Blackwoods Bend - Chap 13
The next morning I woke up to light streaming through a crack in the curtains. For a minute I forgot where I was, and I jerked a little, looking around the room. I relaxed again, running a hand through my hair, remembering that I was safe as I felt the warmth of Marianne’s body against mine.
“Was it a nightmare?” she asked, her voice thick with sleep as she lifted her head up off of my arm a little.
I scoffed then turned my eyes from the ceiling to look at her. “For the first time this week I didn’t dream of anything at all. It’s almost like my subconscious called a truce.”
She let out a soft sigh as she snuggled closer to me, and I thought my chest would burst open with how happy I was, even in the middle of the horror we were living. “I’ve missed this—mornings with you.”
“I wish that I’d known to miss them. Can you miss something in hindsight?” I asked, feeling groggy.
“That’s just regret, babe,” Marianne said gently.
Regret was definitely something I was feeling the weight of. Worse, still, was the guilt of everything that I remembered that I’d done in my life. I remembered my job; I hunted monsters.
Andrew had come to me, mandating me to take up the job my biological great-uncle had done his long life. I asked once why my father hadn’t ever been called to duty, and Andrew simply shrugged, stating that my father was too old to train, and too weak in will. Me, though? Perfect candidate for sheriff of Beast City.
Andrew said that Victorvina produced the mysteries and the monsters from her own evil nature, and it was my job to keep everyone safe. At the same time the nightmares had begun, and Victorvina called me to the forest, wanting me to set her loose on the Earth. The things I’d seen and had to do felt like a weight around my neck, dragging me down.
After the Harsons had decided to play tug-of-war with me, my soul began to chip away. Finally I’d surrendered to the Road, believing it to be the only way. I walked into the forest, though I knew Harson wasn’t done with me. In his mind I had to exist, but I had to forget about Blackwoods Forest. He’d warned me what would happen, and at that moment in time forgetting had seemed better.
“You should get a shower, and change into some clean clothes,” Marianne said, sitting up in bed holding the sheets to her chest.
My gaze moved over the waves in her hair, down to the bare skin of her back, and I reached my hand out, running my fingertips down her spine. “Or we could stay in bed another hour…”
Marianne turned to look at me over her shoulder, smiling with amusement in her eyes. “It’s already eleven in the morning. We have to get over to the main house.”
She was right. Every second that we’d been together, in the early hours of the morning, had been stolen moments. Now we had to face our problems head on. I let out a purposefully dramatic sigh, sitting up next to her, pressing a kiss to her shoulder as something she’d said came back to me. “Did you say that I should shower, and put on clean clothes?”
Marianne slipped out of bed, pulling a shirt out of the dresser to pull on, before moving to another drawer. She took out a sweater and a pair of jeans, sitting them on the end of the bed. Then she turned, pulling out a pair of socks and some boxers. “I brought some of your clothes here when I moved out of the house. In case…But you never showed any signs of rememberin’, so I just kept them put away.”
“I remember that sweater,” I said, startled. “You got that for me the Christmas I had to hunt down those Gaunt kids who were terrorizin’ the playground. The way they cried was so pitiful…” My whole adult life I’d wondered what had happened to me in the years that I couldn’t recall. Recalling that your great-great-great grandfather used you as damage control for an evil he and his wife created was not the closure one might consider it to be.
“You had a hard time with that one, yeah. They were snatching kids, though, Danny. Human kids. You did the right thing. You have other clothes in there if you don’t want to wear the sweater,” Marianne said, gesturing to the dresser.
I shook my head with a frown. “No, no, Mari. That’s fine.” I threw the covers back, climbing out of bed as I grabbed up the clothes then headed into the en suite bathroom. Twenty minutes later I was clean and dressed, wiping the condensation off of the bathroom mirror. My damp hair hung around my eyes in slight curls, and I leaned my hands on the counter as I studied my face. I looked older than I had the last time I’d caught my reflection. I thought of the pictures hanging on the wall in Marianne’s room, the hardness in my eyes, and it had suddenly returned.
My life had been a string of nightmares since I was sixteen years old, and I had run from it long enough. It was time for me to face the family that made me, before they could corrupt me. I wouldn’t allow Marianne to be dragged into the darkness associated with my bloodline. We were cursed, and I couldn’t let it extinguish her light. I turned to open the bathroom door, walking out into the bedroom as Marianne stepped over to me, holding her own clothes, running a hand gently over my chest. “You feel better?” she asked.
“I feel cleaner,” I said, shrugging a shoulder. “Little damp…”
Marianne tilted her head, looking at me with a sympathetic smile. “I love you, Danny.”
