I was mistaken.” There wasn’t blood flowing out in an ever-growing stain. He knew that. It was just a scar. It was just an idea she had planted while she was playing the piano. He finally decided to just get on with it. She had survived worse things than words. “She wants you dead or tormented, you know that. She wants—she wants me to see your accusing eyes when it happens.” He looked away, not wanting to see her face until he finished.
“She wants me dead when she’s had all the fun she can stand,” he continued. “After you comes the servants and Eunice and—and Mother if she can find them, and not necessarily in that order. She wanted to play classical melodies as your—as your body cooled at her…at my feet.” He hated the words, but soldiered on. What else was there to say? A gentle hand was rubbing his back soothingly, and he turned to her.
“Was that all she wanted?” Edith needed to prove to herself that Lucille wasn’t still influencing his actions…it was a persistent doubt that wasn’t completely gone. She could see that only pain was in Alan’s eyes, though, and no strange smiles lingered beneath his lips. He was alone in his head. It was silly to think otherwise, given what she had seen Thomas do to get her out of Alan.
“She wants Thomas, of course. She can’t have him.” The last was said more to himself. “She wants to anguish our ghosts. Isn’t that enough?” Here Alan paused before he regained his nerve. “If you had not stalled her until Thomas could free me, you would be talking to her still. You would be dead,” he sighed. He would dream of that poker being swung by his hands, if he lived to see the next nightfall. He would see the twisted possibilities Lucille had shown him, and hear that damn lullaby. He saw that Edith understood. “If I appear to be not myself at any point in the ritual, if the salt circle is broken, I want you gone from this place.”
”It won’t come to that,” Edith retorted, even as she bent to reclaim the stained sword cane from the floor. The poker had been flung under the piano bench in all the chaos. She left it there for now. She didn’t want to touch it. “We’ll bind her into that doll before…”
“You’ll die if you don’t, Edith,” he protested as he held her shoulders. They had been through so much. “You would die while she wore my face. You would die while she used my hands to throttle you. While she used me to choke the life out of you, and made me watch as you suffocated. Do you understand? I don’t want that to happen to you.” Even if she wouldn’t go quietly, he knew she would plead and try to save him. Quieter, “I love you, Edith.”
She would try to save him for a third time. He couldn’t bear to be responsible for her death. He released her and rubbed her arm with his uninjured hand when he saw her unspoken agreement. He would do the same for her, if the situation arose. “Let’s get that last binding ingredient, while there’s still time. Show me the toy, Edith,” he whispered brokenly.
“I love you, too, Alan. Come with me when I go,” Edith whispered fervently as she pulled his arm. She wouldn’t leave him by himself. She wouldn’t be alone either, should something occur. “We’ll find the…the small two-faced one, he said, and we have our way to stop it all,” she continued. “One face is sorrowful, the other almost grimly rejoicing.” She was starting to wonder if Thomas could have based it on a child’s limerick.
One for sorrow, two for joy was how the first part went. Her thoughts shied away from the poem's remaining lines. Alan was following as they hurried to her room, and she tossed the cane beside the bed. “It’s in a box under here.” She hadn’t looked inside since they came home. She knelt to pull it out, brushing away a small cobweb.
She withdrew the little magician harlequin automaton from the box and pushed the lever. It remained sad and still. Something in one of the mechanisms must have broken in the move between countries. She gently put it on the floor, and continued her search. Another shoved aside…a third, until she found it nestled on top of something she hadn’t noticed before. It was made of paper, and a string was attached.
She pulled out both, and held the latter up for Alan to see. It wasn’t a silhouette, such as children sometimes made. It was a fragile, thin paper reproduction of a black moth, with a lopsided wing. She pulled the string, and one wing came up. It was crumpled, and squashed from its placement, but it worked even now.
“Of course she would have such a toy,” Alan murmured in dark humor. Before he could so much as caution Edith to be careful, accumulated wear and tear took its toll and the flimsy wing fell off. Alan looked to his left, and saw Thomas looking rather melancholy as he took it all in. Whether it was the ghost reliving past horrors, or dismay at the crumbling, he wouldn’t ask.
Edith looked helplessly between the pieces of wing, and Thomas, as he walked through the wall to wait elsewhere until he was needed. She returned it and the box to its former place, and her eyes turned to the doll.
It was not mechanical or spectacular in any way, but a simple wooden doll, with hair that could come off as one wanted, if one favored the face on the back and twisted its neck. It had the musty, decaying scent of Allerdale Hall. The tiny hands were cracked and beginning to warp from exposure to the elements. It looked like it had been gently carved after Thomas and Lucille seemingly learned of Roman myths and Janus in particular, Edith imagined now. She didn’t think it could be true with their childhood, but it was a nice tale. She presented it to Alan for safekeeping.
As he turned it over in his hands, she wandered to the window. She had seen movement through the curtains. Flurries. “It’s snowing, Alan,” she mused.
Alan came to her side, one arm around her shoulder. “I hate it, too.” It reminded them both of another time they were afraid together.
Edith tore her gaze from the serene haze of white, and looked to Alan. She had lost her adoration of snow. Lucille wouldn’t take away anything else. “We’ll grab the salt next, go to the study. We can do it there.”
They had to watch themselves.
In the study, preparations quickly began. Edith poured the rings of salt—two for Alan, one for the toy. She crouched and adjusted her glasses, to be certain there were no gaps she had missed. She added a bit more, and glanced over to where Thomas stood at the window. Distracted. Worried. Nothing else would happen to Alan, she mused. What else should she do?
Edith put her glasses on the mantle. She had finished one large ring of salt around Alan, one around the toy, and now was trying another one as a precautionary measure. She paused in her task as she thought she heard something. Was it the wind? She bent back down and brushed a few granules of salt that had fallen away from Alan. He was safe.
Her fallacy was in not thinking of herself, outside the circle and vulnerable, as Lucille chose this moment to return. She flowed in through the keyhole. The door was to Edith’s back. Thomas, her Thomas, was at the window. Alan was behind a truly amusing number of salt lines, but Edith was right there.
Lucille hovered behind Edith, waiting until Thomas tilted his head in uncertainty, and began to look her way. Plans could be amended. Her childhood castoff would never be used to confine her. Lucille watched the girl. The only one out in the open, like a lost little lamb. Just find the thinnest hole, the barest crack, and in she could slide. Marvelous.
Alan was the first to realize the danger. He looked on in horror as the black tendrils drew closer to Edith. He was protected, yes—safe—but she was still finishing the ring of salt about the toy. Lucille was here. “Edith,” he warned. Edith had just enough time to look over her shoulder with a question in her eyes, before the mist was upon her.
Edith shouted in shock at the coldness that bled through everything, as she distantly felt herself fall. She knew Lucille was choking her; she could feel ice crystals forming on her lashes. The ice had to be an illusion. She was drawing away all heat and replacing it with the cold of the grave one piece at a time. Edith rolled further onto her back and frantically clawed at her throat. This was slow. It was painful. She thought she was dying, as she gradually saw Lucille’s shadowy face reveal itself to her, grinning so close above her own…and then there was a change, and fear ratcheted up a thousand fold within her.
To Alan’s growing horror, it seemed the mist was going inside her. “Edith!” Would Lucille stop her heart? Or would she possess her? His worst fears were confirmed even as he thought them. He heard Edith’s muffled scream cut off, and a sneer was momentarily on her face before she grimaced and grabbed at her head. He thought he saw the exact second the woman he loved sank.
Alan smelled burning flesh as Edith’s elbow touched the spill of salt upon the floor. It was nature’s sign of an unnatural thing housed in flesh that was not its own, he thought. He divined the plan even as Edith’s eyes—more malicious than he had ever seen—met his.
Alan saw her smirk coyly as she craned Edith’s neck almost lazily. She rose up on one arm. It was like she was settling in, and testing everything as she moved. She moved to a crouch, but was watching him in a way that made his skin crawl. The salt burns didn’t seem to bother her.
