“What was that out there?” Ariana asked, her voice that was trembling and as quiet as a mouse I thought.
I shook my head. A great fatigue that had settled upon my bones so that I remained in a heap upon the wooden floorboards where I had collapsed some distance from the great oak door that had closed behind us.
“The beast.” I explained without emotion of fanfare.
“What?” Ariana replied instantly, turning towards the tall window beside the side of the double doors that had led us inside. She brought her face towards the lead-lined windows and peered out towards the darkness.
And I was tired I realised. So tired of all of this. Of this game that I found myself a part of. The Gamekeepers Lodge that had drawn me in towards its cruel belly. And now Deadwood Manor. The beast that had chased us here. And how could I explain it? How could I explain a word of it to Ariana? The things that I had seen. The darkness of the world that had been revealed to me. I shook my head and studied the floorboards beneath my hands. The way that the old planks of timber didn’t quite meet at the joints and a cool kiss of air that blew up from below somewhere.
“The beast.” I said. Sure, that I was wasting my time beginning to explain these matters to Ariana, but I was tired. So tired. “Death.”
“Death?” Ariana said. The word hanging against the air as though it held some weight. And still she remained standing beside the leaded window and peering out. Searching for some sign of the creature that had pursued us here. “What do you mean? Death?” She asked.
And how could I begin to explain it. How could I begin to describe the terrible curse that I was forced to endure? I lifted my gaze from the floorboards for the briefest of moments and turned my face towards Ariana. She turned from the window and studied me and my gaze that settled upon her face. The skin that was peeled back to reveal the charred bone beneath. The rictus smile where the gums had been burned away. Two empty sockets where her eyes should be. Her eyes that were melted like the whites of an egg.
“I see death.” I said.
Ariana shaking her head from left to right. Her ruined face. The smell of burned meat upon the air. Her eyes that were melted and running down against either cheek
“What do you mean?” She said. “What are you talking about Mandy?”
“It seeks me out.” I replied blankly, the tears that were welling now against the corners of my eyes and Ariana standing close to me and yet so far, I thought. And I was sad for her. I really was. And her ruined face. And cruel death that had waited so patiently for her. And so, I lowered my face from hers and returned my gaze once more towards the floorboards below. The cool kiss of air that blew up through the gaps. “I’m possessed by it.” I said. “It consumes me.”
The sound of laughter that rattled between the folds of my brain.
I shook my head. I wasn’t listening. My mind that began to wander away from here and the darkness of this spot.
“What do you mean?” Ariana said. And the fear that was detected against her sweet voice. And the thought occurred to me that maybe Ariana was beginning to think that she might have been better off after all staying outside with the beast. Rather than inside Deadwood Manor with me. “You’re scaring me Mandy.” She said. “What are you talking about?”
And that was when I began to laugh. A crumpled sound like dried leaves that rattled against the insides of my throat and the taste of death upon my tongue.
“Burn baby burn!” I hissed. No. Not me. Him. The goblin that resided within me.
“What?” Ariana said. The fear to her voice. “What did you say?” She asked.
I shook my head and the goblins words away. The tears that began to leak from each corner of my eye and gently fall towards the floorboards and between the cracks. The darkness down there
“There’s something wrong with me.” I said, “I’m not safe.”
Ariana still hesitating by the window and keeping her distance from me.
I blinked, and the tears that ran over my eyes and fell towards the floorboards so that a small puddle appeared down there. My mind turning backwards through time and the memories that had been locked behind closed doors for so long. The sense that the doors were being pushed open inch by inch and the truth revealed to me at last. The memories.
And a garden. And a seesaw. And my sister. And the two of us playing on the lawn. The sound of our happy voices. And then chasing across the lawn and all the way towards the corner of the garden and the woodshed and the wishing well. And my sister leaning over and by my side. And my hand reaching out to her and holding her back from falling. But the voice I had heard within my head. His voice. The goblin’s voice. And telling me to push. To push her in. To push my sister over.
“I killed her.” I said. And there it was at last. The truth revealed. The doors that had been pushed open. And the goblin’s laughter that rolled against the insides of my brain. The taste of him upon my tongue. The memories that had been revealed to me at last. And the memory of watching my sister fall towards the darkness of the wishing well. Her terrified screaming cry as she fell. The darkness that swallowed her hole. And me looking down and smiling. The sound of black waters that were breaking down there. The splashing that her arms and her legs made as she fought to swim and stay afloat. The sound of her voice screaming up towards me. And my fingers that were gripped against the edges of the wishing well.