“I love you.” She raised herself on her toes to kiss me quickly before heading into the bathroom. I watched as she shut the door before turning my eyes to papers on top of the dresser. Some of them looked yellowed and old, bound together by a metal ring at one corner. I didn’t remember seeing them sitting there before, but shit, we all know my memory hadn’t been worth much. “Marianne?” I called to see if she knew where they came from, but she didn’t answer, and I decided that she likely wouldn’t be able to hear me over the sound of the shower.
We’ve established that fighting curiosity isn’t exactly my strong suit, and there was a mysterious stack of papers suddenly before me, begging to be rifled through. I decided that I was already in for a penny, why not throw in one more pound, even if it ended up being a pound of flesh. I picked up the first stack of papers. It appeared to be a manuscript titled, But the Roof Leaks.
Mary and Tess showed up out of the blue on Jimmy’s doorstep, late on one cold, rainy, windy night. Jimmy couldn’t refuse their company; that would be rude. They’d become friends with Jimmy’s wife, Cora, a few weeks before, when Mary and Tess had moved to Blackwoods Bend from their native home of Ireland.
Blackwoods Bend? This story was set in Blackwoods Bend? I looked over my shoulder at the bathroom door, uncertain why I felt anxious about Marianne catching me with this story. These papers were aged, and they smelled like old books. Certainly Marianne hadn’t written this. Now my interest was peaked, and I had to read on.
Mary and Tess thanked Jimmy as they walked into the entryway. “Where might Cora be?”
“She had to work late at the book store. She’ll be home real soon, though,” he said. Jimmy seemed to be very uneasy as he took their coats, hanging them on the rack.
“That’s well, then,” Mary said. She and Tess shook the rain out of their long red curls, brushing their hair back from their faces. Jimmy thought that they could have passed for twins, though they swore they weren’t even related. They both had pale skin, bright green eyes, and that long, fiery hair that fell just to their waists. Another thing that made them similar was that they always wore the same shade of emerald green. Everyone assumed that this was some sort of homage to their homeland, and so it was never questioned. “Why don’t we all sit down in the livin’ room, and we’ll wait on Cora. Would y’all like coffee, or tea?”
Tess held a hand up, smiling politely. “No thank you, Jimmy. We were actually wondering if we could stay the night.”
“You see, Jimmy, we’ve been walking for a time. Our car broke down a good ways away, and we cut through the woods as a short-cut,” Mary explained.
Oh, they cut through the woods, did they? Couldn’t have been Blackwoods Forest. They’d never have gotten out again. Had this author been to Blackwoods Bend? I let out a curt, humorless laugh turning my eyes back to the page.
“It turned off dark, and it’s a bit eerie out. Could you house us?” Tess asked in her soft, lilting accent. Mary nodded once, turning sad eyes to Jimmy, silently pleading.
Jimmy rung his hands nervously. “I don’t think that would be such a good idea, girls. See, we’ve got the one guest room, but the roof leaks. So, you couldn’t possibly stay.”
“Oh, well I’m sure that Mary an’ I will be just fine. We’ll rearrange to where the drip doesn’t bother us at all. We’ve slept in much worse conditions, I promise ya,” with that Tess and Mary moved at once in the direction of the guest room.
“No!” Jimmy cried, as he rushed to block the entrance to the hallway. “You really shouldn’t go in there. Black mold could have grown in there. We’ve had the leak a long time, you see—”
“Oh, I’m certain it’ll be fine,” Tess said, waving a hand through the air dismissively. Mary and Tess gave each other a glance, then ducked under Jimmy’s arms, completely undeterred by his warnings. He ran ahead of them to the door of the bedroom, and without switching on the light, he pointed to an obvious dark spot on the ceiling, about the size of a dinner plate.
“See! Black! It’s got to be black mold. You girls really shouldn’t stay here. Please, just leave!” he half-wailed, hoping and praying that they wouldn’t turn on the light. Mary reached around the door frame slowly, stretching her delicate fingers for the light switch. Just before she flipped on the light a bolt of lightning shone through the windows of the guest room, reflecting off both women’s eyes. Their eyes were like those of an animal, and Jimmy stumbled back. Then the light was on, flooding into the hallway, and Jimmy whimpered fearfully.
The girls turned their focus from Jimmy, walking into the guest room, never glancing up again at the spot where the leak was. Instead they turned around to face Jimmy. “See,” Tess said, raising her hands in a shrug. “There’s nothing to be worrying over.” Just at that moment a single drop from the leak fell upon Tess’s open palm; a sharp contrast of deep, dark red on her fair skin. “Well, Jimmy. What have we here?” Mary and Tess shot each other another quick look, then turned their attention back to Jimmy who was stuttering incoherently, a blubbering mess.