A change of occupant made the whole face different, Alan warily realized. He’d seen the look now being directed at him, just before the living Lucille had stabbed him. He was planning to order her to get out—he didn’t think a binding would work, when the ghost was already inside someone—when she laughed knowingly. She knew something of his plight.
Alan had been morbidly curious as to what he looked like when Lucille resided in him, but hadn’t wished to dwell upon it. Seeing Edith now, he knew. Lucille’s own darker green eyes swamped Edith’s. Anger was overflowing and watering the seeds of a sadistic joy he hoped to never witness upon Edith’s sweet face again.
Lucille shook Edith’s curly hair from her face, and carefully pulled it back. “How considerate to let me have her. It’s easier sliding inside the second time,” she offered wickedly. “Thank you for letting me practice. I’ll kill you soon enough, Dr. McMichael.” She rose slowly.
Alan had been on the other side of this, and knew better. “You want to hurt her more, though. Am I correct? You want her to observe any suffering you inflict.”
“Correct,” she hissed as she paced as close as she dared. “I wonder if I could kill you without physically touching the salt.” She raised her hand, as though she would try. There wasn’t a sword cane in here, or she would plunge it through his heart, salt be damned. “I won’t be locked away,” she said coolly. Her voice rose. “Never again! You can surely understand such a sentiment?” Her eyes were cold, though her voice wavered but once. “You did feel some of what it was like for me, after all.” Her fingers brushed the mantelpiece as though searching for something.
Was she trying to bargain a way out of this? With Edith paraded in front of him as a prisoner? “Yes. I did. So does Edith now,” Alan tried. The book was under him. The extra salt behind him allowed him to lean his back against the wall. If she wanted to take it from him, she would have to move him. He wouldn’t lower his guard. While he doubted she was stronger than Edith while situated there, he had been wrong quite a bit when it came to Lucille.
“We have the method to get you out of her. The same as locking you away for good.” He doubted any such thing could be done while she possessed Edith. He hoped she didn’t notice his bluff. He noted her movement. “We had the foresight to remove all letter openers and paper weights in case you did something as a spirit.”
“Such delightful plans,” Lucille mockingly praised. “They won’t work, for I think dear Thomas overtaxed his reserves getting me out of you.” Her pride made her ignore her brother even as he inched closer.
Alan noticed Thomas moving closer now, and tried to just keep talking. Surely what worked for Edith would work for him. “You are a formidable creature, Lucille,” Alan said with dread coloring his attempt at bravery. “Truly. It is my belief that you don’t have as much power inside someone. You didn’t make Edith see things that weren’t happening, when you were in me. You didn’t cause Edith to think she would blow away. You didn’t freeze her to death. You didn’t sear her from the inside out. You cannot do such things to me now.” Oh, how he hoped he was right.
She looked torn between making him bleed in a myriad of ways now denied, and grabbing the toy at the expense of all else. Then, she seemed to look inward.
“The delicate thing won’t survive this night, Alan. Not in the house I’ve built for her. Not with her mind,” Lucille promised. Edith’s face was practically aglow with Lucille’s perceived victory. “She’s mine. You’ll never have her back.” The last sounded dreamy—as though she had already won, or was distracted doing terrible things to Edith. “In no time at all,” Lucille whispered defiantly, “She could even be dead. Perhaps by her own hand.”
“I highly doubt she would go mad,” he observed with a frown. He believed in Edith enough to suspect the last was a ploy designed to make him scream for mercy or even leave the circle. He didn’t know if it meant anything that Lucille called him Alan. He wondered if it was a good sign. He realized it was just a diversion, as she suddenly spun to the other circle now that she was close enough to her target.
Alan dove for her ankle and silently prayed not to harm Edith’s body when Lucille fell. A sharp elbow struck his forehead when she sat up, but he held on. Edith’s fingers sizzled as Lucille brushed them across the salt. She made a noise that was a cross between a moan of pain, and one of overwhelming ecstasy. It almost made him let go in disbelief.
Alan grunted as she thrashed, and narrowly avoided a well-aimed kick. Not only did Lucille seek to remove the barrier, she seemed to want him to remove his own protection while saving Edith. He twisted in ways that hurt, but managed to avoid the salt. He wouldn’t let go. He would not listen to her shouts.
Lucille was inches away from scrubbing away the circle around the doll…possibly from charring Edith’s hands irrevocably…from ending their hopes to salvage this day…when Thomas stepped in. They locked eyes, and Alan understood Thomas would see to saving Edith. Thomas’ glowing hands approached the face that housed his sister.
The light poured forth, as they hovered inches from Edith's face…Lucille's face, currently. That would change.
Alan shielded his eyes with one arm as the room lit up. It was what Thomas had done for him before, he could tell. It was just on a larger scale, if Edith was as deeply trapped as implied. He heard such language that should not come from a lady, followed by another frantic kick and a keening cry, before everything went silent and still.
Thomas seemed to vanish within a ring of light surrounding them all, and the room was ablaze with it even after a minute had passed. It hurt to look. If Alan let go and Thomas failed, Lucille could escape in Edith’s body. If he read the words, either she wouldn’t bind or things would become even worse. So the waiting game began, and his worry escalated for both the woman he loved, and her late husband.
Alan ached to know what was happening.
Edith heard Alan calling her name, but it was so far away. She was losing as Lucille took control of every scrap that made her who she was. It felt like she would tear her into confetti. Everything sounded as if it were underwater, and then she saw and heard nothing for a time. It wouldn’t be that easy as she succumbed, though; fear was like a living thing.
She wouldn’t just be forced to watch her body dance as Lucille pulled the strings, Edith realized with horror. She was being dragged away in spirit.
She felt unnatural arms wind through her like snakes, even as the choking—a strange fluttering blockage, as if wings were batting her down, deep inside—started in her throat. It was like she was being strangled, then nuzzled by a lover at once, and she would have moaned in fear if she could at that instant. She wanted to scream. She could feel herself slipping and fading away. She could feel herself drowning in everything that was Lucille. It was pulling her down, and she was so scared that she would never be herself again. She was scared she would never wake again.
Then, she knew nothing more for a time. Edith heard a lilting humming, and felt as though she was in her bed with a fever, a child again. Memory returned with a rush and she opened her eyes to a shape swaying just above her.
Lucille bent down and caressed her cheek; Edith wanted to pull away but couldn’t. Blood still drifted up from where the shovel had struck, and appeared to be floating through the ceiling in the dim light. Those cold fingers bore the scent of decay and stroked her face where she knelt. You will die here. Slowly. Painfully. Oh, but I’ll consume your soul, Edith. The message slashed her thoughts.
Where Lucille kissed her forehead, Edith felt strange. There was a crawling sensation that made her mind spin and caused her to feel faint and queasy, before she could think again. Did she do something more to Edith, or was it just the touch of the dead causing the living to be repulsed? The other woman seeped into the floor before Edith could ask. Before she could refuse to answer.
Just as the woman had wanted to leech away her fortune in life, she would seek to drain Edith of her reason…her soul…her will to live, even in death. Lucille’s hatred stretched beyond time, and distance, and reason. It reached across an ocean…a continent…to find Edith, and it would not let her leave of her own volition.
She knew she was trapped. She may even be consumed. Those awful feelings…Edith knew what Alan must have felt now. It was like a thousand dark fingers clawed her mind, her thoughts, and her very soul even as she was practically frozen to death. She felt Lucille’s rage brush her. There was so much madness there. There was so much sorrow…so much damage. If it had been impossible to reason with Lucille before, it was worse now.
She felt even now that she was stumbling through fog-covered ruins in the dark, with a tormented feeling of total isolation seeping into her marrow. No candles. She needed something so she could know where she was. Edith felt Lucille shifting hatefully this way and that, through hands and feet and heart in her physical body.
