Snow Angels by Patrick G Moloney.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Instalment 6 of the Jack Burke crime series.

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017



The office seemed strangely depressing and eerily silent, it was funny how she had been with him for such a short time, yet her absence weighed heavily on him. It had been only three days since he had taken her call, yet it seemed like a life time ago. Jack had taken to spending long periods of time at his second office O’ Malley’s bar, as he found it soul destroying to sit alone in the office. He was sure he was missing out on work, as he had begun ignoring the ringing phone. The tidiness and order Mabel had brought to the office, was already beginning to deteriorate. His desk was in disarray with unopened mail and dirty coffee cups, and the long absent whisky bottle and glass had made a return. Jack knew that he could not continue like this, after all whether he had a sectary or not he had to look after business. He reached for the whisky bottle and his hand trembled, the little voice of reason echoed in his head. “You can’t hide in the bottle Jack” the voice told him, it was then he decided he must act. He would go and see Mabel; he needed to know why she had taken personal time. His inaction was beginning to feel very much like a betrayal, if she was in trouble he needed to help her. For the first time in a very long time, Jack Burke realised he could not go through life caring about no one but himself.

The window blind of the third floor apartment in the brown stone building, showed the silhouette of a pacing figure. Now that he was parked outside the apartment block, the doubts had begun to eat away at his mind. Was he behaving in a rational manner, would she see this as an invasion of her privacy? In the end Jack knew that if he backed out now, he would drift further into isolation. In some peculiar way the young blonde woman had begun to become an anchor in a world that he was increasingly drifting away from. Jack was about to take another step along the line that existed between the shadow world and the world he was born into. Her eyes were puffed and her complexion was deathly pale. Jack had to fight to suppress the urge to sweep her up into his arms, but to her credit Mabel managed to conjure up a smile for him. Jack sat at the kitchen table and watched her as she brewed up a pot of coffee, he was surprised by the lump he felt in his throat as he observed her demeanour. Gone was all that chirpiness and youthful exuberance that had attracted him to her at the interview, she looked as if the weight of the world had been placed on her slight shoulders. Later as they sat at the table the silence was suffocating, it was only when he saw the tear drop land in her coffee did he galvanise himself to speak. Perhaps Mabel had just been waiting to be asked what was troubling her, because in the end that is all it took. The flood gates opened and for the first time Jack was to learn just who Mabel really was, it turned out his secretary had spent her early years in an orphanage. What followed was a long list of various foster homes until she hit seventeen and headed to the city.

The story was no worse than a hundred other stories he had heard just like it, however it cut him to the bone to know it was Mabel who had experienced it. However he still had to push her as to why, she now had become so upset about things that were in the past. Her hand trembled badly as she handed him the faded old photograph on Kodak paper, in her eyes a mixture of emotions played out. A deep and humbling sadness competed with a thinly veiled and disturbing look of terror; he took the old photograph from her shaking fingers. It could have been a photograph that had lay forgotten in a drawer in any home; three very young children lay on a thick blanket of white making snow angels. They looked as if they were all aged within a year of each other, but something about the picture looked wrong. It all looked staged, the three children’s lips were curled displaying white teeth as if in a broad smile. But it was their eyes that caught his attention, there was no twinkle there. Their little eyes were filled with much the same emotions he now saw in Mabel’s, fear and sadness. Jack tore his eyes from the disturbing little photograph and looked at Mabel, the young woman sat with the untouched coffee before her while she stared into space. She was here in body only; her mind had travelled far away to another place and another time. Time drew out like a blade through flesh, the outside world faded into the distance. It was as if the small room had somehow become detached from the rest of the world, in the end he could scarcely hear her words when she spoke. “I think they are my brothers, the little girl is definitely me”, Jack watched in anguish as the huge tear drops rolled silently down her cheeks.