He slowly backed himself up against the wall across from the guest room, sobbing that he hadn’t meant to do it, over and over again. “What have you done, boy?” Mary asked as Tess licked the blood off her hand, then walked towards the end of the hall where the entrance to the attic let down from the ceiling. Before Jimmy could bat an eye she was up in the attic, then then back down, holding the corpse of someone who appeared to be wearing a pizza delivery outfit. The boy had been beaten and stabbed multiple times, and the murder weapon was still lodged between the poor teenager’s ribs.
“I couldn’t help it! He was late, and I was so angry—” Jimmy began, only to be cut off by Mary.
“Oh, Jimmy. Honestly, that lacks such…Creativity,” Mary lifted Jimmy by the back of his shirt until his feet dangled above the floor.
“What—What’s happening?” Jimmy had gone limp, like a kitten picked up by its scruff.
Mary shrugged a shoulder. “We’re a sort of man-eater, dear. Don’t worry, we’ll put the boy just back where we found him, won’t we Tess? In fact we’ll even stick ya right in there with him!”
An hour later Mary and Tess descended the ladder to the attic, more than stuffed with their gruesome meal. There was the sound of a key turning in the front door as Mary and Tess smiled at each other. Cora made her way into the house, a look of surprise crossing her features, though she spoke not a word. Mary and Tess continued to smile sweetly at Cora, as they grabbed their coats. They walked towards the door silently, both kissing Cora on the cheek, leaving slight red smears.
“It’s quite a lovely house, especially the guest room,” Tess said kindly.
“But the roof leaks,” Mary said with a feigned pout, which broke into laughter.
Mary and Tess disappeared into the dark of the woods, and as Cora watched them go with brand new, bright-green eyes, the roots of her hair slowly began to grow, turning from blonde to the most beautiful shade of red.
That was extremely unnerving, mainly because it’s possible that this was a true story. With the things that I’d seen, Blackwoods Bend could conjure up just about any beast. I wouldn’t ever doubt it. There was another manuscript under the one I’d just read, but the bathroom door opened. I put the papers back on the dresser quickly, turning to face Marianne as she stepped into her bedroom. “Baby, do you know where these stories…” The sight of the look of shock on her face halted my words, and I hurried over to her. “Mari, what’s wrong?”
“The mirror.” She pointed towards the bathroom, her eyes wide. “Look, Danny.”
I caught myself on the door frame as I hurried into the room. There, written in the steam, was a special message just for me: Come Home, Danny. “Shit.”
“I swear I didn’t write that, Daniel. I got out of the shower, and it was just there. I’m so sorry!” Marianne said, shaking her head.
I hurried back out into the bedroom, wrapping my arms tightly around her. “I know that you didn’t, Mari,” I said, kissing her still-wet hair as she wept softly. “Shh, baby, it’s all right. It’s just another one of those Things. Okay? Just something else scary—nothing we haven’t been through before. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”
“I thought we were safe here. Nothing had ever happened here, and I thought we’d be okay,” she said, hopelessness in her tone.
Of course the horror followed us. It always would until I found a way to put an end to it. “It’s me, Marianne. The bad Things? They’re following me.” My eyes ticked over to the dresser, where I’d set the papers down, finding that they were no longer there. “Baby, did you leave papers on the dresser? Stories about Blackwoods Bend?”
Marianne looked up at me in confusion. “No…Stories? What kind of stories?”
“I didn’t read the second stack of papers, but the first was written like a spooky, Halloween yarn. With Blackwoods Bend being the way it is, it could be biographical,” I said with a huff.
“Let me get dressed and blow dry my hair real quick, and we’ll head up to the main house. I feel like things are only gonna get worse before they get better,” Marianne said warily, as she seemed to pull herself together, moving cautiously back towards the bathroom.
It’s hard to find a woman with beauty, bravery, and brains, but I’d somehow managed it. It was bittersweet, because she had to be brave because of me. Marianne was right. Things were about to get much, much worse.
The sitting room of the main house was bright and airy, and decorated delicately. There were porcelain floral figures on the mantle, and peonies embroidered into the throw pillows on the couch. The whole room would have felt like a breath of fresh air, if I hadn’t been standing in front of the girl I loved, a distant relative who I’d never heard of before, and two of my closest friends, about to tell who I really was.
I took a deep breath, deciding it was time to get it all out. “When I was sixteen we moved into the ancestral Harson home. My dad had inherited it, but I don’t know if he even knew what that meant at the time.”