The moths Alan mentioned…that I felt, too, Edith wondered with hysteria creeping in as something brushed her arms. Is it all Lucille, or are they the ghosts of black moths who withered and died unsheltered? It didn’t make sense, but she couldn’t think from the agonizing claustrophobia of being locked up within a tiny place that could only be her mind. Her mind, though it was changed by the invasion. It was a room, possibly near a corridor, where Lucille may not actually guard, though shadows grew beneath the door moment by moment. The ghost sought to terrorize her.
She could feel herself move in the dark, but didn’t know what Lucille did with her body or voice or…or Alan, in life. So much fog was seeping in and leaving her uncertain. She heard more humming, both inside the room and outside. This was all so horrid. She was both blessed and cursed by the lack of knowing Lucille’s thoughts.
No light illuminated her path as she investigated her prison. Walls were dripping with what she hoped was thawing ice. With what she suspected was not. Was it blood? No, too cold. Clay? Some other substance Lucille had created? She didn’t know. Unlike the dream provided by Thomas, there was no safety here. There were no windows. In some moments she could feel snow beneath her freezing toes, and ice crunched. Indoors? How is it possible when there isn’t a hole in the roof? How long had passed?
Edith began to feel her way, hoping to catch a loose stone…a weak place in the mortar…a rotten bit of wood. She couldn’t determine the length of the room, because it kept changing. Hands on the wall, she paused, before she drew them back quickly in disbelief. Was the wall breathing? She placed an ear upon it and could have sworn she heard a thump.
It was alive! Or had her wits at last deserted her? Was it just someone walking and tapping where she was? She threw herself to the task despite that and pulled old and crumbling mortar free…but it made something warm and slick spurt into her face. She tasted iron and cried out as she sputtered. “Oh, Lord, it’s blood! No, no.” She backed into a chair and sank upon it.
She pulled her legs closer when she heard Lucille’s laughter echoing in the small room. She knew, and foiled Edith before she could get very far. If she continued to try to get out, would she die? She wiped frantically at her face, guessing she would only smudge it worse if she couldn’t see it. She closed her eyes to steady her nerves and held in a sob.
Something flapped against Edith’s cheek in the dark, and she recoiled…but there was a difference in the feel of a moth and what this must be. It was a butterfly landing on her cheek, somehow managing to survive without light or food or warmth in a place that wasn’t even real. It was as lost as she was. She reached up to touch it, wondering what it meant…until she felt the touch of something sharp. Then, she moved to the wet wall in fear, when something frozen shot by her face in the dark and impaled the fragile thing.
It was Lucille; impressing upon her what would be her fate. It was just another demonstration of her control. Edith almost sank down onto the floor, but feared what might be waiting now.
She startled as a voice rose from a whisper far away to a cacophony of screams. It was so loud. What was happening? Could this be one of Lucille’s tricks, before she stole her mind forever? What did it mean? Why was there now so much light pouring beneath the door, replacing all the shadows of before?
Edith suspected she knew…and in that knowledge, she began to smile as hope was slowly rekindled. She stepped hesitantly closer. A light was burning away the fog where she stood. As she watched, the door clanged open, as metal met brick. Hadn’t it been wood before? Hadn’t it been thicker? It didn’t matter. Standing there, hand outstretched, was Thomas Sharpe. She could only gaze in wonder at how bright he was, before she crept forward. It should hurt, it should blind her…but it wasn’t meant to. It was a comfort.
If this was how he should appear if he wasn’t in the material world—when he wasn’t showing those grotesque wounds and paleness and everything that came part and parcel with death—then, he was beautiful. Tears could not be suppressed, and she sensed a great comfort pour from him. She could feel Lucille unwillingly slipping out and retreating and knew there was something in the light that pained the ghost.
Edith couldn’t stop herself as she kissed Thomas sweetly, firmly upon the lips. She was thankful. No guilt could come from this—for hadn’t he been her first husband, once upon a time? He looked relieved, and as though he was struggling to contain a smile, even as he pulled her into the corridor. She stared in astonishment, for now that she could see, she understood Lucille had thrown her in a replica of but one of the dimly lit rooms in the maze of such that made up Allerdale Hall. A pile of keys lay upon the floor, and they melted even as she watched in uncertainty.
She almost touched that which she had believed to be cold dampness before, when she thought better of it. It stank. It was viscous. It was covering so much. She had once seen fake mediums supposedly conjure ectoplasm and wondered if this was, in truth, what the substance before her was. Thomas gave her a gentle nudge, as though she mustn’t linger. She mustn’t stay. Edith had not envisioned this horror, Lucille had.
Edith started as she realized whose room this was. “This was…”
“Lucille’s room,” Thomas confirmed. With his light, hundreds of moths could be seen. Without window or bed, with walls that closed in…but it was Lucille’s room all the same. “It seems to have moved from its original location, to the center of the house.” It kept the light away. It had taken longer to find her. Carefully, he touched her arm. “I heard you humming before.” It was how he found her, though he knew it wasn’t entirely her voice in the sound, which had echoed off the walls.
“I…I wasn’t humming,” she denied weakly. Or had she been? She had heard humming, but thought it was all Lucille. “Was I?”
“It wasn’t you. Grasp onto that, now that you know.” Thomas’ eyes narrowed as he studied her face. She was herself, for now. He considered her eyes, as her hand slipped into his. She was terrified at her possession, but she was being brave. She wasn’t screaming, but she was obviously overwhelmed. How best to distract his favorite novelist? Make her think. “What was it Poe once wrote, Edith? All that we see or seem…” He trailed off, knowing she would finish.
“…is but a dream within a dream,” Edith finished vaguely. “It is, and it isn’t, isn’t that right? Here?” The corridors shifted and slipped away like smoke, and nothing looked the same there as it did in life. It was disorienting.
“Yes, and no,” Thomas mused. This wasn’t helping quite as much as he had anticipated. “Lucille still rules your body even though it may be in my grasp, but you control your mind. There are portions being manipulated by her. If you believe you are free, then she cannot hold your spirit. We just have to get you out. I can do the rest. Trust me one more time.” Every shiver told a story; every hesitation made him desire to hurry her along, before his sister could work her will upon Edith and put out that light forever.
A table melted away from his light as they passed. Thomas tugged Edith’s wrist, knowing if they slowed down she may become trapped again. Lucille could use something in a whim, or a vague remembrance now, and use it to gain a stronger foothold…or to wrap Edith in chains to rot forever.
If Edith ran through the front doors, would she be back where she started? Would she be in the snow? Would she ever feel warm again? It was a worse chill than the house after it caved in…which she had never seen, she realized. She just knew it was Lucille’s hold creeping closer, as she had been vague about such things while inside Alan.
His glowing hand touched her chin. “You will get away from here, Edith. You will write something magnificent…and you will live apart from this manifestation of Lucille. She can’t keep you.” He knew what he must do to separate them, but didn’t wish for her to see. She never should have been forced to endure this.
“You’ve been dead long enough to miss my first book being published, Thomas Sharpe,” Edith shyly replied. “So…I hope to live to write another book one day?” He looked so happy about it that she wanted to cry. Thomas’ laugh of delight now was genuine, and she knew he was proud of her. She couldn’t look him in the eye and keep a straight face when she heard his whispered words of ‘Did Cavendish survive to the end of the tale?’
There had been changes, but she had rewritten most of what Lucille burned. Words spoken to Alan of her belief in the spirit world were penned as the first lines. She had been assured they perfectly encapsulated the mood.
Edith bit her lip, before she looked up. What should she say? “Some of his ancestry transformed into something new, but…yes, Thomas. Cavendish lives, but the story changed greatly from when you saw it last.” Thomas was dead. She could grant him this small fragment of knowledge.
As they continued, he could see the distance in her eyes and knew she was trying to keep from being influenced. He stepped further ahead, and in so doing missed seeing the moment she failed. There had been an odd metamorphosis along the walls, as though they pulsed.