He watched the temperature gauge intermittently as he drove; it had been falling steadily since he crossed the state line. He had been asking himself the same question over and over again since he left the city, was he doing the right thing and what could it achieve. All he had to go on was that ancient old photograph and a frightened young woman’s disjointed memories. Jack had tapped out all his contacts in city and state government departments and he was still none the wiser, it was as if Mabel’s memories of siblings and the institution she had been in were the product of an over fertile imagination. A shrink would have a field day with this, a woman with no clear memories of her early years only a feeling that something dark had taken place in her past. So here he was a broken down private investigator with a haunted past, driving across three states to a place that may or may not exist. His only motive was his feelings for an employee and a partial address on the back of an old photograph. Jack had been unsure of his mental state for quite a while now, and his present actions only served to make those insecurities more solid. But there was one part of Jack Bourke that he would never allow to be doubted, and this was his loyalty to those he considered his friends. The worst case scenario could be that Mabel had received the photograph in error; the best case could be that he just might be able to lay the ghosts of her past to rest. Either way Jack was willing to die trying, since Fr murphy had met his untimely end, Mabel had been his only anchor in the world outside the shadows. Jack would drive to the ends of the earth to find the secret behind Mabel’s sadness, and the truth behind the snow angels.

He felt as if had just blinked, yet when he opened his eyes he was almost off the road. It was the sound of branches scraping the side of the car that had woken him; he was on the wrong side of the road and almost in the tree line. Jack eased up on the accelerator and guided the car back to his own side of the narrow country road; it had been a close call. Had there been any traffic coming in the opposite direction, then he would have been a dead man. The tiredness was coming over him in waves, he needed to get off the road and get his head down for a few hours. Jack pulled the car to the side of the road and got out the road map, it showed a small rural town about three miles ahead. He could just about stay awake to reach there, even at that he drove with the window down despite the bitter cold. The elderly man behind the desk in the guest house eyed him up and down suspiciously, muttering something about not getting many visitors this time of year. The small towns only attraction being the trout fishing in the spring and summer, so he was probably not used to seeing many strangers coming into winter. Jack paid for the room in cash which seemed to alleviate the old man’s mood a little, in the room he barely had the energy to remove his shoes and coat before lying on the bed in his clothes. Jack was asleep almost immediately; he immediately drifted into a disturbing dream. In his dream he trudged exhaustedly through knee deep snow, in the distance he could see a large old building. His heart pounded in his chest and a feeling of pending doom weighed heavily on him, up ahead he saw a blotch of colour on the otherwise blinding whiteness of the snow. When he reached it a scream of anguish was wrenched from deep inside him, he fell to his knees staring at the bloody outlines of three snow angels. Jack woke himself crying, it was just getting light outside.

The portly woman who served him breakfast had a far better manner than her husband; she actually managed to appear as if his custom was appreciated. Jack ate ravenously, he had not eaten since yesterday morning, the wholesome freshly prepared food helped to take the edge off and he felt more relaxed. His nerves had been on edge since he woke from that dream, but a full belly was helping the world to look a little less ominous. The woman arrived with fresh coffee and smiled warmly at him, Jack took the opportunity to engage her in some small talk, about the locality. Within a few moments he had heard the whole history of the locality, when he asked her about the place he was travelling to, things began to change. She seemed to become somewhat guarded when he mentioned White Peak, and the orphanage that supposedly operated there. Jack had a hunch that he had touched a nerve with his questions; he showed her the picture and told her he was trying to track down two of the people in the photo. The portly woman handled the old photo as if it was contaminated before returning it to him after a cursory glance, in an instant she had strode from the room without a backwards glance. It was as if he had insulted her in some way, or maybe it was the fact he made her recall something she wished she hadn’t. Later as Jack was leaving the old man approached him, “Martha tells me you are traveling to White Peak” without waiting for a reply he continued. “There is nothing there to see, it is a town of ghosts and surrounded by wolves. The weather closes in awfully quick up there, if I was you I would turn back”. Then he was moving away at a surprising pace given his age, Jack glanced in the rear view mirror as he drove away. A movement of the curtains told him they were watching him drive in the direction of White Peak.