“Wait. We went to the old Harson manor. Nobody’d lived there for a hundred years or more,” Will said, shaking his head as he narrowed his eyes.
“That was the house Andrew Harson built for his wife. He built it before he even knew Victorvina. He didn’t care who he married, as long as she had Bludstan blood. He wanted to marry a witch,” I explained.
Amy let out a snorting laugh. “Witches? That’s what this all is about, is witches? I’ve seen crazy shit, but there’s no way people with magical powers exist.”
“Oh, I assure you that we do,” Inga said in a firm but gentle tone. “It’s not all hocus pocus. In astral form we’re a force to be reckoned with. Though marrying a witch could be prosperous for a person, if one is careful, and particular about the witch.”
That was my cue to continue explaining, and I bowed my head just slightly. “The Harson bloodline is cursed, and Andrew spent almost all of the family fortune tryin’ to find ways to lift the damnation. He spent the last of the Harson money on the bridewealth he paid Heinrich von Bludstan for his daughter.”
“So, he basically bought a witch to try to lift this spell on your family?” Will asked, quirking up one corner of his mouth.
It did sound pretty absurd, but what about this wasn’t completely unbelievable? “He did. He brought her back to the town that was then called Ore, and he married her. Somethin’ was wrong, though. Victorvina couldn’t remove the evil from his soul, and he grew more and more erratic and cold-hearted. When six of the children fell ill, aside from the one-year-old, he sent the little boy away. Soon after that Victorvina died in childbirth, or so everyone believed.”
“Andrew killed her,” Marianne said quietly, holding my gaze for a moment, and I was grateful for the help in getting all of the details out in the open. “Andrew’s soul was infected…”
“They had just lost their eldest six children, and one son was bein’ raised by a friend of the family, so when their newest son was stillborn, Andrew flew into a rage. He sent out the midwives and the doctor, and then he stabbed Victorvina to death,” I said, unable to turn my eyes up to look at Marianne. She’d seen that familial darkness in me, too, whenever I’d come home after a particularly bad night, or I’d had to do something that went against every moral I had. “He took her out to the cemetery, and that’s when he planted the trees. He’d taken the seeds for the trees at her father’s behest, not understandin’ exactly what they were. All he knew was that Heinrich told Andrew if anything should ever happen to Victorvina that he should bury her along with the seeds.”
“Her father knew somethin’ wasn’t right with Andrew, and he worried for his daughter,” Marianne said, reaching up to lightly take one of my hands into hers.
Amy raised her eyebrows slightly before sharing a look with Will, but neither of them remarked on the motion. Marianne and I had held hands before, but Will and Amy had been too tired to notice. “How do y’all know all this?” Will asked, holding up a hand.
“Andrew Harson told me, and I told Marianne,” I explained briefly, seeing more questions arise in Will’s eyes, but I needed to get this done with. “Gettin’ back to my family…We moved into the original Harson manor when I was sixteen, and strange things started happenin’. My mom swore that she saw someone standin’ in the yard almost every night, Dad heard the sounds of a Civil War battle that had been fought on the property over one-hundred and thirty years before, things would go missin’, only to reappear somewhere else, and then I developed my sleep disorder…I would sleepwalk, I’d had lucid nightmares that I couldn’t escape from, and when I finally did wake up, I woke up screamin’. I always felt like there was somethin’ in the room with me.”
That was never more true than the night when something purposefully grabbed my foot to drag its tongue from my heel to my toe. Nothing had been there when I’d clicked on the light, but my skin was damp, and tingled strangely. There were too many things that happened in that house to mention in that moment, and I decided I’d tell them more about the haunting later.
“I started sleepwalkin’ outside of the house, and my parents would find me farther and farther out, until one night, when I was seventeen, they chained the door shut so that I couldn’t get out,” I said. “The window was too high up for me to climb down, and the door was the only way out of the room. The next mornin’ they found me in Returnal Cemetery, curled up on my side just on the edge of the blacktop.”
Amy gasped, leaning forward on the couch. “Daniel Tyler Frame! You could have disappeared!”
“I didn’t go there on purpose, Ames,” I said, narrowing my eyes at her. “…Scold me for somethin’ outta my control? Come on.”
“Who was in control?” Will asked, arching a brow.
We’d come this far in the explanation. I realized that I couldn’t clam up, and I couldn’t turn back. I had to come clean. “Victorvina Harson is responsible for the sleepwalkin’. She wanted me to burn the forest down to release her spirit. She insisted that Andrew was keeping her prisoner, and that she just wants to go to Heaven.”