Edith began to doubt as they walked. Her head was pounding. She began to wonder if it was truly Thomas or Lucille in his guise. But he’d known of Cavendish, part of her worried. Lucille would have, too, as she had read snippets. If she hit him, would he change? Would she pass through him? Could he bleed in this place? Suspicions tore at her and sought to break her. The hall blurred, and Edith thought she might faint. Her chest heaved, and she wanted to call out to Thomas. She dared not speak if she couldn’t trust.
She left his side and reached behind her to touch the wall for support. Shaking fingers brushed something sharp. There was something sharp there, within a crevice in the wall. She picked it up, and cradled it…a stiletto. It was so perversely beautiful…but oh, so lethal. Possibly? No…he was already dead, why would Edith even think of harming him? He was just one step further ahead.
Edith toyed with the blade. Something was caked on it until she wiped it clean on the fabric of her dress. The consistency of the substance was much like the liquid on the wall of her cell. She felt something in the hilt pierce her finger, and wondered how it was possible to bleed even a drop here. This was her mind; she shouldn’t bleed. And yet, she did. In the hilt, Edith dimly realized now, was the garnet stone of Lucille’s ring. The ring Lucille had torn off her finger once, just to reclaim. Edith couldn’t look away from its glint now. She had pricked her finger upon the facet of that which held the stone in place, one drop of blood dripped down to coat the length of it.
She held it tighter in both hands, took a step, with stiletto blade outstretched menacingly to almost brush the nape of his neck, before she lowered it in disgust. Just a little effort, and you can plunge it in. Bury it to the hilt in his throat. Pin Thomas to the wall and watch him squirm. Her eyes widened in horror as the thoughts and impulses washed over her. She wanted to say no. She wanted to deny these thoughts. She couldn’t.
As she furtively looked over her shoulder, she aimed the dagger again. It would be easy. It would get her out of here…or Lucille would have her where she wanted her. Lost. Alone. Edith might become as damaged as she. Alan wouldn’t love her if she could do this willingly. “Thomas,” Edith managed weakly. He stopped mid-step and was stiff, but didn’t turn yet. It hurt to say that much. She ached throughout her body when she sought to warn him.
He caught the plaintive note of desperation, though. “What did she say, Edith? What did she do?” Thomas turned, then, and saw the tears running down her face and the blade so close to piercing his throat. He tilted his head and looked into her eyes, but directed his next words to another. “You regretted killing me the moment you acted, and yet you would try again? Just because I want to save Edith from you.”
Edith felt her lips curl in a sneer. Her eyes were still her own, and they communicated nothing but terror as the tip of the blade began brushing Thomas’ throat. “Plans change,” she said as Lucille used her voice. The cadence was husky before it settled to normal. “You changed. It’s only fair I keep her after she killed you. Would you rather I stabbed her through the heart with this?”
He looked behind her, then, to Lucille herself. “Let her go, Lucille. Now. We can finish our conversation when you do. Let Allerdale Hall go, Lucille, because it fell. Stop.” He received no response. Thomas glowed faintly brighter, a plan developing when his sister remained firm. Both women cried out.
Edith covered her eyes with one hand and staggered, before a strange haze parted from her mind. She wasn’t the one in pain. Lucille was moving further away. She leaned against the door while she regained her equilibrium.
“I can’t. If I keep her here, it isn’t gone. You can be avenged.” The words had ceased pouring from Edith’s lips, and finally Lucille herself spoke. It kept fading out for Edith’s ears, but Thomas understood.
Thomas frowned at his sister’s logic. “Lucille, you killed me,” he corrected gently. Had death confused her memory, or was it the madness that had taken her, which warped it? The madness had taken an even deeper root before the house collapsed. “Do you remember? It wasn’t Edith who guided your weapon into my cheek and chest,” he said as he took a small step closer. “It was you. Your blade caused these wounds upon me. Nobody made you. Edith wanted to escape. She and Alan could have chosen to remain silent.” It was both of their actions, really. However, it was her hand that stabbed him when they needed to stop. At the time, he had been in denial himself that they could all escape together. He understood how foolish such thoughts were now.
Before he could continue, he saw something approach from the corner of his eye, and instinctively went brighter just in case Lucille had sprung a warped trap. It was only Edith, but she wasn’t being used. She wanted to stay at his side through this, but she still held the stiletto.
“She took you away,” Lucille growled angrily. “They took everything away. She took you away and wouldn’t stop. I’ll never let her leave.” She was pained by his light, and stepped into the doorway of another room.
Now Thomas turned to Edith. He reached a hand out to her to take the blade away. He expected her to concede, and hand it to him to dispose of. He was surprised to see anger as she looked down at it. It was all her, and not directed at him. She pushed by Thomas, and heaved the blade over the railing.
It disappeared before she should have heard metal scraping stone. Moths fluttered up and away through a crack in the ceiling. She was breathing hard from the effort to clear her thoughts. She fought against everything that wasn’t her. That need to hurt wasn’t her; it was Lucille. She knew that. She felt more herself than she had since the ghost had claimed her. She turned back and looked to Thomas. He was watching her cautiously. She hated to be the cause for such a stare.
“Stop this, Lucille,” she screamed at the walls, the ceiling, the air itself. She was defiant. “I won’t let you use me to hurt him…if I even could,” she continued. There was a whisper of laughter terrifyingly near her shoulder, and Thomas pulled her away into the safety of his light. She gazed at him, and wondered what Lucille could accomplish, if he was already dead. Could one ghost truly harm another with a living soul as a conduit?
Thomas wasn’t looking at her, though. That weapon had been cold iron; while it wouldn’t have destroyed him, it would have left him incapacitated long enough for Lucille to usher Edith away, by force or trance or something new until her light was extinguished. Thomas was observing his sister rise from the floor, and wrap the shadows tight like a shawl. Lucille was smiling as he stretched himself too thin, transparent, in an attempt to brighten the corners. At last, she retreated through a wall in pain. Edith wouldn’t have seen the beckoning arm at the position he held her. You will never touch her again, Lucille, he thought.
He owed his sister his survival in life…but she would never have Edith’s soul. He motioned for Edith to walk. He had to get her out of here. Once she departed, he could tear out the root cause. Lucille would not make a ghost of this woman before her time.
“I wouldn’t have ever hurt you,” Edith whispered. She didn’t know that was true. It wasn’t quite a lie, she realized then, as it wouldn’t have been her will behind the blade. “I’m so tired, but we can’t stop.”
Thomas had seen a shift in Edith before she had drawn away, and in that moment despair had risen. He was wrong to discount her. Now, he took Edith’s arms silently and gazed into eyes bright with fear and desperation…but they were not tainted by Lucille’s calculating mind. She wasn’t lost, for her eyes shone with regret of what might have been. The closer they came to escape, the more Edith seemed to be truly herself.
“Did she do anything to you earlier? Did she touch you, before I arrived,” Thomas asked now, when he hadn’t thought to before.
Edith nodded. “It felt like something was crawling when she did. It was getting inside me, more than the possession. I—thought I would faint, but didn’t,” she replied hesitantly.
Thomas was solemn, but knew little of this. There had been something on a page before Allerdale Hall sank into the muck, but it wasn’t much. “She was trying to burrow herself deeper into you,” he guessed. “She wanted you to be little more than a marionette.” He looked into her eyes again. “Her spy at best. You still have your soul, Edith. You’re still here. She didn’t do it right. If she had, you wouldn’t have had the strength to warn me.” He gestured to their impossible surroundings. “If she had, she wouldn’t be doing all this.” She would be like a little clockwork toy. When it ran down—when its use was over—the game would be done, and the woman as he knew her in life would have been dead to them.
“She didn’t do this to Alan,” Edith said. “He never said anything about this.”
Thomas concurred. “She told us you wouldn’t last the night. She thought all this would drive you mad. I think we can both agree that she was wrong.” He was proud of that fact.