“I pushed her in.” I said, the tears that had puddled against the floorboards and the water leaking through the gaps and down towards the darkness down there. “I pushed my sister down the well.”
I lifted my face to Ariana and was sure that when my gaze fell upon her, that I would spy disgust upon her face at my confession. But instead her expression was blank. Her eyes that were wide and round and black. She studied the spot where I remained prone upon the floor.
“What?” was all that she said. “What are you talking about Mandy? She said. “What well?”
And that’s when the words rolled out of me all at once. The long-supressed memories. As though a great damn had been erected across the centre of my brain somewhere and had crumbled down. The tidal flood that washed over and destroyed all within its path.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I was sorry for my sister, not for Ariana, but that’s how the words came out.
“I’m so sorry.” I said. “But something had been growing in me, inside of me. I couldn’t hold it down. Some darkness in my belly. At the centre of my heart. And the memory of when they had first brought her back from hospital. My sister. And she was the tiniest thing and all smiles and the smell of her and Mummy and Daddy leaning into her and holding her and kissing her and I hated her, I hated her. And me leaning in and wrapping my arms around the baby and hugging her and daddy pulling me back. His face that was red and angry and him shouting and telling me to be careful with my baby sister. And I hated him for that. And I hated my baby sister. I hated her so much. And I shouldn’t have done and knew that I shouldn’t be like that. That it was cruel and wrong to be jealous of something so small and so sweet. But I couldn’t seem to help it.” I sneered.
“And the voice that I heard within my head. His voice. And I don’t know where it came from. But it was just there one day. The things that he said to me. The things that he told me to do. And at first, I thought it was funny to kill worms and slugs with my magnifying glass, but I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t seem to stop. And the voice that told me to do it. And the birds that we would catch sometimes and their bones and how they would blink and squawk when I pulled against their wings so that the brittle bones in there would break and snap. And the little birds would turn their beaks away from me and blink. And their eyes that were black. And the darkness that I spied against the bird’s eyes.”
“And I liked it, I liked it so much. And it was him that told me to kill my sister. To push her down the well. It was him. The goblin. It wasn’t me. His cruel words that spoke inside me, inside my head somehow and out of my mouth. Telling my sister to lean over, to look, to look down the well and see the darkness down there. And yes, a little further a little further sister, take a peek.”
“And then she was falling. My sister was falling. And her skirt that fluttered and flapped like a butterfly’s wings about her face. And her voice screaming out to me and calling for help. But I wasn’t listening.”
“And so I turned away and skipped all the way across that endless lawn and back towards the house. And Mummy that was standing and waiting for me at the kitchen window. And she was mine now. She was all mine.”
The words all used up.
The taste of them upon my tongue.
The puddle of tears that had collected against the dusty floor and the weight of Deadwood Manor that pressed down upon me as though I were being consumed by it piece by piece. It was right to be here tonight I realised. In this house of death. In Deadwood. It was right that I was here. But still I was consumed by grief. The aching in my heart and the air that caught against my throat as I finally found the strength to lift my face once more to where Ariana remained standing by the window. And I was sure that I would witness the horror upon her face at the words of my confession.
But instead her face remained implacable.
Her eyes that were wide and the darkness that seemed to swirl against the centres of them somehow.
“You killed your sister?” She said, her gaze that was fixed firm upon me and her features that had been ironed flat somehow.
“Yes.” I said, as I nodded my head slowly. The sense that a great weight had been lifted from my chest. But still the air that was caught within my throat as I attempted to recover my breadth. “And I’m sorry.” I said. “I’m so sorry for it.”
Ariana still studying me as though I were some strange object that had been revealed to her for the first time. I was sure that at any moment she would turn her back from me and walk towards the door and turn the handle and step outside and risk her fate out there with the beast.
But instead she kind of shook her head a little from side to side so that her pig tails whipped from left to right. She studied me and blinked three times.
And that was when she finally stepped away from the window.
The creaking of the floorboards as she paced across the room and passed the spot where I had collapsed upon the floor. I lifted my head from the spot where I had fallen. I watched her as she walked across the great hallway and all the way towards a flight of steps that had remained hidden in shadows the whole time. Ariana reached the bottom of the steps and hesitated. And then she placed her foot upon the bottom step.
She turned to me.
The shadows that appeared to dance across the creases of her face.
Her gaze that was firm and the darkness of her eyes.
“We can’t stay here.” Ariana said, as she motioned towards me with her head.
“Let’s get upstairs.”