“Andrew told Danny a whole other story,” Marianne said, worry in her tone before she placed a soft kiss to the back of my hand.
“He believes that our family is the only thing that keeps Blackwoods Bend safe from the mistake he made in bringing Victorvina here, and that the more people who know about her, the more powerful she is. She takes people who wander onto the Road, or into the woods so that every now and again talk of the Road is mentioned, and she gets a little more power,” I explained further.
Will nodded his head. “So it’s both of them. Harson kills people who investigate the Road—that might bring it attention—and Victorvina absorbs people, or something?”
“I’m actually still not sure what she does with the people. Andrew doesn’t know either,” I said, setting my jaw. “She creates the mayhem and the monsters in Blackwoods Bend, though. Drawing us out—tempting us to set her free so that the madness ends. Andrew didn’t vanish all those years ago, either. Not that it stops him from showing up when he wants, but he was actually killed, hunting a wolf with a human face.” I felt my stomach turn as I recalled shooting that creature between the eyes as it pleaded for its life.
“I swear, I won’t hurt nobody else,” it said with a nod, and an odd snuffling sound from a nose too long, or maybe a snout that was too short. “Listen, I got puppies.”
“With human faces?” I asked, furrowing my brow.
The thing almost seemed to shrug. “Naw, they got puppy faces. Be weird if they had people faces.”
I lowered my gun for a moment, scratching my head. “I don’t understand. You’re supposed to be a violent, mauling machine.”
“Well, that’s only on taco Tuesdays. Everybody smells so tasty after they’ve been sittin’ in those Mexican restaurants,” the thing said.
“That’s fucked up,” I said with a grimace.
It nodded once. “I’m fucked up. I’m a man-wolf…Listen, I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other a spell. I lied about the puppies, and about not eatin’ people no more. I really like doin’ it.”
“Christ on a cracker.” I turned away from it slightly, covering my eyes with one hand, tilting my head back. This Thing had to die, but it was dumb, and kind of funny. “I hate my job,” I groaned, raising the gun, squinting one eye as I pulled back the hammer and fired. “Shit, I hope he really was lyin’ about the puppies.”
I was jarred back into the present conversation by someone shrieking from another room in the house. “Who the hell else is here?” I asked, jogging around furniture towards the sound.
“Only Rochelle, the cook!” Inga called to me from the back of the group as we all stopped in the kitchen door, Marianne and Will running into my back. I caught myself on the doorjamb, taking in the sight before me. The entire room was coated in dark, thick blood, and it reeked of rot and death. Rochelle stood just outside the door of what appeared to be a pantry, looking shell-shocked. “What happened?” I asked, moving my eyes from Rochelle to the rest of the room.
“I went into the pantry for bread crumbs, and when I stepped back out again it was like this!” she half-shrieked, pointing to the ceiling.
“Helluva lot more than just the ceilin’,” Will mumbled.
I turned to cut my eyes to Marianne, and as I did there was a sharp pop, and a shift in my peripheral vision. When I looked back at the kitchen it was all clean and pristine again. Pots bubbled on the stove, and freshly sliced squash lay out on a cutting table. It was as if nothing had ever happened. “No, no, that’s not right. Why would Victorvina turn the room red?” I asked more to myself than anyone else. “Tryin’ to scare Rochelle? What would be the point?”
The timer on the oven buzzed, and Rochelle took a few hesitant steps forward, before rushing over to open the oven door. The acrid scent of burnt hair and flesh rolled through the room, along with a plume of smoke that had us all coughing and gagging. Rochelle waved the smoke away then screamed, scrambling back away from the appliance in a crab-walk. “That’s not the roast!”
“Of course it’s not the roast,” I grumbled, waving my hand in front of me to clear more of the smoke as Will moved to open the back door to vent the room. I leaned down, peering into the oven through the smoke that slowly thinned. The smell was horrendous, but not one I hadn’t smelt before, and I fought tears stinging my eyes as my brain finally made sense of what I was seeing. “Oh, shit.”
Tiffany’s severed head sat on the middle rack of the oven, roasted until her skin was a perfect golden brown. I stood up, closing the oven before switching it off, chewing on my lip. I shoved my hands into my pockets, trying to get my breathing and my heartbeat to slow down. “Tiffany’s dead.”
“How do you know that?” Amy shouted in alarm.
“Her body’s not attached to her head, anymore, so that’s a prime indicator,” I said quickly, blinking rapidly.
“Danny, that’s not cool, man,” Will said, shaking his head. “What’s in the stove?”
My eyes met Will’s in a pointed glare. “Don’t open the oven.”