He had no sooner turned onto the steep gradient when it started to snow; by the time he made the outskirts of the deserted town visibility was down to a few feet. Jack could just about make out the black writing on the sign, “Welcome to White Peak” it said, but the place did not feel welcoming to him. He drove down the deserted main street and stopped outside a rundown hotel called The Ski Lodge. Moments after stopping the engine the windscreen was covered in snow, a blistering wind howled down from the peak that towered above the small town. When he stepped from the car the biting wind almost swept him off his feet, he needed to get shelter and soon. Surprisingly the front door of the old hotel opened when he turned the handle, and Jack found himself stepping back in time. The inside of the small hotel was far less dilapidated than he would have thought, although a layer of dust covered most of the surfaces. Outside the wind howled like a banshee but in here it was quite as the grave, the whole place had an eerie feel to it. The storm outside looked as if it would not abate for a while yet, so Jack lay on a leather couch in the deserted lobby to wait it out. He was dreaming that his friend Michael Murphy was shaking him by the shoulder, as he urgently tried to tell him something important. Jack woke to find a figure leaning over him and shaking him gently, for a moment he actually thought it was Michael. It must have been the dog collar but this priest was younger than Michael by quite a few years, and something about his clothes told Jack he was not a catholic priest. The priest led Jack to a room with a large wood burning stove, the flames danced merrily in the grate. A smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted from the pot on the stove, the man poured two cups and they sat either side of the stove. Jack had been right the man was in fact an Anglican minister, and his reason for being in White Peak was similar to Jacks.

He was a Chaplin in a retirement home down south, his name was John Francis and he had been called in to minister to a dying resident. An old lady who was about to meet her maker, she had told him of a place called White Peak and an institution that once flourished there. She had told him of dark doings and the spirits of children who could never be at rest while they remained within that institution. She had also made him promise to come here and help them find rest, she begged him to bring them from the darkness. Jack listened in silence as John told him the tale, when he finished Jack just nodded and they were both trapped in their own thoughts. Jack woke to the sound of the minister snoring and muttering in his sleep, the fire had long since burned out and Jacks breath formed vapour clouds when he exhaled. Outside the storm had passed and a fresh blanket of snow covered everything, Jack lit a smoke and took the time to gather his thoughts. The sun was up by the time he went inside to wake John, then they set off in a northerly direction to where the old woman had told John they would find the orphanage. The sun sparkling on the fresh snow gave the impression of a winter wonderland, but as they trudged through the knee deep snow Jack could feel the on rushing darkness. Inside his head Michael Murphy’s voice sounded warnings about the darkness, and Jack braced himself for what was to come.

They had travelled a little less than a mile when the ominous looking building appeared on the horizon; it was a three story limestone building with a turret at one end. It was surrounded by high limestone walls that had begun to collapse in places. The whole thing looked like blight on the landscape, a godforsaken cold looking structure. Despite the cold air both men sweated profusely from the effort of trudging through the snow, by the time they reached the building they were gasping for breath. A faded sign was fixed with rusted screws to the main gate; all that could be made out was the words closed by order of the state authorities. Inside the building itself the temperature seemed several degrees lower than the air outside, for some reason or other Jack was glad he was not alone in this place. Everything about the place was depressing, and an air of desolation filled the entire building. They had not been in the building long when Jack began to feel the presence of other things; by the look on John’s face he felt them too. Not long after that the whispering voices echoed in his head, insidious dark voices that mocked him and hinted at his deepest secrets. Jack was not sure how long more he could remain in this place; he felt his sanity begin to slip. John had taken to praying and whimpering under his breath, just then another voice rose above the whispers in his head. It was Mabel’s voice, “The turret Jack, you will find them in the turret”.

The narrow spiral stair case wound its way to a stout oak door; the voices had become hysterical in his head now. The atmosphere in this part of the building was so oppressive it felt as if the very air would crush them, Jack pulled the gun from his shoulder holster and shot the lock from the door, screams of anger echoed from the cold stone walls. The air inside the circular room was the foulest he had ever experienced, behind him John gagged and whimpered louder. The floor of the room was covered in occult symbols and partially burned black candles stood in a circle by the walls. How he knew he could not say, but he walked directly to a large bookshelf, he placed his hand behind it and pulled. The shelf moved easily on runners to expose the alcove behind it, how many children’s remains the urns and jars represented he could not say. But there were a number of large glass Jars that contained body parts that floated in a yellowish liquid, it took them several trips down the spiral stairs before they had them all outside. All the while they worked, they were accosted by the strange evil whispers, in the end they lay in the snow physically and mentally exhausted. The following day they went back and buried the jars in the old cemetery on the edge of town, and then they torched the building. Both men shook hands before getting into their cars, nothing was said but they both knew that what happened at White Peak would remain a secret. As Jack drove out of the deserted town a movement in his peripheral vision made him stop the car, the two small figures lay in the snow making angels, but this time they really were smiling.

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© Copyright 2018 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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