The sound of the fire crackling in the hearth.
The whistling of the wind outside and the buffeting of the storm against the tower so that the windows rattled and shook the timber frames.
The darkness beyond the windows that would be sliced away now and then by another strike of lightening. The night-time sky cleaved in two.
The trees that were shimmering with silver flames and rolling out towards the endless horizon. The dark and restless ocean.
The smell of burnt meat upon the air and a crackling sound as though meat were being fried upon a grill. The spitting fat.
I turned my face to one side and fixed my gaze upon the ruined body of Sister Dixon where she had been thrown to one corner of the room.
Her legs that were bent and buckled out of shape. White bones that were showing through flesh that was ripped back and sticky with blood. Smoking tufts of wizened copper hair against her scalp. The skin that was blistered with sores and raw-red patches of goo. Her face that was lifted to me and the flesh ripped back. Black sockets where the eyes should be. Egg white that ran out against her cheeks where her eyes had melted away.
But her mouth that was open. Her mouth that was moving. The broken teeth. The charcoal charred lips. The crooked jaw that was twitching upwards and down in awkward jarring movements. Fractured words that rolled across chipped teeth. Again, and again and again.
“Deadwood, deadwood, deadwoood.” She said.
The creature that remained standing before me. The demon creature. Ariana.
I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut and hoped that I was shell-shocked somehow from the strike of lightening. Sure, that when I opened my eyes once more that in place of the demon that had been revealed would be Ariana instead. The girl. My friend.
My eyelids that flicked open and the demon that remained standing before me still.
I watched as the demon turned from me and walked slowly towards the spot where Sister Dixon’s ruined body lay twitching upon the floor. The knife that was gripped within the demon’s grasp and the demon’s hooked claws that had closed around the hilt of the blade. The sharp sound of hooves against timber as the demon stepped closer towards Sister Dixon.
Clip, clop, clip, clop, clip, clop.
I closed my eyes. Forced them shut. The buzzing against my ears. The taste of rotten egg against my tongue. And the sense that my world had crumbled to its foundations and that all that remained of my life now were ruins. The darkness that swirled behind my eyelids. A face that was revealed. His face. The goblin. And his eyes that were wide and were glowing with furnace flames. And his mouth that was wide and the rows of tiny teeth that fell back towards the darkness of his throat.
Kill her. Kill her while you can.
I blinked my eyes open and the terrible image away.
But before me, another goblin that remained. Ariana.
And Ariana that was standing above the ruined body of Sister Dixon. And my eyes that were fixed upon her Goblin form and my gaze that could not seem to let go somehow. The creature that had been revealed before me. The skin that was shimmering from head to toe with grey scales. The tangled mass of fur that sprouted in thick clumps beneath Ariana’s naval and covering her waste with a matt of shaggy hair. Her thighs that were huge and thick with muscles. The legs that narrowed towards stunted points. And in place of feet and toes were polished hooves of black. And an image of Mr Tumnus sprung to mind. But a nightmare version of the friendly old fawn.
The demon-Ariana remained standing to one side of the broken body of Sister Dixon. Sister Dixon’s ruined body twitched to one side as though she knew that darkness stood beside her. Her ruined face that was lifted towards the demon creature. Two black sockets where Sister Dixon’s should be. White jelly that was running down each cheek. Sister Dixon twitched her arm a little from left to right upon the timber floorboards. The sound that the broken bones made as they rattled beneath the skin. Sister Dixon screaming out in pain, but still, somehow, she managed to lift her hand out and up towards Ariana.
And my eyes that returned once more towards the demon form of Ariana that remained standing beside Sister Dixon and looking down impassively. And my eyes that remained wide as I lifted them upwards from the creature’s cloven feet and across the shaggy matt of hair against its legs and passed its waist and my gaze that settled for a moment upon the creatures’ hands. The fingers that were distended and buckled and out of shape somehow. Talon like fingernails that were hooked and shiny and black and cruel. The kitchen knife that remained held firm within the creature’s grasp.
The buzzing drone of hornets against my ears and I knew that I had to leave this place. That I had to leave this place of death and darkness.
And so, I turned my face around and fixed my gaze once more upon the iron door that had been slammed shut by Ariana. The thought of the stairs behind that would lead me down and away from this madness. Lead me towards escape. And I had to leave this place. I had to go.
When I returned my gaze back towards Ariana, she turned to me and studied me and I was sure that I was falling, falling. My soul crumbling in towards the gravity of deadwood Manor.
Her head that was knobbled somehow and pointed at the chin. The cheeks that were sharp and bevelled towards the edges. The skin as black as tar and shimmering with scales. The lips like old leather. The mouth that was wide. Barbed teeth that were revealed behind. And where the nose should be was a pointed flap of skin and two holes for nostrils. Ears that were thick and pointed against each side of her face and twitching this way and that. And her eyes that were wide and huge and shining red and illuminated by flames.
Ariana studied me and blinked.
A crawling sensation within my gut.
The beat of hornet’s wings against my ears.
Kill her, kill her, kill her, kill her. The goblin cried out in warning within my mind.
And then Ariana turned her wretched face from me and fixed her attention once more upon the ruined body of Sister Dixon. The woman’s hand that was opening and closing towards the demon that stood before her. The words that continued to roll out across her lips again and again and again.
“Deadwood, deadwood, deadwood.”
And it was then that Ariana lunged forwards with the kitchen knife and thrust the blade through the woman’s chest.
A terrible thud as the hilt of the knife struck the ribs. The blade piercing the heart.
Sister Dixons mouth that opened wide and a scream that pierced the air so that I brought my hands to my ears and the tears that were creased from the corner of each eye until finally the wretched sound could be heard no more. Sister Dixon slumped towards the floor and breathed her last.
The demon turned towards me and fixed its fiery gaze upon me. Ariana.
The knife that remained gripped within her hand and the cruel edge that was dripping with blood. Her mouth that was creased from ear to ear and the teeth that were revealed. A pink tongue that was forked as the creature opened its mouth and began to talk. And Ariana’s voice that was heard against the creature’s lips. And the sense that the little girl had been swallowed by the beast. That Ariana must be trapped in there somewhere and fighting to get out. But maybe not. Maybe it had always been the other way around.
“The bitch talks too much.” The demon said. Ariana’s voice. The hand that was opening and closing against the hilt of the knife.
And the rattle of the demon’s hooves as it placed a step towards me and then another and another.
The knife that was lifted before it and the demon’s eyes that were ablaze with flames and its mouth that was wide and the rows of tiny teeth.
“But she was right about one thing.” The demon said as it stepped towards me.
Clip clop, clip clop, clip clop.
“There can only be one daughter of Deadwood.”