She touched Thomas’ hand. “Don’t trust my thoughts, for now,” Edith said shakily. “They may not be my own…isn’t that what you wanted to tell me before? I know my feelings are mine, Thomas. It’s only me now, but what if I’m late in noticing something? What if I wander away again?” She doubted herself, but felt alert to any changes. “She felt desperate, before. This is all she has left.”
Thomas looked to Edith as she drew closer. All he could offer her was a token if they were separated. This was all the solace he could afford her. He picked up a candle before it could dissolve into another puddle, and gently blew on it. He bowed, and presented it to her. It was brighter now. It wouldn’t drip wax. “If she can do all of this, Edith, then it is in my power to let there be light to better see the path ahead. I would clear this entire house of shadows for you, if I were able,” he sighed. He hadn’t created this monstrosity, though.
Edith squeezed his hand with pleasure as she accepted. The candle looked exactly like the one they had clasped in their waltz. Was it intentional? “It won’t go out?” She smiled at his look of disbelief. Of course it wouldn’t. She lifted the candle as they took that final step toward the stairs. The way stretched out further than she recalled. Before she could ask, Thomas nodded. He had read her look.
The path behind them rippled like a stone thrown into a pond, before it faded. Edith felt what Thomas was attempting was quite noble, beneath her desperation. Midway down, he paused and moved her in front of him. She knew he meant for her to run. He gave her a firm shove when she hesitated. “I travel this path to get out,” she surmised. She somehow knew any other possibility would leave them back where they started.
“Go,” he replied with a nod. “Do not stop running until you are beyond the door, Edith. You have to go forward. Don’t look back. Do not trust what you see or hear or feel until then,” he warned. He was fearful himself, for if Edith wasn’t able to make it out; but for her sake, dread was concealed.
“Unless it’s you,” Edith corrected. Wasn’t he helping her? Of course she would trust him. Lucille wouldn’t take that from her.
“Don’t even trust me, if you hear me urging you back,” Thomas replied in exasperation. “Now go.”
Edith took one last look to him; one last kiss upon his nose while they stood here. While nothing clawed or bit or stabbed or growled at her or tried to pull her away, she did this of her own free will. She hugged Thomas, and buried her face in his chest, ignoring the wounds he gained in life. And then, she turned to face the door. It might be the final time she could ever touch him. She clutched the banister and knew she was ready. The doors of the great hall slowly creaked open. Her heart pounded with fear.
Edith lowered her head and ran. As she ran, her yellow gown trailed out behind her, barely avoiding the grasp of Lucille’s hands as they rose from the stairs. Her leg was grabbed. Blackened and rotting fingers tried to hold her firm even as she tugged away, just out of reach of them, in a last bid to keep her within this place forever. Edith plunged the candle down to scald those fingers; they were driven further back by Thomas just as a knife slashed out of the banister. It missed her arm, and tore at a sleeve. Edith shoved back as some unseen hand tried to grip her wrist. It only succeeded in being burned by the candle as it fell from her grasp for good.
Edith was getting out, and didn’t care how many times she had to dodge Lucille to get away from this accursed labyrinth.
She had to look away from the entrance even as she ran faster through the archway, for the light was so much brighter now…but it had to be safer, compared to her prison. As she crossed the threshold, Edith saw a light so bright it dazzled. She felt something quake within her, and wondered if it was the possession trying to keep her. She skirted through the doors, just as a snowstorm slammed into her from the front. She fell back, breath taken by the temperature drop, trembling and frightened.
But she moved forward, because she couldn’t stay here. She couldn’t stay in a past made to torment her. One foot forward as snow piled on her feet, two feet, and the howling wind wasn’t as forceful. If Lucille kept her, then this wasteland was all she had to look forward to. She stumbled forward when there was suddenly nothing weighing her feet down. She landed on her knees roughly, but rose again. She lowered her head to shield her eyes from swirling shards of ice that peppered her skin…but further ahead, there seemed to be a break in the storm.
Edith didn’t dare stop. She tripped over a mound of clay, then, and stared in disbelief. In one instant there was danger, and in the next safety.
She was expecting greater cold beyond that stretch…expecting pain. She was expecting another fight that she feared she might lose. Instead, as she stepped beyond a mound of melting snow, she felt sunlight upon her face. She had to look away, blinking hard after the darkness before. The beauty of nature, and the warmth of life, such as she had never seen before surrounding Allerdale Hall.
The heat was welcome against her skin. She couldn’t dawdle, but she could thaw out for a moment. It almost made her cry from relief. She closed her eyes to soak up the warmth, when she felt something in her hair. It wasn’t a black moth this time, she saw as she reached up to touch. When she brought her hand down, it was softly moving on her finger. It was a monarch butterfly.
She looked up into the sky, and laughed in delight and shock.
…not just one, but hundreds of butterflies. So many that Edith felt such a sight shouldn’t be possible. They filled the sky. She wondered if Thomas had done this. Was it her mind? Was she forever thinking in metaphors? Possibly. There was no way to tell, but it gave her hope.
Edith remembered what she had learned two years prior. The black moth didn’t always come out victorious. Sometimes, the butterfly escaped. Sometimes, the butterfly thrived and found freedom. Sometimes…the prey turned upon the predator. One last rage-filled scream came from behind her, and what seemed to be foreign words from Thomas, but she dared not look back. What was he doing to get Lucille out of her?
She shook her head. The last residue of confusion was lifting like a veil. She felt relief. She stared at her hands as she began to vanish from this mockery of Purgatory. Whatever he was doing, it was working.
She was free.
It wasn’t Edith screaming with rage and flailing, Alan reminded himself. It wasn’t Edith shrieking ‘no, you can’t do this!’ Taunts and curses flew at Lucille’s brother before the eerie glow faded, and Alan had been stunned at the inappropriate descriptiveness of several. Edith’s body had gone frighteningly still afterwards, before her back arched up off the ground. Alan glimpsed the spirit departing. It was first as tendrils of smoke pouring from her mouth and chest before the rest of the essence followed and flew to the corner, even as Thomas barred Lucille’s way out.
The light faded, and Alan no longer needed to shade his eyes from the glare. He let go of her ankle. Edith rolled onto her side gazing toward him. She was shaking, but smiled. It was her. She seemed dazed, but it was still her.
Edith’s lungs burned for air, as she saw the last of something dark and twisting flowing away from her; it was held fast by Thomas. The darkened hallways were gone, and reality was before her. She could see through her own eyes, and she caught a glimpse of an inclined head from Thomas, even as he moved to finish things. She gasped as she came back to herself. She roused herself more, eyes darting to Alan’s and catching a badly hidden fear…relief…wonder. She was weak and shook like a leaf, but she could smile at being alive and herself and alone in her body.
“Read, Alan,” Edith weakly pleaded. She was so happy.
Until she looked at her arms, outstretched towards the circle that kept the toy from being cast aside. Until she looked at her hands, dotted with burns. Lucille had wanted her to eliminate the barrier and end it before the tide could turn in their favor! The salt must have burned her. It had also burned her elbow, it seemed, where she had fallen before as Lucille took her. She praised Thomas for his rescue, and realized Alan was endeavoring to catch her eye.
Alan motioned for her to join him in the circle, even as he began to read. She lifted the hem of her gown and did so with a speed he wouldn’t have thought possible with the state she was in, still shaking all the while. She took care not to disturb the salt. He circled one arm around her waist, before he proudly whispered, “I knew you were stronger than her.” He kissed her cheek. A shaky smile, face paler for the strain, was his reward.
Edith latched onto Alan’s arm with surprising strength. “I thought I would never see you again,” she finally admitted. "I love you."
She had been strong for him; now Alan returned the favor. He was the calm in the storm for her. Alan rubbed her shoulder as her body shuddered. He wished to provide all the strength that he could for her, but was baffled by a tiny gasp. Was she crying? He didn’t feel any tears on his collar. “I bind you, I say now, Lady Lucille Sharpe. I bind your will, and your being; I bind your emotions, to this simple two-faced wooden carving that we offer!” He looked up, then, and realized what she saw. Another spirit was holding Lucille back now. A confrontation between Lucille, Thomas, and this new player…but who was it?
He closed his eyes with pity, then, mixed with understanding, as he heard her whisper sadly, “Mother?” Alan took her hand where she lay against him, and squeezed.
She only had expectant eyes for those outside the circle. Alan sympathized. He would be in much the same state were it his late father appearing without warning to provide assistance.
Lucille was livid as she whirled toward her brother. “You dare to do such a second time?!” He would not stay her wrath, not now. “Step away and allow me this, little brother.” How had he done this? Could she turn out their souls now? She doubted it would be possible.
For Thomas, it seemed to only work when he needed to save those he loved from Lucille’s particular brand of pain. He could see the parts that mingled with their souls. He could free Alan and Edith, but only them, he somehow knew.
“Let me pass, Thomas,” Lucille pleaded fiercely as Thomas barred her way. He was stalling her. When he shook his head no, disgust filled her. “You can’t stop me, Thomas. You never could, you know that. Let me take her again, just step aside,” she wheedled. She acted pleasant, but was still highly disturbed and willing to do anything to achieve her sordid goals. She moved to walk by him, through him, but something stopped her. He was silent, so she tried again.
“You would still choose them over me, the one who took care of you through every sad moment of our lives! You would choose them, however long we stood here!” They couldn’t be heard so well by the living. Her raging would sound like air through the chimney. Louder still, if home still existed. “They killed us, Thomas. Remember? They made me hurt you.” She seemed to have accepted her role in that. Who knew how long it would last? Her eyes flickered in pain. "They took away life and hope and pain and home and everything and would have taken me to another barbaric asylum and hanged you if we hadn't died…and you still won't move against them?"
Those sad eyes never turned away from hers. She thought he would remain silent. She thought he would bow to her will as he did in life. Perhaps he would give up. Perhaps he would walk away. “Yes.”
She stared, the hint of a smile on her lips. He would move?
“Yes,” he ventured, loud enough for her ears alone. Thomas was calm. Even dead, he would not dare to turn his back, not yet. She would not hurt anyone again. He would not let her damn anyone else to such a devious trap as she had tried with Edith. “I couldn’t say no to you when I was alive, even when I tried my damnedest. I’ve brought someone with me this time, though. I brought help. Someone who is quite eager to meet you tonight.” His hand waved behind him, but he didn’t turn just yet.
He bent to Lucille’s ear and explained in hushed tones, “I’ve brought family, Lucy. Someone you’ve harmed fourfold has a say in this fight. She was delayed until now, but I hear her even now. Would you care to meet her?” It was like he was playing another role now. The elegant knave introducing himself at a party…the way he behaved, gallant and kind, when he convinced Edith to waltz that first time. His eyes were fierce now, behind the smile. Someone else stepped through the wall.
Thomas bowed respectfully to the female ghost that drew near. Lucille looked frightened and awestruck, but it was swiftly concealed. She stared into the veiled face of the woman she quickly realized with some confusion that she did not know. No, Thomas smiled, it was not their mother. He would never have brought her. He would never have approached her.
Thomas would savor this moment, even as it hurt. His death by her hand was the point of no return. In all their hate and all their pain and horror and sickness and fear, he was still her brother. With an air of nonchalance now, Thomas smiled warmly where his sister stood. “You haven’t met Edith’s mother, Lucille. Might I make introductions? This is Eleanor Wyndham-Beckford Cushing. You killed her husband. You possessed her daughter, not to speak of the pain you inflicted while you still lived, or the pain you’ve caused her current son-in-law.” His sister knew what she had done, but he directed his words to the other woman. “Mrs. Cushing? This is my sister, who I’ve told you so much about.”
It was only fair to have another spirit come calling now. Just because he couldn’t speak with the living well outside of the beauty of dreams or the horror of a trap within a mind, it didn’t mean he wasn’t busy. Even before he’d saved Alan and Edith from possession, he’d sought aid.
“Never touch my child again, Lady Lucille Sharpe. Or little Alan,” came a voice raspy but furious as a skeletal hand once blackened by illness and over a decade of rot wrapped itself around Lucille’s arm and refused to be shaken loose. No matter how much Lucille struggled and fought and raged in her grip, she would not let go.
The only thing solid enough to contain a ghost…was another ghost. Thomas wasn’t entirely up to the task. The only thing strong enough to keep her distracted was the protectiveness of a mother. She was not frightened one whit by the atrocities Lucille had committed. Eleanor’s skeletal arms held Lucille at bay until the climax of the incantation was spoken. They had to keep her in one place.
Before the last words were uttered, Thomas knelt just outside the circle that housed Alan and Edith. He could not come in, just as Lucille could not penetrate. Even while she was held fast, he would help them. They were safe where they were, and Thomas would guard them in case of dire repercussions should Eleanor Cushing fail.
“I call upon all to bind thee to this toy, Lady Lucille Sharpe,” Alan said, the final passage clear. He began to read feverishly, sounding out all the Latin phrases scattered throughout. He focused on saying everything precisely. He saw Thomas shake his head slightly and smirk. Had he said something wrong? No. He was fine. Don’t do that to me, Thomas Sharpe! Why did binding rituals have to be said with such a flourish?
He yelled another line, “I bind you now!” even as the struggle seemed to be over. His words were reverberating in the small room. It was working.
Edith saw her mother and stretched a hand to her. She was crying silently. Her mother had helped. Her mother didn’t move yet. Edith stared, feeling ten years old and bereft on that dreadful morning all over again. She barely noticed Alan’s final shout of “I bind thee!”
With a loud crack, Lucille’s shadow was shoved deep inside the toy—it promptly tipped over with a thunk, as though it had grown in weight.
Thomas watched as Alan hurriedly scrubbed away the lines of salt, so mother could approach daughter, who sat in a daze. Alan understood they needed to touch. Even if Edith was too stunned to act, he could do that much for her. “Ma’am,” Alan bowed in respect as he backed away.
Barrier removed, the departed mother straightened Edith’s hair from her face. There would be a parting kiss upon her hair this time. Edith was speechless, pulling her legs from beneath her as she shakily rose to sit upon her knees. There was nothing left to say. No words came to Edith’s lips.
There were no warnings left to be delivered. No unspeakable, unnamable people waiting in the wings. Her mother was gone, just as Edith found the strength to reach, fingers outstretched. Did she want to stop her from leaving? She didn’t know.
They passed unnoticed through the dress, even as her mother stepped through the wall. With a stiff breeze, her mother was gone. The morbid thought came that her mother had gone to the cemetery…to the grave…to her coffin. Or, perhaps, she went to the next world entirely after this final act of defense. She was no longer a messenger out of time…she was just Edith’s departed mother. She would never scare her again…but she could also never save her again. She could never hold and rock her again.
Edith would weep later, when there was time. She’d always felt like it was never truly over if her mother’s ghost wandered abroad. For now, she scrubbed her eyes hard before a tear could fall. She looked as though she were returning from a dream as she turned to the toy.
She gazed upon that two-faced toy, which now housed such a person within its shell. Edith drew herself to her feet, not daring to speak; one hand to the wall for strength as a plan formed. Thomas watched her silently, as did Alan. They wouldn’t rush her.
It was almost over now. It was time for the living to do what the dead could not.
This must end, she thought fleetingly, even as the once innocent creation’s wooden hands cracked slowly. It was not unlike a cocoon, if this went badly. Edith would not let her escape again! “No!” She surprised herself. Her voice didn’t quiver or quake; no, it was cold, but filled with a passion that left her shaky.
Edith lurched forward and shoved the door open, rushing to her bedroom. This had to end. She plucked it from its circle of salt, and darted from the room. The fire. Fire, and the right words said in the right way, and this could all be over. The words of Alan’s book were vague and worrying, but provided inspiration even now.
She never wanted Alan or herself to be possessed and used like that again. The fear and residual terror of being locked up inside herself would trouble her.
She sank to her knees in front of the fireplace, and pushed swirling thoughts from her mind. It had to wait. It hurt too much. She would cry later. She held up the strange doll, and observed a second hairline fracture beginning to form. It was so strange. Would it turn into dust within her palm? No. It was Lucille emerging from a chrysalis to cause more woe.
She threw the doll with all her might, even as she imagined it must pivot its head and cast an unholy look upon her. Only imagination…so far. It didn’t move, but merely bounced upon the brick and onto the top of a log. She unsheathed the sword cane when she couldn’t find the poker—only to jolt in terror as something seemed to move beneath the flame. She stabbed down harder before anything else could happen.
Edith wracked her brain, struggling to recall any words Thomas had used to exorcise Lucille from her…but it was too hard. It was like a dream fading from memory upon awakening. The more she reached to catch the words, the more they drifted away like smoke. Maybe she wasn’t meant to know them…but she needed something like them. In all likelihood, such words no longer applied when the spirit was bound to an object. Edith would use her own words penned by her wishes.
The embers turned black as they touched the toy, to Edith’s dismay. There was a pop; a black spark shot from the depths to her wrist, and she went stiff. Not pained, but pinned as much as Lucille, arms locked where they were, and she couldn’t see the room for a moment. Instead, Edith was caught in a fragmented memory of pain not her own; protecting Thomas. Killing the first time; a man who must have been Lucille's father became the first to fall. Thomas standing guard while Lucille first failed at tearing loose the bindings that held a saddle and therefore cause their father to suffer a fatal fall…before she was successful in extracting the correct amount of poison from the ever present firethorn berry leaves, in what would one day become a standard slow acting poison for Thomas’ brides.
Lucille served her father the final cup with an angelic smile on the day he died; it was laced with arsenic residue from the clay. It only succeeded in trapping the siblings with their malevolent mother, and further heartache occurred. Edith felt herself whimper, before she realized she would not see Lady Beatrice’s murder. She would not see what immediately preceded it.
Edith even saw several terrible days of Lucille’s tenure in an abominable institution. It was no wonder she didn’t want to leave the land where she lived.
The cruelty left Edith reeling. She came back to herself quaking as she still had her hands where they were. The darkness evaporated from that small ember now. She shook her head—they weren’t her secrets to know. Was Lucille trying to drag her into the past of a life that wasn’t even Edith’s? Or was she simply begging for mercy as she stood before an executioner and awaited a killing stroke? It hurt, and she could only guess it was the latter. Edith had tried the peaceful way, and Lucille stuck to this twisted course.
This was the only way, to keep from being controlled. Lucille was still dangerous, even bound, so Edith had to finish this. She wished for gloves, but ignored the impulsive thought.
She heard a noise and turned to see Thomas in the hall. He knew. She nodded to confirm she was still herself, and he stepped away lest he be sucked into the tumult of the ritual when it began.
The fire crackled further. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, Edith heard a keening scream entwined in agony, even as she felt the wood splitting slowly. There was a growl of fury. There was shock beneath the sounds.
Edith wanted to shield her ears as it grew to be piercing, but instead shoved down one last time with the sword cane. Lucille wasn’t finding a loophole this time. Edith was terrified for Alan; worried for Thomas; scared for herself as well, if Lucille erupted out in a frenzy.
The two men she loved the most would be fine if she found the will to see this through. “Stay in there,” she pleaded. What were the words she was supposed to say now? It was time, now that the flames tinged green in a way that made her want to run from the room.
“You will be but a dream yourself soon, Lucille,” Edith whispered. “You will remain a terrible memory. You will be forgotten in time. Neither Alan nor I will see your face reflected in the glass on a dark summer evening. We won’t live in your shadow. We refuse to. Let the shadows become your shroud.” They weren’t the right words, but they came from her soul. Louder, she said, “I exorcise you, Lady Lucille Sharpe.”
She paused in fear, as a tremor went through the blade. She would fight through it. “I cast you out of brick and clay and wood; out of hearth and home…out of skin and marrow and bone and blood.” Sweat was in her eyes, but she wouldn’t let go. She tried to ignore the wind in the room, which swirled and tossed a music box into the wall. “I cast you out of heart and soul and mind. We—everyone you’ve ever hurt—destroy you, Lucille. You will never touch anyone again …in death or in life or in some in-between place.”
Embers glowed unnaturally. Lucille wanted to claim her again? Edith wouldn’t let her.
The noise was increasing. She had to finish. “Out of hearth and house and home…never to live here again. Never to dwell anywhere within these walls again. I cast you out, Lucille. I cast you out of our hearts and lives forever. I cast you out of the clay beneath the remains of Allerdale Hall. Out of this hearth. I…I destroy your spirit, just as you tried to take mine. I cast you out.” Her eyes flicked quickly behind her as she saw movement. Alan now stood in the doorway, hands behind his back. He was guarding her even now, with steely determination in her eyes. Would this even do anything, she wondered now, or were they just simple words from a foolish woman? She had to believe it would succeed.
This was an exorcism in more than one way and Alan dared not stop her. He was here for support. He was here to echo her words. He was here to see Lucille’s destruction for himself, and cast out his own fear. This was his way of seeking closure, too, for how she had invaded both of them so sickeningly, for however brief a time. He would not shy away.
“We cast you out, Lucille,” she corrected. “We exorcise you. Me. Alan. Everyone you’ve killed,” she continued. “Even Thomas casts you out of this world, can you understand that?” Tears were flowing now. She couldn’t wipe them away, even as they blurred her vision.
“We cast you out, in the names of everyone we’ve ever loved and will ever love when we survive you, Lucille,” came Alan’s shaking voice from behind her. He flinched back when squeals grew. “We cast you out in the names of everyone you hate.” In a stronger tone, he continued solemnly, "May the moon light your journey all the way into oblivion, Lucille." While he had a chance, he would use the lullaby she so loved against her. He would use the phrase sung as she had made his soul feel like it was twisting inside out.
Out of marrow and bone…out of hearth and home. They focused on muttering the words over and over, and added the names of each in their family. Eunice. Her father. His father. Her mother. His mother. The flames of the candles shot higher than possible or safe, before an unseen force snuffed them out. Smoke drifted slowly from each taper as an oppressive silence reigned, and made them wary. The gas lighting took on a ghastly shimmer.
“We exorcise you…we cast you out…we banish you utterly and forever, Lucille Sharpe,” Edith concluded. “Begone, Lady Lucille Sharpe. Please. Begone!” She didn’t doubt anymore.
The flames in the hearth changed once again, with a hint of orange. Edith almost smiled. Was it over? The fire returned to green now, and she stared. No. Behind her, a clock on the mantle was now broken. In the hall, she heard the grandfather clock creak, before it finally exploded in a shower of splinters that traveled further than they should. This was one last futile attempt to frighten them into stopping their plan…or Lucille was taking as much as she could with her as she was dragged into hell.
With one hand, Edith covered her head and hissed in pain as a sliver struck her already injured hand. She shook her head, and more fell away from her hair and into the fire. When a hand grabbed her elbow, she spun around. “You can let go now, Edith,” Alan cried. “Oh,” he breathed as he looked again.
The green became black. The black curled outward and shot up higher…high enough to lick the ceiling before billowing outward. Edith threw aside the sword as she scrambled backwards, Alan still holding on. They sought to flatten themselves against a wall. They were gasping as it neared, the heat causing sweat to soak them through their clothing.
Alan panted for air, flat against Edith’s back. He couldn’t shield her from this position. He would help protect her if there was more than fire. If the house itself should burn, he would carry her to safety.
Was everything going to burn down? Would they die after all? There was an earsplitting wail to rival the fabled banshees, before there was a loud pop. As though in reverse like one of those new silent films Edith had seen last week, the smoke was sucked backward…billowing fire went up and out through the chimney.
Alan wondered if it could be seen for miles. In exhaustion, his hand clasped the back of her neck. Their foreheads touched even as they caught their breath in the cooling room, and there they remained. Edith kissed his temple. He rose first to knees, and then unsteady feet as he took care to protect his injured palm. It was bleeding again. Then, he pulled Edith up with him, and held her tightly.
The toy that had bound Lucille was ash. The fire was gone. Lucille had sought to take them with her into the deepest depths of the underworld, and she had failed.
They were alive. What would their neighbors think had happened within these walls? It was all that Edith could wonder as her ears briefly rang in the silence. She sagged to her back after she and Alan crept to the center of the room, still sweating and gasping for wonderfully cool air. It drifted through a crack in the window.
Alan rolled over to his side, wide-eyed. They clung to each other’s hands and basked in the glow of their success. She was disheveled and covered in small debris. He looked just as atrocious.
Edith looked around the room and put her hands on her head. It was over! Alan rocked her, as they shook with silent laughter. He led her over to the bed, and they fell upon the pillows…just for a moment, just for now, let them have that luxury.
Edith shifted. Alan kissed her nose, and they didn’t move again for several minutes, gathering themselves close. They should tend to their injuries, she finally realized. Once Edith removed her face from Alan’s neck. She silently passed him a fresh handkerchief for the scratches on his forehead, and he nodded his thanks. Their eyes rose to the blackened ceiling.
In wonder, Edith whispered, “What do we tell the servants when they return?” The clock was gone for good. There would be many hours of sweeping required. It would be apparent something happened. The maids would find the spilled blood downstairs. There was a hole smoldering through her lace curtain, right in the center, before it extinguished.
“Nothing. We tell them nothing,” Alan said with a weary laugh. “Let them wonder what foul things have taken place within these walls! Let them gossip.” He made a face. The situation had led to rudeness. “Sorry. I’ll start scrubbing my blood off the floor in the afternoon.” He would shoulder the burden of cleaning. He thought about the time. “Tomorrow afternoon.”
“But what will your mother think, if she sees,” Edith insisted. She was due for dinner in three days, to Edith’s discomfort. They couldn’t get out of it, even if they pretended to be at death’s door. Eunice would laugh if she saw the state of the ceiling. What was she thinking? Nobody would enter this room unless she wished it.
He raised his hands helplessly and put his head beneath a pillow, even as he pulled her over again. He moved the pillow to his stomach and really looked at her. “Something truly evil. Something Eunice would simply never lower herself to. She would be right on that last count.” He moved on the bed, and fell over backwards onto the quilt at the foot of it. “Do you think it’s truly over this time, Edith?”
“Yes. It felt right this time…don’t you think?” With a single groan, they sat up and Edith pulled at Alan to help…before she gasped and let go. Her hands. She had forgotten.
Alan forced himself up then, and reached for her. Those burns from earlier were what he wanted to check. He had never seen such from salt, so it was a novelty. Of course, he had never seen a possession firsthand until tonight, either. He never wanted to see or experience one again. “Let me see. We’ll take care of that.” He glanced behind her with a small smile, before he made a superficial wrap out of several unused handkerchiefs in the drawer. Gauze would come later, when they found the iodine and took turns caring for each other’s wounds.
Edith sat in silence, until she let out a small noise of pain as Alan prodded. He removed an overlooked splinter from her burn as gently as he could. It would not fester. It should heal now, free of intrusion.
Thomas was waiting patiently, Edith saw, as she looked over her shoulder. His eyes were so bright now that his last task in the mortal world was complete. Alan nodded his way as Edith remained perched on the bed. It was always harder to touch a ghost than to be touched by them…he caressed her cheek now with a thumb, and she closed her eyes. She fought her body’s reflexive lean in to it. If she leaned in, she may just fall over.
Edith’s head rested against Alan while she wondered how to send Thomas off. Was that kiss as he saved her from Lucille’s trap enough? They had such little time together in life. She reached to stroke a cheek, so insubstantial that she passed through. Again. His eyes fluttered shut.
“I love you, Edith,” he whispered haltingly into her ear. He was vivid this time, in voice and shape. “Alan,” he acknowledged. “Thank you. I’m sorry she hurt you both.” He was fighting hard with all the will that remained within him to allow him to be understood. He had been quiet too long, when not in Edith’s mind.
Alan quirked a brow, before he nodded. “I much prefer talking to you when you aren’t inside me…or pulling someone out of me.” It sounded odd, but the point stood. It would be even better when Thomas wasn’t rescuing either from a possession. “I—I can’t offer condolences on…that, Thomas. I’m sorry,” he said with a tired wave around the room. Channeling Thomas, he and Edith being possessed and exorcising Lucille had left their mark upon him. He was currently too fatigued to care about his manners. That was truly a rarity. “You have no need to apologize for any transgressions of hers on this day.”
Edith leaned back against Alan with a sigh. She could see strain on Thomas’ face, as he opened and closed his mouth as though debating whether to say something more. He was conflicted, and she knew it. She had seen that look many times before his death. He was protecting her from some knowledge.
“It hurts him to stay,” Alan whispered in her ear. “It hurts him to hang on this long to finish, when he’s been ready for two years.” He had read that much through their interactions, but until now it wasn’t his story to tell. It was a nagging ache emanating from Thomas when he’d channeled him, which seemed to grow in strength and power the longer he deviated from true rest.
Edith looked back to Thomas, seeing him struggling to stay in the here and now. “Rest in peace, Thomas. Free of pain,” she urged as her voice shook. To mourn him twice was something she never wished for.
Thomas nodded to Alan for sparing him the words. Now he approached Alan with hesitation.
“We can’t shake hands, not truly,” Alan shrugged. He wanted to bid him a fitting farewell, but the lack of sensation other than cold still threw him. He held open his arms, and chuckled nervously. “The proper thing would be that the one departing our house goes first.”
Alan’s eyes widened as Thomas stepped into the hug with a near inaudible chuckle. It was like being shoved under a river of ice. “So much better than last time,” Alan joked breathlessly in Thomas’ ear. He was referring to being stabbed. Alan awkwardly reached for a shoulder that he could not touch. It still wasn’t as cold as being possessed. Alan was almost forlorn. A certain level of intimacy had been reached between them. He would actually miss the dead man.
“I wish you well, Thomas,” Alan said as he stepped back with a shiver. “With the rest of your death. I hope you are never disturbed again in our lifetime.” He turned back to Edith, and she was smiling. He rubbed her shoulder as he saw the grief behind it.
Thomas inclined his head to Alan. They understood each other…the former had been in Alan’s head. His intentions were clear. Stay safe. Keep her safe…keep each other safe through the years.
The baronet stared at them, committing them to memory one last time. Thomas was radiant, his wounds still pouring the smoky aftermath of a life extinguished. Slowly, painstakingly, the light turned inward.
He was rapidly fading from view, burning away like mist in daylight. Thomas became ever more transparent…his form became ever more immaterial until, at last, he drifted away like mist in the light of early morning. It seemed as though nature reclaimed its errant spectral child. They could see the world outside the window clearly. All was calm. All was bright as dawn broke through the night. I will wait for you… Alan heard it just as clearly as Edith did. It was meant for both.
Eternal slumber was Thomas’ right. He had earned it. He would not suffer the agony of waiting as the seasons changed. He would not be controlled or used or ever have to worry again. He would linger at the outskirts of time.
This time, Sir Thomas Sharpe was truly at peace. He would not awaken again from death’s embrace, unless he was needed.
Now they could truly move on. Their ghosts were buried not only metaphorically, their stories and warnings told. What was left unfinished, was now complete. Lucille was gone forever, and Thomas was at peace.
The two left standing in the rubble could live. Together. Arm in arm, Edith and Alan turned and began the process of limping their way downstairs to see to their wounds. They would heal from this grim night of pain. They would, perhaps, see to calmer ghost hunts, after they healed.
With this bittersweet chapter concluded, they would see to the rest of their lives.